Monday, September 30, 2013

Global War On RMT: ISK Falls, Gil Climbs


The stories about RMT are coming fast and furious and that doesn't include the recent happenings concerning the sites selling EVE Online ISK.  Following shortly on the heels of Jagex introducing Bonds, Square Enix launched a ban wave aimed at RMT in Final Fantasy XIV.  But first let me discuss the latest effects of CCP's War on Botting and RMT and why I believe prices on some ISK-selling sites have recently dropped.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Another Curious Name

"Oh look, another expansion.  Do they come free with cereal nowadays?"

When I started to write this post, that was the first thought to enter my head.  But while we don't get cereal, expansions for EVE Online are always free, and the twentieth one, Rubicon, is no exception.  I managed to get home from the orthodontist yesterday in time to watch the expansion reveal show live on Twitch.  When I saw the graphic first appear, I thought we were about to see another misnamed expansion.  Odyssey, presented as an exploration theme, really wasn't.  If someone wanted to argue that the expansion was a step back for exploration, I probably wouldn't disagree.

But what about Rubicon?  Crossing the Rubicon has become associated with crossing a point of no return, but Julius Caesar's act of rebellion in 49 B.C. also started a civil war within the Roman Republic.  So is there anything in the expansion that fits into the theme?  Absolutely!  First, player-owned custom offices are coming to high sec, which means players will have the ability to attack structures in high sec without CONCORD interference, at least when destroying the existing NPC-owned offices. 

Next comes the new player deployed structures, which are part of a different system than the old starbase or POS systems.  Unlike the existing POS system, players have the ability to deploy the structures away from moons.  That's right, players can pick dead space spots and deploy structures.  And, fitting in with the theme of rebellion, at first glance players will no longer have to grind up standings with a faction so their corporation can deploy a structure.  In fact, sounds like these are personal structures.  So not only are capsuleers breaking away from the control of the Empire governments, they are also slipping the bonds of their corporations.

The last item for now are the actions of the Sisters of EVE.  Apparently they are going rogue, or at least pirate.  Up until now, outside of the Empire states and ORE, only the pirate factions made their ship designs available to capsuleers.  But with the coming of Rubicon SOE will also release a frigate and cruiser design for capsuleer use.  Unlike the pirate factions, however, the Sisters have offices in high sec.  Are we about to see a source for non-Empire ship designs available within the Empire?  I really hope that gets explained in the lore.

So for now I'm happy that the name of the expansion at least has some logical explanation behind it.  But now I need to wait for all the dev blogs and releases on Singularity before I can think about getting excited.  But that should come soon because 19 November is not far away. 

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Jagex Joins The PLEX Parade

Has anyone noticed just how many game companies are turning toward CCP's PLEX system?  In August 2011 En Masse introduced Chronoscrolls into Tera as a way to fight gold sellers.  In October 2012 SOE followed with the introduction of Kronos into EverQuest, EverQuest 2 and Vanguard but only advertised the new object as a method of payment using in-game currency.  Last month Carbine made the surprising choice of not only going with a subscription model for its upcoming game Wildstar but introducing the PLEX-like CREDD.

What CREDD Does
The latest company to hop on the bandwagon is Jagex, makers of Runescape.  The browser based game has a long history of problems with bots and grey market gold sellers.  In 2011 the company banned over 9 million accounts for botting.  On "Bot Nuking Day", Jagex banned 1.5 million accounts and in the following week was banning 9,000 accounts every minute.  In January 2012 Jagex won a lawsuit against Impulse Software, the maker of the iBot in a Boston court, for copyright infringement, circumvention of technological protection measures and computer fraud.

But Runescape's bot and RMT problems continued.  In an announcement yesterday, Jagex CEO Mark Gerhard stated that so far in 2013 that over 1.1 million botting accounts were banned and 3.7 trillion gold pieces seized from gold farmer accounts.1  But that has not slowed down the botters too much.  Jagex identified 150-170 billion gold pieces injected into the game's economy over the past few months.2  That's what they detected.  Who knows how much was produced that was undetected.

At the end of the video Gerhard announced the introduction of Bonds, an item that players can use to pay their membership fee.  The idea, like CCP's in 2008, is that players will use the approved method of purchasing in-game currency through the company and shun the gold selling sites.  According to a live stream on Twitch, the final straw that made Jagex create bonds was the discovery that 40-50% of their active player base (i.e. members) were purchasing gold from the grey market sites.

I've watched part of the live stream and I really think that Gerhard and his team have underestimated how fast and effectively a PLEX-type system will work.  I base this not only on CCP's experience with PLEX but with the ease of finding sites that sell Runescape gold.  When I went to put together a list of sites selling EVE Online ISK in July I first did a Google search on buying EVE Online ISK and found four sites through the Google Ads that appeared.  When I did the same for Runescape gold yesterday, I found ads for 13 sites.  Finding gold selling sites for Runescape, at least compared to EVE, is extremely easy.  If that many companies are actively advertising on Google, then business is probably good.

As I've written before, high ban counts don't necessarily mean much if the prices the gold sellers is not affected.  So what is the price of Runescape gold?  Looking at the sites advertising on Google, the median price was $41.11 for 100 million GP.  So that is the price players need to watch as the months go by to see if Jagex' efforts work.


NOTES:

1.  At the median price found from the RMT sites found advertising with Google Ads, the real world value is approximately $US 1.5 million.

