Art by Redline XIII.
This was going to be an article about the MER looking at the impact of the blackout. Then, CCP also announced the blackout was ending, so I was not sure whether to write this piece.
During the Great Blackout of 2019, there have been endless discussions about ratting activity, mining activity, and whether large groups are more impacted than smaller groups. For this reason I am not going to look at the ratting or mining data in the MER (although I do have some graphs on that! With fiery backgrounds too!) Instead, there is an aspect of the current state of Eve that is not much being discussed because people have not noticed it yet, but it is key to everything else in Eve. As the title says, it’s the economy, stupid. I have also been told that last month’s article did not have enough words explaining the graphs, so, this month there will be plenty of words.
You have been warned.
Eve has a player-run economy, and the vast majority of items on the market are made, bought, and sold by players. These items are sourced from mining, industry and PvE activities. They are used by everyone doing every activity in Eve (Apart from us market traders; we can sit in our pods all day every day, but we handle these items in the journey from producer to end consumer). The market relies on a steady supply of goods, and consumers to keep functioning. Take either side away, and basic supply and demand kicks in, making prices move.
OMG The PLEX
The first thing I want to show you is the PLEX market in Jita over the past month. The column to take a look at is the quantity one. This shows the total number of PLEX moving via both buys and sells. You can see that on August 26, there were under one million units of PLEX traded—this continued until August 30. It then went above one million units for three days, before dropping down. Since then (until today when the end of the blackout was announced) it has been mostly below one million units per day traded, going up just above it at weekends. The large spike in trade today is due to people buying out PLEX in the hope that the price rises as people come back to playing.
That period from August 30 to September 1 where there is a spike in volume traded? That is when CCP introduced a 48-hour sale on extractors in the NES. I am not linking to the article itself as it no longer exists on CCPs site.
So what? PLEX was below a million units sold? Big deal, right? Wrong. If you go back through the market history table in game as far as you can (one year), PLEX never sells under one million units. In fact, it is never really close to one million, it is usually at the 1.3m and above range. To save you having to do this yourself, I have calculated from the table in-game the average PLEX traded per day on the market for each month since last September in the terrible screenshot below. You can see that August had a large drop in PLEX traded per day, and that September so far is on track to be lower still. I expect September to recover some volume due to the cancellation of the Blackout.
So far, this drop in PLEX volume traded could possibly be explained by the comments that have been made relating to ratting and mining decline, like “It is the turbokrab alts who aren’t contributing to Eve,” and “It is the bots that CCP banned.”
I want to address the “It is the bots” comment before we start. In August, CCP banned 4,369 accounts for botting. This is good; bots are bad and should be nuked from orbit. The response to this number was ecstatic. CCP had done its biggest bot ban ever! CCP were getting serious about bots, and this was massive news.
Ok, to reiterate, botting is bad and bots should be nuked from orbit. However, we should also not react like it is the best thing ever when we see a big number. The first half of the year had 12,446 accounts banned for botting. This is an average of 2,074 bots per month banned. So far so good. August doubled the monthly average, right? Well, yes, it did but, in July when CCP were on vacation, only 777 were banned for botting. If the rest of the year maintains the numbers banned in August then CCP have doubled their efforts, but with only July and August to go on so far, with the extra this month we’re catching up on the reports that were not dealt with during the summer. Unless of course, CCP took a month off from banning bots in July for other reasons, and I do not think that is the case.
The other thing to know about big bot farms is that getting banned on a semi-regular basis is the cost of doing business. So, 4,369 accounts banned does not, unfortunately, mean that they are permanently gone from Eve. As with security in tech, it is an ongoing arms race between the gaming companies and the people deploying bots on a large scale. The single player using a bot is permanently gone, but the larger organised efforts for botting, less so.
Ok. Bots covered, we can now move on.
Back to the Markets
I first noticed the drop in PLEX traded back at the end of August, and figured it was probably due to people not resubbing their accounts at the end of the month. I did not think much more about it. Last week, I started hearing traders talking about a drop in the number of competitors in their local markets, and a general slowing down of trade.
I wondered if there was a general slowdown in modules, materials and other items on the markets, so I took a look during a late-night Editor’s meeting. It looked to me like there was a very subtle decrease across the board on the markets, likely one or two percent on each item. That does not sound like much, but if enough items have a reduced volume of one or two percent, that adds up to a fair amount of ISK that is not moving through the markets.
The items I looked at were mostly T2 modules that move large volumes on the market due to the fact they are lost frequently as PvP fittings. These are not items that are used for Rorquals, or Supercarrier ratting. This then got me wondering how the markets in general looked in terms of overall trade.
In the MER raw data, there is a file called “RegionalStats” which contains everything making up the charts you see in the MER. This includes how much is imported, exported, mined, produced, destroyed, and traded in each region. I took the July trade data for each region and compared it to the August trade data, sorted by the change in the value of trade, smallest to largest:
Of the 60+ regions in Eve, thirteen did not have a reduction in trade between July and August. This is all regions, and so includes areas nothing to do with the much discussed krabbing alts or ratting bots.
