Friday, February 26, 2021

A Clarification Label For Star Citizen

When surfing around social media sites over the last few months, I've seen notes about certain topics. From the use of masks and other news about the COVID-19 pandemic to various news about the U.S. presidential election, users are directed to information that might contradict the contents of whatever is in your browser. Today, though, I spotted my first clarification note about a video game.

While reading the weekly review of Star Citizen on MassivelyOP, I was a bit shocked to see a note at the bottom of the article.


Longtime MMORPG gamers will know that Star Citizen was originally Kickstarted for over $2M back in 2012 with a planned launch for 2014. As of 2021, it still lingers in an incomplete but playable alpha, having raised around $350M from gamers over years of continuing crowdfunding and sales of in-game ships and other assets. It is currently the highest-crowdfunded video game ever and has endured both indefatigable loyalty from advocates and immense skepticism from critics. A co-developed single-player title, Squadron 42, has also been repeatedly delayed.

Well done to whoever made the decision to include the note. I'll be interested to see if this is a permanent add-on to Star Citizen articles on MassivelyOP in the future.

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Pearl Abyss' Final Purchase Price For CCP Games: $225 Million

On 6 September 2018, Pearl Abyss announced the purchase of CCP Games for the reported sum of $425 million. The $425 million figure included a cash settlement plus incentive bonuses for performance after the sale. The website mbl.is provided coverage on a page that worked with Google Translate. The final purchase price after performance bonuses? $225 million.

The purchase price that the South Korean game company Pearl Abyss pays for CCP decreases by 47% from what it could amount to - from 425 million US dollars, equivalent to more than 54 billion ISK, to 225 million dollars, almost 29 billion ISK. This is stated in a news item in Viðskiptablaðið today.

The reason is that performance-related criteria in the operation did not work. Pearl Abyss bought CCP in 2018 and 225 million dollars were paid out immediately, but 200 million dollars were conditional on CCP's results in 2019 and 2020. It was reported in Morgunblaðið a year ago that the owners will be from the performance-related payment for 2019, that is 100 million dala.

In my reading of the situation, the peformance goals were not just monetary ones. At the time the sale was announced, CCP had three games in development. The big one was Project Nova, an first person shooter set in the EVE universe. Also under development was the mobile game under development with PlayRaven, EVE: War of Ascension. An augmented reality game, EVE: Infinite Galaxy, was under development by the giant Chinese game developer NetEase. None of the three games reached the market, although Project NovaEVE: War of Ascension did make appearances at EVE conventions. CCP did continue working with NetEase, releasing a regular mobile game, EVE Echoes, in August 2020.

I would even go so far as state CCP's failure to complete development of Project Nova hurt Pearl Abyss financially. When the Korean company purchased CCP, the game release schedule looked like this...

2019 - Black Desert Mobile, BDO migrating to consoles.
2020 - Project Nova
2021 - Crimson Desert
2022 - DokeV
2023 - Plan 8

Without a major release last year, Pearl Abyss' revenue dropped 8.8% (₩47 billion) in 2020. Also, without the presence of a major game, investors are pressing PA about how they will maintain and grow revenue until Crimson Desert launches sometime in the fourth quarter of this year. Pressure is even growing on the company's release schedule for DokeV and Plan 8, much less Crimson Desert.


Given what we know now, up to $200 million in performance bonuses was a worthwhile offer. Since the earnings call on 16 February, the value of Pearl Abyss stock has declined by 21.7%. While still 85.7% over the company's 52-week low, the drop in revenue hurt expectations. Imagine the stock's value if PA had rising revenue.

I don't want to dismiss any revenue goal. I imagine that Pearl Abyss was expecting the EVE IP to deliver the revenue it received in 2020 in 2019. Then, Project Nova would launch in 2020 and total EVE revenue would far exceed last year's ₩73.6 billion ($63.2 million). But for a publicly traded company like Pearl Abyss, I have to believe delivering games is just as important as delivering revenue. And Pearl Abyss didn't receive three games it thought it had purchased.

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Bastions Of War - An EVE PvE Update

When I read the news article on Tuesday's game update, I had to go back and look at the description of the Reign Quadrant.

Achieve tactical supremacy and victory in New Eden with EVE Online's new Quadrant "Reign", the first in 2021! Launching a new year of Quadrants after 2020's successful introduction of themed content for EVE, Reign brings with it exciting new updates to fleets and travel, continuous balance and meta changes, plus returning events such as the Guardian's Gala and The Hunt.

Well, the marauder update is definitely a meta change.

Marauders, which are Tech II versions of New Eden’s Battleship class vessels, have gotten a boost to their damage dealing might through changes to their unique Bastion module. This mod now doubles the rate of fire for all large weapons while active, making them an even more formidable element on the battlefield.

There are further changes too that have been shaped with input from the EVE community! As part of this update, the Vargur sees its 5% bonus to large projectile rate of fire changed to a 7.5% bonus to large projectile damage. In addition, the Kronos gets its capacitor capacity increased to 8000 GJ and its capacitor recharge time reduced to 17 mins 30 secs. Also as part of this update going live, the Paladin will have its 5% Amarr Battleship skill bonus to capacitor capacity replaced with a 10% reduction in capacitor need for Large Energy Turret activation per Amarr Battleship skill level.

Bastion duration has also decreased to 30 seconds, reducing Marauders’ commitment to a single position alongside their newfound power!

I guess the Golem didn't need any additional buff other than the one the entire ship class received.

When I first heard of the changes, I thought, "CCP is buffing PvE boats?" That led to going back to another dev blog and pulling up an interesting graphic and statement.

It is clearly understood and acknowledged that many players are faced with reduced income and some radical changes to what they have become accustomed to in New Eden. To make it abundantly clear, scarcity is not the new reality, this is a temporary phase and it will end.

Listening to the talk shows has me thinking that CCP sees marauders as the replacement of dreads and carriers for PvE in null sec and wormholes. One thing I would need to research is the build costs and materials needed for marauders, dreadnaughts, and carriers. Are marauders now a more cost-effective platform with the added firepower and changes to the bastion module? I don't know.

