Friday, December 29, 2017

The Yoiul Festival Event: A Value Proposition

On Sunday I finished scanning all of the lowsec moons in Metropolis. But I've come to a standstill due to chasing the nearest shiny. I can't blame Project Discovery, even though I'm now up to level 95. Instead, I'm running the Rogue Drone sites scooping up cerebral accelerators.

I look at special events as a way to increase the amount of skill points I have. But until I watched a YouTube video, I didn't realize how much of a value running sites and collecting the accelerators really is. The video was made by a new YouTuber named Shipwreck Jones. He did a little math and determined how many skill points a character could gain over 30 days using accelerators.

From Arms Race Event 2017
I never tried to figure out how many skill points I received from using accelerators. 777,600 for 30 days is pretty good. Then I decided to figure out how many skill injectors I would need to collect in order to get 30 days of additional benefits. Depending on the amount of skill points a character has determines the amount of points a skill injector grants the character.

  • 0 to 5 million Skill Points at time of use = 500.000 unallocated Skill Points
  • 5-50 million Skill Points at time of use = 400.000 unallocated Skill Points
  • 50-80 million Skill Points at time of use = 300.000 unallocated Skill Points
  • 80 million or more Skill Points at time of use = 150.000 unallocated Skill Points

Converting those amounts to skill injectors, using accelerators for 30 days results in the following amount of skill injectors.

  • 0 to 5 million SP = 1.56 large skill injectors
  • 5 to 50 million SP = 1.94 large skill injectors
  • 50 to 80 million SP = 2.59 large skill injectors
  • over 80 million SP = 5.18 large skill injectors

Finally, the question everyone wants to know. How big is the benefit in ISK? Instead of figuring out the sale price for each accelerator, I took the average price of a large skill injector in The Forge yesterday (809,412,999.86 ISK) to determine how much one would have to pay.

  • 0 to 5 million SP = 1,262,684,279.78 ISK
  • 5 to 50 million SP = 1,570,261,219.73 ISK
  • 50 to 80 million SP = 2,096,379,669.64 ISK
  • over 80 million SP = 4,192,759,339.27 ISK

At yesterday's prices, the skill points I would acquire by collecting 45 accelerators by running the event sites would cost approximately 12.6 trillion ISK if I wanted to use large skill injectors to get the same amount of skill points for my three characters. While the drops from the Arms Race event were abysmal, the Yoiul Festival event that runs until 9 January is much better. I completed the event (400 points) on two characters last night, one in high sec and one in low sec. I figure the average drop rate between the security bands was 50%, which means I averaged 3 accelerators per hour. So 12.6 billion ISK for 15 hours of work? Kind of hard to pass up 280 million ISK ticks.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Some Strange Logic For An Award

Sometimes, reading an article in the gaming press leaves me scratching my head. The latest example comes from Massively Overpowered. The publication awarded its "Biggest MMO Industry Blunder of 2017 Award" to CCP for the Icelandic game company's pullback on making virtual reality games and the accompanying layoffs, particularly of the community team. If that was the biggest blunder, then the MMORPG industry had a terrific year. Just as an aside, the MMORPG industry did not have that good of a year.

I have plenty of candidates for worse moves. The readers' pick for the award went to Gazillion and all the bad moves the company made that resulted in the shutdown of not only Marvel Heroes, but the company itself. I would throw in Sandbox Interactive's decision to sell in-game currency as part of the package to play Albion Online as another blunder. The move made the game a prime target for hackers and credit card fraud and most likely led to hundreds of thousands of dollars of losses. When Sandbox tried to clean up the fall-out, the game experienced DDoS attacks, further exasperating the launch situation by making the servers unplayable for hours at a time. The latest drama surrounding Star Citizen maker Cloud Imperium Games and Crytek may prove the biggest of the decade, but those decisions began in 2015 or 2016 and the fallout won't hit until 2018 at the earliest.

With a list of a few alternatives out of the way, I have to say I find the logic behind MassivelyOP's decision a bit unusual. I will dismiss the arguments of Brendan Drain, MassivelyOP's EVE Online columnist. He has a history of overhyping EVE compared to the rest of the industry. The highs are always higher than they really are, and the lows are never that low. Instead, I want to concentrate on the reasons given by writer Eliot Lefebvre and MassivelyOP Editor-In-Chief Brianna Royce for handing CCP the award. I will quote them in their entirety:
Eliot Lefebvre: "CCP Games and the Incredible Layoffs and Shutdowns. I spend a fair amount of time making fun of Jagex, chiefly because Jagex makes RuneScape but falls down horribly when trying to make anything else. CCP Games is like a version of Jagex that apparently can’t even manage making its one game at this point. Gutting the EVE Online community team to the point of killing community events indicates that there’s a whole lot of disconnect going on at the most fundamental level. On some level, this is a 'blunder' that predates 2017. Heavy investment in VR was a dumb idea when it first happened. But the chickens came home to roost this year, and so here we are."

Brianna Royce: "I don’t even play EVE Online anymore and I’m horrified at the way CCP dumped the entire community team over its VR misjudgments while telling the press and the players that everything was fine, situation normal – that EVE Online wouldn’t be affected. Any studio that truly believes — or thinks we’re dumb enough to believe — that a game of EVE Online’s magnitude (and frankly, toxicity level) will be just fine without a solid global community team is in trouble indeed. Seems like we’re in a 'killing the goose that lays the golden egg' situation with the Reykjavik company."
The "Virtual Reality is overrated" meme is strong with MassivelyOP. In CCP's case, is the charge justified? As a potential negative, CCP's quest for investment cash led to the venture capitalist firm New Enterprise Associates as an investor in the company. I think many people familiar with the MMORPG industry will look at Columbus Nova's takeover of Sony Online Entertainment as an indication that the involvement of venture capitalist firms is always bad for a game studio. A mitigating factor was the involvement of Novator Partners, a company that already was the largest investor in CCP before the injection of cash for VR development.

To consider CCP's entry into the VR games market a failure, CCP must have lost a lot of money on VR development, right? Not so fast. In an interview with Rolling Stone in March, CCP's CEO Hilmar Veigar Pétursson stated that the company had broken even on EVE: Valkyrie. Combined with the success of Gunjack and Gunjack 2, once the Newcastle studio is sold to pay back the venture capitalists, CCP should walk away with a profit from its adventures developing VR games.

One can legitimately hold the position, as many of the writers at MassivelyOP do, that the future of virtual reality is bleak. In that case, the withdrawal from VR is a good thing, right? Apparently not. Which has me confused.

Now on to the decision to gut the EVE Online community development team, which really is the basis for MassivelyOP giving the award to CCP. The move seems really strange. The biggest head scratcher was the release of CCP Logibro, especially since soon after the layoffs CCP posted a job opening for a community developer for Project NOVA. Project NOVA is CCP's second attempt to build an FPS set in the EVE Online universe. CCP Logibro was a member of the community team for CCP's first game, DUST 514. Given his extensive experience as a community developer, plus the multiple roles he fulfilled with EVE, one can only assume he was caught up in some sort of numbers game. The role seemed made for Logibro.

Will gutting the community development team have a major negative impact on EVE? History says no. CCP seems to conduct employee layoffs every three years (2011, 2014, 2017), and every three years the community team gets hit hard. I expect CCP to do what it always does and slowly build the community team back up to strength.

Given the rationales given by the MassivelpOP writers as well as EVE's history, calling CCP's withdrawal from VR development and the release of the community team the "Industry's Biggest Blunder" seems a bit overblown. Should CCP's actions made the list of items for readers to vote on? Definitely. But given how damaging some of the other events on the list were, I don't see how CCP "wins" the award.

