To explain the issues, you need to know what SOMERblink was. Started four years ago by Somerset Mahm (also known as Somer), SOMERblink allowed for people to gamble with their isk (the in game currency for Eve Online). The form of gambling is a system called a micro lottery, which operates similar to a raffle. People buy a ticket (or tickets), into the raffle (or as SOMERblink called them, Blinks) for a chance to win a rare or expensive ship, game item, or a PLEX. These tickets are limited for each item, meaning that you can't buy a hundred tickets for something you want (although you can buy out all of the tickets if you are fast enough). If Somer had just kept it at that, they would have been perfectly fine. But before we get into what they changed, we need to look at some previous issues Somer had with the community in Eve.
|The layout of a typical game of Blink.|
Later in 2013, a mail was leaked from a SOMERblink employee stating that each member of the staff at SOMERblink would be receiving an Scorpion Ishukone Watch from CCP. These ships, which cannot be built in the game, are used by CCP as prizes for community events and are estimated to be worth between 15 to 20 billion isk. At the moment there are a known 132 of these. CCP's reason for giving these rare ships out? As a thanks to "one of the most awesome community sites we have." This caused a lot of controversy among the community, mainly because this deal all happened behind closed doors implying that CCP wanted to keep this a secret for some reason. Even other Eve based gambling sites distanced themselves from SOMERblink, with Eve-Bet stating that they thought those ships should be reserved for "more deserving winners and not sites that can afford to purchase them off the market like everyone else."
|The first way SOMERblink tried RMT.|
Now we get into the part that Somer changed. While all the attention was on Somer and SOMERblink from these two events, FunkyBacon, an eve blogger who also hosts an Eve Radio show posted this blog post about SOMERblink. In it, he details a way that Somer had been making money by what was ostensibly selling isk. Like selling gold in WoW, selling isk for real money (RMT) is not allowed in by CCP as detailed in the EULA (specifically section B of Conduct). How was Somer able to do this? FunkyBacon used the image to the right to detail how this worked. SOMERblink had a link to a website called Markee Dragon who sell Eve game time codes that can be exchanged for PLEX - an in game item that can either be used to add 30 days of game time to the account, or traded on the in game market in exchange for isk. In return for directing traffic to their site, Markee Dragon give Somer a referral bonus. Somer then gives the player 200 million worth of credits to be used on his site (essentially giving the player 200 million isk, but only for gambling use).
NoizyGamer, another blogger who talks a lot about RMT and botting in MMOs, made a post that was extremely well researched and in depth on the whole situation. His research lead to a discussion with the Chief Operating Officer of Somers previous GTC reseller - Shattered Crystal. During the conversation, Noizy found out that Somer had been let go as an affiliate after a bidding war on the referral bonus percentage. Standard referral bonuses are 5%, but Shattered Crystal had to let Somer go after the bidding hit 8%, and with the volume of GTC that the link on the SOMERblink website had sold, Noizy estimates that Somer was making around $7500 a month with his incentive to buy from him, if he was indeed at 8%. Eventually, CCP were forced to make a change to the rules regarding selling time codes, and Somer had to stop offering the bonus credits.
|Screenshot from NoizyGamer's blog. Find it here.|
The biggest question I've seen asked is this: How is this RMT? Once again, FunkyBacon provided us with an updated version of his previous diagram to show exactly how:
|Seriously guys, go read FunkyBacon's blog. He's even a CSM member.|
|Click here for large version. Thanks to Noizy again for this picture.|
And that leads us to where we are today. A rather sharply worded message was posted at the top of the SOMERblink website that read:
Thanks for all the years of Blink that we've spent together. It's been a long four years-- some of it longer than others! Unfortunately, as of today, Blink is going to go on extended-- perhaps indefinite-- hiatus. CCP has gone back on everything they said several months ago, and the resulting environment is so hostile that it's not one we want to try to operate in, if CCP throws us under the bus.
If you have prizes waiting, they will be fulfilled. You can claim prizes as normal. Bonk tickets have been refunded to your account balance. We will begin refunding all account balances of people that have played in the last 6 months, starting with balances over 10 million ISK. As always, we're not in the business of stealing your money. It's been an absolute pleasure to meet many of you, through Blink, Eve, and our lotteries channel. Thank you for the experience.
CCP Falcon also posted the official response to the whole situation on the forums. In it, he details the fact that none of the ideas for promotions that Somer had provided were approved by the appropriate people "namely, the Legal Team," and that Somer had "no basis to assert that the live promotion was "approved by CCP"". In an interesting twist, Somer's characters were all banned permanently for violation of the EULA and Terms of Service, meaning they will have to start a fresh account to play Eve if they choose to come back.
If there is one positive I can find about the SOMERblink scandal, it's that they are paying back isk to players despite the fact that they could easily shift that over to other accounts and be space rich. Maybe it's because they are already space rich from all the earnings of Blink that they feel they should pay them back. In any case, its a small silver lining to what is otherwise a very rocky story. I can't help but think that if Somer had simply put some sort of advertising on the site to make money, none of this would have happened. They could have even still had the link to Markee Dragon to earn the affiliate cut from time code sales alongside the ad revenue. Instead, Somer got greedy, and had to try and come up with these schemes to earn fast money. Protip: If you have to be deliberately vague in a proposal, your proposal is probably shady.
If you haven't exhausted yourself on this topic, I'd highly recommend reading all the linked blog posts from NoizyGamer, FunkyBacon and the forum posts by CCP Falcon. They go into so much more depth than I can in a single post, and each one of them is a really good read.
So if you stuck around to the very end of this long winded post about the life and times of SOMERblink, congratulations. I'm off to go and shoot some rats for a while. As always,