Tuesday, October 6, 2015

CCP's War On Illicit RMT: Putting The Pieces Together

Writing about the nebulous world of EVE Online's real money trading black market is a challenge. The closest I ever get to confirmed information is reading the botting forums. Unfortunately, Team Security has done such a good job cracking down on botting that the bot forums aren't as informative as in years past. That means trying to look at activity and figure out what the black marketeers are up to.

CCP isn't that helpful either. We get maybe two dev blogs a year, one session at a CSM summit, and the annual presentation at Fanfest. That's the official news that most writers cover. Sometimes I get tidbits by following Twitter like the one at the top of this post.

So, what was CCP Peligro referring to? The upcoming CSM Summit? A new dev blog? Perhaps Team Security was about to roll up a major RMT operation and I needed to watch for an upcoming flood of tears? A tweet from the week before provided a hint of things to come.

I plan on doing a post on the Security session at the CSM summit, but I do want to point out an exchange that ties into the subject of this post:
Sort Dragon - With PLEX becoming worth more and more are you finding that the amount of dirty ISK moving through the economy is less and less?
CCP Peligro - It's a bit of a double edged sword. Less bots, more fraud.
Surprisingly, the next piece of the puzzle came at work. Did you know that October is National Cyber Security Awareness Month in the U.S.? I didn't know until an article appeared on our internal website. I don't think CCP delayed the launch of the new launcher one week to fit in with a U.S. national effort, but anything's possible, especially where EVE is concerned. So right about on schedule, CCP Bugartist put out a couple of tweets on Friday that fit in with the theme.

At this point, I'll pause and mention Google Authenticate. I learned about Google's app for both Android and iPhone the hard way. That's right, I got hacked because I waited to download it at the launch of Wildstar. I didn't log in on the first day of the open launch and wound up losing a few days trying to get my account back. I also wound up getting my Guild Wars 2 (despite using email authentication) and Lineage 2 accounts hacked as well. Oh well, live and learn. Now, if a game allows two-factor authentication, I always take advantage.

I have to admit, once I read CCP Bugartist's tweets, I really was primed to see some sort of tears on the EVE Online section of Player Auctions, a large RMT site that caters to buyers of several dozen games. I wasn't disappointed. Within 24 hours of the tweets, I saw a negative review posted on PA.

For those who can't read the image, the jilted buyer stated, "All he said was that he was 'unable to deliver' and gave no reason." The seller wasn't some fly-by-night operation. In September, he sold the second highest amount of ISK, both in the amount of ISK and the real world value, on Player Auctions. In a hopeful sign, the shop has not advertised ISK for sale over the past few days. I normally would hold off on publishing information like this, but with all the other circumstantial evidence, I think I can say that CCP hit another large black market operation sometime last week.

Of course, the only one who knows for sure whether Team Security hit the seller is the seller himself. As I mentioned before, trying to piece together the information is challenging. But something happened, and all indications are that a major ISK seller lost a lot of real life cash to Team Security.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Looking At A More Detailed Roadmap

On Friday, CCP did a huge data dump outlining in greater detail their plans for the next six months. As a blogger who writes about EVE Online, I have to admit I liked what I read. Combined with the game improvements implemented since moving to the five-week release cycle, CCP will present to the world a much improved game than the one we celebrated at the 10-year celebration back in 2013.

I don't want to start throwing around statements complementing CCP before the work is delivered. Also, just because wondrous changes come to a game doesn't mean that all players will feel like winners. I have the feeling I will find myself among the small minority who will need to HTFU and adapt to the new environment. So what I will do is go over the information currently available on EVE Updates and give a quick summary of what I think the effects of each change will have not only on the game, but the way I play as well.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Time For Term Limits?

The election season for CSM 11 has unofficially begun, with 9 players already posting campaign threads in the CSM Campaigns section of the EVE Online forums. The excitement of the U.S. presidential campaign apparently has spread to the EVE Online player base. Quite frankly, I blame Donald Trump.

I watched The Open Comms Show on the TMC Twitch channel last night. The guests were two current CSM members serving their second terms, Sion Kumitomo and Sugar Kyle. Sugar stated yet again that she has no interest in running for a third term. Sion is undecided and will probably let The Mittani guide his decision on a third term. Hopefully, Sion won't run.

I don't say that because I dislike Sion. I have just reached the point where I don't think anyone should serve on the CSM for three consecutive terms. Players like Sion, Sugar, corbexx, Mike Azariah, and Steve Ronuken contributed to EVE before they were elected to the CSM. If they stick around after serving two terms, I believe they will continue to make New Eden a better place just through their normal activities.

