Sunday, November 30, 2014

In defense of multiboxing in EVE Online

Welcome to my 1st blog post!

I haven't blogged before and who knows if I will continue.

However I wanted a decent way to get this treatise regarding the upcoming policy change from CCP regarding input duplication and multiboxing out to the public.

Enjoy (or suffer) through a few days worth of writing regarding this controversial change in policy from CCP.

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EVE Online and Multiboxing: My position against the upcoming changes and why Multiboxing is good for EVE and its player economy


Written by: Shadowandlight


Overview


CCP has recently decided that certain capabilities of ISBoxer.com’s software will soon be against the End User Licensing Agreement come Jan. 1st. In this paper I seek to describe why this is an unnecessary change that will be entirely ineffective, while providing unneeded regulation and unwarranted punishment for those who will attempt to abide by the new ruling. If this or other future new policies are effective at driving out multiboxers, it will have a detrimental effect on EVE and its player-driven economy.


Multiboxing is an integral part of EVE Online and indeed, almost every MMO. Every player has the opportunity to multibox and the community is inclusive, full of people who are extremely knowledgeable who are an asset to the EVE community in every aspect and do not hesitate in sharing information.


My Background


In my real life, I have a degree in Emergency Management and I am pursuing entrance into Medical School.  I have been a firefighter / EMT and now Paramedic for 15 years.  I own 2 businesses (one in I.T. and one in Medical Education) and have been an entrepreneur since graduating college.  I hold numerous I.T. certifications from industry leaders such as Microsoft, Cisco, Novell etc.

I have been playing EVE Online since late 2004, and I’ve multiboxed, starting in its most basic form, since 2005. I have played and multi-boxed nearly every single aspect of gameplay that EVE Online has to offer.


Before I started writing this paper I wrote a shorter (still long…) post on the official EVE thread regarding this issue. 

I am also partaking in multiple media events (website and blogger interviews as well as podcast round tables) in defense of input duplication, and multiboxing in general.
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What is multiboxing


At its heart, multiboxing is whenever you have more than two accounts that you try to use concurrently. In many MMOs, this usually starts because you're looking to accomplish a task that you are not always able to find an extra person willing to help you.  There is a bit of confusion as people try to define multiboxing. However at its core it is just any method you use to try to play two accounts at the same time.


CCP’s recent policy change


As you can see above, CCP Falcon released the new proposed? change to the EULA that will be live come Jan 1st.


However, like any well written legal document, the end user license agreement that CCP has written for players provides a lot of ambiguity and wiggle room. At their discretion any third party software could at any given point be deemed against EULA. Since CCP has zero control over how the software is used and how it is developed, they have kept themselves in a very maneuverable position to react to an ever changing landscape.


For perhaps as many as 7 years, CCP had, if not turned a blind eye, accepted its presence, to multiboxing and using third party software tools they have in some instances given a “wink and a nudge” that using such software is allowed by the developers. There has even been confirmation in the past few years that CCP employees use such software when playing or testing.


As seen above CCP has decided that while they want to promote and acknowledge multiboxing in EVE Online, they now have put forward a very confusing position that since multiboxers are “too capable”, CCP must find methods to limit their effectiveness, up to and including banning them from EVE. At best, this is a gross overreaction, and at worst, a betrayal to loyal customers and a horrible business decision.


Specifically, CCP is banning input duplication. This is anytime you're able to use 1 keyboard and mouse to send the same command to multiple clients. For example, using the Up arrow to move forward and sending this command to all the clients you have logged in.First breach of this policy would result in a 30 day, and a second breach would result in permanent ban from the game on all accounts.


Let’s be clear: If CCP hopes that this policy change will stop the current ganking, mining or any other multiboxing practices, I believe it will have little effect.
I’d have to go into a rather in-depth description and explanation (maybe even a tutorial) on how powerful software like Isboxer is to fully explain to the non-user how many work arounds there is for this input duplication ban, but just to be fully upfront with the EVE community this input duplication ban will not stop any of the current activities people are doing with multiboxing.


Between the features in ISBoxer such as keymaps, click bars, menus, round robin setups and ingeniously designed VideoFX setups, you can easily do everything you are doing now nearly as quickly.


As an avid multiboxer, I can assure you that even in the extreme fringes of multiboxing, the effects will be minimal.  Drone assist, fleet warping and regroup still exist in game.  There are a multitude of hardware options for people to assign their “F1” key on 50 separate clients to 50 separate buttons and just rake them while being 100% EULA compliant.


           Thats before people try to be creative and skate the line between the endless options out there and what CCP considers blessed by the sometimes vague wording of their license agreements.


