Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Down The Rabbit Hole With TinyBuild And G2A

Sometimes I get what, at first glance, is a simple story. StupidGenius from the Cap Stable podcast let me know about a story claiming that G2A was selling game keys obtained through credit card fraud. Again. 

Monday, June 13, 2016

"King Serpent's" Loss Is Our Gain

I'm not sure what Virge Salvador Sarpati ever did to CCP Delegate Zero, CCP Falcon, and CCP Affinity, but they love kicking him while he's down. For those who don't know, "King Serpent", as his sister calls him, is the leader of the Serpentis. To say he is having a bad year is an understatement.

First, Serpentis lost control of Outer Ring Excavations in November last year (YC117) in a hostile takeover conducted by the newly formed Upwell Consortium. Nothing says hostile takeover better than several task forces of Mordu's Legion striking simultaneously across space.

In EVE Online, players will take years to gain their revenge. So will NPCs. The chairman of Upwell's board of directors is Yani Sar Arteu, the founder of Outer Ring Excavations. Further fighting broke out in December as Serpentis Corporation forces destroyed three heavily armed Ducia Foundry mining convoys in Outer Ring. Serpentis continued its efforts against the Upwell Consortium in combination with the capsuleer alliance Omega Security Syndicate in January of this year (YC118), destroying five construction sites building prototypes of the Astrahus-class citadel.

Players became involved in the story as part of CCP's first in-game Christmas/New Year event, Operation Frostline. Mordu's Legion decided to publish the locations of Serpentis sites so capsuleers could kill all the things and get phat loot. Among the initial loot advertised was, "apparel, synth-grade boosters, ship blueprints, all manner of high and low value modules, implants and Nexus Chips," with new items added to the loot tables over time. A fun time was had by all, as long as you weren't Serpentis.

CCP is offering players another go at fighting V Salvador Sarpati at the end of the month. CCP Affinity introduced the event, Shadow of the Serpent, in a dev blog Thursday:
"The Shadow of the Serpent earns its name from the hidden Serpentis arms race we will see happening over the next few weeks.  Naturally, many organizations within New Eden are pretty unhappy with the Serpentis creating new, advanced tech with an intention to distribute and will do anything to put a stop to this and they want your help!

"With so much happening in New Eden lately, the major corporations and factions are overwhelmed with work and will reach out to the newly independent Scope Network for help.  The Scope Network will use this opportunity to start up a new business venture, as a broker service between the major organizations of New Eden and the real powerhouse; the capsuleers!  To help the Scope Network succeed in this venture, we have been working on a prototype framework for a new way to display events happening in-game.

"When an event is happening, you will be able to see event specific challenges in your character selection screen. These will also appear in the new Scope Network window in-game, which you can access via the Neocom.  Over the course of the event, which will run for 6 weeks, you will notice a much wider variety of available challenges including roaming Serpentis and Angel Cartel pirates and 9 new event themed sites complete with loot and bounties.  On top of that, each time you complete a challenge listed on your Scope Network window you will earn points towards small, medium and large Scope Network prize containers. These containers will contain some very nice rewards, a selection of which will be available for the first time during Shadow of the Serpent."
I know a lot of traditionalists will hate the idea of putting a to-do list on the login page. The usual suspects will proclaim the end of the sandbox and decry CCP's efforts to turn EVE into World of Warcraft. Those critics have a point. When looking at the mockup of the login screen, I can see echoes of Guild Wars 2 and its daily, weekly, and monthly objective system. Personally though, I ignored that when I played GW2.

A mockup of the character select screen for the event.

But, is the system good for EVE Online? I do see some advantages. The first is visibility. I am one of those people who is not thrilled about special events. I might participate if I stumble upon one, but unless a game plants the information right in front of me, I will not take the effort to look up the information on how to take part. Making the event more visible will get more people, possibly even myself, to participate. Of course, that will make the drops less valuable, but that's the free market for you.

Perhaps the biggest advantage is the synergy with the opportunity system. Right now, the system is very bare bones. If a player logs into the game and kills a rat, the reward is 10,000 skill points. Sure, a player is incentivised to log in for a couple of minutes. But I experienced that in Neverwinter. Do something that takes 15 seconds a day and after awhile I levelled up. Part of the reason that I stopped playing Neverwinter is the ease I could level up. A very unsatisfying activity.

Now, combine the opportunity system with the live events and perhaps CCP has something substantive. The player is lured to log into the game by the promise of skill points and then sees the latest activities available for even more rewards. The tasks players can participate in are still unknown, but they could give someone an incentive to jump into the game for 15-20 minutes. I'd call that a win for CCP.

