In-game Ponzi nets US$50K

Two players of the Eve Online MMORPG pulled off a Ponzi scheme that netted them over 1 billion ISK (Eve Online's currency, a sum that can be exchanged for about USD50,000). They ran the Ponzi scheme like any other, soliciting customers for "investments" that paid out better-than-market returns, but those returns were generated out of the "investments" of new suckers. The con was both legal and within Eve's rules, and it's not the first or even the second massive (lawful) in-game fraud to hit Eve. The scammers have published a long postmortem on their effort, including some accounting information and ruminations on the hard work it took to hoover up their billions in virtual skiffy funny-money.

Why did we do it?
We had a lot of reasons actually, but above all there is one thing that's NOT the reason. Most probably we will disappoint a lot of people, even make more than a few a little angry for a while. That, in itself, has never, ever been our purpose. We consider that to be a collateral matter. However, enough about what wasn't the reason for doing it.

The main reason why we did it is; because we could!
But, of course, we don't do everything we can. One should imagine that we have a lot of people with an account on That account will be secured with probably the same password as their EVE online accounts. We could have easily run all these accounts through our EVE client and stolen a lot of assets as well as ISK. But we didn't do that, simply because it is illegal - not allowed by the game rules. We don't want to go there.

That brings us to the other reason: What we did is allowed!
It's allowed, even encouraged people say, by the game rules as defined by CCP. We find that to be very important. We didn't want to go into any cheating, or illegal area. We wanted to play the game, and beat it in a different way than with PVP. And, there's another reason. Contrary what we made people believe, we are actual PVP players on other accounts. We have been in the game for a while and have our share of killmails (since 2004.) We now wanted to beat the game in another area. Unfortunately for some, that means beating other players at this game.

The last reason we want to mention is: It brings us a lot of ISK, obviously.
We don't have to worry about ISK for a very long time, now. No ratting or trading to earn ISK to pay for ships and ammo. Just hunting with our friends. When we founded Phaser Inc. we set ourselves a goal. We wanted to break the trillion border. The total profit of this project was aimed to be over 1 trillion or ISK. We already gave away that we've reached that goal. Some financial details are published below.

Eve Online Space Heist – One Trillion ISK (

Phaser Inc. Eve Financial Services

(via /.)

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  1. cory: “over 1000 billion”, not “over 1 billion”. It’s really awkward wording, but they do say the word “trillion” several times as well. :)

  2. I play EVE and talked to a CEO of a corporation that lost everything on the Ponzi scheme. Although I sympathize with those scammed, I think the really hands-off nature of EVE yields great practical insights into free markets and competition. I just hope CCP doesn’t muck it all up with microtransactions (really macrotransactions, since a monocle costs more than 2 months of game time).

  3. First of all, as someone mentioned, it’s one TRILLION isk.
    Secondly, this money cannot be exchanged for any real cash. In EVE it is possible to buy game time which can be sold on the game’s market, effectively allowing people to buy game currency, but the reverse process is not allowed. Please correct the article so to not lead people astray :)

    On another note, I have no sympathy for the victims. A fool and his money are soon parted.

    1. Great. So mental weakness is now justification for theft? Do you also applaud thugs who knock old ladies down and steal their money too? How is taking advantage of the mentally weak any less odious than taking advantage of the physically weak?

      You know, the weak and infirm often still have something to contribute to society. They can work, and produce. And a successful society is one that allows them to do so, and provides an incentive for them to continue doing so by protecting them. Allowing them to enjoy the fruits of their labors. A sick and rotten society is one that says, “Hey, predators! You naturally advantaged in strength and cunning, over here! These people are your fair game!” Not only does this discourage the weak from even trying – because they know they’re only going to lose what they earned – but it creates an incentive for the strong and clever to turn their efforts to this sort of exploitation, instead of actually producing anything themselves. Using their strength to rob old ladies, instead of working hard on the docks. Using their cleverness to scam others, instead of inventing something new and useful.

      Fortunately, I can opt-out of EVE Online. I don’t have to play. But I also see this same dynamic operating in the real world. And even if we protect ourselves, we’re all poorer for it.

      1. I don’t think you should equate EVE and real life. Would you feel sorry and want to protect someone who sucks at chess, or golf?

        1. If they’re paying real money, and don’t understand the game that they’re playing, then yes. We have bunco squads for a reason.