Outside of the well know products from Logitech and Razor, all which have tremendous multifunction capabilities, products found on XKeys.com multifunction keypads have another level ability that multiboxers are sure to take advantage of.




I do not know what CCP hopes to accomplish by this change, but I highly suspect that unless they are willing to go much further, it will not have the intended effect.


Condensed counter-points to this proposal


1- It is a needless regulation of a very basic ability of isboxer, similar software and hardware solutions.  Something that has been allowed for half a decade plus with no evidence given to show that it is bad for EVE or the community.  


2- All it does is put a minor road block in the multiboxers path. An annoyance and inconvenience.  It entices an atmosphere of “us vs them” mentality and puts an air of uncertaintly into a playerbase who are heavily invested into the game. Work-around’s using EULA compliant solutions already exist and have been used for some time (as noted with VideoFX and keymaps in Isboxer, hardware solutions in Logitech and XKeys, autohotkey etc).


3- When this “solution” (CCP hasn’t yet told us what they are attempting to fix) doesn’t have the intended effect, what will CCP then do next? Ban all 3rd party software? State that you’re only allowed to log in 5 clients at a time max? Where will they draw the line next?


4- It appears (from the outside) to be a snap judgment brought on by constant complaining of those who find it “unfair”, most notably are targets of gank fleets who flew with excessive cargo in a freighter, and victims of Replicator (an effective and public multiboxer). Indeed, some multiboxers have reported more complaints about CODE’s constant harassment than with someone multiboxing 10 skiffs. You would expect in-game harassment to be treated a bit more harshly.


5- Multiboxing players and CCP will be constantly barraged with reports of legitimate players who have been targeted by those with “axes to grind”.  There is already enough angst in the ill-informed community regarding what multiboxing is and how difficult it is to accomplish.  Multiboxers who work within the EULA will just become targets for petitions by certain players out of spite or jealousy.


6- If this change goes through,CCP will be guilty of selling us a “bill of goods” that multiboxing and input duplication were not against  the EULA, if not directly stating it was allowed.  This is the start of a near reversal of 7 years of policy from CCP. As recently as Fanfest and EVE Vegas 2014, CCP Devs have told players that multiboxers had nothing to worry about. CCP Seagull has so far refused to comment on this.  I highly doubt CCP is going to reimburse these players for the months or sometimes years of game play they purchased as multiboxers.


7- Assuming that CCP has specific problems with x or y activity (for example, 25-pilot mining fleets, or gankers alphaing a freighter in empire) then by all means, state specifically the problem and let the community propose solutions.


                   Indeed, there has been more discussion regarding possible solutions now than there ever was before. CCP has repeatedly refused to discuss this issue with multiboxers, when multiboxers have been at the table ready to talk for some time.


           Taking an axe to a portion of your player base is not a solution, you don’t need to cut off a leg to save this patient, who you won't even declare is sick nor give a diagnosis.


Promotions, deals and the Power of Two


CCP consistently pushes the "Power of Two" promotion where they give you a deal when buying another account. As one of many examples they actively encourage more subscriptions from a single person and thus, more income for the company.


EVE Online is an MMO, and like every well designed multi player game, requires x number of players to do any single task efficiently. Usually games follow pattern where the more profitable activities require a certain number of players to accomplish. In EVE, mining requires hauling minerals from the belt to the station. You could stop and haul your own ore with your miner characters, but that would of course decrease your overall effectiveness as a miner.


In your typical fantasy game you would call these high end raids. In each situation however, almost any activity’s effectiveness is increased very dramatically with the inclusion of extra players, Ranging from support characters such as booster pilots and scouts, to extra pilots to provide more DPS, or just having more people to help haul and mine materials, EVE is designed around having more players in almost all instances. The social benefits aside, CCP has outright purposely built a game where having more pilots and/or alts is a necessity for any player.


Multiboxing vs Macroing vs Automation (Botting)
       
      For the sake of those on the outside looking in, there is a constant misrepresentation that those using multiboxing software are instead macroing (implied automation). Some even suggest that those using such software are "botting."


So let's go over the difference specifically.


Multiboxing - Using 2 or more accounts together.


Macroing - A macro is having one hotkey send multiple sequenced and/or timed commands to a client. In EVE a complicated macro would entail a mouse and keyboard combination that would drag ore from your cargo to your hauler every x minutes. This is blatant cheating by any reading of the EULA. There is a “grey area” that the community is looking to have answered regarding how complicated of commands we will be allowed to send to the client. For example, built into the game options, you can already tie your High slot, Mid slot and Low slots to be activated via one key. Would that be considered a Macro if done via another method?


