Welcome to Jester's Trek.
I'm your host, Jester. I've been an EVE Online player for about six years. One of my four mains is Ripard Teg, pictured at left. Sadly, I've succumbed to "bittervet" disease, but I'm wandering the New Eden landscape (and from time to time, the MMO landscape) in search of a cure.
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Monday, October 21, 2013

Sponsor and gamble

As I think about what I want to write about EVE Vegas and start to draft my posts about it, I keep returning to one topic that deserves to be talked about separately.  That way, people who want to comment on this particular aspect of EVE Vegas can do so.  It also allows me to cover this topic fully without it dominating two other posts I'd like to write about EVE Vegas.  And I do want to write about EVE Vegas in some detail because I think this player gathering is important for a number of reasons which I'll get to.  OK?  Onward.

Of all the player groups that attended EVE Vegas, there was one that in many ways dominated the event.  They could even argue that they were synonymous both with EVE Vegas 2013 and with the spirit of the gathering itself and the city where it took place.  And that player group was not Goonswarm.

It was SOMER Blink.

SOMER Blink staff were visibly all over the place at EVE Vegas this year and I think they can successfully argue that their presence is one of the major reasons EVE Vegas was successful.  In my view, their presence was such that it elevated their brand for those who attended without becoming an dominating influence on the event.  They were involved in three key ways:
  1. Throughout the event, they were giving a free PLEX to anyone who would say hello to one of their staff and accept a little business card.  Once logged in to a SOMER Blink account -- even a brand new one -- activating the card resulted in a PLEX being very rapidly contracted to your character account.  The leader of the SOMER Blink contingent told me that the organization's goal was to give a PLEX to every EVE Vegas attendee.  I hope they succeeded.
  2. They were giving the primary prizes for the EVE PvP area at EVE Vegas.  I'll talk about how this PvP area was operated in my next post.  But everyone who participated -- and the PvP area was set up in such a way to encourage every attendee to participate -- received 200 million ISK in SOMER Blink credit.  Those who won EVE PvP matches received an additional one billion ISK in credit, as well as a second PLEX.
  3. Finally -- and I think this was just as critical as the first two points -- they did not give a presentation in the main hall or run a round table, even though there were a number of player and player group presentations at EVE Vegas.(1)
I don't know if that last one was deliberate or accidental.  If it was deliberate, it was a smart move.  If it was accidental, it was fortunate serendipity.  But it was the right thing to do, balance-wise.  Had there been a SOMER Blink presentation, I think the overall event would have strayed pretty close to "EVE Vegas, sponsored by SOMER Blink!"  They certainly weren't listed among the event's other official sponsors.  And without such a presentation, a nice balance was struck: SOMER made it clear that they were strongly supporting the event, but weren't necessarily sponsoring it nor making the organizers of the event beholden to them.

In particular, so far as I could see, the SOMER Blink staff didn't receive any particularly special treatment during the event.  They didn't do anything any other player group at the event couldn't have done.  They didn't try to take over the event or over-emphasize their participation in any way.  They were just there, proudly supporting their organization.

Let's look at the cost of their participation.  There were 350 people total at EVE Vegas.  First, it's fair to say that something like 300 of the attendees received a PLEX.  The SOMER Blink staff struck me as very thorough, asking each attendee they could find if they'd received "their PLEX" yet.  Second, each winner of the casual PvP matches also received a second PLEX; by the rules, you could only win once during the weekend.  If attendees made a concerted effort to get involved in a winning group, they might have lost fight after fight, but probably would have won one eventually.  Let's be conservative and say 200 attendees legitimately won a PvP match.

In addition, a certain number of people in attendance -- let's say 50 -- almost certainly said "no" when they were asked if they'd received their attendance card for a PLEX, then used a second SOMER Blink account to turn that card in for a second attendance PLEX.  And a certain number -- again, let's say 50 -- almost certainly cheated the system used to track who had and hadn't won a PvP match and used the same second account to accept and turn in credit for a second PvP victory PLEX.

Each card could only be used once per SOMER Blink account; you would need a second account to take advantage that way.  But these are EVE players we're talking about, after all.  So let's say 100 additional PLEXes went out the door to people cheating the two systems.  300 door prize PLEXes, 200 PvP winner PLEXes, and 100 cheater PLEXes are 600 PLEXes in total.