2.  At the median price found from the RMT sites found advertising with Google Ads, the real world value is approximately $US 60,000 - $US 70,000 per month.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Not Believing Jack

I'm not doing much in EVE Online that's very interesting.  The fact that I hit 9.86 faction with the Minmatar Republic isn't as exiting as one or two major gold selling sites potentially ending sales of ISK.  Doing a major grind like that involves a lot of time playing the game doing repetitive tasks.  I might find the process interesting, but an outside observer?  Hardly.

That grind in many ways is built into games operating under the free-to-play model.  Unlike EVE, where I chose to do an insane standings grind for something I could basically get by joining faction warfare, a pretty intense grind is standard for F2P games.  If the grind is hard enough, players invested enough in the game will bypass the grind by spending money.  Depending on the articles available for purchase, some players will designate the game pay-to-win (P2W). 

That subject, how to avoid the P2W trap, is a subject of a presentation that Cryptic Studios CEO Jack Emmert will give at GDC Next the first week of November.  Massively pointed out this part of the description of the talk...
"With an F2P business, developers must carefully weigh business needs against game balance. Typically, players immediately question whether a game is actually pay-to-win and not truly free-to-play. This session tracks how Cryptic Studios has tackled this very difficult question in each of their current MMOs, and provides a method to address both concerns."
Commenters over at Massively are not buying the premise that Emmert knows how to do this. One even pointed out that weighing "business needs against game balance" isn't a good thing for game designers to do.  Game companies always have to consider the business implications of what they design.  I think players wouldn't object too much if told they can't have a feature because it costs too much to implement, if given a good technical reason why it costs so much.  Yes, I'm thinking of CCP trying to fix all the legacy systems like Crimewatch.  But when that reaches down to what will drop from mobs in order to make the cash shop more attractive, players start drawing the line.

As so happens, I'm currently playing a Cryptic game, Neverwinter.  So far, unlike all the other games I've played with a cash shop except EVE Online1, I've managed to not purchase anything from the cash store.  I admit I'm only level 27, but I've easily resisted the temptation to purchase a mount for $35 or $40.  Actually, once I found out the prices for a mount and took a look at the cash shop, I almost quit the game.  The cash shop definitely killed my desire to join a guild and become immersed in the world of Neverwinter, despite how much I like some of the game play and the systems.

So now I have a challenge.  Can I reach max level and get really cool things and not spend any real life money?  If I can, then I think Neverwinter isn't really P2W.  The only real roadblocks I see might come at end game, but I'm not an end game raider.  When I hit the level cap that usually means I'm about to quit a game anyway.

The experiment will probably take a long time to conduct.  EVE still takes precedence and I'm looking forward to the opening of EQNext Landmark this winter (hopefully in November or December).  And then after that is spring and Wildstar, which will probably kick Neverwinter to the curb.  But maybe I'll have something to report in a few months.  Because as we all know, we should judge game developers by their actions and not by their words.2


Notes: 

1.  I haven't purchased anything from the Nex Store, but I have purchased Fanfest streams, tickets, and in a couple of weeks character transfers.

2.  See also Warhammer Online.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Digital Dozen: 24 September 2013

The rankings of the top twelve MMORPGs as determined by the players of the Xfire community from play on Sunday, 22 September 2013.  For more details about the methodology, click here.  Historical data can be found here.

Rank Prev Week Game ScoreHours Played +/- %
11World of Warcraft 41.4 17,218+0.3
22Guild Wars 216.16,678-1.2
33Final Fantasy XIV14.56,046-6.5
44Star Wars: The Old Republic7.43,063-0.3
55Aion4.71,949-11.3
66EVE Online4.21,747-0.3
77Tera2.81,165-5.4
88Lord of the Rings Online2.1892+1.1
99Planetside 22.0835-4.0
10--Metin 21.7717+18.3
1110Neverwinter1.7687-9.1
12--RIFT1.4594-9.6
 
Total Digital Dozen Hours: 42,517

A three-week string of increased time spent at the keyboard was snapped by the Xfire community this weekend, at least where MMORPGs were concerned.   On Sunday, players spent 2.2% less time playing games in the genre compared to the previous week.  Metin 2's gain of 18.3% more time was more than offset by big declines in Runescape (-21.1%), Need For Speed World (-16.7%) and Aion (-11.3%).

A Kick And A Miss - Unlike most companies, Square Enix is attempting to get players to not stay logged into their game.  During the past week, the company added an automatic AFK feature shortly after reopening digital sales.  But amid reports that the feature doesn't really work the Xfire community is still averaging 7 hours a day logged into the game.  Is the game just that good or do players still doubt the ability to log back into the game?

New Content For Metin 2 - I'll admit that I find Metin 2's site hard to understand, but the game leaped back into The Digital Dozen with the release of Blazing Purgatory.  I think the level cap increased to 105 and introduced end game content.

Beyond Infinity - Last week Trion also released a patch for its top game, RIFT.  Called Beyond Infinity, patch 2.4 added new PvE content, rank 90 PvP gear and cross-shard instant adventures (whatever those are).  But unlike Metin 2, RIFT saw a 9.6% drop in play and only made the list because of the steeper drops experienced by Runescape and Need For Speed World.  Normally I'd say this drop was a bad sign, but considering how closely Trion has tied itself to Raptr I'm not sure how good an indicator Xfire is for judging RIFT.

Monday, September 23, 2013

The Stillman Video Companion

Last Thursday CCP Stillman posted the slides from his presentation to the 2013 Nordic Security Conference, "Threats in a Virtual World," on Twitter. 


I haven't absorbed all the slides yet, although I think regular readers will follow along without too many difficulties.  But the presentation did have three slides that referenced YouTube videos that I wasn't too sure about.  So yesterday I spent a couple of hours watching the videos.  Since I haven't really put together a post that comprises all of this information in one place, I figure some people might find the information interesting.


