Saturday, November 8, 2008

CSM - 2nd edition.

I've hinted before at my views on the CSM, and on CCP's agenda and handling of the thing being more than a little ambiguous, but nonetheless, the second CSM representative ballot is worth a few lines of commentary.

Launched in the wake of the 2007 BoB/T20/Kugutsuman scandal (along with IA), the CSM was initially pitched as council of ombudsmen whose establishment was supposed to restore the userbase faith in CCP's business ethics, and convince players undue interference from staffers in in-game disputes, as well as GM/Dev to player cronyism/collusion were not only a thing of the past, but even in times of yore had seldom been a factual truth.

Before the first CSM went live, however, this part of the pitch had been mercifully dropped, probably because the practicality of a semi-random bunch of players — selected on the basis of forum popularity and alliance player count — auditing a R-POW operator for potential maladministration is a can of worms even CCP isn't clueless enough to not foresee exploding in their face.

CSM was thus re-branded as a plebeian consultative council of sorts, whose defined role is to relay players' concerns, prayers for changes and improvements to the game (yet strictly in-game, as it has been made clear that any discussion by the CSM of price policies, business model, community management or work ethics are off the table).

The unstated expectation on CCP's part is to draw CSM reps into the inner circle of fanbois, and leverage their assumed 'street cred' for community PR as user-friendly agents of the Ministry of Truth, since any word typed with a CCP staff signature on the forum is automatically cursed with an aura of half-competent weaselry and DoubleSpeak.

Of course, the fun begins with CCP, voters, CSM candidates and past representatives all holding different sets of expectations about the CSM purpose and capacities.

Most 0.0 alliance players don't give it a second thought and will vote with the party line (if any), reading the CSM election for what it is, ie an opportunity to buy their faction's champion a seat at the table, and a chance to represent them on a select metagaming battlefield.

Some of the wide-eyed n00bs to the EVE political game will eagerly vote for whoever ressembles them most, or seems knowledgeable, or competent, or cute, and will waste their voice like a tree-hugger gay negro commie at an Alaskian ballot.

…and most of the players simply won't vote, because they don't care or don't trust the CSM to be of any influence, unless decide to play along and cast a voice in favor of a 'safe' public figure, such as Chribba or Morning Maniac (neither of which is on the roster for this election, just examples).

Interestingly, although the most prominent warring factions are somewhat represented by candidates bearing their colors*, very few alliance leaders have taken the plunge by running themselves, or even officially endorsing a candidate.
BoB leadership, for example, is nowhere to be seen, but possibly via a couple of their famed pets.

Whether this should be interpreted as a fear of embarrassment over a possible failure in a popularity contest, a strategic choice of running with candidates who enjoy plausible deniability against accusations of partisan bias, or as simple disenfranchisement or disavowal of the CSM as a whole is left as an exercise for the reader.

As for me, I voted with my army of alts, and I didn't spread the love much across contenders.
My understanding of the model is that the CSM is of some minor relevance at this stage, and can possibly have a marginal positive influence in pointing problems and solutions to the dev team's attention, yet mostly based on the interpersonal quality of the connection any given CSM representative will be able to build with his council mates — and more importantly with select CCP staffers.

The CSM is basically an officially endorsed lobby club on every other topic, with just as much influence as the feudal approach of CCP to the matter allows, and it brings absolutely nothing to the community on the issues of accountability, fair governance, and drunk driving in the conduct of business… not that I'm saying it should, while I feel for the poor souls who delude themselves in that hope, assuming that level of candor is to be found among the voting player base.

* The NC has more than a few runners, and goons have no less than 7 declared candidates in the race, out of a total selection of 43.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Ghost training — Winter Expansion !

Well, not really, just a minor update, but it's what all the cool kids do nowadays, so I figured I'd make it look big, too.

Over two weeks since the asinine planking of Ghost Training, and the whine thread is still going strong, having now broken the 180 pages and 5400 posts mark, and plowing ahead at a steady pace.

How CCP managed to turn the most fanatical fanboi userbase into an army of bitter ex-wives will probably win them another "Special" paragraph in the history of R-POWs… never has the irony of the Crowd Control Production brand been so biting.

What should happen happens, people consolidate their accounts, drop alts and switch from $$ to playmoney because they simply don't want to commit to the game publisher's future anymore.

The financial impact must slowly start to be perceptible, as accounts reach the end of their subs and don't get renewed, and it will only get worse, if my own sample is any indication: I've slated 6 accounts for hibernation already, but since some are well-fed, only two will show on CCP's stats as missing before the end of this month, while the rest are to limp till jan/feb on their prepaid subs, until they go to sleep more or less permanently.

Is it really because of Ghost Training ?
Only indirectly in my case.

Really, don't start a rescue playmoney fundraiser on my behalf just yet: as long as general inflation follows the price of GTCs at an acceptable pace, I'll keep making more than I need to feed whichever accounts I feel like keeping alive.
My position is a favored one, as I'm only dropping what could be called spare accounts so far: old ones that aren't really used on a regular basis but you keep alive for variety's sake or sentimental reasons.

I'm not shutting those down because I lost the ability to Ghost Train them, as I barely ever used the feature but by accident (letting an account lapse until I try to log it on and figure it's inactive, or EVEmon blinks stupidly while trying to sync on it), and a couple times during a week-to-month vacation from EVE.

I'm shutting those down because I don't really have a use for them right now, when CCP is building up for their own private financial crisis inside EVE without fully realizing it, and I'm bracing myself for the crash — all my accounts run on GTCs.

At current GTC rates, 6 accounts amount to 1.5b ISK savings monthly, which I hope will suffice for me to ride out the predictable raise of GTC for ISK prices as the GTC offer/demand ratio plummets in the next couple months — until inflation (and my revenue) catches up (if they do, which is unsure).
This trend of GTC ISK prices rocketing up as an isolated commodity can only be accelerated by an increase in RMT'ing, as people get pressured to get the most ISK for their buck to pay for their GTCs, compounded by the risky nature of RMT'ing and the foreseeable hysteria of CCP USSS over it, which should fuel the urgency to make the most of what amounts to a capital crime in EVE world (bannable offense).

Will I be selling my 'dead' accounts ?
No… at least not yet.

There's no real reason to think they may lose ISK value as the average SP count raises, since the character category hit the hardest by Ghost Training removal (growth wise) is the high-SP specialist population.

Fewer people will train new dread pilots without Ghost Training, for ex, considering their very limited/specialized role compared to the huge time sinks involved in bringing a toon from a very good sub-capital skill-set to a lousy capital one.
[This alone is a serious issue, as new players are once again getting the shaft while old timers like me benefit from an historical edge of accrued benefits, now boosted further by an artificially raised barrier to entry.]

Most of my accounts host at least 60m SP spread across 1-2 chars…
Any specialty depending on leaping wide training-time gaps to see any progression is likely to shrink in relative numbers, as proportionally fewer characters embrace those careers.
If anything, my semi-useless veteran toons will be worth more in a few months, after the panic fire sales, when the offer of high-SP chars starts dwindling and people realize they should hold onto what is essentially becoming a non-renewable resource.

What does that mean for CCP's revenue ?
Well, not much… on a micro-scale.

6 accounts worth of GTCs dropping is just 105$/month of revenue loss, arguably a drop in the ocean ; yet CCP just lost my (and I suspect a few others') most profitable drop in the ocean.

I'm disabling accounts that used to translate into near-zero server load (mostly skill switches, and the occasional ride around the block), and am now only contributing to CCP's operating costs with accounts that generate an above average load on servers (capital pilots crashing nodes, mass traders with bazillions of market orders, builders/researchers hoarding up to 66 slots of S&I worth of queries per acct, etc.).

You Maniacs! You blew it up! Ah, damn you! God damn you all to hell!

There's a saying in the service business that the best customer is one that pays his fee and never uses the service. True to themselves, CCP is making sure to drive those customers away before any other.

Also in true CCP fashion, and after enough clue-by-four has been applied to their chewy parts that they start having problems sitting comfortably, they show how good they are at taking a hint, coming clean and learning from their mistakes by reintroducing the 30d GTCs to he game in the most convoluted (yet brilliant, as stated here) way.

They're now halfway through fixing the very first crater from the GTC bombing, but went for the wrong half: bringing back 30d GTC subs without a price correction to match regular 1-month plans, and/or bundling some form of hooking susbtance with it (shameless plug) will not break the spiral of doom acceleration.

