Opting Out of the Economy? Is PLEX Cheating?

I have written about PLEX before.

(And I have used that graphic before… look at the price of PLEX in the background!)

I have praised PLEX as a way to stem the illicit RMT market.  I have wondered if a game like WoW could support something like PLEX.  I have marveled at CCP allowing PLEX to be treated as an in-game object like any other, and how that lead to the inevitable giant loss event.

But I have never really bothered with the idea of it being cheating.

Primarily because, technically, PLEX is not and cannot be considered cheating because it is allowed, created, and administered by CCP.  They say it is okay and they make the rules, so therefore it is not cheating, QED.  And even before PLEX, CCP allowed the purchase of time codes with ISK, the in game currency.  PLEX just removed some of the complexities.  (You can still buy time codes and turn them into PLEX, which some web sites use as a way to get financial support.)

But that aside, there is the question of PLEX giving those with money an advantage over those without, and this is the aspect that Rohan appears to be wrestling with over at Blessing of Kings.

I have been reading Blessing of Kings for ages, it being a source for all things Paladin related in World of Warcraft.

But Rohan has recently ventured into New Eden, and I have been following his posts on the subject with interest.  Jaded after more than five years of exposure to EVE, it is interesting to read about somebody entering the game afresh and discovering its myriad complexities, especially somebody with a critical eye like his.

He has recently hit upon PLEX as being something that allows a player to skip content, or to cheat.  The focus seems, from my read, to be entirely on the economic aspect of the game.

He divides the economic sphere into “producers” and “consumers,” something I find to be a bit of a false dichotomy.

First, there is a lot of gray area in between the two from my point of view.  There are lost of people who just like the industry side of the game.  And there are, I am sure, people who just buy PLEX to turn pirate and hunt other players.  But in between?

What of the mission runner who focuses only on the mission reward and thus optimizes his efforts to completing them as fast as possible?  He never loots, he never salvages, and he certainly never stops to mine any tasty ore that might show up in a mission.  He merely consumes the mission content, adding to the market place approximately the same as the person who buys PLEX.

And what about me?  For the last four months I have been in null sec, I have ratted a little bit for bounties, but have pretty much steered clear of the economic sphere.  I have been in coalition fleets for battles, and when I lose a ship my alliance reimburses me the cost of my ship and sells me a replacement at a very good price, thus subsidizing my play.  How does that differ, in terms of economic impact, from the buyer of PLEX?  My choice has essentially opted me out of the production aspect of the game as well.

Second, the consumption side of the does, in fact, add to the economic sphere of the game.  Nothing keeps the production people going like some pirates out there blowing up ships.  The so-called consumer is in fact a very important aspect of the producer’s life.  Without him, the producer is done.

Third, there is the standard argument about how ISK does not translate into power in the game.  You cannot jump ahead in skill points to allow you to fly a more powerful ship, you have to train them one point at a time like everybody else.  Yes, you can buy implants, and those do help some, but the noob to titan training plan is still most of a year even with +5 modules.

More importantly, ISK does not impart skill.  Ships in the game are all vulnerable.  In WoW, a level 1 player in starter gear would be severely challenged to kill an AFK top tier raider in full gear.  There is a vast discrepancy in power between the two, imparted by equipment and skills that come with levels.  But in EVE, the wily frigate pilot can take down a strategic cruiser.  (The first kill in that post, which made Dabigredboat quite smug.)

Finally, the consumer of content that uses PLEX does add something to the game.  The person who buys PLEX for cash and sells it on the market for ISK gives the producer the option to pay for his game time via the fruit of his labors.  CCP still gets paid, the guy selling the PLEX gets his ISK, and producer gets a real life reward for his work.  For me, that is high on the list of “best features ever.”

Rohan then goes on to a horrible analogy, though in fairness, I should say that I think almost all analogies are horrible.  People who agree with you already go, “Yeah!” while people who disagree pick apart the points where the analogy falls down (and the analogy ALWAYS falls down under close examination… if it didn’t, it wouldn’t be an analogy) and nobody’s opinion is altered one iota. (See Scott Adams.)

