Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Back To The Future Part 2?

Last night I stopped by Big Country's EVE-Radio talk show for an hour or so and wound up talking about both SOMERblink 2014 and, surprisingly enough, ISBoxer.  Yes, apparently 2013 was such a good year in EVE history that we need to revisit all the issues.

I don't blame anyone on the show for bringing up the subject as ISBoxer keeps getting talked about in the community.  But if anyone just starts shouting, "It's against the EULA!", I'm just going to whip out the link to EVE's Third Party Policies and quote this paragraph:
"We do not endorse or condone the use of any third party applications or other software that modifies the client or otherwise confers an unfair benefit to players. We may, in our discretion, tolerate the use of applications or other software that simply enhance player enjoyment in a way that maintains fair gameplay. For instance, the use of programs that provide in-game overlays (Mumble, Teamspeak) and the multiboxing application is not something we plan to actively police at this time. However, if any third party application or other software is used to gain any unfair advantage, or for purposes beyond its intended use, or if the application or other software violates other parts of the EULA, we may fully enforce our rights to prohibit such use, including player bans. Please use such third party applications or other software at your own risk." [emphasis mine]
The multiboxing application is ISBoxer.  I also highlighted the last sentence as a reminder to ISBoxer users that CCP can change its mind about ISBoxer at any time.  Basically, this paragraph basically states that CCP will allow players to use ISBoxer as long as they don't act like major dicks when using the software.  At a certain point, banning ISBoxer could prove a better business decision that allowing the use of software that, in a dev blog from 2013, was described as "powerful enough to count as 'client modification' if used for that purpose."

Some players are claiming that ISBoxer users are acting like major dicks.  But calling someone names is not going to sway CCP.  At this point, considering some of the things I've heard, name calling will have me trolling people by quoting CCP's public statements and policies.  What I'd like to see are some questions asked and answered.  Here are mine.

1.  Are ISBoxer users monopolizing content?  I've seen the screenshots of the massive ISBoxer-powered ice mining fleets.  I also heard Mike Azariah state on BC's show that he doesn't like seeing big fleets of Nighthawks monopolizing some incursion sites.  Are there other examples?  And are these just isolated cases or widespread problems?

2.  How does the game need to change to accomodate the capabilities of ISBoxer?  If CCP is going to allow players to use software as powerful as ISBoxer, what mechanics do CCP need to change to make the game fairer for those who don't use ISBoxer?  I know that cloaked ships need to decloak others again to counter the ISBoxer bomber meta.  CCP already changed the way ice belts act; do they need to iterate on that?  I'm honestly curious because I don't see a lot of ISBoxer fleets in low sec.

3.  Is the objective to have more actual players, or increase accounts?  Ideally, having more players should increase the number of accounts.  I've gotten the impression over the last year that CCP would like to cut back on the number of alt accounts people have.  However, people running large numbers of ISBoxer accounts goes against that impression.  So when push comes to shove when making design decisions, does CCP want to cater to the largest amount of players possible or just treat all accounts equally?

4.  How many people actually use ISBoxer?  Are people blowing the whole ISBoxer issue way out of proportion?  Or is this a growing thing?  One thing that could turn people off from trying EVE is if the game gets a reputation as needing additional paid software in order to compete.  Since the ISBoxer extension runs in the EVE memory space, CCP could set up some monitoring to check to see just how widespread the use of the multiboxing software really is.  If anything, such monitoring will freak out bot developers, which is always a good thing.

5.  What is the effect of ISBoxer on the PLEX market?  I think everyone assumes that ISBoxer users PLEX all of their accounts.  I wonder what effect that has on the price of PLEX.  Has an assumed increase in the use of ISBoxer driven up the PLEX market?  If so, is the effect quantifiable?  Perhaps a more interesting question related to my third question is: If ISBoxer users go away, will the price of PLEX drop enough so that all the people who had to cancel accounts because they could no longer afford the price be able to reactivate those accounts?  If the answer to that question is yes, then the loss of ISBoxer accounts wouldn't really affect CCP's bottom line.