People still lack an incentive to spend their money on GTCs rather than RMT, and notwithstanding Oveur being happy-happy with his catchphrase about in-game trade of ETCs supposedly "Cramping down on RMTs style with a kill and a smile", this claim unfortunately has about as much substance as a Sarah Palin speech on monetary economics.

Looking at the horse's teeth (because it's a damn pricey horse).

The one thing that makes in-game ETC trade sexeh and worthwile is it magically 'materializes' time (the ultimate postmodern commodity) into a transferable token.

From the horse's mouth, about the new in-game ETC trade:
  • Lower barrier of entry for exchanging ETCs. Everybody can do it easily in-game [True]

  • ETCs now use a transparent and efficient market, our very own EVE market [True, yet filler]

  • Fights price fixing--one of the single most complained about issues with the current secure exchange [True and false, this is a blown-up issue, with a real fix to an unreal problem]

  • Opens up for a larger supply, lowering the ISK exchange rate in the long run as anyone can exchange their ETCs more easily [Blatantly false due to inherent scarcity of ETCs in a seller-led market configuration]

  • Enables you to create corporate Contracts for your members in exchange for Pilot Licenses [True, and sexeh as hell]

  • Empowers you to recruit new players on trial into your corporations with Pilot Licenses [True, and sexeh as hell]

  • Allows you to give someone a "free beer" (I like this part) [I like it, too — although it only repeats the two previous pitch points.]

  • Cramps down on RMTs (Real Money Traders) style with a kill and a smile [delusional at best, see below]

  • It‘s pure awesome [Is that supposed to make a point ?]
What's pure awesome is how easily one can foresee RMT'ers not caring one bit about the in-game trade of ETC.

The simple and only influence ETC trade has over RMT is to inform the top and bottom of the exchange rates vs $$.
  • ETC ISK price/time: portion of in-game revenue devoted to paying for game time.
  • ETC $$ price/time: $$ <-> ISK exchange rate indexed on CCP GTC price.
Last time I checked, a 60d GTC was going for about 500m ISK, which translates in 250m ISK per 'EVE month' (30d sharp period), and was selling for 17.5$, giving us a CCP exchange rate of 14.286m ISK/$, or 0.07$/million ISK.
Meanwhile, $->ISK by RMT shops is in the 28.57m ISK/$ range, or 0.035$/million ISK.

As long as RMT'ers can offer a significantly better $->ISK exchange rate to their customers, that's revenue that will evade CCP's wallet — with a kill and a smile.
To bring those exchange rates on level, and hope to break the back of RMT shops, the in-game price of the 30d ETC would have to climb to 500m, bringing the daily in-game upkeep cost of an account to 16.67 million ISK.
…all that, assuming the RMT'ers don't fight back by offering more ISK for a $ than they do now.

As explained earlier, I agree with Oveur that the ISK price of GTCs is likely to go up, hard, and I imagine in CCP's Economia FantasyLand they're betting on it to reduce the gap between state-approved exchange rates and black market, thus driving ISK buyers away from RMT'ers.

Although CCP's hardline-free-market advocates going all USSR on exchange rates is quite funny, it's nonetheless naive and doomed, knowing most RMT shops currently buy a billion ISK for around 22-25$, and reap at least 30% profit (accounting for in-game overhead such as banned accounts etc.), doing nothing but arbitrage — I have a hunch RMT shops won't close doors before their $ gross is cut by at least half, and they can bank on the desperation of ISK-for-$ sellers to take some of the margin heat by consenting to lower buying prices from RMT shops, down to 10-15$ per billion.

Welcome to HooverVille Online™, Reykjavik county.

16.67m ISK/day turns EVE into a pure grinding game for those people who depend on mundane hunting-gathering PvE to make a pixel living, if they can even scrounge it anymore.

Not only does the grind detract from player enjoyment (and thus motivation to keep playing), but such a radical raise of the in-game cost of upkeep (with no matching boost on average in-game income) is the best way to drive the consumer economy down the crapper.

The foreseeable impact of this is a reinforcement of austerity patterns in consumer economy, with people living hand-to-mouth, cutting on all non-necessary expenses and looking harder for any ISK-saving opportunity.
Thus putting the RMT exchange at a comparative advantage, despite a possible reduction in price gap between ETC and RMT.

En route to oblivion, double time !

Eventually, CCP's scroched-earth economic wizardry will indeed hurt RMT'ers , to the extent that less ISK overall is burned by a reduced number of active accounts, but if that's CCP's idea of a solution to RMT, we're facing a solid enough case of killing the patient to get to the disease to warrant a very formal: WTF?!

My guess is RMT'ers may bring the fight to the in-game ETC market before then, and corner it by leveraging their huge ISK liquidities and the worsening scarcity of ETC offers.
That opens juicy opportunities for price fixing on a meta-scale, and I foresee RMT'ers offering ETC+ISK bundles in their OOG online shops soon enough — at prices that will have CCP scratching their heads in disbelief.

That is, of course, unless CCP comes up with a yet-another brand of medecine, but what could it be, one must wonder ?

ETC — in game trading (and other, less important stuff).

One word: wicked.

Listed on the Quantum Rise expansion features page is a little gem, right at the bottom, that probably will have more impact on the EVE universe than any of the other over-hyped stuff in this expansion (bar the underway server yaardware improvements): in-game ETC trade.

The same feature is covered at length in Oveur's latest devblog (a devblog is CCP's 21st century idea of a .plan entry, as copy-proofed by the Ministry of Truth).

Those with a memory better than a fruit fly's will remember the hot issue of ETC/GTCs and their relation to RMT and CCP customer retention discussed in this article, followed by a proposed fix for the Ghost Training feature (nice work of NewSpeak on retro-naming this feature, which I forgot to mention at the time, btw.).

Sadly Ghost Training isn't rezzed, and that's a shame, but IG ETC trade is just brilliant and I hate myself for not having brought it up.

The general idea of a better integration with the in-game trade is sort of obvious, and I sniffed this could plug in nicely as a new category of in-game contract (with the upcoming improvements in that area), but the idea to turn time into an actual tradeable token, as in Item is freakin' genius: it talks directly to the Oh shiney ! part of the brain that has people jump like poodles through every cool marketing hoop, and I salute this with the topical humility of one who lacks that kind of vision.

I'd go into detail on other stuff in Quantum Rise, but sadly there isn't much to say about this expansion: the fact every "feature" has to be re-hashed three times, and still needs screenshots thumbnails as filler to barely make up one screen page says enough about the anemic nature of this release, which reeks of "We don't have shit to show guys… — Well, it's this time of the year, we gotta slap that WinterXpansion! sticker on something: gimme whatever's planned for next hotfix, that'll do."

On second thought, there's so little content in there that I can cover it in a few lines:
  • Weapon grouping: Cool stuff usability-wise, and the servers will certainly love the drastic cut on transactions and to-hit virtual dice rolls.

    Oh, also movable HUD (that's the blinky thing in the bottom center of the screen), and cycle timers on weapons/mods. Well, no, it wasn't there yet.

  • Certificates: I haven't looked into those in depth, but they look promising from a usability standpoint, could help people find their way more easily in the mazelike skill tree, and may be a nice recruitment/HR management tool for corps if integrated in the job advertising system.

  • Medals: OK, I'm not the target audience for eye-candy, so I'm not overly excited about this, but I suspect the people who fancy pixel trinkets won't get an orgasm over this either, because from the screenies, those medals are 1996 cheap-ass, butt-ugly, and about as exotic and exciting as a forced vacation in a Swiss Postal Services retirement home.

  • New Stargates: Seriously, that's it ? I'm at a loss for words. They look cute, but c'mon: last time an EVE expansion was about eyecandy it was this.

  • Alchemy: Short version, crappy moons can now yield a crappy amount of yummy stuff (with much waste and effort), whereas high-end moon reactions used to be the exclusive of a happy few top-tier moon owners in select regions. Not a bad change in itself, but the kind of band-aid half-assed fix that I fear will delay a much-needed overhaul of the PvE resource distribution on TQ, so not exactly a win either.

  • Orca: 1 year old semi-smart design finally hits the live server, yelling all the way down: "I swear, I'm not just filler !". Certainly not a game changer, but why not, although it could break further the already gimped Rorqual.

  • Bombs: now cheaper. That's it, move along people.

  • New music tracks: They could be absolutely entrancing, but I wouldn't know. Like 99% of EVE players, the first thing I do on a fresh install is to disable audio. I feel sorry for the poor guy writing tracks nobody ever listens.

  • Improved travel: Already released for what it is: a load balancing fix getting Jita and other traffic jams out of your autopilot, more or less. Welcome to 1998 and onboard GPS in your 33rd century Warship, at last.

