Thursday, March 4, 2021

Slow Down The Monetization Soap Opera, Please

I was doing pretty well today. I posted about cookies yesterday and spent a good amount of my play time cooking in FFXIV. I woke up this morning, checked my market orders in EVE Online and found I'm up to 300 million ISK in sales over the last two weeks. I need to make some money because I purchased 5 Vagabonds. With the scarcity era in EVE continuing, I figured I better buy one of my favorite ships before inflation hits too hard.

Then lunchtime hit and I did a little internet surfing. MassivelyOP had a post up about CCP sending out emails offering the direct sale of skill points to some players. I point out "some players", as I have not received such an email.

No offer to buy $43 worth of skill points for me

The MassivelyOP article was in large part based on a post by Wilhelm, who did receive emails from CCP. If you have not read Wilhelm's post, please do so now. It is the correct take on the situation.

I'm not going to expand on what Wilhelm wrote, because I can't. I also won't discuss what CCP Rattati said about monetization during his interview with Oz earlier this week. Just because MassivelyOP included the video in their story doesn't mean I need to address the point.

I'm just going to revise the timeline in the latest episode of the soap opera we call EVE Online.

16 February 2021: Pearl Abyss holds its Q4 2020 earnings call. On the call, Pearl Abyss announces its plans for the EVE franchise. To increase revenue, PA plans to expand EVE into Asian markets. As part of the effort, PA listed "regional languages" and "cultural elements" as examples of the deeper localization needed for penetrating Asian markets on one of the slides in the presentation.

25 February 2021: The Icelandic newspaper Viðskiptablaðið published details of Pearl Abyss' purchase of CCP Games, revealing that CCP did not achieve any of the goals required for bonus payments under the deal.

25 February 2021: CCP announced a new feature called Expert Systems. This feature would allow players to rent a set of skills for 7 days. 

4 March 2021: Players receive emails from CCP offering them to purchase 1,620,000 skill points for $43.99.

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Final Fantasy XIV: Cookie Monster

Last week I was surfing the internet looking for information on levequests in Final Fantasy XIV. I've played enough EVE Online to know if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Still, anything involving cookies deserves a look.

Overpowered?

The method is easy. Just do the "A Cookie for Your Troubles" levequest found in The Crystarium as many times as possible. "A Cookie for Your Troubles" is one of the levequests in which the objective can be fulfilled 3 times, meaning the listed reward is earned 3 times. Given that turning in high quality items doubles the gil reward, doing the levequest can earn a player around 18,000 gil. 

The only limits to how much gil a player can earn is a player's levequest allowance. The levequest allowance increases by 3 every 12 hours, with a maximum of 100 allowed. The 100 levequest allowance led one source stating that doing the levequest can earn a player 1.8 million gil. A figure I would never earn due to the work involved making 900 Coffee Biscuits.

Caffeinated Cookies

The recipe is pretty simple. The only complication is the requirement to craft the Upland Wheat Flour and Garden Beet Sugar. The devs were nice enough to put a calculator to determine the amount of raw materials required to make up to 99 copies of an item. For the current exercise, I entered in 90, the number required to complete 10 levequests.

10% of 1.8 million gil

Gathering enough materials to make 90 cookies does not take very much time. I kind of got carried away, especially since I use coffee beans and garden beets in other recipes. Instead of making 90 cookies, I made 180, enough for 20 levequests. With my crafting skills and equipment I didn't need to use high quality materials to make high quality cookies. I plan on selling the HQ items for some extra gil.

Making cookies with the puppy

The major problem with the cookie mechanic is time. Just to create 180 cookies requires performing 100 synthesizes. I didn't use a stopwatch, but figure that took around an hour. Then add the time required to turn in 180 cookies. Figure that took another 20-30 minutes.

Still, even with the time involved, the rewards aren't bad:

  • 358,412 gil
  • 1,218 fire crystals
  • 546 water crystals
  • 9 bomba rice
  • 6 coffee beans

I received 1991 gil for each cookie. Looking on the market board, high-quality Coffee Biscuits are selling for 1000 gil. Turning in the cookies to complete the levequests definitely makes a bigger profit. However, I can make more gil selling different cooked items on the market.

