Art by Major Sniper
Fifteen months ago CCP introduced a raffle system into EVE called the HyperNet Relay. At the time of its announcement and launch it prompted both a significant amount of hype and a significant amount of pushback among EVE’s player base. With a year behind it, now is a good time to assess EVE’s own in-house casino to see if it has lived up to the hype.
EVE Gambling Before the HyperNet Relay
Gambling – and raffling in particular – have had an extremely significant part in the history of EVE. In late 2013 a third-party gambling site launched called IWantIsk.com. The site was player-coded and used a system of in-game bankers and clerks to allow players to transfer ISK in-game, gamble on the out-of-game website (which was accessible through the in-game web browser that existed in the EVE client at that time), and then receive their winnings in game. Through 2014 player engagement grew so well that in September of that year EN24 was able to run a story announcing that an EVE player had won an enormous 800 billion ISK jackpot. By 2016, IWantISK.com was dominating EVE – not just as a locus for player gambling, but as a dominant in-game political force as the people behind IWantISK began to use their massive accumulation of wealth to influence in-game activities.
The history of the 2016 Casino War is familiar to veterans of EVE, but in short, at the beginning of that year, a war broke out between IWantISK (who’s only forces consisted of hired mercenaries) and an Imperium member alliance, SpaceMonkey’s, over accusations of malfeasance on the part of some of the casino’s in-game bankers.
Within months, that conflict spiraled into a full-blown EVE world war as IWantISK announced “a personal in-game vendetta” against the Imperium and declared their intention to fund its destruction. The casino-financed “Money Badger Coalition” (MBC) (which consisted of most of EVE’s non-Imperium nullsec powers) banded together, evicted the Imperium from their holdings in the North, and forced them into a single, lowsec station in Saranen (from whence they later escaped to Delve and rebuilt themselves). In the summer of 2016, it could be fairly argued that IWantISK.com was the single most influential and powerful force in EVE.
That didn’t last. Within months of the MBC’s victory in the Casino War, CCP announced changes to EVE’s EULA banning all third-party casinos and simultaneously seized all IWantISK.com assets for “large-scale Real Money Trading” and permanently banned the accounts of those involved. Gambling’s influence in EVE cratered.
The HyperNet Relay: CCP’s Own EVE Casino
Given this history, CCP’s announcement in 2019 that an official casino was coming to EVE (or as they called it, an “entertaining new trade network” which promised the “return of raffle activities that were once hugely popular in the EVE community”), many in the EVE community were keenly interested.
“[It] started off really promising,” said ProGodLegend, Test military director and founder of the Society for Opulence Men’s Recreation Club (SOMER), a group dedicated to premium HyperNet raffles. “People were excited.” To those who fondly remembered the glamour, and drama, and massive ISK of the IWantISK.com days, the HyperNet Relay offered hope of bringing that experience back to EVE.
The HyperNet Relay exclusively supports raffles. It’s an in-game raffle market with some fundamental features that theoretically allow CCP, the people putting items up for raffle (which we’ll call “offerors”), and the people buying raffle tickets (we’ll call them “bidders”) an avenue to profit.
- How CCP Profits: To post a raffle, offerors must pay a 5%, non-refundable posting fee (calculated against the total value of the raffle tickets – called “nodes”) up front. This posting fee is not paid in ISK but in special tokens called “Hypercores” which are paid for in PLEX. Essentially, CCP charges a non-refundable real dollar fee for every raffle posted.
- How Offerors Profit: Bidders buy raffle tickets (“nodes”) with ISK. This ISK goes to the offeror. The offeror set the price of raffle tickets at whatever they want – the higher the price, the more ISK for the offeror.
- How Bidders Profit: Bidders are gambling. If they buy a raffle ticket and win a prize, they profit! If they don’t win the raffle, of course they simply lose ISK.
In theory, the HyperNet Realy offered a win-win-win (except for gambling addicts, as many in the community pointed out when HyperNet was released), and in theory it should have been a slam dunk if the wild success of the previous third-party casinos was any indicator.
This expectation led to significant early player investment in the HyperNet Relay after its launch, much of which was coordinated on the SOMER Discord. “The SOMER discord was buzzing early on, ” ProGodLegend explained. “Lots of raffles were happening. AT ships were going, and a lot of rare items were changing hands for the first time in years.”
