Friday, October 28, 2016

A Quick Update About Skins Gambling

Last night I made a brief appearance on the Open Comms Show and apparently made some comments in regards to skins gambling I should develop into a full post or two. Some of my comments resulted from my real world belief that established interests lobby for government regulation in order to secure their economic position. One just has to watch the news for how taxi cab companies lobby against Uber and Lyft for examples. Similar regulatory efforts backed by the hotel industry are underway against AirBnB. In EVE, we call this Malcanis' Law.

Where skins gambling, the category of operation that EVE casinos fell into, is concerned, the established real world interests are the brick-and-mortar casinos. If large amounts of money are wagered outside the casinos, the gambling interests have an interest in getting a piece of the action.

Skins gambling, almost if not totally unregulated up until this summer, is such an activity. Up until the legal actions swirling around Valve, one of the leading experts in the field, Chris Grove of Narus Advisors, estimated to grow to become a $20 billion industry in the year 2020. Indeed, one site, CSGOLounge, handled $1 billion in bets in 2016 before Valve began issuing cease-and-desist letters in August. To give some perspective on the amount, in 2014 gambling casinos and other gambling activities run by native Americans generated $26.8 billion. So $20 billion is a lot.

I'm currently in Las Vegas attending the CCP event in Planet Hollywood, so I don't have a lot of time or access to my locally stored reference materials to flesh out the subject with the word count it deserves. Just know that, like EVE itself, a lot of action is occurring below the surface.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

A EULA Change Produces Deja Vu All Over Again

"We pay our writers 250 million ISK per article, podcast or video, and 150m for editing. Every article you see on CZ takes between three to ten man hours of work to produce. Outside of that, there is a large amount of administrative work and research that needs to be done, all of which allows us to offer an experience to our readers and listeners that far exceeds what any individual blog might provide."

I should feel really good right now. Professionally, my boss went on paternity leave for three weeks, leaving me in charge. All emergencies handled, the servers didn't melt, and he sounded happy after I debriefed him on what he missed. Which is all good, because my review is coming up. Cha ching!

Outside of work, I land in Las Vegas at 9:10 am Thursday, local time. I'll spend four days talking internet spaceships with people I've met at previous meetups as well as with new people I don't know yet. Perhaps more importantly, I'll get to go to Holsteins and get one of their milkshakes. Yum!

Despite all the positivity in the air, I feel like a cloud has settled over my head. A cloud the likes not seen since the great ISBoxer meltdown of 2014-2015. CCP announced a EULA change taking effect on 8 November that bans EVE gambling sites. And just like with the enforcement of the rules involving input broadcasting and input multiplexing on 1 January 2015, a small segment of the EVE player base is up in arms over CCP's decision.

A feeling of deja vu struck me as I watched my Twitter feed yesterday. First came a post on Crossing Zebras wrapping "EVE media" in the community flag. One argument is that, "it’s time for some of these players that have amassed an incredible wealth to give back to the community." Really? Amassing wealth in a video game leads to social obligations to those who want funds? We play a video game, for Bob's sake. Anyone trying to guilt trip me over having a lot of virtual currency in a video game gets laughed at. Of course, I guess I need to have a lot of ISK first.

The second idea is even worse. The author wants CCP to run its own casino and distribute the profits to worth causes, like EVE media sites. I have to quote one paragraph:
"The rest could be used by CCP to sponsor external sites, like Crossing Zebras or like EN:24, which would be telling the stories of players to the world, act as a source of advertising for the game, as well as holding CCP accountable when they release new game features."
Seriously? Does anyone expect a news site paid for by CCP to criticize CCP? Eve News 24 couldn't even criticize I WANT ISK, a major sponsor, whenever the gambling site fell afoul of the EVE Online EULA. Besides, CCP is ending gambling in part due to a movement among governments to crack down on skins gambling done by third party sites. Is CCP going to risk running afoul of violating those same laws directly? I think not.

A little later, Niden's bleg appeared in my Twitter feed. Perhaps the first post from Crossing Zebras put me in a foul mood. Or perhaps the combination of the bleg combined with Niden's and Nashh Kadavr's appearance on Talking in Stations set me off. But I couldn't help but think of the reaction of ISBoxer users.

In some ways, the reactions of those who profited from the largess of EVE casinos is more egregious than that of hyper-boxers who used input broadcasting and multiplexing. In the case of ISBoxer users, they loudly proclaimed that they brought so much money into EVE that CCP needed to balance the game around them. The EVE media types and other content creators addicted to gambling money not only argue that CCP needs to balance the game around gambling, but the developers also need to take legal risks to allow them to continue their activities. And if CCP insists on banning gambling, then the developers need to replace the lost income somehow, or bad things will happen that will damage the game.

