Out of Game

You may or may not have been following the Gevlon + Rohan argument about whether PLEX-selling – that is purchasing a RMT item that confers 30 days of game time in exchange for in-game currency – constitutes cheating in EVE, or is “unfair,” or skipping content, or is ruining the simulation, etc. It has been a fascinating series of posts precisely because I find it almost impossible to relate to their worldview at all. Parts of the argument have the contours of unassailable logic; see Rohan’s near prose when it comes to inconveniences. And yet some part of my mind reels backwards each time I get too close to accepting their premises.

So, let us back up a bit: what constitutes out-of-game resources/thinking?

Rohan says:

I still think PLEX is unfair. All the arguments for PLEX have sidestepped the basic unfairness issue, and pointed to the good effects that PLEX has. But at it’s heart, Eve permits one faction of players to skip content for real money, but does not do the same for other players. It weakens the fidelity of the economic simulation that is Eve Online. [...]

PLEX is like the designated hitter rule in baseball, or shootouts in hockey. It’s legal, it’s in the rule book. It’s popular, the crowds enjoy it. It might even be necessary for the continued health of the game. But baseball without the designated hitter is a purer form of baseball, as is hockey sans shootouts.

See what I mean about contours of unassailable logic? PLEX can exist within the game, in your cargo hold or on the AH, but it is not of the game, so to speak. You cannot be mining an asteroid and a PLEX fall out; you cannot assemble a PLEX from a blueprint. Every PLEX that exists came into being from a cash transaction outside of the game. In a very real way, it is a breaking of the 4th wall. Rohan is essentially correct.

…and yet, I cannot shake the nagging feeling of the arbitrary.

Across the main post and comments, Gevlon says:

You can only skip grind. If you skip competitive elements, you are cheating. Skipping any competitive element is cheating. Otherwise you are on the slippery slope of “I just skip one more element” until the point of you skip it all and buy a pilot with top killboard stats and peacock around without actually killing anyting yourself. That’s not against the ToS either. [...]

@Ephemeron: true that for most people getting E15 is probably just as long as solo mining 500M ISK but it’s an out-of-game skill. Again, if we accept this, the conclusion is “the best way of winning EVE is being good in RL money making”

And also:

@Azuriel: you are an inch from being banned from here for being an idiot.

The second account ship obeys the same rules as the first. With 2 hulks you can mine twice as fast, true. But can lose two times more ISK to a ganker.

Real life money is real life money. Buying things in real life with it is normal. Having lot of money is winning RL. But a game is separated from RL for a reason. Buying an EVE-ship by having RL money is just as bizzare as buying a car from ISK.

Putting aside the unfounded belief in the objectiveness of sandbox competition, I see the contours in this argument as well. The ISK from the sale of the PLEX cannot be affected by anything Gevlon does; the credit card which creates the PLEX cannot be ganked, unlike the ship earning 500m ISK mining Veldspar.

But let us go back to our question: what constitutes out-of-game resources/thinking?

Where things break down for me, in both arguments, is when it comes to the arbitrary natures of the distinctions being made. Gevlon, for example, is perfectly fine with multi-boxing. He himself has three accounts running so as to have three separate characters gaining skill points… in an apparently competitive game. But at what point did a second and third account not count as buying advantage using real-life money? Those additional accounts are supporting the primary one: his original “competitive goal” of buying and piloting a Titan is only becoming a quicker reality due to the additional skill point paths he is paying a premium for. Using just one account, his goal would be months (if not years) farther off, as he cannot train Trading and Combat skills at the same time.

I find Rohan’s argument similarly arbitrary. What makes PLEX so especially odious and disrupting? The nakedness of purchasing it from CCP? Consider for a moment other out-of-game transactions. Does multiboxing reduce the fidelity of the economic simulation? Although both of your spaceships exist in the “pure” game world, the reality is that you are paying for an advantage over those with one account. A normal player cannot be in two places simultaneously, nor specializing in two separate skills, nor being able to jump around and trade on six different stations. And let us not pretend opening a 2nd account is any less naked than PLEX.

For the moment though, let us assume that multiboxing is fine.

Is it fine to accept ISK from a friend whom also plays the game? Is the competitiveness of the game intact, should he simply pay for all of your ship fittings and cover all of your losses? Does that constitute out-of-game? Let us even assume he received all of his ISK “legitimately.”