Here are the changes directly affecting marauders from the patch notes:

Bastion Module I:

  • Bastion now increases the rate of fire for all large weapons by 50% (100% DPS increase)
  • Bastion duration reduced from 60s to 30s

All Marauders class ships:

  • Lock range increased by 30%
  • Sensor strength increased by 9

Vargur:

  • 5% bonus to large projectile rate of fire changed to 7.5% large projectile damage

Paladin:

  • Amarr Battleship bonus to Capacitor Capacity changed to 10% reduction in Large Energy Turret capacitor need

Kronos:

  • Capacitor Capacity increased to 8000 GJ
  • Capacitor Recharge rate reduced to 17m and 30s

I've thought about getting a Vargur in the past, but I really got away from flying battleships. The ships are just too slow. But maybe I need to save up a little and pick one up. I have the funds to buy one now, but as the first rule of EVE states, "Don't fly anything you can't afford to lose." I need a cushion first.

Monday, February 22, 2021

FFXIV: Natsuko Ishikawa Is Back For Endwalker

I'm a little late, but the news is still noteworthy. In an interview with Fanbyte, Final Fantasy XIV director Naoki Yoshida revealed that Natsuko Ishikawa is returning to the game as the lead writer for the next expansion, Endwalker. This is, to use a technical term, good news.

To those who don't know, Ishikawa was the lead writer for Shadowbringers. I don't think I will get much argument by stating that the story of the last two unsundered Ascians, Emet-Selch & Elidibus, is the best FFXIV expansion to date. Defeating the two most dangerous antagonists players face in the story deserved to be an epic experience, and Iskikawa's storytelling delivered.

Endwalker is the conclusion to the saga of Hydaelyn and Zodiark. I don't expect the conclusion to equal the climax, but something at least as good as Heavensward is possible. But before hearing the news that Natsuko Ishikawa is the lead writer for the expansion, I had grave doubts. If Emet-Selch & Elidibus were fantastic villains, then the antagonists for Endwalker are the complete opposite.

The first of Endwalker's villians, Zenos yae Glavus, was the main antagonist of Stormblood. I absolutely hated the character. He is a one-dimensional character. After going through the Stormblood story, fighting him at the end felt so disappointing and empty. For me, he is the main reason for ranking Stormblood the worst expansion. And we have to put up with him again in Endwalker? Ugh!

The new bad guy, Fandaniel, doesn't fill me with hope either. I found this description on a fan wiki:

Fandaniel is flamboyant, whimsical, and impulsive. Unlike the other Ascians, Fandaniel is not loyal to Zodiark and states no interest in restoring the world as it was before the sundering. In fact, his goal of the Source’s total annihilation puts him at direct odds with the rest of his brethren. Fandaniel appears loyal, if not sycophantic, toward Zenos and is eager to help the Garlean prince in his "hunt" for the Warrior of Light as it correlates to his desire to spread chaos.

An erratic and sadistic nihilist with a flare for theatrics, Fandaniel wishes nothing more than for all of the inhabitants of the Source to die and is more than willing to die in the effort. In fact, it's his goal to die once he achieves in his mission in restarting the Final Days, a stark contrast to how his fellow Ascians cling to life.

Personally, I think the description gives Fandaniel too much credit. He reminds me so much of Zenos. Finishing the story with two such poorly written villains would be such a disappointment.

Knowing that Ishikawa is the lead writer gives me hope. I doubt she can salvage such an established character as Zenos, but I have hope for Fandaniel. Hopefully we kill Zenos before travelling to the moon. I really hope whatever is on the moon is far bigger than the two known villains we are to face.

Friday, February 19, 2021

Guardian's Gala 2021 - Day 7 - Cut Short

 And on the seventh day of Guardian's Gala, I won the event.


I finished receiving the 7 login rewards and wanted to finish up getting the last two participation rewards. All I needed was 65 points. Each Gala exploration site gives 15 points, so I needed to run 5 sites, right? Wrong.

I alluded to finding a possible exploit on day 4 of the event. At the time, I had only seen a description of the exploit on the EVE Online sub-Reddit. But now Imperium News has also published the exploit. Since I don't want anything more to do with Guardian's Gala this year, I went ahead and turned 15 points into 65.

I probed down and entered a site to get 5 points. I then hacked a can to get 10 more points. Upon hacking the can, the challenge changed back to "Enter a site". So I warped to a nearby structure and warped back to the site, receiving 5 points. Rinse and repeat until I got 65 points. Event over.

The only thing left to do now is cash in my loot. I have to dip into low sec to sell off the Overseer's Personal Effects that dropped. Then I have to take the regular drops to a trade hub and sell them there. One thing I don't have to worry about is everything I received from the redeem queue. Anything from the redeem queue is applied to the character that claims the item. That goes for the SKINs as well as the skill points.

Since Super Kerr-Induced Nanocoatings (SKINs) were introduced to the game in 2015, I have not applied a single one to a character. At least, knowingly. Apparently, I've applied 17.

I don't know how long the Skins tab has existed in the character sheet, but I think I'll start applying SKINs to characters just to get rid of a lot of clutter. The only reason for not applying the SKINs was to keep track of them. With the SKINs tab, that reason went away.

I probably have one more blog post to write in my coverage of the 2021 edition of Guardian's Gala. But I'm done with the content. All I have now is the clean up.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Guardian's Gala 2021 - Days 5 & 6 - Cargo Space

I didn't write a day 5 summary as I spent most of my time writing up the Pearl Abyss Earnings Call. But not much really happened. After day 6, I have 135 points.


On Monday, I found a Gala Network Support Site sitting in a low sec system in Molden Heath. Tuesday, I found another one in a high sec system in Heimatar. Normally I enjoy wandering around hacking data and relic sites. But for the event, I am looking for specific sites. Ones, I should add, that are not that plentiful. 