I still remember the months-long fights over the input broadcasting and multiplexing bans. I really don't want to live through another period like that. Something tells me that, since the EVE media has a much greater reach than ISBoxer users, I may not find an escape short of just abandoning all EVE sites.

In the meantime, I should look on the bright side. Holsteins has a special fall milkshake:
"Get your taste of fall at Holsteins with the Pumpkin Pie Bam-Boozled Shake, a pumpkin spice blend of vanilla ice cream, pumpkin vodka, pumpkin pie filling and graham crackers, garnished with vanilla frosting, a candy corn rim, whipped cream and a slide of pumpkin pie."
I can feel my mood improving already.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Preparing To Go To Vegas

Over the years, preparing my EVE accounts to go on a real life trip has changed. Back in the early days of playing the game (2010-2011), my only worry involved selecting a long skill to train until I got back home. Considering I spent two, and even three weeks, in Bulgaria on business, that sometimes wasn't easy. In the following years, I became involved in planetary interaction and during my first few trips to Reykjavik I also worried about keeping my colonies operating.

For my return to EVE Vegas, my preparations are pretty minimal, both in and out of game. I have to include out-of-game prep because the meta never shuts down. This year, I picked up a portable charger for my phone. One day at Fanfest this year my phone almost ran out of power. I figure I'd forestall that possibility this week. Twitter is a pretty valuable means of communications. I also picked up a couple of things to drop off with The Open Comms show crew broadcasting the night before the convention begins.

In game, the extended skill queue introduced in Phoebe means I don't have to worry about picking out a long skill. I still, however, have to worry about my training time. The Crimson Harvest event gives out cerebral accelerators and I spent part of the weekend collecting them for my three characters currently training. With Biology V, the accelerators give a +10 bonus to all learning attributes for 48 hours. I gathered enough to keep the bonus going until Friday evening Las Vegas time. Unless my laptop magically can run EVE now, I can't use the accelerators while at Planet Hollywood. But I can use them until 2 November, which means I should try to get three more accelerators to use immediately once I get home Monday night.

Finally, doing all the things to prepare for EVE Vegas put a crimp into my quest to build a Nestor. I managed to meet the nocxium requirement, so all I have to do is mine enough ore to refine 8,500 units of zydrine and 3,600 units of megacyte. The zydrine I get from mining hedbergite in low sec and the megacyte from arkonor in null. Yes, I know just taking my Prowler to a trade hub and buying off the market is faster and easier, but I set up some rules for my quest for the great white battleship and this close to the goal I'm not about to abandon them.

I have a couple more days of work before I land in Vegas on Thursday morning. The event should prove interesting if nothing else, especially since I know where the Starbucks is now. I hope I can use my stars for free coffee. I think I'll need it.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Rising PLEX Prices And The End Of Gambling

As part of my research into real money trading in EVE, I keep track of the price of PLEX in Jita. The average price of 30 days of game time reached 1.2 billion ISK yesterday. Since CCP shut down I WANT ISK on 12 October, the price of PLEX increased by 4.3%. Therefore, CCP's crackdown on RMT activity within IWI, combined with the directed denial of service attack that forced Eve Bet to shut its doors, is the reason that the PLEX price is rising, right?

I took a look at the 7-day rolling average of both the average price of PLEX and daily volume of sales and found the theory is probably not true. Since the second week of September, the price of PLEX has steadily risen. The recent rise in price looks like a part a longer term trend, not a reaction to a black swan event.

What draws my interest in the market is the demand for ISK. Players exchange game time for virtual currency. Even with the recent drop from the high demand peak on 8 October, the 7-day rolling average of the amount of ISK exchanged for PLEX still was 19.4% higher on 20 October than on 1 September.

Perhaps in the long run the closing of the gambling sites will result in a reduced supply of PLEX on the market. But at this point, I don't see the closing of two of EVE's largest casinos affecting the markets that much. And with the upcoming introduction of Alpha state clones, we may never have the data to know for sure.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Valve Responds To The Washington State Gambling Commission

The ongoing drama involving skins gambling involving CS:GO continued Monday when Valve responded to the Washington State Gambling Commission's demand to explain what the game maker intends to do to stop vacilitating gambling. The WSGC published the 3-page letter yesterday. Due to the format of the file, I have to do some typing, but pages 2 and 3 are below:

Your letter demands that Valve "stop facillitating the use of 'skins' for gambling activities through its Steam Platform." In-game items, such as virtual weapons, music packs, or decorative stickers, are common features in computer games. CS:GO customers can purchase skins, or receive them as random drops during game play. They are part of the game.