In the future, I won't try to make hundreds of thousands of gil by making a huge amount of cookies. But I do like eating Coffee Biscuits while gathering for the additional gathering points. If I need to pick up a quick 100,000 gil, I might make a few extra for the cash.

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

EVE Online's Interstellar Kredit Shows Historic Strength Against The Dollar, Euro

The numbers I gather for my research into real money trading are now complete for February. Wow! In Pearl Abyss' earnings call for the fourth quarter of 2020, they explained that a large portion of their quarter-over-quarter revenue decline was due to a strengthening South Korean won versus western currencies like the U.S. dollar and euro. We are now seeing a similar trend in EVE Online.

When looking at the PLEX market in The Forge, two statistics stood out. The first was the average value of 1 billion ISK sold in The Forge. The $15.01 USD per 1 billion ISK figure is the highest since the mark of $15.75 per 1 billion ISK average sold recorded in March 2017.1  The corollary is almost the same, as the 1,210,978,743.56 ISK average price for 30 days of game time in February was the lowest amount since April 2017, when the average was 1,193,632,213.42 ISK for 1 month's game time.

One of the key points to take away is that the value of PLEX is now back to where it was before the big change in May 2017. In May 2017, one virtual EVE currency, Aurum, was removed from the game. PLEX, which up until that time was used mainly for game time, was divided 1 PLEX to 500 new PLEX, with the new currency serving more as a currency all of its own. Once PLEX became the new cash shop currency, its real world value skyrocketed. PLEX is now back to its pre-metamorphosis value.

Comparing February 2021 to February 2020 is pretty enlightening about the whole overall value of ISK. In February 2020, the average value of 1 billion ISK traded in The Forge was $11.12 per billion ISK. Last month, the average rose 35% year-over-year to the previously mentioned $15.01 per billion. As expected, the average daily volume of ISK traded for PLEX declined by 23.8%, from 4.3 trillion ISK per day down to 3.3 trillion ISK per day.

Moving from the CCP-sanctioned markets of The Forge, I then looked at the numbers at a prominent black market site, Player Auctions. The long-time real money trading site publishes reviews for the sellers, allowing me to compile a database of reviews dating back to the beginning of 2017.2 I found four statistics of note.

1. The number of ISK sale transactions was the highest since January 2019. In Feburary, I recorded 193 ISK sales that were completed and not scams. That was the highest number since the 197 reviews recorded in January 2019.

2. The daily average number of ISK transactions was the highest since December 2018. February saw an average of 6.9 transactions per day involving the sale of ISK on PA. I had to go back to December 2018's 7.9 transactions per day to top last month's number.

3. The daily average amount of ISK sold was the highest since June 2019. That's right, the amount of ISK sold on an average day declined after the beginning of Blackout. In June 2019, ISK sellers located on PA sold 87.3 billion ISK per day, according to the reviews left on the site. Last month, sellers only sold 66.5 billion ISK per day.

4. The daily average value sold was the highest since January 2019. In February, ISK sellers on PA brought in an average of $429 per day. The last time ISK sellers scooped up so much money every day was in January 2019 when they averaged $445 per day.

Is February significant, or just an aberration? I wish I could give an informed answer. I think I can safely say that if the PLEX/ISK price in The Forge continues on its current trend that the black market will rejoice. If my theory holds, the higher real currency cost of ISK will allow ISK sellers to become more profitable. Right now, the black market can't support very many sellers. Currently, most RMTers are chasing after newer games with much larger profit margins. But if the market expands, CCP will wind up with more headaches. 


NOTES

1. U.S. dollar to Interstellar Kredit conversions used the 2 PLEX for $34.95 PLEX pack price before May 2017 and the 1100 PLEX for $39.99 price package after May 2017.

2. Not all ISK sales generate reviews as buyers do not have to fill out the form. Actual numbers are undoubtedly higher.

Monday, March 1, 2021

Cultural Elements

From Pearl Abyss Q4 2020 Earnings Call

The last two weeks hasn't been filled with good news for Pearl Abyss. On 16 February, the company announced an 8.8% operating revenue decline in 2020. Worse, revenue generated by the Black Desert IP declined by 14% year-over-year as well. On 25 February, the switchover of the publishing of Black Desert Online from Kakao Games to Pearl Abyss did not go smoothly, resulting in additional item givaways. Also on Friday, news came out of Iceland that CCP Games failed to achieve any of the targets designated in the sale to Pearl Abyss to earn any bonuses to add onto the price tag of $225 million.