The first video, "Hacking MMORPGs for Fun and Mostly Profit," features Mike Donnely, the creator of the WoW Glider bot, the most successful bot ever sold.  The video introduces the botters view of the world.  Just a warning for all the Inner Space fans.  Mike Donnely tells an Inner Space story from 40:12 - 44:00.


The second video, "Securing MMOs: A Security Professional's View From The Inside,"  is given by someone who worked at Bioware for 7 months.  Not exactly the most professional presentation but informative nonetheless.

The final video is of Greg Hoglund, the founder of HBGary and author of a bunch of security books.  The video below is from when he was promoting his book, Exploiting Online Games: Cheating Massively Distributed Systems, back in 2007I'm not sure but I think I know why CCP Stillman chose this video.  I set up the link to start at a very interesting place.


Hopefully between CCP Stillman's presentation slides and these YouTube videos people will get a better understanding of some of the issues surrounding botting and grey market RMT.

UPDATE:  CCP Stillman provided this input via Twitter...




Friday, September 20, 2013

Is The Minmatar Diaspora About To End?

Admittedly the title of this post is a bit silly because the Amarr hold one-third of the Minmatar as slaves.  But with only 25% of the Matari people living in the Republic ending the diaspora is definitely a viable long term plot line in EVE Online.  Are we about to see a mass migration in the near future?

The possibility exists with the current tensions between the Republic and the Gallente Federation.  Looking at the story so far I should probably do a full post on it.  Not because I'm a role-player, because I'm not.  But if the plot line that began with the murder of Sebiestor Tribal Chief and former Prime Minister of the Republic Karin Midular by a Gallente nationalist with possible ties to the Black Eagles continues, we could see the 20% of the Matari who live in the Federation begin to move to the Republic.  The latest news comes in the form of a Gallente Senate report that tries to sweep rampant discrimination against the Matari living in the Republic under the rug. 

But how does that affect capsuleers who move through the stars and basically answer to no one but themselves?  If the Matari flee the Federation, will that mean relations improve between the Amarr and Gallente?  And with Amarr steadily growing as a trade hub (CCP has had to put the system, like Jita, on reinforced hardwar), will economic rivalry compel the Caldari to grow closer to Amarr's enemy the Republic?  Or is everything about to fly out the window and we are about to see 4 faction PvP in faction warfare?  In any event I could see a realignment in faction warfare about to occur.

Or, maybe not.  All parties involved could come to a defining moment and realize they all like the status quo.  But really?  This is EVE, after all, and CCP does seem to like to stir up the hornet's nest.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Thoughts On Warhammer Online's Closing

Yesterday was the 5th anniversary of the launch of Warhammer Online.  So in typical EA fashion, they announced the game will close on 18 December.  Perhaps EA considers putting the game out of everyone's misery the greatest gift they can give?  That's too snarky.  Instead, the decision is strictly business.
"We here at Mythic have built an amazing relationship working with Games Workshop creating and running Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning over the last 8 years. Unfortunately, as with all licensing deals they do eventually come to end and on December 18th, 2013 we will no longer be operating Warhammer Online. As such we will no longer be selling three-month game time codes or have the ability to auto renew your accounts for three months as of September 18th, 2013. From all of us here at Mythic we thank you again for your dedication and support over the last five years."
Nothing personal.  Having read the Warhammer forums I think the way this all played out is pretty sad, but typical for EA.  If nothing else, I would think that EA would want to handle the closing gracefully just as a pure business decision looking toward the future and the launch of other games.  Perhaps EA thinks its brand and reputation have sunk so low that doing so would gain them no benefit.

A Warhammer Goodbye

But this post isn't about EA's relationship with its customers.  Warhammer Online is the first MMORPG I've ever purchased that has closed.  At this point I'm supposed to write about how much I'll miss the world.  Sorry, but I have to go off-script now.

I played Warhammer Online when it first came out back in 2008.  I was looking for a replacement for WoW's battlegrounds and Warhammer seemed like a perfect replacement.  I could PvE in EverQuest 2 and get my PvP fix in Warhammer.  So despite some rumblings about the game launching with only 2 factions I bought the game.  I have fun in the beginner PvP battlegrounds even though Order seemed to lose a lot.  But when the time came to move out of the starter zone at level 12, I just couldn't force myself to find the next zone.  That's right, I couldn't be bothered to find the next zone.  I think that sums up my feelings pretty accurately.  So I just cancelled my sub and walked away.

Warhammer I think will go down in MMORPG history for two features: The Tome of Knowledge and Public Quests.  The Tome of Knowledge was a fun little feature that consisted of an achievement system, a quest journal and a map to show players where to find their quest areas.  After Warhammer launched Blizzard incorporated an achievement system into World of Warcraft.  Warhammer was the first game I had seen with the map feature, but I've seen variations ever since.  The difference between EA Mythic's implementation and all the following implementations is that in Warhammer the map looked like parchment instead of on the regular map, which was rather cool.

The Public Questing system is Warhammer's great claim to fame.  I really liked it, although the system has a great flaw in a linear themepark game as players in lower levels can't finish the quests due to the lack of other players.  I witnessed it in Warhammer and experienced the issue in RIFT when I played in off-peak hours.  But the system works in Guild Wars 2 as the difficulty level for the dynamic quests was way less than what I experienced in Warhammer.

