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.