Wednesday, October 28, 2015

EVE Vegas Final Thoughts

My traveling vacations are over for the year. I spend far more traveling to EVE-related events than I do paying for three subscriptions. I still don't want to think about how much I spent on food, though. Vegas is much more expensive than Reykjavik.

I'm still not a big fan of Las Vegas. Perhapse the Minmatar in me is just too unsophisticated to appreciate the Gallente-style decadence along the Vegas Strip. The more likely explanation is that the glitz and the noise failed to totally cover up the grit and despair I sensed while walking around. I know that Chicago has some of the same issues, but like an ISK doubler in Jita, Las Vegas lies about its nature in an attempt to make the unsuspecting tourists' wallet as light as possible.

Fortunately, the event is a lot more about EVE and a lot less about Vegas. If one could ignore the constant glare and noise emanating from the casino floor, one could almost imagine the convention was hosted in a large hotel. And once the sessions began, I could ignore the city around me and concentrate on serious matters, like internet spaceships.

More importantly than the devs, what made EVE Vegas great was the players. I started off running into Sugar Kyle and Dire Necessity on the way to finding Dirk MacGirk and Dreydan broadcast the Open Comms Show live on site Thursday night. On Friday, I finally got to meet Mynxee, Johnny Splunk, and Gabby (Zoe Schereau in-game) from Signal Cartel/Eve-Scout Enclave in the registration line. I also ran into Dunk Dinkle from Brave and Crossing Zebras.

I do have to say while the meals were a bit expensive, the company was great. I had a lot more fun talking around the table than hanging out at bars. I know I'm going to leave people out, but I'll try to recount those with whom I broke bread. In addition to Sugar Kyle introducing me to vodka-laced pumpkin milkshakes at Holstein's at the Cosmopolitan, I ate with Dire Necessity, Mynxee, Johnny Splunk and his wife, Wilhelm Arcturus of The Ancient Gaming Noob and his wife, Gabby, Markus Vulpine, Erika Mizune (aka DJ Yumene from EVE Radio),  Makoto Priano (CEO of IKAME), Mark726 of EVE Travel fame, Eve News 24 writer Matterall, and Hydrostatic Podcast host Ashterothi and his $13 White Russians.

The group at Lotus of Siam
Name dropping aside, Dirk MacGirk is right. EVE Vegas isn't a hit with players because of the news about internet spaceships CCP drops on us. Nor is the event a success because of the location. The reason the event shines is the people who come together to talk about this crazy hobby of ours.

I'll probably blog about some of the news that came out of Vegas over the next few days or even weeks. Just as the world continues to turn, New Eden may ebb and flow, but the action never fully stops. Despite what I posted about the keynote, I found some rather interesting news that will take a few days to research before I can write a coherent post. I collect a lot of information and, as some of those who met me can confirm, I have a different way of looking at things and connecting the pieces of the puzzle.

But as for the event itself, I'll keep the memories stored away for the next time I begin to despair about the antics of some EVE players. Players tend to make or break MMORPGs and I'm glad I just experienced more evidence that EVE has a lot more good people flying around New Eden than the the haters will ever acknowledge.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Broadcast 4 Reps

Perhaps the most poignant moment of EVE Vegas occurred Sunday during the "This is the EVE Community" presentation. Several well known EVE players and CCP developers got together to create a video to help promote Broadcast 4 Reps. Broadcast 4 Reps is a player effort started to offer help to players who feel depressed and suicidal, if only to have someone to talk to.

The video features the mother of an EVE player, John Bellicose, who took his own life in April.



For those who what to check out Broadcast 4 Reps, players maintain a chat channel (Broadcast4Reps) as well as watch the hashtag #Broadcast4Reps.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Just Saved Some Money

I was a little uncertain about buying the Oculus Rift when the new virtual reality device hits the market early next year. So one of the reasons for coming out to EVE Vegas was to try out Valkyrie and whether I can even play the game.

I am horrible at two types of games, first person shooters and flight simulators. I knew that Valkyrie is a combat flight simulator, but I figured that since the scenario at EVE Vegas consisted of shooting NPCs that I couldn't do too badly, right? Wrong.

I played a version of Valkyrie two years ago at Fanfest, so I had some clue about the experience. The first surprise was that the version of the Oculus Rift I used yesterday felt much clunkier than what I remembered. I don't think I could put it on unassisted, which would really make me not want to buy one.

The next was the controls. An Xbox One controller? I knew I was in trouble, but the first time I played I could at least fly around. Given that the scenario was the one shown in the trailer at Fanfest, that was enough for me even if I didn't succeed in shooting anything.

Needless to say, I didn't succeed in coming close to shooting anything. I experimented with trying to lock a target for my missiles, but gave that up fairly quickly when I couldn't figure out how to do so. So from then on, I just concentrated on trying to steer my ship. I failed miserably at that as well. The controls were extremely sensitive and my view bounced around very rapidly. As for trying to control my speed, I gave that up as a lost cause because ... Xbox One controller. I had too many buttons to try to remember that the button even existed much less where the button was on the pad (which I couldn't see).