But wait, look what else CCP has in store for the Serpentis Corporation. CCP Fozzie got into the act with a change to boosters:
"In recent months the CONCORD Inner Circle has started seriously considering a new approach to the issue of New Eden's illicit booster trade. Prohibition was successful in reducing booster addiction rates, but has had serious downsides across the cluster.

"The illegal booster trade has enriched the great pirate factions (especially the Serpentis Corporation and their Angel Cartel partners), and led to an increase in underworld violence as local pirate bands compete for slices of this lucrative pie.

"Escalating enforcement requirements have stretched the resources of the DED and the empire customs authorities to their breaking points.

"In response to these issues, the Inner Circle is planning a complete shift in their approach to boosters. Booster possession, trade and consumption by capsuleers will be legalized, and licenses for legal booster production will be available to certain non-capsuleer corporations (X-Sense being the first authorized manufacturer). Booster production and research by pirate corporations and unlicensed capsuleers will continue to be illegal.

"Some CONCORD resources will be diverted to harm reduction programs (mainly focused on treating addiction among non-capsuleer populations).

"This change in approach is obviously good news for the X-Sense corporation, and experts predict that it will deal a non-trivial blow to the income of the Serpentis Corporation and Angel Cartel. Nobody yet knows how these powerful pirates will respond, but it's a safe assumption that they won't take it lying down."
That's right, now high sec residents don't have to worry about transporting combat boosters around. Not only will that affect PvP, but mission running as well. No longer will PvE types limit themselves to the previously legal synthetic boosters; now they can use the good stuff. Production will still take place in low sec, but manufacturers will undoubtedly transport the goods to high sec markets.

Over the past 8-9 months CCP created a lot of content for players by setting them upon the luckless Serpentis. In a couple of weeks, we'll get to see what the future may look like concerning PvE in EVE. I'm pretty sure that Sarpati wishes the lore team would pick on someone else.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Dragomon Hunter: Mergers

I play a little free-to-play (F2P) game called Dragomon Hunter. During a long weekend spent making instawarp bookmarks in lowsec, running around an anime world gathering resources, doing dailies, and tending the creatures on my ranch for an hour or so is a nice break. I like the game, but a lot of the YouTube videos weren't so kind.

Apparently Dragomon Hunter is not as popular as Aeria originally thought as the two North American servers merged into a single shard last week. The devs stated that one of the reasons for the merger was to shorten the wait times to get into the PvP arenas. That made sense, as the one time I queued up for a match I wound up giving up. I didn't try to log into the game until Saturday, which was the correct choice, as the new server performed poorly and required an emergency maintenance to fix the issues.

Aeria used the server merger to revamp the daily login rewards. I couldn't find details about the new system, but the rewards went from a 10-day rotation to a 28-day rotation. The new rotation also gives out more loyalty points, which players can use to purchase some items available in the cash shop. I guess I have to keep logging in every day for the next four weeks to find all the goodies. I figure if all I do is log in to see what the rewards are, I will at least get some ideas of how CCP should develop the EVE Online dailies program.

Yesterday brought news of another merger into the world of Dragomon Hunter. Gamigo and Aeria announced a merger, with Aeria's parent company ProSiebenSat.1 becoming a minority shareholder. I remember that many European players protested when the German company became the publisher for Sony Online Entertainment's portfolio of games in Europe. One interesting tidbit is that Gamigo publishes Dragon's Prophet in Europe. Yes, the game that Daybreak dropped back in November is still running in Europe and Asia, with Dragon's Prophet receiving a patch as recently as the end of April.

I don't know what all of this means for Dragomon Hunter, or my Aeria account. EVE is still my main game, even if I don't get to play as much as I used to. But when I want to just putter around and not worry about death, Dragomon Hunter is a nice place to visit. I just hope the game sticks around for awhile longer.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Will PvE Blossom In 2017?

Sometimes I wonder if I follow what happens outside EVE way too much. One of those times occurred at Fanfest this year at the end of the first day of the convention. A group of us sat around drinking and discussing our impressions of the keynotes. I think most of us agreed that the presentations were not filled with exciting stuff. CCP Ghost's presentation (and brain) was a highlight that teased fascinating possibilities for the future. Otherwise, I thought the first day was rather pedestrian.

