Friday, June 29, 2012

The $175,000 Faction Warfare Exploit

A week ago word spread throughout the Internet that a group of Goons figured out how to manipulate the new faction warfare loyalty point mechanics to the tune of $175,000 if the earned isk and goods were converted to real currency.  While the Goons manipulated the control levels in the Amar-Minmatar war zone, I'm more interested in CCP's response to the incident.  To that end CCP Sreegs published a dev blog yesterday explaining the results of the investigation...
"Last week we manually adjusted some of the pricing as we stated in our news item. We then introduced some changes in order to prevent the disparity between actual cost and 'Average Price' in items. For the near future this should no longer be an issue but we are monitoring and we will make further changes to this system.

"The people who sought to benefit from this exploit will receive no gain from this system. Because this was essentially a system where you could print LP, even if ISK was provided as an input, it is classified as an exploit.

"Because the players made efforts to inform us about the issue their accounts will remain in good standing. We have temporarily seized all LP points and store items from them. Once we're done determining how much each person has benefitted we will remove the LP gained value in LP and items and return the ISK invested in the purchase of items to them. This essentially will set each of them back to the original point at which they began this activity. The person who reported the issue will receive the usual PLEX for Snitches reward.

"I wrote a blog on 'Responsible Disclosures' a year or so ago. In that blog I mention that telling us about something after you've used the heck out of it isn't what we consider to be responsible. We do our best to be lenient in cases such as this but we want this to serve as a notice to the community that the proper time to alert us to the issue was before actually using the system. I can understand a desire to test the limits but we don't believe two weeks of testing a bug or exploit should net a tremendous benefit in lieu of reporting it in the first place, and that is another reason why the LP activity will be reversed back to zero."
The response from Aryth, the Goon who originally posted the details of the exploit on the forums showed he thought the decision fair.
"... I was already a trillionaire before this. It's not like I am crying all the way to the poor house if CCP just unwinds me. I will remain one of the riches players in EVE. Sure, I would more like trillions, but I got many news articles, a 160 page thread or whatever, multiple blogs/news annoucements and the most hilarious graph to ever exist in the history of EVE play.

"Throw in the most ISK in kills/deaths records, and goddamn. I am pretty smug.

"But really. The true reward is to dunk on Stoffer [CCP Soundwave]. If there is one things goons love, it's trolling goons. Even Ex-goons.

"CCP gets press, we get our capital back, EVE gets another hilarious footnote in history. Everyone won here. We just won less than we woulda liked."
As is his custom after publishing dev blogs CCP Sreegs hung around and answered questions on the Eve Online forums.  Since a lot of people refuse (for very good reasons) to visit the official forums, I have extracted the best of the questions and answers from the first few hours of the thread. Having put this together, I think it reads like a press conference. Hopefully this will give some greater insight into CCP's response.  Enjoy!

Q:  What sort of metrics does CCP watch for to catch these kinds of exploits? And what sort of systems can be put in place to understand why LP is coming from nothing, similar to how tech was coming from nothing under the previous silo duplication exploit?

CCP Sreegs:  "Without getting into too much detail things as simple as watching top LP gains by player is a fairly simple one. If you look at the graph provided you really only had to look at the LP at all to see it spike. The other indicator is LP by faction. All the other factions are kinda even keep and Minmitar was like OH HI!"

Q:  Shouldn't the five players also retain LP equivalent to 2 weeks worth of 'normal' game play?  They were playing, they did let you know and they did participate in Faction Warfare.

CCP Sreegs:  "I really don't want to discuss actions against individual players any more than was detailed in the blog for informational purposes. Sorry duder."

Q:  If we do not manipulate prices but do research to take advantage of existing market values, is this still exploiting? Your blog seems to hint that it is.

CCP Sreegs:  "I'm going to pass this point around internally. I'm not really comfortable answering this Maverick-Style."

Q:  If manipulating market prices is exploiting, then there literally is no sandbox anymore.

CCP Sreegs:   "Nobody ever said anything about manipulating the market prices. What we said was that this could be done in such a way that lead to an artificial disparity (albeit one created by our own systems) between the real value of an item and the number we were calculating value based upon to magically die over and over again to gain another currency.

"That's not 'Market Manipulation' that's blowing someone up over and over again to magically get more money out of the same item.

"Nowhere has anyone said Manipulating Market Prices is exploiting. Ever. At all."

Q:  So... This means that insurance fraud is actually an exploit?  If, somehow, mineral prices hit the ground tomorrow and we start building and blowing ships for the insurance ISK, we are exploiting?

CCP Sreegs:   "As I said I won't deal in hypotheticals. That could certainly be the case but it could also not be. Are you printing money from nowhere? Is that printing being done in a tremendous volume? If either or both of those is yes then I think it's pretty fair to say we'd be pretty displeased."

Q:  Insurance fraud was anything but Hypothetical. Those exact circumstance happened and was abused on a very large scale. If it's an exploit, why no rollback?

CCP Sreegs:  "I'm discussing this exploit not any one of a number of hypothetical past or future exploits. (or non-exploits)"

Q:  The issue is the thing you've said directly applies to insurance fraud. Insurance fraud was directly a case where you blew something up and got more than the value of that item back - in isk not an alternative currency like LP.

CCP Sreegs:  "I don't disagree at all I'm just tired and really not prepared to compare one to the other. I'm still heads down in fixing this one."

Q:  Along those same lines, what about people who didn't actively manipulate the value of items, but benefited from these manipulations?

CCP Sreegs:  "As stated in the blog only the five people who actively did this repeatedly were touched."

Q:  The market creates these disparties on it's own sometimes without player help. At least active help. Is it ok to use it then? Is it ok to use it as a matter converter? Essentially this system can function like reprocessing for any item in EVE. It has dramatic implications for EVE going forward.

CCP Sreegs:  "I think it certainly has an impact on EVE as you stated, but that impact is something new. To make a statement of USING THE MARKET TO GAIN MONEY IS OVER EVE IS DYING, is a bit silly. (Not you specifically but others in this thread) This isn't a legacy problem and has no impact on how you deal with existing systems. It only impacts your interaction with FW.

"What we need to do is take a good long hard look at how to deal with items that have disparate values in what are essentially two currencies. I'm pretty sure that is the pivot point in this scenario and from that perspective I'm just Winston Wolf. I don't design these systems.

"As it stands today our stance is that buying something and purposely blowing it up to generate value in another currency is exploiting. It was clearly not our intent in creating the system for that to occur. The system was meant to encourage PVP not wanton suicidal destruction to print money.

"I guess it would somewhat logically be the same to use an example as going to the lamp shop in America, buying a lamp and smashing it, and having the Chinese manufacturer send more money than you paid for it to your account over and over and over again. It's a bit of a stretch in my opinion at least to think this would ever be acceptable.

"There's certainly a design flaw here that needs to be worked out but we have never intentionally introduced a system in EVE where buying an item and killing yourself should be a legitimate way to manufacture income. Least of all on a massive scale."

Q:  How much PLEX will the individual who reported the exploit receive?

CCP Sreegs:  "PLEX reward scales with the severity of the exploitable condition so it'll be more than one."

Q:   Is the column in the database tasked with storing a player's LP a signed 32-bit integer? I was legitimately worried that if we breached 2.1 billion LP, it would wrap around to a negative value.

CCP Sreegs:   "I'll ask internally but I'm not sure I'd tell you either way. To my knowledge we don't really give out that level of detail about our DB structure."

Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Mittani's Info War Mistakes

With the coming campaign in Delve The Mittani has signaled that the Goons and the CFC will shift their focus away from high sec back to null sec warfare.  High sec is a place that Mittens uses to keep the troops occupied when things get slow in null security space because, let's face it, a bored Goon is a Goon who won't log in.  For The Mittani, boredom is right now probably the greatest threat, if not to the GSF, then to his hold on power.

Watching The Mittani and the Ministry of Love bumbling around high sec was amusing while it lasted.  Bumbling, I mean.  I don't think Mittens is quite done with that effort.  Not because suppressing dissent in the blogging community is a vital Goon interest.  Actually, the MoL effort only targeted those in high sec.  Considering how much of the Eve blogosphere and its podcast community are members of the GSF and the CFC, the only reasons I can see for putting together the effort is to keep some of his more troublesome members occupied and the general Goon distaste for bad posting brought over from the Something Awful forums.

