Thursday, June 30, 2011

Devil's Advocate - Aurum for Skillpoints

Alright, I'm going to take a contrary position and argue that a micro-transaction that allowed players to buy skill points to allocate as they please (like when learning and social skill points were refunded) is not a bad thing. I am doing this not because I want CCP to start offering non-vanity purchases in the Noble Exchange but rather to make sure that people don't just have knee jerk reactions to micro transactions and are able to adequately defend their positions.

So our basic assumption is that CCP should not sell anything that gives an in game advantage to player A that player B cannot get through any other means. An example of this would be "gold ammo" with high statistics than regular ammo. Also, "other means" does not include stealing or buying the "gold ammo" from player A.

So selling a paint job for a ship is acceptable, selling Gold Antimatter ammo with better stats than even faction Antimatter is not acceptable.

So skill points. They fall into a grey area that is not as cut and dried as the two examples above. Yes, having more skill points is an advantage but skill points accumulate over time equally for all players. Thus CCP would not be selling an advantage so much as they would be trading time for dollars.

Consider this: you want to fly a Rapier recon cruiser but need Minmatar cruiser V and its 14 days off. Whether you log in constantly for those two weeks or not at all, you will only have access to that skill and thus that ship in two weeks. How unbalancing can it be to allow you to get into that ship two weeks earlier? In other words, the in game advantage player A has over player B is an arbitrary point in time, before which you can't fly a ship and after which you can, regardless of the actions or skills or effort of those respective players.

Look at skill points another way: why does CCP not allow all characters on an account to train skills? Simply put, skill points are doled out at a specific rate to only one character at a time to make you pay more money, either by subbing another account to train a second character or to play your single account longer to do all the training you want to do.

Also, after a certain point (I'll guess 10 million skill points) any in game advantage gained by more skill points is not in terms of making player A superior to player B, its in giving player A more options as to what player B can do. Combat skills, manufacturing skills, trade skills, they all have a certain number of skill points that help them get better and then they cap and the player either puts points into another character or another skill set. A a certain point allowing players to purchase skill points would merely unlock other abilities rather than making them better, abilities that player B could get access to in time regardless of effort (ISK costs for skill books not withstanding since it applies to both parties equally).

Finally, selling skill points would allow CCP to address what is perceived as the biggest knock on the skill point system: that newer players can never catch up to older players. We know that this is mitigated a lot by the aforementioned cap of skill points that any area of skills can accept before being full, but selling skill points might prevent some players from leaving early in frustration.

Downsides:
Of course there would be problems with selling skill points. Make it too cheap and easy and suddenly you find that disposable alts that are extremely useful can be had for the price of a six pack of Coke Zero (aside: so thirsty at the moment). People hunting for kills can never be sure if that 6 month old character is easy pickings or skilled up to the gills by dollars (i.e. birthdate becomes more irrelevant). The rewards of careful planning and neural remapping points becomes virtually moot. And most critically, older players who have lots of skill points by virtue of simply playing the game will complain bitterly and loudly that the game is being "dumbed down" and made "too easy" compared to back in their day.

So, TL;DR verion:

Selling skill points would not violate the "in game advantage" downside of bad micro-transactions and would only allow players more options in a less frustrating manner and faster rate.

OK readers, refute!

19 comments:

  1. Would I be tempted to spend Arum on SP versus a Monocle? Now that would be tempting...

    Going back to the learning skil refund... One thing I observed was that there was a significant uptick in the cost of T2 light drones right at the same time. I attributed that to people spending their points in drones, and supply outsstriping demand, which may or may not be a good assumption, however I think any cash for time plan should consider the effect on the market as demand increases suddenly for items that require 'significant' training to access. Other than that, I kinda like your idea.

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  2. I would actually be ok with such a system IF the skill points came from existing players, instead of an advantage appearing out of the ether. Under this system, instead of just getting a set of skill points, you would be able to purchase, for example, 3000 skill points in Cruise Missile from another play. That would keep the overall rate of skill point accumulation stable and avoid the Coke Zero problem, it would address the older players concern, as well as keeping the implant and remap mechanics in place. CCP could even add a "neural age" field, which would replace birthdate as the relevant field. It would in effect enhance the sandbox mechanics of EVE.