When my ship finally blew up, CCP Leeloo was present to ask me questions. She pointed out that I needed to move my head around to lock things.  I just wanted to leave, so I didn't tell her the only targeting reticle I saw was for the guns and I never saw anything for the missiles. Also, I didn't really care about the advice about moving my head around because I couldn't even get my ship pointed where I wanted to go.

Overall, a much more frustrating experience than the one I had at Fanfest 2014. But don't take this post as advice not to get an Oculus Rift. The gear is an amazing technology. What I will say is that the tech will not make you like flight simulators if you don't like them in the first place. So for me, I won't rush out and pick up a unit when they come out next year.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Thoughts From The EVE Vegas Keynote

What you are about to read will come as a shock. I am part of a small minority at the event. Perhaps even a minority of one. But I didn't walk away from CCP's EVE keynote presentation with a heightened sense of excitement of the game's future.

I can think of a few reasons. First, I am not the target audience. These changes are designed with null sec in mind. Other areas of the game, especially wormholes, are affected. Players like me? Not so much.

Next, I probably follow the game too closely. I didn't see any major surprises. CCP Larrikin provided some surprising details, but the general outlines of the capital and supercapital changes were already known. In fact, a good summary of the presentation is that everything on the roadmap is proceeding according to plan.

Because I avoid null sec like the plague, I don't understand the full impact of the changes. Fleet hangars for dreadnaughts perhaps takes away the reasons players prefer carriers if they have a capital at all. Then again, with the jump fatigue changes brought about in Phoebe, I thought the suitcase carrier was a dead concept anyway.

In the same vein, the shift of carriers away from the "space healer" mode combined with the newly announced nerf to refitting while having a weapons timer probably impacts null sec and wormhole combat greatly. I imagine the Slowcat doctrine will need to change drastically, although the new class of capital logistics ships means capital level remote repair capabilities are not going away.

Some of the changes do affect low sec. Supercapitals are losing their total immunity to electronic warfare. Tackling a titan with a Rifter? New players can definitely have an impact on large scale fleet fights now. I'll wager that people stop throwing titans and supercarriers around like they have recently. But as I don't engage in combat, the possibility I am wrong is high.

I am probably in a tiny minority that wasn't impressed by the new doomsday mechanics. The Sickle-class doomsday seems like a gimmick more than anything else. But even gimmicks can have consequences. I imagine that the doomsday will have the ability to wreck great havoc on balls of ships orbiting an anchor. Combine that with the ability of supercapitals to fling their opponents involuntarily across the battlefield and I wonder if the era of tightly formed balls of ships is over.

Some of the other news was just providing details. We knew CCP planned on releasing "Brain In A Box" soon. Soon turns has a date: next Tuesday. Yes, an author, Jeff Edwards, plans on writing a book about the Fountain war. But we knew he was working with The Mittani on a project last month.
Finally, CCP announced more details of plans to introduce crowd science into EVE. But that initiative was announced during Fanfest, so the only thing new was the connection to the Sisters of EVE.

I do have to add a feature that will seem small to people who don't play EVE: new camera views. The ability to view ships and objects from beyond lock range is huge. Hopefully the change will also allow cloaked ships to observe fights with good camera angles while streaming. And from the distant to the up-close-and-personal. First person view is coming to EVE. I imagine that is necessary because CCP believes that many players will want to try EVE after Valkyrie introduces a new generation of players to the New Eden universe. Catering to people used to playing in first person view seems, in retrospect, an obvious move.

I should add one other reason why I am not filled with excitement. The venue of the site, Las Vegas. The city, or at least the part I see, is pretty depressing. Given the lore surrounding New Eden, Las Vegas is an appropriate place to hold an EVE convention. But once that glitzy exterior is stripped away, I think the dark undertones of the city affect one's emotions in a negative way. Perhaps once I get back home I'll feel differently about what I've heard so far.

Friday, October 23, 2015

I Went There

Sometimes I have to make tough choices concerning The Nosy Gamer. What subjects do I want to cover? Where do I put in the effort? So at the last minute I decided to drop my coverage of Guild Wars 2's Heart of Thorns expansion and traveled to Las Vegas to attend EVE Vegas. Oh, I bought the expansion so I will eventually write something abut the experience. Just not in the near future.

So far I'm having fun. I watched Dirk and Dreydan broadcast The Open Comms show live and then afterward went out to catch a bite to eat with Sugar Kyle and Dire Necessity. But Las Vegas itself? Meh. I took a walk and looking at Caesar's Palace I was struck by the similarities that reminded be of some of the buildings in government section of Sofia. I guess I had that comparison sitting in the back of my head because while my room at Planet Hollywood is nice, the hotels I stayed at in Sofia were nicer.

As garish as parts of Sofia are, Las Vegas is, quite frankly, worse. But's that's okay. One doesn't go to EVE Vegas for the location. The real reason is to meet up with a bunch of other internet spaceship nerds, hang out, and have a good time.

I should add, for those looking for live coverage of EVE Vegas, TMC is trying to put something together on its Twitch channel. I don't know how well that will work, because of the short planning window. But who knows? For now, I'll just try to keep good notes. With luck, CCP will have the most important sessions up on YouTube before I even get home to write up a summary.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Are PLEX Prices Rising?