No, the Ministry of Love will gain attention because it is an intelligence organization.  Can a "solar spymaster" whose rise to internet fame and power was fueled by his intelligence successes afford to have a failure like the Ministry of Love on his record?  I don't believe so.  So while most of the Goonswarm Federation is busy in Delve making things blow up, the cloak and dagger types will figure out how to make the MoL a more effective tool.

In order to know how to fix the problem, The Mittani and his minions will first need to recognize what went wrong.  Let me give three areas that need improvement.

1.  Publicity.  One of the basics of beginning something like the Ministry of Love is that it should stay in the shadows and slowly become known.  The MoL was designed as much to instill fear as to carry out operations.  Part of instilling fear is that an organization needs to be seen as nearly perfectly efficient.  Good examples are the internal security organizations that operated in the old Soviet bloc like the KGB.  Instead, the MoL was publicized prematurely and its early failures will always rob it of some of its effectiveness.

2.  Deniability.  An organization like the Ministry of Love should not have corporations within the GSF.  As The Mittani himself proves every day, being a Goon does not require logging into a character that is a member of Goonswarm.  Just like the GIA's corporation and alliance infiltration efforts, the MoL should be alts.  Really, how hard is it to train up an alt that can gank a Hulk?

The reason for using alts is that if an operation goes bad, the failure does not leave a stain on the Ministry.  For the MoL to serve as an effective instrument of terror, then failure is not allowed.  Really, conducting a long term sting operation against Jade Constantine ala The Guiding Hand Social Club would have been much more effective than the mess that actually happened when the GSF actually issued a formal war declaration.

3.  Targets.  I have to say that the target selection for the Ministry of Love has been, shall we say, questionable.  Sure, in propaganda value going after morons like Krixtal Icefluxor not only looks good but does the entire Eve Online community a huge favor and probably deserves some sort of commendation.  But the target selection needs some work.

The poster child for bad target selection is Mabrick, the blogger who writes Mabrick's Mumblings.  I'm still trying to figure out what The Mittani (and yes, I'm convinced The Mittani was involved in the target selection) was thinking when he chose Mabrick for retribution.  Does he have so much contempt for high sec dwellers that he automatically assumes they all will wilt under his glaze and either bow down to him or slink away from the game?  As you can read from Mabrick's post today about the lessons he learned from the Goons' war on his 3 man corporation, Mabrick didn't fit the profile that the Ministry should look for, at least at this point in the Ministry's development.

The war on Mabrick reminded me of President Obama's war on Fox News back in 2009.  When someone with that much power goes after someone whose business is using pixels to disseminate information, some of that power is distributed to the target.  The decision to end the war against Mabrick was the correct decision in order to limit the damage the Ministry of Love did to itself.  Given that The Mittani, unlike U.S. politicians, tends to learn from his mistakes, I don't expect to see a repeat of that performance.

I remember listening to a talk The Mittani gave to Eve University in which he complained about Darius Johnson demanding forum porn, leading to the blowing of his agents' cover.  Has The Mittani turned into something he once complained about and is now more worried about short-term gain rather than the long term benefits of successful intelligence operations?  Or was the MoL really just a make-work project that had the added benefit of striking out at those who annoyed the great leader?  And will pride force The Mittani to improve the organization and make it a viable tool to influence his foes? Time will tell.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Was Inferno An Incarna-Level Event?

I think that Incarna will go down in history as the measuring stick for bad Eve Online expansions.  That's why I got a kick out of reading the reactions of players upset with the new unified inventory system comparing Inferno to Incarna.  Of course, I'm not a power user who engages in POS management or alliance logistics so I didn't think much of the change.  Well, that is not entirely true; I loved all the tears I collected from the botting forums because of all the difficulties bot developers had adapting to the change.

Still, threats were made about mass unsubscriptions and how everyone was leaving the game.  I even had this comment left on the blog...
"The numbers are lower from unsubscribed accounts, due to the unplayability for a lot of functions used ny [sic] Industrialists, and the new Infinigeddon. I have cancelled all 4 of my accounts. My former Alliance LEader cancelled 4 as well that are 5 years old.

"I know of 4 similar 'cancelled all accounts' players just from my Local Area In-Game.

"It's just too much nonsense anymore for casual play."
And that comment was to an article that showed a massive drop in the average number of users online before Inferno to corresponded suspiciously with the launch of Diablo 3.

Showing the Diablo 3 Effect
But in the interest of being fair and balanced, I really should take a look at the numbers after launch.  I've downloaded the daily average concurrent user numbers from Chribba's Eve Offline and compared the 7-day rolling average for the first thirty days after both the Incarna and Inferno launches.  I omitted the average for both launch days because those tend to skew the numbers downward.

The tale of two expansions

My conclusion looking at the numbers is that Inferno truly was not an Incarna-level event.  In the first 30 days after the launch of Incarna, the 7-day rolling average of the number of players on Tranquility dropped 8.3%, from 31,990 down to 29,468.  In contrast, the ACU after the Inferno launch rose 9.5%, from 25,984 up to 28,359.  A clear win for CCP, right?

Well, not really.  The problem is that the average concurrent user number is still not back up to where it was when Diablo 3 launched.  On 14 May, the day before D3 launched, the ACU on Tranquility was 29,583, which means that 30 days after the launch of Inferno that the number of players logged in was still down 4.1%.  I'm not sure what CCP's internal seasonally adjusted numbers are, but I can't believe that not seeing growth, even with the competition from Blizzard, made senior management in Reykjavik very happy.

Of course, ACU does not tell the entire story.  I'm anxiously waiting for MMOData to come out with version 3.9 of its charts to see what the latest Eve subscription numbers are.  One possibility I have not mentioned is that all the missing people were maintaining their subscriptions and playing in the DUST 514 beta.  If that is the case then perhaps only CCP Unifex is unhappy and the rest of senior management is out trying to find a decent beer to celebrate with.  So while I'm confident that Inferno was not a disaster, I'll wait another month or two before judging how successful the expansion actually was.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Digital Dozen: 26 June 2012

The rankings of the top twelve MMORPGs as determined by the players of the Xfire community from play on Sunday, 24 June 2012.  For more details about the methodology, click here.  Historical data can be found here.

Rank Prev Week Game ScoreHours Played
11World of Warcraft 56.3 51,754
22Star Wars: The Old Republic9.38,536
44Eve Online4.94,474
56Lord of the Rings Online4.03,659
77Metin 23.43,080
88APB: Reloaded3.22,903
9T10The Secret World (Beta)2.62,399
109Need For Speed World2.52,312
11NRD.C. Universe Online1.81,691
12T10Maple Story1.71,572
Total MMORPG hours played Sunday:129,062

For the second consecutive week the hours the Xfire community spent playing MMORPGs increased.  The 2.9% increase was led by World of Warcraft's solid 5.8% gain along with the interest in The Secret World's last open beta weekend.  The week's big loser was Tera which saw a 15.5% drop in the amount of time spent playing the game.

The Diablo Effect Is Over?  In the overall Xfire game charts Diablo 3 is now ranked #3 with the number of hours played Sunday down almost 60% from the first Sunday after the game's launch.  World of Warcraft inched it's way back up to the #4 spot overall Sunday and has a good chance of staying there for the foreseeable future.  Is it still having an effect on the MMORPG genre?  According to the Xfire charts, the answer is arguably yes.
The game most affected by Diablo 3 because of a promotion, World of Warcraft,  is still down 15.5% in time played than before the launch of Diablo 3.  Overall, the time the Xfire community spends playing MMORPG's is down 15.8%.  While one could argue that other factors, such as summer and the weakness of Star Wars: The Old Republic have contributed to the overall weakness in MMORPG numbers, the fact that the overall numbers so closely match with WoW's decline does lead some credence to believing the Diablo Effect is still having an influence.

