PC spaceship MMO Eve Online has "what may be the most crafty players in the world", developer CCP has told Eurogamer.
This declaration was a response to the naughty boys of Eve Online, Goonswarm, allegedly waltzing away with an unprecedented 5 trillion ISK (in-game currency) after exploiting a loop-hole in the game's recent Inferno expansion.
"Regarding anger, certainly there's none on our end," Eve Online senior security administrator Sean Conover (CCP Sreegs) - former leader of Goonswarm (!) - insisted.
"We'd rather not be in a position to have to dig through all this, but it's also certainly more interesting having what may be the most crafty players in the world prying at cracks in our system in order to gain a competitive edge than adjusting spreadsheets to determine whether people are farming wolf pelts too quickly."
Goonswarm's an alliance (a group of corporations - guilds) led by Alexander "The Mittani" Gianturco, the former chairman of the player-elected Council of Stellar Management (CSM). He was disgraced after mocking a suicidal Eve Online player.
Goonswaffe - a corporation within the Goonswarm alliance - bragged about how it exploited this recent Factional Warfare loop-hole on the Eve Online forum. Its bounteous discovery was described as "a literal currency fountain very nearly without limit".
"I'm not sure I'd classify it as a theft," Sean Conover remarked. "It's certainly an exploit.
"Because the Loyalty Points are generated from thin air by this exploit (there's a lot of work involved so that's pretty simplified), it would be better equated to printing a currency than stealing it from someone.
"It's also certainly more interesting having what may be the most crafty players in the world prying at cracks in our system in order to gain a competitive edge than adjusting spreadsheets to determine whether people are farming wolf pelts too quickly."
Sean Conover (CCP Sreegs), senior security administrator, Eve Online
"I don't believe we've ever been in this situation before," he added. "So, as far as currency manipulation is concerned, then it is by default the largest enterprise of its kind, but it is still an illegal enterprise from our perspective."
The sum, 5 trillion ISK, may flatter Goonswarm. "We haven't verified the total as 5 trillion ISK," Johnson shared.
The exploit involved "manipulating disparities" between two in-game currencies - ISK and Loyalty Points. Loyalty Points are given as rewards by NPC factions or corporations for running Factional Warfare missions (overhauled in Inferno). Players can use Loyalty Points to buy cheaper implants or, at the top-end, blueprints for special Navy ships.
But because the ISK and LP conversion rates vary daily, so too does the estimate of exactly how much ISK Goonswarm waltzed off with. Sean Conover isn't sure anyone has "a real calculation" of what Goonswarm earned.
"We can say that the LP (Loyalty Points) value farmed was in the low single-digit billions," Sean Conover revealed.
Johnson wrote a post on this topic on the Eve Online website yesterday. A graph he provided shows the astronomical spike in "Loyalty Points made in total ever" on 10th June and 17th June.
"I'm not an economist really so I don't want to speculate on what various amounts of currency might do to a market (and I doubt more than two economists in a room would agree on that either)," he told Eurogamer.
"But what I can say is that the currency which was generated from this exploit will never be in the economy, so we've prevented any problems which could potentially be caused by it.
"The things we've done with Faction Warfare in terms of gameplay, UI etc. makes it one of the best things we've made for a long time ... That we had to close a loophole doesn't take anything away from the fact that this Faction Warfare iteration has been extremely successful."
Kristoffer Touborg (CCP Soundwave), lead game designer, Eve Online
"Were this not to have been adjusted and the exploitation allowed to continue, then it is certainly a fair assessment that the LP market would have suffered a bit of a crisis."
Those Eve Online spacers who used this exploit will have all of their Loyalty Points "temporarily seized" while CCP determines to what extent they benefited from the loop-hole. Once that's done, CCP will remove the "LP gained value in LP and items" and return the ISK invested in it all.
"This essentially will set each of them back to the original point at which they began this activity," Johnson explained on the CCP website.
So is that it - a slap on the wrist for Goonswarm and no more?
"By policy," Johnson told Eurogamer, "we don't get into the business of calling out individuals who have been involved in administrative actions of any kind or their alliances.
"I can say that the five people who found and utilised this exploit will not gain from it."
When Goonswaffe gloated about exploiting the loop-hole, it described the Eve Online Inferno expansion as "a bust" - "The revamp to Faction Warfare in Inferno was the single biggest mistake CCP has ever made," poster Ayrth declared.
"I'd say my perspective is the complete opposite," retorted lead game designer Kristoffer Touborg. "The things we've done with Faction Warfare in terms of gameplay, UI etc. makes it one of the best things we've made for a long time.
"Monitoring the game, cleaning up issues and exploits is a part of daily life when you run a live product and this situation isn't "special" in that regard, it's business as usual here. That we had to close a loophole doesn't take anything away from the fact that this Faction Warfare iteration has been extremely successful and it will be even more so when we round it off in a few months.
"So yeah, completely disagree."