His name is Joe, and he lives in Georgia. But in the world of Eve Online he's known as Lenny Kravitz2 — yes, like the musician — and right now he's personally bankrolling what may be the biggest interstellar war in gaming history.
Not long ago we reported on the conflict that has come to be known in the Eve community as World War Bee. Thousands of players have banded together to storm the gates of the most powerful player-led faction. Known as The Imperium to some, the CFC to others and the Goonswarm to most everyone else, that group has a long history in the world of Eve Online. It's led by one man — Alex "The Mittani" Gianturco — and his reign, such as it is, has been long.
Too long, Joe says, and it's time to roll it back.
But the planning for this war, and the fighting — which made headlines here just a few weeks ago as the single most deadly player-vs-player engagement in Eve Online's 13-year history — began as early as last October.
And it all started with a simple roll of the dice.
Joe works for an in-game business which was conceived of, built and now operates entirely within the game world of Eve Online. It's also completely sanctioned by the makers of the game, a company in Iceland called CCP.
Here's how it works.
"It’s like a casino," Joe told me last week. "We have raffles, we have slot machines and we have scratch-off tickets. Basically, a player can send in-game currency to the in-game corporation, called I Want ISK ... That amount gets credited to their account on our website. We have bankers that watch the journal entries and they will copy and paste that over to the site.
"It only takes about two-to-five seconds if we have a banker online."
Players then use those credits to gamble on prize pools, including in-game items like ships, mods and huge sums of ISK, Eve's in-game currency.
Bankers are people like Joe, who sit in-game and do the busy work of reconciling accounts and generally keeping the casino running. All told, Joe says there's about 25 of them divided into three tiers. At the bottom there are junior bankers, in the middle are senior bankers — like Joe — and at the very top is I Want ISK's founder, a player who goes by the name "eep eep." In exchange for their time spent cutting and pasting and checking the logs, bankers are compensated with ISK.
The entire business is run on the honor system. Every banker has to pony up a huge sum of their own personal in-game wealth to participate and use that money as a hedge against mistakes they make in their accounting. That same account is where they receive their commissions.
If at any point a banker attempts to cash out that account for real-world money, which is against the game's terms of service, their accounts are frozen and they are banned for life from Eve Online. For people like Joe, who sit high up in the organization, cashing out would also cause an investigation of, and a potential ban for, all those bankers underneath him.
In this way, if everyone plays it straight, the house always wins. And boy do they ever win big.
Joe, who's been playing Eve Online for six or seven years now, has accumulated quite the war chest from I Want ISK as well as other in-game investments. Just this past October, he was sitting in a chat room with a member of another in-game faction, called Mercenary Coalition. He idly asked what it would cost to hire that group to start a war with The Imperium.
"He basically was telling me that it wasn’t possible," Joe said. "I would need more ships than what I could possibly have to take them on. So I changed my tactics and asked him another question. I said, 'Well, what would it take? How much ISK would you actually need to do it?' He sat there for a second.
"He threw out a huge number, like in the trillions. I looked at my accounts and I thought, I have that much and more. And he said, 'Okay. Let’s do it.'"
So far, from the outside looking in, the plan appears to be working. Joe is personally funding at least two of the game's most powerful mercenary groups, and they in turn are leading massive fleets in coordinated attacks along five strategic fronts in the south, east and north of The Imperium.
But how long can one man keep this up?
"At first it was costing me about 300 billion ISK a week," Joe says. "But I was also getting financial assistance. I’m probably providing about 75-to-80 percent of the finances for this war. I Want ISK is supporting me. So is 1ronBank, another senior banker. Now I’m probably forking over about 900 billion to a trillion ISK a week.
But how long can one man keep this up?
"It’s not sustainable at all. But the thing is, I can sustain it long enough. I have about eight to nine trillion ISK worth of assets. I have 4 trillion cash ISK on me right now. That’s not counting my income. I have multiple income streams I’m using to keep money coming in. I’m only losing so much money per week, if you look at it."
Joe hasn't been in direct control of the fleets he's paying for in months now. He's completely turned over the war effort to mercenaries. And, even if he pulls his funding today, the dam has already burst. More than 30 in-game groups are following his hirelings into battle.
The enemy is at the gates of The Imperium, Joe says. They are being hit from all sides, and there's only so long those loyal to The Mittani can take that kind of punishment before they break.
"We are so far ahead," Joe said, "Not in terms of gains, but in terms of momentum, in terms of the other alliances we have on board. ... They all see this as, 'Holy crap, we just steamrolled the most powerful coalition in the game that’s been dominating for three, four, six years. In months.'
"If I were to stop paying, they would continue without me. But I’m going to continue to pay them because it’s a matter of respect. They have put their assets, their time predominantly, into trying to achieve something that I had envisioned. I’m deeply indebted to them. I have so much respect for everybody, for all of the alliances, the line members. It’s not just one or two people. This is everybody that participated. I have a lot of respect for all of them."
But why is Joe waging this war? Why is he spending all this time and treasure to bring one group of players to bear on another? To hear him explain it, it's almost a kind of intervention.
"I would love to see the old Goonswarm come back," Joe says. "The 2007, 2008 version of them. Back then, they were obnoxious and uncouth, but they weren’t malicious. They were funny. They were goofy. But they were also kind of scary, because they had astronomical amounts of people. ... I want them to go back to their roots, go back to where they were."
Eve Fanfest, held each year in Reykjavik, Iceland, kicks off tomorrow. Polygon’s Ben Kuchera will be reporting live from the event, discussing CCP’s newest projects while looking at the current state of Eve. Expect more coverage on World War Bee soon.
To hear more stories from Eve Online, check out Polygon's Backstory podcast.