Heroes Wanted:  D.C. Universe Online made its first appearance in The Digital Dozen this week, coming in at #11.  Games like DCUO show the weakness of using Xfire to give a definitive listing of the popularity of MMORPGs, as the SOE offering is available in both PC and console versions.  Xfire only counts PC time played.  DCUO is undoubtedly more popular than some of the games that rank ahead of it, but until game companies come around to CCP's level of openness about concurrency numbers I'll just have to rely on Xfire to give an approximation.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Impressions From The Final The Secret World Beta

I took a break from running around low sec Saturday because I received a beta key from Funcom to play their new MMORPG, The Secret World.  Since I've stated that I think The Secret World is one of the top stories of 2012 I thought I should at least play the beta since I had the chance.  As always when I do a post about a game, I am only giving my impressions as I don't feel playing 6-7 hours really allows me to see enough of an MMORPG to do an actual review.  Hopefully those who don't play Eve Online won't mind all the Eve references since I do see a lot of similarities between the two games.

"A Thinking Man's Game."  I have read this or a variation of the phrase on the forums and in general chat and I have to agree.  At its heart I believe The Secret World is a puzzle game.  In general chat I read requests that people send answers via direct tell and not in chat.  Unlike games like  Star Wars: The Old Republic that lead players right up to people, TSW will lead players to a general area and then the player has to figure out how to get to the objective.  Sometimes that is not easy, involving climbing up and down objects or looking really carefully at the map.  At other times the quest only gives clues and the player needs to figure out the answer.  And I didn't even try to do an investigative quest which I hear requires researching facts in the real world via the Internet.  TSW contains an in-game browser and unlike the one in Eve Online can play videos.

Where are Will Smitty and Tommy Lee Jones?  The Secret World is set in a modern-day setting with a twist; every conspiracy theory and myth is true.  Instead of a group of guys in black suits running around trying to keep a lid on all the weirdness, Funcom created three player factions, the Templars, Illuminati and Dragon.  The Templars and Illunimati are modified versions of "existing" organizations while the Dragon is a composite of secret societies from eastern Asia.

Update?  But I did!  I knew I might be in trouble when I was prompted to update my video drivers.  The problem was my drivers were up to date.  The Secret World website did provide a link to check out if my computer meets the recommended requirements.  Sadly, it does not.  But by running the default settings I can gladly report I didn't notice any problems while running around the game.  Of course, I didn't do any dungeons, so I don't know how my computer would have fared.  For the record, here are the minimum and recommended system requirements.

Minimum System Requirements

  • Internet Connection: 512 KBPS or faster
  • OS: Windows XP (SP 1)/Vista (SP 1)/Windows 7 (SP 1)
  • DVD-ROM: 8X or faster DVD drive
  • Processor: 2.6 GHZ Intel Core 2 Duo or equivalent AMD CPU
  • Memory: At least 2GB RAM for Windows XP / 3GB RAM for Windows Vista and Windows 7
  • Hard Drive: At least 30GB of free space
  • Graphics Card: NVIDIA 8800 series 512 VRAM or better
  • DirectX: DirectX 9.0c Compatible
  • Input: Keyboard & Mouse

Recommended System Requirements

  • OS: Windows 7 64 bit
  • Processor: Intel Core i5 3.0Ghz or equivalent
  • Graphics Card: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 560 Ti 1GB
  • Memory: 6 GB
My System (for comparison)
  • OS: Windows 7 64 bit
  • Processor: AMD A4-3400 APU with Radeon HD Graphics, 2.7 GHz
  • Graphics Card:  AMD Radeon HD 6410D
  • Memory: 4 GB

Is This Clone Wars?  To say that the character creator was pretty basic is putting it kindly.  I realize that I'm used to Eve Online's amazing character creation process but TSW's was disappointing.  The only customization to appearance is the head and selecting starting clothing.  Of course, I should add that Funcom greatly added to the selection of clothing after I created my character, so that helped with the problem of everyone looking the same.  But everyone does have the same body type, so that is a bit of personalization out the window.  Of course, given the system requirements, that might help me run the game.

I'm Not Watching A Cartoon.   Given that my graphics card barely meets the minimum requirements to run The Secret World, I have to say I still liked the graphics.  I do have to preference this by stating that I always liked the realistic graphics in games like EverQuest 2 over those found in World of Warcraft or Star Wars: The Old Republic.  The one question I will have is the ability to keep the graphics updated long term like CCP has done with Eve if the game is a success.  Will the desire to have graphics that last a long time requiring higher-end graphics cards to run limit the potential player base for TSW?

Class?  What's That?  Up until now, the creation of skill-based classless games like Ultima Online, Eve Online and Darkfall was done by independent game studios.  So how does Funcom handle the challenge of creating a game in which players can know every possible skill?

Skill classes:  The Secret World has three main classes of skills, magic, melee and ranged, which are then further divided into three sub-classes.  But wait, didn't I write that TSW has no classes?  That's right, no class that a player is locked into playing.  That means no re-rolling a new character if a player wants to try something completely different.  Just start learning the new skills on an old character.

Action bar slots:  I was struck by the similarity of TSW's design of active, passive and talisman slots reflects CCP's ship design using high, mid and low slots.  In The Secret World, a player is limited to only having 7 skills in the Active skill bar and 7 skills in the Passive skill bar.  Thus a player must pay attention to the skill selection.  Combine that with the 7 talisman slots a player receives to supplement a character's skills and once I actually had purchased 8 active and 8 passive skills I began to feel like I was trying to fit my Hurricane in Eve.

Weapons slots:  Funcom keeps the entire skills system from spiraling out of control by limiting the skills in a player's action bar to those associated with the weapons the character is carrying.  A character can only carry two weapons and only one of each skill.  Funcom is actually putting together something called decks that describe how different combinations of skills work together.  The best description I can come up with are multi-class characters in D&D or hybrid characters in World of Warcraft like druids or paladins.

That's A Mighty Small Journal.  The quest, or I should say mission, system in The Secret World is unusual in that only six missions are allowed in the quest journal at any one time.  And those six missions are broken down further into categories.  As TSW is a theme park game, one of the missions is called the story mission.  I've never played Lord of the Rings Online, but I wonder if LOTRO does the same thing with its chapters.  Another mission slot is reserved for dungeon missions, a third for main missions and the other three for side missions.  No carrying around 75 quests like I could do in EverQuest 2.

One nice thing about the quest givers is that they display all of the possible missions they will hand out.  That helps when deciding whether to accept a quest from another source when wandering around.  Also, some quests are repeatable and by clicking on the quest icon the cool down for the quest is visible.  I think the repeatable quests would really come into play when attempting to level up some secondary skills on a character.

Did I Fall Into A Rift?   I have to say that the combat system reminded me a lot of RIFT's.  Some skills generate resources that are then consumed by more powerful skills.  Also, moving around is good, standing still is bad.  The one nice feature is that using a skill that generates resources generates for both weapons if a character has two equipped.  Since the weapons (at least the ones I played with) use different resources a player can use damage dealing skills and still have the resources needed to cast powerful heals.  That type of ability is what I think will make TSW's combat system stand out.

Do All EA MMOs Do This?  The Secret World and Star Wars: The Old Republic have more in common than the fact that Electronic Arts is the publisher for both games.  Moving between areas in both games just takes so long to do because waiting to load the assets for the new zone takes so long.  In TSW perhaps the reason is that my computer only has 4 GB of RAM instead of the recommended 6.  I will have to say that unlike what I used to experience with the excessive instancing when moving around the old Qeynos in EQ2, at least the reason for the instancing makes sense travel-wise.  And I do have to admit that I like how the screen that is displayed while the new zone loads starts out in black-and-white and slowly fades into color.  But be warned.

She's Wearing What?  Given the discussion about sexism, especially women's clothing, in gaming, I almost think that anyone planning on writing their thoughts on a game needs to create a female character.  How female characters are dressed can tell something about the mindset of the developers.  In The Secret World, the developers didn't go out of their ways to make women into sex objects.  Sure, female characters can wear bikini tops and hot pants, but they also get the option to wear turtle neck sweaters and jeans.  And no shoes with 5-inch heels like in Tera in sight.  If any controversy about sexism is generated by TSW, I don't think the game design will be the cause.

