Friday, January 31, 2020

CCP Statements Related To The Sale And Trade Of Skill Points

With the continuing DDoS attacks on the main Tranquility cluster preventing me from playing EVE Online normally, I wasn't sure I'd have a good internet spaceship related post. Then CCP decided to change their new player promotional packages. A lot of people apparently thought CCP was going to remove all SP from the packages. That didn't happen. Instead, the maximum amount of skill points in any one package was reduced from 1 million down to 250,000.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Washington State Moves To Protect Gambling In Video Games

While the movement in Europe is toward more regulation of video games, the climate in the United States is turning in another direction. In the state of Washington, legislators in both houses introduced bills to protect the video gaming industry by altering the state's Recovery of Money Lost at Gambling Act.

In the House, HB2720, the authors of the bill quite bluntly state they aim to protect the video game industry in their state in the original draft.

The legislature finds that the state has made it a priority to grow clean, high-wage jobs by encouraging firms engaged in video game development to invest and grow in the state. The state has been successful in its efforts and an estimated twenty percent of the global video game development industry is now based in Washington state. However, recent court cases filed in federal district courts in Washington have created economic uncertainty for video game companies located in Washington state, or offering games to players located in the state, by raising the possibility that the legality surrounding these games will be decided differently than similar issues raised and decided in other states, such as Illinois, Maryland, and Ohio.

The legislature further finds that two video game companies based in Washington are subject to recently filed class action lawsuits. These lawsuits, if decided adversely to the game companies, pose a substantial financial risk for video game development in this state. The further possibility exists that companies based in Washington will move their base of operations to other states, which would  remove thousands of jobs from the state and a currently incalculable, but materially significant, amount of tax dollars.

Therefore, it is the intent of the legislature to remove this economic uncertainty by clarifying that a player is not entitled to recovery under RCW 4.24.070 unless the video game played provides a mechanism for the withdrawal of money or property from the game.
Sounds like good news for video game manufacturers.

In the state Senate, SB 6568 was introduced three days later. The original text of the bill spelled out a specific exemption for video games.
(2) For purposes of this section, "illegal gambling games" does not include online games of chance when played solely for entertainment purposes with virtual items if such virtual items may be used only for gameplay and may not be, per the terms of service of the game, transferred, exchanged, or redeemed for money or property.
Quite clearly, these bills were in response to the latest decision in Kater v. Churchill Downs in which a federal judge ruled a video game did not require a real world cash payout for a plantiff to obtain a payout for under Washington state law. The newly formed lobbying group Game On WA certainly wasted little time getting new legislation introduced.

The bills in Washington run counter to the trend in Europe where anti-gambling activists and government officials want to include third party sites engaged in real money trading (RMT) in any definition of gambling. The latest official making such a claim was National Health Service mental health director Claire Murdoch of the UK. In an article from the NHS:
The Gambling Commission does not regulate some loot boxes due to a loophole meaning it is not classed as gambling. Under current gambling legislation, this is because there is no official way to monetise what is inside of loot boxes.

Despite this, third party websites selling gaming accounts and rare items are commonplace and easy to find on places such as eBay across the internet.
Recently, Sen. Josh Hawley (R., MO) recently introduced legislation to outlaw loot boxes in the United States. But as like a lot of other efforts to outlaw loot boxes around the world, the bill is part of an over all larger effort. In Hawley's case, the bill is one of three looking to "disrupt big tech" in the US.

Stand-alone efforts unburdened by other issues seem to pass the legislative process more quickly than those tied to grander objectives. Thus, the change to law concerning gambling in video games most likely to pass is the current effort in Washington state long before the anti-loot box legislation sees the light of day. Then again, the effort in Europe began years ago while the movement in the U.S. is much more recent.

What does that mean for those who play MMORPGs? I expect government regulation in the U.S. will not change very much. But the effects in Europe, and the knock-on effects world-wide are yet to be determined.

Monday, January 27, 2020

The NHS Jumps On The Loot Box Bandwagon

I really wonder if the people who began the crusade against lootboxes knew the force they were unleashing on our hobby. Today's example comes from the United Kingdom. On 18 January, the National Health Service published an article by NHS mental health director Claire Murdoch calling for the elimination of loot boxes.
“Frankly no company should be setting kids up for addiction by teaching them to gamble on the content of these loot boxes. No firm should sell to children loot box games with this element of chance, so yes those sales should end.

“Young people’s health is at stake, and although the NHS is stepping up with these new, innovative services available to families through our Long Term Plan, we cannot do this alone, so other parts of society must do what they can to limit risks and safeguard children’s wellbeing.”
Look, I get it. Loot boxes are bad. When I played Guild Wars 2 and ArenaNet asked me to purchase keys to unlock the loot boxes that dropped from NPCs, I was pissed. But the NHS isn't just concerned about gambling for kids. The article also quoted Dr Henrietta Bowden-Jones, a psychiatrist and founder of CNWL’s National Problem Gambling Clinic.
“As the Director of the National Centre for Gaming Disorders, the first NHS clinic to treat gaming addiction, I am fully in favour of taking a public health approach and bringing in a regulatory body to oversee the gaming industry products currently causing great concerns to parents and professionals. Loot boxes are only one of several features that will need to be investigated and indeed researched. We need an evidence-based approach to ensure our young people and gamers in general do not continue to be subjected to new and increasingly harmful  products without our intervention.
I think a lot of gamers and talking heads on YouTube see the loot box issue as a central issue. They do not see that gambling is just a part of a bigger issue to those outside the video game ecosystem. In September 2018, the World Health Organization declared "gaming disorder" a disease.
Why is gaming disorder being included in ICD-11?

A decision on inclusion of gaming disorder in ICD-11 is based on reviews of available evidence and reflects a consensus of experts from different disciplines and geographical regions that were involved in the process of technical consultations undertaken by WHO in the process of ICD-11 development.

