Monday, June 26, 2017

CSM 12: The Gunpowder Plot

Just when I think things can't get more interesting in EVE Online, something new comes along. Not necessarily in a good way. I watched The CSM Podcast released on Saturday and, oh my! Aryth made some claims that might upset the view of some people on what the CSM should do. Then again, other people will probably rejoice. Or perhaps Aryth is blowing his role totally out of proportion. Personally, I go with option #3, but I'll let you decide for yourself.

I transcribed the relevant part of the podcast and embedded the podcast below. The video should open at the correct place.



Apothne: To what extent were you guys warning CCP that this was about to happen? That a lot of players were about to become very restless. To what extent the feedback you’ve been giving them  Now that this has bubbled over into what some people are calling the new Summer of Rage, kind of what have you been doing to kind of help the PR, to help assuage players and calm them down, or is it, “CCP, you’re fucking up, please deal with this shit.”? Aryth, I know you wanted to talk about this.

Aryth: So, this is going to be a long one, so give me a second. First of all, this has been kind of simmering below the surface I think, even at the CSM level, for six months or so now. There’s some particular devs, I think, that are less responsive than others. Like they have some predetermined actions that they are going to take, that they believe the game works right, and they’re going to do it that way.  So there’s been this undercurrent for awhile.

But right when this first kicked off, we kind of saw it at the CSM. Jin’taan had been providing documents for, you know, months. So this wasn’t like it came out of left field for the CSM. We saw this. We’re experiencing this. I tried to warn Andie a couple of different times, like sending her private messages which I had never done in the full year I was on the CSM, I’d never did it.

Apothne: To be clear, that’s CCP Seagull.

Aryth: Yeah, that’s Seagull. So it’s like, break glass only in case of emergency, right? And, it was just ignored, like she wasn’t there. So I basically was like, well, I told them there would be drama. And to some extent, I had the capability to make that a self-fulfilling prophecy. So I contacted the writers at INN and said, okay, let’s start running negative articles and go ahead and start doing the negative Reddit threads, right? And then, you start that off -- and then CCP follows on with 3 or 4 really dumb actions after that -- and there you go.

The whole CSM was warning them the entire time. Since it’s happened, we’ve been working with them the entire time on how to do the PR messaging, how to make this better, and I think they’ve been very responsive. I want to give CCP full credit for that.

They have been listening. I think they are taking corrective action. I don’t think this is going to be an issue as much as it was. Will they follow through with the summer break and how disruptive that can be? That remains to be seen.

Apothne: So you are saying there was a powder keg that was already built, but you, personally, through your control over the Imperium -- well not your control but your influence in the Imperium is a better way to put it -- is you’ve tried to be the spark for this powder keg to get things going, to really push the issue forward to be more in the forefront of players’ minds?

Aryth: Yeah. Like you can see when the time’s right and you just spark -- don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of luck involved from other event’s occurring I could never have foreseen. Like, how could I know that Quant was going to make a post like that? Holy shit!  But yeah, at some point you have to light the fires and gather the pitchforks and just hand them out and sell them. Right? And go, guys, go up to the point where it hurts EVE. Don’t hurt EVE, but let’s make EVE better, and sometimes you have to kind of elicit that response from the developers. Like, “Hey, this is collaborative, remember, remember, or have you forgotten?” And to use another analogy like I was trying to explain this one time when someone asked, “Why does this keep happening when CCP appears?” And they have a new crop of devs and sometimes the kid just needs to touch the stove, I guess.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Unforced Error