I'll admit, I don't know the answers.  What I do know is that I'm getting tired of hearing the same complaints month after month.  Worse, I keep reading the same really bad arguments month after month.  If people are going to complain about ISBoxer, at least do so intelligently and bring something new to the table.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Digital Dozen: 25 August 2014

The rankings of the top twelve MMORPGs as determined by the players of the Xfire community from play on Sunday, 24 August 2014.  For more details about the methodology, click here.  Historical data can be found here.

RankPrev WeekGameScoreHours Played+/- %
11World of Warcraft43.26,796-1.6
22Guild Wars 214.12,223+2.8
33Star Wars: The Old Republic12.21,925+50.6
44Final Fantasy XIV6.0939+10.1
55EVE Online4.9776+10.2
911Lord of the Rings Online2.4371+11.1
1212Elder Scrolls Online1.7 273-9.6
Total Digital Dozen Hours: 15,732

With the summer almost over and school about to start, the Xfire community headed back to their keyboards.  On Sunday, Xfire members spent 4.4% more time logged into their 12 favorite MMORPGs than the week before.  The game that drove the surge was Star Wars: The Old Republic (+647 hours) while World of Warcraft (-113 hours) and Tera (-111 hours) saw the biggest drops in interest).

Player Housing Is Popular - Star Wars: The Old Republic launched its Galactic Strongholds expansion for subscribers last Tuesday.  Not only did Bioware introduce player housing, but guild housing both on planets and in massive ships.  In addition, the Conquest system was introduced to give players in guilds an extra incentive to log in and participate in group activities.

New Content and Old Players - Patch 2.35 for Final Fantasy XIV launched on 18 August offering new beast quests, colored plumage for chocobo companions among the highlights.  Square Enix also began an event Friday to welcome players back to FFXIV.  Players who unsubbed are eligible to log back into the game for free until 1 September.

Not All Patches Are Created Equal - One game that didn't benefit from a patch Sunday was Tera.   Despite adding in the "Blast from the Past" system so max level players can run older dungeons with lower level players, many Xfire players switched from Tera to other games.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Vacation And Final Fantasy XIV

I'm on vacation this week, which means I have some time to play some video games as I'm not heading anyplace.  I probably won't make lengthy posts here either, which means I have no graph porn planned.  No, I'm just going to try to keep my market orders stocked up, try to revive my nanite repair paste activity again, and play Final Fantasy XIV.

Final Fantasy XIV?  What happened to Wildstar?  Honestly, once I got to level 16, I just lost interest, so I unsubbed my account, although I still have some time left.  Also, someone at work who doesn't play MMOs got hooked on the game and sent me a referral code.  The code doesn't do anything unless I subscribe past the 30 days that comes with the download, but he could get a chocobo mount if I do wind up subscribing.  Besides, whether looking at Xfire or Raptr, FFXIV is one of the most popular MMORPGs and I haven't given the game a try. 

I was a little dubious about playing the game because I've heard how grindy games from Asia are, so I checked the game out a little more than I normally would.  First, I wanted to make sure the game runs well on my computer, as Wildstar really doesn't.  I downloaded the benchmarking software Square Enix provides and the game looked beautiful just using the standard desktop settings.  I also get around 55-60 fps at that setting.  I added a couple of graphical settings that drops the performance down to 35 fps, but as that is the performance I'm used to when playing most games, I'm keeping it.

Next, I did a little research and the job system looks intriguing.  While not as flexible as the skill-based system in EVE or The Secret World,  I like the fact I can theoretically level up all classes on one character.  Since I wanted to play a healer, I rolled a conjuror.  I'm not sure if I want to play a White Mage or a Scholar, but I understand that White Mages usually want a skill Archanists have at level 34, I can do both if I play long enough.

The game looks good, and the class system is different from what I've found in most western games.  But how does it play?  I am currently a level 10 conjurer so I haven't played enough to really tell.  But on the first night, I played until 1:30am and yesterday I wound up playing until I got sleepy and my character died for the first time.

