Saturday, October 26, 2013

The Worms are Out of the Can

My apologies for the lack of posting lately, TEST has been keeping us VERY busy in lowsec, and my downtime of sitting around hoping for fights has been minimal. Today though, I am presented with an opportunity I simply can not pass up.

Earlier this month, you may recall a trilogy of postings regarding SOMERblink (ONE, TWO, THREE), the love they were getting from CCP, their practices, and what looked to me like some messed up priorities. All the attention has seemed to have a bit of a negative side effect which will likely bring harm to both CCP and SOMERblink, probably sooner rather than later. The can of worms in this case has not only been opened, but dumped on the floor for good measure.

I didn't delve too far into SOMERblink's RMT scheme in my postings here (it was mentioned, but amid other issues I was trying to discuss, delving too deeply didn't seem prudent at the time) but when I guested on Podside #144 during the whole thing, I got into it with former CCP Zinfindel. The illegitimacy of the RMT nature of it did come up, with Zinfandel defending SOMER's practice as being so small that it's not a big deal. Of course, Zinfindel no longer works for CCP, so his word means nothing as far as company policy is concerned, but one may gather an implied endorsement with all the promotional consideration SOMERblink has received from CCP. At one point (can't find the link just now, but I know I saw it) one CCP employee, Navigator I think, endorsed SOMERblink as "legit".

Let's first take a look at what is going on here. One of SOMERblink's revenue streams comes from GTC referrals. They post a link on their website that leads to Markee Dragon, an official Eve GTC reseller. Buying GTCs through this link generates a referral code. 5% of the GTC sale is then paid to SOMERblink for the referral, and SOMER rewards the player who purchased in this way by giving them a free 200m ISK in credit on the gambling site. The goal of the player is to then use that credit to win something in a micro lottery, and if successful, cash out a nice in game bonus. SOMER's hope, of course, is that the player loses the 200m gambling.

Let's draw a picture to illustrate what is, and is not OK according to current implied CCP policy (forgive my paint skillz):
Feel free to use and distribute all you like! Click for big version!

Eve players being clever and all, have begun to realize this little implied loophole in CCP RMT policy, and the floodgates are beginning to open:

First, character DNSBLACK decided to quit eve and cash out.

Now you can buy GTC through a referral link for a 500m ISK bonus from Katarina Reid! That's way better for the player than SOMER's deal, and while the exchange rate is far below market value, Katarina has figured she can cash out her 600b in assets for just over $1,000! Several players have come out and endorsed the service as 100% legit and thanked Katarina for the money.

CCP has yet say anything about this one way or the other. On the one hand, they're in an awkward spot. By endorsing SOMERblink and not thinking about exactly what they were endorsing, they have effectively told the player base that RMT in this way is OK. DNSBLACK may get caught on a technicality, but Katarina appears to be completely in the green at this point.

Coming out swinging the ban hammer on these players, along with the requisite confiscation of illicit goods before an official CCP response would be ill advised, and could spell yet another PR disaster in this chain of events.

To be reasonable though, CCP can hardly allow this practice to continue. I think we can expect a cease and desist on this form of RMT in the relatively near future. I don't expect anyone involved to get banned or their stuff taken, but a "from this day forward..." posting will probably be in the works before too long. A smart move by CCP would have been a "We're looking into this..." posting already, but, well... yeah. I guess silence is golden in this case. Happy cash outs guys!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

I'm Still Here El Guapo

Don't want anyone to think I've up and left or anything. The last 6 days or so in FW have been brutal in more ways than one, and with everything I've had to write lately pertaining to the Galente/Caldari war zone, TMC has been getting the nod on 4 straight.

For those of you that don't normally pay too much attention to TMC, I'll link the 3 in particular below. TEST finally joined the war today, I logged in for a few minutes, but after several late nights of FW and long days at a new job I started this week, I've decided to take the night off and curl up in bed with a good book until I pass out.

I'll be back in Eve tomorrow, and hopefully will have something Eve related but not really FW specific for you by the weekend... unless TEST sets Black Rise on fire, I make no promises on what happens if that goes down. I'll probably be too busy shooting stuff to write much.

