Tag Archives: RMT

New Eden and the Death of the Subscription Model

You don’t need a weather man
To know which way the wind blows

-Bob Dylan, Subterranean Homesick Blues

On Wednesday this week I was arguably somewhat critical of CCP’s monetization policy in EVE Online. (I see myself as most in a state of exhausted indifference at this point, but sometimes tone doesn’t come through.) Today I am going to argue the other way around because life and software and business are all complicated.  There are no simple answers to anything.

There was a new round of outrage at CCP this week over all sorts of things, from bugs to the CSM election, but monetization always gets the biggest response and this week had a couple of hits on that front.

First there was the $230 black ops pack that I mentioned on Tuesday which, due to the inclusion of skill points even got somebody posting on r/eve that we all needed to undock in Jita and shoot the monument.

This has been the go-to move since Incarna by people who didn’t understand what happened during Incarna.  As much as I’d like you to go back and read my Wednesday post, I’ll sum it up: shooting the monument did nothing, people unsubscribing led to change.

Also, with the Jita 4-4 revamp, the monument is hidden around back of the new station and no longer visible from the undock.  CCP has successfully sidelined the protest zone.

Can you see the protest going on? Me neither.

Anyway, the frog was on the boil once again with the black ops pack when people discovered that, since Tuesday’s patch, if you lose a ship it appears that there is a chance you’ll get a advertisement pop up with your loss suggesting you buy some PLEX to turn into ISK in order to purchase a new one. (I lost a ship this week and didn’t see one, so it might just be for Euros or for accounts less antiquated than my own.)

Use your credit card to finance your revenge!

I had to look at that image a couple of times because at first glance it seemed to imply that you could buy your ship back with cash, a first step on the path to something I expect to happen eventually.  And, of course, I might have been influenced by the fact that EVE Echoes has real money ship insurance.

But no, we aren’t there yet in PC based New Eden.  This was just a hint that you could finance your return with your real life wallet… handy since so many ISK earning avenues have been devastated by the economic reforms of the last year.

So another week, another fire in New Eden.  Film at eleven.

This time around these outrages seemed to spark a mass desire to return to the “subscription only” era, back when EVE Online was at its peak and everything was good.  (Except, of course, it wasn’t because the only thing more persistent than “EVE is dying” is players complaining about CCP and their handling of the game.)

Unfortunately, few supporters of the “subscription only” idea seem to be aware of the brutal nature of the situation.

EVE Online subscribers peaked in 2013 when they claimed to have hit the half million mark.

20% of those were probably on the Serenity server in China and, while that doesn’t mean they weren’t earning the company any money, CCP wasn’t getting anything close to $15 a month out of them.

Still, that leaves 400K subscribers in the west paying in US Dollars or Euros or whatever local convertible currency they had to hand.  That number, and the fact that the game is still around to argue about today, probably marks EVE Online out as the most successful open world PvP everywhere MMORPG in the west… though that isn’t a hugely high bar, given that most other contenders had to either make PvE servers to survive (e.g. Ultima Online) or imploded (how many versions of Darkfall were there?).

Anyway, CCP was able to make a go of a business with that many subscribers and even had pretensions about creating other games… all of which failed, but EVE Online remains.

I would estimate that EVE Online has fewer than half as many subscribers here now in 2021.  Things peaked in 2013, but it was a downhill ride after that.  Hilmar has thrown around numbers like the game having a monthly active user count somewhere between 200K and 300K, but he omits how many of them are Alpha clones… non-subscribers… and how many of them are new players, 96% of whom bail out in the first 30 days.

In the time between 2013 and now the price of many things has gone up but the subscription price remains the same… I had a whole post about this a bit ago… and the subscriber base has been cut in half.

So, taken literally, the suggestion to go back to a subscription only business model would mean CCP bringing in half the revenue they were in 2013.  That seems like a non-starter, even if they were not owned by Pearl Abyss.

But wait, even that is optimistic.  I do not know how many people earn ISK in game to buy PLEX in order to pay their subscription, but it is a number larger than zero and big enough to attract CSM candidates interested in buying votes.  Most of those accounts probably go dormant in a subscription only situation, so we’re at less than half of peak revenue.  We’re back in 2006 maybe, if we’re lucky, which was a crazy time in EVE but not an era that would pay today’s bills.

There are, of course, solutions being offered.  At the top of the list is raising the price of the subscription.  As I have written before, that seems like a sure fire way to drive away more players, especially since CCP would have to at least double the monthly price to make the model work.

Then there is the “stop sucking” group who believes if the new player experience or some neglected feature was fixed subscriptions would surge.  This is wishful thinking at best.

Still, that is better than the magical thinking brigade which includes a new and persistent faction that believes if CCP would only allow player made ship SKINs in the online store their financial problems would be solved.  Leaving aside Sturgeon’s law and the tragic history of player made content in MMORPGs, the operating theory of this group seems to be that SKINs are just mods and if Skyrim or Valheim or Minecraft can have mods then so can EVE Online.  It is like a festival of ignorance.

So it is not going to happen, not here in 2021.  The “subscription required” model is a thing of the past except for a few select titles.

Which isn’t to say anybody has to like the situation the game is in.  The first decade of the twenty-first century was a charmed time, with many fresh seeming MMORPGs and a universal subscription model that seemed to keep the genre, if not pure, and least not irredeemably tainted.

But the past is the past.  Besides which, half of the appeal of EVE Online has been facing adversity and sharing the effort with others.  We’ve always been angry at CCP and this horrible game and play it in part because the bonds shared suffering creates.

So go shoot the monument in Jita I guess.  Join in and talk with some fellow protestors.  It is hardly less pointless than a lot of the game and maybe you’ll make some friends you can complain about CCP with.

Incarna a Decade Later

It has been ten years since the Incarna expansion released for EVE Online and set off probably the biggest confrontations between CCP its customers in the now 18 year history of the game.

Incarna – June 2011

It came at a moment when CCP was at its absolute pinnacle of ambition and hubris.  Before Incarna the company was shooting for the stars, had set their sights on, in their own words, world domination.  Before, EVE Online was just a stepping stone on their path to greatness.

Afterwards… well, EVE Online is really the only money maker they’ve had.