Now I'm starting to get ... irritated. CCP Falcon published a news item yesterday that left me scratching my head. He attempted to explain the process that went into the distribution of the CONCORD ships to Fanfest attendees. Let me go through the article and discuss the items that don't really make sense.
"This is the first mass distribution of rewards of this size and value that we’ve undertaken since the introduction of Alpha accounts with EVE Online: Ascension, and in retrospect it’s now very clear to us that methods of distribution that have worked successfully for us in the past are no longer viable." 
Blaming any issue on the introduction of alpha accounts makes no sense. I received my ships with no problems. In fact, the only problem I had was receiving three sets of ships instead of one. But as CCP Falcon explained later on, that was a feature, not a bug. The only issues I heard of involved people who did not receive ships on all of their accounts due to using different emails on accounts and those, like CSM members and fansite owners, who did not receive their tickets through Eventbrite. In the first case, this year was the first in my six visits to Reykjavik in which attendees received complementary digital items on multiple accounts. That change was not due to the introduction of alphas. In the case of those who did not pay for their tickets, I watch almost every year as at least one fan site owner has difficult with tickets. Once again, a problem one cannot blame on alphas.
"The intention with this distribution of hulls was to offer a thank you to all those who made what is, for many, a long and expensive journey and a sizeable commitment to come visit Iceland for Fanfest 2017.

"Given the delay between Fanfest and the distribution of the hulls, and the fact that these hulls will soon be available more widely, these were awarded on a per account basis as a bit of an extra thank you for the wait that occurred before they were gifted."
What delay? According to the information on the Updates site in December, no delay in the handout of the CONCORD ships to Fanfest attendees occurred.

CONCORD ship information captured on 12 December 2016
On 12 December, the information on CCP's website stated that the Pacifier and Enforcer, "will be distributed after Fanfest 2017, in a summer release." Honestly, I did not expect to receive the ships until August. According to the information available when I purchased my Fanfest ticket, the earliest attendees should expect to receive the ships was June. We received the ships in June.

The second part of the promotion, that attendees receive the ships before the rest of the game, explained why the ships were given out in June.
"The Pacifier and Enforcer, in blueprint copy form, are due to become part of the tiered rewards structure for the second phase of Project Discovery, which is focused around Exoplanets and is scheduled to ship as part of the July 2017 release."
From everything I can tell from reading CCP Falcon's article, everything worked mechanically with the process of distributing the ships. CCP also met all timelines given to Fanfest attendees for when the ships would hit their redemption queues. The only issue involved the handing out of ships based on the number of accounts instead of the historical practice of handing out one set of digital gifts per ticket purchased.
"Unfortunately, entirely on our part, an oversight that did happen was a lack of clarity surrounding the extent that the current issues with Ghost Training would affect their distribution. The community was very fast to point this out and without a doubt, this has been a very direct and fast learning experience for us in this new era where open access to New Eden is now a reality."
If CCP had just distributed the promotional ships as advertised, a lot of player complaints would never have seen the light of day. Or, in other words, CCP would have happier players if they just had done what they said they would do.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

The Ghost Of Somer

"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

I saw something on Twitter yesterday I couldn't believe. I went to the news channel on the EVE community and confirmed the information. CCP, to use a technical term, fucked up.

The announcement involved the handout of the Pacifier and Enforcer to attendees of Fanfest 2017. CCP Falcon confirmed that the error was intentional.
We’re happy to announce that the Pacifier and Enforcer class CONCORD hulls have now been distributed as part of the Fanfest 2017 ticket purchase rewards.
Those pilots who bought their Fanfest 2017 tickets before 2017/01/01 have been gifted:
  • 1x Enforcer class Recon Cruiser
  • 1x Pacifier class Covert Ops Frigate
Those pilots who bought their Fanfest tickets after 2016/12/31 have been gifted:
  • 1x Pacifier class Covert Ops Frigate
These ships should now be in your redeeming system, one package of ships for each account registered to your email address. [emphasis mine]
Seriously, one set for each account? In the past, CCP gave out one set of gifts to attendees of Fanfest and EVE Vegas to the account used to sign up for the event. I think I qualify as a valid source as I have attended 6 Fanfests and 2 EVE Vegas events. In the interests of full disclosure, I attended Fanfest 2017 and have 3 paid accounts that share the same email address. That's right, I received 3 Pacifiers and 3 Enforcers. Honestly, that's fucked up.

