Monday, March 11, 2019

Elder Scrolls Online Champion Points: The Allure Of The Ding

I'm about 2 months from the end of my planned time in Elder Scrolls Online. As I approached level 50, I began to take the game a bit more seriously, as once the level cap is reached, the leveling process changed. Gone were the skill and attribute points awarded for each level. Instead, players advance by earning champion points.

With the upcoming change in systems, I began to look for skill points. I discovered that the main quest lines give skill points for completing each step, so I started using the quest journal. I wish I had done that months ago. While chomping up the skill points, I managed to hit level 50 a week ago. Then the effects of the champion system kicked in, and I started getting excited about the game for the first time. And not just because the content in Coldharbour is pretty good.

I can think of three reasons for the change in attitude. The first is the way I approached the game. When I began, my only goal, really, was to reach level 50. I searched for a templar healer leveling build and used that until level 48. When I started researching the champion points system, I discovered I needed a guide to distribute my champion points. A couple of Google searches later, I found an end game build from the same guy who designed the leveling build.

I began to feel the way I did when I got my first Maelstrom in EVE. I know had a fitting, and a list of gear I needed to acquire and skills to train. The skills to train is the most important part, as training in ESO is not a passive activity like in EVE. The skills in the end game build required me to become a AOE DPS character where I had relied on a lot of direct damage on my leveling build. Also, with my leveling build, I could get away with only using one hot bar while with the end game build, I need to switch between my weapons (and hot bars). In other words, I changed my style of play as I hit the level cap. Not an ideal situation, but made the game fresh and I became used to the new build.

Because most of the items in the 300 point build are crafted, I became interested in other quest lines. In order to craft the 5 Kagrenac's Hope pieces, I need to finish the 5 Fighter's Guild quests. The Nightflame shoulders are acquired by doing quests for the Undaunted guild that require running dungeons. I also need to reach level 5 in the Undaunted to get the Energy Orb skill. And finally, I need to do some PvP in order to unlock the Aggressive Horn ultimate skill.

The second is that once I reached Coldharbour, the population picked up. Thankfully, because my build, with the underpowered skills I had just started leveling, just didn't have the oomph to overcome some of the obsticles.  So if I saw another player coming through, I'd just go ahead and start healing and buffing to push the character through. I discovered that, unlike EVE, I didn't need to apply any damage to get credit for kills. Apparently, since my skills contain a few heals over time, that's all I need.

The final reason is the big one. Champion points have come fast over the past 10 days. I'm already over 100. People like getting stuff, and in the beginning of MMORPGs, the developers usually make leveling easy so new players feel they are advancing, hooking them into the game. As the levels increase, the time between the "dings" takes longer and longer as the player is weaned off the initial stimulus. I'm waiting for someone in the UK Parliament to decry the use of such psychological tricks.

The champion points serve the same purpose. To further enhance the effect, the first 4.8 million skill points spent earning champion points are earned at an accelerated rate. I seem to get a point every 10-15 minutes. Each time I stop to apply the points, I can see my character slowly become more powerful. With 100 points and ordinary gear,  I can now go into delves (dungeons suitable for single players to enter) and survive all but the bosses now. Give me another 100 points and max level gear, even if green, and I'll cruise around Tamriel like a boss.

Right now, I'm fairly excited about playing ESO, but I don't think the feeling will last. I'm scurrying around running through the main quest lines for the other two factions, and I still need to go back to running dungeons again. I even need to do a little PvP, just to complete the skills I need for my fit. I may even decide to play more than two months in order to complete the 300 skill point build. But I can see the end game becoming another grind, which will lead to my departure. But I do have to give Zenimax credit. I'm enjoying the end game so far.



Thursday, March 7, 2019

Finding The Nuggets Within The Announcement Hype Of EVE: Aether Wars

A technology demonstration or demonstrator model, informally known as a tech demo, is a prototype, rough example or an otherwise incomplete version of a conceivable product or future system, put together as proof of concept with the primary purpose of showcasing the possible applications, feasibility, performance and method of an idea for a new technology. They can be used as demonstrations to the investors, partners, journalists or even to potential customers in order to convince them of the viability of the chosen approach, or to test them on ordinary users.

On Wednesday, CCP's CEO, Hilmar Pétursson announced in a dev blog a partnership with Hadean on a tech demo designed to showcase the UK tech startup's cloud-based operating system. The demo, named EVE: Aether Wars, is scheduled to debut at GDC 2019 in San Francisco in two weeks. In order to showcase the Aether engine, CCP is recruiting 10,000 EVE players to take part in the demonstration at GDC.

Before anyone gets too excited, remember, we are talking about a tech demo. Even Hilmar sought to make that clear in his dev blog.
"Be warned though, what you will be experiencing is not a game, it´s not even a prototype of a game. This is the raw Aether engine with EVE spaceship assets and some interaction dynamics, which are nothing like EVE Online or EVE: Valkyrie. CCP is providing our visual assets for use in the Aether Engine, enabling Hadean to focus on addressing the challenges we face with large-scale online multiplayer environments. This will almost certainly blow up if you guys show up in force, so please do because R&D is about breaking things!"
If the demo succeeds at its stated goal of 10,000 players, or even 9,000, I expect to see the EVE-O forums and the EVE sub-Reddit asking how soon until CCP implements the engine on Tranquility. And after every large fleet fight, the call will be, "Why hasn't CCP implemented the engine? They have the tech!" Seriously, I don't expect CCP to implement this tech into EVE until 2025 at the earliest, if they ever do.

But what about the nuggets of goodness I promised in the title of this post? Hilmar buried short-term news in the middle of his dev blog.
"After a super-productive summit with the CSM, we’re also developing plans to address key community concerns including capital balance (and balance in general), wealth distribution, war declarations and the abundance of ISK faucets in New Eden. We will of course also be continuing the never-ending war on botting and RMT and are currently in the process of setting up a sizable internal taskforce to look at botting in more depth."
Notice a theme? Wealth distribution and ISK faucets indicate a concern for the non-RMT economy. I believe CCP has stated in the past that the current rates of ISK generation into the game is unsustainable over the long run. The mention of botting and RMT also aligns with the concern over too much ISK flowing into the economy. As I wrote four years ago:
The virtual economies found in MMORPGs are usually based on a faucet and sink model. Game currency is introduced through faucets like killing NPCs and completing quests while currency is removed through sinks like user fees for selling items in the auction house, skill learning, and item repair. Those engaged in RMT will engage in currency faucet activities far longer than the regular player. Ideally, at least in the eyes of the RMT operations, characters will run 24 hours a day, whether through shift work in a Chinese gold farm or through the use of bots. If the number of gold farmers becomes too great, then the economic calculations of the game developers fail and inflation is the result. If the inflation rate becomes too high, the average player may wind up discouraged, and either quit or, worse, contribute to the problem by purchasing game currency from an RMT operation.
The other two major areas to look at in the upcoming months is capital ship rebalance and the changes to the war declaration system. CCP put out a dev blog on the war changes last week, but what is happening with capital ships. Hints from the lore community indicate some sort of activity involving the Triglavians.


Is it possible that in the middle of a capital ship rebalance that CCP will expand the Triglavian ship line with a new faction dreadnaught?

So, in the middle of the hype, Hilmar may have confirmed the parameters of an upcoming expansion I believe will launch in May. Tech demos, especially ones that may never pan out, come and go. I'm more excited to hear what I may get to play in the next 2-3 months.


Tuesday, March 5, 2019

A New War Declaration System, Coming In May 2019

I honestly didn't expect CCP to publish a dev blog on changes to the war declaration system until the week before Evesterdam at the earliest. Then again, I didn't expect CCP to roll out the changes over three releases either. When I read the dev blog, I went back in time to when I started playing. No, not about all the war decs I experienced as a member of EVE University. Instead, my thoughts went back to the Crimewatch system and the phrase, "superior knowledge of game mechanics". CCP eventually removed a lot of the opaqueness surrounding high sec aggression mechanics with the implementation of Crimewatch 2.0 in the Retribution expansion in December 2012.

When I look at the changes CCP plans to make, I see some welcome, if overdue changes. I won't go through the process of trying to decide whether the plan is good or bad, because I think overall the plan will make EVE better. Instead, I'll just go through the dev blog, if for no other reason as to put my views on the record.

The March release will see CCP close two loopholes and fix a bug. The first is the "head fake" loophole used to deploy citadels.
"The first of these loopholes is one that we have referred to as the “headfake” trick internally. There are a few ways for corporations to get themselves into this situation but the end result is always a corporation intentionally getting itself into an expiring war against a specific opponent and then using the 24 hour warning period of any newly declared war as a period of planned invulnerability to deploy a structure..."

