Wednesday, April 1, 2020

The Latest Dev Blog On EVE Online's Ecology

"Eve is built on the most robust economic and financial simulation in gaming."

- New York Times, 1 April 2020

As I look at the monthly economic report every month, I always wonder what CCP hopes to accomplish with the changes implemented over the past year. On Monday, we received some answers in a dev blog titled "The EVE Online Ecosystem Outlook".

I won't go through every line of the dev blog, so I'll skip over things like the mission and vision of the ecosystem team. But the current goals of the team are relevant. They are:

  • Increase veteran engagement through nurturing conflict
  • Improve economic health and opportunity through updates to resource and risk distribution.
  • Severely impact cheating through prevention, detection and enforcement

Looking at the goals, I think CCP may be looking to shed a significant portion of its player base. The majority of EVE players are notoriously risk averse. Also, thoughout my years of covering botting and real money trading in EVE, I've observed that the amount of isk selling goes up during times of major wars.

On the subject of the Quarterly Player Survey, I'll just briefly mention a couple of points. The first is the concern about botting & RMT. Those issues are evergreen, although the emphasis I've heard from CCP over the last 9-12 months is heartening. Hearing from the security team is one thing. Hearing about the subject from Hilmar as we did last year indicates a level of seriousness of concern within CCP.

The second are the equality of opportunity concerns. The author of the dev blog indicates these four points are development priorities:

  • The balance between risk/effort and reward in EVE Online is healthy
  • Wealth/power distribution and inequality between individuals and groups (the rich get richer)
  • There's a healthy turnover of wealth, power and sovereign space (territory) in the game (supercapital umbrella)
  • There are good opportunities for new players to become successful in the game

By following the flow of the timeline, I perhaps buried the lede of the story. But the health of the economy, at least from my reading, is very bad.  The dev blog divides the ecosystem into three main categories: Balance and Progression, Economy and Industry, and Cheating and Abuse. The grading scale (AAA, A, B, C, D) didn't have a definition, but I think the following is logical.
  • AAA - Excellent/Best in industry
  • A - Above Average
  • B - Average
  • C - Below Average
  • D - Poor/Failing

The current scores?

  • Balance and Progression: C
  • Economy and Industry: D
  • Cheating and Abuse: B

That's right. The economy and industry, considered a major selling point of EVE, is in very bad shape. And despite the changes already made, the only category that has changed grade is Cheating and Abuse, from D up to B.

We did learn that the ecosystem team has a roadmap that we should see develop in the upcoming months.

Road map slide #1

Road map slide #2

What many players will take away from the dev blog is that CCP plans on nerfing income generation into the ground.

The amount of player income is too damn high!

This is where the MER comes into play. What is too high? The amount of bounties collected in known space (high, low, and null security space) taken from the region file over the past 13 months shows the amount of bounties is down 28.7%.

Looking at bounties in high, low, and null security space.

But I believe the dev blog includes not only ISK faucets, but material faucets as well. Looking at mining amounts in known space is therefore useful as well.

The amount of mining dropped significantly over the last 12 months.
Year-over-year, the value of ore mined in known space declined by 47.6%. And according to CCP, needs to drop further. CCP has a plan to address the income glut.
Waiting longer to address this imbalance will mean a worsening of the situation. Therefore, a bold plan is being put in motion so that even more drastic measures are not required in the future.

The three phases of that plan and their respective goals in the Resource Distribution process are as follows:

1. Shortage Phase
The main goal of the Shortage Phase is to get the economy to the left side of the "Healthy State" on the income line. Even though it is a moving target, there is confidence that the data and tools to evaluate the situation (and then move on to the second phase) are in-hand.

2. Redistribution Phase
In this phase, the location of the Healthy Range limits will be declared, and then the necessary changes to place the income within that range will be made. As it is not a static state, there are many moving parts and attributes that establish this range and their relative contribution.

3. Dynamic Distribution Phase
With the findings of the Redistribution Phase, it will be possible to create a dynamic system that self-regulates and adjusts accordingly, based on player inputs and universe outputs.
Finally came the section on anti-cheating. As normal, the three major concerns are account hacking, credit card fraud, and automated game play such as botting and input broadcasting. I'm going to include the major part of the dev blog concerning the subject, followed by some questions I had after I finished reading.
Since a task force was created almost a year ago, a real and measurable win in the war on Bots has been reached. For security reasons, the details on how this was achieved cannot be divulged here, but investigation tools have been improved, and there are plenty of further ideas to implement. There is a zero-tolerance policy on bots and until that goal is reached, no one will rest.

Player reporting has been a huge success because of the positive feedback loop implemented last year, where everyone who reported a character that ended up getting banned, got a thank you email. In many cases it has not been possible to turn these around within a single day. Keep those reports coming and remember, no one is banned on reports alone.

Even though visible botting still exists, you can rest assured that the combined effect of the strategy of high value targeting and organization takedowns has reduced the impact of botting on the Ecosystem by 80% since the same time last year. This includes both the number of suspected botters and the wealth generated by botters.

Since the same time last year, there has been great success in eliminating thousands of accounts over the last year. This is noticeable in server load, especially during the Blackout, which seems to have struck a crippling blow to botters, who consequently left the game in droves. Since then, the player population has swelled while botter numbers continue to decrease.
Here are the questions I have:

1. What was the real and measurable win in the War on Bots™? I know that a popular botting framework is still running, at least as of 3 weeks ago. And killing all the old 32-bit bots when EVE switched to running only on 64-bit operating systems does not count.

2. What is the current penalty for botting? The last I'd heard, it was 3 days account suspension for a first offense and a permanent ban for the second. And are characters on accounts caught botting prevented from using skill injectors and extractors?

3. How does CCP know it has reduced the impact of botting by 80%? I questioned statements from Jagex when it made similar claims for Runescape. Just for the sake of intellectual consistency I have to question the claims made in the dev blog.

4. During the Blackout during the summer of 2019, players and botters alike took a break from EVE. How is it possible to know that "a crippling blow to botters" was struck? Also, apart from the influx of Korean players who joined the game with the introduction of a Korean EVE client in November 2019. We may, however, be witnessing an upsurge in players returning to EVE due to local stay-at-home orders over the past month as a result of the current CONVID-19 outbreak.

I don't want to say that CCP's efforts have not had an impact. From what I see on the black market, they clearly have. I'm considering stopping my project of recording black market activity due to the decline in sales not generating enough data to be of interest. I probably need 3 more months of data before I can shut it down if current trends continue.

I really wish I was more positive about the dev blog. Perhaps part of my mood is that I am sitting at home instead of typing on a laptop in a Reykjavik hotel, preparing for the first day of Fanfest. But all I see in the future of EVE is a lot of pain and suffering as the dev team tries to shape the game universe into a better place.

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