Friday, October 22, 2021

Spook Fest 2021

With one month until Endwalker, I'm doing pretty well in Final Fantasy XIV. I'm not doing most of the raid content or Bozja, but I did finish the Copied Factory and gotten the 2B glamour gear. I'm earning over 1 million gil every week on my market sales and retainer rewards. I'm working on a DIY project to set up an apartment in Lavender Beds. Housing is fascinating in FFXIV and I've seen nice designs using less than 100 items. I think I can tweak some in order to make a cozy place to log off in.

With business going well, I have some time to hit the social scene. Of course, coming from EVE, there's no way I'd actually enjoy myself in a video game. Nope. Impossible. I'm just visiting Eorzea's night clubs "for science". After all, I can't write about something without doing research, right?

Hard at work doing research (found on a club's Discord server)

The weekend brings a major event on the social calendar on the North American data centers: Spook Fest.

The announcement going around Discord

The name that stuck out to me was DJ Mannmade, who will perform on my data center. I watched the Preach Gaming stream when he went to the opening of a FFXIV night club on one of the EU servers. One of the craziest things is that 17 venues, including 8 from my data center, got together to sponsor the event. 

One of the amazing things about the social scene is the prevalence of web pages for each venue and a lot of events. The community uses a site called Carrd. Clicking on the link for the event gives a list of the clubs and Twitch DJ's performing, along with a bard group doing an after-party on my world.

I will probably get down to the business aspect of FFXIV's social scene and how certain companies (I'm looking at you CCP) screwed up and left a lot of money on the table by failing to implement what Yoshi-P and Square Enix did in FFXIV. But for this weekend, I'm just going to partake of the event and have a good time. For, you know, science.

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

The Tax Holiday Is Over In EVE Online

Today CCP ended the tax holiday in EVE Online. Of course, the devs didn't just revert the sales tax and broker fees in NPC stations. A few changes were made.

In the Grand Heist release, the base Sales Tax and Brokers Fee in NPC stations were each cut in half, going from 5.0% to 2.5%. In place of the previous numbers, taxes will be changing to the following structure:

Base Unmodified Taxes:

  • Sales Tax: 2.5% -> 8.0% (Previously 5.0%)
  • Brokers Fee: 2.5% -> 3.0% (Previously 5.0%)
  • Total Taxes: 5.0% -> 11.0% (Previously 10.0%)

Minimum Taxes (Modified by Skills, Standings, etc.):

  • Sales Tax: 1.125% -> 3.6% (Previously 2.25%)
  • Brokers Fee: 0.5% -> 1.0% (Previously 3.0%)
  • Total Taxes: 1.625% -> 4.6% (Previously 5.25%)

This change shifts a higher percentage of the tax division toward the sales tax instead of on the order placement, permanently reducing the cost-pressure associated with listing orders by moving the cost into the sales tax taken out upon purchase by another player.

If I were cynical, I'd say that the push of funds is an effort to cater to people buying ISK through the PLEX system. 

Just for fun, I looked up the changes implemented during the Blackout in the summer of 2019. 

Changes to sales taxes and broker fees:

  1. Maximum Sales Tax increase from 2% to 5%.
  2. Minimum Sales Tax increase from 1% to 2.25%.
  3. Maximum Brokers Fee increase for NPC stations from 3% to 5%.
  4. Double the total maximum taxation from 5% to 10%.
  5. Increased total minimum taxation on NPC structures from 3% to 5.25%.
  6. Increase the minimum taxation on player owned structures by 125% from 1% to 2.25%.

Changes to tax associated skills:

  • Accounting – Increase in reduction of sales tax from 10% per level to 11% per level.
  • Brokers Relations – Increase in reduction of costs associated with setting up a market order from 0.1% per level to 0.3% per level.

The total benefit from skills will increase from 2% (current benefit) to 4.75%, which translates to a total tax reduction (including standings benefits) of 47.5% instead of the current 40%.