"To close this loophole we are changing some of the mechanics around the 24 hour cooldown period at the end of wars.

"After the March release, either side of a war that is within its 24 hour cooldown period can choose to declare a new war instantly to replace the old one. This new war is subject to the same billing and eligibility requirements as any other war, but instead of starting a 24 hour warmup period it will begin instantly with shooting allowed.

"Since both the attacker and defender of this new war will already be able to shoot at each other thanks to the old war, there is no need for the 24 hour warning period."
The next loophole is on I'm not sure I see a use for, but if rules are open to manipulation, EVE players will find away to use them to their advantage.
"Another unintended loophole in the war declaration system is something that we refer to as the “war inversion” trick. This loophole allows a corporation to essentially switch sides of a war, turning a defensive war into an offensive war through joining and leaving an alliance under specific conditions..."

"To close this loophole we are preventing corporations that are defenders in an active war from joining an alliance that is the attacker in another active war against the same group attacking the applicant corporation."
Finally, CCP will fix a bug that made a corporation immune to wardecs until downtime based on certain server configurations on the back end of the cluster. Sporadic issues based on changing server configurations are always a pain to solve. At least, so I've been told.

The April release will see changes in remote assistance by neutrals to players involved in a war. The two changes involve how remote repairs and command bursts are treated in high sec. The big thing to remember is that the changes only apply to neutral characters assisting characters in a war. No changes are occurring for those not in wars.

The first area is remote repairing of ships in combat by neutrals. Once again, I'll rely on the dev blog to explain, because the current high sec war mechanics are complicated.
Under current mechanics, if a neutral character applies a remote assistance module (such as a remote repairer) to another character they can receive a suspect flag if their target meets all of the following conditions:
  1. is involved in a war (including normal wars or FW)
  1. does not share a corp/alliance (or FW side if the war in question is the FW war) with the assistor
  1. is engaged in PVP (has a capsuleer logoff timer)
Basically, the neutral logistics ships are protected by CONCORD until they start to repair a ship. Also, because the ships are neutral, an opposing fleet commander doesn't know the true strength of the enemy, even with proper scouting. CCP has come up with a solution.
"After the April release, the penalty for direct targeted neutral assistance meeting the conditions above AND occurring within highsec will become a criminal flag and CONCORD response. The safety system will prevent the activation of the targeted assistance modules under these conditions, so we suggest that support pilots in highsec engage their safety at either green or yellow levels to prevent unintentional CONCORDOKKEN."
While under the current rules, the neutral logistics eventually become engageable, the same is not true for boosting ships. A neutral command ship can sit and buff an entire fleet involved in a war and the opposition has no recourse, as the command ship is protected by CONCORD. Given that command ships tend to have formidable tanks, suiciding a large number of ships in the middle of a fight to end the buffs is not really an option. CCP wound up taking a slightly different approach to the problem.
"For area of effect command bursts we are approaching the problem a little differently as you may want to continue boosting the members of your fleet that are not involved in a war. Therefore, after the April release neutral command bursts will simply not affect a pilot that meets the conditions listed above when activated in highsec space."
The changes to remote repairs and command bursts will also apply to pilots flying with a limited engagement timer. The changes also do not affect interacting with others in your corporation nor extend to low sec, where everything remains the same as today.

The May release will see the bulk of the changes take effect. The big feature is the introduction of the War HQ. Attackers will need to designate an Upwell structure with docking facilities somewhere in high security space as their headquarters. If the structure dies or is unanchored, the war is over. Here are the highlights of the feature.

  • War HQs are required for the attacking side of a war, but they are not required for defenders (defenders will continue to need to be war eligible) or allies.
  • The identity of the War HQ structure for a war will be public information available in the war report window as well as sent directly to the defenders when the war is declared as a reminder.
  • Corporations or alliances with multiple outgoing wars may choose to spread out the War HQs for their wars across multiple structures or use the same structures as HQs for multiple wars as they wish.
  • It will not be possible to change the War HQ once a war has been declared.
  • If a war ends due to the War HQ going away, the former attackers will be unable to declare a new war against the same former defenders for two weeks.
  • The enforced peace will not prevent the former defenders from declaring a new war against their former attackers.

The war dec fee also was simplified from a complex formula to a nice round 100 million ISK per week.

Before continuing, I want to say how much I like the concept of the War HQ. Yes, wealthy war dec corporations can probably shrug off the lost of a few Upwell structures every week. But now, if the defender wants to pay mercenaries for protection, the mercs have a target they can hit to stop the war dec. I also can see collusion occurring, so those hiring mercs to take out an aggressor's headquarters should perform all due diligence to avoid a scam.

The next part of the change is mutual wars. The idea is so simple, I'm honestly surprised it wasn't implemented back in 2012 when the system was last iterated upon.
"After the May release, mutual wars will be started through an invitation and acceptance process similar to how corp/alliance applications work. One corp or alliance will be able to send invitations for a mutual war to other corps or alliances and the organization that receives the invitation can choose to accept or decline the offer. Mutual wars will not require any ISK costs, war eligibility, or War HQs.

"Either side of a mutual war will be able to retract the war at will, triggering the standard 24 hour cooldown before shooting stops. Mutual wars will also continue to end automatically if no PVP kills have occurred between the two sides in the last 90 days."
Mutual wars will also get its own user interface. But the regular war declaration UI will also receive improvements in the May release as well. Since the dev blog makes it sound like the changes are still under way, I'm sure the devs will take changes suggested in the forum thread under advisement.

Overall, I'm excited that a significant irritant in EVE Online is finally receiving a revamp. I get the feeling the devs had to rip out a whole lot of legacy code, including the POS code, in order to make these much needed changes. Yes, I'm sure we'll see some unforeseen issues emerge. But I do like what CCP is doing. Now, what else can we expect in May?

Monday, March 4, 2019

CCP Guard Departs CCP Games

CCP Guard, one of the last of the original members of CCP at the launch of EVE Onlineannounced his departure from CCP for a job opportunity outside the gaming industry. He started out as a game master during beta in 2002 and wound up the Senior Community Development Lead. Along the way, be became the front man for Permaband, CCP's in-house rock band, and sang on such hits as HTFUWarp to the Dance Floor, and Killing is Just a Means.

I'm going to just copy and paste his forum post below. I don't think anyone will be able to top his post, so I won't even try. All I can really add is, thanks for everything you've done over the last 16 years, good luck on your future endeavors, and I hope you didn't take all the fish. Oh, and you will be missed.
Forever space friends,

EVE is truly a wonder of the world and anyone who has ever lingered beyond the EVE Gate knows exactly what I mean by that. It‘s not the code or the features or the visual beauty (although all of that is pretty amazing), it‘s the things that happen and the people you meet, who become part of your life, and unpredictably change its course forever.

My EVE story is unique like everyone else‘s. EVE unexpectedly became part of my life after I decided to put my classical singing studies on hold and answered a job ad in the local paper in late 2002. Previously I‘d mostly heard about EVE through Icelandic news media where a couple of young guys I‘d later come to know and respect talked some big talk about making the biggest virtual universe ever… out of Iceland. Without a history of launching games. Well, they did, and they needed Gamemasters to fight the early fires and start building a support culture for EVE Online. If I‘d known back then where this unusual customer support job would take me, I would have skipped sleeping to get there faster.

I got good at talking to customers. I specialized in dealing with complex cases, bad losses, big disappointments, hard disputes. I enjoyed finding a way to help people or failing that, try to reach mutual understanding. I also got involved in investigating exploits, chasing bots and other forms of space policing (woop woop). I made Senior, I made Lead, and eventually got poached by our Marketing department in 2011 to serve on the EVE Community team, where I got to communicate with a lot more people at once and release my playful side once or twice. For the good of the people of course.

Looking over all the projects I’ve led or been involved in, I‘m most proud of the relationships I helped build with enterprising members of the community, the true heroes of this story. I gave a talk at GDC called “Manning the oars, or raising the sail” - about how gaming companies shouldn’t be afraid to trust their communities, moreover how helping them express their creativity and passion is most often the best use of our time. I’ve tried to live by that philosophy in my work with EVE‘s amazing event organizers, both inside and outside the game. I’ve loved working with the streamers of Streamfleet who selflessly entertain and mentor others in a game once said to be (very wrongly so) impossible to stream. Big shout out to all the wonderful writers and artists of EVE whose creations I’ve excitedly highlighted on social media or dragged them into some crazy schemes like getting their spaceship graphics zooming around the biggest nightclub LED system in Las Vegas.

