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.

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