Just a quick little post about the price of PLEX. No, not the skyrocketing price of PLEX on the market. No, I'm referring to the real money price that CCP is charging. I saw that 2,906 PLEX were sold in Jita on Tuesday, which is a lot for a Tuesday. So I visited the account management page and saw CCP promoting a "Crimson Harvest PLEX Sale". When I clicked on the graphic, I saw the following:

Seen On CCP's Website, 20 October 2015

I try to keep up with the price of PLEX. The CCP website indicates that the regular price of two PLEX is $39.90? That is not what the price was previously. I think during the last two sales, the price crossed off was $35.72.  Below is what authorized PLEX resellers like Eve Radio are charging.


Seen on Eve Radio's Website, 20 October 2015
When the Crimson Harvest sale is over, CCP looks like it will sell a pair of PLEX for almost $5 more than the resellers. Unless, of course, CCP makes the resellers raise their prices.

So what's going on? Is CCP trying to drum up business for the PLEX resellers? Or is something more metallic, perhaps tinfoil-looking, going on? With the dev blog on skill point selling fresh in everyone's minds, EVE Vegas could get interesting.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Some Pros And Cons On Selling Skill Points

Thanks Team Size Matters for keeping me from playing video games this weekend!

On Thursday, CCP released a dev blog announcing a plan to allow players to withdraw skill points from their characters and sell them to other characters on the open market. As expected, a firestorm erupted as long time players announced their immense ... dissatisfaction with the plan. I have a lot of thoughts on the subject, but I want to go about the subject in a less emotional manner. So I spent the weekend brainstorming and came up with the following list of pros and cons for the proposal. Of course, some may not agree with how I label a point, but I think a little bit differently than the average EVE player. But I do think the list is relevant to the discussion. Hopefully you will agree.

Pros

When I look at all the positive arguments for instituting the change, they all center around attracting and retaining new players. From a business standpoint, such an effort makes sense. I still believe that CCP is racing to get EVE Online in a state to market to new players before the release of Valkyrie. The recent new player skill point buff was part of that effort and the skill point purchase plan is a continuation of the plan. With those assumptions in place, here is the logic supporting the change.

First, many potential players are scared off by the thought of not having the capability of catching up to established players. Forget the fact that EVE is not a level based game and advancement is measured differently by many players. People who have never played EVE but have played different MMORPG's like World of Warcraft don't know that. They can only go by their experience. In level-based games, new players can catch up because veteran players are often stuck at the level cap for months or, occasionally, years.

I speak from first-hand experience. At my new job, I spoke with someone who liked the idea of EVE. He even brought up the monument in Reykjavik and thought the fact that I had my characters' names on it very cool. Yet, he doesn't want to start playing because he will never catch up. Sorry, but visiting the character bazaar doesn't count.

With the plan as currently proposed, new players will definitely have a chance to catch up to veteran players:
Characters consuming a Transneural Skill Packet will receive the following amounts of unallocated skillpoints, based on the total skillpoints trained before consumption:
  • 0 – 5 million skillpoints = 500,000 unallocated skillpoints added
  • 5 – 50 million skillpoints = 400,000 unallocated skillpoints added
  • 50 – 80 million skillpoints = 200,000 unallocated skillpoints added
  • over 80 million skillpoints = 50,000 unallocated skillpoints added

Veteran gamers used to level based games may not even find the reduction in skill points over time as strange. Usually gaining levels is much easier when a player begins compared to when approaching the level cap, so the reduced payouts kind of make sense. But the reduced payouts definitely allow new players to partially catch up with effort.

Visiting the forums over the years, I read many newer players complain that EVE does not allow faster advancement for performing in-game tasks as in other games. These are not players who want a handout, like just giving all new players 5 million skill points. For these players, if making ISK results in faster skill point gain, I think we will see them flock to running missions in high sec. Many will consider that a negative consequence, but I believe new player retention will increase with such a carrot dangling in front of many players.

Some veteran EVE players will not like to hear this next reason, but many players today expect ways to purchase advancement in MMORPGs. Perhaps the most famous example is Blizzard selling level 90 WoW characters for $60 USD. EVE has its own version of the boost in the Character Bazaar, but purchasing a high level character is typically much more expensive. But let's face it, many players think people buying level 90 characters in WoW are pretty lame. Do you think such players will want to purchase a character off the bazaar?

But many players will purchase items that give temporary experience gain boosts. The introduction of the Transneural Skill Packet gives EVE Online a similar item.

Guild Wars 2 Experience Boosters
For example, in Guild Wars 2, players can visit the cash shop and purchase items that will grant them increased experience gain for two hours.

An additional benefit to the selling of skill points in bundles of 500,000 is that the character bazaar should become less popular. The dev blog concluded...
"Oh, and one last note on the Bazaar, it won't go anywhere for now. It still offers something unique and valuable so we don't see a need to remove it. We just think this is our best route to providing a better skill trading experience."
I would feel much better about the selling of skill points if the system resulted in the end of the Character Bazaar. I understand why CCP created the Character Bazaar. But I'd like to see the resources CCP uses to police the bazaar used in a more productive manner. My guess is so would CCP. If our favorite Icelandic game developers also turn out to make more money from the microtransactions of selling skill points in 500K increments rather than relying on character transfer fees, so much the better.

