Who In The World Is Benjamin Gifford?

Gaming, Law

We've written previously about the game Evony, for which we received a number of spam comments last July.  We've also written about Bruce Everiss, the UK blogger who runs the site Bruce On Games, and the threat by Evony, LLC, a Delaware corporation which claims to be the maker or owner of the game, to sue Bruce for libel.  That threat has now come to pass.

Despite indications that, at the time Bruce began posting about Evony, stung by the same spam comments that hit us, Evony was owned by a Chinese gold-farming company known as UMGE, the suit against Mister Everiss is being pressed in New South Wales, Australia of all places.  When we wrote about the situation earlier, we speculated as to whether Australian libel or defamation laws are even more lax than those prevailing in the United Kingdom, which is notorious for its plaintiff friendliness.

We have short attention spans, and let the matter go.  But today Bruce Everiss returned to our humble site, posting a link asking for help against Evony, LLC.  (Whether you wish to help him or not is up to you.)  But Evony, LLC's press release about the suit raises a few concerns.  Who actually owns Evony, the game, and who on earth is Benjamin Gifford?

We think that computer and videogames are a trivial hobby, of little importance in the grand scheme of things, but consider free speech, potential legal forum abuse, and corporate quashing of potentially legitimate criticism to be very important indeed.  In virtually all press coverage of this story, about a corporation suing a blogger who criticized its product, this quote from Benjamin Gifford, a director of Evony, LLC , has appeared:

Mr. Everiss' attempts to spread his patently false charges to others in the online community cannot be allowed to go unanswered," said Benjamin Gifford, vice development director for the legal IP strategic division for Evony LLC. "In the digital age in which we now live, online journalists and bloggers – and the traditional media outlets that may rely upon them as sources – must strive for a higher standard of integrity and accuracy. Mr. Everiss' complete disregard for even the most basic tenets of journalistic responsibility have left our company no alternative but to take these legal actions. We hope now, in facing the full light of day before the Supreme Court, that Mr. Everiss will finally come clean and clear the record.

Like Bruce Everiss, we thought that Evony, the game, was owned by UMGE, a Chinese company that specializes in selling "virtual gold" to players of World of Warcraft and similar games, rather than Evony, LLC, which has been described elsewhere as a Delaware corporation.  Chinese "gold farmers" are notorious internet spammers, one of Mister Everiss's principal complaints about Evony.  And as it turns out, at the time Everiss made his allegedly defamatory statements about Evony, the game, Evony, LLC, the American corporation which now claims to own the game, didn't even exist.  Everiss's allegedly defamatory statements were made on July 10, 2009.

According to the records of the Delaware Secretary of State, Evony, LLC wasn't a corporation on July 10, 2009.  The corporation was formed on July 22, 2009.

evony llc

Now, it may be pure coincidence that Evony, LLC, an American corporation, formed twelve days after Bruce Everiss allegedly defamed Evony, the game.  Products change hands and new owners form corporations all the time.

Or it may not be a coincidence.  Delaware is the forum of choice for incorporation around the world for a reason.  Its laws are notoriously friendly to corporations that really have nothing to do with Delaware, and getting records or discovery from a Delaware corporation can be very difficult indeed.  In an Australian court, doing so might be even more difficult, as that would require transnational court orders, prohibitively expensive for a hypothetical defendant in the United Kingdom who might be required to retain lawyers in Australia and Delaware if he wished to know who was really suing him.

And then comes the question of why this Delaware corporation has a vice director, Benjamin Gifford, who appears to be jointly employed by Evony, LLC, and another, sort of murky entity, known as Assist Strategic Business Solutions, which has a mailing address at PO Box 126, Miranda, NSW, Australia, 2228.

assist-1

According to his Linkedin profile (no longer available but cached here), Benjamin Gifford, in the greater Sidney Australia area, is indeed the "Vice Development Director" of Evony, LLC, the Delaware corporation formed twelve days after Bruce Everiss allegedly defamed Evony the game.

benjamin gifford-1

And if one searches Google for "Benjamin Gifford" and Evony, one finds Benjamin Gifford's Facebook page.

benjamin gifford-2

Note that Benjamin Gifford's "services" include Assist Strategic Business Solutions Pty Limited.  According to Facebook, again, Assist Strategic Business Solutions has exactly one fan, and that fan is Benjamin Gifford.

benjamin gifford-3

So we'll take it as read that Benjamin Gifford works for Evony, LLC, the Delaware corporation, in computer games, and Assist Strategic Business Solutions, also in computer games.  Except that Assist Strategic Business Solutions isn't a computer gaming company.  It's a … well, I'm not sure what it is.

assist-2

And I'm not sure what Benjamin Gifford does.  He certainly doesn't seem to have a background in computer and videogame development.

assist-3

While a military background in problem-solving may be as valued in the gaming industry as proficiency in, say, PERL or Visual Basic, most game industry job postings tend toward the second category.  Although Assist Business Solutions is very close to Evony's law firm and its principal lawyer, Dean Groundwater.  Just down the road, in fact:

warren-mckeon

So that may explain why Evony, LLC, which incorporated a world away twelve days after Bruce Everiss allegedly defamed its product, chose to sue Everiss in New South Wales, rather than Delaware, or the United Kingdom, or China for that matter.  The game was purchased by Australians from … somebody … not a Chinese "gold farming" and spamming operation, nosirree.

