Perplexing Complexities

You may well have noticed that amongst the rioting and wailing on the EVE O forums about CCPs apparent abandonment of the game we all love the community is ever ready to share in the pain and tears of its fellow pilots and this week is no exception.

Our hapless victim this time is “aystra” whose kestrel was lost with all hands and her cargo of 74 Plex Codes in Jita.

Here though is something of a moral quandary.  A plex code is an in game item, created by converting a 30 day game time code (purchased from CCP) into a plex.  Someone, somewhere, paid CPP ‘real life’ money for these codes at some stage at $17.50 per card. So this means that CCP has profited to the tune of around $1,294 without having to provide any ‘game time’ to anyone.

Or at least so runs the theory.  Of course its slightly more complicated than that.  Once converted into a Plex this game time assumes almost quantum particle like properties.  It is both an In Game Item (like any ship, module or implant) and potentially Game Time.  As a In Game Item it is of course trade able to other players and a 30 day card has a rough market value of about 300mil ISK.  In this way we can see that Aystra lost either around 22billion ISK, OR 2,220 days in EVE (just over 6 years worth of game time).

Clearly Aystra took a pretty big gamble in attempting to move such a high ISK value item but many will argue that losing such a amount of ISK is not uncommon in EVE and plenty of players have lost equivalent cargos or expensively fitted ships in the past – and this incident is no different.

Or is it?

Whilst players across New Eden have lost equivalent ISK values in the past it could be arguable that the Plex is a rather different commodity.  It is, currently, the only item that can be traded back to CCP to create game time – and therefore holds the closest equivalent to ‘real life money’ (the alternative being to purchase a Game Time Code or subscription with real life money).

A plex cannot be manufactured, researched or harvested – it can only come into existence once a player at some stage pays CCP for a GTC and then converts it.  Equally the Plex only has an in game value because it can be converted back into game time – and its value in ISK being a player market valuation on how much that “game time” is worth in ISK.

Personally I am slightly uncomfortable with this as a system.  Firstly because CCP have chosen, quite deliberately, to make the Plex a vulnerable commodity – i.e one that can be destroyed.  They need not have done so – merely allowing them to be moved automatically from station to station as required by the players.  By making such a desirable  item vulnerable and tradeable CCP will of course know that they will be paid for the (as yet) unclaimed game time – but will never have to provide it when said Plex is lost.

In essence money for nothing.

Many will argue that CCP have provided something (a plex) and that if a player chooses to act recklessly and lose that item its their own stupid fault.  Of course such an argument is quite correct  - the question is rather should CCP enable such a loss as financially it benefits only them for little or no service rendered?

“Hold up Cailais! I can sell a plex, buy a battleship with the ISK and lose that! What’s the difference!?”

Essentially in pure game terms there is none – but what you cant do – at least directly – is sell that battleship back to CCP as game time.  All you can do is, sell the battleship – buy a plex and trade that for game time.  Throughout the process the Plex is still ‘there’ in its quasi ISK/Time$$$ state.

The question that troubles me is whether CCP should be offering a service that, as a company, it gets paid for that, though its own game mechanics, can be destroyed without CCP having to provide the implied game time as a result.

In terms of a marketing and financial stratagem of course it makes perfect sense – I’m not disputing that; but is it morally right?

Currently in “MMO world” the Free to Play concept is proving extremely popular coupled with micro transactions for revenue.  If you’re not familiar with this the concept is quite simple – your MMO is free to play, with no monthly subscription fee but if you want access to special content or in game items you pay for those individually. LOTRO, and DDO being two stand out example in the genre.

In many respects the Plex represents that revenue ideal – someone somewhere buys with real life cash a GTC, converting it into a Plex makes it a item you can sell for ISK to another player and you can then spend as you desire.  In itself its a necessary and sometimes desirable feature.  It helps cut down on RMT ‘ISK farmers’ and their dubious practices and allows players who are ‘real world rich’ but ‘game time poor’ to circumvent the grind for cash and head directly for the good stuff.