Anyway, this analogy involved a theoretical immortality pod that would let you opt out of PvP for 30 days as the opposing side of the PLEX issue.  To my mind, this is absolutely not the case.  Said pod would be game breaking… opting out of PvP in what is a PvP game… and would literally remove content, as opposed to PLEX, which merely changes one aspect of a players interaction with the game.  Your PLEX buying gank pirate is still creating demand for production, still buying from the market, and giving the producer something special.  The immortality pod is a literal opt-out of the nature of the game.  It isn’t skipping the part of the game he doesn’t enjoy, it is skipping the game.  Enough people do that and the end result is the death or production as an ongoing concern.

Anyway, this is all debating society level discussion.  CCP is not going to take out PLEX and they certainly are not going to introduce an immortality pod.  But it is always interesting to try and hash out what PLEX means to the game as a whole.

What do you think of PLEX?

[Addendum: If you are looking for other ways to make ISK, read this excellent article.]

New Blogger Initiative pointers of the day that can be gleaned from this post:

-Taking long comment responses to other people’s blog posts and turning them into posts on your own blog is an easy way to come up with a post idea, and fosters a sense of community between blogs by linking them together in some sort of web-like structure.  (Link whoring)

-Link back to past posts you have made on the same subject.  It keeps you from having to repeat yourself, it gets people to look something not on the front page of your blog, and when some site steals your content, at least you’ll get a bit of traffic back with those links.  (Link whoring)

-Polls are an easy way to finish up a post when you aren’t clear where you are headed and you feel you need to distract your readers from the weakness in you argument. (Hiding your link whoring)

34 thoughts on “Opting Out of the Economy? Is PLEX Cheating?

  1. kinzlayer

    In my six years of EvE, I have bought two plexes, both of which came at the start of my 2nd epoc in EvE. After not playing EvE for six months, way back in 2009, I came back and figure Plex was a good boost to start up again without the previous taken steps. You learn after a while that Plex is a great tool to have when you need it but most of the time you don’t need it, EvE is full of ISK faucets just have to figure out where it is and start filling your own buckets.


  2. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    Riverini at EVE News 24 informs me that real slackers don’t buy PLEX, they bot. And then howl about the unfairness of life and how they were doing a service to the economy when they get busted.


  3. spinks

    I dunno, do you think RMT is cheating? And if it is, then is a mechanic which simulates is also a kind of cheat?

    Would EVE be a better game if everyone accepted that you just had to earn your in-game cash by doing in-game stuff? Beats me. But it’s probably good business, if there are people who pay and play more because they have that option.


  4. Rohan

    First, I didn’t mean the producer/consumer divide to be the only two factions in the game. There are multiple factions, some people participate in both sides. But those two pure factions do exist.

    The immortality pod is a literal opt-out of the nature of the game. It isn’t skipping the part of the game he doesn’t enjoy, it is skipping the game.

    Ah, but here you are defining the game to be the PvP. Why can’t the game be defined as working to earn ISK? If a producer never gets ganked or attacked, does that mean that she is not playing the game?

    Take the game Civilization. To me, your formulation is like saying that only the war part, and the clashing of armies, is the game in Civilization. The building of cities, of expanding the empire, of building roads and taming the lands, is not part of the game.

    I think such a formulation would be wrong. I think the work to earn ISK, the production of value, is a fundamental part of the Eve game, and letting people skip that is just as bad as letting people skip the ganking.


  5. Rohan

    First, I didn’t mean the producer/consumer divide to be the only two factions in the game. There are multiple factions, some people participate in both sides. But those two pure factions do exist.

    The immortality pod is a literal opt-out of the nature of the game. It isn’t skipping the part of the game he doesn’t enjoy, it is skipping the game.

