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Monday, November 4, 2013

We Need a Measure of Enlightened Self-interest

Friday is the first day of the next SOMERblink. In the end, CCP labeled their blink credit for ISK bonus program as RMT; a violation of the EVE Online EULA and ToS. And though I am now officially on the losing side of the controversy, I am unbowed. I see this as a tragedy for EVE Online and the community, not a victory.

In the other posts I've made on this subject, I tried unsuccessfully to argue CCP should not consider the business model as RMT. But the definition of RMT is as hard a rule as any I've seen. Boiled down to its essence, no one, anywhere, for any reason, is allowed to make real money by giving ISK, no matter how convoluted the process, except CCP - period. I see now it was a mistake to try and debate this with people who consider the definition black and white. I was doomed from the beginning because the definition is intractable.

I understand the RMT rule is there for a very good reason. Botters who create ISK by the literal boat load just to offload it through RMT damage the economy of EVE Online in ways only Dr Eyjólfur Guðmundsson probably understands. CCP gains nothing from it, nor does the community. We could lose everything because of it. The history of MMO economies succombing to RMT bares this out.

But that's RMT which provides no value to the developer, the game or it's community. It's traditional RMT. It is destructive because it takes and does not give anything in return. It is a parasite, and a dangerous one to be sure.

But not all parasites are dangerous. Some parasites form a symbiotic relationship with their host, which benefits both species. Your gut is full of beneficial bacteria without which you would die of malnutrition. Now, if they get out of control they can, and do, cause harm. But when in balance they are as necessary as the food they help digest.

SOMERblink is like those beneficial bacteria. How many of you reading this have played blinks? Did you have fun? Did it enhance your EVE Online experience? Was it something you've never seen done so well in any other MMO? Was it best in class? If you answered no, I submit that is a personal bias. SOMERblink is all those things though it may not be for you. It adds value to our community through the enjoyment thousands of other players, myself included, get from it every hour of every day. It may be an RMT scheme, but it is a beneficial RMT scheme to the community as a whole, and CCP still get's their payment from it courtesy of the GTC fee. And since CCP can control the supply of GTC, the damage to the game is controlled. What SOMERblink managed to do did no more damage than $5 PLEX on Amazon or all the buddy programs CCP has run in its entire existence. It's a controllable process, and I say anyone who simply yells, "it's killing the game!" because it's RMT are doing more harm through their intractable bias than SOMERblink.

In their hatred of all things RMT, they gleefully lit a bonfire and cheered as it roared. Those who resented the success of SOMERblink fanned the flames. Were they the illicit competition, or merely those malcontents who lacked the vision, skill and dedication to do it themselves? Regardless and by damn, they weren't about to let anyone else do better. Their black and white interpretation of the EULA and the ToS was the fuel firing their incendiary diatribes.

And what's more the pity, others took up the torches they provided and followed them. They focused on the narrow black and white definition and failed to see the greater good in it. "It's RMT, kill it!" they cried. That's all they cared about. But did that particular parasite have a beneficial or destructive relationship to the host? They did not care.

So CCP killed it. Like a broad spectrum antibiotic, the EULA and ToS cannot tell the beneficial from the harmful. That needs to change. If CCP wants to grow the EVE Universe as they say they do, they have to understand and encourage the beneficial while only killing the harmful. They have it within their power to not only do this, but also to control it. We do not live in a black and white universe. We only harm ourselves by insisting we do. There needs to be a mechanism that encourages our community to extend themselves and develop sites like SOMERblink. If you think doing something like that is easy, you are wrong. It takes more than a pound of proverbial flesh and people deserve compensation for that flesh. Without a real world reward structure, such first class sites will not happen and we as a community will be lesser for it.

CCP has a choice, as CCP has always had a choice. Keep all the marbles for themselves and the self-limited benefits that come with them, or broaden their PLEX system to include GMT referral marketing, the like of which SOMERblink used, and have a more healthy, vibrant community. That's the reward for the effort. Such a system must be selective, and sites deemed unworthy should be excluded. Sites deemed worthy should possibly have to pay a fee or even submit to auditing. The system also needs to take into account the reason for the site's existence. Is it for the benefit of the community first? If it isn't, does the good outweigh the bad?

