Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Pass The Popcorn

"But I am glad I got my braces removed yesterday, because now I can sit back an enjoy a bowl of popcorn as the change makes its way through the player base."
- The Nosy Gamer, 24 June 2015
Honestly, I did not think anyone would link to a post that listed a change in CCP's policies and my desire to see how the effects rippled through the EVE metaverse. But someone did: Eve News 24. Apparently some people at the EVE news site are not happy that a couple of their advertisers have run afoul of CCP's rules concerning real money trading. Team Security shut down the in-game browser's ability to access IWANTISK.com for nearly four weeks as an investigation resulted in the banning of at least 3 I Want ISK bankers for illicit RMT activity. And last Wednesday, CCP modified the Monetization of Videos and Streaming Policy to make Twitch streamer Moose Bank's existing EVE giveaway a violation of the RMT rules.

EN24 advertisers in recent difficulties with CCP (in the red box)

I got a kick out of reading the article. I thought about fisking it, but didn't have time. But I do have to address one statement: "RMT is only a problem for games that have an exchange rate with the real world." Like the one that exists because of the exchange rate in EVE with PLEX.

Really? So I guess World of Warcraft didn't have an illicit RMT problem before the introduction of the WoW Token this year. Jagex didn't have a problem with RMT in Runescape until the introduction of bonds in September 2013. And Elder Scrolls Online didn't have any problems with bots run by illicit RMT operators when the game launched last year. If anyone believes any of those statements is true, I have some oceanfront property in Arizona for sale.

After reading the article, I actually went and made a fresh batch of popcorn so I could have something to munch on as I read the article a second and third time. I knew CCP's policy decision would get a reaction. I just didn't expect to see something like this published on EN24.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Back To Work

"Not too shabby for someone who hasn’t had to interview in 18yrs!"
- Job placement specialist

Today I return to work after two months of unemployment. Since I write a blog about video games, one might expect me to relate how video games helped me get a new job. But as an EVE player, I have a bit of twist on the tale. I never brought up gaming in any of my interviews. Instead, the experience I gained in the metagame and meeting other players face-to-face helped me greatly.

The quote I led off the post with isn't quite accurate. True, I hadn't interviewed for a real life position in 18 years. But when I applied to join Eve University in 2009, I underwent a 45-minute interview as thorough as any job interview I've experienced. For those who don't play EVE, my application also required me to give an API key to the EVE University recruitment officer in order to check my background. Think of the API key as a form of resume. While people who don't play EVE may think that goes a bit too far, the serious EVE corporations do serve as good practice for the real world.

The interview to apply to EVE University was not my only EVE-related interview. My blogging about EVE resulted in my appearing on two podcasts. Back in April 2014 before Fanfest I appeared on the Declarations of War podcast with Alekseyev Karrde and NinjaTurtle. A couple of months later, I did a one-on-one interview with Cap Stable's Lanctharus. That interview I think helped lead to my presence on Cap Stable's weekly CSM candidate analysis shows.  Probably the biggest lesson that I learned, especially from the CSM panel shows, was waiting until everyone stopped talking before speaking. When doing telephone interviews, that is a very important point to remember. A potential employer might think you're rude if you don't let them finish. Rudeness in a job interview is, to use the technical term, a bad thing.

I also have to credit my experiences at Fanfest for helping me with the interview process. I'm a bit shy and have to force myself in group settings not to try to hide in a corner. Going to Fanfest and meeting people from around the world kind of changed that, although I did pretty much hide the first two years. But the last two trips I think I did a lot better about walking up and talking to people.

Of course, the biggest challenge that I faced in overcoming my shyness involved my part in the Security presentation at Fanfest this year. Oh my! Not announcing my participation and walking onstage in the middle? Totally my idea. I just wanted to get up there, give my part, and run away. Given my level of nervousness backstage, I'm glad that CCP Bugartist agreed.

