Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Mittani: Not Just Another Pretty Face

As the first day of the emergency summit between CCP and Eve Online's Council of Stellar Management gets underway today, many are dismissing the meeting as a public relations stunt.  And if this were any other CSM, I might even agree.  But this CSM is led by The Mittani, possibly the most famous Eve Online player outside of the Eve Online community.  Here are some reasons that CCP would be playing with fire if they treated The Mittani lightly.

Former lawyer - Before retiring (or taking a long sabbatical) to Wisconsin for a couple of years, The Mittani made his money as a corporate lawyer in Washington D.C.  So he may have some skills suited to negotiating with CCP.  I'm pretty sure his background will keep him from being intimidated.

NDA?  What NDA? - On 24 June, The Mittani tweeted, "Incidentally, should pay-to-win stuff be implemented over my objections (and/or without CSM notice) I'm outta here."  If he is not happy about CCP's plans for The Noble Exchange, he doesn't have to say anything.  All he has to do is quit.  And given how much time he spends in game, that won't be that big a hardship on him.

Head of Goonswarm Federation - Don't laugh, in this situation that is a big stick.  As of this morning, Dotlan shows Goonswarm Federation is the largest alliance in Eve with 6,562 members.  With Blizzard dismantling the mega-guilds in World of Warcraft, that means that The Mittani may be the leader of the largest in-game player organization in Western MMORPGs.  That gives him advantages on two fronts. 

The first is financial.  On the special Funky Bacon show on Eve Radio broadcast 24 June, The Mittani not only threatened to leave the game if "pay to win" were implemented, but pull Goonswarm Federation out with him.  Could he do it?  Goonswarm Federation was formed from a community outside Eve, the Something Awful forums.  And apparently it may not take much of a push to start the flood out of Eve.  On 26 June The Mittani tweeted, "Welp, a good chunk of my directorate is kicking the tires of Perpetuum now. Apparently their devs are personally greeting Eve refugees."  If The Mittain left and took just half the Goons with him, that would be a big cash loss for CCP.

The second is on the PR front.  Remember how the critics think this is a PR move by CCP?  The gaming press is already siding with the players over this situation.  Just think of all the stories the game sites would publish if Eve's largest alliance set up shop in Perpetuum?  Do you think that wouldn't impact not only current sales, but draw potential players to Perpetuum instead of Eve?

The Mittani At GDC - In 2010 CCP arranged for The Mittani to give a presentation at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco.  At the time the move was good publicity for CCP.  But if an open break occurs, that is another link that writers can use to show how disillusioned players are about the situation.

Sins Of A Solar Spymater - The Mittani parlayed the attention he received over the disbanding of the Band of Brothers alliance into a column at Ten Ton Hammer, Sins Of A Solar Spymaster.  That means that The Mittani already has a soapbox on a major gaming site from which to hold forth his views.  He has already done so this week (in a very good read) and will most likely do so again following the conference.

So do I think the emergency CSM summit is just a PR stunt.  I hope not.  Because if it is, the stunt could backfire.  Badly.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Fun Financial Facts About CCP

It was only a matter of time before players obtained the public financial records of CCP for 2010.  And really, isn't it fitting that the records are on a web site owned by Chribba for safe keeping?

So what do the records tell us?  First, although  Wikipedia will need to have its entry on CCP Games updated after yesterday, Bjorgolfur Thor is the biggest investor in CCP.  The investors with the largest stake in CCP are the Bjorgolfur Thor-owned NP ehf. with 30.5%, Teno Investments with 23.9% and one of CCP's founders, S. Reynir Harðarson, with 10.2%.

The second is that CCP's profits for 2010 are a bit inflated.  While CCP's total profit for 2010 was $5.4 million (USD), due to a $3 million tax credit it received, $1.7 million of that profit came from a governement.

The item drawing the most player scrutiny on both Failheap and the official forums is the $11.8 million loan due on October 28th (p. 31).  Much is made that at the end of 2010 CCP only had $11.2 million in cash on-hand.  And the decision not to pay out dividends this year definitely indicates that CCP expects to have a cash-flow problem this year.  But I'm not sure if at the beginning of 2011 CCP was really in that bad of shape.  Looking a few pages farther into the document (p. 34) shows that while CCP's total liabilities due for the year was $22.2 million, it was expecting to receive $18.4 million in loans and receivables throughout 2011 (p. 37).  Still, that gap of $3.7 million was greater than CCP's non-tax profits in 2010.  If CCP could maintain its growth of 2010 (where gross profit rose by 11%) then CCP will have no problems. 

That is why last week's mess is so critical.  Instead of expanding sales, Incarna and the Noble Exchange is driving players away, something CCP cannot afford if it wishes to continue with its development of both DUST 514 and World of Darkness.  An intelligent introduction of a cash shop should eliminate the cash flow problem.  But in my opinion CCP isn't acting intelligently in this manner, as both the outrageous pricing for the virtual items and the refusal to rule out "pay to win" items shows.  Hopefully the emergency meeting with the CSM will allow the policy makers a chance to get back in touch with the player base and retrieve the situation.

Related: After The Layoffs: CCP Is Not Dead Yet

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Sony Online Entertainment And The CCP Rumor

"Chief Executive Officer Howard Stringer has been pursuing the strategy of connecting Sony's network of videogames, movies and music to its hardware products, deeming it essential to the company's survival and competition with Apple Inc.'s lineup of devices connected to its iTunes library and store. "

With Eve News continuing to push the "Sony purchasing a share of CCP" story, now might be a good time for me to go back to my gaming roots and give a few thoughts on the situation.  I'm not too happy with their coverage so here are some facts that may or may not interest players of Eve Online.

First, Sony is not doing so well.  The Wall Street Journal reported last week that Sony is looking at an eighth straight year of losses in their mainstay television business.  And that is leading to investors looking at the company and saying "meh".
"Fund managers and analysts say Sony has lost appeal because they don't see an obvious engine for strong profits. Even after Japan's quake recovery, 'it's hard to see what will drive Sony's earnings growth,' said Tsuyoshi Kawata, head of global investment strategy at brokerage SMBC Nikko Securities. "
If Sony is looking for an obvious engine, and Sony management is attempting to leverage services involving video games into encouraging hardware sales, then Sony Online Entertainment is a key component of that strategy.  But a quick look shows that SOE is not doing that well.

First off, the recent hacking attack on the PlayStation Network also resulted in SOE shutting down its servers for 12 days and granting all of their subscribers 30 days free game time (plus the length of the downtime) as compensation.  Thirty days free game time is millions of dollars in lost revenue.  But that was just the latest in a series of blows the online game division suffered recently.  As expected, Star Wars: Galaxies will close down in December.  Everyone expects Vanguard, with no development staff dedicated to the game, to close soon.  Pirates of the Burning Seas went free-to-play last November.  Even EverQuest 2, SOE's flagship property, experienced server merges beginning last November.  Even with its latest games Free Realms, Clone Wars Adventures, the F2P EQ2 Extended and DC Universe Online generating revenue, SOE was forced to lay off 35 employees in July 2010 and then at the end of March 2011 announced it was laying off 205 employees and cancelling development of The Agency.

SOE does have two games, Planetside Next and the next version of EverQuest under development, with Planetside Next rumored to be announced at this year's SOE Fan Faire.  But will this new game along with a price reduction from $29.99 to $19.99 for Station Access accounts drive up the kinds of profits SOE needs?  Or would they want to, perhaps, purchase an interest in a successful MMORPG?  Perhaps one that has more subscriptions than any currently in the SOE stable of games (with the possible exception of DCUO)?

Would they?  I believe so.  And SOE CEO John Smedley's answer to a question in a interview left some people wondering if he was targeting CCP.
Massively: So you don't think that sandboxes (and sandbox systems) are dead for SOE? Will you ever make a new sandbox with SWG's pioneering features?

Smedley: The answer is... stay tuned on the subject of sandboxes. We're super excited about the future of sandbox gaming. Let me just leave it at that!
Personally, I don't think Smed was referring to CCP and Eve Online.  I think he was referring to one of the upcoming games although I very well could be wrong.  I find it hard to believe CCP would want to sell Sony a major interest in their company.  However, I do think Sony could come in though the back door.

The back door's name is Bjorgolfur Thor, one of CCP's biggest if not the biggest shareholder.  Rumored to have ties to the Russian mafia, Bjorgolfur Thor was heavily involved in the Icelandic banking collapse in 2008.  To say he made a mess of it is putting it mildly.
"In 2002 father and son Björgólfurs in partnership with Magnús Jónsson acquired Landsbanki for ISK 11.8 billion, a part of the sum they got for selling a beer brewery in Russia. Now, six years later, the IceSave deposit accounts have caused a severe international dispute with the British, Icelandic interests are linked to the al-Qaeda terrorist organisation and the Talibans, and furious Brits demand that each and every Icelander must guarantee millions of krónur. "

Bjorgolfur went from being Iceland's first dollar billionaire to struggling to make deals to save his home.  And here are the details.
"Bjorgolfsson and his investment company Novator have been undergoing extensive debt refinancing and partial pay offs recently – among others to Deutsche Bank, Barclays and the resolution committees of Glitnir, Landsbanki, Straumur and Kaupthing. The debt amounts to ISK 1,200 billion (USD 9.79 billion), reports – the majority of which connected to Actavis, which announced its successful refinancing yesterday.