Since the pre-Blackout era two years ago, the taxes at NPC stations have changes as follows:

Base unmodified taxes:

  • Sales Tax: 2% -> 8%
  • Brokers Fee: no change at 3%
  • Total Taxes: 5% -> 11%

Minimum Taxes (Modified by Skills, Standings, etc.):

  • Sales Tax: 1% -> 3.6%
  • Broker Fee: 2% -> 1%
  • Total Taxes: 3% -> 4.6%

I'm not sure how much of a benefit to the economy the overall tax hike is in increasing the ISK sinks. I also don't know enough to know the impact on citadel owners who use their structures as market hubs. But I assume the taxes serve as a cap on what players can charge in citadels. The next few days listening to the talking heads in the EVE media on the subject should prove interesting, if not enlightening.

Monday, October 18, 2021

CCP To Upgrade The Tranquility Server Soon

I was going to let today go without a post. Some of the shenanigans going on in the video game world are a bit depressing and I had a pretty good weekend. Then CCP Explorer tweeted out some amazing news.

I can't wait to read the dev blog, which should be coming Soon™. Usually the trademark indicates don't hold your breath, but technical dev blogs are usually a hit with EVE players. Combined with Quasar, I wonder what the performance boost Tranquility will receive after everything is put into effect. Although, as I think veterans know, EVE players will soon figure out the new limit by inviting their 5000 closest friends to a party to discover the answer.

Friday, October 15, 2021

New World And The Impact On EVE

We are now two weeks after the launch of New World. So far, the release from Amazon Game Studios is holding up, with Steam Charts showing over 550,000 players logged in yesterday. I think holding the game up to the over 900,000 logged in users on launch day is unfair, as a lot of those players were stuck in 25,000 person queues.

New World logged in players as seen on 15 Oct 2021

I normally disregard SteamCharts, but as Amazon is selling Steam codes for the game, I'll assume most players are accessing the game through Steam. In the case of New World, SteamCharts may act like a version of EVE's

I was inspired to write this post because over the last seven days the second most popular article on The Nosy Gamer was EVE Online's Great Decline of 2021. I have the feeling people think any lower activity in EVE is due to some huge decline of players leaving for New World. Let me insert Ripard Teg's updated average concurrent user graph below.

Tranquility ACU from October 2020 to September 2021

The big decline occurred due to the war in Delve becoming a siege of The Imperium's last constellation and players leaving for better content either in other games or real life. Following the final anti-climatic battle and TEST's subsequent withdrawal to the opposite side of the cluster, activity was struggling to get back to pre-war norms.

ACU over the last week declined

EVE Offline is showing the average concurrent user mark lowering again down to 19,000. But we've seen fluxuations like that over the last month or two. The question is whether we will see another positive increase in the near future.

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

EVE Online Has A New Mac Client

I watch a lot of YouTube videos about video games. One that caught my attention was one by Josh Strife Hayes reviewing reasons why people stop playing MMORPGs. One of those reasons is players not able to install the game without problems or going through a complicated process. CCP removed one of those types of speedbumps in today's patch with a new fully native Mac client.

Reading the patch notes, the transition from Wine to the native Mac client should be fairly painless. But the new Mac client is still not perfect. Besides needing to rebind some keys, I saw two other things of note:

  • SpaceMouse is supported on the Intel Native Mac Client, but is currently unsupported on M1 based systems.
  • As previously communicated, the "Personal Skill Plans" feature and the Recommendations feature are currently not supported on the native Mac client. These will be supported in a future update. Certified Skill Plans and regular skill training are working as expected.

I'm not sure if the client automatically throttling framerates if the video card starts getting too hot is considered a negative by some people. I'd think it a positive, but I'm not a Mac user.

Accompanying the new client is a new login event with some attractive rewards. In addition to new SKINs for the Tristan, Vexor, and Dominix, a new booster is available.

The original Quafe Zero gives a +5% speed and +5% scan resolution buff. The new Quafe Zero Green Apple gives a +5% agility and +5% capacitor recharge rate. On the downside, the booster is automatically applied when redeemed. Yes, I understand that people would game the system and create hundreds, if not thousands, of new accounts in order to obtain Quafe Zero Green Apple if the item was not apply on acquire. But I really would like to have some in storage for a special occasion.

On the upside, Alpha accounts get two of the boosters while Omega accounts get between 7 and 9 if they redeem the rewards all five days. The 10,000 skill points for Omega players is nice, especially for newer players.

