Friday, August 4, 2017

CCP's War On Illicit ISK: Ghost Training

Ghost Training, as defined by CCP, "is defined as the use of alpha account status to accrue skill points at a more rapid rate than they are gained through normal alpha account gameplay, and/or train omega skills on an alpha account." Basically, any player whose subscription lapsed following the introduction of CCP's version of an extended trial in November unwittingly benefited from the exploit. The exploit impacted the secondary markets due to the ability to extract the skill points and convert them into ISK, or just selling the injectors themselves.

Demonstrating the hazard discount

What was the impact of ghost training, if any, on the price of ISK on the secondary markets? Outside of last month, no clear evidence exists. As always, the major driver of prices on the black market is the price of PLEX in The Forge. Beginning in September 2016, the hazard discount settled into a range of $8-$10 USD/billion ISK. 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. For example, the average hazard discount for December, the first full month the exploit existed, was $8.94/billion ISK. Six months later, the hazard discount was still $8.90/billion ISK. The most likely impact of the exploit on the black market was to protect profits as the rising ISK price of PLEX forced ISK sellers to drop their prices to compete with CCP.

So what happened in June that exposed the influence of Ghost Training on the secondary market? Quite simply, CCP acted to shut down the practice, forcing those ISK sellers to react.

Notable events in June and July

The first public indication of CCP attempting to shut down Ghost Training occurred on 8 June. CCP ran a script that had the unfortunate effect of pausing the skill queues of players not engaged in using the exploit. While the script failed to permanently stop Ghost Training, some of the smaller players in the black market dropped their prices fairly significantly in case the release on 13 June instituted a permanent fix.

Apparently, any fix included in YC 119.6 failed to work as CCP publicly declared Ghost Training an exploit on 15 June. CCP's next move involved contacting all players detected taking advantage of Ghost Training in some way and giving them the option of either extracting the skill points and giving the SP back to CCP, or handing over a set amount of ISK and/or assets. What is known is that CCP started contacting players on or about 26 June.

Either some of the major ISK sellers taking advantage of the exploit were contacted earlier, or the public declaration declaring Ghost Training an exploit because the market took a noticeable turn downward starting on 20 June. Over the course of the next 10 days, the 7 day rolling average cost of 1 billion ISK dropped 15.7%, from $4.27/billion ISK down to $3.60/billion ISK.

Some of the wreckage from the Ghost Training banwave

The price chart indicates that CCP began banning accounts in some of the larger RMT operations around 30 June-1 July. One seller stood out as the shop was the largest seller on Player Auctions in the first half of 2017, selling over $65,000 worth of ISK and skill injectors. The seller disappeared from the listings from 28-30 June and around the same time was banned from 2 RMT forums where ISK sellers often go to buy their stock.

Bought from a shop using stolen credit cards

The second largest seller of ISK and skill points on Player Auctions in the month of June also appeared to take advantage of the Ghost Training exploit. That belief came into question on 5 July when the shop's customers started complaining about the shop using stolen credit cards and receiving unusually harsh punishments from CCP. The shop may have left the EVE black market soon after, as the last time it listed ISK for sale was on 24 July.

Finally, did the vast amount of cheap ISK sold in June result in vastly larger profits for the ISK sellers? Overall, the ISK sellers on Player Auctions sold nearly 4.8 trillion ISK in June compared to 3.6 trillion ISK in both April and May. The result? The data I collected indicates ISK sales were down $120 from May's total and $2700 compared to April. When selling over 1.1 trillion ISK more in a month doesn't bring in more real life money, maybe EVE's illicit ISK sellers should try find a more profitable business.

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