This is not an easy thing to decide, and will undoubtedly create more controversy. Overcoming that will require fortitude and a vetting system rational players will accept. Perhaps the CSM would be the best panel of judges to determine if a community site qualifies for referral privileges. They will need guidelines though, and as in all things, that is CCP's purview. But it is an attainable goal. Once complete, when accusations of RMT arise again, perhaps we can then judge by a measure of enlightened self-interest, rather than abdicating reason to benighted black and white definitions.


  1. Firstly, Someblink doesn't run to bring fun to the community. It runs for profit. They don't give a crap about the community. Their entire system is build around making people feel like they've somehow won, while on average, only paying out about 80% of what is paid in. The GTC reward money just made everyone feel more like a winner by injecting isk, but if you look at it realistically I guarantee you'd see that most people lost isk overall.

    Secondly, aside from the fact it is RMT, handing out isk with their purchases gives them an automatic advantage over other community sites that don't rake in trillions of isk from stupid people who don't understand that "the house always wins". With Somer offing a isk incentive, and veing able to hold to that for pretty much ever, other community sites don't get as many sales, which in turn means their running costs suffer. There's only so much they will be able to personally lose before they have to pack up shop. The removal of this RMT puts everyone on a level playing field. Now who you buy your GTC through isn't the site that offers you the most, it's the site you want to support, the way it should be.

  2. I did not get the feeling that this was really about SOMERblink - aside a level of Tall Poppy Syndrome. I'm not sure it was really about RMT. It seemed more just the next excuse to attack CCP. CCP should keep in mind that they won't be placated with this "win" - they will just be fervently looking for the next excuse.

  3. Somergate is only a disaster if you look at the forum. The rest of the community is blinking like crazy xD

    Giving community sites a spotlight will always be controversial. Sadly, you can never be sure if the people behind them are really honest or are only preparing the next big heist. But, I'm ok with that. Eve is a harsh place ;-)

  4. If you want to direct your ire at something, there are far more worthy targets. Think of all the EVE tools CCP have shutdown because they charged a (usually very small) real world fee.

  5. I agree this is a missed opportunity for CCP. I think this falls in the same category as not having some kind of 3rd party business model for people to develop apps for EVE for real money. And similar to the pain Rixx is going through with not being able to sell EVE t-shirts. Next they will Ban all the PL players who wear PL shirts at an EVE event.

    If feels like they have been ignoring this issue for years and are clearly losing exposure and good will from all of this.

  6. Despite arguing for the position in your final paragraphs you seem to forget that what enraged a number of people was not that this was occurring but that there was absolute radio silence from CCP. If they decide this is permissible then they should modify the ToS and EULA to establish guidelines on how to establish this sort of parasitic existence. It may be real politic and "cool" but don't do this sort of thing with wink-and-a-nod backroom deals.

  7. CCP do seem to have gone a bit potty on this one.

    What would happen if one of those lucky people who were managed to get a Nvdia GPU a year ago for ISK, then sold the hardware on Ebay?

    In CCP's eye's this would be RMT ...

    Daft really.

    1. No, it wouldn't. That's more analogous to CCP deciding in a few months to run an official CCP program which is basically SomerBlink, but in-house--which I believe CCP would do in roughly 0.0012 milliseconds if it weren't for the troubling legal issues that would raise for them. Issues not from Somer, but from governments who will ignore smaller sites like Somer but would take amiss to CCP offering that same service themselves.

      Let's not forget that this is the real issue here. CCP has to keep the gambling away from themselves because of the laws of the various countries they operate in, but keeping the gambling away from themselves means that it becomes 3rd party RMT, instead of first party RMT, which isn't really regarded as RMT at all--i.e. PLEXes and subscription fees.

  8. "Botters who create ISK by the literal boat load just to offload it through RMT damage the economy of EVE Online in ways only Dr Eyjólfur Guðmundsson probably understands."

    "SOMERblink is like those beneficial bacteria. "

    I have a feeling that you don't have any proof that SOMERblink isn't used as a money laundering site by RMT botters. Normally we'd be talking about whether Somer's critics had hard proof that he was doing so, not about whether his defenders had proof that he wasn't. But RMT is different. It's not allowed, by the rules, because it's too hard to regulate with a normal standard of proof. CCP realized that allowing a certain kind of RMT to evade this tighter regulation would mean that eventually other RMTers would also switch to this kind of RMT, and that's exactly what was happening. I understand that you think Somer was a valuable community resource...I don't, I think lame gambling sites are lame gambling sites, no matter how they are dressed up. But I don't think that difference matters, even if I agreed that Somer was a valuable community resource, it would be difficult for me to believe that Somer's old business model could continue to exist without helping the "evil" kind of botters too much, and I believe that this is what motivated CCP's changes, not a 'community outcry".

