I fixed the splash! I was late emailing it to Shamus, so it might not load right away, but it’s fixed.
Before I launched my career in space crime, I needed to grapple with the ethics of it.
That’s not usually something one does while playing a computer game, but here it seemed necessary. After all, I was going to be tricking people into giving me money. Fake money, yes, but it represents real effort and time invested. Losing can lead to real frustration. Is it right to do such a thing? I concluded that it was, and not just because I wanted the money either. To me, EVE is something like poker: lying is part of the game.
In poker there’s a concept called “table stakes.” It says that any money you put on the table is, in a way, not yours anymore – it belongs to the game,Incidentally, if you’re ever watching a movie or something and someone pulls money out of their pocket to bet it, they’re violating poker etiquette. and you only get it back when you cash out. I decided the same was true here: if you had in-game money, and even more so if you were involved in nullsec, your money isn’t really yours. And, for that matter, neither is mine mine.
What’s more, I decided not to try and scam new players. For one thing, they don’t have that much money yet, and for another it felt sleazy. The real satisfying thing, I thought, would be to scam someone who should know better, just like I should’ve. Someone who’s been playing the game a while and has enough money to be worth taking. Maybe even someone who can take other people’s money and pass it along to me? There was actually a way to do both.
The idea I had (which was not an idea unique to me; many have had it over the years) was a rental scam. The large sovholding alliances in nullsec often end up with more systems than they can realistically use, and fill out the rest by “renting” them to corps that wouldn’t ordinarily be able to take and hold them. These are entire constellations sometimes, so rents can run into the billions a week. My plan was to offer systems that I didn’t actually have the authority to rent. If I could get just one or two weeks’ worth out of someone, that would be the biggest payday I’d had by far.
Besides money, I had another motivation: there were people in EVE that I just plain didn’t like. Leadership positions in a game like this tend to attract large egos, toxicity was common, and (at the time at least, this has improved somewhat since) casual homophobia was rampant. My idea was that I’d come across some promising dickwad on the forums – some guy that ran a mining corp with eleven members and thought he was the second coming of Clausewitz, if you’ve played EVE you know the type – and take that fool’s money.
This wasn’t an uncommon motivation for scammers. To this day, one practice of the community is the sharing of “chat porn” – the delicious angry reactions of people after they realize they’ve been had. That was a little more into the sadistic side of things than I wanted to go myself, but the truth is I didn’t just want the money. I wanted the satisfaction of being able to say that I’d done it. I wanted a cool experience more than I wanted to buy bigger, swankier ships. That’s a concept we’re going to return to later in the series.
For now, I needed a cover story. People weren’t likely to pay me to rent systems if I wasn’t even a member of the alliance that controlled them. To make my story believable, I needed to join a group that controlled at least some space. As luck would have it, there was a group almost tailor-made for what I needed: Goonswarm.
Even those who don’t play or follow EVE may have heard that name before. They’re the single most notorious player group in the game, and the one with the most enthusiasm for self-promotion. The original core that made up the alliance came from the Something Awful forums in 2006, so they were already well-established by the time I started playing.
It’s difficult to quickly summarize what Goonswarm is or what its effect on EVE has been. Entire books have been written about them (and, according to the description, that one only goes up to 2009), and they’ve been instrumental in nullsec politics ever since they were formed. As this series continues, we’ll learn more about their culture and organization, but for now know that they had the following qualities:
- At the time they didn’t actually control any space, which was unusual for them. They’d recently lost theirs (which is a whole other story, no one has time to tell them all), and not too long after I joined they moved to a region in the north called Deklein to crash on the virtual couch of a friendly French alliance called Tau Ceti Federation or TCF. While they didn’t have any systems then, it was understood by all that they were too numerous and aggressive to crash on the couch forever. They’d have space again before long. That meant that it would make sense for them to be looking for renters.
- They had an existing community of scammers that swapped tips and occasionally backed each other up when people tried to check their stories out. In keeping with their deliberately cultivated rowdy reputation, scamming was allowed and even encouraged in Goonswarm, including (at the time) rental scams. I wouldn’t be breaking any of their rules, so it wouldn’t even matter if I got caught – I had no reputation to lose anyway.
- Their CEO, a famous player called TheMittani, didn’t like renting space. He had a sort of aesthetic objection to what he called the “renter model,” and often wrote that he didn’t think “space slumlording” (as he put it) was a healthy direction for the metagame to take. What this meant is that my rental scam wouldn’t be spoiling the kill for any actual renting of Goonswarm space.In fact, when I talked to some others in the scamming community, they said that I might even be able to get an officer or other high-ranking Goon to lend me their credibility in exchange for a percentage of any take. I never took anyone up on that offer, since I worried that Goonswarm would eventually start renting, and I didn’t want to exactly advertise my activities to the bigwigs if they were considering that. But it gives a sense of what Goonswarm’s culture was (and to some degree, still is) like.
- They were easy to “inflitrate,” if that’s even the right word. They happily let newbies join – part of their strategy as an alliance is a sort of online levee-en-masse, so they recruit too many people for effective vetting to be possible. Practically everyone has at least one spy in Goonswarm, and the alliance leadership accepts that as a cost of the strategy. So getting in was no problem – I just created a new character and joined through what were basically the proper channels.
I now had the Goonswarm ticker (each corp and alliance has a five-digit alphanumeric designator, like tickers at a stock market) behind my name. I wasn’t just some rando anymore. I was Some Rando [LODRA]Their ticker at the time, it’s since been changed to CONDI, but most people just call them Goons., and my claims of being an official, sanctioned Goonswarm landlord would now be at least slightly plausible.
I already had a list of targets ready. A common joke is that EVE is a game you play with spreadsheets, and in this case that was true. For a while I’d been writing down the names and corporation sizes of promising jackasses I’d found on the game’s official forums and storing that and other information in a spreadsheet that I called my chump list. It had over fifty names on it at one point, though I never got around to trying all of them. The pitch went something like this: TCF is going to hand over their space in Deklein to us and we’re looking for renters – but quietly. We don’t want publicity because our CEO is officially against renting as a practice. You’re one of the special, cool, important people selected for this program, but we need the first two weeks’ rent in advance. Oh, and also there’s a jump freighter service if you have any particularly expensive stuff you want to trust us with.I wasn’t a jump freighter pilot myself, but there were plenty in the alliance, including ones that were willing to pitch in on scams of various types.
Of course, the real thing was more long-winded and official sounding, but you get the idea. While I was working my pitch, I figured that I might as well actually participate in alliance activities. After hearing about it for so long, I wanted a chance to experience the nullsec metagame firsthand. So in future entries I’ll tell two parallel stories: that of my off-and-on career in space crime, and a sort of grunt’s-eye-view of what life in a sovholding alliance is like.
 Incidentally, if you’re ever watching a movie or something and someone pulls money out of their pocket to bet it, they’re violating poker etiquette.
 In fact, when I talked to some others in the scamming community, they said that I might even be able to get an officer or other high-ranking Goon to lend me their credibility in exchange for a percentage of any take. I never took anyone up on that offer, since I worried that Goonswarm would eventually start renting, and I didn’t want to exactly advertise my activities to the bigwigs if they were considering that. But it gives a sense of what Goonswarm’s culture was (and to some degree, still is) like.
 Their ticker at the time, it’s since been changed to CONDI, but most people just call them Goons.
 I wasn’t a jump freighter pilot myself, but there were plenty in the alliance, including ones that were willing to pitch in on scams of various types.
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