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.
You can follow along, if you want...

Monday, January 6, 2014

He's found a way to copy himself

Now that I've outlined the model that I want to use to talk about alts, I want to take the model out for a spin... see what it can do. As a reminder, everything starts with you this little diagram laying out skill point distribution for characters in EVE:

Remember, part of my thesis is that all characters in EVE start as one of four things: a sub-cap pilot, a resources/logistics pilot, a science/trade character, or a capital ship pilot. How the characters advance from that point is what defines them and usually what encourages an individual player to acquire an alt or two.

Before I continue, I do want to make one thing clear: when I say "alt", while I do include sub-1m SP characters such as cyno alts and the like, what I really mean are alts with a larger number of skill-points. In EVE, some players including myself talk about the number of "mains" we have and honestly, those are the "alts" that I'm talking about. I haven't met an EVE player yet that doesn't identify most strongly with one of his characters over all the others. When I say "alts", I mean all those characters you possess that aren't that one.

One other thing: this is a good point to explain half the gold text in the model, the text on the left. That specifies that capital ship pilots and characters that specialize in science and trade are "in space less" whereas those who specialize in sub-caps, resource-gathering, and logistics are "in space more." Hopefully, this will be fairly self-evident. The latter two careers require that the character be logged in and undocked in order to do much of anything. On the other hand, capital ship pilots and station traders (for instance) will be in space much less often (or not at all) and might not even be logged in.

Over the years, I myself have varied between two and four "mains" with a smattering of what I'd call less primary "alts" behind them. At the moment, I consider myself to have four mains. If I were to break them out using the model above, they'd look like this (skills for each outlined in red):

  1. Top left is Ripard: all sub-caps, all the time, but he can't really do much else. The slice of yellow indicates that he can fly all four race's T1 haulers... badly. ;-)
  2. Bottom left is my other oldest character, who started life as a miner and hauler. Over the years, I abandoned those careers with him and his SP have been growing almost exclusively in the capital ship arena. Given that I don't mine any more, if you guess that this character is almost never in space any more, you'd be guessing accurately.
  3. Top right is my third oldest character. He was originally intended to specialize in battleships while Ripard specialized in ships smaller than battleships. As Ripard closed this gap, I moved this character into dreadnoughts.
  4. Bottom right is my youngest character. He was originally intended to boost mining ops from an Orca. His character development has been all on the right side of the spectrum as I learn more and more advanced research and manufacturing.

Taken independently, each of my four mains has strengths that the other three do not have and weaknesses that the others close. But taken together? I almost have one well-rounded EVE character. ;-)

Almost -- but not quite! -- one well-rounded character

And as I mentioned last week, that's a big reason why alts happen. In every case where I myself created a new alt, I created it to deal with perceived inadequacies with my existing characters. I created an alt to have a PvP character, then created a second alt to concentrate on battleship PvP, then created an alt to break into manufacturing, created more alts because I realized I'd need to research hundrds of BPOs in order to do manufacturing, then created more alts to sell the products I was manufacturing so the prior alts could concentrate on developing skills to research and invent from other BPOs...

...and before I knew it I had an army of alts on multiple accounts.

But I want to break that out a bit more, too. Because I'm deliberately avoiding an important aspect of this discussion.

EVE is nearly unique in gaming in that you are rewarded for time not spent playing. There are very few other games out there built on that concept, and most of them consciously or subconsciously imitate EVE's model (such as DUST 514 and Perpetuum Online). In most games, you gain skills either from using those skills or at least from playing the game to build up points or time or credit or something similar with which to purchase the skills you want. But it's participation within the game that's rewarded.

It is this -- the ability to skill up characters that you're not actually playing -- that makes alts in EVE possible.

And if that's all there was within the game, then I suspect that alts in EVE would be a curiosity... a somewhat rare one, perhaps representing 10-15% of EVE players out there. What makes the difference? PLEXes make the difference. If every alt account had to be purchased with cold hard cash, there wouldn't be nearly the number of alts in EVE as there are. With a PLEX... with the ability to pay to train alts using in-game currency, suddenly the ability to have entire armies of alts at your beck and call -- all with unique skills -- became possible.