The last two days I also encountered another irritating development. I hauled away over 120 m3 from each site. Given my Cheetah only has a cargo capacity of 200 m3, I have to drop my loot at a station to make sure I don't have to warp out of a site only halfway emptied. If the effort just to find a site is a net negative to participating in the event, then having to dump my cargo makes the effect worse. That is real reason for stopping after running one site each night.

The funny thing is, the first night I did the exploration challenge, I was able to fit the loot from 2 1/2 sites into my cargo hold. Now, each site fills up over 60% of my storage. Did CCP change the loot drops, or did I just get lucky that first night?

I'm going to try to wrap up the event tonight. The event runs through downtime on 23 February, but I think 7 days is enough.

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Pearl Abyss Q4 2020 Earnings Call

Pearl Abyss held a call for investors covering its fourth quarter 2020 & full year 2020 financial results on Tuesday. One economic point Pearl Abyss brought up in the call was the strengthening value of the South Korean won (KRW) vs global currencies in the fourth quarter. Left unsaid was a callout about the U.S. dollar, which fell 6.9% against the won in Q4. While in better shape, the euro did fall 2.5% against the won in the same period. When converting KRW to USD in this post, I will use the historical exchange rates found on xe.com.

In 2020, operating revenue decline by 8.8%, or ₩47 billion, compared to 2019. On the positive side, PA's operating profit rose ₩6 billion (4%) over the same period as the company's operating profit margin increased from 28% to 32%.


Q4 2020 was not a good quarter for Pearl Abyss financially. Revenue fell by ₩14 billion (11.9%) quarter-over-quarter (QoQ) and ₩16.8 billion compared to the fourth quarter of 2019. As might be expected with the growing strength of the won vs major western currencies like the dollar & euro, the largest loss of revenue occurred in North America and Europe. Revenue in the western countries fell 15.9% QoQ, from ₩52.9 billion ($45.3 million) down to ₩44.5 billion ($40.9 million). Year-over-year figures painted a brighter picture, as revenue grew from ₩42.1 billion to ₩44.5 billion (5.7%).

Of even bigger concern is the drop in mobile gaming revenue. Mobile games in total accounted for a ₩10.3 billion drop in income from Q3 (₩51.7 billion, $44.2 million) to Q4 (₩41.4 billion, $38.0 million). A 19.9% drop in revenue represents a lot more than the rising strength of the won. The imposition of stricter lockdowns in many parts of the world due to the COVID-19 pandemic in Q4 is probably another major cause of the decline. In the pre-COVID world of Q4 2019, mobile games made up 54% of PA's revenue. In Q4 2020, that had declined down to 40%. The resulting 36.2% decline in YoY revenue (₩23.5 billion) was more than PC and console products could make up.


A breakdown of Pearl Abyss' two IPs shows both experienced double-digit revenue percentage losses quarter-over-quarter. Black Desert fell by 12.3%, from ₩96.4 billion ($82.3 million) to ₩84.4 billion ($77.5 million). Meanwhile, the EVE IP declined 10.3%, from ₩21.3 billion ($18.2 million) to ₩19.1 billion ($17.5 million). The big difference between the two franchises were the year-over-year numbers. Black Desert experienced a revenue drop of 21.7% while EVE revenue increased 54%.

Overall in 2020, Black Desert brought in ₩410 billion ($349 million) in 2020, a 14% decrease from 2019's total of ₩477.3 billion ($410.6 million). EVE did slightly better, relatively speaking. CCP improved upon its 2019 revenue total of ₩56.4 billion ($48.5 million) by 30.5%, earning ₩73.6 billion ($63.2 million) for the year.


Upcoming for 2021, Pearl Abyss is looking to improve PvP in Black Desert. For PC and consoles, PA is looking to what sounds like 10-character pre-made parties to go into PvP areas. For Black Desert Mobile, that game will soon receive its biggest PvP upgrade patch. Pearl Abyss will also begin self-publishing Black Desert Online in North America and Europe beginning 25 February. PA expects self-publishing will result in greater revenue growth as the NA/EU region accounts for 50% of BDO accounts.

For EVE, PA would like to expand into the Asian market, and pointed to the December introduction of a Japanese client as part of the effort. Players can expect a greater effort to introduce content attractive to Asian players into the game in the upcoming year. Earlier this month, Pearl Abyss received a license from the Chinese government to operate EVE Echoes in China and is working quickly to launch the game in the world's largest mobile games market.

Pearl Abyss also spoke more about Crimson Desert. Listeners were told that PA planned on concentrating on single-player console games. For those who don't know, Crimson Desert is a planned single-player game with a multi-players option and not an MMORPG.  Two upcoming games, DokeV and Plan 8, are still on schedule to launch in 2022 and 2023, respectively. 

The analysts on the call seemed particularly worried about Pearl Abyss' ability to publish its upcoming games as scheduled. Once again, an analyst asked about the timing of the launch of Crimson Desert. Pearl Abyss assured the analyst that the company was devoting all its resources to ensuring Crimson Desert launches in Q4 2021. But that assurance then brought a question about how the effort of launching Crimson Desert will affect the timed launches of other games in the pipeline. This concern by investors into PA launching games on-time will hopefully not result in games launching before fully ready.

Those are the highlights of the call as I saw them. Hopefully the information will come in handy as Pearl Abyss moves forward into 2021.

Monday, February 15, 2021

Guardian's Gala 2021 - Day 4 - Finding Success

What a difference a day makes!


I had only managed to acquire 25 points through the first three days by trying to kill the Serpentis and Guardian Angels. Sunday, I earned 80 points by sneaking up on them and hacking their sites.

The process for finding a Gala Network Support Site is fairly straightforward. Fly into a system. If the system has cosmic anomalies, launch probes. Only probe down data sites. The Gala Network Support Site is the name players are looking for. If another name shows up, move on.

The challenge is finding a system with a site in it. I found one in the 15th system I flew through. Then I found three others in the same system. For those who don't know, EVE's site spawning mechanics have a tendency to dump all the sites in one system in a constellation. If you know where those systems are, you can rack up a lot of points in a hurry.

