Sometimes it seems as though the entire MMO industry is moving toward microtransaction-based pricing schemes. With the success of free-to-play titles like Runes of Magic and Free Realms, it's clear that microtransactions are becoming a popular alternative to the standard subscription model. Famously, Dungeons and Dragons Online also proved that a hybrid model with both subscription and microtransaction options could be a great success. Even World of Warcraft has hopped on the microtransaction bandwagon with its infamous sparkle pony and cosmetic pets.

With the industry moving firmly in one direction, questions have been raised over whether EVE Online will ever implement any kind of microtransactions. Believe it or not, the first steps toward doing just that have already been taken. It was discovered some time ago that the Incursion expansion this winter would give players the ability to buy extra neural remaps with PLEX. Neural remapping allows players to re-assign a character's attributes using a points-based system. As attributes are only used to determine the speed with which skills train, remaps allow players to max out the stats required to train a particular branch of skills.

In this opinion piece, I look at the microtransaction debate currently raging in the EVE community and weigh in with my opinions on this controversial issue.
Neural remapping


The question of whether CCP should sell neural remaps for PLEX is the current hot topic for debate on the official EVE forums. Since players normally get only one remap per year, most choose to max out either perception and willpower for combat-focused characters or intelligence and memory for industrial characters. Allowing players to pay for remaps will make it possible to max out other attributes for a few months of short skill training and then switch back. Players argue that this amounts to selling skillpoints for ISK, as frequent remaps make it possible to train the maximum number of skillpoints every day.

I don't agree with that assessment, mainly because the vast majority of EVE skills fall into categories with perception, willpower, intellect or memory as their primary and secondary attributes. Almost every player is already training at the absolute maximum number of skillpoints per day he is capable of. Players train mostly industrial skills or combat and ship skills and have long ago remapped to maximise output in that specific field. The ability to buy remaps simply makes it more feasible to learn skills that use other attributes, such as the charisma-based trade and social skills. I definitely think that's worth paying for, but it's not at all game-breaking.

Further microtransactions

Most strong arguments against paid remaps focus on the idea that CCP is treading on a slippery slope and that further microtransactions may be on their way if the remaps prove popular. It seems those fears are not unjustified, as EVE's Creative Director Torfi Frans Olafsson recently revealed in an interview with Eurogamer. In addition to confirming that the Incursion expansion will come with paid neural remaps, Torfi stated that CCP is "looking at introducing virtual goods within the game." Before we grab our pitch forks and all board flights to Iceland, Torfi did say immediately after that "those things should be vanity items rather than those that give you a clear benefit over other players in-game."

The community's response to Torfi's interview has been rabid, with threads raging on the topic of microtransactions every day. One player even started a community-wide vote to collect data on how many players oppose microtransactions altogether, how many approve of it, and how many would only accept cosmetic items sold for cash. Personally, I don't see this slippery slope that the developers are allegedly headed down. From Torfi's interview, I gather that any future microtransactions will be for cosmetic items for our avatars in Incarna. As Incarna will be a unique part of the game that's almost entirely separate from the main space-based portion of EVE, Items sold for it can't possibly confer a direct in-game advantage. There would be absolutely nothing wrong with selling vanity items like clothing or things to place in our personal quarters.

PLEX as a currency

Something I've always had very high respect for is EVE's PLEX system. Each PLEX represents 30 days of game time, which players can either buy directly from CCP or create from game time codes. The PLEX can be redeemed as in-game items, which allows players to sell them on the open market for ISK. In that sense, PLEX have already become the RMT currency of EVE. They give cash-rich players the ability to buy as much ISK as they want and ISK-rich players the ability to effectively play the game for free. It makes sense then that PLEX be used as a currency in any microtransaction-based purchases.

Functionally, of course, players can purchase PLEX from the in-game market for ISK and then spend them on items like the upcoming paid neural remaps without paying cash. It's those players buying PLEX for ISK who make up most of the target market for neural remaps and probably also for future microtransactions. The fact of the matter is that being able to buy something with PLEX rather than straight cash makes a lot more people willing to buy. How many people would buy a subscription to E-ON magazine or other items in the EVE store if they could pay in PLEX? I know I would.

While some players will pay cash for PLEX to remap their attributes, many more players will be willing to part with a few hundred million ISK for the privilege. In the past, CCP has accepted PLEX at full cash value in donations for charity drives, which is probably the reason so much cash was raised. Using PLEX as the currency for microtransactions is perfect as it allows players to spend time grinding for ISK to buy a remap or short-cut the process with a cash injection.

Summary

The EVE community is a dedicated group of people who want nothing more than to see their game improve and flourish. Most of the fears being expressed about microtransactions are genuine concerns from players who don't want to see their game ruined. While the market is changing and CCP has to keep up with the times, it's important to keep in mind that CCP surely knows how valuable the current players are and how they would react to heavy microtransactions. I highly doubt CCP would ever sell items that give an in-game advantage for cash, and the devs have always said as much. Incarna is set to introduce a whole heap of innocent character customisations and avatar items that could be sold instead. Perhaps I'm in the minority, but I have a kind of cautious optimism for further microtransactions in EVE. Perhaps one day we'll even be able to buy E-ON magazine or EVE posters with PLEX. A man can dream...
Brendan "Nyphur" Drain is an early veteran of EVE Online and writer of the weekly EVE Evolved column here at Massively. The column covers anything and everything relating to EVE Online, from in-depth guides to speculative opinion pieces. If you have an idea for a column or guide, or you just want to message him, send an email to brendan@massively.com.

This article was originally published on Massively.
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