Practical Espionage For Beginners In EVE Online
EVE Online has a complex meta-game that can involve a great deal of trickery and deceit. For many people, it is one of the game's best selling points. But how can a spy succeed in a world full of paranoid corporation recruiters? And what the heck is an API, and how will it expose even the most convincing spies? This guide includes a look at some common goals of spying, some simple techniques for infiltration, and a selection of common mistakes.
This guide may not be for all players. Some players have a very real antipathy toward this sort of meta-gaming, especially if the espionage eventually turns into any kind of corporate-level theft where peoples' feelings get hurt. If you do not approve of activites along these lines, consider this a guide to what spies might do.
Scoping Out Targets
There are lots of reasons to infiltrate enemy corporations. Some pay off better than others.
The most common motivation for spying in high-security space is probably to get better intelligence during wars. Spies want to know about member movements, fleet form-ups, and points of vulnerability. Being able to see a list of people that are online in a given corporation is nice, too, especially if you have a friend or second account that can use locator agents to figure out their locations.
The most common greed-based reason to infiltrate a corporation is to establish some measure of trust, and then to abuse that trust to steal anything that isn't locked down. This might be as simple as emptying out a public corp hangar or borrowing a ship blueprint, or it could involve a somewhat more convoluted plan to tackle and kill a ship with valuable modules, as CONCORD will not intervene if members of the same corporation fight each other.
Lastly, when a player is frustrated with his corporation (or more typically, his corporate leadership) he may decide to try to help the other side. This can be a bit tricky, since gaining the trust of the people your corporation is fighting borders on the impossible. Consistently giving a lot of information to the same person will eventually work, if your information is accurate and leads to the infliction of disastrous losses.
Most corporations are constantly recruiting, and even if they are not, there is usually at least somebody willing to interview you. The two major exceptions are corporations that have recently had spy problems, and corporations that have only recently begun a period of hostility after a period of relative peace. In either case, the corporation is likely to be paranoid and less susceptible to conventional infiltration. It is probably still worth a shot, though.
As things stand, there are two main tools used by the majority of recruiters to check if you are a spy. The first is the API, and the second is your character's paper trail in EVE Online.
Every Spy's Worst Enemy: The API
API stands for 'application programming interface' and it one of the neat things about EVE Online. Basically, it allows players to have custom-made applications access certain portions of their character information from outside EVE. That information can then be used in a more innovative fashion than CCP would think of on their own.
There is a limited API and a full API, with the former having very limited information and being used by most corporation recruiters, and the latter giving extensive information and seeing use mostly by user-made asset management applications.
A recent CCP developer blog is probably the best way to learn more about the details, though the gist of it is that:
- If a recruiter wants your limited API, you cannot have any characters on that account that would draw suspicion. This includes characters with shady corporation histories.
- If a recruiter wants your full API, you cannot even have ISK donations from suspicious characters, possessions in suspicious null-sec stations, EVE mails that would draw suspicion, or unsavory persons on your contact list.
Most recruiters do not ask for a full API key, and many players in EVE Online would be unwilling to give one out, even to people in their own corporation. Refusing this might draw some suspicion, but probably not so much that a recruiter would warn other corporations not to hire you.
Whether your goal is information, theft, or long-term subversion, spying is mostly a matter of being active in your spy corporation, avoiding boredom, and not falling into one of the various pitfalls discussed below. Until then, you need to do your best to spot and capitalize on opportunities relating to your goals.
If your goal is information, you can generally just lay low and relay intel based on your corporate or alliance mails, what fleets are available, and so forth. If something important is going on, you can join the pertinent fleet and ventrilo channel, and do your part as though you were a normal player, while constantly feeding up to the minute intelligence to your contacts. When you do this consistently, it is amazing what little opportunities crop up. People yell about drifting out of POS shields, complain about how they are nearly being decloaked by a particular ship, or otherwise let slip some bit of information that will allow your friends to gain advantage.
Gain their trust, take their stuff, and get out.
Once access to valuables is gained, you should decide whether to steal fast or steal slow. Stealing fast has a lot going for it: taking everything that you have access to offers immediate satisfaction, you don't need to keep doing any work, you can move on to your next project, and you can brag about it. But stealing slow also has a lot going for it: it can potentially eclipse stealing fast in value, you can keep gleaning intelligence for your corporation, and you can probably still do the fast steal in the end. When looting, don't forget to unanchor and take POS gear, if possible!
Finally and most importantly, not being bored while spying mostly depends on what the corporation that you infiltrated is doing, but it also depends on your approach to spying. If you can immerse yourself into the infiltrated corporation and go about your business, you should probably be having about as much fun as you usually do in EVE Online. For someone that has been in the same corporation for a while, it can even be refreshing.
The following are some of the most salient spying pitfalls:
- Having a complicated cover story. The more complicated a cover story is, the more likely you are to mix up or forget some aspect of it.
- Not being active enough, both in-game and via whatever out of game communication venues your corporation offers (ventrilo, forums, etc.).
- Taking big risks for relatively little gain. If you wait long enough, better opportunities are sure to come along. Don't risk your efforts for pennies.
- Never do anything that might make someone suspect there is a spy in their corporation, unless there are at least ten other people that it could possibly be, one of whom should ideally not have been in the corporation for very long.
- The most likely way that someone in your infiltrated corporation will discover you, aside from you implicating yourself, is that you encounter a spy that they have in your corporation. Pretty unlikely, for most parts of EVE right now.