Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Dragomon Hunter: Mergers

I play a little free-to-play (F2P) game called Dragomon Hunter. During a long weekend spent making instawarp bookmarks in lowsec, running around an anime world gathering resources, doing dailies, and tending the creatures on my ranch for an hour or so is a nice break. I like the game, but a lot of the YouTube videos weren't so kind.

Apparently Dragomon Hunter is not as popular as Aeria originally thought as the two North American servers merged into a single shard last week. The devs stated that one of the reasons for the merger was to shorten the wait times to get into the PvP arenas. That made sense, as the one time I queued up for a match I wound up giving up. I didn't try to log into the game until Saturday, which was the correct choice, as the new server performed poorly and required an emergency maintenance to fix the issues.

Aeria used the server merger to revamp the daily login rewards. I couldn't find details about the new system, but the rewards went from a 10-day rotation to a 28-day rotation. The new rotation also gives out more loyalty points, which players can use to purchase some items available in the cash shop. I guess I have to keep logging in every day for the next four weeks to find all the goodies. I figure if all I do is log in to see what the rewards are, I will at least get some ideas of how CCP should develop the EVE Online dailies program.

Yesterday brought news of another merger into the world of Dragomon Hunter. Gamigo and Aeria announced a merger, with Aeria's parent company ProSiebenSat.1 becoming a minority shareholder. I remember that many European players protested when the German company became the publisher for Sony Online Entertainment's portfolio of games in Europe. One interesting tidbit is that Gamigo publishes Dragon's Prophet in Europe. Yes, the game that Daybreak dropped back in November is still running in Europe and Asia, with Dragon's Prophet receiving a patch as recently as the end of April.

I don't know what all of this means for Dragomon Hunter, or my Aeria account. EVE is still my main game, even if I don't get to play as much as I used to. But when I want to just putter around and not worry about death, Dragomon Hunter is a nice place to visit. I just hope the game sticks around for awhile longer.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Will PvE Blossom In 2017?

Sometimes I wonder if I follow what happens outside EVE way too much. One of those times occurred at Fanfest this year at the end of the first day of the convention. A group of us sat around drinking and discussing our impressions of the keynotes. I think most of us agreed that the presentations were not filled with exciting stuff. CCP Ghost's presentation (and brain) was a highlight that teased fascinating possibilities for the future. Otherwise, I thought the first day was rather pedestrian.

Neville Smit looked at the day and took the lack of new features one step further. Where was the content for high sec? My feeling at the time was that just because CCP did not announce something at Fanfest didn't mean content wasn't coming in the future. Just not the short-term future.

But that's all I had, a feeling.  I've heard that intuition is a subconscious collation of facts. So while Neville wrote his "Occupy New Eden" manifesto at the beginning of May, I searched for indications that the road map already included those elements.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Beginning A New Adventure

‘Every seat in the passenger cabin was occupied, the occupants sitting so peacefully one could believe they were napping, if it weren’t for the fact that each and every one had been completely drained of their blood. The same fate had befallen the rest of the crew, even the captain in his capsule was now only a dry husk…’
-- The Blood Raiders
Over the weekend I finally fit my Stratios with a reasonable build and headed out to do some extended exploration. But where to go? I want to learn how to fly some of the combat sites as well as hunt down the usual data and relic sites, so I set my eyes on the Amarr Empire. Why? Lasers. I figured that since the Amarr use lasers, and the Stratios fits lasers, I should go to a place where the NPCs are vulnerable to that weapon system.

The Amarr Empire is a pretty big place. Officially the Empire consists of 8 regions, but I also include Genesis, the home of CONCORD, and the Ammatar Mandate in the region of Derelik. The Empire is also home to two pirate factions, The Blood Raider Covenant and Sansha's Nation. Both are pretty nasty pieces of work in different ways, but share a love of, and vulnerability to, electromagnetic and thermal damage. Perfect for my laser-fitted Stratios.

I have to admit, I made my choice on where to start my expedition based on avoiding factional warfare zones. I want a nice quiet, relaxing time. If I want to play hide-and-seek with the militias, I'll go back to Metropolis. Since the western half of the Empire is free of the simmering conflict between the Amarr Empire and the Minmatar Republic, I decided to begin there. The western half is the home of the Blood Raider Covenant.

A lot of players would look at the stats of the NPCs and go on their way. Not me. Instead, I like inventing a narrative that leads me through the campaign I create. My characters are Minmatar and don't like the Amarr a whole lot. They do business with them, but not much else. The Blood Raiders are a crazy type of Amarr. From the Chronicle...
"The Blood Raiders are part of an ancient cultist faction called Sani Sabik, meaning Bloodfriends. The cult first appeared thousands of years ago on Amarr Prime, long before space travel came into being. The cult was based on schismatic sect of the Amarr state religion, which advocated that some people were born for greatness and other people only lived to feed and breed these geniuses. To this the cult added the obsession of the Amarr elite - the Holders - about eternal life so the result was a cult so pervasive and destructive that the Amarr authorities immediately stamped down on it. But the cult lived on in the shadows, every so often mutating itself anew. At one time in their history they started using blood in their gruesome rituals, until then they’d had only used blood in the initiation ritual, but now it became the focal point of their supposed search for eternal youth."
The leader of the Blood Raiders, Omar Sarikusa, served as the focal point of The Crimson Harvest event that ran last October. CCP even released the following Scope video featuring Bloody Omir.