There are two Steam servfices that skins gambling sites appear to use. First is the exchange of skins. Steam allows exchange of various virtual items on Steam, by Steam users for the entertainment of Steam customers. They can take items that they have purchased or acquired via gameplay and trade them with Steam users for other items that they may enjoy more, or sell them for Steam Wallet funds to spend on other Steam purchases. Valve enables the exchange of skins on Steam in one of two ways: through the Steam Marketplace where Steam customers offer Steam Wallet funds to purchase a skin from other customers, or through Steam trading where a Steam customer makes an offer of trade for in-game items directly to another Steam customer. Valve makes receives a small transaction fee in Steam Wallet funds for Marketplace transactions, but Valve does not receive any compensation for trading. Impoertantly, Valve does not allow Steam customers to cash out skins or Steam Wallet fund for real world money. Valve does not charge any fees for user to user trades of skins.

Second is authentication of Steam users. Steam offers authentication using an open internet standard known as OpenID. OpenID allows a Steam customer to identify himself on a third party website by association with his Steam account, without having to give his Steam credentials to the third party site. OpenID services are ubiquitous on the internet, as many other internet services, such as Google and Facebook, offer OpenID for their customers as well.

None of these activities are illegal in Washington or any other jurisdiction, and we do not believe the Commission contends to the contrary.


The Commission's letter publicly threatens Valve with criminal prosecution for gambling on third party sites. We do not understand the legal or factual reasoning supporting this position, from the Commission's letter or from our conversations with the Commission. We are also unsure of how you propose we do this. If there is a specific criminal statute or regulation you believe Valve is violating, please provide a citation. We are not aware of any such law that Steam or our games are violating.

The Commissions main argument seemed to be "Valve could stop this, so it should." We do not want to turn off the Steam services, described above, that skin gambling sites have taken advantage of. In-game items, Steam trading, and OpenID have substantial benefits for Steam customers and Steam game-making partners. We do not believe it is the Commission's intention, nor is it within the Commission's authority, to turn off lawful commercial and communication services that are not directed to gambling in Washington.

Steam does, however, provide warnings to customers about using Steam trading and OpenID. Furthermore, Valve has taken action itself against skins gambling. As the Commission knows, in July 2016, Valve announced its intent to disable the Steam accounts of skins gambling sites for breach of Steam user agreements. We followed this announcement with cease and desist letters of our own to over forty skins gambling sites that we were able to identify, and we shut down the Steam accounts of these sites. However, we do not know all the skins gambling sites that may exist or may be newly created, and we are not always able to identify the "bot" accounts that particular skins gambling sites may use to try to effectuate Steam trades. Cleverly designed bots can be indistinguishable from real users performing legitimate trades and their methods and techniques are constantly evolving. A bot account that is blocked can easily be recreated with a new identity almost immediately.

Valve can enforce its user agreements against the Steam accounts of skins gambling sites, where we can identify the site and identify the corresponding account. In fact, we would be happy to cooperate with the Commission, if it is able to identify more skins gambling sites that are illegal in Washington and the Steam accounts through which operate. We welcome the chance for further communication with the Commission, if it would like to clarify the legal allegations against Valve, or alternatively to work with Valve to identify offending Steam accounts of gambling sites.
TL,DR. We haven't done anything wrong. We are not currently doing anything wrong. Prove us wrong or go away.

The more I look into skins gambling, especially the circus surrounding CS:GO, the more I become convinced that if Valve had just enforced its own terms of service from the beginning, the situation would never have reached this point. Instead, Valve allows a website,, to operate, converting virtual items into real life cash. I believe the WSGC looks at that relationship as the reason it states Valve "facilitates" gambling. Close up the RMT shop, and the issue probably becomes less problematic. But without skins gambling, the CS:GO eSports scene isn't as popular and skin sales go down.

Looks like the story won't go away anytime soon. I wonder what the WSGC will do next.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Valve Receives A Delay

The changes to the EVE Online EULA banning sites like Eve-Bet and I Want ISK may seem like big news, but the current focus in the greater video game gambling world is on the state of Washington. How does Valve plan to satisfy the Washington State Gambling Commission's order to stop facilitate skins gambling?