I wound up having to fly back to my home station in order to redeem my prizes in the right place. I received the Rifter Amaranthine Mantle SKIN and the Agency Support Drop. The contents of the drop are randomized. I wound up with a booster with a speed bonus.


Overall, I was averaging about 5-6 million ISK per site in drops. The four sites I found were in high sec. Half my route was in low sec, where I did not find any sites. I didn't make it to null sec, as I filled up my cargo hold a couple of jumps away.

The only other thing I can report is the existence of a possible exploit. Due to the EVE Online Terms of Service, I'm going to refrain from discussing the details of the exploit. I'll just note that if I had used the exploit, I would have a lot more than 105 points. I don't know how CCP will react, but they could conceivably take account action, such as issuing suspensions, to those who used it. I don't know if the damage of spreading the details is bad enough for the devs to start issuing bans, buy why take the chance?

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Guardian's Gala 2021 - Days 2 and 3 - Loss

I managed to get 10 points yesterday by completing the Gala Gatecrashing challenge.


But the accomplishment came at a price. After spending the second day theory crafting how to improve my Claymore fit, I decided on day 3 to run a site in my Abyssal site running Vagabond instead. The little Minmatar HAC ran through everything like a hot knife through butter. Right up until the end when the Emcee Macharial landed on grid with an NPC Vindicator and four destroyers. I managed to take out the Vindicator and three destroyers. I even got the Macharial down to 1/4 shields. But alas, victory was not in the cards and my poor Vagabond went pop.

I went back to my home station, which was only one jump away, and hopped in my Claymore. The final boss went down fairly quickly with basically no support on the field. I also logged in my industrial character, put her in a Noctis, and looted the field. Overall, I picked up 16 million ISK in bounties and about 20 million in salvage and drops. Nowhere near close to compensating for the loss of my Vagabond.

What did I learn about the Gala sites? First, if you go into one, don't expect to run away. I managed to do that on day 1, but on day 3 I reached a point where so many points and scrams were on the field, it was win or die. I died.

Next, the NPCs really don't like drones. Maybe going into a site with a Rattlesnake is viable, but the NPCs prioritize drones.

Third, CCP does not want people to solo these sites. If I were to go into another site, I would do so either with other players or dual-boxing. I think I could clear a site using a auto-cannon fit Maelstrom combined with my Claymore providing boosts. However, I haven't dual-boxed missions in years. I might need to practice for the upcoming event The Hunt.

Fourth, high sec sites don't pay for crap. Forget about ship losses. The cost of ammo and lost drones would eat up a good portion of the profits. And that requires salvaging. Players going into the sites are looking for something besides an immediate payoff. A long term payoff might exist. I've only completed one site.

CCP did provide an exploration option. My plan for day 4 is to run at least one site. The "Backstage Break-In" challenge requires a data analyzer and a probe scanner. I have a ship or two that qualify. Hopefully I can report back with better news tomorrow.

Saturday, February 13, 2021

Guardian's Gala 2021 - Day 1 - Failure

Yesterday I learned what the slashes meant in the challenge descriptions.

The Gala Gatecrashing challenge is composed of 3 parts. The first, worth 5 points, is just entering a site. The second, killing 10 NPCs within a site, was worth 10 points. The final part, also worth 10 points, is killing the final boss in the site. But I failed to do so.

I decided to use my trusty XASB-fit Claymore. As I discovered, a wise choice. However, the ship just didn't have the staying power. I managed to get through the first two waves of NPCs. However, the second wave had two neuting Machariels which drained my capacitor to zero and turned off my hardeners. I went through a lot more cap boosters than I thought I would. Then, in the third wave, every NPC except the boss had scrams and/or points. It was kill all the tackle or lose a very expensive command ship. When I was left with just the boss to face, I was down to two charges in my ancillary shield booster. Since I didn't know what CCP had in store for me, I decided to warp off while I could.

The challenge is stuck on step 3/3 because I had to fly 6 jumps to my base in order to get more cap boosters. By the time I got back, someone else had completed the site. Stuff happens.

So, what went wrong. The first thing is I got greedy. I was carrying around a mobile tractor unit which takes up 100 m3. By cutting down the I really could have used the another set of cap boosters to load  into the XASB.


Next, I think I need to change my tank in two ways. First, I need to change one of my multispectrum shield hardeners to a kinetic shield hardener. Serpentis NPC damage is fairly split between thermal (55%) and kinetic (45%).  Swapping out the hardener would change my resist profile from 86/79 to 83/84. I think it might help, but I'm not sure.

The second tank change is to swap out the Skirmish Command Burst II for a second Shield Command Burst II. While hurting my mobility, I would add another 8% to my raw shield hit points. Given the speed of the NPCs, I'm not outrunning anything anyway.

The final change is to break down and use faction missiles. I use faction ammo in abyssal sites and I need to treat the Guardian Gala sites the same way. Besides, I already have 130K Inferno Heavy Missiles. I just need to give some to an alt to upgrade to the faction version.


So after day 1 I am sitting at 15 points, 35 points away from getting a SKIN. I only attempted one site. I've also collected 350,000 ISK in dropped items. And yet, that was a couple of hours of time. At this point, I'm not feeling very satisfied.

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Guardian's Gala 2021 - Introducing The Event

CCP launched the latest iteration of Guardian's Gala today. Those who bother to look at the launcher could click on a news article and get a short description.

Gatecrashing Capsuleers,

As part of the new Reign Quadrant, the notorious Guardian's Gala event returns to New Eden, and you are once again invited to disrupt the annual Serpentis pirates and Angel Cartel celebrations! There are event sites in known space and wormhole space, daily login rewards, plus 90% PvP loot drops and an increase to warp speed in wormhole space until 11:00 UTC on 23 February.

Guardian's Gala sites in wormhole space offer greater challenges, and contain more lucrative rewards. Valuable loot up for grabs includes Serpentis and Domination faction items, ship SKINs, limited time Skill Point boosters, and Overseers' Effects which can be sold for ISK.