I didn't feel too guilty, because I know my three accounts were on the low end for Fanfest attendees. People who attend Fanfest are a bit passionate about EVE and have a lot of accounts. Think of all the cyno alts, scouts, market, industry, and PI alts out there along with freighter alts and I probably fell within the bottom quartile. And if a player let a number of subscriptions expire, that's okay, as those counted as alpha accounts and received ships too.

The fact I cannot understand is how CCP can have such a short institutional memory. In October 2013, a giveaway of a special ship, the Ishukone Watch Scorpion, by CCP to the EVE gambling site SOMER Blink created a controversy.
"SOMER Blink is a player-run gambling site, featuring micro lotteries where players buy tickets for a chance to win valuable ships and other in-game assets. The tickets are bought with ISK that players have deposited in the system either directly, or as a result of bonuses that SOMER Blink offers to players who purchase EVE Game Time Codes through SOMER Blink’s affiliate program. By all accounts, a massive amount of ISK has passed through the system, with the site recently celebrating 1 quadrillion in ISK prizes won by players.

"In an email exchange with TMC staff, SOMER Blink second in command Andrev Nox seems to confirm that the leaked mail is real. “CCP has been using the Ishukone Scorpions for community site rewards and ingame event giveaways for a while now, with Blink being neither the first nor the last in that program,“ he writes.

"The special edition battleships are not available to manufacture and are rarely given out by CCP. Eighty-one were given away at FanFest as part of the Charity Poker Tournament and PvP Tournament and added to the game as part of the Odyssey expansion. Another was given out as part of a role-playing event and SOMER Blink was given ten to use as rewards. To date, there have been no other public giveaways of the ship, meaning that SOMER Blink employees' private rewards may account for a quarter of the Scorpions Ishukone Watch in the game. The ships tend to sell for 10-20 billion ISK meaning that the gift was worth 300-600 billion ISK.

"The revelations come on the heels of another controversy surrounding SOMER Blink’s close relationship with CCP. In September, CCP announced and then walked back plans to reintroduce the Golden Magnate ship to the game via a giveaway on SOMER Blink’s site. Previously, only one Golden Magnate had ever been created (it was subsequently destroyed). They similarly had to cancel plans to offer new Guardian Vexors, another limited edition ship rarely seen in game."
In the above case, CCP Manifest explained the Ishukone Watch Scorpion was designed as a promotional ship, much like the pirate rookie ships that CCP occasionally gives out. Likewise, the Pacifier and Enforcer are also promotional ships that players can obtain through some means yet to be announced.

I can justify in my mind CCP giving out one set of ships to Fanfest attendees. If the other 99+% of EVE players who did not travel to Iceland have a chance to earn a ship or three, then Fanfest attendees don't really gain an advantage except for receiving the ships early. But if some people received over 150 of each ship, that's an entirely different situation. Will other players have the opportunity to earn 150 of their own? For some reason I don't think so.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

A Quick Look At Buying Legitimate Gold In Guild Wars 2

I started playing Guild Wars 2 again 6 weeks ago. The game is a nice break from EVE, which I needed. I normally need a break after the CSM season and GW2 provided the break this year. I rolled up a sylvari necromancer and hit level 74 last night. I fell into a pattern of doing the personal story when I become eligible and then grind crafting materials and level both my character's crafting skills (tailor and jeweler). Rince and repeat until complete. I think I'll have the personal story complete within the next two weeks. After that, I can return to EVE refreshed and with a different perspective on the game.

Guild Wars 2 is a free-to-play game unless you wish to play the latest content. The game then turns into buy-to-play. I purchased the Heart of Thorns sometime last year, so I don't count as a free-to-play player. Still, I found myself spending $20 because I wanted to expand my bank space. Of all the things that F2P and B2P games offer, extra bank space is what I normally pull out the credit card to purchase.

