Friday, February 23, 2018

A Brief History Of CCP's War On Bots And Illicit RMT: 2009-2017

EVE Online once again is experiencing a period in which a significant portion of its player base is riled up about the subject of botting. From what I can tell, the origin for the latest round of bot awareness is the troubles on the Serenity server and the migration of Chinese players to the main Tranquility shard. A post from November 2017 on the EVE Online sub-Reddit, "The era of the Chinese empire: Fraternity taking all the outposts!", summed up some of those concerns. Below are some highlights.

badfcmath: There's growing concerns with Serenity (EVE's Chinese server), both in the stability of the company maintaining it and the inflated PLEX prices which many attribute to unchecked botting (think DRF renters but bigger). This is why we have seen many folks joining Tranquility, and the return of the divine Wind Spirits.

NeoExmachina: so are you denying that there's much more botting on the chinese server than on TQ even though it's economically provable?
Or that in China it is a legit job modell to farm ingame currency in MMO's for companies which then sell it?
Not saying that every chinese person is involved in RMT, but the assumption that there will be an influx of RMT with people from serenity migrating to TQ is not unjustified.

orici-andria: I will agree with you if this conversation starts 10 years ago but now things are quite different.

So called "gold farmer " groups are shrinking in china.simply because as economical grows more ppl tend to pay in game to enjoy the content than rmt.any decent daytime job earns more than that.u can check the skillinjector price curve since we came here.we are more like consumers than providers.

And botting in serenity is more complicated since some historical facts involved.but it is not as simple as "rmt ". Firstly the operation company failed to do its fucking job .they got sued by group of botters whose accounts were banned and hilariously the company lost the case this was a very bad signals to botters and ordinary players.

Secondly large alliances support botting to gain advantage over their enemies thus hundreds of supers were built with help of bots.those who didn't support botting had to face a dilemma whether got crushed by those supers that shouldn't be in this game or just do the same build fleet with "high technology ".and then all hell break loose. then botting followed by RMT is publicly acceptable even the RnK dude in this thread publicly support botting in chinese forum. And their leader-chairman of PIBC told corp CEO to buy isk from RMTer if they had not enough isk to pay alliance-tax.

Believe it or not we are those who hate rmt and botting.simply because we have seen what hell was like in EVE

RNK_Fu1crum: When botting become half-allow in Serenity, it would become necessary to half-allow your alliance member to run it. Just imagine what would happen if CCP half-allow people to run them if you don't do it you will be blobed and there is no way to fight back. It's operating company's duty to ban BOTs when they decide to allow it, there is only so much we can do. As the attitude against BOTs,, this thread could show more than enough of my opinion.(One of major company BOTs announced to shut down, I post a thread to celebrate.) But unfortunately, that's toxic we have to drink to keep us alive nowadays. It's more like the nuclear weapon, it would end the world someday, but if you refuse to have it, your world would end today. :(((

The concern continued to grow as the Chinese presence increased. In the aftermath of the destruction of 8 botting Nyx in Omist in January, the head of the Imperium special interest group The Reavers, Asher Elias, wrote the following:
"If CCP cannot catch a blatantly incompetent botter doing an action that is impossible for one person to do (ratting in 10 Nyxes in different systems at the same time) while they do so for over a year, how many more sophisticated bots are slipping through the cracks? Especially with the recent influx of Chinese players who came from a server notorious for botting, what assurances do the long-time EVE players have that their effort put into raising ISK won’t be dwarfed by another person who is playing dirty pool? Lastly, and most worryingly, how much evidence does the average player have to see that their honest efforts are being nullified by the most inept cheaters that CCP seems resolved to ignore and take their account fees before they decide that they have to join the race to the bottom so as not to be put terribly behind the baseline of success?"
Writing about botting and illicit real money trading in EVE Online for close to seven years perhaps gives me a jaded view on the subject. Or maybe the time I started playing EVE, six weeks after the launch of Unholy Rage, CCP's first major anti-RMT/botting operation. Perhaps a little history lesson is in order.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Guardian's Gala 2018: A Scouting Report

Today the second iteration of the Guardian's Gala event hits EVE Online's live servers. As per my usual practice, I logged onto the Singularity test server to make sure my Arbitrator could successfully run the event sites. I was unsuccessful after several attempts. I like using tech 1 cruisers to run the seasonal events, but for the Guardian's Gala I plan to upship to battlecruisers or even command ships. Below is a scouting report from Singularity which might shed some light on the situation.