The inclusion of gaming disorder in ICD-11 follows the development of treatment programmes for people with health conditions identical to those characteristic of gaming disorder in many parts of the world, and will result in the increased attention of health professionals to the risks of development of this disorder and, accordingly, to relevant prevention and treatment measures.
I'm old enough to remember moral crusaders like Jack Thompson railing against the harmful effects of video games. Back then, politicians introduced legislation in the United States to protect children from the contents of video games. A law was passed in California doing so, but was ruled unconstitutional in 2011. In Brown v Entertainment Merchants Association, the Supreme Court ruled in a 7-2 vote that video games deserve the same constitutional protections as books and movies. As the Washington Post reported at the time:
Writing for the majority, Justice Antonin Scalia said that “like the protected books, plays and movies that preceded them, video games communicate ideas — and even social messages” that are guarded by the First Amendment.

He continued: “No doubt a state possesses legitimate power to protect children from harm, but that does not include a free-floating power to restrict the ideas to which children may be exposed.”


Scalia was unmoved. “Justice Alito recounts all these disgusting video games in order to disgust us — but disgust is not a valid basis for restricting expression,” Scalia wrote.

He said that violence has never been found to be outside the First Amendment’s protection. And he noted that children through the years have been fed a hefty portion of it, from fairy tales (“Cinderella’s evil stepsisters have their eyes pecked out by doves”) to high school reading lists (“Lord of the Flies recounts how a schoolboy called Piggy is savagely murdered by other children”).
At a time when video games are more popular than the movie, music, and television industries, I can't help but think people are thinking about cutting the legs out from a competitor. But whatever the reason, the anti-lootbox bandwagon has another passenger.

Friday, January 24, 2020

A Not-So-Stealth Nerf, Login Events, And The 64-Bit Client

Thursday morning I thought about sending out a smart-ass tweet. I was going to ask whether CCP was happy with all the changes that drove activity to high security space over the last 6-7 months. But I thought better of the tweet. Good thing too, as CCP put an answer in the updated patch notes.
The respawn rates and loot chances for the Emerging Conduits have been adjusted
Hearing about the change, I went ahead and ran two sites last night. The respawn time was 10 minutes. The first site handed out about the same amount of loot as I usually expect. The second site only had 3.3 million ISK in loot. I still received the 4.5 million ISK bounty.

I can see where people who multi-boxed with 5 accounts and just blitzed the sites might complain. Each site not run each hour means a reduction of 22.5 million ISK a pop. But I don't play that way. Instead of using a mobile tractor unit to gather up all the wrecks in one place, then going to site to site for an hour before returning to salvage the wrecks, I'll just go ahead and salvage while I wait for the next site to spawn. I didn't try, but the mining should still be good.

I originally read about the change on the EVE Online sub-reddit and the post stated the respawn time was 30 minutes. Another reason for not trusting r/eve. Check out the facts in-game before picking up a pitchfork.

UPDATE: CCP Sledgehammer issued an explanation for the change on the official EVE Online forums:
The design intent behind these sites when they were originally introduced was to provide a taste of Invasion content to those that aren’t necessarily able to take part in Invasions proper, namely aimed at newer players, the hope being that they would team up and tackle the content together.

This meant creating a piece of content that was widely available and easy to access, hence the 1 min respawn and HS-wide distribution.

These goals were satisfied but I will be the first to admit that I did not anticipate the subsequent snowballing of botting and min-maxing that started to happen over December and January.

The numbers that we started to see in that period became cause for great concern and a decision was made to space out their respawn timer more and tweak the survey database drop rate.

I understand that people have issue with this but given how the consumption of this content evolved past the initial goal satisfaction, they were a huge problem.
In other news, CCP is holding another bonus skill point weekend. Alpha accounts receive 25,000 points each day between downtime on the 24th and downtime on the 27th for a possible total of 75,000 points. Omega accounts receive an additional 175,000 points for logging in all three days, making a paying account's total 250,000 for the weekend.

Following the bonus skill weekend, Skilling Spree is back. The event runs daily and up to 50,000 skill points depending on the randomly selected challenge of the day. Skilling Spree runs from 28 January to 2 March.

Finally, CCP announced today the sunsetting of the 32-bit client on Wednesday, 26 February. In addition to requiring all EVE players use computers running a 64-bit operating system, CCP is raising the minimum required memory up to 4GB and increasing the space requirements by 23 GB to match the game content added during the last year.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Stealth Nerf In EVE Online: Ice Anomaly Respawn Time Increased.

While reading the Talking in Stations Discord, someone stated that the respawn time for ice anomalies increased from 4 hours to 5 hours. When asked for a source, the person said he read it on r/eve. Sigh.

I know that CCP likes their stealth changes. But what does the change accomplish? With the theme of the first quarter involving PvP, My first assumption was the developers introduced the change to make using jump drives and jump bridge networks more expensive to use. The theory is that lowering the supply should raise the cost of the isotopes needed to power ship jump drives and the liquid ozone needed to operate jump bridge networks. But is my assumption correct?

Looking at the value of the ice sold in 2019, the value traded dropped from 2.6 trillion ISK in June 2019 to 1.7 trillion ISK in December. But the 34.8% drop was not as severe as the drop in the ice product market. The value of ice products traded dropped 41.4%, from 11.7 trillion ISK in June down to 6.8 trillion ISK in December.

The price of ice products in The Forge
Was the drop in the value of the ice ore and ice product markets due to falling prices? Not entirely. The price of isotopes in The Forge, the home of New Eden's largest market, indicates prices did have a big role. The price of isotopes dropped between 21% to 28%, depending on the type of isotope. But liquid ozone actually rose in price 25%. So at least in The Forge, declining demand for the products is also playing a significant factor in the declining value of the ice markets.

After reviewing the available data, I've come to a different conclusion. Yes, extending the respawn time for ice anomalies from 4 hours to 5 is an effort to prop up the price of ice products and keep the use of jump drives from becoming dirt cheap. But I now expect the stealth nerf is a precursor to a bigger change. Are capitals and supercapitals due for a balance pass?

Monday, January 20, 2020

Hurricane Hilmar: The Imperium Hardest Hit

Update: 1 February 2020. The original graphs and data used for June 2019 in this post actually were from June 2018. I have updated the graphs. I have also removed all references to Hurricane Hilmar, replacing them with either the correct month (June 2018) or with the year 2019. Once the mistake was pointed out to me, I realize the title of this post should have been "2019: The Imperium Hardest Hit".

