Friday, October 20, 2017

Loot Boxes, Gambling, And The Butterfly Effect

"In chaos theory, there's a concept known as sensitive dependence on initial conditions. Most people call it the butterfly effect. In EVE, we call it the sandbox."

When I last wrote about gambling and video games, two men had just pled guilty to running an unlicensed gambling site based on FIFA 17 in the UK. Much has transpired since early February, but I never really had a hook for the story until now. Apparently a concerted effort is underway to get loot boxes, often referred to as lockboxes in MMORPGs, declared a form of gambling.

I'm not sure, but the issue may have come to a head with the implementation of loot boxes in Star Wars: Battlefront 2. I think the original concern is that a AAA game costing $60 will also have lockboxes. On top of that, the game is balanced around the cards that come from the loot boxes, meaning players will most likely spend a lot of money buying loot boxes. Several YouTube personalities came out against the implementation in Battlefront 2. Boogie2988 produced a short, NSFW Francis video about the situation.

The video that really captured my attention, however, is one I watched while attending EVE Vegas. John "TotalBiscuit" Bain produced a piece that, among other things, argued that loot boxes are a form of gambling. The video should start running at 28:52 and run for approximately 13 minutes. I think Bain explains the case for the ESRB declaring lockboxes gambling and automatically rate any games selling lockboxes with an M for Mature (age 17 and over).

In a report published last week, Eurogamer disclosed the reasoning behind the ESRB not declaring loot boxes a form of gambling:
"ESRB does not consider this mechanic to be gambling because the player uses real money to pay for and obtain in-game content," a spokesperson for the ESRB tells Eurogamer.

"The player is always guaranteed to receive something - even if the player doesn't want what is received. Think of it like opening a pack of collectible cards: sometimes you'll get a brand new, rare card, but other times you'll get a pack full of cards you already have.

"That said, ESRB does disclose gambling content should it be present in a game via one of two content descriptors: Simulated Gambling (player can gamble without betting or wagering real cash or currency) and Real Gambling (player can gamble, including betting or wagering real cash or currency). Neither of these apply to loot boxes and similar mechanics."
I think the ESRB is likely covered by US federal law. While loot boxes possess the three elements of gambling -- consideration, chance, and a prize -- a court case from Maryland throws into doubt one of the elements. A prize is only an element if the player has the chance to win something of value. In Mason v Machine Zone, a judge ruled that virtual goods have no real world value. On page 3 of the ruling, the judge wrote:
Crucially, there is no real-dollar value attached to “gold,” chips, or any Casino prizes. On the contrary, Defendant’s Terms of Service (“ToS”)—appended to Plaintiff’s Complaint—provide that “Virtual Currency and Virtual Goods may never be redeemed for ‘real world’ money, goods or other items of monetary value from [Defendant] or any other person”; that players receive a nontransferable “revocable license to use the Virtual Goods and Virtual Currency” solely for personal entertainment purposes; and that, aside from the foregoing license, players have “no right, title, or interest in or to any such Virtual Goods or Virtual Currency.” (ECF No. 1–2 at 9.)

Although the ToS expressly bar players from “buy[ing] or sell[ing] any Virtual Currency or Virtual Goods outside the Services or in exchange for ‘real world’ money or items of value” (id. at 10), Plaintiff alleges that “players have created secondary markets to buy and sell Game of War accounts” (ECF No 1 ¶ 37). Plaintiff does not allege that Defendant hosts or sanctions these secondary markets, nor does she allege that she has ever sold or attempted to sell an account—nor even that she intends to do so in the future. 
Note I stated federal law. The actions taken against the CS:GO gambling sites were instigated by the Washington State Gambling Commission, not a federal agency. Until either federal law changes, or threats to change federal law begin to alarm the ESRB, I do not expect the ESRB to change its industry-friendly ruling.

Just because the US has no issues doesn't mean that game publishers like EA are home-free. I believe that Europe may wind prove a harsher environment for loot boxes to flourish. For now, PEGI, the European game rating organization, does not view loot boxes as gambling. But as Eurogamer explained, PEGI views its role a bit differently than the EBSI:
"Loot crates are currently not considered gambling: you always get something when you purchase them, even if it's not what you hoped for," says Dirk Bosmans, from European video game rating organisation PEGI. "For that reason, a loot crate system does not trigger the gambling content descriptor."

PEGI's gambling content descriptor warns players a game "teaches or encourages" gambling. A game gets this descriptor if it contains content that simulates what is considered gambling, or they contain actual gambling with cash payouts. Bosmans doesn't believe the latter exists on the current consoles. As for the former...

"It's not up to PEGI to decide whether something is considered gambling or not - this is defined by national gambling laws,” Bosmans says.

"If something is considered gambling, it needs to follow a very specific set of legislation, which has all kinds of practical consequences for the company that runs it. Therefore, the games that get a PEGI gambling content descriptor either contain content that simulates what is considered gambling or they contain actual gambling with cash payouts.

"If PEGI would label something as gambling while it is not considered as such from a legal point of view, it would mostly create confusion."
The country most likely to change its regulations to regard loot boxes as gambling is the United Kingdom. In March 2017, the United Kingdom Gambling Commission published a white paper that referenced loot boxes:
3.17: Away from the third party websites which are overtly gambling (offering betting, casino games and lottery products) the ability to exchange in-game items for cash or trade on secondary markets also risks drawing elements within games themselves into gambling definitions. By way of example, one commonly used method for players to acquire in-game items is through the purchase of keys from the games publisher to unlock ‘crates’, ‘cases’ or ‘bundles’ which contain an unknown quantity and value of in-game items as a prize. The payment of a stake (key) for the opportunity to win a prize (in-game items) determined (or presented as determined) at random bears a close resemblance, for instance, to the playing of a gaming machine. Where there are readily accessible opportunities to cash in or exchange those awarded in-game items for money or money’s worth those elements of the game are likely to be considered licensable gambling activities.