One thing I do like about the clothing in TSW is that I did not see any stats on it.  That means no mis-matching of clothes unless done intentionally.

Would You Like Fries With That?  Looking at the menu brought me to a mockup of a cash shop for TSW using the Funcom currency.  As of right now the impression I get is the plan is to only sell vanity items like clothing.  But remember that TSW is a subscription game that will charge $14.99 / €14.99 incl. VAT / £12.99 incl. VAT.

Will I play?  From what I saw, my having a lower-end computer would not stop me from playing The Secret World.  In addition to a mission system that actually requires paying attention to the fine cut scenes, I liked the puzzles I was presented, even if I did do some cursing when I was temporarily stumped.  Completing those missions actually made me feel like I had accomplished something.  I also liked the exploring I did.  I enjoyed my time wandering around Seoul looking for little pieces of lore.  So I intend to play The Secret World ... eventually.

Why won't I play at launch?  Two reasons.  The developer is Funcom and the publisher is Electronic Arts.  Funcom does not have a stellar history with MMORPG launches, with the launches of Anarchy Online and Age of Conan arguably amongst the worst of all time.  Will TSW break the trend?  I'm hopeful, but I'm afraid the game is not ready for prime time just from a couple of things I saw and heard.  The launch was delayed once already and I'm afraid the publisher EA won't let Funcom get everything in order. 

EA itself is in a bit of a mess right now because of the problems concerning Star Wars: The Old Republic.  I think that EA needs a new revenue source to help make up for disappointing news with SW:TOR and they see TSW as a quick fix to make the books look better.  Ironically, one could argue that EA pushed Bioware to publish SW:TOR before Christmas when it wasn't ready, thus helping to cause SW:TOR's problems.

So while I want to play TSW, Funcom's and EA's reputations have led me to the decision to wait until August or September to purchase the game and play.  I really hope I'm wrong because I really want to see The Secret World be the surprise hit of 2012.  But for now I'm going to stay in Eve and fly around low sec.  I think I'm safer there.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Happy Rage Against The Bots Day!

"We actively hunt down and ban ISK [in-game currency] sellers whenever and wherever we find them, with a dedicated effort from our game master team. The main reason for that is those accounts are more often than not associated with credit card fraud, account hacking and using macros. All of this affects the game experience for our regular players in a negative way, and hence we do all that we can do in order to minimise these illegal activities within the game."

For those relatively new to Eve Online, CCP's War on Bots and the illicit RMT trade did not always consist of a long relentless grind more comparable to the shooting of structures and attempts to cause failure cascades associated with null sec warfare.  Today marks the third anniversary of an attempt to shock and awe RMTers and their associated botting suppliers into submission with a campaign now known as Unholy Rage.

Unlike a lot of game companies that do massive ban waves in an attempt to keep botting, gold farming and other illicit RMT activities under control, CCP attempted to do a layered approach designed to not only knock out the botters but take away their customers as well.  The first part of the plan involved competing directly with the isk sellers. In November 2008 CCP created the 30-day Pilot's License Extension (PLEX) and began the process of allowing players to not only trade isk for game time codes (GTCs) but beginning in February 2009 CCP began selling game time directly.  The purpose of PLEX was to make the process of trading isk for game time a lot easier and hopefully lure players away from illicit isk sellers.

With the demand side addressed, CCP began identifying methods to identify and ban those in the illicit RMT trade, including botters.  In an early test in early March 2009 CCP identified and banned approximately 3,000 accounts associated with illicit RMT activities.  Processes were tweaked and metrics to measure success were identified leading up to the beginning of the offensive, code named "Unholy Rage".

During downtime on 22 June 2009, CCP banned a total of 6,200 accounts.  While the associated dev blog documented things like server CPU usage, player populations in popular systems and effects on the markets, the one thing lacking was the effect on how many accounts were actually logged onto Tranquility.  According to data downloaded from Eve-Offline, the seven-day rolling average of concurrent users dropped from 31,707 accounts on 21 June 2009 down to 27,333 players on 30 June 2009, a 13.8% drop.  Put another way, in June 2009 almost 1 in 7 pilots logged in at any one time were bots.

Unholy Rage was not just a one day effort.  Over the course of the anti-RMT/anti-bot operation CCP issued over 30,000 bans, many to repeat offenders, for violations of the EULA for illicit RMT and botting.  But if the goal of the operation was to eliminate these activities, Unholy Rage was a failure.  By the end of 2010 players were once more complaining about bots and CCP had hired a new security chief who had a different philosophy of how to deal with botters and the RMT trade.

While the operation itself wasn't a lasting success, the first day demonstrated how big of an impact botting had on server performance and that the Eve economy was now large and robust enough to handle the impact of banning that many bots.  For that and the fact that 6,200 botters were banned, the anniversary of the start of Unholy Rage deserves to be remembered.  So happy Rage Against The Bots Day everyone!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Feeling Blue

I recently spent a full week living in low security space, only leaving it when a courier mission sent me to a station in high sec or when I passed through a high sec island system because it was the fastest route.  I have to say that the experience was certainly interesting.  I hope no one minds that I don't disclose the location of my little visit, but I don't want to give out any information to any pirates that might wander across the blog.  Loose lips 'splode ships and all that business.

I've already written about the first few days I spent making bookmarks in my area of operations.  A very educational experience letting me know about the inhabitants of the systems I planned to fly in.  After making my bookmarks, I began to run level 4 courier, er, I mean distribution missions out of a centrally located station.  The first thing I noticed is that the missions pay out a lot better than those in high sec.  Of course, that was offset by the fact that I was only having one pilot do the missions.  In high sec I normally keep both Rosewalker and Wandering Rose in space doing the missions.  But I'm still wary enough of the neighborhood to only want to risk one ship at a time.  Because of that I'm not sure that I really get any additional benefit by doing the missions in low sec, reward wise at least.  I think I do but my record keeping is really spotty.

Flying in low sec is a lot more intense.  In high sec, I just undock and follow the yellow gates until I get to my destination.  The most important thing is to make sure I remember the cargo.  In low sec, I make sure I have Dotlan up in case I need to make an unscheduled detour from the path my autopilot selects.  Then, when undocking, check the overview for nearby ships.  If I see a ship, warp to the instawarp bookmark I made for the station.  No ships, warp to the first jump gate on the journey, especially if I am the only one in local.  If local is crowded, think about jumping to one of my observation bookmarks.  Rinse and repeat until I get tired of running missions.

Most days I didn't worry too much as most of the pilots I encountered had positive security statuses, including one pilot with a +5.  But on Sunday a pirate corporation I had spotted during my scouting the week before began setting up gate camps.  I blew right though one consisting of 4 Hurricanes and a couple of fast tacklers.  While flying around I wandered into another system they had moved into and started a conversation.  I asked if the system was a bad place to mine in and I was told it was a great place to mine and that I should bring a Hulk.  Considering 3 of those Hurricane pilots were flashy, I told them I wasn't interested in mining and went on my way.

Talking to pirates via an open comm channel like local can lead to some interesting events.  About ten minutes after talking with the pirates I received a private chat request from a member of an alliance that I had determined probably were not pirates.  He warned me about trusting the pirates and then offered the chance of getting a non-agression pact between his alliance and my corp.  Okay, maybe NAPs are for carebears, but I'm a carebear!  I did a little research and found that the alliance had a page on Steam.  I found out they were a NSBI alliance that didn't suicide gank.  That combined with some research on Eve Who that showed their average security status was positive and I decided to trust them.  I contacted the alliance executor as suggested and a couple of days ago I checked my email and I am now blue to a 300 man alliance.

I haven't had a chance to put my new blue status to the test yet.  I pulled out of low sec for a bit to do some things like tend my PI colonies and pick up some skill books.  I do have to say that after even just a week in low sec some of my reflexes had changed.  When I first logged into the game at a high sec station, I just about panicked looking at all the people in local until I remembered where I was and that I probably didn't need to worry.  And I now automatically cloak up whenever traveling, even when I have an empty cargo hold.  I used to only do that when I had a full cargo hold.