Which isn’t an uncommon story in tech.  It is rare for a company that finds success with one product to be able to repeat that success with another.  Even less common, however, is finding success at all.  So you have to give them that.

I always find it odd that the events around the Incarna expansion get summed up by some as “monocle-gate,” a reference to the  $70 cosmetic item introduced into the in-game store.  People who use the term “monocle-gate” brand themselves as outsiders in my eyes, as the monocle was a side-show at best and, once everything had calmed down, stayed in the in-game store without much further comment.

For many people, myself included, it was avatars and captain’s quarters that broke our faith in the company.

Walking in stations was a bad idea.

Or at least it was a bad idea for CCP as their execution was less than stellar.

After hints and hype and neglect of the rest of the game, to say that the captain’s quarters were underwhelming is an understatement.

What is on Space TV today?

I came back to the game just to try out the expansion and I couldn’t muster much enthusiasm for the update.  And to get this feature they had to not only forego working on other more core issues to the game, but pretty much had to rob the World of Darkness team of resources as well.

I’m not sure CCP could have pulled off a World of Darkness MMO, but the diversion of resources from that and DUST 514 made sure we would never find out.

More importantly to many players, the captain’s quarters replaced the hangar view that had been a staple of the game since launch and which had the utility of immediately displaying which ship you were in as it was right there in the middle of your screen.  If you didn’t care for the useless fluff that was the new quarters, your only alternative was a view of a hangar door.  That hangar door was viewed by many as, and I apologize for dredging up this ancient angry metaphor, a slap in the face.

When Hilmar derided requests for a return of the old hangar, dismissing it as “ship spinning” people were pissed.  When he pushed back on growing player complaints about the changes, he hyped up CCP’s technical achievements at their ability to inject solo avatar play into a spaceship game.  He wasn’t going to listen to player complaints.  CCP was going to stay the course.

Not listening to players remains Hilmar’s signature move, as we saw most recently during the Blackout and are experiencing now during the economic starvation plan.

So a useless and processor hungry new feature, the removal of the interface everybody was used to, the neglect of many problems in the game to focus on fluff, Hilmar’s pompous “I know best” attitude, a requirement that 3rd party apps pay a license fee, and even that monocole, had effectively poured gasoline all over the landscape.

All it needed was a match to really set it off, and CCP was happy to oblige in the form of the Greed is Good? issue of their in-house magazine Fearless. (link to it here)  When that leaked… some coincidental timing on that… with its discussion of selling premium ships, gold ammo, and other crass monetization schemes, it was too much for many players.

People speak of the Jita riots which, like the monocle, betrays a simplified view of the event.  A bunch of players did orbit the monument in Jita and shoot it as a show of protest.  But the monument wasn’t a destructible object in the game, so it was very much symbolic.  Did that shift CCP’s view?  I somehow doubt it.

Word is that, on hearing that CCP only cares what players do and not what they say, many players decided to see if unsubscribing was an action that would bring attention to their unhappiness.  I was certainly in that group, cancelling my subscription in annoyance at the company.  That seems a much more likely lever of change when it came to CCP’s view of things.

In a rare display relevance, the whole fiasco gave CSM6 an opening into some agency and they helped harness player discontent at the company into a coherent message.  For a brief period of time the CSM was a voice the company couldn’t ignore, which led to an emergency CSM summit in Iceland, where some accord was reached, though both sides had to issue their own statements on the whole thing as CCP wouldn’t step down from Hilmar’s attitude.  And Hilmar was like Sadam Hussein at the end of the first Gulf War, defiant, shooting his gun in the air, and still claiming victory in the face of catastrophe.

While CCP wouldn’t admit they had been wrong in any of their decisions or attitudes, their actions after the fact played a different tune.  Maybe Hilmar had a point with that idea.

For quite a stretch CCP tread very lightly on the monetization front.  They learned that moving slowly, drawing tentative lines, and laying smokescreens (i.e. lying) was the way to go.  So we went from skill injectors and a promise never to introduce skill points directly into the game to skill point packs in the cash shop over a few years.  It took time, but they got there by making each step small enough to not generate outrage until we got to the destination.  The slippery slope demonstrated.

On the bright side, CCP did also show a renewed interest in actually fixing things that were bad or broken in the game.  We didn’t always get what we wanted and CCP has had some strange ideas on what is good for the game, but they have at least kept focus on it.

And then there was walking in stations.  Player reaction made it a feature that was pretty much dead on arrival.  They did introduce a few different captain’s quarters to match the different empires, but it was never seriously worked on after Incarna.

CCP demonstrated that they did not have the resources to make walking in stations a feature of the game and keep the flying in space aspect of the game evolving as well.  What we received with Incarna was hardly more than a mock up of a real walking in stations feature.  Making it viable, useful, and multiplayer would have required CCP to essentially build a new game, ignoring the old.

Flying in space won out over walking in stations.  You don’t ditch your paying customers for some theoretical new customers.  The history of tech is littered with the wrecks of companies who tried that.

The captain’s quarters lingered in game, with barely 10% of the player base opting to use it.  Then came Upwell structures, new code that did not have the captain’s quarter’s integrated into it.  Given how long it took CCP just to get insurance available within citadels, integrating the captain’s quarters was clearly not in the cards.  Usage of the feature declined further.

Game time spent in Captain’s Quarters

Then came the drive towards 64-bit, which was being held back by the code.

One of the first things that we want to investigate is to release a 64-bit EVE client to better utilize your available system memory when playing. Compiling a 64-bit client has been held back by the outdated middleware that was needed by captain’s quarters.

That was the death knell for the feature.  It will never return.

In the end, Incarna did at least focus CCP on what was important to the current player base, and we have gotten a lot of improvements over the years.  It hasn’t stopped them from going in on VR or believing they can make a successful shooter, but they don’t neglect flying in space as much.

It also made CCP more wily when it came to monetization, pushing them to boil the frog slowly.  But, as the frog knows, we still get boiled in the end.

Related:

CCP Edges Ever Closer to Selling Ships in EVE Online

CCP announced a new Destroyer Pack for sale this week on the web store store.

