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EVE Online's HyperNet Relay Feels A Bit Like A Gamble

Joseph Bradford Posted:
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Editorials 0

When EVE Online’s HyperNet Relay hits Tranquility, the denizens of New Eden will be able to scratch the itch left by CCP’s shut down of third party raffle operations a few years back. The HyperNet Relay, as CCP details in a blog post on their website, aims to bring back the “raffle activities that were once hugely popular in the EVE community.”

As a result, when the new feature hits as part of the Free Market update on December 10th, many EVE Online players feel that CCP is inviting gambling back into New Eden. And why not? The system, in of itself, is a gamble.

As someone who has grown up in Las Vegas since he was 9 years old, I’ve been surrounded by games of chance. Gambling, for most of Vegas history, was our lifeblood. It’s what kept this oasis in the desert running since the end of World War II up through today, though much of the money brought in by casinos now can be attributed to the clubs and bottle service. I know what gambling looks like - and the HyperNet Relay, as it’s described, feels much like some of the games of chance I frequently see people playing in casinos all around me.

In a nutshell, players can use the HyperNet relay to sell items. Sellers will need to purchase a HyperCore from EVE's in-game cash shop, the New Eden Store (or regional market if someone has already done so and listed the core for purchase using ISK) and then list the item up for sale. Buyers snag HyperNodes - essentially raffle tickets -  to have a chance at winning the item. The more tickets you buy, obviously your chances to win the item are higher. When the raffle is over the system automatically picks the winner. The item isn’t immediately transferred, it stays in the system it was in, requiring the buyer to then retrieve the item still. The amount of HyperCores needed for the auction scales with the price of the auction as well - and as of right now we don’t know the cost in terms of Plex (though speculation by players based on Discord chats with devs puts 10 HyperCores at 1 Plex, though that isn't official or final) that these will list on the NES.

 

In a vacuum this isn’t a bad thing, however. I mean, New Eden is a place where deception and underhanded tactics can easily rule the day, and anything really is possible. It’s not a stretch then to expect that gambling, in some form, must occur in New Eden to some extent, even if Capsuleers haven’t been able to officially take part in it over the last 16 years. Sites such as Somer Blink and IWantISK were hugely popular with the playerbase a few years back, but CCP decided to shut down those sites in order to protect EVE Online and its in-game economy, specifically from those who were using gambling sites to make EVE currency, only to turn around and sell that currency for real world money.

So with the HyperNet Relay being added to New Eden, a raffle system effectively ran by CCP, many players are thinking back to the older days of Somer Blink and IWantISK and questioning CCP’s motives here. Many players have taken to the game forums and Reddit to express their displeasure with the new system, while content creators have been analyzing the system since it appeared on Singularity for testing.

Image via Reload's YouTube

Players have accused CCP Games of hypocrisy, banning gambling from EVE unless they can directly profit off of it - mainly using the fact that HyperNet Cores which are required to post an item on the Relay system are only available through the New Eden Store for real money. This also means any HyperNet Cores being sold on the regional marketplace for ISK, the in-game currency of EVE, those were initially purchased for real money via Plex on the NES.

I reached out to CCP directly while putting together this article for comment on the player response, as well as clarification on how the system actually works, as the blog post detailing it can read a bit confusing. CCP provided a lengthy statement in response:

The HyperNet Relay is a new way for our players to distribute unique items that may otherwise be difficult to broker or sell through the current market mechanics available in New Eden. This new feature also allows our players to invest as little or as much ISK (the in-game currency of EVE Online) as they like into the potential of receiving the item they want.

We have received a lot of good feedback from our players since introducing it and welcome the chance to clarify some specifics about the HyperNet Relay with MMORPG.com. We’ve designed the HyperNet Relay to encourage trading and asset redistribution in EVE and, in turn, stimulate the in-game economy. To be clear, HyperNet should not be mistaken for a global transfer service. The items will remain in the same location once the HyperNet offer is completed.