I don't want to lead anyone on about FFXIV.  I still haven't purchased a subscription as I'm waiting to see whether the game grinds to a halt around level 15-20 or so.  I hope not, because I'm enjoying the world right now and I would like to see how everything turns out.

Friday, August 22, 2014

P2P Is Pay To Pad ... Your Killboard

Love Squad in Pasta Syndicate is at it again.  This time Saburo Ogami is ganking an alt flying a Bestower full of Khumaaks repeatedly in Hek.  They are common as dirt in Metropolis, but pretty rare in Jita, especially after someone buys up all the stock and sees the price climb to 899,666.97 ISK just four days ago.  The price has lowered back down to 399,999.99 ISK but that is still inflating the calculated server values of the items.  Or was, until about 30 minutes ago.

The pilot, Muhammad Imam, is 9 days old.  If I didn't know better, I'd say that Saburo was trying to grief Muhammad out of the game, because as of this writing he's ganked Muhammad 10 times.

As I was writing this, the value of Muhammad's killmails today dropped from 18.5 billion ISK down to 557 million ISK.  Apparently, either the system is self-correcting, or due to today's extended downtime the prices didn't get updated as quickly as they usually do.  But from where I'm sitting, it looks like Saburo was attempting to do a little market manipulation to pad his killboard stats.  Either that, or he was taking advantage of someone elses.  Still, I guess adding 2.5 billion ISK in kills to your killboard will make a pilot look a lot better.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

SOMERblink 2014: Final Verdict

Less than 72 hours after CCP's investigation into the controversy over SOMERblink's latest promotion began, CCP Falcon created a new forum thread with the results.  I'll just post the core of the opening post:

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

SOMERblink 2014: Closing The Doors

Last night just before midnight EVE time, the following statement was posted on SOMERblink:

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

SOMERblink 2014: Not So Fast

Matters are moving quickly in the case of SOMERblink's latest promotion.  The CSM contacted CCP about the matter at 2am Reykjavik time and received an immediate response from CCP Falcon, EVE Online's community manager, and CCP Leeloo, CCP's liaison with the CSM.  After putting in a 22-hour day, CCP Falcon gave an update on the forums that included this paragraph:
"Given the sheer size of the investigation that we’ll be undertaking, this is going to take some time, as a lot of ISK and assets have changed hands. While some temporary action has been taken in order to keep a handle on the situation, any outcome of an investigation is still to be determined, and I can’t give any further information regarding the process while it’s ongoing."
One of those actions apparently was to tell SOMERblink to stop their promotion.  SOMERblink's site was updated with the following:

As seen on SOMERblink on 18 August 2014
The first of the two hyperlinks contains an email exchange between Somerset Mahm and Lisa Bell-Cabrera, Vice-President in charge of Global Sales for CCP.  Posting that exchange violates point 18 of the EVE Online Terms of Service:
18.  You may not publish private communications from CCP, their agents or representatives or EVE Online volunteers without authorization.
I'm pretty sure CCP did not give permission to post that, so Somerset Mahm is subject to some sort of punishment from CCP.  While the contents of the email exchange are flying around the forums, I'll take the prudent course and not quote from the emails directly.  I'll just characterize the exchange as Somerset was anxious to get his authorization to proceed.  He became impatient with the speed with which the legal department was working and she gave her approval via email.  Interestingly, that was back in April.  The promotion was originally supposed to debut 1 May.

The second hyperlink is for the actual proposal for the promotion.  Apparently affiliate promotions are sent to CCP's legal department for approval.  Here is how CSM delegate DJ FunkyBacon described the document:

The justification for the promotion was very interesting:
"Justification: Blink provides no extra ISK or bonus Blink credit for buying through the link. Instead, we make it easy to sell your PLEX and get your ISK quickly, no matter where you are-- no Jita alt required. This is a service, in keeping with CCP's new guidelines that ETC affiliate link rewards should be service-oriented."