So overall I can't say that the closing of a world I only visited for a month or two leaves me with any great sadness or nostalgia.  I do feel for those players who love the game and are losing their virtual world.  I don't know how I'll feel when EverQuest 2 eventually closes.  But if anyone knows a game not named World of Warcraft that offers WoW/Warhammer type battlegrounds, let me know.  I might want to engage in some casual non-EVE PvP some time.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Poe's Parting Shot On Botting

In EVE Online, players who wish to disparage the reputation of those with whom they disagree often play the "bot" card.  The usual form is an accusation that the player/corp/alliance either is involved in botting and RMT or actively encourages it and profits from the activity in the form of rent.  So in true New Eden fashion Poetic Stanziel threw in this tidbit in his post declaring he is leaving EVE Online...
"I also found out one of the big reasons why Sreegs left CCP (and it wasn't just about the money.) CCP were unwilling to take the War on Bots as seriously as Sreegs wanted. He could have banned another 10K accounts, but CCP nixed those plans. CCP wants to walk a fine line, the appearance of being tough on botters, while still needing them for the bottom line. Banning 10K accounts would have been a substantial hit on that bottom line. EVE probably needs some amount of botting, to keep the economy in check (because real people don't want to mine), but it's a hypocritical stance, especially given their recent TOS changes. They have all these rules and they enforce them unevenly. Gotta keep the botters, but let's get rid of those nasty scammers."
I had planned on ignoring this as a post from a bitter vet, but then yesterday the robo-blogger and CSM Vice-Chairman Ripard Teg posted a reply to Poetic's announcement that included this paragraph...
"Next easiest is Poe's accusation that CCP Sreegs left CCP because CCP wouldn't let him fight the war on bots his way.  I can tell you from experience that I'm occasionally sent stuff by readers that is unsubstantiated rumor presented as fact.  I've learned not to trust anything that's single-sourced and to go out and look for backing evidence.  Too many of you charming people love to troll bloggers into publishing something that isn't true for me not to be pretty careful.  Even so, I've had to issue a few retractions over the years.  Am I saying that's what happened here?  Let's just say that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence."
So my response as someone who follows CCP's anti-RMT/anti-botting efforts?  Would Team Security have banned more bots if CCP followed the man formerly known as CCP Sreegs' thoughts on the EULA and taken a harder line against cache scraping and Inner Space?  At least in the short term, yes.  Would it have gotten up to 10,000 bans?  Possibly, as the hardcore practitioners would take the bans as a cost of doing business and just "rinse and repeat" as long as players keep buying ISK.  But was not wanting to anger a lot of players a main reason for the security chief's departure from Reykjavik to the hostile climes of San Diego?  As Ripard wrote, "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence."

Of course, Poetic's claim insinuates that CCP under Stillman isn't taking botting and RMT as seriously or acting as aggressively as Darius JOHNSON would.  I'm sure this guy on the Questor forums would disagree...
"Well, I hope it's safe to say that latest patch mess has settled down already... and that banwave is over. This time I've lost 18 accounts out of 30 - every last account that was actively botting before patch (thanks godness, "backup" ones - on skill training - weren't touched). Each of them was on its own proxy, hardware info faked by RG, and so forth... though, I think I understand how did they catch me. It should be simple, actually. Account has high and stable online -> patch comes out -> RG and bots are broken -> online goes down to zero -> go figure... account HAS to be bot-using!"

Gray, Questor forums, 13 September 2013
But this is only anecdotal evidence.  How about the main prize, which is impacting the grey market trade in ISK?  Has CCP's efforts slipped in that regard?  Regular readers know the answer, but let me put up a graph from information I've compiled since the end of July.

That's right, the median price of ISK from the RMT sites I'm tracking is on par with the USD cost of purchasing 2 PLEX from CCP or a full price 60-day EVE time code from one of the approved sellers.  And that lower figure of the median price of ISK sellers (after deduping for sellers who have multiple sites)?  I'm glad to say that RMT giant IGE raised its price for ISK yesterday from $24.87/billion ISK to $30.60/billion ISK.  That pushed the median price for the ISK sellers to $30.30/billion ISK.  And as you can see on the chart, on 8 September the "official" cost of ISK was $31.74/billion ISK.  That looks like a pretty serious effort to me.

That's my .02 ISK on the matter.  I threw this together rather quickly.  Perhaps I really need to do an in-depth post soon and not wait until the end of the year like I originally planned.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Digital Dozen: 17 September 2013

The rankings of the top twelve MMORPGs as determined by the players of the Xfire community from play on Sunday, 15 September 2013.  For more details about the methodology, click here.  Historical data can be found here.

Rank Prev Week Game ScoreHours Played +/- %
11World of Warcraft 40.4 17,172+24.2
23Guild Wars 215.96,756-7.9
32Final Fantasy XIV15.26,469-20.3
44Star Wars: The Old Republic7.23,073-4.8
55Aion5.22,198-0.2
66EVE Online4.11,752-5.0
77Tera2.91,232+0.4
811Lord of the Rings Online2.1882+9.7
99Planetside 22.0870-2.1
1012Neverwinter1.8756+4.3
1110Need For Speed World1.6694-15.1
128Runescape1.6663-27.1
 
Total Digital Dozen Hours: 42,517

As the temperature starts to drop gamers are slowly returning to their computers.  For the third week in a row the amount of time the Xfire community spent playing the 12 most popular MMORPGs rose.  The 1.4% increase in time spent playing games Sunday was led by World of Warcraft (+24.2%).  The gains were almost offset by declines in Runescap (-27.1%), Final Fantasy XIV (-20.3%) and Need For Speed World (-15.1%).