HyperNet comes as part of our development effort to bring quality of life improvements to the game. We have many teams working on a variety of different features and updates to EVE; the team working on the Hypernet Relay is only one cog in the bigger system.

EVE is all about community-driven activities and choices. This feature amplifies player agency, which goes for both the seller and potential buyer. The seller is taking their own item to offer for trade and the buyer knows exactly what they will receive as well as their chances of successfully receiving it.

In the past, players could use unofficial external websites offering similar services, operating in a grey area with regards to EVE’s policies. Some of these services were directly profiteering by running games of chance outside of EVE Online for real-world cash, so we updated our policies to protect EVE’s integrity and the health of its in-game economy. HyperNet Relay is an official feature in EVE, which mitigates any risk of foul play. Players using the HyperNet Relay can’t cash out or exploit it to make real-world money from the game, which is against our EULA.

There has been a demand from the community to see a feature like this make a return to the game. HyperNet Relay is how we intend to give our players a safer, fairer and more reliable environment to engage with this kind of mechanic. This feature gives EVE players the option of a really interesting and fun way to sell and win highly desirable items in [a] way that makes sense within the universe of New Eden.

Like many other changes or features that we make, our playerbase will always debate it - some people like it, others don’t. We’ll continue to keep our eye on the conversation, as we do for all our new content drops.

Any player who does not want to engage with HyperNet Relay will be able to continue playing EVE without ever needing to interact with the feature. In addition to that, our players can get in touch with our Game Masters via support@eveonline.com to have this feature be fully disabled in their client.

First things first - CCP is essentially giving players a feature that allows them to create a lottery and be taxed for it in the process. ISK sinks are needed in the game in order to deplete much of the ISK in the economy, which injecting new ways to sell and buy items is vital to a healthy economy. And we’ve seen CCP mess with this when they raised the tax in the trading system a while back, and the HyperNet Relay feels like another way to do so in the game. And if it works like CCP describes and stimulates the economy of New Eden, then it could be seen as a huge success. However, it cannot be overstated that in order to list items, someone had to spend currency that was purchased with real money. Plex doesn’t just appear in New Eden, someone had to purchase that with their local currency.

It’s also great that CCP is still listening to their fanbase - if many players were vocally asking for a feature to be implemented, it’s good CCP sought a way to bring it back without the issues brought about when outside sites were hosting this type of mechanic. And indeed many on the forums are speculating on its positive potential when it goes live, especially with regards to getting players to sell high-demand and value items.

In the statement, CCP is referencing the reasons why sites like Somer Blink and IWantISK, which were essentially player-run casinos, were shut down, though many players still remember CCP working with people like Somer Blink during the Ishukone Scorpion Scandal years ago. Many players are, understandably, concerned with the precedent set by including this type of mechanic as an officially sanctioned feature now that we're a few years removed from those permabans, especially with the implication that many feel CCP is profiting off a gambling mechanic.

 

Again, the company profiting off their game isn’t an issue - it’s good business. It means EVE Online continues and Hilmar’s dream of EVE Forever is closer to existing. I have no issues with CCP profiting off their game. But there is a right way to go about doing that, and I feel, even with the safe-guards CCP might be putting in place, this blurs the line some.

My real concern is the idea of profiting off something that is clearly still a game of chance. Something that was, a few years ago a “no-no” in EVE Online and banned all outside instances of this very same mechanic only to in turn implement it themselves in game years later. A raffle ticket system isn’t an issue, in a vacuum. But when you combine all the factors, I can see the concern.

I have a unique view on this as well, given where I’ve lived my whole life. While CCP says there is no way to profit in real-life from the system as it’s laid out (though I’m sure someone is already hard at work figuring out a way to do so), the rush is still there. The chance to earn billions of ISK by selling items via the lottery might be something that drives someone to buy a little extra Plex this month. Even if real money doesn’t leave your account and you buy your Cores on the regional market, someone still purchased the Plex to inject these cores in the system. This is where that “blurring of the lines” occurs for me: the fact CCP would then profit off an in-game lottery system dances too close to essentially directly profiting off a gambling mechanic for my own comfort.

