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.


Since a lot of accusations are flying around about CCP lying, I thought I'd go over the history of CCP's statements that led to this point. Needless to say, the trail of words didn't begin last April. Instead, we have to go back to the Summer of Rage in 2011 and the emergency summit between CCP and the CSM  on 30 June - 1 July 2011. In the resulting dev blog published on 2 July, the CSM stated what they were told by CCP:
Game-affecting Virtual Goods: We are convinced that CCP has no plans to introduce any game-affecting virtual goods, only pure vanity items such as clothing and ship skins. We have been repeatedly assured that there are no plans for ‘gold ammo', ships which have different statistics from existing common hulls, or any other feared ‘game destroying' virtual goods or services. We have expressed our deep concern about potential grey areas that the introduction of virtual goods permits, and CCP has made a commitment to discuss any proposals that might fall into these grey areas in detail with CSM at the earliest possible stage.
A lot of people are upset about the situation today, but in 2011, the uproar around the idea of selling virtual goods was much, much larger. To give a sense of the atmosphere at the time, I've embedded the video statement from CCP and the CSM published afterwards.


The situation remained grim throughout the summer and early autumn of 2011, with CCP announcing the layoff of 20% of its workforce on 19 October 2011. Two weeks prior, Hilmar Veigar P├ętursson, the CEO of CCP Games, issued an apology dev blog. In the blog, Hilmar addressed the subject of the sale of virtual goods:
We also didn’t do enough to assure you that this wasn’t the beginning of a “pay to win” scenario in EVE. Let me be blunt: Unless the MMO business changes radically, our virtual goods strategy for EVE Online will remain limited in scope and focus on vanity items, or as we said after the CSM visit this summer: The investment of money in EVE should not give you an unfair advantage over the investment of time.
Now, that sounds like a pretty iron-clad promise. But I need to also quote the following paragraph to put the first part of the statement into a little context.
Though the introduction was clearly flawed, our plans for virtual goods are intended to make your playing experience better, not to disrupt it. From a strategic perspective, we had to take these first steps because monthly subscriptions are increasingly becoming a thing of the past. The culture of online gaming is changing, just as the notion of digital ownership did with music. If we don’t evolve our technology, our game design and our revenue model, then we risk obsolescence, and we just can’t allow that to happen to EVE or to our community.
In the following years, CCP stuck to only selling vanity items. But during that time, the MMO industry changed as well. Free-to-play games like Runes of Magic existed in 2011, and Dungeons & Dragons Online became the first western MMORPG to switch from a subscription model to F2P in 2009. But the free-to-play model exploded as many games made the switch from subscription to F2P. Notable games included Aion (February 2012), Star Wars: The Old Republic (November 2012), Tera (February 2013), Elder Scrolls Online (March 2015), and Guild Wars 2 (August 2015).

During the same time, many companies began giving players a way to pay to advance their characters. In 2011, items like experience point boosting potions were common. But in 2014, players began to have the option to pay to get to end game. Blizzard introduced character boosts to level 90 in World of Warcraft, although Lord of the Rings Online may have introduced a level boost to 50 first.

By the end of 2015, EVE was one of a handful of MMORPGs, along with World of Warcraft, Final Fantasy XI and Final Fantasy XIV, to use the subscription model. Perhaps even worse, CCP's cash shop efforts were poor. I would say that Hilmar's condition of a radical change in the industry had come to pass.

CCP first broached the idea of skill point trading in a dev blog in October 2015. In a follow-up dev blog in January 2016, CCP made the following statement about the skill points that would begin appearing on the market in February 2016:
It’s very important to note here that this means all the skillpoints available to buy on the market in EVE will have originated on other characters where they were trained at the normal rate.  Player driven economies are key to EVE design and we want you to decide the value of traded skillpoints while we make sure there is one single mechanism that brings new skillpoints in to the system – training.
Here is the point in our tale where things get complicated. What exactly was the "normal rate"? An important question, especially since CCP's first seasonal event, The Crimson Harvest, launched in October 2015. Rewards for the event included two different types of cerebral accelerators which greatly speed up skill point gains. But, as those skill points are acquired through training, the skill points gained in the seasonal events don't seem to violate CCP's design principles.