Under Siege - While some are reporting that World of Warcraft has seen a 54% decrease in revenue in the past 7 months, the Xfire community has welcomed Patch 5.4: Siege of Orgrimmar with open arms.  Sunday's 24.2% rise in playtime shows the continuing interest in WoW when new content is on hand.

When Up Means Down - In some good news for Square Enix, the Xfire community spent 20.3% less hours logged into Final Fantasy XIV than the week before.  Why is that good news?  Because that indicates that players are confident enough in the game's server stability and login process that they have started to actually log out at night.  The decrease in playtime was driven mainly by a drop from 8 hours down to 7.1 hours spent logged in per person.  Square Enix is so confident that they resumed digital sales yesterday.  With the store open again I would expect another increase in playtime for FFXIV.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Have I Been Doing It Wrong?

No, the title of this post does not refer to my faction grind with the Minmatar Republic.  Over the weekend I managed to draw two security storyline missions and a mining storyline mission and my standings are now at 9.79.  While getting a mission to gather 8,000 units of kernite was disappointing I'm happy overall with my progress.  What I'm starting to wonder is if my selection of characters in MMORPGs has hindered my enjoyment of the genre.

The heretical thought that I could possibly make a mistake came up while I played Neverwinter over the weekend.  In EVE I'm heavily concentrating on the grind so I head over to Neverwinter for some easier, more relaxing play.  Neverwinter is a pretty good game.  The combat is more action oriented with no tab targeting or click targeting but I'm able to bumble through the fights okay.  The multitude of currencies in the game lead to some interesting possibilities that I haven't fully explored because Neverwinter was originally intended as a second game to play while waiting on EverQuest Next and Wildstar.  And the crafting mechanic is much like Star Wars: The Old Republic's except it doesn't serve as big of a money sink.  Did I mention Neverwinter has a website that you can do in-game transactions and manage your crafters from outside the client?  Pretty cool stuff, although I do wonder about the security.

But the biggest difference was when I deleted my Trickster Rogue, a DPS class, for a healing spec Devoted Cleric.  The Devoted Cleric just feels right.  For those who don't play, the Devoted Cleric does ranged DPS and healing is done, at least up to level 23, using heals over time and placing debuffs on mobs that heal anyone who attacks them.  In combination with my NPC tank companion I'm having a lot more fun than I did with the Trickster Rogue. 

That got me to thinking about the way I play EVE when I decide to run a security mission, which I generally hate doing.  I dual-box, with my combat main Rosewalker providing DPS against big targets in a battleship while my industry pilot Wandering Rose provides fleet bonuses/gang links and anti-frigate support.  Over time I've started to prefer Wandering Rose over Rosewalker, even to the point of doing the faction grind with her.

I then thought back to all the games I spent any significant time in (sorry Warhammer).  In World of Warcraft I played a paladin, which involved a lot of healing.  I still remember one fight when I was grouped with a rogue in the Plaguelands that probably lasted 5 minutes because a houseful of mobs respawned on us in the middle of a fight.   That was a satisfying fight and he was impressed.  In EverQuest 2 I got off the support wagon when I was invited to a guild on my ranger and so that became my main in EQ2.  I leveled the ranger up to 80 and just played DPS for over 3 years.

I've spent some time in other games since moving over to EVE Online as my main game 4 years ago, most notably Star Wars: The Old Republic.  In SW:TOR I played a Smuggler up to level 37 and an Imperial Agent into the high teens before abandoning the game.  Both of those are DPS classes.  I'm beginning to wonder if I had played a healing class, even if the story wasn't as good, if I would have actually stuck with the game.  Sure, SW:TOR has problems, but was the tipping point that I'm just not a damage dealer trying to play damage dealing classes?

Right now I'm having so much fun in Neverwinter that I'm considering joining a guild.  I probably won't because in a couple of weeks I plan on starting my new character PvP experience in EVE and that will involve joining a corp.  Joining two player guilds/corps at the same time is probably not a good idea and EVE takes priority.  But I think on my EVE mains I should move Logistics V up in the skill queues just to feel more comfortable.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Why Not Faction Warfare?

As I write about my quest for the Tempest Fleet Issue 2-run blueprint copy given out to pilots with a standing of 9.9 with the Minmatar (along with 20 diamond tags) I receive the advice to join the Minmatar militia (or better yet, a player-run Minmatar militia corp) and rise in the ranks.  Each rise in the ranks grants a boost of 10% to the faction standings.  After last night's session, I would only need to become a Matar Colonel, the 9th of the 10 ranks in the Minmatar militia.  So why don't I do it?

I could point out that the character I'm using to do the faction grind is the CEO of my corp and I don't want her to leave.  I also can't just take the corp into faction warfare as I'm not the only one in it.  The other person is still trying to recover from a disastrous trip into a wormhole and is a little gun shy at the moment.  Since we play at different times (he basically plays in the Australian/New Zealand time zone) I don't want to leave him unsupported if PvP happens.  But those are minor points.

Another reason is that joining faction warfare for carebear rewards feels cheesy, and I'm from Illinois, not Wisconsin.  Faction warfare, at least in my mind, is a place for people to engage in semi-honorable PvP.  I'm not against faction warfare and when I start up my newbie combat pilot next month I'm considering joining faction warfare for the good fights.  I also don't begrudge those pilots heavily into faction warfare the ability to make a living off of their activities fighting for control of the war zones.  Faction warfare pilots shouldn't have to maintain a carebear alt in order to fund their PvP habit.  But just waltzing in to do carebear stuff? That just doesn't feel right.

