Update (March 21): CCP Games has since published a new post adding further clarity to some of the changes discussed below. Though PLEX can be divided into smaller bits, subscription time will not. The smallest portion of subscription time that can be purchased will remain 30 days. Also, CCP has said that they will now convert Aurum balances under 1000 but only three months after the changes are live and balances over 1000 are converted. This is to prevent destabilizing the market with an influx of new PLEX. No release date has been given but CCP has said their looking at "late spring or early summer."
Original story: One of the things that keeps EVE Online's player-driven market turning is the premium item known as PLEX. Purchased for real money or in-game ISK, PLEX can be converted into 30-days of subscription time or sold on the in-game markets. With real money on the line, it's an extremely delicate economy and any tweaks to its value makes players understandably nervous. That's exactly what seems to be happening as the result of proposed changes to the system meant to simplify EVE Online's microtransactions and make PLEX less intimidating to handle for new players.
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Currently players can buy PLEX from CCP for $19.99 and then add the item into a character's in-game inventory to decide what to do with it. What complicates things further is Aurum, a totally separate premium currency used to purchase cosmetic ship skins and clothing for your avatar. As executive producer Andie Nordgren says, "We want the whole ecosystem of things that you can buy from CCP to be easier to understand."
To do this, CCP is making three major changes to EVE's microtransactions. The first is that each single item of PLEX will be broken up into 500 units. In that same vein, 30 days of subscription time or any other service that cost a single PLEX (like transferring a character between accounts) will likewise soon cost 500 PLEX. "By making PLEX more granular like this, we can give people more options because we can sell PLEX at smaller price points than now," Nordgren explains.
Along with that change, CCP will also be adding a PLEX vault in players' inventory that will help them better manage their PLEX across all characters on a single account. By dragging their PLEX from their inventory into the vault, they can spend it on services or subscription time. More importantly, they can use the vault to prevent PLEX from being destroyed entirely. It's unclear, however, whether PLEX placed in the vault can be later taken out and traded to other players.
Up in smoke
One of the most unique aspects of PLEX is that it's an item that is carried around in your ship's hull like any other commodity. If someone destroys your ship, the PLEX is either destroyed or dropped for other players to loot. This design has created an incredible phenomenon in EVE as players are frequently destroyed with hundreds of dollars worth of PLEX in their hull. Hauling PLEX improperly is one of the stupidest and most costly mistakes you can make in EVE Online.
But new players don't always understand that moving PLEX in your ship comes with extreme risk. It makes sense that CCP wants to create a system that more clearly communicates how PLEX works and how players can keep it safe from the missiles of those who would take it from them. But to do that, CCP Is also installing a huge safety net that softens some of EVE's brutality by letting players avoid that risk entirely. This alone has stirred up some controversy in the community, which prides itself on the hardcore nature of the game.
"PLEX tanking [a disparaging term for people who try to haul PLEX in inadequately protected ships] is historically something that separates idiots from other players," writes player Sam Guivenne on the forums. "And as you get punished for being an idiot on every other part of the game, why not get punished here?"
Others are criticizing the new system for making things more complicated than before. "So, 500 PLEX works out to be [one hour, 26 minutes, 24 seconds] of game time per PLEX. Why not convert them all to 720 units, which will make every PLEX exactly 1 hour of game time?" Argues Def Monk, who goes on to suggest that trying to buy a week's worth of game time requires unnecessarily complicated math.
But it's CCP Games' third change to PLEX that has the community really riled up. With PLEX now broken up into granular units, there's no real need for Aurum, that second premium currency. Aurum will be completely phased out and replaced by PLEX. But here's where things get shady: While CCP is going to be converting Aurum balances over 1000 to its equivalent value in PLEX, every Aurum balance under 1000 will be erased.
Right now, players can purchase 900 Aurum for $4.99 directly through EVE's store. But if they don't spend that Aurum by the time the update goes live later this spring, it'll disappear forever. The community is obviously pissed. "In what world is it acceptable to straight up remove the balance of a customer? If a bank did this when converting from [pounds] to [euros] for all balances under £5 there would have been fucking uproar," writes 'cap__qu' on Reddit.
Adding salt to the wound, CCP gifted players 300 Aurum for Christmas. It's a small enough amount that many were holding onto it for a rainy day. Now, a mere four months later, players learn that this gift will essentially be revoked. The only way to not lose your Aurum (whether purchased or gifted) is to purchase more to get the balance over 1000. That's not exactly a consumer-friendly solution.
There is hope that these points will be addressed, however. CCP Games is pretty good at soliciting feedback from its players and adapting to their opinions. As part of the announcement, a forum thread was created where anyone can leave their feedback on the proposal. Already players have found much more reasonable solutions like converting Aurum balances under 1000 into the equivalent value of subscription time.
The proposed changes haven't yet had a dramatic impact on the market, but the player response seems to be largely negative—especially in response to the plans for the PLEX vault and Aurum. Hopefully further updates clarifying the proposal and addressing some of the bigger concerns will arrive in the following weeks. For now, EVE Online's market tycoons are waiting with bated breath.