The Coming Alpha Clone Skill Point Apocalypse in New Eden

for me at least this started back during EVE Vegas when CCP announced that they were going to expand the range of skills that would be usable by Alpha clones.  After about a year of these free accounts roaming New Eden, CCP felt they ought to be allowed to do more.  So CCP said they wanted to unlock tech II weapons up to the cruiser level, add battlecruisers to the list, as well as limited battleship skills.  Oh, and Alpha clones would no longer be limited to their own faction.  If a Gallente Alpha clone pilot wanted to bring their Drake, that would be within the realm of possibility.

The interesting bit, for me, was how they were planning to do this.

Adding in the new ships and expanding support to all empires raised the skill point total possible to about 20 million.  However, free Alpha clone training would still cap players out at 5 million skill points.  If you wanted to get 20 million skill points you were going to have to subscribe and become an Omega clone to train them or inject them through the usual method.

The Skill Point Divides

So if I unsubscribed my alt, who has over 120 million SP, I would be able to use 20 million of those skill points to play as opposed to just the meager 5 million.  This, to my mind, would create a special class of players who had paid CCP some money at some past date and were being given a minor reward for that support.

LOTRO has something similar in the past, where there were free players, VIP players, and then those who had paid for something and so were entitled to a higher level of support even if not VIP subscribers.  I thought that was a good idea back then, and think so today.  In a game where “free” is an option, people who show a willingness to spend money ought to get some attention.

After EVE Vegas there was a dev blog that laid all of this out again and listed the skills that would be included in the new, expanded, unlimited use pool.  Good so far.

This was followed about two weeks later by an additional dev blog about New Alpha Training Options, the dev blog that introduced the Daily Alpha Injector.

LOL! Drink a pot noob!

This is where the slope begins to get slippery.

CCP had some criteria that this new injector should meet, which I will borrow from the dev blog:

  • Alphas must be able to acquire training in small chunks (one day’s worth ideally)
  • Training rate from new option must not be faster than Omega
  • Must not activate Omega state or put character in a new Clone State
  • New option must be easily traded and available on market

And what they came up with was the Daily Alpha Injector, which has the following specifications, again borrowed from the dev blog:

  • Only one Daily Alpha Injector may be used per day, per character [not account] (resets at downtime)
  • May only be used by characters in the Alpha Clone State
  • Can be purchased in the NES for PLEX or purchased for your regions real money currency via secure.eveonline.com
  • Can be activated to immediately to add 50,000 skill points to your character’s unallocated skill pool (roughly one day worth of Omega training)
  • Can be traded on the in-game market
  • Does not award Omega Status

While you can earn ISK to buy the 20 PLEX for your Daily Alpha Injector (DAI going forward) in game, you can also straight up purchase them for cash, which I have to imagine is going to be a likely course for many an Alpha clone player.

So what we have here is a clear attempt to monetize the free player by selling them skill points generated on demand.

Now, on the one hand, CCP is a relatively small company in the industry; they’ve only have, and have only ever had, the one successful video game and the company lives or dies by its earnings.  They have also made something that is unlike almost all other games in the genre.  Given that, my inclination is to cut them some slack, a position no doubt influenced by the fact that I have played and enjoyed the game for more than 11 years.

So an admitted blind spot right there.

On the other hand, a lot of us just had a jolly old time last week roasting EA for going so overboard on monetizing Star Wars Battlefront II that even Disney had to step in and say, “Whoa, dude, settle down!”  And even though EA has shown itself to be bad to both its employees and its customers regularly and repeatedly over the years, there is still plenty of room for hypocrisy if I just say, “Well, CCP are nice people so they get a pass.”

CCP isn’t straight up selling a titan + fully skilled character package yet, but they are, as has been pointed out in a number of places, pulling skill points out of thin air and selling them for cash money.  And while CCP is clear on their intent, embodied in this phrase:

They can only be used by alphas, and an alpha can only apply unallocated skill points to alpha skills.

That isn’t strictly true.  If you pile up a bunch of DAIs, using them every day on your Alpha, but not spending the skills, they just sit in your unallocated skill points buffer.  If you then convert the account to an Omega… which is to say, you pay the old fashioned monthly subscription fee, which is what CCP really wants you, so we all win when you do that… you can use those unallocated skill points on whatever you want.  But if you go back to being an Alpha and you used those points on skills outside of the noted 20 million, you’ll lose the use of that skill.

Admittedly, that is a tiny and unlikely to be pursued loophole, but it does exist.  And if I can find that one, I bet there are others I haven’t found yet.

And the loophole isn’t really the issue here, it is the willingness to change a long standing rule of the game.  We got skill injectors because players could already buy skilled up characters from other players through an official process.  Besides which, they were not introducing new skill points into the game, just reallocating those already present.  In fact, due to the way the injectors worked, CCP was effectively removing skill points from the game.   If I try to use a skill injector, which contains 500,000 skill points, I only end up with 150,000 while the other 350,000 disappears into thin air.

Well, now those skill points seem to be coming back out of the air and are available straight up legal currency, and no other players need be involved.

But its only for Alphas right?  And it is in such small increments right?