I'm finally setting up scripts to parse through the data from the Monthly Economic Reports and produce nice-looking graphs and charts. I decided as a test to play around with, I'd create a pair of graphs that look at the mineral and bounty amounts from June and December. I picked June as the last full month before the Blackout of null sec communications. Unfortunately, my data set wasn't correct and what I got were the amounts for June 2018, not June 2019.

Graph updated on 1 Feb 2020 to reflect correct dates of data

I think the graphs turned out pretty good. The fonts may need tweaking and space added to the right hand side of the graphic. But considering I didn't have to pull the image into an editing program, I'm happy. The only problem I had to handle was Delve not fitting on the top graph.

One of the reasons for using charts and graphs is that visually displaying data is more effective than rattling off a bunch of numbers. So I produced a set of graphs that displayed mining and bounty values generated in Delve in June without using logarithmic scaling of the axis.

Graph updated on 1 Feb 2020 to reflect correct dates of data

I circled Delve on both graphs to show just how large the change in major PvE activities between June 2018 and last month. If you can even read the graphic, the change is huge.

In June 2018, the residents of Delve mined 14.8 trillion ISK worth of ore and collected 11.2 trillion ISK from killing NPCs. In December 2019, those numbers declined to 3.8 trillion ISK and 4.3 trillion ISK respectively. The result was a decline of mining value of 11 trillion ISK and 6.9 trillion ISK in bounties.

I know that The Imperium in general, and Goonswarm in particular, like to say that any nerf will hurt small groups worse as they have the resources to handle any change better than the little guys. But in raw numbers, I have to say The Imperium was the group hit worst by the cumulative changes introduced during 2019. When the amount of the decline in value doesn't even fit on the same graph as every other regions' amounts, that's a pretty big hit.

Oh, and if you could let me know how you like the new chart/graph style in the comments, I'd appreciate it.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Low Sec Travel Advisory: Shield Slaves

After downtime, CCP published the patch notes for today's release and we all got to see the reason for CCP's recent secrecy. Shield slaves.
Added Nirvana "Shield Slave" Implants, initially available through the "Dragonaur Blitz" event:
  • Mid-grade Nirvana Alpha +3 Perception 1% Bonus to shield hitpoints with 10% set bonus
  • Mid-grade Nirvana Beta +3 Memory 2% Bonus to shield hitpoints with 10% set bonus
  • Mid-grade Nirvana Gamma +3 Willpower 3% Bonus to shield hitpoints with 10% set bonus
  • Mid-grade Nirvana Delta +3 Intelligence 4% Bonus to shield hitpoints with 10% set bonus
  • Mid-grade Nirvana Epsilon +3 Charisma 5% Bonus to shield hitpoints with 10% set bonus
  • Mid-grade Nirvana Omega 25% set bonus
  • High-grade Nirvana Alpha +4 Perception 1% Bonus to shield hitpoints with 15% set bonus
  • High-grade Nirvana Beta +4 Memory 2% Bonus to shield hitpoints with 15% set bonus
  • High-grade Nirvana Gamma +4 Willpower 3% Bonus to shield hitpoints with 15% set bonus
  • High-grade Nirvana Delta +4 Intelligence 4% Bonus to shield hitpoints with 15% set bonus
  • High-grade Nirvana Epsilon +4 Charisma 5% Bonus to shield hitpoints with 15% set bonus
  • High-grade Nirvana Omega 50% set bonus

Low-Grade Nirvana Implants will become available in the future.
The recent closure of the Singularity test shard to players means that not much was known about the Dragonaur Blitz event prior to the launch of the release.
Dragonaur Staging Facility locations can be discovered throughout lowsec space for a limited time
  • These locations allow access to a specific and limited selection of capsuleer ships (Tech 1, Faction, and Tech 2 ships that have bonuses to the use of Heavy Missiles): Bellicose, Caracal, Caracal Navy Issue, Gila, Orthrus, Osprey Navy Issue, Scythe Fleet Issue, Cerberus, Sacrilege, Vangel, Enforcer, Rapier, Chameleon, Rook, Onyx, Cyclone, Drake, Drake Navy Issue, Gnosis, Claymore, Nighthawk, Damnation, Barghest, Praxis, Rattlesnake, Raven, Raven State Issue, Scorpion Navy Issue, Typhoon, Typhoon Fleet Issue, Marshal, Widow, Golem
  • These sites contain valuable loot including blueprint copies for the new Nirvana implant set
In addition to the patch notes, CCP published a dev blog with more details on the event. The event is primarily aimed at Caldari pilots and runs through 27 January.
CONCORD urges you to join the Dragonaur Blitz and attack the extremist Templis Dragonaurs outcasts in Low-sec sites in specified ship types, and earn the new Nirvana Implant BPCs. This limited time event ends 27 January, so act fast and get involved!

As mentioned above, only certain ship types will be allowed entry to Dragonaur Blitz sites. These will include ships with bonuses to Heavy Missiles and recently rebalanced Caldari craft that are most affected by the Warhead Upgrades update (details below).

The Dragonaur Blitz event will also be your first opportunity as pioneering Capsuleers to earn blueprints for the new Nirvana Implants. So, it's time to climb aboard the right ship, prepare for attack - as well as some surprises along the way - and hit the Templis Dragonaurs extremists for the honor of the Caldari State!
In addition to the shield slave implants, heavy missiles received a +5% buff to damage and explosion velocity. The ships allowed in the Dragonaur Blitz sites will benefit the most from the buff.

CCP often goes to great lengths to keep news of items that will greatly impact the market a secret from players. With shield slaves, the developers have an additional reason for secrecy. Some null security organizations, particularly Test Alliance Please Ignore and, to a lesser extent, The Imperium, will benefit greatly with the introduction of shield slave implants to the game. The two organizations bought in heavily to the use of shield-tanked titans which will benefit greatly from the new implants.

