Thursday, May 31, 2012

Eve Online Bots Held Hostage: Day 8 - Questor

I believed that the one bot whose developers would work out the changes CCP made to Eve Online within a few days was Questor.  Created by the veteran bot designer Da Teach, Questor abandoned using the ISXEVE bot engine for his own creation combined with Inner Space from Lavish Software to create one of the most effective bots in New Eden.  Unlike many other bot developers, Questor has a team of volunteers that works not only on the bot, but on the engine, called DirectEVE.

Or, I should say, had volunteers.  Following CCP Sreegs and Team Security catching and permanently banning Da Teach in an anti-RMT operation in March, Da Teach announced he was abandoning his personal development of Questor and concentrating his efforts on maintaining a working version of DirectEVE.  Until now, Questor had been completely free but with his RMT operation rolled up, Da Teach is now charging for immediate release of DirectEVE after it is patched with the engine still available for free 1 week later.  Da Teach's merry band of coders get a share of the proceeds.  While Questor is open source and many independent bot developers have adapted the code, Da Teach still maintains control over DirectEVE.

The monetization efforts probably contributed to the slowness with which DirectEVE was fixed.  On Saturday, 26 May, four days after Incarna's launch Da Teach finally announced that the support subscription website was up and ready for testing.  While Da Teach continued to work on the support site, the other DE devs produced a first working version of the bot engine for release to Questor coders on Sunday.  As of right now DirectEVE still has issues connecting with corp hangers and the problem will not be corrected until next week.  And if DirectEVE has issues, that means every Questor variant will have issues as well.

Normally when I write a post like this I have some tears I can share to brighten up everyone's day.  Questor tears are usually hard to come by and over the past few days the conditions were not right for tears to form.  Usually tears form when something bad happens, like the bot breaks.  That happened at first, but then Da Teach showed back up on the scene promising to fix things.  He had disappeared for a few weeks and I think a lot of people thought that with the Inferno launch Questor was finally dead.  But Da Teach coming back was a morale boost, so people were actually happy because the bot was not dead.  The fact the bot did not work correctly was minor compared to that.  Thus, no good tears to report.

The reasons why Questor is still not fully functional 8 days after the launch is another one of those stories that draws me to Eve Online.  The butterfly effect of CCP's anti-RMT efforts led to Questor creator Da Teach being banned from the game.  That led to Da Teach making the decision to turn Questor from a free bot to a dual pay/free business model and to a reduction in support for the Questor bot itself.  Because he was busy working on the web site when Inferno launched, he could not devote time to helping fix Questor's bot engine.  As a result, Questor is still not 100% functional.  And as a side effect, those who do not wish to pay for DirectEVE will go a full two weeks without their bots.  In short, a typical Eve Online story.

I should add in one additional detail to make the story complete.  The current timelines in this post are based on CCP not making any changes to the game.  Tomorrow (1 June) CCP is scheduled to deploy further improvements to the unified inventory system.  But CCP wouldn't do anything like add "a tree structure to POSs, so the list of modules isn’t just one long list of every POS module there," right?  That might mean another revamp of the code.  Well, I can only hope.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Eve Online Bots Held Hostage: Day 7 - H-Bot

Do you ever make a statement to the whole world (or at least the entire Internet) and are wrong?  Do you ever confidently make a statement on the Eve Online forums and are wrong?  And when you are wrong, are you ever happy about it?  I am.  That's right, I made a statement last week that within a few days after Inferno's launch that the bot developers would get their act together and all the bots would be working again.  Reading the forums shows that a week later that bots are running, but not very well.

For my first example for how wrong I was, I point to the H-Bot mission/ratting bot.  I thought that the developer had everything figured out in the first 24 hours, but he was a little optimistic.  On the 22nd, just like real players, botters started reporting issues interacting with player owned stations.

22 May

H-Bot:  Shit+clicking the open button opens containers of any kind in a separate window. So shit click open your corp hangar and position it on the left of selected item. H-Bot now shift+clicks when opening containers.

synchr0s:  and what if i use Corporate Hangar? now it always opens default "LOOT" division Undecided

Clevik:  When I warp away from the corp hangar, it isn't automatically close the corp hangar ammo window due to being too far away.  Hbot is going to have to close the window before continuing to rat.

H-Bot:  This will probably be fixed by ccp tomorrow. If not I'll make H-Bot close that inventory.

23 May

Pepko:  Any solution to the problem, that when you open corp hangar it shows you 1st tab all the time ? Sad

24 May

Me_me_me:  I´m still waiting to this fix. It´s getting completely annoying to having close that window by manual after 1st reammo. HBOT should close that window. Please fix that urgently!

The release notes for both the 24 May and 26 May releases said this about the issue:  *crickets*  For me, the funny thing is that the H-Bot dev is waiting on CCP to fix issues.

Even after the latest release on the 26th the bot contained bugs that potentially could get a ship destroyed.

26 May

s1ut:  Warped to a Anom that was BM and finished ( some reason one of the Sentry Guns Didnt Vanish ) The bot just sat there loosing shild and salvaging i manualy warped out when it got to 40% shild left

27 May

Diligent:  That (failing to warp after finishing an anomolie) happens since last game update and few HBOT patches. Before it was perfect running but lately it starts to loop after finishing anomaly. It says that it don't see warp text but he is not even clicking warp on results. HBOT does nothing about scanner window, he opens it then "20:21:41|White arrow not found!"

cyceron1:  ello
Anomalies autoscan
mini breaks this option is enabled  in 3.5 260512 ?

H-Bot:  Yes mini breaks work. Keep in mind this is to simulate afk for few seconds so use only low values for the duration because the bot goes afk even when fighting.

lethalzero:  beware i lossse one ship today for this

Even yesterday botters were reporting issues involving the unified inventory.

29 May

mevip: i have ammo problem too ... tried to test it last night ... drake with no ammo *ammo refil enabled and bookmarks configured* . sent it into  battle and it didnt detect its out of ammo ... it wass fighting with drones only ... 

flabberjack:  thats a different problem. the issue is with t2 ammo i think. when it drags onto the yellow area they do not move ammo across

lethalzero: please admin restore de old system for the ammo windows please

Something tells me that these bugs are helping Team Security find botters.  Can you imagine a Drake continuously warping to and from a mission site for an hour without firing a shot?  Obvious botter, right?  So that might explain these last two entries.

29 May

Red Bull: btw, there are still bans occuring. fuck ccp  Angry

jastog: A lot of my corp mates got banned in last week.  +14 days and all of them got negative wallet

I know that a lot of players have legitimate gripes with the unified inventory system.  But from my standpoint as an anti-botting blogger I really hope that CCP continues its plan to improve the system instead of rolling it back.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Digital Dozen: 29 May 2012

The rankings of the top twelve MMORPGs as determined by the players of the Xfire community from play on Sunday, 27 May 2012.  For more details about the methodology, click here.  Historical data can be found here.

Rank Prev Week Game ScoreHours Played
11World of Warcraft 52.9 44,900
22Star Wars: The Old Republic9.78,214
45Eve Online5.64,756
67Metin 23.73,152
78APB: Reloaded3.53,009
86Lord of the Rings Online3.42,855
99Guild Wars2.52,123
1010Need For Speed World2.01,709
1112Maple Story1.91,573
1211Star Trek Online1.71,479
Total MMORPG hours played Sunday:120,053

Overall, the Xfire gaming community spent 5.9% fewer hours playing MMORPGs than it did the week before.  The week's big gainers in terms of hours played were Eve Online (+19.6%) and Aion (+15.3%).  The week's big losers were Tera (-33.9%), Star Trek Online (-23.4%) and Star Wars: The Old Republic (-18.3%).