As a dad of two kids, with 1 dog, 1 cat and a wife who permanently threatens to chuck the PC from the nearest window I can readily sympathise with those who can’t get online for hours at a time to mission or mine for ISK but want some new shiny. For such players the GTC is a welcome addition.

For others who have less disposable income but who have the canny knack of making ISK again the Plex allows them to stay in game and online for…well nothing but their time.  Again this strikes me as a a fair trade – money for time: it makes sense to me.

I can’t in all honesty though support this idea when one or other of those elements of the equation are ‘broken’.  Players who macro/sweatshop or otherwise automate the process of collecting ISK to be financially recompensed in RL cash (like ISK farmers) is wrong.  It destabilizes the game economy and cheapens the efforts of those doing it ‘the hard way’.

In the same fashion someone who gains financially without having to honour the other side of the deal (I’m looking at you CCP)  equally cheapens the efforts of those doing it ‘the hard way’ with their real life cash.

Yes, yes I know some will point and say ‘oh they have honoured their side of deal – CCP provided the Plex!’ – but in doing so knowing it could (with a bit of luck and a dim witted kestrel pilot) be null and void on their part?

Well somehow that just doesn’t feel right.

C.

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17 Responses to “Perplexing Complexities”

  1. The first rule of EVE is “Don’t fly what you can’t afford to lose”. This applies to cargo as well as the ship carrying it.

    I can only see one legitimate reason for wanting to move a PLEX out of a station. That is that the station is under threat and you may lose access to it. Even then you have the option of being able to sell it or redeem it.

    One of the great things about EVE is that its a sandbox. People can do stupid things. Trying to move 74 PLEX out of Jita in a T1 Frigate is a stupid thing.

    Think about it for a moment. Why would anyone want to move that number of PLEX from Jita in a single trip? Even if someone does want to move the Toon with a -10 sec status through high sec in a pod, they can always just create a new Toon on the same account and use that to do their PLEX transactions. Players do stupid things, its not up to CCP to stop them.

    • I have no problem with the sandbox environment – if a player wants to undock with 22billion ISK worth of implants in their hold all power to them. I think thats a stupid thing to do, but it is within the parameters of the game and in line with its theme. The question in my mind is should CCP as a result of enabling this mechanism be able to profit financially through inaction?

      For example I could buy 74 plex, and sell them and use the ISK to buy 22billion ISKS worth of implants. I undock and die – my own stupid fault. BUT the 74 plexes I sold CCP has to provide a service for (that they received £$ for) to the players that use them for game time. The current mechanism skews this to the point where CCP do not have to provide said service and so get money for no further effort on their part.

      C.

  2. You raise some very interesting points, and I mentioned you on my blog: “Boom! Hull-Shot?”

    Anyway, I agree that it is morally ambiguous to let all of this money just disappear, but brick-and-mortar business do this, too. Have you ever not used a gift card and had it expire? In both situations, the consumer’s bad decisions (transporting crazy PLEX, letting gift card hibernate) resulted in profit for the company with out any goods/services provided…

    Still, that guy must be so… emoragequit

    • Thanks for the mention. Sadly many companies operate the same ‘gift card’ philosophy and to see CCP do the same is disappointing but not unexpected.

    • DannyRansom Says:

      To be fair, I’m fairly certain legislation (at least in the U.S.) was recently passed saying gift cards couldn’t expire for a very, very long time.

      Of course, I might be wrong on that one, so feel free to ignore this.

  3. DannyRansom Says:

    Personally, I can’t see this being a moral quandary at all for CCP. They provided a product and it isn’t the players’ faults if they manage to get that product blown up.
    Saying CCP should have any reason to provide a service beyond that is like saying I should be forced to re-write a website that a previous client of mine loses because his servers went down and he never backed anything up – and before you ask, yes, this has happened before. And no, I most certainly didn’t even entertain the thought.