3.18: Additional consumer protection in the form of gambling regulation, is required in circumstances where players are being incentivised to participate in gambling style activities through the provision of prizes of money or money’s worth. Where prizes are successfully restricted for use solely within the game, such in-game features would not be licensable gambling, notwithstanding the elements of expenditure and chance.
(pages 7-8) 
Over at Esports Betting Report, Joss Wood used Overwatch as a game with loot boxes that likely complies with the strictures listed in the white paper:
Blizzard’s Overwatch game provides a good example of a game that is likely to comply with the UKGC’s strictures. However, it could easily slip into the gambling definition if the developers expand its features. 
Overwatch has several features that make it of interest to the UK gambling regulator:
  • The game targets children as well as adults.
  • Loot boxes contain random prizes.
  • Players can purchase loot boxes online.
In Overwatch, players can obtain “loot boxes” in several ways:
  • Playing in arcade games.
  • As a prize for leveling up.
  • Purchased directly from the online store.
Each loot box contains a random selection of four items that can players can use in-game.

From the UKGC’s perspective, Overwatch already contains several elements that contribute to a possible definition of gambling.

Loot boxes contain prizes that the publisher determines by chance. They have a monetary value because players can buy them online. Players can even buy them using World of Warcraft gold. (Users can acquire gold for real money at third-party sites online.)

Overwatch is a game with many players under the age of 18. If any gambling is identified, the UKGC will certainly take legal action.
Wood explains that Overwatch avoids the definition of gambling because players cannot trade the in-game items acquired in their loot boxes with other players. Since the items are non-transferrable, there is no way of using them to gamble or exchange for money on third-party sites. If Blizzard tried to enhance the game by making the items tradable, the company would risk the UKGC determining that the game qualifies as gambling. Such a determination would then require Blizzard to acquire a gambling license and Overwatch would then fall within the UK Gambling Act and UKGC regulations.

The subject has received a lot more attention than I thought would normally occur. An online petition reached the 10,000 signature threshold required to elicit a response from the government. A reddit user, Artfunkel, even worked with Daniel Zeichner, the Labour MP for Cambridge, to submit two questions to the government:
1. To ask the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, what assessment the Government has made of the effectiveness of the Isle of Man's enhanced protections against illegal and in-game gambling and loot boxes; and what discussions she has had with Cabinet colleagues on adopting such protections in the UK.

2. To ask the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, what steps she plans to take to help protect vulnerable adults and children from illegal gambling, in-game gambling and loot boxes within computer games.
According to Artfunkel, the reason for the separate question concerning the Isle of Man is that the territory explicitly defines in-game items as money's worth in its gambling law.

The official response to both questions was the same:
The Gambling Commission released a position paper in March 2017 detailing existing protections in place for in-game gambling, virtual currencies and loot boxes. The paper can be found on the Commission’s website at the following link:

Where items obtained in a computer game can be traded or exchanged outside the game platform they acquire a monetary value, and where facilities for gambling with such items are offered to consumers located in Britain a Gambling Commission licence is required. If no licence is held, the Commission uses a wide range of regulatory powers to take action.

Protecting children and vulnerable people from being harmed or exploited by gambling is one of the core objectives of the regulation of gambling in Great Britain and a priority for the government. The Gambling Commission have a range of regulatory powers to take action where illegal gambling is taking place. Earlier this year the Gambling Commission successfully prosecuted the operators of a website providing illegal gambling facilities for in-game items which was accessible to children - the first regulator in the world to bring such an action.

The government recognise the risks that come from increasing convergence between gambling and computer games. The Gambling Commission is keeping this matter under review and will continue to monitor developments in the market.
From reviewing gaming news sites, the reaction of most writers ranges from expectedly non-committal to confused. The problem is that the white paper is more nuanced. Where most of the activists want all loot boxes treated the same, the UKGC basically only sees an issue when third parties are introduced, thus turning the prizes from the loot boxes into money's worth. But if trade between players, either for other virtual items or for real world cash, turns loot boxes into gambling, then the trading card analogy used by both the ESRB and PEGI to justify not labeling loot boxes gambling begins to fall apart. Loot boxes are trading cards owners cannot legally trade? The argument makes no sense to me.

Now comes the plot twist some people would refer to as the butterfly effect. The latest movement against loot boxes came about due to unhappiness with game publishers/developers inserting loot boxes into $60 AAA single player video games with cooperative play. But unless the law, or regulations, change in the UK, game companies can avoid the gambling classification by simply not allowing trade between players. But a genre of games exists where banning trade between players is basically impossible: massively multiplayer online role playing games.

Many MMORPGs like Guild Wars 2, Star Wars: The Old Republic, and Elder Scrolls Online rely on lock boxes for additional revenue apart from the sales of the game (GW2) or alternate subscriptions (SWTOR, ESO). For many free-to-play titles, the cash shop is essential to keeping the game in operation. If the anti-loot box forces get their way, the turmoil as so many companies try to quickly alter their business models will provide a lot of fodder for games journalists to cover and opine on. A situation good for a blogger like me, but will it really benefit the genre in the long run? I don't know the answer as I never considered a world without loot boxes until now. Something to think about.

Friday, October 13, 2017

The Agency: Do No Harm

Since getting back home from EVE Vegas late Monday night I've spent a little time on Singularity looking at the upcoming version of The Agency. My main concern after attending the sessions in Las Vegas is that CCP would make The Agency a useful tool for hunters to track down prey. At this point, I don't think that is a major concern. Signatures and sites only appear in the system a player is in, which means hunters still need to roam. The only purpose of the functionality in my mind is that players can now effectively "see" more of the local system without having to undock.