Limited time availability

For $24.99 you get the following:

  • 500,000 Skill Points
  • 110 PLEX
  • Catalyst Sapphire Sungrazer SKIN
  • Cormorant Ghostbird SKIN
  • Coercer Ardishapur SKIN
  • Talwar Valklear Glory SKIN.
  • 100x Cap Booster 150
  • 6x Agency ‘Pyrolancea’ DB3 Dose I booster
  • Eifyr and Co. ‘Rogue’ Acceleration Control AC-601 implant.

New to packs, so far as I recall, are actual in-game items, including 100 cap boosters, some drugs, and an implant.

Now, they are kind of crappy items… a hundred Cap Booster 150s isn’t exactly the gold ammo we’ve been dreading since the “Greed is Good” internal article a decade back… but they do represent a baby step in that direction.  We know where we are headed, it is just a question of how soon we get there.

I suppose, for me, the amusing bit is the now complete acceptance we have for selling skill points.  That the Destroyer Pack threw in half a million SP seemed about par for the course, the culmination of a long run of pushing the monetization boundaries starting with skill injectors.  But I threw in the towel on the skill point front about a year ago, though my acceptance hasn’t stopped CCP from being dumb about skill point sales as late as this past March.  Being dumb is far the greater sin for me now.

I harbor some indifference to the whole thing at this point.  Part of it is the non-stop creep of monetization schemes across the industry makes this look pretty mild, and part of it ties back to a post I wrote earlier this year about the fact that the cost of an MMO subscription has been the same for 20 years while the price of everything else has gone up.  Fans are completely hostile to paying any more, and with subscriptions down for games like EVE Online, the only options to keep developers working on the title is to monetize elsewhere.  While we get our backs up at anything that carries even a hint of “pay to win,” that is exactly the sort of thing that people are willing to pay for.

In the end we get what we deserve.  And, as Star Citizen has proven, selling ships can be quite lucrative.

CCP is Just Going to Keep Selling Skill Points for Cash

Just over a year ago there was some controversy and push back from the community over CCP introducing a Starter Pack that was effectively selling skill points to players, something that seemed very much against the grain of past statements from the company used to justify the introduction of skill injectors about the importance of skill points in the game coming only from training.

It’s very important to note here that this means all the skillpoints available to buy on the market in EVE will have originated on other characters where they were trained at the normal rate.  Player driven economies are key to EVE design and we want you to decide the value of traded skillpoints while we make sure there is one single mechanism that brings new skillpoints in to the system – training.

CCP was apologetic and promised to change that (and, many months later new packs came out), but did point out that this was aimed at new players and that the starter pack could only be applied once to any account.  But it could still be purchased and applied to any account and, doing the math, spending five dollars on a million skill points seemed like a pretty good deal, so I am sure that CCP dragging its feet on removing that starter pack was in no small part influence by the fact that it was selling pretty well.

But the story so far has always included some rationalization.

Skill injectors were rationalized because the skills were all created in the game via normal training along with the fact that you could always buy characters in the bazaar.

Alpha skill injectors, daily skill point boosts for free accounts, were rationalized as they only added as many skill points as they player would have received in a day had they been subscribed, making it a mini, daily subscription.

Starter packs were rationalized as being for new players and being once per account.  Sure, you got some cheap skill points, but it wasn’t an unlimited deal.

Which brings us to today, when CCP announced their new Training Boost Bundle.

Training Boost Bundle

You get, straight up, 1.5 million skill points and an Expert Cerebral Accelerator, which gives you a +8 stat boost to speed up your training for 12.5 days (1,080,000 seconds).

The accelerator in game

I guess the rationalization here might be… um… at least these skill points aren’t as cheap as they were in the starter pack?

But it is still a deal if you simply want to straight up pay cash for skill points, especially for older characters.

My back of the envelope, rounded numbers for easy mental math, calculations are that in Jita/Perimeter you can find PLEX for about 2.6 ISK million per and Large Skill Injectors for around 725 million ISK per.

When purchased in lots of 500 PLEX is about 4 cents per unit and you need to sell about 300 to buy a Large Skill Injector, taking into account taxes.

That makes a Large Skill Injector about $12.

To get 1.5 million skill points you need to buy three injectors, which is $36.  You have to decide if the cerebral accelerator is worth the extra four bucks, though I imagine it is.

But that is only if you have a relatively unskilled character.  You get less skill points per injector the more skill points you have.  If, like me, you have characters with more than 80 million skill points, then you only get 150K skill points per injector.

That means you need to buy 10 Large Skill Injectors, which will run you about $120 in PLEX, or three times the $40 asking price.

So, for old hands, the Training Boost Bundle might not be a bad deal… though even that assumes you aren’t earning enough ISK in game to buy your injectors without having to spend any real world cash.  I’m not going to spend the money, but somebody will.

Skill points are now well and truly available for sale in unlimited quantities.  No need to go through the PLEX to ISK to injectors rigamarole, just buy the skill points directly.  It is likely cheaper and clearly easier.

Welcome to free to play, where the inevitable result is pay to win and where whales keep the game running so the cash shop needs to cater to them.

Are you going to quit?  Are you going to give up all the effort you have invested in the game over this?  Is this the step too far, the line crossed?

Probably not.  I think most people will bitch about it… /r/eve is in an uproar as expected… and then carry on.  I am not going to quit.  Hell, there is finally a war on, the game is good for me for a bit.

So what then?

I suppose we need to mark it up as a life lesson, a reminder that what companies say in a specific moment in a given context will be ignored or forgotten the moment it no longer directly serves their interest.  A company’s promise is an empty and worthless thing.

Just remember, when CCP says something to reassure you, like that it is important that skill points in the game should be earned or that asset safety is important because otherwise nobody will keep their stuff in citadels, if they are not actively lying to you in that moment, they will go back on their word the moment it suits them.

Welcome to EVE Online.  Know the risks.

WoW Tokens Five Years Later

The WoW Token turned five years old earlier this month.

The WoW Token highway has no exit

You can tell when I have started doing my month in review post as I am suddenly all about things that happened five or ten years ago, and such is the case now.

Way back on April 7, 2015 I posted about the launch of the WoW Token.

The purpose of the WoW Token, and other like items such as EVE Online’s PLEX or Daybreak’s Krono or Anarchy Online’s GRACE, is to fight illicit RMT, which has all sorts of fraud and theft issues associated with it, by giving players a legitimate way to buy in-game currency that both gives the developer a cut of the money and doesn’t dump currency into the economy.  The company is merely the agent between players trading the in-game currency for subscription time.  It is RMT, but “good” RMT so far as the developer is concerned.

