Wednesday, May 29, 2019

A Quick Look At The Agency 3.0

Another expansion, another yawn. Usually when we get an expansion, my gameplay gets nerfed more than buffed. The more I watched and read, the more nervous I became.

One of the phrases I dread to hear from the devs is, "We're updating The Agency." Ever since CCP moved the agent finder from stations and moved it to The Agency, I grew to despise the feature. After all, why do I need to see more than 12 agents at a time, right? That just means a player needs to refine the search parameters. Oh well, at least they didn't ask, "You do have a smart phone, don't you?"

Look, I realize that EVE is a complex game and new players need all the help they can get. I also appreciate the ability to keep The Agency from automatically popping up every time I log into a character. But the "Progressive Disclosure" tech promises an increase in clicks to find things.

The dev blog did promise some hopeful improvements.
  • Larger space for content results
  • Remembering your last filters for each content type
  • The return of the 'Agent Finder' advanced agent search
  • Bookmark any content pages to bypass the page tree with a single click
The dev blog also filled me with dread. I thought CCP was about to give hunters another huge jump in intelligence, this time when hunting explorers. The description sounded bad.
Combat Anomalies
In this section you can see all systems containing Combat Anomalies, filter them based on location and security status, then see the number of Combat Anomalies that exist within those systems. For systems that are within one jump, you can also see the type & name of the Combat Anomaly. We feel that this increased transparency will encourage bewildered players to travel outside of their system if there are no anomalies present in the current system.

Cosmic Signatures
In the Cosmic Signatures page, we will be making a big change to how Capsuleers will be exploring New Eden. The main change here is the visibility of the number of available signatures in all systems. For the system you are currently in, you will be able to view the signature IDs as normal. We are aware of the implications of this change and will monitor the effect on New Eden and the Exploration career, with the possibility of balancing and tweaking in the future.
Coming on the fifth anniversary of the Odyssey expansion which hurt low sec mining by replacing gravitational sites, which required probing down, with today's always visible in the interface ore sites, I was not looking forward to even more intel given to hunters on a silver platter.

The day of the expansion, I got home, fixed dinner, did some perusal of the black market, the usual thing. Then I logged into EVE on my main and jump cloned from my Abyssal clone to my exploration clone, hopped in my trusty Cheetah, and took off for Ingunn to start doing a little fact-finding.

The first thing I discovered was The Agency has a well-designed home page. Hopefully new players find the layout as intuitive as I did. Players can access the home page at anytime by either clicking on The Agency icon in the upper-left hand corner, or the word "Home" in the path, also in the upper left-corner of the window.

In general, I like the ability to find pages without having to do the normal hunt through menus EVE is famous for. The tabs at the top struck me immediately as a major improvement for navigation. The ability to create bookmarks to my favorite pages is a godsend. And perhaps most importantly, the toggle to open the page automatically upon login is in the lower-right hand corner of the home page. The devs did not hide the option in some obscure location in the general settings window.

My biggest pet peeve with The Agency was the agent finder functionality. The original version could only display 12 agents, which is pretty meager. Yes, the previous version did have additional filters to limit the search results. In my opinion, though, the options weren't well laid out and sometimes limiting a search down to 12 results or less just isn't possible.

The search that really set me off when CCP first introduced The Agency was when I was researching mining agents. The old agent finder worked great when I researched mining agents two years ago. When I decided to revisit the subject using The Agency, I found the 12 agent limit very annoying. I still can't display all the level 4 Gallente mining agents at the same time, but at least I can see all the level 4 agents in low sec. More importantly, I can see all 17 agents in Placid when I use the region filter. One of these days, I really need to visit Intaki.

One of my big concerns was the intelligence hunters would receive. The way the combat anomalies and cosmic signatures were described in the dev blog, players could see the number of sites half-way across the cluster. All a player would wanted to check for exploration activity was to watch for the number of sites to decrease. Conversely, players could watch for wormholes appearing in systems by noticing an increase in the number of unknown signatures.

At least for the first night, the system didn't work quite as advertised. Players still received the more detailed information in their current system plus any adjacent system. But starting two jumps away, the anomaly and signature counts were always one. Among the benefits of testing in low sec are the plentiful number of unrun sites with which to test these features.