I did find the item description amusing. I didn't show it in the above graphic, but there is extremely fine print at the bottom of the text box. Curious, I managed to track down the text from the Quafe Zero description. I'm pretty sure the description applies to the new booster as well:

Quafe Zero is a product of the Quafe Company. Quafe does not condone the use of boosters or other illicit substances. The Quafe Company disavows responsibility for any side effects caused by consuming Sleeper technology.

Warning: Quafe Zero is designed for capsuleer use only. Side effects experienced by non-capsuleers include but are not limited to dizziness, blindness, nausea, internal hemorrhaging, IBS, sleepwalking, amnesia, sexual deviancy, vision changes, acute epidermal sloughing, partial or total loss of motor control, and minor skin rash.

Overall, I'm glad to see CCP continuing to upgrade EVE's technology, whether the change is to the client or Tranquility's network layer. Hopefully, by removing a road bump to playing the game, EVE might pick up a few more players to sustain the game's population.

Monday, October 11, 2021

The Final Fantasy XIV Music Scene Is Serious Business

After spending last week looking at EVE Online data and trying to decipher the new network framework, I needed to take a break from serious spaceship business. The solution was diving into the world of music in Final Fantasy XIV.

My list of instruments

On Saturday, I hit level 30 as an archer. Completing the initial bard quest and talking to an NPC in Gridania unlocked performance mode. I was surprised at how much unlocked. I expected to have to grind levels to unlock the various instruments. Instead, all the instruments became available at level 30. I should note the developers did not provide different models for all the instruments. For example, the violin and cello have the same instrument, just different notes. But I was happy.

Need better UI placement

The performance user interface is pretty simple. The basic keys are QUERTY, with the shift key making the notes one octave higher and the control key one octave lower.  Pretty simple, although I might want to change keybinds later on. But I found the sheet music for "Mary Had A Little Lamb" and managed to play an acceptable version of the song fairly quickly.

Next, I went online looking for sheet music for Final Fantasy music. Turns out the sub-Reddit for FFXIV has a list of songs with the notes to play. I managed to play a bad version of the Kugane Theme on the violin. While I need practice, I did manage to hit all the notes in order, if not with the correct length.

If a company creates a music system, wanting to play in public naturally follows. The players in FFXIV took the concept one step further and created venues for bands. Contrary to popular belief, not all role playing is of the erotic type. I can't lie, though. If ERP is your thing, it is easy enough to find.

I'm not sure which is taken more seriously in MMORPGs, EVE's internet spaceships or FFXIV's club and roleplaying scene. Given that I think EVE players were hoping for a serious business club scene when Incarna released in 2011, I have to give the nod to FFXIV. Especially after visiting The Rose Hall.

On Friday, someone in FC chat mentioned that a club called The Rose Hall over on Excalibur, a world on the Primal data center. In addition to the standard Twitter account, the venue has a Twitch page and even a Discord server which they use to conduct giveaways. For role players, they have a full alcohol bar with snacks. For the high rollers, VIP box seats are on off to the sides of the stage. We're talking 1 million gil for a party of up to six as well as a personal bartender, free bottle service and unlimited food and drink for your party for an additional 500,000 gil. For a comparison, I make between 750,000 and 1.5 million gil per week. I guess I'm almost wealthy enough to be a high end role player!

The cheap seats aren't bad either

In addition to all the above, I found out The Songbirds were playing the venue on Sunday. The original Songbirds group was a girl band introduced with the Little Ladies' Day event in 2016. As such, some of the emotes and clothing is purchasable from the Mog Station.

The player group founded in 2018 is a little bigger than the original 3 member NPC girl group. Of course, since music is serious business, The Songbirds have the full array of social media accounts, including Twitter, Twitch, Instagram, and the ever present Discord server. I already was a follower of the Twich channel and wanted to see the group play in person. When I mentioned in FC chat the Songbirds were playing at The Rose Hall, a couple of people were interested. A few of us wandered over to the venue for the show.

Peaking into the main hall

I wish I had taken screenshots of the bar. The entrances to the stage and seating area is on each side of the bar. I ran around a bit and for a minute I got the feeling I had when peeking into some of the presentations at Fanfest in Harpa. In other words, a very immersive experience.