Setting The Universe On Fire:  CCP's Eve Online led the Digital Dozen with a 19.6% gain in the number of hours played based on the strength of the launch of Inferno, the game's 17th free expansion.  While CCP faces player discontent over the new unified inventory feature, players still showed an interest in the game, with the actual server numbers from Eve Offline showing an average concurrent user increase of 3.6% over the previous Sunday.  Will Eve suffer from a post-expansion drop-off next week or will the end of Hulkageddon V yesterday combined with damage control efforts on the unified inventory keep the numbers high?

The Free Month Is Over, Part 1:   The game that saw the largest drop in interest on Sunday was Blue Hole Studio's Tera.  Launched on 1 May, Sunday was the last day those who purchased the game at launch would get to play before playing a subscription fee.  Apparently players who had already made their decision to not renew also stopped playing.  The biggest beneficiary of this trend appears to be the free-to-play Korean import Aion.

The Free Month Is Over, Part 2:  The failure cascade for Star Wars: The Old Republic continues after a week that saw layoffs at Bioware's Austin studio, the home for SW:TOR's development and customer relations staff.  For the first time, the Xfire community failed to play SW:TOR for at least 10,000 hours on a Sunday and the game recorded its first Digital Dozen score of under 10.0.  The near-term future looks grim as this was the first Sunday after the expiration of the free 30 days of game time that was granted to all accounts containing either a level 50 character or having a legacy level of 6.  I believe that the granting of the free game time was an effort to make the subscription numbers look good for the end of year conference call and that players will stop playing in greater numbers over the course of June.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Into The Breach(er)

As much as I like to just fly around New Eden, Inferno enticed me into actually running some security missions that are not storyline missions.  I wanted to look at the new missile animations so I took some time out from doing distribution missions and fit out a Breacher to do a couple of (hopefully) quick missions.  I spent more money than I really should have, but I wanted to see what the Breacher could do.  I'm not very good at ship fitting, so I'll include the fit so you can get some laughs.

The theory is to use speed to hold the range and then safely kite the NPCs from outside their engagement envelope.  I had some fitting issues so I left one high slot empty, but that didn't bother me since the major reason for flying the Breacher was to watch the missiles fire off.  I fitted tech 2 missile launchers but not tech 2 missiles.  I figured that I didn't need them.

On Saturday before doing my usual running around doing distribution missions and picking up and dropping off blueprints to be copied and researched I ran through the 5 mission "After The Seven" level 1 mission chain.  Four of the five missions require combat.  Well, in the Breacher, I didn't fight the Serpentis ships as much as perform an execution.  I don't think I was truly threatened during any of the missions.

Kiting the Cartel

On Sunday, I ran two missions in order to get some screen shots.  In the first I fought my old foes the Angel Cartel in "The Score".  With a warp in at about 40km to the closest ship, this mission turned into an old-fashioned turkey shoot.  The only reason I really needed to move is that I forgot to turn on my sensor booster so the Angel ships got closer then they really should have.

Attacking the Drone Silo

The second mission required taking out a drone infestation.  The drones were located 25km - 50km from the warp-in point.  I just kited each group separately and then proceeded to destroy the drone silo.

I have to say I had a lot of fun fitting and then flying the Breacher.  So much fun that when I decide to start grinding my horrible Caldari standings back up I may actually choose to do a few security missions along the way.  That won't be too soon since I'm still on my faction grind to purchase faction ship blueprints.  But I just received an Eve mail from Aekelm Ontbald asking me to eliminate an Amarrian reconnaissance outpost so I'll take my Breacher out for one more mission before climbing back into my Prowler.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Ganking Is Such An Ugly Term

Ganked: 2) To be killed without mercy on a MMORPG for the sport of it; 5) To be killed by someone or someones where there is no chance to win; 6) to be killed PvP in an MMORPG when you weren't looking for a fight.

Asymmetric warfare: War between belligerents whose relative military power differs significantly, or whose strategy or tactics differ significantly.

In the sandbox known as Eve Online a tension exists between a subset of carebear who believes that high security space should mean complete safety from attack by other players and those who believe that they should have the ability to kill other players without interference anyplace in New Eden and that CONCORD is an abomination.  In a design decision, CCP made the NPC police organization CONCORD provide a level of protection that deters casual violence in high security space but still allows motivated players to conduct attacks if they are willing to pay a price.  While satisfying to the vast majority of players, that subset of carebears still takes every opportunity to cry out to CCP to make their little corner of the galaxy completely safe.  I believe that two terms symbolize this ideological conflict: ganking and asymmetrical warfare. 

Ganking, while having real world meaning, is a gaming term.  World of Warcraft has set many standards in the MMORPG genre, including attitudes about what is acceptable in player vs. player combat.  This advice on WoWWiki sums up that attitude nicely:
"Please consider the following before you decide to be a ganker. Gankers are extremely unpopular in World of Warcraft and MMO's in general. While you may enjoy ganking, you should always bear in mind your enjoyment comes at the expense of the other player, and should consider carefully if you wish to ruin another persons game time."
Of course, Eve is different from most other MMOs because the whole objective of the game is to accumulate wealth and/or power, usually at the expense of other players.  The term "go back to WoW" is often thrown in the faces of this subset of the carebear for just this reason.  But, the counter-argument goes, how does suicide ganking a Hulk or Mackinaw in high security space help achieve wealth or power for a player?  If it doesn't, these carebears argue, then suicide ganking is just griefing and CCP should end the ability to engage in the practice, thus making high security space completely safe.

I counter that argument with the term asymmetrical warfare.  Ideally, MMORPGs are also virtual worlds and real world concepts are applicable, even if imperfectly.  For example, take the case of a PvP oriented corporation that declares war on a high security space based carebear corp.  A common asymmetrical response to the war dec is for most of the members of the carebear corp to leave their corp and flee to the safety of an NPC corporation.  When this occurs, the PvP corporation goes from a position of military superiority to one of immense military inferiority as the war targets are now under the direct protection of CONCORD, the supreme military force in high security space.  The aggressor corporation now has the option of suspending operations or continuing the war through asymmetrical means of their own.  The only way to physically strike at the war targets is through the tactic of the suicide gank.

The reality is that every player organization in Eve is militarily outclassed by CONCORD in high security space.  Even Goonswarm Federation and the CFC.  The Mittani, leader of Goonswarm and the CFC, for economic and, perhaps more importantly, social cohesion reasons has basically declared war on the empires and the "pubbies" that reside in high security space.  Some efforts, like the creation of the Organization of Technetium Exporting Corporations, are purely economic and diplomatic matters.  But other efforts, like the Gallente Ice Interdiction, Burn Jita and the backing of Helicity Bosun's month-long event Hulkageddon V required going into Empire and killing players in high security space.  Since not even the Goons had the resources to declare war on all the entities involved (not including those targets in NPC corporations immune to war decs), The Mittani was forced to use asymmetric warfare.  Or, in other words, commit mass waves of suicide ganking.