Of course, I saved the most awesome and wonderful addition for last. Tool tips. Yes, I know that the Eve University wiki is a wonderful thing. But having information just a mouse hover away is wonderful. Just knowing where to find a particular type of ore is very useful. Now imagine trying to find the right type of planets for Planetary Interaction. The EVE University wiki is still a great resource for what to do once a player has found the desired planets. But one obstacle to PI for me was always finding the planets I wanted in the first place.

I do have one request for CCP if anyone in Iceland reads this post. Could you please let us know if you see an uptick in people running the Epic Arcs? The fact that the starting agents for the arcs is so easy to see know I'm sure will probably result in more people running the content. Or perhaps more players grinding the reputation to run the missions arcs. Either way, I hope the accessibility leads to more people running the content.

I'll admit, when I logged into the game to check out The Agency, I fully expected to hate the feature. At this point, I like the changes I've seen. I just hope that some of the things I saw were not bugs and that once everything is fixed, I'll like the new UI feature less. But as for now, I don't have any complaints about The Agency. But I do reserve the right to change my mind.

Monday, May 27, 2019

The Nosy Gamer's Quick And Dirty Guide To CSM 14 Candidates

The election for EVE Online's 14th Council of Stellar Management will begin on Monday, 10 June and run for a week. A lot of people will tell players to make sure they fill out all 10 slots on their ballots, even though voters are only required to pick one. The reason given is to "maximize the power" of the ballot. Below is a video explaining how a single transferable vote system works.

But picking 10 candidates, especially for those not in large null sec blocs, can take up a lot of valuable time players would rather spend playing EVE. In an effort to make the decision making a little faster, I put together a guide with brief descriptions of each candidate, with most of the information coming from a candidate's campaign post on the EVE Online forums and self-descriptions on the official candidates page.

This guide is divided into the security bands (high, low, null, and w-space), with the order determined by the number of candidates coming from each area of space. I tried to display the candidates in alphabetical order as much as possible. In null sec, I divided the candidates into their coalitions, and then their alliances.

If a candidate looks interesting, clicking on the candidate's name will open up that candidate's page on CSM Wire, the Google site I set up to help people research candidates. Hopefully, this will help.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Achievement Unlocked: Elder Scrolls Online - Morrowind

Spring is usually the time I lessen my activity in EVE Online. Covering the Council of Stellar Management elections and maintaining CSM Wire does that. But for the first time in over 9 years of playing EVE, I've taken an extended break from the game. Usually Fanfest reenergizes me every April, but this year CCP decided to cancel the Icelandic event in favor of one in Toronto in June. So while I still look into EVE's black market and update CSM Wire and follow the election plus all the other news, I haven't undocked in a couple of months.

Instead, I've played Elder Scrolls Online. On Sunday I managed to complete the main story of the Morrowind expansion. I also collected all the skyshards in the zone. Not only did I collect the skyshards, but I completed all delves (single-player dungeons) and the two public dungeons (rated for 4 players) as well. There are still some notable sites to visit, and I still need to run the Halls of Fabrication at least once, but effectively, I consider the expansion finished.

I've done enough in Morrowind, I think
I have a couple things to note about my experience running through the expansion. First, I really enjoyed the quest stories. The zone story about helping the god Vivec regain his power was enjoyable. I also liked the story of two slaves, Sun-in-Shadows and Eoki. One decides she wants to move up the power structure in House Telvanni, the people who owned the pair. The other just wants to leave and start a new life. I need to do some research to see if different decisions would affect the outcome, but I don't see how my character would have chosen differently.

A rival god helping Vivec
Second, I know that voice acting is expensive, but I really appreciate all the voice acting in Morrowind. Sometimes I'm in a hurry and just skip through quest text, but I appreciate how the scenes play out and needing to watch the interaction between the NPCs and listen to the dialog in important parts that don't display text. Yes, it is commonly done in other places like the group dungeons, but I still get a kick out of the experience.