"The refinancing deal sees Bjorgolfur Thor remain a shareholder in Actavis, the Polish telecommunications company Play, CCP and Verne Holding. But all his personal assets are included in the deal, according to a statement. The returns on his assets and their value if and when sold, will go towards debt payment.

So Bjorgolfur may be looking to sell off his position in CCP.  Since CCP is a privately-owned company, I don't know what the rules are on selling the shares to others is in Iceland.

Now, I'd like to put on my tin foil hat for a bit.  With the announcement at E3 that DUST 514 will be a Playstation 3 exclusive title, CCP has entered into a relationship with Sony Computer Entertainment, the division of Sony responsible for console gaming.  Don't you think Sony would like a little more control in the relationship, especially given their strategy of using software and services to sell their hardware?  And wouldn't such a purchase make those unimpressed investors sit up and take notice?

Let me remove the tin foil hat and say something about the Eve News coverage.  Maybe they really do have a source inside CCP.  Everyone knows how badly CCP is leaking news lately.  And I know how much news about Eve Online has descended into tabloid journalism.  But would it be too much to ask for them to do a little research and provide supporting evidence to back up their claims?  Just because Eve News 24 is breaking news stories doesn't mean that Eve News should just start throwing out the latest gossip.

TL;DR - Eve News is lazy.  The facts that could support the story are interesting, so their obvious troll is not so obvious after all.

Related Post: CCP Partners With Nexon and SOE's Community Address

Monday, June 27, 2011

Actions Speak Louder Than Words: The New Era Of Distrust In Eve

"Currently we are seeing _very predictable feedback_ on what we are doing. Having the perspective of having done this for a decade, I can tell you that this is one of the moments where we look at what our players do and less of what they say. Innovation takes time to set in and the predictable reaction is always to resist change. " [emphasis added]

The uproar in the Eve Online player community continues over the thought of CCP adding "pay-to-win" items to the Noble Exchange.  Pay-to-win items are not things like ships, fittings and ammunition produced by players that other players can currently buy using real life cash by using the PLEX mechanic.  No.  What has many players up in arms is the thought of purchasing items only produced by CCP that are superior to anything players can make.  Not only will this force serious PvP players to spend a lot of real life cash to compete, but such items will negatively impact the player economy as many items will no longer sell well, if at all.

Until Sunday, CCP's communications seemed to ignore this central point to the concern over "pay-to-win".  CCP Pann, in her post in response to the original threadnaught posted the following:
"As I see it, the chief complaint is regarding the high cost of goods in the Noble Market. Second, many people are unhappy about the Captain’s Quarters. Third, there are some performance issues with Incarna. "
That answer basically just threw gasoline on the fire.  Within two hours of her post, the thread had reached 34 pages and 1000 posts as players demanded to know if the Noble Market will move beyond selling vanity items.

Why the concern?  In addition to the potentially game-changing items, players want to know if they were lied to.  Back in November, in response to the uproar over the possibility of the selling of neural remaps, CCP Zulu wrote in a dev blog:
"It‘s clear that it‘s the will of the community to keep virtual goods sales outside the spectrum of what we classify as the 'merit economy'. That refers to skills gained over time or items that have a gameplay impact. So after discussions, designs, brainstorming and all sorts of processes we‘ve come up with a strategy that we‘ve already polished with the help of the CSM and would now want to present to the larger community.

"Virtual goods sales in EVE Online will evolve through sales of vanity items, first in Incarna but later in-space features. The scope will be (and there‘s no design has been done around this, we‘re just talking strategy now) that anything that doesn‘t affect gameplay directly can be, potentially, sold for PLEX or other means. Ideas that have come up include Incarna clothing and furniture, logos on spaceships and swapping out portraits. This is by no means a comprehensive list, nor is it a commitment that said items will be available for sale, I mention these as an example for what type of items we‘re thinking about. "
In an effort at damage control, CCP Zulu posted a dev blog about 20 hours later.  Below is the opening paragraph:
"This week has seen quite a controversy unfold. In almost the same instant as we deployed Incarna - which by the way is one of our more smooth and successful expansions, not to mention absolutely gorgeous - an internal newsletter with rather controversial topics addressed leaked out. To further compound the confusion there was a clear and rather large gap in virtual goods pricing expectation and reality with a large segment of the community. I‘m going to address both these issues right here. "
"More smooth" expansions?  With all the reports of graphics cards crashing and burning attempting to run Incarna (including Eve columnist Brendan Drain's), this expansion may have been the most painful for users since the boot.ini problem that accompanied the launch of Trinity.

More importantly, the dev blog still did not address "pay-to-win" items.  Since only selling vanity items was a stated policy, that should be a simple, right?

But it gets worse.  Did you notice I wrote "posted" and not "wrote" above?  That is because I listened to the special DJ Funky Bacon show (which will remain available on the Eve Radio Rewind for a week) Friday night/Saturday morning that discussed the events of the past month and the CSM members present, The Mittani, Seleene and Trebor Daehdoow agreed that the language used in the dev blog doesn't sound like it came from CCP Zulu.  Considering that Seleene actually worked in Iceland for CCP as a dev, that is about as good as it gets to an outside analysis.  Then at the end of the show, Eve News 24 posted a leaked internal email from CCP CEO Hilmar Peterssun about the situation.  This passage from the email I think confirmed the analysis on the show:
"A vision from years ago realized to a point that no one could have imaged but a few months ago. It rolls out without a hitch, is in some cases faster than what we had before, this is the pinnacle of professional achievement. For all the noise in the channel we should all stand proud, years from now this is what people will remember. " [emphasis mine]
I think at this point people began wondering if people inside CCP are lying to Hilmar.  Because Incarna did not roll out without a hitch.  But looking at the passage could lead an observer to think that Hilmar wrote the dev blog that has CCP Zulu's name attached to it.  But whoever wrote the dev blog, the post lit a fire among Eve players, with the response thread reaching 1000 posts in 90 minutes.

With players doing everything from protesting in Jita and Amarr to flooding the Perpetuum servers in their search for an alternative game, New Eden was truly burning.  One enterprising player kept track of all of those claiming to have cancelled their subscriptions and the total came to at least 2500 accounts.  That figure must have been low as CCP Zulu wrote another dev blog published Sunday in another attempt to calm the angry mob.
"The tone and demeanor of my blog on Friday did not correctly portray my emotions towards the community and player base at large. I love and respect EVE and its community on a level that's hard to really do justice in words. However I let my frustration take charge of me, fueled by emotions that had built up due to a breach of trust we at CCP have been experiencing over the past few days. I know that sounds ironic considering those are the exact same feelings you have been having towards CCP.

"For that I am sorry.

"Having cooled off a bit and taken a solemn look at the situation, I see it's clear we need to strengthen the deep mutual trust and respect that's been so unique and descriptive of our relationship. There are certain questions you want answered and there isn't room for more error in our communication on those topics or our perception of the root causes. "
As all players know, having a spy (or spies) in your corporation leaking damaging information is very upsetting.  And with players posting faster than people can read, CCP is probably undergoing information overload attempting to analyze the feedback.  So the call of the CSM to Iceland this week on very short notice was welcomed by some but seen as a delaying tactic by others.  Given the public statements of CSM members such as The Mittani, Seleene, Meissa Anunthiel and Trebor Daehdoow before CCP Zulu's second dev blog, CCP was already faced with dealing with a pissed-off CSM.  The Mittani's post in the response thread only reinforced that sentiment.
"This blog is a promising but much-delayed first step. The events of the past few days have left me feeling skeptical of the entire situation, since the May Summit itself went peachy, yet then these issues with the NeX prices cropped up, undiscussed, out of nowhere - not to mention the Hilmar mail, Greed is Good, et cetera.

"Mark me down on the 'actions not words' end of the scale - In Reykjavik, I'm going to want to see exactly how the NeX prices were decided upon, how they were drafted, and which suits where were behind this nonsense - and who chose to not mention this to the CSM. Perhaps most important is understanding the degree of financial motivation behind this, and why it came from CCP like a bolt from the blue, and thus how likely similar bolts from the blue might be in the future.

"I don't have much more to say beyond what I've already said on Eve Radio and in my CEO Update, which is crossposted on Kugu and Failheap.

"We'll see how Reykjavik goes."