War Coverage on TMC:
Gallente/Minmatar JTF Invades Caldari Stronghold Oct. 11-14th
Heydieles Falls, Gal/Min JTF Advances on OMS Oct 14th
Old Man Star Falls: Gal/Min Offensive Continues Oct. 14th-16th

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Learning From the Past and Moving Forward

This posting will mark the 3rd and final in my commentary on the SOMERblink issue that I've been talking about this week. My last 2 postings have been about the things that were wrong with this situation, and I'd like to close up with a look into the future and how these things might be handled in a better way.

If you need to catch up, the first 2 postings in this trilogy can be found here: POST 1 | POST 2

I'm a huge fan of Eve, and by proxy CCP is one of my favorite game developers on planet Earth. I celebrated my 10 year anniversary a couple months ago, and no other game in the history of gaming has been given the time I have given Eve. On June 24th I made the following statement on facebook that was seen by some 57,000 people:
"So many game companies will blow off feedback and just plow ahead with what they're doing anyway. One of the things that makes CCP unique is their ability to take constructive feedback, and hone it into something awesome."
I believed in CCP during the T20 incident, I believed in them in the wake of Incarna, and I still believe in them now. Don't get me wrong, I also believe they've made some monumental mistakes in the past, but I've never seen a game developer with their ability to adjust, respond, and make things right.

Looking back for a moment, much of the community backlash can have it's roots boiled down to the following:
  1. SOMERblink prizes donated to them by CCP were effectively sold and profited from by requiring monetary participation by the winners to get their "free" tickets.
  2. The size and scope of the prizes were unprecedented, even after they were toned down.
  3. With regards to the IW Scorpions: By selectively gifting in game items that can be traded and/or sold for great profit to anyone they choose, the integrity of the sandbox was compromised. This issue was exacerbated by the secret nature of the gifts.
That's the nutshell. Each of those points could probably be expanded on a bit, but when boiled down, that's what we're left with. But those are the problems, I'd like to look at solutions.

In no way would I like to see CCP pull back completely and NOT reward people and organizations they feel have given them and their game a fair shake. Prizes donated to community sites and given away to players are a great way to draw attention to CCP approved 3rd party services, and there are many individuals who contribute to the Eve community in some significant way that should be able to show off some bling.

Number 1 is a fairly easy fix. Any site that is gifted items from CCP for contests or giveaways should be just that; given away. No community site should be permitted to sell the items directly, or sell chances to win the item, or sell chances to win "free" tickets to win the item. The winning of these items should be open to any player of Eve Online with an account in good standing, and should require NO monetary participation to win, either in ISK, or real life currency. The increased traffic, awareness, and sales or donations gained as a result of the increased awareness and traffic is the effective reward.

If it is shown that players are prevented from participating in these events because they are arbitrarily banned from the community site in question for behavior that would not get them banned from Eve Online, these sites should not be given prizes from CCP to give away. Recall not long ago when CCP pulled out of in-game RP channels and set up their own official ones when it was revealed that the players running these channels were banning other players from participating simply because they didn't like or agree with them.

I am aware that in game items and other swag are sometimes given out at player gatherings and events both sponsored and supported by CCP. I've been to one myself, and considering the hundreds, if not thousands of dollars a lot of the people going to these events spend to attend, a battleship model or a coffee mug, or an in-game ship like the quafe iteron is a nice thing to take home as a momento. You effectively bought the stuff by attending.

Number 2 is a bit murky. How does one determine if a site has been given prizes of a size and scope that dwarfs the support given to other sites? CCP has certainly raised the bar quite a bit with this latest SOMERblink prize fest, that is for sure. In short, unless the prize pool is really, and I mean REALLY flagrant, you can't. Perhaps this is something that can be run by the CSM for their opinion before final prizes are determined?

It's become apparent that the community and marketing teams don't feel the need to consult the CSM with regards to these things, but I would argue that had they consulted the CSM prior to this latest outcry, most (if not all) of it could have been avoided entirely. I'm not saying the CSM should have a say in what's given out, so don't get me wrong on this, but using them as the sounding board they are meant to be might help weed out some issues before they become issues at all.