The event description seems innocuous enough:
"The Serpentis Corporation has enjoyed celebrating its links with underworld business partners and New Eden's most fearsome criminal gangs for many years. The Guardian's Gala is, above all, an exaltation of its deep relationship with the Angel Cartel, particularly the Guardian Angels division that act as protectors and enforcers for the Serpentis and their illegal drugs industry.

"These gala events celebrating the longstanding and close relationship between the Serpentis and the Guardian Angels make a tempting target for law enforcement. Crashing this party is sure to stir up a reaction from Serpentis and Angels alike! Freelancers working for The Agency are certain to profit from successful raids against the Guardian's Gala!"
The event drops the usual mix of a new line of SKINs, cerebral accelerators, and combat boosters. One important point. The NPCs give no bounties. Also, I salvaged the wrecks from two sites, and aside from the event loot drops, the salvage was worth about 1 million ISK per site. But, as the CSM minutes revealed, while the event site itself is reused from last year, the NPC ships are new. Given that the Guardian Angels are the division of the Angel Cartel that developed the Dramiel, Cynabal, and Machariel, that means an event with a little higher level of difficulty.

WARNING: The below description is for the regular event sites. If you enter the VIP sites, the Guardian Angels will call in a carrier for support. Avoid these sites if flying dolo.

Now down to practical matters. First off, the Guardian Angels are flying Angel Cartel ships, not Serpentis, so plan accordingly. Angel Cartel ships are vulnerable to explosive/kinetic damage, with the key damage type explosive. Angel Cartel ships also deal explosive/kinetic damage. After having a bit of a worrying experience with a Cyclone with 70% explosive resists, I highly recommend getting that figure over 75%, with 80% the goal. I did most of my initial scouting of the sites in a heavy missile Damnation with 89% shield resists and 90% armor resists against explosive damage.

Not only are the Guardian Angels flying new ships, but they are also using new tactics. The NPC fleet composition consists of frigates who orbit within 5 km and apply webs. I found that the NPC fleet commander kept a swarm of frigates around my ship at all times, and I rarely had as few as two webs applied to my ship at any time. The cruisers are artillery fit, taking advantage of the frigate tackle to say out of close range weapons. I found that they attempted to remain approximately 24 km away. To complete the site in high sec required destroying either a battlecruiser or battleship. The battlecruiser would stay at 18 km while the battleship would stay at 40 km. Did I mention the battleship was labeled as a Bachariel? That's right, we get to face an NPC Machariel, except with fleet support.

The event NPCs also have another tactic that may disconcert some players. They will fleet warp to a ping and then land on top of your ship. Kiting is not going to happen. At one point I attempted to use a micro jump drive to gain some space and the NPCs just warped to a ping and back down on top of my ship. No picking off frigates as they race in to apply tackle in the Guardian's Gala event sites. The tactic is how the NPCs can keep tackle applied continuously.

How did I complete the sites? Since I don't have a Gila on Tranquility, I chose battlecruiser hulls firing heavy missiles. Drone use is problematic, as the NPCs do like to fire on drones, and they will split their fire. A Gila's 500% damage and hit point bonus applied to Valkyrie medium drones will do well, but for other ships, drone management is key. As for projectile weapons, autocannon on a battlecruiser don't have the range to effectively deal with cruisers or hit the battleship. Artillery, on the other hand, won't hit the frigates. The only weapon system that can reliably hit all the targets is heavy missiles.