From dumbstruck awe at CCP LoxyRider’s ability to put together live streams when starting out as a host, I somehow graduated to both hosting and producing The o7 Show , where we tried to equally represent EVE‘s development progress and player achievements. I also produced and developed our major broadcasts from Fanfest and EVE Vegas which wouldn’t have been the same without talented player hosts and crazy video commercials from corps and alliances. I was trusted with writing and delivering keynote presentations at Fanfest and EVE Vegas… and of course I quickly offloaded half the work to some poor player 294. Restructuring and running the Council of Stellar Management for the past few years has been immensely rewarding. The CSM has taught me a lot personally but I’ve also seen from close up the positive and immediate effects the CSM can have on the development of EVE Online. Then there are happy little accidents, like The Permaband and other offbeat ventures that to me have always shown CCP‘s willingness to be different and foster creativity outside roadmaps and KPIs (Permaband is turning 10 47 this year btw).

Whew… I guess I can‘t delay this any longer. After sixteen amazing years at CCP I recently got a new opportunity. After a lot of thinking, I decided to jump on it and will be starting a completely different adventure - in a completely different industry - in a few weeks time.

I want to try to convey my thanks. I’ve been embraced by so many of you! Mostly without really understanding why… but you guys are smart and I trust you so I rolled with it and as a result you‘ve given me so many life changing experiences. I’ve travelled the world, met more interesting people than I knew existed, made friends for life from the EVE community and CCP, gotten to work with an army of brilliant people and had the privilege of serving a community that I truly believe is absolutely, 100% unique and unmatched in the history of the multiverse. Seriously. Ask me when I‘m officially off the payroll and I‘ll proudly say it again :heart:

I know some of you will wonder why and it‘s important to me you know this is purely a part of my own personal journey through time and space. I’ve worked for only one company for a long time. This was basically my first real job and I was practically not an adult when I started working here. I’ve grown up here, I’ve learned a lot of things and it‘s natural to be curious about how all that would apply in a new context. And there‘s only one way to ever find out! Plus… have you seen a fifty year old rap?

My best way to explain it is that I simply got this crazy idea in my head - that I should get up from the place where I‘m happy, appreciated (most of the time heh 200) and safe, to do something completely different where I don‘t know all the answers and can only rely on myself and the skills I’ve picked up along the way. Hashtag YOLO!

It‘s also important for me you know that I‘m not leaving CCP because of . I’ve been through hard times in my career here but now is not one. I’ve worked through those times and tried to be part of improving what needed improving and I will always be proud of that.

As hard as it is to make the decision to drop fleet (which I’ve not fully digested by the way), leaving on a high note feels like the way to do it. CCP is in great shape and in great hands! Pearl Abyss is the best thing to happen to CCP, they‘re smart, patient and they have real respect for our work with the EVE community through the years. I‘m confident you‘ll all come to see what I already know from being on the inside through all of this. The Community Team is growing (even factoring in my departure), our marketing teams and dev teams are full of energy with smart new hires all over, exciting plans and heads full of great ideas for the future of EVE.

You may or may not have respect for me personally depending on how much you like bad puns and great hair, but if you do, I ask you not to use my personal decision to theory craft or to wield it against my colleagues who, unlike me, will continue to work hard for you to develop and improve EVE. People come and go but EVE is forever, yo.

And… like a wise man once said… you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.

I will always be part of this crazy, beautiful space family and nothing will ever take that away. I‘ll also be around for a few more weeks in my official capacity, plus if any of you are planning to be at Evesterdam (kicking off the Invasion World Tour 20 23-25 March, buy your tickets before they sell out) I‘ll be there and I look forward to spending my last official EVE event with you as CCP Guard.

In a way you could say I‘m being promoted from dev to player! I look forward to seeing what it‘s like to play EVE without being a dev (I know all the shitty tricks, come at me Peligro lol jk dont ban me plz). I also really look forward to rocking up at future Fanfests or wherever the Friendship docks around the world, as one of you guys, having a beer in the middle of the day and watching presentations without knowing what‘s in them!!

It‘s hard to say the right words to express all the things I feel so lest I ramble on for another sixteen years, I just want to end this for now by iterating I‘m still here for a bit and will do my best to help you get in touch with the right people if you‘ve ever relied on me as contact for anything. Please reach out.

Thank you for everything and see you in space o7

Your space friend forever,
Guard

Friday, March 1, 2019

People Asked For A Tournament - First Announced Event For Fanfest 2020

The news from CCP about EVE Online is coming fast and furious. I haven't had time to write about the war declaration system changes or the 64-bit client, but I did catch word of the latest on the EVE tournament scene for 2019. In the past, CCP or the players running events have always run tournaments.

This year, I'm going to guess that all the speculation about CCP not holding an alliance tournament because of staffing limitations is correct. Why? Because CCP is doing another one of their world events concerning PvP:
"The EVE Invasion World Tour is taking us to several locations around the globe this year and every event will feature a single elimination 2v2 tournament to find the most bloodthirsty PvPers each region has to offer.

"Brave Capsuleers who decide to take on this challenge will be fighting for more than just the title, PLEX and bragging rights. Every winning team from all seven locations will be invited for a paid trip to CCP’s home in Reykjavik to showcase their prowess in battle and compete against each other at EVE Fanfest 2020!

"For those of you who cannot directly participate in the competition, we have prepared a Prediction Bracket Challenge. This little contest will let everyone submit their predictions for a chance to win one of five prizes consisting of swag and codes for digital items in EVE Online.

"We hope that the EVE Invasion Tournament Series will deliver a solid performance of sportsmanship, destruction and create unforgettable moments throughout the year for all participants and live stream viewers around the world.

"To be clear, this series is not designed nor intended to replace or fill the gap made by the Alliance Tournament taking a break in 2019. Rest assured, CCP is committed to carrying on the tradition of yearly Alliance contests in the future that many players get to love."
Now, the idea of flying players into Reykjavik at CCP expense is not a new concept. In 2015, Fanfest saw the Worlds Collide event when a team from China's Serenity cluster faced off on-stage against the Alliance Tournament XII champions Camel Empire.



The year 2015 also saw the death of Empress Jamyl of the Amarr Empire. A PvP tournament, the Amarr Championships, was set up to determine the next leader of the NPC faction, with the finals held in Reykjavik in 2016.



Now, why would I write about a PvP tournament? I never go to them when I'm at the conventions, except for the Amarr Championships back in 2016. I'm also the farthest from an elite PvP player you can get (although I am an expert at running away). The answer is simple. I do go to the big EVE Online meetups. If CCP is going to spend money to fly players out to that volcanic rock located somewhere in the North Atlantic for a PvP tournament, then I think Fanfest 2020 will have a decent budget after all.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Skills On Demand - New Eden Discovers Kindle

After the conclusion of the CSM Summit last week, CSM wasted no time pushing out information on the upcoming changes to EVE Online. Yesterday, the company published a dev blog announcing a new change in the skill learning system, "Skills on Demand". I've pulled out the hightlights and listed them below:
  • Training itself will remain the same, with skillpoints accrued over time that are fed into a specific skill to improve specialization in a given field.
  • The largest part of this change is the fact that all core skills will now be purchasable directly from the character sheet for ISK.
  • Rare skills that are not seeded on the market and are only available through the completion of in game content will not be available, but the skill sheet will provide a market link for them.
  • Skills that are sold via the character sheet will also have a percentage mark-up in ISK.
  • If you don’t want to use skills on demand, then you can continue to pick up skills just the same as you have done for the last sixteen years!
  • All skills that are purchased via the character sheet will be automatically unlocked. There’ll be no delivery of a skill as an item, they’ll just be injected directly into your character sheet to simplify the training process.
  • We’ll be taking a pass on the prices of skills to make sure that their cost is consistent, fair and sensible for today’s market.

After reading the dev blog, I wasn't sure exactly how to feel about the feature. Did CCP just introduce more complexity to the game? Instead of one way of obtaining skills (buying off the market), now players will have two. So I decided to list out the pros and cons of the new feature.

Pros:

Convenience for new players - Trying to figure out where to buy a particular skill book can be tough. Some books are only found in certain regions of space. For instance, I've had to make quick trips into the Amarr Empire to get certain skills. Even then, I had to use a third-party site like the Fuzzwork Market Data page to find a copy. How many new players will know to do that? Putting the skills in the UI will help alleviate some frustration.