I'm beginning to think I should do some mining in low sec.  I have the feeling I might develop some good habits that I don't currently have on the rare occasions when I mine in high sec.  I don't know if I just take a Scythe or ship up to a Retriever.  The Scythe perhaps has a greater chance of survival but the Retriever will fit in the cargo hold of my Prowler and has a greater mining capacity to boot.

Of course, if I try to mine in low sec I'll have to bring along a ship as protection, if for no other reason to shoot any NPCs that wander along.  That would mean finally bringing armed ships into low sec.  I've heard that mining in either a mission site or a gravimetric site is the best way to mine.  Maybe I should finally purchase a Loki and turn it into an explorer.  Or maybe using a stealth bomber will work.

I'm really starting to become intrigued with the possibilities in low sec.  I might wake up and come to my senses but at least earning standings with some of the NPC corps in the region couldn't hurt, right?

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

CCP's War On Bots: Zeroing In On Eve Pilot

Last week CCP Stillman told me over Twitter that I might notice a new trend in what botters were crying over insofar as Team Security's actions were concerned.  I thought that he meant all the negative balances I kept reading about.  But just in case I missed something, I started reading the various botting forums again looking for anything unusual.  And I found it.

A theory that I have heard on the Eve Online forums and even in the comments on the blog is that Team Security is ignoring the little guy running single bots and concentrating on the botters running large scale operations designed to fuel illicit RMT rings.  Apparently that belief was prevalent amongst users of the Eve Pilot family of bots.  The following exchange I just found from the end of April is why I wrote "was prevalant".

28 April 2012
Famine:  "But i think Slav has mentioned that single users of his program have not been banned since the middle of 2011 or something."

Slav2 (developer of Eve Pilot):  "This statement was true before resent bans. Pre festival time has traditionally higher risk of a ban, when CCP collecting statistics to show in graphs. I think CCP made some changes in bot detection after festival. Some new ideas could appear when GMs collected statistics. Now single bots who use VMWare may be banned too."
I've heard mention of using VMWare to disguise a botter's IP address and to run multiple bots.  I've also caught other mentions where users of VMWare are getting caught, although I've intentionally shied away from spelling out avoidance methods in great detail.  If using VMWare is a practice that is likely to get a botter noticed, then I'm anxious to watch the tears flow.  The botters know that Team Security uses IP addresses to ban players so they use VMWare to disguise them.  But if VMWare is a red flag, what's a botter to do, go straight?  That's crazy talk!
What appears is occurring is that Team Security's technical detection methods were first extremely reliable detecting botting fleets or people stupid enough to bot longer than 12 hours a day, so that is what was banned.  As time moved on and the detection methods improved, VMWare users of Eve Pilot are now detectable even if botting by themselves.  No grand strategy of going after the illicit RMT trade first involved.  CCP was just picking off the low hanging fruit and they now have brought out a ladder and are reaching a little higher.

Now if only we can get a new Security dev blog with an update.  CCP Sreegs showed the CSM some fascinating stuff and I'd really like to hear the unclassified version.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Digital Dozen: 19 June 2012

The rankings of the top twelve MMORPGs as determined by the players of the Xfire community from play on Sunday, 17 June 2012.  For more details about the methodology, click here.  Historical data can be found here.

Rank Prev Week Game ScoreHours Played
11World of Warcraft 55.6 48,910
23Star Wars: The Old Republic9.48,294
46Eve Online5.04,422
67Lord of the Rings Online3.83,309
79Metin 23.63,129
88APB: Reloaded3.12,711
910Need For Speed World2.42,094
T1011Maple Story1.91,642
T10NRThe Secret World (Beta)1.91,642
1212Star Trek Online1.81,619
Total MMORPG hours played Sunday:126,056
The number of hours played in MMORPGs by the Xfire community declined 4.9% over the previous week, more than wiping out last week's gains.  The big gainers for the week were Need For Speed World (+22.3%), Star Trek Online (+19.7%) and Star Wars: The Old Republic (+13.1%).  The big loser for the week was Tera (-14.8%).

The Beta Effect:  Once again betas are having an effect on The Digital Dozen.  While Guild Wars 2 dropped off the list, a new game, The Secret World, held a public beta and tied for 10th in the rankings Sunday.  The Secret World's performance was better than that of any of the Tera beta weekends, as Tera did not crack the list until the early bird weekend.

Server Merge Fever:  Last week finally saw the introduction of free server transfers for players of Star Wars: The Old Republic.  While this week's gain of 13.1% of hours played by the Xfire community may only represent a bouncing back from players lost to the Guild Wars 2 beta, the encouraging fact for Bioware is that the players apparently came back.  In fact, the number of hours played is up slightly compared to 27 May, or three weeks previous.  For SW:TOR, which seems to lose player interest no matter what, that is a posivite development.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Mining Ship Rebalancing And Botting - First Thoughts

Friday saw the publication of a dev blog from CCP Ytterbium about the upcoming ship rebalancing for the winter expansion.  While a lot of commentary focuses on the game play aspects of the changes, I'd like to take a little time and speculate on what the changes could mean for botters.  I don't see any effects on mission bots, but mining bots potentially will see major effects on their activities or at least see the need to reship into different hulls.

First a review of the changes and what CCP is trying to accomplish in terms of balancing mining ships.
Our goal is simple: each and every single mining barge (and their tech 2 variant) should have an appealing role, and not just be a stepping stone on the way to something better. Players should'nt only aim for the Hulk without considering anything else when doing some hard rock and roll mining. That means playing with the following variables: 
  • Mining output: first and most visible balancing factor, plan is to increase all barge mining output to be within an acceptable margin of the Hulk, not miles behind as it is currently. 
  • Autonomy: mining barges should have proper cargo holds so they not always have to rely on jet cans (without turning them into industrials however). That means giving them large, specialized ore bays where all the ore will automatically go into when mining. 
  • Resilience: another point is to give some of them proper EHP not to be one-shot by anything that even remotely sneezes on them. 
As a result we thus get: 
  • New ORE frig: we want this ship to replace current mining frigates as low barrier of entry vessel, but also fulfill high-end gameplay expectations by providing a very mobile platform for mining in hostile space. Lowest mining output, decent ore bay, little to no resilience. 
  • Procurer/Skiff: primarily made for self-defense. Better mining rate than the ORE frig, good ore bay, but capable of having battleship-like EHP. 
  • Retriever/Mackinaw: made for self-reliance. Has the largest ore bay, similear to the size of a jet can, second best mining output but less EHP than the procurer mining barge. 
  • Covetor/hulk: ore bay is identical to its current cargo hold, little to average EHP, but best mining output. Basically made for group operations when players have industrials and protection to back them up. 
At first glance, the major botters and those tied into RMT operating in high security space should run as normal.  They already run in fleets with Orca support.  Running without fleet support dramatically reduces the mining output of bots, which is why I included some tears about this a few weeks ago when the new Unified Inventory system broke bots.  But how about botters only running one or two accounts?  This comment from FireMagnet on the Eve Pilot/Eve Miner forums gives some hope.
"Welp, there goes solo hulk botting. Hulkageddon might have to be renamed Retrigeddon or Mackigeddon."
Since we don't yet know yet the mining yields for the revamped ships, FireMagnet's comment is possibly the natural reaction of an Eve player to change.  The critical factors to watch when the changes finally appear on the Singularity test server are mining yield and the capacity of the ore cargo bay.  From the description in the dev blog, Retrievers and Mackinaws should have a ore cargo capacity of around 25,000 cubic meters while a Hulk's ore capacity should not change.  The question is whether the Retriever/Mackinaw's capability to stay on-station mining longer will result in greater long-term yield compared to the higher output Hulk moving back and forth from the station more frequently.

