So I'm a little late on the whole CCP dev-scandal in Eve Online, but I saw a recent interview with Raph Warner where he mentions that this sort of thing has always gone on, specifically referencing GM Darwin from the old days of UO (I cant find a decent link but apparently he would create castles and sell them on Ebay).
And it got me thinking about developers playing their own games, and then a sudden repressed memmory came back to me from my times as QA on Ultima Online. I was brought in a few months before they released Age of Shadows and there were a couple of specific incidents that I thought were totally out of line.
The first one was relatively minor. As we opened up our beta servers with the new code a few days prior to release, I was walking around in invisible, GM mode, watching what the players were doing and looking for potential problems, when I found one of the real GMs, decked out in all artifacts (artifacts were being introduced with the expansion), killing as many players as he could near the Britain moongate! UO being a semi-balanced game PvP-wise, he ended up eventually dying to the swarms of players that went after him, even with his uber-gear. They, of course, quickly looted his body, and he was forced to use his GM powers to freeze them and search their packs for all the artifacts that he shouldnt have parading around to begin with. My astonishment at this breach of conduct was was slightly ameliorated when he had to repeatedly ask the players, 'OK. Who has my pants?'
As he was regathering the items, he noticed me standing there, still invisible, and soon after, physically came upstairs to explain that he was 'testing' the artifacts to make sure they weren't too powerful. Uh-huh. That's why you're in QA... oh wait... you're not QA! He wasn't looking to test anything. He just wanted to show off, make himself feel powerful and get some attention, which he did as there were several threads about his escapades on the boards soon afterwards. And the fact that he went out of his way to make excuses to me just proves that he knew he was behaving inappropriately.
A relatively minor incident, but nonetheless, he was abusing the powers he had been granted in a very open and public manner.
The second incident actually occured earlier, and was much more egregious. With the advent of the expansion, came new lands, on which housing could be built. Now anyone who is familiar with UO back in the day knows how precious and scarce open land was. So, of course, it was expected that there would be a land rush on opening day to place houses in convenient, valuable and interesting spots. A couple of weeks before this went live, it came to the attention of one of our QA people, that there were 'secret' areas that could only be accessed via hidden runestones. Somehow, the devs had neglected to inform QA about this little feature, claiming that it wasn't worth testing. We at QA, of course, disagreed. So we got the details, wrote up a test plan and tested it. Well, after release, it turned out that several of the devs and GMs went and placed houses in these secret spots as soon as they could, which I would equate to insider trading.
They made these secret spots that players wouldnt know of immediately, conveniently decided not to inform QA about their existence, and then, as soon as the code was live, they quickly placed houses for themselves in what would become coveted locations!
So should MMO devs play their own games? It's quite different than playing a non-persistent game, for characters and items have real-world value in most MMOs. And the persistence factor means that any abuses have a ripple effect across the entire server. But even if they arent using GM-enabled accounts to create valuable items out of thin air, their knowledge of the inner workings on the game and their access to the code itself can present problems. Is there a real solution beyond trying to educate those inside the company on ethics? It's definitely a promising sign when the devs enjoy playing their own game. But at what point does playing the game for fun and enjoyment cross the line into abuse of power?
I let the artifact incident with the GM slide, as I was still the new guy, he stopped as soon as he was caught and it was on the test server which was brought down and wiped a couple of days later anyway. The issue with the dev-team coding in secret areas that they would be able to 'discover' first just sort of evaporated as well. I know some complaints were sent up the chain of command from QA, but I don't know if any reprimands or talks ever came of it. I'm not even sure what would be done considering that the entire dev team was in on it.
In summary, I would hope that people would have enough personal ethics to not ever get involved in scandals such as these, but, obviously, there are a number who either just don't care, or are too dumb and self-centered to consider the implications of their actions. I'm not sure why I expect those involved in creating and running MMOs to be any different from the rest of the world. It is a business after all, and I've seen plenty of ethics breaches in other jobs I've been in whether they've been retail, manufacturing or technical. I guess that since I have such an affection for well-crafted computer games, I expect others with similar sentiments to be similar to myself. A bit of a naive attitude when I stop and think about it. But I can say, that if I were in charge, such abuses wouldn't be tolerated!
Side Note: Interestingly enough, when I was at Origin, out of the dozen or so QA we had, only 3 of them actually played UO outside of work.