Hot on the heels of all the bad news came the news article about Expert Systems

Brand new Expert Systems will be coming to EVE Online in the near future! They are designed to help rookie Capsuleers discover and experience new activities by providing specific virtual skills and skill levels for a limited time that cannot be extracted through the use of Skill Extractors. For a one-week period per Expert System, Capsuleers will be able to taste the dream of a particular profession in EVE without having to commit to the skill training required by that path of progression and waiting for it to complete...

Once an Expert System expires, access to the temporary skills and levels provided will be removed and Capsuleers would need to either extend their access through a repeat Expert System purchase or train the skills themselves. Given the potential repeat costs, it is more beneficial in the long run to train the skills permanently, rather than continue to purchase the same Expert Systems.

This upcoming feature reminded me of my time in Black Desert Online. In BDO, Pearl Abyss would offer quality of life as well as pay-to-win features for seven days. At the end of the seven days, the player would then hopefully miss the feature so much they would go to the cash shop and purchase the feature permanently. 

If Pearl Abyss inspired the feature, Expert Systems would not be the first time Pearl Abyss played a part in EVE Online development. In addition to the introduction of a Korean-language client in November 2019, Pearl Abyss publicly declared they were involved in restoring player counts in on the Q1 2020 earnings call.

EVE Online is also maintaining stable performance. EVE Online -- which was known as the most difficult MMO game -- had the most important challenge, which was to motivate the interest of early users. Using Black Desert know-how and experience from EVE Online, many improvements were made. And accordingly, we saw a meaningful increase of new users. EVE Online, which is in its 17th year of launching, shows through many indexes that a well-made MMO game has a very long lifespan value.

The statement, along with a 25% reduction in previously reported revenue in Q4 2019, is the closest Pearl Abyss came to acknowledging the harmful effects of Blackout on the company's finances. In the wake of the news, a new set of value packs, which included skill points, was introduced to the cash shop on 28 January 2020. Also, the developers introduced a new set of login rewards in mid-April 2020. The rewards were somewhat underwhelming, with many short-term boosters and limited-time temporary ship SKINs. Almost as if the purpose was to encourage players to go out and purchase permanent versions. Sound familiar?

Besides similarities to Black Desert Online, why would one think the Expert Systems feature was inspired by the higher-ups in Anyang? Because of one of the 2021 goals stated on the Q4 2020 earnings call. Pearl Abyss leadership revealed that PA plans to expand the EVE IP into Asia this year. December's introduction of a new Japanese client is part of that effort. 

Knowing PA's goals for EVE, I think I know the meaning of a phrase in the Q4 earnings call presentation that has puzzled some readers. What does "Cultural elements" mean? I believe the phrase indicates putting in features that appeals to Asian players, even if Western players will look askance at them. Applying that understanding makes the creation of Expert Systems more understandable.

The important question to ask is, "Do Asian players expect to have the ability to try out a feature before buying it?" The answer could take many forms. For example, perhaps knowing what is possible could influence a player to buy Omega time in order to double the training speed. Or trying out a ship the player could otherwise not fly could encourage the purchase of PLEX in order to buy skill injectors off the market.

I will add one additional possibility I know a lot of Western EVE players will hate. Pearl Abyss could create new sets of ship packs, with the rent-a-skill packages allowing players to try out particular ships. If I am correct about how Asian players look at video games, the Expert Systems, combined with various ship packs, could result in higher retention of Asian players.

I think the bottom line on the Expert Systems system is ... Pearl Abyss' bottom line. Black Desert revenue is declining and Crimson Desert is not scheduled for launch until the last quarter of 2021. All parts of Pearl Abyss need to try to keep revenue stable, including the EVE universe. The only big revenue increase in sight is the launch of EVE Echoes in China sometime in the second quarter. But that won't stem the tide. EVE Online needs to increase revenue as well, and the Expert Systems feature will play a big part of that.