From my view sitting on a not-so comfortable sofa in a high security station, I believe that CCP sees Eve Online not as just a game but as a virtual world, one that can support multiple games.  Looking at Eve as a traditional game and considering ganking as griefing would remove some of the uniqueness of that virtual world.  Also, that would mean that Eve is just a game.  And as we all know, internet spaceships is serious business.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Inferno (Botting) Launch Day Blues

5/22/2012 7:56:17 AM - Tiny Miner started the mining session!
5/22/2012 7:56:17 AM - Commencing a new Run. Auto-Placing the EVE window in the top left corner of the screen.
5/22/2012 7:56:43 AM - Checking for items in the ship's cargo window. Found some!
5/22/2012 7:56:43 AM - Checking for the Undock button (to see if the ship is inside the station). Found it!
5/22/2012 7:56:43 AM - The ship is undocking now. Waiting...
5/22/2012 7:56:54 AM - Undock successful. The ship is in space.
5/22/2012 7:56:56 AM - Checking to see if an asteroid is already locked. Not found!
5/22/2012 7:56:57 AM - The ship's cargo window appears to be closed. The program cannot continue until you open the cargo window again. If the cargo window is open then make sure it is UNPINNED so that it has an opaque background and the drones window is not overlapping it in any way as shown in the screenshots from the tutorial page.
5/22/2012 7:56:57 AM - Taking the closing screenshot and saving it in the Tiny Miner settings folder under "My Documents".
5/22/2012 7:56:58 AM - Closing the EVE client immediately!
Asimov, TinyMiner forums

Some people think that botters live a carefree life, drinking Bulgarian white wine, driving Yugo convertibles while blasting Def Leppard and overall just chillin' out in one-bedroom condos in Mogadishu.  But no matter what they tell you, the life of botters isn't all rainbows and unicorns, even before CCP Sreegs comes in and snatches everything away.  No, think of the poor botter whenever a major expansion comes out.  Not only does the botter have to wait for CCP to finish up, but then has to wait on their talented (or not) bot coders to fix their bots in order to start rolling in the isk again.  I waited a couple of days because I wanted to demonstrate just some of what the poor botters go through on patch day and, if CCP manages to change a lot, the days after.

First, botters have to tell the botting devs the bot is broken.  Like every bot isn't broken after every patch and expansion.

Tinker (TinyMiner):
"After the Inferno patch and the new "Unified Inventory" system, TinyMiner doesn't work anymore. All the inventory UI and functionality is different now (for example if I open 2 different windows for cargo and hangar, after I reenter the station I only have the cargo window open)"
Spod (Eve Pilot):
"Looks like the 'inventory' window will be the most difficult to deal with since it replaces the items window that stuff can be dragged to.  The new inventory system sucks completely. There's so many complaints about it on the forums.

"Unsuprisingly, first run does not work and neither does trying to continue as normal. Trying to open the 'cargo window' takes up the whole screen.  If you enable the option to 'Merge Items and Ships into Station Panel' then at least you get an 'Items' panel you can drag stuff too. For now though, it's killed EVE Pilot. I hope Slav can look into this.
"CCP may even revert to the old system or make the new one optional if everyone is unhappy.

Of course the botters have to report everything into their bot developer.  Apparently the unified inventory system really hurt the OCR botters.

Sid-T (TinyMiner):
"With the consolidated hangar/inventory they have also made 1 other change which is that your "active ship" no longer appears in the "ship hangar" (even if you open it in a separate window) so the way "repair in station" works will have to change also."
Spod (Eve Pilot):  
"Trying this and EVE is much improved but still not ready to work well with EP. You can set the windows in the correct places (Cargo and Items) as before, and the bot will undock okay. If you then pause bot, dock, save the settings and re-start EP then the windows are gone again, so it's not saving the settings between restarts - makes it impossible to use still :/"
willy (H-Bot):
"I have a problem with ammo refill. He does everything right, except he cant recognize the select quantity window to set the ammo amount and he doesnt close that window. This will get him stuck, since you cant do anything else until that window is closed. The bot itself runs in a cycle to refill ammo, in reality he doesnt do anything since there is no right click menu unless you close the set quantity ammo window, which he cant detect." 
 HalfBaked (H-Bot):
"I use a corp hangar to re-fill my ammo, and with the new 'Gay' Inventory i have really struggled to make this work, i am reluctant to use a GSC to re-fill."
Gray (Questor):
"Did some tests, because of having nothing to do, just "for fucks and laughs". And discovered a more serious problem... Even if you find a way to open new inventory (say, just open it manually), you still have to make Questor open wrecks and containers. This can be done with an old method, thankfully. But still, even if you make an attempt to open smth, it doesn't mean that it's going to be successful! For example, last pocket of WC: you can camp Damaged Heron and try to open it every 10 secs - but you won't be able to actually access it because it's "guarded", until you kill the trigger group. Another example: you've opened a container, but your ship has moved too far away due to inertia before you managed to loot it.

"In both cases a container is going to be added to your inventory, it will be marked grey in overview - but it doesn't mean that it's successfully looted :( Before patch there was a 100% reliable way to check: if there is an open window, then we can initiate loot sequence. Now... I'm out of ideas. There should be some kind of a new container flag, like "accessible".
TinyMiner is pretty strictly moderated, so I don't have too many tears.  But over on the Eve Pilot forums people were starting to question whether they would get to use their bots anytime soon.

Sabrael71 (Eve Pilot):
"Is there any known timescale to when the eve miner fixes will be implemented guys,will it be days or weeks?,the new inventory system really sucks"
Deviant (Eve Pilot):
"For any info when we can start use eve-pilot i will be very grateful, I've just buy it and i cant use it ... i'm start thinking is that was a good investition. Please share some information"
Shiplash (Eve Pilot):
"do you know a time frame as to when it will be compatiable and since im on month subscription can i get a some day credited to pilot"

Of course hoping that changes in the game kill all the bots is just wishful thinking.  Eventually the bot developers either fix the problem or at least see a way to fix things.  But these changes are bigger than usual, even for an expansion.

VanGogh (TinyMiner bot developer):
"Well the small patch from today seems to have fixed the ship's cargo window stability issue. Now it will stay open after docking/undocking so that's one problem taken care of right there. I should be able to release the new version in the next couple of days as there are still a couple of things that need fixing and testing beside the ore unloading in station. These include the "ship repair feature" and the "unload at a POS corporate hangar" option."
Of course, sometimes a developer will tell different communities different answer.  Here are two answers that Slav2 gave to when Eve Pilot would be back up.  First, to his English-speaking customers:

22 May 12 Support:
"It will take couple of days to implement new function to use new inventory"
The next day he told the folks on the Russian forums the problems were a bit more serious.

23 May 12, Russian Forums:

Slav, and how it is a serious problem, and when at least some can wait for the patch?
Slav2 (Eve Pilot bot developer):
"Даже ССП требуется несколько дней чтобы устаканить все изменения в клиенте. Мне также требуется еще день на обработку нового окна + время на исправление всего кода, где использовалась старая версия каргохолдов (корабль, ангар на станции, джетконты и вреки, струкруры на посе). В течении недели бот будет работать, конкретнее сказать не могу, будет видно по мере продвижения."
Google Translation:
"Even CCP takes several days to fix all of the changes in the client. I also need one more day to process new window + time to correct all code that used an older version of the cargohold (ship hangar at the station, and dzhetkonty wrecks, strukrury to POS). Within weeks the bot will work, I can not say specifically, we will see as you go."
And Questor is alive and, if not well, then still breathing.  Reports of its death are greatly exaggerated.

