Header Art by Major Sniper
As everybody who pays attention to EVE-related news knows by now, CCP is raising the price of EVE Online (both Omega subscriptions and PLEX). The purpose of this article is not to comment on that decision either for or against*; it is rather to analyze the effect of that price increase in terms of its likely effect on the game itself. In short, the thesis is this: with this price increase, CCP has in effect introduced Scarcity 2.0, even as they’ve been rolling back the original Era of Scarcity.
Scarcity 1.0: Increasing the Hour Cost of In-Game Materiel
On December 19, 2019 CCP issued a brief announcement:
On Tuesday 17 December, Veldspar and Spodumain rocks were removed from Null-Sec asteroid belts. At the same time, the quantity of ore for levels three, four and five asteroid Anomalies in Null-Sec were greatly reduced (33%, 50%, and 66% respectively). These changes will vastly lower the availability of some ores in Null-Sec.The Beginning of Scarcity 1.0
CCP went on to say that the changes marked the beginning of a “resource distribution overhaul” and that more communication would be forthcoming. Further communication did come, three months later, on March 30, 2020 in the form of a lengthy devblog entitled, “The EVE Online Ecosystem Outlook.” This devblog laid out CCP’s vision for tuning away an overabundance of materiel in the EVE economy by a multi-phased period of reduction and realignment. The devblog began with an aphorism that was to become infamous in the EVE community: “Abundance breeds Complacency and Scarcity breeds War.”
With that line, CCP provided the EVE playerbase with a name for the painful period of resource distribution that was to have such a dominant impact on the game for the next two years: Scarcity.
As everyone who has lived through it knows, Scarcity involved a variety of changes to game mechanics that were designed to reduce the amount of ISK and raw materials flowing into the EVE economy (as well as give CCP more granular controls over the EVE economy in the future). Among other things, bounties were reduced, ore availability was reduced, and more easily adjustable tuning knobs were added to both. In practical terms, the end result of all these changes was that it took more player hours to gather a given amount of resources (whether ISK or raw materials) than it had before Scarcity. As one Reddit commenter put it, “You’re going to earn less, and you’re going to be able to afford less, and it’ll be harder for you to plex your account at the end of the month. It’ll take more effort.”
Under Scarcity 1.0, because basic resource gathering activities were less efficient; it took more effort to achieve the same generation of in-game materiel as before: more hours per volume of raw materials; more hours per ship produced.
Scarcity 2.0: Increasing the Dollar Cost of In-game Materiel
After a year and a half of pain, CCP announced in July 2021 that Scarcity would definitely end in the fourth quarter of the year. Now as we enter Q2 of 2022, things have been looking up. CCP as promised released a raft of updates to mining and production that (after some initial, um, contention) were seen in many quarters as a not terrible correction to Scarcity. What’s more, despite some other mis–steps, they also introduced other well-received changes such as buffs to battleships. Things have been looking up!
And now the price to play EVE is going up—from $14.95 a month to $19.99 a month ( for an Omega subscription if paid monthly without discounts). Arguments aside about whether this price increase is justified or not, fair or not, or good for the game or not, there is a simple observation to be made about the effect of this change on the in-game economy.
The Interaction Between EVE and Real-Life Money
In some sense, given that a subscription has always had a real-life cost, the EVE economy has always been tied to the US dollar, or the Pound Sterling, or the Euro. But it wasn’t long into the game’s life that mechanisms were created that allowed the price of ISK to be specifically and directly tied to real-world currency with a rate of exchange.
As early as 2007, CCP established a mechanism that allowed players to exchange EVE Gametime Codes (ETC) for ISK, and by late 2008 the foundations of the PLEX system we still use today had been established. Once a stable form of exchange between ISK and game time was established, a de facto exchange rate between ISK and USD could be calculated. It became possible to talk about the cost of EVE materiel assets in terms of their equivalent real dollar cost—a capability which has been endlessly exploited by the gaming press, and to the delight of almost everyone.
