Greedy Goblin

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The secret EVE and Diablo 3 power item shop

There is few things that players hate more in a game than an item shop where they can buy power. These games are called "pay to win" where playing and becoming better in playing is usually seriously sub-optimal way of winning. World of Tanks is an infamous example: you can be the best player in the game, if I have gold ammo (and I'm not a total idiot) you don't have a chance. These games are making their income from short-playing casuals who spend in the shop for a time to "be awsom lol" and then move away to the next shiny after they got bored of oneshotting anyone. MMO and power item shop don't match as the main selling point of MMOs is the community which can't exist if people rotate in an out in a month.

However there is a clear demand to buy cheats which is usually filled by illegal goldsellers. There is a way for the company to harness this: the PLEX-trade of EVE and the RMAH of Diablo 3 are good examples. In these no powerful items are created, they are traded between players. From your point of view player A buying currency or item from player B for game time or real money is no different from B gifting it to A who is his buddy. While living on charity of others is by definition being a leech and a loser, it doesn't change the fact that such RMT between A and B did not damage your game. Actually made it easier as the power moved from the good playing B to A who sucks therefore will be an easy target for you.

This would be a pointless repost if World of Tanks wouldn't turn me into a paranoid. You know, they probably rig the matchmaking and the random generator calculating penetration to keep even the most atrocious players over 40% winrate. What if they aren't the only shady players on the scene? What if CCP and Blizzard are secretly running the most hated thing in a game: a power item shop.

How could they do it? By placing server-side characters to the marketplace who get resources from nothing and trade it "legitimately". For example a legit-looking EVE char having trillions of ISK and buying up all the PLEX in Jita below 490M. Or a Diablo 3 character that sells extremely powerful items by dozens and "giving" the real money coming in to the developers. These simply can't be catched by players without extreme amount of third-party data collection, which is impossible because the system is benefiting the bad players who will obviously won't submit data. And even if they somehow could collect representative data, the developer can always point finger towards illegal RMT bots.

Using the secret item shop in Diablo 3 the bad player can buy top gear that wouldn't be available yet because legitimate players have not farmed enough for him to sell and the few they did are extremely overpriced. The infinite supply coming from the developer push down the price to the level the developer finds optimal, which is by definition something that is accessible for most. In EVE server-bot prevents the PLEX price to drop to the level where one had to convert a dozen to fit a semi-decent ship. Also, by constantly removing PLEX from the playerbase they limit the multiboxing that makes the life of the bad players harder.

If it exists - and I'm not even sure if I believe it does - this system would be very profitable to gaming companies as they have a good item shop without the negative consequences. Just like in World of Tanks, players live under the assumption that they could do better if they would be better players, instead of recognizing the truth: you must pay in the item shop. Granted the system is not so blatant as "The One Ring for $10" as every power the shop sell is something that some players do reach legitimately, so it is (at least theoretically) possible to outperform someone who pays a lot in the shop. In EVE it isn't a high barrier. I mean, with the current price a bad player has to spend 500 Euros a month to outdo me in making ISK.

What to do then? I stopped playing World of Tanks after figuring out that it's probably a cheat. Shall I stop playing EVE and Diablo 3 too unless the companies don't prove that they are free of cheats? (for example by getting a third-party audit, or in Diablo publish a complete item database by telling that Ubersword has 1854 pieces ingame, followed by a list of telling every items unique ID and a complete ownership history of it) No. There are two questions to ask. The first is: "do I enjoy the game as it is now, as I am in it now?"

While playing World of Tanks, we very often did not enjoy the game. We were upset about our performance, or even worse, blamed each other with my girlfriend for sucking to the point of recording and replaying practically all the matches to figure out how could we suck less. We kept on playing under the assumption that if we become really good in the game we'll enjoy it greatly. The cheat destroyed that hope and we stopped playing. The important lesson is to never have hopes about a game because there can very easily be a cheat somewhere making it impossible to fulfill your hopes, even if they were otherwise modest and reachable.

I'm enjoying playing EVE and find the current PLEX price acceptable. I don't think it breaks my plans in EVE. If the price would jump to 2B where I could no longer reliably claim "learn to trade and you can be competitive even with the PLEX-buying losers", I'd stop playing since I couldn't hope that with better trading strategies it can be turned. The point is that may be I could come up with strategies that allow my readers to keep competitive at 2B (after all, I'm making nearly 20/month), but the possibility of cheating on CCPs side makes it irrelevant as they can rise the price to 5B overnight. For the same reason I play Diablo 3 only as a content-game for fun with my girlfriend: we play to complete the game, to kill Inferno Diablo. I won't use the RMAH in the first month until the prices settle and I can see if the prices worth serious attention. I can still post some Diablo 3 goldmaking tips using the gold AH.