Mr. Peterssun has stated that this is the time where CCP should not listen to its players but watch what they do.  We are also at a point where those players who are not actually quitting (and I think there are a lot of people crying wolf about this) will keep a wary eye on CCP's actions in what they do.  For a lot of people, CCP can't say anything that will comfort them anymore.  The new era of distrust has begun.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Mittani On The Incarna Launch Mess

Normally I don't blog on Sundays.  But yesterday was a pretty rough day.  I did my first bit of work at 7:30am and I don't think everything finished until 8pm.  Since I was stuck at my computer desk I tried to do Eve stuff but I was continually drawn back to the crisis CCP faces.  I'm trying to stay positive and even made a public statement stating I'm staying in Eve, but I'm getting depressed.  I broke down and opened up the bottle of мускатова ракия that someone was kind enough to bring me from Bulgaria last month (luckily the Chicago area has the largest Bulgarian community in the United States so I should be able to get more).  But even fortified I'm not happy watching not only Pandemic Legion but Chribba jump into try out Perpetuum.

Right now I'm placing all my hopes on a gentleman from the other side of the Cheddar Curtain (as we in Illinois sometimes call the border with Wisconsin), The Mittani, to help CCP pull out of the nosedive they placed themselves in.  Here are some thoughts from our illustrious chairman of the Council of Stellar Management as posted on Kugutsman.

"Why Do We Give A Shit?
"I and the rest of the CSM have been extremely blunt in our demands that CCP issue a formal disavowal of 'gold ammo', non-vanity microtransactions, or otherwise bleeding gold into the sandbox of EVE. My impression is that a quick "Look, the monocles are expensive, but we're not doing gold ammo" would have ended this crisis days ago and CCP wouldn't be down at least 2500 accounts. The fact that CCP has remained silent on the issue is increasingly being taken to imply what everyone fears - that a company which would without irony charge $70 for a space monocle will issue $250 i-win lasers.

"A few years ago, we saw the impact that 'oligarchs' had on the nullsec metagame, when Red Overlord had SerLordex spend a hundred thousand dollars on Eve Online, A Bad Game. The kind of economic distortion that would come from a legalized and pervasive 'gold ammo' style of gameplay would mean that, in order to stay competitive, every PvP entity would be obliged to acquire and use gameplay-enhancing gold items or suffer for their austerity. Perhaps some of you think that 'Pay to Win' is acceptable in a competitive subscription MMO; I do not.

"What The Fuck Were They Thinking?

"This is my impression of what happened, not based on any NDA information or CSM Secret Squirrel shit.

"CCP's Virtual Goods store tried to imitate the business concept of Starbucks. The great Starbucks trick was coming up with a fancy setting and bourgie babby coffee shops, changing the environment of 'buying coffee' enough that the consumer was willing to pay $4 for a cup of coffee where previously he would buy the same drink at Dunkin Donuts for a $1.

"Reading Zulu's blog where he emphasizes that EVE is a 'premium experience' and references designer jeans, it seems like the CCP Marketing department hoped to do the same thing. EVE is so special and spiffy and cool, you see, that in EVE you're not buying a hat for a dollar or two like in Team Fortress, or an entire wardrobe in
Star Trek Online for seven bucks. Those games are Dunkin Donuts. EVE is Starbucks - it's just so different that you'll buy ~virtual goods~ that are almost ten times the prices of comparable MMOs.

"The problem, of course, is that EVE is a broken game. The ship balance is terrible, nullsec desperately needs a revamp, the PvE is laughable, and playing without goons is like stabbing yourself in the balls over and over again. EVE is not a 'premium experience' as it currently stands - particularly if your
ATI video card just overheated and died when you tried to load your Captain's Quarters.

"So it flopped. CCP tried to distinguish EVE from other MMOs in terms of microtransaction pricing, and now people are running around in lynch mobs wardeccing and blowing up anyone who's actually bought something from the NeX. Selling a
virtual shirt that costs more than the real shirts in your own company's store was probably not the suavest move, either.

"Where Could This Go?

"Rumors indicate that ~5000 unsubs have occurred already; there is already significant media blowback over the Monocle, the protests and the CEO letter, with the gaming press unilaterally taking the side of the outraged playerbase. Unless CCP deploys effective damage control and takes charge of the situation, the risk is that the game itself could see an exodus and abrupt subscriber deflation. Meanwhile, a number of 'famous players' such as Ombey, Helicity Boson and Lallante have loudly thrown in the towel and are playing Perpetuum or Tanks or whatever. These people may be pubbie fucks that we don't care about, but many other pubbie fucks follow them as they are ~opinion leaders~.

"Even without the head-up-ass public relations crisis, the Incarna release doesn't look good for CCP. Usually an expansion results in a huge activity spike in subs and online users. While we don't have access to subs information, anyone can chart the
downward slope in average users online since January 2011.

"While in nullsec we have ties to this game that are primarily social and competitive, Joe Pubbie just wants to spin his CNR in a mission hub; there's not much holding the 80% of the Empire subscribers in this game, should there be an obvious stampede towards the exits. And if they do, the economy of the EVE goes into the shitter overnight, CCP's planned 'revenue stream' to fund DUST and WoD vanishes - which will make them even more eager to extract capital from what players remain in the game - and the media has a field day making Horse Armor and SWG:NGE jokes. That's the Doomsday Scenario.
Now, believe it or not, I am a little more disdainful of CCP's pricing strategy than The Mittani.  I actually think that CCP is trying to do what Allods Online did, which is price extremely high and then walk down the price.  Given the reaction that the makers of the Russian F2P game received, I think that CCP really didn't do their research on this matter.

The worst part is that The Mittani's worst case scenario is exactly what I fear is happening to Eve Online today.  I really love this game and I'm afraid that CCP is about to throw everything down the drain in a fit of hubris.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

I'm Staying

I'm at the point I think I need to make a statement.  I will not join the exodus of players who say they have left or are leaving Eve Online.  I have a ringside seat to a social revolution in a virtual world and the opportunity to report and comment on it.  Heck, if I do a good enough job, some of my work might wind up as primary source material in some of those scholarly works I see on Terra Nova that I enjoy so much.  So passing up an opportunity like this is just crazy talk.

That said, I have a lot I want to accomplish in Eve Online.  Will the upcoming changes make life more difficult?  For the way I wish to continue playing the game, I believe so.  I am beginning to see parallels to SOE's Station Cash shop and what the Noble Exchange could morph into.  But I also have faith that CCP is smarter than the folks running SOE (sorry Domino).

I am also going to say this again.  Anything in Eve Online that can be purchased either on the market or thru contracts can be purchased with real world money.  Anything.  Eve Online is the only game I have ever played in which I could make that statement.  Every other game has used mechanics like bind on pickup to prevent certain high-level items from being sold.  Even some actions that require things like faction standings, like anchoring POSs in Empire space or obtaining jump clones, can be purchased using real life money (via PLEX conversion) if you contact someone in-game offering the service.

Now, does that mean I am a CCP fanboi?  I really wanted to lead the cheers, what with the company's innovation concerning the integration of DUST 514 into the Eve universe.  Not anymore.  Just as Hilmar has told his company that "this is one of the moments where we look at what our players do and less of what they say," this is one of those moments I look at CCP's actions and less of what they say.

Friday, June 24, 2011

A Legend Is Banned From Eve Online

"You can't win, Darth. If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you could possibly imagine."
―Obi-Wan Kenobi

Helicity Boson, the creator and continuing organizer of Hulkageddon, was finally banned from Eve Online yesterday.  Not for organizing the mass ganking of peaceful miners, but for the release of an issue of CCP's internal employee magazine, Fearless.  Helicity managed to unlock the security on the sanitized pdf that was floating around and then the storm began.  At the risk of getting banned myself, I'll go ahead and quote the offending passages.
"Not all virtual purchases will focus on customization: some will simply be new items, ammunition, ships, etc. that can be purchased outright. The devil, as always, is in the details... "

"One other service we’re looking at is selling faction standings. "

- Delivering the Goods, Virtual Sales In Incarna, Scott Holden, p. 9

These are the passages that are making the player base go stark raving mad.  Selling fluff items is okay, selling unique items that give an advantage is bad.  I'll quote Paul Clavet, because I think he voices a legitimate concern:

"If the $60 monocles, letdown of the FAMC (Forever Alone Minmatar Closet), performance issues, and game-breaking bugs were all that the community was raging about, do you think that I’d be threatening to leave the game I love? The game that I currently know of no replacement for? Frankly, I wouldn’t have given the patch a second thought if that were the case. 'Oh, another crappy expansion release.' I’d say. 'It’s hardly the first. They’ll fix it up soon.'

"This is about the promise that you made to us that real-money transactions would be for vanity items ONLY. You started breaking this promise at some point since then, and may have been lying to us from the beginning.

"And now you make a post saying you’ll address our concerns, and completely ignore the one item that will cause the greatest exodus from your subscriber base. Forgive us the pitchforks, but we’re feeling used and betrayed here.

"Where’s the butterfly effect in this? What’s the point of being in a game where the individual’s actions matter, if those actions can be counterbalanced by someone willing to open their wallet and have you create something out of thin air?  " [emphasis mine]
"Create something out of thin air" is the problem.  I don't think CCP, who have seen players able to purchase any item in their game for real life cash for 2 1/2 years, understood the difference their players would feel about this.