Da_Teach (Questor bot developer):
"Ganondorf is working on getting DE working again (Glider/Edgar might be helping, not sure). At the same time I'm putting the finishing touches on the support system (I had hoped to finish it last night but paypal was being a bitch).

"Due to the major changes in the inventory system it will take longer than usual to get everything working again. But I suspect everything will be working again in the near future."
The near future may be today or tomorrow.

I've had fun watching the activity on the botting forums.  Unlike bans, botting developers can't censor (very much) posts about bugs because they need the feedback to fix things.  The funny thing I noticed while reading through all of the forums is that the developers are depending on CCP to fix bugs or make suggested or promised changes in order for their bots to work properly.  So while regular players are having fun in game, or perhaps cursing CCP for making changes, many bot users are on the sidelines for days because their developers still need to fix their bots.

I've said this before, but I'll say it again.  I'll never use a bot.  I wouldn't want to go through all the aggravation bot users go through.  And that is before CCP Sreegs and Team Security catches them and takes all their stuff.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

A Quick Look At The Unified Inventory

On my home from work last night I did a little surfing of the internet.  Bioware restructuring and laying people off from its Austin studio, the home of Star Wars: The Old Republic?  Expected, but yesterday was the launch of Inferno and I wanted more news about Eve.  So after surfing both the official Eve Online forums and several botting sites, I learned that CCP had made a fatal mistake, one that would doom Eve Online to the dustbin of history.  That's right, the unified inventory system.

Anything that produces tears from botters can't be all bad, so I decided to wait to unsubscribe from Eve until after I had actually logged in and seen the carnage that CCP's UI designers had wrecked on the game.  I know, I'm a bad person for not trusting what is said by players on the official forums.  I blame CCP for making me paranoid and distrustful of other Eve players.

Anyway, I logged in and sure enough, the buttons for both my ship inventory and my corporate hanger were missing.  I was robbed!  Well, no.  When I opened up the station inventory, I could see all of my ships and contents of my corporation hanger there.  The inventory now looks like Windows Explorer, except cooler because it has Eve stuff in it.  I can work with that.

Once I figured out how to switch ships, I tested out what happens to the inventory after you undock and redock.  A lot of the OCR bots require that the inventory stay open in the exact place.  After my little experiment I discovered why botters were crying so much.  Upon redocking, the inventory is open to view your ship hanger, not the station hanger.   I haven't actually run a bot in Eve, but from the tears I read I guess that type of behavior broke bots and required updated bot software.  But not a problem for me.  All I had to do is click on the station hanger entry.  An extra click gets me tears for a day or two?  I can live with that.

One thing I was concerned about is how the system would act when I picked up my planetary interaction products from custom houses when I was carrying giant secure containers.  I'll use GSCs to expand my cargo capacity so I can do things like fit a damage control unit and nanofiber internal structures.  So I made a quick trip to one of my colonies and discovered that I prefer the new unified inventory system over the old one.  I like the fact that I can just click on each cargo container to see what is in it and then drag and drop my product into it like I'm used to.  I was surprised how easy it was, especially after reading how much extra clicking is supposedly required with the new system.

The feature that made me happiest is the filtering options.  I played around and made filters for blueprints and T2 items.  Up until now I was using my corporation hangers to keep my objects sorted.  Now I don't have to do that.

So after actually looking at the feature, I will have to respectfully disagree with all the players who said the feature is a disaster.  I like it.  So I guess I won't unsubscribe after all

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Digital Dozen: 22 May 2012

The rankings of the top twelve MMORPGs as determined by the players of the Xfire community from play on Sunday, 20 May 2012.  For more details about the methodology, click here.  Historical data can be found here.

Rank Prev Week Game ScoreHours Played
11World of Warcraft 52.5 48,235
22Star Wars: The Old Republic10.910,051
55Eve Online4.33,977
68Lord of the Rings Online3.63,302
76Metin 23.22,976
99Guild Wars2.62,433
1010Need For Speed World2.11,934
1112Star Trek Online2.11,930
1211Maple Story1.91,705
Total MMORPG hours played Sunday:127,605
Diablo 3:  To say that Diablo 3 had an impact on the gaming world last week is an understatement.  Not only did the number of hours the Xfire community played MMORPGs drop 16.8%, but the Xfire community played Diablo 3 over 40,000 hours more than it did all MMORPGs combined.  The big losers were Aion (-28%), World of Warcraft (-21.2%) and Star Wars: The Old Republic (-21.1%).

One Ring To Rule Them All:  Only one game in The Digital Dozen managed to buck the trend and actually see playtime rise.  Lord of the Rings Online, on the strength of the release of Update 7: Shades of the Past, last Monday, managed to pull of a 3.6% gain over the previous Sunday.  That gives hope for games like Eve Online, with Inferno launching today,  and SW:TOR with patch 1.3 due out in June/July, that Diablo 3 will not bury all games for months to come.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Running Around Before Inferno

Over the course of playing Eve, I've developed 3 criteria I look for in the ships I want to fly.

1.  Can it fit a Covert Ops Cloaking Device II?
2.  Can it use jump gates?
3.  Does it have duct tape holding it together?

If the ship meets 2 of the 3 criteria I would like to fly the ship.  Over the weekend I finished learning the the last skill needed to fly the Panther, the Minmatar Black Ops battleship that was the only remaining ship I couldn't fly that met all three criteria.

Of course just because I have the skills to fly ships doesn't mean I actually own the ships.  That requires money.  So I had to leave my Prowlers in station and fly something with a bit more cargo capacity to do some planetary interaction work. For Rosewalker the ship was a Mammoth.  I was in a hurry so I flew an unusual Mammoth.  The Mammoth was carrying a web, point and scram in the mids and a Damage Control I in the lows.  And no weapons.  If someone ganked me I would make a funny kill mail, but I was in a hurry and just wanted something that could carry a decent amount of product.

As fortune would have it, as I was fiddling around the last customs office I visited, a probe showed up 11 km away.  And sure enough, a Thrasher showed up shortly after.  I think he was a bit surprised that I actually was running my damage control unit.  My ship was lolfit, but I'm not stupid, especially with Hulkageddon still running.  So before the Thrasher pilot could do anything, I warped off to another planet.

Well, maybe I am stupid.  I remembered that I hadn't picked up any cargo from the customs office, so I warped back to a place where a nice Thrasher was sitting.  Now, I think I startled the Thrasher pilot.  I didn't notice him target me, but I did see him moving away from me.  So I quickly picked up my cargo and warped to the gate just in case he decided to change his mind and started blasting away.

On the way back to my home station, I saw a very unusual sight.  A Hyena.  That's right, one of those rare electronic attack frigates sitting at a gate.  I'm not sure exactly what was going on, but I turned on my trusty damage control unit to discourage people and went on my merry way.

When I had gathered everything from all my colonies, I put it in Wandering Rose's Mastodon and made the rounds to Rens and Hek to sell my products.  The Mastodon gives me a nice warm fuzzy feeling flying it for two reasons.  First, the built-in warp core stabilizers and added tank gives me a greater sense of security.  The second is that the ship is red in color.  How cool is that?

That sense of security came in handy when making the run between Rens and Hek.  When I jumped into Onga I saw the Incursion graphics indicating that the Sansha had invaded the Erada system.  I started to worry until I saw I was alone on the gate.  With all the problems I heard the incursion fleets had keeping the Sansha repressed I expected to take incoming fire but a closer look at the influence bar showed Sansha influence was at 0%.  The Mastodon is a good ship to take into that type of situation, but I think I need to work on getting a faster align time just in case I'm not so lucky next time.  The one thing I was proud of myself for was that I was able to evaluate the situation before my cloak dropped.  I'm getting better at this game.

