[EVE Online] Istvaan Shogaatsu and his Corporation, “Guiding Hand Social Club” recently made waves in EVE for infiltrating yet another Corporation (under contract), making off with over 30 billion ISK worth of items and in-game cash, pod-killing their CEO and stealing a super rare ship. I managed to catch up with the man behind the mega-theft and he politely granted me an interview. Here it is:
Ethic: Lets start out with the latest big news out of the Guiding Hand Social Club (GH-SC). You had an assignment to, as you put it, “utterly demolish Mirial and bring all who followed her to their knees in one fell swoop”. Mirial was the CEO of Ubiqua Seraph corporation. I think everyone can agree that you certainly did what you had been hired to do.
Has there been any negative fallout for you from completing that assignment? From players? From CCP (the company that makes EVE Online)?
Istvaan Shogaatsu: No less than nine threats upon my life immediately after the major heist, delivered chiefly through email, arriving from hotmails or anon remailers. A GM also complained that our action has flooded them with petitions, but this was mostly in good fun on their part.
E: Can you tell us a little bit about the Ubiqua Seraph operation? How long did it take? How many people did you have working on it? Any lucky breaks or close calls?
IS: From start to end the operation took about ten months. We had multiple operatives in the objective corporation, as well as a few in outside corps likely to interact with Ubiqua Seraph – we used these to incite conflicts with the primary objective, which our internal operatives would then “solve”, lending them the appearance of highly skilled pilots and catapulting them up through UQS’ ranks. There were some close calls in the hour of reckoning when the time came to act, but these were minor.
E: EVE has become more popular than ever since the Ubiqua Seraph operation. Do you claim any responsibility for this? What about the people that quit due to your actions? Does that bother you at all?
IS: Undoubtedly – after PC Gamer UK ran the story, Eve’s online numbers began skyrocketing. Since the last major patch had been out for a very long time, and no other major events occurred within that timeframe, I have no doubt that we are at least indirectly (and largely thanks to the mag) responsible for the population boom.
The question of people quitting is one we get asked often. In the past, we simply had no justification for the players we drove away and I felt bad at times that I was the reason. Nowadays we see that people who quit a game because of one bad experience would likely have quit no matter what that bad experience was, or who inflicted it upon them – they are already likely sitting on the fence on the matter.
E: My first impression from reading about the operation against Ubiqua Seraph was that Mirial was an insider for you and she helped you pull this off, sacrificing her life to make her look innocent in the end. Do you have anything to say regarding that?
IS: That’s… just completely wrong, heh. Not much else to say.
E: You claimed to have stolen cash and items worth over 30 billion ISK in just that one operation. That sounds like a lot of ISK. How crazy is that amount in terms of a normal long term player?
IS: I would hazard to say that 95% of Eve Online’s players never see one billion ISK in their entire gaming experience, and that 99% never see 10 billion.
E: You have a pretty sizable bounty on your head. Is this solely the result of the Ubiqua Seraph operation? Has anyone tried to claim it? How does it affect your day to day operations?
IS: My bounty has slowly grown over my Eve career, though it did take a big leap upward immediately after the heist. I have never been podkilled, which traditionally resets one’s bounty. From time to time, people used to attempt claiming my bounty, but came to realize that the degree of response my corporation tends to employ toward unprovoked attacks winds up costing far more than the comparably paltry sum on my head. We have wiped out corporations for engaging our pilots unprovoked.
E: How do you know you can trust your corp members? Are they all real life friends of yours?
IS: A good few of GH-SC’s members live in the Toronto area of Canada, and we have met for drinks and debauchery on numerous occasions. The rest, who live too far apart to meet up in the real world, I trust nonetheless. We have flown into the mouth of hell for each other on so many occasions, that we find ourselves bound to one another in friendship and trust.
E: I have read that mercenaries had been hired to take you out. Any close calls there? Or is there some sort of “code” among mercenaries to leave each other alone?
IS: No such code exists. We have faced counter-mercs on a few occasions, but thankfully not very good ones, as we are still here, and still doing what we do best.
E: I’ve read your stories (Serpent, Infection, Mobius Loop, Schism, Guiding Hand Social Club, Heist, Negotiations, and The Swarm And The Toll Of Bells) over at tribaltrustofpator.net and enjoyed them. Is this all role-playing for you or do you get personal satisfaction from the part you play?