The biggest reason of all is a personal quirk based on how I've developed my style of play in EVE Online.  My carebear lifestyle of living in low sec is basically playing EVE wrong.  When I tell people I'm a low sec carebear I get a lot of reaction and questions because most people in low sec are into PvP.  I've developed a sort of pride in the fact that the way I play the game not only fights against other players (even if I don't shoot them) but in many ways against the game itself.  Or, I should more accurately state, how most players perceive the way the mechanics work.  If I break down and go the faction warfare route to complete my goal I'm conceding that I have to use the popular feature.  I'd rather use the mechanics I find most enjoyable.

Here's a dirty little secret.  I actually enjoy doing distribution missions.  I like seeing how fast I can do the missions (my record so far is 15 missions in 80 minutes).  I like breaking through gate camps (or just groups of people hanging out at a gate).  I also enjoy those WTF moments like happened last night when I had a Dominix sitting in the undock area with a Guardian right in the way of my instawarp path and I wasn't sure his intentions.  The faction grind doesn't really have me doing anything I wouldn't normally do except a couple of combat missions.  The only thing I'm doing is more of them.

So that's the rationale for not joining faction warfare to get the last bit of Minmatar standings.  Perhaps I'm silly and am making my life harder than necessary.  But that's life in the sandbox.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Math Behind The Grind

For the last five weeks I've worked on raising my standings with the Minmatar in order to get a 2-run blueprint copy for a Tempest Fleet Issue battleship.  Last night I hit 9.75 (9.68 unmodified), or just 0.15 away.  Almost there, right?  Not really.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

One Thousand Posts


Blogger ate the post.  I'll post something better tomorrow.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Digital Dozen: 10 September 2013

The rankings of the top twelve MMORPGs as determined by the players of the Xfire community from play on Sunday, 8 September 2013.  For more details about the methodology, click here.  Historical data can be found here.

Rank Prev Week Game ScoreHours Played +/- %
11World of Warcraft 33.0 13,831+0.5
23Final Fantasy XIV19.48,116+12.7
32Guild Wars 217.57,335-2.2
44Star Wars: The Old Republic7.73,229+5.4
55Aion5.32,203-17.7
66EVE Online4.41,844+15.3
77Tera2.91,227-1.0
8--Runescape2.2909+32.5
98Planetside 22.1889-1.6
10--Need For Speed World1.9817+42.1
1110Lord of the Rings Online1.9804-2.1
129Neverwinter1.7725-12.6
 
Total Digital Dozen Hours: 41,929

With the summer vacation season basically over the Xfire community turned its attention to gaming.  Although the amount of time spent playing the most popular MMORPGs rose for a second consecutive week Sunday, the overall increase was 1.9%.  The games experiencing the largest percentage increases in playtime were Need For Speed World (+42.1%), Runescape (+32.5%), and EVE Online (+15.3%).  Almost off-setting the gains were declines by Aion (-17.7%), Metin 2 (-15.5%), and Neverwinter (-12.6%).

They Really Love It - On Wednesday Square Equix performed a massive 10-hour maintenance on the Final Fantasy XIV servers and added a few more shards.  The result?  From what I've read players have an easier time getting into the game.  But what about the Xfire community?  Apparently they love the game, with the average playtime going up from 7.7 hours last week to 8 hours on Sunday.  That level of interest is unsustainable (I think) so I'm interested to see what the numbers look like on 6 October when the free month expires for those who purchased the game at or before launch.

Sinking Into The RIFT - For the first time in 16 weeks Trion's RIFT failed to make The Digital Dozen.  RIFT had rebounded in popularity, peaking at #5 on 16 June the first Sunday after the game went free-to-play.  With the launch of FFXIV and the upcoming launch of EverQuest Next Landmark before the end of the year, Trion's flagship game will have a hard time getting back onto the list for the remainder of the year.

Runescape Reborn - The third version of the Runescape engine is enjoying a lot of success.  Jagex reports that players are logging over 600,000 hours of play every day.  That interest has spread to the Xfire community, with Runescape making its fourth appearance on the list in the last six weeks.

Monday, September 9, 2013

CCP's War On Bots: The "Official" Price Of ISK

With the price of grey market ISK experiencing another jolt with the deployment of Odyssey 1.1 screwing up some bots, including Questor, I decided to put together a little chart.


Something about the data bothered me.  Not the data about the ISK sellers.  The reason for the difference is that one of the ISK sellers maintains three websites and plays around with its prices.  My problem involves the price listed for The Forge.

The calculation itself is pretty simple.  Go to the history table in the market interface for The Forge, pull out the average price for the day, and then calculate how much 1 billion ISK would cost in real world U.S. dollars if I purchase multiple PLEX.  The cost of one PLEX is $19.99 and two is $34.99.

But that is U.S. dollars.  What about in other currencies like the Euro or Pound Sterling?  The price, when converting the main European currencies to U.S. dollars shows that purchasing PLEX from the CCP website and converting to ISK just doesn't give a good value.  On Sunday the price for someone in the UK was $42.51/billion and someone living in the Euro Zone $41.83.  So grey market ISK is still cost effective for those living in the EU, right?

Perhaps if CCP were the only outlet available to purchase PLEX.  But players have the option to buy EVE time codes from 3rd party sites.  CCP has helpfully provided a page of sites that sell EVE time codes.  From what I can tell as long as players can purchase products in another currency they can buy from anyone anywhere.  So a person who would pay CCP €34.99 for 2 PLEX can instead pay EVE Time Codes or BattleClinic Deep Space Supply $34.99 for a 60-day ETC instead.1

The presence of all the ETC sellers does make the calculation of an official price more difficult.  Just from the list on CCP's website a player can purchase time codes in U.S. dollars, Russian rubles, Polish Zloty, Czech Koruna, and a German site even sells in Euros.  I saw the price offered by Sinclair Software was €30.49 instead of €34.99, which is a nice discount.  Competition between the sites means that players can obtain cheaper prices that my "official" calculation.  For example, EVE Time Codes gives out a 60-day time code once a player buys 14.  Another example is the Russian website Direct COD is selling 60-day time codes for 999 rubles where the official price is 1049.