Number 3 is where things get interesting, and my suggestions get radical. No single player or entity should EVER be given any item by CCP for personal use that can be traded or sold, thus affecting the sandbox and giving that player an ISK or item advantage over other players for the simple reason they have done something to get into the good graces of CCP.

Let me repeat that.

No single player or entity should EVER be given any item by CCP for personal use that can be traded or sold, thus affecting the sandbox and giving that player an ISK or item advantage over other players for the simple reason they have done something to get into the good graces of CCP.

Non cosmetic, trade-able/sell-able items would not be acceptable in any other game community, and shouldn't be tolerated in Eve either.

In other games, such players are rewarded. They might be given a special mount to ride around on in one of those fantasy RPGs that is bound to their account. They can show it off to other players, but they can't trade it or sell it. When I used to play Pirates of the Burning Sea, I had special flags I could put on my ships, and a special colored parrot I could have on my shoulder to signify my participation in Beta and other contributions. I could show them off, but they had zero affect on the game itself, and I couldn't sell them.

This might be a hard thing to adapt for Eve since just about everything can be sold, traded, or contracted to other players. But there are things that exist in Eve that cannot.

Take for example the golden pod for purchasers of the collector's edition. I'm fairly sure that a pod is not trade-able in eve. Skin a new pod, make it pink and slap a picture of a cat on it, or do something else with it to make it cool and flick a switch on the account of the player in question to make all of their pods like this. If the type of pod shows up on kill mails, so much the better. Every time the player is podded, their murderers will know they have slain a pillar of the community... I hope they can live with themselves.

What about tatoos, or T-Shirts for the character creator? Is there a way to activate such things to be player specific without requiring an item that can be traded? A gold star forehead tatoo to be shown loud and proud in someone's character portait might be a nice thing to be shown off, and will probably go over better than the gold monocle! (cheap shot, sorry.)

Here's another badass one. Chat text. I think Orange is the only color not already taken by CCP, the GMs, or the various divisions of ISD. Imagine if every time Rixx Javix or Sindel Pellion typed something in local you could see it around all the spam because it was ORANGE! This one might require an agreement between the player and CCP though... can't have someone with orange text scamming the newbros with promises of implied trust from CCP because your text is orange. If complete orange text is too confusing, or needed someday for a future division of ISD, perhaps just a colored highlight similar to how Dust players show up in chat.

For the record, I see nothing wrong with the free accounts given to fansite operators. Free account time can't be traded, and while you could make the argument that it's like giving them a free plex every month, it's not. In all likelihood, it's saving them a few bucks a month RL money, and in the rare cases where they would be buying PLEX with ISK to pay their account, their income is probably such that 600m a month isn't going to sway things much.

And That's That 

So there you have it. I told myself I didn't want to end this by just pointing out problems and not offering up some tangible solutions. I sincerely hope that CCP is taking a long hard look at what a large part of the community found wrong with this situation, and is taking steps to allay those concerns for the future. The past is done. For better, or worse, the best that can be done at this point is to look forward.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

SOMERblink T20 '13

I had a great blog post planned for this weekend. I was going to talk about how awesome CCP Masterplan is for figuring out how to overcome warp acceleration to make small ships so much more useful in PVP than they are presently. I was going to talk about what a great job the balance team is doing with the ships this round, and how balls-on-awesome the art department did with the new SOE ships.

Instead, I have to talk about SOMERblink again, because otherwise it's like making a report on the Rose Bowl while the f--king stadium is on fire behind me. Thanks CCP!

So let's dive back down into this rabbit hole again shall we? Please first read my previous post, where I go over the issues with giving SOMERblink super special rare shit to give away to promote their service. Done? Great, now let's talk about what is tentatively being called T20 '13 (twitter hashtag #T2013)

Some people were equating the previously revealed part of this swag give away with the T20 scandal from all those years ago, but that wasn't fair at all. Everything was done out in the open, and regardless of whether I or anyone else agreed with CCPs choices on this, at least it didn't look like something was being hidden. This new bit that's come to light though, now THIS is pretty close to T20. It's not exact, but tossing up some serious bling to a bunch of employees of an Eve enterprise that is more wealthy than Eve's most powerful alliances on the sly is eyebrow raising at best, and Jita riot worthy at worst.

