War is erupting in the virtual starfields of online space sim EVE Online.

The disagreement at the centre of the conflict lies between the game's most successful player coalition, The Imperium, and a new faction, The Moneybadger Coalition, bankrolled by an online casino.

Known for its scale and arrogance, the Imperium rose to power and infamy from its origins as Goonswarm and the Clusterfuck Coalition by recruiting smaller factions with a system of tithes resembling a protection racket.

Opponents of the Imperium have recently begun to coalesce, however, into the Moneybadger Coalition, which is being bankrolled (in the game's ISK currency, which has a real-world value) by I Want ISK, a gambling site which uses in-game EVE currency.

Supposedly, one of I Want ISK's leaders got so incensed by a player affiliated with the Imperium that he hired mercenary group Pandemic Legion to attack their fleet; from that fight arose further conflict and the birth of the largely leaderless Moneybadger Coalition.

That conflict came to a head this week in a battle at star system M-OEE8, which developer CCP says featured the single largest one-day number of player-versus-player kills in the game's history.

In the wake of the battle, player group Circle of Two left the Imperium, saying it will "no longer subject [its] pilots to the indecency of watching their hard work burn while Goons sit in their ivory tower."

Former CCP employee Mark Heard says that "people have watched Goonswarm become the CFC and have watched the CFC monetise itself into The Imperium," and that "the collective psyche of the EVE community has gotten tired of it."

"Like any empire that lasts too long, hubris starts to bite you in the ass. You start to make mistakes. You start to not appreciate the people that keep you in power."

EVE Online has seen large-scale battles before, with the notorious Bloodbath of B-R5RB costing upwards of US$300,000 in real money.

But according to journalist and Empires of EVE: A History of the Great Wars of Eve Online author Andrew Groen, this new war could spark "the biggest battle in EVE's history."