  • Assembly Array Upgrades: I've been checking those on SiSi, and I won't comment yet, because they're really a balancing/tweaking type of job, and I want to believe that's still a work in progress (or expect the same entry to make for another glorified Feature ! in the next pseudo-Expansion).

  • Speed rebalanced: See Assembly Arrays above, very much still in the oven, and certainly a controversial one, no matter what CCP comes up with. Tweaking speed, tank or DPS in EVE is like pushing a new fiscal plan in meatspace: half the population will hate your guts no matter what, so I'm not about to shoot the ambulance until this is stamped as Gold.
Although none of those features are inherently bad, and in fact are actually nice and welcome, they file for the most part under cosmetic fixes and/or solid cases of stuff that should have been in the box, and while they would have found their rightful place in an expansion worth its salt, they definitely don't make for one on their lone self.
One has to wonder if CCP has hired people from Microsoft OS/Office division as product line managers.

To be fair, Oveur's devblog (mentioned above) hints at more ongoing changes and additions, and I'm not saying CCP is slacking. More likely I suspect the semestrial expansion model isn't exactly suited to the kind of material they're hammering right now, and — as often with CCP — the dooming part is less in what they bring to the game than in the way they bring it.

Here, new content that would be a very nice bag of cookies if released as a Thanksgiving Bonus Patch only looks pale for being wrapped in the overblown package of a Winter Expansion it simply can't fill.

And yeah, I haven't posted much lately, neither here or anywhere really, but it's not for lack of motivation, just information overload and other stuff to do in meatspace.


Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Modular Fleet Management.

Anyone who has some history with large fleets knows it tends to go roughly like this: "Everybody X up in alliance !"
…followed by the random shoveling of new entrants into whichever Squad/Wing still has some free room.
Much confusion ensues, and it can take a good long while before the fleet is seemingly ready to roll. Then you wait some more on some 20-odd guys who are taking a leak, eating or otherwise dropped afk because they got bored of sitting idle for an hour, etc.

The resulting fleet is usually not a pretty sight for the tactically-minded and/or Leadership bonus-aware player, but by then, the fleet has to roll, because people are about to lose it, or the window of opportunity is closing, and your fleet layout is unlikely to get any better from this point: you've just built another blobbish creature, and will have to herd it according to its natural limitations.

Enters Modular Fleet Management:

The basic idea is to allow Fleet Bosses and Wing/Fleet Commanders to invite/move/kick Squads and Wings as building blocks.

It then becomes possible for a Wing/Fleet Commander to invite an independent Squad/Wing-sized gang to merge into her fleet by sending an invitation to its gang boss/commander (skills allowing).


Fleet A is a 3-wings fleet, commanded by Admiral Custard.
  • Wing A1 (4 squads) is commanded by Commander Blue
  • Wing A2 (2 squads) is commanded by Commander Red
  • Wing A3 (3 squads) is commanded by Commander Teal
[I'd list all the Squad Leaders with other web color names, but you get the idea.]
Meanwhile Fleet B is really a Wing, led by Commander Asparagus, with Wing Command lvl 2:
  • Squad B1: led by Squad Leader Cheerios (8 members)
  • Squad B2: led by Squad Leader Cheetos (10 members)
Admiral Custard is just about to enter hostile space with his mixed subcapital fleet when he's informed Commander Asparagus' Carrier group just arrived in the area and is in fact in jump range of Fleet A.

After a quick convo between the two gang leaders, Commander Asparagus agrees to join forces under Admiral Custard's banner.
Lolita Janitor, Fleet A's Boss and fleet manager then creates a Wing A4 in Fleet A, looks up Commander Asparagus in People & Places, and right-clicks his mug: Invite to Fleet/Wing A4/Wing Commander/With group.

Fleet A is now a 4-wings fleet, still under Admiral Custard's command.
  • Wing A1 (4 squads) is commanded by Commander Blue
  • Wing A2 (2 squads) is commanded by Commander Red
  • Wing A3 (3 squads) is commanded by Commander Teal
  • Wing A4 (2 squads) is commanded by Commander Asparagus
    • Squad B1: led by Squad Leader Cheerios (8 members)
    • Squad B2: led by Squad Leader Cheetos (10 members)
[Note that the Wing A4 Squad Names, roles and layout have been imported along, making the integration of the Wing in Fleet a turnkey experience.]

Faster-paced action = moar fnu !

Gang Bosses, Fleet or Wing leaders should also have the ability to move (or kick) an entire Squad or Wing across (or out of) the Fleet as a group (including theirs), with the sole addition (from an UI perspective) of the '/With Group' submenu entry to every selection applicable to a Squad/Wing Commander in a Fleet.

If that feature isn't too tricky to implement, it could make a world of difference overnight.
Not only would it allow Fleets to be assembled on-the-fly from ad-hoc friendly gangs in the same area, but it would make fleet formation in general snappier, and much less of a showstopper in the way of players' fun.

Smarter play through usability:

The ability to assemble and organize fleet tiers in a modular way would also encourage and assist players into building fleets with sensible layouts, which could contribute to drive FCs away from mindless blob tactics.

Detaching a combat group to a different objective under current Fleet Management mechanics is often more than most big-fleet FCs can handle, as it requires a lot of shuffling around of pilots for the Wing to get ready, since the fleet got semi-randomly populated in first place — all of which is time-consuming and breaks the groove of fleet command.

Assuming a Wing could get invited piecemeal into a Fleet from its previously self-suficient combat group status, said Wing can still play its autonomous role inside the Fleet, meaning it's a simple move to detach it (without the Wing even leaving Fleet) and send this Wing on a sub-mission.


This is a simple enough feature to describe and understand, and in fact one that naturally comes to mind from the first time using the 'new' gang system… the only reasons I can see for it not being in game yet are:
- some arcane technical snafu that makes it difficult to code ;
- the people who designed the improved gang system don't actually play EVE in mundane fleet circumstances, and look at it strictly from behind a bulletproof glass window.

Short of the former proving overbearing, and with the latter objection solved by this crystalline description of why fleet tiers should behave as blocks across fleets, Modular Fleet Management seems like an obvious addition to the higher half of the ToDo pile.


Tuesday, October 28, 2008

I come bearing gifts.

…and I took a long weekend, alright.

I'll make this short: if your OS of choice is MacOS X or Linux, head to CodeWeaver's website and grab a free 1 year registration of CrossOver, but make it soon, not Soon™, because the offer is good only for today.

If you want to know why, go there.

Have a nice day.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Overview improvements.

In all fairness, the Overview has only gotten better with the many changes introduced in Trinity (after a bit of bug squashing), and most of the changes one can wish for now only exist as a result of this new wealth of content becoming harder to manage.

This is especially true for the many players who multi-box or don't always run EVE from the same computer (although the /LUA and a good USB key with a RAM disk can go a long way, but that's another issue).

The obvious thing one can wish for is a simple way to import/export and store overview settings, since they're client-side already… xml comes to mind, even though a simple txt file a-la prefs.ini would do just as well.

That would solve the CTS-inducing chore of redoing one's entire set of overview settings for every alt in the book (that can be a lot), every time we switch computers or  the EVE install goes to hell for any reason — not to mention the life-changing ability to share overview presets with corpmates and friends, and make sure nobody forgot to add effect beacons to their brackets layer. ;)

Another feature that would ease things quite a bit would be the ability to select/deselect an entire category with a single click of a checkbox next to the Category name in the Overview Settings window (Asteroids: Off ; Entities: Off… \o/).

The next logical step is for the in-game overview editor to sport 'Favorites' custom Overview categories, which one could use as blocks to build Overview presets.

Custom Categories would be created and (re)named by the player, and would allow one to add any overview-friendly Type by a right-click (either from the HUD or from the Overview Settings 'Types' list) to a new or existing Custom Category (even if said Type is already present in one or more Custom Categories already).

Building a new Overview Preset could then become a simple matter of ticking the checkboxes next to whichever Custom Categories' 'folder' one wants to add to the preset. …bliss.

I only meant to post a much simpler feature suggestion, also overview-related, but got carried away and covered the whole Overview issue, which doesn't make for a wall of text, in the end… so here it is:

Add bookmarks as a Type, under the Celestials category, so that the same bookmarks that can be seen in System Map can also be displayed in the Overview list and/or as brackets.

Tacklers, CovOps and snipers will love you long time for this one, and I suspect it's a 5' job for the interface team. ;)


Friday, October 24, 2008

Effective Security Status.