I'm about to say some things that are not exactly nice, but I want to make plain that regardless of anything else I say here, I have no problem with SOMERblink. SOMERblink is a legit Eve enterprise. It's creators and the people that run it have found a way to make Scrooge McDuck look like he's in the poor house in terms of wealth in Eve. They sponsor some cool events, support various aspects of the community, and people appreciate that as well they should. But as I've said before... they're a business, not a charity.

Let's start by looking at some numbers. SOMERblink has now given away almost 1.2 QUADRILLION ISK in prizes (we're only half a trillion away at this point, so forgive me for rounding up). That's amazing! That's a hard number to wrap your head around, so let's write that out and color code it. Green will get us to a billion, which most of us can relate to, yellow to a trillion, which is an easier number for the head of a super rich alliance to relate to, and orange beyond that.


So that's 1.2 million billion, or 1,200 trillion ISK. But that's what they've given away. To make math simple, let's say the profit margin on a SOMERblink lottery is 10%. We all know it's closer to 20%, but let's assume that as a responsible business, half of their profits go back into the business through employee wages, event sponsorships, promotions, and whatever else you can think of. 10% profit means we need to take away a 0. That leaves us with a paltry 120 Trillion ISK in profits. Heh.. paltry. Let's be honest, that's a lot of money. How much is it really though? Let's go full-on-super-stupid here, and convert all this ISK to cash for a moment... you know, because it's what the press is going to focus on with this.

According to our good friend The Nosy Gamer, his most recent listing for ISK based on plex conversion puts us at almost $31 USD per billion ISK. Because I like simplicity, I will round down to $30. 120,000 Billion ISK comes out to... wait for it... $3,600,000.00 USD. So, if SOMER only pulls in 10% profit, that's $3.6 million dollars of ISK, to say nothing of all the kickbacks from Markee Dragon for PLEX sale referrals which come out to real life $$$ money coming into the site. I can't begin to estimate what money is flowing in there, but from all accounts, with 200 million ISK in bonus credit per purchase, the business is brisk for both MD and SOMERblink.

Again, there's nothing wrong with this. Good on SOMERblink for making more $$ in ISK than I've made in RL cash for my entire working life so far. That's incredible!

How much money has Jason Parks made developing and supporting AURA for Android that tens of thousands of Eve players use every day to enhance their Eve experience? (hint: nothing) How many trillions has EVSCO pulled in supplying kill boards to almost Everyone in Eve. Chribba runs (what? 5?) websites for the Eve community out of his own pocket. Eve Uni has been making up for Eve's piss poor tutorial for as long as I can remember. Dozens of bloggers are hitting the web every day keeping the Eve discussion churning. If all of these sites went dark tomorrow, Eve would be a far shittier place. If Somerset Mahm decided to pull an Eve-Bank tonight and cash out his ISK for RL cash, some people might not be able to feed their gambling addiction tomorrow.... and Eve would be making headlines in Time Magazine.

SOMERblink employees, already compensated at 1 plex per month and up to 125m ISK per hour of their time are pretty much the best paid "employees" in Eve, pulling in more ISK/hour than just about any CCP designed in-game activity can grant a player. They're doing such a good job in fact, that CCP has slid them a pile of ships worth somewhere between $13,500 and $18,000 (depending on who you talk to) under the table! If they choose to convert to plex and activate for game time, that'll be a savings of $450-$600 each!

But why are people mad? The Ishukone Scorpion only refines for 1 tritanium, and is actually an inferior ship to a regular scorpion. So what if CCP gives a bunch out to their super rich pals in SOMERblink as a thank you for running "one of the most awesome community sites we have" (read: Online Casino). People must be jealous. FunkyBacon is mad he doesn't have an IW Scorpion in his hangar, right?