I personally know EVE players that have 30+ accounts. Would those people be walking around with that many accounts if they had to pay for every one of them? It seems unlikely, at least to me. ;-)

The ability to skill up characters that you're not actually playing makes alts possible. PLEXes, though... PLEXes make alts inevitable.

I don't have hard data to back this up... I'm not even sure CCP does. But I'd be willing to bet that the average number of accounts per player sky-rocketed after PLEXes were introduced. When I ask players who have lots of alt accounts why they have them, the discussion invariably finds it way to "...and these two (or three, or four) accounts, I pay for with PLEX." Only rarely do I find a multi-account player paying subscription fees for more than their second account or so.

That of course doesn't mean PLEXes are bad... far from it! At this point, I doubt CCP could get along without the healthy PLEX income from the armies of alts that many of us have.

So we go back to my theme statement:
Alts in EVE exist because of the fundamental nature of the game and will never not be a part of EVE Online.
At this point, I feel like I've proven the theme statement true. But is it RIGHT? I'm not through yet, but this seems like a good point to pause and take a deep breath before the plunge into the really meaty items surrounding this topic. Thoughts?


  1. Somebody pays CCP for the PLEXes in the first place. The supply is enough to fund the tons of alts that exist and whatever is bought but not consumed every month is gravy for CCP. The other side of that coin is lean months might see more PLEXes used than bought. Those numbers are among CCP's closest guarded secrets I'm sure.

    Interesting thought experiment: what would happen if CCP got rid of PLEXes altogether? Not stripped existing ones from current accounts, just stopped selling them, period. Aside from a surge in RMT activity it's interesting to imagine the effects on both the playerbase and CCP itself. There's a lot I don't like about CCP but I have to admit the whole idea of PLEX was genius.

  2. Most of my characters don't fit your thesis. Nearly all of my characters do trade (but not science or industry), fly blockade runners and some covert ops.

    The only exceptions are my main and 1 other character. My main started out a bit of a generalist but is now mostly in sub caps with special emphasis on shield tanked missile armed ships. He has just over 12 million SPs in subcap missile skills, very good (but a bit short of perfect) navigation and fitting skills. He can fly most sub cap ships and has about 1.5 million in basic gunnery skills (mostly IIIs and IVs). Now I have to decide whether or not to train a couple Battleships to V (Minmatar and Caldari and then remap Int/Mem to train for Black Ops or remain in Wil/Per and train up some T2 Gunnery skills first.

  3. You are missing a big gap. The new synergies possible when being able to simultaneously log in multiple characters. I played eve for around 6 years, most of that time in 0.0. I avoided getting an alt and instead dabbled in your four quadrants to touch all the things I was interested in but one at a time because each one was deep enough that the time to train it and the time to learn it were comparable. (my main was Larofeticus, maybe you remember posting about my most foolish string of losses a couple years ago).

    That had to change when I finished one race of sub caps and went to carrier; a cyno alt is manditory, so I did it. That's just the way the game is designed; if you want to reliably do something so completely critical as travel with a capital ship you need two accounts.

    Then I had two accounts. They still need to both be logged in and sp have to go somewhere, so in order to not waste them I added hauling for better mining. Then I had wasted hauling capacity so I added a third account to be the actual hauler and the second became a hulk as well. Again, an activity where they all needed to be logged in at the same time, and the efficiency improved by a factor greater than the linear number of accounts.

    And then I wanted scouts and boosters, so I trained the alts to T3's. Using the two or three accounts together, even as stationary cloaked scouts, was more than 3x as effective as flying one ship in pvp. And there was faction warfare mission farming so I put everyone in bombers, at one point too.

    There is a bit engine pushing towards alt proliferation: game concepts intended to make people work together miss and instead make them buy more alts.