Outposts aside (which are more feature than landscape), the environmental impact of player sovereignty so far has been limited to bragging rights on the map and fuel costs reduction on POSes (which is kind of a circular joke considering most 0.0 POSes are deployed only to claim sovereignty in first place).

Possibly the most radical change to territorial warfare and sovereignty dynamics since outposts, Effective Security Status introduces a new dimension to space holding in EVE, with sovereignty and infrastructure development directly affecting the quality of local PvE environment.

Landscaping for dummies:

In short, the more planets gets claimed, the more systems are flying player faction colors, the more outposts deployed, and the more the area is considered 'civilized', the less NPC rats and juicy roids and ice blocks are to be found.

Effective Sec Status is computed from DT to DT, based on a snapshot of relevant modifiers at downtime to inform the next DT-to-DT Effective Sec Status in a solar system.

For any given nullsec system:
  • Each claimed planet adds 0.03 points (regardless of faction).
  • Each tuned outpost adds 0.05 points (regardless of faction).
  • In a sovereign constellation, for each neighboring system (even out of constellation) belonging to same defender: +0.05 points.
  • In a sovereign region, for each neighboring sovereign constellation belonging to same defender: +0.05 points.
That may not look like much at first glance, but assuming an average nullsec system with a TrueSec of -0.5, your typical constellation capital will tally a boost to its Effective Sec Status of about +0.43...
+0.1 from 2 outposts (yep, you can build more than one outpost per system in Sov 2.0, if you can make it there)
+0.18 from 6 claimed planets
+0.15 from 3 connecting 'friendly neighborhood' systems
...bringing it to a much less yummy -0.07 for the purposes of NPC spawn/loot tables, roids and ice spawn, and moon mining quality, which, as airliners pilots are fond to say about mid-air collisions, is enough to ruin our day.

On second thought, that may look a bit harsh, and maybe enough to discourage people from settling nullsec, but for the fact increasing Effective Sec Status largely echoes higher levels of sovereignty and infrastructure development, which bring increased effective security for the defenders, thanks to sovereignty benefits.

Ruining the ecosystem:

Effective Sec Status affects the environment, not the individual players or alliances, which means a territory is equally rich or poor for all, regardless of their allegiances.

The PvE resources directly affected by Effective Sec Status are:
  • NPC spawns: rats are just as big and nasty, but their loot tables and bounties get worse.
  • Roids: the belt is here alright, only with smaller and poorer roids on average (quality drop, possibly slower regrowth)
  • Ice: see roids.
  • Moon Mining: without going into too much detail (since changes to moon materials distribution is another feature of Sov 2.0), local moons get less profitable as Effective Sec Status raises.
  • Exploration: probability of a cosmic anomaly spawning in system go down, and of any spawn to be a juicy one, too.
Effective Sec Status however doesn't change the True Sec of a system: even if the Effective Sec Status crosses the bar into positive digits, it won't turn the system into empire for the purposes of claiming sovereignty or other game mechanics such as building restrictions, dictor bubbles, bomb deployment, etc.

Balancing playstyles:

Typically, industry-oriented alliances (Builders) are the most eager to settle the wastelands of 0.0 with infrastructure, yet the less likely to have large numbers of PvP'ers to defend their space, or hunt rats and lick roids during slow hours.
Conversely, Hunters-Gatherers alliances put relatively less effort in infrastructure development, because their needs are limited (mainly a couple outposts here and there to refit, repair and refine), and because combat alliances are more interested in capturing stuff than building it.

These conflicting dynamics have historically hurt the planned "Exodus", as those players who are the most likely to create the conditions of 0.0 expansion — Builders — also have been the most likely to get shafted hard and early on by their Hunter-Gatherers counterparts.

Giving players a chance to somewhat tune their environment to their playstyle of choice, by offering them the option to trade off PvE farming for increased security contributes to addresse this issue, increases the survivability of small-to-medium sized alliances, fosters diversity of alliances styles on the map, and makes typically more profitable and fun to run a random hunting/ratting party through a combat-oriented alliance's territory than a industry-heavy one.

Co-dependancy across playstyles (the awful seekrit):

Hunters-Gatherers need industrialists to build their boomsticks, Builders need Infrastructure (which they develop only if they have a remote chance to hold on to it at least for a bit), but they also need resources and materials, which they get from… Hunter-Gatherers.

By having playstyle shape the territory, Effective Sec Status not only adds flavor but increases player awareness about this codependancy, which can result in stronger cooperation, and also more frequent limited-scale wars aimed at disrupting that dynamic among one's enemies.

Stirring the pot:

Combined with the increased defensive benefits of sovereignty, dynamic Effective Security Status prevents stagnation in territorial warfare by creating friction on border zones (as they become the favored hunting grounds for PvP and PvE alike).

The interstitial space, both on the map and in playstyles will become the playfield of everyday PvP action: border zones between sovereignties will suffer less PvE penalties from Effective Sec Status while offering less defensive benefits to the sovereignty holder (if any), and thus attract ratters and miners from various factions, and in their wake pirates and combat pilots who all prey on each other.

Besides friday night specials and roaming gangs, territorial warfare will also find a stronger motivator in the control of border zones, and alliances will be much more likely to engage in frequent wars, short or long lasting, but of limited scope (as opposed to the once-in-a-blue-moon all-out invasions we have now).

As some alliances will choose to preserve hunting/mining grounds by carefully leaving out gaps in the fabric of their sovereignty, they will create as many enticing opportunities for their enemies to hop in and ruin the day, be it only by claiming sovereignty for the primary purpose of denying yummy rats/roids/moons to the local alliance… and since they already moved a fleet all the way there, why not enjoy it ?

Squash the leeches:

Nudging the average 0.0 system towards either end of the rich<->barren continuum will make things interesting for the farmers and leeches of 0.0: finding a quiet, out of the way system with rewarding rats or roids will become much harder when everybody who can shoot a gun is heading for a reduced pool of 'good' systems with low Effective Sec Status.
This should benefit 0.0 alliances by weeding out some of the leeches from their ranks, and make life harder for farmers and RMT'ers in general.

Design caveats:

Although Effective Sec Status doesn't require much tweaking to be functional already (buff the default 0.0 loot table rewards a bit to make up for the expected reduction in numbers of 'good' systems), it really only makes sense with a revamped sovereignty ruleset that grants stronger benefits to sovereign entities who develop their space's infrastructure.

…which is another entry, to come Soon™.


[This is the title entry for Sovereignty-2.0, a proposal for an overhaul of the sovereignty/territorial ruleset.]

I'm currently toying with a design doc for a rewrite of the sovereignty system, as well as some associated game rules/mechanics.

It will eventually be released as a separate document, while articles posted here and flagged with the eponymous tag will typically focus on individual features from this design.

[2009/11 Update — Sovereignty 2.0 is now known as Exegesis, look that up for new entries relative to a rewrite of sovereignty mechanics.]

Thursday, October 23, 2008

evemail-email integration.

Feature description:

evemail-to-email forwarding:
Give users the option to enable evemail-to-email forwarding in "My account" page, on a per-character basis.
When activated, every evemail received in the character inbox is relayed by smtp to the email address listed as contact for the account, with the character name as recipient.

Character email 'address':
Additionally, the option to enable a public email address for one's character could be made available by way of a simple email redirection with the following format pointing to the contact address for this character's account.

Down the road, email-to-evemail redirection/forwarding could be added, dependant on other preconditions being met (see below).

Implementation issues:

There is an obvious risk of spam increase with these changes, and it's not suggested to implement them without some improvements on the auth side of things: evemail/email integration is largely an enabler feature, meant as a compliment to the BetterAPIkeys set of functionalities.

Better API keys

[This is the title entry for BetterAPIkeys, a proposal to improve the API keys system in granularity and flexibility.]

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Rig slots on Freighters/Jump Freighters

Add Rigs slots to Freighters and Jump Freighters.

Design Intent:
The idea is to make things a bit more interesting by giving freighter pilots the chance to make some tough decisions (more cargo, more armor/shield, more agility, more top speed ?), and for freighter killers to not have their job entirely cut out for them.

T1 Freighters: 3 slots, 225 calibration points.
Would allow for a combo of up to 3*T2 rigs, although not with Cargohold Optimizations, which could be a single T2 or a pair of T1's at most.

T2 Freighters: 2 slots, 150 calibration points.
Would allow for a combo of up to 2*T2 rigs, although not with Cargohold Optimizations, nor Capacitor Control Circuits, which could be a single T2 at most.

