Monday, December 31, 2018

Tracking The Illinfrik Botter - Another Farm Burned And Fovihi

With the advent of Alpha accounts in EVE Online, distribution mission botters are basically playing with CCP's money. I've tracked the activities of a botter who likes Thukker loyalty points for about 4 weeks now. The bot farm in Illinfrik was taken down again by CCP on 28 December. This time, I decided to track the new bot farm from the beginning. I even streamed my investigations Saturday and Sunday, if for no other reason than to have a visual record of what I found. I discovered that the botter operates in a system I didn't know about: Fovihi.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Star Citizen Receives $46 Million From Private Investors

Last Thursday, Cloud Imperium Games, the company developing Star Citizen and Squadron 42, announced that it was accepting $46 million in investments from Clive Calder and his son Keith. In conjunction with the investment news came the release of financial information covering the years 2012-2017. With sold information available, I have a couple of thought.

Crowdfunding is not enough to finish the games. As of Christmas, 2018, Chris Roberts has raised $212.5 million from crowdfunding. A staggering amount the world may never see raised from video game players again. But as the recently released information shows, not enough to complete the game.

CIG Income - 2012 through 2017

Through the end of 2017, CIG had collected $175.5 million from backers. Including the $11.2 from subscriptions, players provided $186.7 million to CIG. In the same amount of time, CIG spent $193.3 million. That's right, at the end of 2017, CIG had spent $6.6 million more than it raised from the fan base. The $15 million CIG had in the bank at the end of 2017 came from the "Other income" category:
The Other income line represents income from partnerships with various hardware and software vendors, sponsorship income and various local incentives which we receive based upon the nature and location of our development and production activities. It also includes any exchange differences as referred above.
With a burn rate of $50 million/year, without the cash infusion from the Calders, Roberts would have had to slow down development, even if he continued to collect $37 million from backers each year.

Roberts finally getting oversight. For six years, Chris Roberts had free reign to do as he pleased in the development of Star Citizen and Squadron 42. I don't think he will like having to answer to investors, even if he retains control over the company. In an interview with Gamasutra in September 2013, Roberts gave his thoughts on investors:
Roberts had lined up independent investors to fund his game, but he was happy to leave them behind when his crowdfunding campaign took off. In the end, he felt investment could lead to getting sold to a publisher -- and for his opinion on that, see above.

"The fact that we don't have to take investors... means that we can just concentrate on delivering a really great game and have no external pressure."

Roberts did have some "great people" lined up to invest in his game. All the same, he says, "I'm happy not to have investors, mainly because even the best investors, they're in it for a return, and at some point they want their money out, and that doesn't always match up to what's good for the game." 
After saying some nice things about Valve and CCP, the article continued:
He has big plans for the franchise that go beyond the launch schedule outlined above. "I just want to make a great game and continue to have fun with it. Because it's a whole sci-fi universe, and there's a lot of things I want to do. And some of them are going to get added after the main launch, because it's a big scope."

Investors pressuring him to sell would inevitably nip those plans in the bud.

"If you have an investor in, three years in, it's a roaring success, they could be like, 'EA wants to buy your company for $400 million, and I'm going to get 10x on my money, so you should take that deal.' And a lot of people get forced in, and a lot of sales happen because of that," Roberts says.

"It's just the nature of the beast, and for me I'm building this universe that I want to curate and be part of for a long time, so I don't want any of that." Roberts would know; he experienced this before at both Origin and his later startup, Digital Anvil, which eventually produced Freelancer after being acquired by Microsoft. 
I did find one passage from the interview amusing, given the state of Star Citizen today:
The first is that it brings him a tremendous savings. "I'm building a game that, if I was doing this at EA or somewhere else, it would be a big budget game, big high profile thing, but we get to do it for less money because I don't have all the overhead, and we have freedom for that, which is great," says Roberts.

