LOS ANGELES (AP) — James Carl was asleep when the first shot was fired.
As he slumbered away in Costa Mesa, Calif., the 29-year-old banker's virtual space fleet was under siege early Monday morning in what's become the most destructive and expensive battle in the 10-year history of "EVE Online," a gargantuan online video game featuring more than 500,000 players piloting starships, trading goods and engaging in sci-fi espionage.
"EVE Online" utilizes its own in-game currency, and Carl expects the damage from Monday's conflict to equal about $200,000 in real-world cash. The skirmish first erupted after a member of Carl's coalition missed a payment to protect an area that's been used as a staging ground for a war raging between Carl's Pandemic and N3 coalition versus CFC and Russian forces.
"Supposedly, it was set up for auto-pay, just like any other bill in real life, but either that didn't happen or the money wasn't in the wallet, and then everything just escalated out of control from there," said Carl. "The dust is still settling on that issue. Everyone is just focused right now on fighting to try to regain control of the system."
Carl was awakened by a messaging app on his phone used by alliance members alerting him that their system B-R5RB was under attack by rivals. He wasn't scheduled to work in real life Monday, so he spent the entire day sending virtual ships into the fray. He said dozens of his alliance members took off work to join the fight, which is being waged by more than 4,000 players — and spectated by thousands more on the game streaming service Twitch.
"I'd be lying if I said our servers weren't sweating a bit," said "EVE Online" spokesman Ned Coker of CCP Games, the Reykjavik, Iceland-based video game developer who created the online universe. "Allowing players free movement wherever they want in a game with over half a million players means for some pretty tricky technological requirements."
To compensate for thousands of starship captains battling each other online, Coker said CCP Games instituted what it calls "time dilation," which slows down the game's servers to about 10 percent of normal time, so players aren't dropped and their commands are issued in the order in which they were received. Carl said it's made for a massive but slow battle.
"It looks like CFC is winning, but we're hoping now that all of our U.S. players are online, we'll turn the tide," said Carl. "Whatever happens, we'll keep going. 'EVE' is a universe full of grudges and constantly changing politics. If we were to lose, we'll rebuild. Then, we'll go back and start another war."
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