The one thing I didn't do Sunday was finish fitting my Typhoon and Breacher.  I don't do a lot of security missions and when I do I usually use gunships like Maelstroms and Hurricanes.  But with the new missile launcher graphics coming out with Inferno I really want to take a couple of missile boats into missions and see them first hand.  One of the reasons I chose Minmatar is that they can do so many things.  Of course, that means spending a lot more time in training, but now all that training is going to pay off on something besides preparing to fly Caldari ships.

Friday, May 18, 2012

CCP Preparing For Eurogeddon

One of the beautiful things about Eve Online is the complexity of its virtual world.  New Eden is so complex that sometimes real world economic events intrude upon a place players go to escape their every day worries.  Take for example the recent decision to allow players in the U.K. to pay for their subscriptions in pounds instead of euros.  Starting on 1 May players living in the U.K. not only began paying for their game time in pounds but at a reduced rate as well.

Subscription prices converted to U.S. dollars

Why would CCP reduce the rate that much?  The price in euros does include a VAT.  Is the amount of the VAT so much lower in the U.K. than in the rest of the EU countries?  Looking at the amount collected by CCP for a month's subscription after removing the VAT was illuminating.

Some surprising numbers

The first is that right now the money collected by CCP after taxes are deducted for those living in the European Union is not that much higher than that collected from players paying with U.S. currency.  Right now the swing is plus or minus 4% of the U.S. amount.  That's right, CCP gets less money from those playing in Sweden and Denmark than it does from players in the U.S.

The second is really remarkable.  Even after the pricing change CCP collects more after taxes from U.K. players than from any other country.  How can this be?  The European Union has a regulation called low value consignment relief.  While for most of Europe the amount is 10, in the U.K. any import from a non-EU country like Iceland with a value of £15 or less is exempt from the normal 20% VAT that domestic companies must pay.

Having determined that CCP isn't that altruistic, I also believe that CCP looked at the financial situation in Europe and decided that the euro will collapse in the next year or two.  An Icelandic game developer/publisher like CCP is probably more sensitive to the possibility of currency collapses than other companies in the industry due to living through the Icelandic financial crisis of 2008, the effects of which are felt to this day.  Indeed, CCP was a lot closer to the collapse than most as its largest investor, Björgólfur Thor Björgólfsson, was a major player in the crisis as a major owner of Landsbanki and chairman of Straumur Investment bank.  Björgólfur went from Iceland's first dollar billionaire to being heavily in debt.  Recent stories about CCP going public and issuing an IPO could indicate Björgólfur is attempting to cash out his position in CCP

CCP would not be the only Icelanders looking to distance itself from the euro.  When I was in Reykjavik for Fanfest in March, I overheard some Canadian players joking how next year they may not have to exchange their Canadian dollars for ISK.  According to a Gallup poll, seven out of 10 Icelanders want to see ISK replaced with another currency.  The favorite replacement?  The Canadian dollar.  So while the official government position is to continue trying to become a member of the European Union, the majority of Icelanders apparently are looking toward the New World for a better economic future.  After all, the process to become an EU member could take another ten years and the euro may not last that long.

Turning back to our favorite group of Icelanders, how does giving U.K. players a seemingly sweet deal help hedge against the threats to the euro caused by events like the runs on banks in Greece and Spain?  Back in March CCP Diagras posted some subscription numbers by country in connection with the CSM 7 elections that indicated approximately 32% of accounts are from countries whose players pay using euros.  With the switch for U.K. players to pay in pounds, that number decreases down to 22%.  Five of the top six countries now do not pay using euros.  The lone holdout, Germany, will likely continue to do so until Germany pulls the plug on the whole euro experiment.  So CCP's holdings in the troubled currency potentially decreases by over 30%.

The acceptance of the pound as payment also serves as a backup plan for when the euro implodes.   CCP will already have the system in place to switch customers to a new European currency and will just need to adjust its systems to recognize that a player from a former Eurozone country should receive the option to pay in pounds instead of euros.  I'm assuming that CCP will not allow people from countries that leave the Eurozone to pay in euros as the company will not want the damaged currency on its books.  Also, the lower rate will allow players from countries with collapsing currencies a better opportunity to afford to pay the subscription.

One additional fact argues strongly that CCP is preparing for the collapse, or at least a severe weakening, of the euro vs the pound.  While U.K. law now sets the value of goods eligible for low value consignment relief at £15, the EU regulation states that goods imported from non-EU countries valued higher than 22 must be charged a VAT.  By lowering the cost of a month's subscription to £9.99, the pound can gain another 75% in value against the euro before the regulation no longer takes effect.  Of course, that is assuming by that time events get that bad that the U.K. cares to stay in the EU.

As always, the possibility exists that I'm wrong. Perhaps the low value consignment relief regulation doesn't apply to Eve in the U.K. and CCP is happy making 15% less than the make off of U.S. players.  Perhaps CCP is just having players pay in local currencies as a marketing move to attract more players.  And maybe CCP has conducted some market research telling them they can attact a lot more business by decreasing their prices.  But I'm an Eve player.  Looking for conspiracies is something CCP has taught us to do.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Decision To Syndicate

For the good old American lifestyle: For the money, for the glory, and for the fun... mostly for the money. 

- The Bandit
I had a pretty good response to yesterday's question asking whether I should take Riverini up on his offer to syndicate The Nosy Gamer on Eve News 24.  I'm currently having some work done on my teeth the last few days and I haven't been thinking too clearly so I appreciated the response confirming I hadn't completely lost my mind.  I've contacted Riverini accepting the offer and you may see one of my article gracing the front page of EN24 Soon™.

A couple of commenters asked why I wouldn't want to appear on Eve News 24.  A very good question that deserves an answer. 

Eve News 24's Reputation:  One of the basic truths of Eve News 24 is that it is a tabloid-style media outlet.  Since I sometimes criticize the mainstream gaming media for poor reporting, associating with EN24 could reduce my credibility in some eyes.  Then again, the National Enquirer was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in 2010 for covering a story the mainstream media refused to pursue, so maybe I should join the 21st century.

Traffic:  When I first heard of EN24's syndication program last year I thought that people would just settle for reading the story on EN24 and not continue on to the blog.  When my article appeared at the top of the feed on the EN24 front page, the traffic noticably spiked.  I've also noticed a smaller jump in traffic when I've had posts linked to in articles that appeared on EN24.  So if I self-link appropriately in articles then I should not suffer traffic-wise.

In-game Consequences:  Eve is a game where all players are on a single shard.  And with PvP possible everyone outside a station, actions and words have consequences.  EN24 provides a bigger audience to get someone mad enough to want to do bad things in game.  But after further reflection, so what?  If I was really afraid of that, I wouldn't blog in the first place.

Selling out:  I've never blogged for pay before.  I've written intelligence reports when I was in the Army and technical instructions and training materials in my current job, but that was business.  Blogging is fun.  I was afraid of having to alter what I write, which in a lot of cases is about subjects not related to Eve.  But with the terms of the syndication I don't have to change what I write as long as I don't care about getting a lot of posts on EN24.  Besides, this is Eve.  Getting paid to do stuff you would do for free is a good thing.