As well as the Guardian's Gala event sites, you can also claim free gifts through the daily login event until 11:00 UTC on 23 February, including Spirit SKINs available for Serpentis ships for the first time, and thousands of Skill Points to help boost your skill training.

I was curious to see how much information CCP provided in the game client about the event. The answer was quite a bit. The information flow begins at the character select screen.

First, the player learns Guardian's Gala is running and for how much longer. Logging in for the first day, players learn that the event runs for 12 days and that players are only required to log in for 7 of those 12 days to earn all of the log in rewards. The maximum amount of skill points players can receive is 55,000 for Alpha (non-subscribed) players and 150,000 for Omega (subscribed) players. Alpha players who play for 6 of the 12 days will also receive Spirit SKINs for the three Serpentis faction sub-capital ships: Daredevil (frigate), Vigilant (cruiser), and Vindicator (battleship). In addition to the Serpentis ship SKINs, Omega players will also receive SKINs for the three Minmatar battleships, with the Tempest receiving an Amaranthine Mantle SKIN instead of a Spirt SKIN.

Once I selected my character, a screen popped up announcing the event. At this point, I don't think a player can state he didn't know the event exists. Once closing the pop-up, The Agency then shows a section for the event.

Upon clicking on the Guardian's Gala panel, the information for the event displays.

This screen displays a lot of information. The big one for me is that one doesn't have to have good combat skills to participate. Halfway decent exploration skills with probing and hacking will also allow a player to participate. At first glance, players will have the option of doing two different types of challenge, running a standard "shoot NPC" site and running a data or relic site. The introduction challenge is a data site, but I imagine that is due to RNG. 

The other useful information is how many points is required to get all the prizes for the event. And of course, a list of more rewards for activity. They are:

  • 50 points: Rifter Amaranthine Mantle SKIN
  • 100 points: 1 Agency Support Drop (usually boosters)
  • 150 points: Cynabal Serpentis SKIN
  • 200 points: Macharial Serpentis SKIN

If all of the challenges earn 5 points, then all a player needs to do is complete 40 challenges to earn all the event prizes.

Of course, CCP didn't give out all the relevant information about the event in the client. The big one, of course, is how good the drops from NPCs are. The other are the other challenges. I already guess that the exploration challenges will differ between data and relic sites. With the combat challenge displaying "1/3", does that mean three different challenges exist? Or does it mean players can only do 3 combat and 2 exploration challenges each day?

My plan is to write something about Guardian's Gala each day of the event. I'm not sure if 12 days of content exist, but I did the same for FFXIV's Ishgard Restoration event, so why not Guardian's Gala? Tomorrow, I hope to report back on the answers to the above questions.

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

EVE Online - Reign

Did anyone else think that CCP had abandoned the quadrant system? Never fear, the developers were just running a little late. Named Reign, the quadrant for the first quarter doesn't seem to have a consistent theme. Maybe travel? From the news article:

Reigning Capsuleers,

Achieve tactical supremacy and victory in New Eden with EVE Online's new Quadrant "Reign", the first in 2021! Launching a new year of Quadrants after 2020's successful introduction of themed content for EVE, Reign brings with it exciting new updates to fleets and travel, continuous balance and meta changes, plus returning events such as the Guardian's Gala and The Hunt.

Fleet options in EVE will improve during the Reign Quadrant thanks to the Fleet Discovery update.

Many more upcoming changes will soon see the light as the Quadrant progresses, as has been the case for all of EVE's Quadrants so far. One upcoming change will give Capsuleers more control over fleet formations and presence on the battlefield. For the curious, the Quadrant trailer is a solid starting point for theory crafters.

The Reign Quadrant also kicks off with substantial improvements to jump tunnel animations, providing a more immersive sci-fi experience, with the regions you are travelling between now visually reflected in the tunnel itself!

In addition, there are updates to how your home station is represented on the map, how it's managed, with the price for changing its location removed, plus quality of life improvements throughout the Quadrant which some you can check out on the EVE Online forums!

The notorious Guardian's Gala event will return to New Eden this week, and you are once again invited to disrupt the annual Serpentis pirates and Angel Cartel celebrations! Guardian's Gala will include daily rewards for players logging in - More info on that is coming very soon. In addition to that, the Abyssal Proving Grounds will continue into 2021 as well.

CCP also produced a trailer.


Fleet formations? Has CCP actually brought precision flying to EVE? And will a generation of players used to flying in a ball around a fleet commander adapt to the feature, or totally ignore it?

I'm looking forward to the changes to the jump tunnel animations. Back when the last one was introduced, it gave me motion sickness until I adapted to the feeling by not looking at my screen. Hopefully I can enjoy the work of the art team when jumping between systems now.

I'm also looking forward to the two listed events, Guardian's Gala and The Hunt. CCP introduced Guardian's Gala in 2017. The Hunt made its debut a year later. I should add that CCP likes to mix things up, so combat may differ from previous years.

I intend on running the Guardian's Gala and give updates similar to what I did for the Ishgard Restoration crafting event in Final Fantasy XIV in January. That's right, I'm actually going to log in and shoot things. I probably need to check my ammo supply. I have plenty of autocannon ammo, but do I need to switch to missiles? Since the event begins this week, I won't have long to wait.

Monday, February 8, 2021

Final Fantasy XIV: Getting The Skybuilders' Needle

On Sunday I managed to complete the Main Story Questline in Shadowbringers' 5.4. The game even displays a nice icon displaying the fact.

I did it!

I almost didn't complete the quests, though, because I had decided to get the Skybuilders' Needle first. I know, I know. The new tool only has 14 more craftsmanship & 13 more control over the Skysung Needle I already had. But the Skybuilders' Needle was introduced in 5.45 and I thought having at least one relic item within a week of the patch launch would be fun. Plus, I heard the tool glows. So off I went to get one.

The first thing was figuring out what I needed to craft in order to get the new tool. Turns out I needed to create a collectable item called the Oddly Delicate Rhea Cloth.