That Blizzard and CCP and other companies have done this, and kept up with it over time, must mean that it is working for them somehow.  If nothing else, it is another revenue stream in a world where a monthly subscription is often a barrier for players.  Whether it has made a serious dent in illicit RMT I cannot tell, though it was interesting that some gold sellers seemed to revive with the coming of WoW Classic, where you cannot sell a token for gold.

And, of course, it isn’t any sort of panacea that will save a game.  WildStar built its plan initial business plan on their CREDD idea and that didn’t save it from going free to play then shutting down.

In WoW the idea itself took a while to grab players, at least in North America.

North American Prices – Apr 2015 to Apr 2020

When it launched at a starting price of 30,000 gold per token there were some people who declared that now was the time to jump in, that there was nowhere to go but up!

And then the price dropped immediately, landing below 20,000 gold in the first month.  It revived eventually, getting back over 30,000 in September, then starting to really climb come 2017 and peaking in 2018.  But there was an initial stretch there where it wasn’t all that attractive relative to illicit RMT.  Over the five years:

  • Avg Price – 109,057
  • Median Price – 117,552
  • Max Price – 238,572 on Jan 31, 2018
  • Min Price – 18,296 on May 3, 2015
  • Current Price – ~120,000 as I write this

The NA start was in some small contrast to the EU token prices, which started at 35,000 two weeks later and only went down a bit before beginning a fairly steady rise.  I am sure that says something about the two markets, though I am not sure what.

European Prices – Apr 2015 to Apr 2020

  • Avg Price – 173,225
  • Median Price – 180,158
  • Max Price – 401,827 on May 17, 2018
  • Min Price – 30,352 on Apr 25, 2015
  • Current Price – ~180,000 as I write this

Still, even though the token prices vary, the pattern of the prices over time looks remarkably similar when charted.  And no doubt they probably ought to in reaction to outside events, like when you were able to buy Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 with WoW Tokens, which accounts for that peak price in 2018.

I am curious as to how people feel the advent of WoW Tokens have affected the game over the last half decade.

I, personally, have been only somewhat attached to the game over the last five years, playing it to see the game but not getting that deeply invested in it.  I have been a casual WoW player during that time for certain, and it was only the advent of WoW Classic that got me really back to Blizzard.

I have purchased two WoW Tokens.  My daughter pleaded for one so she could buy some RP gear for her RP guild when the price was around 100,000 gold and I bought one for myself one day when I was logged in and saw the price was around 220,000 gold and thought I might never see that price again.  But then the game sort of rains gold on you these days… going back to get flying in Battle for Azeroth I was shocked at how much gold I was given for random things when in WoW Classic I am grubbing for silver coins still… so I have earned more gold since just playing than I bought. (Mostly during Legion.)

My closest experience with something like WoW Tokens has been PLEX in EVE Online.

There I don’t buy it to activate game time but just to get a ship SKIN now and then.  But I’ve seen people who get pretty caught up in the idea of “PLEXing” their accounts every month, which becomes a mania with some people.  People who “crab” a lot… mine or run anomalies for ISK… are often suspected of being in it for RMT purposes.  And they often are, but not for illicit RMT and supplying ISK sellers and such.  They need to make the ISK to buy the PLEX in order to pay for their subscription.

The big nerf that hit last week with the Surgical Strike update will break the game for some people because they are invested in super carrier ratting… super carriers were pretty much invulnerable up until last week as they could kill small groups of subcaps and could survive to be rescued from larger groups… and with the changes they won’t be able to PLEX their accounts.

Azeroth is a lot different than New Eden however.   I know people who obsess about earning gold in WoW, but I am not aware if it has reached that level.

So how do you feel about WoW Tokens five years in?  I’m okay with them, but I am also out of the loop enough to not see or care much about the impact they might be having.  I’ll even put in a poll here.

If you cannot see the poll above this line… well, your web browser and ad block settings are keeping you secure.  I cannot argue with that, but you don’t get to vote unless you use the browser on your phone or something.

Data for this post cam from WoWToken.info and WoW Token Prices.

The latter has nice charts on their front page, while the former wouldn’t let me see any of their charts even with ad block off and security down.

Seriously, I am looking at the ads but they still won’t show the charts

The latter site pointedly makes reference to this if you have ad block on.  But the former has all the historical data available as a .csv file, which I was able to download, so I have to give them credit for that.

There is also data for the WoW Token markets in Taiwan, Korea, and China, but I did not dive into those as there are different dynamics in play there that I am even less aware of.

Starter Pack Frenzy

I suppose we should not lose sight of a key bit of irony that has stemmed from the controversy surrounding the whole EVE Online Starter Pack thing this week.

The reasonably priced packs

By objecting loudly to the Starter Pack, by bringing attention to it to as many people as possible, those against such things have probably been able to sell a lot more of them than CCP would have otherwise manage on their own.

CCP dropped this Starter Pack update on their DLC page right after EVE North and without any fanfare and a group of angry capsuleers went and did the marketing for them.

One of the arguments for the Starter Pack has been that a million skill points isn’t all that much in the grand scheme of things.  For any but the youngest character a million skill points isn’t going to change the world, and for a crusty old vet like me, with over 200 million skill points on my main, the Starter Pack barely moves the needle.

But that is the wrong way to look at this.  That ignores what will be the motivation for many, which is value.

The blurb on the Starter Pack says “Worth $10,” but that is wrong… very wrong for some people.

A million skill points is two large skill injectors worth.  A large skill injector was selling for around 1 billion ISK when I last checked.  (EVE Market Data confirms that for the moment.)  With PLEX past the $4 million mark each, you need to buy about 500 PLEX in cash to end up with enough ISK to buy two fill skill injectors.  So a million skill points is roughly worth 2 billion ISK, which even at the current end-of-quarter sale prices, comes out to more than double that “Worth $10” statement, if you buy the 1,100 PLEX pack.

But that assumes that you have a character who can get the full benefit of a skill injector, which have diminishing returns the more skill points you have.