Neville Smit looked at the day and took the lack of new features one step further. Where was the content for high sec? My feeling at the time was that just because CCP did not announce something at Fanfest didn't mean content wasn't coming in the future. Just not the short-term future.

But that's all I had, a feeling.  I've heard that intuition is a subconscious collation of facts. So while Neville wrote his "Occupy New Eden" manifesto at the beginning of May, I searched for indications that the road map already included those elements.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Beginning A New Adventure

‘Every seat in the passenger cabin was occupied, the occupants sitting so peacefully one could believe they were napping, if it weren’t for the fact that each and every one had been completely drained of their blood. The same fate had befallen the rest of the crew, even the captain in his capsule was now only a dry husk…’
-- The Blood Raiders
Over the weekend I finally fit my Stratios with a reasonable build and headed out to do some extended exploration. But where to go? I want to learn how to fly some of the combat sites as well as hunt down the usual data and relic sites, so I set my eyes on the Amarr Empire. Why? Lasers. I figured that since the Amarr use lasers, and the Stratios fits lasers, I should go to a place where the NPCs are vulnerable to that weapon system.

The Amarr Empire is a pretty big place. Officially the Empire consists of 8 regions, but I also include Genesis, the home of CONCORD, and the Ammatar Mandate in the region of Derelik. The Empire is also home to two pirate factions, The Blood Raider Covenant and Sansha's Nation. Both are pretty nasty pieces of work in different ways, but share a love of, and vulnerability to, electromagnetic and thermal damage. Perfect for my laser-fitted Stratios.

I have to admit, I made my choice on where to start my expedition based on avoiding factional warfare zones. I want a nice quiet, relaxing time. If I want to play hide-and-seek with the militias, I'll go back to Metropolis. Since the western half of the Empire is free of the simmering conflict between the Amarr Empire and the Minmatar Republic, I decided to begin there. The western half is the home of the Blood Raider Covenant.

A lot of players would look at the stats of the NPCs and go on their way. Not me. Instead, I like inventing a narrative that leads me through the campaign I create. My characters are Minmatar and don't like the Amarr a whole lot. They do business with them, but not much else. The Blood Raiders are a crazy type of Amarr. From the Chronicle...
"The Blood Raiders are part of an ancient cultist faction called Sani Sabik, meaning Bloodfriends. The cult first appeared thousands of years ago on Amarr Prime, long before space travel came into being. The cult was based on schismatic sect of the Amarr state religion, which advocated that some people were born for greatness and other people only lived to feed and breed these geniuses. To this the cult added the obsession of the Amarr elite - the Holders - about eternal life so the result was a cult so pervasive and destructive that the Amarr authorities immediately stamped down on it. But the cult lived on in the shadows, every so often mutating itself anew. At one time in their history they started using blood in their gruesome rituals, until then they’d had only used blood in the initiation ritual, but now it became the focal point of their supposed search for eternal youth."
The leader of the Blood Raiders, Omar Sarikusa, served as the focal point of The Crimson Harvest event that ran last October. CCP even released the following Scope video featuring Bloody Omir.

Pretty gruesome stuff. So I put my trusty Cheetah in the hangar and am now flying around in something a little more dangerous. I intend to run a lot of data and relic sites, but engaging in combat with NPCs is a little out of character for me. Thanks to the lore, I have a reason for my changed behavior. Some NPCs just need killing.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Account Security And Skill Point Trading

I am so far behind on my blogging that I still haven't blogged about perhaps the most significant security story coming out of Fanfest. I'm referring to the increase in hacking attempts since the introduction of skill point trading in February.

Account hacking has long plagued the online gaming industry. Blizzard developed a smartphone application providing two-factor authentication for Word of Warcraft accounts long before tech giants like Google began offering the public similar software. A World Bank report published in 2011 concluded that 20% of all virtual currency for online games sold on the secondary RMT markets came from hacked gaming accounts.

Hopefully regular readers of The Nosy Gamer are not shocked that the amount of activity seen on sites like Player Auctions jumped beginning in February. Offering players the ability to buy and sell the most precious commodity in EVE, time in the form of skill points, opened up a lucrative new market for illicit RMT operators.

Initially, the secondary market followed the lead of the PLEX market in The Forge. Player Auctions, a major illicit RMT site that facilitates the sale of virtual items and currencies for most major online games, saw the sale of ISK increase by 92.4% from January to February. The increase closely matched the 95.2% increase in the ISK value of PLEX sold in EVE's main market in The Forge during the same period. 