The second criteria is "equal playfield". Even if CCP really buying up PLEX and pour ISK in its place, that affects everyone alike. The inflation doesn't hurt you more than the next guy and this applies to PLEX buyers too. So competition can exist and a better player will win over the worse (even if the RMT-er is better off assuming equal playskill). Such games can be played for win. The other kind is unfair, helps the bad players (and those who can effectively game the system). World of Tanks punished you for being good, being better just increased the unfairness towards you and not your winrate. If you have even the suspicion that your game is doing that, you should uninstall that in that moment. You won't have fun playing that game because you don't receive feedback for your actions (which is necessary for the flow), as the response of the program depends on a the cheat and not your actions (simple example: imagine an FPS where the bullets hit totally randomly regardless where you aim).

The moron of the day was sent without signature. The sender is buying skillbooks from NPCs and sell them in other regions where no NPC sell them. The competitor came up with the "great" idea to buy them all out and relist higher. Well, let us wish him good luck to buy out the Science and Trade Institute:

EVE Business report: Wdnesday morning 19.9B(2 PLEX behind for second account, 0.3B spent on Titan project)
Remember that you can participate in our EVE conversations on the "goblinworks" channel (60-80 people on peak time) and your UI suggestions are welcomed.


Mika Hirvonen said...

You might want to read Cory Doctorow's For the Win; One of the antagonists is an RMT market speculator that gets hired by the game company and gets them tangled up in the RMT business. Let's just say that making the company's bottom line subject to the virtual market can backfire spectacularly.

serpentinelogic said...

It's confidence-destroying actions like this by game devs that caused the formation of EVE's Council of Stellar Management (CSM).

See: T20 Incident.

skeddar said...

Staying completely away from the RMAH in Diablo 3 for the first month might be a missed opportunity.

You are probably right, that trading is risky at that point. However, I'm trying to sell everything I find (including crafting materials) in the RMAH. Prices will drop tremendously within the first weaks, but getting some moron to buy your low level unique for real money is priceless.

Maybe it's be enough to buy the addons.

Anonymous said...

This is the method employed by Second Life, actually, with this role even being played by a "character", Supply Linden.

Second Life has an in-world currency Linden Dollars, that can be traded on a developer-provided market for US$. The value is kept roughly stable at L$250 = US$1 by Supply Linden.

The vast majority of money is "printed" via these means, though. Who knows how different the system would look if you could go "ratting" in SL.

Azuriel said...

World of Tanks punished you for being good, being better just increased the unfairness towards you and not your winrate.

Just as a tangential question, would you have preferred slower matchmaking over the behind-the-scenes number tweaks?

Presumably there are less players available at the higher skill levels, where your rating would have placed you. So, in a way, you would have been punished for being good regardless: not only paired up with equally strong opponents (reducing your winrate back down to 50/50) but also being forced to wait for the privilege of facing them. The former is fine, the latter is annoying beyond all reason, IMO.

Gevlon said...

@Azuriel: rating system without rewards is itself a punishment for being good. You are provided strong opponents while the bad ones get the easy way of fighting bads.

The proper way is to make the rating open and reward higher rating players with higher XP/currency gains. After all, destroying an enemy high rated tank is a bigger feat than destroying the same tank piloted by an idiot.

Anonymous said...

Gevlon, what you suggest in terms of a server-side character is correct, but also illegal, and subjects the company's finances to open virtual market input, which they have to show and explain clearly to the IRS. Eve does not have this, as you buy plex, but what you do with it afterwards is your business. They have clear data in terms of how many plex are sold each month, how many are used, and how many are traded. If they were to take out a bunch of plex, they have to reintroduce that to the market, as they did when they did the big ban round earlier this year (they reintroduced all the plex, since they're not allowed to destroy that themselves)

Gevlon said...

@Anonymous: theoretically true, practically easily trickable.

In the case of Diablo 3 the character has the $ and moving it to the company books would interest IRS. However the money can easily be laundered by several server-side characters trading between each other, paying 15% transfer fee to Blizzard until nothing left.

In EVE it's completely legal. PLEX is bought by real players legitimately, that's what IRS care for. What happens with PLEX which is an ingame item just like a Rifter is completely irrelevant TAX-wise.

