This month, EVE Online publisher CCP announced some major changes to the way that the spacefaring MMO's currency systems work. In a game where a spaceship can have a real-world value of over $US2000 ($2622), that's naturally caused some high-level players to freak out a little, and not without reason. Here's a breakdown of what's going on.
On March 16, CCP posted a blog saying that it would be revising the game's major currency system, called PLEX. Currently, players can buy a single PLEX for $US20 ($26), which they can either exchange for 30 days of game time or sell to other players for in-game credits. CCP said it would deflate the currency so that $US20 ($26) would now buy 500 PLEX, and users' current accounts would be updated to reflect the new value.
This split was intended to make PLEX a more flexible currency, so players could use it to purchase smaller, lower-value items. This was necessary since CCP would also entirely phase out another in-game currency, Aurum, which is used to pay for microtransaction-style cosmetic upgrades like new skins for your ship. Players' existing supplies of Aurum would be converted into PLEX at a rate of roughly seven Aurum to one (deflated) PLEX.
At first, CCP raised players' ire by saying that any Aurum balance under 1000 (roughly $US10 [$13] worth) would be simply discarded when the change went live. But on March 21, it posted a second blog saying that it had reconsidered, and that Aurum balances under 1000 would be suspended and converted three months after the initial changeover.
Why would CCP delete the Aurum balances?
In EVE Online, CCP has created one of the most complex virtual economies in the gaming space. In 2007 it even hired a real-world economist to help it understand and safeguard the economy that lives inside of the game. CCP is generally reluctant to introduce changes to the game that could drastically affect said economy. "A large portion of the total Aurum stockpile is in small balances left over from past giveaways," it wrote in the blog post, "and by not converting those small balances we mitigate risk of oversupply in the PLEX market."
Indeed, CCP has given away Aurum as gifts to players at various points in time. During a Christmas promotion last year, CCP gave players 300 Aurum each, even players who had created free-to-play accounts. Many players created multitudes of free accounts to get repeated instances of the gift. CCP didn't want to destroy the value of PLEX by converting all of this giveaway currency and flooding the market.
Why did EVE have two different currencies, anyway?
Actually, it had three.
OK, same question, but with "three" instead of "two".
When EVE launched in 2003, it had one currency -- Interstellar Kredits, or ISK. This was like World of Warcraft gold: You earned it in-game and spent it in-game, and you couldn't (officially) buy it for dollars. In 2008, CCP changed that: Instead of paying $US20 ($26) a month to re-up your EVE subscription, you could instead pay $US20 ($26) whenever you wanted to buy a Pilot's Licence Extension -- hence the name PLEX. Instead of going to a definitely illicit and potentially shady third-party website to trade your real-world cash for ISK, you could go to the official EVE Online website and purchase a PLEX for $US20 ($26). These could be redeemed for another month of EVE play or sold on the in-game markets for ISK, but they were also treated like any other in-game item: You had to store them on your ship, which meant that they could be traded or sold, but also stolen or destroyed. That's why you might read stories about players "losing real money" after a massive EVE battle, like one I reported on a few weeks ago in which $US13,000 ($17,042) worth of assets were destroyed during a player-run event.
In 2011, CCP introduced the third currency, Aurum. This was intended to add a fairly standard in-game microtransaction-based market to EVE, allowing players to spend real money to buy cosmetic upgrades of lesser value. Each unit of PLEX was just worth too much money to be easily used in this way. Aurum also couldn't be destroyed by other players, like PLEX could.
How did players react to the introduction of Aurum and microtransactions?
They didn't like it, to say the least. There were literal in-game riots staged over the release of the expansion that introduced Aurum and the "clothing store" at which you could spend it. Hundreds of players descended on main trade hubs and fired their guns on a memorial statue, causing massive lag and grinding the highest activity systems in the game to a screeching halt. Players attended these riots for many different reasons: Some were against any form of microtransaction, fearing a slippery slope that could end in EVE becoming a "pay-to-win" game. Some were OK with it in theory but protested the cost of the purely cosmetic items. The most infamous, a monocle, cost 12,000 Aurum, or about $US70 ($92). The whole affair became known as "MonocleGate". CCP's CEO eventually had to apologise for the way the rollout was handled.
All these currencies are very confusing to me, an EVE newbie.
Correct, which is likely why CCP wanted to simplify everything and create one single type of purchasable currency that would work in all circumstances. Hence the splitting of PLEX into smaller units, and converting remaining Aurum balances into PLEX. Additionally, CCP announced that PLEX could now optionally be placed into a "Vault", which means that players no longer have to worry about others destroying their currency.
That sounds nice?
You'd think. The idea of making PLEX a "safe" item in the game which can no longer be destroyed seems like a sensible one from an outside perspective, but EVE players have a long history of getting enjoyment from the suffering of others. Players often camp the hyperspace lanes between market hubs looking for precious cargo being improperly shipped. When a ship is destroyed, every item in its cargo has a 50 per cent chance of dropping as loot to be scooped up by whoever is left standing after the battle. PLEX is one of the most highly sought-out of these cargos, and the collective player base goes wild any time a massive shipment is found and destroyed. In one particular case, a player carrying 84 PLEX, roughly $US1700 ($2229) worth if purchased individually, was destroyed while leaving the game's main market hub. In this case, the PLEX was destroyed along with the ship that carried it.
What's the current situation between players and CCP?
The player base has been somewhat placated by the second iteration of the upcoming changes, with the Aurum balances no longer being discarded and their assets currently feeling much more safe. CCP has a history of reacting to the player base and working hand-in-hand with them, to achieve a workable solution that both meets the company's goals and does not leave the players feeling left out in the cold. In this particular case, the developers have been very open to feedback and discussion on the official EVE forums, on Reddit, and even on player-hosted talk shows. The changes are slated to begin shortly after FanFest, CCP's yearly gathering in Reykjavik, Iceland, kicks off on April 6, but no definitive timeline has been given. We shall see what further news FanFest brings about the changing systems.