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Griefers or saviours? The Elite Dangerous players causing a rift in space

"We're internet sociopaths."

There's a war going on within Elite Dangerous - and it's sending shockwaves rippling throughout the game's virtual universe.

It was sparked by a particularly determined group of mischief-makers who are hell bent on killing other players - even those who have joined a massive private group in which player versus player combat is forbidden.

These griefers, as some have labelled them, are collectively called the Smiling Dog Crew. Their modus operandi: to cause as much trouble as possible. Critics accuse SDC members of harassing other players - and claim that their actions are in breach of Elite Dangerous' end-user license agreement. Supporters, however, say SDC plays within the rules of the game - a game that, by definition, is dangerous.

Recent events, however, show SDC has taken its griefing to the next, troubling level. It's infiltrated a private group of over 20,000 like-minded player-versus-environment fans, published gameplay videos that use ISIS-style audio to YouTube, and targeted streamers who raise money for charity.

The SDC is a relatively small group of Elite Dangerous players, but their notoriety has grown in recent months, and their actions have sparked a vociferous debate: should developer Frontier ban them from the game? Or is all fair in love and space war?

All the while, Frontier has refused to single out the SDC for criticism, having once showcased the group in an official spotlight post. Its official statement on the matter failed to satisfy many who are incensed that SDC goes unpunished. SDC members tell Eurogamer they will quit the game if they are banned - and claim Elite Dangerous will die without them. But will Frontier pick a side?

Elite Dangerous is unique in that it can be played in three ways: solo, open and private. Play solo and you'll never see another player. Play in open and you're playing with everyone else playing in open. Play in a private group, and you'll only see players also in that private group.

Mobius PvE is the biggest private group in Elite Dangerous, with over 20,000 members. It's designed for player versus environment play, and player versus player combat is forbidden. But, over the course of a February 2016 weekend, Smiling Dog Crew members sneaked their way in to the group and killed other players. It was a weekend that would become known as "the Mobius incident".

In Elite Dangerous you can "pull" other players into combat using what's called "interdiction". After you interdict another player, the idea is you'll try to destroy them. Your target can fight back, of course, or try to escape. But PvE players, those who favour trading, trawling and exploring, are often ill-prepared for combat. Either their ship isn't properly equipped to defend against or kill other players, or they simply lack the knowledge needed to survive. SDC found Mobius swollen with fresh meat.

Why care? In Elite Dangerous, when you die you lose credits, the in-game currency, because you have to buy a new spaceship after yours is blown up. After you die it takes takes time to get back on your feet and to get back to where you were in the universe. Being killed in Elite Dangerous is at best a mild annoyance, at worst soul-destroying.

Mobius was created to offer a "space" within Elite Dangerous where players could play together in relative safety. Its founder, Liam Rafferty, tells Eurogamer his private group is comfortably the largest within the game, and he receives around 1000 applications a week. Its success highlights a growing desire among the community for PvE-only play - something Elite Dangerous does not offer unless you play "solo".

To infiltrate Mobius, all SDC members had to do was apply. Because their "CMDR" names were not on Rafferty's blacklist, they were accepted. Once in, they were free to kill unsuspecting players.

"SDC slowly put their alt accounts into my group over a period of two months," Rafferty says. "They're just sitting there in the background. Then they all teamed up and decided to take out players.

"I then get emails saying I was attacked by so and so. So I started kicking them out of the group. A few of them changed their alt commander names and then re-applied to join the group. That falls under harassment.

"I used to just kick. Now I block them and kick them. I've got a huge block list."

This "infiltration", as it has been called, involved around a dozen SDC players, who killed a handful of players. It was, relative to Elite Dangerous' half a million strong player base, small fry stuff. But the Mobius incident raised important questions about harassment within Elite Dangerous, questions that were debated to the tune of thousands of posts on the Frontier forum and on r/EliteDangerous.

SDC's victims claimed they were blocked from playing Elite Dangerous the way they wanted to, that they were being harassed. The reaction from many Mobius players was clear: SDC members should be banned from the game.

Here's a snippet of the response:

SDC drew more ire by publishing videos of its Mobius kills to YouTube. Some SDC members reportedly say "Allahu Akbar" as they kill other players. One particularly troublesome video, below, even used an jihadist chant as its audio. "In the long run they're destroying the community," a despondent Rafferty says.