The world will have to wait a little longer. The WSGC issued the following statement yesterday:
New Information: October 17, 2016

Washington State Gambling Commission Headquarters, LACEY, Washington – October 17, 2016.

At the close of business on October 14, 2016, a representative of Valve Corporation notified Commission staff that the company is still working on a reply to the Commission’s Letter and a reply will be provided Monday, October 17, 2016.

Director David Trujillo said “I am disappointed that Valve Corporation missed Friday’s deadline, but encouraged that they have committed to responding today. I look forward to reviewing their response in detail.”

The Commission previously told Valve Corporation to stop allowing the transfer of virtual weapons knows as “skins” for gambling activities through the company’s Steam Platform. Valve Corporation had until October 14, 2016 to respond and explain how it is in full compliance with Washington’s gambling laws or risk having the Gambling Commission take additional civil or criminal action against the company.

Commissioner Chris Stearns said “The type of approach Valve decides to take will be very important.”

The Washington State Gambling Commission was created to protect the public by ensuring gambling is legal and honest.
Chances are, whatever comes out of Washington will have a huge impact on how the industry moves going forward, at least in the United States. I'd rather write about that than some of the gambling drama currently swirling around EVE.

Monday, October 17, 2016

The Rabbit Hole: Associations

"In chaos theory, there's a concept known as sensitive dependence on initial conditions. Most people call it the butterfly effect. In EVE, we call it the sandbox."

One of the benefits of writing for yourself is the ability to go back and reflect on the past as well as the future. On Wednesday, CCP explicitly declared gambling websites based on CCP's intellectual property and utilizing EVE's in-game assets as violations of the game's End User License Agreement. Back in July, news emerged about skins gambling in Counter Strike: Global Operations that could affect the EVE Online gambling scene, but I thought the chance of any significant change in policy was slight. In the first post I tagged with the gambling label, I began my exploration of the subject with the following paragraph:
"Among the interesting developments in EVE Online is the growth of online gaming sites utilizing in-game currency and virtual goods. I don't think that popular sites like EveBet and I Want ISK really worry about real world gambling laws. After all, the money wagered is internet spaceship bucks and not convertible to real world currency without violating the EVE Online End User License Agreement and Terms of Service. No need to worry about lawyers or governments intervening, right?"
Over the course of the last three months, gambling regulatory bodies declared the type of gambling operations conducted in EVE Online as gambling that falls under real world laws. On 16 September, two YouTubers in the United Kingdom who operated a website dedicated to FIFA 16-related gambling were charged with promoting a lottery and advertising unlawful gambling, along with inciting individuals under the age of 18 to gamble. The pair pled not guilty on Friday and face a hearing on 6 February 2017. Looking at a white paper published by the U.K. Gambling Commission in August 2016, my analysis indicates that the type of games run by EVE gambling sites fall under the purview of the UKGC. At the very least, in order to comply with U.K. law to operate within the U.K., EVE gambling sites needed to obtain an operating license from the UKGC.

On 5 October, the Washington State Gambling Commission issued a press release announcing it had given Valve ten days to present a plan to stop facilitating the operation of skins gambling sites, which the WSGC declared violated Washington state gambling laws. In the press release, WSGC chairman Chris Sterns stated:
"In Washington, and everywhere else in the United States, skins betting on esports remains a large, unregulated black market for gambling. And that carries great risk for the players who remain wholly unprotected in an unregulated environment. We are also required to pay attention to and investigate the risk of underage gambling which is especially heightened in the esports world. It is our sincere hope that Valve will not only comply but also take proactive steps to work with the Commission on future measures that will benefit the public and protect consumers."
In effect, regulatory bodies declared unlicensed gambling sites, even if only dealing in pixel money, were illegal. At that point, all of the EVE gambling sites were openly in violation of point 7 in the Terms of Service.
7. You may not violate any local, state, national or international laws or regulations.
The change in the EULA just made the violation explicit.

I recounted the events over the past few months in order to discuss a major topic of conversation among EVE's chattering & entertainment classes over the weekend. What happens to those content creators who relied on casinos to fund their activities? But I have a slight twist on the subject.

What responsibility did people doing business with EVE's gambling sites have in vetting these organizations that turned into their business partners? Admittedly, I am a bit paranoid, but I questioned the longevity of any gambling organization, even one as respected as Eve-bet. I should add I've always wondered what would happen if CCP cracked down on gambling.

