Massively multiplayer online games have shaken up the industry in many ways, but perhaps the most significant is the manner in which they cement the relationship between time spent playing games and the real-world worth of that activity.
With these MMO games reliant on persistent virtual items - which can be bought for virtual cash - to drive gameplay progression and in-game kudos, the result for many players is vast periods of time spent (wasted) grinding for precious objects and coins.
Others are happy to use real-world wealth to circumvent such loops, however, directly buying what they desire, whether or not the developer officially enables this within the game.
And it's this black market which proves so dangerous in terms of destroying gameplay balance, and corrupting the players and the people working on and supporting the game.
In this context, the news that one player in Gameloft's MMOG Order & Chaos Online gave $250 to members of its customer support team to get rare in-game objects isn't a surprise.
It's only when the tale twists and a potential money-making relationship arises that it becomes more explosive.
Behind the curtain
As can be expected, the person behind these allegations has requested anonymity - something in the circumstances we're happy to provide. From investigations we've made, it appears to be a consistent account.
It starts with a situation many MMOG players have experienced - frustration at the low drop rate of high-value items.
"I went to Gameloft's contact page and looked up a few people to ... email, to see if there was any way I could snag a pet I was after but the drop rate was so low I knew I would never get it," our source says, not entirely innocently.
"After a few days, with no response, I got that first email."
That first mail is from a personal Hotmail account and gives information on where two in-game items can be found and their percentage drop rate.
It ends: "If you are happy with this info, you can give me a donation here." The same personal Hotmail address is provided.
Obviously, our source was confused about this conversation. There were rumours circulating, however, within the game's community that another player had a contact with someone on Gameloft's support staff who was providing them with high-value items.
Equally, our source is willing to confess that they weren't an honest player themselves, illegally selling gold from the game on eBay.
"My character at one point had roughly 32,000 gold in-game," our source said, adding that at the time $20 was worth around 1,000 gold.
As for the person who contacted our source: "I work at Gameloft at customer care department [sic] so don't worry" was the reply to our source's obvious 'Who are you?' inquiry.
"You need anything else that I could help you with? Gold? Runes?"
Push me, pull you
From this point, the relationship quickly deepened, with the pair exchanging 17 emails in a day, the player requesting in-game items and emailing back 'donations'.
Another 13 emails were exchanged the following day, with larger lists of items requested.
In total, our source said they paid around $250.
More interestingly, however, from the emails, it appears that multiple members of the support team were in on the deal.
"It was a team," our source says, suggesting the main contact was someone senior in the customer care system, with the others being workers who could 'keep a secret'.
Deeper and deeper
The situation changed again a couple of days later, with the 'main Gameloft contact' asking if our source was one of those players who was selling gold on eBay.
"We could easily partner; you sell stuff to other players. I provide the items to you," the Gameloft employee suggested.
Negotiations then start, with the conclusion being that the player will front up the in-game and eBay operations, with the 'support team' sourcing the items. Revenue will be split 50:50.
Our source then sends a list of items and gold that they know they can sell in-game and via eBay, but the 'Gameloft contact' is on holiday, thus slowing down the process.
Some items from the list are sent to the in-game player, but some are missing. The communication then stops for a couple of days.
Overall, our source says that they received "between 100 and 150 items". Each side received around $300 after eBay and PayPal charges.
But, then it's all over.
"I had a second thought on our little plan and I think it's better for us to stop this, for legal reason," the 'Gameloft contact' emails, and that's the end.
From start to finish, i.e. the period of time from the first to final emails (at least what we've been provided with), the 'relationship' lasted only nine days.
The full story?
In many ways, then, this story appears to be a cautionary tale, but not a staggeringly alarming one - at least, unless you're in charge of Gameloft's support team.
Obviously, what happened was illegal, but common sense and / or Gameloft's anti-fraud checks kicked in before it became a full-fledged wholesale relationship.
"At some point it probably flagged in their system," our source reckoned. "Many people on the forums were crying for an investigation as to how this one player [this was another player] in one guild was getting every item you could want the day they were released."
More speculatively, however, one must consider or wonder how widespread this practice was - or continues to be - within Order & Chaos Online. Certainly, there was more than one player with a special relationship with Gameloft staff, just as more than one insider was involved.
Our source thinks the situation was much worse.
"If I had to put a number on it, I would guess over 100 players have seen some sort of 'favour' from Gameloft," they say.
With the persistent items and online game design combining time and money, no doubt there will be similar occurrences again in Order & Chaos Online, just as with any other online game.
Indeed, in 2012, the game has suffered from various allegations of wrongdoing (ranging from the modest to the extreme), involving members of the support team, and their alleged activities in terms of earning money by selling in-game items and gold.
Perhaps the only loose end that can currently be tied up is why our source was willing to go (semi-)public with their story.
"I do not play the game any more, and I want the people who play the game, who wanted Gameloft to investigate their employees for treated players unfairly one way or the other, to know this is 100 per cent true. I want them to know that their beliefs are correct," they say.
"People have played this game for well over a year and only seen an epic weapon or two drop, ever. I was, along with that one player from the AF [Arcadian Forest] server, getting epics daily.
"It is unrealistic and the only way to get all that we had was either be the luckiest players in the history of gaming or have a helping hand from the big company itself."
We asked Gameloft for a general comment about the situation in terms of gold and item trading in Order & Chaos Online.
It said: "Gameloft will never contact you directly in-game to trade a rare item for real money. Do not trust or trade with someone who proposes such a transaction and contact our customer care service so we can ban that user."
Of course, the flaw in that argument is what happens if the game's customer care team is the one proposing the transaction?
Gameloft also states it "will never ask for your Gameloft LIVE!, game, or App Store passwords. Do not share this information with someone you don't know, especially if he or she claims to be from Gameloft; you may lose characters, items, in-game money, etc."
It says it's working hard to shut down websites that sell gold and runes, as well as reporting those accounts to eBay.