Sometimes you make a deal with the devil for a short term gain in exchange for your eternal soul, hoping to outwit him later on a technical point before you have to pay up.
On this blog, I first pointed at the button-orbiting FW alt issue four months ago in late June. I personally expected it to be an extremely short-term issue with a quick fix. That is why I indicated it was an "enormous bone-headed decision" but then stupidly commented in early July that those taking advantage of it "should make hay while the sun shines." I let things sit that way for about six weeks, when in utter disgust I finally indicated in late August that those not taking advantage of this enormous wealth fountain were failing a basic EVE Online IQ test.
CCP, meanwhile, made it clear enough that they were aware of the problem, but it wouldn't be fixed until December 4 before deciding to surprise-implement the fix this week.
But that was two months after my "IQ test" post and four months after I first mentioned it on this blog. As I said earlier this week, the damage has been done. We're almost certainly never going to know how much hard ISK has been exchanged for implants, data cores, and Navy Cap Boosters, but you can rest assured that the number is in the tens of trillions of ISK, if not more.
Why did CCP let this blatant, obvious wealth fountain persist for so long? I have a few theories, each slightly more cynical than the last. First off though, I reject the notion that CCP was unaware of the problem. People were being very public about cash-outs, methods, and tier 5 spikes as early as mid-July, more than three months before CCP got around to fixing the problem. The word "push" had firmly entered the EVE lexicon by August. Hans Jagerblitzen on the CSM was writing about it all through late July and into August. He seemed to lean less toward destroying it and more toward simply making it much, much more risky (and therefore presumably spreading the benefit to more players). So I find it impossible to believe that CCP wasn't aware of this issue. Strike that theory.
I also reject the notion that CCP was aware of the problem but unable to fix it. The net fix we're left with is pretty typical CCP heavy-handedness. But there were a dozen simpler ways they could have addressed this issue temporarily, the simplest being to reduce the pay-outs per site by a factor of ten while they decided on a permanent solution. Doing so would have made running these sites worth 30 to 50 million ISK/hour, still high but not outrageously so. People would have continued doing it in the interim but wouldn't have been left with the hundreds of billions ISK in assets they have today, merely tens of billions.
No, the simplest -- though cynical -- explanation for CCP taking four months to fix this issue is that while they may not have wanted people taking advantage of the fountain, they were willing to accept that it was happening. Remember the old CCP axiom that "players are always richer than you think"? I describe FW alt button-orbiting as a wealth fountain and not an ISK faucet, because it wasn't an ISK faucet. It was an ISK sink of the highest order: tens of trillions of ISK have been drained from the EVE Online economy. Every implant purchased during a tier 5 spike had to be purchased with ISK, and a lot of it.
It's well within reason to think this was the goal of the exercise.
I believe that CCP was willing to take a short-term hit to the implant and data core markets to facilitate that. After all, implants and data cores are pretty small beer in terms of the larger EVE economy, implants in particular. If the short-term hit of implants being unreasonably cheap for a year or so is the price that CCP has to pay to drain tens of trillions of ISK from the EVE economy, I could see them seeing that as a very small price to pay indeed.
But it's a Faustian bargain, for a couple of reasons.
First, a good portion of this wealth in assets went to generally newer players. Older players probably weren't as quick to jump on this opportunity, seeing it as short-term and having well-established income methods already in place. The overall number of players taking advantage of the wealth fountain was also relatively limited to a low four-digit number. One player within my own alliance has been playing EVE for less than a year and took advantage of this big-time. He hasn't publicly revealed exactly how much ISK in assets he's sitting on. But it's easily the equivalent of him holding on to a personal tech moon for every hour of every day he's been playing EVE so far.
Needless to say, he's a little bit ragey about losing his wealth fountain two months earlier than he expected. Other short-term players made it public that they'd bought high-end industrial characters, high-end PvP characters, and very expensive ships with their new gains. These players are publicly ragey.
This is a problem because EVE is a long-term game. If you are piloting a Nyx after less than a year playing EVE... where exactly do you go from there in year two? What can possibly hope to match that? That's Faustian bargain number one: CCP might have made themselves an entire generation of players who feel entitled to wealth fountains on this scale.
The second Faustian bargain they've made concerns their richest players. A lot of these players were already extraordinarily rich, and the players that took advantage of the wealth fountain generally weren't among them. Problem is, these item-rich players are now ISK-poor: the tens of trillions of ISK that were pulled out of the EVE economy came out of the wallets of these early- and mid-level players, not the richest ones. Whether by loans from richer players or by rapidly converting a percentage of their initial stocks of implants into ISK at very low values, the players that took advantage of the wealth fountain are now generally sitting on livable amounts of ISK... and large piles of assets that -- on paper! -- are worth enormous amounts of ISK.
CCP even made it easy to salivate over their piles of leprechaun gold by putting a wealth estimator right on the unified inventory... where they can see it every day.
Only these players don't want to sell those assets until their value increases dramatically over current levels. Today, you can buy a full set of +5 implants for about 400 million ISK, not much more than their ISK cost of 325 million (plus LP, of course). A full set of +4s can be had for 75 million, or only 30 million if you limit yourself to +4s for just the skills being currently trained. A very large net positive of this is skill training speed will be up for quite a while all across New Eden. In the aggregate, this benefits newer players more than older richer players due to the law of diminishing returns for EVE skill points.
But the negative is that there are going to be hundreds of players out there playing chicken with those implant values, all struggling mightily to turn their paper wealth into real wealth. Only all of them will also be struggling mightily to be the last to sell. The first people that sell their stocks, after all, will probably end up selling them to very rich EVE players who are willing to hoard those implants for a year or two if need be to get a good return on their investment. Already, I'm seeing offers out there to buy large stacks of implants and data cores for just over their current market values. The potential buyers are obviously willing to play a long game.
The newer players won't have this kind of patience.
As a result, in the long term, the second Faustian bargain that's going to result here is that very old, rich EVE players will be able to convert their liquid ISK almost en masse into a pile of liquid ISK of double the (already enormous) size through the exercise of just a little bit of patience. They just have to wait for implant and data core prices to normalize... however long that takes. If CCP thinks some players are too rich now... just wait!
The good news here is that both of these problems have been firmly exported into the future, which is why this bargain is Faustian. For now, those that took advantage of the wealth fountain might be grumbling, but they can't be too unhappy sitting on piles of implants that they believe will eventually make them barons of EVE. The even richer players won't be able to cash in on investments made now for a year or more. So these are future problems, not current ones.
Which brings me back to my initial conclusion: by doing this, I believe CCP was solving a short-term problem hoping to avoid the long-term problem later on. We'll see how successful they are.