    Ah, but here you are defining the game to be the PvP. Why can’t the game be defined as working to earn ISK? If a producer never gets ganked or attacked, does that mean that she is not playing the game?

    Take the game Civilization. To me, your formulation is like saying that only the war part, and the clashing of armies, is the game in Civilization. The building of cities, of expanding the empire, of building roads and taming the lands, is not part of the game.

    I think such a formulation would be wrong. I think the work to earn ISK, the production of value, is a fundamental part of the Eve game, and letting people skip that is just as bad as letting people skip the ganking.


  6. Rohan

    Also, you haven’t opted out of the economic game. You belong to an alliance which reimburses you. Presumably you owe a certain duty to that alliance and are expected to participate in their activities.

    If you were not part of that alliance, you would be not be reimbursed. If you never ever participated in their fleet games, but always did your own thing, I imagine that sooner or later your alliance would stop reimbursing you, and would part ways.


  7. kiantremayne

    In fairness, Rohan’s musings were in response to Gevlon first raising the idea. Which means Rohan is probably working from a false premise because… well, Gevlon.

    Which reminds me, I still need to write my main advice article for the Newbie Blogger Initiative, maybe I should do it on the theme of “don’t be Gevlon” :p


  8. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Rohan – It is something of a lame retort, but CCP says it is a PvP game, and the rules allow you to kill anybody anywhere in space, so where does the justification come from demanding that you get to play the economic game while opting out of PvP?

    Your Civilization analogy is horrible, the games are not comparable, but you know my opinion on analogies. It is probably as strong as your views on RMT.

    But Civ does prove my point in that you cannot say, “I am going for a social victory, stop attacking me with your armies!” Attacking people with your armies is part of the game as PvP is part of EVE.

    @kiantremayne – Yeah, this post is just me having nothing to write last night, so I opted to stir the pot looking to shake out some interesting ideas. And link whoring.

    I acknowledged the Gevlon influence in the poll. Any time somebody writes “morons & slackers” you can safely assume about whom they are writing. And I see he even came here and voted. 1 vote for morons & slackers!

    @Spinks – The cop-out/awful truth/reality check is that people are going to buy in-game currency no matter what. CCP just busted a bunch of such RMT accounts recently., but we have seen that such policing can never really kill the trade.

    That puts PLEX, at a minimum, in the necessary evil column for me. It gives people a legitimate way to buy some currency and it benefits CCP and not some random strangers.

    And, to me, it just “feels” right in EVE. It is “Le far-west spatial”


  9. An anon

    Gevlon is of a similar opinion.

    It’s an opinion that’s possible if what you like to do in EVE is ISK positive (like Gevlon), or at least ISK neutral.

    But if you like doing something that’s ISK negative (non-reimbursed PVP?), does that make you a cheater?

    And re: Rohan’s comment above, if you’re a station trader who never leaves the station, you skip any risk of PVP, “a fundamental part of the EVE game”, does that make you a cheater?


  10. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @An anon – Well, I view playing the economy as economic PvP, so no. I spent several months doing that… and I bought PLEX with ISK to pay for my account.


  11. mbp

    I picked the sit on the fence “its a complex issue” option.

    Plex are clearly not cheating because they are permitted in the rules of the game. The real question is whether they make the game better or worse. EVE didn’t always have plex – how has the game changed since it was introduced?

    My naive guess is that the availability of plex increases the amount of PVP in the game. PVE activities for the most part generate an excess of wealth whereas PVP destroys wealth. I suspect that most plex are sold by folks who like to PVP but who who don’t want to spend the hours grinding PVE content to pay for their PVP thrills.


  12. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @MBP – EVE has had the ability to trade game time for ISK for longer than I have played. It was old hat when I created my account in August 2006. But it used to be a lot more difficult, with you having to buy a Game Time Code, then going to the GTC trade forum and listing it for sale, working out arrangements with the buyer, and so on.

    It was awkward and open to scamming to a certain degree. PLEX took that and essentially automated the process.