Even Eve-Bet is stepping away from this one stating "For the record, we would like to state that EVE Bet has never received, nor would it ever endorse, having CCP hand us special "gifts". These sort of prizes should be reserved for more deserving winners and not sites that can afford to purchase limited edition ships off the market like everyone else."

It's the underhanded way this was handled. If I wanted an IW scorp, I could buy one right now, I hear they're dropping in price. CCP could announce today that they are making a 1 off special issue pink Revelation that can jump through star gates, and delivering it to Chribba in the Amarr system. Outside of a few trolls, the community by and large would be perfectly fine with it, because Chribba provides a lot of community service. If Chribba suddenly undocked that ship tomorrow with no announcement from CCP on where it came from, we might have a 2nd broken statue in the Amarr system from the riots as people demand how many of the ships were given out and to whom.

Do you even want to consider what this scandal would be if the IW Scorps were secretly given to the staff at! The Grr Goon sentiment would topple CCP headquarters in a shitstorm tsunami!

The problem here boils down to a few key points:
  1. SOMERblink is just about the wealthiest entity in Eve. They are more than capable or promoting themselves through sponsorship and advertising with various in-game and out of game events. Yes, they give a small portion of their profits to sponsoring worthy causes and in game events. In return they gain advertising and more customers. 
  2. Regardless of sponsorships and other philanthropic deeds in Eve, SOMERblink is an Online Casino, not a community service.
  3. Over the last week, CCP was already perceived as granting incredible favoritism to SOMERblink with lavish prizes to give away that dwarfed any previous community site prize donation by miles. 
  4. The "secret" bestowal of 30 extremely rare ships to SOMERblink employees that was revealed today exacerbates #3, creating what appears to be a scandal in line with ex-CCP dev T20 spawning some T2 BPOs for his friends in BoB.
  5. No criteria have been given, or procedures made public as to how it is decided who receives special CCP spawned ships aside from "when we feel like it".
Look, hardly anyone involved in providing community service to the Eve populace is in it for the money. Unless you're a for-profit enterprise in Eve (Like SOMER or EOH), it just doesn't pay. Sure, some of the fansites get a free account, but none of those people are doing it because they value their time at saving $15 a month on a game subscription. It's a nice "thank you" from CCP, much like the IW Scorpions are supposedly meant to be, nothing more.

All this community has asked for in these cases over the last several years are 2 things. Transparency, and fairness. That CCP hasn't seemed to grasp either concept yet (as demonstrated yet again today) has many people in this otherwise extremely supportive community throwing up their hands in frustration, and in some cases disgust. I can't personally help but wonder how many new cases of bittervet syndrome were acquired in the process.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

SOMERblink: Serving the Eve Community, Not a Community Service

My twitter feed just about exploded yesterday morning, and it would appear that we're not quite out of the woods yet with regards to the CCP/SOMERblink fiasco that has been all the rage lately. The good news is that this has taken the heat off of the recent TOS PR disaster. The bad news is that this has arguably been far worse.

Enough blogs and sites have given coverage to this by now that I'm going to assume my readers are at least passably clued in to what is going on. If not, I'll drop you a couple links to get up to speed first.
  • SOMERblink's Celebration page detailing prizes and how to enter.
  • Original CCP News Item announcing the reintroduction of the extinct Gold Magnate among other super rare stuff coming to a SOMERblink lottery near you!
  • Threadnought: CCP pulls out on Gold Magnates and Guardian Vexors after severe community backlash, and changes the prize pool.
  • CSM Response: We'd have told CCP this was pants on head dumb if they'd have only run it by us first.
Now then, a lot has been said thus far as to how wrong it is for player run organizations to be given such rare bits of swag to give away. I have some experience with CCP and swag, so I'll happily delve into this in a moment. The issue at hand is really 2 issues though. One of them is the swag. The other is the venue, and the issue with the venue is not so much that it is a player run site, but the type of player run site.

As most of you are aware, I am personally involved with 2 player run community sites. I do a weekly radio show on Eve-Radio, and I write about Faction War on The 2 sites are funded quite differently, but they share 1 thing in common. They provide a service to the Eve community that any player (or non player) has access to, and they do not profit from those players, though Eve-Radio subsists on donations (and the generous wallet of its owner when those fall short) and TMC presumably from ad revenue. TMC writers are paid in ISK from Goonswarm coffers, while ERs staff is completely volunteer.