Except, wait, Assist Business Solutions, and Benjamin Gifford, were working with something called Evony, LLC before the corporation ever formed.

assist-4

Now, I'm no cynic, and only a cynic would suggest this, and so I'm not suggesting it:  But a cynic might assume that the real owners of Evony, the game that according to Bruce Everiss advertises itself through tasteless breast shots and spam, chose to sue Bruce Everiss in Australia on the advice of Benjamin Gifford, a consultant employed to help the company develop its tasteless marketing and to quash criticism from journalists and bloggers like Bruce Everiss.  Of course, I don't suggest that.  And I don't suggest that Evony, LLC, which formed twelve days after Everiss's alleged defamation, has nothing to do with Delaware, or Australia, and that the sole purpose of this suit is to bankrupt Everiss by requiring him to fly around the world in order to defend himself from baseless allegations of libel and defamation by Evony's real owners, who pardon me, may not speak English so well, wherever they may be.

I don't suggest that at all.

Update: On the spam front, this depicts the top results from a Twitter search for Evony conducted at 2:15 pm, Eastern time, today:

Evony Twitter Spam

That link, by the way, does not point to this post. I wouldn't enter it into my browser for all the tea in China.

Last 5 posts by Patrick Non-White

41 Comments

36 Comments

  1. Ken  •  Oct 20, 2009 @9:40 am

    Exceptional investigative blogging, as usual, Patrick.

    It is inconceivable to me that anyone would willingly become involved with this company.

  2. Ezra  •  Oct 20, 2009 @9:49 am

    How come they aren't suing us? I can only imagine the fun that would engender.. Remind me, once again, never to piss Patrick off.

  3. Ranilen  •  Oct 20, 2009 @10:24 am

    2711 Centerville Rd in Wilmington is about 20 minutes from where I live – might have to go down there and see what's actually at that address…

  4. Dan  •  Oct 20, 2009 @10:28 am

    Ranilen: Look hard; It may be unnoticeable. Or, there might be fugly Medieval models with most of their boobs exposed running around. Whichever.

  5. Patrick  •  Oct 20, 2009 @10:34 am

    I wouldn't bother Ranilen. The address is just a "mail drop" for a company whose sole purpose is to accept legal notices, and they wouldn't tell you a thing about their principal.

  6. Sparkylong  •  Oct 20, 2009 @11:10 am

    This is akin to searching for a single, partially-mutated leukocyte that is threatening to complete its metamorphosis into a full blown harbinger for Hairy Cell Leukemia. Unreal.

  7. Dave (ND)  •  Oct 20, 2009 @11:33 am

    Brilliant.

  8. Dave  •  Oct 20, 2009 @12:39 pm

    I'd say beautiful, friend Dave.

  9. Ken  •  Oct 20, 2009 @12:43 pm

    I don't get how the twitter thing is happening.

  10. Patrick  •  Oct 20, 2009 @12:47 pm

    Bots skim google blogsearch for anything with Evony in the text. Then our friends Madison, Olivia, Jasmine, and others repost the opening text, with a link to something else. About five more nubile twitter users, all of whom have the last name "Blog" have posted the same damned thing, about Benjamin Gifford, since I performed that search. I'll bet that the twitter link goes to Evony's site, but I'll not find out because I'm never putting that in my address bar. I know it doesn't go to our site, because I used bit.ly to shorten the address on Twitter myself. But what the links DO accomplish is to take the text posted, whether it's criticism or praise of Evony, and redirect Google users searching for that text somewhere that it didn't originate.

    That, or it's too bad that I blog anonymously. I'll never get to meet any of these beautiful lady bloggers who follow Popehat with such devotion.

  11. Sparkylong  •  Oct 20, 2009 @12:51 pm

    Chances are, Patrick, that Madison, Olivia & Jasmine are men, with nothing beautiful, whatsoever, about them. Maybe that will make you feel like you're not missing out. 'Cheers.

  12. Mike  •  Oct 20, 2009 @12:59 pm

    Stares in awe.

  13. Bryan  •  Oct 20, 2009 @1:23 pm

    Of course, Mr. Everiss need not jet all over the world defending himself. A court
    must first be convinced that it has jurisdiction over Mr. Everiss before he is required to appear, no?