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  3. I think this would work well if there a cap to how many SP you could buy per toon (not per account). As you say, at a certain point, the SP becomes less about capability and more about options. If we cap the buyable SP per toon at about that limit (8-10 million), the new players can spend more time playing instead of waiting, and the older players can quickly try out new playstyles or improve ones they already enjoy. Let's face it, combat is alot harder when you don't have cap, aren't fast enough, and have to use t1 guns and deal about half as much damage as someone packing t2 guns. i think this would make the learning curve less steep as well, as trying to learn something when you aren't capable of doing it is what makes it so difficult in my eyes. How can you learn to PvP when you aren't even capable of some of the basics of PvP? How can you learn to be a profitable producer if you can't even make basic things profitably?

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  4. When new stuff comes out, competitive players could view it as "required" to buy the SP to train those fancy new ships/skills/etc immediately. Any player/alliance that doesn't spend the money could end up at a disadvantage while their players skill up the new stuff.

    You could make it even the playing field a bit by limiting AurumPoints to older skills but that would require a bit of fancy footwork to have it make sense and it might not affect the new FOTM ship that recently got buffed.

    Aside from those potential problems, it does fit pretty well with what a lot of other games have been using cash shops for: trade time for money.

    Perhaps the way to package it up would be to sell uber-implants/boosters in the NEX. The implants/boosters double training speed for X days and then go away. Players with ISK but not $ can buy it from other folks selling it on the market. Players that use the implants/boosters lose it if they die. It's also not an immediate SP injection so you can't just all of sudden know kung-fu, matrix-style.

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  5. Thanks for a great post, I like how you take a point of view that not many have expressed yet.

    I enjoyed the blog.

    I am not for or against what you suggest, think I would use an option to buy skills points, if it was a reasonable price, as there are allot of things I would like to try out, but am a long training stretch away from the skills needed yet.

    Yes it would make it harder to spot the low skilled pilot to GANK, but is that necessarily a bad thing? Also you would not take anything away from the EVE in game economy with at a Skill for $$ system. No one will get "cheated".
    Yes you would probably see FOOLS with to much cash, flying around loosing Mother-ships (but we do that all ready - People having bought there accounts).

    On the other hand, if people can buy instant good skills and the ability to fly the BIG ships, it might take something away from the community. As the system is now, you have to be in the game for a long time to get to the good skills and big ships. In that time you develop contacts, friendships and get involved in the hole experience of EVE. Is is a big part of the game right now that you have to develop your skills along with your skill points.

    Also if you were able to buy skills. Large alliances (like the former NC) would be able to train up and field lager amount of super CAP pilots in no time turning the tides, for real cash. Do we want that?

    I have not decided yet how I feel about this, but I am looking forward to reading the reply's.

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  6. seriallos' suggestion of an implant/booster that boosts training speed is a good one. It allows players to pay to change the rate of speed, but don't allow them to 'buy' SP outright.

    That way you can't have whole alliances of players become super cap pilots overnight.

    The real important factor though is that it needs to have a decay factor. i.e. a slot 6 implant with a 30day decay on it that doubles training speed. slot 6 is important as it means people can't put one in the slave/crystal clone that they normally sit in, they would have to commit to be in their 'training' clone for the month

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  7. Doing this would change the pacing and potentially destroy yet another thing that makes EvE unique. Skill training is dependant on time. There is no grind (except for the obvious isk one).

    There is a sense of a real achievement when you finally do get that cert, or can use that T2 weapon. To be able to buy it outright, diminishes that value.

    The other element is that a skill to L4 is damn near as good as L5. Smarts, strategy and tactics will compensate for that 9 times out of ten.

    Lastly, and probably most importantly: say a noob starts playing EvE. Spends $100 buying Caldari BShip V. Yeah baby! Now, why can't I fit what I want. Spends another $100 on fitting skills. Alright!! Damn. Why am I not doing any damage... another $100 on missile skills..?!?!? WTF??? Damn. Dead already. >sigh< another $100 on defense skills... oh, and drones....!!! etc etc....