In March, the secondary market diverged in direction compared to the PLEX market in Jita. While the amount of ISK exchanged for game time in The Forge declined by 18.6% from the preceding month, the amount of ISK sold on Player Auctions increased another 80.6%. Much of the increase was due to a single buyer purchasing 1.845 trillion ISK between 8-23 March, but even subtracting those purchases, the daily demand for ISK rose by 8.2%.

How does a marketplace handle a nearly 250% increase in demand over the course of two months? Additional sellers either entering or re-entering the market is the obvious answer for those who claim that the EVE Online secondary market, or at least Player Auctions, is totally stocked with legitimately acquired ISK and items.  The data I tracked, however, suggests that new sellers only account for, at most, half the increase. I should also add that the seller who sold the 1.845 trillion ISK in 15 days is a long-time presence on Player Auctions. CCP Bugartist's statement in the roundtable session that hacking attempts are up since the introduction of skill point trading rings true.

The first subject that CCP Bugartist addressed was an increase in hacking attempts. He noted the lack of players using two-factor authentication and how well the feature works. Accounts protected by 2FA are only involved in 0.6% of successful hacking attempts. Or, to look at the issue another way, 99.4% of successful hacking attempts involve unprotected accounts. In an ironic twist, once an account is compromised, the hacker will install Google Authenticator on the account in order to keep the owner from taking back control of the account.

The big hole in the security, though, is communications between CCP and players. If a hacker can compromise a player's email account, then CCP cannot determine that the hacker is not the legitimate account owner. For players concerned about game account security, securing their email accounts is equally important.

One of the oldest methods used by players is using a dedicated email account for each gaming account. The less the email account is used, the less visibility the account has to hackers. A more modern solution is the use of password managers that automatically populate password fields. Password managers helps users keep from reusing passwords across multiple sites, a major no-no in internet security. I am not a security expert, but tech sites like PC Magazine offer reviews of the top password managers. A final major solution is to put two-factor authentication on email accounts. Doing at least one of these is better than doing nothing at all.

One final item from the roundtable I'd like to address is the effect of skill point trading on hacking. Due to the ability to now strip skill points from characters, hackers not only do more damage to players' accounts, but make more real world cash with a successful hack as well.

For the first few weeks, the illicit RMT shops had a negligible amount of skill injectors for sale. The situation changed in March as the injectors got into the hands of the illicit RMT operators. In April, I tracked the sale of 839 million skill points using Player Auctions' feedback system. While 36 years of training seems like a lot, given the size of the player base, hopefully the figure indicates that hackers are not having great success in looting accounts.

An often overlooked fact is that fixing a hacked account is a manual, time consuming process. I forget if CCP Bugartist stated the time during the roundtable, but restoring an account can take up to two days. That is two days of time that customer service could spend working on other tickets. Recently I began to hear complains of increasing times for ticket resolution from customer support. I wonder how much of the delays are due to tickets concerning hacked accounts.

One last thought. Account security is not a sexy subject. Game companies can only give players the tools to secure their accounts. No one can make someone actually use those tools. But picking up good habits in securing your gaming accounts translates well into having a safer online experience in the rest of your life. Or, as CCP might say, "EVE is real."

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

I Did Mining Missions ... And I Liked It!

On Sunday, I decided to just not think about writing about the "great" issues of the day and instead play EVE for a few hours. For my industrial alt, I needed to pick up some skill books in Domain as well as a load of kernite for the next time a level 4 storyline mission came around. So I hopped in my Prospect and headed off to slaver space.

I could complain about how CCP favors the Amarr over the Minmatar. In the Minmatar Republic, kernite is only found in low sec, while in Amarr the ore is found in systems with a security status of up to 0.7. A very nice perk for high sec mission runners in Amarr, as the level 4 storyline mission that gives out +4 learning implants requires 8,000 units of kernite to turn in. Normally I would mine the ore locally, but since I needed to buy the Medium Beam Laser Specialization skillbook, among others, doing a little high sec mining helped justify the trip.

Have I ever mentioned I don't like mining in high sec? Fortunately, filling up my Prospect's 10,000 m3 ore hold didn't take very long. I even attracted some attention.

Missed Me
A Sansha's Nation frigate decided it didn't like me mining and started doing its best Star Wars' stormtrooper imitation. I shouldn't gloat too much. I was in a tech 2 expedition frigate running a signature tank orbiting a rock at 1200 m/sec. Seeing my shields drop to 96% didn't fill me with anxiety.

