Thursday, 4 December 2014

CCP vs ISBoxer: Update

I've already posted about the ISBoxer input broadcasting change, and since then the conversation has been continuing on the forum, and on other blogs.  It's definitely an issue with very strong feelings on both sides.  I made my position on the matter clear last time - banning input broadcasting will not fix the problems they are attempting to address, rendering the entire change pointless.

Beyond this, the change may not even prevent ISboxer users operating at the near same level of effort as prior to the change.  One of the things still being questioned is the use of other ISBoxer features which aren't input broadcasting, but allow lower effort input to control your characters.  Two of these features are VideoFX and Round Robin.

VideoFX allows you to cut a portion of an eve window out and place it within another EVE window, or in a blank window segment called dxNothing.  This means you can be looking at a single window, and see all of your clients modules, ship status, overview, etc all in a single place.  An example of this can be seen to the right.  If this is allowed, which at the moment it seems to be, then players will be able to group their controls in such a way that time between clicking them is minimised.

Round Robin
A round robin keybinds is pretty simple.  It allows you to set a key to execute a command on a client when pressed, then when pressed again perform the same command in the next client, and so on.  For example if I set up a round robin keybind for F1 on 4 clients, then press F1, it does this for each press:

Press #1 - F1 on Client 1
Press #2 - F1 on Client 2
Press #3 - F1 on Client 3
Press #4 - F1 on Client 4
Press #5 - F1 on Client 1
Press #6 - F1 on Client 2

This allows a player using ISBoxer to look at a single screen and press a button which executes commands on background clients.  Standard global keybinds will also be able to execute commands within requiring a player to alt-tab, and these type of keybinds seem to be within the rules as long as each press only executes one command on one client.

Between these two features, most ISBoxers will be able to continue as normal with very little extra effort.  Only the largest multiboxers will remain affected.  At the current time I have a support ticket with CCP asking for a public clarification over the use of these two features, and the community are arranging a meeting to ask them the same questions among others.

A Real Solution
So with it being fairly clear that this change will have little to no impact, and will certainly not solve the issue that appears to be CCPs target, the question remains, what should be done.  Before I even begin on that let me be clear.  I have used ISBoxer in the past, prior to that I've multiboxed the same amount of clients manually for a considerably longer stretch of time.  Recently I've had no need to run ISBoxer, and actually had to resub my ISBoxer account to play around with the settings to see what will still be possible going forward, so changes to ISBoxer have no real effect on me.

Now personally, I believe that most people's issues with ISBoxer come down to envy.  Nobody is really damaged by ISBoxer players ISBoxing.  Some solo miners seem to think that every multiboxer they see is either ISBoxing or a bot.  It simply isn't true.  And even when they are an ISBoxer, many times they are only usign broadcasting for certain commands, while the majority of their commands are being done manually per client to improve efficiency.  So to be honest, I don't think ISBoxer rules should be changed at all.  It's not worth the hassle of enforcing a rule which could easily spill over to banning legitimate manual multiboxers purely so that envious players will be cheered up, especially since it will be a month before they realise nothing has changed and are reporting hundreds of manual multiboxers (as they will likely assume anyone with more than a couple of characters must be broadcasting input).

Realistically, the actual issue CCP are trying to address is that through mutliboxing (not even just ISBoxing), players are able to achieve more than players who do not multibox.  It was people flying solo bomber fleets which was the final straw bringing in this change.  Now the problem with multiboxing activities like mining, bombing and incursions has nothing to do with input broadcasting.

The problem is that the game mechanics are far too simple and so encourage mass multiboxing.  I believe that the correct way to address this issue is to improve those mechanics.  Make mining more engaging and more rewarding to do actively rather than semi-AFK.  Make bombing require more input to accurately deliver damage.  Make incursions benefit from multiple players fulfilling considerably different roles.  These are ways that multiboxing would still be viable, but would reduce the desire to do so and reward people for actually playing the role they choose actively.

For too long systems like mining have been left in a state where players benefit from doing them inactively, and that's really the issue here.  It's about time CCP took the time to review the dull, inactive gameplay mechanics and made them worth actively playing.

Saturday, 29 November 2014

CCP hits out at ISBoxer

On Tuesday a forum post by CCP Falcon outlined CCPs new stance on multiboxing.  Most of this was just a reiteration of long standing policies, multiboxing is allowed, no botting.  the interesting change however was on input broadcasting.  From January 1st 2015 input broadcasting will be considered automation and will result in bans.