Another feature common in other MMORPGs is the ability to respec a character's traits. Up until now in EVE, any skills trained for are trained permanently, mistakes and all. Some may call the Transneural Skill Extractors and Transneural Skill Packets a very clunky (and very expensive) way to perform a respec. As tempted as I was to list the respec possibilities of the new mechanic as a negative, I placed the respec possibility as a positive feature.

How could a new player utilize the skill packets? Let's use my corporation, Signal Cartel, as an example. We are an exploration corp that flies throughout New Eden poking our noses everywhere we can fly. We also recruit new players, but they have a problem because of some of the long training times to learn skills like Covert Ops IV.  Using 4 of the skill packets (2 million skill points), a new pilot could wind up with the following:

  • Racial Frigate V
  • CPU Management IV (required for Cloaking)
  • Cloaking IV
  • Electronics Upgrades V (required for Covert Ops)
  • Covert Ops IV
  • Astrometrics IV
  • Astrometric Acquisition III
  • Astrometric Pinpointing III
  • Astrometric Rangefinding III
  • Archaeology III
  • Hacking III

Not only does this list of skills give a good base for a player to fly a covert ops frigate, but only comes out to 1.8 million skill points, leaving 200,000 skill points for core skills. Of course, the new player has to learn how to fly the ship, use probes, and play the hacking mini-game, but that is easier in a tech 2 frigate. Also, the new player probably needs to buy 1 PLEX, if not 2, thus spending either $20 or $35 USD, depending on the cost of the skill packets, to learn the skills. That could prove a turnoff to some people, who will wonder why they need to pay extra money whey they are already paying a monthly subscription.

Finally, I read a lot of complaining about the last item I view as a positive. Many veterans don't like the fact that they will no longer know how strong a new player is just by looking at the "Show Info" tab while scrolling through local. But as the feature is designed to benefit new players, not veterans, having a little bit of the fog of war make risk averse PvPers hesitate to attack new players is, overall, a good thing.


Cons

I listed a lot of good points to the changes. What do I see as the new system's drawbacks?

The first is a bit philosophical. New Eden is a cold and unforgiving universe. Should the game allow players to reverse, and even profit, from mistakes. For instance, I trained Defender Missiles to 4. Should I have the ability to shed those plus another 400,000 skill points and, after paying CCP some Aurum, turn an in-game profit? Personally, I'll keep the mistake on the books as a reminder of how some things look better than reality. Who knows, perhaps CCP will even take the skill out of the game and refund me the points.

The next argument against the plan is that the buying and selling of skill points promotes the perception that one can buy power (sometimes referred to pay-to-win) in EVE. Is that really the message CCP wants to convey to new players? The way that some players try to push new players to buy PLEX to fund their initial ships, modules, and skill books is bad enough. But with the sale of skill packages so clearly intended for new players within their first month or two, I think new players potentially will see even more information telling them they need to spend $20 or $35 to purchase ISK in order to purchase the skill packets. And yes, I am making the assumption that the majority of new players will not figure out how to make copious amounts of ISK running level 2 missions in high sec. Quite frankly, if in my first months of playing EVE, someone told me I needed to spend real money on top of my subscription in order to compete, I would have unsubbed and walked away from the game.

In a similar vein, I have a real problem with purchasing skill points that I don't have with purchasing ISK using PLEX. Players can buy power in EVE using real money. They can purchase ships, modules, ammunition, implants, blueprints, and the list goes on and on. What do all of those things have in common? All of them are destructible. What's not destructible as long as one does not fly a tech 3 strategic cruiser? Skill points. 

New Eden is a cold an unforgiving universe. Sure, a player can purchase power using real life cash. But up until now, that power was temporary, as other players could take the purchased power away. Giving players the ability to buy skill points with real world money changes that equation. Perhaps I'm alone, but I have a real problem with the concept that players can purchase permanent power in EVE with real world money.

Even skill point loss caused by losing a tech 3 strategic cruiser will turn into just a minor inconvenience as one can pre-purchase skill packages to replace the skill point loss immediately. Of course, in order to optimize the skill package use, players may begin to create Tengu or Loki alts and shed all unwanted skill points to keep the skill point losses to a minimum. In effect, with enough funds, whether from the personal wallet or a corporation or alliance's ship replacement program, the mechanic designed to balance tech 3 strategic cruisers turns into a speed bump. From all the complaining I hear about Slippery Petes, Tengus don't need to receive another buff. Hopefully the tech 3 ships will receive a rebalance soon.

My next concern deals with the leadership of some corporations and alliances. The trend in today's EVE meta is to shy away from kitchen sink fleets and to run specific fleet doctrines. Currently, if an alliance decides to change its fleet composition, the fleet commanders have to wait for the alliance members to train the skills to fly the new ships properly. But once the skill packets go on the market, they may expect their members to rush out and purchase the necessary amount of packages to immediately get the skills to fly the new doctrine. Please don't tell me this won't happen, because we know it will. Saying that only bad corporations and alliances will do so won't refute the argument, because we know EVE has a lot of bad corporations and alliances.

