Monday, April 14, 2014

CCP's War On Illicit RMT: Player Auctions Revisited

The latest security dev blog is making some people take another (or perhaps first) look at the secondary RMT market1 in EVE.  The graph included by CCP Bugartist sparked some posts in the comments thread that contain a question I've read in the comments for some of my own articles.

Namely, how much illicit RMT goes on in EVE Online?  No one really knows.  Some claim that CCP turns a blind eye to illicit RMT, claiming that the company ultimately profits from the practice.  Given CCP's history, from its decision in 20062 to allow a company owned by a major figure in the secondary RMT markets3 to become an authorized Eve Time Code seller, to last November's revelation concerning SOMERblink and other EVE player-run gambling sites using a loophole in the GTC resellers agreement to launder ISK4, that some EVE players have a freighter's cargo hold worth of skepticism concerning CCP's efforts in fighting the illicit RMT trade is understandable.

After watching and chronicling CCP's efforts for the past 3 years, I am not one of those players.  However, I don't want to see Team Security rest on its laurels and backslide from its currently successful Forever War against botters and the illicit RMT merchants either.  So since CCP has published its figures, I have some from the only source I know where I can get my own data of ISK sales: Player Auctions.

Back in mid-December I published my first analysis of the sell orders on Player Auctions for all games.  While the top 5 games remained the same, the order changed just a bit.

Overall, the site has seen a 15.7% decrease in the value of the sell orders for in-game currency sales.  That drop was driven by World of Warcraft, which witnessed a 36.3% decrease in sales orders for WoW gold over the past 4 months.  Apparently, a lot of the gold sellers are transferring to RIFT, as the value of sell orders have almost doubled.

Over time, however, I discovered that just relying on the value of the sell orders is not a reliable way of determining activity.  Player Auctions has a feedback system and I discovered that many of the vendors on the site would receive complaints from buyers because the seller did not have product in stock.  Also, some of the amounts did not pass the smell test of what an ISK seller would have in-stock.

Sellers offering 2 billion ISK on 12 April 2014

For example, take the list of ISK sellers from yesterday.  The amount of ISK for sale rose from 1.8 trillion ISK on 14 December to 16.3 trillion ISK yesterday.  Does that mean that ISK sales have exploded?  Hardly.

Taking a look at the list, one of the sellers advertises 9 trillion ISK for sale.  A second has a sell order for 5 trillion.  Sorry, those don't pass the smell test as actual amounts the sellers have in stock.  The three sell orders that ask for more money than a player would spend by buying an EVE Time Code and selling the PLEX in Jita total another 980 billion ISK.  Another seller has had perhaps 1 sale in which CCP did not immediately confiscate the ISK or PLEX sold in the last 3 months.  That's another 200 billion ISK.  Subtract all those amounts, add in that the price in December was $14.30 and the price yesterday was $17.00, and we get back to a total similar to that found in mid-December.

So since I know of no easy way to get the information on whether sales were increasing or decreasing on Player Auctions, I decided to attempt to track the sales of ISK of each seller for the first quarter of 20145.  To do so required visiting Player Auctions each day and recording the sales.  I identified a total of 67 sellers, although I image I missed a few that only hopped on and sold their ISK in less than a day. 

The ISK seized was from all sources, not just Player Auctions

Over the course of the first three months of 2014, stores on Player Auctions sold 2.74 trillion ISK for a total of almost $44,500 USD.  During the same time, CCP seized 4.62 trillion ISK from all RMTers, both buyers and sellers.  The amount of ISK seized does raise a question.  Player Auctions is a pretty big operation.  Are the regular ISK selling web sites and other forum operations really selling that much ISK, or is CCP doing a good job of seizing ISK before the RMTers can sell it?  Another question that springs to mind is whether the amount includes ships from bot farms seized or does the figure represent pure ISK?  Some of the botting RMTers are showing signs of frustration and CCP seizes a lot of botting ships.  I have to imagine that replacing 20 botting Tengus due to CCP detecting and banning a bot farm has to hurt somewhat.

I'm sure now that everyone knows I have the data that people have additional questions.  I'm still sifting though the data and will write at least one additional blog post on the subject.  But since CCP came out with a security dev blog, I thought I'd try to answer one of the questions people were asking.  I don't know the true answer, but I haven't seen anyone else come out with better additional data outside of CCP.


1.  The term "secondary RMT market" is a term for those who sell ISK outside CCP-sanctioned processes.  An example of buying ISK on the primary market is purchasing a PLEX from CCP and then selling the PLEX in Jita.

2.  I was only able to document 2006 based on information found on the EVE Online forums.  The actual agreement could have occurred in 2005.

3.  The figure, Marcus Eikenberry, publicly forgo all methods of making money that would violate the EULA/ToS of any game in February, 2010.

4.  At least 3, perhaps 4, companies selling EVE time codes had player-affiliates who used the loophole.

5.  1 January - 31 March 2014.  I attempted to track the amount of PLEX sold, but that was too difficult.


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  2. LOL Ooops? hit publish and thought it was just save?

  3. I'm not sure that I understand why the RMT isk sellers are posting phantom isk for sale. Is it because they don't want to look like they are going out of business by not having any isk for sale?

    1. I think they are trying to look a lot bigger, and thus more reliable, than they really are. The ones who are posting ISK for really high prices are the ones I think are trying to look like they are not going out of business.

  4. Where do these "20 Tengu bot farms" operate? It should be possible to mess with these guys in-game, with suicide ganks or wardecs if they're in highsec, or straightforward blowing them up elsewhere.

    1. first you'd have to get deep into goon space

    2. some are procurer mining bots that operate in high-sec, hard to effectively interfere with... :(

    3. There are two places to look. In high sec, go to the level 4 mission hubs. A lot of botters prefer running ratting bots in null though, because the possibility of good drops plus less chance of having another player report them. Also, in high sec, bots are vulnerable to ganks because they can't dock up at the sight of a neutral. Bots in null can.

    4. Null-sec, well behind the front lines. This has always been the case, because of much lower (pretty much zero) probability of being caught by CCP. I know a couple hundred players who have been using ratting/mining bots for years; none of them have ever been caught by CCP.

      Bot usage in high-sec is a single-digit percentage of the total. Chances of getting caught in high-sec are very high (as Noizy says, lots of tattletales in high-sec).

      The majority of the high-sec RMTers were shutdown a long time ago, or moved to null-sec. The few who operate from high-sec today are noobs, who don't know better and get shutdown quickly by CCP. Ofc, I don't know any of these people....

  5. What really surprieses me is that on your screenshot, even the best price was 54M ISK for $1. For $15 you can buy a PLEX and sell for 700M ISK, that's 47M/$1. Why does anyone buys illicit ISK? I mean he saves like 10% for risking being scammed or negwalleted.

    1. That is an excellent question. The VAT changes things a bit for Europeans, but even then... Could there be buyers who don't know about plex?