Convenience for players in null sec and wormhole space - While CCP may tout the advantages for new players, Malcanis' Law applies:
"Whenever a mechanics change is proposed on behalf of ‘new players’, that change is always to the overwhelming advantage of richer, older players."
The big winners are the people at the end of very long supply chains: null sec and wormholers. Except for certain skills, like the ones to fly Triglavian ships and the Distribution, Mining, and Security Connections skills, players in the lawless areas of space will have all their skills right at hand. A very nice benefit that means avoiding extremely long trips if one forgets to purchase a skill.

Reduction in logistics requirements - New Eden's logisticians, the people others rely on to keep their organizations running, are often overlooked and taken for granted. Unless, of course, they fail to keep something simple in stock, like skill books. I don't know how big of a pain keeping the books in stock truly is, but especially for new player organizations, eliminating the requirement to fly in skill books is one less task off a very busy plate.

Making skill books a bigger ISK sink - Something I think will get overlooked is the repricing of all the skill books. I can see the prices going much higher, especially the older skills, to match up with today's market. Add onto that a higher price for buying from the UI instead of a station, and pretty soon a whole bunch of ISK is leaving the game. Considering one ISK faucet was clogged up with the introduction of citadels acting as market hubs and fees staying in player wallets instead of leaving the game, and the expansion of another ISK faucet is welcome.

Lower chances of buying unneeded skill books - Ever buy a skill book and then discover you had another copy lying around, not injected because you were training up a pre-requisite skill? I hate when I do that.

Doesn't break the lore - Sometimes I see a change and think how it screws up the game world. The big example I have is the removing of standards as a requirement for everything from launching an Upwell structure to installing jump clones. A lot of people hate standings, but I think standings with the NPC factions and corporations brings something to the game.

I don't see the same conflict with "Skills on Demand". If the fluid router network can handle transporting a capsuleer's mind to a new body, why not just one skill? The lore even explains why picking up a skill from the UI is more expensive than picking up the book from a station.


Cons:

Reduces regional flavor - This first one is just a flavor complaint that players had already come up with a workaround in game. I like little things in the game that make the empires different from each other. The artwork is nice, but little, meaningful things spice up life. Like the asteroid belts containing different minerals. Yes, even the Amarr and their cursed ability to mine kernite in high sec. Another one of those differences is skills. Some skills are confined to one or two empires. With the ability to just purchase skills from the UI and inject them immediately, who cares? Most players will pay a little more to avoid a 20-40 jump trip.

Damaging a style of game play - Whenever a basic feature of a game changes, some players win and some lose. Hopefully, a lot more players win than lose. In this case, the losers are the players who identified the market need to purchase skill books from regions with the skill books and sell them in places without. The quintessential buy low, sell high situation players look for to make ISK.

In the overall design of EVE, the use of skill books to add regional flavor between the NPC empires led to the secondary, perhaps unforeseen secondary effect of a skill book market that was filled by players. CCP is going to try to preserve the secondary effect by removing the root cause with some price manipulation. I'm not sure how well that will work.

Will contribute to alt proliferation - Long before Game of Thrones became a hit series on HBO, EVE Online was known my many players as the Game of Alts. Anytime something is made easier, EVE players will jump at the chance to take advantage, at least initially. If creating and growing alt characters doesn't require hauling around skill books, I can see more alt accounts created in out of the way places. Or more accurately, alt accounts created and then jumped directly to an out-of-the-way place. When I referenced Malcanis' Law earlier, this is the aspect of "Skills on Demand" that really benefits the veteran player.

Verdict

I still have some concerns about the new "Skills on Demand" system. I like the current skill book mechanic, and the new system could see the removal of most skill books from the game, depending on the buy-in of players to the feature. That, however, is a slippery slope argument that would occur years in the future.

Another concern is what is considered a "core skill"? Is it every skill that is not dropped or obtained from a loyalty points store. Perhaps I root for low sec too much, but are their skills that are primarily only found in low sec stations? Sometimes when I need a skill book, it feels that way. Perhaps CCP could leave some skill books only available in low sec, and still at a regional level, to maintain the niche market CCP had created back in 2003 with their efforts to add a little lore flavor to the game. Or perhaps only skill books accessible by alpha characters could show up in the UI. This is one detail I think is still up in the air.

At the end of the day, though, I can think of more reasons to make the change than oppose it. That the reasons for the change are stronger than those opposed to change makes the reasoning easier. While I might wind up griping about some details in the future, I think the basic concept is pretty sound.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Looking Ahead: When's The Next Expansion?

I probably am not looking in the right places, but the sites I do visit tend to contain people wondering what CCP is planning for EVE Online. One frequent complaint is a lack of news about the direction for the game. I'm not too worried about that. I figure the next few months will go something like this.

The lead-off to what is in store will occur when the EVE media and other assorted folks get their hands on the minutes of the CSM summit that concluded in Reykjavik last week. Expect the minutes to take a couple of weeks to make its way through the typing and approval process. I figure two weeks would push the process, so figure a release on 14-15 March. Those will give us an idea of the hot issues coming up over the next six month or so.

The next event in the timeline is Evesterdam on 23-24 March, as the EVE Online World Tour kicks off in Amsterdam.
"A keynote presentation will kick off the tour and give insight into what lies ahead for EVE, players and developers will speak, battle in spaceships and of course explore the Amsterdam nightlife."
I expect April will see between 2-4 dev blogs along with the beginning of the CSM campaign season. Last year we saw the campaign kick off in April at Fanfest. This year I expect the results to be announced in Toronto in June, so we'll hear plenty of talk before then about what CCP should do.

April also brings us an update on the 23rd of the month. I personally expect the release of the 64-bit client in April along with quite a few quality of life features. With the official start of summer in Iceland this year falling on 25 April, CCP could lay claim to delivering the product during the winter. Also, I suspect the developers wouldn't want to release a new client on the same day as its upcoming expansion.

That's right, I'm calling for an expansion. The date? May 28th. The timing makes sense as CCP will want some sort of draw to keep players engaged and in space into the early summer. The traditional time for the summer expansion was always the end of May or June. Add in that the development cycle results in no June release and that means if CCP is going to have a summer expansion, the last Tuesday in May is the most likely date.

But don't expect a dearth of news in May. The month leads off with the second stop on the World Tour, St. Petersburg, Russia, on 4 May. The following day, EVE Online celebrates its 16th year with an event yet to be announced. Finally, expect dev blogs between then and 23 May, the beginning of EVE Down Under in Sydney, Australia. For those who haven't noticed, EDU is listed as the longest event on the 2019 World Tour. I expect the final hype to appear in the presentations over the weekend before the launch of the expansion.

What do I expect CCP to pull out of its hat for the expansion? First, if POS were not removed from the game in April, the old structures and the infamous POS code will disappear with the introduction of new Upwell structures that will replace the remaining function of serving as a place to serve as a forward base or home for a supercapital. I also expect to see a balance pass for capitals.

For high sec, the final replacement for the war dec system should come out at the end of May. The current system of requiring ownership of a structure is only a placeholder until the devs complete work on a new system.

On the PvE front, I expect new content featuring the Triglavians. I don't know if that means new ship classes, like destroyers, allowed in sites, or if the Triglavians will expand their war against the Drifters outside Abyssal space into the known universe. Whatever happens, I expect improved NPC AI to make an appearance in space. We hear reports of NPC battles. I expect NPC activity will increase, to include more rat on rat conflict.

What about low sec? I don't expect to see any love thrown that way. Which, in my case, is probably a good thing. Less activity in low sec means less interruptions in my day-to-day activities. But CCP is always capable of throwing a surprise or two our way. I just hope they don't yank NPC stations from low sec. Those are so useful.

Those are my expectations for the next few months. I could probably get more clicks by declaring EVE Is Dying!but I did that back in 2014. Instead, I'll hold out a more hopeful vision of the future. The home for insane negativity is the EVE sub-Reddit and I don't want to intrude on their territory.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Alphas And Level 4 Missions: A Match Not Made For New Eden

In a somewhat surprising development yesterday, the latest security developers' blog announced CCP's plans to gate level 4 missions behind the paywall.
"As part of the fight against abuse of Alpha accounts by those involved in botting and real money trading, the EVE Dev Team have been looking at what Alpha characters currently have access to in New Eden.

"As we discussed initially in the New Year security update, the team were considering placing level 4 and 5 courier missions behind the requirement to have Omega clone status.

"After investigating further, the decision has been made to place all level 4 and 5 missions behind the requirement to have Omega status, to assist the fight against RMT and botting.

"Of course, we are aware that mission running is only a part of the issue, we’re also investigating more ways to reduce the abuse of alpha accounts.