  4. i have 7 accounts and i pay 6 of them with real cash. i mean i could probably pay with isk, but myingame income is not that high that i would enjoy spending 3bn isk per month for my alts.
    or lets say it different, my income requires activity. more activity=more income but i dont want to spent my time ingame with "working". so my income is always a bit higher then my expenses. if i would py my accounts with isk that would require me to spend more time with isk making instead with fun things

    also 50, 70 or even 100€/$ for a hobby i spend 100 to 200 hours per month with is not that much money. even if you are poor irl.

  5. You attribute alting for multiplying SP gains only, ignoring two other valid reasons:
    - multiboxing: more than one alt is in space in the same time. Cyno+capital is obvious pair, "solo" PvP-er + links (+cloaked Falcon) or a huge one-man mining fleet
    - bypassing PI, research, tradeslot or faction standing limitation: one character can't have 60 planets, 10 alts can. You can't have Jita and Dodixie standings at the same time.

  6. I think CCP has a big problem. They know it, but can't quantify it. Any growth in the sub base, which is nebulous topic at best, is being driven exclusively by alt growth, not new players out-numbering players quitting. CCP just does not seem to know how many accounts are alts.

    Now, with dual and triple char training, CCP is still increasing income with the same sub base, but eventually, that source will be tapped also.

    Unless CCP gets it's act together, and wipes out the null sec mechanics that drive the RMT cartels, the cancer in the game, Eve WILL die. Not quickly mind you, but a slow, almost imperceptible slide.

    If the RMT cartels were destroyed, yet the same opportunities to make ISK in null existed, there would be more conflict and entertainment in null, and more non-null players would get involved in the game. Plus, as an added bonus, the if the cartel players were deprived of their vast income streams, maybe they would not be so bored with null and stop preying on high sec players.

    But that requires a sea change in the thinking at CCP, which means some key decision-makers will have to be forced out. That does not appear to be happening at the time, as CCP looks to be doubling down on this ridiculous idea of handing new territory to the cartels, and at the same time, giving them more control and income streams in high sec. PI towers was just the tip of the iceberg.

    I will watch, ruefully shaking my head, as CCP plots a course, straight for the iceberg.

  7. I mostly use alts for the 'multiple clients' thing.
    I've dual-boxed missions for a while: as a Total Nub, dual boxing was probably the only way to do L4s without dying of boredom. Drake in first to tank, Cane in second to gank... not that that works anymore, but you get the idea.

    After that, I spent a long while in w-space, starting as a regular joe who found it useful to scout his own orcas through lowsec, then later setting up my own corp and live-in w-space operation.

    It's far easier to get folk to log in, stay logged in, and do stuff if you can single-handedly ensure there are 'enough pilots online to do something'.

    Currently, I largely let other people run the corp, but when I do log in, I can bring two logis and a scout to any party, which a) can be enough to make sure the fleet leaves the POS and b) be the one set of eyes that spots the incoming gank in time so we can reship for a proper fight (or flee, if we're too outmatched).

    Co-location is a big deal, and for that reason there's huge overlaps in my alt's training plans.

    As for paying: I'm one of those rare no-plex altoholics. I have an addiction to experimental fitting and/or expensive ships, so the idea of spending a nicely fitted Marauder a month and not having a nicely fitted marauder (lossmail) at the end of it doesn't work for me. :p

  8. But I'd be willing to bet that the average number of accounts per player sky-rocketed after PLEXes were introduced.

    I don't think you'd win that bet.

    We have data on how many PLEX are sold per day in New Eden. (Ref: PLEX at Eve markets.) On an average day among the last 90 days, this number appears to be about 8000.

    Now, we know that all PLEX are not being used to PLEX accounts; some of that buy/sell action is market making. Also, and probably more importantly, people hold PLEX as a store of value. In other words, PLEX are at least somewhat monetized. As money, they are inconveniently illiquid and large-denomination; however they are superior to ISK in the most important monetary function, namely storing value. As such, they are somewhat analogous to the function of gold in real life.