    So PLEX isn’t that old, but ISK for game time is well established in the game, and I couldn’t tell you how things worked before that, as it pre-dates my time.

    But for me, the idea that you can pay to play the game with your in-game efforts trumps all lot of negatives.

    And there is clearly demand in-game for PLEX. It was running at around 300 million ISK per PLEX when it was introduced. You can see the price in that screen shot. And the price is currently running around 500 million ISK per PLEX. That indicates to me a strong in-game pressure for PLEX.

    Still, my own poll choice was ‘Necessary evil.”


  13. bhagpuss

    I’d just like to say that I learned the “Link back to past posts you have made on the same subject” trick from you some time back!

    Works a treat, too.


  14. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Bhagpuss – I actually do it mostly for me, just so I can find related posts, because I actually go back and read the stuff I wrote… and cringe usually.

    But it does help you find dumb content scraping sites that don’t know how to turn off the ping-back feature. Though I am jealous of Kill Ten Rats. When Zubon, Cyndre, or Ethic link to me, I see they have a lot more people stealing their content than I do! Hah!


  15. Ardent Defender

    I’ve always thought of the issue of PLEX as a complex issue with a necessary Evil attached to it and no easy answer either way as well.

    I’m not going to even try to answer the issue of PLEX in totality. But from one narrow angle to me in my opinion PLEX allow anyone to circumvent the “time sink ability” to try and make ISK in EVE in whichever way the would normally choose to do it. As compared to someone else in EVE who actually has to spend the same time sink actually figuring out how to earn or make their ISK whichever way or profession they choose to do so earning it.

    I’ve never bought a PLEX from CCP for real money. I earn all my ISK in EVE through a combination of Trading/Industrial activity/Invention R&D that cost me time and effort as a time sink ever single month logging in playing the game. Other choose to do other things to earn the same ISK.

    Now someone or someone new comes along in EVE and buys a instant PLEX for ISK or just buys PLEX all the time circumvents effort not put forth like other players have had to do to earn their ISK who didn’t earn it from buying PLEX.

    EVE is unique game, now if PLEX didn’t exist EVE would look very different today. The fact that PLEX is there adds different options to the game like funding multiple account if you already have too much ISK and not enough to do with it.

    On a different take, CCP makes money hands over fist because of the same PLEX, thus PLEX is here to stay and RMT must go which is one reason it’s fought.

    I would also guess there would be less PVP players around if they didn’t have the options to buy PLEX as well and easily replace that which was easily lost with a PLEX to get the ISK to replace it.


  16. pockie

    I voted for PLEX is great, its one of the main reasons why I am even playing EVE because it becomes essentially the best F2P game out there. Wish more people would buy PLEXs to sell, increase my supply please :)

    One of the biggest differences between EVE and RMT is that the ISK is coming from another player, not generated out of nowhere. And this has a significant bearing on whether a random player, who does not sell PLEX for ISK, is at a disadvantage due to other players doing so. This is because that ISK would have belonged to someone else anyway, who likely got it through “legitimate” means. You can cry all you want about how you worked hard to get 500 million compared to someone who just bought a PLEX, but the fact remains that even if he hadn’t you’d still only have 500 million compared to all the other players who now might have 25 billion instead of 24.5 billion.

    Furthermore, the chances of you ever losing any PVP encounter due to your opponent buying PLEX are probably astronomically low. You’re far more likely to just be ganked by a bunch of destroyers or a Tornado sitting at a gate or just run into some people who are flat out better at you at PVP. It just seems to me that it’s a crutch excuse used by some people to justify their loss “oh its because he buys PLEX”.

    Basically if you have just a smattering of economic sense, ISK is by far the least limiting factor in the game for the majority of playstyles. And compared to ratting Titans that can earn 40 billion ISK a month, a PLEX seriously doesn’t give much of an advantage.