Based on the discussion in this area and our will to be more clear and concise with the community regarding this part of our rules, we have decided to also apply this two-strike policy to prohibited forms of Input Broadcasting and Input Multiplexing as of January 1st 2015.
We would like to add, however, that we will not be taking action retroactively and will only be policing this policy as of January 1st, 2015.

For those that are unaware, input broadcasting is any means of making a button press or click affect multiple clients.  Unlike botting, this requires a player to be at their PC and to be controlling the client manually, but able to simultaneously click multiple clients.  The most common use of this was mining, where a player could control multiple miners all firing their lasers at the same time, stripping out belts in no time. More recently it's been used for bombing runs allowing a single player to run fleets of bombers which is probably why it's come under more fire.

But is it the right way to go about it?  Read the forums and you'll see the change has a lot of support.  There's certainly a lot of the usual morons screeching about "the tears" who can pretty much be disregarded from word one, but there's also a lot of players suggesting this will somehow benefit the game.  But will it really?  Are they fixing a problem or are they just treating a symptom?  Mining fleets exists because mining is boring and on a small scale unrewarding.  Bomber fleets exist because the mechanics around bombing make them able to crush whole subcap fleets in short order.  Whether the fleets are controlled by multiple people, a single person manually or a single person with broadcasting software is irrelevant.

And many of the multiboxers won't be stopping.  They already have to sit there working their fleet, it's not automated like a bot, and so adding in having to alt tab between clients really isn't going to have any effect on any but the largest multiboxers.  Fleet warping will still mean you can move fleets around with relative ease so from a mining point of view the only thing that has changed is that firing at the rock has to be done client by client.  The guys dreaming of all the ice that is suddenly going to be available for their single man mining operation are completely out of touch with reality.

Amusingly, it's likely that from the multiboxers up to around 20 clients, there will actually be an increase in efficiency.  The thing is, broadcasting keys is not entirely efficient.  It takes a lot of work to make sure you aren't firing 20 lasers at a rock with a single unit of ice in it meaning that at best a broadcasting miner will be getting around 85% efficiency (that is isk gained vs potential maximum yield), while a manually controlled one can generally be over 95%.  The reason people use broadcasters is because the amount of effort they have to put in to get their best efficiency is considerably less than doing the same manually.

Overall I think this is going to have minimal long term impact on that actual gameplay at the cost of a fair few subs controlled by the largest multiboxers who are understandably upset.  Nobody really would have cared at all if this was the decision made a few years ago when decisions about multiboxing were being made.  A lot of the upset over this is that it's just another example of CCP saying one thing then doing a complete 180 when enough carebears cried about it.  For years CCPs stance has been that input broadcasting is fine as long as it's not automated, so some of the larger multiboxers have gone out of their way to run these fleets on a massive scale, all within the rules.  Now they are being told that it's no longer allowed, destroying their entire playstyle.

It's not the first time this has happened and it won't be the last.  CCP need to take a serious look at their rules and actually make coherent rules that get enforced.  Take for example cache scraping.  It's actually against the EULA, yet rather than banning for it, CCP allow it, and further are looking at ways to bypass it using API.  Another prime example is EVE-radio, who run a for-profit business out of EVE, and have an official channel in game instead of just being shut down for using accounts for business purposes.  People wouldn't complain so much if the rules made sense and were actually enforced, rather than changing on the whim of a handful of CCP devs.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Wholesale Trading

I've just updated the blog with the long overdue page for the Wholesale Trading mailing list. This is an in-game mailing list designed to replace the old Bulk Trade mailing list, allowing players a free to use place to advertise the sale of or desire to purchase items in bulk. Anyone is able to join and use the list as long as they adhere to the rules. For more information on the list, head on over to the Wholesale Trading page.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Blog Response - Ship Bumping

Recently over on Merchant Monarchy, a post has gone up complaining about CCPs response to the recent titan bumping exploit.  The exploit is that multiple titans are jumped into a cyno nearby to a POS with a safe titan inside, and all of the titans are pushed away, bumping the titan out of the POS.  Since he's decided to moderate out all of the comments he disagrees with (pulling a Gevlon) I figured I'd respond to it here.

Now if you read the post and comments, and try to bear though the "null cartels" this and "null babies" that - which has become all too rife from MoxNix of late - you'll see that what he's crying about is that highsec players can be bumped while he believe null players cannot.  Undoubtedly his freighter has been bumped and this is the emotionally driven response from a player unable to separate games from real life.

Realistically, the reason the titan bumping has been declared an exploit and (partially) fixed is simple.  And it has nothing to do with bumping.  The reason it's an exploit is that without a password to the POS granting legitimate access, no ship should be able to interact with a ship inside the shields, regardless of the mechanic used.  If however the aggressor had legitimate access to the POS or if the ship inside the POS was partially protruding, then bumping them is fair game.