Friday, December 15, 2017

A Shift In Focus

With all the mining growth in low sec, one might think I'd find myself in the middle of the action. Nope. The introduction of NPC mining operations kind of killed off belt mining in my favorite spots. By the time I get home from work, the NPCs have already stripped out the belts. Of course, that means I can further adapt to the situation or give up and do something else. Given all the efforts by CCP over the years to make mining in low sec more difficult, I'll admit defeat and go do something else. At least for now.

If I do want to mine in low sec, I need to find places the NPC mining operations don't visit. I figure, why not pester the moon mining operations? So when CCP announced the redistribution of moon minerals, I set a goal to scan every low sec moon in the Minmatar Republic. I kind of miscounted the number of moons. Originally, I believed the number was 2960. The actual number of moons in the Minmatar Republic is 4617. I overproduced the number of moon probes I thought I would need, but with the new number, I'm still 400 probes short.

So far, I have finished scanning moons in 45 of the 104 low sec systems in the Minmatar Republic, and a little over 2000 moons. I think I can share a couple of observations. The first is the frequency of the types of moons I've found. They are:

  • R64: 0.8%
  • R32: 2.1%
  • R16: 8.9%
  • R8: 11.2%
  • Gas: 77%

The second is that, at least in the parts of the Minmatar Republic I've scanned so far, I don't see a whole lot of moon mining going on. In my journeys I've run across only 35 refineries set up at the moon mining beacons. Even taking into account that scanning 2000 moons took approximately 8 weeks to accomplish and the numbers are undoubtedly different, I don't think that much mining is going on. Still, compared to the previous state of mining in low sec, that represents a big bump. I just don't know if the amount of moon minerals coming out of these systems is at the same level as before the moon mineral redistribution.

For my new activity, I decided to continue the unorthodox exploration route and start playing the Project Discovery content. If I was discovering the contents of moons in the game world, why not help trying to find exoplanets in the real world?

The content does get a little addictive, which explains why I'm writing about this topic and not some other, juicier subjects this week. Truthfully, I'm just playing video games a little too much to write. The ISK rewards aren't the greatest for a veteran player. Last night I played for an hour and received approximately 8.5 million ISK after corp taxes.

The big rewards, though, are obtained by leveling up. Upon reaching a new level, players receive a loot crate with an Exoplanet SKIN. At level 25, the number of SKINs in a crate increases to 2. Also, starting at level 25, players receive rewards every 25 levels. The rewards are 2 pieces of clothing (one male, one female), a blueprint copy to produce a CONCORD ship, or a SKIN for the CONCORD ship. Rinse and repeat. Eventually, the Marshal, the CONCORD battleship given away to those who attended both Fanfest and EVE Vegas, will appear as a reward.

I expect my gameplay will consist in large part of sitting in a station for the next 2-3 months as I continue to pile up the ship skins. When not playing Project Discovery, I will continue my moon mapping project. For now, my goal is to finish both before next Fanfest so I'm ready for the next big thing CCP plans for EVE Online.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

So That's Why CCP Called The Event Arms Race

I thought I'd write a quick little post about the Arms Race event that went live on EVE Online's Tranquility server yesterday. I highly recommend to everyone who is poor (at least by veteran standards) like me to run the sites. I also think anyone who has an Alpha account only trained up to cruisers should also run the sites for the rewards.

The event rewards I think are very well thought out. They are:
  • 60 points - Racial battlecruiser + racial battlecruiser skill book
  • 120 points - Daily Alpha Injector (50,000 skill points)
  • 180 points - Racial battleship + racial battleship skill book
The event is designed to quickly get existing Alpha players into more powerful ships. Since the skill point cap prior to Tuesday's release was approximately 4.3 million skill points, Alpha players still have 600,000 or so skill points they can train for free. What better way than to train additional skills for getting into a battlecruiser?

I ran sites in both low sec and high security space last night on two different characters. The event points earned didn't change. Running one site netted 48 points and three sites the 72 points shown in the screenshot above. Which means an Alpha player can begin running level 3 (and some level 4) combat missions in high sec fairly quickly. I don't live in null, but I'm pretty sure a battlecruiser would come in handy when ratting, especially for those who didn't choose to create Gallente characters and fly Vexors and Vexor Navy Issues. 

I am kicking myself for not creating an Alpha character for each race. I have three Omega characters who can run the sites, plus one Minmatar Alpha. I think I can get all four up to 180 event points and get four battleship hulls. Currently, I only own three: a Nestor, a Maelstrom, and a Typhoon. So in the space of seven days, I can more than double the number of battleship hulls I own. I do like my Minmatar ships, but right about now I which I had a Caldari and Gallente pilot that could take advantage of the event.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Quick Takes On The Arms Race Release

Today is the launch of Arms Race, the name of EVE Online's December release. I didn't do much prep on Singularity except to ensure my Arbitrator fit will work for the Arms Race event sites. Instead, I spent most of my time in New Eden scanning moons in my quest to create a resource map of all the low sec systems in the Minmatar Republic. To date, I completed scanning 41 systems with over 1800 moons. I think I miscounted the number of moons and will need to do some more mining.

Given the lack of time on Singularity (and the fact that the patch notes didn't come out until this morning), I'll just give a few quick takes on the new release based on the features found on the Updates page.

Expanded Alpha Skillset: Arms Race sees the Alpha clone concept move from an extended trial to a legitimate free-to-play option. Tech 2, Tech 3, and capital ships are still behind a paywall, but the removal of the racial ship lock along with the addition of 15 million more skill points of skills, including Tech 2 small and medium weapons will make the Alpha clone a more viable option when playing EVE. The ability to use a new type of skill injector, the Daily Alpha Injector, once a day gives Alpha players an alternative to subscribing in order to gain skill points after they reach 5 million skill points. I saw a lot of commentary saying that creating skill points "out of thin air" breaks the basic tenants of EVE. In my opinion, CCP did that when the introduced skill point extractors and injectors in February 2016 and began selling permanent power to players. Compared to that event, the introduction of the Daily Alpha Injector is, to use a technical term, a nothing-burger.

Arms Race Event: Looking at the patch notes, the Arms Race release will see two events. The first is the Arms Race, which will run from December 5-12. With such a limited time, players will race to get some pretty awesome skill injectors (+12 to all attributes instead of +10) along with augmented drone BPCs. I don't have details on the Yoiul Festival event except that it begins on 19 December. I didn't run the event last year.

Pirate Forward Operating Base Improvements: Apparently, players didn't interact with the FOBs enough as CCP posted:
Changes to Pirate Forward operating bases with the Arms Race release will see capsuleers take on an elevated threat, with more FOBs spawning after this release that are easier to find and engage with.
Expect Guristas and Blood Raiders NPCs to become more numerous and, perhaps more importantly, more annoying. I may have to take a break from moon probing to observe the new behavior.

New Empire Selection: CCP is rolling out a revamp to the New Player experience.
After extensive testing during fall of 2017, the new Empire Selection system with overhauled visuals and information will be released to all accounts with this release, with every new character created from this release forward benefitting from the changes!
I wanted to view the changes before now, but with CCP performing A/B testing, I decided to wait. Looks like I'll need to run another character through the tutorial.

Resource Wars - New Role & Balancing - I lost interest in the Resource Wars feature shortly after the launch of Lifeblood. Since I don't really have an opinion, I'll add the description found on the Updates page and the relevant entries from the patch notes.
With the Arms Race release, Resource Wars will see the introduction of a new role that allows capsuleers to fly as a support pilot, earning rewards by providing remote logistics to fellow capsuleers, and vessels from the empire that they’re supporting.