What I fear most is burnout. Some members burn out (or become disgusted with the game) after serving only one term. The CSM sometimes becomes the capstone of a player's EVE career and they leave the game soon after. Should the CSM serve as some sort of monster that saps the energy out of dedicated players? I don't think so. We already have Reddit to do that.

I know that CCP and the CSM are working on updating the CSM White Paper, but I'm not sure they should include term limits. But I will state that if anyone is running for a third term that I will automatically recommend players not vote for that person. Not because I think the person is bad, but because I'd like the person to stick around the game a few more years.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Odds And Ends

I have a lot of thoughts running through my head, but not a lot of time to type them out. So I thought I'd just mention some that I really should turn into posts one day.

First, the whole Chris Roberts vs. Derek Smart thing. Seriously, I'd ignore the whole thing except something funny is going on with the Star Citizen Terms of Service. If you don't like the way CCP handles EULA/ToS rulings, then don't play Star Citizen. I haven't figured out if Chris Roberts and Cloud Imperium Games are incompetent or just extremely shady. Either way, if you haven't fallen for the hype, don't hand out any money. Personally, I think if Roberts and Smart played EVE, neither one would ever leave Jita.

Next, I decided to renew my interest in EVE by playing Guild Wars 2. I should probably write a series on why playing other MMORPGs leads me to play EVE, but in GW2's case, it comes down to farming for jute. I'm up to level 21, but I'm still in Queensdale, a level 1-15 area, farming jute to level up my armorsmithing skills. At least I'm getting a lot of cooking supplies.

Speaking of EVE, Vanguard launched yesterday. I scanned down a couple of anomalies, but the important thing I did was set up to do run some level 4 mining missions in low sec. Signal Cartel is under a new wardec, so I thought I'd do some missions on my alt. Of course, I really should fit out the Stratios I built and go on a nice long trip through low sec. I have to do some theory crafting, but I think carrying around a mobile depot will prove indispensable. And if the wardecs ever stop, I'll finish running Wildfire, the level 4 epic arc for the Minmatar.

In another event, Wildstar did its free-to-play launch yesterday. Not only is the subscription gone, but they apparently have simplified the game. I probably should download the game again, if only to see how the game performs on a real computer. Last year, I played on a computer that could barely eek out 20 FPS even on low settings. This year, I have a computer than meets the recommended specs for running the Oculus Rift. I've noticed quite a difference playing many games. I wonder what Wildstar looks like with the graphics cranked up.

Oh, and I really should mention the latest Scope video. CCP got sneaky and released the latest video on a Tuesday. Really, were they trying to make us think yesterday was Friday and convince all of us to sleep in on a "Saturday"? I guess the Guristas stealing a supercarrier is kind of noteworthy.

I do have a question for the lore hounds. Have the Caldari done anything to upset the Drifters? Ishukone's CEO Mens Reppola is conducting an inspection trip and significant NPC characters are getting ganked. Didn't Ishukone play a major role in spreading Jovian pod technology throughout New Eden? Think the Drifters may hold a grudge?

Oh, and I did get a kick out of this news item in the Scope video:

"Egonics launches new augmented reality headset at YC117 Caille Technology Expo." 

I think that's a reference to Gunjack showing up at EVE Vegas this year. Or was that a reference to either EVE N_T or EVEsterdam? With all the player gatherings that CCP is either running or supporting, I get confused.

That's all for now. Hopefully I'll find the time to write some real blog posts in the near future.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Buffing New Players

In the Vanguard release on Tuesday, CCP announced new characters will receive around 400 thousand skill points instead of the current 50 thousand. CCP Rise posted the following on the official EVE Online forums giving out some details:

"The goal here is to get new players over as many early barriers to gameplay as possible. By throwing in a whole bunch of prereqs and adding to the basic support skill amounts we are hoping new players have faster access to a wider range of activities right out of the box.

"I was going to type out the full list of skills but you know what, you guys are pretty much better at everything than us and have already created an imgur album of the skill list so I'll just give you that! It only has the list for one faction but they are almost identical except for a couple minor changes to support skills because of differences in weapon system.


"One note: if you made your character in the last few days you will have less SP than people who created after Vanguard, that's not good! Some time soon after Vanguard (maybe a week or so) we will hand out 300k unallocated SP to all characters created in the two weeks leading up to Vanguard release. Sorry for having to wait a little but we gotchu."