The thing is, this is the same regardless of what space you are in.  If you are in a POS in highsec in a freighter full of goodies, you also cannot be bumped out by a player with no access to the POS without it being an exploit.  So whether he's willing to acknowledge it or not, complaints that this is somehow "null sec cartel favortism" is complete lunacy at best.

Friday, 10 October 2014

Quick Tip - Market price scrolling

If you use the market system a lot for trading, you tend to find yourself updating market orders a lot.  When you need to change the price in a large increment, you just type in or alter the number where you need it.  If however you need to make a minor adjustment, many traders advocate the use of the scroll wheel.  Scrolling while your pointer is over the price window will change the price in 0.01 ISK increments.  This is handy to know, and is pretty common knowledge.

Slightly less common knowledge is that if you need to make slightly larger adjustments, you can hold the CTRL key while scrolling, and you will instead change in 0.1 ISK increments, allowing you to more quickly change prices when you need to.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Understanding the Market System

If you're a follower of other EVE blogs, you may be aware of Merchant Monarchy, a trade focused blog which is run by Moxnix Induli.  It used to be a pretty good blog, but more recently he's begun to tranform into a mini Gevlon Goblin, copying or following in many of his ideas. I helped along his transformation when he converted his blog to moderated comments yesterday, merely by having an opinion that opposed his own.  Perhaps it's the warped mindset of people distanced from the game who play purely to increase that ISK counter in their wallet rather than for entertainment like the majority of us.

But ah well, it did raise a good topic that has been raised before and I felt like publishing my opinion on.  The market order system.

The system and the problem
The way trading works in EVE is a pretty simple brokering system.  When you buy an item for a given price, the system will find the lowest matching sell order for that item and will purchase it.  The price it uses for that is the price you have chosen, not the price of the lowest sell order.  The same thing works for selling, it will find the highest matching buy order and sell to that order, at the price you set.  This way, the system favours benefiting the player with the outstanding order over protecting the player actively buying or selling.

The problem that this normally causes for some people is that if they sell an item for way under the price they wanted, they potentially sell their item at a fraction of the price and lose out.  Take for example a PLEX.  You go to sell a PLEX for 800m ISK, but you miss a digit off when setting up the sale, and you sell it for 80m instead.  You get 80m, the buyer gets a PLEX at a massive discount.  The system warns you when you do this, so you would either need to have that warning disabled or click though it to do this, but it is possible and does happen.

The solution
The solution to the "problem" is simple.  Nothing.  The system is working as intended, and delivering the desired effect.  If you aren't careful and you don't pay attention to what you are doing, you will lose out.  As the EVE wiki puts it: "To sum up, other players will benefit from your error if you miscalculate your buy or sell order price".  This add some well needed risk to the trading system, without which you could just dump everything on the market for 1 ISK knowing that you'll always get the best available price.

Personally, I believe that there's not enough risk in the trading system.  It's possible to make vast amounts of ISK with very low effort and with relatively low risk.  I pretty much make all of my ISK from trade these days with a few offshoots into industry to mix things up, and have far more across my accounts than I'm likely to use.  Speak to any serious trader, and the response will be the same.  Maybe half an hour updating orders now and then, a few contracts out to haulers and the rest takes care of itself.  On most items if you are even half awake you can foresee price drops, hauling can be covered by collateral (I make ISK when a courier fails to devliver) so the only real risk is trader error.

An actual solution
How could this be changed?  How could trading have more risk introduced?  Personally I think a longer time between order updates and a considerable increase in tax and broker fees would be a good start, but long term, I think shaking up how items are introduced, making industry less predictable with fluctuations in readily available resources across the universe would go a long way to creating patterns that are harder to predict.

But I put it to you, would you change anything about trading, and if you would, what would it be and why?

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Fanfest 2014 - Economy Second Decade

Today at Fanfest I got the opportunity to sit in on the economy lecture by CCP Dr. EyjoG, and this is a brief overview of that lecture.  He discussed the general state of the economy for the last 15-18 months and the state that leaves EVE Online in for the future.  In short, the economy is looking pretty good and coping with much of what we throw into it.

Economy From January 2013
The Gross User Product showed a stable economy from a high level, with the main price indices reflecting this, with slight deflation throughout the system.  The moon mineral changes brought down the Primary producer index while the ore compositions changes affected the mineral price index in June 2013 as expected, but both picked back up later in the year.  Price level inflation showed a general deflation with drastic ups and downs related to change made in EVE, but the overall deflation is a sign of increased efficiency due to changes rather than a sign of EVE dying.