    Sure, I pulled the figure out of the air, but getting the balance between giving noobs a hand up and not giving even more of an advantage to veterans would be very very tricky indeed.

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  8. Props to you mate for arguing for the point, I shall attempt to argue against here.

    Most people's knee jerk reaction is that this cheapens the time people have already invested in their characters as you point out or that it could impact game play.

    That may be true, but that's not the point I'm going to argue. I don't think this is a good idea simply because it doesn't make any sense for a business that is trying to make money.

    I shall attempt to explain.

    Remember when "ghost training" was removed from the game? For those of you who don't know that this is, here is the deal. You used to be able to set say a skill that would take over 30 days to train, let the subscriptions lapse and then reactivate after the skill finish, thus avoiding to have to pay for 30 days of training.

    This was removed because CCP didn't think it was fair that some people were paying for that training time and others were not. It was a feature that not everyone was using. Some people complained that it was unfair to the customers and eventually CCP agreed as it was also unfair to CCP to be cheated out of 30 days of revenue in a time when they clearly identified that they needed to find way to generate revenue. So, it was removed.

    Remember, as a subscription based business, the point is to keep as many customers you have paying on a fairly consistent schedule. Having reliable income as a gaming company allows you to both keep operating and to create new product to increase revenue, etc. etc.

    That being said, why would you allow the purchase of SP rather than keep that customer "hooked" as it were?

    If a player is allowed to purchase SP rather than train it, they loose part of the gaming experience, that discovery and goal setting that results in that feeling of accomplishment. It cheapens the experience for lack of a better word.

    Now, human beings are fickle and if things are very easy to obtain, we will of course obtain them, but what happens then? What do you do if you have "bought your way to accomplishment"?

    You become bored and you stop playing the game.

    Don't think so? Well, ask yourself what happened once you found that god mode cheat code for Duke Nukem or Doom.

    You played as your all powerful self for a while, but you eventually stopped playing because the game could no longer hold your interest.

    So, if the point of CCP's business model is to produce a product that keeps someone subscribed on a monthly basis, why would you introduce something that will definitively reduce the potential of that customer remaining a consistent revenue stream over the long term?

    Put simply, you wouldn't do that. Don't think so?

    Well, if you remember, CCP increased the starting skill points to what, 800,000 sp and doubled your training rate until you hit 1.6 million. If CCP really wanted to level the playing field, they would have had that go more toward the 10 million sp you cite here.

    CCP didnt do that. They tried to find that happy medium to bring people in and keep them paying. I say tried as that's not what happened, but that is a discussion for another blog post.

    Thoughts?

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  9. I'll have to go with being against purchasing skill points unless there is a HEAVY limiting factor which if the current NEX prices are any indicator would probably be cost. If the limiting factors aren't good enough buying sp for cash will be game breaking to say the least, too many people able to fly ships they cna ill afford. The present sill training plan allows most to amass the needed isk to fly the ships over the time it takes to skill for the ships, granted if they can afford to buy skilpoints they can afford to buy isk so...

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  10. I agree that allowing an unlimited amount of SP purchasing would have the potential to be worse for CCP than it is today. But that could be fixed by essentially doubling the cost of the SP purchased when compared to the average SP gain per month (so, 2 PLEX for about 3M SP). Same principle as is applied to copying/manufacturing BPC's. flexibility has a cost. You would also limit players ability to purchase SP to about the current average SP rate (which means you could double your SP gain for triple the cost). You'd also want to have some first time allowance to handle the new player case.

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  11. It would suck to ask for a logistics pilot in an incursion only to find out, at half armor, that the player just bought the skills yesterday and has no idea whats hes doing. I really think there is some value to the down time between skills.

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  12. I can't see any problem with selling SP like this. It does threaten vets who have ego invested in having been around longer, thus ending up more skilled.

