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.

PLEX ganks in the media

One of the unexpected effects of PLEX being introduced to EVE was that it gave us a rough way to calculate how much real-world money stuff in the EVE universe would cost to buy, establishing a kind of virtual exchange rate. Ever since an EVE player created a chart of the dollar values of ships in February 2010, we’ve been using PLEX conversion to roll out big dollar figures in headlines next to impressive events in EVE so that the average non-player gets a sense of the scale of the event.

CCP removed all restrictions on transporting PLEX in a ship’s cargo in July 2010, and it was just one month before the tale of one player losing over $1,000 worth of PLEX in a suicide gank made headlines across the world. That story was one of the highest traffic posts of all time on Massively-of-old, and since then a wide range of news outlets have been covering EVE stories using real-world valuations for context. PLEX conversions won’t go away with the introduction of a safe PLEX vault, but it’s still kind of sad to think that ganks like that one will probably be a thing of the past when these changes go through.

Are PLEX ganks mostly money laundering?

The changes as proposed will allow you to transport PLEX in complete safety by simply placing them into your secure PLEX vault and taking them back out once you reach the location you want to sell them at. While it’s still technically possible to put PLEX in your cargo and undock, there is now no need to do it at all for any reason. Part of the reason is that PLEX currently belong to a specific character and location while the Aurum they’re replacing is an account-wide currency.

Another sticking point is that dozens of ships per month are now ganked with PLEX in their cargo holds and some of it looks suspiciously like deliberate money-laundering. It’s tough to prove that the player who keeps losing cargo holds full of PLEX to suicide attacks is legitimately transporting them somewhere for trade rather than losing them as part of a real money trading scheme, but this change makes that easier to determine by removing all of the legitimate reasons to transport PLEX. If there is RMT money laundering going on, however, they can still use other high-value items such as skill injectors.

The granularity of PLEX

The obvious reason CCP is changing PLEX is just to simplify EVE‘s business model and make it easier to understand. PLEX used to be a single-purpose item that just granted 30 days of subscription time, but now it can activate other services such as multiple character training and character transfers between accounts. You can also convert one PLEX into 3,500 Aurum, the virtual currency used to buy things like cosmetic items and skill injectors in EVE‘s microtransaction store.

CCP wants to simplify this into one currency, turning each PLEX item into 500 new PLEX and converting Aurum on people’s accounts into new PLEX at a rate of 1 PLEX per 7 Aurum (or 500 PLEX for 3,500). There have been a number of comments on articles about the PLEX change praising CCP for increasing the granularity of PLEX and subscriptions, but you’ll actually still only be able to buy subscription time in one-month increments for 500 PLEX at a time so nothing’s changing there yet.

This does bode well for the future, however, as the system will at least be capable of more granularity. Some players have expressed an interest in shorter 7-day Omega subscription intervals, though CCP has said that there are no plans to do this at the moment. I’d personally love to see some entire new additions to the clone state system, not in the form of heavily tiered subscriptions but perhaps a one-off fee to upgrade your free Alpha clone to a Beta clone state with access to some additional skills.

Community backlash and corruption

The player response to the proposed PLEX changes has been pretty negative so far. People are understandably unhappy with the idea of an invulnerable PLEX vault that allows the items to be transported around the game risk-free as it goes against one of the core principles on which EVE was built. We’ll also have fewer funny incidents in which someone in a newbie frigate gets blown up with a cargo hold full of PLEX, though I still suspect that much of this is just money laundering anyway.

A lot of the backlash hits back at CCP’s plan to convert all Aurum on players accounts into PLEX, specifically because they’ll be ignoring all accounts with less than 1,000 Aurum. This cut-off point is there because CCP recently gave 300 free Aurum as a gift to all accounts logged in over Christmas, and converting all of that into PLEX would flood the market. To complicate matters, Aurum as a virtual currency may be considered to have no real world value after purchase but CCP counts unredeemed PLEX as deferred income against the company in its accounts. The 1000 Aurum limit was likely decided to limit the scale of increasing liability against the company when Aurum is turned back into deferred income. It’s unlikely that this part of the plan will be scrapped, but I suspect some form of compensation will be offered.

The announcement has caused uncertainty and volatility in the PLEX market as some traders pull their stocks from sale, and this has led to another pretty serious complaint from players. It seems that some market speculators acted on the announcement several days before it was actually published. Either someone has managed to invent a time machine and is using it for the incredibly limited opportunity of manipulating a virtual game market, or this information was leaked by a member of the Council of Stellar Management who signed a non-disclosure agreement. This potential corruption comes at a bad time for the CSM as voting is currently open for the next year of representatives.

EVE Online expert Brendan ‘Nyphur’ Drain has been playing EVE for over a decade and writing the regular EVE Evolved column since 2008. The column covers everything from in-depth EVE guides and news breakdowns to game design discussions and opinion pieces. If there’s a topic you’d love to see covered, drop him a comment or send mail to brendan@massivelyop.com!
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