If a program such as Isboxer, after hitting a hotkey, changed the “target client” from client 1 to client 2, is that also considered against the EULA even though to the game only 1 command was passed?


Automation or botting - I'd hope that people wouldn't try to link multiboxing with botters, but in people's seemingly endless hatred for Multiboxers there are often attempts to draw parallels. Botters are people who run either custom or "black-market" software that allows them to run 23/7 without being at the computer. Set it and forget it.


Software & Hardware solutions


There are plenty of ways to multibox in MMOs. Every major gaming accessory manufacturer has some sort of "macro" ability software built alongside their hardware. Logitech and Razer are the two companies I am most familiar with. At their more basic function, these features have legitimate uses and probably do not violate the EULA wording and more importantly its "spirit".


Ingenious people such as this gentleman;


created very intricate hardware solutions to make a point: you don't need crazy software or expensive hardware to make multiboxing and input duplication possible. Just some dowel rods and glue allow someone to make a solution very similar to input duplication found in software solutions.


At present the most popular software in the multiboxing universe is probably ISBoxer. It's built-in ability to duplicate mouse and keyboard functionality among clients is directly what CCP will soon be calling bannable.


There are plenty of solutions out there though: Autohotkey, third-party macro creators, built-in Windows functionality, etc. all exist. The extent of how complicated you make the action though determines if it crosses a line drawn by CCP or other game development companies. In the past, CCP was willing to draw the line at being able to get up from your keyboard and allow the software to continue interacting with the client, something which ISBoxer cannot do on its own.


Multiboxing to play on your time schedule and as End-Game level content


I'll only speak for myself, but one of the main draws of multiboxing is how hard it is to pull off. You have to become an expert in every aspect of what you’re trying to accomplish or suffer the mistakes multiplied by the number of clients you are running. Warp off to a belt on accident? Now all your toons are warping to the belt. Take a gate that you just wanted to approach? Congratulations, now your fleet is inside the next pocket / on the other side of the gate at the mercy of whatever may be laying in wait.


How could this effect subscription numbers?


Frankly, we don't know, at least not from the outside looking in. The first level argument is that some people may quit, while others will perhaps scale back their operations to find a more manageable level.


However the case can easily be made that people will find workarounds using other features in both hardware and software solutions. Assuming this doesn't put an undue burden on the people trying to maintain their current fleet setup, perhaps those people won't quit entirely.


There has been plenty of posts stating people are going to be unsubbing accounts, either out of protest or thinking they won't be able to effectively run the same setup past January 1st. See the "Why won't this change work?" section towards the beginning of the paper.  We must also take into account the number of people who will be banned for either false positives or not being as active in the community as others are and missing this new EULA change.  


If we assume that every “real” person in EVE have at least one alt, then using the current numbers below, there is probably only approx. 15k people online in the past 24 hours. Remember, that is a very, very positive outlook number. It is really probably much lower and therefore much bleaker of a situation. People with 3,4, or 5 alts are quite easy to find.
Max (24h): 37,392 (2014-11-26 20:19:55)
Current record: 65,303 (2013-05-05 19:09:04)


Time will tell, assuming CCP doesn't reverse course or worse take more drastic actions, how many previously legitimate paying customers we lose.


What this change is doing however is creating an environment of confusion and fear among very loyal players of being banned for just looking like you use input duplication.  The message is seemingly clear:  thanks for giving us your hard earned money for years on end but basically "get out."


A built-in lack of trust encourages self reliance.


Eve has purposely created a hostile environment where you cannot trust your neighbor or even people you have known for months or even years. One of the tenets of EVE is, since it is a sandbox, thievery, deception and backstabbing are all allowed and even encouraged as a part of the game. Are we surprised people turned to creating alts and using them as effectively as possible to combat the lack of trust?


The game mechanics of EVE pushes people to be bleeding-edge effective; trust no one and balance risks with rewards.


EVE by design makes having alts the best solution for all these issues, and yet now they are sending the message that if you become too effective, or if the mob mentality takes over, CCP will side with those stating "those people are playing unfairly" when they are showing a new level of effectiveness. Will the next Riot (pun intended?) be over Supers, Titans, officer modules, P.L.E.X to win or something else?


We are seeing CCP a dramatic shift in how they treat multiboxers, without any attempt during Fanfest, EVE Vegas or through the CSM to talk to the multiboxing community to open up a line of communication regarding any future changes.  Instead it appears CCP is trying to placate a vocal minority while simultaneously hurting a very loyal portion of their clientele.  In my opinion, this is the complete opposite of how this could have been handled.