600 PLEXes is worth some 366 billion ISK.

In addition, everyone who participated in the PvP event received 200 million ISK in Blink credit, and those 250 PvP winners received an additional billion ISK in Blink credit.  The first group was almost certainly 300 people or more, so let's call it 300.  That's 60 billion in Blink credit.  The winners received another 250 billion.  And all of these numbers are rather conservative.  It's likely SOMER Blink pumped some 750 or 800 billion ISK in PLEXes and credit into this event.  That's a very strong show of support.

The SOMER Blink representatives I talked to were perfectly willing to chat about the Ishukone Watch Scorpion giveaway issue, by the way.  To a man, they said they are pretty thick-skinned on the matter but also said that they haven't caught an unusual amount of heat over the issue.  That's good, in my opinion.  If EVE players were going to be angry about the giveaway, they were angry at CCP, not at SOMER Blink.  That's appropriate.

Finally, I do have to confess myself rather amused by the thought of SOMER Blink -- an EVE gambling site, obviously -- so strongly supporting an EVE player gathering happening in Las Vegas.  That's also appropriate.

So all in all, I'm rather impressed with the showing that SOMER Blink made at EVE Vegas!  But of course certain pod-casters out there might accuse me of conflict of interest.  After all, I did end up receiving two PLEXes and 1.2 billion ISK in SOMER Blink credit from my own participation in EVE Vegas.  So feel free to accuse me of bias if you like.

What do you think, Dear Readers?  Was SOMER Blink's strong support of this player event smart, and the appropriate thing to do?

(1) And I think there should have been more player and player group presentations, but again, more on that in my next post.


  1. Wow I wish I had had gone so bad. I hope they do this next year!

  2. To answer your question at the end: Yes and Yes. And furthermore, it goes to show some of the idiots on the forums that SOMER's profits goes into supporting events like this.

  3. At a guess, I'd say it was smart PR. Free money without a big promotion that might have made people suspect something less than philanthropy afoot! BLINK probably needed some good press, but more than that, they need hundreds of players silently thanking BLINK rather than railing in public.

  4. It sounds like they have RL professionals in their employ. They're a RL money making operation, so that isn't a surprise. They had a vested interest in making the absolute best showing they could in the wake of the "scandal" (or whatever it was).

    I'd like to see you approach this from a different angle at some point: is there a place in EVE for RL business entities? Not just sponsors like Alienware, but actual, ingame entities? What about Coke advertising on the gate billboards?

  5. The rewards seem quite hefty for the attending of the event. You had to pay for hotels and perhaps flights, but that is your choice for attending the fun event. Unless they do this for every gathering, and use different event contributors (ie not Somer Blink all the time), then it seems unfair to reward a minority with benefits. I would expect to see this at the Veto meet that has been happening for years? Why does Vegas get this? There have been plenty of big meets attended by CCP employees that didn't have this.

    They perform a service that you can use if you want to (I don't). It is up to the individual if they want to play. But when there are tangible in game rewards I have a problem with it.

    1. Hiya!

      I can't speak to other organizations that sponsor live get-togethers, but our (Blink) sponsorship of EveVegas isn't at all exclusive to Vegas. Granted, we don't usually get to go in person - but we do our best to show love for any real word get together that's interested in us providing prizes. There's a big pile of prizes going out next month for Eve Down Under as well, for example :)

  6. http://nosygamer.blogspot.com/2013/10/raffles-and-rmt.html

    Do you think giving a kickback to GTC buyers (which generates real money from Marquee Dragon affiliates program) is RMT?

  7. I think that regardless of how smooth or well planned SOMER blink's support of EVE Vegas was, right now is a bad time for them to be flaunting their wealth - and this WILL come across as flaunting their wealth to a lot of the players who weren't at EVE Vegas. It's an especially bad time to be doing so with an offering of ingame goods with an IRL component, even if it's just putting in a code given out at Vegas into Blink's site.

    A notable amount of the community have moved past the issue of Ishukone Scorpions and pointed out that because SOMER blink offers credit in exchange for players buying GTC through their referral link - for which they receive IRL money from the GTC retailer - and that credit can then be converted to ingame ISK or items through their lotteries, they are technically engaging in RMT, selling ISK for real money via Markee Dragon.