So is what's good for fleet commanders and alliance leadership necessarily good for the line member? Not if the line member is PLEXing his account and is only looking to squeak by in a given month. What to do, follow the commands of his alliance's leadership, or stay subscribed for the next month? Perhaps even worse, the line member may feel pressured to purchase some Transneural Skill Extractors from the cash shop and do a field expedient remap that causes the player to lose hundreds of thousands of skill points. The situation is even worse if the player had to purchase Aurum using real life currency in order to do the remap.

I don't think alliance's are unreasonable in telling their members what to train for. I do oppose alliances making their members spend real world money in order to acquire those skill points, however. And if members are purchasing extractors with real world money because those are the instructions from their leadership? When I played WoW, I hated when my guild instructed all of the paladins they had to respec to holy. That only cost gold. Having to do a respec that costs real world money? That's insane. And when (not if) that happens and word spreads that kind of social pressure is common in EVE, many potential players won't want to give EVE a chance.

Finally, I want to address a bit of game design. A few years ago, CCP decided that players should make their ISK actively playing the game and not through passive means. Ice belts were altered in order to at least limit, if not outright end the practice of AFK ice mining. Data core farming was nerfed, with the data core supply shifted toward the factional warfare loyalty point stores. With the addition of skill point sales, CCP is introducing a new source of passive income. Sure, the players who sell characters on the Character Bazaar also engage in a form of passive income, but the sale of skill packages is probably a more accessible activity for the common player. While the Aurum requirement should somewhat limit the practice of keeping a clone farm for harvesting skill points, I foresee a healthy market for skill point packages. While many players will welcome a new form of passive income, I can't help but think the move is somewhat of a defeat for CCP.


Looking back on this post, I don't think I reviewed the topic as dispassionately as I originally planned. I do think I managed to address most of the arguments, both for and against the proposal, that I thought of over the past few days. I'm pretty sure that the sale of skill points is a done deal and that now all we are discussing is how to make the system better. But one can't really hold an intelligent discussion without looking at all sides of the issue. I know I missed a few relevant arguments, but I think I made a good start at looking at CCP's plan.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Derek Smart Is Not My Sock Puppet

Sometimes having a Twitter account is rather amusing. Derek Smart decided to use a post of mine as proof that others beside himself are looking at the situation in Star Citizen.
Seriously? Outside of an EVE audience, pointing to me for validation is kind of weak. Okay, not kind of. The proper term is "WTF???".

So then I saw this tweet.


Now, that was a WTF moment. Me and space combat? If I'm famous for anything related to space combat, it's mining in low sec, and I don't really do that much anymore since joining Signal Cartel. And we all know what a vicious pack of killers Signal Cartel is.

So I just want to let everyone know, Derek Smart is not a sock puppet of mine. If I did have a sock puppet, I certainly wouldn't use it to make such outlandish statements.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Combat Contradictions

On Sunday night I watched former CSM member Hans Jaegerblitzen appear on Evercast, a Twitch show that started off life dedicated to the imminent arrival of Everquest Next. They spent some time talking about EVE's boring combat mechanics. But yet, combat in EVE is quite thrilling and nerve wracking, especially for new players. So why the contradiction?

First, let's acknowledge that a major portion of EVE combat consists of managing a ship's resources. A player must remain aware of health bars, capacitor levels, module damage due to overheating, and ammo usage. Oh, and don't forget about your drones. Not only does a pilot need to monitor their health, but make sure their damage output is directed at the correct targets as well. Amazingly, EVE players manage to internalize the mechanics well enough that they can watch movies while performing PvE combat missions or kill local NPCs (aka ratting) to fund their PvP habits.

So what makes EVE combat so remarkable? Even more than the huge fleet actions that occasionally involve thousands of players, the attribute that sets EVE's apart is the possibility of loss. Many players, myself included, will talk about the rush they experience during combat. I have never experienced the rush of adrenaline while playing any other game that approaches what I experience in a PvP encounter in EVE. After one fight in which I destroyed a Thrasher that tried to gank my mining barge in a low sec asteroid belt, I spent 10 minutes walking around coming down from the rush.

If EVE combat is such an incredible experience, then why all the complaints? First, one can spend a lot of time just waiting for a fleet to form up. For those who play other MMORPGs than EVE, think about all the time spent gathering everyone together for a 24 or 40 man raid. Game developers have scaled down group PvE content because those numbers were too great. In EVE, that's considered a mid-sized gang, with fleets of 100 players not uncommon. Think of the organizational efforts required by players to form the really big fights. Game developers of most games don't even try to support such content.

Next, one has to search for PvP encounters. Other MMORPGs have battlegrounds and arenas in which, once a player enters, fighting begins. Not in EVE. Players in EVE's busy factional warfare zones like to boast they can get a fight within 10 minutes of logging into the game. But in other games, players begin complaining if they have to wait that long. And 20 minute queues? Delicate souls should not read certain chat channels if that happens.