In addition to this, there’ll be some balance passes made on several aspects of Resource Wars for this release, including the addition of new rewards and some changes to their costs.
  • Logistics pilots are now eligible for Resource Wars rewards. This also applies to logistics drone users.
  • All level 5 Critical sites have been tweaked and rebalanced
  • All pirate cruisers will now target miners more often
  • Added some new reward crates to the LP stores
  • Added some new sound effects
  • Various formatting improvements made to Show Info window for Resource Wars beacons.
  • Added text feedback to Resource Wars when attempting to open a hauler that is out of range.
Jump Drive & Jump Fuel Adjustments - Honestly, the change doesn't affect me unless I resume ice mining. So instead of opining on something I know nothing about, here's the information from the patch notes.
Following on from the reductions in isotope volume and moon material volume released in Lifeblood last month, several changes have been made with the intention of increasing the economic friction associated with capital ship deployments and jump freighter hauling, stimulating the ice product markets, improving the balance of ice product consumption, facilitating the easier trade of high value reacted intermediate materials for T2 production and somewhat reducing the pain that can be caused by heavy jump drive usage and high stacked jump fatigue values. The changes are as follows:

Jump Drives:
  • +56% fuel use by Black Ops Battleships
  • +100% fuel use by other ship-based jump drives
  • Reduction of the maximum jump fatigue cap by 20%
  • Further reduction in isotope volume by 40% (to 0.03m3)
  • +20% increase in jump freighter fuel bay volumes

Fuel Blocks
  • Doubling the amount of liquid ozone required to build all four block types (from 167 to 350 per batch)
  • Small tweaks to the heavy water and isotope consumption as well primarily to round off the numbers and make math easier for people (167 -> 170 water and 444 -> 450 isotopes)
  • 80% reduction in the volume of all non-alchemy T2 intermediate materials (everything other than the “unrefined” stuff)

T2 intermediate materials
  • 80% reduction in the volume of all non-alchemy T2 intermediate materials (everything other than the “unrefined” stuff)

I do need to add a note about RMT, both the sanctioned type found on the markets and in-game cash shop as well as the black market type that gets players banned. PLEX prices rising to 3.5 million would not surprise me. A rise in PLEX price should result in lower prices on the black market. I think the black market sellers are already feeling a squeeze and some may decide to go to a game with larger profits. I am also a bit concerned about botting. From what I can tell from looking at killboards, Vexor Navy Issues are a very popular ship for botters. Now that Alphas have access to battleships, will we see a return of the Raven to botting fleets? Ravens were a staple of bot farms when I first started playing, but saw a drop in popularity in favor of Tengus when CCP became more effective in banning bots. I wonder if the meta will return to 2009.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Reevaluating The Hazard Discount: 2017 Edition

At Fanfest in March 2015 I went on stage and introduced the concept of the hazard discount. The hazard discount is the amount of a price reduction ISK sellers must offer buyers relative to the price of ISK purchased through CCP-approved means in order to entice those buyers into risking CCP banning all of their accounts. At the time, the range of the hazard discount was $10-$12 USD per billion ISK. But as time passed, the nature of the hazard discount changed. I put together a few graphs and charts to demonstrate how.

The first graph shows the average price of 1 billion ISK sold on the gold selling site Player Auctions across three years. I use Player Auctions not only because the data is available at a transaction level, but due to the sheer volume of ISK sold by over one hundred sellers each year through the site. In 2017, I expect over 45 trillion (45,000 billion) ISK to pass through the site. The reason to show the graph is to demonstrate that as time passes, the value of the EVE Online Interstellar Kredit versus the U.S. dollar consistently decreases, forcing the ISK sellers to work harder and harder to make the same amount of profit.

The second graph shows the hazard discount in the third quarter for the years 2015-2017. The numbers from year to year were very inconsistent. Were the numbers in 2016 so high because of casinos? As much as claiming casinos pumping cheap ISK into the black market would advance some groups' narratives, I believe a more fundamental change occurred during 2016.

But before discussing 2016, a significant event took place in the spring of 2015. The price of 1 billion ISK in The Forge fell below $20 when converted from ISK to U.S. dollars. In August 2015, I theorized:
"My current working theory is that in April, the price of ISK not only fell within the middle of the hazard discount, but also was 50% cheaper than ISK purchased in Jita. That 50% off is a powerful mental influence to get people to buy things. I believe that instead of looking for a $10/billion discount, black market ISK buyers will now look for 50% off. Quite frankly, ISK sellers can no longer afford to undercut the Jita price by $10/billion."

As the second bar graph shows, I was wrong about the hazard discount not going over $10 again. Looking at the hazard discount as a percentage instead of a fixed price does make the hazard discounts in that graph seem to make more sense. The hazard discounts in 2017 were only a couple percentage points higher than those in 2016. I could maintain that made sense as the secondary markets were still attempting to raise prices following the great fire sale in June 2017 due to CCP cracking down on users of the ghost training exploit. The main point left to explain is the 12 point gap between the hazard discount in 2015 vs the hazard discount in 2016.

When looking for a 12 point increase in the hazard discount, the first quarter of 2016 stands out like a sore thumb. From July 2015 to February 2016, the hazard discount hovered between 40%-50%. The hazard discount percentage jumped from 44.5% in Feburary 2016 to 57.6% in March 2016 and has basically, excluding June 2017 due to CCP's crackdown on the ghost training exploit, hovered between 52% and 63% ever since.

What event occurred in February that caused the increase? The introduction of the selling of skill points. For the first time in EVE's history, CCP sold power that other players could not destroy, and players jumped at the chance to seize some of that power for themselves. The change affected the secondary markets as well as markets in The Forge, with Player Auctions seeing the real world value of ISK sold nearly tripling between January 2016 and March 2016. The introduction of skill point injectors breathed fresh life into the secondary markets, which we continue to see to the present day. To that we can now add a depressing factor on the profits of the ISK sellers in the form of an expectation of lower prices for their goods than existed prior to 9 February 2016.

I will add one final graph to illustrate a point. While the hazard discount fell below 60% in September 2017, an unusual event pushed the discount lower. On 1 September, the prices rose $0.50 - $0.60 USD. Not just for ISK purchased, but the price offered by most of the ISK sellers on Player Auctions. I don't know why, but the cause does not look like action taken by CCP. I don't know if a popular payment system used by ISK sellers raised their fees or if farmers unionized and told the retailers who sell to players that they were raising their prices. Perhaps the major sellers got together and decided to engage in some cartel practices. What I do know is that major players in the ISK trade are feeling some sort of bottom up pricing pressure in addition to the top down pressure imposed by the price of PLEX.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Loot Boxes And Gambling: Politicians Are Taking Note

As the controversy over loot boxes in Star Wars: Battlefront 2 continues, governments and individual politicians around the world increasingly are looking into situation. Yesterday, Belgium's national gambling commission, the Kansspelcommissie (Kanspel Committee) ruled that loot boxes are a form of gambling. VTM News quoted Belgium's Minister of Justice Koen Geens as saying, "Mixing gambling and gaming, especially at a young age, is dangerous for the mental health of the child." The report from the Belgium site also indicated that Geens sought to ban the practice of loot boxes, even outside Belgium.

Are anti-loot box activists blowing the report out of proportion to its importance? Eurogamer offered an alternative view.
It sounds decisive, but it's worth treating with some caution. Responding to the Belgian commission's latest statement, UK gaming lawyer Jas Purewal noted the country still had "no considered policy position, no stated strategy" and that "gambling authorities move slowly on the whole".