I still have concerns that the new mining ledger functionality is too powerful, especially if connected to external websites.

I hear that CSM member Steve Ronuken is working on a site that potentially will prove extremely helpful to hunters, depending on the amount of miner buyin to the idea. That's right, if all goes according to plan, miners will provide the rope that hangs them. A very EVE-like idea that I plan to watch closely as time goes on. After all, I don't want to lose a ship just because someone else is dumb. I lose enough because I'm dumb.

I'll probably spend some more time on Singularity testing out Lifeblood content this weekend after I finish up my mining to make Gaze probes. I do want to test out my Warzone Extraction fits to see if they will work to run the Crimson Harvest sites in high sec. Since I have a little time, I might even take them into low sec, since I received some requests for that during the Warzone Extraction event. So I have a list of things to do in EVE this weekend. Maybe the writing will pick up again next week as I find more new things.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

EVE Vegas: Winning The Race Against Time

One of the long-running themes around EVE Online is, "EVE is Dying!!!" While the game has declined since its peak in 2013, the game is pretty active for a 14-year-old title. Of all the EVE killers to emerge, though, the biggest recent threat is Star Citizen. If the game had come out in the 2014-2016 timeframe as originally advertised, CCP as a company probably would have felt a lot of financial pain.

But beginning in 2015, CCP implemented financial moves to become a major player in the virtual reality market. In April 2015, CCP bought back $20 million in bonds two years early. That news was followed in November 2015 with the announcement that venture capitalists had invested $30 million USD into CCP for the purposes of developing virtual reality games. A week later, CCP's first VR game, EVE: Gunjack, released on the Gear VR, with releases on the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and Playstation VR occurring throughout 2016. EVE: Valkyrie also debuted on the three VR platforms in 2016, with a non-VR version releasing just last month. And at the end of August, Sparc released on the Playstation VR.

With the recent emphasis on the development of VR content, Hilmar's presentation on the first day of EVE Vegas, titled "CCP Presents", provided the surprise of focusing on non-VR games. The two games discussed were Project Nova, the followup to DUST 514, and Project Aurora, which promises to bring the EVE Online universe to mobile devices. Interestingly, CCP is not trying to develop the games alone. To develop the new first-person shooter, CCP is working with UK developer Sumo Digital. Doing some research after the presentation made me a lot less impressed with the developer than Hilmar made them sound from the stage, but I guess that's expected at this point. The developer working on Project Aurora is the Finnish studio Play Raven, who seems a good choice to work with as a mobile game studio. Play Raven co-founder and CEO Lasse Seppänen appeared on-stage, where he was roundly booed when he described Project Aurora as EVE Online with less spreadsheets. Yes, EVE players love their spreadsheets!

Now, despite Chris Roberts and Cloud Imperium Games doing their best Blizzard impersonation and announcing the release of Alpha 3.0 to the Evocati test group Friday morning, I think CCP is in good shape. By the time Star Citizen launches, probably in late 2019 or early 2020, CCP's product line should have diversified enough to withstand a hit caused by the release of a new game. Depending what I hear over the next two days, the promise exists that CCP's product line will prove superior to what CIG eventually produces. Two years ago, I thought Star Citizen could cause CCP problems. Now? Unless CIG has something they haven't shown the world, CCP is in good shape.

Friday, October 6, 2017

EVE Vegas 2017: The Most Meta Thing I'll See This Weekend

Walking around Las Vegas, I think I found the most meta concept I'll run across before registration for EVE Vegas even begins.

To me, Las Vegas is a rather escapist place. A city designed to part visitors with as much money as possible, Sin City offers the promise of a refuge from the reality of a mundane life, at least for a weekend. I find the illusion rather threadbear myself, which is why I find the presence of people selling virtual reality experiences so amusing. Even in Vegas, some people believe that the way to wealth is to provide an experience in a place away from the reality surrounding them.

I understand the lure of virtual reality equipment. I own an Oculus Rift and a Gear VR and last week finally purchased the Touch controllers. I still haven't played EVE: Valkyrie as I got sidetracked into playing a sci-fi themed tower defense game called Defense Grid 2. With your vision totally focused on the experience in front of you and headphones blocking out all outside sound, virtual reality offers an escape from everyday life without having to leave your home.

I think the trend of storefronts offering virtual reality experiences to people is a promising sign for the VR industry. Back in the 1980s and 1990s, the video arcade allowed those who could not afford to purchase game consoles a chance to play video games. Is it any wonder that as equipment became more affordable, video game revenue ($91 billion worldwide) surpassed movie industry ($38.6 billion) and music industry ($16.1 billion) revenue combined? According to the Venture Beat article, the first year of virtual reality was "sobering", with the industry only growing to $2.7 billion.

As someone who spends a lot of time thinking about video games and the surrounding issues, I could easily get caught up in an echo chamber that says that, while I might enjoy VR myself, the technology just isn't their. Sometimes, walking away from the keyboard and experiencing different places where I wouldn't normally travel, is necessary to bring a different point of view. To me, the early indications are that VR is at a point the video game industry was at 30-35 years ago. I may not live to see the day where VR becomes as ubiquitous as computers are today. But I'm pretty sure the day will arrive.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

EVE Vegas 2017: The Travel Day

I'm sitting somewhat comfortably in my room in The Linq on a beautiful Thursday morning typing out a blog post with a way-overpriced pumpkin latte and a bag of chips. Sorry, but when the untaxed price of a grande pumpkin spice latte is 23% higher than the price of the same product in Chicago's special taxing district covering the Loop after taxes, then you know the prices are jacked up. Then again, the fact that I couldn't use my Starbucks reward points to purchase said overpriced latte probably doesn't help my mood.