Third, I noticed I was running around with a lot of under level 30 characters. My level 50 healing templar with 333 veteran points wasn't able to solo the Nchuleftingth public dungeon, but I was able to duo most of the content teaming up with a level 19 character (who I think was a warden). The fact that a much lower level character has that type of performance I think says a lot of positive things about Elder Scrolls Online.

I just noticed, I let my food run out
In general achievements, I managed to reach level 50 in enchanting, leaving only jewelry crafting as the only crafting profession I am not at max level at. I'm currently at level 28 and the completionist in me wants to unlock the Master Crafter achievement and buy the banner proclaiming myself a master crafter. I also spent 107,000 gold to buy the Witchmother's Potent Brew recipe. Although I understand a better food exists, most posts seem to feel that Witchmother's Potent Brew gives the best bang for the buck. And now I can make the stuff myself. That combined with a three stat food I can make that I use for open world leveling means I'm self-sustaining as long as I keep doing the crafting writs.

Reaching max level in enchanting

Early access for the Elsweyr expansion on PC began yesterday, with a new intro screen asking players if they wanted to buy the expansion. I plan to play the expansions in chronological order, which means the next one I play is Summerset. But I won't blaze through the next ESO expansions because EVE Online's Invasion expansion launches next Tuesday. I need to start flying around New Eden again. But if Summerset and Elsweyr are the same quality as Morrowind, I'll definitely play through them.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Analyzing The CSM 13 Election Round By Round

As someone who has analyzed the single transferable voting (STV) system used in EVE Online's elections to determine the members of the Council of Stellar Management since its institution in 2013, the discussion of the complicated voting system is sometimes exasperating. Last year, I wrote a post with an example of how the STV works. In an effort to decrease my readership, this year, I'll go one step further. I'll give an analysis of last year's election which resulted in the election of the "GSM", so nicknamed for the prevalence of members of The Imperium on the council.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Rental Alliances In EVE Online: A Unique Solution To An RMT Problem

Last week's publication of the "Pie Chart of Shame" publicized something I thought was common knowledge: botting and illicit real money trading (RMT) operations love rental alliances. For a nominal fee, the botter/ISK seller gets access to systems in null security space in which to rat or mine. According to the price list for the 4500 character rental alliance Rate My Ticks, prices to rent a system range from 1 billion ISK/month to 11.5 billion ISK/month. In return, players who own the space promise not to shoot the bots farming the space to stock EVE's secondary (aka black) markets. If the owner of the space is powerful enough, not only do the botters gain protection from the system's owners, but protection from neutrals and enemies as well. Such protection is not limited to local defense forces. The botters also gain access to intelligence networks which the botters can incorporate into their botting software. Well, depending on the sophistication of the software used, at any rate.

For the serious RMT operation, null sec offers two major advantages over operating bots in high sec. The first is profit. Even systems null sec players consider garbage produce more wealth than bottable content in high sec. The second advantage is a lower probability to players reporting the bots to CCP. In high sec, especially around the main trade hubs, the likelihood of reports goes up due to the higher levels of traffic found in Empire space. In contrast, rental alliances in null sec are often found in remote systems not normally visited. Higher profits combined with lower probabilities of facing the banhammer are a powerful combination.

Back when I first started researching the negative effects of real money trading on MMORPGs, one of the issues identified was the monopolization of content. Professionals would want to maximize profits and so would compete with players for the most lucrative spots. But even amateurs using bots could deny resources to those playing the game as intended. For example, when I started playing EVE in 2009, I continuously hear how bots stripped the belts around Jita clean of ore. Not only did that deprive players from the US time zone content in that area, but helped depress the value of minerals to the point ship insurance served as the effective floor on mineral prices. Little did I know at the time that gun mining in the Drone Lands contributed heavily to the situation.

Rental alliances, in effect, are a very kludgy, emergent solution to the monopolization of resources problem. Yes, RMT operations, including botting, still cause issues with the economy. But the problem is moved out of the way of most players. If the bots are not showing up in the faces of players, then players don't complain as much. Out of sight, out of mind.

Of course, kludges eventually cause long-term problems. To use an EVE example, think about the POS code. Some poor programming practices resulted in the necessity of creating the Upwell structure system in order to tear the POS code completely out of the game. The effort has taken years and probably cost millions of dollars, euros, or pounds.