I expect the usual cast of characters to express outrage.  Gevlon and Dinsdale will point at this as CCP revealing their true colors or sign of the impending demise of the game.  And certain Star Citizen fan boys who feel that EVE Online must die for their game to succeed will jump on this as well.  But the current EVE player base seems… well… oddly restrained.

I mean, look at this thread on Reddit.  Generally speaking EVE Online players cannot discuss the weather that politely.  I mean sure, there is dissent buried in there, and the expected “This is the end, EVE is dying” theme pops up now and again.  But the most upvoted comment basically summarized DAIs as selling Omega training time in daily allotments.  (Which sounds a lot like the “selling game time in smaller increments” that Gevlon brought up in an ongoing comment thread with Raph Koster on Saturday’s post.)

I guess that is how you could look at it.  I guess I could get comfortable with that.  I mean, no Alpha clone is going to catch me at 185 million SP consuming DAIs.  It would take them over ten years.

But I was also pretty okay with day one DLC and the whole Season Pass thing wasn’t horrible, but now look at where EA stands.  If we’re fine with one thing it sure seems like a company will push things further.  What follows selling skill points under very restricted circumstance?  And can CCP, which has investors and shareholders to appease just the same way that EA does, afford to not press the envelope and find further ways to monetize the game?

The whole thing leaves me uneasy.  I want to be reasonable, see the stated intent as the only goal.  But I am a product of my environment and goals can change, especially when cash comes up short… or even when cash is flowing freely but somebody sees a way to eke out some more.

What’s a capsuleer to do?  I suppose we shall see come December 5th when this goes live as part of the Arms Race release.

15 thoughts on “The Coming Alpha Clone Skill Point Apocalypse in New Eden

  1. Isey

    I don’t play Eve (unless you count reading your posts about Eve, playing Eve, which is probably sort of true.).

    My curiosity is – if they stop the loopholes before it goes live, does it make it easier for players such as yourself to feel better about it? Is it the (intended or unintended) consequence(s) that makes you the most uneasy?

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  2. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Isey – I think the loophole is pretty trivial and just me going on about something that really doesn’t matter. As I note, it would take somebody ten years to pile up enough unspent skill points to match my current level of skill points, by which time my own will have doubled. I actually thought about deleting that whole section of the post, since I feel like I gave the loophole more weight than it deserves, but then I forgot. Ah well.

    My discomfort is about what comes next. If I don’t stand up outraged about this because I can convince myself it isn’t that bad, then where is the line that will be that bad? Did we just move closer to that line? Or was that line already crossed when CCP went for Alpha Clones or skill point trading and now we’re just “haggling over price,” as the punchline to the old joke goes?

    Perhaps I am worried that I am not worried? I am not sure. There is just a quiet little alarm bell going off in the back of my head about this and I cannot explain why. It might just been the mood of the time in light of the whole Star Wars Battlefront II thing making me extra sensitive.

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  3. yadot

    Agree that the issue is they are changing a long standing rule of the game. Not really sure how I feel about that either. Thanks for the article Wilhelm, good read.

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  4. bhagpuss

    The specifics of EVE notwithstanding, I think this is the future happening. We’ve been playing MMOs for getting on for two decades and they really haven’t changed all that much. The culture in general, however, is scarcely recognizable in many ways from the mid-90s. The current lockbox fiasco is more of an indicator of trends than it is an isolated incident. As Raph Koster so vividly explained in the comments on that other post, making video games now is a vastly different proposition to making video games when EVE and the rest of the MMOs of its generation were conceived.

    That doesn’t mean existing games have to change. I could go out tonight and see a band playing trad jazz live if I wanted to (someone shoot me first…) because for every niche audience there’s a niche provider but I’d have to go to a specific pub to do so. If I want to see a trad jazz band at a major venue I’m going to need a time machine. CCP may not have aspirations to become EA but I’m betting they don’t want to be the pub that puts on trad jazz three times a week either.

    That analogy may not have helped. What I mean is that video games in general and MMOs in particular have grown to a size and cost that cannot be supported by the old income streams. New income streams are being sought and when one is found, then if the old rules get in the way it’s the rules that have to bend – or break. If there really is a significant revolution among players to the more, shall we say, subtle ways of separating them from their money, while they remain resistant, as Raph describes, to spending money up front, then something is going to have to give. Either the players will have to accept rule changes and the changes that means to the nature of the games or the developers will have to look to a new audience that’s more receptive, most likely by way of a new product that the older gaming audience won’t find of much interest.

    If the sudden interest of legislators and regulators on lootboxes ever turns into effective action then what’s left for developers to sell? Power and advantage. Selling hats isn’t going to keep the lights on. Of course, in a game like EVE, as we saw with Monoclegate, the company having all its financial eggs in the same niche basket gives players genuine power. If there was a genuinely widespread rejection of a move towards selling skill points players could stop it – but would they want to? After all, more players might want to buy skill points than wanted to buy monocles – and they might also want to keep quiet about doing it.

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  5. Noizy

    I think we reached the point of no return with the introduction of skill extractors and injectors. Once CCP started selling permanent power in the form of skill points (unless you die in a T3C), we’re just haggling over the price.