Suppose that instead of simply gifting you the ISK, your friend grants it as payment for letting him copy your homework. Or for driving him to the airport. Out-of-game? What if you offered to pay his EVE subscription for a month, in return for 500m ISK? Your friend still risked his ship getting ganked, still had to undercut Gevlon’s Veldspar by .01 ISK on the AH, and so on.

Rohan and Gevlon’s arguments have such shapely contours because they imitate the elegance of Plato’s Forms: the “pure” EVE is such, and self-contained. But it’s not. Other people exist, and the relationships can cross over between in-game and out-of-game. Ever play Monopoly? You may not have been able to buy Boardwalk by slipping the Banker a real $20 bill, but in the last game I played every single one of us brought in out-of-game resources in the form of favors, grudges, and so on. I gave my friend Andreas a railroad essentially out of spite; he had done nothing in-game to warrant such a one-sided transaction, but I was tired of Aaron winning all the time.

Point being, I can understand how PLEX appears as an “obvious” case of Pay-To-Win (assuming you subscribe to the notion of ISK = winning)… but I see no rational reason to draw such otherwise arbitrary distinctions. Using a Vent or Mumble server to coordinate attacks is an out-of-game maneuver. So is helping a friend with ISK, either freely or for services rendered. I would even argue that reading gaming blogs and Wikis and other 3rd party websites are absolutely out-of-game resources regardless of whether you can open up a browser in-game or not.

Where is the clearly delineated line? Does it start at the cash shop, or at the relationships you bring to the game? Is there one at all?

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Posted on May 7, 2012, in Philosophy and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 12 Comments.

  1. > But at what point did a second and third account not count
    > as buying advantage using real-life money?
    I’m not sure, if I read this right, but I think he bought subscription for these accounts with PLEX by paying ISK made in-game for them.
    http://greedygoblin.blogspot.com/2012/04/second-account-trader-alt.html

    • Gevlon bought the 2nd account via the “Power of 2″ promotion, which he paid for via cash. In the post you linked, he makes the statement that he can “unboost” his real-life cash purchase by paying its future monthly sub via PLEX. Even if we allow the rampant hypocrisy of his own “skipping any competitive element is a slippery slope” argument to stand (read: selling PLEX is cheating, buying PLEX is not), the fact remains that he paid real money for an advantage, i.e. 2nd account.

      Besides, a second account is a second account, whether he funds it with in-game activity not. Does that really NOT count as out-of-game resources? If I make someone laugh in EVE and they give me a PLEX, am I not cheating when I sell it? What if it was a ship? What is the difference?

  2. I’ve always felt that PLEX introduces the money/time tradeoff back into the game. That is, people tend to have free money or free time in “large” amounts, but rarely both.

    If you have lots of time, you can invest it in a MMO and be king of the hill (unless you can’t, but bear with me). This gives you an advantage over people who don’t have a lot of time, but are mean to you when you ask if they want fries with their meal.

    By re-introducing their financial advantage to MMOs, they’ve taken away the one place you can feel good/better about yourself.

    Which no one likes.

    It actually reminds me of the main tank for a raiding guild I was in. Really good guy, very skilled and helpful and a bagger at the local grocery store (well, one 20 minutes away, but where we lived did come up at some point, and he lived close).

    The above is an over-generalization, partially for the sake of comedy.

    • I absolutely agree, for exactly the reasons you bring up.

      If what we are accomplishing in an MMO cannot be bought with money, we have done something literally priceless. Of course, from an objective standpoint, that notion is no different than “farming X for free” considering we frequently CAN buy that thing, legally or not.

  3. Two wrongs don’t make a right.

    Would the simulation or competitiveness be better if we could ban multi-boxing and external relationships? Yes, of course it would. However, that’s really hard to do. Remember that multi-boxing originally meant running on separate computer systems, not just separate clients. It would be very hard to identify a multi-boxer without getting false positives (like a couple who plays together).

    Same thing with external friendships. The game company cannot really do anything about that.

    But CCP is involved in selling PLEX. It is a situation that is more under their control, that they have power over. Thus, they bear a lot of the responsibility for PLEX.

    Actually, for the economic simulation, one could argue that multi-boxing and external friendships simulate internal friendships within the PLEX universe. After all, even capsuleers would have friends and family. An external relationship would be mirrored by an internal ongoing relationship, as opposed to to the one-time transfer of PLEX.