The hardest item I'd ever crafted

Getting the ingredients was the easy part. The cocoons and ice stalagmites are found in The Diadem. One harvesting session and one mining session supplied all the mats I needed, plus a couple hundred thousand gil besides.

Enie's selection of special crafting ingredients

Obtaining the Oddly Delicate Rhea wasn't a problem. I picked up more than enough scrips to purchase all the ingredient during my gathering sessions. I just had to visit Enie and purchase what I needed. The problem I would encounter is crafting the items themselves.

Oddly Delicate Rhea Cloth is a level 80 4-star recipe. Basically, among the hardest items to craft in terms of skill in Final Fantasy XIV. I had to treat the quest much like an end-game dungeon and wear the best gear possible. Which meant overmelding as much as possible. Remember all that gil I had left after purchasing a cottage? I spent a lot of it trying to duplicate a build I found online. I didn't finish, but I did wind up with 2741 craftsmanship, 2730 control, and 545 crafting points when including my specialization in weaving. 

Yes, the crafter's name is listed on items

By eating properly and taking my medicine, I upped my statistics to 2741 craftsmanship, 2842 control, and 617 crafting points.

I still had one major hurdle. I needed to learn a new way of crafting. The way I have crafted since I started playing wasn't efficient enough.

4500 or bust!

I needed 60 Oddly Delicate Needle Parts. I did not want to have to craft 60 items. The way I approached the problem was simple. If I could get two of the needle parts every craft, the crafting itself was worthwhile. I eventually found a guide from Patch 5.21 that taught the basic techniques which I adapted to the current challenge. I did find an instructional video, but I need to complete my overmelding first before I can use that crafting pattern. The guy was running a build with a base of 2759 craftsmanship, 2821 control, and 569 crafting points before food and medicine.

After I got the hang of the method (and stopped clicking on Careful Synthesis instead of Observe), I routinely exceeded 4500 collectability and would get 6500+ collectability about half the time. Honestly, I was happier with the improvement in my crafting skill than I was getting the new version of the relic tool. And I was very happy when I received the Skybuilders' Needle.

Showing off the new tool

I do have to applaud the nice touch Squar Enix included after I received my new tool. I then received a quest to show it off! A nice role play quest, because after spending all the gil and doing all the work, I definitely wanted to tell everyone. Might as well tell the NPCs too, right?

Now, for the big question. Was getting the Skybuilders' Needle worth the effort? I think so. My understanding is that the final version of the relic tool is best in slot for the next 6-8 months. With any luck, my crafting gear will carry me well into Endwalker, perhaps even until reaching level 90. I also learned a lot more about crafting not only in the final step, but in the journey from upgrading the tool from the original iLevel 440 version up until it became the Skysung Needle. While I'm poorer in terms of gil, I'm richer for the experience.

Saturday, February 6, 2021

The Next Final Fantasy XIV Expansion: Endwalker

On Friday evening in North America Square Enix presented a live stream discussing the upcoming 6.0 expansion. Titled Endwalker, the release is scheduled for sometime in the fall of 2021. The main story arc featuring the conflict between Zodiark and Hydaelyn begun in A Realm Reborn in 2013 will end by the end of 6.0. Patch 6.1 will introduce a new main story arc.

Before continuing I should add important news for console players. Players with a registered license for PS4 will be able to upgrade to the PS5 version free of cost. You didn't know that Square Enix had a PS5 version of FFXIV available? The open beta for the latest generation console begins on 13 April, the day Patch 5.5 goes live on the servers.

The initial trailer showed players that a trip to the moon is in their futures in Endwalker. Lunar content isn't new for the Final Fantasy franchise. Players travelled to an artificial moon in Final Fantasy IV

The new expansion will introduce two new jobs, one healer and one melee DPS. The trailer revealed one of those jobs, the Sage. The job will fill out the need for a fourth healing job to balance out the numbers of jobs for the other roles. The weapon Alphinaud uses in the trailer is called a nouliths. The Sage is a "barrier-type" healer, like the Scholar. In order to maintain symmetry, the Astrologian will be reworked to make the job a more pure healer like the White Mage. 

The requirements to play the Sage are to have one other job levelled to 70 and have purchased the Endwalker expansion. Square Enix will reveal the second new job at the digital fan festival in May.

The level cap in Endwalker will rise from 80 to 90. However, that requires a stats decrease. The numbers generated during combat already cause issues.

When the damage text causes rendering issues and Patch 5.5 had a boss with 440 million hit points, the developers probably need to do something to fix the situation. Basically, as many other MMORPGs have done over the years, the stats are getting squished.

Theoretically, the relative power of players remains the same. As of now, though, players running old dungeons in undersized parties will have a harder go of things. The amount of damage for level 80 players is expected to be 80% less than today.

Two other subjects in the presentation interested me. The first is that the belt slot will no longer exist as of Endwalker. Any equipped items will automatically wind up with the Calamity Salvagers for safekeeping. That includes any belts equipped by retainers. Of the 35 belt slots in the Armory, 15 will go to primary weapons and 15 to rings, giving each of those sections 50 storage slots. The other 5 slots are not reallocated at this time.

The other area is housing. The new housing district in Ishgard will only open up to visitors with the launch of Endwalker. Players cannot purchase housing in the district until Patch 6.1.

The new feature is called Island Sanctuary. The impression I was left with was that the islands were some sort of instanced content allowing players to grow plants and animals. Hopefully the developers will announce more details at the upcoming digital fan festival in May.

I haven't included items such as the 8-passenger Lunar Whale mount and the 3 minions available for purchase during the digital fan festival. Or the ability to travel between data centers, not just worlds on a data center. The latest producer's live letter is coming out as I finish this post and I'd like a change to look it over before commenting on some of the changes that are not that important to me. I might change my mind.

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

New Eden Law - The Rushlock Kerfuffle

I first gained notice in EVE Online for my blogging about botting and real money trading. Writing about those subjects used to require knowing about the EULA and the Terms of Service. The main period of my "legal" writing stretched from the first Somerblink RMT scandal in October 2013 to the end of approved player-run gambling in October 2016. Despite the return of gambling to the EVE client in December 2019, I managed to refrain from returning to the subject. But I saw a kerfuffle arise today on the EVE Online sub-Reddit I thought was an interesting case study in RMT allegations.