Please note that you are buying gaming service and nothing else from CCP. When you redeem a PLEX you bought for ISK from another player, CCP is giving you free game time which is their right. No real money transfer happens this case which would interest IRS.

evemonkey said...

important to note is the fact that in eve, ISK (for an individual player) does not immediately mean a huge competitive advantage.

the caveat is that assuming equal skill and a one-on-one fight then yes, the person with more isk has a better ship, but one-on-one fights are rare occurrences, even in lowsec.

the advantage may come if a player buys an exorbitant amount of plex and converts it (as is the case with red overlord I believe - a rich russian literally bought 35,000 euro worth of plex and set up a large nullsec alliance overnight. but again, this is a rare thing and that money will one day run out and they will be left only with incompetence if they don't deal with that in the meantime.

Anonymous said...

Eve: some would say T2 BPO is where CCP cheated.

World of Tanks: if the system chooses the winner, might as well play CandyLand

Buggrit said...

You already have artificial sellers - blueprints for example.

Right from the start, nothing stops CCP from having some artificial traders who simply generate items and sell them, or just buy stuff from generated isk. They can easily have a function to monitor real prices, a margin, and use these as a baseline.
This could be a money-control tool, like the fed intervening in the money supply.

The problem of course is that it goes into direct competition with players. To be done, it would be done with subtlety and at the highest level, as being found out would result in some amazing rage scenes.

Since plex arrived they have an amazing tool for isk control. As a game company, a market run wild is not their objective. Should plex prices peak or decrease excessively, do you doubt they would intervene?

Note that excess ISK (and botted mins) are a real problem and it shows in many areas not least in fleet compositions.

Anonymous said...

But CCP has already said they manipulate the source: e.g., they upped the mineral spawn rate one time because they were worried about an upcoming wave of bans. Or they said there were not enough T3 ships so they looked at making them cheaper (IIRC changing the mineral requirements and availability.) I personally think a dynamic NPC buying stuff is better than rigidly fixed. Back in the day there was decent money in making battleships and self-destructing them for the insurance when mineral prices get too low. If we ignore the more controversial PLEX, I see no reason why dynamic NPC purchases are any different than dynamic spawn changes. The NPC renting of offices is already a dynamic pricing model.

CCP and Blizzard already look at the economy and change spawn rates to influence prices/economy. I don't understand how manipulating the market with buy/sell orders is morally any different.


I just wanted to point out that your first sentence is not correct "There is few things that players hate more in a game than an item shop where they can buy power."

That is certainly true for you. One could reasonablely argue it is true for "real gamers" or "real competitors." However, look at the decline of subscription as a pricing model for MMOs due to how much more profitable item shops are. If people really hated item shops, companies would not have them. Note also the "we only sell convenience" is just a question of degree: saying "you can give us $20 or spend 20 hours mining to get your ship" may be valid, but at some point, be it 200 hours or 2000 hours, the game designer controls the supply, the demand and the price.

The market has spoken and the customers like item shops.

dobablo said...

If governments can engage in a little quantative easing then why can't CCP?
They already manipulate the market by controlling the input of raw materials.

Gevlon said...

Messing with mineral prices or NPC sold book prices are "game balancing". All involved items are ingame. If an NPC buys sleeper salvage ISK is introduced to the economy and the sleeper item is removed.

PLEX is not an in-game item, you can't use it in the game for anything. It's game time. If an NPC buys PLEX for ISK, ISK is introduced to the economy and NOTHING is removed.

Ignatius Hood said...


True but thats very much like the Drone Region bounty change or the changes made to Incursions. If CCP has concerns about how the sandbox is playing they don't have to be back handed about it they simply change the composition of the sand.

If they have a desire to control ISK in game they simply need to reduce the faucets or plug the sinks. No need to be sneaky about it.

Hivemind said...

Wow, that is some serious tinfoil-hattery going on in this post. Let's examine the case regarding this proposal:

> CCP could get cash from sale of timecodes without having to provide gametime for said codes. Players who would otherwise have bought said PLEX would instead have to fund their gametime through their own cash.

> If discovered, would lead to massive player rage and probably a lot of bad press as well (see: Incarna riots). It wouldn't be that hard for a player to notice that there is always an order for X PLEX at Y price and the volume never seems to change and the order never seems to expire, then investigate from there.
> It would amount to PLEX printing ISK rather than circulating pre-existing ISK in the economy, causing widespread inflation, which again players would notice and which would also harm the game as a whole and likely cost CCP existing players and be another barrier to new player retention, hurting CCP in the long run. It's also contrary to CCP's stated plans for the economy and avoiding MUDFlation.
> PLEX market has been crashed in the past by IRL rich people, which wouldn't happen if CCP was providing this artificial floor for PLEX prices. Also, such crashes would highlight if they were doing something like this. (Disclaimer: I know of this second-hand only, specifically through one of Mittani's Sins of a Solar Spymaster columns)
> Wouldn't even function that well to remove PLEX from players, as with that artificial floor in place players would simply price their buy orders above that floor, unless CCP wanted to update their orders to keep it competitive, in which case sooner or later the difficulty of obtaining PLEX for actual players would probably unveil the whole scheme.
> PLEX prices as a whole have been steadily rising – 2-3 years ago they were about 300 mil each – and these changes have been in line with the rest of the EVEconomy (going up when Incursions added an extra ISK source, for example).