I spent most of the first set to the left of the stage until I spotted Rain on the other side. I ran around to where he was for the last few songs before intermission. Yes, they had an intermission. The Songbirds wound up playing I think 2 1/2 hours including the intermission. I saw a couple of the group members at the bar engaging with the bartenders. I'm assuming free drinks were part of the contract for playing.

Standing at the front edge of the stage

I haven't mentioned the music yet. The music last night was all video game music. With franchises like Final Fantasy, Kingdom Hears, and Nier, bards in Final Fantasy XIV have a lot of music they can play from Square Enix games. A good thing too, because technically players are not supposed to play music from outside the game. I haven't looked into the matter, but I'm assuming all Square Enix music is fair game for FFXIV's bards since the company presumably has the copyrights to the tunes. The Songbirds did sneak in a couple of Guild Wars 2 songs plus a special dedication for all the WoW refugees in the crowd.

A view from the stage

Overall, I enjoyed my visit to The Rose Hall. The venue was great even if I'm not really a role player and didn't partake of the refreshments. Seeing the Songbirds up close is a lot different than watching them on Twitch. I'm also glad I got to experience some of the mechanics behind the music before I went to the show. I fully intend on following up on the music scene whenever I need a break from other game play. I just need to up my glamour game, as clubbing in FFXIV is serious business.

Friday, October 8, 2021

The September 2021 Monthly Economic Report: Ship Losses

Yesterday CCP published the monthly economic report for September. On the plus side, the MER came out two weeks earlier than normal. The only problem is Period Basis is missing from the RegionalStats.csv file. I rely on that file for a lot of the graphs I run. I couldn't really start running my scripts last night. I'm still hoping CCP releases an updated version.

The missing region gave me an opportunity to look at data I've neglected up until now. That's right, the MER has a file containing ship kills named kill_dump.csv. So today, I'll look at the ships players most frequently kill.

Looking at the top 10 list of ships, my first thought was, "Are we playing Destroyers Online?" Half the ships on the list are destroyers, while a sixth is a tactical destroyer. I personally don't like destroyers, but after seeing the list, I'd advise new players to aim for training into a destroyer if they wish to PvP.

The top of the list is headed by two non-combat ships popular with both new and Alpha players. The Venture is the first ship players can fly that specializes in mining. The Heron is the best tech 1 frigate to use for running data and relic sites until a player can afford to fly the Astero.

The final two ships are the Vexor, a tech 1 Gallente cruiser with drone bonuses and the Sabre, the premier interdictor in EVE.

When discussing destruction, the MER usually references ISK values, not ship hulls. At the top of the list is the Loki. A tech 3 strategic cruiser, 914.8 billion ISK worth of the ships died in September. Another T3C, the Tengu, came in at number 5 on the list.

The next two ships are drone boats. The Gila is a Gurista faction cruiser with a massive bonus to medium combat drones that is a go-to ship for events and Abyssal sites. The Ishtar is the tech 2 version of the Vexor listed as the number 5 ship on the first list. The ship as a role bonus of fitting Assault Damage Controls, making the ship more survivable in combat.

The number 4 ship was the Rorqual. With 786.5 billion ISK destroyed, the ship draws combat to it.

The six through nine slots are filled with battleship hulls. The Vargur (6), Golem (7), and Paladin (9) are Marauders, the tech 2 version of battleships and used for running PvE content. Coming in at number 8 is the Praxis, the Society of Conscious Thought battleship that is given away for free by CCP at special events. I'm honestly surprised so many Praxis are still flying around.

The final ship on the list is the Revelation. I wonder if the ability to participate in structure bashes without needing to expend ammunition puts the ship in harm's way more than other dreadnoughts.

Looking at the ship hulls killed by ship type, I didn't see very much unexpected. The top six positions are filled with tech 1 ships while the bottom four consist of tech 2 and tech 3 ships. I was a little surprised that battleships ranked as high as sixth until I saw that 37% of the battleships killed were Praxis. Players don't need to worry about April's industry changes if the ships are already pre-built by CCP.

The battleship wound up leading all ship types is value lost with nearly 3.4 trillion ISK lost. Four ships accounts for over half of the amount: Praxis (629.9 billion ISK), Machariel (468.6 billion ISK), Rattlesnake (378.7 billion ISK) and Nestor (296.3 billion ISK).