The time and knowledge required to be “good” at multiboxing
Ask any multiboxer how easy it is to setup their clients. Ask them how easy their computers, monitors, hardware, keyboards, mice, 3rd party software was to set up. Anytime I would take on a new, specific in-game task, from mining to running incursions, I have spent hours just on the out of game issues.


I cannot tell you how many times that an error I made in game has cost me entire fleets of ships. That is the bargain we make with the devil: if I make a mistake, if the software I have isn’t perfectly setup, if my overviews are off by a few pixels, if the power goes out in my house, I can easily lose entire fleets in seconds. It is a risk I take because I love the game, and I love the challenge this bargain burdens us with.


Treating people using “input duplication” on the same level as botters when handing out punishments?
In short, treating people who have used input duplication for over half a decade as people who are as dangerous to the economy and health as AFK botters or shady RMTer’s past Jan. 1st is down-right offensive in my mind. There is no evidence that input duplication or the current form of multiboxing causes any harm to the EVE community and CCP has been extremely sparse with details of such damage.


We havent even had any word on how CCP plans to deal with false positives or even a method to alert all players of this very important change.  A forum post read by a small portion of the community is by far the most effective way to reach such a large number of players who might be multiboxing using input duplication.  


If a player has setup an alternative but EULA way of being fast and efficent in target selection, firing his weapons etc will he also be banned under whatever metric CCP has devised to track input duplication?


Everyone who plays EVE can multibox, and can use the same 3rd party software to improve their gameplay.


I read a lot of forum posts. One consistent argument is how “unfair” using multiple alts and 3rd party software is.


Anyone can download the same software that we use. Anyone can buy or create new alts and fly with them. And they are able to have the same exact capabilities as anyone else who multiboxes. The only barrier to entry is how good of a PC you have, how much disposable money you have to buy game time or P.L.E.X for your pilots (whether it be real life currency or in-game ISK), and how dedicated you are to setting it up and getting the most out of it.


                 One logical fallacy I encounter is, if multiboxing is unfair, why are officer modules or buying stacks of P.L.E.X to afford a super, instead of grinding ISK considered fine? EVE does have plenty of “pay to win” aspects to it. If you have money in real life, you can buy a very high skill point character and instantly win fights that your lower skilled character may not have been able to, or gain access to missions or anomalies that would have been impossible for your brand-new character.


So pay-to-win is ok in one regard, but those who are dedicated enough to buy and subscribe more alts than people find fair, and are learning how to fly them effectively, have crossed some sort of imaginary line?


Lets look at other 3rd party software. If I use EVEMon to better plan my skill queue or to make sure I dont forget to change skills, I am using an unfair advantage vs. people who dont use such software.


But the real crux is the players who use very sophisticated software to monitor and find lucrative trade opportunities in New Eden and then greatly profit from its use. Yes anyone could download or create these programs, but do they have the skill to recognize the best trading options or the in-game ISK to leverage their position?


Why the change now?

In short, no one knows. CCP hasn’t stated any reasons. The best or most logical guesses I have seen is that ganking freighters and other expensive ships in Empire space has become too prevalent. However this point is easily dismissed when one looks at CODE’s (one of the more prominent high sec ganking / war dec groups) activities and killboard. However it is pretty much pure speculation at this point as there is no response from CCP other than an overly simplified flowchart.



The Slippery Slope

As stated elsewhere in this paper, one major concern that I and others have expressed is what CCP will decide to do next if this policy change / solution doesn’t have its intended effect (which I and others am convinced it won’t).


CCP could ban using multiple toons “together” in both PVP or PVE environments and eventually force people down to whatever is an acceptable number of alts.  Granted that is far fetched, but without any feedback from CCP regarding their current issues and why they feel this is a solution, not outside the realm of reason.  In the future, running more than x clients at one time could be outlawed, but then the question comes “what is x and why is it x instead of y?”. Realistically, we don't know how far they are willing to go to accomplish an unknown goal with little supporting evidence.


Options instead of banning “input duplication”


I don’t want to dive too far into speculation, but there are many other options available to CCP than to just flat out ban a popular feature in many major 3rd party software programs. I won’t bore you with arguments that my ideas are the best or even good, but between the community, the CSM and the CCP developers I am sure a multitude of options exist.


One idea is that if ganking is  seriously a problem EVE could incorporate built-in “target breakers” to limit how many people can lock and fire on a freighter at any one time (only works in high sec of course). What if CCP increased the penalties for ganking in Empire, so that operating in high-sec when being a pirate is increasingly difficult if not untenable?  


