Tuesday, September 10, 2013

A World Without EVE-Central

There is a lot of discussion around EVE-Central because, once again, the method behind their feeds is under the public eye.  The honest truth is: Market feeds are critical and enable a myriad of tools, but the method those prices are gathered is illicit.  As much as I will hem and haw about "CCP, don't fix what isn't broken", the truth is the current relationship between market feeds and the client cache is not good... and the relationship only stands to get worse over time.

My recent article about price feeds being broken in Odyssey 1.1 was picked up by Cap Stable as their "Big Talk" segment (~30min in).  I'd like to offer a few points in friendly rebuttal.

The Scope of Impact

The hosts state that the feeds were completely removed, and this is overstated.  As I mentioned in my article, the namespace was altered, but the actual data remained intact.  This broke the "scrape" step as featured in the flowchart on the article:
In essence, this left the entire rest of the price aggregation network idle, because its expected feeds were silenced.  The hosts are correct in their assumption: if the cache is encrypted or removed, this entire network shuts down.  But the reality is the codewords inside the cache were changed, not the actual data.  Also, CCP was quick to put out note that the problem was unintended.  And thankfully, by the time my article was published on TMDC, EVEmon had already rolled out an update returning the expected feeds to aggregation.

Darius Johnson, formerly known as CCP Sreegs, is pretty infamous for his hatred for this relationship.  I can't rebut that, and he called me out on the comment thread on TMDC, and it's worth reading.  The TL;DR, from my perspective, is that we're stuck in a crappy confluence.  On the one hand, there is a working system, and infrastructure, that enables not just the market (a pivotal pillar of the EVE Online feature set, IMO) but a whole myriad of other 3rd party features.  On the other hand, this entire ecosystem is outside CCP's control, and therefore enables a lot of less-than-reputable and unintended clients (though I would argue, far less than you'd think).  Then, to propose a fix, you're coming to a losing battle:
  • The dev cost to implement is moderate: I'd estimate 2 devs @ 10wks
  • The asset cost is non zero: new, dedicated server space.  I'd estimate at 10k USD once support is factored in
  • The reward for success is low, and the goal bounds are narrow: only if it works 90% like EMDR will it be counted as successful.  Only if both live "firehoses" like EMDR and simpler EVE-Central like feeds are maintained at approximately the same quality (availability and accuracy) as today, will it be hailed as successful.  
  • The penalty of failure is high: if the cost to update 3rd party tools into a new environment is too high, or the quality of those feeds is too low, the API will go unused.  TL;DR: the 3rd party devs will see failure as a direct "fuck you".
I agree that a CCP official feed is needed, and the client cache should be sunset... but CCP needs to deliver a replacement, and half measures won't be adequate.  Personally, if market feeds become unusable, my main means to play evaporates.  I would probably quit, because the sector of the game I enjoy would evaporate and be mired in too much minutia to be worth pursuing.  Also, my faith in CCP is thin, since the last year has supposed to be big for CREST rollout, but the development will behind it has been lackluster.

Better Margins is Better in the End, Right?

This argument is based on a fallacy.  ISK isn't the balance beam.  The question you should be asking is: Is EVE a better game without those price feeds?  Is the universe bigger or smaller because of those feeds?  Are we enabling enriching game play?

I'd, of course, argue "yes".  The data enables a whole host of cool tools, and makes EVE the game much bigger as a result.  Killboard ISK estimates, logistics estimation, shipping, industry... these price feeds give us players a link to the outside world to explain what we do, and why it's interesting.  

I'll boil down my argument against the "better margins is better".  If margins go up 10%, but effort increases 100%, I am actually losing, and losing big.  If margins go down 10% and effort goes down 40-50%, I am winning in the long run.  At the end of the day, the ISK is just secondary to the work.  If the gameplay is well designed, it will be profitable, regardless of the out of game monkeying.. because I will be limited by the game on how I can participate.  The argument I like coming back to is this: I might see a crazy %margin on a T2 product, but the reality is I am volume limited by the build times or invention steps.  Just because I CAN make money on a product, doesn't make that the sole metric worth pursuing.  

That CCP Guy With the Data

You're thinking of @CCP_Diagoras.  And I was a huge fan of the feeds he was giving, but the rumor is he ran afoul of Internal Affairs.  Also, the effort in disseminating those feeds, through legal and NDA oversight, I think this isn't coming back... even if they are expanding their data team.