Cheaters slam 'Everquest II' economy

Online game hit with bug that illegally creates enough platinum to temporarily jack up inflation, Sony says.

Sony claims that a group of cheaters illegally created a huge amount of "Everquest II" currency over the weekend, and says the players caused the game's economy to suffer 20 percent inflation in just 24 hours before being caught.

According to Chris Kramer, director of public relations for EQ2 publisher Sony Online Entertainment, the players had on Saturday begun using their so-called "duping bug" to make large quantities of platinum, the game's currency. (A duping bug is a hack that exploits a weakness in online games' code to effectively create counterfeit currency or other goods.)

The players then began trying to sell the ill-gotten plat on Station Exchange, the official auction exchange for EQ2 weapons, armor, currency and other virtual goods. "The amount of money in the game increased by a fifth in about 24 hours," Kramer said. "We have a lot of alarms for this kind of thing, and they all went off on Saturday."

The economy of the MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role-playing game) was quickly brought back to its pre-attack state, Kramer added.

SOE launched Station Exchange last month. The auction system allows EQ2 players who wish to buy or sell the game's virtual goods for U.S. dollars to do so in a system overseen by the company.

But many players of online games such as EQ2 are opposed to such trafficking, mainly since it gives people with money to spend an advantage over those who put in the time advancing their characters manually. So SOE has segmented EQ2 into discrete servers, some of which allow the trading and some which don't. Players from the two kinds of servers cannot play against each other.

In any case, Kramer said, after discovering the duping bug on a Station Exchange-enabled server, the company's customer service team quickly shut down the auctions to stop the sale of the artificially created platinum. Once the team identified the hackers, it immediately shut down their accounts. Sony does not disclose the names of its players.

Kramer also said that SOE has tools that allowed it to track all the duped platinum and remove it. Thus, he said, while the EQ2 economy had taken a huge inflationary hit on Saturday, the company's customer service team put in a lot of overtime over the weekend and the problem was largely resolved by Sunday.

To be sure, duping is not unique to online games or even to EQ2. In fact, a story currently making the rounds of game-related Web sites alleges that several people were able to make more than $70,000 selling illegally duped EQ2 currency.

Still, Kramer said, this was the first time Station Exchange-enabled servers had been hit.

"It was a good test of how our alerts worked," he said, "and how fast we can react to something like that."

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