I should add two additional factors that make having some posts syndicated onto Eve News 24.  The first is the challenge.  EN24 has a lot of content that is pretty similar from one post to the next.  Can I come up with some good quality articles on some of the odd-ball subjects I like that Riverini will want to publish?  The second are the trolls.  After a blogger reaches a certain level of popularity he will get trolls.  Some say that a blogger hasn't really made it until he gets his own personal troll.  But I'd rather get the trolls over on EN24 than on the blog.  Trolls are messy sometimes and I'm kind of lazy.  Of course, I have to have one here to prove I'm successful, but let most of them hang out on EN24 where they will get more exposure.

This is probably enough about me to last for a few months.  More interesting posts to begin again tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Grabbing The Brass Ring?

When I created The Nosy Gamer three years ago I didn't really figure that what I had to say about MMORPGs would really interest anyone.  I put a free Sitemeter counter on the blog because that's what I did with my political and current events blog and I was curious if anyone would spend the time to read my ramblings.  I figured that if I stuck with blogging long enough that some of the facts I published might get referenced by some popular bloggers but that's about it

The Nosy Gamer is now more popular than my political blog ever was.  Since CCP Sreegs mentioned The Nosy Gamer in his Fanfest presentation and then mentioned the blog again in a forum thread in reply to people asking for good botter tears I've seen a sustained increase in traffic.  (Oh yeah, and The Mittani wrote a thing too.)  I'm now listed on the Eve Online Bloggers Portal and The Eve Blog Pack, although I'm sure that since this isn't strictly an Eve blog that I'll be delisted soon due to the TAGN rule, but it is the thought that counts.

While I'm enjoying my 15 minutes of fame, I still have a hard time taking the idea seriously.  Me?  But at least nobody would want to take a blog post of mine and publish it in full, right?  Wrong.  Riverini published my blog about CCP's claims about their anti-RMT activities.  I have to admit at first I was pretty impressed.  He even created a graphic and a real sweet introduction, calling The Nosy Gamer "an obligatory read for every serious Eve Online aficionado." 

But then I thought about it a little more.  I didn't submit the article to EN24 and no one contacted me about posting it.  Then I looked at the rates that EN24 pays its contributors.  75 million for a 300 word article is pretty sweet.  Then it hit me; Riverini was getting scammed.  I thought about keeping quiet and letting EN24 pay out to this mysterious scammer who assumed my identity.  I do have a twisted sense of humor and would have loved seeing just how long the scam would last.  As long as I did a lot of links back to myself in articles, based on the article on EN24 I would receive a lot of traffic.  But after seeing the part about the drawing for a Tech 3 cruiser, I decided to speak up.  After all, isk is one thing but losing out on a Loki would be something I couldn't take.

So I did a little searching around and emailed Riverini that I didn't authorize the posting of the story and if he would kindly remove the "Posted by Nosy Gamer" from the posting.  I also tried to get information out of him to do a "Eve News 24 scammed" story for today.  Turns out my story wasn't posted as part of a scam.  I was just confused with someone who had agreed to have his blog syndicated on EN24.  So Riverini unlisted the story.  It was an honest mistake.

But the story doesn't end there.  Riverini is still interested in syndicating the blog.  I have to think a little more about this and all the possible implications.  After all, this is Eve; every action has consequences.  And while I'm considering, I'll ask the obvious question to the readers: should I grab the brass ring and say yes?

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Digital Dozen: 15 May 2012

The rankings of the top twelve MMORPGs as determined by the players of the Xfire community from play on Sunday, 13 May 2012.  For more details about the methodology, click here.  Historical data can be found here.

Rank Prev Week Game ScoreHours Played
11World of Warcraft 53.8 61,225
22Star Wars: The Old Republic11.212,733
55Eve Online4.34,878
68Metin 23.13,553
79APB: Reloaded3.03,368
87Lord of the Rings Online2.83,186
96Guild Wars2.52,801
1010Need For Speed World1.92,105
11NRMaple Story1.82,014
1211Star Trek Online1.51,934
Total MMORPG hours played Sunday:153,446

The number of hours spent playing MMORPGs by the Xfire community decreased by 4.3% compared to the previous Sunday.  This difference is entirely accounted for in the decrease in hours played by the top for games in The Digital Dozen: World of Warcraft (-4.3%), Star Wars: The Old Republic (-18%), Tear (-11.7%) and Aion (-4.8%).  Maple Story vaulted back into the list with an impressive 29% gain in hours played powered by the celebrations surrounding the 7-year anniversary of the game.  Congratulations to Nexon.

The Shadow of Diablo 3:  With the launch of Diablo 3 today I expect to see a large decrease in the number of hours played in MMORPGs next week.  With the over 1 million people who signed up for the World of Warcraft annual pass who receive Diablo 3 for free, that is 10% of the WoW player base who have already indicated they will play Diablo 3.  Can we expect to see a 10% decrease in hours played in WoW next week?

The Hulkageddon Effect - Week 2:  I received a pleasant surprise when I downloaded the average daily numbers for Eve Online's Tranquility server from Eve Offline last night.  The numbers were up-to-date.  Up until now there had been a one-week lag before the numbers appeared. 

The start point for the comparison between the Xfire data and the actual average daily number of players online was 29 April.  6 May saw both the Xfire and actual numbers increase, although the Xfire numbers only increased 0.9% while the average number of players logged in increased by 2.6%.  This past weekend, the trends in the Xfire and Eve Offline numbers disagreed for the first time since 8 April when Xfire experienced a technical problem.  The Xfire numbers when up 3.2% while the average number of players online decreased by 3.1%.

What does that say about the Xfire community?  Are they a bunch of gankers participating in Hulkageddon V with reckless abandon?  That very well could be.  I'll be interested to see the numbers next week.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Evaluating CCP's Anti-RMT Claims

After the first wave of action we've improved our methods a bit. Because of our focus on this subject [illicit RMT sales] we've seen some anecdotal things around the internet that aren't exactly scientific but do point somewhat towards impact.
  • We've seen the cost of illegal isk go up
  • We've seen illegal isk sellers having supply problems
I began my descent into the seedy underbelly of Eve Online's botting and illicit RMT world after listening to CCP Sreegs declare a war against botting at Fanfest in 2011.  Up until now I've mainly concentrated on the War On Bots™ as botting tears are among the best tears found in Eve. But as I find greater links between botters and illicit RMT operations and CCP's Team Security's actions against illicit RMT operations and their customers are increasingly publicized, I've become more interested in the actions of the illicit RMT companies that encourage much of the botting in New Eden.

In his dev blog on 26 April, CCP Sreegs claimed that the cost of illicit isk has increased and that illegal isk sellers are having supply problems.  About 30 minutes of research showed that prices definitely rose. MMOBUX, a website that specializes in providing reviews and pricing information for illicit RMT sellers for MMORPGs, showed an approximately 20% price spike in the median price of isk occurred from the last week in April to the first week in May.  While MMOBUX's list of 25 companies did not include companies like, it does provide the biggest single list of isk sellers I could find.

The second claim is a little iffy.  Yes, an illicit ISK seller, Gamebank, posted the following message which I received when clicking on the Eve Online link on the home page:
"In these days, ISK is in short supply, we wish your kindly understanding if you found we could not send ISK to you instantly.That is why the price of ISK also increased so much.We are always keep watching over the available ISK and preparing to send ISK to you after received your order.