  • < 5 million total skill points = 500,000 skill points per injector
  • 5 million – 50 million total skill points = 400,000 skill points per injector
  • 50 million – 80 million total skill points = 300,000 skill points per injector
  • > 80 million skill points = 150,000 skill points per injector

So for a vet like me, a large skill injector is worth just 150,000 skill points.

350K SP go to waste

That means that a million skill points is actually worth almost SEVEN large skill injectors to somebody over 80 million skill points, or 7 billion ISK or 3,500 PLEX or somewhere past $100 even at the current PLEX sale prices.

Basically, a lot of people read this deal and see “Seven Large Skill Injectors for $5!”  Why wouldn’t you throw a bit of change at that, even if you can only buy it once?

And then, with their promise to change the Start Pack, presumably in the near future, CCP has put a time pressure on getting the deal, so people think they have to buy it now or miss out!  I mean, CCP could have yanked it from the buying options immediately.  They have that power.  Instead, they let it linger.  It is still there as I write this.  I doubt it will be gone before Monday.

Hilmar was on Twitter discounting the idea that this Start Pack was going to sell enough units to have any real impact on the financial numbers, but I suspect that whatever modest goals they had for it have been exceeded in less than a week, all thanks to player rage.  Talk about having your cake and eating it.  They get the money, the attention, and the good will for walking back their change, but only after it has had time to sell even more units.

Well played CCP, well played.

That EVE Online Starter Pack Controversy

So as not to bury the lede (one of my favorite things) the title refers to the updated Starter Pack which you can get from CCP’s EVE Online DLC page.  It includes one million skill points and runs just $4.99 currently.

There are, and have been for ages, some reasonably priced packs you can buy to give yourself a leg up on the game.  They have come in assorted flavors.  In the past they were sometimes related to professions like mining or exploring or even combat.  Now they are more generic.

The reasonably priced packs

And then, of course, there is the Galaxy Pack, for the more whale-ish of customers.

The Galaxy Pack!

The theme of these packs has been pretty consistent over the years since Alpha clones showed up.  You get some Omega time, to get you a taste of being a subscriber, you get some PLEX so you can buy something in the cash shop, and you get a some cosmetics, something nice to wear and/or a ship SKIN.  Maybe there is an implant or a multiple character training cert, but that was about it.

Even the Starter Pack used to be mostly that.  It’s previous payload was:

  • 7 days of Omega, ensuring Double Training and many more benefits
  • 250,000 Skill Points, giving you a head start in skill training
  • Skill and Damage Booster (Cerebral Accelerator)
  • A stunning bundle of starter ship SKINs
  • Blood Raider apparel

For no doubt emotional reasons, 250K SP as part of the bundle wasn’t viewed as a betrayal by CCP.  That much was available via a friend referral.

However, CCP changed the Starter Pack so, as the screen shot above indicates, it includes:

  • 1,000,000 Skill Points
  • Skill and Damage Booster
  • A stunning bundle of starter ship SKINs
  • Blood Raider apparel

No more Omega time and 4x the skill points now.

And some people are quite angry about that change; specifically the move to handing out a million skill points.  That crossed an emotional barrier.  And I can see why.

In the three years since what I called the Mardi Gras Release in February of 2016, which brought Skill Extractors and Skill Injectors into the game, the whole skill point market has put a lot of players on edge as they have expected CCP to step over the line and start injecting skill points into the game for cash.

Skill Injectors have also been blamed, and not without merit, for ruining the game already, for specific definitions of “ruin.”

The intentions were, if not pure, at least not straight up evil as presented.  With a then 13 year old game based on the skill training queue, there was a large negative perception that new players could never “catch up,” could never be on an equal footing with those who started before them.

The long held vet opinion that this meant players had to learn the game and that newbies have a place in fleets in things tackle frigates and should work their way up the ladder the same way we did back in the day fell on deaf ears.  Nobody wants to be told to do it the hard way, they want to fly a titan today.

And with PLEX able to turn real world money into ISK and then with ISK able to buy Skill Injectors, anybody with enough cash could fly a titan today.  New players could catch up.  Problem solved.

Well, sort of.  The more likely scenario was this.

Iron Bank buys ALL THE SKILLS

More so than new player, old hands ended up buying Skill Injectors to boost up titan alts and now we have more titan pilots in the game than CCP ever imagined would be possible.

But this did not lead to a wide player revolt like Incarna for a couple of mitigating reasons.

First, you had always been able to buy characters in EVE Online, so technically you could buy your way into a titan pilot before, though getting the ISK was for it was a challenge.

Second, this was not introducing new skill points into the game.  All of the skill points would be extracted from the current player base.  In fact, because of the diminishing returns of Skill Injectors… somebody like me only gets 150K or the 500K skill points an injector contains… it was actually removing skill points from the game.

350K SP go to waste for me…

But most important was what the dev blog about Skill Injectors stated:

It’s very important to note here that this means all the skillpoints available to buy on the market in EVE will have originated on other characters where they were trained at the normal rate.  Player driven economies are key to EVE design and we want you to decide the value of traded skillpoints while we make sure there is one single mechanism that brings new skillpoints in to the system – training.

The mob was mollified, if still wary.

And then CCP started straight up selling skill points they injected into the game.

The daily Alpha Clone injector

This was the daily Alpha Clone injector, which came into the game back in November of 2017.  I thought surely this would be the breaking point, that the mob would come unglued and that there would be rioting in Jita and so forth.

But there wasn’t.  The Alpha Clone injector had just enough limitations to be mostly palatable, or at least not worth an insurrection.   Those limitations were:

  • 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

Still, the seal was broken, CCP was just injecting skill points into the game for cash.

I guess CCP had been generating them on occasion before, giving out skill points as compensation for game problems.  But the lid was well and truly off last November when they added in the login reward mechanism, and gave us some skill points just to test it out.

And then came the 16th anniversary where any Omega logging in for 16 days got ONE MILLION skill points.  At that point you could argue that CCP was just printing skill points for cash… cash via Omega subscriptions, but cash none the less.  CCP created skill points were now the norm.

Which brings us to today and the Starter Pack and the straight up “give me five dollars and I’ll give you a million skill points” deal.

Things have moved along incrementally.  If you have accepted everything CCP has done up to this point it is a tough be taken seriously if you argue that this is the breaking point, that CCP has gone beyond the pale, that CCP has broken faith with players, that the Pearl Abyss cash shop gold ammo power selling apocalypse is upon us, because we were practically there already.  Why didn’t you say something before?

