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EVE Evolved: What's the deal with EVE's PLEX changes?

This week CCP Games announced that some big changes are on the way for PLEX in EVE Online. The PLEX or "30-day Pilot's License EXtension" is a virtual item that represents 30 days of subscription time and can be bought for cash and then sold to other players for in-game ISK. This simple mechanic has proven to be one of the most important innovations in the subscription MMO business model over the years, allowing players with lots of in-game wealth to effectively play for free while permitting cash-rich players to buy in-game currency without funding dodgy farming operations that can disrupt the game world. Dozens of games now support some kind of player-mediated currency roughly like PLEX.

The proposed changes are intended to simplify EVE's business model by merging PLEX with the microtransaction currency Aurum. Players will also be able to put their PLEX into invulnerable account-wide PLEX Vaults that are accessible at all times rather than having to move the valuable items manually by ship. There's been significant backlash from the EVE community over the newfound invulnerability of PLEX, plans to delete some microtransaction currency from the game without compensation, and the possibility that someone leaked the announcement to friends early in order to make a profit. So what's the deal with these PLEX changes, and why are some EVE players going nuts over them?

In this edition of EVE Evolved, I look at the upcoming changes to the safety of PLEX, the opportunities that more granular PLEX could have for EVE, and why players are up in arms over plans to delete Aurum from thousands of accounts.

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EVE Evolved: Alpha Clone economics, bragging rights, and restrictions

Yesterday at EVE Vegas 2016, developer CCP Rise held us spellbound with tales of his recent misadventures in EVE Online recently when pretending to be a newbie. With free alpha clone accounts on the way, the devs wanted to prove that a well-informed player in an alpha clone could engage in a wide range of activities and even see success in PvP, and CCP Rise naturally rose to the challenge. Starting with only the skills trainable by an alpha clone character and no ISK or assets, he quickly got on his feet and made enough ISK to start engaging in frigate and cruiser PvP and net some very nice solo kills against veterans.

Rise's success came as no surprise to me, as I've done similar experiments with small group PvP and I know just how effective cheap tech 1 cruisers can be. I recently showed how free users could be nearly as effective as well-trained subscribers in the same ships, and yet the myth that they will be simply cannon fodder for the elite pervades the comments sections in articles throughout the web. Developers have said that they intend for free play to be a viable long-term play style, and it should be possible to extend the system in the future. We may even some day get specific challenge clone states for those who want bragging rights or hardcore clones with permadeath.

In this edition of EVE Evolved, I debunk the myth the alpha clone system is an endless trial, examine the potential impact of alphas on both EVE community culture and CCP's financials, and look at a few ways the clone state system could be expanded on.

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EVE Evolved: The consequences of a free-to-play EVE

This week we heard the unexpected news that EVE Online will be going partially free-to-play when the next expansion lands in November. Like many games that have added free-to-play options over the years, EVE will be using a hybrid model that provides a limited free option in addition to its regular subscription. The game won't change at all for subscribers and will continue to offer cosmetic microtransactions, while free players will be able to log in and play under a new set of restrictions. Free players will have access to only a handful of skills and will be able to fly tech 1 cruisers and below, and any subscribed players whose subscriptions lapse will be temporarily lowered to free player status.

The announcement of the impending business model change has seen a mixed but largely positive response online, with renewed interest from those who have been put off by the subscription. Existing players are looking forward to an influx of fresh players and getting free access to their old characters again but have warned of potential abuse cases if free users can be used for suicide ganking or farming. CCP has been engaging with the community to investigate these potential issues ahead of the expansion, and many prospective players have been asking exactly how much a free player can actually do.

In this edition of EVE Evolved, I delve into EVE Online's hybrid free-to-play model, look at the kinds of gameplay a free user can get involved in, and highlight a few potential abuse cases CCP will have to address before November's update.

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EVE Evolved: Three things you don't want to miss in 2016

In the previous edition of EVE Evolved, I looked back at some of the big highlights EVE Online throughout 2015. It was a year that revolutionised practically every aspect of EVE's day-to-day gameplay with a flood of updates, that broke the stranglehold the game's largest alliances had on territory, and that seriously advanced the in-game storyline in an awesome direction. It was also a year of new beginnings for developer CCP Games, with the studio releasing the rights to World of Darkness, securing a $30 million investment in its VR labs, and making a deal to bundle its upcoming VR dogfighter EVE: Valkyrie with the retail model of the Oculus Rift.