    To put another way, it makes sense for a family member to transfer 500M ISK to someone in a way that it does not for a complete stranger to do the same. If we say that multi-boxers and external friends correspond to internal friends within the universe, the fidelity of the simulation is preserved.

    • Except having friends/family is not fair, under your rubric. It’s not pure. It is one player controlling two seats in Monopoly. If the fundamental “rules” of the game are unenforceable, what does that say about the purity and competitiveness of said game?

      Remove PLEX, and EVE is just as unfair as it was before. Assuming fairness even applies to social games in the first place.

      • I disagree. Fairness is not absolutely binary. There are degrees of unfairness. Remove PLEX, and Eve is more fair than it was yesterday. It still may be unfair, but it is more fair.

        Under your logic, Eve is unfair. Therefore, anything the devs do, even if it makes the game more unfair, is fine. CCP devs boosting their friends? Completely fine, because Eve is unfair. Goonswarm getting Dev help to gank newbies? Completely fine, because Eve is unfair. Making freighters immune to PvP? Completely fine, because Eve is unfair.

      • How does removing PLEX change anything about EVE’s fairness? Gevlon is multiboxing via PLEX, but he could multibox without it. The fairness quotient, such as it is, has not changed. Nor has the inherent unfairness that is cooperation based on non-economic factors. If anything, PLEX is the most fair thing in the game – it substitutes out-of-game favors/relationships with something everyone has access to.

        But to answer your charge specifically: yes, actually, I would argue that fairness is binary in the case of games. If you knowingly play an unfair game, any additional line you draw is arbitrary by definition. “More fair” is still unfair; you are still willingly playing an unfair game. Maybe you have some subjective line that is too far for you to cross, but as the old joke goes, we already know what kind of game you are, we are merely haggling over the price.

        There is nothing inherently unfair about freighters being immune to PvP anymore than the “Go directly to Jail” Monopoly card is unfair. It’s a part of the game rules that you either accept or reject.

  4. Having spent plenty of time in EVE, quite frankly they are both wrong. PLEX is CCP endorsed subsidization of secondary accounts, and even primary accounts in some cases.

    Rohan insisting that itinerant is cheating because it is everywhere else is no less a meta argument than any reasoning or bad analogy he uses.

    Likewise, Gevlon insisting that people who sell PLEX are M&S is sheer unadulterated ignorance; anyone who has really gotten involved with EVE knows that ISK means dammit k terms of currency in the game.

    It’s a tired ass argument that achieved dead horse status ages ago.

  5. (A) It has been said that if you are not paying for a product; then maybe you are the product.

    (B) If you don’t like it; don’t facilitate it. Every Plex bought drives it’s price higher. If you consider placing a Plex on the ISK market to be cheating; then buying that same Plex facilitates the cheating. If you are so avidly against plex; start a buyers boycott and pay real life cash for those extra accounts (or let them laps).

    From what I have read – it is the pirates dream to take down the stupid rich industrialist. Plex facilitates more rich industrialist accounts and gives the pirate a ‘legitimate’ (and more likely to be AFK) target.

    I am content for some pirate to pay me to play the game in return for the occasional chance to shoot my ships down.

  6. I’ve staid out of the whole discussion because it bewildered me a bit. I feel neither passionate enough about PLEX that I feel like I can write a rant, nor dispassionate enough that I can write an evaluation unclouded by personal prejudice.

    What did get me was Gevlon’s sentence: “Having lot of money is winning RL.” Wait a second, what? I mean, it’s fine if that is his personal goal, up to him. But the authority that resonates in that sentence, the hyper-materialistical claim that this is The Goal From Which No-One May Stray is quite disturbing to me. Then again, his blog is named “The Greedy Goblin”.

    Real Life is a Sandbox. There is no winning. Everyone sets their own goals.

  7. I bought 2 PLEX about two months ago for $30. The only reason I didn’t buy $100 worth is because my girlfriend talked me out of it.

    I looked at it like this:

    I work 40+ hours every week. I work hard and I perform well. As a result of that and other real life obligations, I don’t have time to spend grinding for ISK in EVE to buy stuff, but I want new ships/components/etc. So my time spent at work is time other people with more time spend earning ISK. Essentially, I’m earning ISK by being at work.

    That’s all the justification I needed.