There is a person who, for 20 years, made his living solely from hacking online games. He would look for software vulnerabilities unknown to the developers – called zero-days – and use them to replicate valuable goods, which he would then sell to other players via eBay.
Manfred hacked some of the best MMORPGs on PC.
Speaking toVice’s Motherboardunder the false name ‘Manfred’, the hacker says he saw himself as providing a service: offering in-app purchases before they were a thing.
It all started in 1997 with one of the first MMOs, Ultima Online, which had a finite number of player houses. Manfred found a way to delete other players’ houses and take over their lots, enabling him to build more houses than he should’ve been able to. He had the idea of selling a castle on eBay and wound up fetching almost $2,000 for it.
Over the next two decades, Manfred hacked such games as Lineage 2, Shadowbane, Final Fantasy XI, Dark Age of Camelot, Lord of The Rings Online, RIFT, Age of Conan, Guild Wars 2, and more, always giving himself valuable goods or currency to sell online. In Dark Age of Camelot, for instance, he found an exploit that allowed him to log out and back in again without the game noticing, allowing him to clone his character and its inventory ad infinitum.
“I could just create as much money as I wanted,” he says. “This was invisible to other players and the game company. It was a revenue stream for twelve years.”
Manfred declines to say exactly how much money he made, but he does say “it’s been a good living” (he also mentions that he’s sold around 100 Ultima Online houses for an average price of $2,000). He uses the past tense, because, as of last year, he is now making an honest living at a consulting firm.
Over his years of hacking, he developed a personal set of ethics, and ultimately decided to quit when in-game purchases became such a widespread monetisation model – one he no longer felt comfortable undermining.
The full interview is well worth a read – head over to Motherboard.