My first 24 hours on vacation was kind of like EVE. Sometimes great and sometimes frustrating. Despite a call from work, I was packed, garbage taken out, dishes washed, bed made, etc, a full 20 minutes before the pickup time. The limo service I use once again came through like a champ, arriving 10 minutes early, meaning after I finished fiddling around, I left exactly on time. The drive was smooth and fast, the American employees doing the curbside check-in had me processed in two minutes, and I breezed through the TSA check point. Time from leaving my house to clearing airport security: 45 minutes. Yes!

The American terminal at O'Hare International Airport is really nice and has a lot of eating choices. I wound up picking up a fish sandwich at McDonald's for lunch and a pumpkin spice latte at the Starbucks across the aisle from my gate a couple of hours later. The only bad thing that happened was I started to get a case of the sniffles right before boarding the flight. Well, something happened to American's computer system, but as I had a physical boarding pass, I wasn't affected.

The flight itself was pretty good. I spent a little extra money to get a seat with extra leg room, which I need due to getting a little older. As an additional perk, the middle seat in my row was empty, which was really nice. The flight did have to sit at the gate an extra ten minutes, which meant getting into Las Vegas 10 minutes late, but that's not a big deal. I spent the four-hour flight outlining a future blog post on my view of the Gallente Federation and listening to EVE Online parody songs. Oh, and the sniffles got worse.

Things started going really pear-shaped travelling from the airport to The Linq. Looking at Google Maps, the distance is 2.6 miles. The trip by shuttle bus took 70-75 minutes. By way of comparison, travelling from Keflavik International airport to a hotel in downtown Reykjavik when I travel to Iceland for Fanfest typically takes under an hour, with the Flybus typically covering the 50 kilometers from the airport to the bus terminal in 45 minutes.

The hotel itself I'm still up in the air about. I don't like the layout. I actually got lost for a bit as I went to the wrong elevator bank. I discovered I'm on the same floor as the spa and fitness center, which means I'll probably run into some of the folks from Fitfleet. I ran into J McClain walking out of the fitness center this morning while running down to Starbucks this morning.

I'm not the only one getting confused, either. I ran into Random McNally of the High Drag podcast and he said he found the layout a bit confusing also. But he also seems to like the place after getting acclimatized.

My first swag of the convention
Plans never survive contact with reality on the ground, and my meal plans are no different. Random recommended the Hash House. The restaurant is a little pricey, but the food is good and the portions are huge. Sounds like the place to go before going to the Open Comms show. So I'll go to the Hash House for a late lunch and hit up Holstein's in the Cosmopolitan after the OC. Hopefully I'll run into Crossing Zebras' writer Dire Necessity if he doesn't read this and let him know.

I did have one more problem in my room. Connecting to the hotel wi-fi. When I tried to connect, all I got was a connection to wi-fi, but no internet connectivity. That wouldn't do. So I went to call someone from my phone. No dial tone with the phone. Ugh! So I went down to the desk and found out I shouldn't need any instructions. I left frustrated and wasn't as nice as I should have been. After taking 15 steps, I ran into J McClain and his lovely wife and he asked me how things were going. He probably heard more than he wanted. Sorry J! Then, as usually happens when J stands in one place for any length of time, a crowd started to form, so I made my goodbyes and went back to my room.

The problem with the wi-fi? Apparently The Linq's site triggered something that required me to reconfirm my security settings in Windows 10. Once I performed that task, I had wi-fi and internet connectivity. I wonder if that's because I leave Cortana turned off as much as possible and the Microsoft programming makes life more difficult until you start using her. Hey, I think that's a perfectly reasonable piece of tinfoil!

As I finish up typing this post, local time is now after 11am, which means it's time to start exploring the city. Or at least the famous Vegas strip. I have my new camera I bought for Fanfest this year and I should go out and play tourist. Oh, and try to find out if Dirk MacGirk is still alive and find out where the Open Comms show is broadcasting from tonight.

UPDATE: The location of the Open Comms broadcast tonight.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Heading To EVE Vegas 2017

By this evening I should find myself unpacking a few things in a hotel room in Las Vegas. For the third year I'm travelling to Sin City in order to attend EVE Vegas. The city isn't a place I would normally travel to, but with the largest collection of EVE players in North America each year why not?

Today is a travel day. Normally, I wouldn't worry, but with President Trump visiting Las Vegas in the aftermath of Sunday's horrible shooting from Mandalay Bay, who knows what might happen. With my luck, I'll get stuck on the tarmac for an hour or two waiting for Air Force One to take off before anyone can depart. Perhaps I should just hope he stays overnight.

On Thursday I only have two planned events. The first is to walk over to the Cosmopolitan for lunch. One of the restaurants makes delicious alcohol-laced milkshakes. I'll need a big meal to prepare for the second event. At 6pm, Dirk MacGirk, Dreydan Trovirr, and a whole bunch of others will broadcast the Open Comms show on their old day. I'll have to find out where the broadcast will take place.

On Friday morning, I plan to attend the Talking In Stations breakfast. For those unfamiliar with TiS, it is a podcast that records live on the Imperium News Twitch stream on Saturday mornings. In the interest of full disclosure, I have appeared on the stream/podcast a few times. I'll need to locate the restaurant on Thursday because I have the feeling I might wake up late and need to rush in order to get seated with the group.

After breakfast, I think we are all going to go to the registration area and get our badges. Apparently we get some discounts at local bars and restaurants, so we will indeed need our wristbands and badges.

