In every war there are profiteers who stand to gain from misery and mass mobilisation. Space war is no different, and as mighty alliances come to blows in EVE Online, there’s one side that is guaranteed to come out a winner: developer CCP.
Andy recently got to talk to CCP’s top economic boffin, Edvard Gislason, also known as CCP Quant. As EVE’s monthly economic report suggests, metrics and big data are of immense importance in a realm of sci-fi megacorps. Perhaps more importantly, however, those metrics tell CCP how long it can keep the lights on, because real subscription time can be traded for in-game PLEX.
“If there were hyperinflation or something like that,” Gislason says, “then that’s a huge risk to our business model. Suddenly people won’t be able to afford their subscription through PLEX. We were starting to get pretty worried when PLEX prices were going through the roof—through 1.3 billion [ISK] back in October, if I recall correctly. There weren’t any interventions that we had to take, because usually the market just follows supply and demand. A lot of it was due maybe to features we were developing—adding skill trading—so the demand for PLEX increased a lot, and a lot of players sitting on their PLEX actually sold it on the market to get skill points they needed.
“We saw a lot more PLEX in circulation than ever before, but we never saw a point when we feared for the economy. It’s amazing how well this economic machine runs just by itself. We are of course ready if we need to intervene, but it’s never happened.”
The link between PLEX and the real world economy is how the cost of massive battles causing hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of damage is estimated. Then there are instances of foolhardy players transporting mass amounts of PLEX themselves, resulting in four-figure losses. The real risk to EVE’s economy isn’t wild fluctuation, however—quite the opposite. The absence of widespread conflict (or extremely concentrated stupidity) has caused some of CCP’s hairiest moments, such as the stalemate that followed the last round of all-out war.
“You could say that almost the entire universe was at peace, in a way. There was no conflict. There was a huge entity and no one capable of bringing them down, so there’s this huge stalemate in the entire economy.
“You could see from all the economic numbers, like velocity of money, how much money is in circulation and so forth, that the economic engine was slowing down. This is really bad for us. When it slows down, activity goes down and people get bored. If there isn’t anything to do in the game, they’ll just go to other, more interesting games.”
Now, a spat of epic proportions has engulfed the galaxy, and the master of metrics can see the war ramping up numerically. It’s like reading tea leaves 21,000 years in the future.
“If you trace the whole thing,” Gislason says, “the war starts, and a really popular ship that’s used in ship doctrines with one of the alliances, Interceptors—they’re used a lot, and they blow up a lot, so there’s a huge demand on the market and a huge under-supply. And then you can immediately see how people are buying up supplies for them and overpricing them, cutting out the market. And you can see production increasing drastically as people rush to take advantage of these high margins, and you can also see a high boost in mining, because the materials needed for all this production are also in demand.”
It must be hard not to let that power go to your head. For instance, Gislason can see all the economic and military propaganda being slung by rival factions and know who’s telling the truth from the comfort of his command chair. It’s for that reason that he doesn’t engage in trading when playing himself—great power, responsibility and all that. The completeness of CCP’s data—each ship made, trade deal brokered and raw material consumed is recorded—puts it leagues ahead of the information you can glean from actual wars.
“Seeing a war like this brew now, and seeing so many entities come together to bring down a superpower—and just in time for our Citadel expansion that brings a lot of new gameplay to these areas—it’s just an absolutely perfect storm for us. If I wasn’t working at CCP I’d be putting my tinfoil hat on and speculating that this was all engineered by CCP!”