By now, many of you will have heard about the controversy surrounding the change to one of EVE's Terms of Service, the rule on "impersonation", which now states:
You may not impersonate or falsely present yourself to be a representative of another player, group of players, character or NPC entity.
At first glance, the ToS update looks like a bad idea written badly. Upon being peppered with questions by a skeptical playerbase, the GMs went on record with their interpretations of the new rule—hoping to give EVE players some reassurance. I have reviewed the GMs' posts. After careful consideration, I've changed my opinion of the new rule. The change to the ToS isn't just bad; it's one of the most bizarre and unworkable decisions ever made by CCP.
If CCP pays attention to its players, it's likely that they will reverse their decision and revise the ToS again. By the time you read this editorial, hopefully they will have taken steps to correct their mistake. Still, if the President of the United States proposed to nuke China, it would remain a notable news story even if he changed his mind a week later. It's worth spending some time to analyze what went wrong.
Since the ToS change has been a big story, covered here and elsewhere, I'll just give a brief recap of the situation to get any new readers up to speed. Then I'll bring to light some of the GM statements and problems with the new rule that haven't gotten as much attention. Finally, I'll explain what I believe is at the heart of this mess.
The New Rules, in Perspective
Under the old rule, it was illegal to use typography to impersonate another player by creating a similar-looking name. For example, you couldn't impersonate Chribba by registering the name Chrlbba. (Actually, someone did register the name Chrlbba, and has gotten away with it for more than four years. I recently did a review of well-known characters and their impersonators, and it seems that CCP has been lax in its enforcement of the rule.) And, of course, it has always been a ToS violation to pretend to be an employee of CCP.
Under the new rule, CCP has greatly expanded its definition of "impersonation." It is now illegal to lie about being someone's alt. Nor are you allowed to pretend that you're affiliated with a corp, alliance, or other "group of players" that you're not a member of. For instance, you can't run a Goonswarm recruitment scam unless you're a member of Goonswarm. Nor can you falsely claim that a player or group of players will vouch for you, such as telling a mark, "You can trust me. Chribba's my business partner on this. Now let's talk about buying and selling some supercaps."
If it ended there, this would still be the biggest move against scamming made by CCP in EVE's history. Back in early 2006, when I first arrived in the world of New Eden, I recall CCP grappling with the question of whether it was permissible to promote a scam, such as a fake IPO or bank, in the EVE-O Market Discussions subforum. CCP decided to allow it. Scamming and trickery are part of what makes EVE the game it is.
Besides, CCP didn't want to spend its time auditing in-game businesses. If they had made it illegal to promote a scam on EVE-O, they would need to figure out which IPOs, banks, and other businesses were legitimate and which were scams. This probably wouldn't have been too difficult, since nearly all of them were scams. But CCP would have needed to audit them for proof of scamming before they could ban someone. To make matters worse, a business can be legitimate right up until the day the owner decides to walk away with everything.
For practical reasons, and for the sake of being consistent with the spirit of EVE, CCP has historically shied away from setting limits on scamming. Very narrow exceptions existed, such as the official in-game recruitment channel and special rules for rookie systems. Otherwise, New Eden has always been a scammer's paradise.
Now that CCP has radically shifted its policy on scamming, they'll begin to remember why they left the can of worms closed for so many years. The ToS changes I described above are filled with hidden minefields waiting for anyone assigned to enforce them. And the GMs have already stepped into some.
On September 13, 2013, it became illegal to tell other EVE players the truth about what alts you own. The new rules forbid players from falsely claiming to be someone else's alt. This raised a lot of questions, since it would force GMs to check whether people are, in fact, alts of the people they claim to be. It's more complicated than it sounds. After all, many people own multiple accounts, and GMs would theoretically need some way to cross-reference them.
GM Karidor was asked about this, and he unveiled an extraordinary new policy: It's now illegal for scammers to claim someone is their alt, even if it's true. This is considered "impersonating" yourself. It makes no difference whether the alt has a similar name or is on the same account as the character truthfully claiming to be the alt. It's against the ToS, and is bannable.
If you think this policy sounds insane, I am inclined to agree with you. You may think that I am making this up, or at the very least, engaging in a bit of hyperbole. Typical James 315 rhetoric, right? No such luck. GM Karidor was asked about the following hypothetical:
So, if Olli's alt were named Humbaby, and he claimed to be Olli's alt to facilitate a scam, and actually was Olli's alt on the same account, you're saying that would be allowed?
GM Karidor replied:
The example I gave is clear enough to cover that, the short answer is 'No, not allowed'. If you were under the impression that this was permitted, you were going off on incorrect assumptions.
In disbelief, Abdiel Kavash asked the same question with different names:
I decide that I want to make some extra money off my past customers, without necessarily having to provide any extra services. I create a new character, Phill McScammer, on my account. I then go talk to a past customer of AbdielCorp and I claim that Phill McScammer is an alt of Abdiel Kavash. Customer falls for it, sends me their money and never sees it again... Can I be banned for telling the truth?
GM Karidor confirmed that yes, scammers can be banned for telling the truth:
Your character Phill McScammer impersonated Abdiel Kavash, the same way as Joe McScammer did, thus gets it from us the same way if reported. From our point of view, as well as from a victim's, there is no technical difference between those two cases of a character impersonating another.
Still in disbelief, as I suspect many readers are, Abdiel asked for confirmation:
Except that Phill never claimed to be anything he wasn't. Phill didn't claim to be the character Abdiel Kavash. He claimed to be an alt of Abdiel Kavash—which he was. At no point Phill told a lie. Does 'impersonation' cover 'truthfully stating the nature of a character'?
GM Karidor confirmed the insanity was official CCP policy:
Both characters Phil and Joe used the name Abdiel Kavash to give of the impression they were somehow related to him. The cases are effectively identical. Yes, with Phil the actual statement of him being an alt is true, but the actual act of the character using the name of Abdiel Kavash does not differ in any capacity at all.
At this point, I would like to add that GM Karidor isn't some random GM who got hired a few weeks ago and shot his mouth off. Karidor is a senior GM. He's one of the guys that the ordinary GMs go to in order to find out what the rules are. If you're not happy with a petition answer, or you get banned for some reason, and you escalate the matter to a senior GM, it might wind up on Karidor's desk. Comforting, no?