Maximum cargo:
  • Largest Freighter (Charon), with lvl5 skill and 2*Cargohold Optimization I (+32.25%): 1,297,703.70 cubics (from 981,250.00), 12% armor HP penalty (with good skills).

  • Largest Jump Freighter (Rhea), with lvl5 skill and Cargohold Optimization II: 441,562.50 cubics (from 367,968.75), 6% armor HP penalty (with good skills).

  • Freighters: up to 3*Anti-[DMG] Pumps II or 3*Trimark Armor Pumps II (72.8% armor bonus), 18% velocity penalty (with good skills).

  • Jump Freighters: up to 2*Anti-[DMG] Pumps II or 2*Trimark Armor Pumps II (44% armor bonus), 12% velocity penalty (with good skills).

Balance issues:

While the boosts are obviously significant, they're largely self-balancing: a maximum tanked freighter, if caught without escort, probably won't have enough of its extra HP or resists to crawl to safety, considering the velocity penalty, but it buys a few extra seconds/minutes to make things interesting if there are combat/support ships on both sides.

The maximum cargo option is largely a risk/effort/reward self-balancing equation: more capacity and less armor = moar l00t when it dies (faster) ; the same logic applies to other rigs relevant to freighters/jump freighters: more agility/speed can be gained to speed up (afk ?) travel at the expense of a weakened armor buffer.

The only 'free pass' is on Grid/Cap rigs, but they are of interest mainly to jump freighters, to speed up recharge time between jumps, and don't boost them so much that they can imbalance things, considering the calibration cost (max 1*Capacitor Control Circuit II, for a 20% boost to cap recharge).

Implementation issues:
This isn't a critical feature, but it's one that can be added by changing 3 values in the db on freighters/JF and one on all capitals.

To avoid screwing up with game mechanics on a larger scale, this change requires other capital ships "Packaged size" attribute to be increased to 1.3 million cubics.
Jita 4.4 would soon be camped by capitals if they could fit in rigged freighters…

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Flabbergastingly Asinine Questions (and answers)

[Last updated on 2009/10/28]

Q: Why do you write stuff about EVE-Online ?

A: Because it's the fastest way for me to do away with ideas floating in the back of my head, and to make room for other stuff.

Q: Why do you write nasty stuff about EVE/CCP ?

A: Because I'm one of those people who lack a rich inner life and instead depend on frustration, curiosity or outright bafflement to trigger creative ideas. There's no shortage of the aforementioned triggers with EVE or CCP.

Q: Why not just keep all your negative thinking to yourself and go slith your wrists like an emo girly girl instead of posting publicly against the best game evar ?

A: Because it's the internets and I have a duty to share my views with the world like everyone else. You on the other hand are self-trolling by forcing yourself to read this crap, and I feel sorry for you.

Q: Why make another blog about EVE and not just post on EVE-O forum like everyone else ? Are you too cool for school ?

A: To question 2: yes, I am.
Generally, the EVE-O boards are a waste of time for that kind of content, for all involved. They're functionally miserable, pointlessly ninja-censored, and the signal to noise ratio in there is such as to make any attempt at constructive discussions vain.
A blog is a convenient format for the author(s) and casual reader(s) alike, and is not exclusive of other supports, such as topical webpages, wikis, standalone docs, but makes for a nice day-to-day link between those.

Q: Are you a CCP employee/affiliate/partner ?

A: No.

Q: If you were, would you disclose it here ?

A: Possibly.

Q: Are
Were you in BoB ?

A: Maybe.
Who ?

Q: If you were, would you disclose it here ?

I just did — maybe.

Q: What do you hope to achieve with these rants if you don't trust CCP with the betterment of EVE Online and their governance thereof ?

A: Wow, I put big words in your mouth, didn't I ? Here's another shovel of those.
Short version is: CCP may be inherently retarded, but I'm bettting on growing pains instead.

As much as I distrust the CCP of now, based on their track record and what shows of their corporate culture as seen from my armchair, I still have hope CCP may yet evolve into a smarter version of itself after enough times falling flat on its face.
Also, for all its pitfalls and limitations, EVE Online is one-of-a-kind among persistent online worlds, being the only (relatively) sandbox, (relatively) hardcore PvP, (massively) single-cluster example on market at this writing.
For someone who's interested in the platform/medium as a whole, and in procedural/sandboxy persistent online gameworlds especially, this is a game worth keeping tabs on, as it has become a reference in the industry (for better or worse) and informs any funding/production decision of future games of comparable style (just as WoW is for theme park-styled worlds).

Q: Then, if you're so clever, why don't you work at CCP instead of being mean to them ? (aha, served !)

A1: It could be because my ideas suck unwashed goats and hiring me would be a waste of CCP's resources, but I'm not the one to tell either way about this.

A2: Because I'm a parent and I want my kid to be able to look up to me and not feel embarrassed about his dad's job. For all I know, CCP is not at this time a company I would be proud to be associated with.

A3: Because CCP doesn't hire people like me, possibly due to a bad case of allergy to criticism. The day they start looking out for people who don't present as fanbois and yes-men, I'll be happy to help. Incidentally, there's one chance out of two this blog would then become pointless, and so this FAQ.

Q: Aren't you concerned you'll be flagged as an enemy of the party and get your accounts banned ?

A1: Last time I checked, which is never, constructive criticism wasn't ground for account banning (and would lack legal basis in most countries to be enforceable as part of a consumer level commercial contract if it was).

A2: I obviously don't rely on CCP's respect of the letter or spirit of their own rules to protect my in-game selves from summary disappearance, however:
  • most of my active characters are known and reputable enough that they could hardly vanish overnight without it being noticed,
  • due to my playstyle preferences, I don't cheat or do anything in-game that would be ground for a ban by any reasonable GM,
  • it would be way beyond CCP lacking PR skills to successfully sell a cover-up story such as cheating/h4xing/RMT'ing to the many players and the (fewer) CCP employees who have known me under various names for the past 4-5 years,
  • banning my accounts would be counterproductive for CCP as it would probably not result in the folding of EVEisBroken, which could subsequently thrive from the time free'd up for me to write about EVE and CCP in a less favorable light than now.
A3: Basically, I suspect even CCP's hammerfisted anti-dissent department is smart enough to have learned a page from previous EVE/CCP-related scandals spilling into the general media.

[If you're ever in my position, just document extensively all your interactions with the company before they start trying to axe you, keep traces and screenshots, get witnesses whenever you can, make sure the storage of your materials isn't at the publisher's mercy, make a trustworthy reputation for yourself both ingame and out, and cultivate good relations with non-affiliated press contacts and reputable personalities in and around the game.]

Q: If you aren't afraid of being banned, who are your characters in EVE ?

I'm a hardcore roleplayer, mixing up my characters in my out-of-game ramblings would hurt their feelings deeply, so I can't tell you that, sorry.

Q: How many accounts do you have, at least ?


Q: Who pays for your accounts, your mom so she doesn't have to see you upstairs ?

I'm all grownup now, and you pay for my accounts, I suspect.
I switched all my subs to GTCs sometimes around 2006, after I decided the game was worth my spare time, but the company's lacking ethics didn't warrant my paying customer endorsement.

Q: Were you at least in beta or are you just some noob looking for celebrity ?

I was briefly in beta, not very into it at the time. I'm generally a '04 noob.

Q: Why is your blog flagged as "Adult Content" when it's about a videogame that itself includes profanity filters ?

Because I suspect EVE players/makers may read it, and we're talking about a game culture that condones human trafficking, racism, mass extermination of civilians and social darwinism, but not colorful language, so I'm covering my metaphorical buttocks by having the reader pretend she's a grownup.

Q: Why do you use 'toon' instead of 'character', it's EVE ffs !

For that.

Q: How can you have a F.A.Q on day 1 of this blog ? Don't you need readers for that, or are you talking to yourself ?

Hey, it's a blog: of course I'm largely talking to myself (see top of the F.A.Q for why I write here in first place).

A2: The lion's share of the content here (at least for the first few weeks of blogging) has been floating around a limited circle of friends and EVE relations for a few months/years, as well as the idea of publishing it on some sort of website. All the questions above have arisen from the latter part of this process.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Speculative exobiology.

I can't claim to be an expert on Icelanders, Icelandic culture, or anything Iceland really, as I've only paid a couple visits to Reykjavik, and have no more than a remote familiarity with the country's history or social reality.
This being the internets, my cluelessness certainly won't stop me from voicing my opinion on Icelandic matters however, since the handling of the current financial crisis by Iceland's banking and governmental authorities connected at high velocity with other proto-Icelandic stuff while under the shower this morning.