The experience definitely helped with the job interview. I arrived downtown early in case the train broke down and the nerves started getting to me. When that happened, I thought to myself, "I've been on the HARPA main stage and survived. This is nothing." After that, I walked into the Willis (Sears) Tower, bought a lemonade, went over my list of questions one last time, and chilled. No problem.

Before concluding the post, I should mention the role that the monthly Madison meetup hosted by The Mittani and Sion Kumitomo played in the interview process. After the first phone interview I did, I had to take an online test. My only problem involved a lack of a functioning home internet connection. No problem for me though, because the Madison meetup was the next day. So I drove up, stayed at the Howard Johnson, and took the test Wednesday morning at the hotel before going home. I'm glad I didn't try to take the test at a Starbucks because the middle part consisted of a series of timed logic puzzles. Needless to say, I passed the test.

So that's my story of how video games helped me get a new job. A little unusual, but I think my whole experience with EVE is a little unusual. But the important thing is, I'm working again.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Monetizing EVE Twitch Streams: 1ronBank

Yesterday CCP Falcon posted in the news channel about a change in the policy covering the monetization of EVE Online by video makers. Besides renaming the policy to the "Monetization of Videos and Streaming Policy", CCP added the following language:
"Videos and streams may also not be used to generate real world revenue by offering in-game ISK and/or assets as incentives to subscribe to a paid service such as a Twitch channel subscription or other subscription service.

"If in-game assets are used in giveaways to promote popularity of a stream or video, there must be full parity between users who are viewing the content for free and those who are subscribed, and all viewers of content must have the same access to giveaways and the same chance to win prizes regardless of any subscription fees paid.

"Use of in-game assets for subscription-only based prize draws and incentives constitute real money trading (RMT). This is against our policies."
Yes, the policy is pretty clear. But will that prevent the space lawyers from arguing edge cases anyway? Please! EVE Online players not space lawyering? So in the interest of maintaining my position as a space lawyer in good standing, I'll analyze the most obvious edge case: 1ronBank.

1ronBank is a Twitch streamer famous for giving away large amounts of EVE Online in-game objects and currency on his streams. The format of his EVE-centric streams is that of a game show.

Is Angry CONCORD Guy Angry With 1ronBank?


Players enter a raffle to win a chance to become a contestant in one of 1ronBank's games. In the game pictured above, contestants start with a 2 in 3 chance of picking a winning box, with the odds changing depending on the choices made by previous contestants. In theise raffles, viewers can only purchase one ticket per drawing. 1ronBank also holds something called "infinite raffles" in which viewers can purchase as many raffle tickets as they like in order to win a really big prize.

How do viewers acquire raffle tickets? By using a virtual currency called "Iron", with each ticket costing five iron. Iron is acquired by activity in the chat channel, with two iron credited to a viewer for typing in chat every five minutes during an active stream. Viewers can also earn 2 iron every 20 minutes for leaving their browser logged into the Twitch page. I'm not sure if viewer have to chat every 20 minutes to receive any iron, though. Iron is also acquired through a game that runs in the chat channel, which means potentially the Twitch stream is hosting some sort of game 24 hours a day.

Where 1ronBank gets into trouble is the boost given to subscribers in getting iron. Subscribers get a 3 times modifier for the amount of iron earned. That means that a subscriber receives enough iron to purchase a raffle ticket every 5 minutes while a non-subscriber can only purchase raffle tickets every 15 minutes. That difference violates the language in the revised policy:
"If in-game assets are used in giveaways to promote popularity of a stream or video, there must be full parity between users who are viewing the content for free and those who are subscribed, and all viewers of content must have the same access to giveaways and the same chance to win prizes regardless of any subscription fees paid."
1ronBank also runs afoul of the new language due to the restrictions placed on non-subscribers in winning. Subscribers can play as often as they like while non-subscribers can only win once per day.

So in order to comply, 1ronBank will need to remove the unequal rates of iron gain and equalize how often viewers can win raffles. Also, the unlimited raffles, in which subscribers have an advantage in the number of tickets they can purchase, will also need modification.

