Tuesday, March 24, 2015

CCP's War On Illicit RMT: Top Down, Bottom Up, Get Out

On Saturday, I participated in Team Security's Fanfest presentation. People seemed to like my part, but I didn't, because I forgot so much. Then again, I didn't go up with a sheet of paper and just start reading. If I had, my portion would have sounded something like this:

Hello, I’m Noizy and I run The Nosy Gamer blog. I’ve blogged about CCP’s War on Bots and Illicit RMT since 2011 and this afternoon I’ll talk just a little about what I see as CCP’s strategy in battling the sellers of black market ISK. CCP’s strategy is fairly simple. The goal is to make selling ISK in EVE Online as unprofitable as possible. At the highest level, I describe the strategy as “top down, bottom up, and get out.

What do I mean by top down? Basically, this is limiting the black market ISK sellers’ ability to raise the price of ISK.

CCP’s main tool is PLEX. With PLEX, not only do black marketeers have to compete with each other, but with CCP as well. And unlike other black marketeers, ISK sellers need to undercut CCP by a significant margin. I call this the Hazard Discount.

Using February as an example, I compared the price of 1 billion ISK sold in Jita vs the price sold on a major virtual currency exchange site that caters to numerous MMORPGs such as WoW, Guild Wars 2, Star Wars: The Old Republic … and EVE Online. In February 2014, the average price of 1 billion ISK sold in Jita (after doing the real world currency conversion) was $27.78 USD. Last month, that figure had fallen to $21.84 USD / billion ISK. Interestingly, the Jita price of 1 billion ISK fell by $5.96 USD/billion ISK while the average price on the RMT site fell by $5.95 USD/billion ISK, with a difference in price of $11.04 USD/billion.

The Hazard Discount does fluctuate, but the range usually falls between $10-$12 USD/billion ISK.

CCP can also influence the price ceiling with its policies. We saw this recently, as the real-world value of ISK in Jita has increased since December while the black market price continued to decline. At the end of 2014, CCP announced it would enforce the EULA more strictly beginning on January 1st. In addition, Team Security published a dev blog in mid-December that announced CCP would institute a 2-strikes policy for buying black market ISK, with the penalty for a first offense increasing from a warning to a 7-day ban.

Perhaps counter-intuitively, these announcements resulted in temporary increases in the supply of black market ISK. For example, during the Christmas weekend, a seller dumped and sold 180 billion ISK on the black market site at 40% under the going rate. That was one ISK seller who wanted to get out.

That’s top down, but what about bottom up? Bottom up basically involves trying to drive black marketeers’ operating costs as high as possible. The most obvious way to do so is to ban as many botting accounts as possible, including any that have any connection to known botters and ISK sellers. In this, Team Security has definitely had an impact.

In December, a botter gave some advice:

“rules of eve, don’t fly what you can’t afford to lose. Nothing different here, don’t use a pilot you cannot afford to lose.

“Bot is currently down. The bot itself is perfectly safe, it is the players that are the threat to it (both yourself and other players).

“You don’t set it up right and it acts like a bot, its busted. You make foolish isk transfers, busted. Other players try to interact with it and report it as a bot, busted.”

Later on, he continued:

“after you lose 10-20 accounts you learn a thing [you] or two…”

A couple of points stand out about the post. First, he was incorrect about the safety of accounts. CCP bans all accounts associated with an account banned for botting or RMT. CCP’s EULA clearly states they will do so, and they do.

Next, the reason why the bot was broken. The new 10 releases a year schedule means that bot developers need to do more work in order to keep their bots working properly. Sometimes bots are only down an hour or two, but when CCP Arrow publishes a dev blog announcing UI changes, bot devs have taken 5-15 days to restore full functionality to their bots.

Finally is the role of players reporting bots. That is a recurring theme on the botting forums; that players reporting their bots is the major threat. Botters are like cockroaches and they prefer to act in solitude with no one around to observe them.

According to the way that some black market ISK sellers act, any association with botting is bad for business. I pulled some descriptions from sellers advertising on the black market site describing how they acquire their ISK.

“All ISK is made by hand with no botting”

“100% safe delivery from top EVE gamers NO BOTS INVOLVED”

“a small group of professional farmers who making absolute legal ISKs since 2008.


Funny how these ISK sellers try to convince people they follow the rules, even while they break them by selling ISK, isn’t it?

Does the strategy ever work? Well, we saw the ISK seller who dumped a large amount of ISK at fire sale prices at the end of December. But I believe the strategy worked on a large scale in the summer of 2013.

In the first week of August of 2013, Team Security began an anti-bot action that appears to have produced a major impact on the operating costs of major ISK selling companies. I began seeing references on a botting forum that CCP had banned brand new accounts of botters. These accounts are important because they are used to grow replacement botting characters in the event that a botter’s active accounts are banned. If both a botter’s main and backup accounts are banned, he then has the choice of either buying pilots off of the Character Bazaar or not earning income. Either way, the botter’s bottom line is hit. Bottom up.

I also received word that some of the regular botting forums were seeing major black market ISK sellers paying extremely high prices looking for product to sell. That’s when they encountered the ceiling caused by PLEX. Not only did the websites break through the Hazard Discount, the median price offered by the owners of the ISK-selling websites was actually higher than the price a player could obtain by going to CCP, purchasing PLEX, and selling the PLEX in Jita. The ISK sellers experienced the top down push of the PLEX strategy.

Did ISK sellers get out of the market? Almost immediately. Two major virtual currency shops stopped offering ISK for sale during the week of September 22nd and an EVE-only RMT website went out of business during the week of October 27th.

Now, I’m not saying that this action stopped the selling of black market ISK, because it clearly didn't. Nor am I saying that all shady websites have stopped selling ISK, because they haven’t. What I am saying, is that so many of these types of websites stopped selling ISK that I stopped compiling the sales information last September because there were so few sites selling ISK that the information collected was no longer relevant.

Finally, since the black market continues to operate, I just want to urge everyone not to be this guy. He went to a seller who says he gets his ISK from farmers, because getting ISK from bots is bad. And when he complains about being banned, the ISK seller tells him “no one can guarantee full safety.” So the buyer is out $22, because CCP has seized the purchased ISK. Then, because he’s probably already spent the ISK before he receives his ban, his wallet probably has a negative balance, which is really painful to deal with. And that’s on top of the 7 day ban.

Personally, I have three accounts, two of which are over 5 years old. I value my accounts a lot more than the savings I can get from going to a shady black market website. In EVE, it’s all about risk vs reward and, quite frankly, this is one risk that just isn't worth it.

[Edited to put in the correct graph]


  1. Your presentation was great mate, really nice job!

  2. I hope it was recorded and shows up on Youtube.

  3. It was broadcast live, so it's on Twitch. Also, it should show up on YouTube, along with the entire PowerPoint presentation turned into a PDF. Plus, the ending video should be published as well.

  4. Noizy - I just watched your presentation on Twitch - outstanding job! Your expertise in this subject is impressive. Please keep up the good work reporting on this important issue.

  5. I've been lecturing and teaching for 24 years --- you did a great job. Thanks for the info.

  6. It was just released on YT (with a security Dev Blog).
    And as one who been holding similar talks for the last 25-30 years I'd give you 4-4.5 out 5.