The resulting sparks reached my slowly awakening brain, to provide me with — maybe not an opinion — at least a hunch about the nature of Icelandic ethics — or lack thereof.

He has a mike ! take him down !

If you take a comparative look at the Icelandic government, banking authorities or CCP during any attempt at PR, especially in the damage-control department, especially after some clueless, ill-informed and unilateral decision was taken by someone in office who had the technical means but not the legitimacy to make such policy by himself, you'll find striking similarities.

From this limited sample you can spot a clear trend of Icelander administrators being prepared to take any decision they feel like at the time, ignore warnings, objections, criticism and outcries, then lie through their teeth and spurt whatever they think may appease the crowd, and get it wrong every single time.

At first glance, this may look like run-of-the-mill old-school cynicism combined with gross incompetence and disconnection from street-level reality, and nothing to write home (or a blog entry) about, but my shower sparkles tell me otherwise…

Islande, terre de contrastes…

The most striking thing about Icelanders, from a visitor's perspective, is how free-spirited and gently chaotic Reykjavik's denizens behave. From a middle-european perspective, Iceland seems like the result of a wild experiment conducted by mad Japanese scientists to run a fantasy Amerika Park™ populated by displaced baby Norwegians, who they raised to speak Klingon and revel in kawai gothic punk.
For visual aid, see Björk: her apparent level of idiosyncratic psychosis is illustrative of mainstream Iceland's youth.

Don't take it the wrong way, that makes for fairly chummy — if poorly hairdressed — people, and Reykjavic is rightfully famous for its high-octane night life and cultural open-mindedness.
In fact, unless you're a spectacularly tight-assed bigot, it's hard for the visitor not to enjoy Iceland, as there's something to find and do for (almost) anybody's taste.

The downside to the casual and easygoing ways of Icelanders could be that their cosmopolitism may at core be fueled not by unversalist bias, but absolute lack of concern for anything that isn't them, or part of their inner circle of family and friends.

My hypothesis is that the same legendary endurance and tight sense of community that allowed Iceland as a society to survive and remain strong through several centuries of isolation translates at the individual level in a peculiar sense of self-worth which entirely shields the Icelander from hearing criticism or generally giving a flying fuck about what other people think.

While this may fit some loose definition of cynicism just right, it breeds a different mindset and behavior from the commonly understood Machiavellian brand of cynicism attributed to "The Man" in many western cultures.

This is not the PHB you're looking for…

Although your classicaly corrupt/ebil CEO or governor may do genuinely awful stuff, lie to cover it up, throw a few bystanders under the bus when it gets too hot, and eventually run for the hills or bargain his way out of trouble, he knows all along what he's doing is wrong on some level and his shit-o-meter is tuned on the 'not getting caught' frequency (even though you'll frequently hear weak rationalizations drawing from social darwinist/objectivist lines of thought).

The Icelandic version of the ebil overlord is arguably better intentioned (of the pave-hell-with variety), and simply thinks he's doing what's right, albeit with the Magic Bubble Of Impervious Cluelessness +5 switched on.

Shit-o-meters in Reykjavik also come with a default setting of sleep mode after 5 secs of non-crisis, and a shitstorm activation sensitivity preset to "Hurricane and above only": by the time the red light starts to glow, there's usually a thick layer of feces all over the boardroom's window already. Much panic ensues.

Once a crisis hits, things are made worse by the lack of awareness as to what the ruckus is about, and subsequent damage control efforts are random at best, focusing on pointless attempts at shushing the outcry, then when censorship fails, eventually providing a formal venue for it — yet failing to understand a shitstorm vent will clog in seconds unless the operator at least pretends to hear and act on the actual content of the recriminations.

Are we dead yet ?

How does it tie to this blog topic: EVE is broken ?
Well, nothing new on the surface: CCP still behaves like a posse of midlleclass drunken teenagers in a frat house, and show no more political acumen or perspective than their navel-gazing OCD allows, but the reason why they thoroughly suck at both governance and PR may not be they're Machiavellian cynics or sadists… rather they could just be clueless and oblivious beyond spontaneous belief about what matters to people who don't share their office/bed/corp ticker.

Don't wonder why IA and CSM have no visible impact on the level of collusion, nepotism and game interference by EVE management, or why nonsensical policies are implemented overnight to the detriment of both the playerbase enjoyment/retention and the company's finances, CCP is not willingly ignoring criticism: they're culturally hardwired to fail at hearing or addressing it.

Is it better or worse ? I don't know for sure, but I'm willing to be optimistic here, and bet that the growth of the company's staff has already exceeded what you can reasonably hire in the way of insular pals and relatives, and bet on the faint hope that more staffers coming from beyond the sea and/or the hardcore fanbase may eventually tip the balance in favor of a corporate culture that gets why it's not a good idea to repeatedly spit in the collective face of your customers and then accuse them of standing in the wrong place as a way of apology.

Keep in mind all of the above is the direct result of sparks in a shower: for all you know, this could have been a short with the boiler, so don't go and steal it for your socio-psychology term paper.


Sunday, October 19, 2008

Ghost training — Reloaded.

[This is part of the fix for this cosmic screwup]

Ghost Training is good: for the players, for user retention, for CCP's income.
Ghost Training is bad: for CCP's wallet, which doesn't get as much lub as it wish it would, and from a design standpoint because it is a flipswitch and imbalanced feature.

Here's a fix.

The new ghost training is largely similar to the dead one, except it now works as a time credit with a timer countdown:
  • it automatically kicks in whenever your account lapses and there's a currently training skill,
  • it stops when the skill is complete, the account is reactivated, or the ghost training credit runs out (whichever comes first)
  • ghost training credit decreases as used, and increases when credited by a subscription recharge (see below).
  • unused ghost training time credit doesn't expire or decay over time, but the high-limit on any skill training time prevents one from ghost training for 6 months in a row.
Ghost training credit recharge system:
  • 1-month plan subscription credits your account with +5 days of Ghost Training.
  • 60d GTC credits your account with +10 days of Ghost Training.
  • 3-month plan subscription credits your account with +20 days of Ghost Training.
  • 6-month plan subscription credits your account with +50 days of Ghost Training.
  • 12-month plan subscription credits your account with +120 days of Ghost Training.
Make it retroactive, yet only as far back as the ongoing payment period at launch date.

As a side note, there's a hidden benefit coming from training your own toons (as opposed to buying them) in that Ghost Training credit is account-based, and thus not transferred with a character.

Finally, a configurable email reminder service about account expiration (accounting for GTC pre-paid time and credit cards expiration dates) sounds like an easy enough addition to the account management service.

Announce it on Monday with a nice "Sorry about the mixup" wrapper, launch on Wednesday, and presto: you de-suicided EVE income and made a bunch of happy campers.

There, there…

Ghost training: when CCP can't do maths.

In case you've missed it, CCP has once again figured how to shoot its collective foot in public.
At the time, the company's sole was resting squarely on the equally metaphorical and collective face of the userbase.
The results aren't pretty.

The axing of a core feature of EVE is coming from so far out of the left field that it actually baffles me, despite my long tenure as witness (and occasional hapless victim) of CCP's self-destructive impulses.

So, here's the story:

[The drama associated with CCP handling of the PR will not be discussed here, not because it's not both fun and sad in epic proportions, but because incredibly poor PR is business as usual with EVE management team. CCP's community management, PR and governance issues are worth their own articles, and I unfortunately foresee those becoming a regular stop for EVEisBroken discussions.]

By its namesake, Background Training doesn't require one to do anything to progress through a given skill level in EVE.
In fact, it doesn't even require to be logged in game, and that's one of the things players love dearly about EVE's skill system: as long as you switch your skills once in a while, your character develops new/better abilities, which in turn unlock new content such as ships and equipment, regardless of how many hours you can put in the game this week or month, and how you spend your in-game time.

Ghost Training is pushing that logic to the extreme by offering one of the smartest, more hooking freebies a R-POW publisher has ever come up with: character development bonus for returning players.

If your character happens to have a skill underway at the time your subscription runs out, the training keeps going on your ghosted account, up to completion of the skill level, and you get to return to a better character if you ever reactivate your account.
This creates a nice carrot for players to return to EVE and reactivate a lapsed account, and a subtle nudge of the stick to do so no later than around the day the ghost training skill reaches completion, in order to avoid 'losing' any training time.

Whenever a player burns out, is dragged away from the game by RL for extended periods of time, or simply forgets about EVE long enough to stop being a paying customer, ghost training increases the odds he or she will eventually re-sub, and it doesn't cost a penny to the service operator.