And, Jin’taan’s unlikely work-around aside, you can only apply one Starter Pack per accoun., (Along with some other fresh restrictions, threw in only after people began to object loudly.)  So what is the big deal?

The flip side of that is how the incremental changes have continued on, which means that they will likely continue on going forward.

Today is it just the Starter Pack, which you can only use once per account.  But if that is okay, if we accept that, then how soon until skill points are part of the Meteor Pack or the Star Pack?  How soon until that $99 Galaxy Pack comes with a Skill Injector or three filled up with skill points CCP created just for that purpose?

That is not at all a stretch.  CCP has been close to this in the past.  They used to sell industry packs that came with Aurum, the old cash shop currency.  At one point Green Man Gaming was selling those for a dollar each (they were normally $10) and there was no limited per account.  So seeing that happen with skill points is very easy to imagine.  After all, CCP didn’t add them to the Starter Pack by accident.  Somebody thought that was a good idea, and nobody objected to it.  Somebody within CCP will always be looking for ways to boost revenue, and skill points are always going to be there as a temptation.  CCP edged back some when it got push back, but the company is certainly looking for that next step forward.

It is hard to stand up to any incremental change because it can be argued away as not being radically different from what you had accepted before.  But in the face of an ongoing march of incremental changes that set a pattern that appears to lead to an unhappy conclusion, it doesn’t seem exactly radical to reach a point where you can see the pattern and feel the need to push back on it.  At some point the frog realizes that boiling is in its future.

So I get why somebody like Manic Velocity, a passionate member of the community, has found his breaking point with this move. (I wonder what would have happened had he made it onto the CSM.)  It isn’t that the move is so radical, it is that it appears to be yet another step on the path towards a game we won’t like.  Sometimes you reach a point where you just can’t go along with it any more.

Most people won’t mind though.  Some people will complain.  On Reddit there will be threads about betrayal, predictions about the next steps, and calls for protest that will be ignored by the vast majority of the community.

I’m aware of the situation, but I am unlikely to walk away from the game.  I see the path being trod, but I am of a fatalist bent and cannot see CCP deviating far from that path as time goes forward.  We can perhaps slow their pace, but in the end they will get there.  CCP will continue on down this trail.  They pretty much have to.  The game isn’t growing, they have no other products, past attempts at other products have failed, so what is left?  Monetize harder!

Meanwhile, the retention rate of new players will remain weak.  I don’t think CCP is capable of addressing that, and I am skeptical that there is anything they could do in any case.  And as time goes forward the older player base will erode… from tiring of the game or from whatever outrage comes along… which will also hurt new player retention… until the population hits a tipping point and the economy starts to collapse.

Then there will be huge inflation as the endless ISK from NPC bounties chases the dwindling PLEX supply while the Jita market deflates otherwise as fewer and fewer players buy ships and modules and ammo and what not.

CCP will step into try and stabilize things.  They’ll hit NPC bounties hard, but that will just drive more players away by then.  They will setup NPCs to sell things again, putting an effective floor on the price of minerals the way shuttles used to, but driving out miners and industrialists.  Pockets of null sec that can maintain self-sufficiency will keep fighting, throwing excess titans at each other and dropping low power Keepstars with abandon as the PCU dwindles.  It will be hilarity, a Mad Max post-apocalyptic spaceship demolition derby, in the midst of tragedy.

The last gasp will be CCP putting out a fresh server so people can start anew.  That will be fun for a bit, but it will kill TQ and signal the beginning of the end.  CCP won’t change their ways and all the old problems will crop up, in weeks or months this time rather than years.  We have seen that in every retro server.  The go back in time only accelerate it.

Eventually a few old players will be sitting around chatting in local about what a great game it was.  What other online game let you do even half of what EVE Online did?  What a wild ride it was while it lasted. And then Sadus will remind us that WoW was the first MMO.

Or maybe it will all work out.  We’ll see.  Either way, CCP has a PLEX sale going, because of course they do.  It is the end of the fiscal quarter and CCP has to make Pearl Abyss happy with their numbers.

The Triglavian’s only known weakness: PLEX

Because if they don’t make Pearl Abyss happy… well… buy some PLEX today or we’ll be buying skill injectors and gold ammo tomorrow.

Other coverage:

Done with DragonVale

I think I last mentioned DragonVale about five years ago.  It was a game my daughter installed on my iPad which we played together for a bit.

DragonVale

It was an innocuous free to play game somewhat in the vein of FarmVille which had you breeding dragons as opposed to growing crops.  Also, it was on the iPad so there was a lot less spamming of friends on Facebook.

So the surprise bit was that, five years later I was still playing it.  For a while it was mostly my daughter, but then I took over management of day-to-day operations she decorated the place.  Later, it was pretty much just me with my wife and daughter occasionally commenting, “Are you still playing that?”

Our “High Value”Dragon Island back in the day

Yes I was.  The game was pretty raw to start with, giving you little information about how you were doing… “doing” for me meaning collecting all the dragons.  That was my goal.  You couldn’t tell how many dragons you had or which ones you were missing.  When breeding them… and the dragons have as many types and more than Pokemon do… you had to do online research to figure out which two dragons to breed in order to get a third.  And then finding those dragons on your ever growing list was a chore, and one you had to repeat every breeding cycle.

However, I will say that Backflip, the makers of DragonVale, put in a lot of effort to make the game better and, more importantly, to make information available to the player in the game.  Now in the game you can sort by types, get breeding information, and most important of all, see a list of all the dragons available and which ones you are missing.  There is a number there, a simple number, that tells you how close you are to collecting them all.

There are other things to the game, like levels.  Levels unlock the ability to have more islands and habitats.  When I left the maximum level was 125.  You could also collect dragon eggs, which were pretty.  And they also added in the ability to collect and track decor items, which was a little much for me.

But it was the dragons that I wanted.  And slowly but surely over the years I closed in on the getting them all.  It could be a slog, since they constantly introduce new ones and every in-game event adds a few more.  Still, persistence was paying off.  I bred all the ones that could only be bred at specific times, like during a lunar or solar eclipse, or during a blue moon, or when the Olympics were in session.