The description of the proposal given to CCP
Selling PLEX in Jita as a service?  Okay, I can understand that.  A very useful service for those deep in w-space.  But the paragraph begins, "Blink provides no extra ISK buying though the link."  That is true.  The extra ISK in the promotion would come from the sale.  Indeed, in point 1 of the workflow, the proposal flat out states that, "... we guarantee we'll give you the best price."

PLEX sales in Jita, 9-17 August 2014

In the proposal, Somerset stated he would give the people who purchased PLEX through his referral link the best price.  But I don't think people really understood what "best price" was.  To add to the confusion, he did not define how he would calculate that best price.  To some, the offer of 830 million ISK for a PLEX on Sunday was the best offer.  But considering that the most expensive PLEX sold for 794 million ISK in Jita on Sunday, some might consider the additional 35 million ISK "extra".

These are some of the basic facts I found yesterday.  I actually intended to wait until Wednesday to write another post on the subject, but the changes on the SOMERblink website were too significant to pass up.  Besides, with the new information available, I couldn't sleep until this post was finished.  Hopefully, other bloggers and news sites will fill in the blanks with some more detailed analysis throughout the day as more information becomes available out of CCP headquarters in Reykjavik.

The Digital Dozen: 19 August 2014

The rankings of the top twelve MMORPGs as determined by the players of the Xfire community from play on Sunday, 10 August 2014.  For more details about the methodology, click here.  Historical data can be found here.

RankPrev WeekGameScoreHours Played+/- %
11World of Warcraft45.86,909+2.8
22Guild Wars 214.32,162-2.6
33Star Wars: The Old Republic8.51,278-14.9
44Final Fantasy XIV5.7853-7.1
55EVE Online4.7704+1.9
1111Lord of the Rings Online2.2334-7.2
1210Elder Scrolls Online2.0 302-36.0
Total Digital Dozen Hours: 15,073

For the fifth time of the last six Sundays, the amount of time Xfire players collectively spent playing MMORPGs fell between 15,000 and 16,000 hours.   Sunday's 2.8% decline in time played was led by Star Wars: The Old Republic (-223 hours) while games seeing the biggest gains was World of Warcraft (+189 hours) and Neverwinter (+181 hours).

Three More Months - Last Thursday, Blizzard announced the release date for World of Warcraft's next expansion, Warlords of Draenor.  Apparently, the news of new content, even three month's away, has members of the Xfire community excited, as the amount of time spent playing WoW increased by 2.8%.

Tyranny of Dragons - Neverwinter vaulted back onto the list after a one week absence on the strength of the release of Tyranny of Dragons on Thursday.  The game's fourth module introduced a new class, the Scourge Warlock, as well as the new Dragonborn race.

New Kids Off The Block?  Both Elder Scrolls Online (-170 hours) and Wildstar (-196 hours) continued their fall in popularity amongst Xfire members on Sunday.  The two newest AAA subscription games are in danger of falling off the list within the next month, although a lack of competitors may wind up allowing the two to stay.  Perhaps more worryingly for the two games is I could not find a ready event that would explain the big drops in interest this week.

Monday, August 18, 2014

SOMERBlink: Party Like It's 2013

I have to hand it to the folks who run SOMERBlink. They are an imaginative crew over there.  Up until last November, SOMERBlink ran a promotion that used the GTC authorized resellers agreement to exchange ISK for real world cash.  That was shut down on 7 November last year.  However, given the way SOMERBlink cashed out before the deadline, I'm only slightly surprised that news of another scheme has emerged on Reddit.