    In summation, I would argue that enlightened self interest is exactly what has led us to a strict black and white definition for RMT, due to the nature of the beast, and that your presentation of them as opposites is a false dichotomy. Look again at your metaphor:

    "Like a broad spectrum antibiotic, the EULA and ToS cannot tell the beneficial from the harmful. That needs to change."

    You are aware that the current most relevant situation in antibiotics is not medical science developing 'so many' new antibiotics, allowing us to target the nasty bugs with less side effects; but instead medical science developing more and more broad spectrum antibiotics, in a desperate attempt to stay ahead of the rapidly evolving pathogens which threaten to return us to a pre-antibiotic regime of amputation and death? Your analogy is perfect, but it demolishes your argument instead of supporting it.

    1. p.s. The botters/RMTers and the drug-resistant pathogens are both extremely common in Russia and Eastern Europe, that really is an inspired analogy.

  9. "...or broaden their PLEX system to include GMT referral marketing, the like of which SOMERblink used, and have a more healthy, vibrant community"

    Did you mean GTC (game time code) referral marketing? If so, that currently exists. CCP did not say that GTC sellers like Markee Dragon cannot have affiliate programs that give a sales commission to player-run websites/organizations. All they stated is that those players cannot give ISK or other in-game items as a bonus for purchasing the GTCs. That's it. So SOMERblink can continue to make real world money. Probably just not as much as before.

    One of the main things taking away the bonus does is to put websites like Dotlan on an even playing field with the gambling websites like SOMERblink and EVE-Games. I would argue that a website like Dotlan is a lot more valuable to much more of the community than SOMERblink, yet Wollari makes nothing from GTC sales (according to a tweet) because no one clicks on the links to buy GTCs. Is this because the gambling websites were paying out ISK and Wollari can't? Perhaps Dotlan might get some affiliate sales money now that SOMER won't be giving out that bonus anymore. I think that's what you want, but letting SOMERblink violate the EULA and do its RMT trick probably hurt that goal.

  10. IMO CCPs decision to stop this bundling of GTC with in-game extras is the right one. SOMER does still get their money through the affiliate link. But they are not able to to sell of the ISK they have for more attractive "GTC + ISK" bundles. That was simply cashing out their in-game profit.

    But this is only one part of there business. The Blinks can continue and all the money they earn with ads or affiliate programs is theirs. I haven't seen numbers on that but it should be enough to cover server costs and license fees coming in. Combined with the in-game profit they make they don't have to pay money to run their accounts. They can game for free and provide content to the community, thats how things should be.

    "I see this as a tragedy for EVE Online and the community, not a victory." I neither see a victory here nor a tragedy. A process to get reward for a community service (the affiliate program) has been refined and clarified.
    If SOMER decides to close business it is not because their business model didn't bring enough in-game revenue.

  11. "The community" is a bit more complex than you allow. It's no accident that GSF specifically was vocal in criticizing SOMERblink: They saw something big and powerful and growing, which could, and to an extent did, influence the metagame through the sheer amount of ISK it had. I'm not saying that this was the sole motive of every Goon who posted by any means, but there was a strong undertone of not wanting an RMT competitor, or RMT-funded competition.

    That, in a nutshell, is the problem with community spotlights in a game like EVE: it's nearly impossible for CCP not to put their thumbs on one metagame or another: even the community spotlight on Red Frog Freight was probably not the best day that PUSH Industries has ever had, right?

    Also, what Rammstein said about the nearly endless difficulty of regulating RMT, even if some instances appear benign or well-intentioned.

  12. The rule is ironclad because of real-world banking regulations. If CCP allows in-game currency to turn back into real-world money in any fashion whatsoever, they open themselves to the possibility of real-world banking and other financial regulations. What happens to everyone's precious scamming and emergent gameplay then?

    Anyone who scoffs.. CCP is wise not to take the chance that some overzealous government will decide to start sticking its regulatory fingers into gameplay, especially on the justification that RMT could be used to launder money for real criminals or terrorists. No, it doesn't matter how hard or impractical that would actually be. Such considerations never hinder politicians looking for a controversy to be on the right side of.


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