"The changes to level 4 and 5 missions will be arriving on Singularity in the coming days, and are scheduled to go live with the March release."
All I can say is, "Wow!" I didn't really expect this move. I didn't even expect CCP to remove the ability of Alpha characters to do level 4 distribution missions. Perhaps I should take heed of words I published four years ago on why RMT is bad for MMORPGs:
"The final impact that RMT has on online games is an increased cost in operating the game. Or, as Dr. Castronova put it, 'an increase in service provision costs, relative to the costs of a hypothetical counterfactual game in which RMT did not happen.' These increased costs represent not only the additional customer service staff required to handle complaints from regular players about the activities of those involved in real money trading operations, but for the additional staff required to handle criminal activities committed against the game, such as hacking accounts and credit card fraud."
CCP has limited manpower to throw at the botting and illicit RMT problems. As CCP Falcon, the community manager for CCP, explained on the EVE Online sub-Reddit about how CCP currently bans bots:
"It's a pretty manual process right now, but solid automation is in progress.

"It's all about trying to keep the number of false positives to a minimum so we don't screw with genuine players.

"It happens from time to time, but we're trying to get better at resolving it as fast as possible."
By restricting the access of Alpha accounts to level 4 missions, CCP is telling the world that the detrimental impact of bots is not worth the number of legitimate players attracted by the missions. The big question is, "Why?" I would love to see either a dev blog or a presentation at one of the player gatherings on the CCP 2019 World Tour breaking down the behavior of Alpha players.

Some might think taking level 4 missions away from Alpha characters is a group punishment that is unfair to players who play by the rules. Perhaps that is true. But the developers could have made much more draconian changes. CCP Falcon laid out a different course of action that would have delighted a large number of players:
"Taking my CCP hat off would mean also taking a break for the reality that resources to tackle botting are of course finite, and no other online game in existence faces the challenges we do when dealing with it because of the nature of how the game is built with a completely player centric economy.

"CCP Grimmi and CCP Peligro take a horiffic [sic] amount of shit from people for no reason, when truth be told they're working their ASSES off constantly to try to sift through reports. A big part of what I'd do would be assiting [sic] them by making life harder for people who're trying to screw with our game and giving them more resources.

"Bear in mind that I'm also not a game designer. If I was, you guys would hate me even more than you do now, because EVE would be one of the most savage games in existence.

"With that in mind, taking my CCP hat off completely, some of the biggest steps I'd take for both botting and account security (if they were simple and workload wasn't an issue):
  • Place every hull larger than a cruiser back behind the requirement for omega status.
  • Place every weapon larger than medium back behind the requirement for omega status.
  • Place T2, augmented and faction drones behind the requirement for omega status.
  • Keep cross racial training for alphas, but place hulls that require a blend of racial spaceship command skills behind the requirement for omega status.
  • Make NPC AI far more aggressive toward drones and fighters, and more unpredictable in general.
  • Build an intelligence system that was separated entirely from the chat system from the ground up that required active user input to remain up to date.
  • Local would become more akin to old "Region" or "Constellation" chat - here's a list of people roughly in your area, if they choose to show themselves.
  • Look at creating incentives and gameplay to keep people active during activities that are often done AFK (mining for example).
  • Quadruple the headcount on the Security Team with a couple of programmers and four more security analysts.
  • Make 2FA mandatory for all accounts that have any roles that give access to pooled assets or ISK.
  • User option to permanently disable extraction on a character or account basis.
  • Account based rewards for first time enabling 2FA and cumulative rewards every quarter for keeping it active.
"I'd also go full scorched earth. You bot? You're screwed? You harbor botters and receive dirty ISK for them, we empty your wallet. Don't have enough ISK to pay back what you got illegally? Your keepstars and corp assets start vanishing. Zero tolerance. You collude in harming our game and community, we level you. Cut and dry.

"That said, this whole post is based on the caveat that there were no limitations on what we could do. Some of this is really not realistic, even if I'd like to see it personally."
Regular readers of The Nosy Gamer probably realize that if CCP implemented most, if not all, of the ideas on CCP Falcon's list, I would probably do a happy dance while reading the patch notes. I don't see a pullback on Alpha ships and equipment on the horizon, but I could see the improvements involving two-factor authentication making an appearance in the future. Also, I would definitely disable extraction on my characters on all my accounts.

I spent so much time discussing CCP's announced plans that I neglected to analyze what the changes could mean for other areas of the game. But that's okay. I have plenty of time to come up with ideas in the next two to three weeks.

Monday, February 18, 2019

The Rising Price Of PLEX - An Alternative View

In the age of Electronic Arts, I understand why some people worry about a big company coming along and buying your favorite game. EA doesn't have the greatest record about trying to milk every last penny from customers, and they are not alone. So when Pearl Abyss announced it had purchased CCP Games in September 2018, many players feared the worst.

The genesis of this post came from watching Talking in Stations on Sunday and a discussion of a video claiming that Pearl Abyss was somehow manipulating the in-game RMT token markets to try to maximize profits. Matterall's co-host Carneros, a long-time game industry veteran who has worked on both EVE Online and the Everquest franchise, rebutted the claims, saying that the purchase was too recent for decisions by Pearl Abyss to appear in the game. My thoughts were a bit different, as higher in-game ISK prices, all other factors remaining equal, results in lower real-world currency sales of PLEX. I first encountered the idea at Fanfest 2014 and have espoused it ever since. The more ISK a buyer can get per PLEX, the less PLEX the buyer needs to purchase. Buyers, for the most part, purchase in-game currency to obtain a specific goal, not just to have a big pile of ISK.

After the show and aftershow, I tracked down the link on the forums to the video. When I saw the video was created by Shipwreck Jones, my interest picked up. Shipwreck Jones is a serious YouTuber who has put out quality content for over a year. This wouldn't be his first video expressing concern about the Pearl Abyss sale, so I wanted to watch. I managed to do so before he took the video down.

Price of Omega time, in-game currency
Just looking at the market data, one could make a reasonable assumption that something happened when the sale of CCP to Pearl Abyss occurred. The sale was announced on 6 September, and from August 2018 to January 2019, the average price of 30 days of game time (500 PLEX) purchased with in-game currency rose from 1.379 billion ISK to 1.687 billion ISK, an increase of 22.3%. But hold on a second. Doesn't the price of PLEX always increase? Yet, the average price of 500 PLEX decreased 17.2% from December 2017 to August 2018. So, something happened in September 2018 when the sale of CCP was announced, but what? As Sherlock Holmes might say, "The game is afoot!"

A daily instead of monthly look at PLEX
I decided to look at the daily average price of PLEX to spot any trends. The low price occurred on 3 August with an average price of 2,675,506 ISK, a drop of 16.5% from the beginning of the year. The price then rose to 2,870,000 ISK on the day of the announcement of the sale and 3,103,080 ISK on the day the sale was finalized, 12 October. The day before the Valentine's Day sale last week, the price of a PLEX had risen to 3,680,181 ISK, or a rise of 18.6% since PA assumed control of CCP.

While the period before the sale to Pearl Abyss saw a lot more sales volume spikes than the period after the sale, I couldn't tell for sure. That lead me to an RMT token directly tied to PLEX, the Multiple Pilot Character Training Certificate (MPCT). The MPCT allows for training a second or third character on an account for 30 days, a very useful ability, especially for skill farmers. In addition to buying an MPCT directly off the market, players can purchase this form of game time by acquiring 485 PLEX and buying the item from the New Eden Store using the PLEX.
MPCT Certificates sold at a discounted rate in 2018
I was a little surprised by what I found when adding the price of 485 PLEX to the graph along with the average price of MPCT Certificates. The numerous sales CCP held throughout the first nine months of the year before the sale to Pearl Abyss was finalized kept the price of the MPCT very low compared to the baseline price found in the cash shop. But after Pearl Abyss took control, the sales, except for the one on Black Friday, ceased. On 10 February, the sale price of the MPCT matched that of 485 PLEX.

I could go on with a graph about skill extractors, but the price of the item required to create skill injectors is so closely linked to the price of PLEX (the normal price is 700 PLEX for a pack of 5) that including another graph is overkill.

So, is Pearl Abyss the second coming of EA and guilty of ruining the New Eden economy in pursuit of all the filthy lucre the company can haul back to Anyang, South Korea? My verdict is no. In fact, with the lack of sales since acquiring CCP, the developers are leaving very light footprints in the sandbox, at least where the business model is concerned. I did not attempt to judge the changes in the game over the past four months, but my feeling is that those also are not having a big impact on the economy. Given that the prices are rising due to the developers recent laissez faire approach, one could fairly make the argument Pearl Abyss is responsible for the change.

