Saturday, July 2, 2011

Potter Stuart and the Purchase of Insurance

The Joint Statement from the Peace Talks is out, and now it is up to each of you to judge whether it satisfies you or not, and whether any of the participants are worthy of praise or blame.

Before I go any further, I want to state, up front, that based on many hours of face-to-face discussions with Arnar (CCP Zulu), Stoffer (CCP Soundwave), other CCP employees, and a final meeting with CCP CEO Hilmar, it is my belief that:

* CCP has kept to the understanding hammered out during CSM5, that virtual goods would be limited to vanity items.

* CCP has no plans (and never has) to implement Pay-2-Win (P2W) microtransactions, be it "gold ammo" or anything similar.

* Arnar, as Senior Producer of EVE, is on record as saying he opposes the introduction of game-breaking stuff like P2W into EVE.

So, given that, why can't CCP just say NEVER when it comes to P2W? My impression is that there are two reasons:

1) The Problem of Demarcation

What exactly is P2W? It turns out to be a much harder than it appears at first glance. CSM had an extensive discussion of this with CCP, both in summit meetings and informally. Nobody could come up with a definition that covered all the possible cases and that would not allow P2W to sneak in the back door.

As US Supreme Court Justice Potte Stewart famously observed about pornography, he couldn't define it, but "I know it when I see it."

The truth is, we already have P2W in EVE. It's called PLEX. Right now, if you have enough money, you can buy PLEX, convert to ISK, and buy yourself as many supercaps as you want, and the pilots toons to fly them.

So the solution isn't as simple as saying "No P2W". It's the much more complicated problem of drawing boundaries on a map where reasonable people can disagree on the nature of the terrain at any given point.

Here's an example: currently, players are given one free neural remap every year, which lets them adjust their character statistics.

Imagine for a moment that instead of making this a free remap, CCP had decided that it should have a cost. Consider the following three options:

A) You can remap once per year at a cost of 400 million ISK.

B) You can remap once per year at a cost of a PLEX.

C) You can remap once per year at a cost of 3500 AURUM.

If you surveyed groups of players about the acceptability of these options (set aside the inevitable bitching that "it should be free" for a moment), I believe that A would be acceptable to the most players, and C to the fewest, and the difference in acceptability would be significant.

Why? Because ISK represents player effort, while AURUM is tainted by its association with monocles.

Yet in reality, all these options are roughly equivalent. If you have 400 million ISK, you can buy a PLEX. If you have a PLEX, you can convert it to 3500 AURUM. And if you have 3500 AURUM, you can buy some clothes and sell them in the market for ISK.

So, even if CCP said "We will NEVER introduce P2W", it is entirely likely that they might propose something that they think is not P2W, but a large portion of the community thinks is P2W. And in those grey areas, future shitstorms lurk.

2) The Problem of Flexibility

Nobody knows what the future of the MMO industry will be. Even the smartest people at CCP admit that they cannot see more than :18months: into the future. So if CCP says "NEVER", they may be faced with a situation a couple of years down the road where they believe they are forced by changes in the market environment to introduce something that many players consider P2W, resulting in accusations of a betrayal of trust.

I pointed out to both Arnar and Hilmar that retaining this future flexibility comes at the cost of not satisfying some of the present community; some players may not return unless they hear NEVER, and the protests may get worse.

Thus, saying "NEVER" is like buying insurance against a business risk, with the premium paid in the future in terms of lost flexibility. The closer you get to "NEVER", the better the insurance, but the greater the cost.

How much insurance CCP was willing to buy was, of course, up to them.

Going Forward

One thing that has become very obvious is that to avoid future shitstorms, CCP is going to have to consult the CSM both more often, and at an earlier stage, in particular when it comes to anything that has even a whiff of being P2W. I can tell you that this was already starting to happen before the current crisis, so despite the communications failures that made things worse (in particular, the Noble Exchange rollout fiasco), I am guardedly optimistic.

As for me, I'm still refining my own definition of porno... er, P2W. Perhaps you can help me with that. But that's a task for tomorrow, right now I need to catch up on about a week's lost sleep.

Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray to Scotty my ship to keep.
And if I die before I wake,
No, my stuff you cannot take.

23 comments:

  1. I think it would have been/ might/may have been better as:

    Now I lay me down to sleep,
    I pray to Scotty my ship to keep.
    And if I die before I wake,
    No, my stuff you cannot take.

    :)

    ok, now to the serious stuffs..

    good post, and understood..
    Thank you.

    o/
    Bill
    AKA K.S.

