Monumental Mistakes: Lessons from Vandalism

The Act

Cookie didn’t play EVE. He had played briefly in the past, but he had long since stopped caring about the game itself. Cookie was in Iceland to meet up with people he knew and to party. He was successful on both accounts, perhaps a bit too successful with the latter of those given the drunken state he found himself in when Theo put a bolt in his hand and a bad idea in his head.

Theo, Donny, Cookie and Wilford were all at the monument together. While Cookie and Theo were looking for their names, Wilford wandered off to the bathroom. During that time Theo got the idea to find Xenuria’s name and remove it forcibly from the monument. “I picked Xenuria purely because he annoyed the fuck out of me at Fanfest last year,” he said. Theo found a steel bolt at a nearby construction site, took a few swipes, then handed it off to a drunken Cookie to finish the job. There were a few other people on the monument at the time with them. There were several scattered groups milling about, and there were parents with their kids playing across the street. All told, there were roughly 40 people in the vicinity of the monument when Cookie started to drag the bolt across the aluminum. There were roughly a dozen people in the immediate vicinity, and drunken antics are not stealthily executed. After the first go, Theo decided it wasn’t quite enough, and he and Cookie went back to finish off the job and take the picture that was later uploaded to Twitter.

Multiple witnesses. Theo’s bragging after the fact. Digital evidence. Even without the ‘confession,’ it was only a matter of time before they were tracked down. Theo would later insist that it was a honeypot operation, but the truth of the matter is that committing vandalism in broad daylight with heaps of people around, posting pictures on the internet of it, and then openly bragging about it does not make for good secret keeping.

Consequences

It was at this point that I took a more direct hand in the goings on an ocean away. I informed both Wilford and Cookie what their loyalty had earned them, and suggested they visit CCP before the police visited them. They wisely opted to do so and had what I’m told was a rather tense meeting with CCP Guard and CCP Falcon. While they were briefly shown, in EVE Gate, a copy of the EVE-mail Theo had sent, no printouts were handed out to anyone. I acquired the mails Theo sent to CCP via other means later on and confirmed this, but when Wilford and Cookie got back from their confession, they said, “I think Theo sold us out.”

They were right, of course. He did. Theo also knew that both of them were still in Iceland, and he’d given their names and descriptions to CCP. The authorities were looking for the very people who had went out of their way to protect him. He didn’t bother to inform them of this.  

In a matter of days, all four people heard back from CCP. They would all receive a lifetime ban from the game and from all CCP events. Case closed.

Or rather, case closed in public. Behind the scenes, not everything was as clear as it seemed.

On May 8th, the day after the punishment had been handed out, I sent my first of many mails to CCP. While I found the punishment fitting for both Cookie and Theo, neither Donny nor Wilford were guilty of anything beyond being named in a mail. Worse, for CCP at least, is that I wasn’t the only one who knew this. There were plenty of eyewitnesses, and they were starting to talk. I included many of my own findings and recommended a couple of courses of action. The problem with banning innocent people is that innocent people try to prove their innocence, and in this case, there was plenty of evidence to support their lack of involvement.

But it turns out that CCP wasn’t quite finished. There were internal discussions, and eventually they settled on a different course of action—one that was never made public. Were it not for this article, it would remain buried still, even after the Hammer of the Gods article.

Pulling Back the Curtain

After the public case was closed, CCP continued their discussion internally. There was talk of making the names of the people involved public. All the sentiments on the forums about being harsh when people came forward was mirrored internally. There was back and forth between how stiff the penalty should be and the implications on EVE and EVE’s reputation. At the time, this vandalism story was big news, and it appeared across multiple websites. CCP could have chosen any number of ways to deal with the bad publicity. What they opted to do was to protect the people involved, protect the people associated with the vandals, and finally, they made one decision that surprised even me.

Following on the heels of the Fatbee sticker that got plastered on the monument, many assumed that this escalation was from the same source, from a member of Goonswarm. CCP Falcon, despite knowing full well that the vandalism was committed by a pair of Goonswarm members, apologized to Goonswarm for people wrongly accusing us. Why?