If coordinated bombing is too powerful, there are other solutions to fix that as well.  The de-cloaking mechanic previously proposed was’nt nearly as extreme as starting to ban certain types of multiboxing.  You could also reduce bomb radius or provide bombers with another type of “support” bomb such as what current exists with Void and Lockbreaker (making those 2 bomb types more useful would be great!).


If the problem lies with Incursion runners, this also points to a problem with the other mechanics in EVE.  A group of 2-3 people with multiboxing capabilities can run incursions, vs waiting for 10-12 to run if everyone “single” boxed.  Players found ways to do the content they enjoy without having to constantly find trustworthy and capable people to play with.


Think outside of the box. Don’t use a sledgehammer to break a walnut when a simple nutcracker will do.


Let’s pretend that Multiboxing “too many accounts” is breaking EVE. What does CCP do then?


Well, my initial thought would be to fix the game mechanics of EVE so that you can make multiboxing in specific situations harder, without resorting to banning players. World of Warcraft removed the “/follow” command in PVP instances after people complained that multiboxers in specific PVP scenarios were too powerful. I don’t agree with the solution they presented, as anyone who multiboxes knows how easily they can lose control in a fight, but at least Blizzard didn't treat people who multiboxed as poorly as CCP intends to treat those who use input duplication past January 1st.


            I am sure some creative thinking can occur for EVE to find similar solutions in areas where CCP states there are problems.


One idea would be if more than “x” lasers are targeting the same asteroid, or more then x weapons target the same NPC, the damage or mining rate starts to be affected by stacking penalties? Once again, there must be other solutions than banning these players for doing “input duplication”. (These could be horrible ideas, just throwing them out there).
The Economics of Multiboxing
Disclaimer, I am not an economist. I wish CCP kept their in-house Economist on board (Dr. Eyjolfur "Eyjo" Gu├░mundsson) or found a suitable replacement. However, with some Economy 100, 200, and 300 classes as well as over 15 years in business, I am confident of a few things.


EVE has an inflation problem in my opinion. Too much isk is in the marketplace, and there aren’t enough things currently for people to spend it on. Add more items in-game, even if they are purely vanity items, for people to purchase with ISK instead of PLEX.


What economy ever got “better” and more vibrant by reducing the number of people participating in it? Reducing the number of accounts people can use doesn’t help the EVE economy, just like reducing the number of active people in a labor market doesn't help either.


Lets assume for a moment that this new policy has the effect of people dropping subscriptions or getting banned for “input duplication”.


Mineral pricing is surely going to go up as there isn’t anyone to undercut as aggressively. Ships and modules will be more expensive as minerals raise, and that’s not counting people who multibox manufacturing or science characters. Rare modules such as officer modules may go up as there are less people clearing belts in nullsec.  For your average miner, they will see more value for their ore but that will surely be offset by increased costs of the goods they need to buy (ships, modules and perhaps P.L.E.X.’s).  I suspect that if this new policy has a dramatic effect you will see similar rises in mineral, ship and item cost across all sectors in the EVE economy.


What about P.L.E.X pricing? I honestly don’t know. If we assume that a large majority of people who multibox are buying P.L.E.X then perhaps the demand will soften and less P.L.E.X will be bought and sold. Bad for CCP and bad for the seller, but I suppose in a way better for the buyer. However people will continue to purchase and hoard P.L.E.X. and remove them from the economy.


For your enjoyment and economic prowess, here is a link to a graph on the pricing and movement of P.L.E.X recently.

In Conclusion



It was my goal to show that multiboxing in EVE Online is extremely challenging and rewarding. This does not only apply to the regular player, but to the entire community. EVE Online is a player driven economy and the more pilots who partake in this virtual world, the better.
Banning players for using input duplication is not a solution to any identified problem nor is it a problem itself. This is an unneeded action and will only result in punishing players who have been dedicated and loyal customers to CCP, not to mention their much larger than normal contribution to the EVE player base and economy.


If there are game mechanic flaws that make the current ability of multiboxers an issue for the direction CCP wants to take EVE Online, then those should be worked on specifically. Banning people for what has been allowed for half a decade is not an answer.


We should be thankful to the players who spend countless hours and money on building power systems and learning EVE inside and out to be successful at multiboxing. Such individuals are an asset to the community and the unwarranted attack on their gameplay, which every single other person who plays EVE has the same opportunity to partake and enjoy, is only going to hurt EVE and its community.


A special thanks to the following:


Nolak Ataru
"Joker"
“Zach”
“Ken R.”

All the community members both for and against these changes, for providing a vibrant discussion for all of us to draw ideas and discussions from.


CCP, for making an amazing game that I still play a decade later.