In November 2020, CCP announced its new partnership program. I don't have direct knowledge of how the program works because my blog is too small to qualify. Okay, I lied. Having seen how these programs work, I wouldn't join even if I did qualify. I didn't join the previous incarnation of the program. And the following tale might, in part, explain why.

On the EVE sub-Reddit, a place with more sodium chloride than the Dead Sea, someone decided to complain about the Partnership Program. Of course, the OP decided to weaponize RMT activity, which drew my attention. The relevant segment of the post is below:

Now it's time we take a closer look at how the Eve Partnership Program is currently being ran. Eve partner Rushlock has every CCP supplied scope skins behind a level 5 hypetrain paywall on Twitch (https://clips.twitch.tv/NeighborlySecretiveCaribouLitFam) . This means he's requiring about $40-$50+ of monetary gain to release a skin into the community which CCP supplied to boost Eve activity across platforms. Other Eve Partner streamers have advised that CCP gave them permission to give skins directly to contributors on their platform, this includes monetary donations apparently. So streamers can set monetary values for people to directly receive skins without moderation from CCP.

Rushlock, a Twitch streamer, has the unfortunate practice of using the term "paywall" during his streams.

A streamer putting content behind a paywall, especially when the content is a givaway, is strictly forbidden. But is Rushlock's "paywall" a paywall for the purposes of the EVE Online Content Creation Terms of Use? First, we need to review exactly how the "hype train paywall" works.

According to Twitch...

Hype Train incoming! Hype Train is a super-sized celebration when community members unite to support a streamer they love. It challenges the community to reach epic levels of hype and rewards participants for keeping the train on track. A Hype Train will kick off when there’s a spike in support events (such as subscriptions, or use of Bits or Sub Tokens) from different viewers in a channel, based on a threshold set by each Streamer. This activates a countdown, during which all participants earn emote rewards for supporting the channel.

One of the important items to note is that a single account cannot initiate a hype train...

A Hype Train is kicked off when there is a spike in Bits or Subscription activity in a channel coming from different viewers within a specific time frame. Once kicked off everyone in chat can help fill the Hype-o-Meter by using Bits, subscribing, gifting subs, subscribing with Prime on web, or using sub tokens on iOS.

However, I heard Rushlock on the stream say something about triggering a hype train using alt accounts. So there is that.

So basically, a drawing doesn't occur unless the hype train feature hits level 5. Hitting level 5 requires the expenditure of real world currency. However, reaching hype level 5 doesn't hand players an in-game item.

Before continuing, I need to describe the item. The prize is a SKIN designed specifically for the Partnership Program.

To help you draw attention to your work and engage with your audience, we’ve developed a new line of SKINs which will be available only through our partners. Every month we’ll give you a big bundle of SKINs to use for giveaways, contests, or other creative ways of rewarding your audience while hopefully encouraging more people to check out what you make. Our initial lineup has a SKIN for a different hull every month to keep things fresh and to keep people coming back!

So, Rushlock has an in-game item that he gives away once a certain amount of real world currency is paid to trigger a drawing. But, contributing to the hype train effort is not required to win. Also, I checked with Rushlock and the drawing is not restricted to subscribers. As far as I can tell, there is no restriction to who can win.

With the background set, let's go through the EVE Online Content Creation Terms of Service. Four conditions will determine whether Rushlock is breaking any rules.

Non-Commercial - your content must be available free of charge to everyone and cannot be blocked behind a paywall or premium subscription. You also cannot receive direct profits from sales of said content or its ownership unless you receive prior written permission from CCP. Ultimately, this is still our stuff that you are looking to use; we need you to get creative.

Rushlock fulfills all of the conditions for this set of checks. His Twitch stream is available for all viewers. The giveaway is not locked so that only subscribers can enter the drawing. Anyone with an EVE account can win. Technically, people without EVE accounts can also win, but they won't have the ability to accept the prize. The fact that viewers have to contribute a certain amount of money for the drawing to take place is not covered under this block of conditions.

Monetization – you can monetize the content by generating revenue through appropriate passive advertisement, e.g., pre-roll video ads, website ads, sponsor ad overlays. Soliciting personal donations or offering subscription-based content is also permissible, as long as a) this does not interfere with everyone’s ability to view the content, b) is in line with the terms of use of the platform used, and c) features unique content created by you in the form of commentary, gameplay, graphics, animations, or cosplay.

As far as I can tell, Rushlock's promotion does not violate any of the monetization rules. All viewers still have the capability of viewing the content, the hype train feature is a Twitch feature, and Rushlock plays EVE throughout the stream.

Giveaways – if any in-game assets are used in giveaways to promote the popularity of your content or brand, there must be full parity between users who are viewing the content for free and those who are subscribed, and all viewers of content must have the same access to giveaways and the same chance to win prizes regardless of any subscription fees paid. In situations when CCP have sponsored the rewards (digital or physical), you must, in addition to the above, disclose this information conspicuously to all participants by adding a relevant description to your videos, stream titles, or other places it makes sense.

Once again, Rushlock's promotion follows all of the rules in the Giveaways section. All viewers, subscribers and non-subscribers alike, have the same chance of winning. The only quibble I have is whether Rushlock adequately announces that the SKINs were donated by CCP. But that's a judgement call for the community team to make and doesn't really have any bearing on whether RMT is involved.

Terms of Use – CCP Content cannot be used in any way that violates our general Terms of Service. It must also be in line with the terms of use of any third-party platform your content is created for.

I call this section the SomerBlink rule. From 2010-2013, Somerset Mahm used his casino, SomerBlink, to launder at least $135,000, and possibly as much as $175,000, in ISK using his status as an affiliate of a Game Time Code reseller. Somerset's actions violated the EULA, but the Game Time Code reseller's agreement overrode the EULA. CCP reversed course and changed the GTC reseller's agreement so that players could no longer take actions that violated the EULA, with the change taking effect the first week of November 2013.