Watch on YouTube

Then there's the stream sniping. This is when Elite Dangerous players target streamers in a bid to disrupt their play. SDC has stream sniped for months, but in recent weeks it targeted streamers who were raising money for charity, and posted videos of their exploits to YouTube while trumpeting their actions on the Frontier forum.

One of the most notorious members of SDC is CMDR Harry Potter. He's uploaded videos of his player kills and played a key role in SDC's stream sniping. In late February he was involved in disrupting three charity streams, one of which was hosted by popular Elite Dangerous streamer Kate Click, aka CMDR Angel Rose. Kate Click was raising money for video game charity Special Effect when Harry Potter destroyed her. Harry Potter uploaded the incident, from his point of view, to YouTube.

Watch on YouTube

Kate Click's perspective is archived on Twitch. Clearly, she is upset. Potter kills her - without her consent - and it causes her distress. But is he harassing her?

For Liam Rafferty, the Mobius incident was the straw that broke the camel's back. He approached Frontier to complain about SDC members, who he accused of using alt accounts with different commander names to re-enter Mobius PvE just to kill its members for the fun of it.

"You get a lot of threats on Reddit," he explains. "I said, 'it's affecting your EULA. These are the threats to our group. I really don't need this.' I contacted Frontier and said, 'can you just stop it because it's getting out of hand.'

"Frontier got back and said there's not a lot we can do about it, really. But then Zac put a post up to reiterate the EULA."

The Mobius incident, closely followed by SDC's three-pronged charity stream sniping, sparked Zac Antonaci, Frontier's head of community, to take to the Elite Dangerous forum on 11th March with a post titled: "Reiteration of player harassment rules."

Frontier's reiteration of player harassment rules post sparked a heated debate - and an in-game response from SDC.

Here Frontier steps in to say those who use alternative accounts to re-enter private groups are guilty of harassment, and thus in breach of the Elite Dangerous EULA, but it's up to the organisers of private groups to kick those it finds are breaking the group rules. That's not on Frontier, then. That's on Rafferty and his ever-growing blacklist. Frontier's statement also suggests targeting charity streams and publishing videos to YouTube can also be considered harassment, although, as Frontier points out, context is king. If, for example, a streamer is playing in open and declares war on another group of players, they're asking for trouble. The forum post is, essentially, a public warning to SDC, even though Frontier fails to mention SDC by name.

SDC responded to Frontier's post by organising a charity stream of its own, in a move many players considered to be the controversial group giving Frontier and its EULA the finger. On 19th March SDC partnered with another piracy-focused group called The Code to raise money for Prostate Cancer UK in an operation it called "Arseholes for Arseholes". SDC, led by co-founder CMDR Sundae, and The Code, led by CMDR Majinvash, destroyed Elite Dangerous newcomers in the game's starter area. With each kill real world money was donated.

SDC and The Code maintain "Arseholes for Arseholes" was a genuine attempt to raise money for charity. Others are convinced it was an attempt to use Frontier's statement against them. By dressing up griefing in the clothes of a charity stream, SDC would avoid any potential breach of the EULA. It was, in effect, an elaborate troll. The final insult: a Frontier moderator greenlit a post advertising the "charity" stream on the developer's forum.

44-year-old Australian Sean Alberts, aka CMDR Ornee Shaula, is, along with CMDR Sundae, co-founder of SDC. He says the group's roots can be traced back to rival space MMO Eve Online - a game considered much more dangerous than Elite.

"I was in Eve for five years," he says, "in most of the top tier clans. A lot of our culture comes from those Eve clans. Have fun and blow things up; at the end of the day, that's what Eve's all about."

Alberts downplays the Mobius incident, although he admits it was one of SDC's most controversial "ops".

"The aim of it was to show just how out of proportion such a small incident was going to get blown into," he says.

"It was like we went on a killing spree and killed a hundred real people in real life. The reactions we get! And the howls of, murder! Understand, guys, it's a game, yeah? No-one actually died. That's part of the game."

So why infiltrate Mobius and kill its players in the first place?

"Certain aspects of that community were persecuting a lot of the stuff we were doing," Alberts says.

"It was triggered by a post. We were sitting in the Teamspeak one night. Someone saw a post that said 'these clowns'. We just went in there and made a bit of a mockery of them and then left and moved on to our next fun thing.

"A lot of guys who play in private groups and solo spend a lot of time on forums talking about us and have never had any kind of experience with us. They've never talked to us. They've never been shot by us. And they are the ones who cry the loudest on the forums."