A Year ago and six dragons shy

I just wanted to get them all, then I could quit.  I was going to do what I did with Neko Atsume and get them all and walk away a winner… before they added anything else to the game. (I was done before it was even available in English.)

At three points during this year I was one dragon away, only to have something new pop up and thwart me.

Dragonarium says I had 428 out of 429 on May 14th

The last addition was an epic dragon, which you have to perform a long series of tasks in order to unlock.  You can, of course, pay to unlock it.  And, while I have thrown some cash at DragonVale a few times over the years, I haven’t straight up bought a dragon.

Leaving out the “hollow win” aspect of it, the prices are a bit crazy.  DragonVale has a real money barrier in that to buy your way to things you have to spend more money than I am ever going to be willing to toss at a game like this.  I am good for $5 on a whim.  But $99 to get enough special coins to unlock your new epic… I’ll wait and play the game thank you.

So I carried on doing my daily task to unlock the epic.  Basically, I clicked on something which gave me a random number of special coins along with the option to get some more if I would watch a 30 second ad.  I can manage an ad, so I generally did that as well.  And so I was progressing.

Then a new special event came along.

Special events are an opportunity for the game to get players to spend some money.  It is the time when I have, in the past, been willing to part with five bucks to get enough coins to get that one last dragon.  But Backflip has been tinkering with the special event system, trying to channel people towards that money spending point.  But they have generally been pretty good about it, in the end, being about a special currency which you can then use to buy exactly what you want.

This time however there was a new twist to the event.  There were four new dragons to obtain and a special currency.  But in between they put a new mechanic.  You couldn’t just buy the dragons with the currency, you had to buy an egg which would hatch into one of the four dragons.  A level of randomness, but with a bit of OCD on your side you could earn enough currency every day to buy quite a few eggs.  Furthermore, there were double currency earning days which also allowed you to find eggs in your park if you looked.

The odds were not posted.  But after getting a lot of eggs I could tell that it wasn’t a straight up even 1 in 4 chance.  I got one of the eggs over and over.  Eventually I also got two of the other eggs, so was able to hatch three out of the four dragons.  But I was one shy.  And as we reached the last day of the I spent the last bit of the special currency I had earned in game and still did not have the final dragon.

So I looked at what my options were, and that was the table flipping moment.

At that point my only option to get what I wanted as a customer was to spend money to buy random chances.  Random chances that seemed to have a low probability of success given my past observations.

Basically, I couldn’t get there without buying a lockbox.  And at that point I said, “Fuck you,” closed the app, and deleted it.  There went a customer with a demonstrated willingness to pay now and again.

If you, as a developer, think you are going to put me in a situation where getting somewhere in your game requires me to buy a random chance, then you are not going to keep me as a customer.

The Corrupt Developer Career Path

In which we see how logic is useless with bad data.

This all started innocuously enough with Wolfshead angry about life as video game developer.  His ire, deflected momentarily from his usual target of Blizzard, was aimed at the video game industry itself and the fact that being a game dev can be a really crappy career choice.  The pay is low, the hours are long, job security is fleeting, and there is a long line of gullible young people willing to take your place if you try to buck the system.

This is not a new tale.  Having lived close enough to Electronic Arts for them to be covered by the local paper regularly, word of how shitty the video games industry can be is something I have been aware of since at least the late 1980s.

Fun created here… on an Orca graveyard!

Wolfshead called it an example of  the “worst excesses of capitalism,” by which I assume he means supply and demand.  Seems legit.  Oversupply usually lowers pay and working conditions while scarcity tends to raise them. That is the whole “invisible hand” that Adam Smith was going on about indicating that you should look for work elsewhere.  Sort of an invisible middle-finger.

Oddly though he also went off on progressives who run operations where life is not intolerable, which comes off a bit muddled and counter to his main point.  He rather ironically denigrates people who care about fair trade coffee, then turns around and says gamers need to demand better working conditions for developers.  Progressive ideals are fine when they benefit you I guess.  I expect him to follow up with a post calling for fair labor video games.

But the net message is that being a video game developer can suck.  Another brick in the wall that should block you from ever wanting to work in the video game industry.  You go down that path despite the reality, not because of it.

However Gevlon was having none of it, even doubling down when challenged.

In Gevlon’s world, nobody does anything without getting compensated.  Young developers don’t line up for crappy pay, long hours, and no job security simply for passion or to follow a dream.  That whole “do what you love” is bullshit.  If you go there, there has to be a payoff!  These young developers go into the video games industry intent on lining their pockets by becoming corrupt developers!

Artist concept of the decision process

This whole idea fails the sniff test almost immediately.  It smells like bullshit and defies the logic Gevlon himself lays out.

First, if money is actually the REAL motivator, as opposed to the dream of working in the wonderful fantasy world of video games, then there are a lot better ways to go about it than risking your career, future employment options, and possible legal and tax complications, by becoming a corrupt game developer.

A developer could, for example… and I realize this is a huge stretch… get a job elsewhere in software development.  There are many jobs in software available.  Most of them pay better than the video games industry.

Basically, ample other opportunities exist.  You do not go into video game development as an individual contributor with an eye towards making bank.  And doing so with the idea of essentially creating a criminal enterprise is absurd in the extreme.

It isn’t as though there are no corrupt devs.  Stories do surface now and again about somebody taking advantage of their position.  But those are more matters of opportunity rather than somebody’s career goal.  People are weak.  Oh, and their careers got ruined once they get caught.  Like a lot of segments of software development, video game development is a small community and word gets around even if you don’t make the front page of Kotaku.

That leads us to one of the key arguments against this corrupt developer proposition; the lack of news stories about this.

If being a corrupt developer was a career path people going into video game development were actually, consciously pursuing we should be seeing a lot more news about corrupt developers.  His argument pretty much needs this to be taken seriously.

Where are all the stories?  Please, post links in the comments if I am wrong, but I’ve got nothing.

We know all about Kickstarters taking your money and running and about game companies over promising and under delivering.  Players complain incessantly about price gouging by greedy companies  But the biggest developer “corruption” story of the last few years was an unsubstantiated allegation that a indy developer used personal contacts to get a better review.