    At any rate, you can already purchase trained characters with ISK, and buy ISK with PLEX. Anyone who wants to drop cash on a skilled pilot can already do it. This would crash the pilot resale market, however. It would allow people to boost their main without having to buy someone else's character to get the needed skills.

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  13. "People hunting for kills can never be sure if that 6 month old character is easy pickings or skilled up to the gills by dollars"

    That alone would have been enough to destroy the style of play I've pursued in EVE. When you're trying to solo PvP at the 1 month mark and you can't tell if the other guy who's been playing 1 month has 1m or 10m SP you're left in a very difficult position. I think that scenario would really exemplify what Pay to Win means, because the only meaningful difference between these two players becomes who has the most $$$ invested in their character.

    Now, maybe a pair of month old pilots meeting somewhere in Lowsec is meaningless in the grand scheme of things, but I can't be the only person who has played this way. You're talking about a minor change that completely negates a style of play that was otherwise legitimately pursuable. Do we really want to tell players new to the game that their gameplay choices in a sandbox are less valid than the choices of others because "new players don't matter"? Is that the way to increase new player retention? I think not and it would mark the end of my time in New Eden.

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  14. How about if you don't buy SP for cash, but training time? This way, the learning speed factor of the skills would still apply, and as such the more advanced skills would automatically be more expensive (since you have to buy more training time units) than the basic ones.

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  15. Interesting read, though I would be against buying SP outright. If something like that were to be implemented in any way, shape or form I would prefer the time limited implant way that would double SP/h for a limited number of days. Also, said implant should cost more then the equivalent time of gametime as it should cost you extra for the convenience.

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  16. My problems with this are two-fold.

    1. I want worth-while people in the game. If you aren't willing to wait to the two weeks for that skill, go play another game. I sure waited for it. (Possibly a near-BOV reaction. Also the same one I used for not removing learning skills.)

    2. I don't want to run into the situation Kirith mentioned before where I can't trust the age of players.

    I think letting characters be bought and sold for ISK is the best solution and it's already in place. If you want a higher-skilled character and have extra cash, you can PLEX up and buy one. You've got a better character and the age is still an accurate representation of their abilities.

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  17. Some calculations:
    1 plex (~400M ISK) => 30 days gametime => 1.8M SP (@2500 SP/hour)
    This is about 222 isk/SP, and reflects the way characters gain SP before they go onto the market now.

    So as long as CCP sold SP at a rate more expensive than this, it would not (I think) crash the character resale market. It would just increase flexibility.

    Also, Franklen's attitude that people who haven't been playing for enough time to have a particular skill aren't "worth-while" is rather telling of the elitism of high-SP players. If you can't figure out who is weak enough for you to gank, then maybe you need to practice your player skills rather than relying on your SP advantage.

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  18. I think the trading of SP for isk is very bad....

    vanity items I dont care about. They could go for £1000's but thats up to the mugs that pay the cash.

    SP and anything that changes the game mechanics would go directly again cpp's original promise when MT was originally mentioned.

    The one thing I would agree with would be a transfer of SP with in a character.

    I.e. I've got 3 mill sp in corp management that I no longer need but could do with having some sp to dump on other skills.

    Or maybe allowing additional remaps?

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  19. I agree that the opposition to being able to buy skill points comes largely from a knee jerk reaction. It wouldn't imbalance the game in the sense that the 'gold ammo' type of microtransactions would.

    However, I still don't like the idea. Along with most people, I never use microtransactions. I don't even like the idea of a subscription fee. I decided to play Eve when I found out that I could pay for my subscription with in-game currency. So if microtransactions for skill points were to be introduced, I would not use them.

    The society of Eve is viewed as a meritocracy. To an extent, many older players continue playing because they've worked hard and waited long to get where they're at. They've stuck with it and accomplished something and don't want to throw that accomplishment away. But by allowing microtransactions for skill points, this would essentially be devaluing what effort and time existing players have put in.

    Yes, the option would be available equally to all players, but by virtue of real-world social classes, an imbalance would be created. A poor college student like myself who refuses to pay for any type of microtransaction would not have the same opportunities as someone who has mounds of money and/or the willingness to spend it on Eve.

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