Combat in PvE in some ways is much worse. Sure, the agent system ensures a steady stream of missions, EVE's version of quests. But for the most part, players have gamed and documented the content so well that ship loss is rare. Yes, CCP has added content with NPCs with better artificial intelligence over the years, like Sleepers, Incursion rats, and the more recent denizens of burner missions, but players have put those obstacles on "farm" status as well. The most exciting part of combat is when the outcome of a fight is in doubt, but that rarely happens in PvE.

Looking at the overall design of EVE, I would speculate that the lack of excitement is PvE working as intended. A game doesn't want to give incredible highs and lows every day. After awhile players either become emotionally worn out and need a break, or emotionally inured to the gameplay and start demanding bigger and grander spectacles. By putting in as much emotional downtime as CCP has, players are more apt to stick around in search of another fix.

One interesting statistic seems to support my belief that the emotional impact of EVE's harsh death penalty brings EVE's combat system to life. According to CCP, players who lose a ship during their first 30 days of playing EVE are more likely to resubscribe for a second month than those who don't. My personal belief is that a player who loses a ship has encountered a challenging situation and lost. People like challenges as long as they do not appear insurmountable.

Of course, not all ship loss produces the same response. If a player is involved in a fight that lasts any length of time, even a ship loss can feel good. One time I became careless in an ore site and an Amarr factional warfare gang caught me. I turned the tables for a bit when I declared the Hound I was dual-boxing with, at least until reinforcements arrived and my poor barge exploded. That was a good fight that both sides enjoyed.

What doesn't produce satisfying deaths is suicide ganking in high sec. Suicide ganking, especially of miners, is in many ways like sex between two sixteen year-old virgins. Due to CONCORD response times, a successful ganked is usually over in 15 seconds. The ganker, playing the role of the inexperienced male, is proud of himself because he scored. Then again, the actual gank was preceded by a lot of foreplay in the form of stalking the victim, preparing the warp-in, etc.

The gankee, on the other hand, may not even have known the gank was about to occur until the ganker appeared. By the time the fight or flight instinct takes over and the adrenaline starts pumping, the miner not only has lost his ship, but may find himself waking up in a a station in his medical clone. Much like the young lady expecting a magical experience, the miner is left emotionally frustrated. But unlike the disappointed young lady, the miner by now is filled with adrenaline and often expresses his frustration at the ganker, ironically giving the ganker further pleasure.

In conclusion, combat in EVE doesn't work due to its mechanics. The combat system works because loss is such a major component of the game world that the prospect of loss generates a physical response in players. The closer a player gets to loss, the better the combat. Fighting NPCs doesn't engender such emotions because players have pretty much figured out the system, so loss during PvE, especially in high sec, is rare. However, loss by itself doesn't ensure a good time; one must gradually build up to the climatic moment with a lot of preparation and then a lengthy battle. Without all of that, the combat system, quite frankly, is a bit meh. All in all, CCP created a system that is an acquired taste. A niche system for a niche game.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Star Citizen: Alpha Access And Space Lawyering

In EVE Online, I'm known for a few things. I'm perhaps best known for my writing on botting and illicit real money trading. Others know me for my writing about the carebear low sec lifestyle. But I'm also known for my efforts as a space lawyer and interpreting EVE Online's EULA, Terms of Service, and other policies.

Let me just say that, based on my experience, Star Citizen is about to go crazy. Personally, I think Derek Smart is a symptom and not the disease. I think of him like Bill O'Reilly, who is a dumber version of Glenn Beck. Smart is a guy who wants to feel important, so he recognized a situation and tried to jump in front of the crowd. Or is that a mob? I guess that depends on your perspective.

But whatever your thoughts on Smart, Chris Roberts is reacting to him. In addition to Sandi Gardiner coming out as Chris Roberts' wife at the beginning of CitizenCon, Roberts announced the removal of certain restrictions to access the Star Citizen alpha this week.
"In honor of our newest Citizen (really, our thousands of new Citizens!) we would like to give something back to the entire community for all your incredible support. Starting today, we are eliminating ‘Alpha Access’ and the $5 module passes. Anyone who has pledged for a Star Citizen Package can now play today without worrying they won’t have access to some portion of the ‘Verse in the future. No Star Marine pass, no Alpha 2.0 pass… no additional payment needed for any module in the works, pre-release. Going forward, should we need to put out some sort of limited release it will be done through the PTU test server. All backers will have access to any live release, the moment it publishes.

"In addition, I’d like to reward our earliest supporters who made it possible to get to this point. Everyone with an ‘alpha access’ package will be awarded 10,000 UEC; everyone who purchased an Arena Commander pass individually will be given 5,000 UEC (with the cap raising appropriately to allow this.) You also have my most sincere thanks: you were our vanguard, the battalion that fought the good fight from the beginning. Your impact on Star Citizen will never be forgotten, for without your early faith we couldn’t be where we are today. (Please note that this credit payout is going to take a big script, so it may take Turbulent a few days to work out the logistics!)"
Perhaps I'm too suspicious, but did Cloud Imperium Games just raise the cap of how much in game currency players can purchase before the game launches from 20,000 UEC to 30,000 UEC? My understanding is that upon launch, Star Citizen will impose a 150,000 UEC cap on the amount a player can hold at any one time. I wonder what allowing players to start 20% of the way to the cash cap will affect the game at launch. I strongly suspect the bad will outweigh the good.