"If this was getting built by EA or Activision, it would be a $40-50 million game. We're much more efficient. Our current budget is about 20 [million], but our specific spend is pretty much all on the game." 

CIG must keep the money machine on at full blast. Unlike some detractors, I believe that CIG needs the $46 million investment to adequately promote the release of Squadron 42. I also believe that, if everything goes according to Roberts' plans, the company has enough money to finish development of Squadron 42 and continue development of Star Citizen without needing to tap into the marketing funds. But in order to accomplish the feat, CIG will need to continue to raise $35-$40 million a year from new purchases and ship sales. I'm not sure the company can continue to rely on that type of support.

CIG winds up with one more outside investor. In the announcement of the outside investment, CIG laid out a roadmap for Squardon 42 with the end of the alpha scheduled for sometime in the first half of 2020. Assuming the development team finishes in June 2020, I'd wager the beta period lasts at least 6 months, with a launch sometime in the first half of 2021.

I stated in the section above everything must go perfectly from this point forward for the current funding plan to succeed. Honestly, I don't see that happening. Given both the current burn rate of development plus the need to use the $46 million investment for marketing purposes, I expect Chris Roberts to recruit at least one more investor, as the money from sales of Squadron 42 will not start rolling in until Q2 2021 at the earliest. The amount of slippage in the roadmap will determine the amount needed, but expect a minimum of $10 million more. $25 million more in outside investment is a reasonable expectation.

The fate of Star Citizen relies on the success of Squadron 42. In my years of watching the development of Star Citizen, the most disgusting behavior exhibited by the Star Citizen community is how backers interested in the Persistent Universe shit all over those who want a single-player game.  Without that original demand for a spiritual successor to Freelancer, the entire project would never have begun in the first place.

If CIG winds up selling Squadron 42 for $60, and winds up selling 5 million copies in the first month and 10 million copies the first year, that income should ensure that CIG will have the additional 2-3 years needed to finish Star Citizen sometime in 2023 or 2024. But if the game only sells 1 million copies? Not only will outside funding for Star Citizen dry up, but CIG will need to rush the minimum viable product out the door. I don't think most people really want to see that happen.

Final thoughts. In the long run, I think having outside investors is probably a good thing for backers of Star Citizen and CIG. The picture spelled out by the financial report is of a company that had outstripped its main source of income and only had 2-3 months of financial reserves when the new influx of money arrived. Despite the record amounts of money raised by CIG from fans, Chris Roberts had spent all of that money and was chewing through the reserve generated by side deals and currency valuations. If CIG can hold to its production schedule, the game still has a chance. Honestly compels me to point out that Roberts' history for the past 20-odd years indicates he cannot stick to a schedule. Failure to produce, however, means more outside investment and eventually Roberts losing control of the company. Roberts' detractors will argue that he has aimed for a buyout the entire time.

I really do hope that Squadron 42 and Star Citizen are made without the need for any more outside investment. The idea of gamers getting together to raise over $250 million to create a AAA-level video game through crowdfunding is a fairy tale come to life. But I think I'll wait until Squadron 42 hits Steam in a finished form before buying into the dream. Perhaps I've played EVE too long, but when something sounds too good to be true, it usually is.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

The Bot Bans In Gicodel And Illinfrik One Week Later

The latest security dev blog came out last Wednesday, so I decided to see if the distribution bots had returned to running the level 4 missions for the Sisters of EVE in Gicodel and the Trust Partners in Illinfrik. I didn't have time to run out myself to check in person, so I conducted a map exercise using the statistics supplied by Dotlan.

The semi-good news is that the activity levels indicate low level botting activity in Gicodel, if any exists at all. But if history is any indication, that situation will only last another day or two as the system of Vattuolen as of 0000 today EVE time was experiencing over 400 jumps/hour. The bots that wind up in Gicodel level up their standings first in Vattuolen, where the Sisters of EVE station contains both level 1 and level 2 distribution missions.