I’ve seen how gambling can destroy lives first hand here in town. I’ve had friends whose relationships have failed thanks to a gambling addiction. And while it may feel hyperbolic to express this, my fear is that CCP have created a system that could profit directly off someone being addicted to the RMT loop - buying Plex to fuel their in-game auctions.

It can be argued - and is on the forums already -  that it already existed in the game to begin with - since you can currently buy Plex and sell it on the market for ISK. But my fear is that the lottery system can provide that addictive mechanic that someone who is predisposed to become addicted to gambling can find themselves getting in trouble over. On the flipside though, players who enjoy this and have more than enough disposable income can find themselves enjoying the system with no ill effects. 

It should be noted as well, as CCP mentions in their statement, that this isn’t a lootbox system - you know what you are selling and you know what you’re potentially buying if you win the raffle with the HyperNet Relay. The chance aspect comes from the raffle - your ticket just isn’t guaranteed to win each time, nor is your item guaranteed to sell every single time. And if your item doesn’t sell, well the core is kept by CCP, meaning another core is needed to relist the item, thus removing more Plex from the market (and potentially putting more money in CCP’s pocket off the raffle system from someone buying that Plex).

Image via Reload's YouTube

This feeling isn’t one simply being expressed by myself, but many in the EVE community are concerned that the HyperNet Relay, as it’s described, can fuel (and CCP will profit off) gambling addiction. Other players, such as former CSM member Brisc Rubal, don’t see this as anything different than buying Plex to sell for ISK already in the game. Some players are also expressing that this was inevitable given Pearl Abyss’ take over of CCP Games.

Thankfully, those who don’t want to interact with the system can take a step and have a game master completely remove the system from the client, as CCP mentioned in its statement - and offering that as an option should be lauded. Removing the system from your game entirely can help dull the effects of FOMO - but it should also be noted it takes less than a minute to set up a second account and have it abused there if someone is really determined.

However, the fact that CCP is giving players the option to simply not have the feature in their game client at all should be commended - most developers would simply leave the temptation in the game under the guise of “you don’t have to interact with it, but it’s there if you want to do so.” CCP is taking the extra step to here many other developers wouldn’t bother with, which I appreciate as someone with an addictive personality.

The Relay itself looks cool - and does offer some social interaction as you can see the raffle tickets being bought in real time while the lottery is ongoing. Hosting a private lottery for your Corpsmates or viewers on stream could bring an interactive element to trading that isn’t present in New Eden right now. And while you don’t have the mystery that lootboxes provide, I do appreciate that I know exactly what I’m buying a raffle ticket for - and could potentially win an item for millions or potentially billions less ISK than it would be on the regional market otherwise if I win a high-level auction.

In some ways this feels like the implementation of a global auction house in New Eden. Sure you don’t get your stuff shipped to you, it’s added to the item hanger of the station where the item was put on the Relay, but it has the same feel of an auction house in every other sense.

Personally, this isn’t something that would stop me from playing EVE Online - I didn’t stop playing GTA Online when they put a literal casino in the game that could be funded by buying Shark Cards for in-game currency as well. And no other game creates a rush of excitement when I survive a PvP fight like EVE does as no other game makes me feel loss like I do in New Eden.

But it’s a slippery slope I’m afraid to see CCP Games go down. While it might have been a long-standing feature players have been asking for, the fact it’s a real life cash-funded raffle in the game, it does blur that line between something that feels like the right way to make money, and the wrong way to go about making money. It’ll be interesting to see how this pans out when it hits Tranquility and how it affects both the in-game economy, and the players themselves behind each Capsuleer being piloted in New Eden.


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Joseph Bradford

Joseph has been writing or podcasting about games in some form since about 2012. Having written for multiple major outlets such as IGN, Playboy, and more, Joseph started writing for MMORPG in 2015. When he's not writing or talking about games, you can typically find him hanging out with his 10-year old or playing Magic: The Gathering with his family. Also, don't get him started on why Balrogs *don't* have wings. You can find him on Twitter @LotrLore