As a player retention tool, ghost training is the natural extension of background training: it achieves the same delicate balance between comfort (from knowing your character still progresses just as fast as your mates' even if you can't play this night/month) and urgency (I must log-in/re-sub or my character will 'lose' training potential).

In fact, background training and ghost training have come to stand among the best selling points for EVE, especially when pitching it to someone who has been badly burned by another MMO*'s skinner grind, and it has certainly played a big role in both the word-of-mouth success of EVE and the high player retention rates, generating extra revenue and saving CCP a small fortune in customer acquisition/retention costs over the years.

Why, then would any R-POW operator in his right mind get rid of a ninja stray dog that goes out in the night for you, steals a pig, has bacon fried for you by breakfast, and never barks or ask for a treat ?
According to CCP, the dog poo'ed on the missus' favorite carpet… or something.

WTB: Consumer economist

Somewhere around their third sorry spin of the maths-averse planking of ghost training, CCP attempted to educate the playerbase about the ebil 'sploiters who abuse the ghost training freebie as a cheap way to make ISK, by incubating readymade toons in swarms so large they threaten to break the db (paraphrasing, yet not kidding, unfortunately).

There is some merit to the idea, after a good workout session scraping the bullshit from it with a snow shovel: mass-breeders riding the Ghost Training Express potentially cost CCP money because they can train a decent 22 million SP toon in about 12.5 months worth of paid subscription time (that's a 50% cut).

I suspect CCP's rationale is: the same character, if trained for personal use, would on average exploit less efficiently the benefits of ghost training, thus charging the ebil toon breeders with the crime of expanding an occasional and minor loss of revenue into a systematic and unbearable $$ hemorrhage.

CCP's total revenue from the optimized breeding of a 22m SP char with ghost training available, using discontinuous but repeated 1-month subscription plans is 187.5 $ spread over 25 months, or a monthly income of 7.5 $/month before sale.
Assuming the toon breeder then sells the character, CCP will make another 20 $ in transfer fee, bringing the figure to 207.5 $ total over 25 months, or 8.3 $ a month.

Without ghost training, but using a Power of Two promotion, the same character could have been trained by its final owner for about the same monthly cost during the first 6 months (8.325$/month) then an average of 11.45$/months for the remaining 19 months (assuming 6 or 12 months VISA payment plans), for a grand total of 267.5$ over 25 months, averaging at 10.7 $/month.

Compared to the above ghost training scenario, that's a 2.4 $ monthly loss of potential revenue on this account for CCP over the first 25 months, totaling 60 $ or 4-6 months subscription revenue loss over the same period.

To be fair, we must account for not everyone who trains an alt being a specialist, so the potential revenue diff per account may be a tad steeper than presented above.
Between the Power of Two promotions, the various VISA pricing plans, GTCs, etc,. the average cost of monthly sub floats around 12.65$.
With this figure in mind, the potential loss of income to ghost training may increase to something like 4.75 $/month per account maxxing ghost training.

…which is some money, but also marks the line where CCP's beancounters crossed into fantasyland economics: the assumption here seems to be that retention rates are decoupled from ghost training as a paying customer bait, and customers' continuous subscriptions can be taken for granted over a 25 months span without any special effort on player retention but releasing an expansion every other semester.

Meet the Fokkers.

I have the nagging suspicion the guys in CCP's finances department really believe that if you could stop people from downloading bootleg movies from bittorrent they would immediately run to their local store and buy the exact same amount of DVDs at 20 $ a pop.

Not to disrespect the much-hyped on-board CCP economist (as I'd wage he's not invited on the floor where the grownups came up with this genius plan), but the abacus crew missed the obvious here: players don't have to keep paying their subs if they don't feel like it, and even less if they simply can't afford it.

Another point of contention is how, despite all the subtle ninja editing of player manuals, whinethreads falling into wormholes and obfuscation by devblog spam, players will not buy into the weak spin that ghost training ever qualified as a 'bug'.
Ghost training may have been a happy accident, like many good things about EVE, but it's a feature 5 years of enduring persistence have carved deep into what one has come to expect from EVE's basic featureset.

Removing that key feature on 2 days' notice is akin to delivering a car at listed price with an attached note:
"Oh btw, fuel tank doesn't come standard anymore, you'll have to order one separately from our spare parts department, it costs only 30% extra over your new car retail price. Enjoy."

150 pages of whines (and counting) later…

CCP still hasn't come to grips with the notion that players can and will cut down on their accounts and on the amount of money they pay every month for EVE.
That's either because the financial experts are passed out drunk, or they look only to where the noise comes from, but so far they haven't seen the promised mass-cancellations show on their stats.

Update for the money floor: there won't be mass-cancellations. Nothing at least that measures up to the fury apparent from the forum outcry.

Players are past being pissed at CCP, they've simply lost faith in the company having the slightest clue about what makes EVE worth playing and paying for, and a sandbox world heavily depends on how confident the players are the local gods won't randomly come and stomp their sandcastles in a drunken haze.

What is happening is: people are going into winter mode.
Cut EVE-related costs as low as you can, dump your semi-useful accounts on suckers still prepared to trade you GTC time for them, then try to enjoy one last seasonal war until your remaining accounts run out of steam and die.
Meanwhile, start looking for your next game of choice.

Those who don't have a pile of ISK handy, and no spare assets nor accounts to firesell may be tempted to raise their ISK worth of GTC by more mundane means, such as mining, ratting, dabbling in traderoutes or mission whoring, only to discover the price of GTCs has recently doubled, and at 500m ISK a pop, EVE is no longer a grind-free game.
— Cancel then, bitches, you weren't paying real money anyway !

— Well, if all those players buy their GTCs with ISK, 'somebody' must pay CCP for those GTCs, you know ?
The trade of GTCs for ISK over eve-secure has been a fairly good deal for both the players and CCP up to the recent GTC retail price increase (from about 12 $ to 17.5 $ a month): players with $$ and no time had a legit way to raise the ISK they couldn't earn in game to support their fun, while $$-starved players with too much time on their hands could support their accounts with the spare ISK they gained from whatever EVE nerds do for ISK.
Meanwhile CCP was making a decent buck on each and every of those GTCs, being the exclusive ultimate emitter.
Happy family.

Because one could only sell as many GTCs for ISK as there were people with an account to feed, this system wasn't screwing the in-game economy by injecting magic money, yet supported a healthy growth of the total number of accounts by favoring a higher accounts/player ratio… for how long ?

A check on the in-game/forum market for GTCs sales is enough to realize it's largely a seller-led market: for every WTS, there are 4 to 10 WTB in the same price bracket.
Typically, the people willing to buy a batch of GTCs from CCP to change them into ISK do so to fund a big expense/investment such as a (super)capital ship, faction/DS/officer oobergear …or a high end toon acquisition.

Sugar Daddy & the RMT'ers.

Right now, the cheapest way to get a lot of ISK from $$ is to buy from RMT'ers. This option beats the CCP-sanctionned alternatives by a wide margin.
A billion ISK these days will set you back about 35 $ by a mass trader, which is roughly twice what you can get for your 35 $ 60d GTC sold via eve-secure.

…in fact, for 35 bucks of RMT ISK, you can buy yourself 2*60d GTCs for your billion ISK, and save about 30% over the monthly cost of a 3-months VISA sub.
That's not the kind of RMT that directly hurts CCP's wallet, since in the end there's some guy buying the GTCs from CCP for $$, but we'll see in a minute why this kind of RMT matters.

For late-comers to the game, the shortest perceived way to catch up with the old-timers is to travel through time at FTT speed by teleporting into a 20m+ SP character (and the expensive ships/gear to go with it).

A 22m SP char fetches about 4.5b ISK on the market, which translates for the incubator (with ghost training) into an in-game revenue of 180m ISK/month for his 8.3 $/month investment.

If bought from ISK raised by GTC sales, this 22m SP char sells for 9*60d GTCs, or 315 $ for CCP, plus the 187.5 $ paid by the breeder to raise the toon, and the 20 $ transfer fee.
Total revenue: 522.25 $ / 25 months.

…20.9 $ monthly revenue for CCP on this account… Why would CCP point the finger at toon breeders ?
Ultimately, because of RMT.

4.5b ISK at a RMT shop will cost about 157 $ to the customer, and potentially drop nothing but the 207.5 $ it took to raise and sell the toon (with ghost training) into CCP's coffers.