Another point I wonder about is whether any cash spent on in-game currency used during game play in the alpha or beta will result in a player getting the same about of UEC when the game goes live. If so, then some of the bigger whales will probably wind up at the cash limit when the game starts. Once again, great for CiG's bottom line, but bad for the game in the long term.

Now for the space lawyering portion of the post. Up until 1 February 2015, the Star Citizen Terms of Service contained this clause:
"RSI agrees to use its good faith business efforts to deliver to you the pledge items and the Game on or before the estimated delivery date. However, you acknowledge and agree that delivery as of such date is not a promise by RSI since unforeseen events may extend the development and/or production time. Accordingly, you agree that any unearned portion of the deposit shall not be refundable until and unless RSI has failed to deliver the pledge items and/or the Game to you within 12 months after the estimated delivery date."
For backers of the Kickstarter, that was November 2014.

As seen on the Kickstarter page, 15 October 2015
So the original terms of service basically promised a delivery date for Star Citizen no later than November 2015, or next month. Needless to say, that will not happen, so CiG changed the ToS on 1 February 2015 to read:
"RSI agrees to use its good faith business efforts to deliver to you the pledge items and the Game on or before the estimated delivery date communicated to you on the Website.  However, you acknowledge and agree that delivery as of such date is not a firm promise and may be extended by RSI since unforeseen events may extend the development and/or production time. Accordingly, you agree that any unearned portion of your Pledge shall not be refundable until and unless RSI has failed to deliver the relevant pledge items and/or the Game to you within eighteen (18) months after the estimated delivery date."
Pretty sneaky, Mr. Roberts. The only problem is, how do you get people who thought they only had beta access to click on a link to accept the new ToS?

Not all Kickstarter backers received Alpha access

One way is to allow all backers access into the game ... now. Even if someone only gave $30 three years ago, I believe a lot of those backers will flock to the servers just to see the state of the game.

Honestly, I suspect that this ToS game will only affect the early backers of Star Citizen as I don't believe that Star Citizen currently makes any promises on when the game will release like CiG had to do for Kickstarter. But considering how massive the outpouring of support for the game, $30 here and $60 there eventually turns into significant amounts of real money. I seriously doubt Roberts wants to give out refunds (except the one he already gave to Smart), if only because of the bad press. Still, ToS games like the one described above leave a bad taste in my mouth.

Hopefully, I can get back to games that actually launched and not games months away from beta, but with Star Citizen such a significant game already, I had to post an update. Now to go online and purchase some more popcorn stock. I could make a fortune!

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Feeling Conflicted About Star Citizen

I usually don't write short posts like this, but I really have to ask a question. Do the antics of Derek Smart make you want to root for Star Citizen to succeed?

I have reasons to root for Star Citizen. I believe that a failure to launch a high quality game, or even not launch one at all, would hurt the video game industry. But I also believe that Chris Roberts is a very shady character who is engaged in some unethical behavior. I usually root for the local district attorney to throw those types of people in jail, although since he doesn't live in South Korea, he won't go to jail for his RMT activities that raised millions of dollars.

If I put my tinfoil hat on, I sometimes wonder if Chris Roberts and Derek Smart are working together. If Roberts is truly involved in some sort of long term scam, then having someone like Smart come along making a big stink about lawsuits could serve as cover to kill the project altogether. Hey, can't make a game if the lawyers took all the money, right? And if the money faucet is drying up, then its time to end the scam and move on.

Taking the hat off, I do believe that Smart's legal efforts have the possibility of killing Star Citizen. Which leads back to the question, who do I want to succeed, Roberts or Smart?

Monday, October 12, 2015

CCP's War On Illicit RMT: Buyer Behavior In August

I realize this second installment of my series is a bit delayed. Why wait until October to write about the purchasing habits of the buyers of black market ISK in August? Two reasons. The first is that I don't want to give the ISK sellers up-to-date information on the market if they are not smart enough to do their own research. The second is thoroughness. After posting the initial post on buyer behavior in July, I discovered another 84 billion ISK in sales on Player Auctions. While the amount didn't change any of my observations, I didn't want to turn into the U.S. federal government that winds up giving 2-3 revisions to economic data. So I waited a couple of extra weeks to make sure I had all of the data.


Glancing at the average price of 1 billion ISK sold on both PA and in The Forge, one might get the impression no major changes occurred. The price on the legitimate market in Jita fell 3.9% and the average price sold on Public Auctions dropped less than 1%. The volume of ISK sold on PA fell by 27.7%, from 1.831 trillion ISK down to 1.324 trillion ISK.  Belying the idea that the drop was due to seasonal variability, the amount of ISK purchased with game time in Jita rose 11.7%, from 65.6 trillion ISK to 73.3 trillion ISK. But the important observation is what happened to the black marketeers wallets. Sales dropped by over $4,700, or 30%.

The Player Auctions review system continued to give a high rate of feedback, giving reviews for the individual sales of 1.175 trillion of the 1.324 trillion ISK I tracked in sales in August. Based on the buyer reviews, here's the market share (with the actual names removed) for the sellers on PA.