    (Obviously, CCP doesn’t have actual time invested into PLEXes, so that might not be the best example. Maybe a better example would be buying a car, then pulling out in front of a semi-truck – you’ll be damned if the car dealership feels like helping you out, even if you paid 15 times what the car’s bluebook is.)

    • The real world analogies you provide however fall short – in the website example you provided the service (the website or car) – in this instance CCP provided the potential for a service with the knowledge it could be lost through rules of their own making. That last piece is important because CCP didnt have to make that mechanism work. They could have made a plex invulnerable with a 100% drop rate. Or disallowed transporting them – after all you could purchase a PLEX, fly to destination, redeem it and sell it there. The singular, and only reason, CCP made PLEX transportable was to enable their loss and make them more valuable as a result. As more and more PLEXs are lost through combat so the supply will reduce and the ISK value rise from the demand. Subsequently more players will buy GTCs and convert them to ISK because they are more valuable. CCP doesn’t have to provide the game time so makes $ for nothing AND GTC purchases will increase to cover the shortfall. Financially CCP makes a killing whilst we players rejoice at a ‘cold harsh universe’.

      C.

  4. Why did CCP make the changes to PLEX in the first place? The system they had in place allowed players to essentially pay for isk and do so in a method that guaranteed that the two parties to the trade would benefit since it was impossible to move the plex beyond the station. They could be traded and redeemed but never destroyed. There is essentially no reason to ever move a PLEX at all. The reason CCP made it possible to do so is exactly to make additional money since the movement of PLEX provides absolutely no benefit to anyone.

    The player in question was exceedingly stupid (and and alliance ldr to boot). However, CCP has deliberately chosen to implement game mechanics that are very clearly intended solely as profit generator and that is what is the most disappointing aspect of the situation. Imagine that CCP simply set a cost of 300 million ISK for game time and allowed people to buy 300 million ISK for the cost of a PLEX on the website. That system would satisfy both directions of the current ISK trade and eliminate any moral questions. CCP current mechanics can only be optimal for CCP, ultimately people get riled up over losses — but the actual dollar amounts involved clearly bring that to another level — Whether stupid or not, people burned by these kind of situations will ask whether CCP was actually a party to the loss — and the answer will be yes, they were involved — they got at least 50% of the profit if not all of it from the killmail.

  5. I think that the plex system is a very smart way to solve some common mmo problems:
    – the isk/time issue (you need money but you don’t have enough time or you don’t want to wait that much? buy plex from CCP and sell it at jita – or wherever you want),
    – the chinese farmers (well… actually CCP has become one legit version of them… but at least it is better than just saying “don’t buy virtual money online” like the other mmos do),
    – the sub problem (if you have enough money and you want to skip to pay the sub this month, you buy a plex and use it as game time).

    Actually i would like it to be implemented in other mmo as well because it allows to transform your game – somehow – in a F2P or it solves your ingame wallet problems.

    Said so… i can still understand there is something itching under the skin expecially when you buy some virtual item with real money… and then you lose it. In this case it’s like you’ve lost your real money (and actually i’m not sure things like this can happen in the other mmos out there.
    Usually the stuff you get in WOW, Rom, Lotro, DDO, WAR, etc… are bound to your account so noone can steal them from you (you can’t even trade them).

    Maybe to better understand the problem we have to put them in the right frame. When i go in a shop and i buy something – let’s say that i buy uhm… a set of 6 glasses – once i’ve bought them it’s my responsability to take care of them. If i drop them to floor or i leave them in the car and a thief comes and steal them (wow… you should live in a quite bad place to make it happens :P ) it’s just because of you.
    It’s not the responsability of the shop. They just sell glasses :)

    In my opinion EVE is something a little bigger and complex than a mmo. It’s not a fun park with little minigames… it’s more a social experiment / reality simulation (with all its limitation, indeed). CCP sells you the plex and once you have them it’s your responsability to use them wisely (don’t break them against a wall etc… etc…).
    Here the frame borders become a bit blurry because, differently from “the glass shop”, CCP sells you also the enviroment where you can use those items, move them from place to place, etc…
    Anyway if you lose them not because the enviroment doesn’t work (they vanish from your hangar, the redeem system doesn’t work, and so on…) but because you haven’t acted well it’s still not the CCP to be blamed to.