Non-botter theory crafters will have difficulty in making this calculation because of each bot's human-mimicing algorythms.  For example, this exchange that occured on the Eve Pilot forums points out one effect that the War on Bots has on botting software design: 

Koisagi:  "Just a quick question thats been baffling me for a while, when my miner offloads to the station i think he goes and makes a cup of tea! in a nutshell can i reduce the time he spends in station between trips?"
ComalDave:  "Remember that the idea is not to get the maximum ore per hour, but rather to get the maximum ore without getting caught. EP taking a break to make a cuppa is a good thing."
So apparently the new botting union rules are that bots get to take a coffee or tea break when they return to the station.  That means trying to reduce the amount of trips that bots make back to the station.

Speaking of the ore cargo bays, I am interested to see exactly how that mechanic will work.  Will CCP allow the transfer of ore between the ore cargo bay and the regular cargohold while the ship is in space?  And how large will the devs make the regular cargohold?   Will the cargohold have just enough space to hold a set of mining crystals or large enough to hold a significant amount or ore?  These questions are of interest to all players, but the answers will influence how the bot developers need to change their bots once the newly designed ships are deployed on Tranquility.

Botters don't need to just worry about Team Security coming down and banning their accounts.  Even before The Mittani placed his permanent bounties for killing exhumers and mining barges into effect players across New Eden took joy in suicide ganking mining bots.  With Hulks apparently about to experience a nerf to their tanks, the top of the line exhumer is about to become much easier (and cheaper) to kill.  If that practice becomes common enough, I can see botters downsizing to Mackinaws or even Skiffs just for the survivability factor.  However, given the few reports I've read on the botting forums about ganking vs. the threat of account bans, botters downsizing because of player actions is probably wishful thinking.

Beginning at last year's Fan Fest CCP Sreegs put into place an attrition campaign against bots designed to limit the amount of bot usage, whether because of players no longer using bots or just not running them 23 hours a day as was standard practice in the past.  The current advice for botters is pretty well summed up by a statement posted by Eve Pilot developer Slav 2 on Friday, 14 June:
"CCP made quite good efforts to ban bots in the past and now rare botter use bot 23/7. These long running bots are found quite easily, the only you can do here is to hide bot activity. Dont do with bot anything you cannot also reproduce manually. That means 10h of botting per day is maximum you should do in order to be on the safe side with periods of logoff during day. Also CCP collects information about your system during login. If you use the same computer for several accounts (even if you just login to change skills), accounts became connected and there is a chance that all these accounts be banned at ones when bot found. You can use VMWare in order to separate bot and main account, but [in] my opinion VMWare users are banned more frequently then users who dont use VMWare."
With the bot supression efforts showing positive results, will those developing game features step up and join in the War on Bots™?  The Hulk changes show some promise but do CCP Ytterbium and CCP Soundwave have any further plans connected to the mining ship rebalance aimed at bot users?  I'll keep an eye on the issue because I do have some hopes the answer is yes.

Friday, June 15, 2012

CCP's War On Bots: I Didn't Want That H-Bot Anyway

The word out of the recent CSM Spring Summit in Reykjavik on the anti-botting front is good.  Seleene was absolutely gushing about the success enjoyed by CCP Sreegs and Team Security:
"While it was acknowledged that stopping people from completely automating a process is impossible, the goals have always been to change behavior and decrease the profitability of botting. Based on the numbers the CSM saw and the methods described to us, I feel comfortable in saying this has definitively been achieved. Detecting the bots didn't change anything; making it more painful to get caught (with changes in policy) is what changed things."
While I'm happy to hear that, I just want to say one thing: don't get cocky.   Of course, looking at the botting forums tends to reinforce the message from CCP.  Today's tears come from my old friends over at H-Bot.  My last post about the mission bot ended on 29 May, so I'll begin from there.  Enjoy!

31 May:

Dinam: "I got bans for 3 accounts.  Invalid Login or password.  Permanent ban."

BaNZ:  "I rotate my chars a bit and I just got a reported temp ban."

nubhubble:  "As I thought, posters above probably RMT'd and got caught. CCP are really cracking down hard."

Red Bull:  "Did not RMT, got negative wallet also."

jastog:  "Everyone get his wallet resetted. My corp mates that got ban are all like -3b each which is like a week of botting or so.  Still don't know how CCP set the date when you bot and what they take from you."

Marazmo:  "RMT, of course))  But after ban i have 2 chars as well.  1 sell. Now a play on 1 acc. Its enought of EVE in my life))"

4 June:

Diligent:  "Just got banned second strike. Balance only on bot accounts was set to -3B. 10h/day/per bot with breaks for whole day every 3-4 days. Probably got caught cause one day i messed with timings and bot was working 17h :/"

super:  "so this is still on?  i havent been on for months and kind of thinking of eve again, but fuck it if i can't bot for my ships"

5 June:

slyer:  "Just got banned with two of my accounts this day."

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Eve's Secret Sauce

"I’m increasingly starting to believe that there’s a strong argument for EVE, not WoW, as the most successful – and certainly the most unique – MMO ever. Just what is its secret sauce?"

Hugh Hancock, founder of
and Editor-In-Chief of
MMO Melting Pot

Ripard Teg, a.k.a. Jester, can have a corrupting influence on those who do not play Eve Online.  When I wrote about the emergence of New Eden's pajamahadeen I chose one of Jester's blog posts as an example of the arguments one could use in defending Eve from attack by those who wish CCP's flagship game ill luck.  Indeed, Jester's well-reasoned (and frequent!) posting serves as an effective counterpoint to the horrendous posting seen on the official Eve Online forums and other places that tends to get picked up by the Mainstream Gaming Media.

The latest potential convert to the church of CCP is Hugh Hancock, the editor-in-chief of MMO Melting Pot.  Jester's Trek posts are making more frequent sightings on Hugh's site and now the self-described World of Warcraft theory crafter is beginning to believe that Eve Online is possibly the most successful MMORPG in history.  In a post yesterday, he began to ask what makes a game a virtual world.

When the subject of games as virtual worlds comes up I've always believed that, except for perhaps Tales in the Desert, Eve Online is the number one virtual world in the MMORPG genre.  So what sets Eve Online apart?  Simply put, CCP's writers are much better than those over at Blizzard, Bioware, SOE, Turbine, etc.  The big difference is that in all the other games the writers are producing fiction while CCP's authors are Eve players making history.  In other words, stories about players trump stories about NPCs.

To me, Eve Online is a giant shared universe similar to the space opera of David Weber's Honor Harrington series or Eric Flint's Ring of Fire series.  The quality those two series share with New Eden is that no matter what the status of the character, from a galaxy-striding autocrat to a timid carebear flying around scared in low sec, their lives and actions have some meaning in the grand scheme of things.  In almost every other MMORPG players are told that success means killing a lich king or an evil world-destroying dragon.  In Eve's sandbox, as Mike Azariah explained in a brilliant post on Sunday, different players have different measures for success.  And just like in real life, those measures are often perfectly valid.

That freedom to set your own goals and own play style is only part of what makes Eve feel like a real world.  The other part is that the players like to record their deeds.  At the alliance/coalition level we have The Mittani.  Like him or hate him, his Sins of a Solar Spymaster column on Ten Ton Hammer is a great read and gives the line grunt and non-player alike a fascinating view into the highest levels of New Eden null sec politics and policy making.  Going back a few years in history is the propaganda output by Seleene's Mercenary Coalition.

Perhaps my favorite Eve-related read of all time is a write-up of an MC campaign that occurred a year after the events in the above video, "The North Reloaded."

But New Eden is not just politics and conflict.  Eve boasts perhaps the oldest player-run training organization in the MMORPG genre in Eve University.  With a long history of training new pilots, the Uni provides training materials like its wiki and a beginner's video tutorial series to all capsuleers.  Any world that contains teachers giving live lectures can't help but seem more real than
those without.

One of the other things that makes New Eden more alive is that players frequently surprise the developers in Iceland.  One of the big surprises was the desire of players to live in wormholes after their introduction in the Apocrypha expansion.  The new unknown space consisting of shifting connections attracted a lot of explorer types who, this being Eve, came into conflict and began creating their own colorful history, as the Rooks and Kings video Clarion Call 3 reveals.

I could continue on about other features that make New Eden feel like a real world.  Things like an almost completely player-driven economy or how CCP does not step in when bad things like corp theft happen as long as all actions do not violate the EULA.  But the "secret sauce" that Hugh is looking for is that CCP created a sandbox in which players could mold their world and then had the courage to let them do exactly that. 