IS: I tend to keep my stories and my in-game actions as separate as possible. While I do enjoy writing greatly, I avoid real-time roleplay as it feels a bit strange – in conversation, I prefer to be myself. Being Eve Online’s only roleplaying griefer is quite the balancing act ;)
E: You do not hide behind anonymity. In fact, you even arrange player gatherings outside of the game. Has there been any issues because of this?
IS: Nope. Everyone at the player meets has been great fun to hang out with. Nine death threats notwithstanding, I feel that the Eve community is perfectly able to separate in-game reality from the real world and act accordingly.
E: You claim to leave a “calling card” behind after every theft. What is it and why do you do it?
IS: A bookmark, titled:
“GH-SC Corphangar Strike!”
“These hangar contents liberated by the Guiding Hand.”
Its purpose is to inform a mark that we are the architects of its demise, and that should they seek retribution, they now know where to find us. In Eve Online, most corp thieves are derided and held in low standard due to the anonymous nature of their work – we attempt to legitimize hangar theft as a valid offensive strategy by simply claiming credit for every heist.
E: It would seem to be in your best interest to keep a low profile, yet you are quite bold and even brag about past jobs via press releases. Can you tell me what problems this causes as well as any reasoning behind your boldness?
IS: We would not have claimed responsibility for our past jobs if the client had not requested it. In each case when we do, the client himself has mandated it, seeing it necessary to humiliate the objective by revealing their vulnerability.
We find that there are much greater benefits to having such a bold public profile – many of our recent contracts have been completed largely based on our reputation alone. Rather than fight us, many objective corporations simply fold or capitulate. In addition, we get a lot more contracts heading our way ;)
E: Now lets talk a little bit about your corporation, “Guiding Hand Social Club”. How many employees do you have? How many people work for you outside of the corporation?
IS: The Guiding Hand averages about twenty registered members, and roughly ten active at a time. This is the minimal number we find necessary to pull off everything a client would want from us, while simultaneously keeping our numbers low enough that each paycheck does not get split too many ways when we receive it. As to the second part of your question, rumors abound regarding a sprawling network of sleeper agents, collaborators, and active operatives scattered throughout the major organizations of Eve… and I certainly won’t confirm or deny anything with respect to these.
E: Is it harder to get new contracts due to all the publicity? How does the publicity affect your ability to pull off the contracts?
IS: The publicity generated by the UQS heist has attracted more business than we know what to do with. As we are a small mercenary outfit, we often find ourselves forwarding clients to Body Count Inc., a larger and stronger mercenary corporation we consider good friends. At any given time we operate with a backlog of a couple contractors waiting for our services.
As for the publicity affecting our ability to pull off jobs, obviously we can no longer rely on our mains with GH-SC on the employment record – instead, we now operate using exclusively collaborators and groomed alternate characters.
E: GH-SC has got to be a pretty juicy target now, and I’m sure plenty of people would get joy out of seeing it collapse. Do you have any concerns of someone turning on you?
IS: Concerns, nope. My corporation has made me proud. It has accomplished a feat garnering them world-wide fame in the gaming community. If fate has written that the time has come for us to fall, I will fall happy in the knowledge that we have done a great thing in our prime, and congratulate those skilled enough to bring us down. In the end, it is just a game and you don’t have to win all the time to enjoy it.
That said, we are by no means careless. The security measures my corp employs border on the neurotic, especially with regard to admitting new members. Anyone asking to join GH-SC is automatically disqualified as it indicates a potential ulterior motive – we recruit based on invite only. Once someone’s been invited, every GH-SC member has a veto right that can also block their entry.
E: Can you give us an idea of what a typical contract for your corp is like? What is a typical fee for a contract like that? I’ve heard quoted 500 million ISK per week, is that correct – high – or low?
IS: The Guiding Hand does not employ weekly charges, preferring to stick with a single payment. For conventional war contracts, we ask 500m for low-threat targets (miners, non-combatants), one billion for high threat targets (adept fighters, large corporations), and two billion ISK plus weekly war fees for contracts against alliance targets. Special contracts such as the UQS heist are individually priced based on projected time invested and number of operatives involved – I can’t go into detail with respect to specific fees, but they’re often many times over our most expensive conventional contract.
E: Typically, how many operations are going on at any given time for GH-SC?
IS: We feel most comfortable with one job at a time. That way, we can devote all our energy to satisfying that one client in as short a span of time as possible, and moving on to the next gig. If we have two jobs with wildly differing objectives (i.e. one exclusively PVP contract, which our fighters can handle, and one exclusively covert contract which our infiltration specialists can do), we will sometimes take both on at the same time. Overall, our relatively small size makes multitasking jobs difficult.