Friday, February 26, 2021

A Clarification Label For Star Citizen

When surfing around social media sites over the last few months, I've seen notes about certain topics. From the use of masks and other news about the COVID-19 pandemic to various news about the U.S. presidential election, users are directed to information that might contradict the contents of whatever is in your browser. Today, though, I spotted my first clarification note about a video game.

While reading the weekly review of Star Citizen on MassivelyOP, I was a bit shocked to see a note at the bottom of the article.


Longtime MMORPG gamers will know that Star Citizen was originally Kickstarted for over $2M back in 2012 with a planned launch for 2014. As of 2021, it still lingers in an incomplete but playable alpha, having raised around $350M from gamers over years of continuing crowdfunding and sales of in-game ships and other assets. It is currently the highest-crowdfunded video game ever and has endured both indefatigable loyalty from advocates and immense skepticism from critics. A co-developed single-player title, Squadron 42, has also been repeatedly delayed.

Well done to whoever made the decision to include the note. I'll be interested to see if this is a permanent add-on to Star Citizen articles on MassivelyOP in the future.

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Pearl Abyss' Final Purchase Price For CCP Games: $225 Million

On 6 September 2018, Pearl Abyss announced the purchase of CCP Games for the reported sum of $425 million. The $425 million figure included a cash settlement plus incentive bonuses for performance after the sale. The website mbl.is provided coverage on a page that worked with Google Translate. The final purchase price after performance bonuses? $225 million.

The purchase price that the South Korean game company Pearl Abyss pays for CCP decreases by 47% from what it could amount to - from 425 million US dollars, equivalent to more than 54 billion ISK, to 225 million dollars, almost 29 billion ISK. This is stated in a news item in Viðskiptablaðið today.

The reason is that performance-related criteria in the operation did not work. Pearl Abyss bought CCP in 2018 and 225 million dollars were paid out immediately, but 200 million dollars were conditional on CCP's results in 2019 and 2020. It was reported in Morgunblaðið a year ago that the owners will be from the performance-related payment for 2019, that is 100 million dala.

In my reading of the situation, the peformance goals were not just monetary ones. At the time the sale was announced, CCP had three games in development. The big one was Project Nova, an first person shooter set in the EVE universe. Also under development was the mobile game under development with PlayRaven, EVE: War of Ascension. An augmented reality game, EVE: Infinite Galaxy, was under development by the giant Chinese game developer NetEase. None of the three games reached the market, although Project NovaEVE: War of Ascension did make appearances at EVE conventions. CCP did continue working with NetEase, releasing a regular mobile game, EVE Echoes, in August 2020.

I would even go so far as state CCP's failure to complete development of Project Nova hurt Pearl Abyss financially. When the Korean company purchased CCP, the game release schedule looked like this...

2019 - Black Desert Mobile, BDO migrating to consoles.
2020 - Project Nova
2021 - Crimson Desert
2022 - DokeV
2023 - Plan 8

Without a major release last year, Pearl Abyss' revenue dropped 8.8% (₩47 billion) in 2020. Also, without the presence of a major game, investors are pressing PA about how they will maintain and grow revenue until Crimson Desert launches sometime in the fourth quarter of this year. Pressure is even growing on the company's release schedule for DokeV and Plan 8, much less Crimson Desert.


Given what we know now, up to $200 million in performance bonuses was a worthwhile offer. Since the earnings call on 16 February, the value of Pearl Abyss stock has declined by 21.7%. While still 85.7% over the company's 52-week low, the drop in revenue hurt expectations. Imagine the stock's value if PA had rising revenue.

I don't want to dismiss any revenue goal. I imagine that Pearl Abyss was expecting the EVE IP to deliver the revenue it received in 2020 in 2019. Then, Project Nova would launch in 2020 and total EVE revenue would far exceed last year's ₩73.6 billion ($63.2 million). But for a publicly traded company like Pearl Abyss, I have to believe delivering games is just as important as delivering revenue. And Pearl Abyss didn't receive three games it thought it had purchased.

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Bastions Of War - An EVE PvE Update

When I read the news article on Tuesday's game update, I had to go back and look at the description of the Reign Quadrant.