After that fine reminder of why I don't like high sec, I decided to do something a lot more fun than hanging around high sec: low sec mining missions. So I cut though bad parts of EVE like Huola, Kourmonen, and Amamake back to the safety of Metropolis low sec where my agent resided.

The first mission offered was the level 4 ice mining mission that never has NPCs. A perfect mission for an Endurance, if I had one. One of these days I will build one (I invented a couple blueprint copies), but for now my trusty Procurer works fine.

The drawback of using the Procurer is the slow speed of reaching the ice. Even fitting a microwarpdrive, the ship required a minute-and-a-half to cross the 6 kilometers of space from the warp-in point before I could begin mining. But once I'd run a cycle or two on my ice harvester, a red triangle appeared on my overview and I was quickly scrammed and webbed. What?!

While the mission contains no NPCs, that does not stop ships from Mordus' Legion from dropping in occasionally. I even lost a Procurer once when a Mordus' Legion cruiser dropped in on me when running the same mining mission. Thankfully, this time I only faced a frigate.

Mordus' Legion NPCs are nasty little ships, especially when you forget to turn your hardeners on. Oops. Once I did that, the damage stabilized around 25% of my shields. Not bad, and in the tanky mining barge something I could live with.

Did I mention that the NPC mercenary ships have a better artificial intelligence than the average belt rat? Once the AI determined I could tank the incoming fire, the NPC ship switched fire to my drones. I initially sent 5 Warrior II drones to attack the frigate, with 3 Hobgoblin IIs and 2 Warrior IIs in reserve. Due to the damage I began rotating the Warriors out and the Hobgoblins into the attack. I lost one Warrior II with two others taking hull damage before I could get them to safety. Still, I managed to defeat the NPC.

When the fight began, I was the only ship in the system. But near the end of the fight, a factional warfare pilot entered the system. I had to defeat the NPC because I was tackled and couldn't get away otherwise, but with the fight won, I faced a dilemma. Do I dock up, or do I cross 16 km of space at 71 m/sec to loot the wreck?

Why the decision? Because in the wreck of every Mordus' Legion frigate hanging around low sec belts is a Garmur blueprint copy. I decided to go for the loot, so I fired up the MWD and started clicking on the directional scanner hoping I would not see the probes that would reveal my mission dungeon. I needn't have worried. The other pilot jumped out of the system shortly after I looted the wreck. The next decision was automatic. I warped to the station and deposited the blueprint and the 8 units of mission ice sitting in the ore hold. I then finished the mission by mining the remaining 12 units of ice without incident.

Mining for blueprints
Of course, I wanted to do another mission. The next one, involving gas harvesting, is one I refer to as "The Benny Hill" mission. When run in a sig-tanked Prospect, I wind up with 9-12 NPCs chasing me and Yakety Sax running through my head.

Actual Game Footage (not really)

The mission ran pretty much as expected. I orbited the gas cloud at speed with nine NPCs chasing me around getting my shields down to 75%. As I often do, I didn't bother docking up when neutrals entered the system. Normally if multiple people are in a factional warfare system, they won't bother going through the work to scan down a mission site when others are available to fight. Except this time, a Bifrost warped into the site when I only needed 17 more units of gas to complete the mission.

I really wonder what the scene looked like to the pilot. A frigate huffing gas getting chased around by nine NPCs. However, at the time, all I saw was a command destroyer land about 35 km away and I quickly warped to a station. I then warped back cloaked to the site and found the destroyer gone. After about 10 minutes, the system emptied out and I finished up the mission.

I think the reason I enjoyed myself Sunday was that low sec offers the possibility of random events. High sec is so static and predictable. Perhaps if CCP finally works off the technical debt of the old way of creating missions and we start to see more variety in missions perhaps less people will complain about the PvE content in EVE Online. Then again, that will just result in the player base complaining about something else. EVE players not complain? I don't think that is possible.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

The Taxes WERE Too Damn High

Today is the launch of the Citadel expansion for EVE Online. Honestly, I am not excited. Sure, we got a couple of cool videos, but as far as I can tell, that's the highlight.

Well, for me anyway. A lot of players are excited, but if anything, the expansion looks like a slight nerf to the way I play the game unless the change to loot rates in data sites has a bigger impact than I foresee.

The situation did get better yesterday when CCP Fozzie posted an update on the tax situation with the introduction of citadels:
As we announced in the Fanfest Structures presentation, we are planning a smaller change to market taxes than had been announced earlier. This more incremental change is intended to reflect the fact that some extra features such as contracts that are ideal for a market hub will not be released in Citadels until a future date. We also want to gain the ability to observe how the market adjusts to these smaller changes and then use that information to advise future tweaks.