SoE Bots - Level 1 & 2 distribution bots
SoE bots - Level 4 distribution bots not active since ban wave

The bad news is that the bots have returned in force to Illinfrik. Following the bot bans that occurred after downtime on 10 December, the botter or botters laid low for about 36 hours before cautiously reemerging from the shadows. A bot farm, although smaller, came on line around 0100 on 13 December and the activity level rose from around 100 jumps/hour to over 400 jumps/hour in the system. Illinfrik saw a pretty steady rate of traffic until shortly after downtime on Monday, when the activity jumped from 400 jumps/hour up to over 600 jumps/hour.

Last week I pointed out the path bots interested in Sisters of EVE loyalty points take to develop into destructive bots in Gicodel. In the interest of completeness, I will now do the same for the bots who wind up active in Illinfrik.

Thukker Tribe bots - Level 1 & 2 distribution bot activity

Thukker Tribe bots - Level 4 distribution bot activity

In the middle of Derelik are two systems containing stations owned by Trust Partners, a member of the Thukker Tribe. Nikh is home to a level 1 distribution agent while Agha houses not only a level 2 agent, but a storyline agent as well. Because the only way into and out of Agha is through Nikh, monitoring the activity in Nikh is a good way to detect the increased activity caused by the operation of a bot farm running distribution missions. Once the botting characters reach standing of 5.0 with Trust Partners, the bot farm is moved to Illinfrik.

The distribution bot farms designed to farm pirate faction loyalty points in high sec have a distinguishing characteristic that separates them from actual players sitting at the keyboard watching Netflix. I mean besides operating longer than a normal player would sit running distribution missions. That key difference is that the bot farms skip the level 3 distribution missions found in Arnon (SoE) and Tanoo (Trust Partners/Thukker). Actual players would not pass up the higher payouts associated with doing level 3 missions, especially in Tanoo which is on the route between Agha/Nikh and Illinfrik. Bot owners don't care, because they are looking at the payout of level 4 missions, and the bots don't care what level missions they perform. Also, by skipping the level 3 missions, the botters have one less setup to perform.

Back in the days before Alpha clones, botters at least had to have a little caution when operating their bots. With the switch of EVE to a free-to-play option, botters can operate sizable farms with little to no cost if they are caught. Only the cost of a few day's income while a new bot farm spins up and levels up its standings. Of course, if CCP keeps banning the bots, perhaps the aggravation no longer becomes worth the effort.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Operation Permafrost - I've Got Better Things To Do

Leading up to EVE Online's latest live event, Operation Permafrost, I was a bad blogger. Instead of hitting the Singularity test shard and testing the new content, I did things like check out the sales on Steam, watch YouTube videos of an interesting game called Command: Modern Air / Naval Operations, and play video games like Elder Scrolls Online and, of course, EVE. So I turned to other sources to get a preview of Operation Permafrost.

The first bit of information gleaned came from delonewolf, who ran the sites in a Praxis, rather unsuccessfully. No problem. From what I gathered from the video, I could dual box using a Maelstrom/Claymore combination, take out the battleships at range while cleaning up the cruisers as then came in close. Then I read an article on Imperium News about how the sites only spawned in one system per constellation. Ugh, travel time. But still, we've had events before where players had to cooperate and they worked fine. The killer, though, came from Twitter and Wilhelm Arcturus of The Ancient Gaming Noob.

No ore, no skill injectors. Still, I thought I should at least take a look at the sites. So I traveled from my favorite low sec system for mining and headed for my high sec base. My home constellation is a mix of high sec and low sec systems and, sure enough, the event was taking place in a low sec system. I'm not suicidal enough to dual box a Maelstrom and a Claymore in low sec, so I went back to mining in low sec.

I had a purpose for mining in low sec. I needed zydrine in order to build a Marshal. Yes, I'm still working on that project. Amazingly, though, I finally completed the task. Right now, the mineral bottleneck is I need tritanium and mexallon. A few hours of mining in high sec should take care of that need. Everything else I need I can buy off the market.