    If we assume that all PLEX are consumed immediately, then we can estimate the maximum number of accounts that are PLEXed: 240000. Based only on the feeble datapoint of my own usage, I would guess that perhaps half the PLEX out there are being retraded or held as money; thus I wildly estimate that there are 120000 PLEXed accounts. That is a lot. Still, compared to the number of active accounts (500000), it is only a quarter of them. Most characters are still being paid for via means other than PLEX.

  9. As for your general thesis: that PLEXes make alts inevitable -- I don't think that is correct. PLEXes are an enabling technology. They make having an account cheap, in effect, for players that know how to earn money in New Eden. (I PLEX both of my accounts.) But that does not make them inevitable. For them to be inevitable requires both that they be enabled, and they be desired. That is, you are looking at supply side considerations; inevitability arises from the demand side.

    What makes alts inevitable are two points that Bill A touches on: their economic utility, and their use in solving coordination problems.

    I started my second account to create a market trader. Certainly, I would not have done so but for PLEX. (Indeed, I doubt I would play my main but for PLEX.) But I did it because I had discovered I could earn money market-making at Jita, but did not want to have my main tied up around Jita all the time.

  10. Alts in EVE exist because of the fundamental nature of the game and will never not be a part of EVE Online.

    I would assume the fundamental nature of the game to be the mechanics and dynamics generated from those elements: e.g. offline skill training, asset loss, deep social ties, anti-playing, etc.. To me PLEX is an external system, perhaps even an aberration, to EVE itself. I think you are making quite a few leaps in logic to say "PLEX coupled with offline skill training are the fundamental elements that predicate alts in EVE."

    I'm not disagreeing with your thesis, but I think your reasons are a bit askew.

  11. Eve makes alts inevitably because you can no longer trust the other party, and if you can log 3 or 4 characters to accomplish something that otherwise requires full trust, then you dive into the rabbit hole...cynoalt? yeah cause i can't trust my supercap to the guy in fleet.....hauler alt? yeah cause i despise having to calculate collateral......trader alt? yeah sure cause its too annoying to move all the time to sell my wares......and i won't trust those to a friend.

    Its easier and better to just use an alt for my main needs.

  12. I set up some alts so that wardecs would be unless. dec to char1, I'll play through char2. Use some plex dual training so that the alts have sufficient skills to enjoy my preferred activities. Different race, different region and silence. Then business as usual. Don't me wrong here - I participate in the game - but it's on my terms and my time.

  13. Your theory describes my account proliferation exactly. First account was a miner. Second account was hauler. Moved on to manufacture and researcher. Then started missions, etc.. Later decided I didn't want to stop training those two to start a dedicated PVP character. And so on down the rabbit hole...

  14. I realise this is quite old now, but the 'alts' situation in something in EVE which personally I believe breaks the game somewhat.

    Myself I dislike the idea of having alts, mostly on a financial side simply because I don't want to pay for two accounts just to play one game; but also because it creates an environment of 'deffered risk' which negates all of the negative affects of player choice.

    I would imagine that most if not all PvP players have an alt to fund their PvP adventures because PvP itself doesn't provide much of an income - but in that situation players merely grind / bot on alts to provide a single character with 'fun' - like you've had to work all week so you can blow it all on a party at the weekend.

    But surely if your being funded in someway risk is very much deffered - its ofset by the fact that any losses could be fairly easily recovered from with a little bit of grinding.

    Even the act of being a criminal is mostly ofset with the use of alts as the restrictions in place preventing criminals into higher sec space should normally result in them being forced into local markets which would have higher prices, but instead an alt can easily ferry any ships, ammo, materials onto their doorstep without the need for payment for their services.

    While I understand the desire to get different flavors of the game through alts and CCP wants players to have multiple accounts for higher revenue I think ultimately it results in a game where in order to succeed you need an alt to provide financial and logistical support


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