The Secondary Producer Price Index was quite interesting, with statistics clearly detailing how the changes to salvage have effected both the salvaging activity and price.  The introduction of salvage drones with Retribution caused a 67% increase in salvage activity, with the price of salvage reducing steadily since then.  The introduction of MTUs in Rubicon further boosted salvaging activity by 20%.

Sinks and Faucets
The isk sinks and faucets were discussed with the top faucet being Bounty prizes by a large margin with is not uncommon.  The top sinks were Skills with LP store following closely behind.  With the changes being made boosting activity in certain areas, there's always to risk that sinks and faucets can fall out of balance, but overall the net isk being added to the system on a monthly basis has remained relatively stable.

One area of concern within the community over the past few months has been the PLEX prices.  Some players believe the overall price of PLEX is increasing too quickly and is a bad sign, and this was addressed here.  The average price of PLEX has been steadily, though rapidly, increasing throughout the year.  But the use of PLEX has been increasing year on year since it's introduction in 2008, so it's quite understandable that the price will continue to increase.  Interestingly though, the volume of sales of PLEX on the market has decreased as the usage of plex for subscriptions and services are increasing.  While services (such as dual character training) do use PLEX, the are a marginal driver, with subscriptions still consuming the majority of used PLEX.

A question that has been asked numerous times over that past few months was also cleared up.  Are CCP intervening with the PLEX prices?  The following quote has been seen before:
EVE Central Bank may, or may not, take actions to intervene with the PLEX market if its stability is severely threatened.
  - Important to note that it does not mean that there is a specific target for PLEX prices or money supply in the future.
In this presentation he reiterated this, but stated that during 2013 no interventions were taken at all.  In 2014, following an alarming trend in March, action was taken in mid April to stablise the prices by introducing more PLEX to the market from EVE Central Bank reserves.  So for everyone now asking if CCP have intervened in PLEX prices recently, as of April, yes they have.

Consumption is good for the economy, and by consumption, we all know that what is meant is destruction.  January 2014 unsurprisingly supplied a huge boost in consumption, with destruction spiking to 53T isk lost in that month alone, primarily causer by the fight in B-R5RB.  April was also a good month for consumption, with Burn Jita causing a significant (though considerably less that B-R5RB) spike in explosions.

Speaking of B-R, the stats were released comparing that battle to Asakai.  while B-R was a considerably longer battle, the peak pilots numbers for Asakai was 2723, while B-R reached only 2670.  It was also pointed out that a battle on Serenity (China's EVE server) peaked at 3001 pilots and ran as long as B-R, so we've definitely got to get another one in to reclaim our title.

Graphs for Titan production and destruction by quarter were also shown, with construction showing 60-70 created per quarter with destruction only being around 10.  This means that the number of titans in the game is increasing with there being between 1500 and 1800 titans in game today.

Player Analysis
One important part of the game is the ability for players to analyse the market data and make predictions and assessments based on that data.  CCP believe that they need to provide more data (some of which is coming with CREST), and provide a peer reviewed process of assisting players in interpreting high level data.  With that in mind, from June 1st, CCP will be putting in a process where players will be able to submit papers to CCP for a peer review process which will then allow papers to be published on the CCP blog system.  Specific information about what will be provided and what the process will entail will be in an upcoming blog, so keep your eyes open for that.

Final Notes
So overall the economy is stagnant, but in a good position.  The upcoming industry change will be the largest industry changes since the creation of EVE affecting a vast array of areas within industry, which will stimulate the economy.  After hearing the economy lecture, and seeing stats from CCPs perspective, I'm a lot more comfortable with the idea that the economy will cope with the industry changes when they get released.

Friday, 14 March 2014

API Security - A blessing and a curse

One of the key parts of corporation recruitment is background checking your members.  A lot of people ask for API keys to vet their members, and it's most commonly thought about as the number one thing to do when recruiting.  I disagree.  API checking is BAD!

What is API checking?
API checking is the act of taking a new recruits API key, running through their information and working out if they are likely to be a spy.  It often goes hand in hand with an interview type process so questions can be raised about portions of the provided data to clarify if they are something to worry about.

API checking is good for catching obvious spies and awoxers, but you will never prevent all spies and you will never stop every awox. If someone with experience in intel wants to get a spy or an awoxer in, they will, and there's nothing you can do to stop them.  A lot of people like to encourage API checking and point out all of the positives, but they overlook a problem that API checking introduces.  The false sense of security.