    Obviously DNSBlack was one of the first to note this discrepancy and his DNS Lottery was ostensibly an attempt to draw more attention to it (or possibly an attempt to get some IRL money after deciding to quit, depending on who you ask) but he's hardly alone at this point. The Nosy Gamer has weighed in to confirm that SOMER Blink's offering credit that can be converted to ingame ISK/items does appear to violate CCP's rules on RMT and former CSM member Two Step explained the problem with this loophole on Reddit.

    1. Yup, I'm keeping track of those issues as well, but those are CCP issues, not SOMER Blink issues.

      And I'm sure SB planned their participation in EV weeks before the iScorp thing came up. It was probably too late to back out even if they'd been inclined to.

    2. Personally I think it's a SOMER Blink issue as well as a CCP issue, since it's players' responsibility to make sure they aren't breaking the TOS; it's CCP's responsibility to enforce the TOS on players who do break it. That said, I doubt SOMER Blink intended to break TOS with their incentives to buy GTCs through their referral link, I imagine they just wanted to encourage their players to use that link. The effect remains the same though, and I think it's on SOMER Blink to fix the problem as well as being on CCP to make them do so.

      I'm sure that SOMER Blink didn't plan to have this kind of controversy occurring in the background of EVE Vegas, of course, but that doesn't change that it is happening and so it's going to colour the public perception of even the most well-handled PR event. It does seem particularly unfortunate, though, that said PR event involved doing something IRL to get ingame goods though, given the context of the controversy is also doing something (buying GTC) IRL to get ingame goods. Again, unfortunate for SOMER Blink but you asked what I thought of their support for EVE Vegas and that is "this is going to fan the flames further"; not having been there I can't really comment what it would have been sans controversy, but based on your description it sounds like in other circumstances it would have been a smart move.

      For what it's worth, I didn't have any problem with SOMER Blink employees receiving the IW Scorpions; while I can understand people complaining that they are a for-profit service I don't see why that excludes them from being part of the community all the same. It strikes me as rather like suggesting that a local pub that you visit frequently with coworkers or friends isn't a part of your community because they are for-profit. At the same time I can understand players complaining about SOMER Blink receiving them while other players/organisations that have arguably done more, been operating longer and/or do so more charitably have not had any official recognition, but that IS a CCP issue, not a SOMER Blink one.

      My only complaint with SOMER Blink is them... well, according to The Nosy Gamer they're not even exploiting a loophole, they're just violating TOS in a somewhat roundabout way.

    3. Also, on a minor note those PLEX had to come from somewhere; do I have SOMER Blink to blame for some small part in the rising price of PLEX lately?

  8. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. Oh what a surprise. Someone says something positive about SOMER Blink so therefore they must be receiving a payoff. Idiotic to say the least. Hateful and bitter more likely.

      RIP Poetic Stanziel. As your "input" into the EvE community decreases, the community itself improves. It's almost a linear relationship.

    2. Read the post:
      2x plex anx 1.2Billions on Somer Credit, which can be "gambled" for ~80%. cashout in ISK. Togheter with achievements, Promos etc that are at least another 2-3 plex.

      Didn't you stop playing Eve?

  9. So less than a trillion ISK and you think Somer BLINK is putting a large amount of their money into the event? How does this compare to the entire business? What is the conversion rate of cards handed out to new gamblers? How many PLEX will they end up making by gamblers buying PLEX to fun their gambling habit?

    We have some ridiculous laws here in my home town about certain percentages of gambling income being directed to the community. So what happens is the owners of a club (who have a few hundred poker machines) will "contribute to the community" by renovating their club premises. The renovations bring in new members, so the club grows, and they get new gamblers.

    So look at the PLEX giveaway from Somer's point of view: what are they actually doing (leaving aside your rose-coloured-filter concept of altruistic philanthropy)? They are buying new customers. You have to have a Somer account to redeem the code for a PLEX. Then you have a certain amount of Somer credit as well, so you may as well try your luck! And lo and behold, you win a couple of your first blinks.

