EVE Evolved: Gambling away all your ISK

EVE Online is said to be a game in which you can do literally anything you set your mind to. It doesn't matter whether your ambition is to climb the alliance ranks, become the scourge of low-security space or even just fly around space telling jokes. If you can conceive of an idea that can be carried out in-game, it's probably a perfectly viable way to play the game. Over the years, players have come up with a number of unique and unconventional gameplay styles. Most of them began as ways for the pilots involved to make ISK or gain notoriety, but some were created just to see if it could be done. I've seen everything from player-run graveyards for the victims of piracy to players renting kill-boards for ISK, and yet the EVE community never ceases to amaze me with the new ways people find to play the game.

The most recent development to blow me away is SOMER.blink, a website where players can gamble their ISK to win fabulous prizes. Gambling in EVE is nothing particularly new; players have been wagering ISK on everything from lotteries to hands of poker for a long time. What makes SOMER.blink special is its absolutely flawless execution. Almost everything is automated, from the transfer of ISK into your account balance to the prize lotteries themselves. The website itself is even accessible from outside EVE once ISK has been deposited in your wallet. I've spent hours so far blinking away on lotteries and losing quite a bit of ISK, but I'll be damned if it hasn't been fun.

In this week's EVE Evolved, I look into the addictive phenomena of Somer.BLINK and try to explain where all my damn ISK went.

How it works


The gameplay of SOMER.blink revolves around short lotteries called Blinks. Players purchase one of eight tickets for a chance to win, with prizes ranging from assault frigates and battleships to full implant sets and even PLEX. To keep ticket prices within a reasonable range for the average player, and thus encourage more people to play, items over a certain value are only sold in Mega Blinks with 16 tickets each. As is to be expected, ticket prices are set sufficiently high to ensure the house always makes a profit on every Blink. Despite the odds of coming out of a gambling session with a profit being stacked firmly against me, I actually found myself quite enjoying the whole process.

Rather than having the system put up lotteries for randomly selected prizes, the developers of SOMER.blink hit on a novel way of listing popular prizes guaranteed to hold people's interest. The players themselves decide what prizes go up on the Blink wall. When less than the maximum number of Blinks are running, players can choose a prize from the extensive list and start a new Blink themselves, with the only provision being that they must buy the first ticket before it goes up on the wall. With a cut of every lottery going to the site's owners and new Blinks being concluded every few minutes by avaricious players, the real winners here are clearly the creators of SOMER.blink. They've managed to do something very few players ever achieve -- create an almost completely passive but highly lucrative revenue stream.

Compulsive gambling

Whether you like SOMER.blink or not, it's clear that the game's creators are absolute masters of compulsive behaviour. The high frequency with which new Blinks appear on the list has me alt-tabbing back to EVE every few minutes to see if anything I like has popped up. Something about seeing the names of other players who are constantly buying tickets also gives an odd reassuring sense that it's not a waste of time. As the gameplay is essentially just picking a number between one and eight, it's easy for players to get caught up in picking lucky numbers or believe their number is due for a win.

Other players buy up tickets so quickly that it often feels like there's a pressure to get a ticket and get into a Blink. Each one you don't bid in feels like a wasted opportunity, made all the more potent when a number you pass on wins. The site even has achievements that give you bonus credit for entering a certain number of Blinks, winning a Blink or winning certain ships. I can't deny that the compulsion to keep playing is strong.

With many prizes available for ticket prices as low as 2 million ISK, there's a strong temptation to just play a few more games, and before long I notice all my credit is gone. That's when I usually look at the deposit button and have a moment of weakness. Depositing ISK is a frightfully efficient affair in which players need only click a button to wire the ISK over to a special corporate account. Once per hour, the EVE API updates with new information on the corporation's wallet. The website takes advantage of this periodic update to get a list of recent deposits and which player made them. For those who can't wait the one hour or less the depositing process takes, a special channel is periodically staffed with players who are able to verify and process payments early.

Cashing out

One of the most sinister aspects of SOMER.blink is the way in which winnings are cashed out of the game. Although the player's current account balance is listed as ISK, he isn't allowed to withdraw deposited funds. Only winnings can be cashed out, with your bank balance being used exclusively for entering lotteries. When a Blink is concluded, the winner is given the opportunity to collect his prize. The site's owners will then buy the prize from the open market and contract it to him within 24 hours. Alternatively, the winner can decide to sell the prize back to the lottery, cashing it in directly for ISK. The ISK is then sent in-game within 24 hours, and my personal experience with cashing out saw turnaround in less than one hour.

The nefarious part of the scheme is a third option to sell the item back in exchange for credit in your account balance. Not only is this instant, thus giving you immediate use of your winnings, but it also comes with a free 5-10% bonus compared to cashing in the prize for ISK. As account balance credit can't be cashed out on its own, it must be spent on further Blinks. Over time, players who continually re-invest their winnings in credit will eventually lose it to the house edge. It's a clever scheme for re-capturing a significant percentage of players' winnings and presumably drastically reducing the number of items and ISK transfers staff need to make per day.

Summary

What really strikes me about SOMER.blink is how polished, quick and professional everything seems. The whole website gives off a very casino-like feel, with an almost addictive quality to it. Perhaps more importantly, every effort has been made to lower the barrier to entry. Visiting the website with the EVE in-game browser gives the site access to your character name, reducing the sign-up process to the single step of choosing a password. Hopefully the success of SOMER.blink will encourage more web-developers in the EVE community to try their hands at something similar, and I'll be surprised yet again by what players have accomplished within the confines of the EVE universe. As to where all my ISK went this week, I had to win at least one blink to make sure this article was factually accurate, and luck was certainly not on my side. That was the most expensive Enyo I have ever bought.
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.