Achieve tactical supremacy and victory in New Eden with EVE Online's new Quadrant "Reign", the first in 2021! Launching a new year of Quadrants after 2020's successful introduction of themed content for EVE, Reign brings with it exciting new updates to fleets and travel, continuous balance and meta changes, plus returning events such as the Guardian's Gala and The Hunt.

Well, the marauder update is definitely a meta change.

Marauders, which are Tech II versions of New Eden’s Battleship class vessels, have gotten a boost to their damage dealing might through changes to their unique Bastion module. This mod now doubles the rate of fire for all large weapons while active, making them an even more formidable element on the battlefield.

There are further changes too that have been shaped with input from the EVE community! As part of this update, the Vargur sees its 5% bonus to large projectile rate of fire changed to a 7.5% bonus to large projectile damage. In addition, the Kronos gets its capacitor capacity increased to 8000 GJ and its capacitor recharge time reduced to 17 mins 30 secs. Also as part of this update going live, the Paladin will have its 5% Amarr Battleship skill bonus to capacitor capacity replaced with a 10% reduction in capacitor need for Large Energy Turret activation per Amarr Battleship skill level.

Bastion duration has also decreased to 30 seconds, reducing Marauders’ commitment to a single position alongside their newfound power!

I guess the Golem didn't need any additional buff other than the one the entire ship class received.

When I first heard of the changes, I thought, "CCP is buffing PvE boats?" That led to going back to another dev blog and pulling up an interesting graphic and statement.

It is clearly understood and acknowledged that many players are faced with reduced income and some radical changes to what they have become accustomed to in New Eden. To make it abundantly clear, scarcity is not the new reality, this is a temporary phase and it will end.

Listening to the talk shows has me thinking that CCP sees marauders as the replacement of dreads and carriers for PvE in null sec and wormholes. One thing I would need to research is the build costs and materials needed for marauders, dreadnaughts, and carriers. Are marauders now a more cost-effective platform with the added firepower and changes to the bastion module? I don't know.

Here are the changes directly affecting marauders from the patch notes:

Bastion Module I:

  • Bastion now increases the rate of fire for all large weapons by 50% (100% DPS increase)
  • Bastion duration reduced from 60s to 30s

All Marauders class ships:

  • Lock range increased by 30%
  • Sensor strength increased by 9

Vargur:

  • 5% bonus to large projectile rate of fire changed to 7.5% large projectile damage

Paladin:

  • Amarr Battleship bonus to Capacitor Capacity changed to 10% reduction in Large Energy Turret capacitor need

Kronos:

  • Capacitor Capacity increased to 8000 GJ
  • Capacitor Recharge rate reduced to 17m and 30s

I've thought about getting a Vargur in the past, but I really got away from flying battleships. The ships are just too slow. But maybe I need to save up a little and pick one up. I have the funds to buy one now, but as the first rule of EVE states, "Don't fly anything you can't afford to lose." I need a cushion first.

Monday, February 22, 2021

FFXIV: Natsuko Ishikawa Is Back For Endwalker

I'm a little late, but the news is still noteworthy. In an interview with Fanbyte, Final Fantasy XIV director Naoki Yoshida revealed that Natsuko Ishikawa is returning to the game as the lead writer for the next expansion, Endwalker. This is, to use a technical term, good news.

To those who don't know, Ishikawa was the lead writer for Shadowbringers. I don't think I will get much argument by stating that the story of the last two unsundered Ascians, Emet-Selch & Elidibus, is the best FFXIV expansion to date. Defeating the two most dangerous antagonists players face in the story deserved to be an epic experience, and Iskikawa's storytelling delivered.

Endwalker is the conclusion to the saga of Hydaelyn and Zodiark. I don't expect the conclusion to equal the climax, but something at least as good as Heavensward is possible. But before hearing the news that Natsuko Ishikawa is the lead writer for the expansion, I had grave doubts. If Emet-Selch & Elidibus were fantastic villains, then the antagonists for Endwalker are the complete opposite.

The first of Endwalker's villians, Zenos yae Glavus, was the main antagonist of Stormblood. I absolutely hated the character. He is a one-dimensional character. After going through the Stormblood story, fighting him at the end felt so disappointing and empty. For me, he is the main reason for ranking Stormblood the worst expansion. And we have to put up with him again in Endwalker? Ugh!