  17. HarbingerZero

    I’ve never much understood the RMT argument anyway. Money or time, both are valuable, so either way you are “buying” your success.

    For me, PLEX was especially valuable to chip away at the learning cliff. I was nervous to try new industries, types of pvp, and so on because of my limited finances. The PLEX boost gave me economic wiggle room to try things out and find my comfort zone.


  18. kiantremayne

    @MBP – as I understand PLEX (not being an EVE player) it doesn’t actually create wealth, it just results in a transfer from one player to another. If a PLEX sells from one player to another for 100 million ISK the total ISK in the ecenomy then the total ISK ikn the economy is the same, just one player has less and the other has more. In economics terms, it’s the same as if the two players had played poker and one of them scooped a 100 million ISK in the pot – no creation of GDP, just a redistribution.


  19. SynCaine

    Only two types of people don’t like PLEX: Non-EVE players and EVE noobs.

    I’ve not yet seen a solid argument from someone who actually understands EVE on why PLEX is bad.


  20. Knug

    PLEX is good, but not the best thing ever.

    Yes, someone can spend $ to get ISK and buy lots of neat toys, but in general, folks that spend bucks for toys tend to loose those toys. This makes the EVE world go round.

    As someone who has both a subscription account and a PLEX account (I use ingame earned ISK to buy a PLEX montly) it is a godsend. I know of many folks who would not be able to play in the game were it not for PLEX.

    The fact that there are thousands of PLEX on the market speaks to the fact that are still folks who wish to pay for a better set of golf clubs, or a new set of sails, or a cool set of tires for their competitive real lives. PLEX allows them to follow that practice in EVE. We’re still doing the old Tin Cup thing and taking their toys while shooting better scores using 5 year old irons.

    It hurts the RMTers (rot their villainous hearts) so I like it. It allows more folks to play, without introducing pay to win or giving folks with RL cash too much of a benefit. Remember, things bought with PLEX ISK are bought from the market, i.e. the ISK goes to other players.

    So, I consider folks willing to plop $150 bucks down and have 5Billion ISK (still not in the titan or super capital cost bracket, which can be 5-8x that) no different than my Dad who buys a new set of drivers every 3 years.

    Hobbies cost money. Why should EVE, which is far closer to a lifestyle than a game, be any different ?



  21. Antivyris

    There is also one of the reasons PLEX was created that is usually left by the wayside by us United States eve-dwellers. Not everywhere in the world can subscribe to eve via CC or Paypal. PLEX can be extremely cost effective if your sub amount in your home currency is less than the USD amount of PLEX.

    Making it available and an item was probably the single largest isk-sink in the game. Most of the money made with PLEX-ISK I’d wager goes right out the door in lost ships. As a miner and industrialist, that’s just awesome.


  22. mbp

    @kiantremayne I fully agree – plex does not create wealth in game but allows it to be redistributed. What I was trying to say, possibly badly is that pex allows wealth to be redistributed from those who generate wealth in game (pve activities) to those who consume wealth (pvp activities), Many players do both and finance themselves but plex makes it feasible for someone with limited time or limited patience to enjoy resource consuming pvp without enduring the grind of pve. Therefore I guess there would be less pvp in the game without plex.


  23. Stabs

    Gevlon buys plex though. If he thinks it’s cheating he shouldn’t use the system.

    I assume he participates because all the cool kids are buying and selling plex and he doesn’t want anyone thinking he’s weird. Not that he’s a social, of course.


  24. Andrew

    (1) Plex doesn’t introduce any new ISK to the game. Every ISK that is traded with Plex was somehow created in game. PLEX are simply a legitimised mechanism for one player swapping play time for another player’s ISK (in two ways, if you think about it carefully).

    (2) But there’s an underlying principle here – should you be rewarded based on the amount of time you spend in-game? PLEX lets those with a surplus of real-life money and a lack of real-life time trade with those in the opposite situation, to the advantage of both. That’s the heart of it: I could run incursions for (say) 5 hours, or let someone else do it and then sell them a PLEX. Why should an inability or unwillingness to “grind” be a limiting factor in my gameplay?