I think most game developers either don't trust players to come up with their own goals and game play or are too insecure in their own abilities to design a sandbox game that would attract and maintain players.  And with the success of WoW, the developers all want the big numbers (and the big bucks) and are trying to copy success.  Conventional wisdom is that PvP sandbox games are small and theme park games are big.  But is that really true anymore?  We don't really know since no one I've heard of is making such a game, unless you count CCP's World of Darkness that may come out in the next five years.

I had fun surfing the net looking for links and even asking Seleene for a link to "The North Reloaded" since my old one no longer links to anything.  I hope you enjoy the links and the videos because this is the type of content that drew me into Eve and keeps me playing.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Low sec - Bioware Made Me Do It

About the time that Hulkageddon V began I decided I wanted to give Star Wars: The Old Republic another try.  So I've been playing a little here and there and finally got an Imperial Agent up to level 27.  But when I went to log in Saturday I just couldn't do it.  I couldn't face doing one more mission.  I just needed something interesting to do.  But what is more interesting than grinding my way across Tatooine?  Then it hit me; I could log into Eve Online, travel out to lowsec and start bookmarking systems.

Actually, that is not as insane as it first sounds.  Eve Online is a beautiful game and I love flying around New Eden more than I like shooting things, whether they be NPCs or players.  Also, having a nice set of bookmarks in a system makes the space a little less scary.  So I started making my basic set of star gate observation, station observation and instawarp undocking bookmarks in each system until I got bored and felt like going back to play SW:TOR.  I almost finished making my bookmarks last night (one system to go) and still haven't logged into SW:TOR.

So what is so fascinating about bookmarks?  Actually, the basic act is pretty boring.   For observation bookmarks, warp to 100 km and then fly off in a direction until I'm off-grid, then fly a few minutes more just in case someone decides to play a little grid-fu and then make a bookmark.  For an instawarp bookmark for docking just turn on the micro-warp drive and go straight until I get tired.  Corporation bookmarks are great because I only have to make one set and then can pass them off to my other pilots.

The fun part about making bookmarks is the intelligence I gather while making them.  For example, I found one corporation that was NRDS in a single system because that is where they have several POCOs.  Shooting the customers is bad for business.  Also, I was amused by a pilot in a Dramiel who kept jumping from system to system looking for targets.  I think I had him puzzled because I had both Rosewalker and Wandering Rose involved and at one point they were in different systems, both of which had no stations.  Did I mention Rosewalker was in a Cheetah and Wandering Rose in a Prowler?  I wasn't AFK cloaking, just making bookmarks.  And of course both ships were unarmed because I wouldn't want to hurt anyone.  But I'd wager seeing two pilots from the same corporation sneaking around might have gotten his paranoia up just a bit.

One thing about low security space I noticed is that it is almost as empty of players as my SW:TOR server.  Just like SW:TOR, I didn't talk with any of the locals.  Not because I think anyone is a horrible person, even though I saw a lot of players with less than -9 security ratings.  No, I just tend to stay quiet whenever I do an initial reconnaissance to avoid annoying the wrong person before I learn the lay of the map.

So how many systems did I visit and bookmark?  Three constellations worth.  Why does a highsec carebear need that many lowsec systems scouted and bookmarked?  To tell the truth, high security space is getting just a bit boring.  While all the political and economic shenanigans going on keep me interested in the virtual world, the game itself was getting stale.  Low sec, on the other hand, makes me all nervous and gets the heart beating faster because I know that people are flying around looking to shoot my ship and pod me.

For now my plan is to fly into low sec and do some distribution missions for a couple of NPC corporations to increase some standings.  I don't have plans to actually live in low sec since I keep reading how that would be a horrible idea and that low sec isn't really worth living in.  Sure, faction warfare was recently improved but for a carebear like me who is interested in life outside of the FW scene I'd really have to look hard and find something to draw me in.  So I'm just visiting for a while.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Digital Dozen: 12 June 2012

The rankings of the top twelve MMORPGs as determined by the players of the Xfire community from play on Sunday, 10 June 2012.  For more details about the methodology, click here.  Historical data can be found here.

Rank Prev Week Game ScoreHours Played
11World of Warcraft 51.3 48,627
2NRGuild Wars 2 (Beta)10.910,303
32Star Wars: The Old Republic7.77,333
64Eve Online4.54,280
78Lord of the Rings Online3.63,401
87APB: Reloaded2.92,762
96Metin 22.92,723
1010Need For Speed World1.81,712
1111Maple Story1.71,574
1212Star Trek Online1.41,352
Total MMORPG hours played Sunday:132,498

The number of hours played in MMORPGs by the Xfire community rose 4.4% over the previous week.  The big winner for the week was Lord of the Rings Online which saw an increase of 12.3%.  The big losers were Guild Wars (-55.7%), Metin 2 (-22.6%) and Eve Online (-15.8%).

Guild Wars 2 Beta Weekend:  If Sunday was any indication, Guild Wars 2 will debut as the number 2 MMORPG by a wide margin when it finally debuts.  ArenaNet opened up more servers for the beta testers and broke 10,000 hours played.  In the meantime, Guild Wars dropped out of the Digital Dozen for the first time while the free-to-play Metin 2 took a huge hit as well.  It is unclear how much the Guild Wars 2 beta affected Eve Online as CCP's MMORPG shooter DUST 514 is also ramping up its beta.

Use the Force!  Star Wars: The Old Republic continued its nose dive Sunday, falling out of the #2 spot for the first time since The Digital Dozen began.  Sure, the game coming in at #2 was the GW2 beta so SW:TOR should regain the number 2 spot next week.  But as a sign of how far SW:TOR has fallen, during the first GW2 beta weekend on 29 April, the EA/Bioware offering beat GW2 by over 10,000 hours.  Sunday, GW2 beat SW:TOR by 3,000 hours.

Perhaps a bigger sign of the decline is that Sunday's 7,333 hours represents an over 90% decrease in the number of hours played compared to New Year's Day.  I expect that number to bounce back somewhat next week, but that is an indication that the harder-core game players have abandoned the Star Wars-themed game and that its subscriber base is most like a more casual bunch.  Just to make clear, I don't think that the 90% drop in hours played means that SW:TOR is down to 200,000 subs although I would not be surprised if the number is down to 800,000 - 900,000.

Monday, June 11, 2012

With Enemies Like This, The Mittani Doesn't Need Friends

"Idiots are idiots. Please stop making everyone who isn't a goon sympathizer look like a complete tard. The sheer volume of these threads are painting the rest of the community in a really crappy light. When will the whining stop?"

As The Mittani and the Goons create their list of targets for The Ministry of Love one of the criteria, as least for the early victims, is to find unsympathetic people that the player base will applaud to see taken down.  One particularly annoying forum troll, Krixtal Icefluxor/Quartzlight Evenstar Icefluxor, fits the bill nicely.  Apparently Krixtal had made a habit of trolling the Goons, as his signature indicates.
"Ohh poor silly goon chillrens. Nobody in high sec cares about your plans to occupy jita like a bunch of dirty hippies.

" if 10,058 Goon voices cried out and were suddenly silenced."
Icefluxor is a very unsympathetic figure with a habit of threatening to unsubscribe from the game.  Icefluxor's ranting against The Mittani's involvement in Hulkageddon V apparently inspired the Goons to attack Icefluxor's research POS.  Alas, my hopes that Icefluxor would leave the game or at least take the opportunity to shut up fell through as The Mittani tweeted about another terrible forum post by Icefluxor, this time comparing Mittens to Hitler.  I could almost hear the laughter emanating from Madison at my desk in Chicago as Icefluxor did exactly what The Mittani wanted him to do; make a complete ass of himself.

How bad was the post?  Here goes, with a little bit of format editing on my part of Icefluxor's post.
"Those who want a 'totally safe high sec': leave the game please. Those who want 'a Goon-type All PvP only': please leave the game as well."