Pretty gruesome stuff. So I put my trusty Cheetah in the hangar and am now flying around in something a little more dangerous. I intend to run a lot of data and relic sites, but engaging in combat with NPCs is a little out of character for me. Thanks to the lore, I have a reason for my changed behavior. Some NPCs just need killing.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Account Security And Skill Point Trading

I am so far behind on my blogging that I still haven't blogged about perhaps the most significant security story coming out of Fanfest. I'm referring to the increase in hacking attempts since the introduction of skill point trading in February.

Account hacking has long plagued the online gaming industry. Blizzard developed a smartphone application providing two-factor authentication for Word of Warcraft accounts long before tech giants like Google began offering the public similar software. A World Bank report published in 2011 concluded that 20% of all virtual currency for online games sold on the secondary RMT markets came from hacked gaming accounts.

Hopefully regular readers of The Nosy Gamer are not shocked that the amount of activity seen on sites like Player Auctions jumped beginning in February. Offering players the ability to buy and sell the most precious commodity in EVE, time in the form of skill points, opened up a lucrative new market for illicit RMT operators.

Initially, the secondary market followed the lead of the PLEX market in The Forge. Player Auctions, a major illicit RMT site that facilitates the sale of virtual items and currencies for most major online games, saw the sale of ISK increase by 92.4% from January to February. The increase closely matched the 95.2% increase in the ISK value of PLEX sold in EVE's main market in The Forge during the same period. 

In March, the secondary market diverged in direction compared to the PLEX market in Jita. While the amount of ISK exchanged for game time in The Forge declined by 18.6% from the preceding month, the amount of ISK sold on Player Auctions increased another 80.6%. Much of the increase was due to a single buyer purchasing 1.845 trillion ISK between 8-23 March, but even subtracting those purchases, the daily demand for ISK rose by 8.2%.

How does a marketplace handle a nearly 250% increase in demand over the course of two months? Additional sellers either entering or re-entering the market is the obvious answer for those who claim that the EVE Online secondary market, or at least Player Auctions, is totally stocked with legitimately acquired ISK and items.  The data I tracked, however, suggests that new sellers only account for, at most, half the increase. I should also add that the seller who sold the 1.845 trillion ISK in 15 days is a long-time presence on Player Auctions. CCP Bugartist's statement in the roundtable session that hacking attempts are up since the introduction of skill point trading rings true.

The first subject that CCP Bugartist addressed was an increase in hacking attempts. He noted the lack of players using two-factor authentication and how well the feature works. Accounts protected by 2FA are only involved in 0.6% of successful hacking attempts. Or, to look at the issue another way, 99.4% of successful hacking attempts involve unprotected accounts. In an ironic twist, once an account is compromised, the hacker will install Google Authenticator on the account in order to keep the owner from taking back control of the account.

The big hole in the security, though, is communications between CCP and players. If a hacker can compromise a player's email account, then CCP cannot determine that the hacker is not the legitimate account owner. For players concerned about game account security, securing their email accounts is equally important.

One of the oldest methods used by players is using a dedicated email account for each gaming account. The less the email account is used, the less visibility the account has to hackers. A more modern solution is the use of password managers that automatically populate password fields. Password managers helps users keep from reusing passwords across multiple sites, a major no-no in internet security. I am not a security expert, but tech sites like PC Magazine offer reviews of the top password managers. A final major solution is to put two-factor authentication on email accounts. Doing at least one of these is better than doing nothing at all.

One final item from the roundtable I'd like to address is the effect of skill point trading on hacking. Due to the ability to now strip skill points from characters, hackers not only do more damage to players' accounts, but make more real world cash with a successful hack as well.

For the first few weeks, the illicit RMT shops had a negligible amount of skill injectors for sale. The situation changed in March as the injectors got into the hands of the illicit RMT operators. In April, I tracked the sale of 839 million skill points using Player Auctions' feedback system. While 36 years of training seems like a lot, given the size of the player base, hopefully the figure indicates that hackers are not having great success in looting accounts.

An often overlooked fact is that fixing a hacked account is a manual, time consuming process. I forget if CCP Bugartist stated the time during the roundtable, but restoring an account can take up to two days. That is two days of time that customer service could spend working on other tickets. Recently I began to hear complains of increasing times for ticket resolution from customer support. I wonder how much of the delays are due to tickets concerning hacked accounts.

One last thought. Account security is not a sexy subject. Game companies can only give players the tools to secure their accounts. No one can make someone actually use those tools. But picking up good habits in securing your gaming accounts translates well into having a safer online experience in the rest of your life. Or, as CCP might say, "EVE is real."

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

I Did Mining Missions ... And I Liked It!