"TLDR - don't read much into Belgium news yet. Even if somehow it happens, I don't think it would actually change very much at all. Only if this becomes a concerted international movement against video games gambling would things change. The chances of that happening seems very low."

Is a concerted international movement brewing? In Netherlands, the Dutch Gaming Authority is looking into the practice of video games offering loot boxes.
"Suppose we assume that this is a game of chance," says a spokesperson for the Gaming Authority to "In the Netherlands, a game of chance is subject to licensing when a prize or premium can be won, but we do not yet have a licensing system for online games of chance."

"If someone offers an online game of chance, then this party is in violation, which in the worst case can result in enforcement and a penalty for the provider."

This would mean that the sale of games with loot boxes could potentially be banned until a new law for online games of chance comes into effect. A law for this was adopted in 2016 by the House of Representatives and is now before the Senate.

Member of Parliament Michiel van Nispen (SP) has asked parliamentary questions on Thursday to the Minister for Legal Protection about lootbox games. Among other things, it asks whether the Minister wants to take steps to bring the risks of the games to the attention.
Politicians are also looking into the matter. Jérôme Durain, a senator from Saône-et-Loire, the seventh largest department in France, issued the following letter which was translated and posted on Reddit:
Paris, 16th of November 2017

Mr. President,

Following our exchanges during the parliamentary mission conducted with Mr Rudy Salles, I can only offer my congratulations on the positive trend in the world of video games in general and that of e-sport in particular. Economically dynamic, this cultural industry seems to me a positive contribution to the country: far from the accusation of being an ultra-violent culture that was made only a few years ago, video games allows millions of players to flourish, to exchange, and to develop a practice sometimes close to high level sport. French game developers and the champions of the latest games on the e-sport scene contribute to French cultural influence in the world. I believe that the balanced and benevolent position of ARJEL [French online gambling regulator], which prefers to keep e-sport and gambling distinct from one another, has contributed to the general dynamism that can be observed today.

This context, however, should not prevent us from following the numerous and rapid evolutions of the sector. Today, loot boxes seem to me to require special attention from the public authorities. Many players and specialized observers (see the article devoted to the subject in the magazine Canard PC) question the deleterious effects of the spread of these micro-transactions in the world of video games.While I do not think it is necessary at this stage to put in place specific legislation, I wonder about the desirability of providing consumer protection in this area. The use of loot boxes conferring cosmetic additions to the games seems well-accepted by the public. The development of so-called pay-to-win practices is more contentious, as shown by the recent controversy over the game Star Wars Battlefront 2. Quite aside from the acceptance of the practice, some observers point to a convergence of the video game world and practices specific to gambling.

Transparency is not common with regard to statistics governing loot boxes, even though good practices sometimes exist. China has decided in favour of a transparency of win ratios. Some of our European neighbours (the United Kingdom and Belgium in particular) are looking into the matter through their regulatory authorities. So we see that the question is not unique to France. Does ARJEL have the infrastructure necessary for a general census of win ratios for micro transactions?

I am sensitive to the fact that dialogue is ongoing between the public authorities and the games industry, so I have written in similar terms to Mr. Mahjoubi, Secretary of State for digital affairs, and I have informed the SELL [French videogame consumer body], the SNJV [French games industry association] and the France e-sport association of these initiatives. Prompt and sincere self-regulation of the sector would be reassuring news at a time when some players predict the imminent arrival of e-sports betting. I am convinced that collective reflection will enable us to find a satisfactory answer to this new problem.

Yours sincerely,Jérôme Durain

Belgium and Netherlands are small countries. What would the effect of France moving against loot boxes have on the stance of the European Union as a whole? Add in the possibility that the UK Gambling Commission might take action against games that sell loot boxes under certain circumstances, and the environment for games with loot boxes in Europe is becoming less friendly to loot boxes by the week.

But what about the United States? Even a few states, if large enough, deciding that loot boxes qualified as gambling would put a crimp in a U.S. distribution of a game. A state representative from Hawaii, Chris Lee, posted a video that went viral before his staff completed the accompanying PR materials.

Senator Lee then posted a statement on Reddit explaining his position.
Chris Lee here - I'm the one in the suit. My staff just told me someone apparently found this youtube upload before we had a chance to finish putting it together, but I thought I'd leave it up and just post here to explain that this fight can be won if people step up. This fight is about protecting kids, protecting families, freedom from exploitation, and the future of entertainment in this country.

People are more powerful than they think. While we are stepping up to act in Hawaii, we have also been in discussions with our counterparts in a number of other states who are also considering how to address this issue. Change is difficult at the federal level, but states can and are taking action.

Even so, elected officials can't do it alone. They need your support and you can compel action wherever you live by calling and emailing your own state legislators and asking them to act. But don't stop there. Call your allies. Call your pastors and teachers and community leaders. Ask them to call your state legislators as well. Their voices are politically powerful.

I believe this fight can be won because all the key bases of political support across the country are on the same side. The religious community, the medical community, the education community, consumer advocates, parents, even many business leaders and local chambers of commerce. This is a fight that unites everyone, even the most polarized conservatives and progressives. Doing something is a political win for Democrats and Republicans alike. And frankly, we don't need to change the laws in every state - we just need to change a few and it will be enough to draw the line and compel change.

These kinds of lootboxes and microtransactions are explicitly designed to prey upon and exploit human psychology in the same way casino games are so designed. This is especially true for young adults who child psychologists and other experts explain are particularly vulnerable. These exploitive mechanisms and the deceptive marketing promoting them have no place in games being marketed to minors, and perhaps no place in games at all.

Your future is whatever you make it, so make it a good one. You have the power to get involved and decide this and the choice is clear: stand up now, or let this be the new normal from this point forward.
Honestly, I think anti-loot box forces are getting a little too excited about the statements of politicians. Durain is a member of the French Socialist Party, whose candidate managed less than 6.5% of the vote in the presidential election this year. And while Rep. Lee is a member of the majority party running Hawaii, his area of expertise involves environmental issues. While he is a member of the House Judiciary Committee, I don't believe he has the backing of his party on the subject of loot boxes. But, like the Washington State Gambling Commission's actions in regards to CS:GO gambling, the current movement of national and state gambling authorities to take a close look at gambling in video games may restrain the more egregious implementations of loot boxes.

Oh, who am I fooling. The video game companies will keep up the practice until one of them gets hit with legal action.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Honorbuddy Finally Concedes Defeat, Announces It's Closing

On the eleventh day, of the eleventh month of the year 2017, the great war between Blizzard and Bossland finally came to an end.

Greetings Buddies,

The following will be sad news, but this is the result of a six years long legal dispute that recently turned into a battlefield for hackers on Blizzard's side.

With that said, our only possible course of action is to discontinue Honorbuddy. Effective today, we will stop all sales for the following products;

Honorbuddy, Lazymon, Buddywing, Hearthbuddy​

The aforementioned services will however remain intact until 31th December 2017 for those that already own a license.

Within the next week we will decide on Rebornbuddy’s and Pokefarmer's future. Demonbuddy, Exilebuddy and the Hashing service will remain on sale for the foreseeable future.

The forums will undergo a change; the store will be closed. A lot of things will change.

It has always been our opinion that Honorbuddy provides no edge, except to empower players with less time than others to enjoy the game like anyone else. Many disagree, not in the least Blizzard, but being able to provide this service to those players has always been a goal of ours, and something we have been happy to do for the past 8 years.

