Wednesday, February 10, 2010

PLEX and RMT in EVE

I first saw this chart of relative ship prices in EVE linked over at Common Sense Gamer. The purpose of the chart is to show how much effort it takes (either in time, in-game currency, or real dollars) to acquire the different ships in EVE.

By and large, the response to the chart has been largely shock that the biggest ship (a Titan) costs $7600 real life dollars and that the ship can be destroyed. What’s not mentioned much is the purpose of this ship and how it takes a large Corporation, and more often an Alliance of Corporations to build it. And then, once built, they rarely engage in combat themselves and are used to transport the fleet.

Shock Value
The more I play EVE, the more I realize that the people who play EVE like the shock value of talking about how expensive things can be blown up. And it’s just that – shock value. The reality is much more mundane.

EVE works because ships and structures are destroyed. In 0.0 space (PvP land), every inch of space is owned by a Corp or Alliance. These are GROUPS of hundreds or thousands of players, working together to put up structures to claim that territory and police it with their ships.

Losing or gaining territory means things need to blow up. This feeds the economy, which in turn, is most profitable for the economic players willing to play in 0.0 space where they most valuable things are located.

Losing a ship, or even a Player Owned Structure, IS the game. It’s not just a consequence, but the actual purpose of playing. A catastrophic moment of losing something so significant that it takes quite a bit of time to recover are VERY rare. The game is DESIGNED around losing ships and structures.

The most severe losses happen at an Alliance or Corp level. An individual player would never lose a Titan, the Alliance or Corp would lose it. Likewise, losing the Player Owned Structures (POS) in 0.0 is a loss by the GROUP – not a loss by the individuals. As such, the loss is a shared burden and one that, as a group, you will recover.

On an individual level, the smart player doesn’t risk what he can’t afford to lose. And if he DOES lose it, there is an insurance contract on every ship that mitigates the severity of the loss. In some cases, that might not mean a loss of anything more than your time to buy and fit a new ship.

RMT in the form of PLEX
Tobold’s take on the chart is really more of a comment about the Real Dollar cost of these items. In EVE, you can purchase what is called a PLEX license with real currency (US Dollars) that provides you 30 days of game time. This PLEX license is something that can be sold in the game to another player for in-game currency (ISK). A single PLEX game card costs around $15 and sells for 280 million ISK.

For Tobold, the legal RMT makes the economic part look a lot less attractive.  On the one hand, I agree with him.

As I wrote last week, one thing that has bothered me is that EVE doesn't reward players who PLAY the game. You could, in theory, skill up and get all the in-game currency (ISK) you want while logging very few game hours. That's very counter to what we have come to accept as 'fair' for receiving rewards in an MMO.

On the other hand, I disagree with him that CCP has a bad implementation of RMT. The one smart thing that CCP did is make PLEX part of the existing market economy. I think that's the difference for most people.

Making PLEX part of the economy means that:
  • it is susceptible to market forces (280M ISK being market price, it could go up or down)
  • provides ‘gametime’ to ISK sellers, not real life cash
  • it doesn’t create net new ISK that inflates the economy
  • lots of people selling PLEX for ISK drives the price of PLEX down
This means that it doesn’t really ‘take away’ from the economic game, it enhances it. In short, I have to think that 'winning' the Economic game in this setting would mean BUYING the PLEX and not paying real money for game time. Or put another way, laughing at the people who ‘paid your subscription’ for something you earned so easily.

I think that’s why it gets such wide spread acceptance among EVE players. A new player is OK with it because they can choose to jump start themselves into better ships/skills right away. An old-time power player is OK with it because a) they have skills the new guy will take years to get and b) they are the ones buying the game time with ISK.

That’s distinctly different than the usual RMT model where only the developer and the RMT buyer benefits from the transaction. For the record, I’m still against RMT but as far as this particular implementation goes, I think there are far worse models.

How CCP makes money on PLEX
The really clever thing about PLEX is that it encourages people to buy game-time in advance of when they need it. From the perspective of CCP, there is no free game time. Either you are paying for it, or someone else is paying it for you.

The difference is that someone might use in-game ISK to buy several months of PLEX game cards and sell them off to people who might hoard these cards. It’s very likely that lots of players have several months worth of PLEX in inventory. They are also only sold in (2) packs, so even the person selling the PLEX might still have one remaining in inventory.

The result is that there are many more months of game time floating around than actually being used each month. In many ways, it’s like selling year long subscriptions to people who wouldn’t normally buy a year-long subscription.

4 comments:

Tobold said...

A single PLEX game card costs around $15 and sells for 280 ISK.

Are you sure you didn't leave out the rather important word "million" between 280 and ISK?

How long does it take a new player to earn his first 280 million ISK? As far as I could gather from various blogs, quite some time. I distinctly remember some blog entry where somebody was proudly talking about having reached his first 100 million ISK. For me, the knowledge that I could have gotten to exactly the same point for a few dollars diminishes the achievement. It's a bit like climbing a rock to find the summit full of people who got there by taking a lift.

sid67 said...

Oops. Yes, "million".

I certainly see the point about diminishing the value. As I wrote last week, that's why people hate RMT. It diminishes what we perceive as a fair reward for our effort.

And yet, it raises an interesting issue with a game like EVE. The 'limits' in EVE are much higher than they are in WoW.

Even I started a brand new account today, I could have 50,000 gold and a well equipped raider in three or four months. So from nothing to top of the game in a quarter of a year.

In EVE, however, you may never catch up. In that sense, the 280 million is a tidy way to help a new player catch up. The EVE equivalent of "Refer a Friend" I suppose.

In any event, I do mostly agree with your viewpoint. I just think there are far worse implementations of RMT than this one.

sterroneous said...

"How long does it take a new player to earn his first 280 million ISK? As far as I could gather from various blogs, quite some time."

With (very) basic trade skills, back in September 2007 I started station trading to Jita, never having done it before.

7 days later 15M starting capital had become 153 million of assets. My notes have 350 million after another 7 days. I wasn't making an efficient job of it, so these figures are unlikely to be remotely impressive. Jita is now a much more intense market than it was back then, so no doubt things would be different.

15 million is a non-trivial quantity of ISK for a young pilot - I estimate it's 9 impossibly solid days of mining with a moderately skilled Tech 1 mining cruiser, for example.

So, not sure, maybe another two weeks to bootstrap up from close to zero, via the market, provided the player was gifted with a great deal of enthusiasm?

I don't feel diminished by others having taken a short-cut. If I'm feeling particularly patronising, I might feel a little sad for them, since they've not the chance to experience the fun of doing it the "proper" way.

Stabs said...

Is WoW in any sense like climbing a rock these days?

Max level? Full of people who raf-ed.

Raid bosses? Buy a raid spot Gevlon style to check that achievement box.

Gold cap? So meaningless in a game with nothing to buy except fluff.