The House Always Wins

Looks like gambling is back on the menu!

Recently, CCP Games posted a new developer blog introducing the HyperNet thus resurrecting gambling in EVE Online. I wrote resurrecting because EVE Online already had a robust gambling scene in the past. Third party sites set up and managed by players offered a variety of gambling options from playing poker, taking part in lotteries and raffles, to betting on sporting events; real and in-game ones. All of this was done without developer intervention and using what few tools there were in-game for it.

The boom of EVE Online casinos would come to influence the game’s politics, the massive profits sparking a long and arduous war that by its end would see the Imperium, one of the biggest player coalitions ever, defeated and driven out of its north eastern strongholds. Defeated, but not destroyed. That said, in 2016 the party came to a close when out of game events forced CCP Games to ban the entire operation, shuttering many sites.

The event, for those interested, was a scandal involving the Counter Strike: Global Offensive skin gambling sites and several prominent video creators in the community. The skins for the game could be traded between players using real currency, leading to a robust market. It wouldn’t take long for sites to set up to allow people to gamble for said skins. Several video creators with large audiences promoted said sites and made videos showing them winning big prizes, neglecting to mention that they either owned or were partnered with said sites. Not only was there an issue about disclosure, but many suspected that the lotteries could, and were, possibly rigged for the purpose of the videos in order to dupe impressionable viewers, many of whom were teenagers.

This scandal got wide media attention, and later government one as legislators began eyeing the unregulated videogame market with its loot boxes and microtransactions aimed at exploiting the poor impulse control of teenagers and gambling addiction of adults. Though it would take a few years for countries to begin actual legislation in the field, the added scrutiny would be a welcomed change to an industry that was (and lets face it, still is) consumed by greed.

CCP Games got ahead of the curve by rightfully banning gambling in the game and thus escaping embarrassing headlines and possible fines or age restrictions added in many countries around the world where it operates. For a while, things seemed okay, well, in the standard that a slowly burning trash fire might seem okay. However on the 27th of November, CCP Games made its announcement and all hell broke loose. Well I write all hell, in reality just a heavily commented thread on the new feature as well as a few reddit posts. Who says EVE Online isn’t dead.

The scheme works like this: HyperNet will be a fun place where players can set up and buy tickets for raffles. The raffles will be player made of in-game items. In order to set up a raffle, players have to purchase the number of HyperNet Cores corresponding to the item’s value. Cores can only be bought from the New Eden Store (NES, formerly NEX) via PLEX (Player License EXtension, never said CCP Games were clever with their acronyms) or from market resellers. Once the raffle is up, players buy HyperNet Nodes, i.e. tickets, with in-game currency. When all the tickets, I mean nodes, are sold, the raffle occurs and a randomly generated number decides which ticket, I mean node, was the lucky winner. The winner then gets the item in their hangar (though in the station where the raffle was created to eliminate item teleportation).

I have to give it to CCP Games, it really managed to make one hell of a scummy, poorly thought of, system. PLEX is an in-game resource that can only be generated via paying real money then re-sold on the market. The HyperNet cores require PLEX to be purchased and the costlier the item, the more cores needed, meaning more PLEX is required to set up the raffle. Not only as a friend commented is that an unfair tax levied on the person setting up the raffle, it also devalues the in-game economy, not to mention re-introduce gambling into EVE Online. This of course is meant to fuel demand for PLEX (which may be dropping with decrease in player activity) which will tempt people to generate more PLEX by, of course, buying it from CCP Games and offsetting subscription loses. Truly genius.

Players of course, have begun defending the practice because many fans are dumb, and the dumbest sycophants really tie their identity and human worth to an aging, broken videogame that is past its prime. The excuses made in the name of an immoral feature are really mind boggling but I think I’ll tackle a few of the prominent ones. That said I’ll be doing this without harping too much about the immorality of gambling or the actual psychological damage it does too much. I know this is akin to writing “I don’t want to criticize the moral aspects of cannibalism as much as its hygienic practices” but it is sort of.