However, my theory on why prices are rising is a bit different. I would concentrate on the fall in price of the RMT tokens between December 2017 and August 2018. During that time, CCP was courting Pearl Abyss as a potential buyer, even inviting Robin Jung, the Korean game maker's CEO, to Fanfest last year. As part of the effort, CCP would have tried to boost sales as much as possible. One of the tactics would have been holding a lot more sales than normal, similar to what the graphs in this post show. Of course, increasing the amount of RMT tokens like PLEX and MPCTs in the game world would have a deflationary effect on the EVE economy, or at least the RMT tokens themselves. Once the practises ended, the economy took a few months to return to normal.

I should add one last point before signing off. Most publications listed the sale price of CCP at $450 million USD. In reality, only $225 million was guaranteed, with up to an additional $200 million in deferred, performance-based payouts still awaiting distribution. While we don't know the terms of the deal, I can't imagine that revenue targets for EVE were not included in the deal. So, the next time some sort of money grab is suspected in EVE, consider if the culprit is our new Korean overlords or perhaps someone trying to get a piece of that $200 million still dangling out there like a carrot on a stick.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

After Its Best Quarter And Year Ever, Activision Lays Off 8% Of Workforce

In an ideal world, the talk after Tuesday's Activision Blizzard investors call would center around video games. The fact that the company announced it would refocus on key games would highlight the news. Fans of Call of Duty, Overwatch, Hearthstone, World of Warcraft, Candy Crush, and Diablo would rejoice and Activision announced it would increase the headcounts working on those titles by a combined 20%. Others would cry as beloved games like Heroes of the Storm seem destined for maintenance mode, if not worse. The fact that, except for the next Call of Duty coming out in the final quarter of 2019, the company has no major releases scheduled just means gamers have to go someplace else for new games until the next WoW expansion comes out in 2020.

But we don't live in an ideal world. The headlines instead proclaim the greed of Activision Blizzard. Of course, whoever came up with the script for the call needs to be slapped upside the head. So does Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotic for not calling for revisions. When he leads off with the fact that the company set records for revenue in both Q4 2018 and for 2018 as a whole, then points out those figures didn't meet expectations, that was a bad sign.

What gets investors excited doesn't necessarily translate to glee in gamers. Refocusing efforts on existing money-making games leaves those wishing for new games or a revival of old franchises disappointed. But in the coverage of the call I watched on YouTube, I didn't see many, if any, point out the expected drop in revenue for 2019 of 13%. That's right, with Bungie taking the Destiny franchise in the recent divorce and no WoW expansion expected until 2020, revenue is going down. Something fairly expected by gamers is a "WTF?! OMG!!! Activision is DYING!!!!!" moment for investors.

So what did Activision Blizzard do? First, it announced a 9% increase in the dividend payout this year for those who own stock at a certain date in May. Next, the company announced it was going to conduct a buyback of ATVI stock; $1.5 billion worth over the next 2 years. And finally, as expected, the company is conducting an 8% reduction in its workforce, starting in the U.S.

A point I have not heard mentioned is the stock buyback. If Activision Blizzard can spend $750 million a year on buying back stock, why can't it afford to keep the 750-800 people it is tossing out into the streets? According to a statistic frequently thrown out when guessing development spending on games like Star Citizen, one employee costs approximately $100,000. So while the company is saving $75-$80 million in employee costs, it is spending 10 times that amount on a stock buyback?

I'm rather old and can remember the series of events with investor lawsuits and the passage of laws that incentivize corporations to maximinze short-term profits, even if the results lower profits in the long run. The days a publicly-held company could try to ride out a bad year, knowing sales would improve the following year are pretty much over.  If a company's leadership doesn't do everything in its power to maintain stockholder value, expect an incoming lawsuit. Raising dividends? Check. Billion dollar stock buyback? Check. Employee layoffs? Check. And then people wonder why gamers hate investor types.

At this point, I'd tell everyone to hate the game, not the players. Except, I need to address one more issue. The hiring of Dennis Durkin as the new chief financial officer at the beginning of January. To gamers, the optics of a suit making $15 million while Activision Blizzard lays of 750-800 people is bad.  To me, the fact that Durkin's bonuses are related to meeting operating income and earnings per share targets is worse. What's an easy way to move toward those targets? Why, lay off 750-800 people. Of course, that's good news to investors.

Admittedly, I am not Activision Blizzard's target audience. The only game in their portfolio that even interests me is World of Warcraft, and in the state that game is in, I have better things to install and use up space on my hard drive. Also, a multi-billion dollar, publicly owned corporation is going to play to the investors. Cutting headcount before a known 13% drop in revenues is just a smart business play. But seriously Mr. Kotic, what happened to making good games? Don't you have confidence in your staff anymore?

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

One EVE Online Resolution Accomplished

I wrote about how I play Elder Scrolls Online and thinking of switching for that game to Final Fantasy XIV last week. But my main game still is EVE Online. The difference between EVE and all the rest is that EVE is a hobby while the others are games. While I leveled my templar to within 50,000 XP of level 47, I did some interesting activities related to EVE over the weekend.

On Saturday, I took a break from housework and ESO to talk with someone about a project he is working on. Given my expertise, I think I can say the subject touches on real money trading and the black market. I'm kind of anxious to see the finished product. But I won't ruin the surprise.

Sunday I appeared on Talking in Stations. Be on the lookout for the episode because the episode featured CCP Fozzie talking about moon mining. Well, that was the main feature, and Matterall brought a lot of smart people with experience on the subject, like Goonswarm's Tuzy, Brave's Dunk Dinkle, Pandemic Legion's Elise Randolph, and Skill U's Elite Anon. With talk of the news of the day, we wound up discussing all the things. Afterwards, CCP Fozzie answered questions on the TiS Discorse server for 45 minutes or so and Matterall may publish the Q&A as well.

Tuzy is a director in GSOL, Goonswarm's logistics arm and responsible for maintaining The Imperium's vast infrastructure in space. I got the chance to ask Tuzy about the price of moon minerals before the show. He thinks the market for T2 components will become very volatile within the next 2-3 months. Volatile meaning big price increases. During the stream, Tuzy and Dunk had a disagreement, with Dunk maintaining that the existence of large stockpiles of moon goo were a myth and that the prices on the market should remain fairly stable.

I get the feeling Dunk is a lot more concerned with his local prices than with the price of products in far away Jita, although I think he still needs to source some of his construction material from New Eden's premier trade hub. Still, with experts telling me that the price of T2 materials will either stay the same or increase, I figured the time had come to fulfill one of my New Year's resolutions.

The materials finally gathered
After the stream and the Q&A session, I decided to make a trip to Jita to buy what I needed, with side trips to Dodixie and Rens to pick up a couple of items listed for cheaper in those places. I took my Mastodon, the Minmatar Deep Space Transport with a 62,500 m3 fleet hangar, a 5000+ m3 cargohold, built-in warp core stabilizers and a formidable tank.Did I mention I souped it up to have a warp speed of ??? AU/second with my character's implants and a sub-11 second align time? And of course, I fit a cloak for those times the MWD/cloak trick is absolutely needed while traversing space. People make fun of me for using the ship to haul tritanium around. I guess a billion ISK worth of T2 components is a more worthy cargo.

With as many jumps as I took, I'm a bit surprised I didn't see any Macharials out and about sitting on a gate. The only issue I really had was with space. I filled the fleet hangar with giant secure containers and it turns out the capital jump drives take up 10,000 m3 of space each. Fortunately, packaging up 10 of the containers only takes up 3000 m3, so I placed them in the cargohold and was able to fit everything in with a few thousand m3 of space to spare.

Finally have all the components
Of course, I did something stupid. After reaching the low sec station I wanted to build in, I dumped the T2 components into the station container I used to store all my Marshal items, opened up the industry interface, and discovered I was short 250 units of Tungsten Carbide Armor Plate. I checked my list and sure enough, I had only purchased 18,500 units even though I had entered 18,750 in my spreadsheet. I then went to Fuzzy Steve's website and found someone selling the parts for only 500 ISK over Jita price. At that point, I was more than willing to pay an extra 125,000 ISK in order to avoid over 30 extra jumps, so I switched to my Prowler and zipped off to Nein to grab the missing materials.