For the initial warp-in to the site, I chose to land 70 km from the beacon. The distance forces the NPC fleet to warp to a ping, giving me time to align to a celestial and make sure all hardeners are active and the afterburner is lit. The tactic not only allows for a warp-off if the damage is too great, but in low sec allows for a fast getaway in case someone else jumps into the site.

Next, I concentrate on removing damage, namely the cruisers. Yes, the webs increase the incoming damage. The heavy missiles always target the cruisers unless frigates are the only remaining target. Any drones I deploy always attack frigates. Finally, once the boss NPC (either battlecruiser or battleship in high sec) lands in range, direct the heavy missiles onto the battlecruiser/battleship. Once the boss ship is destroyed, the site is complete. However, the NPCs do not despawn immediately, even if you warp out of the site after killing the boss. Since the boss NPC has the good loot (i.e. SKINs, cerebral accelerators, etc), I fight my way to the wreck. At this point, the site is complete, so no more reinforcements arrive.

A warning about warping out of the site. When running a site solo, and if a player warps off while the boss ship is on grid, upon returning, the boss ship will no longer appear on grid. The boss ship will appear again after fighting through more ships. Also, warping out of a completed site could result in the wreck with all of the event loot despawning. As an experiment, I warped out of a site after killing the battlecruiser boss ship and then warped back. The wreck was still present, but I landed 190 km from the wreck. Warping within the site is not possible, so I attempted to warp out of the site and then back in at a closer distance. All the NPC ships and wrecks were still present except one, the wreck with the good loot. However, killing all the NPCs makes the station despawn and you can safely warp out and collect the loot.

As usual, I will share a couple of the fits I tested over the weekend. The first is a permatank Drake.

The Drake is probably the battlecruiser with the strongest tank. Having experienced the DPS output by the event NPCs, I wanted a strong tank. With my skills almost all at level 5, I developed a shield tank with 87.4% resist against explosive damage and 83% resists against kinetic damage while maintaining a passive shield recharge rate of 380 effective hit points per second.

The tank begins in the mid slots, with 2 Large Shield Extender IIs providing a large shield buffer with an Adaptive Invulnerability Field II, Explosive Deflection Amplifier II, and Kinetic Deflection Amplifier I providing resist bonuses. A large buffer helps provide more passive shield regeneration, as modules like shield power relays work on a percentage basis when adding hit points to the tank. The mid slots are completed with a 10MN Afterburner II for the necessary propulsion required to complete the site.

The low slots are also mainly dedicated to the tank. The Shield Power Relay IIs help power the passive shield regeneration while the Damage Control II adds both resists to the shields along with a boost to hull hit points in case things go south. The final low slot is filled with a Ballistic Control System II to add a little boost to the ship's missile DPS.

Of the 7 high slots, 6 are filled with Heavy Missile Launcher IIs. During my testing, I used explosive missiles instead of kinetic, with which the Drake receives a 10% damage bonus per level. The seventh is fit with a Shield Command Burst II firing Shield Harmonizing charges for an extra 11% boost to all shield resists.

The rigs are dedicated to the tank, with a Medium Core Defense Field Extender I providing buffer and 2 Medium Core Defense Field Purger Is providing additional shield regeneration.

Finally, the drone bay is filled with 5 Warrior IIs. When running the sites, I never used them. The heavy missiles did fine by themselves, even firing non-bonused missiles.

The second battlecruiser was an XLSB Cyclone. The fit takes advantage of the Cyclone's active shield boosting bonus (37.5% at Minmatar Battlecruiser 5) to run a smaller buffer with a much smaller signature than the Drake. The resists are not as good as the Drake's (79.2% explosive/75% kinetic) but the ship runs the sites well, with the extra 82 m/s speed useful when cleaning up the field after the boss ship is destroyed.