Neville Smit did the posted images on Imgur one better by posting a single graphic for both the old and new skills given a new character. While I agreed with much of his post "Kids These Days," I'm not that worried about handing out an extra 350 thousand skill points spoiling the kids. Oh sure, my first reaction was to wonder about the effect the new plan will have on new players. But then I took a look at CCP's actual proposal.

Using the example of the new Amarr pilot, the new character will receive just under 179 hours of training, assuming that the character does not use an attribute remap. learning implants, or a cerebral accelerator. In the grand scheme of things, I don't believe getting 7 1/2 days of skill training will break the game. Perhaps the bigger effect is the value of the skill books new players will no longer need to buy. I visited Domain yesterday and the additional skills sold from NPC vendors for 10,549,500 ISK. I don't think giving new players an additional 10 million ISK is horrible, especially since CCP's long-term plan is to remove the existing career agents. CCP gives on one hand, and takes away on the other.

I reviewed the skills by category to determine the effect on the new player (or old player creating a new character). I am not an expert, so I'll let you decide if CCP chose the new player skills wisely.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Taking The Long View

Sometimes I feel like I'm just gathering clues until CCP Seagull reveals the future of the New Eden universe at Fanfest 2016. Sometimes the information leads to speculation in strange directions. Other times, the information confirms an opinion I held for months. Such a moment occurred on Saturday when I listened to a special edition of New Eden Update. Wiggles attended EVE NT over the weekend and interviewed CCP Fozzie and CCP Guard. I found this exchange quite instructive:

Wiggles: From the perspective of a business creating a game designed to appeal to as broad an audience as possible, how do you as a developer try to balance the ideas of, quote, "what is good for the game" versus "what is good for the business," because the two can be mutually exclusive at times?

Fozzie: They can be. Ideally they're not mutually exclusive very often. They usually go hand-in-hand because what's good for the game usually gets people excited and they're having a good time, which is then good for the business. And in a lot of cases, what it may be more about is good for business short-term versus long-term, and that sometimes can be a trade-off.

Guard:  That's what all companies have to watch out for. And I think like for us too, because, I mean something that can seem very good for business as us getting a lot of money in the short-term can mess you up for the long run.

Fozzie: And a good example of that would be allowing input multiplexing.

Guard: Yes

Fozzie: It was good for the business short-term, but we ended up believing that it wasn't good for the game which is what business needs for the long-term. So that is where we made a choice that it was not about deciding between the business and the game.  It's about deciding between the short-term business and the game which is then the long-term business.

Guard: Absolutely. I think that CCP is actually pretty decent at recognizing these trade-offs and making the right decision. We've been running a game for a long time and it's a game that's thought of as a very long term project.

I found that the subject of input multiplexing, otherwise known as the use of ISBoxer, as the prime example of something that could bring in a short-term profit but really screw up EVE in the long run very interesting. I figured that the neutering of the multi-boxing software was necessary due to CCP's future plans, and I think Wiggles' interview with the pair is as close as we will get to confirmation.

Personally, I think the question once again illustrates that CCP over the past year or so was willing to forego short-term gains in favor of implementing fixes needed to ensure the long term health of EVE. On Monday I went over many of the fixes CCP implemented over the past 14 months instead of creating expansions or implementing Jesus features. I think we may hear a little more about the future from CCP Seagull at EVE Vegas, but I don't expect to hear CCP's extended vision for New Eden until Fanfest. CCP is taking a long view on the future and I don't think they are ready to reveal their hand quite yet.

Monday, September 21, 2015

The Return Of Expansions

Perhaps the biggest news in EVE Online last week did not emerge from the CSM Summit. Instead, CCP Seagull announced via a dev blog and a YouTube video that expansions would return to EVE.

Instead of regurgitating the words from the dev blog, I'd like to look at two graphics. The first is the state of CCP's roadmap leading to player-built stargates at the end of 2014.

The state of the roadmap, December 2014

The second comes from Thursday's dev blog and shows the state of the roadmap today.

The state of the roadmap, September 2015
From those two pictures, I'd guess that the major fixes to legacy game systems are pretty much over. As we learned, the Citadel structures aren't just a modification to existing structures, they are a full replacement for the system worthy of an expansion. Perhaps I am too optimistic, but I think the corporation and alliance mechanics will receive a full rewrite that results in the old code winding up on the scrap heap as well.