Normally, I would end the post with a screenshot of the ship in space. I have to make an exception in this case, as I only have one pilot capable of even sitting in the ship, and he was doing something somewhere else. Plus, I still need to fit the ship, and undocking a defenseless Marshal doesn't seem a wise move. So instead, I'll post the bonuses:

Black Ops bonuses (per skill level):

  • 125% bonus to ship max velocity when using Cloaking Devices
  • 10% bonus to Warp Scrambler and Warp Disruptor optimal range
  • 20% to Stasis Webifier optimal range
  • 10% bonus to warp speed and acceleration


Gallente Battleship bonuses (per skill level):

  • 5% bonus to Large Hybrid Turret damage
  • 7.5% bonus to Large Hybrid Turret tracking speed


Minmatar Battleship bonuses (per skill level):

  • 5% bonus to Large Projectile Turret rate of fire
  • 10% bonus to Large Projectile Turret falloff


Caldari Battleship bonuses (per skill level):

  • 5% bonus to Heavy Missile, Cruise Missile and Torpedo Launcher rate of fire
  • 10% bonus to Cruise Missile and Torpedo flight time


Amarr Battleship bonuses (per skill level):

  • 5% bonus to Large Energy Turret damage
  • 10% bonus to Large Energy Turret optimal range

Role Bonus:

  • Can fit Covert Cynosural Field Generator and Covert Jump Portal Generator
  • No targeting delay after Cloaking Device deactivation
  • Cloak reactivation delay reduced to 5 seconds
  • 75% reduction to effective distance traveled for jump fatigue
  • 10% bonus to security status gains from destruction of non-capsuleer pirates while flying this ship
  • Armor Repairer and Shield Booster effectiveness increased by a percentage equal to 10x pilot security status, with a floor of 0% and ceiling of 50%

The one pilot I have capable of flying the Marshal, however, has all racial battleships trained to 5 and
Black Ops trained to 4. Plus, security standings of 5.0, so I also get the max benefits from active tanking.

The Marshal hull alone sells for slightly over 4 billion ISK, making the ship the most expensive thing I own in EVE. Given that I prefer flying frigate and cruiser hulls, I may never take the ship out of a station after I fit and move the ship from its current location. But I will have completed at least one of my New Year's resolutions for 2019 and a goal I set for myself in late 2017.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Starting To Climb Off The ESO Wagon

One of my New Year's resolutions wss to reach max level in Elder Scrolls Online. I reached level 45 over the weekend and know there is a long slog through a different leveling system once I reach level 50. But do I really want to grind that high? The story really isn't that great and the combat is a bit off. Either that, or I put too many skill points into crafting and need to use the free respec scroll I received a couple of levels back to refocus my character. I'm mainly slogging through the game because ESO is one of the big MMORPGs that I probably should play through.

Another reason my attention is drifting is due to the coverage that Square Enix' Final Fantasy XIV Paris Fan Fest garnered over the weekend. I recall playing FFXIV for 30 days just to see what the game was like  With the next expansion, Shadowbringers, scheduled for a 2 July release, I think I will put ESO aside at that time to give FFXIV a real try.

Why Final Fantasy XIV? First, like Elder Scrolls Online, FFXIV is part of a beloved series of video games that I never got into. I tried Final Fantasy 15, but I don't really like console games. The controllers are just too awkward to use. Plus, I know that Square Enix knows how to make MMORPGs, with Final Fantasy XI doing well, even in "maintenance" mode.

Another reason is the graphics. ESO has some pretty bad textures on characters and I understand that was intentional. In fact, I hear that players grumbled about the characters looking too good. I guess really bad graphics and the Elder Scrolls series just goes together. If I recall FFXIV, the graphics were really pretty, and that was before I bought a computer able to run an Oculus Rift. I wonder what they look like now.

One other thing that I'd like to experience is the story in FFXIV. Playing through ESO, I know a main story exists. Somehow, I seem to have lost the main questline. My time is spent wandering the map looking for quests. The questlines I find are nicely put together, but I don't really see an overall pattern. I wonder if the same is true in FFXIV.

I don't plan on dropping ESO right away. My subscription is due for renewal next week and I plan to purchase another 90 days of ESO Plus. But my time in Tamriel is coming to a close. I started my current playthrough in May 2018. I reached level 46 last night and still find the game engaging, although I don't have the urge to play every day. Honestly, I never did. But getting a year out of the game I think is pretty good. Not as good as EVE (9 1/2 years) or EverQuest 2 (3 1/2 years), but still pretty good.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

In Search Of Metropolis Distribution Bots

After a few days of a polar vortex (what Canadians quaintly call "spring") rolling through town and playing with plumbers, I was ready for some EVE. I woke up Sunday morning to a tweet indicating some fun in my old stomping grounds in Metropolis.
And I mean old. When I left Eve University, I took my things and set up shop in Arlek, a system 9 jumps away from both Rens and Hek. More relevant to today's topic is that I spent a lot of time doing missions with Eyfr and Co. and Republic Parliament in that area back back then in order to get the standings for jump clones. Also, when I was streaming my experience with the fancy, cinematic NPE a couple of years ago, I explored how a week old Alpha pilot could start doing level 3 distribution missions in the area. So I pretty much knew what the suspected bot operator was doing.

This bot operator wasn't as blatant about his operation as the Illinfrik botter. I was able to identify 9 bots flying Badgers with a typical distribution mission fit. Five of the bots were flying out of the Republic Parliament station in Ridoner. The other four were split between a pair flying from the Pator School station in Orduin and the remaining two flying from the Eyfr and Co. station in Elgoi.

A pretty good plan to at least spread out the activity so the traffic doesn't stick out on Dotlan. Except for Ridoner, no real chance for a traffic jam on the undock to occur, and certainly nothing on the scale of Illinfrik.

Still, the signs were all there. First, the characters were all Caldari flying Badgers in Metropolis. The race of the characters matters, because all 9 characters were created on 19 January between 13:16 and 13:56 EVE time. The two Elgoi bots were created at 13:16 and 13:20, the Orduin bots at 13:36 and 13:38, and the Ridoner bots between 13:50 and 13:56. Why would nine 2-week old characters come all the way from The Forge or Lonetrek to run distribution missions for Pator School and Eyfr and Co.? I'm picking on Pator School specifically because of its loyalty point store. I might go back and raise my Pator School standings in order to use the services of a station in low sec cheaper, but that's about it.

What linked the characters together was the dates they all joined their own personal corporations. That's right, the new big thing, now that the war dec system has changed, is for bots to form corporation named after themselves. The format of the name is [Character Name] Corporation. All nine characters joined their personal corporations on 20 January at 12:54. All nine characters. Almost like the controlling person used a script.

Of course, I did scan the Badgers, not only for the fittings but to ensure that I knew which station's agents the bots were doing missions for. I mean, I could have just sat on a gate and tag bots that way, but I figured reporting a bot at the undock of the station it is using makes the job of whoever investigates the bot report at CCP's job easier. Sure, Aden and I reported the bots hours apart, but since the bot report doesn't allow for comments, that's the best I can do with the tool.

Due to the plumbing issues and a few other things, I pretty much spent all my time in a Slasher following bots around reporting them. So I have an idea inspired by the last Security dev blog. Instead of selling police SKINs for the ships most used in botting, how about some police SKINs for the T1 frigate hulls the interceptors are based on? Like the Slasher.


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Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Why I Don't Like A Common Solution To AFK Cloaking

I always get nervous when I hear ideas designed to help carebears. One that I hated was the increase in speed of the Procurer in 2014. The change was made to help high sec miners avoid players who liked to bump miners off their asteroids and ice rocks. The tactic to combat miner bumping was to orbit rocks as fast as possible. Of course, anyone trying to mine while aligned, like I do in low sec, had their gameplay nerfed. The introduction of the Higgs Anchor did a lot to mitigate the problem, as well as have unintended consequences for wormholes. But still, when I hear other ideas like eliminating the need for miners to probe down anomalies, well, I start getting jumpy.

One issue that always grabs my attention are the complaints about AFK cloakers. An AFK cloaker is just what the name sounds like: a player who engages a cloaking device to make his ship invisible, then leaves the keyboard to go to work, eat dinner, etc. Sooner or later, someone comes up with the idea of requiring cloaks to use fuel. I'll pick on MassivelyOP's Brendan Drain for a recent example:
"It’s also led to a problem that has plagued nullsec alliances since as far back as I can remember: AFK cloakers. A cloaked ship can park itself in a star system and show up in the local channel, usually prompting all the locals to pack up their PvE activities. The locals can’t ignore the cloaked ship as it could attack at any time, so one or two ships can effectively disrupt PvE in a star system even when the pilot is AFK. The cloaking problem could be solved by adding a fuel requirement to cloaking devices, and both of the issues above could benefit from another precision change: Nerf the local channel in nullsec." (emphasis mine)
Removing local is a subject for another day. And speaking of no local, adding fuel requirements to cloaking would do horrible things to the playstyle in wormholes. Instead of addressing the larger issues, I want to address my own selfish concerns and how the use of cloaks requiring fuel would hurt my own play in low security space.

