Tag Archives: Gambling

The December Update Brings Gambling and Structure Changes to EVE Online

The December update for EVE Online has gone live after an extended downtime and brings with it an array of changes for New Eden.

Called the “Free Market” release, the headline item for the update is the HyperNet Relay gambling interface that will allow player to pay CCP to allow them to run raffles in the game.

The New Face of Gambling in New Eden

I covered this return to gambling in New Eden in a previous post.  CCP received a lot of feedback on this feature, responded to none of it, and shipped it as announced.  We shall see how it plays out.

There is also a new wallet UI being added with the update.

The New Wallet UI

My enthusiasm for this is fairly small as well.  As usual, being used to one awkward UI makes the next one seem difficult.  I suppose they are trying to get rid of yet another rows and columns grid that helps keep the “spreadsheets in space” theme alive, but I still think they need to fill that senior UX designer position sooner rather than later.

There are also some changes to the player trading interface that is supposed to make what is being traded more obvious by, for example, displaying the type of ship being traded rather than the name the other player has given the item, closing a loophole for some scams.

Also coming with today’s update is another of the Team Talos projects, Kicking over Castles.

Team Talos strikes again

This project has its own dev blog, but in short it is an attempt to address some of the ways that people have been using the mechanics of Upwell Structures to the detriment of the game.  The changes are:

  • Defenders can no longer choose a day of the week for exiting the hull reinforcement cycle. Structures will exit reinforcement at the next available hour of the defenders choosing (+/- 3 hours) after the following durations:
    • Wormhole space: 1.5 days
    • Low and Null security space: 2.5 days
    • High security space: 4.5 days
  • Updated vulnerability windows now takes 30 days to take effect (instead of 7).
  • In a solar system where the Activity Defense Multiplier is above 4.0 and where an Infrastructure Hub is held by an alliance, pilots that are NOT members of that alliance will be unable to deploy medium Upwell structures (Astrahus, Athanor and Raitaru).
  • The random jitter range on reinforcement exit times is increased from +/- 2 hours to +/- 3 hours.

These changes will give attackers a chance to get a timer that isn’t both mid-week and 180 degrees off their own on time zone as well as keeping down the ability for hostiles to drop staging structures in your home system.

But the biggest change coming as part of this, to my mind at least, is related to Faction Warfare, where the ability to ignore the NPC stations by bringing your own structures has been somewhat game breaking.

New FW Tethering Rules

Basically, if you’re in FW space held by the other faction, you can no longer happily tether up and feel safe on any old structure you come across.

While that falls short of simply not allowing Upwell structures in FW space, which probably should have been the default mode back when they were introduced, it at least makes attackers in FW a little less safe.

Also, the time limit is up on Ansiblex Jump Gate and Tenebrex Cyno Jammer structures that are anchored within 500km of a structure.  Any that have not been moved out of that range will now be offline until they are moved.

Finally, in another blow to fans of Player Owned Starbases, blueprints for many POS modules have been converted to be blueprints for Upwell structure modules.  They are not gone yet, but there isn’t much left of the once mighty POS.

There are also the usual array of minor fixes and adjustments.  These are covered in the patch notes for the December update.  The release has been reported as successfully deployed, so all the changes are there waiting for people to log in.

Gambling Returns to New Eden

I was sitting in bed this morning looking at Twitter on my iPad and saw that CCP had announced something called the HyperNet Relay.  I read through the post, but I was pretty sure I didn’t understand what it was or why anybody would want this, because it sure seemed like gambling, something CCP banned from the game in all forms back in 2016.

The New Face of Gambling in New Eden

Fortunately Twitter was there to help me out as not one but two CSM members responded to my sleep addled inquiries making clear that this was, in fact, a gambling scheme being introduced into EVE Online by CCP.

The CSM had clearly been briefed about the HyperNet Relay by CCP and had given it their approval, because a few of them were out fronting the feature for CCP on a variety of channels.

When explaining HyperNet Relay, the humble raffle seems to be the preferred metaphor.

That is a nice word, raffle, because it gets used by charities and other good causes which get an exception to gambling laws in some jurisdictions when using it as a mechanism for raising funds.  But make no mistake, a raffle is straight up gambling by any definition I have ever read.

So, gambling.  To say it is anything else is just a lie.

Basically, it sounds like CCP plans to let players set up their own raffles.  The player running the raffle basically buys the permit and the tickets from CCP through the New Eden Store with PLEX, the cash shop currency, and then lists their item.  Players then buy the tickets with ISK.  When all the tickets have been sold, RNG picks the winner.  Everybody else who bought a ticket is out the ISK they spent.