Expect to see pilots from both Legacy Coalition and The Imperium to blanket low sec in search of the new implants for their titan pilots. Fortunately for TEST, they abandoned their nascent war against Dead Coalition last week and can focus their full attention on the strategic goal of improving their supercapital fleet. Expect lots of traffic from null sec pilots roaming low security space looking for PvE action over the next two weeks.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020


I should feel pretty good right now. I had to renew my passport and I got my new one two weeks faster than expected. I've booked my flight & hotel room and have my ticket to Fanfest in April. On the computer class front, I finished up for the semester and I can start the next class on the 28th. Final Fantasy is also going well, apart from guild drama that saw everyone but 4 characters kicked from the free company, myself included.

The one nagging issue is EVE Online. When I checked the markets just now, I saw the volume of PLEX sold yesterday dipped back under 1 million, with only 993,993 sold on 2007 orders. We'll need to see if the down numbers from the last few days are due to DDoS attacks or if the trend will continue.

What really has me bugged, though, is the messaging to the players. In the aftermath of Hurricane Hilmar, players complained about the uncertainty of what CCP planned for the future. Or other words, they wanted a glimpse of CCP's vision for the game. Or, in other words, a road map. Don't all companies have them?

What CCP unveiled at EVE Vegas was probably the minimum needed to quell talk that EVE is either in, or about to enter, maintenance mode. During the keynote, CCP Burger got up on stage and laid out the advance information CCP would give players. At the beginning of the fiscal quarter, the developers would give the theme of the quarter along with information on the releases planned over the next three months. CCP would also announce the name of the theme for the following quarter. Attendees of the convention also were told the name of the theme of the first quarter of 2020: Fight or Flight.

January is here, and so far the only updates we've received is that the theme for Q1 2020 is based around PvP. That's it. No further details. To make matters worse, CCP shut off player access to the Singluarity test shard. No advanced warning for players!

Here is the problem I see. On the run-up to Hurricane Hilmar, CCP's CEO publicly stated he thought the developers had given players too much information. A flashback ensued, with CCP having to announce at EVE Vegas a framework for keeping players informed of future changes. If CCP goes back on the framework and decides to treat players like mushrooms, I'm not sure the reception the players will have. After all, if one is promised better, being kept in the dark and eating shit is not that appealing.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Tis The Season For An RMT Ban Wave In EVE Online

The first half of January traditionally is a time when CCP issues a lot of bans for botting and RMT related activity. Or, sadly, players purchasing stolen goods, as CCP Peligro tweeted out Thursday.

I don't normally publish the names of ISK sellers, but safe_fast is a repeat offender. The shop has buyers banned/suspended for purchasing ISK and skill injectors every 2-3 months or so. When I saw the prices drop recently, I suspected safe_fast was engaged in something a little shadier than normal.

Unhappy customers going back to July 2019
As regular readers may know, CCP has a history of understating their efforts. The customers of other black market sellers on the site Player Auctions also report suspensions, bans, and seized transactions. One long time seller who usually sells at too high a price to attract business recently drastically dropped its prices. Bans followed.

Old seller who suddenly became competitive
The ban wave is not just limited to old sellers. One of the newest major sellers, with over 450 billion ISK in customer reviewed transactions (which means it has sold a lot more) since 27 November also received attention from CCP.

New seller no longer flying under the radar
Normally I don't get the opportunity to report on a ban wave this early because the effects of a major ban wave don't normally hit the market for a week or two. In this case, CCP Peligro's tweet gave me a statement that, along with the numerous complaints from black market ISK buyers, to write up a post. I will write up another post on this situation as events warrant.

Friday, January 10, 2020

Answering The EVE Holiday Events Survey

A couple of days ago I received a survey from CCP concerning the recent holiday events that concluded Wednesday. I figure, why not use the opportunity to flesh out my thoughts on the content?

Intro page
I should comment that I liked the length of the events. CCP gave player 26 days to log in 13 times. A lot of times in the past players complained about literally having to log in every day to get the final reward. Even though I logged in 13 of the first 14 days, I did appreciate the extra time.

The demographic questions
I have played EVE for over 10 years. Lately my time in all video games has dropped, not just in EVE, so I entered 3 hours or less for question 2. And I mainly prefer PVE.

Screening question
Question 4 is what is known as a screening question. Answer "No", and the survey will show a screen thanking the respondent for his/her time.  But anyone who logged into EVE during that time participated in at least one event, so I answered "Yes".

Questions 5-9
I have 4 EVE Online accounts, 3 Omega (subscribed) and 1 Alpha (F2P). I did claim the daily login rewards on all four accounts. My main account has been subscribed for over 10 years continuously, disregarding a possible day or two not subscribed due to credit card expiration issues.

Ranking the Omega login rewards
I was not a big fan of the Omega rewards. Skill points are always good, and CCP gave out 560,000 skill points exclusively to subscribed accounts. SKINs are nice, although I haven't applied any SKINs to any of my accounts since their introduction in 2015. Next on my list is the Yoiul Festival Snowballs. I like snowballs. I'm also upset CCP melted all of my existing snowballs. Rounding out the items I like was the t-shirt.

That left about half of the items given to Omega pilots things I didn't like. I do not like any of the body augmentations. Not my thing. The Reindeer Filaments were useless. Finally, the HyperCores are part of the gambling system. No thanks!

Ranking the Alpha login rewards
For the Alpha accounts, the best gift was the 60,000 total skill points. I do have to say the 'Polar Aurora' Exploration Suit looks sharp! I just wish we could walk around in stations or something like that. The cap looks okay, but makes characters bald. Festival launchers are always needed. And at the bottom are the useless Reindeer Filaments.

Questions 10-12
For the next set of questions, I did not upgrade an account to Omega during the 13 Days of EVE daily log-in event. Doing so would have gotten me 660,000 additional skill points, plus double the training rate. For what I'm using my alpha account for, though, I don't really need any additional skill points.

I have to admit to cheating on question 11, because I don't remember where I first heard of the event. I follow so many social media sites I could have heard from anywhere. But I answered EVE Online tweet, as I spend a lot more time looking at Twitter than anywhere else.

The last question is how likely am I to participate in a similar event? The answer is likely, since the only time I may have not logged into EVE for three weeks was a business trip I took to Bulgaria in 2011.