It saddens us to close these services, but the recent advancements from Blizzard's side are only possible because of their decision to compromise the privacy of their players. While WoW runs, the game is continuously scanning the user's computer with the capability to send back exactly which applications the user is running, and in some situations even going as far as sending back window titles of any window on the computer. These things happen even if WoW is running in the background, and even without logging in to a character.

Fighting this war as long as we have is something no one has done before, and no one will do in the future. It is not quite over yet, but we need to adapt to these new circumstances to even stand a chance of continuing in the future.

We hope you understand these changes are not something we do because we want to, but because we have to. We thank you for your continued support. 

Blizzard is the maker of World of Warcraft and Bossland is the maker of the Honorbuddy bot for WoW. The two companies had battled for years, both in-game and in the courts of two countries. The latest legal news occurred in April when Blizzard won an $8.5 million judgement against Bossland in a California court. The court also ordered Bossland to cease marketing and selling Honorbuddy, as well as cheats for other Blizzard Entertainment games like Demonbuddy, Stormbuddy, Hearthbuddy, and Watchover Tyrant, in the United States.

Apparently a ban wave on 13 October spelled the end of Honorbuddy, although many believe the bot's vaunted Tripwire anti-detection system was fatally compromised in 2015 and from then on users were vulnerable to increasingly frequent ban waves.

The aftermath of the announcement reminds me of some of the things said about the Roid Ripper bot for EVE when it closed after the bot's developer disappeared:

Bazingastar2013:  the last time i saw such a post from a bot creater blizzard paid for it :D! bye bye HB and i have to say it - a lot of ppl said exactly that will happen after u changed the lifetime sub's ;D! 

virtual: Take the money and run. I can't help but think they already knew this was going to be the result when they forced everyone to buy new keys. 

virtual: Im sure those of us who bought the the year key exppected to get more than a few month from it and partial key refunds just sounds silly, I don't care about the money, I CARE ABOUT YOU GUYS THROWING IN THE TOWEL!!!!!! 

matt84: Called it when you revoked lifetime licenses and what was it Tony said.. "come and see us in 6 months" well im here and you're closing the doors... So I guess that smug attitude didn't get you that far after all...

That being said it's the end of an era looks like nothing is safe from blizzard anymore and if they turn to out of process solutions that's the end... I did save myself a lot of time over the years using Honorbuddy but removing lifetime for the last few months of your life doesn't look that great.. 

Shylari: I mean, bossland has been lying about HB being 'undetectable' and 'relatively safe' for a few years, sitting back- collecting money all the while convincing people Blizzard is evil and actually spying on you.

I mean- it's pretty comical really. 

Ferre868: is it that easy? , they knew it was going to be like that and said no more lifetime keys and pushed everyone to purchase annual key made tons of money and run away simpley ha. 

Veliton: In ma opinion it is sad how you just lie to us... just look at the post here in the forum like : wait for the update ... and bam this shit ... i dont know you had the best producte for a long time for sure, but the shittest communication with us ... so yeah fuck you .. hope you will come back better and stronger .. but for now you are bunch of li 

The last day of operation is 31 December, when the doors finally close on Honorbuddy. Despite the brave words, I don't expect the bot to make a comeback. While gaming outlets have declared the bot dead before, I think this time is for real.

Friday, November 10, 2017

On To The Moons

The Crimson Harvest event concluded this week. While the Blood Raider Super Kerr-Induced Nanocoatings (SKINs) look sharp, I'm a Minmatar pilot and won't sport the colors of those lunatics on any of my ships.

Avatar sporting a Blood Raider event SKIN
The most important goal during the event was obtaining enough cerebral accelerators to last until the expiration date of 28 November for my three characters currently training. I'm training my mining/PI alt into not only flying stealth bombers, but my PvE Arbitrator fit that runs these limited time event sites so well. My main character is on a long slog of level 5 skill training plan that will last over a year. I'll finish the last tech 2 medium gunnery skill in the next two weeks, followed by the last electronic warfare skills. With those complete, I'll have Mastery 5 in almost all cruisers and below. Finally, my leadership/industrial character is working on training all of the moon mining skills to level 4 in order to use tech 2 crystals. Currently she can only use the tech 1 variants.

Launching a moon probe
Which leads to my next grand adventure: probing moons. I want to create a resource map for the Minmatar Republic. I haven't decided whether to just keep the information in a Google sheet or try out one of the free geographic information systems available. The Google sheet is working pretty well so far. All I have to do is copy/paste the results into my sheet and I get the classifications of each moon mineral (or gas) along with a classification of each moon (R64, R32, etc) and a count of each type of moon. The only manual work I have to do is add a new system into my system tab because I'm too lazy to figure out how to do that automatically.

A distant look at a moon fracking operation
So far I've probed down the moons in 11 of the 104 low sec systems in the Minmatar Republic. Without going into great detail, I think low sec received a decent distribution of moons. In my admittedly small sample, I scanned 4 R64-class and 13 R32-class moons. As a percentage of total moons scanned, that breaks down to a frequency of 0.7% for R64s and 2.3% for R32s. But as I indicated, that's a very small sample from one region of low security space. The overall distribution could vary greatly.

Moon mining fracking just beginning

I've openly wondered how much moon mining will occur in low sec. Actually, I've openly wondered why would anyone mine in low sec when they can go to null sec and get a better pay with less risk. I stated that on an episode of Talking in Stations a couple of weeks ago, and then talked to the CEO of a new player corporation in Discord after the show who was looking forward to the opportunity. I think I received my answer. The question I have is: are there enough people like that CEO out there to make moon mining in low sec more than just a niche activity that only strange people do?

Only 400 kilometers from the refinery
During my moon probing activity, I only saw three refineries. That does not mean only three refineries are active in the 11 systems I probed. Due to citadel mechanics, refineries do not appear on the overview system-wide unless the owner makes the structure public. Making a refinery in low sec public is just asking for trouble. The refineries I spotted were already in operation fracking a moon when I launched my moon probe. So a moon that was quiet 7-10 days ago could now have a refinery blasting chunks off of it. Perhaps this weekend I will do a survey of refineries as well as probe down more moons.

Flying behind a moon fragment
I hope I can find a group actually mining moon minerals this weekend and get some additional screenshots. I also want to find out a little bit more about the mechanics surrounding moon mining, such as reactions. I probably will never get into moon mining, but knowing what the neighbors are up to always helps surviving in low sec. Besides, I'm just nosy.

Friday, November 3, 2017

CCP's Reorganization And Move Away From VR: What We Know

On Monday, news emerged from Iceland that CCP, the maker of EVE Online and EVE: Valkyrie, planned to make a major change in direction. The news website Icelandic Monitor ( reported that CCP would suspend development of new virtual reality games as well as engage in a major restructuring of the company.
"The Icelandic vi­deo game comp­any CCP plans to launch virtual reality on the shelf for the next 2-3 ye­ars, close its Atlanta office and sell its Newcastle office. Overall, the comp­any's changes will af­fect about 100 empl­oyees of the comp­any by more than 370, of which about 30 in Ice­land. However, their compon­ents will be of­f­ered to move between offices. CCP empl­oyees were notified of the changes today."
CCP's CEO, Hilmar Veigar Pétursson, later on Monday issued the following statement:
"Today we have made tough, but important, changes to CCP in response to how we see the gaming market evolving in the coming years. We have been front and center in the second wave of VR and our belief in the long-term transformative power of the technology remains strong.

"Despite the success of the VR games we have released we will be shifting our focus to our PC and mobile initiatives, and will be centralizing those initiatives, along with the support of our existing VR games, to our offices in Reykjavík and London. We will continue to support our VR games but will not be making material VR investments until we see market conditions that justify further investments beyond what we have already made.