But if that occurs, how many people will stop subscribing? The main draw of the stream is the game show that gives away EVE Online in-game items and currency. That potentially is hundreds of dollars of revenue lost every month.

Now to bring up a question that has puzzled me for months. Is 1ronBank really an EVE Online streamer? The more I watch, the more the answer, in my honest opinion, is no. Does the presence of Fedo and PLEX graphics with a EVE Online trailer or PvP video running in the background really make the game show an EVE Online stream? I don't think so. And if 1ronBank is not an EVE Online stream, then the channel's raffles and giveaways break a lot more of the EULA than the new rules posted yesterday.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

A Twitch Stream Giveaway Update

Earlier today CCP changed its policy concerning how Twitch streamers can monetize EVE Online. The following is the change introduced today:
"Videos and streams may also not be used to generate real world revenue by offering in-game ISK and/or assets as incentives to subscribe to a paid service such as a Twitch channel subscription or other subscription service.

"If in-game assets are used in giveaways to promote popularity of a stream or video, there must be full parity between users who are viewing the content for free and those who are subscribed, and all viewers of content must have the same access to giveaways and the same chance to win prizes regardless of any subscription fees paid.

"Use of in-game assets for subscription-only based prize draws and incentives constitute real money trading (RMT). This is against our policies."
I think I will need to write one more post on the subject, as a couple of streamers run games that don't nicely fall into CCP's updated policy. But I am glad I got my braces removed yesterday, because now I can sit back an enjoy a bowl of popcorn as the change makes its way through the player base.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Twitch Has Rules Too

I know a fair bit about real money trading and the EVE Online EULA, but trying to figure out the ins and outs of Twitch is a new experience. I won't try to dissect the entire Twitch Terms of Service today. Instead, I will stick with the subject of giveaways involving real world currency.

From what I read while researching this post, I believe the advice that CCP's Lead GM Lelouch gave to Twitch streamers in order to comply with the EVE Online EULA also applies for those wishing to comply with Twitch's ToS:
"My advice to Twitch/Youtube users would be to stick to advertisement monetization instead of tying giveaways into donations. Those that want to do giveaways are welcome to do so as long as any viewer is eligible and no payment in real life currency is asked for."
In trying to get reactions to GM Lelouch's response to Wiggles' petition, I contacted Chance Ravinne for comment. Not only is Chance a member of EVE Online's Council of Stellar Management, but he also runs the Wingspantt YouTube channel with over 25,000 subscribers. I asked him for his position on giveaways done by content creators on YouTube and Twitter in general and he provided the following answer:
"In the broadest sense, I don't take any issue with content creators giving out any item, real or virtual, as an incentive to draw audiences or as a reward to those who have been part of the audience in the past. This is something that is an basic part of business promotion, down to the level of giving out free mints to shop patrons or a chance to win a free lunch to people who drop business cards into a fishbowl.

"I myself have, in the past, used giveaways to promote my videos, blogs, and other endeavors -- sometimes ineffectively, and other times to great effect. Sometimes a giveaway is simply a convenient means of disposing of extra gaming-related swag you have accumulated via trade shows or product reviews, or bad Christmas presents.

"However, there is a very distinct line that is being crossed recently on Twitch, the line of 'subscribers/donors only' raffles or giveaways. Anyone who has worked in marketing, or anyone who listens to enough commercials, knows that in almost all US states (and surely in many other countries) there is a clause associated with all sweepstakes: 'No purchase necessary.'

"This clause exists to prevent all manner of illegal or otherwise shady activities: bypassing laws on lotteries and gambling, prevention of the laundering of money, consumer rights advocacy, transparency of contests and raffles, prevention of giveaways as direct fundrasing activities, and many other misdeeds.

"So, regardless of implications of potential RMT, I believe the actual line that is being crossed here is one of ethical marketing and, potentially, contest legality. Call me a skeptic, but I highly doubt the content creators engaging in these types of giveaways have all taken precautions to comply with their own sweepstakes laws, nor have they screened participants to ensure contest participation in the winners' jurisdictions is in the letter or spirit of local law.