False sense of security
Checking API keys provides a leader a sense of security, a sense that they have done their background checks so they feel more secure. But spies can still infiltrate a corp, awoxers can still get int too, all it takes is a clean enough account to pass the target corporation's level of scrutiny.

Since awoxers and spies will get in anyway, the corporation is in fact no more secure than it was before.  Any one or more of the members could be in the corporation for illegitimate purposes.  But that sense of security provided by the API checking will often make CEOs more comfortable, and make further security measures more relaxed.  People are more comfortable granting access to roles and titles with API checking having been done, even though the member could still be a spy.

From experience, corporations that have API checks in place are on the whole harder to get into (though not substantially harder, only a minor inconvenience), but considerably easier to maneuver into a good position once on the inside.  Corporations that have no API security tend to be incredibly tight on role security, making it more difficult for a spy to get into a position where they can cause any real damage.

The solution
The solution is pretty straightforward: Assume all of your members are spies.  If you simply assume your members are all in the corporation as spies and awoxers, you'll put more effort into ensuring they can't do anything bad.  You won't hand out roles so swiftly, and you'll ensure secure information is kept restricted to only the people who need it.

You can still use API keys to vet your members, but don't let yourself fall into a false sense of security.  If people want to move up the ranks you'll need to vet them, and API keys should be used but again, that should never be evidence that they are fine to hand masses of roles to.  Take API verification with a pinch of salt. Never let the rest of your security lapse.

Thursday, 27 February 2014

Rubicon 1.3 - Corporation Member Cap Increase

With the current corporation skills allowing for 6300 members and the ever increasing size of corporations in the game, we are getting to the stage where no amount of CEO training is able to cope
with their size.  This is primarily affecting Brave Newbies who are dangerously close to hitting the cap (within 100 members of the cap).  Rather than adding another tier of skill, CCP are choosing to double the effectiveness of the current levels of skill, raising the new cap to 12600 members.

The skills will now increase the member cap as follows:
Corporation Management will provide +20 members per level.
Megacorp Management will provide +100 members per level.
Empire Control will provide +400 members per level.
Sovereignty will provide +2000 members per level.
Existing CEOs will need to update their corp with their skills for the changes to take effect.

The Objections
As with almost every change there are people on both sides of the argument, both for and against.  The primary reasons for objecting to this change are:
  • Removal of diversity
    • By allowing people to form larger corporations the game becomes less diverse as people form into larger groups pushing smaller groups out.
  • Overpowering the blobs
    • Allowing larger groups gives people more opportunity to outnumber their enemies without restriction.  Smaller corporations would stand less chance of being able to go against larger corporations.
  • Reducing Conflict
    • With larger corporations, members will have less targets to fight, reducing opportunities for conflict to erupt.
Support for Change
Personally, I support this change.  A mechanical limit on the number of player in a corporation is not really a sandbox feature, and it can easily be bypassed by forming an alliance.  While the objections are fair, there's nothing that will happen after this change that couldn't happen before except there will be a green blob rather than a blue one.  Even so, that will only happen in one case for a while, which is Brave Newbies.  No other corp is anywhere close to the cap.

Brave Newbies should in fact be held as an example for why the corporation change is a good thing.  They are growing in number rapidly, and beginning to engage in larger scale combat.  When N3 tried to make a break from the 0-W station Brave Newbies formed a fleet and fought right to the end.  Allowing a group like that more room to grow can only be a good thing.

It's an unfortunate fact that EVE will never be for small groups all round.  Null combat is likely to be dominated by the largest force that can project the most amount of fleets into combat.  Now that's not to say smaller groups should have no content.  Smaller groups are currently more effective in wormhole space due to movement restrictions, and their effectiveness should definitely be increased in many areas.  But when it gets to the point that mechanics have to choke larger groups to allow the smaller groups to thrive, the freedom of EVE will have been stifled.

Problems and Future Considerations
Larger corporations do have their downsides, which this change will expand.  Corporations are susceptible to thefts and other forms of awoxing, and the larger a corporation grows, the harder it becomes to monitor and control all of the members.  Corporation management mechanics really don't help with this.  They are archaic and can be difficult to set up and audit.  The larger a corporation grows, the more people you need to help manage and monitor the use of roles and titles, further opening the corporation to security holes.

While the ability to steal from your corporation, kill all of the other members and even boot everyone out and disband the corporation if you can is a vitally important part of the game, being able to do so because the tools provided to prevent you are awful is not a good thing.  For this reason, I think it's important that CCP start to think about how to change the corporation management tools.  Roles need to be simplified down and the ability to track and manage those roles needs to be improved.  But that's all for another post.