A computer hacker who broke into the accounts of fantasy role-playing gamers and sold their virtual property for £3,000 to pay off his real life gambling debts has been spared jail.
Steven Burrell, 21, spent 16 months hacking profiles on Runescape – the world’s biggest online role-playing game – 4,000 times.
A court heard he then sold people’s virtual items, such as potions, weapons and cooking equipment, on auction sites and forums to raise between £2,500 and £3,000.
As a result of his actions, the game’s developer Jagex spent 1,000 man hours addressing customer complaints.
After his initial arrest in April this year, Burrell emailed the company to apologise for his behaviour.
But he then hacked their game another 27 times before he was arrested again in July.
Northampton Magistrates Court heard he accessed player accounts on 3,872 occasions, and modified 105 accounts.
Burrell admitted two charges relating to unauthorised computer access.
Prosecutor Russell Tyner said Burrell also hoped to “gain kudos” through his online thefts.
He said “[Runescape] is recognised as one of the largest games currently in existence, taking place in the realm of a medieval fantasy world.
“Players have characters and they acquire resources. They have a real-world value.
“His principal motivation was to gain kudos among people on the internet. Once a player has lost gaming resources, there is no redress.”
It also emerged Burrell was cautioned in July 2012 by Yorkshire Police in relation to compromising a Facebook account of a Jagex employee.
Defending Burrell, Stuart Jeffery said his “foolish” client used the fantasy world to try and deal with problems in the real world.
He added: “He is a normal, rational human being, whose course of conduct has clearly caused a lot of trouble.
“He used a fantasy world to try to deal with problems in the real world, which were financial and related to gambling.
“It is clear he did not consider the long-term consequences because that world was not real.”
District Judge Tim Daber sentenced Burrell, from Northamtpon, to a 12-month community order with supervision and 150 hours of unpaid work.
He was also ordered to pay £100 costs, a £60 victim surcharge, and told to forfeit his two computers.
Burrell refused to comment outside court.