Questions 13-14
On the question of which rewards I'd like to see in the future, I answered Skill Points, Boosters, Blueprint Copies, SKINs, and Fireworks. The special travel filaments and HyperCores did not make the list.

My final thoughts on the login event was the event wasn't fun or engaging. All I had to do is login to the character select screen, press the claim button, and then log out. Just another chore to do.

Did I use a filament?
The next question was another screening question. Since I never used a filament, I answered no, triggering the skip logic to the final section of questions.

Did I shoot snowballs at things?
The final screening question appeared. Did I shoot snowballs at players and NPCs? Well, of course I did.

Questions 20-25 (Your numbering may have varied)
As I mentioned before, I had melted snowballs. A lot of melted snowballs. The conversion put in place used 10 old, melted snowballs to create 1 new snowball. Worse, the amount of clicking involved would have introduced carpel tunnel syndrome if I had converted all my melted snowballs to frozen ones. Grrr...

I entered that I received both the holiday filaments and skill points. I think I accidentally did a challenge where I received a holiday filament, thinking I was getting an abyssal filament. By this time, I'm sure everyone knows I answered Skill Points for question 22.

Question 23 threw me for a loop. What PvP challenges? The shooting snowballs at other players? I think I answered no. The few times I did that, I just went to a local trade hub, sat on the undock, and locked someone up. My alpha character couldn't do that because Signal Cartel is permanently war dec'd by P I R A T E.

Did the Chilling Spree event cause me to login and play more than I normally would have? Maybe for the first 3 days, since I cycled through 4 accounts. But after the first 3 or 4 days, I got bored and gave up on it.

For the final question, I don't remember what I entered, because the answer wasn't accurate. If I could have left it blank, I would. I honestly don't care if more or less daily challenges are put in the game. I wanted a fourth option stating "None of the above".

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

EVE Online's Theme For Q1 2020 Is Fight Or Flight

As CCP Burger announced at EVE Vegas last October, the theme for the first quarter of 2020 is "Fight or Flight".
From the EVE Vegas 2019 Keynote
Yesterday a news article that should wind up on the launcher popped up, giving a little less detail than I hoped.
EVE Online will be splitting the year into four sections - Quadrants - that will allow for releases, events, offers and more to exist within a given theme for that period of time. The first of these Quadrants for 2020 will be "Fight or Flight" starting 16 January, which will be themed around PvP in EVE, and will offer explosive rewards, challenges and changes!

A major benefit of Quadrants will be that they will allow work and efforts to be focused throughout the year with a more regular cadence. Each Quadrant may contain seasonal events, balance changes and game health improvements, permanent meta changes, challenges and rewards that could be themed, for example, around a particular style of gameplay, or any aspect of EVE.
Don't get me wrong. I like that CCP has abandoned the idea of springing everything as a total surprise on the players. As I wrote three months ago:
An important lesson I hope CCP learned from the "Chaos Era" is that EVE players do not like being treated like mushrooms (kept in the dark and fed fertilizer). The new framework for the roadmap seems a concession for players' desire for knowledge. Starting at the beginning of 2020, players will receive the names and theme's for the upcoming three months, and the name of the theme for the following quarter. 
Then again, has CCP really abandoned the idea of springing big surprises on players? On Monday, CCP Dopamine announced on the forums the Singularity test shard is closed to the public. Of course, if CCP is practicing a deployment that involves a major change, like taking out the POS code, to see what breaks, we should applaud the QA effort.

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

What I Learned From The Latest Crytek/CIG Court Filing

I don't mean to blog so much about Star Citizen, but the news keeps coming and the wars in EVE Online are just starting up. The lastest was a legal motion by Crytek to dismiss its lawsuit against Cloud Imperium Games without prejudice. Since the lawsuit basically depends on the launch of Squadron 42, Crytek's lawyers want to dismiss the lawsuit and re-open the case when Squadron 42 finally launches. If the case is closed with prejudice, Crytek could not sue for the same thing at a later time.

I don't want to get into the technical issues in the case. First, I don't care. Second, I don't want to take the hours necessary to get into the details of the case. Finally, see point number 1.

What I am interested in are a few tidbits I didn't know about before reading the filing.

1. Cloud Imperium Games is not using Lumberyard. In December 2016, CIG announced it had switched from CryEngine to Lumberyard. But according to the Crytek filing, CIG is still using CryEngine.
This case has been marked by a pattern of CIG saying one thing in its public statements and another in this litigation. For example, at the outset of this case, CIG had publicly claimed it had switched to using the Lumberyard Engine for both Star Citizen and Squadron 42, but was forced to confirm during this litigation that no such switch had taken place. See Crytek’s Response to CIG’s Motion for Bond, Dkt. 74 at 1; CIG’s Reply in support of Motion for Bond, Dkt. 74, at 8 (“Crytek makes much of the fact that the code is the same . . .”).  The fact that CIG denied Crytek the credits to which it was due under the parties GLA without actually switching game engines is the basis for Crytek’s “credits claim” in this case.
2. Squadron 42 may not launch as a standalone game. Okay, I'm not a lawyer. But this really sounds like the question of Squadron 42 launching as a standalone game is up in the air. If the game does not launch separately from Star Citizen, as far as I can tell, the Crytek lawsuit is moot.

CIG's response (from CIG’s Objections and Responses to Crytek’s Interrogatories (11-22-2019)) was redacted, but the Crytek lawyers next comment was cutting:
While this came as a surprise to Crytek (and undoubtedly will to the public who has pre-paid for Squadron 42), assuming the truth of CIG’s response, Crytek’s Squadron 42 claim is not yet ripe.
3. The trial date is set for June. I didn't realize the parties had set a date. The case seems to have run forever.

After reading Crytek's submission to the court, I have a real tinfoil theory. So tinfoil that I don't want to rush the idea to the blog. But with the new information, I think I should buy popcorn stock.

Monday, January 6, 2020

Real Money Trading Banned On Shroud Of The Avatar Forums

I saw a story on MassivelyOP last week about a game named Shroud of the Avatar. The game, developed by Portalarium, was billled the spiritual successor to Ultima Online, complete with the involvement of Lord British himself, Richard Garriott. With a Kickstarter held in 2013, the game fully launched in March 2018.

