The Joy of PLEX

The team at CCP dove fully into the in-game currency selling market with EVE Online a while back with their 30 day CONCORD Pilot License Extension program, or PLEX.

For $35 you can buy two PLEX which you can then sell to people in-game for somewhere between 250 and 400 million ISK. (Planning and patience can be worth 150 million ISK!)  You get your ISK, another player gets 30 more days of play time without laying out any cash, everybody is happy.

But what I really like about this is that it gives people a baseline value for ISK and things bought and sold with ISK.

A friend dropped me a note about the game.  He is starting off and while he likes the game, he is more interested in *pew* *pew* and less interested in the sometimes grindy acquisition of ISK.  (I’ll admit, mining is an acquired taste, and all the more so when mineral prices are down.)

He was wondering about buying ISK.  He had looked around and found some 3rd party seller looking to unload ISK at a rate of $70 per billion.  There is the wonder of EVE again, where 10,000 ISK and 1,000,000,000 can both be meaningful and meaningless in the right context.

Anyway, I pointed out that if you get caught buying from such a source, CCP will take it away from you.  That and a warning seems to be the standard for a first offense.

But I also did the math.

Even as a quick, low end sale, $35 buys you two PLEX which will get you 500 million ISK, so $70 would get you a billion and it would be risk free.  Potentially though, played right, that $35 gets you pretty close to the billion mark.  So the best case scenario would be paying the same price for a greatly increased risk.

That pretty much cleared up the situation for him on that front.

Then later I was IM’ing with another friend who mentioned that a corp mate sold one of his characters.  This is also legal in EVE Online.  You can sell a character for ISK.  You cannot sell your account however, nor can you sell your character for real world currency under the rules of the game.  But transferring a character for ISK is perfectly acceptable and CCP has a process that protects both buyer and seller.

Anyway, the selling price for the character in question was 8 billion ISK, which seems like a lot.  Just a billion of anything is a lot to me.

But then I did the calculation.  8 billion ISK buys you 26 months of game play, using the safe middle ground number of 300 million ISK per PLEX.  26 months of play is, at most, if you pay by the month, around $390.  And if you pay by the quarter like I do, it is down closer to $340.  That isn’t enough for me to want to sell either of my long term characters, assuming that I could even get that much money for any of them.

Not that you can actually cash out, because you end up with ISK or game time, but it gives you a sense of the monetary value of that transaction or really any transaction in the game, including making 3rd party ISK sellers look a bit silly at time.  You may view that as a good thing or a bad thing, a real measurement you can bring home or a breaking of immersion, but there it is.

Now the whole PLEX thing works in EVE Online with its single server (but regional markets and no instant delivery) and economy where everything can be bought for ISK, but where ISK is not really a measure of success.

But then you wonder, what other games could support something similar to PLEX?

Which economies are robust enough to support that sort of thing?  You’d think with the constant talk about illicit gold buying, (and how it will never go away) that there would be some games with enough currency flow to be able to practically implement something like PLEX.

8 thoughts on “The Joy of PLEX

  1. Bronte

    The problem with a lot of other economies is also inflation. In vanilla WoW, having 1K gold was a pretty major deal. It took a lot of patience to accumulate that amount of digital money.

    These days a gold is worthless. As a marketing major, I can manipulate the hyper-inflated cut-throat economy to easily make the 30K+ or so gold across all my characters…


  2. anonomouse

    I like having that conversion value for feeling a real loss when I get my ship blown up. For example, if a month is $15 or 300M isk, and I get my 100M ship blown up, I know I just “lost” a $5 ship. a 1B isk ship is like $50. When two big fleets get in a fight, hundreds of dollars are being blown up. Somehow, that makes it more exciting for me.


  3. We Fly Spitfires

    CCP are very smart. They obviously understood that if they didn’t introduce a system, people would find a way to do it illegally anyway, and thus decided that it would better for them to come up with one, protect the player, and profit from it at the same time.

    It’s a clever system because, like you said, a player can effectively buy ISK for cash and sell ISK for game time but can never ‘cash out’, as you put it. It’s like 2/3s of a full buy-sell system like in Second Life which maintains the core of the game but solves the problem of gold selling.


  4. Wilhelm2451 Post author

    @Bronte – At a high level, I agree with you that the PLEX idea probably wouldn’t fly for WoW. However, I am not sure the in-game value of gold would be one of the reasons.

    If Blizz sold a $15 in-game item that was good for 30 days of play time that you could put up on the AH, I am going to bet that, over time, a standard price would work its way out. Then the people who churn gold would keep churning to pay their bills and those of us who don’t have the time could spend a bit of cash to boost our gold supply. Blizz would still get paid so they would still be happy.

    The problem I see is the AH itself. Since there is no buy order function, there would be a painful period of figuring out the right price, with no end of “I sold too low” support tickets opened. And on the low pop faction of a low pop server, you might never reach that equilibrium point.

    Blizz could fix that (a single, server wide AH springs to mind), but I don’t know that they would ever bother.

    CCP’s in-game marketplace is smart in many ways.


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  6. Jason

    I think the easiest solution in WoW would be for blizzard to control the price of game time as valued by ingame currency. Set a price point slightly below the cheapest you can buy it on any given server, and work it through a vendor as opposed to the AH. Make the vendors easily available in nearly every quest hub, yet let them operate more like the Auction House. That is to say when a player buys a time card and inputs it, they are given a code. The code results in an item which can be sold to the vendor for a set amount of gold. The vendor then has a supply of 1 time coin, which can be purchased for the same amount of gold it was sold at.

    While that’s something that could be devalued by ingame economic inflation, it would be reasonably simple to implement. The other added benefit from this would be to allow Blizzard a level of control to the process, which tends to soothe the savage gamer horde whenever they roll out something similar to this.


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  8. Naetharu


    I think you are missing the core point of how PLEX works. The key is that someone is still playing for ALL of the game time. Just, rather than the player who uses the PLEX paying for his own subscription, his game time is paid for by the person who purchases the PLEX.

    The key point here being that CCP are getting at least the same amount of cash that they would be if there were no PLEX and probably quite a bit more (presuming that some players would not play unless it was free due to PLEX).

    If WoW (or any other game) were to use your suggested “vendor” system it would bypass someone actually paying real cash for the game time in the first place; it would just be Blizzard giving away their product for free to those willing to part with their in-game gold. As such it would make no business sense.


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