    Trying to move 74 plex in a frigate is for me the same than leaving a brand new iMac computer (or a gold ring if you don’t like Apple devices :) in the back of a broken car with no windows in a town suburb known for its thieves…. and why not… let’s put a big blinking arrow pointing at the car that says “free stuff”.

    I’m not saying that i don’t feel poor for Aystra but well… he could expect this thing to happen since it happens on daily basis

    p.s. sorry for my english… :\

  6. The real critical thing is that in changing the game so you could move PLEXes, CCP did not in any way make it necessary to do so.
    If a player is uncomfortable with the new system, they can choose to work under the assumption that nothing has changed from before, that they cannot undock with a PLEX in their cargo hold.
    When CCP added the ability to move PLEXes, they added a new feature, enabled players to do more *if they choose to*, but they did not make it necessary to risk your PLEX for any reason.

    The only players who would want to undock with a PLEX are those who would profit from buying in one region and selling in another with a better profit margin. Those people aren’t paying real money for that, so to them it’s just an item.

    No player who wishes to redeem a PLEX would ever need to undock with it.

    • Its that CCP enabled the ‘choice’ which I have issue with which – as you rightly point out – there is absolutely no need for. The only reason to enable such a choice is because CCP want to make money from nothing – no customer receives any “game time” which arguably is what CCP was payed for in the first place.

      • CCP has said that they didn’t want the PLEX to be a special item, which is fair enough. If I want to move a PLEX I should be able to. Now I can. Why should I NOT be allowed to move a PLEX if I wanted to? I like that CCP too that limitation away.

        If a pilot lost 22bil worth of trade items or something. The items that were lost could have also been sold and used to buy the equivalent of PLEX’s

      • I agree PLEXs should be ‘movable’ and trade able. I dont have any problem with the loss of in game items due to player stupidity or otherwise. However CCP could have enabled that movement to operate more like say a jump clone: instant transition to another station.

        PLEX are not like any other in game item, as they are the only item that can be used to request CCP to provide game time.

        By allowing the movement (and potential loss) of a PLEX CCP gets paid but does not have to provide the implied game time.

  7. I think the gift card analogy works the best. I buy a $50 gift card, give it to a friend, friend looses the gift card, the company profits.

  8. EVE is popular, partly, because it’s the only MMO which gets the “responsibility” thing right (well, for the most part)
    This is just one more step in that direction..
    There should always be risk for reward in a good MMO.. In this case the reward was supplying the alliance with game time [or supplying the alliance with TONS of isk, by setting up a Null Sec GTC shop] The risk was losing it all… I say that’s great! What other game will let you do things as stupid as moving almost $1500 through the game WHILE AT WAR?? None.
    We love EVE.. It’s why we put up with the problems.. The thrill of wining a close 1v1 and the pain of loosing a ship potentially worth billions… These things are unique to EVE and we love them!
    We’ve been askig for PLEX to be more like “real” items for a long time and we’re happy they finally are! It’s one more step towards a completely player-run universe and it’s great!
    EVE puts consequences on stupid actions… That’s something the world (and games in general) needs more of.

  9. Oh, love the blog, by the way!
    Just found it tonight at work and will keep reading as long as you keep writing!

    -Zan-

  10. If someone wants to buy themselves game-time they can do that without any risk through a paid subscription.

    Choosing to buy a PLEX is to opt for an in-game commodity, usually to earn in-game isk. Just like any other in-game commodity, this makes you a potential target and it is your personal responsibility to protect that property.

    I think a good analogy might be buying poker chips. As soon as you take money from your bank account and transform it into chips you face a real danger of theft, for which the casino will not offer you any remedy.

    I don’t see the destruction of this item as any more or less significant than the destruction of any other in-game property.

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