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  2. The use of imprecise language and a lot of qualifiers makes me very uncomfortable with the devblog as written.
    I understand that they could not make an unbreakable oath not to add anything that might be construed as a non-vanity MT - especially since I strongly suspect their current plans involve exactly that. Incarna (the real one, not this closet) is going to revolve around MT, every statement I hear hints more and more at it.

    I also find it incredibly difficult to believe, that in spite of the newsletter, they have never had any 'plans' to include non-vanity MT items. What is CCP's definition of 'plans'?

    Right at this point, I have little hope that there's much in Incarna just now, or Incarna of the future for players who dislike the economic and game development model of MT.

    They keep everything game-design behind a curtain until just before release, and what little we see is either vague, or horrifying.

    There has to be a fine balance between expectations management and letting the players guess. Especially if recent history makes very poor delivery and more MT the wisest guess.

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  3. I really like the part about Demarcation. That's the sort of thing I wish I had thought of when trying to reason with the forum 'warriors' ... (every time I try and deal with them, I end up throwing my hands up in defeat, close all Forum tabs, and find something to virtually shoot)

    Overall, though, this is brilliant- not just the Demarcation part.

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  4. Those points are some of the few that people like me and many others have been trying to make on the forums to no avail. Basically, P2W has been part of EVE for the past 4 years.

    When people praise LoTRO and Turbine for introducing a 'novel' F2P model, they completely forget about CCP and EVE when they introduced the GTC model so long ago.

    And to me, honestly, making the issue seem soo much about P2W has stolen the attention from other issues, like CCP _forcing_ people to use the main feature of their latest expansion. This, on the other hand, is something without precedent in the entire history of EVE Online. Up until now, every single expansion-content has been optional.


    But i digress, that is something that has nothing to do with the topic of this topic. Which nails the head quite nicely for someone who hasn't had any sleep for the past week like you said =)

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  5. "Yet in reality, all these options are roughly equivalent."

    No, they are not.

    A) 400 million ISK
    B) PLEX
    C) 3500 Aurum

    Option A causes no real-world money transaction to take place. No one has to pay real dollars (euros, etc).

    Option B requires that someone has bought a GTC for real-world cash and converted it into 2 PLEX. PLEX are only created when this happens. No in-game player can purchase a PLEX without someone else having bought a GTC. With this option, either you buy a GTC and remap using a PLEX, or you buy a PLEX for ISK and remap. Money always changes hands.

    Option C requires that real world money transaction (GTC->PLEX->AURUM) take place. Furthermore it locks the cost entirely based on PLEX; once you convert PLEX to AURUM you can't get it back. If the remap cost was say, 3000 AURUM, you'd be leftover with 500 AURUM that could only be used for other vanity items.

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  6. @ Shandir:

    Actually, Trebor's right though, CCP cannot make an absolute statement if for no other reason than perception because your perception and mine are different than that of other folks, so in order for CCP to make any absolute statement, they would have to figuratively paint themselves into a corner that they couldn't get out of.

    I'm certain though that Trebor and the rest of our CSMs will step up if there's something brought out that doesn't fit CCP's idea of a game-changing item, but fits ours...

    :)

    o/
    Bill

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  7. Frankly, when PLEX was announced all those years ago I didn't ragequit about it. But I was not happy that a "gateway drug to MT" was being introduced and voiced that concern quite loudly and politley.

    When they gave out free SP due to the server move, I could see that this ability could be welded to PLEX and remaps for such. I didn't ragequit but again I loudly stated that this had better not end up with the cash shop. CCP Shadow laid my concerns to rest.

    When uPLEX first appeared on SiSi (before any MT announcments were made) I complained about CCP going back on its agreement for no MT ever. uPLEX vanished like a fart in the wind.

    So here we are with a cash shop and I'm no longer content to politley voice my concerns, cue the infinte rage generator at the slightest screw up.

    But please, don't tell me EVE has P2W already, depending on your point of view, because frankly from PLEX on down should of never been in the game in both mine and others opinions. It is not a question of us changing our minds or giving confusing signals. I voted no to PLEX, uPLEX, SP for PLEX and MT in all forms and will continue to do so.

    However, if the subscription were to go away (i.e. geniuine free-2-play, even a F2P shard) CCP can go absolutley yampy with micro/macro transactions to their hearts content.

    I do hope you, or someone else on the CSM pointed out that their $70 monocle does nothing. Sparkle Pony could at least be ridden around like a regular mount in game. Just saying.