@ Random Anon who said "[this would be] also illegal, and subjects the company's finances to open virtual market input, which they have to show and explain clearly to the IRS": I'm sorry, what? The service that CCP legally provide is the sale of timecodes, and the conversion of said timecodes into ingame PLEX items. They are also legally required to allow any player in posession of a PLEX item to redeem said item for game time. That is it. If a PLEX item is destroyed by players or by CCP, that's legal. If a PLEX item is sold ingame to a CCP employee, or to an NPC that is effectively a black hole for PLEX items, that's legal. They are not legally bound to provide gametime for every PLEX created, only those that make it into the hands of players and are then redeemed. There is also the very minor issue that, last time I checked, Iceland (you know, the place CCP is based and incorporated as a legal entity, and under whose laws and government bodies they fall?) is just a tiiiiiiny bit outside the jurisdiction of the IRS

@ Gevlon again: "PLEX is not an in-game item, you can't use it in the game for anything." - Once again, I'm sorry, what? PLEX is nothing but an ingame item. An item that represents 30 days extra game time for players, but the item itself exists ingame, can be transported ingame, can be destroyed ingame, can be traded ingame. It can potentially exist as a form of currency changing hands indefinitely without ever being redeemed into gametime.

Eaten by a Grue said...

An additional motivation CCP would have in buying up PLEX is that PLEX have actual monetary value, which CCP can purchase with monopoly money. PLEX are basically prepaid gift cards, and if CCP reduce the outstanding amount of these, this improves their bottom line.

Gevlon said...

@Hivemind: If the bot would buy it for a 100000 pieces buy order, that would be caught. But it can be done much more intelligently. My best idea on this would be that the bot buys the lowest sell orders in Jita, always as many as many PLEX were used by players the previous hour. So the bot would only double the demand. This way the PLEX would respond market forces, a mass buy or sell from players would affect the price.

ISK inflation has to be handled anyway. If the mechanisms work properly (typically tuning ISK rewarding activities vs material rewarding ones), the extra ISK dumped by the bot can be dissipated in the whole economy. This case the ISK vs tritanium price would stay fixed. By the way the recent changes just revived mining, an activity that produce minerals but no ISK.

Higher price make more production (players create PLEX by paying $) and less consumption (players buying PLEX to convert to play time), which is exactly what CCP want.

dobablo said...

In case you haven't noticed, CCP create billions of free ISK every day through missions, bounties and incursions and you wouldn't call incursion grinders cheats. You'd probably argue that say that is because there is a tentative risk involved but a smart player that risk is almost zero so I think there must be another factor behind your thinking.

Your notion of cheating seems less to do with the method of ISK production, and more based on the level of moron tax.

Free Incursion ISK - NOT CHEATING
High Moron tax.
Smart players get free ISK quickly and at minimal risk.
Morons pay high tax because they take longer and lose their ships.

PI Money printing - NOT CHEATING
High moron tax.
Smart players get high return of free ISK.
Morons get low returns from high sec PI.
Slackers ignore completely and pay infinate tax.

Trading/Hauling - NOT CHEATING
High moron tax.
Smart players have small risk of player pirates and bad trades.
Morons will fail to pirates and bad trades.

Low moron tax (NOTE: Not RISK FREE)
Smart players get going ISK rate
Morons get almost get 99% of going unless they are scammed.

All in all PLEX is a great creation from CCP. It is a career path where morons get a comparative advantage.

Hivemind said...

@ Gevlon: If the bot buys 50% of all PLEX, assuming it's not based solely in Jita, then using a conservative figure of 500mil/PLEX it's printing 25 trillion ISK per month from nowhere (500mil x 100k plex per month = 50tn, 1/2 that from the bot = 25tn). That is NOT a trivial amount of ISK. I actually hunted around to try and find ISK introduced to the game per month, but didn't get any overall results, however I did get a figure of about 6tn per month from Incursions from Jester ( from before the recent nerf. Given that that was causing inflation on its own, an amount 4x greater than that... yeah, we'd be seeing the effects of that throughout the EVE economy. It still remains a huge ISK font even dialled further down - if it's just buying 10% of PLEX that's still 5tn ISK per month.