Like the Drake, the tank begins in the mid slots with an X-Large Ancillary Shield Booster. The module gives the ship its name. When combined with the Ionic Field Accelerator I as well as the Cyclone's native bonuses, the XLSB can repair 1205 effective hit points per second. When running the module, I can usually get two repair bursts off before the 60-second reload cycle kicks in. During testing, though, I never hit armor.

The mid slots are filled out by 2 Adaptive Invulnerability Field IIs for resists and a 10MN Y-S8 Compact Afterburner. Both the Ionic Field Accelerator I and the afterburner were used instead of the tech 2 versions due to fitting restrictions.

The lows are a mixed bag. I use 3 Ballistic Control System IIs in order to get comparable dps with the Drake. A Damage Control II is included because every little bit helps to increase the shield tank's resist profile. Finally, a Co-Processor II is fit to provide needed CPU.

The high slots are reserved for 5 Heavy Missile Launcher IIs for damage and a Shield Command Burst II loaded with Shield Harmonizing charges to increase the resists in the tank. I left one slot empty not only due to fitting issues but because I really didn't have anything to put in the second utility slot.

The rigs are fit with a Medium Core Defense Field Extender I to provide a little bit of a shield buffer and a Medium Anti-Thermal Screen Reinforcer I for additional thermal protection. I normally fly with an omni-tank, but I replaced the usual EM Ward II I fit in the mids with a second Adaptive Invulnerability Field II because I found I needed to get my explosive resists up to 75%. A Medium Processor Overclocking Unit I to provide more CPU rounds out the rigs.

Finally, the drone bay is filled out with 10 Warrior IIs. I do use the drones to quickly attack a frigate and then quickly retreat back to the ship when an opportunity to remove a web presents itself.

That concludes my look at the Guardians Gala event for 2018. Of course, CCP may have made last minute changes. What I do predict is a lot of tears flowing from players who find a much harder event than they are used to. I suspect the event was designed for old players flying solo and newer players flying with friends. Whatever you do, fly carefully.

Friday, February 9, 2018

CCP's War On Bots: Nyx Bot Math

I often say that one of the best places to find information about botting and illicit RMT is the EVE Online sub-Reddit. Unfortunately, sometimes sorting the wheat from the chaff is difficult. For instance, the income numbers for the botted Nyx supercarriers destroyed in Omist last month seem a little on the sensational side. For example, in the initial Reddit thread on 11 January, SvaraEir (quoted in the PCGamer article linked above) posted an estimated monthly income of between 1.1 trillion and 2.6 trillion ISK. Those numbers surprised me considering other posts of his I read, but everyone picked up on the higher figure.

A series of posts made by Reddit user nubicci on 2 February left me shaking my head.

nubicci - Yea, but in the meantime, the dude is making 8000$ per month.

If ccp is even doing what you assume, which would be the best case scenario.

Sadly I believe that the reality is a lot darker, and ccp just doesn't care, because in 15 years of playing this game, if I learned anything is to always expect the worst from the company that makes it.

And I have to say that Ive yet to be dissapointed.

nubicci - 10 nyx bots make 2 trill+ per month.

Russian isk buyers pay 3.5-4$ per bil on most rmt websites.

Even is ccp is using the guy as bait, (which I really doubt lol) he still makes money, and rmt'ers (resellers) who specialize in selling mmo currencies are prepared for it, and them losing throwaway chars to ccp bans, is part of a cost in rmt operations.

These people don't play the game, they just resell ingame currencies, so ccp cannot hurt them in any way that they didn't already expect.

The only person who gets hurt is the players that play fair, and people who buy isk from resellers.