The first three events I think almost everyone will want to attend. The first session at 2pm is a welcome session hosted by CCP Guard and CCP Falcon. Next comes the EVE Online Keynote at 3pm which will give attendees a look at what's coming up in the Lifeblood expansion in 3 weeks. Of interest is who will give the keynote as Executive Producer CCP Seagull is on maternity leave. Closing out the day's presentations is a session called "CCP Presents". If the session is like the similarly named sessions at Fanfest, we'll get to hear all about CCP's upcoming virtual reality products. If we're really lucky, we might find out the future of CCP's planned follow-up to DUST 514. I remember seeing job postings for the Reykjavik studio that suggest CCP is working on a new game. Whether that game is a new FPS game or something else gives me something to look forward to hearing.

Saturday's lineup of events looks better than what I've seen at Fanfest the past couple of years. At 10am CCP Affinity and CCP Vertex will give a 30 minute presentation on Resource Wars, a feature coming in Lifeblood that I look forward to giving a try. At 10:30, Mike Azariah takes the stage to talk about why the end game of EVE is so elusive.

At 11am, CCP Burger will give an hour-long presentation titled "Shipyards & Future PVE". I get the shipyards part as CCP is still rolling out structures. But future PvE? My curiosity is peaked.

We don't break for lunch until 1pm, which means Matterall will give his talk on Continuum of War to a crowd that may want to eat something. The Talking in Stations host will cover warfare from the Battle of Asakai to today.

When I originally looked at the schedule, I considered not coming back for the afternoon sessions. But the 2pm session on Upwell Structures is one that could prove extremely interesting. The speakers are CCP Fozzie and CCP Nagual. We may get some more concrete timing on what CCP Burger discusses in the morning. If anything, the description of the talk mentions the structures roadmap. I think for that alone I need to attend.

I don't plan to go to the 3pm sessions, but I might go and listen to CCP Rise discuss balance issues at 4pm. The title apparently is a bit misleading.

On Sunday, I think I'll sleep in a little and make CCP Punkturis and CCP Sharq's presentation at 11pm the first one I attend. I do want to find out the future of The Agency, and the presence of CCP Punkturis suggests we will get a lot of information about an improved user interface. Also, pink cartoon cats.

At noon, Max Singularity (aka The Space Pope) will give another lecture on the physics of spaceflight in the EVE universe.. Max contributed to the Frigates of EVE book and will explain more about how ships are powered. Max's lectures are must attend events at EVE gatherings.

I might take a long lunch on Sunday. But if I don't, I'll show up at the EVE Lore Q&A. I do like the lore so hearing the lore hounds pepper CCP Falcon and CCP Affinity with questions could prove enlightening.

The next two sessions are player presentations running 30 minutes each. The first is by Emmaline Fera titles "Leadership Lessons From EVE Online". Considering Emmaline works in the tech business, listening to her insight might make me laugh. She can get just a little sarcastic.

The final session before the closing ceremony is Elise Randolph and Debes Sparre discussing how to build doctrines. I figure by the time 3:30pm rolls around on Sunday, I won't feel like getting up to go anyplace else.

For those interested in the event but unable to fly out to Las Vegas, CCP will stream all three days on Twitch. As usual, those at the event will probably know less of what's happening than those at home. Considering Las Vegas is one of the few places on earth more expensive than Reykjavik, the ability to order out while watching saves on money also. As for me, I plan on treating Las Vegas like Chicago this year and take a little extra care walking around. Not only do I plan to stay safe, I might wind up saving a little money at the same time.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Warzone Extractions: Final Thoughts

I finished the Warzone Extraction event in EVE Online Wednesday night and claimed the final Valkyrie Cerebral Accelerator for reaching 220 points. Next week is all about EVE Vegas, so today's the perfect day to give my final thoughts one the event.

Time spent. I spent a lot more time on Warzone Extractions than a normal event. Hearing that the NPCs were tougher than normal, I spent 8-10 hours on Singularity testing out various fits. I went a little overboard, but I did get a blog post out of the experience. I then spent approximately one hour a night for 9 nights running the event sites on Tranquility once the event went live. I know a lot of people worry about ISK/hour. Does one calculate the actual time on Tranquility, or include the research time on Singularity? I'll count the actual time on Tranquility for any calculations, as the payoff for my time on the test server was the knowledge gained about how to fit ships.

Looks are no substitute for DPS. After running the event, perhaps an Arbitrator was not the best choice. Yes, the Amarr ewar cruiser is better looking than the Vexor. The Arbitrator also has the advantage of a bigger drone bay, which means for those wanting to salvage, replacing 2 medium drones from my standard fit with 4 salvage drones made better sense. But the split weapon systems in the high slots combined with the reduced firepower of 5 Hammerhead IIs vs a Vexor's 3 Ogre IIs, meant running the sites took a little more time. First, I didn't always get clean kills on the frigates at the beginning of fights due to the damage not always landing at the same time. At the end of fights, killing battleships, especially the Safeguards, took way too long. Still, the Arbitrator performed better than the Drake in my testing, so the ship wasn't a bad choice, just not as optimal as the Gallente drone boat.

The other consideration is what do I do with the ship afterwards. The Vexor fit I came up with is a valid PvE fit even after the event. The Arbitrator, on the other hand, doesn't fit the ship's intended purpose as an ewar cruiser. Still, I don't regret the 64 million ISK I sunk into the ship and mobile tractor unit I used to collect up wrecks. Tooling around the sites watching others in Gilas, Drakes, Tengus and Dominix run them made me smile.

The content. Besides preparing to go to Las Vegas next week, the other reason for not running the content anymore is that the sites became stale. Fly from wreck to wreck to spawn a corrupted relic and Sleepers, kill the small stuff while managing your drones, then lock onto the big stuff and go AFK and get a drink refill. Rinse and repeat. For keeping the content fresh, perhaps visiting the test server as long as I did was perhaps not the best idea in the world.