The reason for writing this post is the unusual decision Portalarium made concerning real money trading. RMT is allowed in Shroud of the Avatar. The developers posted their reasoning in a forum post at the end of January 2018.

Greetings Avatars,

Since the very beginning of online games there has been what is known as Real Money Transactions (RMT). These are activities where players exchange real currency (US dollars, Euros, etc.) for virtual goods (in-game gold, in-game items, virtual property, leveling services, etc.). The first big news of this was with, of course, Ultima Online in which a castle sold on ebay for thousands of dollars. At that time 20 years ago we made the decision to not prevent these exchanges for multiple reasons, but the biggest one was our assessment of the resources required to enforce the policy versus the impact (virtually none) it was having on the player experience.

Fast forward to our current game Shroud of the Avatar and we decided to treat RMT exactly the same as we did 20 years ago for many of the same reasons:
  • RMT will happen no matter what we do to enforce it
  • Enforcing RMT prohibition will consume enormous resources (i.e. large amounts of backer money) which means less resources to make the game itself
  • RMT prohibition will just move RMT transactions to hidden places, making it harder to find and enforce real issues like exploits and farming
  • RMT allows users who have spent money on the game, but are ready to move on to new experiences an option to divest themselves without requiring Portalarium to refund their money. More importantly, there is no time limit to this option (as there will/would be with any refund policy).
  • Shroud is an instanced game with multiple play modes so there is no competition for resources in shared spaces

So our position is that all RMT activity (gold, items, services) is allowed in Shroud of the Avatar, as long as it follows a few simple rules:
  • It does not use any exploits / botting
  • It is worth noting here that all botting / exploits are bannable offenses anyway regardless if they are used in relation to RMT, so technically this was already covered elsewhere
  • It can only be advertised in the Player Marketplace section of the main website forums. Never in game or in any other section of official community areas (including the game’s Discord channel, social media pages, Steam, and other areas of the main website and forums)
  • Portalarium (and our partners) are not liable for any of the transactions
  • All goods can be delivered immediately (i.e. don’t sell stuff that will be made later like Episode 2 content)
I can see why during development Portalarium did not want to divert funds from making the game to fighting RMT. I should point out that allowing the trading of real life money for virtual currency and items isn't exactly cost free. The company that purchased SotA in October, Catnip Games, didn't take long to make changes to the policy.
As mentioned on streams and posts before, we are ending ALL real money transactions here. Starting on January 1, 2020, roughly 2 days from now, no RMT (real money transaction) will be allowed in our private forums. Existing posts for RMT will be deleted. New posts will be deleted. Repeat offenders will be moderated or banned.

This does not mean that we will not allow RMT, simply that you can't use the forums to do. As discussed in multiple places, this is a support headache for us and gives the wrong impression of the game to new players. You may post a link to a website that does RMT but please do not call out the RMT nature here. Also, please do not "Bump" your post or spam post it. Once a week or less is acceptable.

Ok, and after having to lock the thread due to some people angry they won't be able to RMT, I just want to remind you that you will be able to RMT just not HERE.
The decision to allow real money transactions on the official game forums were "a support headache" and "gives the wrong impression of the game to new players". Those are real costs. The "support headache" meant additional customer support costs that the new company either could not  or didn't want to incur. The wrong impression to new players is important. From that, I gather enough new players were turned off by a game allowing RMT that lower retention rates were noticeable.

While I don't like RMT and think the practice brings problems to games, the game belongs to Catnip Games. If they don't mind RMT, who am I to argue? What I don't like is the deception inherent the the post. "You may post a link to a website that does RMT but please do not call out the RMT nature here." In other words, "Let's not let the new players know about the buying and selling of items for real money until they get hooked on the game." 

Oftentimes I write a post to go back to. With so few game companies allowing secondary market RMT, I try to make a note of them. Besides, turns out trying to accomodate RMT wasn't so harmless after all.

Friday, January 3, 2020

More Video Game Gambling News From Washington State

As I wrote last week, CCP's reintroduction of gambling into EVE Online has me reviewing some of what I wrote back in 2016-2017. One of the flash points then was the state of Washington and the gambling surrounding Counter Strike: Global Operations. At the beginning of December, a new lobbying group formed to protect "smartphone" games from Washington state gambling laws.
Gaming industry and civic leaders in Washington state are launching a new lobbying organization today, part of a broader effort to exempt smartphone games from local gambling laws.

Game On WA is launching in response to a federal court decision last year that cast uncertainty on the legal status of smartphone games with in-app purchases in Washington state. The organization is led by former government officials and tech leaders. Its goal is to persuade the state legislature, gambling commission, and public that Washington gambling laws should not apply to so-called “social games.”