No one should view the 5 week release cycle as a failure just because CCP is moving back to having expansions. EVE Online needed a huge amount of modernization in a very short period of time, and the faster pace accomplished more than I thought possible. As a reminder, here's a listing of dev blogs and patch notes over the past 14 months:

Crius (July 2014)

Hyperion (August 2014)

Oceanus (September 2014)

Phoebe (November 2014)

Rhea (December 2014)

Proteus (January 2015)

Tiamat (February 2015)

Scylla (March 2015)

  • No Dev Blogs

Mosaic (April 2015)

Carnyx (June 2015)

Aegis (July 7, 2015) And Aegis Sovereignty (July 14, 2015)

Galatea (August 2015)

Why do I think CCP needed to work as quickly as possible? Because a certain space fighter simulator is due out in 2016. No, not Star Citizen. That game probably won't emerge from beta until 2017. I'm referring to EVE: Valkyrie. I expect that once the Oculus Rift launches sometime in the first quarter of 2016, that Valkyrie will lead some people to want to experience more of New Eden and try the parent game. And as we saw after the Battle of Asakai and the Battle of B-R5RB, EVE could only keep a small fraction of the players intrigued enough about the game as paying customers. With Valkyrie potentially emerging as the killer app for both the Oculus Rift and Project Morpheus for the PS4 sometime in the first half of 2016, CCP needed to upgrade EVE quickly. CCP has really improved EVE since the end of 2013. Hopefully enough to entice the curious to subscribe. After all, a game only has one chance to make a good first impression.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

CCP's War On Illicit RMT: Receiving Stolen Goods

Today's tale of woe comes from a truly woeful place: the Public Demands forums. The spiritual successor to the forums that hosted the now-defunct Roid Ripper mining bot, the place is really run down. When the professional operations moved out in early 2013, the place became crowded with scammers. Apparently, the "professionals" now plying their trade are not much better.

The players in the little drama that played out over the course of the month of August are Alienhated, a representative of an ISK selling site, and acidkhmer, a long time PLEX buyer on Public Demands.

acidkhmer - (3 August): 
"Hi, i purchase some plex, from this seller, and now im permanently ban!
"This seller use fraudulous method to gain plex, isk, account hack, CCP telling me.
Don't use iskvault!!! be aware"

Alienhated - (15 August):
"Bans happen when doing RMT, I have a warning on the website and on my other thread! Your post makes false claims."
acidkhmer - (28 August):
"I've been banned because of ISK vault, where's the false Claims? on it? i'm talking with CCP administrator for nearly one month now with dozens of mails, the result is the guy who's giving me the plex obtained it by fraud!

"I'm buying plexs on public demand for 5 years now, it's the best place for regurly buyers like me, never have a single issue, problem.

"It's very simple for proof, if Public demands administrator is asking to proove this issue, i'll send to him all my CCP mails discussions. and we're going to sse if i'm lyer or not?"
Alienhated - (30 August):
"The e-mail sent by CCP was the standard mail sent when someone is caught doing RMT. Easy to read for a person with average intelligence. It lists a range of activities which are associated with RMT, it doesn't imply that I necessarily did any of them, but even if it did, why would he choose to focus on the fraud aspect? It seems nothing more than an attempt to discredit our name.

"I'm selling ISK for years, sometimes we inevitably get caught, both buyer and seller should be aware of the possibility."
So why did acidkhmer choose to focus on the fraud aspect of the letter? Perhaps because a first offense normally only results in a temporary ban of one week. If the ban was acidkhmer's first and he received a permanent ban, that means Alienhated sold acidkhmer PLEX either obtained through a hacked account or via credit card fraud.

Game companies hate credit card fraud. If someone purchases PLEX using credit card fraud, the fact usually reaches CCP's financial team. From that point, Team Security just needs to track down the life of the PLEX and see where it exchanged hands without a visible means of payment. And then? Permanent ban.

At today's prices for ISK in Jita, buying PLEX from anyone but CCP or an authorized PLEX reseller is pretty stupid. Is saving a few dollars, pounds, or euros really worth the risk of losing one week of training on your accounts? And if the seller acquired the PLEX using credit card fraud? Well, I hope you like playing World of Warcraft, because you're losing all your accounts.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Developing A Story Around NPC Standings

I have to admit I was a bit sad back in May 2011 when CCP removed the ability of people to look at another player's "Show Info" tab and see a player's standings with NPC corps. Sure, doing so may have reduced lag. I can understand not wanting to easily identify for gankers which agents a player frequents. Removing the standings also meant that spies could more easily infiltrate corporations because recruiters couldn't just open up the "Show Info" tab and find out if the spy actually ran missions. But for the first year-and-a-half of playing, I determined which missions I ran and with who based on the NPC corps and what my activities in the game said about my characters.

