Thursday, March 29, 2018

The Allure Of Skill Points In EVE Online

Is the pursuit of skill points, not ISK, the root of all evil in EVE Online? Ever since the introduction of skill extractors and skill injectors in February 2016, one can make a compelling case the answer is yes. I don’t refer just to the explosion in the growth of the black market as players try to stretch the contents of their real-life wallets farther to purchase the most valuable commodity in New Eden. Ship balance changes lead to charges of bait-and-switch tactics on the part of CCP as many players shell out real world bucks in a quest to train to fly whichever ship is flavor of the month, only to see the ship eventually nerfed. We’ve even witnessed instances of unscrupulous corporation and alliance leaders pressuring new players into purchasing skill injectors off the local market they stock in order to make in-game wealth for themselves.

The growth of a black market site following the introduction of skill point sales
I thought I successfully escaped the skill point trap. I had no desire to extract any skill points from any of my characters. Some day in the medium-scale future, players will miss all those extracted skill points spent on a fit CCP nerfs into the ground.

Profiting from the changes by establishing a zombie farm also held no attraction. More politely called skill point farms, the zombie farmer creates accounts specifically to extract skill points from the characters to sell on the market. A very Blood Raider type of activity, but my characters are Minmatar and we have different religious rites. Besides, maintaining a sizable farm (some farms have over 100 characters) reminds me too much of planetary interaction. Sure, the activities are profitable, but I’d rather fly around in space.

Zombie farmers found themselves the stars of two controversies that placed CCP in a bad light in 2017. The first was the fiasco at Fanfest 2016 involving CONCORD ships. Last year’s event featured a giveaway to attendees of two player-flyable CONCORD ships a few months before the ships appeared as prizes in Project Discovery. Instead of giving the prize ships away one per event ticket, as per the previous practice, attendees received one shipper account tied to the email address of the account linked to the ticket. Once the news broke about the change in the giveaway, outrage broke out, especially as some of the larger scale zombie farmers started selling their ships on the markets making hundreds of billions in ISK.

Another, darker piece of news emerged from Reykjavik that impacted the zombie farmers. Since the introduction of alpha clones in November 2016, an exploit called “ghost training” emerged that ensnared people who just left the game and had no idea their skill points continued to accrue. When CCP asked for the skill points back, some of the farmers had to liquidate ships and modules, often at extremely unfavorable rates, to clear their accounts. The extent of the use of ghost training by real money trading operations became apparent in June 2017 when ISK sellers began dumping ISK onto the black market to salvage some of the value of their inventory before CCP confiscated their accounts.

The Ghost Training Dump-off of 2017

I thought I had beat the skill point trap. I didn’t find myself with the headaches associated with the riches zombie farmers made in selling skill injectors. And with all my characters with over 80 million skill points, spending 700-800 million ISK on a skill injector for 150,000 skill points provided no temptation at all. I was home free. Or so I thought.

Most MMORPGs run holiday events based around PvE, with EVE Online an exception to the rule for most of its existence. Over the past two years CCP jumped on the bandwagon, slowly working out the reward mix of SKINs, faction gear, and cerebral accelerators we know today. Cerebral accelerators, for those unfamiliar with EVE, are a type of experience point potion that works for between 1 and 6 days, depending on the type of accelerator and the character’s skill level in Biology. Did I mention the accelerator works while the character is offline?

I found myself hooked on cerebral accelerators once I discovered that I could get over 750,000 skill points by consuming the skill buffing items that dropped during each two-week event. I didn’t just get enough accelerators for one character. Not me. I ran the event sites until I had enough for all three of the characters I actively train. Almost 2.3 million skill points per event.

I told myself the events were fun. I used the excuse that the sites provided fresh PvE content I could do in low sec. For a couple of events, the excuses resembled reality. I had a character run sites exclusively in high sec, and the other in low sec. I compared the drop rates to see exactly the rewards CCP thought it had to offer players to venture into low sec. I had the situation under control, or so I thought.

The reality of the situation became all too plain in February during the Guardian’s Gala event. CCP introduced an NPC behavior new to seasonal/holiday events, if not to null sec PvE. The Guardian Angels in the event sites, when too far from player ships, would warp to a ping and then warp on top of the player ship. The basic tech 1 cruisers I liked to run the sites in no longer worked and I upgraded to a command ship, the Claymore. The necessity of upgrading to a more expensive ship also led me to spend the entire two weeks the event ran in high sec.

How far I had fallen didn’t strike me until Sunday night. The grind in the current event, The Hunt, became longer as the number of sites needed to run every day to reach the 700-point prize, a 3-day cerebral accelerator, rose from three during Guardian’s Gala up to five. The sheer tank on the Rattlesnakes the boss NPCs fly in The Hunt meant once again abandoning my trusty Arbitrator for a Claymore. For six days I shared the Claymore between my two main characters. When I looked in my shared cargo container holding the loot, I saw the value of the drops listed at over 2 billion ISK. But I didn’t focus on a number I’d never reached before doing PvE in EVE. I checked to see if I had enough accelerators to last until 24 April, when the next release hits, the current batch of accelerators expires, and presumably CCP launches the next event. Yes, I had enough accelerators, but they weren’t all the advanced type that gave +12 to all learning attributes instead of +10.

I’d become a skill point junkie. Looking back, I realized I’d put aside some of my plans to pursue my need for skill points. My dream of mapping all the low sec moons in the Minmatar Republic came to a screeching halt after finishing the region of Metropolis. I likely would have completed one of the other Matari regions by now if I didn’t become diverted. Progress in my quest to obtain the Marshal, the CONCORD battleship available by reaching level 500 in Project Discovery, slowed down significantly. I haven’t even reached level 400 yet. Most importantly, however, is my years-long dream of establishing bases throughout New Eden that I can clone-jump to, depending on what I wish to do each night. I have a nice little network of stocked stations in Heimatar and Metropolis, but I want to expand my little operation into other empires. Finding a new low sec system in which to mine and setting up shop in the Gallente COSMOS constellation are my current priorities.

Instead of chasing the opportunities in New Eden, I instead made the pursuit of skill points the centerpiece of my time spent playing EVE. I could feel the desire to play ebb as the grind became more of a grind I had to do instead of a fun activity to kill 10-20 minutes I couldn’t spend doing something more involved in space. So, I just stopped and haven’t run a site since.

Am I done with running event sites forever? Hardly. The payouts are way too lucrative to give up entirely. What I need to do is treat running the seasonal event sites like I treat mining. High sec mining is a boring and tedious activity that I only engage in when I must. Solo low sec mining gives the activity a little spice as planning, situational awareness, and a little piloting skill come into play. In the future, I’ll try to restrict my event running to low sec, if only to keep turning my mind into a bowl full of mush.

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