One thing I've never purchased with real world cash is in-game currency. Not even in EVE. Spending money on gold or ISK never made sense to me, and probably never will. The only reason I have over 2700 PLEX is the mystery code from the two copies of the Collector's Edition I own plus all the Aurum CCP gave out over the years that were recently converted to the new-style PLEX. I guess I should add that I won one of my Collector's Editions in a contest, so only 500 of the PLEX I own were a result of any real world purchases.

Like EVE, Guild Wars 2 allows players to convert real world money into in-game currency through the purchase of gems. But to someone who's played EVE for almost 8 years, the GW2 system is a bit bizarre.

Gem Prices In US Dollars
Unlike in EVE, players do not get cheaper prices for purchasing larger amounts of gems. One gem always converts to 1.25 cents, or $0.0125. Therefore, at the purchasing stage, the player has no incentive to purchase larger amounts of gems.

Where the system becomes strange to the EVE player is the actual exchange of gold and gems between players. In EVE, a player posts either a buy or sell order on the market, someone else comes along and fulfills the order, and a direct swap is made. ArenaNet runs their system a little differently.


Buying gold using gems

The GW2 Official Wiki describes the mechanics:

The initial interface panel displays standard exchange amounts and how many coins or gems are required for purchase. Click on Buy next to the desired transaction to complete the purchase.
  • Gold coin Gold exchanges include intervals of 1, 10, 50, 100, 250, and custom
  • Gem.png Gem exchanges include intervals of 400, 800, 1200, 2000, and custom
  • Exchange rates are determined by supply and demand from players. Since supply and demand affects the rate, the ratio can shift rapidly depending on market conditions, especially when the Gem Store adds new items.
    • The exchange has a supply of both Gems and Gold. When you trade to the exchange you influence the supply of each. The exchange rate is relative to current supply of each. The price changes geometrically as one pool empties creating a better exchange rate for the low supplied currency. The supplies are contained entirely within the exchange.[1]
    • Due to currency exchange inflation, the value of purchased gems has increased over time. Conversely, the value of in-game gold used to purchase items in the Gem Store has decreased.
  • Transaction fee is a 15% fee for trading gems for gold or vice-versa. For example, exchanging 1 Gold coin gives 85 Silver coin worth of gems while reselling those gems returns only around 72 Silver coin 25 Copper coin, resulting in a net loss of roughly 28%.


In other words, trying to make gold off of the ebbs and flows of the market using gems isn't really viable. In addition, free accounts may only perform gem to gold exchanges. Gold to gem conversions are reserved for those who either purchased the original GW2 or Heart of Thorns expansion.

From http://www.gw2spidy.com/gem
The graph above, from Guild Wars 2 Spidy, shows the large discrepancy between the gold to gems vs the gems to gold exchange rate. The difference in price between buying 100 gems with gold versus selling 100 gems for gold is approximately 10 gold. Needless to say, I don't think people in GW2 engage in some of the same types of market play as happens in EVE concerning PLEX.

I plan on taking a closer look at the Guild Wars 2 cash shop in the near future. First though, I do need to finish up the personal story. I think having the additional experience in GW2 will help perform a more informed comparison between GW2 and EVE's cash shop. Besides, I enjoy playing Guild Wars 2 and I'd like to say I finished the original content for another game.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

CCP's War On Illicit RMT: The May Ban Wave

A month ago I posted some of the tears I found posted on the illicit RMT site Player Auctions from customers banned by CCP for buying ISK, PLEX, and skill point injectors. But those were just scattered bans in the months of March and April. This month, the tears I captured are different. In May, we have a legitimate ban wave.

The wall of shame
The biggest indicator is the concentrated number of bans. Over the course of 11 days, I found 13 players banned purchasing ISK and skill injectors from 4 different sellers. The bans above are the minimum, as ISK sellers will often bribe upset customers with free ISK in order to either reverse a bad review or not post the negative review in the first place. Also, a lot of buyers don't post reviews, so some dissatisfaction never reaches the public. Finally, PA, while a large site, only makes up a fraction of the grey/black market in EVE Online virtual goods and currency. If the ban wave is truly massive, I only captured a fraction of those caught by CCP's security team.