Now, you should never take data in isolation. There could be a lot of things going on here that have nothing to do with fewer players logging into Eve across the board, right?
If you compare June and August, it will give you a quarterly picture. When comparing data you have to also consider the behavioural economics side of it—that is to say, what other factors are at play here. In June, there was a deployment to the north by the Imperium, which reduced the trade carried out in Delve during that month. The groups living in the North also reduced their trade due to being invaded. Delve traded 15 trillion ISK in June, 32T in July and 25T in August, so it shows a 67% increase over the period because June was an unusually low point in Delve trade.
Context is key. It is also why there should be as many data points used as possible to get a broader picture.
So, the quarterly view shows -18% trade performed throughout New Eden. How about the six-month view? Again, this is sorted by percent change over the period.
You can see the impact of Panfam moving out of Geminate and Tribute to TKE and Malpais here more clearly. The overall change in trade across New Eden over this six month period is a 27% decrease in the value of items traded. This includes a drop in most Empire regions, and where there is an increase in nullsec regions it is mostly due to a change in the groups living there.
It’s The Summer
“Wait a minute Rhivre, is this not just the normal summer decline?” Well, we can take a look at July-August last year, sorted by total change:
Last July to August there was a five percent decrease, or 47T ISK compared to the 157T drop July to August this year. So, yes, there is a decrease in the summer, but last summer there was a barely noticeable drop in trade. We can also check year on year, so August 2018 compared to August 2019:
The August 2018-August 2019 comparison shows trade down 15% across Eve as a whole in that period.
The Most Vibrant in Five Years
Please note that the 2016 values are lower than it should be, because at that point CCP had not added structures to the MER yet, so it only shows station trade (Structures came in April 2016).
What this table shows is that while yes, in three of the last four years there has been a decline in market activity across New Eden, 2019 shows the largest decline.
I have heard that you cannot use imperfect data to draw any conclusions, only sometimes you can. There is a whole area of trading called short selling, and it is predicated on you thinking that you can see something that is not quite right about what a company is saying.
There is a whole discussion to be had about the where’s and why-fores of whether it is good for the game or bad for the game that a region like Providence has gone from 800B bounties before the changes, to 71B in August
What is the likelihood that every single one of those people who have dropped off ratting is a turbokrab alt? We can look at if they moved to Empire space to mine or get bounties instead, but there, while there was a peak in mining in July, the values have gone back down to where they were pre-blackout. The bounties in Empire have not moved significantly, certainly not enough to account for a transfer of players from nullsec:
If those players from nullsec have moved to Empire, and the numbers for mining and ratting have remained static, then some Empire players must have left. The table above shows all non-nullsec regions, i.e. Lowsec and Highsec.
Maybe they have moved to Incursions or Wormholes or Invasions?
I do not think Invasions are currently reflected in the MER, as they were introduced on May 28 and so would be reflected from June onwards, and there is not the rise that would be expected from people beginning to run Invasions. The table below shows Incursions, Commodities and Bounties from March to August 2019.
There is an increase in Incursion and Commodities payouts in August, and if you looked in isolation at the July to August data, it could be concluded that people had moved to Incursions and Wormholes. However, when you zoom back a bit to a six-month view, it is clear that there is no increase out of the ordinary for Incursions, while Commodities is actually slightly down.
The decrease from June to July in bounties is large for sure, but so is the decrease from March to April, and if I had gone back to January 2019, you would have seen that the Bounties had decreased this year from 83T ISK to 48T ISK before the blackout. An argument could be made that the Blackout merely slightly accelerated an ongoing long-term trend.
So, last time I had comments on my MER article in Discord and in the comments asking what my view was from the data. Usually I do not like interpreting data as I think it speaks for itself, and people can draw their own conclusions from it. Also I tend to get a bit waffley in conclusions. However, due to peer pressure from the editors—as well as the commenters—I am going to make some conclusions.
People have said on reddit, and in various discords, that we do not have perfect data, which only CCP has. This is true. It is also true that we have metrics that show activity in Eve via various direct metrics or proxy data. What I mean by proxy data is that bounties are an indirect indicator of how many people are out in space. If bounties increase without any CCP intervention (such as if CCP increased payouts), then we can infer that there are more characters in space. This is where the turbokrab argument comes in. It is argued that these people contribute nothing to Eve, or that they do not matter in the bigger picture. This may be true, although I would argue that the Machariels we fly, the deadspace loot we use on our ships and the other faction-and-PvE-related items we have do not grow on trees. The same is true for mining. Yes, Rorquals are an issue, but we all like cheap things.
