Back at GDC 2018 up in San Francisco, CCP gave a presentation about the “ghost training” exploit that was introduced into EVE Online with free to play. At the time this got some coverage, including over at Massively OP. But to actually see the talk you had to be there or pay for access to the GDC recorded archives.
However, the GDC organizers post older presentations to their YouTube channel on a regular basis, and this session was posted in December so we are all free to watch it.
The presentation is just under an hour and opens with a few minutes of describing EVE Online before getting to the exploit. It then unfolds with what the problem was and how CCP went to address it.
Interesting, and relatable to anybody in enterprise software, is how critical accurate and detailed steps to reproduce are, how unexpected results can come from interactions in complex and often aging systems, how the simple “just do this!” fix may not actually fix the issue (in this case it made things worse), and how assumptions about players/customers need to be validated. That latter was especially important as the mood was “ban them all” both inside and outside of CCP because it was assumed this was primarily and deliberately being exploited by skill farm operators.
Some people were still banned, but the lighter approach the company chose to take meant that a range quite a few people remained customers after having their ghost training gains pointed out to them and given options to correct the situation. In a game… in a genre… in an industry… where customer retention is vital for ongoing success, this seems like a wise approach.