On Sunday, I decided to just not think about writing about the "great" issues of the day and instead play EVE for a few hours. For my industrial alt, I needed to pick up some skill books in Domain as well as a load of kernite for the next time a level 4 storyline mission came around. So I hopped in my Prospect and headed off to slaver space.

I could complain about how CCP favors the Amarr over the Minmatar. In the Minmatar Republic, kernite is only found in low sec, while in Amarr the ore is found in systems with a security status of up to 0.7. A very nice perk for high sec mission runners in Amarr, as the level 4 storyline mission that gives out +4 learning implants requires 8,000 units of kernite to turn in. Normally I would mine the ore locally, but since I needed to buy the Medium Beam Laser Specialization skillbook, among others, doing a little high sec mining helped justify the trip.

Have I ever mentioned I don't like mining in high sec? Fortunately, filling up my Prospect's 10,000 m3 ore hold didn't take very long. I even attracted some attention.

Missed Me
A Sansha's Nation frigate decided it didn't like me mining and started doing its best Star Wars' stormtrooper imitation. I shouldn't gloat too much. I was in a tech 2 expedition frigate running a signature tank orbiting a rock at 1200 m/sec. Seeing my shields drop to 96% didn't fill me with anxiety.

After that fine reminder of why I don't like high sec, I decided to do something a lot more fun than hanging around high sec: low sec mining missions. So I cut though bad parts of EVE like Huola, Kourmonen, and Amamake back to the safety of Metropolis low sec where my agent resided.

The first mission offered was the level 4 ice mining mission that never has NPCs. A perfect mission for an Endurance, if I had one. One of these days I will build one (I invented a couple blueprint copies), but for now my trusty Procurer works fine.

The drawback of using the Procurer is the slow speed of reaching the ice. Even fitting a microwarpdrive, the ship required a minute-and-a-half to cross the 6 kilometers of space from the warp-in point before I could begin mining. But once I'd run a cycle or two on my ice harvester, a red triangle appeared on my overview and I was quickly scrammed and webbed. What?!

While the mission contains no NPCs, that does not stop ships from Mordus' Legion from dropping in occasionally. I even lost a Procurer once when a Mordus' Legion cruiser dropped in on me when running the same mining mission. Thankfully, this time I only faced a frigate.

Mordus' Legion NPCs are nasty little ships, especially when you forget to turn your hardeners on. Oops. Once I did that, the damage stabilized around 25% of my shields. Not bad, and in the tanky mining barge something I could live with.

Did I mention that the NPC mercenary ships have a better artificial intelligence than the average belt rat? Once the AI determined I could tank the incoming fire, the NPC ship switched fire to my drones. I initially sent 5 Warrior II drones to attack the frigate, with 3 Hobgoblin IIs and 2 Warrior IIs in reserve. Due to the damage I began rotating the Warriors out and the Hobgoblins into the attack. I lost one Warrior II with two others taking hull damage before I could get them to safety. Still, I managed to defeat the NPC.

When the fight began, I was the only ship in the system. But near the end of the fight, a factional warfare pilot entered the system. I had to defeat the NPC because I was tackled and couldn't get away otherwise, but with the fight won, I faced a dilemma. Do I dock up, or do I cross 16 km of space at 71 m/sec to loot the wreck?

Why the decision? Because in the wreck of every Mordus' Legion frigate hanging around low sec belts is a Garmur blueprint copy. I decided to go for the loot, so I fired up the MWD and started clicking on the directional scanner hoping I would not see the probes that would reveal my mission dungeon. I needn't have worried. The other pilot jumped out of the system shortly after I looted the wreck. The next decision was automatic. I warped to the station and deposited the blueprint and the 8 units of mission ice sitting in the ore hold. I then finished the mission by mining the remaining 12 units of ice without incident.

Mining for blueprints
Of course, I wanted to do another mission. The next one, involving gas harvesting, is one I refer to as "The Benny Hill" mission. When run in a sig-tanked Prospect, I wind up with 9-12 NPCs chasing me and Yakety Sax running through my head.

Actual Game Footage (not really)

The mission ran pretty much as expected. I orbited the gas cloud at speed with nine NPCs chasing me around getting my shields down to 75%. As I often do, I didn't bother docking up when neutrals entered the system. Normally if multiple people are in a factional warfare system, they won't bother going through the work to scan down a mission site when others are available to fight. Except this time, a Bifrost warped into the site when I only needed 17 more units of gas to complete the mission.

I really wonder what the scene looked like to the pilot. A frigate huffing gas getting chased around by nine NPCs. However, at the time, all I saw was a command destroyer land about 35 km away and I quickly warped to a station. I then warped back cloaked to the site and found the destroyer gone. After about 10 minutes, the system emptied out and I finished up the mission.

I think the reason I enjoyed myself Sunday was that low sec offers the possibility of random events. High sec is so static and predictable. Perhaps if CCP finally works off the technical debt of the old way of creating missions and we start to see more variety in missions perhaps less people will complain about the PvE content in EVE Online. Then again, that will just result in the player base complaining about something else. EVE players not complain? I don't think that is possible.