I'm not sure exactly what kicked off the move by CCP to publicly crack down on botting and RMT operations in rental alliances. I know that CCP Peligro for years has noted the prevalence of cheaters hiding in rental alliances, violating the EULA. But as I've watched the black market price of ISK rise nearly 20% over the past two months, even in the face of the declining real-world price of ISK purchased through CCP & The Forge, I've just silently smiled, waiting to see the sustainability of the latest effort.

Friday, May 10, 2019

CCP's War On Bots: Name And Shame

On Tuesday, CCP Peligro hit social media and tweeted about the latest bot bans. The unusual part? The naming and shaming of alliances. Greater Western Co-Prosperity Sphere is the rental alliance for Goonswarm Federation and Fraternity. Treasury I believe is the rental alliance of Fraternity.. With a combined membership of 2024 as of 9 May, CCP Peligro banned approximately 30% of both organizations. A pretty big hit.

Elo Knight, the well-known mercenary fleet commander who moved his corporation into Fraternity., asked CCP Peligro to extend the naming and shaming. The reply probably surprised everyone.

Team Security has pointed out for years that rental alliances are home to large amounts of botters. At Fanfest 2015, the security team pointed out the fact, but didn't name and shame.

From Team Security presentation at Fanfest 2015
At the time, the big 4 rental alliances were Shadow of xXDEATHxx, Northern Associates., Brothers of Tangra, and Greater Western Co-Prosperity Sphere. I don't have any inside knowledge about the chart (because I didn't ask), but I've always believed the three alliances who were home to 63% off all banned accounts during that 10 month period were Shadow of xXDEATHxx, Northern Associates., and Brothers of Tangra.

While I want to wait for the 2019 list to come out, the all-time list provided by CCP Peligro produced two names of interest because the alliances are so new. The first, Fraternity. Treasury, is listed as having 5% of the bans of the top 25 alliances home to the worst offenders in EVE history. [COINS] only sprung into existence on 11 November 2017. The second, Pan-Intergalatic Business Community, was formed a little over a year ago on 16 April 2018. The currently 6450 member alliance came in tied for 11th place with 3%.

I think we are witnessing a resurgence of aggressiveness from CCP in regards to anti-bot and anti-RMT operations. From 2010 to 2015, CCP always gave a security presentation. That was reduced to a roundtable in 2016 and nothing since. In addition to the increased number of security dev blogs this year, CCP Peligro is a bit more active on social media as well.

I would be remiss if I didn't add in a bit more analysis. CCP Peligro becoming more vocal comes at an interesting time. I am currently working on a story about CCP's "Top-down, bottom-up" approach to the War on Illicit RMT.

Hazard Discount - The money saved by buying on the black market vs from CCP

The top-down pressure of the price of PLEX is definitely impacting the price of black market ISK. From July 2015 to April 2019, the average USD price of 1 billion ISK sold has dropped 51%. During the same period of time, the price sold on the multi-game gold selling site Player Auctions has dropped 50.5%. Just from market pressure alone, profits for ISK sellers are probably down 50%.

But with decreased prices, the professional ISK sellers become more sensitive to the bottom-up pressure of bans. Bans usually result not only in reduced supply, but lost assets as well. With the hazard discount current at the $4/billion mark, ISK sellers really don't have that much room to increase prices to try to make up for losses incurred from bans. The fact that CCP is making noise about ramping up the pressure on botters could lead to some interesting developments on the black market.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Achievement Unlocked: Elder Scrolls Online Base Game

Over the weekend, I think I reached the point where I believe I can claim I have completed the basic, no DLC/expansion version of Elder Scrolls Online. I finished up the last of the faction storylines, the one for the Ebonheart Pact, to finish up the Caldwell's Gold quest. Combine that with finishing up the Mage Guild's quest line over the weekend, and I think I've completed the major story arcs of the base game. In addition, I think I hit the level cap back when ESO first launched. As of last night, I had 303 veterans points. I believe that after the conversion of veteran levels to veteran points, the highest effective level was 160 points, which is the maximum item level.