"Any manner of giveaways that fails to comply with 'no purchase necessary' clauses opens everyone involved up to scrutiny for all of the potential abuses I've named, and many others. This includes RMT which, while not illegal, is certainly not acceptable within the confines of EVE Online player behavior."
I am not an expert on internet gambling laws, but I imagine that giveaways of in-game objects that involve no money at all are safe to conduct. But what about random giveaways in which participants receive a weighted chance to win based on real life cash? Or if some of the prizes are awarded to everyone but some others are subscriber-only?

From a purely philosophical standpoint, I don't care about the gambling aspects of the issue. However, governments around the world tend to disagree. The Twitch ToS does contain a section on promotions, Section 11F, that states that Twitch streamers:
"...may carry out Promotions to the extent permitted by applicable local law and you are solely responsible for ensuring that you and any Promotions comply with any and all applicable local law obligations and restrictions."
I believe that Section 11F is just standard boiler-plate legal language designed to protect Twitch from the legal consequences of a Twitch streamer doing something so outrageous that the local authorities become involved. With the number of active Twitch streamers, I seriously doubt Twitch possesses the manpower to enforce that section of its Terms of Service.

Two sections of the Twitch ToS that could come into play are sections 7 and 8. Section 7 concerns violations of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and Section 8 refers to violations of non-U.S. laws like the E-Commerce Directive of the European Union. Also, in Section 9, the terms of service states:
"Twitch may also at our sole discretion limit access to the Twitch Service and/or terminate the accounts of any users who infringe any intellectual property rights of others, whether or not there is any repeat infringement."
The Twitch ToS states in Section 9 that:
"Twitch may also at our sole discretion limit access to the Twitch Service and/or terminate the accounts of any users who infringe any intellectual property rights of others, whether or not there is any repeat infringement."
Further, in Section 11C, the ToS states:
"(2) your Broadcaster Content does not and will not (a) infringe, violate, or misappropriate any third-party right, including any copyright, trademark, patent, trade secret, moral right, privacy right, right of publicity, or any other intellectual property or proprietary right..." (emphasis mine)
Why bring up these sections of the Twitch ToS? Because the wording fits so well with Section 6B of the EVE Online EULA:
"You may not transfer, sell or auction, or buy or accept any offer to transfer, sell or auction (or offer to do any of the foregoing), any content appearing within the Game environment, including without limitation characters, character attributes, items, currency, and objects, other than via a permitted Character Transfer as described in section 3 above. You may not encourage or induce any other person to participate in such a prohibited transaction. The buying, selling or auctioning (or any attempt at doing so) of characters, character attributes, items, currency, or objects, whether through online auctions, newsgroups, postings on message boards or any other means is prohibited by the EULA and a violation of CCP's proprietary rights in the Game." (emphasis mine)
CCP considers illicit RMT or any other non-approved way of monetizing the EVE Online IP a violation of its proprietary rights. So if a Twitch streamer chooses to violate the prohibitions in the EULA against illicit real money trading, CCP could file a complaint with Twitch and get the streamer banned.

As I stated at the top of this post, I am not an expert on the Twitch Terms of Service. Perhaps my analysis is wrong. But the thought of someone conducting illicit RMT losing the ability to not only log into EVE but losing the ability to stream on Twitch at all brings a smile to my face. And if I were a Twitch streamer, I would take great care not to upset CCP by conducting any shady dealings.

Monday, June 22, 2015

The Latest On Eve Online Twitch Stream Giveaways

On Friday, CCP turned the heat up a notch on a simmering controversy concerning raffles, drawings, and other giveaways of in-game items by those streaming EVE Online related content on Twitch. Eve Radio's DJ Wiggles received a reply to a ticket he submitted in April and recorded the result on Friday's edition of New Eden Update. Lead GM Lelouch indicated Wiggles could broadcast the correspondence:

Friday, June 19, 2015

CCP's Office Shuffle, Part 2

Two weeks ago I made a prediction that CCP would soon close an office in Slough in the UK based on information gleamed from CCP's prior financial statements plus information that CCP transferred the headquarters of its U.K. subsidiary from Slough to Newcastle. Admittedly, not much of a prediction, as CCP's financial statements showed a non-negotiable lease for office space in the U.K ending in July 2015.