I spend a lot of time flying around low sec in ships without weapons. I do occasionally use the microwarpdrive/cloak trick when flying my Mastodon around, but I spend a lot of time doing level 4 distribution missions in a Prowler. A lot of people disparage distribution missions, but I enjoy them. While PvPers in low sec would love to see uncloaked ships jumping around, low sec distribution missions are another use for blockade runners.

When jumping through each gate, I always activate my cloak as soon as I start aligning and keep cloaked until the next gate. Adding a fuel requirement for cloaks doesn't just reduce my profits. Where do I put the fuel? I require at least 8000 m3 free in my cargo in order to handle all the missions. If fuel is consumed every cycle, that could really add up quickly.

My next concern involves exploring in general and running data and relic sites in particular. I haven't done so recently, but I usually use either a covert ops frigate or a Stratios when I do. The cloak is very useful for hiding from potential hunters when probing down sites. A fuel requirement could really impact the use of ships like the Cheetah, which only has a cargohold of 200 m3. The whole idea of adding a fuel requirement is to keep a frigate like the Cheetah from staying cloaked for hours. What type of impact would that have on the length of how long I could stay out running sites?

The final concern is the effect on my low sec belt mining. I dual-box when mining, one pilot in a Procurer and a second in a cloaky DPS ship. The cloaky ship is valuable in case NPC battleships show up, although now that my mining character has finished with her drone skills, the extra help isn't needed that much. What is more important is the invisible eyes watching the belt while the mining ship returns to the station to drop off ore. Occasionally, I would see ships warp into the belt I had just departed and cloak up. The funniest one was a Blackbird who was teaming with another cruiser. One time, I even killed a Thrasher. While requiring fuel to power my cloak wouldn't keep me from flying the second ship, that's just another cost I have to worry about.

One of the reasons I keep track of changes in EVE isn't just to have subjects to write about. My style of play is a little unusual and little changes to help other parts of the game tend to act as nerfs to mine. Still, since talk about adding fuel to cloak usage to combat AFK cloaking has floated around the game for years, I won't get too excited. Yet.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

ESO - Daily Free Stuff

I think every developer of an MMORPG wants to figure out a way to entice players to log into their games on a daily basis. Especially new players. For the first five years I played EVE, we had the 24 hour skill queue. For veterans routinely training skills taking 7 or more days to complete, the skill queue wasn't really that big a deal. But when I was a new player, keeping the skill queue full kept me logging in every day.

The second MMORPG I currently play, Elder Scrolls Online, takes the concept to another level. ESO is a buy-to-play game with an optional subscription model and a robust cash shop. I probably should have put "optional" in scare quotes as I tried playing ESO without the sub and, quite frankly, I didn't enjoy the experience. Like many developers, Zenimax put in some pretty harsh inventory limitations for players without subscriptions. I found a subscription helps a lot.

ESO also presents players a few reasons to log in every day. I'm not referring to the daily crafting quests, although if I don't have a lot of time to play and I don't feel like doing some logistical tasks in EVE I might do some during the week. Instead, I'm referring to three benefits that, if a player logs out of the game at the right spot, are completed within 2 minutes of logging into a character.

The first two are game play features that involve, interestingly enough, playing the game. The first involves leveling my mount. Technically, the feature involves improving your character's riding skills, which ultimately involves making your character's mount better. One of the big benefits of improving your mount is increasing bag space. In a game that relies on selling inventory slots, getting up to 60 free slots is a big deal.

The second involves receiving free crafting materials in the mail. Players can spend skill points on hirelings. A feature I first encountered in Everquest 2, hirelings will send players crafting materials once every 24 hours (or 12 hours at the level 3 skill). Each crafting profession has its own hirelings. For example, I have 3 hirelings, one each for Clothier, Enchanting, and Woodworking professions. The only catch is, you have to be logged in. So if I don't log in for 3 days, I only receive one email from each, not three. Not the biggest incentive to log in, but not bad either.

The final incentive is for each time during a month, a player gets a gift. Sometimes the gift is an experience boost scroll. Other times, players receive powerful food, potions, poisons, even non-combat pets. Or gold. Potentially, lots and lots of gold. The end prize I can get for this month is 100,000 gold. To put that in perspective, I only have 52,000 gold now. At the end of the month, the list of gifts resets.

I'm not really sure how I feel about the system Zenimax settled on. I don't think the same type of system would work in EVE. The big difference is that some of the items are bind on acquire and bind to character. Also, economic gameplay is extremely limited in ESO compared to most other games I've played, let alone a free-wheeling game like EVE. But I can say from personal experience that what Zenimax implemented in Elder Scrolls Online works. I may not play every day, but I make sure to log in.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Looking At Distribution Mission Payouts

When I was shadowing the Illinfrik botter and after the inevitable housecleaning performed by CCP, the most frequently asked question was, "Why would anyone bot distribution missions?" In preparation for my appearance on Talking in Stations Sunday, I did a little calculating. I figured that running approximately 22 hours a day, the botter's 20-character farm would generated between 6-7 billion ISK per day, if everything goes right for the botter. The reason for that level of profits (and why CCP had to ban 5 of his farms before he finally gave up) is Thukker loyalty points.

To give an example of how much a non-bot distribution pilot can make, I ran distribution missions in low sec for an hour. I ran them for an agent for Trust Partners, the same corp in the Thukker Tribe the Illinfrik botter used. I did have a few advantages over the typical Wreathe bot, however.

First, location matters. The base formula for loyalty point payouts for missions is:
LP reward = (1.6288 - System security) × Base LP
This means I received 70% more loyalty points for using an agent in a 0.2 security system than a player (or bot) in Illinfrik with a security rating of 0.8. As an added bonus, I have distribution missions trained to level 5, meaning I gain an additional 50% more loyalty points per mission. Alpha accounts are limited to training Distribution Connections to 2. Also, I use a Prowler, the Minmatar blockade runner, which, with my fitting an implants, exceeds a warp speed of 12 AU/sec. The best speed I calculated for any of the bots I saw was 6.2 AU/sec. So I have a warp speed advantage meaning I can do the missions faster than an alpha player as well as higher payouts.

So, since I can probably beat Han Solo's time on the Kessel run if we ever figure out how to get back through the EVE Gate, how did I do? I don't think that badly. I completed 14 missions, taking an average of 4:17 minutes per mission. I earned 22,486 Thukker loyalty points, which I calculate are currently worth around 3000 ISK/point. The average of 1606 LP per mission I think is a good payout. Mission rewards and mission time bonuses are really only used to help pay for the items in the loyalty store. The 9,084,000 ISK earned almost paid for the item I wanted to get out of the store, the Thukker Large Cap Battery.

Thukker cap batteries are valued by Abyssal site runners for their inherent resistance to the neutralizer pressure they face from the Triglavians. With a cost of 20,000 loyalty points,10 million ISK, and a Large Cap Battery I, I can get one Thukker Large Cap Battery per hour, which is my goal when running distribution missions.  When I sell them on the market instead of fitting them on my own ships I aim for 60 million ISK in profit, which is where I get my valuation for Thukker loyalty points of 3000 ISK/point.

At the beginning of the post, I estimated that the Illinfrik botter could make 6-7 billion ISK per day if everything went right. Did I mention faction cap batteries, even if they are as awesome as the Thukker Large Cap Battery, are not high volume trade items? When the possibility exists of CCP coming in and banning accounts at any time, botters tend to dump items on the market, looking for ISK in the hand now. I don't face that pressure, so I can go ahead and leave my items on the market for weeks. And if the items don't sell? I can always use them on my own ships.

I guess I should include one more important item about distribution agents that didn't come up during my one hour run. Players are granted a storyline mission for completing 16 missions of the same level for a corporation. As I was two missions away from a storyline mission, I spent a few more minutes to run two more missions. The one I received was Materials for War. The requirements to complete the level 4 version of the mission is 8000 units of kernite. I keep a stock of kernite in the distribution agent's station, so anytime I receive the missio, I fly over to the agent, accept the mission and then immediately complete it. The reward is a +4 learning implant, which usually lists on the market for around 20 million ISK. Not bad for less than 12 minutes of mining and making a couple of jumps.

I know some will find the fact that distribution missions can make decent ISK, if over 20 million ISK per tick is considered decent. A lot of players just look at the low ISK payouts and snub the missions. But that's okay. Just means less competition for me.