The new promotion is a bit different than the old one which was eventually declared a violation of the EULA and no longer covered by the GTC authorized resellers agreement.  Here are the steps:
  1. Purchase PLEX at Markee Dragon using SOMERblink's referral link.
  2. Enter the receipt from Markee Dragon and receive a "PLEX Credit" for each PLEX purchased.
  3. Redeem the PLEX Credit to sell to SOMERblink PLEX at a very favorable rate.  Yesterday, the price posted on SOMERblink was 830 million ISK/PLEX.  The average price of a PLEX sold in Jita on 16 August was 785 million ISK.
At first glance, the major difference is that a player is not given 200 million ISK worth of "Blink Credits" for purchasing using the referral link.  Instead, the player is given, at yesterday's rates, 45 million ISK per PLEX purchased.  According to what I found on the website, the player is not required to turn this ISK into Blink credits to use to play.

Whether the PLEX is sold to SOMERblink for Blink credits or hard, cold ISK, was unclear.  One person who was in the in-game channel indicated the ISK goes right back into a person's Blink account.  The sentence that leads me to believe that Blink credits are not involved is, "No waiting for your PLEX to sell-- get ISK fast so you can play Eve."  Not play blinks.  Play EVE.

However, let's assume I'm wrong and this is purchased for Blink credit.  As we learned last year, SOMERblink's payout is approximately 80%.  That means that the 830 million payout for a PLEX actually costs SOMERblink 644 million ISK, a profit of about 140 million ISK/PLEX.

The truth is probably someplace in the middle.  A person could just take the cash and run, but a lot, if not most, of the people will turn around and put the ISK back into their Blink accounts.  But either way, people are buying through SOMERblink instead of another site because of the incentive of in-game cash.

I am going to assume that what SOMERblink posted about CCP approving the promotion is accurate.  What I am not going to assume at this point is why CCP approved of the promotion.  Maybe in a couple of days when more facts come out I'll post an update.  Or provide some more background information if things start getting really out of control.  Or do some math.  I'd really love for this whole situation to come to a conclusion before Wednesday.  I'm tired of writing about SOMERblink.  But CCP better come up with a good explanation of what's going on.

Friday, August 15, 2014

A Bucket Of Ice

A lot of players like to think that EVE Online is all about collecting buckets of tears.  But the bucket I've carried around lately is filled with ice, and I need to start thinking about where I empty the contents.

The latest example concerns the new level 4 missions.  On Monday, CCP Seagull published a dev blog about the upcoming Hyperion release.  In the blog, she mentioned a new type of level 4 mission:
"Take on a single, powerful enemy using fitting skills and combat tactics in new optional level 4 missions for frigate size ships that will be available from all security agents in Empire space. An upcoming dev blog will present the new missions."
Immediately after the dev blog was published, CSM member Xander Phoena was on Twitter touting how great these missions were and how many ships players would lose because of the level of difficulty.  Now, I realize that getting new PvE content is a big deal, but sometimes I get a little selfish and think about how I play.  For me, I don't do security missions, which is what CCP Seagull's description made the new content sound like.  Also, I thought the missions were designed for more than one player, which is not a problem since I usually dual-box security missions on the rare occasions I do them.  Although, looking back, I probably have not done a combat mission of any type since I finished my big Minmatar faction grind back in December.  If I exclude COSMOS, storyline, and epic arc combat missions, I probably have not done a combat mission (i.e. a regular security mission) in over a year.  So I Tweeted out that I probably wouldn't do them.

Afterwards, I kind of felt bad about that.  I can understand Xander's excitement.  CSM members get a lot of grief about the state of the game and helping push out (I'm assuming the CSM was involved in internal testing) new PvE content shows that CCP is listening to the player base and, by extension, the CSM.  I probably should have waited for the more detailed dev blog was published, even if Xander couldn't contain himself.

I do have to say that the new burner missions don't sound bad.  Players will need to at least fit tackle and prop mods like they would in a PvP environment.  I suspect that sensor dampeners will come into play as well for the kiting NPCs.  Perhaps more importantly, the missions are part of the regular security mission pool.  The descriptions of the NPCs make the missions sound more like storyline missions, but adding the missions to the regular mix shows that CCP is updating existing content and not just making a new class of mission.

So even though the new content doesn't fit my play style, I'm glad to see CCP add the new missions.  And in the future, I'll try to think before I tweet.