Now it is time for damage control.  As we saw last year, CCP will respond if players bring enough heat, and right now the forums are lit up like the sun.  But will CCP respond gracefully or clumsily?  Does anyone remember the D20 scandal and how that blew up?  And we all know how banning Kugutsumen made him go away.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Haggling Over Price

After looking at the prices in The Noble Exchange, CCP's new in-game cash shop, I was reminded of a joke.
Man:  Would you sleep with me for $5 million?
Woman:  Sure.
Man:  Okay, how about for $1?

Woman:  No way!  What kind of woman do you think I am?
Man:  Oh, I already know.  Now we're just haggling over the price.
Since the introduction of the 30 Days CONCORD Pilot's License Extension (PLEX) in November 2008, players in Eve Online have had the option of purchasing any item in the game for real life money.  But up until the introduction of Incarna on Tuesday, players, for the most part, were the ones who set the prices.  Now, with the Noble Exchange, CCP is setting prices that, to put it mildly, are a bit pricy.

  • Looking Glass Ocular implant: 12,000 AUR (3.5 PLEX)
  • Men’s ‘Sterling’ Dress Shirt: 3,600 AUR (0.97 PLEX)
  • Women’s ‘Sterling’ Dress Blouse: 3,200 AUR (0.91 PLEX)
  • Men’s ‘Comando’ Pants: 3,000 AUR (0.85 PLEX)
  • Women “Impress” Skirt: 3,600 AUR (0.97 PLEX)
  • Women’s ‘Sterling’ Dress Blouse: 4,400 AUR (1.25 PLEX)
  • Men’s ‘Precision’ Boots: 1,000 AUR (0.28 PLEX)
  • Women’s ‘Greave’ Knee-Boots: 2,400 AUR (0.68 PLEX)
EveNews24 converted the prices to money so I wouldn't have to do any math.  That's good because math is hard.
  • Looking Glass Ocular implant: $61.25
  • Men’s ‘Sterling’ Dress Shirt: $16.97
  • Women’s ‘Sterling’ Dress Blouse: $16.00
  • Men’s ‘Comando’ Pants: $15
  • Women “Impress” Skirt: $16.97
  • Women’s ‘Sterling’ Dress Blouse: $22.00
  • Men’s ‘Precision’ Boots: $5.00
  • Women’s ‘Greave’ Knee-Boots: $12.00
Really CCP?  I know that players throw around SOE's NGE when talking about game changes they don't like.  I'm going to throw out another one.  The Allods cash shop.  The Russian free-to-play game made a pretty big mistake when they opened.  Now it looks like CCP used a Russian pricing model for their cash shop.  I don't think that is too smart, but I'm not a game developer, so what do I know?  But I'm still going to wait for all the new Russians taking over Eve jokes to begin.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Temperature Check

Don't read the forums.  How many times have I been told that?  How many bloggers have written that?  But I do it anyway.  The latest case: how Incarna makes graphics cards overheat.

The thread I read (that I can't find now) stated a problem with the graphics card overheating when attempting to play with two clients.  CCP Zulu did come out with a dev blog addressing the issue (kind of) but a lot of people in the thead started spouting off the specs of their machines complaining about overheating.  One of the specs caught my eye: a year-old laptop running an NVIDIA GeoForce GT 425M card.  That's what I run.

The thing that really irritated me about the thread wasn't the people reporting the issues.  Oh no!  It was the responses that you are not supposed to stay docked up in stations.  Really?  What game are they playing?  If we aren't supposed to stay in stations, why do we have all of these cool new interfaces that encourage us to stay in stations?  Obviously, those people were either trolls or people who never engage in planetary interaction.  Or any kind of industry for that matter.  Either that, or I'm really slow.  I'm okay with being slow, because I'm getting older and my twitch relexes just aren't what they used to be.  Besides, Eve is a sandbox and I'll play at whatever speed I want.

So after downloading the new client, I logged both my accounts on.  I dual box, and I actually run two computers, a laptop and a desktop.  But for last night, my mission was simple: find out if staying docked up in station would overheat my graphics cards.  That actually was not a hardship, since I did want to explore the interior of the Captain's Quarters. 

The performance was much better than that first look I took when CQ first showed up on Duality.  And I actually entered the character creator on both characters and changed the looks around.  Wandering Rose is now wearing all black and Rosewalker had gotten rid of his dreadlocks and now is sporting corn rolls and a new tatoo.  The funny thing about the character creator is that the mirror on the exterior of the character creator did not work on my laptop but did on my desktop.  The reason that is funny is that while my laptop is running an NVIDIA card, my desktop is running a ATI Radeon 4800 Series graphics card.  Less functionality with an NVIDIA card, CCP's graphics partner?  Even after the patch notes stated they were shutting off some functionality Starting to sound like SOE and EverQuest 2 to me.

I stayed logged in for about an hour, also doing my planetary interaction activities from the CQ, before going to sleep.  No overheating noted on either computer, although I will look into getting a cooling pad just to make sure my laptop stays cool during longer periods of ship spinning.  What's that?  No more ship spinning?  If you look at your ship long enough, you will notice your ship will slowly rotate all on its own.  Hopefully that is an intended feature.  I'd hate for CCP to think I created a bot to do that.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A Quick Look At Incarna's Patch Notes

The long wait is finally over.  Once the servers come back up we can walk around in Eve Online.  Okay, a lot of players don't want anything to do with "space Barbie".  But believe it or not, Incarna includes more than walking in stations.  I'm not going to go through all of the patch notes, but I did find a couple of things I wanted to comment on.

Aurum:  Here are the details I've been waiting for.
  • Players can now convert PLEX into Aurum via the Noble Exchange.
  • 1 PLEX can be converted into 3500 Aurum at a fixed rate through the Noble Exchange interface. (Multiple PLEX can be converted at the same time).
  • Aurum transactions are logged in the wallet journal.
  • We are temporarily prohibiting the transfer of Aurum between characters. This is done for the sake of a slower, more secure implementation of the feature while the initial economic impact is being analyzed.
First, the conversion rate is rather interesting.  Two PLEX run $34.99, so 200 Aurum = $1.  I don't know what the conversion for euros is.  But I do know that the going rate for a PLEX on the market is approximately 373 million isk, so that will equate to a starting price of 106,500 isk per Aurum.  So you may want to keep that in mind as you purchase Noble Exchange items on the market.

I will say I like the delay in allowing transfers of Aurum between characters.  A lot of people could lose a lot of real life money real fast otherwise.  Of course, it is going to happen anyway, but at least they can give some of the suckers a better chance to avoid a blowout that will lead to a rage quit.

Captain's Quarters:  Just a couple of the more interesting points.
  • The Captain's Quarters have tools that will make life for the capsuleer much easier, including the agent finder, corporation recruitment, planetary interaction, character re-customization and ship fitting.
Is the agent finder a replacement for Chribba's Eve Agents or a replacement for the in-game map?  Something better than the map would be most useful.
  • The main screen provides information about things happening in the EVE universe, including sovereignty changes, the Interstellar Correspondents News Feed, incursions and more - stay tuned.

I wonder what this means for bloggers and podcasters?
  • A new camera system was built from the ground up to support avatar movement and various state transitions.
  • An extensive avatar movement scheme using Natural Motion's Morpheme has been developed to control your character. This includes an eight directional movement scheme accessible via keyboard controls, click-to-move and mouse movement.
  • Separate keyboard shortcuts for Captain's Quarters and flying-in–space, as well as a number of options for customizing the walking-in-station camera, have been added to the ESC menu.
Although I have heard that the latest build on the Singularity test server had an option to not render the station, I wonder what this will mean for botters.  If a player really can disable showing Captain's Quarters, will CCP use that as an indication that a player could be running bots?  And if the feature is mandatory, will the bot writers be able to adjust without a few days of downtime?

The New Player Experience:  This sounds like fun.
  • Initial missions and tutorials have been re-designed significantly, both to encompass Incarna gameplay and to make the first few hours in the EVE universe more accessible and instructive.
  • Aura has returned! Tutorials include new Aura voice overs and images (in all supported languages) to help pilots get familiar with the basic of EVE gameplay and the EVE Online interface.
  • The main screen in one's Captain's Quarters provides relevant information for new and experienced players. You will be able to learn about on career agents, epic arcs, skill training and clones, all while sitting on your Internet space sofa.
  • Aura is now an agent, and will be in charge of the new player experience and early tutorials. The previous agents who gave players their first crash course missions have been...retired.
  • Various optimizations have been made to the categorization and presentation of tutorials, making it easier for you to find specific lessons.
  • Partially completed tutorials can be restarted by accessing the tutorials tab of the help menu (F12).
Aura's back!!!

As experienced capsuleers, can Rosewalker and Wandering Rose run through the tutorials?  Or do I have to create new characters?