Perhaps more troublesome than the Mobius incident was SDC's charity stream sniping and associated YouTube videos. British college student Josh Chamberlain, aka CMDR Harry Potter - probably the most hated player in Elite Dangerous right now - dismisses his critics.

"It honestly does not bother me what people brand our group as or brand me as, to be perfectly honest," he says.

"Normally when I attack streamers, I leave them low on hull but don't actually kill them. But this time I decided to go the whole hog and kill them, and that didn't ring well with them. Most of them knew. Some people just don't like being attacked. Some people just can't handle it. Kate Click, she made many mistakes. She could have got away. She almost did. Why she was so upset about it, I don't know. It's not as if I just came out of the blue and just did it."

SDC's response to Frontier's forum post, the infamous "Arseholes for Arseholes" operation, sparked a particularly emotional response from SDC's critics. One Elite Dangerous player, whose father is dying from prostate cancer, took to the game's forum to vent his anger at SDC, accusing the group of using "our personal tragedy to make some lame, childish point".

"We don't care about those people who are going, my dad's dying from prostate cancer you're making a mockery of it!" Alberts laughs.

"The money went to a cancer charity that helped Majonvash's friend who had prostate cancer. We're not making a mockery of cancer. We're just making a mockery of the knee-jerk reaction.

"We really like that duality of them not knowing how to take us. Are these guys just really bad and terrible? Are they a bunch of childish arseholes? Or are they a bunch of geniuses who are fucking with the program? It's probably a bit of all of the above."

Alberts insists that like the Mobius op, Arseholes for Arseholes was about teaching Frontier a lesson.

"It was deliberately taking the piss out of Frontier's post," Alberts says. "All the howling and all the bullshit and all your really badly thought-out ideas and knee-jerk reactions don't work on us, because as soon as you have a fucking knee-jerk reaction, we're going to sit down, analyse it, take it apart and we've got a team of smart guys who will work out a way to turn this back around to go, look, you didn't think this out well, did you?"

Victims of SDC's player killing actions often raise the issue of consent within Elite Dangerous. Those who have joined a private group such as Mobius PvE have made a conscious effort to avoid PvP. They do not give other players permission to drag them into a combat situation. And it's this issue of consent that often leads to claims of harassment.

"The definition of griefing is when you pursue someone in and out of game continually over a period of time to cause them personal affront or discomfort or emotional disturbance," Alberts says.

"Griefing is like when The Mittani from Eve got 4000 guys to email a guy and told him to hang himself. That's griefing and harassment. 10 minutes in Mobius, having a bit of fun and making a point..."

So, what is the point SDC is trying to make?

Many in the Elite Dangerous community believe the game suffers from an identity crisis. I've spoken with a raft of players, some of whom backed the Elite Dangerous Kickstarter to the tune of thousands of pounds, on this topic, and most point to the structure of the space game as its most troubling flaw.

In general, there are three kind of Elite Dangerous players: those who enjoy PvE, those who enjoy PvP, and those who enjoy a mix. While Elite Dangerous caters to all three with solo, private group and open modes, everyone plays on the same backend systems. What players do in solo, for example, affects those in open, and vice versa. PvP players, such as SDC members, hate this.

"Why is there a solo?" Alberts asks. "Why are there private groups? Why can Mobius pull 20,000 people out of open play and into this private group and actually affect the game we're still playing all in open, where we're not scared of being blown up?"

CMDR Harry Potter shares his boss' ill view of private groups such as Mobius PvE.

"They're essentially segregating the community, which isn't right," he says. "We've got people coming into the game and they're like, 'I've never seen another player since I've started playing this, and I've always played in open.' And it's because those other players are playing in Mobius, because they don't want the PvP."

There are a number of ways players can affect the persistent world of Elite Dangerous from the safety of solo or private group. If you're in private or solo, for example, and attack one of Elite Dangerous' factions, those who wish to defend them are powerless to respond. You can even change the politics of a system of space, turning space stations hostile (this is called "flipping" a station). Those space stations may then try to kill those in open who dare to get too close. SDC believe this is not in the spirit of the game.

SDC members tell me highlighting this crucial issue with the way Elite Dangerous works is why they do what they do. But some, including Mobius boss Liam Rafferty, are sceptical of SDC's claims. He doesn't believe they're trying to make a point. He believes they're griefing for the laugh, and that's all there is to it.

