Art by Redline XIII.
Two months ago, I wrote a short little piece entitled “Why the Nullsec Blackout Won’t Fix EVE.” In it, I made some observations about what CCP said they were up to, how some groups of players were seeing it as a ‘silver bullet’, and why that bullet wasn’t going to hit the bullseye those players were looking at. Well, we’ve had two months of “chaos”—CCP’s descriptor for the larger project that includes the Blackout—and I thought that this is a good time to see how things are going. Did it fix EVE? Was I completely off-base with my thoughts on why things were how they were, and what would happen? What else has been put out there by CCP, and how’s the whole ‘Chaos Era’ doing?
Plans for the Chaos Era
The ‘Chaos Era’ moniker comes from CCP Hellmar, aka CEO Hilmar Pétursson, during an interview on Talking in Stations. Hilmar himself took the idea from Liu Cixin’s book The Three Body Problem, from which he drew considerable inspiration. At the time, Hilmar said that the intent was “to shake things up”, and “increase the challenge for veterans, decrease the challenge for new players.” He went on to say that “if we do our jobs well, some things will be changing every week, we want you on your toes, we want you to feel like the blanket is being pulled underneath you every single week, so you’re panicking all the time, the heart rate goes up, you need to take stress medicine to keep your focus. That is the Chaos Era, and it is on.”
So, how’d they do with that?
In fact…not so well. The Blackout hit on July 12. By July 30, the entire list of further changes included Bonus Skill Point Week, and the Free SP for Killing Rats ‘Skilling Spree’, both part of the ‘Season of Skills’ promotion, so we can’t really call those ‘chaos’. On Aug 1, new taxes went into effect, which created a whole lot of hurf and blurf on the forums but didn’t really get anyone sucking down the stress meds. And, by Aug 22, the August Release included a whole lot of things we’d known were coming since at least EVE North, in Toronto. The only real ‘Chaos’ follow-on was the cyno changes in the September release this past Tuesday.
July 12-Sept 10. 8 weeks. 1 ‘Chaos’ change. By Hilmar’s metrics, they’re not doing their jobs well.
Running the Numbers
But really, Hilmar’s plans were never something we could really measure. Instead, let’s look at the actual data we have… which isn’t a huge amount.
The month before the Blackout was June. June’s normally one of the dog-day months, where PCU drops into the summer slump. Now, the most easily-accessible tool we have for looking at PCU is, of course, EVE Offline. It’s kinda…twitchy…when you want to get to looking at specific ranges, but it’s what we’ve got, and it’s out there, so you can follow along at home. As you can see on the chart below, the month of June (ok, there’s a few days of July, too, but it’s all pre-Blackout) ran an average of 21k concurrent users online.
Then we compare this to the past 30d (which will tell you when I’m writing this, but that’s ok). From August 12-Sept 11, there’s an average concurrent user count of…18k.
Ok. It’s lower. So what does that mean? Well… it means we’re already getting slapped in the face with the limitations of incomplete data. Some people, who are good with numbers and sincerely interested in the good health of the game, look at these numbers and see a loss of 1/7th of EVE’s active playerbase. (Actually, they see more than that, but I’ll get to that in a minute.) Other players, who are also good with numbers and sincerely interested in the good health of the game, see a winnowing of bots, multiboxing accounts, and other logins that would bloat the Concurrent User count to levels that don’t reflect the actual number of users who are at their keyboards and active in EVE. So which group’s right?
We Have No Clue
We don’t. Heck, we don’t have the first freaking clue who’s right, or even if either group is right. Maybe it’s somewhere in the middle. Maybe it’s something else entirely, like CCP shutting off 3,000 placeholder accounts who were there entirely so they could look good. I kind of doubt it, mind you, but we don’t know, because we only have a very small part of the data. Consider bots.
One of the big claims optimistic souls put out is that CCP has banned all sorts of botting accounts. It’s got a few things going for it. First, it’s a lovely idea. Second, it’s even true! According to the Monthly Security Reports (which are new) from July and August, CCP banned a total of 777 botting accounts in July, and pretty damned kickass 4,369 of them in August, for a total of 5,146 accounts banned for botting. More than enough to account for that 3k drop, right?
Well… no. See, the problem here is, as Hilmar himself said on TiS, botters adapt. Look, we all know there are individual players out there automatic crap and multiplexing their input to do group activities, from bombers to Abyssal trios to mining fleets in null and highsec both. But individual players aren’t really the problem. They’re not good, and they should be punished, don’t get me wrong, but they’re not the problem. The problem is the botting farms.
