Usually when a game adds a free-to-play element, the RMT crowd makes an appearance. Or, more accurately, increases its presence. With the next expansion, Ascension, launching tomorrow, now is a good time to access the activity of the ISK and skill point sellers.
Using data collected from the multi-game website Player Auctions, one can see that the price of secondary (aka black) market ISK has remained fairly stable throughout 2016. Even in May through July when the hazard discount (the difference in price between ISK purchased in Jita vs that purchased from an ISK seller) exceeded $11.50, the secondary market didn't see sellers attempt to jack up prices. The market had just enough competition to keep the sellers, except for one or two established sellers, competing for market share.
One interesting development is the emerging standard that since the introduction of skill point injectors in February, the standard hazard discount is above 50%. With the introduction of alpha clones, I believe a fresh influx of PLEX is about to enter the market, raising the value of the New Eden ISK vs the U.S. dollar. If I'm wrong and the price of PLEX raises to 1.3 billion ISK ($13.46 USD), I wonder if the ISK sellers will feel the need to lower prices in order to maintain market share.
The volume of sales really peaked in the February and March following the introduction of skill injectors. The big decline starting in April was a bit misleading as skill injectors started hitting the black market. Instead of having to purchase ISK to buy the skill injectors, players could buy the skill injectors directly. When ISK and skill injectors are looked at together, the big decline in sales did not begin until June.
September was an interesting month, at least for the sellers on Player Auctions. I'm not sure why sales jumped so much, especially concerning skill injectors. While I do not have full sales volume numbers for October, the trend right now looks like the numbers will prove slightly less than the sales numbers for August. We may never know, but I wonder if the activity had anything to do with the large-scale RMT operation involving I WANT ISK mentioned in the EULA change dev blog released last month.
I expect an increase in illicit RMT activity with the release of Ascension tomorrow. The only question is how much. The data above will help judge the magnitude of the problem.