Last week, TechRaptor reported on the bust of a Ukranian bot operation that was using nearly four-thousand Sony PlayStation 4s as cryptocurrency miners. Though the Ukranian government did not officially state that it was a cryptocurrency operation, evidence initially suggested that to be the case. New details have emerged recently regarding the thousands of systems and their real purpose, and it appears that dreams of PlayStation 4s mining cryptocurrency will have to be put on hold.
The PS4 consoles siphoned electricity and ran for days on end to grind FIFA accounts, using a FIFA bot before being sold. According to the Ukranian government, the systems altogether used somewhere between 5-7 million UAH (Ukranian hryvnia) worth of power in a single month, or about $180,000-257,000. This power stolen by the Ukranian bot farm had the potential to leave entire neighborhoods in the city of Vinnytsia in the dark.
Ukranian Cryptocurrency Farm was Actually Botting FIFA 21 Using PlayStation 4s
In the latest FIFA title, players have access to a game mode known as the FIFA Ultimate Team mode (FUT for short). Players assemble their fantasy teams and compete against other players online. First, however, they have to assemble them, gacha-style. One can pay real money to purchase and pull these cards, though the odds of a desirable or meta player are rather low. The second option is, of course, to grind for the opportunity to open free lootboxes. The new information suggests that this farm was simply set up to have FIFA bots grind hours of games at a time and sell the accounts to players. Many pointed out as the story broke that the consoles used were the PlayStation 4 Slims, less suited to cryptocurrency mining than the more robust PS4 Pro.
Electronic Arts and other companies have faced criticism over lootboxes and similar systems, with detractors calling it little more than gambling and pay-to-win. Given FIFA's ESRB Rating of E for Everyone, many also alleged that it promotes gambling to children. Internal documents leaked in April suggest that Electronic Arts attempted to steer players towards this FUT mode whenever possible. Certainly, a player could grind their way up and only earn free lootboxes, but the report indicates an incredible time investment compared to the ease of just purchasing them with real currency. Allegations of EA employees themselves selling character cards spurred an internal investigation, with some calling it "EAGate." Various countries such as Australia and Belgium have introduced legislation to restrict or even outright ban lootboxes and other rewards.
The winery issued an official statement, claiming "nothing to do with illegal activities and that equipment for mining cryptocurrencies has never worked on its premises." It also claimed its employees assisted in the searches. According to Ilya Trebor and Maria Pirogova at Delo.ua, those responsible for the Ukranian bot operation spent an estimated 30 million UAH (around $1.1 million) on consoles alone, with various other video cards and peripherals also seized at the scene. The perpetrators are charged with theft of water, electricity, or heat through unauthorized use. Such a charge carries a fine from 1700-3400 UAH or up to three years in prison if convicted.
While bizarre, the truth can seem stranger than fiction. The practice of buying and selling game accounts and gold-farming has been around practically forever, though many companies have taken steps to crack down on these activities over the years.
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