E: Can you give any advice for someone that might want to get involved in your line of work or join your corporation?
IS: In my line of work, the ability to separate your real world moral values from your actions in-game is critical. You will be hurting people severely, so never forget that they’re people in a game, and they know what they’re getting into when they pay their subscription – otherwise the guilt will bother you. We’ve actually had an operative in the past who literally couldn’t stomach the things we do to other players on a regular basis.
As for getting into the Hand… I went into some detail in the previous reply, but I’ll elaborate: To be approached in the first place, you must demonstrate prowess in the two fields GH-SC values most: rapid response combat, and covert infiltration. The first entails being able to use fast, hard hitting ships such as interceptors and heavy assault cruisers. We favor high mobility and hitting power over the traditional defensive battleship blobs in our PVP campaigns. The second is self-explanatory. If you demonstrate aptitude in both these fields, chances are good we’ll find -you-.
E: Can you give any advice for someone that might want to protect themselves from mercenaries?
IS: Of course not, that would be shooting myself in the foot.
E: How long have you been playing EVE Online? Can you give me a brief history?
IS: I have been with Eve Online’s community since months before the first alpha tests began, mostly enjoying the rich roleplay atmosphere on the forums. I joined, then seized control of the Endless Corporation, a sprawling 350-member megacorporation that rose and fell before the beta ended. When the game went commercial, I left for about a year, as it was pretty horribly unstable and few of my mates planned on sticking around. Upon my return, I founded Black Monkey, a small pirate corporation chiefly intended to allow us to brush up on PVP skills, gathered a cadre of old friends from the beta, and when we were confident in our abilities, I went on to found the Guiding Hand Social Club.
E: Do you play any other MMORPGs? Do you play the same type of roles in those games as well?
IS: Before Eve, I played little-known MMOs such as Darkspace and Shattered Galaxy, games that struggle to get more than a few hundred players online concurrently. In Darkspace, I was banned for singlehandedly obliterating a quarter of the paying player base – in Shattered Galaxy, I was an inter-faction mercenary since the very first day of my activating the account. I tend to fall into my patterns, you could say.
E: When you are infiltrating a corp, do you roleplay the whole thing? Do you lie to them about your real life? Do you pretend you are someone you are not?
IS: Infiltration is roleplay. You are playing the part of an honest, hard working go-getter eager to help his corporation grow and not at all interested in – though, not at all opposed to – advancing in the ranks. We regularly craft elaborate, psychologically inviting alternate personas with real life joys and problems in order to pull off our insidious capers.
E: CCP appears to encourage scams, theft, spying, assassinations and such as long as they are done inside the game. In your opinion, what is the line between approved play and grief play. Is it ok to use the phone, instant messaging, voice chat or email to gain someone’s trust? What about using alts (alternate characters)?
IS: We have very specific lines that we do not cross, and very specific views on this matter in general:
– In game : Absolutely tolerable.
– In game with alts : A-OK.
– In an external forum created exclusively to support the in-game corporation: A-OK.
– On a voice chat server created to support the in-game corporation: A-OK.
– Over phone: Absolutely not.
– Over private email: Absolutely not.
Basically, if it’s tied to the game, we do it. If not, we don’t. Chiefly due to the legal ramifications – it’s not so much a moral issue, as us covering our asses.
E: CCP defines a griefer as follows: “A grief player is a player who devotes much of his time to making others’ lives miserable, in a large part deriving his enjoyment of the game from these activities. Grief tactics are the mechanics a griefer will utilize to antagonize other players.” Going by this definition, what makes you more than just a griefer?
IS: Absolutely nothing. We are griefers for hire. I can’t defend myself from this at all, since my corporation exists solely to provide the service of ruining other people’s good time until they break and scatter.
E: CCP follows that up with this: “At our discretion, players who are found to be consistently maliciously interfering with the game experience for others may receive a warning, temporary suspension or permanent banning of his account.” Have you suffered any of those penalties and if so for what actions?
IS: Nope, CCP has been great. As a sort of thanks to them, whenever a large group of people joins Eve Online (Penny Arcade’s forum community is one example), I try to make them feel welcome and share any useful knowledge I might have about the game, in order to retain as many paying players as possible, and hopefully make up for those my actions drive away.
E: Finally, what’s next for the GH-SC?
IS: Whenever the next great calamity strikes a corporation in the universe of Eve, you can bet the Guiding Hand is elbow-deep in it.
I’d like to thank Istvaan for sitting down with me for this interview, it was quite enlightening.