  14. TomH  •  Oct 20, 2009 @2:18 pm

    At least around here, the jurisdictional allegations will not be examined closely until Mr. Everiss disputes them.

  15. Patrick  •  Oct 20, 2009 @2:43 pm

    As I understand it, the United Kingdom recognizes Australian judgments. Mr. Everiss is wise to defend himself (as he is doing), before a judgment is entered.

    In every civil court of which I'm aware, it's much harder to get a default judgment (which is what happens to a defendant who fails to appear after being served with process) overturned than it is to avoid having a judgment entered in the first place, by defending oneself.

  16. Scott Jacobs  •  Oct 20, 2009 @10:19 pm

    I'll check that addy at school tomorrow, on a school system.

  17. Bruceongames  •  Oct 20, 2009 @11:07 pm

    Outstanding stuff, I have sent it to my solicitors.
    Maybe I should ask Benjamin if he wants to be a friend on Facebook!

  18. Clint  •  Oct 21, 2009 @1:08 am

    Patrick, if you ever get tired of the lawyer thing you can start up your own data-mining company. Your ability to track people down via the tubes is quickly approaching legendary status. Excellent work.

  19. Martin  •  Oct 21, 2009 @5:01 am

    I just went to the link using Google Chrome's "Incognito" browser. It's a link to a (very) short page at "thecomputer-games" {dot} "info" [obscured to fool the bots]

  20. Mr. Hashi  •  Oct 21, 2009 @5:39 am

    The news on ASBS's site once read:

    23 May 2009 Assist Strategic Business Solutions Pty Limited is appointed for Strategic and Operational Solutions partnering with Hong Kong based Regan Mercantile Hong Kong Limited and global based Evony, LLC.

    (Google: "site:asbs.net.au regan mercantile" and view the cached version)

    Crikey! By removing that connection to Regan Mercantile Hong Kong, Evony no longer has a Chinese connection! Of course there is still a Regan Mercantile (US LLC, State of New York) that is -VERY- connected to Evony (see Evony terms and conditions/U.S. trademarks). The Hong Kong version? Never existed! Never connected to Evony! Just like UMGE and Civony – figments of your imagination!

  21. Patrick  •  Oct 21, 2009 @5:42 am

    Interesting Mr. Hashi. We kept screenshots because we know that Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia.

  22. MoriEndi  •  Oct 21, 2009 @6:26 am

    I used to play Evony and I got so fed up with how they treated their players and their ridiculous ads, not to mention how they ripped off countless other games, that I quit. I have a request for media release from them (which I did no consent to due to them reserving the right to change or alter my photo or my words as they see fit into infinity) that shows that they are an American Company, but there was quite a delay in getting those papers sent out, perhaps because they were still setting up the shell corporation?

  23. Ken  •  Oct 21, 2009 @6:45 am

    In addition to the Evony people, you've now drawn the ire of reddit-reading gamers who don't understand irony, satire, or wit.

  24. Patrick  •  Oct 21, 2009 @6:49 am

    I woke up this morning wondering where the hell all this traffic was coming from and saw the Reddit comments.

    The only one I thought didn't get it was the Monocle guy. I suppose I should have pointed out that I've enjoyed games myself since the early 80s, when I played Hammurabi and Adventure (or whatever Zork was called before it was Zork) over a unix mainframe connection.

    Good times. I miss Infocom.

  25. Chris  •  Oct 21, 2009 @7:05 am

    "While a military background in problem-solving may be as valued in the gaming industry as proficiency in, say, PERL or Visual Basic, most game industry job postings tend toward the second category. " I'm trying to figure out how many levels deep this was meant to go as a joke. Either way, well played.

  26. Guest  •  Oct 21, 2009 @7:39 am

    I visited the twitter link. Apparently, it's a man-in-the-middle blogspam that takes the first paragraph from your site, then links to your post.

    It seems safe (wasn't tested with Javascript or plugins), but still…

  27. Grandy  •  Oct 21, 2009 @9:21 am

    While a military background in problem-solving may be as valued in the gaming industry as proficiency in, say, PERL or Visual Basic, most game industry job postings tend toward the second category. ” I’m trying to figure out how many levels deep this was meant to go as a joke. Either way, well played.

    I've been wondering too. :P

  28. mojo  •  Oct 21, 2009 @12:24 pm

    "Hey, I'm not the pilot, genius! I mostly just hurt people and break things."

  29. Bruce  •  Oct 21, 2009 @4:06 pm

    Another mildly ironic twist. The Australian Alliance Party he links to is one of the groups protesting the possible establishment of our own version of the Great Firewall of China.

