Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Whales And Remora In EVE Online

The recent game time sale held from 29-31 March for me highlighted the differences between two groups of players in EVE Online that I describe as whales and remora. Well, when I remember to mind my manners, I refer to them as remora.

A whale is a term most gamers recognize by now. Ther term comes from the world of gambling, referring to people who wager massive amounts of money. In places like Las Vegas, whales are often encouraged to maintain their patronage of establishments through the use of free drinks, private jet transfers, limousine use, or access to the gambling establishment’s best suites.

In trying to come up with a definition for a whale in an MMORPG, almost all sources led back to free-to-play mobile games. I did find a Eurogamer article covering the beginning of the lootbox gambling controversy that referenced a figure of £25 (~$33 USD) a month as the amount whales spent on microtransactions. Other references to mobile games reference either a total of $100 on a game, or even $100/month spent on games as representing whale-like levels or spending. A study reported on by AdWeek in 2016 placed the about spent by whales at $335/month, with the lesser amounts spent by "dolphins" and "minnows" clocking in at $17.94/month.

For purposes of determining the definition of a whale in EVE, I'll define a whale as someone spending over $75 USD on EVE every month. Basically, that covers someone paying for three accounts and buying the 1100 PLEX package for $39.99 every month. Or uses real world currency to pay for 5-7 accounts, depending on payment plan used. I think I can safely label anyone buying 10 billion ISK per month through CCP a whale. If these numbers seem low, perhaps that means EVE is full of whales.

While whales is a familiar term, what are remora? A type of fish that attaches itself to sharks, dolphins ... and whales. In the natural world, remora and whales have a symbotic relationship. The remora benefit by attaching themselves to whales, thereby gaining the fast-moving water running through its gills providing the oxygen needed for the fish to survive. The whales benefit because the remova eat parasitic copepods or amphipods that attach themselves to the giant mammals.

EVE has a class of players who neatly fit the role of remora to the cash-rich whales. A not insignificant percentage of players don't pay for their subscription time (aka Omega accounts) with real world money. And just as in Terra's oceans, EVE's remora come out ahead. EVE's whales provide the remora with account-sustaining game time by purchasing PLEX from CCP (or an authorized PLEX reseller) and putting the virtual good on the market. In return, the remora purchase the PLEX, thus removing the irritant of having to earn ISK in order to play other parts of the game. In New Eden, as in the Atlantic, a symbiotic relationship in which both sides benefit.

The inspiration for composing the previous 450 words was Brisc Rubal's reaction to last weekend's Omega time sale on Friday's Open Comms show. Brisc, a member of the Council of Stellar Management and a self-described whale, was extremely critical of the form of the sale. Instead of taking the traditional route of providing the whales a discount when buying PLEX for real world currency, someone at CCP instead chose to target the remora by offering a discount on the quantity of PLEX needed to subscribe an account for 30 days. The result of the sale was a run on PLEX that raised the amount of ISK the whales would receive for a purchase, but they would not get a real-life money bargain at the same time.

As the show continued, I couldn't help but consider the point that, at least for one weekend, the whales weren't catered to. Normally, CCP reduces the price of PLEX, thus leading whales to purchase more PLEX. The remora then benefit indirectly as the increased supply results in a temporary decrease in the price of PLEX. But the sale that resulted in the highest one-day rise in the price of game time in EVE's history only benefited the whales indirectly, as the increase in price meant the whales received more ISK for their PLEX purchase. The only question was whether the price increase was temporary, and, if so, how long until the PLEX market returned to normal.

I honestly don't think Brisc took the sale as a personal affront at CCP not catering to whales like himself. He brought up other concerns of whales, such as the population of the game decreasing. One of the reasons for developers and publishers adding a F2P option to MMORPGs is to make sure the game world is populated enough to keep the whales happy. After all, if the population drops to a low enough point, why spend large amounts of money in the game? Or, as Brisc alluded to, CCP needs to make sure the whales have something to shoot.

I will probably come back to the issue of the whales and the remora again, as keeping both sides in balance, and at least content, is important to not only EVE, but most games as well. While some companies cater to their whales like they truly are high rollers in Las Vegas, hopefully EVE's big spenders will keep those impulses under control. But as CCP continues evolving and growing in the Pearl Abyss era, I'll keep an eye on the behavior of both whales and remora.

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