"Thank you for your support all long time! -------July 16th, 2009"
So is this just a message that the company posted in the wake of Unholy Rage and just conveniently never took down to justify bad service?  Of is this a statement of the current condition and just the last line was a leftover from Unholy Rage?  Or both.  I'm not sure, but this is pretty dodgy even for an illicit ISK seller.  Also, I should add I only spent an hour or so searching the internet for this story so there may be other sites warning customers about possible delivery delays.  CCP spends a lot more time looking into these things than I do.

While I was surfing around I decided to do more than just find the nice graph posted above.  I actually looked to see for how much the illicit RMT sites were selling isk.  I figured that because of PLEX sales from CCP that there was a cap on how much the RMT sites could charge.  I was wrong. If I purchase PLEX two at a time from CCP, the cost of 1 billion isk if I sold the PLEX in Jita at Sunday's average sales price (485,998,880.84 isk) is $36.01.  I found several sites that were selling for much more.  The sites are:

Dgamesky: $37.00/billion
IGEVE: $38.50/billion
RPGUU:  $39.90/billion
Ruby Farn: $49.99/billion

MMOBUX also reported that Dgamesky was recently reported for fraud multiple times and should not be used.  So not only is CCP not the most expensive option for purchasing isk, they also have the benefit of being a source players don't have to worry about losing their money due to fraud.  They just have to worry if they carry their PLEX around in a Kestrel.

One thing I did find interesting is that IGE, long the leader in the illicit RMT trade, no longer sells isk.   In fact, IGE is down to only selling in-game currency in 7 games: World of Warcraft, Star Wars: The Old Republic, Rift, Final Fantasy XIV, Runscape, DC Online and Tera. While games like Aion, Everquest 2, Lineage 2 and Vanguard still had links informing customers those games were no longer supported, the link for Eve Online was already gone.  A little more digging found that IGE probably removed the notice about discontinuing isk sales on 3 May.  A call out for assistance on Twitter resulted in CCP Sreegs replying that the last cached page from which IGE actually sold isk was from January 2011 although he thought they were selling fairly recently.  An ad for a site that features small time isk sellers from 9 November 2011 states that it polled IGE among other illicit RMT sites when comparing isk prices.  So apparently either at the end of 2011 or beginning of 2012, IGE made the decision that it could not make a big enough profit in Eve Online selling isk and withdrew its efforts to concentrate on more profitable games like Star Wars: The Old Republic that came out at that time.

Having waded through just a little bit of the muck of the illicit RMT business I can see why game companies would like to shut the practice down.  I personally would not trust any of those sites with my money.  CCP's Team Security is off to a fine start in the most recent anti-RMT campaign.  But it is only a start and they need to live up to the Security presentation at Fanfest and continue to put the pressure on.  Perhaps with a lot of new games coming on-line this year CCP could convince people that selling in-game currency is a lot less of a hassle and more profitable in those games than in Eve Online.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Eve Radio's Revamp And The CCP Invasion

Over the past couple of years when I've traveled to Europe on business Eve Radio has served not only as a link to Eve Online but as my primary radio station.  I could wake up, turn on my computer and listen to some tunes and Eve talk while getting ready for work.  Of course, with only one channel plus the jukebox, I sometimes wound up listening to some music I don't really like. That changed a bit with the addition of the rewind feature last year, but I still like fresh shows.

On 30 April Eve Radio expanded to four separate channels: Prime, Talk, Rock and Dance.  The Prime channel will contain "the best of the best" and when the shows are live will have no competition from other DJs.  From Monday thru Friday, the Prime schedule features live shows from 19:00 - 22:00 GMT/Eve time with reruns of the previous day's Prime show from 3:00 - 6:00 and 13:00 - 16:00.  Saturdays feature two live slots from midnight - 3:00 and 18:00 - 21:00 with replays from 6:00 - 9:00 and 15:00 - 18:00.  The schedule currently is:

Monday - DJ Moz
Tuesday - Destiny
Wednesday - DJ Wiggles
Thursday - DJ Daddy
Friday - JusJ4ck
Saturday - DJ FunkyBacon and DJ Helix

I'm pretty excited about the Talk channel.  When Eve Radio only had one channel with DJs, there wasn't a lot of talk shows because people like listening to music.  Now with four stations, I can listen to a bunch of talk shows and get the latest news.  I could listen to podcasts, but I usually download those on my iPad and listen to them on the train or on the plane when traveling on business.

I've mentioned the Prime schedule but neglected Sundays.  That's because we haven't heard the final schedule yet.  Starting Sunday, the Prime show from 18:00 - 21:00 is a talk show featuring CCP Affinity and CCP Diagoras.  That's right, CCP will produce a show on Eve Radio.  While CCP Diagoras is new at the whole internet radio business, CCP Affinity was an Eve Radio dj before going to work at CCP so Diagoras should be free to look up interesting statistics for the audience.  And where you find two devs there are usually hanging around.  Three hours of devs talking about Eve.  I love it.

The best thing is that if I miss the show on Sunday I'll be able to catch the show when going to work on Monday morning.  And if I miss it on Monday I can always listen on the rewind service.  The only cloud on the horizon is that internet problems may delay the start of the show until the 20th.  But I know have a new must listen radio show to listen to.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Eve Online's Tranquility Subscription Numbers Jump To 361,000

Some people may be surprised that the company with the most open policy about disclosing its subscription and concurrent user numbers runs a game with a reputation as having a player base full of griefers, scam artists and megalomaniacs. Of course, with a cliente as paranoid and distrustful as that found in Eve Online, openness is almost a requirement for CCP to gain the affection and loyalty of its players.

Just because CCP is open about its subscriber numbers doesn't mean finding the information is easy.  Eve's infamous learning curve extends to this area as well.  But though good times and bad, CCP has supplied its subscriber numbers to, a blog devoted to keeping track of the subscription numbers for all MMORPGs.  On Tuesday MMOData gave a few teasers about some of the data that will appear in the site's next update.  In addition to the news about Star Wars: The Old Republic, it was revealed that CCP had sent him an update:
"CCP has send me new EVE numbers, they look good, 361k subs, so they can celebrate their 9th anniversary knowing they are back on the rise."
This is indeed good news as Eve's numbers had fallen down to 340,000 subs in December 2011.  A 6% increase for the first four months is pretty good, especially compared to SW:TOR's 23% decline announced on Monday.

Now, I realize that many Eve players will question whether the 361,000 number is correct, and if it is correct, that it is an increase.  Many game sites give Eve Online credit for having over 400,000 subscribers, but CCP stated Eve had 400,000 active players, not subscribers, in a press release in February.  I looked back at the last Quarterly Economic Newsletter for Q4 2010 and confirmed that the population chart published was for accounts, not subscriptions.  A subtle difference that many in the mainstream gaming media fail to grasp.

But the MMOData figure is only counting those accounts who log into the Tranquility shard, not both Eve Online shards.  Both shards?  Eve is famous for having all players play on a single shard, but that is not true.  Due to the laws in the People's Republic of China, citizens of the world's most populous country play on their own server, Serenity.  When those players along with trial accounts are counted, Eve Online has well over 400,000 active accounts.

After criticizing EA yesterday for the way it misled and continues to mislead people about the popularity of Star Wars: The Old Republic, I thought I would end with this analysis of Eve from MMOData back in March:
"I received more datapoints from CCP, they truly are the most trustworthy source in the industry. They kept providing me with datapoints when EVE Online was in the decline. But this time they have better news. Their subscriptions have gotten back up to 352,5k in March 2012 from a lowpoint of 340k in December 2012. They had a little dip in between with the release of SWTOR, but as I expected, they quickly recovered, and I believe the recovery may even become a new high in the next few months.

