SOE, GamePolitics, Jack Thompson in Search for Missing Gamer

If politics makes for strange bedfellows, perhaps the same can be said for GamePolitics.

It doesn’t get any stranger than finding GP, Everquest II publisher Sony Online Entertainment and controversial Miami attorney Jack Thompson all pulling in the same direction.

The unusual story begins on Tuesday, with GP’s coverage of Jacob Pribyl, a missing 20-year-old MMO gamer from Forest Lake, Minnesota.

Desperate for information about their son, Jacob’s parents enlisted the help of Thompson, a longtime nemesis of the video game industry. Although it is unclear what efforts Thompson may have undertaken, late Wednesday afternoon, the attorney e-mailed GP with the following caustic update:

We found the Pribyl boy. He is in Illinois holed up with crazed gamers. We found him because of my going public and good police work. Tell your sycophantic, panting audience that. 

Crazed gamers? Sycophantic, panting audience? Whatever. In a follow-up e-mail, Thompson wrote:

He said he is with the gamers he met online.  He is still in Illinois, and he won’t return. Maybe (former ESA president) Doug Lowenstein can talk him home.

At this point the story really gets interesting. About the same time Thompson’s e-mails landed, GP got an urgent message from Andy Zaffron, Senior Vice-president and General Counsel at Sony Online Entertainment.

Andy had seen our initial coverage of the Jacob Pribyl story on Tuesday and was eager to help. I mentioned that Thompson had already claimed the young man had been located, but Andy suggested we call the family to see if he could provide any additional help. With GP conferenced in, Andy dialed the Pribyls.

Debbie Pribyl, Jacob’s mom, answered. It had been a hectic, stressful couple of days for her and the strain could be heard in her voice. Not being a gamer herself, it took a few minutes for us to explain who we were and what information we might be able to offer.

Andy told Mrs. Pribyl that although Jacob wasn’t currently subscribed to any SOE games, customer records showed that in the past he had played some SOE titles. Andy’s team noted that the e-mail address Jacob used for those games was now attached to an account for a game currently in beta testing . The beta account itself, however, was registered to a different gamer from the Chicago area. Not too uncommon, really, since MMO gamers are known to unofficially swap accounts.

With a little legwork, SOE established that the beta account had indeed been loaned to Jacob. SOE was finally able to track down a phone number where the missing man was said to be visiting a female friend he met through online play. GP’s small part in this was to reverse-check the phone number. We came up with an address in a southern Illinois town. This was new information to the Pribyls.

The good news is that the parents told us they had spoken to Jacob Tuesday night and learned he was safe. The missing young man had still not returned home, however, and the only contact info the family had was for a completely different phone number in another Illinois town, not too far away from the one SOE turned up. It’s unclear why this was the case. Perhaps the young man had visited multiple locations. In any case, the Pribyls expressed their thanks to SOE for taking the trouble to gather and pass along the information.

GP: While Andy Zaffron credits GP’s coverage for prompting Sony Online’s efforts to assist the Pribyls, the fact is that SOE did 99.999% of the work. GP was simply gratified to be able to participate in a process that hopefully will be of some assistance to the Pribyls and Jacob.

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