I divide the EVE gambling sites into two categories. In the first, the organizations have a clean record with CCP and apparently no integrity issues. I put websites like Eve-bet and Eve Online Hold'em into that category. Those sites ran for years with few, if any, issues. Aside from the association with gambling, which is rather important for at least one sub-segment of content creators. While I think those content creators were naive in believing the gambling gravy train would go on forever, I can at least understand any confusion and bewilderment.

The second category consists of sites that throw up red flags, such as CCP taking disciplinary action against the site or an association with sites that violate the terms of service of some games, such as G2A. The biggest example, of course, was I Want ISK. When CCP takes action against an organization for RMT multiple times, any content creator taking that money has to know the source of the funding could dry up at any time. Quite frankly, anyone who complains that CCP shuts down such a questionable source of funding deserves any ridicule he receives.

I do need to add a special section for Twitch streamers. The Twitch Rules of Conduct include the following prohibition:
Breaking the LawYou must respect all applicable local, national, and international laws while using our services. Any content or activity featuring or encouraging illegal activity is prohibited.
I'm pretty sure that urging people to use a service that violates laws in some jurisdictions, such as an unlicensed gambling website, violates Twitch's Rules of Conduct. If I were a Twitch streamer, I would hesitate about putting any advertising at all on my home page, much less tell my audience how great a gambling service is. Streamers can rage at CCP all they want, but the developers can only restrict the flow of ISK and assets. Twitch can cut a streamers access to the platform.

I have to admit I don't really have a lot of sympathy for the content creators crying about losing their funding. The sympathy I do have is a result of CCP allowing the situation to continue for so long. CCP decided they would rely on content creators to advertise their game and all of a sudden the rules changed. Those who tried to work with reputable people probably feel betrayed. But those who took money from the likes of I Want ISK? Time just ran out.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

EVE Online Bans Gambling Sites

With the introduction of Alpha clones and a switch to a freemium business model, changes to the EVE Online End Users License Agreement to take effect in November were predictable. I don't think anyone really expected a change to Section 6B of the EULA.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

An Uneventful Patch Day

I set aside some time last night to play EVE. I normally don't do anything special during the week, but I'm attending a wedding Friday out of state so if I wanted to play around a little with the 118.9 update, I needed to do so before travelling.

The patch didn't really add a lot to the game. A big complaint for some people was the removal of the in-game browser. I hardly ever used the IGB, even when using Tripwire. I never play in full-screen mode, so I always have access to an out-of-game browser. Personally, with as much screen real estate as the UI takes up, I couldn't see taking up even more space with a web browser.

One change I jumped on right away was the introduction of the command burst charge blueprints. I went out and purchased the BPOs for the skirmish and shield burst charges. The skirmish and shield blueprints I found in the Minmatar Republic. I have the feeling I'll need to do a little travelling to collect them all. But I'll have a good start on researching them. When I get back from the wedding, I'll have the material efficiency maxed out on the BPOs I have. Then I can begin ice harvesting.

Of course, I had to do a little work on my quest for the Nestor. I went to low sec and spent about an hour mining hedbergite in a Procurer. I have a couple of belts with a lot of bookmarks laid out so I can almost always stay aligned. I was afraid that with two strip miners running, I might move out of range of the asteroids before I finished off the rock. Thanks to the Higgs Anchor Rig, I can fly slowly enough to stay in range of the asteroids. I completed collecting the isogen I need and managed to get about 40% of the required nocxium. I still have a long ways to go to meet my zydrine requirements, but I got a good start.

All in all, an uneventful night. Sometimes a person just needs to go out to low sec and do a little relaxing mining. I do need to kick the rust off my Prospect and find some Arkonor or Bistot, but that can wait for another day.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

ISK Buyers Banned

Yesterday CCP Peligro tweeted out a ban wave involving over 100 players who bought ISK off the black market. I use the term "black market" because the ISK came from hacked accounts. In EVE, players wishing to purchase ISK can do so by buying PLEX from CCP and then selling the 30 days of game time to someone for ISK. Purchasing ISK from a third party results in a 7-day account suspension for a first offense or a permanent ban for a second offense.

We are less than 30 days away from the launch of Ascension, the latest EVE Online expansion coming to Tranquility on 8 November. The introduction of free-to-play elements to online games usually attracts RMTers, botters, and yes, hackers looking to make a quick buck. EVE experienced a huge uptick in illicit RMT activity in February with the introduction of skill injectors and I expect a similar, but smaller, increase in November. If you want to buy ISK, please go through account management or an authorized PLEX reseller to buy PLEX in order to obtain ISK on the market. Going on the black market just isn't smart.