There are two issues with bounties or other faucets. Firstly, as I explained in the July MER article, these go to a small section of the playerbase. This means that an increase in faucets can serve to concentrate wealth into the hands of a small segment of the population. Yes, I am aware that as a trader we are quite often in the 0.01% of the Eve player base for wealth, but the ISK we have is already in circulation (I am not in the 0.01%, I prefer analysis to trading). Trading is not a faucet.
The second issue relates to per-capita income. This is the number you get by dividing the total faucet income by the total active playerbase. So, you can have a situation where faucets are falling, but the playerbase is decreasing faster. You can also have an increase in faucets while the playerbase is dropping, which would indicate that more and more of the population is moving to PvE.
This relates to something that CCP Quant said in 2015 when he launched the Monthly Economic Report. He talks about how the PCU has been dropping for two years, and then explains why it is not such a concern at that point for production and destruction values.
He shows this image and says “Here you can see that, contrary to some conclusions that can be drawn from the PCU graph, activity is not going down overall. If we normalize it by unique logons, we rather see those numbers increasing, meaning that those playing now contribute relatively more to the sandbox than the general population in the previous years, which is a great sign.”
So, Quant is saying that even though the PCU was dropping in 2015, the players that were active were doing more in-game. In his graph, the increase is primarily visible in production, with over 20m ISK being produced via industry per unique login, while destruction had risen from 5m ISK to approx 7.5m ISK per unique login.
To get to where I am going, if as CCP said in their interviews this year, sinks and faucets were out of control, it would mean that while faucets were falling the playerbase was becoming less active or falling faster than the decline in faucets. Please note that Quant does not imply in his comment that it is only PvPers who contribute to the sandbox. When he talks of characters contributing to the economy or not, that would mean that for example a large chunk of players who are uniquely logging in each month are logging in to do SP farming, or logging in to just hang out in corp chat (do people even do that?).
A recent example of a large number of logins without them contributing to the sandbox would be if there is an SP login event, and the characters are logged in to collect the free SP then logged out again.
Quant mentions in his article that one of the reasons for the PCU drop was a change in Skillqueues over the previous years. This was because in ye olde days of Eve, you did not have an infinite skillqueue, so people would login to just update their skills. These would not contribute to the monthly production or destruction, and so the ISK per unique login would be lower.
Ok, this is the conclusion, honest!
The market slowdown worries me, perhaps more than the ratting and mining numbers in null. Ok, well, not quite as much as the ratting numbers in some regions. A market slowdown means that not only are fewer items making it to market, but fewer people are buying them. That this is happening across regions seemingly unrelated to nullsec should be a concern to everyone. I say seemingly unrelated because in Eve, everyone and everything is related.
Those FW pilots you fly with could well be alts of nullsec guys relaxing between fleets or anom running. If those nullsec guys decide to only sub their main, or drop off completely, then suddenly there are fewer people in FW or incursions with you. These people obviously do not need to buy anything from the markets, so volume traded drops. The industrial people notice that their items are taking longer to sell and so they switch to other items which give a better return of investment into that weeks build cycle.
Now you as a FW pilot cannot get the module you needed to finish your fit, or perhaps the ship isnt on the market in your region anymore, so you have to go to Jita. If you are going to Jita for the one item, you may as well go there for all of it. Now the traders in the region notice that their turnover has dropped, and that the region is no longer worth trading in and they pack up and go to Jita. So everyone else in the region needs to go to Jita to buy their items, meanwhile everyone is lamenting the lack of regional hubs.
Grrr nullseccers, killing off regional trade.
This cascade effect can happen anywhere in Eve. If you log in and your corp members are not around so much, you will find less and less reason to log in too. If you log in and there are fewer fleets running because the FC’s aren’t around as much, then you may log in less, so there are fewer full fleets and then more people log in less and so there are fewer fleets…you see where this ends up. We are not even talking big F1 fleets which apparently everyone hates and are killing Eve. Small fleets from small corps are even more reliant on a critical mass of players logging in every day. Small corps are also more reliant on there being people on to interact with in-corp. No one likes logging in to an empty corp every day.
Grrr nullseccers, killing off corps.
More people in space, whatever they are doing, and especially those very squishy subcap ratters, are good for all of us. Does the supercap umbrella need nerfing? Perhaps. Especially as I hear that as soon as you claim sov you get a super umbrella. I don’t think the answer to “we need to nerf the super umbrella” is to remove people out in space though. There are plenty of easy targets for those that like it (I am looking at you here Providence, the Safari Park with hunting privileges of Eve), and we should have some more challenging encounters for those who want that as well.
Perhaps removing the blackout will encourage subcap ratters to come back out, but then, I don’t think all hunters want minnows, I think at least some of them want unaware whales in Rorquals and Supers to drop their dreads and other big toys on. Some of them even want people using Excavators so they can steal them. Eve is a sandbox, it takes all sorts to make it function, including us annoying 0.01ers in Jita!