I do need to raise a little ISK to replace the money I will spend to purchase the materials. I think instead of running Operation Permafrost, I'll go ahead and run Wildfire, the Minmatar level 4 epic arc, on one of my two characters eligible to run the mission arc. I'm also thinking of restarting up my planetary interaction colonies to refill my corporation wallet. With some of the recent purchases in support of my Abyssal deadspace habit, I'm below 500 million ISK again. Time to get back to work.

I might eventually play some of the new content. But for now, re-running 10+ year old content (Wildfire), taking part in a mechanic most find dreary (planetary interaction) and partaking of an activity most find crazy, if not suicidal (low sec mining) is more appealing.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

The Death of Fort Knocks

Noizy: And give you enemy 500 billion to 1 trillion ISK in assets? That's not very EVE like

Null sec player: Who cares?

Fight like you give a shit.
Fight like you care about your comrades,
Fight like you want to defend your home.
Fight until they take it from your frozen broken pod.
Anything less is the coward's path.

Tuesday night, I watched a boosh Raven fleet from The Initiative. destroy the first keepstar ever built in EVE Online, Fort Knocks. The largest player-built object was built by Hard Knocks in their home system, a C5 wormhole known as Rage. The Imperium forces within Rage managed to keep control of the entrances to the wormhole for the most part, successfully repelling the major reinforcement attempt before the armor timer. After that, Hard Knocks basically conceded the destruction of Fort Knocks and began committing insurance fraud (self-destructing their ships) in an effort to minimize their losses.

The eviction effort was well executed. Over the course of several months, The Initiative.'s logistics team managed to seed Rage with enough ships and material to sustain the operation. The alliance's command team managed to keep the secret right up to the time their fleets entered wormhole space, catching Hard Knocks by surprise. The Initiative.'s theory crafters came up with fittings that made Executors more massive than Ravens, thus minimizing battleship losses to the keepstar's doomsday weapon. Notably, Hard Knocks had no answer to The Initiative.'s signature boosh Raven fleets. One of the more comical sights on the streams was watching the guided bombs launched from Fort Knocks endlessly chase the Raven fleet around the citadel. To top it all off, The Imperium came in with such numbers to discourage any defense not reinforced from the outside. A perfect bomb run by a Stuka fleet led by The Initiative.'s leader Sister Bliss ended those dreams.

Of course, we've seen the typical complaining about the losing side's conduct after a keepstar fight. Hard Knocks is not the first group defending a keepstar to not defend the final timer this year. From watching keepstar fights in null sec throughout 2018, I've come to the conclusion that if the defender loses the armor timer, then the defender will begin to evacuate the keepstar of ships and equipment needed in the short term and let the rest of the assets stored in the citadel go into asset safety. In practical terms, NPCs move the belongings of players still in a citadel to another station, charging a 15% moving fee.

In wormholes, though, if players want to salvage anything from their belongings from a citadel facing certain destruction, they have three options. The first is attempt a breakout of the wormhole. The second is get an alt into a cargo ship and manage to log out without the besiegers noticing. Then, wait a couple of months and reemerge into the game again. The third is to self-destruct ships and collect the insurance. Unlike null sec players, wormholers can't rely on asset safety to bail them out.

I normally laugh at the concept of bravery and cowardice in a video game. What type of bravery is it to risk a bunch of pixels in any game, much less one about internet spaceships? Is it really cowardice to look at a situation, decide you don't want to feed ships into a group of players a minimum of 3 to 5 times larger than yours (with the odds gradually increasing against you as the fight continues), and decide to salvage the most out of the situation you can? Is it really bravery to fight and lose ships you are about to lose anyway?