The financial statements show that, in addition to the U.K., CCP has office leases set to expire in Iceland in July 2015 and China in October 2015. Yesterday, news about the future of CCP's Reykjavik office appeared on the EVE Online forums and Reddit in the form of a link to a story on Visir.is. CCP plans on moving to the science park currently in development on the campus of the University of Iceland near Vatnsmýri.

I would expect that CCP will publish a press release concerning the move Soon™, but until then we have Hilmar's words translated into English using Google Translator.
"CCP, which is based in four countries, has been with the offices of the Grand Garden at. The goal of the CCP is to strengthen the company, but with the location of the office of the company in the Science Park University will create greater opportunities for cooperation with the academic community, students and business in the forefront. CCP has in the past decade actively supported innovation and education in Iceland and perhaps by becoming a participant in the Science Park and further strengthen those elements in the company's activities.

"'With these plans is to begin a new chapter in the activities of CCP in Iceland where we foresee further strengthen our successful cooperation with academic and creative industries in Iceland. Ahead are exciting times for the company and I am convinced that great opportunities are implied in the cooperation and development plans envisaged in the Science Park in Vatnsmýri in the field of technological development, research and innovation,' says Hilmar Veigar Pétursson, CEO of CCP."
The University of Iceland has more information about the science park on its website.
"The creation of a science park – a dynamic centre of knowledge and innovation - in Iceland is under way. It will be located on University campus in the Vatnsmýri area. A collaboration forum for the creation of a science park in Vatnsmýri and a schedule for its realisation was formally settled last Monday with the signing of an agreement between the City of Reykjavík, the University of Iceland, Reykjavík University, Association of municipalities in the Capital area, and Landspítalinn – University Hospital.

"The mutual goal of all parties concerned is to form an ambitious plan for the advancement of Vatnsmýri area as a centre for knowledge and innovation in Iceland.

"The information economy needs to be boosted in Iceland, a fact recognised by all parties to this agreement which marks a decisive step in that direction.  The Vatnsmýri science park can play a key role in this development as it is located in close proximity of two of the largest universities in Iceland, and the University Hospital.

"The location, near the city centre, also creates important opportunities and possibilities in building a dynamic base of knowledge. A modern planning of the area can attract and nurture companies, research institutions and employees in the information industry in international competition."
Given the company's history, co-locating near a university is not unusual for CCP. In a press release in 2010, CCP noted that the area's universities made Newcastle an attractive place to open a studio.
"'The decision to establish a UK studio was an easy one for CCP,' said Richard Smith, Technical Director of CCP Newcastle. 'The North East has a distinguished heritage of game development, an experienced console-development talent pool and local universities producing exceptional graduates. We have been able to assemble a world-class team of console developers with unparalleled Unreal Engine expertise and integrate them with CCP's global organization.'"
CCP also has a history of becoming an early adopter of Icelandic technological businesses. In 2012, the game company become one of the first three tenants in Iceland's first data center built at the old NATO base in Keflavik. From the story on Visir.is, CCP is one of the first, if not the first, private tenants to sign a lease in the new technology park.

The only outstanding question I currently have concerns the speed with which CCP needs to move to the new science park. Does the lease on the current office space expire in July, which means CCP needs to negotiate one final lease on its current location? Or does the current lease extend to July 2022, which is what the financial reports for 2010 and 2011 seems to indicate? In that case, CCP could potentially earn some additional revenue sub-leasing its current space once the facilities on the campus of the University of Iceland are ready.

Either way, I hope we see either a press release or a dev blog about the move soon. I had fun piecing the story together, but I'd like to hear the full story from the people in the know, if only to find out if I got my facts straight.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Party Time!