Previewing appearance:  As an old EQ2 player, I really enjoy being able to look at what I buy before actually purchasing it, so these items are important to me.
  • Turrets can be previewed in 3-D by clicking on its icon.
  • All clothing in the Noble Exchange can be previewed on a 3-D mannequin model via Show Info.
NVIDIA Favortism?:  I know that CCP, like SOE in the past, has partnered with NVIDIA.  So do the following changes favor NIVDIA?  I don't know very much, so I'd be interested in someone telling me yes or no.
  • SSAO is disabled on all video cards except NVIDIA cards.
  • ILR is disabled on Windows XP machines that use ATI GPU’s.
  • Depth effects on Macs with ATI cards are disabled.
Of course, SOE sometimes forgot about their partnership, much to the dismay of those who went out and purchased NVIDIA cards because they thought it was guaranteed to be compatible with EQ2.  But I'm not bitter.

Scanning:  One thing on my list of things to do is to get back into exploration.  The scanning changes might make things interesting.
  • It is no longer possible to set up a ship to be impervious to scanning while uncloaked.
  • All probes can now contribute to a scan result, as opposed to the previous limit of four.
Of course, I wonder how these changes will impact the search for mission bots in low and null sec?  I bet a lot more start dying.  Is this CCP helping out their player allies in the War on Bots™?  Anyway you look at it, the isk faucet from ratting and missioning is going to slow down a bit.

I wrote that I would only take a quick look at a few items, so I am going to skip the fixes as well as some other subjects that null sec residents are passionate about like jump bridges.  But I do want to mention one last item.

Client update #1 for Incarna 1.0, released June 21, 2011
  • This client addresses several important issues with Incarna and we strongly urge players to install this update. This will be presented immediately after you install Incarna 1.0
Why not put this into the same install?  I'm not really sure, but I do know one that that CCP always does with patches.  They do some code tweaks that mess with bots.  If you figure that the bot devs have had quite a bit of time with Incarna on Singularity, then throwing this at them will delay the bot users making money for a few hours if not a day or two.

That's all I have.  If you missed the link to the full patch notes, go ahead and click here.  And don't get too frustrated until CCP gets all the bugs out of this first Incarna release.

Monday, June 20, 2011

A Look At The PLEX Market Before Incarna

Tomorrow the deployment of Incarna, the latest Eve Online expansion, will bring the Noble Exchange store to pimp out your avatar's looks and a new currency, Aurum, to spend in that store.  Aurum is acquired by breaking up PLEX, which means that players will not have to purchase special clothing with real life money.  All they have to due is buy a PLEX off the market.

What will that do to the PLEX market?  CCP doesn't really know as in the dev blog CCP Zulu stated that CCP will watch the PLEX market closely.  That is the type of statement that makes a lot of players nervous.

Instead of just yelling and screaming about how CCP is ruining the game, I want to look at the PLEX market and examine exactly what the effects of the cash shop are over time.  So in this blog post I will look at the state of the PLEX market in the 4 weeks leading into Incarna.

When examining the PLEX market, I am only going to look at the four regions in Empire that host the 4 great trading hubs in New Eden, The Forge (Jita), Heimatar (Rens), Domain (Amarr) and Sinq Laison (Dodixie).  I believe that those are the regions where the vast majority of PLEX are traded on the markets.

Chart 1: Average Daily Price of PLEX (ISK)

Looked at in isolation, one might conclude that the speculation and then announcement of the cash shop and Aurum led to speculation that led the price of PLEX to rise by 15-20 million isk over a very short period of time.  But the rise and fall of the price of PLEX seemed to follow the number of users on Tranquility.

Chart 2: Rolling Average of Peak User Concurrency

While the chart above only covers the period until 5 June, I do not think it is a coincidence that both the peak price of PLEX and the highest PCU number both occurred on 30 May.  Since then the price of PLEX and the new price range looks like it is settling in between 372-382 million isk depending on region.

What about volume?  I would guess that the number of PLEX sold will increase with the new expansion.  But exactly how many PLEX are sold now?

Chart 3: Daily Volume of PLEX Sold

That is a lot of PLEX changing hands every day.  All told, during the 4 week period, 97, 939 PLEX changed hands in the 4 regions between 20 May and 18 June.  I do not know what the current subscription numbers are, but the last I had heard Eve had 360,000 accounts.  If that is still the number, then enough PLEX were bought with isk to pay for over 27% of the accounts in the 4 week period.

After looking at the numbers, I still had two questions.  The first was: how much real life money is that?  After all, one way to possibly measure the profitability of the cash shop is to see how much more PLEX is sold on the market than currently.  So I converted the number of PLEX sold to its value in U.S. dollars (using the figure of $34.99 for 2 PLEX as my guideline) and came up with this chart.

Chart 4: Daily value of PLEX Sold (US Dollars)

According to my calculations, $1.7 million worth of PLEX were traded using in-game currency in the 4 main trading regions from 20 May to 18 June.  I will be interested to see what that figure looks like one month after the launch of Incarna.

The last question I had is: how much unsold PLEX are there on the market.  I don't have a pretty graph for this, but in the snapshot I took in the four regions Sunday I counted 1360 in the four regions.  That's only $23,800 worth of PLEX which, barring days when CCP has problems with deploying patches or is suffering DDoS attacks, is less than half of the volume sold every day.

(Update: 26 June - I've been reviewing the data and the actual figures were 1186 PLEX worth $20,800.)

I really have the feeling we are about to see the price of PLEX rise even higher in the near term future.  But time will tell.  That's what makes Eve fun.  You never really know what to expect next.

Friday, June 17, 2011

DRF Celebrates Victory

With the Northern Coalition dissolving (if not dissolved already), many in the DRF are celebrating getting to move out of the Drone Regions.  Thankfully, CCP released Incarna a little early in some Drone Region stations so we could see pictures of the celebration.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Five Is A Magic Number

The DDoS attacks haven't kept me from playing Eve Online because by the time I get home from work they are over.  Now if real life will just cooperate a little bit I can get some play time in.  My new goal actually requires me to play the game.

What's my new goal?  To get some nice shiny faction ships by turning in Angel Cartel tags.  But that actually requires running missions and getting my standings up with the Republic Parliament.  The only problem is that I started off with no faction with the Republic Parliament.  At all.  And I really didn't feel like running level 1 or level 2 missions.  I had just done that with Wandering Rose to get her enough standings to get perfect refining at some stations in Ammatar space.

Then I looked at my faction standings and smiled.  My standings with the Minmatar Republic were 4.8.  A couple of storyline missions and I'd hit the magic number of 5.  Why is 5 a magic number?  Before the latest agent changes, all 5 meant was that you had access to all level 3 mission and R&D agents and the worst of the level 4 agents.  Now, 5 means access to all level 4 mission and R&D agents.

Now, getting a storyline missions means doing 16 regular missions.  Since I like flying around, I figured level 3 missions were just the thing to do.  I figured doing courier missions that required no more than 3 jumps was faster than doing combat or mining missions.  So for two weekends I ran courier missions.  I think it turned out to be around 45 because I had already done some level 3 missions a long time ago that counted toward my total.

With more opportunities comes more work.  My current path collecting datacores is 89 jumps.  I now have access to closer agents, which will make life easier.  Of course, I have to do the work of signing up with new agents and dropping the old ones, but that should just be an afternoon's work.  And since I have access to all of those level 4 agents, I might have to break down and purchase a Noctis to do all the salvaging.  Part of the reasons for doing the level 4 missions is to get those precious tags after all.  If I am going to loot them, I might as well get some salvage at the same time.

Getting standings up to 5 with one of the major factions (Minmatar, Amar, Gallente and Caldari) opens a lot of possibilities.  Now I just need to figure out how to really take advantage of what I've worked for.  Choices, choices and more choices.  Just another day in the sandbox we call Eve Online.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Lulzsec Attacks, CCP Pulls Logoffski

Sometimes a game community's personality comes out when bad things happen.  I think we saw a bit of that during yesterday's DDoS attack by Lulzsec on the Eve Online servers.  Two of the things that Eve is most famous for is null sec warfare and the behavior of a lot of players attempting to grief others and collect buckets of tears.  So how did that manifest itself yesterday?

First, CCP's reaction to the DDoS attack was pure null sec warfare.  Even an Empire carebear like me knows that when a titan or super-carrier is tackled and taking too much damage, the supercap pilot is likely to log off to save his ship.  That is exactly what CCP did with the Eve Online servers when it faced an overwhelming attack.  Shut the servers down and waited for the enemy to get bored and go away.

The other part of the equation is that Lulzsec does what it does to gather tears.  If the Eve Online community knows one thing, is that you never give an enemy tears.  Well, some carebears during Hulkageddon forget the rule, but for the most part it is followed.  So when CCP pulled its logoffski to save the good ship Tranquility, the players for the most part supported CCP.  No fun here. 