The cruiser came in second place based on the number of Gilas players lost. The 859 billion ISK worth of the ships made up 32% of cruiser losses.

I expected to see Heavy Assault Cruisers on the list. What I didn't expect to see was the domination of the Ishtar on the list of HACs. The Ishtar made up 50.6% of the value of all HAC losses. 

The final category I want to comment on are the frigates. Yes, the value of frigates that died exceeded that of supercarriers. But the top two ships in value lost were the Astero (361.3 billion ISK) and the Heron (112.2 billion ISK). Those two ships made up 42.6% of the value of all frigates lost in September.

Reviewing the monthly economic report is a habit at this point and sometimes gets old and feels stale. Looking at different types of data is fun, especially since I haven't looked at data like this since the days of the Quarterly Economic Reports when Dr. Eyjo was still as CCP. Hopefully looking at the ship loss data in the MER will do enough until CCP can rerun the data to include Period Basis.

Thursday, October 7, 2021

Quasar: Updating EVE Online's Network Layer

Despite providing features players wanted, sometimes for years, a lot of complaining about the new skills UI in EVE Online occurred on places like the EVE sub-Reddit.  A frequent request was to make the new user interface optional. If the latest dev blog is any indication, CCP will not provide a toggle setting. The developers have a new tool, Quasar, and they intend on proceeding full speed ahead.

Quasar is the newest iteration of the networking layer of Tranquility. CCP has been hampered by the use of Stackless Python and its limit of performing one task at a time. EVE initially used. CCP explained the issue when the company switched from using StacklessIO to CarbonIO in 2011.

Bottom line: Code written in Stackless Python can only execute as fast as your fastest CPU core can go. A 4 or 8 CPU big-iron server will burn up a single CPU and leave the others idle, unless we span more nodes to harness the other CPUs, which works well for a lot of the logic in EVE which is stateless or only mildly reliant on shared state but presents challenges in logic which is heavily reliant on shared state, such as space simulation and walking around space stations.

This is not a problem as long as a single CPU can handle your load, and for sane uses of Python this is true. I shouldn't have to tell you that we are hitting the point at which a single CPU can't process a large fleet fight, despite the work of teams like Gridlock in squeezing out every drop of optimization that they can. CPUs are not getting any faster. They are getting more cache, fatter busses and better pipelines, but not really any faster at doing what EVE needs done. The way of the near (and perhaps far) future is to 'go wide' and run on multiple CPUs simultaneously.

The introduction of CarbonIO allowed for the implementation of time dilation which allows for the world record fights for which EVE is famous. The situation, while improved, still needed work. CCP needed a better way to work around Python's Global Interpreter Lock (GIL), the gatekeeper that only allows Python to perform one task at a time.

CCP's effort was codenamed Project Sanguine. This week's dev blog gave an example of one of the events the developers need to consider and improve upon.

The first form of Project Sanguine emerged with ESI and the first iteration of EVE Portal in late 2016. Through these projects, a new paradigm was established within the server architecture of EVE Online: a message bus. From this new escape hatch, the bottlenecks associated with the GIL were rediscovered, but with a clearer picture of their expensive manifestations: message routing, serialization, and transmission. If one ship fires one laser in the middle of 1000 ships, that’s 1000 messages which need to be sent immediately all over the globe. The simulation must address that message to 1000 destinations as a copy (message routing), convert that data to a wire format (serialization), and then send the data over the wire (transmission). In most cases, CarbonIO has been addressing each of those issues, but within the custody of the GIL. CarbonIO has served EVE Online well for quite some time, but much has changed on the turbulent seas of the internets since 2011.

CCP has introduced features in the last five years designed to have a smaller footprint on the Tranquility infrastructure and databases. Features like the Activity Tracker, Opportunities, and Abyssal Proving Grounds leaderboards fell under the Project Sanguine framework. But the features still needed to interact with Tranquility through the CarbonIO and the GIL. With Quasar, Skill Plans do not have to interact with the GIL at all.

Over the years players have noted the single-threaded nature of Python and wanted the developers to rewrite the EVE code base to take advantage of the growth of cores on servers. A total rewrite is not going to happen. But with the introduction of Quasar, CCP has begun the process to update EVE to run into a third decade. As the dev blog noted:

Work continues on clearing the table by refurbishing many old services which provides two vectors of momentum: build up more foundational capabilities for Quasar in terms of manipulating more than just Skill Plans in the universe, and normalize ancient systems to pave the way for faster iteration.

