An Australian video gamer has stolen thousands of dollars from a bank inside an online game and converted them into real-world money.
The bank heist happened in Eve Online, where players mine in-game resources to build colonies and space ships in a futuristic space-themed online world. The game has hundreds of thousands of players who pay for access to the world. An in-game economy, complete with its own currency known as interstellar kredits, has emerged to enable trading transactions within the game. Numerous banks have even sprung up.
The gamer, a 27-year old Australian, was an executive with EBank, one of the larger player-run banks within the game, with thousands of depositors. He used the online name of Ricdic.
"Basically this character was one of the people that [had] been running EBank for a while," Ned Coker of CCP, the real-world Icelandic company that developed the game, told Reuters News Agency. "He took a bunch of (virtual) money out of the bank, and traded it away for real money."
The player made off with about 200 billion interstellar credits, CCP says, and traded the currency to players who preferred to purchase credits (as opposed to earning them by accomplishing tasks in the game) for the equivalent of about $5,800 Canadian.
The heist represents about 8 per cent of the total deposits EBank holds, CCP says.
Cash used to pay medical expenses
In an interview with Reuters, Ricdic said an email from a black market website that traded online money for real cash popped up on his screen, prompting him to exchange the virtual cash for real money to cover a deposit on his house and expenses related to his son's medical problems.
"I saw that as an avenue that could be taken, and I decided to skim off the top, you could say, to overcome real-life (difficulties)," he told Reuters.
News of the theft quickly spread within the game, prompting runs on the bank where players withdrew their credits to safeguard them against the apparent security breach.
The Eve world is one where piracy, racketeering and ransom are permitted within the game, so ironically, had the player merely robbed the bank within the game he would have escaped punishment. But exchanging in-game credits for real-world currency breaks the rules of the game, so Ricdic has his account frozen by the game's developers.
'If I had to do it again, I probably would've chosen the same path.' — Eve Online player Ricdic
Asked if he regretted his action, Ricdic expressed remorse for letting down fellow EBank staffers, whom he considered friends.
"I'm not proud of it at all, that's why I didn't brag about it," he told Reuters. "But you know, if I had to do it again, I probably would've chosen the same path based on the same situation."
Shadowy financial transactions are nothing new to the online gaming world. Several websites have sprung up to facilitate trading of real-world dollars for online currencies in a variety of games, but the practice is fraught with peril due to anonymity and lack of accountability.
The practice is so prevalent that the Chinese Ministry of Commerce moved on Friday to ban the trade of real-world money for online currencies. It's been estimated that so-called "credit factories" — where Asia-based players accumulate in-game credits and sell them to users in the real economy — is worth more as much as $1-billion (U.S.) annually.
"Virtual currency … will only be allowed to trade in virtual goods and services provided by its issuer, not real goods and services," the ministry said in a release.
In 2004, Indiana University professor Edward Castronova published the seminal work on online economies, in which he found that players in a game called EverQuest had an average "minimum wage" of $3.42 per hour, giving the world a per-capita gross domestic product greater than that of Russia, with a currency of greater value than the Japanese yen.