The currently planned market tax values are:

3% Broker’s Fee
Reduced to 2.5% with skills and 2% with both skills and max NPC standings
Is sunk from the game in NPC stations, is paid to owners in outposts, is customizable and paid to owners in Citadels
Skills and standings don’t apply in player structures
Broker’s fee formula: 3% brokers fee - ([Broker Relation skill level]0.1 + [Faction Standing level]0.03 + [Corp Standing level]*0.02)

2 % Transaction Tax
Reduced to 1 % with max skills
Is sunk from the game in all locations and is not customizable

We intend to tweak these taxes further at a later point after contracts have been added to citadels. The exact values of that next round of tweaks would depend on the metrics after this first release.

We are also making an adjustment to the plan for reprocessing rigs in Citadels. The earlier plan had two security bands for reprocessing rig bonuses, one for highsec and another for low/null/wh. We are separating lowsec into its own band with intermediate reprocessing rig bonuses to preserve the advantage of nullsec refining.

The new values are:
Unrigged Citadel (in all areas of space): 50%
T1 rigged Highsec Citadel: 52%
T2 rigged Highsec Citadel: 54%
T1 rigged Lowsec Citadel: 55.12%
T2 rigged Lowsec Citadel: 57.24%
T1 rigged Null/WH Citadel: 58.24%
T2 rigged Null/WH Citadel: 60.48%

Thanks and good luck with all your post-Citadel plans!
I never had a desire to own a POS and citadels, if anything, are even less attractive. Overall, I think we will see a lot of solo players and very small corporations forced to abandon the use of all but the smallest structures in EVE like mobile depots. Still, the reduction in the tax hikes from the previously announced levels is a welcome development.

As a general principle, I don't like nerfing an existing game feature to make a new feature more attractive. In the case of citadels, I realize that the tax and broker fees in the existing NPC stations were too low to give a slight advantage to player-owned structures. However, I think giving the new citadels a 3-4% tax advantage was a bit much. Lowering the tax differential while giving citadels better active game play I think is a much better decision.

I do want to start logging into EVE a lot more going forward. Not because of the expansion though. I usually don't chase after the new shiny objects CCP throws out. I do, however, want to lose myself amongst the virtual stars and leave some of the more mundane cares like the Council of Stellar Management behind me. The metagame is getting old and I need to start pressing keys and clicking buttons on my mouse again.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Bobmon, Team Security, And Pandora's Box

One of the interesting aspects of EVE Online is one never quite knows what will happen next. Not just inside the game world, but outside as well. Even in my chosen specialty of real money trading, conditions constantly change. Something as simple sounding as a PLEX sale or the introduction of a new item like skill injectors can cause major effects not only in the out of game secondary RMT markets, but in New Eden itself. In the world of RMT, even the results of the election for the eleventh Council of Stellar Management matter.

When I attended the Security roundtable on Saturday, I expected something unusual would occur. After all, someone always asks about a new tool or some situation that makes me think. What I didn't really expect was a newly elected member of the CSM, Bobmon, to appear. He strode confidently across the front of the room, taking a seat four or five chairs to my left.

As he sat down, I knew I needed to keep an eye on Bobmon. During his CSM Watch interview conducted in January, he bragged how he intervened when CCP, presumably the security team, blacklisted the gambling site I WANT ISK from EVE Online's in-game browser in the spring of 2015. I looked around and saw no sign of 1ronbank, the fabulously wealthy Twitch streamer who frequently serves as I WANT ISK's spokesman. Both I WANT ISK and 1ronbank are major advertisers on the EVE news site Eve News 24, of which Bobmon is editor-in-chief. Some who covered the CSM election this year even believed that Bobmon, if elected, would actively work to advancing the interests of his sponsors. Would I witness Bobmon prove his detractors correct less than 48 hours after the announcement of the voting results?

After a long discussion about the importance of account security in the age of skill injectors, CCP Bugartist called on the newly elected space politician. My attention perked up a little, as Bobmon had his hand raised for a lot less time than did a lot of others vying for the security chief's attention.

Reports from previous CSMs all indicate that Team Security under the leadership of CCP Bugartist is always well-prepared. From my own experience working with the team on its Fanfest 2015 presentation, I can confirm the observation. A lot of issues players want addressed are out of Team Security's control, but what they can control is usually handled well. When CCP Bugartist called on Bobmon, I knew shit was about to get real.