A very short post today because I'm celebrating getting a new job in real life. Well, celebrated. I ate way too much ice cream last night, but how can you resist ice cream with crushed Girl Scout Thin Mint cookies? I woke up with such a headache this morning. Next time I need to celebrate, I'll stick to alcohol. Normal blogging will resume tomorrow.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Going Farther Down The Rabbit Hole

"I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail."
Sometimes I look back up at the entrance to the rabbit hole that led me to my present day expertise on the subject of real money trading. When I started playing MMORPGs in 2005, the vast majority of players considered any form of RMT in their games as an evil game companies should not allow. Then the free-to-play business model, led by Dungeons & Dragons Online in 2009, hit the west in a big way, bringing player acceptance of game developers introducing RMT into virtual worlds. When I began blogging about CCP's War on Bots in 2011, one of the fascinating facts that led to my descent further down the rabbit hole is that CCP punishes botters more harshly if the botter is tied in any way to illicit RMT activity.

I won't bore the reader with another summary of my definition of real money trading. I'll just point out that The Nosy Gamer currently hosts nearly 100 posts marked with the tag "illicit RMT." With my history of covering the subjects of botting and RMT, I could easily fall into the trap of looking at any subject involved solely through the lens of RMT.

The latest imbroglio in the EVE Online metaverse concerns the practice of some Twitch partners to conduct either subscriber-only giveaways using in-game items or grant subscribers to channels a weighted chance to win in-game item giveaways. A lot of people view the practice as another form of RMT. On EVE-Radio's Open Comms Show last night, host BigCountry asked me if the practice is RMT.

A simple yes or no question, right? If I answer yes, then people will pick up their torches and pitchforks. If I say no, then everyone will assume I approve of the practice and I'll begin to hear cries that I am a sellout to Big Twitch. But what if no just means the giveaways are not RMT, not that the practice doesn't violate any of CCP's rules or policies?

Real money trading is just a subset of the activities that players conduct to monetize (or attempt to monetize) the intellectual properties of the creators of the virtual worlds we all play in online. These efforts cross the gamut from Capsuleer, the first major EVE Online iPhone app, to Rixx Javix' artwork, to Wollari's efforts to raise money to upgrade Dotlan. To this list we can now add Twitch streaming.

I think my trip down the rabbit hole is about to get a lot more complicated and require more nuance. The illicit RMT hammer served me well for many years and will continue to do so for a long time to come. But in my research so far into the world of Twitch streaming I found I need to wield a scalpel, not a hammer. I expect in my future posts on the subject I will manage to upset both sides of the debate.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

A Reminder Of How Much Of A Gamer I Ain't

Today is the second day of Electronics Entertainment Expo (aka E3) in Los Angeles. Since I don't start my new job for a couple of weeks, I have the chance to watch some of the coverage this year.

Watching the press conferences reminded me that I am not the target audience for the major game companies showing at E3. While I have both a PS3 and a Wii U, I don't play console games. Basically, once the console companies switched from joysticks to the initial versions of today's controllers, I decided to just play PC games. I think the fact that EVE: Valkyre uses an XBox controller is one of the reasons I didn't like the game when I played it at Fanfest in 2014. Kind of hard to like a game when you can't work the controls.

Thinking back to Monday's press conferences, the only excitement I felt occurred when EA announced an expansion for Star Wars: The Old Republic and the virtual reality demo for Minecraft. I admit I might pick up Yoshi's Wooly World on the Wii, because the game looks so cute. But for me, the most amusing part of E3 is watching the reactions of all the hard-core gamers and the drama I didn't know existed until I go on YouTube. If the screaming and tears aren't flowing now, just wait a couple of days.

I'll keep watching to see if anything pops up that might get me to pick up either an Xbox One or a PlayStation 4. But my PS3 has sat idle since the closing of Free Realms and I never owned an Xbox. Maybe in a couple of years when Project Morpheus comes online or if VR becomes advanced enough to no longer require the use of a controller I'll buy one. But for now, I think I'll just stick to playing MMORPGs on the PC and stay out of the mainstream gaming culture.