We'll see what today holds in store.  I think Lulzsec is going to move on to more interesting things and Eve Online will revert back to its evil ways again.  But I got in my daily PI work, just in case.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

GeneralStab Logs: The Mittani On RMT

Some people make the GeneralStab channel sound like it just contained a lot of trolling and nothing said in the channel should be taken seriously.  Admittedly, I've only had time to go through about a month's worth of logs at this point, but I read a lot more than trolling.  Take for example this discussion about RMT from 5 June 2011.  I'm not going to do a raw data dump of the log.  Instead, I'll try to break it up into digestible chunks.

First was Rat Salat from Morsus Mihi attempting to explain why using the proceeds from moon goo for RMT just wasn't feasible.

[08:54:14] [rat salat] But I do find the whole tech RMT accusation pretty funny
[08:54:23] [rat salat] Let's say MM corp A has 8 tech moons
[08:54:30] [rat salat] CEO can maybe skim 4 moons
[08:54:39] [rat salat] Which is what? 800 bucks max?
[08:54:55] [wibla] rawr-hirr-rat-salat_: 800 bucks per month would, actually, pay for my house loan xD
[08:55:08] [rat salat] Maybe if you live in a fucking trailer park
[08:55:24] [rat salat] 800 bucks a month? that's 200 a week
[08:55:29] [rat salat] fucking mcdonalds money

That got The Mittani started on the subject.
[08:54:53] [the mittani] i know a rmt transaction of about 2 trillion
[08:54:58] [the mittani] that's about 40k usd
[08:55:09] [the mittani] don't knock rmt, it's p. serious cash at the upper levels
[08:55:36] [the mittani] fuck, iskbank had records of about 300k in profit
[08:55:56] [rat salat] Advice... skip the rmt, quit eve and get into med school lol
[08:56:14] [the mittani] rmt is relatively easy and doesn't involve 120k+ of debt
[08:57:06] [the mittani] it's not like humans do work to generate rmt isk
[08:57:09] [rat salat] No, but it does take 80 hours to control the corp
[08:57:14] [the mittani] it's all virtual machines running bots, or moon products
[08:57:23] [rat salat] Now, botting, that's different
[08:57:32] [the mittani] primarily it's questor in l4 mission hubs
[08:57:33] [rat salat] There's some RMT to be made there
[08:57:50] [rat salat] 1 bot over a month makes a tech moon look silly
[08:57:51] [rat salat] so yea
[08:58:57] [the mittani] and due to virtual machines, you can run as many bots doing missions as your cpu can handle
[08:58:59] [rat salat] E#xactly
[08:59:18] [rat salat] So tech for RMT is fucking irrelevant as far as I'm concerned
[09:01:59] [the mittani] goo embezzlement is an 'out'
[09:02:12] [the mittani] if you set up a rmt shop as a business from the start, you do bots in vms in empire
[09:02:31] [the mittani] if you, say, decide to go 'fuck eve' and you happen to have access to goo, though

I'm not sure how much of The Mittani's wisdom is from experience and how much is from briefings he received from CCP.  But this next segment of conversation peaked my interest.

[09:03:44] [the mittani] pretty much any alliance without a public financial spreadsheet and an auditor is subject to rmt accusations in this day and age, though
[09:03:55] [rat salat] Except
[09:04:05] [rat salat] your alliance is the only one who does that lol
[09:04:14] [bring stabity] at least you get the joke
[09:04:21] [the mittani] most of the clusterfuck does that now, tmk
[09:04:38] [bring stabity] modernization of alliances is a cool thing
[09:04:54] [bring stabity] look back 2 years, and no one cared at all. too busy hating the forever war and yelling at cheating devs

Of course, I really shouldn't have been surprised by the revelation that an alliance that lost all its space due to not playing its bills would take to keeping really good books.  Especially when the leader who had to pick up the pieces when it all fell into the crapper was The Mittani.  Also, the affair with OWN Alliance that The Mittani documented in Sins of a Solar Spymaster 54 should have suggested the role accountants play in null sec politics.  Apparently Goonswarm Federation is leading the way.

I found one last item interesting from this exchange.  Here we have null sec players, including not only the leader of one of the largest alliances in the game but also the chairman of the Council of Stellar Management, looking at level 4 mission running bots as a superior method of making isk than operating technetium moons.  For all those botters wondering why CCP wants to go after botters, now you know why.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Vuk Lau: NC Leadership Was Involved In RMT

John Rourke: So this going back to signing up for a corporation then, is it?  Some faceless bunch of idiots who spend their whole time bickering before screwing you over for every isk you’ve got?  And when they say jump, you have to jump, because they own your ass!

Charlie Fodder: At the moment, John, when you say jump, we have to jump or it *is* our ass!  In a corp you get a paycheck, some security and stability, and a whole corporate fleet behind you if the going gets tough.  Big difference.  And for all the freedom you talk about in this crew, it’s gotten us chained to dangerous operations that we can’t refuse because we never have any damn money.

- Clear Skies, Act 2, Scene 1
The dialog above from the classic machinima movie Clear Skies really shows the choices players have in Eve Online.  Stay independent or join a corporation or alliance.  Unlike MMOs like World of Warcraft, Eve, as is typical of pre-WoW games, really encourages group play and joining player-run corporations and alliances.  Also unlike almost all other MMOs on the market, CCP allows players to do bad things in game.  Hopefully, when joining a corporation, a player is able to find a home that provides some security, stability, and backup when things get tough.  But the danger always exists that a player will get into a situation where a "faceless bunch of idiots who spend their whole time bickering before screwing you over for every isk you’ve got" takes advantage of you.

CCP now faces a situation in which it needs to take some sort of action.  The problem isn't that an alliance director just embezzled a lot of funds.  The problem is that an alliance director embezzled a lot of funds and engaged in illicit RMT.

The player in question is Vuk Lau.  It had been rumored for months (if not years) that Vuk Lau was involved in the RMT trade and the recent release
of the Northern Coalition GenStab channel logs by RAZOR Alliance confirmed the rumors.  With Vuk Lau serving on CSM 5, that meant that the RMT sites had a spy in the information loop between CCP and the Council of Stellar Management.  This exchange was published on Eve News 24.
In February, I was approached by one of my best informants (Who we will call TheTrickster for the purpose of this article) and received this piece of intel regarding a CSM delegate breaking his NDA:
TheTrickster: i have learned that CCP’s new tactic in the war against RMT is to sell isk on the black market themselves at vastly reduced prices
TheTrickster: thus killing the market by making it no longer profitable for the RMTers
TheTrickster: well my source is Vuk Lau, so pretty reliable
riverini: how did u learned it, and when i say taht i don’t mean the srouce
riverini: ohh
riverini: ohhhh
riverini: lol, is Vuk Lau’s business being affected?
TheTrickster: yes, that’s how i found out about it, he was bitching loudly in that magical channel i mentioned
Is CCP really selling black market isk?  Eve News 24 is holding a contest to encourage people to go through the logs and find the choice news nuggets.  And people are finding the proof.  For example, I believe riverini's source was referencing logs from 3 Februrary 2011:
[22:26:42] [rawr-4s-hinata] I think Lee Chanka is mad CCP nuked all his cans :D
[22:26:43] [rawr-4s-vuk-lau] how the fuck you see there 25k $
[22:27:05] [rawr-4s-vuk-lau] (11:23:32 PM) rawr_vuk_lau: fucking CCP
(11:23:35 PM) rawr_vuk_lau: crashing RMT market
(11:23:44 PM) rawr_vuk_lau: my dudes are selling 1 bil for 10$
(11:23:53 PM) rawr_vuk_lau: discount on bigger quantities
(11:24:03 PM) rawr_vuk_lau: good old times when 1 bil was 40€
(11:24:29 PM) SavageBastard: how did they crash it
(11:24:49 PM) rawr_vuk_lau: they are RMTing
(11:25:03 PM) SavageBastard: haha what
(11:25:07 PM) rawr_vuk_lau: undercutting big players
(11:25:20 PM) SavageBastard: on the black market or are they officially selling isk now
(11:25:25 PM) zagdul: I'm back
(11:26:19 PM) rawr_vuk_lau: black market
But Vuk Lau's activities have been going on for a long time.  Below is an exchange from 30 April 2010.
[22:06:15] [rawr-4s-vuk-lau] ISK IS ALWAYS THE ISSUE!!!
[22:06:19] [42-mynas-atoch] fuck it, charge us a one off fee of one billion isk for the office and the costs are covered
[22:06:20] [rawr-eyedoll] oh god no, not minmatar
[22:06:21] [rawr-4s-vuk-lau] i gave MANY billions to PL
[22:06:31] [zeturi] MANY
[22:06:34] [rawr-hinata] MANY MANY BILLIONS
[22:06:35] [rawr-eyedoll] and you sold many billions in ebay (
[22:06:43] [me-kesper-north] billions and billions?
[22:06:47] [lodra-mister-vee] beelions
[22:06:49] [me-kesper-north] possibly an entire CARL SAGAN of billions
[22:06:50] [42-vily] how much DID you give PL?
[22:06:53] [rawr-4s-vuk-lau] actually trilions, when you are mentioning ebay
[22:07:05] [rawr-4s-vuk-lau] vily - MANY
[22:07:10] [rawr-4s-vuk-lau] ok