JeronicaEVEIs that using 250m+ ticks?

nubicci300m per hour per nyx

I just have to question some of nubicci's facts. For instance, at the time nubicci typed his posts, the Nyx botter was in no position to bot. Of the 8 Nyx bots who died, 6 had already biomassed. The status of the characters was:

  • DLS (CEO of Ukranian Soviet Socialistic Republic) - Last killboard entry - 14 January.
  • WsD - Joined P I R A T on 14 January. Currently active in the Jita area.
  • Alexa Shepard - Biomassed
  • Dorithur VII - Biomassed
  • iskbear - Biomassed
  • Jessie Wind - Biomassed
  • Solci - Biomassed
  • terokrit - Biomassed

In addition, Ukrainian Soviet Socialistic Republic lost its rental space in Omist when the corporation was kicked from Kids With Guns Alliance on 25 January. According to zKillboard, Kids With Guns Alliance began destroying Ukrainian Soviet Socialistic Republic infrastructure on 26 January. The alliance also began to failscade with the news of the loss of the Nyx bots, going from over 80 members on 14 January down to 46 this morning.

Let's assume, for argument's sake, that the botter had a backup bot farm and is busily botting away with supercarriers in another remote null sec constellation. Is a figure of 2 trillion ISK/month a realistic amount? Fortunately, CCP Quant publishes a monthly economic report. Since January had way too many interruptions. looking at the December Monthly Economic Report might shed some light on the matter.

According to the December MER, players collected 1.567 trillion ISK in NPC bounties in Omist in December 2017. The 2 trillion ISK/month figure is not only high, but not possible given the statistics supplied by CCP. Even the 1.1 trillion ISK/month estimate seems high. Kids With Guns Alliance has 2300 members. Would a 2300 character rental alliance really only pull in 450 billion ISK over the course of a month? That doesn't really seem probable.

So how much does someone running 10 botting Nyx make in a month? To answer the question, I need to explain my math. The first assumption involves how long the botter runs the bots. In a Reddit thread discussing a group of possible botting Rattlesnakes in RO-AIQ, SvaraEir made the following observation about botter behavior:
"Just because I personally know that system, I can say yes; he shows up to turn it on usually between 0300-0900 (6-10h a day, but closer to the lower end of that, and taking at least a couple days off here and there every week is how most botters avoid being completely fucking obvious)."
Botters don't just stick to those guidelines to avoid appearing as obvious botters in local. In 2011-2012, CCP instituted an automatic bot detection system that resulted in botters having to end the practice of 23/7 botting. I'm not sure why SvaraEir didn't use these assumptions when calculating how much 10 botting Nyx make in a month, but they track closely with advice I've seen on botting forums, so I will use them. For a 30 day month, I'll assume each bot runs 8 hours a day for 22 of the 30 days in the month. According to these assumptions, I will use 176 hours per bot, or 1760 botting hours for the amount of time. Those people claiming the over 2 trillion ISK/month figure use 7200 botting hours.

Next comes how much a bot makes per tick. A tick is EVE terminology for how often players are paid for the bounties they collect from the game for killing NPCs. The figure is currently 20 minutes, so three ticks is the equivalent of one hour. I will use nubicci's figure of 100 million ISK/tick, or 300 million ISK per hour.

Using any information from nubicci at first glance seems dubious, which is why I went in search for corroborating sources. I found one in an article on INN. Noted Goonswarm FC Asher Elias also estimated that the Nyx bots were making 100 million ISK ticks.

The math at this stage is fairly simple. The number of hours the bot runs multiplied by the ISK/hour gives the amount of ISK earned in a month. The result is 528 billion ISK in a single month.

I'm still not sure that amount is correct. As Asher pointed out in his article, the bot software used by the Nyx botter wasn't very good. The truth is, finding a commercial EVE bot that can handle the new fighter mechanics is between hard and impossible. Now that we have an example showing that bots can control fighter squadrons, expect to see some emerge onto the market by the end of the year at the latest. But until then, I have to assume that the Nyx bot isn't nearly as efficient as a human. So for the bottom end of the range, I will go on the assumption that the bot is potentially only 60% as efficient as a human. With that assumption, the low end of the range the botter could make in a month is 316.8 billion ISK. If I do a little rounding, the botter's income was approximately between 320-530 billion ISK per month.