Its not gambling – It is. Full stop. Period. Exclamation mark! Raffles and lotteries are gambling. Here is a simple test: Does it cost money to take part in and do you win something out of it? If the answer is yes, then it is gambling. I know this a hard concept to wrap the head around but gambling is pretty much any game where winning is largely dictated by chance and involves money. You might say that in EVE Online it shouldn’t be counted as gambling since money in the game is all made up but I counter this with the next argument:

EVE Online money isn’t real – The next goalpost is to simply say that the Interstellar Kredit (or ISK for short) isn’t real and thus has no real life value. That is not even remotely true and anyone holding this notion should probably be completely ignored and/or shunned from polite society. ISK has a real life value because CCP Games has made an exchange rate between PLEX and real money. Since PLEX is sold on EVE Online markets for ISK, we have a direct translation of worth. At time of writing 1 PLEX was sold around 3,500,000.00 ISK. Since the smallest batch of PLEX sold at the cash shop is 500 for 19.99$ dollars, 1$ can be converted to 87,500,000.00 ISK. Fact is, CCP Games often advertised many of the big fights in EVE Online as having real money equivalency, bragging about losses mounting to thousands and even tens of thousands of dollars in assets. It can’t just now run away from it when its inconvenient. That is not how life works.

Its a closed economy – Demolish the first two defenses and the defenders quickly retreat behind the idea that EVE Online is a closed economy, or more correctly, semi closed since real money comes in but value can’t be taken out. Again, this is erroneous to such a degree that it makes me think that the defenders of this feature are either children or have child like intellect. In the legal definition they are right, but legal definitions are like expiration dates, followed by most people but ignored by some. The fact is there exists a whole grey market in EVE Online that enables converting ISK back into real money. Sure its illegal, sure its risky and those caught are often banned, yet the illegal activity in EVE Online hasn’t decreased and in fact certain sectors of it have seen a marked increase in recent years that not accounting for them is pure stupid.

Its legal – When all previous arguments fail, cry “Its legal” in a nonsensical defiance of criticism. Of course gambling is legal IN SOME STATES. That means that in other countries its illegal. What more, many countries have recently moved to ban or legislate gambling in videogames and bringing back gambling to a game that already banned it once in such a stormy climate is truly stupid. Not to mention that in some countries gambling is heavily regulated in order to protect minors. Considering EVE Online doesn’t have a uniform rating around the globe with some countries allowing minors to play the game and you can almost see the negative headlines and future lawsuits coming. It only takes one case of a minor using the HyperNet and sinking their parents’ credit card to start a riot, and justifiably so.

It will fund more development – Stop. Stop right there. Moving from questions of legality, we arrive at the fanciful idea that the money generated from gambling will fund more developers for the game, thus tackling many of the major problems plaguing EVE Online. This is a fantasy, full stop. Let’s forget for a moment that CCP Games had been bought by Pearl Abyss, a Korean gaming giant with deep pockets that can easily fund more development for the game, the idea that this extra revenue will be funneled into game development and not investor pockets is laughable. Last Week Tonight with John Oliver already showed what happened to state controlled lotteries aiming to increase public revenue for education only to squander those funds, but you are telling me a for profit entity that doesn’t have the pretense of serving the public is going to invest those funds better!? At this point you aren’t deluded, you are disingenuous and possibly a lobbyist for CCP Games.

Case in point, how state lotteries work to harm communities

At this point there is nothing left to argue. There are no further excuses that can be made in defense of this feature. If anything, there are only things to argue against it, like the fact its immoral. Yes, I wrote that I wouldn’t harp on it and I haven’t. I mostly addressed the arguments head on without moralizing but the reality is, gambling is immoral. There is a reason why many countries legislate it and restrict it. Gambling is a real issue for people with addiction issues. Teenagers exposed to it are more susceptible to it and the way the videogame industry had implemented it was done purposefully to target vulnerable populations in order to squeeze as much cash as possible from them. You’ve all heard terms such as “whales” and “dolphins” dehumanizing problem gamblers. If you watch Jim Sterling’s video on the issue you’d see both the ways the industry sees us, the consumers, through such mechanics and the real human cost it incurs.

Jim Sterling exposing both the predatory practices of the gaming industry and the real damage it causes

We banned gambling from EVE Online once when we saw the dangers of it. Letting it back now, when the legal field surrounding it is even choppier is a signal from CCP Games to us, the players. Its a signal telling us that the company won’t tackle the important issues that plague the game but is instead investing resources in harmful mechanics, both to the players and the health of the game, to further monetize said player base. Its basically an admission that the company is either unable or unwilling to face the desolation that is the current state of affairs but it wants to keep increasing its profits. Now can I interest you in some HyperNet nodes?