"It's very frustrating listening to these people, because anything they're saying they're highlighting has already been brought up by the community already," Rafferty says. "They haven't highlighted anything new. They're clever with one thing and a bit daft with another thing. They say they're doing it for the community. Five minutes later they say they have no control over their players, so if they want to go around killing people then they can go around killing people. You think, oh, gawd.

"I've got no love for them, and they've got no love for me, either."

Elite Dangerous players love their spaceships - and so they should. Some require significant time and effort to obtain.

Frontier boss David Braben tells me the solo part of Elite Dangerous is crucial for helping newcomers get into the game - and it's not going anywhere.

"Players can get up to speed in solo," he says. "It's in the armoury of things that work well. Solo play is quite important to a lot of people, depending on the performance of network, and all sorts of things. But we're continually looking at the way things work. Having said that, things are working really well. There are edge cases - we don't talk about specifics - but we're continuously on the lookout for how to make them even better."

Whether you believe SDC goes too far in its actions, it's hard to deny the group has added spice to the Elite Dangerous universe. Some reckon SDC's actions are good for the game because they spark the kind of player-driven emergent gameplay many feel Elite Dangerous desperately needs.

The 13th Legion is a rival group which declared war on SDC following the Mobius incident. Its declaration was in character - that is, its Reddit declaration reads as if it were written by a fictional Elite Dangerous organisation.

13th Legion leader Bruce Hermann, aka CMDR Nightshady, says SDC's antics are good for the game. They spark group war, for example. The good guys, in this case 13th Legion, versus the bad guys, SDC. Love them or hate them, SDC spices up Elite Dangerous. They make what some consider to be a pedestrian game, interesting.

"I think what they do is awesome because it creates content," CMDR Nightshady says. "Even though we're enemies in the game, I appreciate what they do.

"They play as the bad guys, and they're okay with that. They try and kill as many ships as they can, and they role-play it up. At times it's a stretch. But you know what? It's part of the game. It's called Elite Dangerous for a reason. You can be killed just flying your ship into a station. Or you could be killed by an NPC, or a regular player. It's all a learning experience."

CMDR Nightshady, like SDC, is an Elite Dangerous PvP fan. He believes combat is a crucial part of the game experience, and it's something all players should be prepared to face.

"I've been killed by them a lot," he says "It's just what they do. We kill each other and we laugh about it. It makes the game interesting. It makes it fun. I understand some players get their panties all in a bunch if they get killed. But in the end it's just a game and it's making the game interesting to have the bad guys out there. What good story doesn't have a good villain?"

CMDR Nightshady, like some SDC members, brushes off complaints from victims of PvP by suggesting they, well... try harder.

"I could take a player who maybe runs as a trader, and in 10 minutes tell them how to avoid interdiction by SDC," CMDR Nightshady says. "And if they are interdicted, I can tell them how to escape. Getting away from someone trying to kill you is really not that hard unless you're in the very base ship. It's all about knowledge, and you get that by joining a player group."

CMDR Harry Potter has his own, unique advice for his victims:

"We're not ruining your game," he says. "You simply need to get better at the game. Someone once said to me when I got killed and I complained, 'get good'. That's exactly what I did. There's so much to learn. Skill is a small part of playing this game, especially PvP. You can win by tactical advantages, by knowing how to manage your power, what to do when, your situational awareness. There are basic things that apply to PvE that players can bring into open play to avoid conflict or PvP. It's almost impossible to die in this game, if you know what you're doing."

I get the impression, talking to SDC members, that underpinning their relentless griefing is a love of space ship combat. SDC members seek PvP out, moving from Community Goal to Community Goal on the hunt for the next thrilling - and sometimes, for them at least, hilarious - encounter.

"My original gaming experiences go back to IL-2 Sturmovik and Microsoft Combat Flight Simulator," SDC co-founder Sean Alberts explains. "So there was that dueling culture of pilots, which goes back to World War 1, where the pilots where the knights of the sky. In those games, if you had a good fight with someone, there was congratulations. There would be a debrief with your opponent. It's the same in Elite. Competitive guys will get together and fight and break it down enough to learn from each other. That's what SDC is really about - the trading of information, concepts, ideas, to keep it clever and tongue in cheek."

PvP fans point to the name of the game - Elite Dangerous - as evidence they're in the right. The game is meant to be dangerous, they say. Look, see, it's there in the title.

Others disagree. "I see that so often," Lafferty counters. "PvP players go, it's called Elite Dangerous for a reason. It's not called Elite Dangerous because it's dangerous. Dangerous in the title has to do with the ranking system. It goes back to the original '80s game. It's not that Elite is dangerous. It's not that at all. And all these people jump onto that."