From CCP's twisted abacus crew view, that's a boatload of money flying right under their nose on every toon sale in Character Bazaar: 60 $ lost to ghost training, and 315 $ in GTC sales: ebil toon breeders stole 365 $ from us and broke the db !
— But, but…

— Yeah, they can't math their way out of the open bar, I feel bad too.

The rundown on how CCP is killing the goose that laid the golden eggs.

— Let's up the price of GTCs monthly sub to 17.5 $ and the minimal GTC time to 60d to nerf ebil toon breeders !
Oops, apparently it only encourages people to:
  • buy ISK from RMT shops and buy GTCs with it (8.75 $/month beats a 1 year VISA plan by 2.2 $/month, but that's still 17.5 $/month for CCP as long as it lasts) ;

  • buy ISK from RMT shops instead of buying GTCs from CCP to raise ISK via eve-secure GTC trade (twice as much ISK for your buck, 100% lost on CCP) ;

  • buy ISK from RMT shops to buy Characters and trinkets (twice as much stuff for your buck, 100% lost on CCP).
— This is only a warmup… now let's strip ghost training, in order to lose the little remaining customer good faith we have left, and prevent dropouts from ever returning to our game, while making it more expensive for those who stay.

— WTF ? What are they doing ?

  • Multiple accounts holders massively switch to GTCs because they don't feel their VISA is safe with an Icelandic company that just screwed their contract terms (see Meet the Fokkers above), and for Euros, they're a bit tired of paying 20 $ a month too.
    They still pay 17.5 $ from GTCs… they do, right ?

  • Because GTCs are so very expensive to buy in ISK, they look for alternative sources of cheap ISK (see RMT above), or cut on their total number of accounts.
    No ! Ungrateful bastards ! We'll sue them !

  • The toon firesale sees a bunch of 40m+ SP chars go at discount…
    aha toon breeders, CCP pwns you hard ! Feel our might now ? Our plan is a suxxess !

  • Except the toon sales are paid with RMT ISK, none of which makes a dime to CCP
    Wrong ! we get fat rich on every 20 $ transfer fee, yoohoo !

  • And the ISK transferred to toon sellers is spent for… GTC'ing their remaining accounts.
    er… we make money there, no ?

See a pattern yet ?

We have more and more people opting for GTC subs, paid for with ISK (coming from in-game or RMT), and less and less people willing to buy those GTCs for real $ from CCP.
We also see people getting rid of some of their high-SP alts in exchange for ISK, which are bought by people who therefore won't have to pay the new and improved (with 100% less ghost training) years of subs to train their own main.
— RMT aside, what's the beef ?
— Well, what happens once there are not enough suckers left to buy overpriced GTCs from CCP and sell them to people who can spare ISK but won't give CCP a copper anymore ?

— Everybody switches back to VISA ?

— ...whatever.
Although I can predict with reasonable confidence CCP's move at this juncture will indeed be to cancel the GTC program and hope everything goes back to normal (it will, if a subscriber count flatlining circa 150k qualifies as normal), I've made a personal rule of not slinging feces unless I wrap them in flaming papers first: that's called constructive criticism.

My 2 ISK:

1 — Bring the price of GTCs back in line with regular subs: 60d = 28-30 $

2 — Damage control RMT: offer an amnesty period of 4 months to individual buyers of RMT'ed ISK if they convert their ISK to GTCs via legit sales (that's money back in CCP's wallet).

3 — Bring Ghost Training back, this time as a feature, and with a twist to make in financially apt.

And here's some wishful thinking addressed to CCP:

Next time you decide to implement a radical change on the gameworld (in or meta), have the common sense of explaining the rationale behind it to your users, even if it's all about money, you don't have to be ashamed or shy, they can take it.
I'm not asking you to consult the players, it's probably too much for them and you to handle, but talk to them pretending you're all grownups, it works with 4 years olds, should work for the EVE community.


PS: My development about people massively switching from other subscription models to GTC is obviously largely speculative, as I have nothing but hearsay to guess about it, but if somebody at CCP can come up with serious stats that fly in the face of that theory, a very good diner's on me.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

1st page 111 \o/

It was a long time in the brewing, but here it is: this is the ArmchairDesigner's other blog, this one dedicated to the U.F.O among big-league R-POWs: EVE Online.

Full disclosure: Around the turn of the century, I've spent a couple years working on the design of a space-flavored game not entirely unlike EVE (well, it happened in space, was heavily sandboxy and procedural, and involved some variations of FTL travel, the similarities pretty much end there).

EVE Online was in pre-production and development during the same time, as were 3rd World, Star Wars Galaxies, Earth & Beyond, Jumpgate and a couple others who fared diversely well on the market (if/when they reached it), but I kept mostly clear of those while working on our own project, to avoid getting confused or tempted to dismiss/coopt concepts based on what other design teams were about.

I got into EVE during the recovery phase following our 'abortion', a few months after both The Sims Online and SWG less-than-stellar launches gave our financial backers the cold feet, to discover how strikingly similar and different at once EVE was, compared to the design I'd spent 16 hours of my average day with for the past three years.

Playing EVE was therefore largely a case of post-trauma therapy for me, and in the fashion typical to rebound fucks, I dived deep into it, with the eagerness fueled by a desperate need for change, and the critical eye of one who hasn't quite let go of his ex yet.

Some of the defining elements of EVE Online make it — to this day — a one-of-a-kind beast among 3d R-POWs.

• Going for a niche audience of hardcore gamers with high-end PCs and broadband connections allowed to shove the graphical burden on the client's shoulders, and enabled a visually stunning experience by then-MMO*s standards, at low cost for the publisher.

• Over time, building the customer base from hardcore PvP outwards was also an uncanny move: when everybody was reaching out to the supposed mainstream to capture as many short-lived eyeballs as possible, CCP was building an incredibly faithful customer base of hardcore players over word of mouth alone, resulting in high retention rates, low customer support costs, and close to nil advertising expenses.

• Self-publishing a R-POW is another bold move for a small studio such as 2003's CCP, and although it was forced on the company by Simon & Shuster pulling out a few months after release, it granted the company unprecedented editorial freedom for a second-gen graphical R-POW. [Being an Icelandic company arguably has something to do with CCP's off-the-beaten-path design and business model, which shows especially in the most predatory playstyles the game ruleset intentionally enables and condones.]

• No dungeons (at first), little handcrafted content (the default content in a space setting is 'empty, with backdrop'), and just enough procedural NPC and resources spawns to get the ball rolling for competitive action also went against the content-frenzy that was prevailing at the time, and allowed CCP to have a game to show for a reasonably low budget in the content creation department.
In time, players's sweat equity would be harnessed to do most of the heavy lifting of content generation, ensuring available game content grew with the player base (when it's inversely proportional in PvE heavy models).

• The single-shard setup, enabled by procedural/player generated content is another unique feature among graphical R-POWs, and puts EVE Online in a class of its own, when its subscriber base ranks in the niche-to-medium games, while its concurrent connections per server run mile-wide circles around the competition.
Beyond bragging rights for CCP, this merely ensures there's always something player-driven happening on the server, and scaling up the content/playground is only a matter of widening the sandbox by a few constellations of nothingness.

• Background training, which allows players to focus on playing and exploring the game rather than grinding levels for months to reach the implausible stage where the game 'really starts', combined with a level-free skill system and heavily player-skill-centric combat mechanics, a (relatively) harsh death penalty, a (somewhat) player-driven economy, all contribute to provide players with a greater sense of achievement and purpose compared to other games.

• Toss in conquerable space full of riches, fought over actual territorial warfare (no arena/tournament competition), and you have a nice end game where players (again) take care of content production for the most part.

This list could go on for a while, but there's enough here to drive the point home: EVE (and CCP) success has relied on successfully ignoring what was "common wisdom" in the games industry about MMO*s, in favor of genuinely interesting gameplay coated with just enough eyecandy to support player immersion and provide some sense of texture to its otherwise opera-less deep space setting.

Unfortunately, CCP's unorthodox line of thought is also the root of all things pear-shaped in EVE Online: being a driven revolutionary thinker at design stage is one thing, but ignoring the multicenturial history of the service industry (including the last 50 years of mediated mass entertainment) is another, and CCP apparently can't tell one from the other.
Which is largely why EVE is broken.

This blog is about EVE Online, its players, the company that makes and breaks it, the culture that grows in and around the game, and how they all inform my views on R-POW design, production and operation.
The focus on EVE Online is warranted by its uniqueness in the R-POW market, and the fact more visible games such as WoW or EQ2 are already studied to death by so many competent people that I can be content with reading their papers rather than writing mine.

You've been warned, see you after the jump.