What does that mean for the average Capsuleer? More opportunities to expose more powerful features across more mediums.

The idea of publishing simulation data through Quasar has also been toyed with…but that might take a minute.

Monday, October 4, 2021

A Look At Dotlan Data For September 2021

September was the first full month after hostilities ceased in Delve and the forces from the coalition formerly known as PAPI withdrew in disorder. I think the smart set believes the September monthly economic report will show a strengthening economy. I'm not so sure, just because of seasonal effects. As I'm want to do, I visited Dotlan and downloaded the NPC kill and ship loss data to get a preview of what to expect when CCP publishes the MER later this month.

As expected, the number of player-owned ships exploding each day fell 8.1% from August to September as the amount of player vs player combat returned to normal. But historically ship losses in null sec decline from August to September. In the period from 2017 to 2019, the average decline was 5.5%. Overall, null sec experienced 2.9% more ship losses in September 2021 compared to the average for September from 2017 to 2019.

In high sec, while the raw number of ships players lost declined in September compared to August, when comparing the daily average the number of ships lost actually went up by 22 ships per day. While year-over-year the amount of ships exploding in high sec declined by 23.4%, the 290,497 ships players lost still exceeded the 2017-2019 average by 16.1%.

The same phenomenon experienced in high sec also occurred in low security space. The graph shows a decline in ships players lost in September, but when the losses are averaged per day, ship losses actually rose by 2.1%. But unlike high sec, the figure fell short of the 2017-2019 average by 2.3%.

Perhaps the biggest news is the number of NPCs players killed in null sec in September. The daily average rose 8.4% from August to September. Since July, the daily average of NPCs players killed in null sec rose by 26.4%. The end of the war had an impact, but not as much as one might believe. The average number of NPCs destroyed from 2017 to 2019 increased from August to September by 11.9%. The increase in 2021 was below the seasonal average. To make a discussion of ratting in null sec even more interesting, the number of NPCs killed was 29.7% less than the three year average for September from 2017-2019. In the case of null sec ratting, people can take the data and use it to justify multiple positions.

The situation in high sec, in comparison, is in better shape. The number of NPCs killed in September was 7.8% higher than the average in 2017-2019. The 11% increase in NPCs killed from August to September ran directly against the slight negative trend established from 2017 to 2019.

Finally, the number of NPCs killed daily in low sec increased 85.3% from August to September. The increase is most likely associated with the Researching the Rogues event running from 23 September to downtime today.

Overall I think the PvP situation is back to normal in EVE Online. PvE, on the other hand, is still suffering from the scarcity era. But the Dotlan data only provides information about ship hulls, whether player or NPC. The upcoming monthly economic report will put game world financial information to those numbers. As of the time of publication of this post, I expect a slight increase in the numbers in the September MER.

Friday, October 1, 2021

Star Citizen Begins October With $387.5 Million Raised

Cloud Imperium Games' march toward $400 million raised from players to create Star Citizen and Squadron 42 continued in September. Today the funding stats page reached $387.5 million. To put the figure in perspective, the only video game developers spent more to create and release was Red Dead Redemption 2, with a cost of between $379 million and $550 million

Overall, CIG has raised $507.1 million since 2012 according to information published by the company. In addition to the funding page, the below list includes information from the 2019 financials report.

  • Pledges/Counter (thru Sep 2021) - $387.5 million
  • Subscriptions (thru Dec 2019) - $18.1 million
  • Other Income (thru Dec 2019) - $38.3 million
  • Outside Investment (thru Dec 2019) - $63.25 million

The total raised in September was $4.7 million. The amount should rise in October as CitizenCon happens on 9 October. The sales of virtual goods surrounding the event should raise the amount raised to at least $10 million.

I follow a few Star Citizen content creators and the upcoming inventory and medical system updates make me wonder if the game is truly moving towards a full loot, free-for-all PvP game. If CitizenCon confirms that direction, then I wonder how that will impact future funding. After all, a lot more people will refuse to even look at a game like that than will be attracted.