This argument, which has, by the way, raged since Elite Dangerous launched, shines a light on the chasm that currently divides the game's audience. So, what's the answer? Can Elite's fractious community be brought together in perfect harmony?

Most agree Frontier is unlikely to make drastic changes to the structure of Elite Dangerous now it's been out in the wild for a couple of years. But some believe small tweaks could combine to solve Elite's big problems. One such small tweak I've heard suggested is the addition of a PvE tag feature to the game. This tag would protect players against interdiction, thus encouraging PvE-focused CMDRs back into open, where everyone, theoretically, would play together.

Braben, however, stopped short of confirming Frontier would add a PvE tag to the game when I put the suggestion to him, but he did point to upcoming improvements to Elite Dangerous' Crime and Punishment system that should make "piracy" - the gameplay style groups such as SDC fall into - much more interesting. Groups such as SDC and Mobius wait with baited breath.

Many of SDC's critics, however, won't be satisfied until they see Frontier wipe the group from the face of Elite Dangerous' virtual universe. They stress its actions should be considered harassment, in breach of the game's EULA, and call on Frontier to issue bans.

"Frontier says you can play the game the way you want to play it," Mobius boss Rafferty says. "We've removed ourselves. You've got to jump through a few hoops just to get into our group. So players going out of their way to do so, it's griefing. We're not like Eve. We're not like a corporation. We're not like the Mobius Corporation versus the SDC Corporation. We literally are just a playing environment."

Mobius PvE has a strict policy and code of conduct it expects all members to adhere to.

The issue of harassment is a tricky one. Definitions vary. Opinion is split on what should and should not be considered harassment. It's an emotive topic.

CMDR Harry Potter has been accused of harassment multiple times by Elite Dangerous players, particularly by those thrust into the spotlight by one of his YouTube videos, but he denies his actions should be considered as such.

"It's definitely not harassment," he says. "There is no way it could be harassment. The videos are intended to make people think we're the bad guys or the griefers. They're intended to cause that kind of emotion. There's no hate behind it. There's nothing hurtful intended. Griefing is a strong word used in this game. A lot of people throw that word around, saying open is full of griefers, when, realistically it's not. There are definitely griefers in Elite, but they are completely different in the way they act compared to how we act."

If SDC is not guilty of harassment, as its members claim, then how would it describe its actions?

"We definitely act like arseholes at times," CMDR Harry Potter says. "It's all just part of the fun. We really do love PvP and we want it to go as far as we can. Some of us feel Frontier don't take PvP as seriously, and we find we get penalised quite often.

"We're internet sociopaths, but I prefer the term murder hobo."

SDC leader Sean Alberts, however, admits CMDR Harry Potter's relentless targeting of popular Elite Dangerous streamer Kate Click verges on the inappropriate.

"What Harry does borders on harassment, especially with Kate Click," Alberts says. "What we would call harassment is continually following someone around the galaxy and killing them. Not just eliciting some emotion out of them for a day or an instant or one little fight - because we do randomly kill people, it's just something that happens.

"If I thought he was in the wrong and this was a bad kind of harassment that Kate wasn't a party to herself, I would have stopped it."

And what of the videos SDC members publish on YouTube, particularly those that double down on the group's reputation as a virtual terrorist organisation?

"We've been called terrorists and worse than ISIS," Alberts says. "It's just a mockery of that. Music is music. Just because it sounds Arabic doesn't mean it's ISIS music. ISIS do not represent Islam. You know they burn musical instruments? ISIS doesn't have music.

"Small-minded people just go into hysterics and we love that. The lyrics were a bit controversial, because it is about Jihad - but not Jihad as in running around cutting people's heads off and being terrorists. It's Jihad in the sense of the personal struggle."

Has SDC crossed the line, I wonder?

"What line?" Alberts replies. "We want people to either have a laugh or have an emotional outburst. Everything we do generates some kind of controversy. We want to show people the essence of gaming is to get excited. If we upset people while we're at it, even better.

"We don't care about being called a dick."

Whether you believe SDC's actions are in breach of Elite Dangerous' EULA or not, no-one I spoke to for this investigation takes Frontier's warning seriously. No-one believes SDC members will be banned - not even their victims.