A very tolerant fellow, this Icefluxor.
"The balance worked for nearly a decade.  Unfortunaely, CCP has made a fatal mistake by allowing an EXTREMIST GROUP to take the reigns. Game or not, any form of extremism always, in RL or E-Life, utterly breaks the system."
So the Goons have taken over the game?  So we are back to the tired argument that the Goons performed the greatest metagaming performance in history by getting former Goons CCP Soundwave and CCP Sreegs into positions of power?  I don't think that Senior Producer CCP Unifex, a 5-year veteran of Eve who was not a Goon, would agree.  And if the Goons truly were in charge, wouldn't The Mittani still be on the CSM?

Also, I should point out that a player group trying to take over the game is not only encouraged, but is nothing new.  Does anyone remember when Band of Brothers had a vision of galaxy-wide conquest?  And remember how the dominance of Northern Coalition and then the Drone Russian Forces spelled the end of Eve?  How did that work out?
"And I don't blame any player for not wanting to join in a limp, unwinnable recreation of the Allies vs. Axis here. The Mittani, a genius? BS. He does nothing but take sickening cues out of history books and calls it 'brilliant' because he is doing it 'on the interwebs.'"
I don't know how brilliant The Mittani actually is, although retiring, or at least taking a very long vacation, at the age of 30 probably indicates some smarts.  Inside the game, if Mittens isn't very smart, then that means his opponents are idiots.  Icefluxor, do you really want to antagonize potential allies like that?  And what does this "sickening cues" phrase mean?
"Whether it's Jews or Miners, racism is racism, prejudice towards an 'other' is prejudice."
At this point I was in utter disbelief at what I had read.  First off, Jews are a race of people.  Miners in Eve, on the other hand, are engaged in a voluntary behavior that they can change if they want.  Sure, Jews can convert to Christianity, but what Icefluxor is suggesting with the race comment is something akin to how the Nazis chose who went to the concentration camps.
"Have we really gotten to the point where we will hand over our entertainment money for a simulation of the worst aspects of humanity? Of course we have. Sadly."
Really?  One could rightly say that war represents the worst that humanity has to offer and we've been paying for that when we've purchased novels since the advent of the printing press.  Do I really need to get into games like Grand Theft Auto?  Or the many war games we play today?  And if Icefluxor is referring to racism, The Birth of a Nation was a huge hit back in 1915.
"But one can speak with one's Wallet. The Jews were not so lucky."
The Holocaust?  He really went there. /facepalm.
"EVE requires a lot of time and financial investment to build up, and now one individual thinks others do not deserve any of it." 
I really think Icefluxor does not understand the nature of Eve.  The game is about conflict and some people profit because other people lose.  I think this quote is a direct reference to Icefluxor losing his research POS.  In Eve, you only get to have something really big and nice if you can defend it.  This kind of thing happens every day in New Eden and the Goons sometimes are the losers.
"I take that back. They are incapable of considering it as undeserved. None of it really means a thing at all to them, except the utter elimination of anyone non-Goon."
Gee, in a game about conquest the Goons are bad for wanting to own everything?  I think I addressed this point earlier.
"As EVE has been described as more of a hobby than a game, I guess the equivalent would be building a huge model railroad as one's lifetime hobby, then discovering you made the landscapes for it out of radioactive material."
Actually I think the equivalent is not a railroad but a garden.  The weather may not cooperate, weeding is hard work and the compost doesn't always smell so good, but with some research, a lot of hard work and some reasonable luck somthing beautiful can emerge.  But with a bad attitude things can go terribly wrong.
"The whole thing must be abandoned as is.  EVE? It's a Trap."
Icefluxor keeps promising to leave, but I guess those are just lies.

I'm interested in the success or failure of The Mittani's plan to mold the message from the community to his liking.  Depending on how successful the effort is I might find myself subject to the caring ministrations of The Ministry of Love some day.  Given that cheerful possibility, forgive me if I'm not happy with someone like Icefluxor who seems hell-bent to make the Goons job as easy as possible.  With an enemy like Icefluxor, The Mittani doesn't need friends.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Freedom Of Expression

"Eve is real" is frequently not just a CCP marketing slogan, it is a description of Eve Online's metagame.  When discussing the metagame the conversation frequently winds its way to The Mittani and the Goons.  The latest Goon antics involves efforts to silence their high-sec based critics.  A month ago The Mittani announced the creation of the Ministry of Love.
"There has been a tremendous level of interest in the Ministry of Love, and justifiably so; most of us have thought that it would be cool to be a ~bounty hunter~ or ~assassin~ in an online game, but no game company has ever pulled it off successfully. EVE itself is absolutely shit for bounty hunting, but Goonswarm is determined to make it work by setting up our own organization and funding it.
"The Ministry’s methods are currently in flux, though several unpersons have already been brought to Room 101. Like with Burn Jita, the practice of ‘how this shit works’ has to be evolved; once that focus is achieved we’ll purge ЅIG members who do not participate and lavish isk on those who show true devotion to Big Brother.
"I am particularly interested in recruiting our best scammers for some directed and creative operations. These will be an order of magnitude of difficulty beyond an “any mark will do” recruitment scam. We cannot risk spooking an unperson by letting any goon try their hand at scamming them, which means that the Ministry will need to hand-pick the best of the best. If you think you’re the best of the best – and a record of success in Top Goon or Letters of Marque, contact Powers Sa on jabber and he’ll vet you."
Is it any surprise that the former head of the Goonswarm Intelligence Agency would create a covert operations group to track down the Goons critics?  But The Mittani's strategy also contains a conventional military component in engaging in high-sec warfare against his targets.  While this strategy would have no effect on players in low and null security space, the thinking is that normally risk-adverse high sec players are susceptible to pressure and will shut up rather than subject themselves to Goon harassment.

Indeed, the knowledge that one's words as well as actions mattered in New Eden and that the world extended beyond the computer monitor led me to seriously consider not mentioning my characters on The Nosy Gamer and perhaps not even blog about the game.   But after a couple of months I decided that I'd accept any negative consequences my words might bring me.

The incident that inspired today's post was Goonswarm Federation war-deccing Mabrick Mining and Manufacturing.  MABMM is the personal corporation of run by Mabrick of Mabrick's Mumblings.  Mabrick's crime was to write a post comparing The Mittani to his namesake Mitanni of ancient Syria and Anatolia.  The conclusion was not flattering and probably resulted in the war-dec just hours after the post's publication.  A comment in the the post announcing the war-dec by Ardent Defender caught my attention.
"This could be a disturbing trend in the community and as it relates to the game. This takes Metagaming to a whole new level as well. By daring to speak your mind and thoughts on your own blog the one place where you supposed to have sanctuary to write and speak your thoughts the result is that you get War Dec by the biggest alliance in the game. That's very disturbing!" [emphasis mine]
Perhaps I spent too much time in the political blogosphere because while I sympathize with the thought, I don't see a blog as a nice safe happy place in the real world.  I think of blogging like Eve players think of PvP; taking incoming fire is a fact of life.  Ask Egyptian blogger Alaa Abd El Fattah who was detained following the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak.  Or how about bloggers Saeed Malekpour and Vahid Asghari who were sentenced to death for speaking out against the Iranian regime?  Currently here in the U.S. there is the case of those who blog about Brett Kimberlin, a man known as the Speedway Bomber convicted of setting off 8 bombs in Speedway, Indiana in a six-day period in 1978.  Bloggers are being SWAT-ted, a practice in which police are contacted via VOIP software that a murder or shooting has occurred at a home.  The police response is very unsettling, and potentially dangerous, for those targeted for the harassment.  Bloggers are fighting back today with a day of silence to publicize the situation.

These type of real-world tactics are part of the reason I'm glad to have left the world of political blogging behind.  Having your pixels in a computer game targeted for destruction is trivial compared to what happens in the real world.  And if "Eve is Real", then all sorts of actions, from confidence games and ponzi schemes to, yes, the powerful attempting to silence critics through in-game actions is expected.  I confine my potential conflicts to blogging about botters and RMTers because those are the battles I find worth fighting.  Other bloggers need to make that determination on their own because "Eve is Real" and words have consequences, whether typed in local or on a blog.