In the "Sell Orders" section of the EVE forums, you can sell all sorts of EVE-related products and services for ISK. At one time, this only included in-game products and services. However of course, as the concept of being "in game" has expanded(1) so has the concept of an "in-game" product and service. For example, lots of alliances use chat services or kill-board services provided by central providers of those services. While it's not an in-game service like Red Frog Freight, it's certainly a service you wouldn't need without the game.
As a result of all this, CCP expanded their definition of in-game services (it's at the bottom of this post from CCP Spitfire):
This has been extended to include Characters, EVE Time Cards (ETCs), website hosting and voice chat services. Please use the sticky thread in OOPE to advertise signature services there. Please note that scamming for out of game services is not allowed; for more information see this post by GM Lelouch.As implied, the post from GM Lelouch mostly has to do with scamming but does include this tidbit:
Finally, for maximum accountability, transactions involving out-of-game services such as killboard/voice chat server hosting should be negotiated through the sell orders section of these forums.OK, so these sorts of services can be sold as long as the sale of them is documented in the forums, sort of like a character sale.
Players have certainly been taking advantage of this expansion of the definition. It's a rare day that TS, Mumble, or kill-board services aren't right there on the front page of the Sell Orders section. But Spitfire's post also mentions "website hosting." I myself have a domain that I use for hosting pictures that I put on this blog (among other things). Theoretically, someone out there who runs a website hosting company could sell me hosting services for ISK, too. And as long as we negotiated our agreement in the Sell Orders section of the forum, this would apparently be legal.
Let's suppose you run a massive EVE gambling site that recently lost its main source of RL income. You have website hosting charges to pay. You don't have a RL income any more but what you do have is billions of ISK flowing through your hands on a weekly basis. Suppose that you were willing to pay 50 billion ISK per year for website hosting...
Hey, you in the back! Don't start talking yet. I'm not finished. Stay with me.
Ahem. Suppose that you were willing to pay 50 billion ISK per year for website hosting. On paper, that's about 85 PLEXes with a nominal cash value of about $1500 U.S. It's a sizable amount of in-game currency but ironically the actual amount doesn't matter. Let's just use 50 billion per year as an example amount for our discussion. Let's say your actual RL hosting charges for your website are around $500 U.S. per year, again just as an example amount and again the actual amount doesn't matter. It's just a number we're using for our discussion.
Per the Spitfire post, if you advertise that you're willing to pay 50 billion ISK per year to host a website, and someone accepts that (or vice versa), then this is a perfectly legal transaction, an exchange of ISK for EVE-related services.
Let's take it a step further. I don't own a hosting company. But I do have $500. Let's suppose that I'm willing to pay the hosting charges for this massive EVE gambling site. I go to the operators of this gambling website and they're amenable to giving me 50 billion ISK per year for website hosting. I go to a hosting company I know, and I buy a dedicated hosting server. I then advertise it in Sell Orders with a somewhat misleading post title. The operator of this gambling site then replies to my post saying that he wants to buy my services with ISK. We then let the post fall far down into the invisible pit of thousands of other Sell Order posts.
The gambling site gets their hosting. I get 50 billion ISK -- $1500 worth of ISK -- for $500. Is this legal? Or is it RMT?
Not so fast.
When you buy a kill-board from EVSCO (which hundreds, if not thousands of EVE players, corps, and alliances have done), you pay ISK for the in-game service, which is legal. The owners of EVSCO then pay for the website hosting of your kill-board. As their in-game business has expanded, I'm quite sure they've had to pay more RL money to their hosting company to host all those kill-boards and deal with the demand. EVSCO pays RL money and in return receives large amounts of ISK from hundreds of EVE players, corps, and alliances. Same question: is that legal? Or is it RMT?
Don't be alarmed. That sensation you're experiencing is just the slippery slope.
I don't know the answer to this question myself and hell, I'm not sure there is a definitive answer. I've been asking the question of a lot of different people lately (it usually escalates into an argument pretty rapidly).(2) Nobody seems to know the answer and those that do know the answer -- if there is one -- aren't saying. What do you think? Discuss.
(1) For instance, how often is The Mittani "in game"? How often am I? Am I "in game" right now as I type this? Am I "in game" when I'm debating some concept of future EVE development in my role as a CSM member? The whole idea of being "in game" probably deserves its own blog post at some point.
(2) My thanks to everyone who's argued this with me over the last few days!