CCP Falcon realized that implicating an entire alliance would have serious consequences for an alliance full of innocent people. He went out of his way to ensure that no one knew who was responsible and fought internally to make sure that it stayed that way. There would be no naming and shaming. There would be no guilt by association. He is the reason why those stacks of articles don’t all say “Goonswarm vandalizes monument”. He knew that while he was capable of making the distinction between guilty individuals and the innocence of the whole, others would not have so easy a time with such nuance.

Most surprisingly of all, once CCP received payment for damages, they reversed all the permanent bans. All of them. Instead, the people named in Theo’s mail got a mixture of three- to six-month temporary bans, and the prohibitions on attending future EVE events was lifted. For that again, CCP Falcon was in large part responsible. He figured that since they did indeed come forward and since damages were paid, that it showed a measure of good faith that CCP would honor with good faith in return, all while keeping the matter confidential.

That this show of good faith would remain secret isn’t too surprising. But that’s why I’m writing this, and this is why the whole story of the monument matters so much, because while CCP deserves to take their lumps for their mistakes, they don’t deserve to take blowback for handling a difficult situation in a way that tried to protect everyone involved, everyone loosely associated, the player targeted by the vandalism, and EVE’s community as a whole.

Here’s how this could have played out. CCP could have perma-banned everyone involved. They could have named names and given people a target to express their rage against. They could have straight up involved the police given all the witnesses, the confession, and forensic ISP evidence (this is particularly serious since in many countries crimes committed abroad land on your domestic record and can lead to travel restrictions). CCP could have been vindictive, public, and vicious.

Instead, CCP protected the innocent, uninvolved members of Goonswarm. They made sure no one was arrested. They reversed the bans. They expressed their outrage that such an act could be committed by players, and they expressed gratitude that the playerbase as a whole would not stand for it.

That kind of messaging is not an easy balance to strike, particularly in a volatile situation. That it was handled as well as it was is due in large part to the person targeted for blame in Hammer of the Gods.

CCP Falcon is an asshole. He’s foul-mouthed and rough around the edges. But he believes in the integrity of the game and the integrity of the players, and he’s willing to fight within CCP to make sure that the community is treated well and that emotions don’t overrule ideals. He takes a lot of the blame and usually receives none of the credit. He believes in EVE and our community.

Matters of Mattering

The reason this is important is because there’s a lesson for all of us here. Like Goonswarm, the broader EVE community has its share of troublemakers. But unlike a theme-park MMO, EVE’s greatest draw is its community. We build corps next to other real people, we fight next to other real people, we’re betrayed by real people. The community is what we make it, it’s the standards we enforce. We’re responsible for that. For their part, CCP is the self-proclaimed janitor of New Eden—they recognize that their role is to step back and let players interact freely.

But in their role as custodians, they often have to place the good of the whole ahead of their own personal reputations, or even the reputation of the company. This whole incident is an example of that. CCP Falcon could have thundered down and set people straight himself—he didn’t. He could have lashed out in public at being so mischaracterized—he didn’t. He and the rest of CCP opted to take their undeserved and belated lumps in public for the good of the whole and at expense to themselves. That’s the sort of individual I can believe in, and that’s the kind of company I can support.

Remember that Worlds Within a World sculpture? Let me offer my own interpretation. The granite head is us, the players. The aluminum spire is CCP. Between us is set a polished steel mirror. Our actions toward each other reflect upon ourselves, and our actions are inextricably linked. We’re both in it together, atop the names of those who remain and those who have come before. CCP exists because of our community. Our community exists because of CCP. The whole story finally being public illuminates each element, the reflected image in that polished steel mirror, and our collective counterpart on the other side. But for the opaqueness of the metal, we might each somehow see the other more clearly.

Member of CSM9 and CSMX. I enjoy tea, banana pancakes, and chatting with people. I can be reached on twitter @siggonK.