A giant cryptocurrency farm in Ukraine that contained thousands of PlayStation 4 consoles was actually a FIFA bot farm.
Last week the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) announced it had shut down what was reported as a cryptocurrency mining farm that contained an incredible 3800 game consoles. Images showed racks of PS4 Slims (some claimed the photos showed PS4 Pros) - either way not the ideal hardware for a cryptocurrency farm.
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It turns out the PS4s were being used to grind FIFA Ultimate Team.
According to an investigation by Ukraine business newspaper Delo, sparked by scepticism of the official claim about the farm being primarily about mining cryptocurrency, as well as the fact game discs can be seen protruding from PS4s in one of the pictures, what we're looking at in the photos is a bot farm that got stuck into the Ultimate Team grind, with the goal of selling accounts loaded up with in-game currency on the black market.
Delo said the Security Service of Ukraine has so far refused to comment on the revelation, citing the secrecy of the investigation. But the suggestion is these PS4 Slims, all controlled by PCs running bots, farmed Ultimate Team for profit.
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Ultimate Team is the perfect game for this kind of operation, given how it's structured. You can spend real-world money on loot boxes in the hope of obtaining high-value cards, but the odds of getting one of the best players is soul-destroyingly slim. Or, you can play the game for months on end in a bid to save up enough of the in-game currency to splash out on the auction house. Or, you can buy FUT coins on the black market (expect 40,000 FUT coins to cost you a couple of quid). To put that into context, Lionel Messi's 99-rated Summer Stars card currently costs around 1.5m FUT coins on the PlayStation auction house.
EA Sports' battle against third-party FUT coin sellers is long-running and well-documented. As I reported in 2017, there are a huge number of websites that let you buy FUT packs and coins, and sell your coins and even accounts. The FIFA Ultimate Team black market is huge, despite EA's attempt to combat it over the years.
EA warns players against buying or selling FUT coins, saying it could result in a ban.
The SBU said it also found more than 500 video cards, 50 processors, draft documentation on electricity consumption accounting as well as notebooks, phones and flash drives in the warehouse. With all that, cryptocurrency mining may well have been going on. But it's clear now the primary purpose of the warehouse was to grind Ultimate Team.