Checking in on the test server, where HyperNet Relay is now live, the tips for what it is show the usual level of CCP clarity…

How to gamble… I mean raffle… I mean HyperNet!

That gets you to the offers window, which has some sample raffles.

Welcome to wealth creation… not your wealth, but somebody’s

As far as bidding goes, the interface seems similar to a mob numbers racket, where you pick a ticket from an array.

Which one is the luck one?

On the creation side, once you get a HyperCore (this terminology has to be an attempt to stay as far away from gambling terms as possible) you drag an item into the interface and set the parameters of the raffle.

Time to generate wealth!

You can set the number of tickets in your raffle… erm, HyperNodes in your… raffle… which can be between 8 and 512, the price per ticket… node… whatever, or the total amount you want to make, which will set the per ticket price.

Looking at some of the raffles people have created, there is still some fuzziness on the idea.  I saw a Nyx listed with the per ticket price about the same as the price of a brand new, fully fit Nyx… only there were 48 tickets, so somebody wanted to sell for 48x the market price.

And, just looking at this, I can see how it will facilitate RMT ISK sales.

CCP’s justification, aside from the usual claim of gambling being fun and enjoyable, is that this will allow players to obtain otherwise very expensive items like rare officer modules without having to blow their budget.  Again, as always with gambling, the emphasis is put on the benefit of the lone winner and not the losses incurred by the losers.

Leaving aside the high ground CCP claimed when they banned gambling previously, I spent some time at EVE Vegas watching CCP Larrikin do his presentation which dwelt for quite a bit on income inequality in New Eden.  You can watch it here if you like.  As with the real world, no matter what happens, the rich seem to get richer.

And HyperNet Relay will be no different.  Despite claims about ISK velocity and redistribution of assets, this will simply make the rich even more wealthy.  Who has these rare and valuable items in their hangars?  Who has the ISK to buy PLEX in order to get their HyperNet Relay Gambling Kit from the New Eden store without spending any real world cash?  And who will collect the ISK from these raffles, where the combined value of all the tickets will more then compensate for the price of the HyperNet Relay and the value of the item being raffled off?

And, on the flip side, who has to use real world cash to buy PLEX to  get ISK?  And who cannot afford these expensive items?  And who will lose their ISK far more often than not?

Same shit, different day.

But it is already live on the test server, which means CCP is committed and the CSM has been briefed and approved of the plan.  The expected go live date is December 10, 2019.

CCP is still eliciting feedback in a comment thread on the forums.  The tide there is running very much against the idea.  But this is an obvious money maker, so I’ll be interested to see if the usual claim that “your voice matters” will ring hollow yet again.  On Reddit things are even more brutal.

And all of this is being dropped into an environment where legislators in various countries are eyeing gambling in video games ever more closely.  At least lock boxes have the fig leaf of everybody getting some prize out of them as cover.  I thought CCP was being smart back in 2016, covering themselves from possible legal trouble.  Now we have this.  We’ll see if EVE Online has a high enough profile to get called out for this.

No matter what, I suspect that this story will run for a while.

Other reactions:

 

Quote of the Day – How to get Your Industry Regulated

A Kinder Surprise Egg does not collect your data. The Kinder Egg does not learn more about the person buying and opening the Egg, such as his or her preferences for its contents. The Kinder Egg does not adjust its contents according to an algorithm based on population data. People do not link their credit cards to Kinder Egg vendors. Kinder Eggs are physical and can be given away or traded, unlike virtual items.

-Dr Daniel King, quoted at GameIndustry.biz

I like this quote because it gets to something I think people miss when it comes to the lockbox debate.  I often see people go straight for the idea that randomness equals gambling and therefore lockboxes should be banned.

Not gambling

And, while randomness is an element of gambling, it is not the sole defining factor.  That something like Kinder Surprise Eggs exist and are sold legally in many countries tends to indicate that randomness is not the only thing we should be considering.

Randomness is not necessarily bad.  And while I tend to discount when devs tell us people enjoy opening up lockboxes… I am sure the payday loan industry would tells us that people like getting money from them as well… you can find players who enjoy the randomness of loot drops and such.  Bhagpuss, one of the sources that pointed this quote towards me, is on that team.

This makes the gambling argument feels like a dead end to me.  You either have to change the laws to widen the definition of gambling (wait for the push back on that) or go the Belgium route and make a special exception for a specific set of circumstances, which leaves people with the question about why this one outlier is special.