  30. Nic  •  Oct 22, 2009 @4:03 am

    Mr Gifford, from his mugshot, looks like he indeed has background in both the military and logistics industries.
    I wonder if the Australian Army's Personnel division (I assume that was his military background – to the best of my knowledge, Australians, like Americans, are prohibited by law from serving as mercenaries abroad) would be prepared to comment on his record, rank, and postings?

    Also, my memory is failing in my dotage, so remind me: Logistics: It refers to moving heavy objects like boxes, right? (amongst other things of course)

    I am tempted to contact him to find out if he has any background in the criminal justice system, or the penal correction system area.
    He might be able to provide valuable services to me after all.

  31. Dave  •  Oct 23, 2009 @3:20 am

    Logistics means he was a friggin pogue and about as dangerous as a packet of limp wet spaghetti….actually…it looks like he ate more than a few boxes of said limp pasta….

    Great investigative reporting, first time visitor but certainly not my last time here ;)

  32. Lee  •  Oct 29, 2009 @8:46 am

    I am a student studying computer games design at uni and decided to investigate Evony.com.
    Just to see what some of these games are like etc. etc.
    The game is actually kind of cool (found myself addicted and even spent a little money on it).
    But I started to notice HUGE bandwidth use by the site as I played.
    I am not the only one either, there are comments on the evony forums about this.
    This is odd because all of the client info, the animations etc. are all downloaded in one big download at the start.
    There is no streaming media so I began to wonder what was going on.

    To cut a long story short I decided to break the law and reverse engineer Evony's client.
    Not to cheat. Not to rip them off or even to use even a scrap of the code.
    But just to poke about a bit and find out what was going on, maybe even offer them some ways to improve things.

    Aside from the fact that the whole thing is very poorly constructed (it is really very beginner coder level stuff. Reminds me of a lot of
    what the first year students produce for assignments) it contained some very interesting information.

    Included with the client are 2 peices of tracking software that monitor your web use and which applications you have open while the client is running.
    These do not install independently on the machine though due to the limitations of flash and do not actually damage anything.
    But they harvest massive volumes of information. My firewall was blocking a lot of outgoing transmissions and it turns out that these
    were the data trying to be sent out. So they know nothing about me. lol.
    However there is a LOT of data coming IN over the ports the client uses. In otherwords it is downloading something into my cache for use later.
    I have bandiwdth restriction which slows these types of tricks down and I completely clear my cache every couple of hours if I am heavily using the net.

    I also noticed that all the varanbles etc. are named Civony still and that there are multiple references to UMGE.
    Even a couple of folders are simply called UMGE, one of these folders contains one of the spyware programs.
    So I can only guess at where the data would end up if I didnt have a good firewall.

    There are also commented out sections in the code which contain references to UMGE and Lam himself, though low on details.

    Thank you for reading this.

    Lee

  33. Tim  •  Mar 7, 2010 @1:44 pm

    Evony is a fraud in all aspects.

    They "hire" people or websites to host their ads, don't pay the owners of said websites when time comes, they change IP addresses and owners (who don't even exist), plus they sue someone without revealing who they really are. This whole thing is stupid.

    I was dumb enough to host their ad on my website. Evony owes me $200 per month for the last 9 months which I will never see. I say they come to the USA and settle it in our supreme court. I know people who work for the companies that Evony stole gaming data from.

    When I find out who really owns Evony, I'll sue his ass for not paying me, lying, stealing, trying to hack my website (my protection software blocked 35 attempts already this month from the "current owners" IP address for Evony) and for all the same charges they are pressing on Bruce Everiss.

    As far as I am concerned anybody against me can take sides with Evony and get part of the punishment they deserve!

  34. Lu Lu  •  Mar 31, 2010 @8:50 am

    There is a wonderful reference to his educational qualifications in this article: http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2010/mar/31/evony-libel-case-bruce-everiss

    Evony's case began to break down during the second day when Gifford was cross-examined. He admitted that his claim to have BA and MBA degrees were not true.

  35. Bruce  •  Apr 13, 2010 @12:29 am

    The answer to "what in the world is Ben Gifford" is: Lying Weasel.

    His court testimony is incredibly damning – you can see an extract here in an Ars Technica followup. He is thoroughly pwned by one of Australia's transnational litigation experts.


    Q. How do you say you are not an out and out liar when you have approved statements on the Internet that you hold a Bachelor of Arts, earned a Bachelor of Arts and a Master of Business Administration?
    A. That was put there purely as a PR actually.

    Q. Mr Gifford, is that a serious answer?
    A. Yes.

    Q. It is a lie?
    A. Yes.

    Q. Do you currently have a problem with this, Mr Gifford?
    A. Yes.

    Q. When did you develop that problem, in the last ten seconds?
    A. Yes.

    Things went kind of downhill for Evony's case from there.

  36. Derrick  •  Apr 14, 2010 @6:47 am

    FATALITY

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