Let's take Wandering Rose, the CEO of my personal corp, as an example. I wanted the corp to have access to jump clones, so that meant a standings grind. But what NPC corp? Since I knew I wanted Wandering Rose to fly blockade runners, I wanted something legitimate, but still a little shady. What I came up with was a little corporation called Eifyr and Co. located not too far from Wandering Rose's starter system.
"Founded shortly after the Minmatar Republic’s establishment by the renowned, yet enigmatic, biochemist Kolvil Eifyr, the Eifyr and Co. corporation swiftly became a potent force in the biochemical and cyber-implant industries. Backed by investment from the shrewd leaders of the Krusual Tribe and steered by Eifyr, the corporation remains a lean, relatively small, but highly efficient powerhouse. However, its emphasis on secrecy and rumored connections to the Minmatar underworld have fuelled speculation as to how the company really makes its money. The most persistent rumors and occasional accusations have centered on allegations of illegal booster manufacturing and secret contracts with the Serpentis Corporation. Whatever the truth may be, none of the investigations mounted against Eifyr and Co. have ever uncovered concrete evidence of wrong-doing, and no prosecution has been attempted to date.

"For much of its history, Eifyr and Co. pursued relatively mundane biochemical manufacturing and distribution on the open market, while its cyber-implant division developed and released popular ranges of gunnery and propulsion implants for the lucrative capsuleer markets. When the SCC deregulated markets with regard to boosters, and the possibilities of synth boosters came to light, Eifyr and Co. were immediately ready to take advantage and began offering biochemical reactors and other equipment vital to booster manufacturing on the open market. The corporation also released new implants designed to enhance booster uptake and alleviate adverse reactions, leading to a resurgence in speculation regarding links to the underworld booster rings. Many observers asked how Eifyr was able to swiftly and effectively respond to the booster deregulation.

"The widespread emergence of unstable wormholes and the technological possibilities opened by these phenomena is the most recent opportunity seized by Kolvil Eifyr's remarkable corporation. Eifyr and Co.'s expertise in chemical reactor technology was swiftly adapted to the newly emerging polymers derived from wormhole space gas clouds. Additionally, Sleeper technology became a particular interest of the corporation. Today, Eifyr and Co. acquires Sleeper-related data in a variety of forms primarily from capsuleers, who encounter the ancient civilization’s drone guardians in wormhole space."
Apparently I was not the only one interested in Eifyr and Co. In 2011, Hilen Tukoss defected from the Caldari to the Minmatar Republic and began working for Eifyr and Co. on the Arek'Jaalan project. But the corporation is involved in something deeper.

In the above montage of decals festooning the Stratios, notice the logo in the upper right-hand corner? That's right, Eifyr and Co. So of course I had to go out and do a standings grind for the Sisters of EVE. Not only to get some cool cloaky ships, but because something sneaky was going on. My standings with the Sisters of EVE currently sits at 9.83 and with the Servant Sisters of EVE faction a healthy 8.24.

Of course, anyone engaged in not-quite-legitimate business might want to get on the good side of those who could interfere. People like the Republic Parliament (9.99) and the Republic Fleet (9.92). Compared to those two organizations, the 7.67 standings I have with the Republic Justice Department seems a bit distant. One particular NPC corporation I had to acquire good standings with was the Republic Security Services.
"The Minmatar learned early on in their freedom that it can only be kept by wrapping it in secrets and deceit. The vigilance of the Republic Security Services has helped the Republic weather many storms that threatened to engulf the fledgling state. The RSS has strong links with the underworld elements in the world of New Eden, the information exchange and black marketing strengthens both sides."
So I have great standings with the Minmatar Republic and two of the movers and shakers in the Thera story, the Sisters of EVE and Eifyr and Co. But no one will know because our standings are hidden. I know, I still have my story running in my head. The story isn't as grand as some of those in null sec or faction warfare, but I like it. I just wish I could show off the standings I have, as that is the only concrete thing I have to show the work I put in to make my story come to life in the game world.

Friday, September 11, 2015

CCP's War On Bots And Illicit RMT: A Tease

I'm just going to leave this here.