The rewards. A lot of people aren't into knowledge or just flying around having a good time. They want phat loot. I think those that finish the event will leave satisfied. For those acquiring 220 event points, one receives 2 Valkyrie Cerebral Accelerators that grant boosted training ranging from 24-48 hours, and three full sets of Agency Damage, Speed, and Tank boosters. Depending on the level of the booster, damage boosters grant either a 3%, 5%, or 7% boost to turret and missile damage for 30 minutes. The speed boosters grant a 3%, 5%, or 7% boost to ship speed. The tank boosters grant a 3%, 5%, or 7% boost to armor and shield repair amounts.

In addition, the NPCs in the event sites dropped blue loot, which one sells back to NPC vendors located conveniently (and sometimes not so conveniently) around New Eden. During my travels, I picked up, after taxes, 116 million ISK in blue loot. In addition, 33 boosters of various flavors dropped. I didn't have a valuation for the boosters, so I'll just list the total number of boosters I acquired throughout the event.

10 x Agency Damage Booster I
5 x Agency Damage Booster II
3 x Agency Damage Booxter III

12 x Agency Speed Booster I
4 x Agency Speed Booster II
5 x Agency Speed Booster III

11 x Agency Tank Booster I
7 x Agency Tank Booster II
3 x Agency Tank Booster III

But, that's not all. Valkyrie Cerebral Accelerators also dropped from event NPCs. I picked up two from wrecks, bringing in my haul to 4 training boosts. As I have Biology trained to V, that means 8 days of accelerated training.

Finally, I can't really address the value of salvage. While I did salvage after one fight, I wanted to get to 220 points more than I did scrape up an extra few million ISK by unleashing the salvage drones. Still, for that one fight, the ingame tool tip informed me I picked up 300,000 ISK in Sleeper salvage and scrap metal.

So what was the ISK/hour? The blue loot total comes out to 13 million ISK/hour. I couldn't get a total from the market, but the tool tips showing me the value of the boosters showed a value greater than that of the blue loot. Let's use a conservative valuation and assume the value of the boosters equals the value of the blue loot. That puts the ISK/hour up to 26 million ISK. Then add in the value of 4 accelerators. The UI displayed a value of 152 million ISK, but my local market in a backwater system showed prices in the 60 million ISK range. Going with the lower valuation, that still doubles the value of the loot. To make the numbers round, I'll call the payout 50 million ISK/hour. Not bad for tooling around high sec.

Conclusion. In the end, I have to say that the Warzone Extractions event was the most interesting of the Agency events pushed to Tranquility to so far. The NPCs were challenging to the point I learned something new about fitting passive shield regeneration PvE ships in order to run the content. I did have to roam around a lot, but that is a staple of events like this. The payout was good, and I especially like the lure of the accelerated training. I'll take eight days of accelerated training over purchasing skill injectors any time. So, for me, I think the event was good. Hopefully the event gave us a taste of what is to come with the Pirate Forward Operating Bases and Resource Wars coming in the Lifeblood expansion next month. In about seven more days we'll find out if that's the case after the keynote speech at EVE Vegas.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Warzone Extractions: Revamping the Arbitrator Fit

I guess I should give an update on my experience running the Warzone Extraction sites in EVE Online given how popular my T1 cruiser fittings post for the event turned out. For those wondering, I am flying an Arbitrator through the sites and with my skills, the only problems I encounter are with the battleships, as they kite at the edge of falloff range of my autocannons using Depleted Uranium M.

The Arbitrator fit using Depleted Uranium M

The reason for using autocannon is to kill off the frigates quickly. Once the frigates are off the field, the drones (and thus the ship's DPS) are safe. Experience both on Tranquility and Singularity show that the frigates will try to pull range to around 5km-6km, which means artillery should track well enough to contribute to the damage. Here is what I intend to fly over the weekend.

An Artillery Arbitrator fit using Phased Plasma

On paper, the tech 2 autocannon fit using Depleted Uranium M still has a 1 damage per second advantage over an Arbitrator using tech 1 artillery. Don't let pyfa fool you. The damage totals displayed don't reflect reality in space. Taking into account falloff, the artillery fit should actually outperform the autocannon fit. The Sleeper battleships have the ability to kite a player at 14km-16km. What is extreme falloff range for an autocannon is only 3km-5km into the artillery's 22km falloff range.

But what about killing the frigates at the beginning of a fight? While I haven't tested the new Arbitrator fit, I did test a Vexor fit with tech 1 artillery on the Singularity test server and I found the Gallente cruiser performed well.

A Vexor Artillery Fit
One good thing about using 650mm Medium Gallium Cannon is that they are cheap, running only a few tens of thousands of ISK each. I may even still have a few in one of my hangars. Also, artillery goes through a lot less ammunition, which means I can roam longer without stopping to pick up more ammunition. I perhaps should have included artillery options in my original post, but I ran out of time.

While the Vexor is better on paper, the Arbitrator still has the intangibles going for it. I get a kick out of these people flying around in Dominix and Tengus landing on grid watching an electronics warfare cruiser running the site. And as long as I can pay off the purchase price of the Arbitrator (which if it already hasn't happened, will happen tonight), I'm happy.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Tech 1 Cruiser Fits For Warzone Extraction

Today, CCP celebrates the launch of the EVE: Valkyrie - Warzone with an event in EVE Online. Running one week before the launch of the expansion of the first person spaceship shooter and one week after, the Warzone Extraction should prove the most challenging of The Agency events yet launched on Tranquility. Players unprepared for the content could face a rude surprise.