"I don't think they're going to do anything," Rafferty says. "It's just a warning. If we get repeat offenders, it'll be difficult to say this is an alt account for so and so, unless you've got proof. It's difficult to police.

"They want everyone to get along, but their hands are tied."

13th Legion leader CMDR Nightshady is similarly sceptical of Frontier's post: "It is a totally empty threat. As long as we're playing within the boundaries of the game, we're not exploiting by killing people, so they won't ban us."

Zac Antonaci and David Braben stopped short of promising to ban any SDC members during our conversation. Instead they pointed to Frontier's reiteration of its take on harassment on its forum, and vowed to consider "context" while investigating reports.

Many players I spoke to believe Frontier is afraid that if it bans SDC members and other like-minded players, they'll abandon the game. But the bigger picture is this: if Frontier cracks down on PvP fans who play within the rules of the game - that is, they do not cheat, glitch or use exploits - then the developer would be sending out a troubling message: if you kill other players you could be banned. This, in a game whose Kickstarter promised to let would-be space pirates live out their dreams in an ambitious video game universe.

Frontier bills Elite Dangerous as a game you can play your way. But not everyone agrees that's the case.

SDC's Harry Potter says he'd quit Elite Dangerous for other games if Frontier bans anyone from SDC.

"Their website claims you can hunt other commanders, which is exactly what I do. I don't cherry pick players based on their race or colour. If I see another player, I go and kill them. It's really as simple as that. If I can get away with the kill, I'll just kill them. there's no discrimination involved whatsoever.

"If people start getting banned for this, the game is going to die. PvP will be dead because you won't know whether you can kill someone or not through a threat of being banned because that person might have been streaming. It's so stupid. There's now a risk associated with killing people.

"Will Frontier come down on us hard because we've killed a charity streamer, whether we knew or not? It's ridiculous. We stream often. We invite people to attack us. We've attacked other streamers who invite people to attack them. And we've had great fun.

"They could ban all of SDC and be done with it. And the game would probably sit up well for another couple of months. PvP would fall apart. And then there would be a massive influx of people with the 2.1 update. There would be new PvPers. And with it it would bring people like us. And then we'll go around in circles again. Then more people will get banned. Then more people will come in. And then more people would get banned.

"It's got to the point where I now have difficulty recommending this game to anyone, not just because of a lack of content, or people getting bored, or the steep learning curve. It's Frontier's attitude to the way people play. If you're a PvE player, or a care bear as people call them, you'll love this game. But if you're a PvPer like me, you'll constantly be scrutinised by Frontier. It's evident by the amount of tickets I have regarding people cheating.

"No-one has been banned from SDC. There have been multiple attempts, but all of them have been lifted. Since the update we've had nothing from Frontier at all. I'd like to think it's an empty threat. It causes a whole lot of problems if they do try and act on it. If they don't, they look weak. If they do, they'll lose a whole lot more players than they ban."

CMDR Nightshady agrees. "Frontier has to be careful," he warns. "If I got banned for playing the game, absolutely I would quit. And that would be a loss to the game, because everyone knows who I am in the game because I'm always posting and doing these big missions. We create the content. If I get banned for playing the game then absolutely, I'd be done. I'd go play Star Citizen."

In the face of Frontier's warning, SDC co-founder Sean Alberts has vowed to continue to push Elite Dangerous and its rules to their limit. "We'll push the line and we'll bend it, as long as it doesn't break," he says.

And yet, there are signs SDC may change its ways. It recently contacted Frontier community chief Zac Antonaci to ask how it should go about attaining Triple Elite group status and thus join an exclusive club of a few Elite Dangerous groups who have access to a private chat channel in which they're encouraged to organise community events.

As part of this conversation, Alberts says, Antonaci suggested SDC tone it down a bit. "They want corps to attract people into open instead of chasing them out, which is sort of what we do at times," Alberts says.

"What I've put to the guys now is, we have to be seen to be helping the community, and that's not a bad thing. But at the same time, we have to maintain this image of us being a bunch of arseholes people love to hate. They're going to love us. They're going to hate us. They're going to love to hate us. But at the end of the day there's not much they're going to be able to say."

To this end, SDC has organised an event that gives Elite Dangerous players a chance to gain their revenge. CMDR Harry Potter is the target. He will be hunted. And SDC promises to give any player who manages to kill him in-game credits as a reward. But be warned: CMDR Harry Potter will be protected.

Is SDC going soft, I wonder?

"Our MO of mischief, that's never going to go away," Alberts says. "That's who we are."