Now comes the fun part of writing this post, because I get to say, "I told you so." For years, I heard people, mainly from null sec, complain about high sec because that was where they believed all the botting occurred. When asked, I would always say the majority of the botting in EVE Online occurred in null sec. I held that opinion for two reasons. The first is that null sec is where the money is. The second is that botters are less likely to have players report them in null sec than in high sec. The fact that I read this type of logic on the botting forums helped solidify my thinking on the subject.

I know that while 320-530 billion ISK is not as sexy of a headline as 2 trillion ISK, even the lower amount I calculated is not insignificant. I could point out that the lower estimated range made up 20%-33% of all NPC bounties collected in Omist in December 2017. I could discuss how the botter could afford to purchase a keepstar in a month. Or point out the small to mid size supercapital fleet (depending on your definition) that would fund. The ISK could even purchase a large, if not full 255 ship, faction battleship fleet. But I think those comparisons don't quite display the potential impact of an active 10 Nyx botting fleet on the EVE economy.

Instead, I will compare the ISK faucet the botter opened up compared to the regions housing the major high sec trade hubs. The lower end of my estimate is a bit higher than the total amount of NPC bounties collected in Domain (316 billion ISK) and Sinq Laison (313 billion ISK) in the month of January. The high end of my calculations is almost the amount of NPC bounties collected in The Forge (582 billion ISK). When the difference in time is accounted for (January has 31 days), the Nyx bot farm only earns 1 billion ISK per day less in NPC bounties than all the players in The Forge combined. In other words, a pretty significant spigot for one player to open.

I know that at the recent CSM 12 summit held in January, CCP Peligro stated that the big source of ISK and skill points on the black market came from accounts accessed due to hacking of other websites. I also realize why CCP would prioritize preventing the hacking of accounts over a major modernization of efforts against botting like we saw in 2011-2013. Still, botting does have a negative impact on not only the economy, but players' perception of the game.

Friday, February 2, 2018

The Benefit Of Advertising On R/EVE

Writing about botting and illicit RMT in EVE Online poses a challenge. On the one hand, I don't want to glamorize the practice or advertise for any botmaker or ISK seller. On the other, mentioning a bot or an ISK seller is almost a necessity when covering the subject. A recent example involved my coverage of the recent ban wave in EVE. I used some posts from a botting forum to confirm that CCP had indeed begun a ban wave. I then used sales data from a gaming currency sales site to report the effect on ISK sellers.

I get around the bot naming problem by only naming specific bots in association with bans or a banwave. For some reason, the normal player doesn't want to use a bot if CCP is busy banning its users. As for reporting on black/grey market prices, I settled on Player Auctions. Not only is the site huge and comes up near the top of Google searches, but academics use data from the site when writing about the subject. Combined with the small readership of The Nosy Gamer, my posts don't result in bumps in sales.

However, not everyone is as careful. One of the best places to visit for news on botting, exploits, and RMT is the EVE Online sub-Reddit. Over there, if the posters aren't actually working for an RMT site, then they give out enough information to greatly aid them.

One of the greatest examples occurred in December. A post appeared from a former player who allegedly didn't like RMT because buying ISK off the black/grey market for 18 months ruined the game for him. The opening post was deleted after around 24 hours. The post read pretty much like one of those paid advertisements, including links to RMT sites.

I didn't mention which date in December the post appeared. Let me present a graph with sales data gathered from Player Auctions, as one of the links in the opening post led to the site. Also, in follow-up posts, the poster appears to recommend the largest ISK seller on Player Auctions. See if you can spot the date the post appeared.

If you guessed 14 December, you are correct. The day the post went live was the highest sales date for ISK I saw in the 2 1/2 years I've tracked sales on Player Auctions. The 569 billion ISK sold (and I know I probably missed a transaction or three) beat the previous daily high by over 35%. Advertising ISK selling on r/eve seems to really pay off.

Like I stated before, r/eve is one of the best places to keep tabs on botting and the black/grey RMT markets. I just hope the mods will take a little greater care in not letting people advertise on the sub-Reddit.