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  8. "So, even if CCP said "We will NEVER introduce P2W", it is entirely likely that they might propose something that they think is not P2W, but a large portion of the community thinks is P2W. And in those grey areas, future shitstorms lurk."

    Well, Hilmar said it all really already. Perception defines reality. That carries a commercial reality as well. It would be a severe lack of business aptitude if for this type of product that EVE really is they would not keep that in mind.

    EVE is a cold and dark place yes, but CCP can't go into the shadows or the grey. Well they can, it just would not be smart.

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  9. @Kahlia,

    I fear you are missing my point, which is that because the currency cycle is a complete loop, you can get from any form of currency (ISK/PLEX/AURUM) to any other (with transaction costs and currency risks to deal with, of course). So someone with ISK could buy a remap that was denominated in AURUM, and someone with AURUM could buy a remap that was denominated in ISK (by, say, buying a monocle and selling it for ISK), but the perception of whether or not the remap was unfair is affected by the currency it is priced in.

    While there are obvious differences between the currencies (in what original inputs are required and what a purchase sinks out of the economy, for example), this is not really relevant to the argument I was trying to make.

    To simplify it for you, if the choices were remap for PLEX and remap for AURUM, there would still likely be a difference in perception between the two cases, because PLEX is more associated with time and AURUM is more associated with virtual goods.

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  10. *pacefalm*

    PLEX is not MT! PLEX is not P2W!

    http://www.kugutsumen.com/showthread.php?10559-Compiled-List-of-Gaming-News-Articles-Concerning-EVE-MT&p=260269&viewfull=1#post260269

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  11. Not a big deal, but P2W was in Eve before Plex was on the market. Some of us vets bought GTC's via forum post, etc. way before that. Basically, P2W has always been in Eve just that it is economically more feasible to become a better alliance in-game than buy a better alliance with RL currency. Which is fine, honestly.

    Missing from the 'accord' is CCP Hilmar's statement that he is a big douche who is very sorry for taking his entire life and our leisure for granted.

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  12. As posted elsewhere:

    I see a problem in the combination of a "sandbox" and micro transactions, even vanity-only. Since a sandbox should enable players to run the game by their own (being able to produce anything there is available in-game), this is countered by the implementation of items, that can only be bought for money. Instead, the game designers should concentrate on removing those issues where items cannot be produced, mined or harvested by players (blueprints, skillbooks and the like). This of course generates more problems and makes a control mechanism by CCP indispensable.

    On the macro-level we see CCP involved in the design of two more games. These want to be funded and developed. This increases the need for money (and it seems, the current income is not enough). So CCP is forced to find new means of generating return. Also the man power is spread between the three games. By introducing the captain's quarters now, they tried to focus on a theme, that all of their titles would profit from. This would enable the teams to work hand in hand for at least a little longer. But this also means, that the focus is shifted from spaceships to places most eve-players don't want or need it to be.

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  13. Khalia, I accidentally clicked the wrong link when authorizing your comment, and deleted it instead. Here it is + my reply:

    Khalia Nestune::

    There may be a perception among some players that AURUM is "more evil" than PLEX... and it has some validity.

    AURUM is an attempt by CCP to leverage the cash that they get from selling GTCs, by making their microtransaction items dependent on PLEX.

    Before AURUM, all a PLEX meant was game time; it had some value in ISK on the open market, but the final value was in 30 days of game time, consumed at some point. You can buy game time for cash, and other players can buy game time from you with in-game currency; closed loop.

    Making MT items based on a deviation of PLEX drives up the demand for PLEX, which drives up the ISK value, which makes it more worth it for people to pay real cash to buy a PLEX. Alternately you buy a GTC, get two PLEX, and get some MT items.

    Before AURUM: You can cash buy game time, or the ISK value of what the market thought game time was worth.

    After AURUM: You can cash buy things other than game time. That's my problem.

    ----

    @Kahlia,

    What you say is quite correct, as far as it goes. But a couple of comments:

    1) The supply of PLEX may also increase, it is the supply/demand ratio that will determine where the price goes.

    2) It's not just that you can buy other things with PLEX/AURUM, it all depends on what you can buy.