So for the sake of simplicity, I'll continue listing the"official" price of ISK in U.S. dollars.  Not only can players avoid the VAT charged to those living in the European Union, but the U.S. dollar is the weakest of the major currencies so those living in the EU get the most bang for their euro or pound.2  Just remember that savvy shoppers can get a better value and they don't need to dip into the grey market to do so.


NOTES:

1)  I won't link to the individual companies because the prices vary depending if a site is running a promotion.  If interested, go to CCP's EVE Time Code Retailers page and get the latest link.

2) If anyone has a link to historical data going back more than a year on U.S. currency rates compared to the euro and pound sterling, could you please drop it in the comments?  I know that the difference in price between what those in North America and the European Union is greater than the cost of the VAT; I just didn't have the data needed to include the reasoning.

Friday, September 6, 2013

The Cache Scraper Scare

I'm used to going onto the botting forums and reading botters complain about CCP breaking their bots.  Then some cry because they have to wait for a bot dev to fix the bot.  I never thought I'd read a thread on the EVE Online forums that would let me know that bots were broke.  But that happened Wednesday when someone started crying about market data not getting uploaded to EVE Central.  Apparently CCP changed the format of the cache files.  Which means that all the market bots that rely on cache scraping were broken as well.  Yes!

As much as I would like to see all automation within the client stopped I know, at least for the short term, that's just a dream.  For those who are curious, here's the latest from CCP Stillman on the subject.

Sable Blitzmann - "But again, I stand by my statement that they are within their right to modify the cache without putting it in the patch notes, especially if something came up that required it to be modified to ensure stability (with new items / features / what have you). Since the cache is not an official third party data source, us developers can't expect them to tell us jack squat about changes."

CCP Stillman - "You're right, technically cache scraping is not currently something the EULA allows for. But as we've stated, it's not something we'll enforce.

"In this specific case, the fact that cache scrapers broke is a side-effect of a very major engineering change in the EVE code base that's been in the works for a while. I won't get into the specifics other than the fact from our perspective it's great and wonderful. It's a shame it broke some cache scrapers though, as that was not intentional.

"If we decide to make away with the cache, then we'll make sure not to create a huge void in it's place. We had this discussion at Fanfest, and I've had this discussion both with other CCPers and with the CSM lately as to how to remove the cache without causing major disruption.

"That's not to promise that anything is going to happen. As a security guy, I can't make promises. But I know there's a desire for the cache to be removed, as it's actually decreasing performance rather than increasing it."

Psihius - "Wouldn't CREST access to market (at least to read) enable market scraping just like cache, only more precise :)"

CCP Stillman - "Certainly that's the logical conclusion. But if/when that would happen, I do not know. That's something I'd suggest you make the CSM push for. I'm pretty sure they'd agree with you."

Bill Saisima - "Maybe our english vocabularies differ a great deal, I never found anything restricting reading game files. Just re-read it and it's just not there. Reading game files is required to play and it's not your business what I do on my PC outside of eve process space as long as I respect the terms (which don't prohibit reading of files).  Maybe you are talking about a version that is not even published yet."

CCP Stillman - "Lets start by looking at the EULA for a quick second."

"You may not reverse engineer, disassemble or decompile, or attempt to reverse engineer or derive source code from, all or any portion of the Software, or from any information accessible through the System (including, without limitation, data packets transmitted to and from the System over the Internet), or anything incorporated therein, or analyze, decipher, "sniff" or derive code (or attempt to do any of the foregoing) from any packet stream transmitted to or from the System, whether encrypted or not, or permit any third party to do any of the same, and you hereby expressly waive any legal rights you may have to do so. If the Software and/or the System contains license management technology, you may not circumvent or disable that technology."
"Seems pretty clear-cut to me. And our lawyers, this being a legal document, agrees that cache scraping is covered by this. That's not the intent, but it's what it says. We've gone over this topic in depth already, so I'm not going to engage in another discussion about this. It is what it is. We won't enforce it as far as cache scraping goes."

So that is the current status of the cache scraping situation.  The player developers have adjusted their libraries for the new format, which means the bot developers have the fix also.  CCP will not enforce the EULA in this regard so everyone using applications that rely on cache scraping are safe from bans.  And I'm still waiting impatiently for CREST market functionality to appear so all those devs can stop playing in the client and CCP can take the limits off of efforts to catch market bots.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

PvP Options

I'm nearing a goal I created for my third account.  By the end of the month I should have two alts with skills that can supplement my main accounts.  They'll be able to fly blockade runners, copy and research blueprints effectively, and even run planetary interaction colonies in low sec.  Oh, and one of them has good refining skills if I ever work on the standings with that pilot.  Once I get the skills the way I want I plan on transferring the characters to my main accounts.

Does that mean I'm scaling back?  I probably should with all the new games coming out with a subscription model, but that means having sense.  Besides, I just got rid of my satellite TV service so I actually have money in my budget for an extra game account or two.  So what's a carebear do with what is basically a fresh account?  Would you believe PvP?