          1. I don’t play EVE but it is fascinating.

            What is vitally important to understand here is what ISK is. It’s not like poker chips from an online gambling site. It’s in game currency that you earn in the game, it functionally has no value outside the game. It’s not like these people took $50,000 out of their bank account and put it into the game as it if were a graphical PayPal.Those funds were earned by playing the game. Closer to the coins that Mario collects when breaking a block.

            Okay, now for the value of ISK. You are NOT allowed to cash out ISK, it’s against the Terms of Service (although some may do that anyways). What you CAN do is pay for your monthly subscription with ISK.
            LIke many MMO games, EVE requires a monthly membership. What makes EVE unique is you can buy time with the in-game currency (you can purchase PLEX, which can be used to by Game Time).
            So the $50,000 value is, essentially, the same as Mario earning $50,000 in free play credits. They didn’t steal $50,000 worth of quarters. They stole $50,000 worth of free games. 

            Make sense? 

          2. If someone doesn’t understand the game they’re paying to play, EvE is not the game for them. Vast virtual fortunes (and modest actual ones) have been lost to this game, often due to mistakes made by players who know the game inside and out. EvE is deliberately constructed as a cutthroat universe. Don’t confuse the way this virtual world functions with the way the real world ought to.

      2. i know what you mean.  i also can’t stand the negativity of people who insist on playing evil alignment characters in roleplaying games.  i mean, isn’t evil whats wrong with the world?

  4. Must echo the 1 billion comment… a billion ISK is worth about $50. Times that by a thousand… although that’s at the rate that CCP sells ISK to it’s own customers. There being no legitimate way to turn ISK into real money (apart from buying game time, which is getting a bit meta-money), if they were to sell the in-game money for real life money, they’d have to do it on the black market at much lower rates. I’d honestly be surprised if they got $25,000 for it.

    That said, more power to them, and this is what makes EVE a great game :) The ability to sandbox so creatively and have the developers not only not interfere, but actually cheer stuff like this on, is fantastic. Raph Koster must be going green with envy as he watches the mess that SOE made of Star Wars Galaxies.

    On a side note, there are doubtless people who paid real money for ISK, which was then scammed off them… so this is, to all intents and purposes, a scam that actually reaches out of the game and into people’s wallets.

  5. That’s a trillion, not a billion. A billion ISK is more like $45 USD and isn’t a very big deal: scams of that scale happen every day, literally.

    A trillion is certainly something to take note of, though.

    EVE could be an object lesson to objectivists. This is what happens when you let the market “regulate itself”. Fraud is a legitimate action in EVE, just like Alan Greenspan wanted it to be in real economics (and there are witnesses to that sentiment — he has stated that belief that fraud should be legal and unregulated), and the free market regularly allows massive fraud to occur without any kind of proportionate consequences to deter it.

    Oh, and @Blaine:
    There isn’t a legitimate way to cash out, you’re right, but at least among a person’s circle of friends it’s pretty easy to arrange to buy a PLEX with your ISK and send it to them in exchange for some sort of tangible compensation. That limits how much you can cash out, certainly, but as long as you’re not soliciting that to strangers there’s no meaningful risk of being caught even if you are afoul of the terms of service.

  6. One day I might comprehend what makes EVE Online as popular with it’s rabid fanbase as it is.  It seems like there are only two kinds of EVE players: those who have been fleeced/robbed…and those who are doing the fleecing/robbing.  This isn’t some sort of social experiment, either.  We know people can be jerks or worse…and this is a system that allows and rewards jerky behavior.  Presumably some folks find it entertaining, which is why they persist in it.  I suppose I’m glad that such grief players have a game to call their own.

    Back in the first year or so of Asheron’s Call, they scheduled a monthly event (as MMOs are wont to do).  In this particular event, some high-level dungeons appeared that had, at their lowest point, giant crystals that offered valuable and super-rare loot if destroyed.  Reaching them required lots of effort and teamwork…but when they were destroyed, it would trigger a cataclysmic story event on that server.  One by one, the servers had the event happen.  Until one server…it didn’t.  It didn’t because a group of players heirarchies had decided they would act as guardians, preventing the crystal from being destroyed.  They managed to repel marauding treasure hunter after marauding treasure hunter.  There was a very real question of what would happen if they didn’t trigger the event before the monthly event was over;  the developer, Turbine, wasn’t sure what they’d do.  Everyone watched for days, until finally they were overwhelmed and the crystal destroyed.

    But they left an indelible impression of what such games could inspire folks to do.  Running a ponzi scheme in a virtual space designed for cutthroat piracy impresses me far less than gathering a ton of players to thwart a pre-determined story element who risked changing the game in service of the character’s perceived greater good.

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