Fortunately, the quote nicely brings up how randomness isn’t the sole factor that makes lockboxes odious to so many people.  There is the virtual nature of any prizes, the persistent reminders and offers from the cash shop, the fact that you have to pay to for a random chance to get things otherwise not obtainable in game, the manipulative practices, and the suspicion that the whole thing is rigged just to get you to spend more money.  Another quote:

“The ‘not forcing anyone’ argument is undermined by the fact that many of these games appear to employ systems that are designed to present constant in-game purchasing opportunities,” says Dr King. “The promotions and solicitations are unavoidable in some cases, and the game may have design elements that make it very frustrating to players unless they spend money.

“Our review suggests that there are some emerging designs that aim to capitalise on player data to present individualised offers that the system ‘knows’ the player is more likely to accept. So it’s not about being ‘forced’ — it’s about the game anticipating or making the best judgement about what the player is likely to accept.”

And while some people would be on board with the suspicion that things are rigged no matter what, the game companies have helped feed that paranoia themselves.  Further down in the article there are some patents game companies have filed for mechanics designed to get people to spend more.

Activision had an especially good filing back in 2017 for a system that would deliberately match players with people have superior gear from lockboxes to make you feel you need the same gear in order to compete.

Randomness is not bad in and of itself and we appear, as a society, to be okay with gambling, but when you start targeting people based on their behavior and rigging the system against them on the fly, all algorithmically and invisibly behind the scenes, we have strayed into what some might label as predatory practices that strikes against a basic sense of fairness.

Going down that path in pursuit of the most effective lockbox scheme is how you end up with legislators and regulators taking a close and person interest in your industry.  It has all been rather haphazard up to now, but momentum is building.

So it was probably no coincidence that there was a press release from the ESA about how various companies are now committed to displaying the odds of obtaining items from lockboxes on the very day that the US Federal Trade Commission was holding a workshop about industry practices around lockboxes.

The ESA isn’t dumb.  They know they need to do something as any regulation is going to hurt them.  They know they need to get in front of this issue and make some concessions before laws or regulations force them to back off their lucrative lockbox schemes.   And so they have a grand announcement.

And posting the odds somewhere would be a big step forward.

Of course, the ESA isn’t saying where the odds have to be posted, if they have to be in-game, or even linked to in game.  Posting them on some dead end path on their web site might be what they have in mind.  And how often do the odds have to be brought up to date?

This is the problem with something as empty as a “commitment” to something like the ESA has announced.  They want to sound like they are doing something good for the consumer without actually being bound to follow through in any reasonable fashion.  With no laws or regulations in place, what are you going to do if half of those committed platforms fail to follow through while the other half does so in the least helpful way possible?

Companies don’t go out of their way unless it is in their best interest.  Right now I am sure the ESA sees their problem as a few loudmouths that need to be appeased so they can go back to business as usual.  There will need to be a lot more government scrutiny before the ESA follows through.  But follow through they will, if the pressure gets high enough.  I remain convinced that the ESA will do the minimum amount needed… pinkie swear promises and strategic campaign contributions… to stave off regulation at least in the US.

And, in a final twist to the comparison in the initial quote, Kinder Surprise Eggs are not allowed in the US.  It has nothing to do with gambling or manipulation and everything to do with the FDA not allowing you to sell candy with toys embedded inside.  So we only get the Kinder Joy eggs, sans surprise… and given how rare they are here, few seem to buy them just to eat.

Quote of the Day – Satan Speaks on Lockboxes

So, gaming industry, if your aim is to bring down the jackboot of government regulation on loot mechanics and destroy what was once a source of joy to millions of gamers, you’re doing a bangup job.

Satan, “guest” post at The Psychology of Video Games

The quote just sums up how lockboxes feel to me, but the real meat is in the five tricks video games can… and have… borrowed from casinos in order to hook people into spending on what is merely a hair’s breadth away from gambling before the law.

Exploiting the holidays isn’t even on the list, thank Overwatch!

Anyway, the linked article is worth a short time it takes to read.  I am sure you will recognize some, if not all, of the practices listed.

Disney Checks EA Over Battlefront Microtransactions and Other Hilarity

As it turns out, all of that firestorm about Star Wars: Battlefront II did not change EA’s mind.  Electronic Arts was fine just staying the course and going all-in on pay to win in the name of boosting revenues.  They were willing to move the dials some, but actually turn it off? Nah!

I don’t directly have a horse in this race since I’ve written off EA as a horrible company and don’t give them money in any form any more, but I figured I ought to follow up last week’s post and also note the state of affairs so I can come back to it a year from now and see how things played out.  Also, my daughter, cringing at my childish artistic efforts, made me a new “EA is Hell” graphic for such posts.  I’d feel bad not using it.