Bobmon began by introducing himself as the editor-in-chief of Eve News 24. He then went into his background of helping a gambling site when it lost access to the in-game browser. Trying to establish his bona fides as a champion of the people, Bobmon broadened out his argument to include everyone who receives either a temporary or permanent ban and appeals the ruling. The newly-minted CSM member concluded by asking what Team Security planned to do to not only prevent players from receiving undeserved bans, but to speed up investigation of those bans.

I admit my memory of CCP Bugartist's first few words are a bit hazy, because what came next is one of those moments many players, including myself, dream of. Most of the time, game companies do not disclose the details of incidents involving breaches of a game's terms of service. Every once in a while, however, a game company obliges if the complaining party does so loudly enough. Saturday marks one of those times.

Before continuing, I want to emphasize one point. I do not know CCP Bugartist's thought process for what occurred next. I do know that Team Security tries to keep up-to-date on the meta and current events. Also, Bobmon did introduce himself as someone who intervened on I WANT ISK's behalf in a previous security matter. Whatever the reason, CCP Bugartist chose to treat Bobmon as part of the I WANT ISK family and acted in the time-honored tradition of game companies everywhere when confronted by a rule breaker relying on the game company's usual reluctance to disclose details of disciplinary action.

CCP Bugartist cut right to the chase and pointed out that the incident Bobmon really addressed with his question involved the twelve I WANT ISK bankers banned for illicit RMT activity in late December/early January. Addressing the accusation that the banning of the bankers involved an inadequate investigation, CCP Bugartist revealed that two members of his staff looked into the matter before any bans occurred. The head of security also revealed that the activities the twelve engaged in were serious and if he had his way, they would still be banned. Furthermore, if any of the returned bankers stepped out of line in any way, he would receive a permanent ban.

I don't think Bobmon expected CCP Bugartist's response. In the space of 2-3 minutes, the entire narrative surrounding I WANT ISK changed. Up until Saturday, I WANT ISK and its defenders claimed that a single bad apple introduced dirty ISK into the system and that CCP was slowly clearing the other bankers of any wrongdoing. Bobmon, with his question, gave CCP Bugartist the opportunity to set the record straight and expose the false narrative pushed out by I WANT ISK to the player base over the past few months.

I do have to give the I WANT ISK team credit for developing such a good story. Everyone knows that the penalty for selling ISK, PLEX, skill point injectors, and other in-game objects in EVE is the termination of all of that player's accounts. Instead, for some unknown reason, CCP only temporarily suspended the accounts of the I WANT ISK bankers in question. Because they knew when the bans expired, they could establish a storyline in which bankers are unwittingly caught up in a huge RMT operation run by someone in SpaceMonkey's Alliance, with CCP slowly clearing all the "innocent" bankers.

I believe the story I laid out above is just the end state that played out at the end of March and beginning of April. Did the bankers initially receive permanent ban letters? At this time, I cannot determine either way. Did someone overrule CCP Bugartist? Given his statement in the roundtable session, I see that as a distinct possibility. But reducing a punishment is not the same as declaring someone innocent.

Normally, I would end the story here. But I wound up with one loose thread: Bobmon. Is he some sort of secret I WANT ISK insider whose connection to the gambling site was uncovered by CCP's internal affairs team when vetting Bobmon and that is why CCP Bugartist felt comfortable revealing the information he did? Seems too complex, right? After all, who would come up with the concept of "secret shareholders" anyway?

Time to apply Occam's Razor. What is the simplest explanation for Bobmon's behavior given his behavior over the past 12-18 months? Bobmon actually believed the story put out by the I WANT ISK community that CCP unjustly banned 11-12 player's and was extremely slow in clearing the players' names. Why did Bobmon believe the story? Because members of the I WANT ISK organization told him that CCP had cleared the involved players of any wrongdoing. Or, to express what occurred more indelicately, they misrepresented CCP's statements, a fact we only learned on Saturday.

Assuming I am correct about Bobmon lack of secret shareholder status, I know he is not the only one fooled by the story. If someone goes around telling everyone that CCP cleared them of an offense when his account was temporarily banned and the ban ended, a lot of people will believe what they heard. After all, CCP isn't contradicting the story right? Well, at least until Saturday they weren't.