Store "A" sold the most for the second straight month. However, the seller lost market share as the price offered from from $8.50/billion ISK to $10/billion ISK over the course of the month. Still, over July and August, Store "A" sold over $8,000 USD over those two months.

Store "B" again was the second biggest seller, and gained market share based on a 20% increase in ISK sales. The seller sold almost $3,000 USD in ISK in August and over $5,500 over July and August.

Store "C" actually sold the fourth largest amount of ISK, but came in third in the amount of real world money in sales. However, ISK sales dropped by 58% as the seller refused to drop its ISK price. Oh, and the seller was very nervous during August, even though he shifted his focus over to selling virtual items like PLEX.


Store "D" is a mid-tier seller that had a good month.



Looking at the size of individual purchases shows where the biggest drop-off of sales occurred. Basically, the whales stopped buying in August and the amounts showed the drop-off.




But while the whales drive big rises and drops in the amounts of virtual cash sold, I am looking at the small buyers who only buy 1 or 2 billion ISK at a time. I think if the buyers of smaller amounts decide to purchase their ISK using PLEX, then we will see a lessening acceptance of illicit RMT as less people participate in the black market. The percentage of those buying such a small amount only dropped from 30% in July down to 29.4% in August.


Perhaps the next graph is my favorite of the ones I created for this post. In March, the difference in cost between what buyers would accept from an illicit ISK seller and that obtained from buying PLEX and selling the game time on the in-game market was between $10-$12 USD. In August, that range ran between $7-10 USD. The 3.9% reduction in the effective real world price of a billion ISK in Jita resulted in the number of sales of ISK with a $9 or greater discount falling from 42 down to 17. As the price of PLEX continues to climb, the discount will grow smaller and smaller.



I'd like to conclude this post with an observation. I came up with a theory that the hazard discount would become approximately 50% of the converted USD price of a billion ISK sold in Jita. The median hazard discount in August was 49.7%. Don't take that as confirmation I was right, because I do not believe that one month's worth of data shows that. However, adjusting the 50.0%-54.9% band to 49.7%-54.9% did produce an interesting graph.

I want to reiterate on what I previously mentioned. All of the information included in this post was compiled 6-10 weeks ago. In EVE's black market, that is an eternity. But evaluating the state of CCP's War on Illicit RMT takes a little research into the sales of the black market, even though the data is scarce.

As a teaser, I have the preliminary set of numbers for September. I'll just say that September was an interesting month. But people will just have to wait a month until I write the next post.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Riot Cracks Down On G2A

A game company is taking action against G2A because they support actions that break that company's terms of service? That's the story released by The Daily Dot on Tuesday.
"G2A has run into trouble with the game developer thanks to a listing on its site promoting services from a third party that sells League accounts and offers elo boosting services, both of which are direct violations of the Riot Games terms of service and the League Championship Series rulebook.

"At Riot's request, teams that G2A sponsors, including Cloud9, Counter Logic Gaming, H2K, and paiN Gaming have removed G2A’s logos from their merchandise at the 2015 League of Legends World Championships."
A listing? How about several? I took a quick look at G2A's offerings. I found 70 accounts for sale along with 3 listings for leveling services.

As seen on G2A on 7 October 2015
Hopefully, no one by this time is surprised that G2A is involved in something shady. The virtual goods reseller was involved in the fiasco last year in which EA's Origin website sold thousands of Ubisoft game keys to holders of stolen credit cards. According to an article on Polygon, sellers on G2A sold around 2,000 such game keys. That G2A is involved in illicit real money trading activities that violate the League of Legends terms of service is just par for the course.

No game company can idly stand by and partner with such a blatant violator of its rules, and Riot took action. A Riot employee took to Reddit to explain the situation:
"Hijacking the top comment to clarify a key point (apologies LargeSnorlax!)

"It's pretty on point minus one key part, we've already formally banned them as a sponsor as of September 18th, and have no plans to reconsider the decision at this time.

"This was NOT a decision we made lightly, and came after many weeks of back and fourth conversations with G2A to find a resolution, which we were not able to reach an agreement on. We do not at all enjoy affecting the income of the teams, but the LCS rules include guidelines specifically against this sort of thing. We did however keep teams in the loop during the process in an attempt to avoid any surprises.

"EDIT - To clarify, it seems the wording I used was a bit ambiguous on 'an agreement'. Rest assured, 'Remove all account selling an boosting-site links' was indeed our request. We weren't going to compromise our values on that one in the sake of preserving the sponsorships."
For those who are wondering, yes, G2A does offer EVE Online merchandise. But considering how shady G2A is, buying from the company is like buying ISK from a black market RMT site. CCP has set up a relationship with several PLEX resellers so you can safely purchase game time to exchange for ISK in-game. Given that CCP permanently bans those involved in credit card fraud and G2A's history of selling items obtained by credit card fraud, is the risk really worth it?

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

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

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

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

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

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



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

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


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

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

Monday, October 5, 2015

Looking At A More Detailed Roadmap


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

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

Friday, October 2, 2015

Time For Term Limits?

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

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

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

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

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