SOMERblink by comparison, requires players to sign up for an account, profits directly from those players, and can ban them from using their service. SOMERblink is not a community service, it is an online casino. In order to win these prizes donated by CCP, players accumulate "free" tickets by playing blinks (requiring ISK) and by winning blinks (requiring ISK). The more you play and win, the better your chances of walking away with some stupidly rare in game items, or an all expense paid trip to fan fest 2014 worth thousands of dollars. It goes without saying that the people with the best chance of winning these prizes will be spending a crap ton of ISK on SOMERblink.

While TMC has not to this point been donated anything from CCP to give out in any promotion, Eve-Radio has. Christmas Comes Early is a yearly event we have, and over the course of the year some other smaller events take place. CCP will often step up to the plate and hook us up with some swag, usually in the form of some PLEX, and some other stuff. Last year it was battleship models. The people who won those prizes only needed to have an eve account. Entries were handled through eve mail. No one had to spend a single ISK to get in, nor did they have to donate to the site. We did give a PlayStation 3 away to an ER premium supporter, but that was not supplied by CCP.

This past February I teamed up with CCP Masterplan to hold a tournament to herald the implementation of the new dueling mechanic. We didn't ask for it, but CCP came through and donated 25 PLEX to the prize pool.  Teams had to give a 100m ISK entry fee that was refunded when they showed up and didn't cheat. Only 1 team did not get that 100m back, and it was due to cheating. That 100m went to the pilot who lost his ship unfairly. The 25 PLEX never passed through my hands, and were awarded to the winning team by CCP directly.

Perhaps we see a pattern here?

In short, I (and much of the community it would seem) have 4 very serious problems with this SOMERblink promotion.
  1. While SOMERblink serves the Eve community, it is NOT a community service.
  2. Eve players must sign up for a 3rd party account which they could be banned arbitrarily for things that have nothing to do with Eve.
  3. Players must spend ISK and directly enrich SOMERblink for a chance to win these prizes. The more ISK they spend, the better their chances.
  4. The prizes on offer are more rare than even tournament prize ships, presumably of greater value, and some may be substituted for a free trip worth thousands of RL dollars, completely dwarfing anything that has ever been donated for a community site giveaway to this point by light years.
Number 4 is easily rectified if CCP plans for this to be the norm in community promotion giveaways. The first 3 can not be fixed at this point, and point to a larger issue that's been concerning me lately with CCP's promotion of 3rd party community sites, which have seen community spotlights like Markee Dragon (who made his money in RMT before going "legit") and Eve Bet.

Eve Bet is especially an interesting one as they handle betting in ISK on real world sporting events. At one point on my facebook page, I had advertised playing a round of Sins of a Solar Empire where everyone would toss some isk in a pot and the winner would walk away with it. I was shortly contacted by a CCP employee and warned that this might not be ok as ISK for non-Eve related events is kind of a grey area... this was right after the Eve Bet Community Spotlight went up, but none the less, I like to play by the rules so I called it off. Still, if this is a grey area, why is CCP spotlighting the service?

I don't know what's going on over in Reykjavik lately, but I suspect we have some serious issues with the right hand not being in full communication with the left hand, the feet, the head, and certainly not the CSM who would have seen these issues coming before they had finished reading the proposal.

One thing is certain. Regardless of what rules CCP comes up with for itself on things like this in the future, they need to take a long, hard look at who, and what, they are endorsing with these types of promotions.

  1. The site being endorsed should be a not-for-profit community service, or legitimate business partner (like EON Magazine was).
  2. ANY eve player should be able to participate without needing to sign up for a 3rd party site or service.
  3. Players should not be required to enrich, or otherwise spend money (RL cash or ISK) directly payable to the entity performing the promotion.
  4. Prizes supplied by CCP should not show favoritism to one community site over another by large and clearly obvious margins.
That's my 2 ISK anyway. Comments welcome.