Interstellar ‘kredits’ from in an online game converted to hard cash?  Well, I’ll be beamed up by Scotty, how could that be possible?  According to a Reuters report making the headlines ‘down under’, an enterprising Australian gamer, given the responsibility of running an eBank within the confines of a popular online game, managed to do just that.  And it seems his fellow players are none too happy about it.

This sordid tale emanates from the virtual world of EVE Online which boasts more than 300,000 players that pay $15 per month for the ‘pleasure’.  Within this unreal environment, set in the distant future where humans have colonised stars, not unlike World of Warcraft and Second Life, players make money by working hard, manipulating markets and killing off rivals.  (Sounds unnervingly close to today’s real world, doesn’t it?)

At the centre of the scandal lies EBank, EVE’s largest player-run financial institution which has thousands of depositors.  The CEO of EBank, a 27 year old Australian tech worker only identified as Richard and using the online name Ricdic managed to embezzle about 20 billion ‘interstellar kredits’, the game’s virtual currency.

Just like in our real world there are apparently people willing to ‘earn’ money via ‘alternative’ means.  This is where the interesting part happens.   Players are willing to exchange real money for virtual money and Ricdic found a willing buying that forked over $6,300 to do just that.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t Ricdic’s money to start with.

Now you are probably wondering how anybody would manage to find players online willing to part with their ‘hard earned’ kredits.  According to Ricdic, just as in the real world, a spam email from a black market website popped up on his screen prompting him to exchange the virtual cash for folding money.  As he needed some for a house deposit and to cover his son’s medical expenses so he decided, atbthe spur of the moment, to ‘skim some off the top’, as he put it.

It seems that it is OK to buy virtual money with real money, or use virtual cash to pay for playing time, but players cannot exchange game money for the real thing.  If Ricdic had merely stolen the online money he could have stayed in the game. By exchanging the virtual cash for real dollars he broke the rules and had his EBank accounts banned.  Even more ironic is that Ricdic or Richard had built quite a reputation as one if EVE’s most trusted players, probably why he attained the role as the bank’s CEO. Trust appears to be truly rare commodity in a game where repeatedly blowing up a violator’s spaceship is the only way to enforce some contracts.

Word of the theft spread quickly within EVE. Panicked customers started a run on the bank, worried that they would lose the money they had amassed by hunting space pirates or mining asteroids.  Hmmmm, now it’s started to sound unnervingly like the real world of late!

It appears EBank has survived the crisis but Ricdic will not be returning to EVE anytime soon.  He may also need to keep an eye out for the ‘stellar police’, people with pointy ears or Captain Kirk sent out with a summons for his arrest.