Going back to this year, capital ship losses led to this exchange on 15 February 2011:
[00:15:39] [rawr-fsr-sala-cameron] ya javer is dead
[00:15:41] [rawr-fsr-sala-cameron] so 10 confirmed
[00:15:49] [rawr-4s-vuk-lau] Javer is dead yeah
[00:16:20] [rawr-4s-hinata] Vuk we need new ones asap :D
[00:16:42] [42-tedy-lord-2evil] omg people what have you done
[00:16:54] [cei-callum545] no rr
[00:17:34] [wi-voids-luckyaba] hahaha that carrier came to you straight out of a sanctum
[00:19:25] 7-drk-antonivs leaves the room
[00:20:01] [rawr-4s-hinata] how much is 60b in $?
[00:20:15] 7-drk-antonivs joins the room
[00:20:18] [rawr-4s-vuk-lau] depends
[00:20:23] [rawr-4s-vuk-lau] if I give you friendly ratwe
[00:20:25] [rawr-4s-vuk-lau] rate
[00:20:26] [rawr-4s-vuk-lau] not much
[00:20:30] [rawr-4s-hinata] lol
[00:20:52] [rawr-4s-vuk-lau] good old times when I was selling isk 40€ per bill
[00:20:59] [7-drk-antonivs] well 8/120 made it thru the lag at the gate
[00:21:01] [rawr-4s-vuk-lau] now if I get 20€ I am happy
That is nice that Vuk Lau was willing to give a discount to corporation members, right?

The whole "we're not RMT, you are" pointing at the DRF by the Norther Coalition was a load of hypocracy, as an exchange between the leadership on 11 April shows:
[20:12:34] [lawn-bluep-edna-sputum] thing is both sides call the other RMTers either both sides are lying or teh RMT is in other regions...
[20:12:47] [lawn-bluep-edna-sputum] or more likely, a little bit everywhere...
[20:13:00] [lawn-bluep-edna-sputum] but i do tend to agree its more likely within renter alliances
[20:14:18] [rawr-mv-balor-haliquin] from what intel i can gather
[20:14:26] [rawr-mv-balor-haliquin] about 10% of the NC RMTs actively
[20:14:37] [rawr-mv-balor-haliquin] including about 15-20% of the leadership
[20:14:57] [rawr-mv-balor-haliquin] For the russians, about 25% of them RMT
[20:15:13] [rawr-mv-balor-haliquin] with 75% of their leadership actively RMTing
[20:15:14] [42-ukc-reza-najafi] where you get those % numbers?
[20:15:16] [42-ukc-reza-najafi] just guess work?
[20:15:28] [condi-akay-quinn] Did one of you morons just Eject an Aeon with a 400 man Hostile gang in Local (and at your tower)?
[20:15:32] [condi-akay-quinn] (From a CSMA)
[20:15:32] [rawr-mv-balor-haliquin] thats from epople i know who RMT and digging names
[20:18:42] [rawr-mv-balor-haliquin] the russians are telling two tales, the first is that they are telling their main fleets that they are all about killing the evil NC. But their leaders only care about getting access to the Tech mooins so they can turn them into a RMT powerhouse
[20:19:03] [42-ukc-reza-najafi] pretty much what Vuk is doing right now :p
[20:19:51] [rawr-mv-balor-haliquin] lol
This last exchange occurred a month before The Mittani's emergency Goonion address stating that the fight against the DRF was one against RMT.

For those who claim that RMT does not affect game play, I have a couple of questions.  Did it really make sense for the NC to sell huge fleets of supercapitals to the DRF and Pandemic Legion?  And how much better could the NC have held onto its territory if it had access to all the isk generated from moon goon?  Perhaps only if the players in charge wanted to turn that isk into real world currency.

For the last year, Eve News 24 has led the outcry against illicit RMT activity in Eve Online.  Although RMT affects the entire MMO industry, we are witnessing the direct impact of RMT activity in Eve today.  Since RMT is against the EULA, CCP needs to take strong action quickly against all of the RMTers in the major null sec alliances.  Because if players see this type of scandal go unanswered, the attitude of players will move those of John Rourke.  And given CCP's plans for DUST 514, any weakening of null sec will affect the development plans of both Eve and DUST.

Note:  For those who could not tell, all the reporting in the logs came from Eve News 24.  I did however, check the logs quoted to make sure they were not taken out of context.  In my opinion, these posts were not trolls, sarcasm, etc.

Although I've done a bit of original reporting on the War On Bots
, Eve News 24, along with Kugutsumen, has basically owned the RMT story over the past year.  I'll let them fight over who has the primary honors.

Friday, June 10, 2011

I Received My Copy Of ISK

Yesterday I received my copy of ISK, The Industrial-Sized Knowledgebase, in the mail.  ISK is the book I wish I had been able to buy when I started the game.  Yes, I know that some of the information, like agent quality and divisions, is already out of date.  I don't care.  Because I already spotted information that I didn't know existed before.

Let's take for example missions.  Now, I know that some missions have asteroids you can mine, but Laci and Mermalior were nice enough to create a table on page 197 that lists the missions that have roids and how much you can mine.  And I now know the trick to make sure I can respawn not only the roids but the NPCs so I can farm them for 7 days.  I really feel silly for not figuring out what I was doing wrong.

Did I mention those stupid tags that are piling up in my hanger from all the missions I ran?  I didn't know about the Datacenter agents until I started reading the guide.  More importantly, I did not know I could turn some of those tags in and receive blueprint copies for faction ships!  I'd love to be able to make a Tempest Fleet Issue.  And the BPCs have 2 runs.  I now have a reason to do my next faction grind.

I am loving all of the charts in the book, especially in the wake of my recent computer crash.  For example, I'm getting ready to invent some Tech 2 cruiser blueprint copies.  I had lost the bookmark to the page with the list of decryptors.  Instead of trying to search for the page again, I can now just go to page 284 and the answer is right there.  No alt-tabbing for me anymore.  I have the paper copy of ISK handy and the guide is very easy to search.

I'm a very happy pilot right now and I'm sure I'll be reading though the guide over the next few days finding out even more things I didn't know.  I can't wait for the next edition when they put in all the Incarna stuff.  You can bet I'll buy that one too.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

How CCP Lured Me Into Low-Sec

I admit it; I'm a carebear.  Low-security space scares me.  You find all kinds of dangerous things out there.  Like pirates.  Very scary.

Now, I have been known to venture into low-sec.  I have a research agent in low sec I visit every now and then.  And I've been known to make trips to pick up courier contracts that involve traversing a single low-sec system since that is pretty safe in a blockade runner.  And of course, I made the pilgrimage to the Eve Gate when I was in Eve University, so I'm not a complete noob.  Just mostly one.

However, the recent changes to the agent system along with a desire to mine in Ammatar space put a strange idea into my head.  I could gain enough faction with either an Ammatar or Amarr corporation that Wandering Rose could have perfect refining in stations in Ammatar space and all I would have to do is run courier missions.  With the changes, I was able to just do courier runs.  No nasty combat missions that could hurt my standings with the other factions. And since courier missions go so fast, lots of storyline missions and chances to get +4 implants once I get the standings up to 5.0.  What's not to love?

Low-sec.  Maybe I just chose poorly, but the level 4 missions seemed to take me into low-sec.  A lot.  And because I chose to rig my Prowler for speed and agility instead of increased cargo capacity, I sometimes needed to make two trips through low-sec to complete a mission.  So for two weekends, I ran around low-sec getting my faction with an Amarrian agricultural corporation up to the 6.66 needed for perfect mining.

Guess what?  Low-sec is kind of empty.  Actually, where I travelled, very empty.  I think I only crashed one organized gate camp, which really got the blood racing, especially when a Dramiel jumped through the gate with me.  But otherwise?  Not much to it, really.

So does that mean I'm ready to start doing combat missions in low-sec?  Are you out of your mind?  There is scary stuff in low-sec.  Like pirates.  That's just crazy talk!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

CCP's War On Bots: An Unusual Threadnaught

I have to admit that my interest in CCP's War On Bots™ was spurred on by NinjaSpud's threadnaught Reporting from the front line of the Bot-War.  I didn't really know a lot about Eve Online's botting underworld until I started googling some of the phrases in the tears from botting sites that were posted in the thread.  At the beginning, NinjaSpud identified the bots by code.  Now?  People post thinly veiled references to bots if not the bots names themselves.  I've done it myself.

"When did the rules change?" you might ask.  I always thought that mentioning bots or botting sites was against the forum rules.  Indeed, a year ago, mentioning TinyMiner would get a thread locked.  Now, CCP seems to be happy to watch players dance on RoidRipper's grave on the official forums.  What changed?

My guess is the emergence of CCP Sreegs to lead CCP's War On Bots™.  While reading the thread I was reminded of a talk Vio Geraci, at the time a Goonswarm counter-intelligence officer gave Eve University back in June of 2009 in the wake of the Goons dismantling of BoB.