    Cognitive Development is pretty canny. They are engaging in the most basic psychological tricks that gambling houses have refined through the ages: convince people you are actually helping the community (by trickling back to the community some of the money you have lifted from their wallets), then offer tasty complimentary items: everything from never ending beer nuts to free prizes.

    Somer is a business. They are about making money. Where does the money come from? What compensation were the Somer staff receiving for their presence: ISK? Somer credit? A percentage of every conversion from free code to new Somer account with bonus for every participant converting their "free PLEX" to Somer credit?

    Perhaps I am being too cynical, but these are the kinds of tricks used by gambling houses in other venues. Why is Somer a philanthropic industry where other gambling houses are parasites on the weakest and poorest?

    1. Where in my post did I say they weren't being a business? Or that I didn't expect them to benefit from this? Matter of fact, I think I was expressing admiration for how they were doing both.

      Also, if less than a trillion is a small amount of ISK, then 100 billion is clearly a completely insignificant amount. Please send that amount to Ripard Teg. ;-)

  10. Who paid for the Somer Blink staff's (your word, not mine) flights and accommodations? What benefit does one get for standing around tables all day handing out plexes? They can't be drinking, or carousing, as they have to be professional.

    Sounds like a work weekend for them, they way you explained it. Sounds like there is some awful big money in what they do. And if there is big real life money in what they do, how many other entities in the game, that have trillions of ISK flow through their hands, convert it to real money, while CCP looks the other way?

    1. Andrev paid for his and his wife's plane tickets and hotel himself. Sleepy was close enough to drive and has a Vegas timeshare. And drinking occurred :P

  11. So SOMER is doing damage control and Jester is falling for it head over heels. What else is new?

  12. I think it's actually distressing they gave away such an amount, because it follows that's just a mere fraction of their proceeds. This in addition to the lottery style rmt loophole as showcased by DNSblack is not just about some bucks each month to help with server costs anymore...

  13. Spending money to make money is always a wise business model to follow. The question isnt are they well paid and well represented, nor is it are they smart business men,the real question is are they buying favoritism. Based upon your write up and the preceeding scandal issues the only answer I can arrive at is YES! If i can afford to buy politicians and they are willing to accept my payment and I pay them without anyone else knowing about it does not make it ok. Giving away money, at the next political rally, to the public and making them smile about my generousity does not make my prior acts any less criminal.


  14. I don't see a altruistic vein here, I see a business in full damage control mode vomiting out cheap PR stunts...and all the attendees all fell for it.

    Good job Lemmings......

    Additionally, with all the Brouhaha about the Billions they were tossing about the dark side of me wonders how much Isk CCP slipped to them under the table for them to patch their failure with said Isk. If there's one thing I've learned in business, its much easier to mount an apology tour on someone else's dime.

    Whats that you say?...CCP wouldn't give free Isk to one of their supported company's to buy-off a pissed off player-base?..yeah, I have some shares in a Hockey-Puck mine in Fla to sell you guys as well. If they handed out ships that we didn't know of for quite a while....oh nevermind...

    Reading your article especially with their reactions to what happened....yeah, disappointed doesn't even begin to cover it. So what happens the next time CCP does something stupid like this for the benefit of the few?...lets just cut to the movies of the next Somer handing out chocolates and blankets to the war-orphans and everything is peachy...

    And Jester, its never too late to pull out. CCP could have made a call and told them "no thanks". End.Of.Story.

    Really got to say it to you bud, I don't think I'll be voting for you next time around, not because you don't do an Incredible job (which you do), but simply because since you've taken it I think you've lost some of that magic we as readers looked forward to. You are far far too accommodating of CCP as of late. Pre-CSM Jester I feel would be hammering this MUCH harder. This was a fear many of us had with you getting on the CSM.

    Pretty horrific case of not seeing the forest for the trees methinks.

  15. It was absolutely a smart move by Somerblink. At this point, isk to them is meaningless, so tossing out hundreds of billions is just a drop in the bucket. They will almost certainly make it back from new customers or excited old ones as a result of the giveaway advertisement.

    Having just caught up on the whole Somerblink RMT thing, I have to say that its that sort of thing that turns me off playing EVE. When pointed out, its so blatantly obvious that it is in fact an RMT scheme. That CCP don't seem to see it, or do anything about it just pisses me off to no end.