As we close the book on 2015 and begin writing the first chapter of a new year, it's an appropriate time to the look forward at what's to come for EVE Online in 2016 and speculate on what awesome stuff might be just over the horizon. The Citadel expansion is just months away and will let corporations of any size carve out their own little corners of the galaxy. The Drifter invasion of known space and the recent Upwell Consortium storylines will continue to play out in live in-game events that you won't want to miss. New server hardware will be a welcome improvement as the game may finally be growing again, corp changes will help newbies get into the game, and new PvE features will encourage activity again.

In this edition of EVE Evolved, I look at three big things happening in EVE Online in 2016 that you definitely don't want to miss out on.

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RIFT is upping its subscription price slightly with its next patch

If you're considering taking a break from RIFT and dropping your subscription for a month, you may not wish to do that. With the launch of patch 3.4, the game's prices are going up a bit across the board, for everything from subscriptions to credits and REX. A preliminary price structure has been posted on the game's official forums, with credits and REX receiving the biggest price hike. Monthly subscriptions remain unchanged, but multi-month subscriptions are becoming slightly more expensive (albeit cheaper than monthly subscription).

The good news is that if you're already subscribed, your existing subscription price will be grandfathered in and will not increase, hence why you might not want to drop your subscription. The official reasoning is to standardize prices across all regions and make sure that all currencies provide the same value for the same exchange rate. So the game is getting a wee bit more expensive, although it's hardly the sort of increase that will break the bank.

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The Daily Grind: What MMO has benefited the most from free-to-play?

Back in the day, it used to be a running joke among the staff about which game would go free-to-play next. We don't make that joke any more, chiefly because it's no longer a joke and there are barely any candidates left anyhow. Buy-to-play, free-to-play, anything other than the old standby of box and subscription prices. That business model just isn't working for more than a handful of titles.

But here's an interesting question on that same theme: What game has gotten the most out of the shift? We talk a lot about the idea that most games are not using subscriptions as the only options any longer, but which out of the many titles with a business shift has gotten something good out of it? Are titles that converted like Star Trek Online the big winners, or does that honor go to other MMOs?

Every morning, the Massively Overpowered writers team up with mascot Mo to ask MMORPG players pointed questions about the massively multiplayer online roleplaying genre. Grab a mug of your preferred beverage and take a stab at answering the question posed in today's Daily Grind!

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EVE Evolved: How many subscriptions does EVE have?

Two weeks ago, a mathemagician over at The Nosy Gamer published some interesting calculations showing that EVE Online's subscriptions may have dropped by around 18% in the past two years. CCP has always prided itself on the fact that EVE has grown year-on-year since release, but the last official number we heard was when it reached 500,000 subscriptions back in February 2013. Players have taken the company's silence since then on the matter of subscriptions as an admission that subs have been falling or at least not growing for the past two years.

So where did this 18% figure come from? It was extrapolated from estimates of player participation in the last two CSM elections, and the reasoning behind the number seems pretty good in the absence of any official announcement. It will probably not come as a shock to anyone if this calculation turns out to be accurate, as EVE's concurrent player numbers have also seen a roughly 20% drop since 2013. As development on EVE has been very well-received over the past two years, I'm inclined to believe that the drop in activity has more to do with trends in today's gaming habits and purchasing choices. Online gaming seems to be going through an evolution, and the mandatory subscription model may be becoming obsolete.

In this edition of EVE Evolved, I run through a set of calculations to work out how many subscribers EVE really has, determine where the reported 18% drop is coming from, and ask whether this is a trend CCP can fight.

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The Daily Grind: How long do you have your subscriptions set up for?

I had not put my Final Fantasy XIV account on anything more extended than month-by-month billing for the longest time. Which is kind of weird, when you think about it. There has never been a question in my mind of whether or not I would be playing again next month, so it's kind of ridiculous to think that I wouldn't be signed up for several months at a time... but for some reason, I just went along on month-to-month billing.

Of course, that's not always unusual. I have friends who will subscribe to games for months or years while still being on monthly subscriptions, and I know of others who quit games in a month but always subscribe on three-month packages for no readily explained reason. So what about you? How long do you have your subscriptions set up for? Or do you just not subscribe to anything any longer, even with an optional subscription?

Every morning, the Massively Overpowered writers team up with mascot Mo to ask MMORPG players pointed questions about the massively multiplayer online roleplaying genre. Grab a mug of your preferred beverage and take a stab at answering the question posed in today's Daily Grind!

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