    Also, I’ve heard the theory of piling up the daily skill injectors. At that rate, you get 2083 SP/minute at 20% greater cost in PLEX than a subbed Omega. And that’s assuming that you didn’t get one of those great packages where you pay $9.99/month for a year sub like I did a few months back. Why use the daily skill injectors like that if you can get a higher rate of SP gain at the cheaper price if you set up your attributes and skill plan carefully?

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  6. Dinsdale Pirannha

    Yeah, as expected I will chip in.

    The game went pay-to-win as soon as skill injectors were introduced. CCP made a ton of money off of them, but my guess is they looked at the numbers and realized it was pretty much a one time surge in profits, so they had to do something else as clearly, the Alpha to Omega conversion was a bust. This new wrinkle is just the next domino to fall. Next year we will hear about the Alpha skill cap going to 40M.

    Bottom line, you can only squeeze so much blood from a shrinking bunch of stones (aka PAYING subscription base). It is only a matter of time until we see loot boxes, gold ammo, special ships (Jove ships for cash?).

    But hey, I ended my sub what, 2 months ago? I am enjoying posting about the stupidity, greed and corruption at the C-level at CCP far more when not paying them a dime.

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  7. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Dins – I’m not sure I should approve a comment from you that doesn’t call me a “mouthpiece for the RMT cartel” or something like that. I’m afraid it is somebody impersonating you and failing.

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  8. Fenjay

    I had the same exact concern (making SP from thin air). But someone – I think it was on Talking in Stations – allayed my concern thusly:
    – A paid Omega subscription is also making SP from thin air for RL money and always has
    – An Alpha skill injector makes SP for real money but less than if the person was an Omega
    – therefore the DAI is just equivalent to Omega one day at a time, but without the other advantages (ship use, multi login, etc)

    That said, I share your nervousness that CCP will take it further later. But I think I’m actually ok’er with this than I was skill injectors themselves when first introduced.

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  9. Dinsdale Pirannha

    Wilhelm, the RMT cartels are not stupid, especially when compared to CCP management, nor nearly as obvious in their motives. If the cartels had been involved in this in any way, we would have seen a sophisticated marketing/ propaganda campaign started months ago to craft the narrative on how this is good for Eve. No, this is all CCP’s doing.

    Does that meet more with the stringent demands you place on my posts?

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  10. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Dins – I don’t know, now you’re claiming the absence of a conspiracy and you haven’t called me names.

    It isn’t that I have any demands on your comments, stringent or otherwise, it is just an observation on your behavior over the years. Generally speaking, when you show up here you have unprovable conspiracies solely backed up by insults. Reasonableness is not a trait I have come to associate with you.

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  11. Catalina de Erauso

    It feels like EVE and CCP are burning stages at this point, just not to go up, but to go down slower. EVE just bought bifocal glasses, yet we might pretend it’s not that she’s growing old and getting closer to death from aging…

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  12. SynCaine

    Agree that crossing the line of creating something in EVE out of thin air by CCP feels bad, even if that something is, in fact, a worst version of something we technically already have (Omega SP gain rate). I wish instead of a flat amount of SP, the booster was instead a boost to SP gain rate, even if the gain rate was at Omega level but for a shorter amount of time. It’s not the instant gratification of an injector, but it’s closer at least to CCP not creating SP for cash.

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  13. Dire Necessity

    “The whole thing leaves me uneasy.”
    This may be the most reasonable statement I’ve heard from anybody to date about the introduction of DAIs. It’s not inflammatory, it’s not vitriolic, it’s just an honest statement about your emotional state.

    If one accepts that DAI’s are merely granular one day omega subscriptions (and in practice, that’s what they are) then the sky is not falling, CCP has not destroyed EVE and “The whole thing leaves me uneasy” ends up being less about this particular mechanic and more about the gaming business environment in general and CCP specifically.

    I tend to be less uneasy than you though it’s not because CCP never messes things up. With one glaring exception, CCP’s screwed the pooch on every computer game they’ve produced. But (and it’s a big but) that one glaring exception is extraordinary. EVE is an amazing game and over 14 years CCP hasn’t killed it. That’s good history. While past performance is no guarantee of future return, it is something to throw in the mix.

    So be as uneasy as you wish Wilhelm since that uneasiness strikes me mostly measure of how much you like current EVE. It’s a good game we play, and it’s good to see carefully considered concern about it’s future.

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  14. Gevlon

    Your prediction is just half right (Dinsdale indeed shown up). I find absolutely nothing wrong with this. I mean “wronger than before”. CCP ALWAYS created skill points from money (except when they didn’t fix the ghost training loophole). These injectors are just a new way of doing the same thing. Your skill points came from subscribing the game with money, or by using PLEX someone else bought with money.

    CCP does sell “fully skilled pilot + titan” and was doing it since they made character bazaar official. The fact that some player had to train the pilot and build the titan first is irrelevant for both the buyer and CCP: they buyer pays $ and gets pilot and titan, CCP gets subscription money. People (including myself) were creating accounts (using PLEX-es whales paid for) for the sole purpose of training super pilots and selling them for profit.

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