Consider, if you will, the entire EVE Online universe. Not just the game, but rather the game and the metagame that extends beyond it and spills out in great gobs on the internet. Alliance and corp forums, fitting tools, mapping tools, industry calculators, guides, wikis, blogs, podcasts, news sites, artwork, fiction, gaming sites... If you step back far enough the actual game seems like only half of the game's universe!
Some of these external metagame things are small, like this here blog, and others are huge undertakings with many moving parts and functions like Dotlan EveMaps. Some are the results of individual effort and others are the results of many hands sharing the load and responsibilities as suits their strengths. The larger enterprises even end up developing their own corporate power structures with bosses at the top and "employees" at the bottom.
The width and breadth of the metagame is astounding.
Imagine, just for a second, if EVE did not exist outside the game world. No EVE University wiki; no Dotlan maps, no killboards, no EveNews24.com, no Hydrostatic podcast, no Rixx Javix artwork, no Mumble servers, no Jabber channels, no corporate forums... imagine everything had to be done in the game. Not a pretty site, is it? Imagine setting up a fleet op with a certain doctrine using only the in game calendar and fitting tool and then running the op on EVE Voice and the in-game map. Not a pretty sight, is it?
The fact of the matter is that thousands, if not tens of thousands of person hours per year have been put into this metagame universe and its almost all been done for free. And its been going on for about 10 years.
Well, not quite for free. Operators of out of game sites that qualify as Fansites can get their account paid for by CCP as a promotional gift. For example, my main account with Kirith Kodachi has been paid for by CCP for the past 3 years for running this blog. I don't get a second free account for the podcast I run and I pay for my other two accounts normally. I don't know exactly how this works for sites with more than one operator, like a podcast or a news site, but its safe to assume that all the major contributors to qualifying sites get a free promotional account.
Does this cover the cost of the effort and expenses of running such a site? Except for the most simplest blogs, probably not. Between my blog and podcast, I have yearly fees for the domain and storage space that are covered by the free account, but that does not cover the time the creative effort takes to write and record podcasts. That's OK, its a hobby and its a price I'm willing to absorb as a cost of getting the creative juices flowing.
But consider the effort some of the larger sites require. Not only webserver costs, but admin maintenance, development costs, storage costs, security, and creative effort. Some of these projects require many hours of planning and implementation to get off the ground and run effectively. A single $150 account per year is a drop in the bucket in comparison.
The point is that its not surprising that a large complex site with multiple people involved sought to turn the project into a money-making venture. I don't know if it started off with that goal or it was considered an objective later on after it possibly became a time-sucking second job, but somewhere along the line someone probably said "I work harder on this than I do my real job, I wish I got paid for it!"
I'm not excusing any rule breaking that occurred, nor am I trying to whitewash anyone's motives. I am not privy to what really what on behind the scenes with any of the involved parties. What I am saying is that I don't find it surprising that a major project tried to get some remuneration for their effort that was consistent with the effort.
I know some sites try to get some return from their effort by selling merchandise like Eveoganda does. Of course, you have to be careful not to run afoul of CCP's legal department in the process.
At the end of the day I think major undertakings should have a method to help pay for the costs beyond the free account, and I think it should be done in cooperation with CCP instead of running around them. I don't believe RMT is the answer by any stretch of the imagination as I believe RMT ruins the gameplay for everyone. These out of game services need an out of game solution and I think it behooves CCP to think hard about it as it the benefit to the game these sites brings is immeasurable.