But the HyperNet Relay hasn’t been a complete success. Over time, choices made in the Relay’s design have limited its appeal and impact. “As the weeks went on, the limitations of the system really started to weigh it down,” ProGodLegend said. “We had big plans for SOMER, but we slowly realized that most of it would be unworkable with the current game mechanics.”
There have been two critical factors limiting the HyperNet Relay’s success:
- Posting raffles is too risky for offerors
- Buying raffle tickets is too expensive for bidders
1. The Risk to Offerors
Every raffle posting requires the offeror to pay a non-refundable fee in (tokens purchased with) PLEX. But not every raffle actually sells tickets. Unless the entire available pool of tickets for a given raffle is sold, no tickets are sold (all ticket sales are cancelled and the price refunded) and the offeror simply eats the fee. So bidders aren’t the only ones gambling on the HyperNet Relay. Offerors are taking a gamble too.
2. The High Expense for Bidders
The HyperNet limits the total number of tickets that can be sold for any given raffle to a maximum of 512. That means that the lowest a raffle ticket can cost is 1/512th the value of the prize. That might seem like a small fraction, but when the value of prizes is in the 10s or 100s of billions or even trillions of ISK (such as SOMER’s Raven State Issue), the cost of each ticket can become enormous. SOMER’s Raven State Issue raffle, for example, featured ticket prices in the range of seven billion ISK each. The high price of tickets inevitably limits the number of potential bidders.
Taken together, these two factors create a negative feedback loop that hurts the HyperNet Relay as a whole. Offerors can try to limit their risk by increasing the likelihood that all tickets for their raffle will sell. One way to do this is by reducing the number of tickets, but of course, fewer tickets means more expensive tickets. And more expensive tickets means fewer people who can afford them or who are interested in buying them. And fewer interested bidders increases the chance that a raffle won’t sell all its tickets.
This difficulty is compounded by the fact that the HyperNet charges an additional 5% “HyperNet Relay fee” (in ISK) on every completed raffle. So to even break even, offerors must price their raffle at least 10% above the market price of the item. There’s only so low ticket prices can go when the number of tickets is capped at 512.
This problem was seen right at the beginning of the HyperNet Relay with SOMER’s inaugural raffle of the Raven State Issue. Despite their best efforts, SOMER wasn’t able to sell 512 tickets given their seven billion ISK price tag, and they lost their non-refundable posting fee. “We ate the 200 billion,” said ProGodLegend.
What Can Be Done?
If the HyperNet Relay is to reach its full potential, CCP could take steps to reduce offeror risk and reduce bidder cost. The easiest way to do both is simply to raise or remove the cap on the number of tickets that can be sold on a given raffle.
“The number of tickets really hurt the RSI raffle,” said ProGodLegend. “If we had been able to set a much lower price per ticket I’m quite certain we would have filled that raffle, as it would have become a community event.” Lowering the price of tickets (by raising the total number of tickets) would increase participation for any given raffle both because more players could afford to participate, and because more players who could technically afford to participate would actually be willing to participate. Players with 20 to 30 billion liquid ISK who wouldn’t want to drop 7 billion ISK on a 1/512 chance would drop 70 million ISK on a 1/51200 chance – more than one time. What the HyperNet Relay is missing is the gambling equivalent of the nickel slot machine: a low risk game with lower chance of reward that draws players in and fills the casino floor.
A second way to encourage participation in the HyperNet Relay would be simply to make the raffle-posting fee refundable for offerors. “That non-refundable 5% is the worst part for the [offerors],” according to ProGodLegend. “If CCP were interested in making the HyperNet as enticing as possible they’d make the HyperCores refundable.”
In addition, ProGodLegend suggests removing the 5% HyperNet Relay ISK fee that is deducted from the offeror’s take at the end of completed raffles. “The issue is that there’s a 10% rake for every raffle that makes the prices for everything just a bit too high. The [post-raffle] 5% is a meaningless ISK sink that doesn’t even go to CCP. It just disappears. It isn’t doing anything other than killing interest in the system.”
ProGodLegend speaks from the SOMER experience. “We wanted to do more types of raffles, but the ticket limits and the high 10% rake made things very difficult.”
History shows that there is real interest among the EVE playerbase for gambling options. In a game where ISK takes work and losses are painful, the chance at a quick-win shortcut to more gameplay options can be attractive. Fifteen months in, the HyperNet Relay hasn’t achieved that vision.