Old McBotter Had A Farm…
This is another one of those things we’re all aware of. People in relatively crappy places like the third world, developed nations with low wages, or worse, New Jersey, run huge pools of accounts in order to make ISK they can sell to RMT. So let’s add the RMT numbers into the bot numbers—1,023 in July and 2,454 in August—just to give as generous a ‘screw those guys, I’m glad they’re gone’ number. That gives us a total of 8,623 accounts banned for ‘those guys’. Cuz really, screw those guys, I’m glad they’re gone.
The problem is, when you ban a botter, there’s almost certainly an account out there, making money the ‘legitimate’ infinitely-scalable, low-effort, no risk way. You know, SP-farming. That account (and the other 2-3 dozen ‘legit’ SP-farming accounts owned by the same guy) is basically just setting aside injectors as needed. When one or two, or a dozen, of his botting accounts gets banned, he just makes a new one, injects it up, and goes botting with that new one, on a totally different IP because thank you, VPNs.
And that’s not a surprise to anyone, either. This is how people make their real-world income. They’re not going to lose the revenue that puts food on the table because they got banned. They’re just going to use the tools we all have access to, and keep on going.
With That In Mind
So… 8,623 accounts. How many of those were unique users? How many of them were the same guys, losing 30-50 accounts at a shot, and then losing another 30-50 a week later? We don’t know. There’s good odds CCP doesn’t even know. After all, if they could solidly ID ‘these accounts are the same guy as THOSE accounts’, they’d be able to find the common threads and shut down the ‘legit’ accounts in the middle. Worse, let’s say that the 1800 ‘screw those guys’ accounts banned in July were 10 actual farmers, each losing 60 a day for the whole month. That’d account for an average concurrent user drop of… 60.
The 6,823 accounts banned in August is better news, but we still can’t know just how many of them were the same people being banned over and over. We can certainly hope the bots account for a large chunk of the drop, but we can’t be really be at all sure. Besides…that’s the average drop. That’s not a constant drop, and that shows the limits of ‘what is bot?’
Big Numbers… Shrinking
One of those smart people who are good with numbers I was talking about before is Tuzy, Goonswarm’s Director of Logistics. He’s been tracking the weekly Peak Concurrent Users (through EVE Offline) going back to April. From that chart, we can see that while the average is only down 3k, the peak is down more than double that. What’s significant about that? Well…bots’ activity doesn’t tend to be clustered around peak times. They’re bots. The accounts most likely to be active primarily around prime times are people. That’s why those are the peak times. So if you look at the valleys, instead of the peaks, the June numbers come in around 16.5k, and in the last month, between 15k and (as of the trough on Sept 11), 11,796, for a mean of about 13.5, or down 3k.
So, best case…those bots are 3k, which means they’ve only each been banned twice. But is that a best case? That means fully 10% of the pre-blackout peak user count…was bots. If 10% of your game is bots, you’ve got a serious problem. Worse, I deal with hundreds of people whenever I’m in fleets. Everyone reading this probably knows a few hundred people they can point to and go ‘well I know they’re not a bot’. So if there’s one bot for every 9 people we know are people, that’s an awful lot of bots concentrated in places neither CCP, nor the players, are looking at as ‘problems’.
Whatever, Let’s Just Blow Stuff Up
Really, that’s what the Chaos Era is supposed to be all about, isn’t it? Making EVE vibrant, exciting, the ‘unforgiving hellscape’ Falcon pined for on TiS? So how’s that going?
According to the ‘Produced, Destroyed, Mined’ data in the Monthly Economic Reports, destruction in May totalled 38.15T ISK. June saw 37.62T destroyed. July, with nearly the first two weeks not part of the Blackout, saw 40.23T destroyed. And August… well, the numbers we have total out at 33.15T, the lowest of the 4 months. But there’s a problem with the data.
August 17, 20-21, and 27 are… well, they’re just not there. So once again, we don’t have the data to know what the hell is going on. We can’t even tell what the hell is going on with the MER this year. There’s been months where entire regions were missing. Now we’ve got days missing. The graphs seem to show those days… or at least, they don’t show any big 0s in those days… but the numbers we’re getting? Nope, not there. But ok, let’s plug those 4 days using the average of all the other days in August. That gives us a total for the month of 38.06T.
38 trillion ISK isn’t an appreciable increase from June’s 37.6T. It’s lower than July. It’s even lower than May. So where’s all this destruction we were told would erupt? From what the regional numbers, month-by-month show us, nullsec’s destruction numbers are, if anything, down very slightly from pre-Chaos. Some areas are up, like Syndicate, and Fade, but they appear to be outliers. In May, with Cache missing completely, all of nullsec shows 21.05T destroyed. June showed 20.2T. July, again, is half-chaos, half not-chaos, at 22.7T. August is back down to 20.5T.