The stories just aren’t out there and the only way you can explain that away is by turning the whole thing into a conspiracy where management and the industry are in on the corruption and we enter the realm of Dinsdale where players are paying off companies.  At that point companies are working against self-interest allowing corrupt devs, since even Gevlon insists that protecting the integrity of a game is vitally important and why would they share the booty with line devs in any case.

Well, that, and the fact that the number of game developer positions where being corrupt would get you paid is probably pretty limited in and of itself.  Further evidence that people don’t go into this industry with corruption in mind as a career goal.

The only real evidence that Gevlon can produce to support his theory is that bugs in code exist and some of them take longer to get fixed than he thinks they should.

That has an easy response.

Gevlon, as I have noted elsewhere, is an ignorant amateur outsider when it comes to software development in general, and all the more so when discussing the situation involving any particular video game, so his determination as to what should be easy to fix and how long it should take carries exactly zero weight.

This is not an insult, but a statement of fact.

I am an ignorant, amateur, outsider when it comes to treating cancer.  It seems like you should just be able to cut that shit out and be done with it.  Also, Jesus, doesn’t radiation give you cancer?  And the chemicals in chemotherapy were derived from mustard gas!  Why would you use that on people?

So if you see me hanging out the oncology department at your local hospital, feel free to discount any advice I might give you.

The difference between those two situations is that I know and admit that I am the ignorant amateur outsider and Gevlon does not.  He thinks his assessments are meaningful.

They are not.

Which leaves him with very little to support his hypothesis besides his idea that people don’t spend time doing things that do not bring them the greatest financial benefit.  At that point you have to start asking why he spends time blogging.  That is giving something away for free, something that has value.  Imagine the page views his posts would get from enraged fan boys on a site like Massively OP!  He doesn’t even run ads on his own site, so he fails by his own logic.

To summarize:

  • The alleged financial motivation to become a corrupt developer is nonsensical and counter productive; there are easier way to make more money and people do value things besides a paycheck.
  • Positions where being a corrupt game developer would pay off are extremely limited; real money trading has to be involved somehow.
  • No substantial external evidence exists that anybody is pursuing this career path in any numbers; where are the news stories?
  • The remaining evidence offered lacks credibility; Gevlon is not in a position to know and his own logic argues against him.

So while I would not deny that corrupt game developers may be out there, it seems more like something subject to occasional circumstances where opportunity arises and not a career path anybody set out on to offset the poor pay offered by their chosen industry.

The burden of proof lies on Gevlon to prove that that the situation is otherwise and so far he has failed completely on that front.

The Economy of New Eden Without Gambling

I don’t know the answer, but I want to ask the question; what happens to the economy now?

Gambling… at least third party gambling,.. will be leaving EVE Online come the Ascension expansion on November 8, 2016.  As I have said elsewhere, you can find the best telling of this tale over at The Nosy Gamer.

As you might have guessed by my own reaction to that announcement, the departure of gambling is fine by me.  I am not a fan of it in either real or virtual life.  Having a casino like IWI start throwing the weight of its ISK around in New Eden to broaden its power did nothing to warm me to gambling.

However, gambling sites have been part of the environment for a while now.  We know that their departure will have some minor impact on EVE Online related things outside of the game… streamers will no longer get an ISK stipend to advertise for casinos and sites like EN24 will have to find new advertisers (which they did almost immediately once Bobmon, the casino candidate on the CSM, stopped crying wolf)… but what about the New Eden economy?

The thing is, gambling does not create money.  It isn’t an ISK faucet.  If you look at CCP Quant’s monthly economic charts, there isn’t a line item for “gambling.”  Gambling in New Eden just serves as a conduit that moved ISK from the wallets of gamblers to the wallets of the various casinos, because in the long term, the house always wins.

And some of those casino wallets have been drained as the CCP security team confiscated RMT tainted ISK.

So this will actually end up with there being less ISK in the New Eden economy.  And while that ISK is measured in the trillions, it was idle in banker’s wallets so its absence probably won’t influence the market in Jita.  Certainly, some individuals whose wallets were found to be stuffed with dirty money were feeling the pinch once CCP removed that ISK, but that hit a very tiny slice of New Eden.  The average capsuleer should hardly notice the difference.

But then there is PLEX, which in its way made this whole casino business viable.

Current prices are around 800 million ISK in Jita

Current prices are around 1.2 billion ISK in Jita

I have heard on a number of occasions that some of the gamblers using the EVE Online casinos are just that; gamblers.  Which is to say, they were not EVE Online players.  Instead, they created EVE Online accounts, bought PLEX, sold it for ISK, and used the ISK in the casinos.

I do not doubt that this has actually happened, that somebody has bought PLEX just to gamble.  The only question in my mind is how prevalent this sort of things really is.  If this sort of thing was only a tiny minority of the people who used the EVE Online gambling sites, then the impact of the passing of gambling probably won’t hit the price of PLEX.

If those gambling for ISK were a significant factor in these casinos, if people were not simply tossing away their ratting and mining ISK but were buying PLEX to support their gambling habit, the end of the casinos could user in another spike in the price of PLEX. (And things with prices that are effectively pegged to the value of PLEX.)

Of course, as noted up at the top, the gambling sites officially go away with the launch of the Ascension expansion on November 8th.  That expansion introduces Alpha Clones, which will allow people to play EVE Online without a subscription fee.  This is CCP’s free to play move.

Should this see the initial success that such free to play gambits generally achieve… lots of people should come give the game a try, or come back to take a look… is CCP counting on them to take up the slack in PLEX purchases?  Is this why CCP waited until last week… just four weeks before the launch of the expansion… to move against IWI and ban people who, in some cases, they had banned earlier this year?

In a game where the economy is absolutely essential, where nobody can avoid it, I imagine CCP is trying to tread carefully.  But I still wonder where this will lead.

Meanwhile, as The Mittani and DBRB were smugging so hard I am surprised they didn’t injure themselves, I Want ISK has been vacillating between telling people that IWI 2.0 was never meant for New Eden and how they are removing lines of code that were part of the IWI 2.0 connection to EVE Online.  It sounds like they have decided to become a straight-up online casino.  I am sure that will end well.  And, finally, over at The Nosy Gamer there is a further look at the legal aspects of all of this and why CCP may have chosen to act.

Addendum:

Stabs takes a stab at what happens to the economy when gambling goes away.