That's right, once I finish up with the carebear pilots I'm going to create a PvP one.  By creating a brand new character this risk-adverse player can fly around with a low cost clone in low cost ships.  In the past I've concentrated in flying Minmatar ships.  Now I'm thinking of creating a pilot specializing in cruisers and below.  I'd like to first concentrate on frigates of all races, get those skills up to speed, then move on to destroyers and then finally cruisers.  If my plans work out, I can easily afford to support this type of PvP character.

The next question is where do I go to PvP?  I don't want to go out and start off doing solo PvP, especially with a character with less than 1 million skill points.  But the problem with joining a corp is that I'll have less than 1 million skill points.  I'm an obvious spy, right?  Okay, I'd awox a corp full of botters in a second and I think everyone knows that.  But this is EVE and I have options.

EVE University - I started playing EVE by joining EVE University under Morning Maniac and rejoining with a new character to look at all the changes is an intriguing possibility.  The fact that they base out of Metropolis means I can easily resupply my character if needed.  Also, they seem to base out of Dudreda in low sec and I could probably pick up some pointers on low sec living.

RvB - At one point joining the unending war between Red Federation and Blue Republic with an alt was something everyone wanted to experience.  I hear they wage war in The Forge and don't attack each other elsewhere unless arranged.  Definitely an option to consider.

Brave Newbies - I have to say Brave Newbies seems like the cure to a fear of death in EVE.  They have a lot of fun and don't mind dying in the process.  With a brand new pilot and barely any experience with PvP I'd probably fit right in.

Faction Warfare - I hear a new player can get rich fairly quickly.  This is the most carebear of the options, but with actual goals in the form of capturing systems this may prove the best fit for me.

So I have options to consider, even as a "new" player.  Of course, I may wind up finding something completely different as I have about 4 weeks before I start with my plan.  But making a plan in EVE is usually a good thing so I'm going to start a little early.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Who Is Markee Dragon?

"I've been in the Eve blogging community for seven years, podcasting for over two, on twitter, and paying attention to Eve during that whole time and not ONCE do I remember hearing of this guyEveTimeCode.com, however, has been visible in the community practically during that whole time and Diana Dial has supported podcasts frequently. Battleclinic has widely recognized loadout section, forums, killboards, hosts EFT and supports the community as well as selling Game time codes for Eve. So I'm not sure how I missed Markee Dragon."

So who is Markee Dragon?  Given his history in the MMORPG community I was surprised that CCP would choose to make him the subject of a community spotlight.  That's right, if Kirith doesn't know him and I do, you know what that means: botting and RMT.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The Digital Dozen: 3 September 2013

The rankings of the top twelve MMORPGs as determined by the players of the Xfire community from play on Sunday, 2 September 2013.  For more details about the methodology, click here.  Historical data can be found here.

Rank Prev Week Game ScoreHours Played +/- %
11World of Warcraft 33.4 13,763-3.4
22Guild Wars 218.27,498-0.7
3--Final Fantasy XIV17.57,200--
43Star Wars: The Old Republic7.43,064-8.6
55Aion6.52,678+60.7
64EVE Online3.91,599-15.4
76Tera3.01,239-13.4
89Planetside 22.2903-3.2
97Neverwinter2.0829-14.5
108Lord of the Rings Online2.0821-12.9
1111RIFT1.9790+11.4
12--Metin 21.8761+28.6
 
Total Digital Dozen Hours: 41,145

The unofficial final Sunday of the summer saw the Xfire community flock back to their computers to play MMORPGs, with the amount of time spent in their favorite virtual worlds increasing by 17.5% over the previous Sunday.  The increase was led by the first live weekend of Final Fantasy XIV along with Aion (+60.7%) and Metin 2 (+28.6%).  All was not well as a bevy of games led by EVE Online (-15.4%), Neverwinter (-14.5%) and Tera (-13.4%) all experienced double-digit declines in playtime.

Final Fantasy XIV - The big news of the week was the relaunch of Final Fantasy XIV on 28 August.  I doubt anyone really expected a subscription game would receive such a warm welcome after a full revamp of the game.  That included Square Enix, which not only saw major issues with logging in but neglected to provide a login queue to get into the game.  Square Enix also did not install code to kick AFK players from the servers, which led many players to just remain logged into the game in an attempt to beat the login issues.

That last practice created a question as to whether Final Fantasy XIV should be listed.  I do have an "anti-bot" rule in place to weed out games that encourage players to stay logged in, either through game mechanics or through having players stay logged in to artificially inflate the Xfire hours.  At an average playtime of 7.5 hours, I determined that FFXIV was just within the boundaries.  Hopefully the 10 hour maintenance that Square Enix will perform today beginning at 5pm PDT will help solve the issues.  Then again, that may not reduce the number of hours played as Square Enix had halted sales of the digital download version on the 27th.

Unlocking Wealth - Aion found a new way to get players to login: reduce the cooldown times for instances.  That's right, NCSoft is selling reduced instance cooldowns for level 61+ instances in the cash shop.  For $5, players can for 30 days see cooldowns on their favorite instance drop from 46-98 hours.  With players now able to run 11 instances every day, players now have more content they can play every day.  The question remains whether Aion will see the population remain at this level for the long term.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Jealous Of The Roboblogger

Have I ever mentioned how much I envy Ripard Teg's ability to pump out content on Jester's Trek?  I just bring this up because the post I originally planned for today turned into a two-day research project.  I guess that's what I get for having a three-day weekend due to the holiday here in the States.  Well, that and I've enjoyed the research and discovered a few interesting things, like CCP Stillman served on the first 2 Councils of Stellar Management.  But even with the side trips I'm sure Ripard would have finished in 2-3 hours instead of two days.  I really need to get more focused.  But on the bright side I'll have Wednesday's post finished tonight.