    With the EVE experience is getting stale with feature light expansions coming on the heels of each other, and it just doesn't take much of this kind of crap to push me into letting accounts lapse. Even when I'm bored of EVE and don't play a ton, I usually keep them going just to support CCP in the hope that it will improve soon. But shit like this just takes the wind out of my sails.

  16. Yeah, I think they should've attended, and I'm pleased they played it cool, and kept a low(ish) profile.

    I don't think people necessarily have a problem with SOMER. I think a 90% have an objection with CCP's apparent syndication with a third party who effectively engages in RMT, whilst threatening others who attempt to do the same thing with bans.

    People don't like feeling like they're second class space citizens.
    People don't like being threatened unfairly.
    People don't like favoritism.
    And... At the moment at least, it would seem a lot of people don't like CCP. From EVE or DUST.


  17. People really need to take a breather here.

    Yes, if you buy a GTC through SOMER’s referral process you get some ISK and they make a few dollars. If that is RMT then both EN24 and TheMittani.com are both also RMTing. They make real money from GTC referrals and advertising revenue at the same time paying the content providers in ISK.

    They are converting ISK into dollars.

    Unless anyone is seriously suggesting that CCP ban any third services paying their contributors in ISK if they make money via. advertising or GTC referrals I’m not sure how you could, in all fairness, ban SOMER without also banning any of these other services.

    CCP caused this problem by secretly rewarding service providers and giving the appearance of shenanigans.

  18. I feel confidently able to accuse you of bias, just not on this subject.
    You've managed to keep your finger firmly on the pulse for a good stretch now.
    Proven organised and insightful under stress and when unjustly targeted.
    This is about the time I'd be looking for new challenges.

  19. A leader, politician etc must be scrupulous to avoid not only conflict of interest, but the *appearance* of conflict of interest. As one's thoughts cannot be read, appearances of conflict of interest are just as bad as actual conflicts of interest.

    I think the damage you are doing to your reputation by accepting these small(ish) gifts is significant. You should donate them to a charitable group (angel project? Eve Uni? RvB?), and do so publicly.


  20. I agree with pretty much everything in the post Ripard. My issue in this whole saga is definitely with CCP and not Somer. As long as CCP say Somer are operating 'correctly', tacitly or otherwise, more power to them. It sounds like the support they gave Eve Vegas was fantastic and more importantly, entirely appropriate.

    What is a little strange is why you went to such lengths to try and put a figure on an actual number for the level of support Somer gave Vegas but not on the level of support Somer got from CCP? It seems incredibly imbalanced to put a number on one and not the other even if the latter would be trickier to pin down. Given how thorough you normally are, I'd have expected an attempt on both.

    As I have said previously regarding, often the most important part of of a piece of writing is what the author chooses to omit.

  21. Non- US players got nothing.... .

  22. Obligatory disclaimer: I have no affiliation with SOMER. I don't know anyone involved. I don't have an account, I have never been offered an account, and I've never attended an event, in-game or out, that they've sponsored.

    *deep breath*

    Let's consider for a moment the possibility that CCP vetted them and found them OK for entirely legitimate reasons, just to spitball a different possibility:

    First of all, I'm not sure what about their taking a profit would set off alarm bells at CCP. They did build an arch-capitalist MMO, after all. For all we know, they love it. The question would be whether the profit comes at CCP's expense, as it would with "gold farming."

    If you go to the Eve Online accounts page, and go to PLEX, there's a little note under the list of packages on offer that says to contact CCP for "packages containing 300 or more PLEX." Presumably, CCP offers a deal on such huge quantities. Now, imagine that instead of going to the in-game market and buying hundreds of PLEX for billions upon billions of ISK, that SOMER take some of the money they earn on GTCs and contact CCP for one of those huge bundles of PLEX, paying cash. Under this scenario, CCP benefits concretely from SOMER's promotions, the injection of PLEX into the economy drives the price down, or at least up minimally (subject to speculation) because it increases supply, SOMER gets the cheapest possible PLEX, and EVE players at various events get them handed out like candy. Everybody wins, right?

    The outstanding issue, then, would still be the RMT that turns GTC purchases into BLINK credits into in-game items. But if this is something like how SOMER works, it would be very easy to see how CCP didn't mind them one tiny little bit.


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