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  14. You stretching things, and stuck on p2w definition, thing is that there should be no items that need money to appear in the game, it is game breaking, it includes various bpc, cus while it seems using game economy it still bypassing a lot of things,it can make obtaining of bpo t2bpc all the invetion process and faction bpc meaningless, it still directly influences on the game and in this case it gives advantage to industrialyst who uses it over all other, plex just redistribute things between players and it isn't game breaking, while sp for any sort of isk aurum or plex will brake whole mini profession in eve of people who raising chars to sell them for isk, the same with standings, so the problem is not even p2w but anything that may influnce on the game with real money in the beginning, it make meaningless to play in eve and try to achieve smth, if you know that really worthy thing's may be brought here in the beginning with money only, it disappoint and breaks involvment into game, i don't want to play in such eve

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  15. And just to clarify, i was talking about non vanity items

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  16. I actually don't mind the MT store, Enjoyment in EVE is about setting goals and completing them.

    Many players see EVE as a PVE single player game that others also play, and spend their whole time in High Sec. They have no access to capital ships and therefore working their way to a 50 billion ISK > Plex > Aur item, such as a stylish tinfoil hat worn at a jaunty angle, for example, will add to their game play and enjoyment.

    Lets face it, there are thousands of carriers in the game at the moment and you are not classed as "Elite" if you have one. They are the same cost as a monicle. We need real elite items in the store not cheaper ones.

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  17. Why all this talk about "P2W items" when the real danger is imo "convenience services"?

    In the foreseeable future introducing P2W would be straight suicide for CCP so that's not really a danger to be afraid of.

    But introducing services that give players some extra convenience in exchange for AUR (but no tangible advantage in combat, industry, ...) seems to be a much more plausible threat.

    Whether it is "PLEX for Remap", a "faction standings reset", "remote access to skill training, market and corp chat through EVE Gate", ... services like these would neither be game-breaking nor sold through the NeX.

    And they would probably be met with much less resistance than an over-powered P2W ship/module.

    From my POV you got the assrance from CCP that they are not going to suicide foolishly (which is in their own best interest anyways) but missed on getting any assurance on the topics where it would actually be rational and profitable for CCP to introduce non-vanity MTs.

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  18. I don't give a damned whether or not someone breaks out their credit card and buys a shinny ship. Like Atika pointed out an officer fit CNR in the hands of an inexperienced pilot is just a loot pinata.

    The point is that when someone purchases a GTC converts into plex and sells it for ISK. Nothing is added to the game economy. No items are magicked into existence no characters spawn fully formed will 100mil sp and the perfect standings. The person controlling the avatar who has control of that asset may change but nothing is actually added to the game.

    It may be a subtle distinction but to quote a certain Dev the devil is in the details.

    Under the plex system if no one needs a plex to pay for their game time then no one will buy your plex. If no one has a character for sale that meets the needs of the purchaser then that purchaser has to either wait or settle for something sub-optimal and put some work in themselves to get it just right.

    If no one has a CNR for sale you can't buy it and if one is the cost is dictated by ye ole supply and demand of the market. Any isk spent on it goes to some trader and eventually to the industrialist as well as all the other people in the supply chain.

    That is a worlds difference from someone whipping out their credit card and buying it directly from CCP.

    What the Plex system does is facilitate one person trading their time to another for game time. It's different from RMT in that the real world currency goes straight to and only to CCP to pay for the buyers play time.

    It's essentially the same as you telling your real life buddy "hey man, I don't have time to grind isk and frankly I hate it with a passion, if I pay your subscription could you give me some isk?" the only difference is that the transaction takes place between strangers.

    It's a win/win/win proposition. CCP gets their money, the buyer gets to "play for free" and the seller gets to "skip the boring stuff".

    This is a worlds difference from whipping out a credit card and paying CCP to spawn stuff which bypasses the every bit of non-spaceship-pew-pew PVP. It bypasses the time investment in getting somewhere in the game.

    Every character played at this point shares one thing in common. Some person had to spend the time getting them to the point they are at. When you look at a characters birth date it tells you something that that character will have no more than X total SP.

    A newbie has some clue to how effective an opponent might be based on their age. A 6 month old character isn't likely to have perfect skills for a BC for instance. If people could bypass that time requirement by simply buying SP from CCP then that information becomes worthless.

    The important and critical distinction between the Plex system and Pay to Win is that in the former nothing new is added to the game universe that wouldn't have existed with out it while in the later it is.

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  19. @Skex

    +1000000000

    that's EXACTLY right...

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  20. At some point - are you going to share the incredibly smart comment alluded to in your first post on the CSM talks?

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  21. @JP When the minutes come out, it will be obvious. Not so much a comment as an offer, btw.

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  22. BTW Mr CSM dude, Did anyone think to ask about the limited number of saved fits while ya'll were yucking it up in Iceland?

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