"They'll [spies] give us chat porn, we call it, the tears of our enemies harvested in text form.  It is very motivating to see the despair that you are inflicting on your enemies.  Our spies will often give us that.  I hate, by the way, posting it.  Because anything you post to your own guys, like, to your general membership, you are putting the spy that gave it to you at risk, so I despise doing it.  But Goonfleet and Goonswarm absolutely love it to the point that sometimes my CEO will come to me, my CEO now is Zapawork, but Darius used to do it all the time.  He would say, 'Vito, hey stupid, post some chat porn, we need it,' and then I would have to post chat porn if I had any handy."

- Counterintelligence and Social Engineering, Vito Geraci, Eve University Guest Lecture, 6 June 2009 (24:45 - 25:28)
The Darius in question was Darius JOHNSON, the head of Goonswarm when the Goons took away BoB's identity, and eventually their space.  Also the Darius who later morphed into the man now known as CCP Sreegs. What I assume is happening is that CCP Sreegs sees a forum thread he likes (and Goons love good forum threads) that is furthering his cause by posting the tears of botters who he banned.  He is not allowed to post them himself, but if the players do it, well, what can he do, right?  After all, he's not a forum moderator.

Just as Darius JOHNSON overrode the concerns of his intelligence folks to use the intelligence to bolster Goon morale, I believe that CCP Sreegs has convinced people in Iceland that players providing proof that botters are hurting instead of just CCP claiming they are doing something would help the war effort.  While CCP Sreegs, as a CCP employee, can't engage in such behavior himself, I don't think there is a rule stating he can't help promote it among the player base behind the scenes.  Eve IS a sandbox, after all.  Some players enjoy reading tears.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

CCP's War On Bots: Peak Concurrent Users - 1 May 2011 to 5 June 2011

I believe we are reaching a point in time that looking at the peak concurrent user numbers are not telling us much about CCP's War On Bots™.  Not only is the launch of Incarna just a few weeks away, but CCP has begun a campaign to draw more users back into the game.  But the figures still show some interesting things.

My first graph is a 7-day rolling average of peak concurrent users covering 5 weeks, from Sunday, 1 May 2011 to Sunday, 5 June 2011.

7-Day Rolling Average

I changed my methodology since my previous post looking at PCU numbers.  I have switched from the numbers from Eve-Offline's 90 day chart to the 30 day chart.  As a result of the greater granularity of the data, the PCU figures are about 1000 - 3000 users higher than I previously reported.

From 1 May to 12 May, the numbers continued a downward spiral, fueled I believe by aggressive actions against OCR bots by CCP Sreegs' security team.  At that point I believe that a bunch of botters who had been banned for 30 days on and around 10 April were allowed back into the game which accounts for the rise in CPU.

Sunday Peak Concurrent Users

The graph of peak concurrent users on Sundays, the busiest days in Eve Online, definitely show the effects of the banhammer.  The numbers for the 3 weeks from 24 April to 8 May are way down from previous weeks.  As I expected, the numbers were back up on 15 May.

Following this, though, the numbers become hazy.  On 21 May, CCP began a program of rewarding players who recruit new players through the Buddy Program with PLEX.  Following the announcement, although the PCU numbers remained steady on Sundays, the 7-day rolling average increased until 30 May, when both the U.S. and U.K. had holidays in which players did not have to work.

After the 30th, CCP encountered some, to put it kindly, adventures that resulted in extended downtimes that suppressed player turnout on both the 31st and 3 June.  I would guess that the numbers were a result of players just giving up for the day, although CCP always puts something into the client code that keeps bots from working properly until the bot developers fix things.  The continuing software updates could have also suppressed the logging in of bots.

So over the last 2-3 weeks, what really happened?  Did CCP have a successful promotion that was marred by server issues that kept players from logging in?  Did the offer of PLEX to recruit new players fall flat on its face?  Or did CCP Sreegs manage to ban as many accounts as players were able to recruit?  The window into the shadowy world of CCP's War On Bots™ is beginning to close.

Monday, June 6, 2011

An Eve Online Bot Developer On How To Combat Bots

Last Thursday I wrote about the unauthorized release of the source code for the Eve Online client and what it might mean in CCP's War On Bots™.  I'm not a master code writer by any means so I suggested for some subjects looking up those with a lot more experience.

One of those people is a man known as Da_Teach.  He is the developer of the Questor missioning bot, which means he may know something about writing bots for Eve Online.  But more importantly, he has experience writing bots and hacks for many MMOs, including the now defunct WoWSharp for World of WarcraftLike CCP Sreegs, Da_Teach also has ties to HBGary, the technology security company that was hacked by Anonymous after the head of HBGary Federal, Aaron Barr, claimed to have obtained the identities of the members of Anonymous.  But Da_Teach's ties aren't professional.  According to Da_Teach, he knows HBGary founder Gary Hoglund though MSN Chat where Mr Hoglund helped Da_Teach with the development of WoWSharp.  Mr. Hoglund allegedly then used much of the information gathered by Da_Teach in his work uncovering the details of Blizzard's Warden anti-hacking software.  Yes, the HBGary founder is THAT Gary Hoglund.  However, Mr. Hoglund apparently doesn't like to share the credit.

Da_Teach is also unusual from what I've seen of other Eve bot developers in that his bot is completely free.  He is actually writing Questor for the lulz.  I'll quote Da_Teach:
"Edgar get's me, I've tried to make this clear to everyone multiple times. But for the ignorant people I'll do it in bold: what I do, I do for fun and for myself. And I can have fun in a lot of ways, I can have fun hacking a game. But (while I never actively tried it) I can probably have a lot of fun protecting a game too.

"One important thing here is the I part! You probably use/develop Questor for money. I don't really care about money, it brings me no pleasure and it doesn't buy me happiness (omg did he just use an old saying, yes he did!).

"I also played EVE long ago (2-3 years) but got bored, I then indeed gave away all my accounts to an ingame friend. Then last year I got the 'need' to play EVE again, only to get bored pretty fast (within a few weeks). I then started writing Questor and had a lot of fun getting to the point where we are now. I must admit that it is slowly losing my interest again.

"What does this mean? I will support Questor (for now) and I still have a half-rewritten Questor v2 (the core-rewrite), but I am spending a lot of my free time on Rift at the moment. You might have noticed this with the less frequent updates to Questor.
I wrote on Thursday that as long as CCP continued to use Python that hackers could decompile the source code.  But that doesn't mean that CCP could not cause bot writers huge headaches.  Da_Tech gave his thoughts on the subject.
"Here's what I see happening, initially CCP will detect bots by behavior. It's probably how they caught the RoidRipper/H-Bot users. Since neither of those two actually change anything within EVE.

"After most of them are caught, I see CCP going for the 'injectors'.

"You have two flavors, you have the Python injectors (Eran bot, spelling) and you have the 'process' injectors (Questor and ISXEVE). Both are easy to stop but I see the python injectors easier to stop then Questor / ISXEVE. For the Python Injectors you could easily just remove the PyRun_ functions completely, with no way of them to actually inject Python, it'll end pretty damn fast for them.

"To disable Questor / ISXEVE in the same way would mean that they'd have to remove the other python functions as well, and those are most likely used by their interal C/C++ functions as well. So that's not really possible. A 'quick' solution would be to mask those functions by using an obfuscator, but that wouldn't stop ISXEVE (it would stop me, because I'd be too bored to keep searching for the required functions).

"Once you're done with the obfuscation path, you'd add checks to the Python functions to detect unauthorized usage. This step would have to be done after the obfuscation, otherwise it would be too easy to crack.

"Possible ways of detecting unauthorized usage would be to send the call-stack to the server (for both the c/c++ functions as for the python functions!), this was done by the Blizzard-Warden and while not impossible, very hard to circumvent. The way to circumvent this would be by modifying the code, however if you then have a separate thread/function/whatever to check for code modifications then it suddenly becomes a factor 10 harder.

"Once your done with that, here's another simple step. Obfuscate your Python code already, but not in the traditional way. Randomize your byte code! Yes, you have the source for both the Python compiles as you do for the Python runtime. Every patch you change this bytecode and RE'ing the python code has become near impossible.

"After that you've pretty much stopped ISXEVE and Questor or made their life very hard. "

If Da_Teach is correct, ultimately stopping or severely curtailing botting in Eve Online is beyond the ability of CCP Sreegs' team.  CCP will need to alter the way they write and deploy their code.  If CCP does this, then CCP Sreegs will have a fighting chance.

One last item.  I'm not in the habit of writing an article that mentions a bot by name without making the comment that using the bot is pretty dumb.  I can't go that far with Questor, but I can leave you with a final quote from Da_Teach.
"In the end the only advice I can give you is that if you do not want to get banned, do not use Questor. But this advice then also counts for ISXEVE, etc. The simple reason is that we currently have no clue what CCP will implement and how hard it'll be to circumvent those protections. It is very easy to miss a detection routine if you do not know it exists! "