The gaming industry has flourished in Washington over the past decade, led by companies like Microsoft, Valve, and Big Fish Games. For years, the Washington State Gambling Commission did not enforce gambling laws on social games. But a 2018 federal court decision broke with that tradition, leaving the casual gaming industry in “legal limbo” in Washington state, according to Game On WA.
The case, Kater v Churchill Downs, overturned an earlier ruling that dismissed a case against Churchill Downs and its game, Big Fish Casino. Since I find the legal opinion more descriptive than the articles I found, I'll quote quite extensively from the opinion. First, what is Big Fish Casino?
Big Fish Casino is a game platform that functions as a virtual casino, within which users can play various electronic casino games, such as blackjack, poker, and slots. Users can download the Big Fish Casino app free of charge, and firsttime users receive a set of free chips. They then can play the games for free using the chips that come with the app, and may purchase additional chips to extend gameplay. Users also earn more chips as a reward for winning the games. If a user runs out of chips, he or she must purchase more chips to continue playing. A user can purchase more virtual chips for prices ranging from $1.99 to nearly $250. (pp 3-4).
Kater's suit involved three main charges against Churchill Downs.
  1. Violations of Washington’s Recovery of Money Lost at Gambling Act (RMLGA)
  2. Violations of the Washington Consumer Protection Act
  3. Unjust enrichment
The lower court ruled that the chips used in Big Fish Casino did not constitute a "thing of value" and dismissed the case with prejudice. The federal court disagreed. According to Washington state law, a  "thing of value" is:
[A]ny money or property, any token, object or article exchangeable for money or property, or any form of credit or promise, directly or indirectly, contemplating transfer of money or property or of any interest therein, or involving extension of a service, entertainment or a privilege of playing at a game or scheme without charge. (Wash. Rev. Code § 9.46.0285.)
I think the key argument made by Kater's lawyers was "...that the virtual chips are a 'thing of value' because they are a 'form of credit . . . involving extension of . . . entertainment or a privilege of playing [Big Fish Casino] without charge.'" (p. 6). The court agreed. I think the reason is important going forward to understand where we are at this point in the United States.
We agree. The virtual chips, as alleged in the complaint, permit a user to play the casino games inside the virtual Big Fish Casino. They are a credit that allows a user to place another wager or re-spin a slot machine. Without virtual chips, a user is unable to play Big Fish Casino’s various games. Thus, if a user runs out of virtual chips and wants to continue playing Big Fish Casino, she must buy more chips to have “the privilege of playing the game.” Id. Likewise, if a user wins chips, the user wins the privilege of playing Big Fish Casino without charge. In sum, these virtual chips extend the privilege of playing Big Fish Casino. (pp. 6-7)
The three-judge panel decided that Washington state case law, specifically Bullseye Distributing LLC v. State Gambling Commission, was more relevant than out-of-state cases such as Mason v Machine Zone Inc.
Notably, the only Washington court to analyze section 9.46.0285 supports our conclusion. In Bullseye Distributing LLC v. State Gambling Commission, the Washington Court of Appeals held that an electronic vending machine designed to emulate a video slot machine was a gambling device. 110 P.3d 1162, 1163, 1167 (Wash. Ct. App. 2005). To use the machine, players utilized play points that they obtained by purchase, by redeeming a once-a-day promotional voucher, or by winning a game on the machine. Id. at 1163–64. In reviewing an administrative law judge’s decision, the court concluded that the game’s play points were “things of value” because “they extend[ed] the privilege of playing the game without charge,” even though they “lack[ed] pecuniary value on their own.” Id. at 1166. Because the play points were a “thing of value,” the machine fell within the definition of a gambling device, and therefore was subject to Gambling Commission regulation. Id. at 1167. (pp. 7-8)
However, the decision decided to uphold a subject I pointed out back in 2016: the terms of service of a game can legally matter. In a footnote on page 8, the court ruled against the real money trading argument made by Kater.
Kater makes a second argument, which we reject. She argues that the chips are a “thing of value” because users can sell them for money on the “black market.” However, Big Fish Casino’s Terms of Use prohibit the transfer or sale of virtual chips. As a result, the sale of virtual chips for cash on a secondary market violates the Terms of Use. The virtual chips cannot constitute a “thing of value” based on this prohibited use. See Mason v. Mach. Zone, Inc., 851 F.3d 315, 320 n.3 (4th Cir. 2017).
I should point out that the decision sending the case back to the lower court didn't really conflict with Mason v. Machine Zone in another important fact. Big Fish Casino is a gambling simulator, period. Every mini-game is a game from a casino, hence the name. In Game of War: Fire Age, the casino is just a small part of a MMO strategy game. As was stated in the opinion in Mason v Machine Zone:
Even were the Court to embrace Plaintiff’s expansive understanding of “slot machine or device,” the Court would still find that Defendant has not violated section 330b. This is because, while the penal statute broadly proscribes the manufacture and ownership of such devices, it carves out an important exception: “Pinball and other amusement machines or devices, which are predominantly games of skill, whether affording the opportunity of additional chances or free plays or not, are not included within the [proscribed category].” Cal. Penal Code § 330b(f) (emphasis added). Here, Defendant argues, “Plaintiff’s pleading and indisputable facts show that there is no dispute that GoW, as a whole, is a game of skill, not chance.” (ECF No. 7–1 at 18.) Plaintiff does not refute this point directly; instead, she complains that “[u]nder Defendant’s logic, any game of chance normally violating § 330b . . . can be transformed into a legal game by surrounding it with games of skill.” (ECF No. 18 at 23.)

Defendant’s logic would lead to no such result. The game at issue here is not “Casino”; the game is GoW. Plaintiff proffers no authority for the proposition that the Court may excise one particular aspect of an integrated strategy game and evaluate that aspect in isolation. On the contrary, applying Plaintiff’s logic, one could excise the free replay and similar chance-based functions of any number of skill-based games—including pinball—and, viewing those aspects in isolation, find the games to violate section 330b. In essence, Plaintiff invites the Court to read the subsection (f) exclusion out of the statute. The Court declines Plaintiff’s invitation.
Part of the reason for writing this post is, from the reporting I'd read, a judge was ruling against online gambling in video games in a major change in the law. But the ruling in Kater v Churchill Downs won't even extend to the nine states that make up the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals as the law in question is a state gambling law.

One of the biggest, if not the biggest, challenges in figuring out the gambling laws in the U.S. is that each state has its own. We may eventually see a federal law pass, but I doubt Congress will do so in a presidential election year. Still, I expect to hear a lot of campaign rhetoric on the subject. If history is any judge, lots of YouTubers and writers will get excited about the eminent demise of lock boxes. I'll try to not jump on the bandwagon without looking carefully first.

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Star Citizen's Amazing Financial Performance In Q4 2019

I checked up on funding stats on the Star Citizen site and was blown away by what I saw.

Star Citizen Funding Page - 2 January 2020
From 5 December, when I last checked, to 2 January, CIG raised over $8.1 million. While the graphic is a bit hard to read, for the 4th quarter of 2019, CIG raised over $24.6 million in crowdfunding. Finally, going back to 1 September 2019, the amount raised over the final four months of 2019 was $27,661,181. To put the figure into perspective, CCP averaged less than $12.5 million in revenue per quarter over the first nine months of 2019.