"It all depends of course how they will handle EVE Online, and if they will continue to do it right. If they keep improving the spaceship game as they are doing since the Incarna debacle and improve Incarna sandbox style instead of with microtransactions I think they have large potential. I think they realised by now they are not the dinosaur of the industry, even if they get rid of microtransactions, but they are the turtle of the industry, slowly moving forward but outliving all others. I still have quite a bit of reservations on the implementation of Dust, but we will tackle that when we get there."
Sometimes companies who tell the truth are successful, even if they have 25% the subscription base of other games who seem to mislead people as a matter of course.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

EA's Fuzzy Math

Looking at the performance of Star Wars: The Old Republic, EA should feel pretty good.  The MMORPG with the second highest subscriber numbers (after World of Warcraft) in the west.  1.3 million subscribers after four months, which makes it the most successful launch in MMO history. But put into context, the numbers aren't so good.  Looking at the coverage from the business press indicates that SW:TOR is dragging down the price of EA stock, which fell 5% in after hours trading Monday.

Reuters (via CNBC) - EA loses Star Wars users, shares tumble:
Electronic Arts lost 400,000 subscribers of "Star Wars: The Old Republic" in the fourth quarter, dealing a blow to its efforts to rely on the new game for growth and sending the game maker's shares down as much as 10 percent.
EA has poured more money and firepower into "Star Wars: The Old Republic" than it has any game in its 30-year history. Wall Street is closely watching to see if the game can succeed, since it could bring EA riches for years to come. If it struggles, EA's earnings will be hurt in future quarters.
Ian Sherr, WSJ's MarketBeat - Electronic Arts Shares Pounded on Weak Outlook:
As if the outlook on its own wasn’t bad enough, the sixth bullet point on the front page of the results included another bad nugget: subscribers to the company’s “Star Wars: The Old Republic” were below expectations.

The game, released in December, had 1.7 million subscribers at the end of the holidays; now, it has 1.3 million, meaning it’s a slow and likely hard slog to compete with Activision’s “World of Warcraft” and its massive base of 10 million subscribers.
Dan Gallagher, MarketWatch - EA sales beat targets; ‘Star Wars’ takes hit:
The stock had already slumped more than 26% since the first of the year — mostly on worries about growth of the new franchise that is one of the company’s biggest bets in trying to expand its digital business. The shares closed the regular session up fractionally at $15.13.
“In terms of the quarter, they met expectations,” said Colin Sebastian of Robert W. Baird, adding “but I don’t think anyone was expecting a 400,000 decline in ‘Star Wars’ subscribers.” ...
“The trend is clearly downward, and for an MMO like this, you don’t want to see a decline this early on,” Sebastian said. 

Michael Pachter of Wedbush Securities said the numbers for “Star Wars” during the quarter suggest the game might “level off” at the 1-million-subscriber mark, compared to some earlier estimates of 1.5 million subscribers, “so the franchise is far less valuable.” 

He added, though, that the current valuation of EA’s stock is “ridiculously cheap.” 

Analysts were expecting EA to end the recent quarter with about 1.6 million active subscribers — defined as those paying for subscriptions along with players who are still in the free month of trials after buying the game.
Given the expectations of investors, EA leadership's reluctance to disclose the subscription numbers is understandable.  But did they feed into unrealistic expectations?  On the EA Q3 2012 earnings call on 1 Februrary, EA announced that it had sold 2 million copies of SW:TOR and had 1.7 million subscribers.  This was right at the end of the first free month those who pre-ordered the game received.

The good news continued as EA CEO John Riccitiello announced at the 2012 Wedbush Conference on 9 March that at the end of February that SW:TOR still retained almost 1.7 million active subscribers, although MMOData was less optimistic and put the number closer to 1.5 million.  But one attendee, Cowen & Company analyst Doug Creutz, actually forcast 2 million subscribers for SW:TOR by the end of June 2012.

As March turned to April and player discontent about low population levels on many of the SW:TOR surfaced, the outlook began to dim.  The same Doug Creutz who predicted 2 million subscriptions by June 2012 lowered his long-term outlook and caused a ruckus by predicting a subscription base of 1.25 million by March 2013.  He also stated that the 1.7 million subscriptions announced on 1 February would be the high-water mark for the game.  EA fought back to dispel the rumors of a falloff of subscriptions.  SW:TOR's lead writer, Daniel Erickson, told PC Gamer in an interview published 23 April that SW:TOR was not experiencing a drop in subscriptions but just a falloff in players logging in during peak hours.  That was the official explanation for the light server loads and the reason that Bioware was considering server mergers.  So two weeks before the Q4 2012 earnings call the official line was that SW:TOR still had around 1.7 million subscribers.

EA/Bioware did a lot of things to increase subscription numbers, but perhaps the most ethically questionable move was the granting of 30 days free game time to all accounts with a level 50 character as part of the launch of patch 1.2.  The incentive wasn't questionable because Bioware made a public relations blunder by stating that players with a level 50 character were its "most valued players".  The reason is that the move artificially inflated the subscription numbers reported on Monday's earnings call.

Why do I say that?  Because by giving the 30 free days, players who were about to let their subscriptions expire then counted as active subscriptions.  I believe a large percentage of players who preordered the game chose the 3-month subscription model.  Those subscriptions were originally due to run out on 18 April, although that was extended a couple of days due to server/patching issues.  By handing out the free time, EA locked in those players to be subscribed past the earnings call, thus inflating the numbers.  How much was added?  I don't know, but Daniel Erickson's comments indicate that a lot of players had just stopped playing even though they were still subbed.

I have read many argue, especially on the SW:TOR forums, that the above logic is incorrect because EA would be reporting the numbers as of 31 March, the actual end of the financial quarter.  That is simply incorrect.  EA's interim CFO Ken Barker stated on the call Monday:
"Let me provide you with an update on Star Wars. Through the end of the quarter approximately 2.4 million units have sold through. In our last call we indicated that we had 1.7 million active subscribers, and as of the end of April, we now have 1.3 million, with a substantial portion of the decrease due to casual and trial players cycling out of the subscriber base, driving up people who are all percentage of paying subscribers. We have already launched a number of initiatives designed to growth subscriptions. Initial responses have been positive and we are encouraged by the gaming community's reaction." [emphasis mine]
Based on other statements on the call, the future numbers for SW:TOR can't be good as EA is minimizing the importance of the game on the company's bottom line.  I thought this statement from EA CEO John Riccitiello was telling:
"First off, Star Wars' performance right now is very much in line with our original assumptions and the assumptions in where we are guiding folks to over the last couple of years. Where that puts it in our portfolio is, in terms of profitability from a franchise, it's in our top 10 but it is not in our top 5. So as a business contributor, while important, it is not as important as Medal of Honor or Battlefield or FIFA or Madden or the Sims or SimCity but it is more important than Tiger Woods PGA Golf."
If EA leadership thought that SW:TOR was going to have a big boost in subscriptions I know they would tout that number.  A figure of 2 million subs probably means a sustained income of approximately $25 million a month.  Instead, analysts are predicting half that amount.  I would not be surprised if that number falls to 800,000 by the end of the year.  For a normal MMORPG, a subscription base of 800,000 would translate into a very successful game.  But for the estimated $200 million in development costs EA/Bioware sank into Star Wars: The Old Republic?  Even 1 million spells disappointment, at least to investors.