The other indicator of a wider ban wave is the rising price of ISK and skill injectors. If an enforcement action takes place targeting both customers and the in-game infrastructure of ISK and skill point farmers, prices begin to rise about 2 weeks after the bans begin. Sellers offering the cheapest ISK began raising their prices 10%-20% starting late last week. Theoretically, the price rise possibly was the result of a lowering of the ISK price of PLEX during the same time. But over the past 2-3 days, the cheapest sellers of skill injectors began raising their prices 10%-20%.

Lots of player bans and rising prices. I don't know if the bans are over or if CCP is still rolling up the networks of the illicit ISK and SP sellers. I would like to see a security dev blog come out one of these days just to see what is really happening.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Business Fatigue

I have spent a lot of time over the last couple of weeks playing Guild Wars 2. As in, I reached level 36 last night on a brand new sylvari necromancer. I needed to dock up and run around a world in an avatar instead of a ship.

I think the problem is too much of the business side of EVE is reaching into the game a little faster than I like. The first thing that got to me was the PLEX vault. I know, I know, just ignore the thing. But those numbers are so annoying. The solution is simple, really. I need to extract my pilots from their current locations, fly to high sec and stash the damned things in a station. Out of sight, out of mind.

Surprisingly Irritating
The next irritant was the introduction of the small skill injectors. On the face of the feature, I should have no problems. I personally never use skill injectors. I have a quirk that just sees paying money to advance in a game as bad. I don't buy experience point potions in other games. When playing Star Wars: The Old Republic, I took my dislike of XP boosters so far that I didn't even use the ones the game gave out as mission rewards. I do eat food in Guild Wars 2, but if I want an added bonus by eating food, I'm stuck with also receiving a 10% XP buff. At least the buff is only for experience gained by killing mobs.




I even understand the reasoning for the the move. By making skill injectors that hold 100,000 skill points, new characters have an easier time of earning money to boost their skill point gains. Also, lower priced skill injectors are enticing to new players thinking of buying power in the game. A new player may not consider an extra $20 purchase to by 500 PLEX a wise investment. But throwing $5 or $10 at a new game? I know I have done so for a promising game if I need extra bank slots.

What really has me shaking my head is that CCP is expanding the skill injector feature while not fixing a major bug that is ripe for exploitation. While at Fanfest, I heard a rumor about a ghost training exploit. I didn't say anything on the blog because a section of the Terms of Service states:
23. You may not exploit any bug in EVE Online to gain an unfair advantage over other players. You may not communicate the existence of any exploitable bug to others directly or through a public forum. Bugs should be reported through the bug reporting tool on our website.
I won't go into any more details because while the users on Reddit can go wild breaking the EULA and ToS, CCP knows my accounts and I still want to play EVE. I'll just say I don't think CCP should have introduced the small skill injectors until the exploit was closed.

Once I get the disbelief out of my system I'll log in for a nice long mining session. But CCP ... FIX. YOUR. GAME.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The Price Of PLEX - An Unexpected Development

The past week was another reminder for why I don't play the markets in EVE Online. Instead, I sat on my hands and made 440 million ISK.


I thought when the conversion from aurum to the new PLEX occurred, the ISK price would go down. Why? Because I thought everyone would race out to cash in their new found wealth. The increased supply would drive down the price. If I sold immediately, I could watch the price drop and then pick the PLEX up at a lower price while making a small profit. Between the 2 PLEX I already owned plus the free aurum sitting on my accounts, I have over 2700 PLEX.

Instead, I did nothing. And the price rose from 1,247 million ISK per one month of game time on 8 May to 1,347 million yesterday.