Unfortunately, I didn't record the amount raised through New Year's Day of 2019. I did record the amount on Christmas Day 2018: $212.5 million. In other words, CIG raised just in crowdfunding about as much as I expect CCP recorded in sales in 2019. Add in subscriptions and income from incentives, sponsors, licensing and partnerships, and I expect CIG brought in between $55 million and $60 million in 2019. Not bad for a game that is still in alpha.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Plans for 2020

Wow, I survived another year! First off, Happy New Years to everyone out there who have taken a break from playing games. This is the time of year people look around and figure out what to do for the upcoming year. I think I was a bit too ambitious last year, so for 2020 I won't call them resolutions. But I'm going to make some goals anyway.

Last year I think I did okay on the MMORPG front. I finished playing Elder Scrolls Online, completing all three story lines in the base game and the Morrowind expansion. I figured with a character with over 350 veteran points I could call the resolution a win. I then completely neglected my single player game goals and started playing Final Fantasy XIV. My character currently is a level 36 white mage, with all gathering classes between 32-34 and all crafting classes between levels 28-33. I even joined a free company.

In EVE Online, I pretty much ignored my goals. I really do want to start a grand exploration tour based out of Amarr low sec, while at the same time complete the Gallente COSMOS missions. Instead, I got sucked into running some of the new Triglavian content. Plus, after talking to Johnny Splunk at EVE Vegas, I'm back in Signal Cartel, but on an alpha account. He says cloaky ships are overrated, so I figured to do some wormhole exploration. I'm not so sure about that, but for what I do, flying around in a Heron instead of a Cheetah, while nerve-wracking, hasn't resulted in any losses yet.

The little video CCP sent everyone kind of showed I slacked off in EVE in 2019. My best performances were gaining over 69 million skill points, putting me in the top 5% of the players. The video also listed me as an industrial player. One sign of slacking is that I only mined 273 million ISK in ore in 2019. However, I did manufacture 336,000 items, ranking me in the top 16% in that area of the game. On the downside, I only managed to build one battleship. But a Marshal is not a bad ship to build. I also exported 111.6 million ISK in planetary interaction materials. I'm surprised the figure was that high.

In 2020, I want to tone down the goals as real life will probably get in the way. In EVE, I want to take the time to sit down and understand all the systems and tools Signal Cartel uses. The corp expanded tremendously over the past couple of years and I need to catch up. Plus, I need to learn how to use Tripwire again. After that, I do want to go on that grand exploration tour in a Stratios.

I also have a weird subject I want to dive into in 2020: SKINs. I have hundreds of the things and have never applied a single one to any of my characters. I'm going to change that this year. My net worth will take a tumble, but I'm a pack rat and wasn't going to sell my extras anyway.

In FFXIV, I'm going to keep the goal simple. I want to get white mage and all the crafting and gathering classes to level 50. I also want to get into the Heavensward main scenario quests (MSQ) by the end of the year. That's not as easy as it sounds. I am currently 167 main story quests away from the Heavensward content. I would love to finish the Heavensward expansion by the end of 2020, but that's 298 quests away. I don't think that is going to happen.

On the single player game front, I don't think I'm cut out for strategy games anymore. At least, one as complex as Command: Modern Air / Naval Operations. I finished the tutorial missions, but that's about where everything ended. I do want to play Tropico 5, as I like city builders and enjoyed Tropico 4. If I can find a good tower defense game, I'll try that out. But I play to spend most of my gaming time in EVE or FFXIV.

On the blogging front, I should reach the 2000 post mark sometime near the end of the year. I managed to exceed my goal of 100 posts in 2019 with a total of 108. I think I can bump that up to 120 this year. How much more work is one more post a month?

Due to certain decisions made by CCP, I will wind up posting about politics in 2020. That's right, the introduction of gambling as a part of EVE Online will mean I need to follow the actions of governments and posturing of politicians in 2020. The outrage over loot boxes in video games caught the attention of governments, so I'll have to pay attention to the regulatory regimes enacted over the next 12 months. The United Kingdom will have a heavy focus as EVE's Tranquility shard is located in London. I'm sure I will have to cover the subject in the United States as well, considering the presidential election ongoing here.

On a related subject, I plan to write more about the basics of real money trading in 2020. I haven't really written about the subject in a few years. After reading some articles by gaming journalists about the lack of negative effects on game companies, I think I need to update the arguments. I mean, some people who get paid to write about online video games seemingly don't understand the costs of charge backs due to credit card fraud on game companies. The lack of knowledge gets on my nerves.

One thing behind the scenes I plan on not doing is keep track of the black market as closely as I have. For the last 4 1/2 years, I've visited and recorded the activity on Player Auctions every night. With a change on the site masking the amounts of skill injectors and PLEX sold, the task doesn't really have as much value anymore. I do intend to keep tracking activity for the next three months, as the amount of shops that have either sold ISK or posted offers over the last 90 days has declined to 51. I'm curious as to if the trend will continue. Plus, gambling.

When writing about EVE, I want to get off the beaten path. Articles about life in Signal Cartel are nice because we poke our noses everywhere. Also, I think the corp does more than people realize. Plus, related subjects like Tripwire and the new bookmark system come into play.

One other subject I want to get into is monetization in EVE. I know a lot of players were concerned when Pearl Abyss purchased CCP. Having played Black Desert Online, I share that concern. The addition of the Hyper-raffle thingy didn't help matters either. Now that I have more experience, I'd like to tackle the subject in a little greater depth.

I do plan to post about Final Fantasy XIV. As the biggest MMORPG in the west this side of World of Warcraft, I do need to write about the game. Looking on Steam, I've played the game for 179 hours with no posts so far. If for no other reason, I need to go into the glamour system and the looks of characters in FFXIV. I also am intrigued by some of the other systems, like the retainers and the Grand Companies. Plus, I really do need to compare the cash shops in FFXIV and EVE.

Finally, I want to take a little closer look at Star Citizen. Sure, with my interest in real money trading, how could I not want to look at the massively crowdfunded game? But as systems come out, I might want to examine the vision in the Chris Roberts product. At CitizenCon in November, details about the economy emerged I found fascinating. As a game some considered a potential EVE-killer in 2012-2013, I think the game deserves some attention, even if I have no plans to play at this time.

Hopefully I haven't set myself goals that I can't meet. The expression "keep it simple, stupid" comes to mind. In the meantime, have a happy New Year and fly smart.