But this real-world-currency-to-ISK conversion capability is more than a numerical curiosity or an interesting angle for press articles about big battles. In a real sense, it is a lynch pin of the entire EVE economy. The EVE economy is fundamentally made up of two kinds of players: those who pay for their play with real-world currency, and those who pay for their play with ISK. And these two groups are inextricably linked to one another; they are two halves of the same coin. For every purchase of game time with ISK, there MUST be a player who has sold game time they purchased with real-world currency for that ISK. This symbiotic relationship between those who pay-to-play (pay for game time with real-world currency) and those who play-to-play (pay for game time with ISK) is foundational to the entire EVE economy.
EVE Is Dependent On Scale
The EVE economy fundamentally depends on scale to operate at full capacity. From resource gathering, right through to production and marketing, EVE is a game that rewards operations at scale. Multiple accounts working together are simply more efficient and productive than single accounts working alone.
This advantage given to scale is by design. EVE is a MMO game, not a single player game. As a result, massive incentives are built into the game mechanics that encourage group collaboration. But the reality is, many EVE activities are either boring, or simple, or light-touch, which means it’s quite possible for a single player to reap the benefits of scale all by themselves, simply by rolling multiple accounts simultaneously. As a result, multi-account play is extremely common in EVE, particularly among the top-end players who really drive the in-game economy—the major shipbuilders and the big-time resource gatherers.
A single player running many tens of accounts is not at all uncommon for the dedicated players who are the foundation of the in-game economy. And the economy as a whole absolutely depends on these types of players. They generate a huge-amount of in-game materiel relative to their actual numbers—particularly high-end or highly-used materiel like the best ships and most-used modules. Without them, the in-game economy would be far weaker. And these players depend upon the symbiotic relationship between pay-to-players and play-to-players because most of them pay for their many accounts in ISK.
The Impact Of The Increase
What all this means is that by raising the dollar cost of ISK by 33%, CCP has (intentionally or not) introduced a new era of Scarcity that may be even more devastating to the in-game economy than the original Scarcity phase was.
Unless (as I’m sure CCP hopes) the amount of real currency being spent on EVE also rises 33%, there will inevitably be a net reduction in the dollar-for-game-time market equivalent to whatever is the shortfall in new money spent below 33%. Though more dollars may be spent, because less than 33% more dollars are spent, fewer actual PLEX and subscriptions will be purchased. This will mean fewer active Omega accounts. And where will this loss of Omega accounts be felt?
In the economy. In the many, many accounts that are used solely for ISK-making economic activities. Players won’t stop paying for their mains or primary alt pilots first. They’ll stop paying for accounts that they use to make themselves richer. In the face of game time scarcity, they’ll tighten their belts. And that’s what Scarcity 2.0 is; it’s game time scarcity. It’s Omega account scarcity. And depending on how severe the shortfall is, the ripple effects may well be felt throughout the entire EVE economy.
One likely knock-on effect is that the rich will simply get richer. As game time on the PLEX market gets scarcer, it will become more ISK expensive. Those with plentiful ISK will still be able to pay, and thus they’ll still be able to generate ISK in game using their established collection of accounts. The ISK poor? They’ll have to stop buying game time, and in so doing lose access to what ISK making potential they had. These are the folks I see scaling back their commitment to the game, or even stepping away completely. The whales will still pour in cash, and the big players will still by all the game time they need. It’s the folks in the middle that will get squeezed out.
My Final Thoughts
I wish that I could believe that CCP has run the numbers on this and has an accurate sense for how Scarcity in the game time market is going to effect the larger EVE economy, but I think we all know the reality on that. CCP will see how this turns out, just like the rest of us.
My prediction? The downward trend on the PCU will accelerate, and ISK velocity will decrease further. CCP is putting potentially serious pressure on the EVE economy at the precise moment when more than anything else it needs to be bouncing back.
* For the record, I personally have no issue with the increase in principle. An increase to $19.99 is still below the rate of inflation on $14.95 since 2004, so effectively we’re still be paying less than players did in 2004. If I expect employers to increase wages commensurate with inflation, I can hardly complain if they adjust prices for inflation once every decade or two. Seems fair to me. But based on feedback, most players obviously don’t see it that way. And who can blame them? Inflation is hitting everyone, and spending more money on EVE is probably not an option for many.