The new bad guy, Fandaniel, doesn't fill me with hope either. I found this description on a fan wiki:

Fandaniel is flamboyant, whimsical, and impulsive. Unlike the other Ascians, Fandaniel is not loyal to Zodiark and states no interest in restoring the world as it was before the sundering. In fact, his goal of the Source’s total annihilation puts him at direct odds with the rest of his brethren. Fandaniel appears loyal, if not sycophantic, toward Zenos and is eager to help the Garlean prince in his "hunt" for the Warrior of Light as it correlates to his desire to spread chaos.

An erratic and sadistic nihilist with a flare for theatrics, Fandaniel wishes nothing more than for all of the inhabitants of the Source to die and is more than willing to die in the effort. In fact, it's his goal to die once he achieves in his mission in restarting the Final Days, a stark contrast to how his fellow Ascians cling to life.

Personally, I think the description gives Fandaniel too much credit. He reminds me so much of Zenos. Finishing the story with two such poorly written villains would be such a disappointment.

Knowing that Ishikawa is the lead writer gives me hope. I doubt she can salvage such an established character as Zenos, but I have hope for Fandaniel. Hopefully we kill Zenos before travelling to the moon. I really hope whatever is on the moon is far bigger than the two known villains we are to face.

Friday, February 19, 2021

Guardian's Gala 2021 - Day 7 - Cut Short

 And on the seventh day of Guardian's Gala, I won the event.


I finished receiving the 7 login rewards and wanted to finish up getting the last two participation rewards. All I needed was 65 points. Each Gala exploration site gives 15 points, so I needed to run 5 sites, right? Wrong.

I alluded to finding a possible exploit on day 4 of the event. At the time, I had only seen a description of the exploit on the EVE Online sub-Reddit. But now Imperium News has also published the exploit. Since I don't want anything more to do with Guardian's Gala this year, I went ahead and turned 15 points into 65.

I probed down and entered a site to get 5 points. I then hacked a can to get 10 more points. Upon hacking the can, the challenge changed back to "Enter a site". So I warped to a nearby structure and warped back to the site, receiving 5 points. Rinse and repeat until I got 65 points. Event over.

The only thing left to do now is cash in my loot. I have to dip into low sec to sell off the Overseer's Personal Effects that dropped. Then I have to take the regular drops to a trade hub and sell them there. One thing I don't have to worry about is everything I received from the redeem queue. Anything from the redeem queue is applied to the character that claims the item. That goes for the SKINs as well as the skill points.

Since Super Kerr-Induced Nanocoatings (SKINs) were introduced to the game in 2015, I have not applied a single one to a character. At least, knowingly. Apparently, I've applied 17.

I don't know how long the Skins tab has existed in the character sheet, but I think I'll start applying SKINs to characters just to get rid of a lot of clutter. The only reason for not applying the SKINs was to keep track of them. With the SKINs tab, that reason went away.

I probably have one more blog post to write in my coverage of the 2021 edition of Guardian's Gala. But I'm done with the content. All I have now is the clean up.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Guardian's Gala 2021 - Days 5 & 6 - Cargo Space

I didn't write a day 5 summary as I spent most of my time writing up the Pearl Abyss Earnings Call. But not much really happened. After day 6, I have 135 points.


On Monday, I found a Gala Network Support Site sitting in a low sec system in Molden Heath. Tuesday, I found another one in a high sec system in Heimatar. Normally I enjoy wandering around hacking data and relic sites. But for the event, I am looking for specific sites. Ones, I should add, that are not that plentiful. 

The last two days I also encountered another irritating development. I hauled away over 120 m3 from each site. Given my Cheetah only has a cargo capacity of 200 m3, I have to drop my loot at a station to make sure I don't have to warp out of a site only halfway emptied. If the effort just to find a site is a net negative to participating in the event, then having to dump my cargo makes the effect worse. That is real reason for stopping after running one site each night.

The funny thing is, the first night I did the exploration challenge, I was able to fit the loot from 2 1/2 sites into my cargo hold. Now, each site fills up over 60% of my storage. Did CCP change the loot drops, or did I just get lucky that first night?

I'm going to try to wrap up the event tonight. The event runs through downtime on 23 February, but I think 7 days is enough.