"I am very proud of our VR games and, more importantly, of the people here who made them.

"These changes in strategy come with some tough decisions relating to our overall structure as a company. CCP is in a strong position to make these changes, and we are taking great care to support our departing employees to the very best of our ability. We will be offering relocations to some to our London office where we will be building up our efforts in addition to our development activities in Reykjavík."
In the wake of the announcement, many outlets reported that CCP was cancelling all work on virtual reality games. But as the initial report from Icelandic Monitor indicated, CCP was only suspending work on new VR games for 2-3 years. In a correction, Polygon reported that CCP would continue to maintain both EVE: Valkyrie and Sparc out of its London studio. CCP also posted an update on the near term future of its Newcastle studio on the Valkyrie forums:
"As you may have heard, we announced today that we are working with another company to transition the ownership of CCP’s Newcastle studio into new hands.

"What does this mean for everyone’s favourite first-person spaceship shooter? Well, for starters we can confidently confirm that EVE: Valkyrie – Warzone is not going away. We love the game just as much as we love our players, so you can rest assured that we’ll continue to support the product into the future.

"The development team at the Newcastle studio will remain intact and complete work on the upcoming Winter Update for EVE: Valkyrie – Warzone. So don’t panic! You’ll still receive in-game support for custom matches, tournament tools and a spectator mode before the end of this year.

"Our CEO Hilmar Veigar Pétursson said, 'I couldn’t be more proud of our VR games and, more importantly, of the people here who made them.' This statement rings true for everyone at CCP.

"This is not the end of EVE: Valkyrie, not by a long shot. It’s the just the beginning of a new chapter.

"Welcome to the next life."

In addition to selling the Newcastle studio, CCP is shutting down the Atlanta office, the home of Sparc and CCP's VR Labs research unit. The Icelandic game company established a presence in Georgia by acquiring White Wolf Publishing in 2006. CCP attempted to create a game, World of Darkness, based White Wolf's Vampire: The Masquerade IP in Atlanta, only to shut down the effort in 2014. CCP eventually sold White Wolf to Paradox in October 2015, maintaining a small staff in Atlanta. Monday's announcement marks the end of CCP's presence in North America.

Of note, the announcement also marks the departure of the last former White Wolf employee from CCP. Ned "CCP Manifest" Coker, CCP's Senior PR and Social Media Lead, apparently chose not to relocate from Atlanta and will leave the company after 10 years.

UPDATE - 5 November 2017: I've received word that CCP Manifest was not offered to relocate outside the U.S.

The original announcement also seems to have caused confusion. While the BBC reported the number of layoffs at 30, gaming sites like PCGamer reported the number at approximately 100. I think the key word is "affected". Affected does not necessarily mean laid off. For example, the developers working in the Newcastle studio on EVE: Valkyrie weren't laid off. They will still work on EVE: Valkyrie until the sale of the studio is complete. But at the end of the day, those working in Newcastle will no longer receive paychecks from CCP. Whether they keep receiving paychecks or need to find new jobs depends on whoever purchases the Newcastle studio.

I think a lot of players thought that the changes would not affect EVE. Someone reading the post made by EVE's community manager, CCP Falcon, on the EVE Online forums may have assumed so:
"Just a quick follow up to this, given that there are questions about EVE, and the future.

"Obviously this is a really difficult day for CCP, and it’s been super tough to see a lot of our friends and colleagues end their journey with CCP.

"With regards to EVE, it’s kind of bittersweet that this puts us in a more solid position going forward, as a lot more focus is back on EVE Online, its services and all the technology and support around it.

"The EVE Online development team was not impacted at all by these changes, and remains the same size, working toward the same goals and features that have already been announced.

"We still have very big plans for EVE Online, and everything we’ve announced, plus more, is still going ahead, so there shouldn’t be any concerns from our pilots in that respect.

"There’ll be more information about other projects, studios and suchlike in the coming days, and there’s also communication going out soon to the Valkyrie community too that has further information." (emphasis mine)
But the statement did say that the changes would affect 30 people in Reykjavik, which probably meant 30 people would lose their jobs. While the development team emerged unscathed, the community team was hit hard. After the dust settled, the community team was cut down to two people, CCP Falcon and CCP Guard.

Another group in Reykjavik probably hit hard by layoffs was the group working on Project Nova. With the announcement at EVE Vegas that CCP was working with Sumo Digital to develop the game, some, if not most, of the developers working on the game probably became superfluous. This is just speculation as I did not see any proof of such layoffs on social media.

The last of CCP's studios, in Shanghai, did not receive much attention in the press. The Iceland Monitor article mentioned CCP is looking to work with Chinese companies to produce mobile games. Hilmar stated his belief that complex mobile games will become popular in the West in the next 3-5 years. The little we know about the changes in the Shanghai studio seem to confirm the shift away from game design. CCP Frame, a producer on both Gunjack and Gunjack 2, was one of the people let go on Monday.

I'm not sure exactly what happens moving forward. Speculation is running through some quarters that the venture capitalists who invested in CCP in 2015 are looking for a return on their money sooner rather than later. Others believe that the move to a free-to-play model failed to attract the anticipated revenue, thus requiring the restructuring. Of course, the skeptics of the current wave of virtual reality point to Monday's announcement as proof that VR is bad. All I do know is that the ramifications of the decisions made at CCP's headquarters are just beginning and we need to keep an eye on the news to see how the story ends.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Crimson Harvest - Lifeblood Edition

I took some time out from scanning moons last night to run the Crimson Harvest sites. The Crimson Harvest is CCP's annual two-week Halloween event that began yesterday. To explain why the Crimson Harvest features the Blood Raiders, here's a video from 2015.

The event uses The Agency to give a series of tasks players can earn points for completing. Unlike past Agency events, these are not tasks that players can only perform once a day. Once one event is complete, another event with the same general goals is offered, just with a higher target to reach. The four types of tasks are:

  1. Completing Blood Raider Gauntlet sites
  2. Completing Mining Expedition sites
  3. Collecting bounties
  4. Mining ore

The scaling is pretty basic. While I don't have information on the mining scaling, I assume it follows the scaling for bounties:

  • Part 1 - 100,000 ISK - 10 points
  • Part 2 - 1,000,000 ISK - 11 points
  • Part 3 - 5,000,000 ISK - 12 points
  • Part 4 - 10,000,000 ISK - 13 points

The site tasks have the following scaling:

  • Part 1 - 1 site - 10 points
  • Part 2 - 2 sites - 11 points
  • Part 3 - 3 sites - 12 points

With the reward structure, players don't even need to run the event content to get the event prices. If a player receives 16,100,000 ISK in bounties while either running missions or ratting, the player will receive all the rewards in 9 days.

What are the rewards: The overall rewards from The Agency are:

110 points - A random booster from the following list:

  • Agency Damage Booster I
  • Agency Damage Booster II
  • Agency Damage Booster III
  • Agency Tank Booster I
  • Agency Tank Booster II
  • Agency Tank Booster III
  • Agency Speed Booster I
  • Agency Speed Booster II
  • Agency Speed Booster III

220 points - A Crimson Harvest Cerebral Accelerator. The accelerator gives a temporary boost of +10 to all attributes. The standard time of effect is 24 hours, but training Biology V increases the time to 48 hours.

330 points - A Crimson Harvest Cerebral Accelerator.