    Blunt version: most “anti-PLEX” arguments are snobbery against more time-casual players.


  25. Korvus Falek

    I enjoy the pleasures of PLEX. In my year or two of playing EVE, Ive probally spent a thousand to $1500 on PLEX. Is it paying to win? Not in my opinion, just look at my killboard. I lose alot of ships, but I am able to do that thanks to PLEX. Im entirely too lazy to go grind boring missions, camp plexes for loot to sell, and Ive only recently dipped my toes into PI.

    Its nice to have plex available for people who dont like to play the money grinding game and just use one resource to get another one (rl funds for in game funds). Ill admit to RMT’ing when I used to play EQ2, but in EvE, I have no reason to trust a 3rd party to get my funds and then have to worry about being banned for such actions. I can just buy ISK (from selling plex on the markets) straight from CCP and continue on my merry ass way.

    I want to enjoy the games I play, not waste time solo camping for hours upon hours for items to “maybe” drop for a big payoff. I did that (in groups back then) plenty when I was a teenager playing EverQuest 1 from 1999 to 2004; nothing I have time (i.e. willingness) to do now as an adult with a family and job.


  26. Red Neckromonger

    I require plex to play the game. Real life money is tight, so plex is the result of my hard work in the game every month. I’ve been paying isk for plex for over a year now. It is a trade off I sometimes question because I have to log on to basically “work” to be able to play. I’m always broke isk-wise, but that’s how it is. The good thing is that my situation has forced me to explore a lot of the features of the game to find the most efficient ways to generate isk. Mining, missioning, exploration, manufacturing, datacore farming, planetary interaction, even destroying derelict control towers and scooping the mods. The only aspect of the game I don’t seek out is shooting other players, that’s not to say they don’t seek out shooting me. I’m not anti-pvp so to speak, but losing ships willingly is counter productive to my goal of making isk to afford plex.

    I think the ability to buy plex with real money, and sell in-game for isk is just fine. As the OP said, it doesn’t speed up their skill training compared to me. I trained cybernetics 5 and used LP to buy +5 implants and re-mapped for optimal skill points per hour for my skill plan. The only difference I see is that the plex seller can buy shiny ships faster than me, but that doesn’t mean he can actually fly them yet. It’s more important for me to play the game for free, and having that option is what makes Eve do special.


  27. flosch

    @Antivyris: Either I’m misunderstanding you, or the argument is the wrong way round. If the subscription fee in your home currency is lower, how does that help you?

    It definitely works the other way round, though: I buy PLEX all the time. It’s cheaper to buy PLEX in USD than pay the subscription in EUR, even with the “PLEX tax” that is added by CCP. (PLEX typically costs more than the equivalent subscription time in the same currency). Eat that, price discrimination! ;)


  28. flosch

    Forgot to add: Not to mention each PLEX can be “sponsored”, which allows you to help out your corp, or eve-central, or get a bunch of money to gamble with on somer blink.


  29. Defaut

    I personally buy PLEX regularly to keep my 4 accounts active, and I don’t mind springing 2bil every month for it.
    I don’t think it’s cheating.
    It’s a business model. And a good one.
    To me it would be far worse if CCP sold “Enhanced” versions of the ships for real money. That way, the people who pay more would be above us mere mortals.
    This way, they are just trading in their money for someones time ratting/producing stuff. I look at it as allowing people to hire other players to do their ISK-making for them.

    To me, the PLEX is a good instrument to legalize RMT (which would be there otherwise)


  30. Toldain

    The thing I always remind myself is that for every Plex sold as a quick way to gain ISK, there’s someone who bought that Plex and is using it to play free, and I think that’s pretty darn cool.

    And beyond the coolness factor, it means there are a lot more characters playing in EVE than there would be otherwise, which means more economic activity.


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