Wednesday, December 17, 2014

CCP's War On Illicit RMT: Dwindling Options

With the beginning of 2015 fast approaching, I find myself spending a little time every day searching for evidence of software multiboxers trying to cash out of EVE Online.  The clarification of the EULA (currently found only on the official EVE Online forums) clearly stating that input broadcasting and input multiplexing are bannable offenses will lead to players closing extra accounts or leave the game entirely.  Perhaps I'm too cynical, but anytime I see a major rules or game mechanics change, I expect some people to try to exchange their in-game assets for real world cash.  Doesn't matter the game or how the players behaved in the game previously.  Everyone has a price, and sometimes cashing out is too tempting to pass up.  When the threat of an effective sanction passes, some players do shady things.

Post on, since deleted

The poster above, Wontolla, is casting a wide net, posting a request on both and the Zulu Squad fourms, looking for a place to "buy" ISK.  But his real intentions were on full display in his post on the botting/hacking/RMT friendly forums, Public Demands.

He's actually selling ISK, not buying

"So my question is: does anybody know any good european / american shops which actively trade in EVE online, and offer their suppliers some decent price, at least $7.5 / 6 euro per billion?"
Also, Wontolla is probably a botter, since his first 17 posts on Public Demands all concerned a software called Red Guard, which botters use to disguise their computers from CCP's detection systems, often with hilarious results.  Well, hilarious unless you're a Red Guard user.

My big takeaway is that a botter (I am not assuming the person uses ISBoxer) active in EVE for at least three years is having problems converting his in-game assets to real world cash.  I want to quote from his posts, as they confirm a trend in what I've seen on the secondary RMT market all year:
"I've been searching for a decent MMO currency shop (or at least EVE isk shop) for weeks, but it looks like most shops which can be easily googled fall to one of the following categories:
"- chinese and russian shops which are [probably] used to deal with dirt poor farmers, who can work for a bowl of rice daily (i.e. shops which offer ridiculously low price, selling at 2.5x-3x higher price themselves);

"- shops which deal in currencies of lots of MMORPGs; in most cases they have no real isk buyers - you can wait for days until some client actually comes;

"- some weird "middleman" sites which let you trade directly to customers at normal price, but then again you have to stay online and wait to be ready for deals anytime, which isn't really good;

"- some even more weird sites (mostly chinese as well), which occupy multiple domain names, obviously belonging to the same owner - "live support" there is more like dead support, nobody answers to your questions... these are probably one-off scam sites."
What Wontolla wanted to find with his posts was a website that follows a "cottage industry" business model.   Professor Edward Castronova of Indiana University, one of the pioneers of the study of virtual economies, described the cottage industry model as follows:
"In cottage industry organization, conversely, companies do not establish and maintain gold-farming sweatshops. Instead, they leave individual players to do the gold farming on their own, and only provide delivery services. The gold farming players sell gold to the company by using the company’s website, and the company then immediately picks up the gold from the player in-game. The company sells the gold on its website at a much higher price to gold-buying players, and again agrees to deliver the gold immediately ingame. By providing immediately delivery services in-game and immediate payment services on its website, a cottage industry company can impose a significant buy-sell spread on its gold. The buy-sell spread generates the company’s profit margin." (p. 17)
The recent run-up of the price of PLEX in-game really cut down on the spread companies relying on the buy-sell spread could earn.  Even at yesterday's deflated Jita average price of 831 million ISK/PLEX, ISK sellers still are competing with an "official" price of $21.05 USD/billion ISK.  I've noticed throughout the year that EVE players don't like receiving at least a $10 USD/billion ISK discount when buying ISK on the secondary RMT market.  As of yesterday, the most competitive websites I monitor sell ISK for between $10.95 and $12.99 USD/billion ISK.  Really, if a company has to sell ISK at $10.95/billion ISK due to competition with CCP, does anyone really think Joe Botter walking in off the street will receive $7.50/billion ISK for his botted goods?

I don't want to leave the impression that I think the crippling of the cottage industry model in EVE means that CCP has won the war against illicit RMT.  AsWontolla pointed out, botters and other RMTers can still sell their ISK for full value at "some weird 'middleman' sites which let you trade directly to customers at normal price."  The participants at just one such site I monitor off-and-on, Player Auctions, sell between 700 billion and 1.6 trillion ISK per month.  And those figures do not include the PLEX that is sold.

So botting and illicit RMT are still occurring.  However, the effort required, first for the gold/ISK selling sites, and now for the individual player, is getting harder and harder.  Just dumping ISK off to an ISK seller doesn't get a lot of money anymore.  Trying to get the full value, as Wontolla discovered, "you have to stay online and wait to be ready for deals anytime, which isn't really good."  In many cases, the RMT companies are leaving New Eden to concentrate on more profitable games.  Now we are seeing evidence that players trying to sell their ISK are having difficulty as well.  Perhaps the difficulty will grow to such an extent that players won't bother trying to cash out when they leave the game.

I remember when Darius JOHNSON made his first appearance at Fanfest 2011 as CCP Sreegs.  He didn't state that his goal was to eliminate botting.  The goal he set forth was to make conducting real money trading as painful and as unprofitable as possible.  I knew then that he had set a very long path for CCP to follow and I wondered whether CCP would stay the course or start chasing the cheap buck.  Three-and-a-half years later, despite hitting a few road bumps, CCP is still making progress.

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