The setting for the event is fairly simple. A mysterious NPC named The Quartermaster has hired The Agency to find trinary wrecks among the wrecks of Drifter battleships. Players warp to an acceleration gate where they find The Quartermaster in a Viator, the Gallente blockade runner. The player then uses the acceleration gate to warp into a dungeon with 5 Drifter battleship and one station wreck. Players then investigate (i.e. bump into) each wreck until they find the goal, a container holding Corrupted Trinay Relics. If the player fails to find the container after investigating a maximum of three battleship wrecks, a message appears in local chat informing the player where to find the container. Once the Corrputed Trinary Relics are retrieved, players then use the acceleration gate to return to The Quartermaster to hand over the item and receive credit with The Agency for completing the site. The reward was not listed on the Singularity test server.

To make the event more interesting, the site is guarded by Sleepers. According to the EVE University Wiki:
The Sleepers are (or were?) a presumably extinct human race which lived thousands of years before the playable EVE races. Their remaining installations and automated defence systems can be found throughout W-Space. They were far more advanced, technologically, than the current human races, and their drones, which still guard their former bases and systems, can overcome any unprepared explorer easily. Sleeper drones should not be confused with Drifters.
I identified 6 ship types in the high sec sites I tested. The Defenders and Preservers are frigates that web, scam, and neut. The Wardens are logistics ships that can repair the armor of the frigates in one repair cycle. I don't know how effective they are when repairing battleships as I always killed the Wardens before attacking the battleships. The last three ships, Upholders, Sentinels, and Safeguards, are all battleships that can web, scram, and neut. Image a Bhaalgorn with officer neuts. That's right. Expect to have your capacitor drained in short order.

The presence of the Sleepers isn't all bad. While salvage only resulted in scrap metal when I tried, the NPCs drop boosters as well as blue loot normally only seen in wormholes. Bringing a mobile depot unit is highly recommended.

When fitting a ship to run the high sec Warzone Extraction sites, make four assumptions.

1. Unless running a site in a system with a 1.0 security status, plan on facing cap pressure. If you see a battleship, assume you will run out of capacitor in short order. Plan accordingly.

2. Assume your ship needs to output 300 damage per second. The applied damage is probably a little less, but I couldn't calculate the exact amount.

3. The payout for the sites isn't worth using faction or tech 2 ammunition.

4. Bring a prop mod. Spawning and retrieving the Corrupted Trinary Relics may require traveling 60-90 km.

I decided to fit one tech one cruiser of each race and test them on the Singularity test server. I only had time to test in high sec. As the sites get tougher the lower the security status of the system, I won't vouch that the first two ships would survive a low sec site. I'll present the ships in order of preference. I'd say effectiveness, but my top choice may surprise people.

4. Caldari Caracal

The Caracal is the ship I tested with the largest natural shield tank, which meant I could devote more slots to offense in relation to the other three ships. However, the damage is lacking, which results in having to perform certain tactics to win.

Due to the crippling neut pressure in the more profitable sites, each ship fits a shield regeneration tank, sometimes referred to as a permatank. The mid slots hold 2 Large Shield Extender IIs, which allows for fitting a Medium Ancillary Current Router I instead of a third shield rig. The rest of the mids hold a EM Ward Amplifier II and Thermal Dissipation Amplifier II to plug the EM and thermal holes in the shield tank inherent in all the tech 1 hulls. The final mid slot holds a 10MN Monopropellant Enduring Afterburner, because cap is precious and the module uses the least cap of the afterburners.

The lows contain a Damage Control II to enhance the ship's resistances, a Shield Power Relay II for additional shield regeneration, and two Ballistic Control System IIs for enhanced missile damage.

The rigs hold two Medium Core Defense Field Purger Is to add to the shield regeneration rate as well as the aforementioned power grid rig. Using the power grid rig allows for fitting a full rack of Heavy Assault Missile Launcher IIs in the high slots.

Even with all the skimping on the tank in order to improve missile damage, the Caracal cannot break the tank of either a Defender or Preserver receiving Warden reps without overheating the missile launchers. So as soon as the Sleepers show up on grid, lock up a Warden and destroy it as fast as possible. Even then, the battleships can keep you webbed down and screened from the Wardens. As I mentioned before, I don't know if the Wardens will remote repair the battleships, but why take the chance?

3. Minmatar Rupture

The Rupture came in third based on its ability to destroy the Sleeper frigates through Warden reps. However, the unbonused drones the Rupture carries, along with the limited drone bay, means careful drone management is required to not lose any damage. Also, the short range of the autocannons comes into play when killing the battleships. The battleships like to kite at 15 km using their webs and neuts, just out of falloff range of short-ranged ammunition like Phased Plasma M. I carried Depleted Uranium M for this situation, but the destruction of the battleships took a long time.

In addition to four 425mm AutoCannon IIs, the utility slot is filled by a Heavy Assault Missile Launcher II. The HAM launcher, with a range of 20 km, is a welcome addition when attacking the battleships at the end of a fight.

The mid slots are fit with a Large Shield Extender II for buffer, an EM Ward Amplifier II and Thermal Dissipation Amplifier II to shore up the weakest resists, and a 10MN Monopropellant Enduring Afterburner for scooting around the site.

The low slots hold three tank modules and two damage modules. A Damage Control II increases the resists further while 2 Shield Power Relay IIs add to the shield regeneration. Finally, two Gyrostabilizer IIs add to the damage output of the autocannons.

Finally, the rigs are filled with Medium Core Defense Field Purger Is to provide the required shield regeneration to withstand the fire of the Sleepers. With this fit, my shields never dipped below 60%.