However, the introduction of free-to-play accounts (aka Alpha accounts) in November 2016 changed the design and business calculations at CCP. In November 2017, CCP announced changes to Alpha accounts, expanding the range of game play available on a F2P account. As part of the changes, CCP introduced a way of further monetizing Alpha accounts by directly selling them skill points. The Daily Alpha Injector has the following traits:
  • Only one Daily Alpha Injector may be used per day, per character (resets at downtime)
  • May only be used by characters in the Alpha Clone State
  • Can be purchased in the NES for PLEX or purchased for your regions real money currency via secure.eveonline.com
  • Can be activated to immediately to add 50,000 skill points to your character's unallocated skill pool (roughly one day worth of Omega training)
  • Can be traded on the in-game market
  • Does not award Omega Status
At the time, I thought the idea made sense for Alpha characters, although I also thought CCP was gouging the new players. But I also expected some push back from players since the skill points involved came straight from CCP's cash shop. But I didn't notice any protests at the time.

Following the the acquisition of CCP by Pearl Abyss in September 2018, training of skill points was out and straight out handouts of skill points was all the rage. In November 2018, EVE witnessed the first log in for skill points event with a "Double Training Weekend" that handed out up to 50,000 SP for alpha accounts and 100,000 SP for omega accounts who logged in the weekend of 16-19 November. In the Christmas event in December, players with Alpha accounts could receive 50,000 skill points and Omega players 150,000 SP as part of the login rewards.

The trend continued in 2019. CCP held a bonus skill point weekend from 29-31 March in which Alpha accounts could earn 75,000 SP and Omega accounts up to 250,000 SP. In April, the amount of SP given to new players as part of the recruitment program was increased from 250,000 SP to 750,000 SP. In June, CCP began a promotion with Amazon designed to get Amazon Prime users to activate their Twitch Prime accounts and hopefully subscribe to an EVE Online streamer. The package included a Sunesis SKIN, 15 days of Omega time ... and 150,000 skill points. And of course, the summer of 2019 was dominated by the Season of Skills, which constantly gave out skill points.

CCP also started to include skill points in packages sold to players for real life currency. In April 2019, a Starter Pack appeared on Steam for players with Steam EVE accounts. The pack included (using CCP's flowery marketing language):

  • 7 days of Omega, ensuring Double Training and many more benefits
  • 250,000 Skill Points, giving you a head start in skill training
  • Skill and Damage Booster (Cerebral Accelerator)
  • A stunning bundle of starter ship SKINs
  • Blood Raider apparel

Surprisingly, no huge outrage for including skill points in the package occurred. Negative player reaction did not really occur until June, when CCP introduced a starter pack in its cash shop that offered 1 million SP to all players, not just new accounts under 35 days old. CCP responded with a formal dev blog written by CCP Falcon.
We understand that we made a misstep with this DLC pack by not restricting it, and we’re sorry for the confusion and anger that it caused – it’s not our intention to disrespect the years of training that our veteran pilots have put into their characters.

We also should have spoken with the CSM regarding this pack before we released it. That one’s on me, and we’ll make sure that the CSM are looped into this kind of discussion going forward. We’ve been offering packs like this (including skillpoints) via Steam for a while now, so it was assumed that offering them via the secure website would be received in the same way.
The conclusion of the dev blog, however, contributed to any unrest occurring today.
Right now, we’re working on moving this pack to be part of our contextual offers that are sent to those who create new accounts and are classified as new players. This means that soon the pack won’t be available to the wider community via the DLC page on secure.eveonline.com and will only be offered to new players as part of the account creation and onboarding process.

This will remove the option to buy the pack unless it’s presented to you as you go through this process.

Hopefully this explains the reasoning for the pack and why things rolled out the way that they did.
Unfortunately, CCP never did restrict the starter package and 1 million skill points to new accounts as stated in the dev blog. And when CCP announced the replacement packages earlier this week and players discovered the packages contained 250,000 skill points, some got upset again. But the reaction was very much muted compared to June.

Oftentimes when I write a post I learn a lot. Personally, I thought CCP went off the track with the introduction of skill point trading, so everything else was, meh. After all, once people were able to obtain skill points outside of the time-based training mechanics, the system was broken. But in 2016, CCP realized that training skill points was an important part of EVE. That realization appears to have ended at the end of 2018. I don't know if that was due to the influence of Pearl Abyss, or if CCP experienced personnel turnover bringing in staff unfamiliar with EVE

I don't want to believe the moves came from long-time staff who decided to say, "Fuck it, we need the money." If CCP really needed the money, I think selling cerebral accelerators, EVE's version of experience point potions, would have worked much better. In fact, I still do. But mine is a very minority opinion. But CCP decided to move in a different direction. Hopefully this post lays out how that direction evolved over the past eight years.

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