Electronic Arts – Fun is Made Here

Anyway, as it turns out Disney had to step in and yank EA’s chain to get them to stop shitting all over the Star Wars franchise just before a big movie launch next month.  So I suspect we won’t see EA suspend their temporary moratorium on predatory practices and straight up pay to win until Star Wars: The Last Jedi makes its billions in screen revenues and toy sales.

Then there was the analyst who, displaying all the depth the profession is known for, like a true Scooby-do villain, blamed the whole fiasco on “those meddling kids,” in the form of Reddit and a momentarily not subservient gaming press.  Can’t they see that EA needs that extra revenues to stay alive?  Games are so much more expensive to make these days, or so we’re told, so if gamers can’t be milked for more revenue the whole industry will collapse.

Oh, wait, EA says that shutting off its Star Wars Battlefront II whale exploiting program won’t affect earnings.  So which is it?  Are these all a necessary evil in order to ensure games keeping getting made or just another unconscionable way to boost revenues?

Anyway, all of that nerd rage has buoyed the FIFA fan base to demand EA fix the exploitative nature of that franchise as well, to which I can only respond with a hearty Nelson Muntz “Haw, haw!”

Or I would if this sort of thing wasn’t on the rise everywhere it seems.  Your dollar votes make this possible.  I know, we all just want to play our video games with our friends, and it is easy for me because EA literally makes no games right now that I care to play, but at least give this some thought now and again will you?  Spending $60 on the box for a game that contains a blatantly, unarguably vulgar straight up pay to win mechanic just makes that more likely to happen again in the future, even if you don’t participate in the most crass aspects of the money grab.

Did I get enough adjectives in that last paragraph?  I think there is room for a few more.  Would more change your mind?  Or are you just going to buy the games anyway?  You’re just going to buy them anyway, aren’t you?  Well, don’t say I didn’t warn you way too late!

Meanwhile various small time government officials are trying to ride this storm for some publicity.  The Nosy Gamer has a post about some of this.  The gambling commission in Belgium, a French senator, a Hawaiian state representative, and now a state gambling commission in the Australian state of Victoria have weighed in, all looking to play this for some press to further their careers.

I mean, I have some mild hope given the direction some of this is going.  There seems to be a line of thought that random chance plus real money alone is sufficient to declare something, if not real gambling, at least a predatory practice that targets the young, without having to open the can of worms that would come from declaring virtual goods to have real world value.

But even with virtual goods being worth cash money, the whole idea that random chance and money are predatory causes me to see how this could immediately bleed over into collectable card games (I don’t care if adults play Magic: The Gathering, it is still viewed in the mainstream as the domain of 13 year old boys, while the Pokemon TCG is straight up aimed at kids), baseball cards, the gumball machine in front of the drug store that drops out random toys in little plastic capsules, and McDonald’s Happy Meals.

There is a long and lamentable history of laws being written with a specific intent and then being expanded to include semi-analogous but never intended scenarios.  If “money + chance + children” is predatory do you have a green light to sue McDonald’s if you don’t get the right Star Wars toy in you Happy Meal?  I’m sure some lawyer will take that case and try to make new law if you’re willing to pay his many billable hours and expenses.

Anyway, the potential for a law that might get expanded into various other venues will cause a cross-industry alliance against any such changes to be formed.  They will battle directly by making up numbers about how many jobs would be lost by such regulation and promises of self-policing in the industry while at the same time innocuous sounding industry groups will donate to the campaign funds of politicians… or directly to politicians… to sway their minds and soon, if EA can keep itself from publicly shitting the bed again for just a little while, the whole issue will disappear.

So that is my call.  Ain’t nothing going to happen and a year from now the status quo will still be in place.  I mean, maybe EA won’t be trying to sell its pay to win so egregiously, so there will be a small win in that.  But that will have been accomplished through direct economic pressure.  No legislation or regulations will have been passed in any but the tiniest of jurisdictions.

Yes Gevlon, I read your post.  I disagree, if only because I cannot imagine the systems in the US and the EU working with such haste.  The EU only gets itself in gear if it thinks it can milk US companies like Google and Apple to punish them for being better at what they do than their European counterparts.  Somebody will point out that any changes won’t just hurt EA but Europeans as well and that will be that.  And in the US… well, the NRA and its congressional puppets have been reading from the “video games cause gun violence” script for years and that hasn’t changed anything of substance.  What chance does this have?

Anyway, we shall see.  If I remember I’ll make this one of my predictions for 2018.  I need to start thinking about that.

Until then I’ll go back to playing World of Warcraft, at least until they start selling mythic raid drops in loot boxes for cash.  After that it will just be Pokemon for me I guess.  Nintedo would never do this, right?  And they’re going to announce a Pokemon Diamond & Pearl remake next year as well, right? Right?