In EVE, we normally don't see leaders attempt to emulate King Leonidas at Thermopylae or William Travis at The Alamo. Instead, we see leaders caring about the survival of the organizations they lead, not the opinions of the unwashed masses. From The Mittani in the wake of The Casino War to Sort Dragon's deal with The Imperium this year, examples abound of alliance leaders who rejected the option of throwing both the wealth of their organizations and the assets of their line members away in a doomed gesture.

I'll just end with the thought that triggered this post. I get mocking people for not fighting, especially a group like Hard Knocks that for years won so many battles and did their fair share of criticizing their defeated foes. But to go so far as to disparage the character of people because they don't play a video game the way you think they should? I see enough people vilifying those who disagree with them in the real world. I play EVE to escape that type of behavior.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

CCP's War On Bots And Illicit RMT: Bot Bans, Gicodel, And Illinfrik

Over the past week or so I've engaged in a lot of different activities EVE Online. Mining in low sec belts. Running mining and distribution missions in low sec. Standings repair via the Sisters of EVE epic arc. But the EVE activity I engaged in that most people are interested in involved either sitting in stations or sitting on the undock in high sec. So here are my latest observations on CCP's War on Botting and Illicit RMT™.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Bots In Illinfrik

On Monday night I was surfing the forums and ran across a post discussing payouts for level 4 distribution missions. The post didn't give many details, so I decided to browse r/eve to see if any interesting. I found something right off. Bots in Illinfrik!

Okay, the Reddit poster saw a whole lot of activity on Dotlan, sat on a gate, saw a whole bunch of Wreathes and Badgers with cargoes indicating the pilots were running distribution missions, and said happy ganking. He also compiled a list of names. So I decided to investigate.

The first thing I did was make a brief detour in my trusty Cheetah to Hek and picked up a ship scanner, cargo scanner, and Sensor Booster II. I wanted to scan the fits and cargo to see if the ships were all fit the same. When I got to the Trust Partner station in Illinfrik about 25km off the undock and started scanning ships. The Wreathes were pretty much fit the same. Ship scanners aren't entirely accurate, but the Wreathes were all fit with a Large Shield Extender II and several Medium Shield Extender IIs along with Expanded Cargohold IIs in the lows, along with perhaps a warp core stabilizer. The rigs included one Hyperspatial Velocity Optimizer for extra speed and two Low Friction Nozzle Joints Is for additional agility. At least, that's what I remember. I thought I had more time to observe the bots than I had and failed to write down the fits.

Wreathes Undocking
After figuring out the fit, I then decided to dock up and look at the pilot info of the suspected bots. What I saw further convinced me I was witnessing some pretty blatant botting. The most blatant of the bots were all created on the same day, and left the newbie corp 6 days later for a corp named after themselves. But by the time I figured out what was happening, the time was after midnight locally and I needed to get some sleep. Besides, CCP wasn't going to ban the bots before Tuesday, right?

Since CCP went ahead and banned the bots before I could start taking names, I'm left to explain why botters would choose to operate in Illinfrik. The reason is that Trust Partners, a member of the Thukker Tribe, only has two level 4 distribution agents in high security space. The other high sec agent is located in Atgur, which is in a high sec island. So the only "safe" area to bot in to get those sweet, sweet Thukker loyalty points is Illinfrik.

Well, one more thing. In the Reddit post, the author claims that hundreds of bots were operating. I don't think the number was that high, unless bots were only used two hours a day and the bot operator had 12 sets of bots. From what I can tell, the bot farm generated approximately 600-700 additional jumps per hour going into an out of Illinfrik. Since each mission generates 2 jumps in Dotlan's map(one out of and a second into the system), that equates to the bots running approximately 300-350 missions every hour. Let's say that a Wreathe can run 8 to 10 distribution missions per hour, which based on my experience (and the frequency I saw the bots dock up to get new missions), that leads to a range of 30 to 45 bots running concurrently.

I plan to return to Illinfrik in a few days to see if our botter returns. Something tells me I'm not finished writing about this particular botter.

UPDATE: Someone else was observing as CCP removed the bots from the system.