But The ISKies!
Yes, bounties are down. Just like they’ve been dropping since January. Yes, the Blackout, and the initial system shock, accelerated that with a drop off a cliff, but bounties have been bouncing back. Incursions didn’t even blink. And of course, there’s no missing data there, either, right?
Bounties had been dropping. Mining had been dropping. But if you look at where the actual ‘just fell off a cliff’ is taking place, it’s in areas like Providence. Providence!
Does anyone really think Provi was the cause of all of the stagnation in null? Maybe it was Fade? Scalding Pass?
People Behave Like People
The areas under the control of organized blocs have weathered the chaos more or less intact. As Rise said: larger, organized groups will adapt better. And humanity has reacted to ‘chaos’ the way humanity always reacts to uncertainty and upheaval: by seeking shelter and strength. Hilmar said something else in that Talking in Stations interview… something he’s repeated to Steven Messner since:
“The Chaos Era is a little bit like that. We are not smart enough—nobody is smart enough—to understand what we might find.”
CCP likes to trot out things like this when players tell them that Ventures will get used in FW complexes. Or tell them trollceptors will be abused, point out that Jump Fatigue’s original formula would let someone rack up over a millennium of red timer, or any of a dozen other things. Nobody’s smart enough to predict that will happen. So why try? Act more, think less! Don’t think things through! (That was another gem from the TiS interview: CCP needs to stop trying to understand what their changes will cause.) Well…here’s a statement from July 5, a full week before the Blackout:
“First week : A lot of people will be happy to kill people don’t understand what happen.
After 2 month : Only umbrella survive, and you looze a lot of player. Hunter will cry after cyno beacause they will not have other target up.
Remimber this nerf hurt more little entity and newbro than old player in big entity.” -Dictateur Imperator, Jul 5, Local Comms Blackout – Discussion Thread
He’s not the only one who pointed out just exactly how people would react, just the first one. That’s the thread CCP never even responded to once. (First of two about the Blackout, in fact. No replies to either one.) It’s the one they were paying so little attention to, Falcon merged another thread into it after it hit the 10k auto-close.
Look, the ‘Chaos Era’ doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Done right, shaking things up and adding instability to the game isn’t just a good idea, it’s a necessary one. What we’re getting, though, isn’t chaos. This is not excitement. And it’s not ‘keep you on your toes’ anything. It’s more stagnation, as the big blocs stay safe, and people like Provi and other smaller, less regimented groups crack. This isn’t making things more difficult for veterans, and it sure as hell isn’t making them easier for newbies.
Around the end of next month, we’ll see the Q3 financials when Pearl Abyss does their quarterly conference call. I really want those numbers to be good ones. I’ve invested an absolutely ridiculous amount of time in this game, and the friendships I’ve made in it. I don’t want to lose this incredible, messed up thing we call EVE.
But when the CEO is talking about changes every week that never materialize, and how the developers shouldn’t even try to understand what’s going to happen, and how EVE itself is talking to him in his dreams like… I don’t even know, King Hamlet to Prince Hamlet (Yes, Hamlet’s father’s name was Hamlet) or the Ghost of Julius Caesar to Mark Anthony, from Shakespeare, and that EVE wants to complete its purpose, which is (not even kidding) ‘World domination’…
This is not the way you convince your players that the game is in the hands of serious, intelligent, sane developers. It’s not the way you inspire confidence in your customers that your product is one they want to spend time and money on.
A Final Note
Two months ago, I said:
“Players expecting the Blackout to ‘fix’ things, and talking up how this change will achieve this or that, and make everything better, aren’t helping. All that does is create expectations that this cannot meet. And when those expectations—built entirely by the playerbase, because CCP isn’t saying this is anything more than a test to gather data—aren’t met, people will want to get mad at CCP for it. They may start saying that CCP’s just screwing things up worse, or flailing around in the dark.”
I still believe that. But I also said CCP needs to have the resolve to follow through on things. Instead, CCP’s spent two months not doing a damned thing, and acting like these tiny little changes are somehow going to cause, well, “absolute anarchy.” They’re not. EVE’s problems have been, and remain, large, systemic ones that need a lot more than some minor tweaks and twisting knobs to fix. If CCP really wants to make EVE “a virtual world that’s more meaningful than real life,” then they’ve got a lot of actual, hard work to do, and they should probably double their team size.
We’re two months into the “Chaos Era”. Enough prancing around naked for the cameras, Hilmar.