400 points - A random SKIN from the following list:

  • Magnate Headhunter SKIN (Permanent)
  • Omen Headhunter SKIN (Permanent)
  • Merlin Headhunter SKIN (Permanent)
  • Caracal Headhunter SKIN (Permanent)
  • Tristan Headhunter SKIN (Permanent)
  • Vexor Headhunter SKIN (Permanent)
  • Slasher Headhunter SKIN (Permanent)
  • Rupture Headhunter SKIN (Permanent)

The real prizes come from running the Blood Raider Gauntlet sites. In the 4 sites I ran last night, each prize ship (the battlecruisers and battleships) dropped at least one Crimson Harvest Cerebral Accelerator and one Agency booster. The really good drops come from the NPC battleships, which do not appear in high sec. Running 3 Blood Raider Gauntlet sites in low sec netted me 2 SKINs and assorted clothing as well as 54 Agency points. I ran one high sec site on a different character and only received an accelerator, a booster, and 31 Agency points. Running 3 sites a day will ensure getting the 400 point random SKIN, but doing the event in low sec is more profitable. I don't know about null sec as I did not venture into one of the null sec areas.

The Blood Raider Gauntlet sites are fairly simple. Consisting of two dungeons, the initial warp-in sees the player facing an initial wave of 5 Blood Raider frigates, followed by two waves of 1 NPC cruiser and 4 frigates.

Whether during my testing on the Singularity test shard or on Tranquility, the first wave always gave me the most problems. Last night, the only ship I had available on Tranquility was a pre-Lifeblood Bellicose fit with heavy missile launchers, so that's what I used. The additional 75 powergrid and 40 CPU the ship received in the Lifeblood balance pass would have allowed me to fit a large shield booster instead of the medium I used last night. EVE isn't always about having min/maxxed fits, and some smart flying allowed me to waltz through the site, never going below 25% shields.

I should add one other point about my ship fitting. I only had Hobgoblin Is aboard, which made sense. After all, abandoning tech 1 light drones in case someone drops in is pretty painless. Also, since Blood Raider NPCs are vulnerable to both EM and thermal damage almost equally, the combination of Mjolnir Heavy Missiles and Hobgoblin Is worked surprisingly well.

For the first dungeon, I warped in at 0, although the smart play would have involved warping in at a range of perhaps 20 km or 30 km. From there I flew to the acceleration gate and orbited at 2500 meters. By doing so, the next two waves warp in at a distance and I picked them off at my leasure. At this point I should add that the additional 20 km lock range boost the Bellicose received in the balance pass came in handy.

In the second dungeon, players have to fight through two waves of 5 Blood Raider cruisers before getting to the prize ships. I found orbiting the structure and shooting the NPCs one by one worked well. The final wave in high sec is a battlecruiser supported by a cruiser and a frigate. Orbit the battlecruiser at 2500 meters, not only to speed tank the battlecruisers guns, but to pick up the loot from the ship as fast as possible. In low sec sites, a final wave of 1 battleship and 3-4 cruisers appears. Again, I orbited the battleship at 2500 meters and picked off the cruisers first, finishing up with the battleship. One warning about the battleship. The battleship neuted out my capacitor, but by the time it shut off my afterburner and hardeners, I had killed off the cruisers and the battleship couldn't track me, even at the reduced speed.

An afterburner-fit Bellicose can pretty much signature tank all of the NPCs in this dungeon, so I never had to activate my shield booster. I don't know how a ship that requires cap to fire would fair, although testing a Vexor fit with railguns did work on Singularity. In fact, the Vexor never ran out of cap, but on Singularity, the battleship didn't have cruiser support either.

One final note about the sites themselves. Upon completion in low sec, a new one spawned immediately. Also, when I flew to Rens to pick up new gear to outfit my Arbitrator to take advantage of the third missile launch point it received in Lifeblood, I noticed every system had at least one Blood Raider Gauntlet site. No more wandering around the universe looking for sites, which should mean a greater usage rate. The searching for sites was always the pain point that made me decide whether to do event content or not. With the increased spawn rates, I may wind up doing the content more often.

Overall last night, I accomplished my main goal of getting cerebral accelerators for the three characters I have training. I exceeded my goal of 3 because I ran the sites in low sec. Not only did I get the three, I received 7, which means I will have advanced training until sometime on the 30th. My goal is now to gather enough accelerators to keep the boosted training continuing until the boosters expiration date of 28 November. That's 45 more accelerators. Now, I just need to fit that within all the moon surveying I want to do.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Loot Boxes, Gambling, And The Butterfly Effect

"In chaos theory, there's a concept known as sensitive dependence on initial conditions. Most people call it the butterfly effect. In EVE, we call it the sandbox."

When I last wrote about gambling and video games, two men had just pled guilty to running an unlicensed gambling site based on FIFA 17 in the UK. Much has transpired since early February, but I never really had a hook for the story until now. Apparently a concerted effort is underway to get loot boxes, often referred to as lockboxes in MMORPGs, declared a form of gambling.

I'm not sure, but the issue may have come to a head with the implementation of loot boxes in Star Wars: Battlefront 2. I think the original concern is that a AAA game costing $60 will also have lockboxes. On top of that, the game is balanced around the cards that come from the loot boxes, meaning players will most likely spend a lot of money buying loot boxes. Several YouTube personalities came out against the implementation in Battlefront 2. Boogie2988 produced a short, NSFW Francis video about the situation.

The video that really captured my attention, however, is one I watched while attending EVE Vegas. John "TotalBiscuit" Bain produced a piece that, among other things, argued that loot boxes are a form of gambling. The video should start running at 28:52 and run for approximately 13 minutes. I think Bain explains the case for the ESRB declaring lockboxes gambling and automatically rate any games selling lockboxes with an M for Mature (age 17 and over).

In a report published last week, Eurogamer disclosed the reasoning behind the ESRB not declaring loot boxes a form of gambling:
"ESRB does not consider this mechanic to be gambling because the player uses real money to pay for and obtain in-game content," a spokesperson for the ESRB tells Eurogamer.

"The player is always guaranteed to receive something - even if the player doesn't want what is received. Think of it like opening a pack of collectible cards: sometimes you'll get a brand new, rare card, but other times you'll get a pack full of cards you already have.

"That said, ESRB does disclose gambling content should it be present in a game via one of two content descriptors: Simulated Gambling (player can gamble without betting or wagering real cash or currency) and Real Gambling (player can gamble, including betting or wagering real cash or currency). Neither of these apply to loot boxes and similar mechanics."
I think the ESRB is likely covered by US federal law. While loot boxes possess the three elements of gambling -- consideration, chance, and a prize -- a court case from Maryland throws into doubt one of the elements. A prize is only an element if the player has the chance to win something of value. In Mason v Machine Zone, a judge ruled that virtual goods have no real world value. On page 3 of the ruling, the judge wrote:
Crucially, there is no real-dollar value attached to “gold,” chips, or any Casino prizes. On the contrary, Defendant’s Terms of Service (“ToS”)—appended to Plaintiff’s Complaint—provide that “Virtual Currency and Virtual Goods may never be redeemed for ‘real world’ money, goods or other items of monetary value from [Defendant] or any other person”; that players receive a nontransferable “revocable license to use the Virtual Goods and Virtual Currency” solely for personal entertainment purposes; and that, aside from the foregoing license, players have “no right, title, or interest in or to any such Virtual Goods or Virtual Currency.” (ECF No. 1–2 at 9.)

Although the ToS expressly bar players from “buy[ing] or sell[ing] any Virtual Currency or Virtual Goods outside the Services or in exchange for ‘real world’ money or items of value” (id. at 10), Plaintiff alleges that “players have created secondary markets to buy and sell Game of War accounts” (ECF No 1 ¶ 37). Plaintiff does not allege that Defendant hosts or sanctions these secondary markets, nor does she allege that she has ever sold or attempted to sell an account—nor even that she intends to do so in the future. 
Note I stated federal law. The actions taken against the CS:GO gambling sites were instigated by the Washington State Gambling Commission, not a federal agency. Until either federal law changes, or threats to change federal law begin to alarm the ESRB, I do not expect the ESRB to change its industry-friendly ruling.