2. Gallente Vexor

A lot of people think the Vexor is overpowered. The Gallente drone boat is definitely a dominant ship even if one has to use tech 1 autocannon, or even tech 1 artillery in the high slots to supplement the damage of the drones. The only worry really is making sure the NPCs don't kill your valuable drones. The safest way to use the drones is to go after the frigates first, because the Vexor has enough damage to kill frigates before the Warden reps land. After the frigates are gone, kill the Wardens so reducing the battleships to slag doesn't take as long. Then switch to the Ogres and mop up the battleships.

Since the Sleepers bring a lot of neut pressure, I fit four 425mm AutoCannon IIs in the high slots. Just remember to bring Phased Plasma to use during the frigate fight and switch to Depleted Uranium to take down the kiting battleships.

The mid slots are fit exactly like the Rupture fit above, and for the same reasons. The lows are fit with a Damage Control II for the resists, three Shield Power Relay IIs for the shield regeneraton, and a Drone Damage Amplifier II for additional drone damage.

Finally, the rigs are filled with two Medium Core Defense Field Purger Is to bring up the shield regeneration to a safe level and a Medium Core Defense Field Extender I for additional buffer.

1. Amarr Arbitrator

For purposes of the Warzone Extraction event, the Arbitrator is almost the same ship as the Vexor. The only difference in the modules used in the fits is the Arbitrator, due to its split weapons layout, has two HAM launchers and two 425mm Autocannon IIs in the highs instead of four autocannons. For drones, due to bandwith limitations, the Arbitrator carries 2 full flights of light drones and 2 flights of medium drones compared to the Vexor's 2 flights of light drones and 3 heavy drones.

Fly the Arbitrator exactly the same way as the Vexor in the site. Upon landing, start firing on the frigates and launch the drones, making sure the drones always attack the same target. Afterwards, kill the Wardens, then switch to the medium drones to finish off the battleships. While the medium drones do less damage, the heavy assault missiles help make up for the damage deficit with their greater damage application. Just remember to swap out the Phased Plasma M for Depleted Uranium M if the battleship is kiting beyond 13 km.

So, if the Arbitrator is just as good as the Vexor, why fly the Arbitrator? Three reasons, none of which will appeal to the min/maxers out there. The first is I already own an Arbitrator and I've never flown a Vexor on Tranquility. The next is that I just like the idea of tooling around these sites in a ship everyone will think is weird. The final reason is I just like the looks of the ship more. If the choice is a coin flip, then why not fly around New Eden in style?

UPDATE: After experiencing the content for a few days on Tranquility, I've posted artillery fits for the Arbitrator and Vexor that may work better, depending on your skills.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Did The Judge Really Pull Off The Biggest Heist In EVE Online History?

In the early morning hours of Tuesday, 12 September, Circle of Two's head diplomat, The Judge, pulled off a stunning robbery, emptying alliance wallets and selling citadels, including Co2's keepstar in 68FT-6, to the tune of at least 1.5 trillion ISK. In terms of raw numbers, The Judge pulled in higher numbers than the previous record held by Eddie Lampert and Mordor Exuel and their 1 trillion ISK Phaser Inc. ponzi investment scheme. But in terms of value, did The Judge set a record?

Back in 2012, I converted the ISK value of some of EVE's biggest events into their PLEX values. While ISK changes in value, 30 days of game time will always be 30 days of game time.
Two of the biggest scams in the history of the game, the Phaser Inc. ponzi scheme and the Titans4U investment scam, were worth 2,953 PLEX and 2,575 PLEX respectively. Converting the old-style PLEX into modern PLEX, the Phaser Inc. scheme netted 1,476,500 nuPLEX and Bad Bobby's Titans4U scam raked in 1,287,500 nuPLEX. In comparison, the 1.5 trillion ISK to 2 trillion ISK The Judge stole will convert into between 500,000 to 666,667 nuPLEX. In other words, while in raw numbers The Judge comes out on top, the value of his theft will most likely be 50% of what Lampert and Exuel gained through their ponzi scheme.

Leaving the two financial scams aside, surely The Judge pulled off the biggest corp/alliance theft in EVE history? Not so fast. What about the famous strike by the Guiding Hand Social Club against Ubiqua Seraph and the assassination of its CEO, Mirial?

At first glance, comparing the GHSC's 20-30 billion ISK take seems ludicrous. But the event did occur in 2005, and the value of ISK definitely dropped over the ensuing 12 years. Also, since PLEX did not exist in 2005, doing the conversion of the GHSC numbers to 2017 ISK would require some knowledge of black market ISK numbers in EVE Online. Fortunately, I possess the required knowledge.

The black market price is given in the PC Gamer article linked to above. The author used the price available at RMT giant IGE (now out of business), which was $550 USD per billion ISK. I'm pretty sure in those days ISK was sold in millions, but in order to match up with today's pricing, I converted the units to billions. Looking at my data from Player Auctions for the month of September so far along with the pricing from some ISK-selling websites, the current price of one billion ISK is $5 USD. The result is that 1 billion ISK in 2005 is 110 billion ISK in constant 2017 ISK. Or in other words, the GHSC heist in 2005 was worth between 2.2 trillion ISK and 3.3 trillion ISK in constant 2017 ISK. Quite a bit higher than the estimated 1.5 trillion - 2 trillion ISK The Judge is estimated to have gained yesterday.

Up until now, I have used a range when describing the value of the Guiding Hand Social Club's actions. For the below table, I'll use the commonly used figure of 30 billion ISK for the heist to perform the conversion of constant 2017 ISK into PLEX using today's prices.

My post isn't meant to denigrate the scale of what The Judge pulled off. Getting a minimum of 83 years of game time isn't anything to sneeze at. But the people that came before him did pretty well themselves. Sometimes taking a second look lets us appreciate the scale of what they did.