One of the most important currencies for gambling websites, as in EVE, is trust. A site with a reputation for running crooked games will not last long. Neither will a site known as a hub for illicit RMT activity. Who wants to patronize a site that CCP may close at any time and thus lose all their ISK? At best, the extra level of risk limits the amount of players willing to visit the site. I WANT ISK recognizes that factor and in the past publicly declared an intolerance for illicit RMT. The operator of the site and his spokesmen even went so far as to state he would immediately remove anyone found engaged in practices like ISK selling.

In the past, I WANT ISK could easily maintain that position to the public. CCP immediately terminated the accounts of those caught selling ISK. But in the latest case, CCP only suspended the accounts of the bankers involved. I WANT ISK faced a dilemma. Follow through with its stated policy and permanently lose the services of eleven experienced bankers? Or misrepresent CCP’s enforcement actions, secure in the belief that the security team would never contradict them? The gambling site chose the latter course of action. After all, stating that CCP had investigated the operation and found no one currently involved had not engaged in any wrongdoing is a lot better for business that admitting that eleven bankers received temporary game bans for conducting illicit RMT and that some of them still served on staff.

I believe the latest information concludes the story of the I WANT ISK bankers temporarily removed from the game at the beginning of 2016. I know questions like whether the enforcement action began with information supplied by members of SpaceMonkey’s Alliance still exist. If the answers to those questions emerge I will blog about them at that time. As for the cover-up? I am too tired after travelling home from Fanfest to address the question fully. But from my understanding of the situation, I don’t believe I WANT ISK, in spreading the false story, violated any of the terms of the EVE Online EULA or Terms of Service. I will add that EVE Online is CCP’s game, not mine, and if they think differently and take public action, I will blog about that also.

UPDATE (26 April): I probably need to put in a clarification. When I refer to I WANT ISK making statements, I refer to the entire organization, including bankers. If I refer to a statement from the owner of I WANT ISK, Eep, I try to point that out.

In the comments, I believe Eep, posting as the user I WANT ISK, left the following comment that sheds a little light on Bobmon's involvement with IWI.

On my phone right now and ran across this.

CCP never told us why the bankers were banned or unbanned. In our announcements we always included multiple possibilities and theories. The most believed theory was tainted ISK. How this came across as factual is simply the natural spin of things on the web. I mean, it is possible that somewhere down the line I mistakenly made it sound factual but I always tried to make sure I never revealed any information from CCP.

Bobmon is a banker but not a shareholder of

Hope that clears some stuff up at fanfest, CCP Bugartist was simply stating that they had multiple people conclude that these bankers deserved a ban. I don't know what caused them to decide to ban and unban these bankers but it definitely had to do with investigations into possible rmt. That was never denied.


Thursday, April 21, 2016

Learning From Each Other

The Fanfest schedule came out late last week and I heard some rumblings about how few developer presentations would occur.

I realize I have a limited social circle here in Reykjavik, but the questions continued. The schedule for today really stood out. No events in any other room but in the main Tranquility hall. As I recall, no drinks are allowed in that room, making for a very long 5 hours. Even then, CCP developers will only speak for 4 hours, with the 5th hour a presentation by Andrew Groen, the author of Empires of EVE.

Looking at Friday's schedule, one can see that player presentations far outnumber CCP's. I know that last year the theme from marketing was that players make the game and they wanted player involvement to really push the concept. But does that now apply for this year? After all, the Citadel expansion is less than a week away. Why isn't CCP using Fanfest to promote its first great expansion in two years?

A couple of reasons come to mind. The most obvious is: the expansion launches in less than a week. The developers are busy putting the finishing touches on the expansion and don't have time to put together and practice presentations. The tinfoil hat crowd may even claim that the lack of presentations indicates the expansion is not ready and we will see a delay on Citadel reaching Tranquility.

The second reason is that CCP is busy turning itself into a maker of virtual reality games and doesn't want to distract from players trying out this year's offerings. Observers may recall that EVE:Valkyrie first made a public appearance at Fanfest in 2013 and a beta version of EVE: Gunjack appeared last year. Who knows what's in store for players this year? Whatever the VR devs present, one can count on the fact that participants will receive a survey to take afterwards.

One thing I wonder about is just how much CCP learns from players during Fanfest. Looking at the schedule, CCP conducts a lot of roundtables in which they gather a lot of information. The devs also get to hear a lot of chatter from players both at the Harpa walking around and in the bars at night. In fact, one such bar is downstairs from the CCP offices. Is the presence of so many player presentations a sign that CCP learns as much from the player presentations as the players learn from the developer presentations?

Whatever the reason, all I know is I don't have to think about what sessions to attend today. I just need to take notes and stay awake.