I'll conclude with the possible effect on the price of illicit RMT. Despite the price increase for two month's game time from $17.495 per month to $18.177 per month that occurred on 9 May, the price of game time still fell 4.2% (60 cents) over the course of the first half of the month. Market forces may eventually relent, but at $13.70/billion ISK in The Forge, some ISK sellers will soon see sales fall unless they lower prices.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

EVE's Opening Cinematic Videos

With the launch of the 119.5 today, EVE Online receives the fourth opening cinematic video in the games 14 year history. Given that I had a little bit of trouble finding all of them, I thought I'd make a post including all four, just so I can find them again.

Original Cinematic: 6 May 2003


Apocrypha Expansion: 10 March 2009


Odyssey Expansion: 4 June 2013


Release 119.5: 9 May 2017


Just a couple of notes. First, CCP seems to flip between wanting to feature the background story and focusing on the new player. The first and third cinematics introduce players to the lore while the second and fourth focus on the potential of the player. Next, CCP did need to make a new opening since the old one included references to DUST 514. Finally, despite the technical excellence, the new opening video is my least favorite of the four. Really, how can any video compete with Angry CONCORD Guy in the cinematic that CCP just replaced?

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Illicit Real Money Trading In EVE Online's Alpha State

One of the truisms of MMORPGs is if a game introduces a free-to-play element, gold sellers will come to try to make a profit. EVE Online is no exception. The illicit RMT markets exploded as ISK sellers tried to keep up with the increased demand that began with the launch of the Ascension expansion on 15 November 2016.



Once again I will use information collected from Player Auctions, a site that hosts virtual currency sellers for many games. I record the transactions on the site as best as I can and even post tears when CCP catches the buyers. While not making up the majority of sales on the secondary RMT market, the site is still substantial enough to give some idea of the trends among the ISK sellers.

In the first three months of 2017, sales boomed on the illicit markets for ISK and skill injectors. The U.S. dollar value of sales increased almost 83% from Q1 2016 to Q1 2017. The below graph breaks down the sales by month instead of by quarter.


Notice the contribution of skill injectors to the gross sales numbers on the secondary market? I don't believe the love of skill injectors is just confined to the buyers on PA. Players who roam from one F2P experience to the next are noted for wanting to level up quickly, which is why most cash shops offer experience point boosts. In EVE, the only experience boost available is the skill injector.


The above chart shows the steady growth of skill injector sales while the sale of ISK is relatively seasonal. Even with the introduction of the alpha clone F2P system, ISK sales on PA rose less than 10% in Q1 2017 compared to Q1 2016. The big difference was skill injector sales. In the first three months of 2017, the number of skill injectors sold exceeded the number of billions of ISK sold. While ISK still brings in more money, I think skill injectors have supplanted PLEX as the second biggest thing sold.

One of the reasons for making the post now instead of earlier is that everything in this post may become outdated. One week from today the changes to PLEX and the cash shop go live. I am eager to see the effect of the new PLEX on the market. I also want to see if the change will also bring about more people getting caught buying the item on the black market. People tend to want to purchase the new shiny and I suspect PLEX are a little easier to track than other virtual objects and currency.


Wednesday, April 26, 2017

CCP's War On Illicit RMT: Buyers' Remorse


I first made my mark in EVE Online by publishing the tears of botters I found on their forums. Amazingly enough, people like reading about bad things happening to botters. But as the years went by and CCP became more adept at banning bot users, the bot developers started restricting and deleting posts that made their code look less than appealing. I still posted tears, but only on Twitter, not on the blog.

I do like RMT tears, though. I looked in my screenshot folder where I keep all the tears I collect from Player Auctions and I think I have enough to do a long-overdue post. Player Auctions is a site where people go to buy ISK, gold, plat, gil, and lots of other virtual currency and items found in online video games. The satisfaction ratings are a bit inflated and don't reflect how often sellers and buyers get caught by CCP. Keep reading to see the entries I captured before the sellers could bribe upset buyers into changing their reviews.