When I began this series, I wanted to maintain a more general look at the role of real money trading in Massively Multi-player Online Games (MOGs) and avoid looking specifically at my main game, EVE Online. But with the rising popularity of the PLEX model in the industry, no look at RMT is complete without at least one look at CCP's system for exchanging game time for real world cash. I am engaged in a long term project gathering data related to PLEX, so I figured I would share some of the results of that work today. I hope everyone likes bar graphs.
Last year I attempted to track all of the ISK sales at a popular RMT site, Player Auctions, for the first quarter of the year. Player Auctions has enough data on display that I can make the attempt with a great deal of confidence of tracking almost all of the transactions. With last year's data in hand, I am attempting to track the transactions in 2015 to see the changes that occur in the secondary RMT market compared to players purchasing ISK though the approved PLEX mechanic in the in-game market.
Now, 1.1 trillion ISK in sales seems like a tremendous amount of ISK. Compared to what is in most players wallets, that is true. But what about the approved primary RMT market in which players purchase PLEX from either CCP or an authorized PLEX reseller and trade the in-game object for virtual currency?
Compared to the size of the primary RMT market, Player Auctions' 1.1 trillion ISK in sales barely registers. In EVE Online's main trade hub of Jita, the amount of ISK sold increased from 55.6 trillion in 2014 to 61.8 trillion in 2015. I should point out that I am unable to determine the value of PLEX that were converted into game or training time, just the overall value.
In percentage terms, the growth of the primary RMT market, both in Jita and in New Eden as a whole, is vastly outpacing that of Player Auctions. In Jita, the value of PLEX sales increased by 11.3% compared to Player Auctions' 1.8% for the month of January compared to the year before.
Virtual currency is all well and good, but how much real money are the sellers making? Compared to last year, the folks on Player Auctions are not doing so well.
In January 2014, the sellers on Player Auctions made a bit over $18,500. This year? Only a shade over $13,000. Compared to the primary RMT market, the ISK sellers make a mere pittance.
Due to sales and different prices for different amounts of PLEX sold, I don't have exact figures for the value of the PLEX sold in EVE Online for the month of January. But using the standard 2 PLEX price of $34.99 USD, the value of PLEX sold on the market in Jita dropped from $1.6 million down to $1.3 million year over year, while the total value sold (outside the contract system) dropped from $2.4 million down to $2 million. I should add that I don't know the value of the PLEX that were actually redeemed for game or character training time, just the total traded on EVE's primary RMT market.
Since the amount of ISK sold on both the primary and secondary RMT markets increased in January 2015 compared to January 2014, we can assume that inflation, at least in the PLEX market, is in effect. Looking at the price of one billion ISK bought in Jita on 1 January 2014 ($29.36 USD) compared to the last day of January this year ($21.87), the ISK has dropped 34.2% in value against the U.S. dollar in just 13 months. This loss in value impacts both CCP and the illicit ISK sellers on Player Auctions. But with the primary market seemingly gaining a bigger share of the pie according to the available data, players look like they are heeding the advice to buy ISK and PLEX from sources authorized by CCP.
One interesting fact I was not able to nail down was the effect of the increase in penalty for buying illicit ISK. On 1 January, a first offense for purchasing illicit ISK was increased to 7 days for a first offense and a permanent ban for all accounts for a second offense. I probably will need to wait until I have collected data for the first quarter of 2015 to have the data to make that determination.
CCP's PLEX system and in-game market for trading virtual world currency for real world money is a mature market that has an impact on the price of the secondary RMT market. From both my observations over the past few years along with academics using Player Auctions as a source in their research for measuring RMT in other games, I feel that using Player Auctions as a measure against which to judge EVE Online's primary RMT market is valid. Using the data I've compiled, I would conclude that CCP is doing something right in their fight against illicit RMT, even if they still have a lot of work in front of them.