So what next? I've dabbled in the Clockwork City DLC pack and wasn't impressed. So for me, on to Morrowind! I can divide the MMORPGs I've played into 3 categories. The first is EVE Online, which doesn't have a built-in end point. The second consists of World of Warcraft, Guild Wars 2, and Star Wars: The Old Republic. I reached the level cap in all three games but didn't have any desire to complete expansions. Well, that's not exactly true for GW2 and SW:TOR. I bought the expansions, started playing, and then asked myself, "Why am I doing this to myself?" The third category up until now consists of Everquest 2. In EQ2, I went ahead and completed all the expansions up through The Shadow Odyssey, which at the time was the current expansion. When I finally left EQ2, I was max level (80) with max alternate achievement points and a character at maximum level in all crafting skills.

Currently, I am at level 47 in enchanting and level 24 in jewelcrafting. All other crafting professions are currently at the level cap of 50. I also might want to go a step beyond EQ2 and run all the dungeons on normal mode. The last time I checked, I had run 16 unique dungeons. I'm not sure about going for the veteran points cap of 810. That seems a long ways away, even with 3 expansions to play through.

I do plan on changing my ESO Plus subscription plan from 3-month to 1-month, though. I'm not really sure how much the expansions will engage me. Is ESO more like GW2 and SW:TOR, or will I find the expansions as enjoyable as EQ2's? Also, I hear the call of space again. I understand the Gallente need some help in empire space. Oh, and that running a Tristan through rental space in null is probably a good idea. But I'll at least stay active in ESO, and least for the next month or so.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Council Of Stellar Management Elections Coming June 10-17

With The Briscident behind them, the Council of Stellar Management now moves on to the next event on the calendar: elections. In a dev blog yesterday, CCP Dopamine announce the election schedule and how to apply to run. Here is the basic timeline.

  • April 30 - May 12: Candidacy application period
  • May 13-17: Processing applications
  • May 25: Approved candidates announced at EVE Down Under
  • May 25 - June 7: Official campaign period.
  • June 10-17: Voting occurs
  • June 22: Winners announced at EVE North
The requirements basically have not changed from last year. The only difference is a statement specifying that all personal data will be handled in accordance with European data protection and processing laws:

Important disclaimer from CCP: We will be strict about incorrectly filed or incomplete submissions and reject applications that don’t meet our standards. The rules are very clear, but if you are unsure about anything regarding the process, we are happy to answer any questions. However, once the submission is sent there is no turning back, so it is imperative to get it right. 

To be eligible for the CSM, applicants must meet the following requirements:
  • Your account must be older than 60 days at the time candidacy applications close.
  • Characters on both Alpha and Omega accounts are eligible to run. 
  • You must have a history of honoring the EULA and the Terms of Service. We will screen every applicant thoroughly and EULA/TOS violations on your record can result in a rejected application.
  • Your account must have updated and correct information at the time of your application. This includes; your real life name, correct date of birth and the same email you use to submit your application. To view and edit this information go to the account management website.
  • Candidates must have reached 18 years of age. If the legal adult age in your home country (the age at which you have the legal capacity to enter into a contract) is higher than 18, that number applies instead.
  • As an applicant, you must consent to provide your personal details to CCP, including your real name and a copy of your passport. CCP needs to affirm your real life identity for NDA contract purposes and the ability to travel to summits in Iceland is a key function of the CSM. 
  • If you do not currently have a valid passport, we will accept a picture/scan of a valid and approved passport application accompanied with a picture of your driver‘s license.
  • You must consent to sharing your country of origin with the EVE Community and having it displayed on the EVE Online website. You will not be required to share any other personal information with the EVE community.
  • If you are running as an "alt" and you control a character that has a reputation in the EVE universe, CCP may require you to run under that identity at its full discretion.
As I've done for every election starting with CSM 10, I will provide candidate information on my CSM Wire Google site. I've upgraded the site and CSM Wire should show up better in mobile devices now. I might even get fancy and get a domain. Probably not, but the current URL annoys me enough. The site is still under construction, but I'll keep a list of candidates up to date. As of an hour before I posted this, we had 17 announced candidates.