Looking at the Terms of Service, I see one condition Rushlock's promotion violates.

7. You may not violate any local, state, national or international laws or regulations.

I'm afraid that, due to the presence of money, some jurisdictions, particularly those in Europe that have banned lootboxes, would consider Rushlock's scheme a form of gambling. Of particular note is the situation in the United Kingdom. Politicians across all political parties are in favor of changing the Gambling Act of 2005 to make loot boxes illegal. The UK legal firm of White & Case explained how the concept of "money's worth" needed to change.

The Report examined the gambling regulatory framework, namely the Gambling Act 2005 (the "Act"). The Act states that a regulated form of gambling means playing a game of chance for a prize which means "money or money's worth" and includes both a prize provided by a person organising gaming and winnings of money staked. The UK Gambling Commission provided evidence to DCMSC that the Act in its current form does not apply to loot boxes, as in game items have no real world monetary value, and therefore do not fall within the meaning of "money's worth" in the Act. Whilst the Report acknowledged that the Act was not neatly applicable to the economics of the gaming industry, it concluded that loot boxes should in future be considered as games of chance played for "money's worth", and recommended that the Government should specifically bring loot boxes into section 6 of the Act through new regulations or commission research to counter the Report's view. [emphasis mine]

If the contents of a loot box become "money's worth", then so would the custom SKINs CCP gives to the content creators in the Partnership Program. In addition, back in 2017 the U.K. Gambling Commission issued a paper that suggested that third party RMT could make a virtual item money's worth.

“3.17 The payment of a stake (key) for the opportunity to win a prize (in-game items) determined (or presented as determined) at random bears a close resemblance, for instance, to the playing of a gaming machine. Where there are readily accessible opportunities to cash in or exchange those awarded in-game items for money or money’s worth those elements of the game are likely to be considered licensable gambling activities.”

The 2017 paper also stated that if third parties convert a social gaming activity to gambling, then the developers of the game do bear responsibility. The paper stated in paragraph 3.16:

“However, we are strongly of the view that the video games industry should not be, or perceived to be, passive to the exploitation of their player community by predatory third parties. The significant risk of harm posed by these unregulated gambling websites, whilst unintended, is nonetheless a by-product of the manner in which games have been developed and in-game economies incorporated for commercial benefit.”

I suspect that two countries that have banned loot boxes, Belgium and Netherlands, might look askance at Rushlock's giveaway. And the situation will become worse as time goes on and more countries take action against video game associated gambling.

Now, I have to admit, if Rushlock were some random streamer, I wouldn't have spent the time and effort to write this post. But, he belongs to CCP's Partner Program and is giving out unique SKINs provided by the developers. While not as egregious a situation as the SomerBlink scandal involving Gold Magnates and Guardian Vexors, the fact someone approved by CCP is using giveaways to make money in the real world isn't sitting well with people as they find out about the situation.

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Habits

I woke up this morning with something I haven't felt in a long time: a desire to play EVE. Unfortunately, I had to jump on a 6:30am conference call instead. Playing an MMORPG becomes a habit, and a break in service can lead a player to stray away.

For me, that break was the one introduced by the major DDoS attack that occurred in late January 2020. While I waited for Tranquility to stabilize, I began playing a lot more Final Fantasy XIV. Normally, preparations for Fanfest would bring me back to the EVE universe during the spring. But not in 2020. On 28 February, CCP announced the cancellation of the event due to the emerging COVID pandemic. Without the prospect of an EVE meet-up on the horizon, I turned further and further into the land of Eorzea.

The habit of playing FFXIV became entrenched in early April 2020 when I reached the Heavensward expansion content. Shadowbringers is a better expansion, but Heavensward is where I truly fell in love with the game. Looking back at my old blog posts and my Steam account, I've averaged 25 hours a week playing FFXIV over the past several months. I've kept my EVE accounts subbed, but I haven't done much more than occasionally undock during that time.

One year after the DDoS attacks that disrupted my EVE play, I'm reaching the end of the main story questline in FFXIV. Another disruption is coming, because I don't think finishing up my crafting and gathering gear while decorating my cottage is going to take that much time. I also doubt that the next expansion will arrive in the next 2-3 months. Still, without an event like a prolonged DDoS attack to interrupt my access to FFXIV, my time in New Eden may remain limited.

Monday, February 1, 2021

Final Fantasy XIV - Almost Caught Up In 5.4

Over the weekend I defeated Elidibus in The Seat of Sacrifice and completed the main scenario questline in Patch 5.3, Reflections in Crystal. I'm on the brink of entering the new 5.4 dungeon, Matoya's Relict, the last major hurdle to reaching the end of the MSQ. Even taking my time with the final few quests, I'll have reached the end of the story in about 18 months.

The main story reached its conclusion at the end of Patch 5.3, so I can safely say that Shadowlands is the best expansion I've ever played in an MMORPG. These last patches are setting up the story for the next expansion so will not have any impact on my enjoyment of Shadowlands. The difference between the latest expansion and other expansions is the emotional payoff.

The driving force in the Shadowlands story is the main antagonist, the Ascian Emet-Selch.


FFXIV is the only Final Fantasy game I have played, but at least in the MMORPG, the best story arcs are the ones in which the storyteller humanizes all the participants and introduces some moral ambiguity into the conflict. I think that's what made the Heavensward expansion story so powerful. In Shadowbringers, Square turned up the impact to 11. Natsuko Ishikawa, the lead main scenario writer, did a tremendous job of turning what could have been a one-dimensional villain into a fan favorite. I see Emet-Selch somewhat of a cross between Q from Star Trek: The Next Generation and Darth Vader.

If I can get the last 7 quests completed, I can then consider levelling up a second job until the release of Patch 5.5. Square Enix is presenting an announcement showcase Friday night I need to see. And for the first time in a long, long time I will be caught up to participate in new content when released.