Just because the US has no issues doesn't mean that game publishers like EA are home-free. I believe that Europe may wind prove a harsher environment for loot boxes to flourish. For now, PEGI, the European game rating organization, does not view loot boxes as gambling. But as Eurogamer explained, PEGI views its role a bit differently than the EBSI:
"Loot crates are currently not considered gambling: you always get something when you purchase them, even if it's not what you hoped for," says Dirk Bosmans, from European video game rating organisation PEGI. "For that reason, a loot crate system does not trigger the gambling content descriptor."

PEGI's gambling content descriptor warns players a game "teaches or encourages" gambling. A game gets this descriptor if it contains content that simulates what is considered gambling, or they contain actual gambling with cash payouts. Bosmans doesn't believe the latter exists on the current consoles. As for the former...

"It's not up to PEGI to decide whether something is considered gambling or not - this is defined by national gambling laws,” Bosmans says.

"If something is considered gambling, it needs to follow a very specific set of legislation, which has all kinds of practical consequences for the company that runs it. Therefore, the games that get a PEGI gambling content descriptor either contain content that simulates what is considered gambling or they contain actual gambling with cash payouts.

"If PEGI would label something as gambling while it is not considered as such from a legal point of view, it would mostly create confusion."
The country most likely to change its regulations to regard loot boxes as gambling is the United Kingdom. In March 2017, the United Kingdom Gambling Commission published a white paper that referenced loot boxes:
3.17: Away from the third party websites which are overtly gambling (offering betting, casino games and lottery products) the ability to exchange in-game items for cash or trade on secondary markets also risks drawing elements within games themselves into gambling definitions. By way of example, one commonly used method for players to acquire in-game items is through the purchase of keys from the games publisher to unlock ‘crates’, ‘cases’ or ‘bundles’ which contain an unknown quantity and value of in-game items as a prize. The payment of a stake (key) for the opportunity to win a prize (in-game items) determined (or presented as determined) at random bears a close resemblance, for instance, to the playing of a gaming machine. Where there are readily accessible opportunities to cash in or exchange those awarded in-game items for money or money’s worth those elements of the game are likely to be considered licensable gambling activities.

3.18: Additional consumer protection in the form of gambling regulation, is required in circumstances where players are being incentivised to participate in gambling style activities through the provision of prizes of money or money’s worth. Where prizes are successfully restricted for use solely within the game, such in-game features would not be licensable gambling, notwithstanding the elements of expenditure and chance.
(pages 7-8) 
Over at Esports Betting Report, Joss Wood used Overwatch as a game with loot boxes that likely complies with the strictures listed in the white paper:
Blizzard’s Overwatch game provides a good example of a game that is likely to comply with the UKGC’s strictures. However, it could easily slip into the gambling definition if the developers expand its features. 
Overwatch has several features that make it of interest to the UK gambling regulator:
  • The game targets children as well as adults.
  • Loot boxes contain random prizes.
  • Players can purchase loot boxes online.
In Overwatch, players can obtain “loot boxes” in several ways:
  • Playing in arcade games.
  • As a prize for leveling up.
  • Purchased directly from the online store.
Each loot box contains a random selection of four items that can players can use in-game.

From the UKGC’s perspective, Overwatch already contains several elements that contribute to a possible definition of gambling.

Loot boxes contain prizes that the publisher determines by chance. They have a monetary value because players can buy them online. Players can even buy them using World of Warcraft gold. (Users can acquire gold for real money at third-party sites online.)

Overwatch is a game with many players under the age of 18. If any gambling is identified, the UKGC will certainly take legal action.
Wood explains that Overwatch avoids the definition of gambling because players cannot trade the in-game items acquired in their loot boxes with other players. Since the items are non-transferrable, there is no way of using them to gamble or exchange for money on third-party sites. If Blizzard tried to enhance the game by making the items tradable, the company would risk the UKGC determining that the game qualifies as gambling. Such a determination would then require Blizzard to acquire a gambling license and Overwatch would then fall within the UK Gambling Act and UKGC regulations.

The subject has received a lot more attention than I thought would normally occur. An online petition reached the 10,000 signature threshold required to elicit a response from the government. A reddit user, Artfunkel, even worked with Daniel Zeichner, the Labour MP for Cambridge, to submit two questions to the government:
1. To ask the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, what assessment the Government has made of the effectiveness of the Isle of Man's enhanced protections against illegal and in-game gambling and loot boxes; and what discussions she has had with Cabinet colleagues on adopting such protections in the UK.

2. To ask the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, what steps she plans to take to help protect vulnerable adults and children from illegal gambling, in-game gambling and loot boxes within computer games.
According to Artfunkel, the reason for the separate question concerning the Isle of Man is that the territory explicitly defines in-game items as money's worth in its gambling law.

The official response to both questions was the same:
The Gambling Commission released a position paper in March 2017 detailing existing protections in place for in-game gambling, virtual currencies and loot boxes. The paper can be found on the Commission’s website at the following link:

Where items obtained in a computer game can be traded or exchanged outside the game platform they acquire a monetary value, and where facilities for gambling with such items are offered to consumers located in Britain a Gambling Commission licence is required. If no licence is held, the Commission uses a wide range of regulatory powers to take action.

Protecting children and vulnerable people from being harmed or exploited by gambling is one of the core objectives of the regulation of gambling in Great Britain and a priority for the government. The Gambling Commission have a range of regulatory powers to take action where illegal gambling is taking place. Earlier this year the Gambling Commission successfully prosecuted the operators of a website providing illegal gambling facilities for in-game items which was accessible to children - the first regulator in the world to bring such an action.

The government recognise the risks that come from increasing convergence between gambling and computer games. The Gambling Commission is keeping this matter under review and will continue to monitor developments in the market.
From reviewing gaming news sites, the reaction of most writers ranges from expectedly non-committal to confused. The problem is that the white paper is more nuanced. Where most of the activists want all loot boxes treated the same, the UKGC basically only sees an issue when third parties are introduced, thus turning the prizes from the loot boxes into money's worth. But if trade between players, either for other virtual items or for real world cash, turns loot boxes into gambling, then the trading card analogy used by both the ESRB and PEGI to justify not labeling loot boxes gambling begins to fall apart. Loot boxes are trading cards owners cannot legally trade? The argument makes no sense to me.

Now comes the plot twist some people would refer to as the butterfly effect. The latest movement against loot boxes came about due to unhappiness with game publishers/developers inserting loot boxes into $60 AAA single player video games with cooperative play. But unless the law, or regulations, change in the UK, game companies can avoid the gambling classification by simply not allowing trade between players. But a genre of games exists where banning trade between players is basically impossible: massively multiplayer online role playing games.

Many MMORPGs like Guild Wars 2, Star Wars: The Old Republic, and Elder Scrolls Online rely on lock boxes for additional revenue apart from the sales of the game (GW2) or alternate subscriptions (SWTOR, ESO). For many free-to-play titles, the cash shop is essential to keeping the game in operation. If the anti-loot box forces get their way, the turmoil as so many companies try to quickly alter their business models will provide a lot of fodder for games journalists to cover and opine on. A situation good for a blogger like me, but will it really benefit the genre in the long run? I don't know the answer as I never considered a world without loot boxes until now. Something to think about.