Monday, October 28, 2013

Treading a Fine Line

I had an excellent convo with @EVE_WOLFPACKED and @ChiralityT the other day about the broader topics of delivering an app to the EVE community.  Pair that with the recent Somer Blink scandals, there has been a lot of noise in the 3rd party service sphere.

I've been sitting on this post for a week now, and may regret publishing it.  But I feel that the backlash from this SomerBlink scandal is quickly reaching a fever pitch, and a lot of players are losing sight of an important pillar of EVE: Making a profit isn't evil.  Though I do not condone ISK-->IRL conversion in any path, the service-->ISK angle has been a long-standing feature of the 3rd party sphere.  And as nice as it would be to be a household name like EVE-Central or zKillboard, I'm going to have a very hard time justifying making a public portal like those if it will put me in the poor house, or I lose all my free time to SEO or ad management.

Open Sources Thanks to Open Sources

Let me be 100% clear, my work is enabled only because others have provided APIs.  I would not have kill data if it weren't for zKillBoard.  I would not have in-game history data if it weren't for EVE-Marketdata.  I would not have order histories if it weren't for EVE-Central providing raw daily dumps.

After talking with the contributors from eve-kill/zKillboard on how to best handle their API for my data, they made it clear that I could not in turn make that data secret.  They state in their TOS:
Using the zKillboard database and API for the purpose of datamining, in an attempt to gain an unfair advantage over corporations and/or alliances, is not allowed
And Squizz was extremely explicit in noting they enforce that rule.  EVEwho exists only because someone had tried to make a private spy network with that data, and Squizz instead published a public version and put him out of business.  

So, for the short term, I am in the uncomfortable position that I have collected this data, but am still lacking a distribution means.  I have tried to be open to those that ask questions about the data, but short of maintaining a SQL dump by hand, I don't have a better method than telling people to scrape their own version.

Gotta Make A Living

If things go according to plan, I will be shooting my own margins in the foot when I release an open version of my tool.  Also, I need to figure out a way to pay for service overhead, and I'd prefer not to plaster my site in ads.  Lastly, if I expect to get people to hand me some sort of compensation, I have to be able to prove my service is worth paying for.

Public Features

I'd like to be able to publish access to all the charts I've been making.  I'd like if users could browse through items like Eve-Markets, and see:
  • Market candlestick
  • Total volume
  • Buy orders/day
  • Sell orders/day
  • destruction (and access to by-location binning: HS/LS/NS/WH)
  • Build costs
--also--
  • Personal S&I tracking
    • Job Tracking
    • Kit Building
    • Accounting
This should give enough view to return the favor of data given.  I'd like to be able to let people do their own market research on my site, and have some look under the hood how the planning/accounting would work for their own projects.  I have no problem providing data outlays for the big hubs, but the finer the data gets, the more trouble it is to serve for marginal increase in value.

Paywall Features

Let me be 100% clear.  I am in this business to make a buck.  I'm fine with getting paid in ISK, but there are a ton of manhours to be spent in development, and server space ain't free.  In an effort to subsidize the work and server space, I'd like to offer the full suite of tools for ISK at two tiers: a "corp level" and an "alliance level".  Since the intended audience is organizations and not individuals, I'd like to leave the beefier features behind a paywall:
  • Price predictions
  • Automated production planner (at least suggestions)
  • Org-level accounting: paying contributors, tracking stockpiles
  • Localized market prediction actions:
    • "A lot of people died in this area, market activity should increase"
    • "Ship x item to y for increased margin"
  • Localized reports outside major hubs
Where the "corp" option allows a flat fee for a limited number of active builders tracked, the "alliance level" would be a % of profits (as they are tracked through the system, no fair taxing un-fulfilled plans) without limits.  I would love to provide tastes of these features to the personal account option, but we'll have to see when we get there.  I seriously doubt my prediction tools will be strong enough to provide a "1wk taste, 4wk 'feature'".

The entire strategy here is to share what was fetched from public sources, but protect the unique tools.  I will keep most of the code environment open, but intend to only protect a very small set of features:
  • Machine learning modules
    • Open inputs, but protect trained black-box
  • Automated decision making tools
    • Core feature is to free up S&I managers/staff to play EVE
    • Data streams = open, automated decision making = closed
My hope is that only these two modules would remain "sekret", and though the corp implementation would be behind the paywall, the base code behind accounting, kit building, job tracking, would remain open.  

Monetization is my last priority, and is the very last feature to be implemented.  The goal is to allow the 5% that need the horsepower subsidize the 95% of casual users.  If I can provide an ad-free clearinghouse for all the data any industry or market player could want.  

What If Paywall Is Verboten?

CCP has not done a good job in making clear what kinds of services are okay and which are not.  With the recent SomerBlink scandal and API EULA drama over the last year, my plans are very close to (or even over) the line of what is allowed.  Furthermore, I am at the mercy of other API providers, and if I run afoul of them, my entire tool goes dark.  So, it is clear I need to have a Plan-B.

First, providing a front-end that distributes the data I'm collecting needs to be a priority.  I may need to rely on ad revenue to pay for upkeep, but I would love to be able to provide that service to the general EVE playerbase.  

If I can't sell the automated/corp S&I tools, then they will remain private.  If the headache of trying to get my team paid for their work becomes too much, or I get embroiled in a scandal for trying to provide this service to the community, the simplest answer is to lock it down.  I'd prefer not to do that, more users would provide extremely valuable feedback on designing better optimizations options and incentive to really develop a top grade tool... but it's just a game, and I'd rather be largely unknown than infamous and derided.  
The goal is only to "make the best industry corp in EVE" or "win at the market", I'm not looking to pay for a new car/house/whatever and get IRL rich.  My primary goal is to help as many people in my own organization play the game for free, while crushing competitors under my heel in the truest and most extreme version of market PVP.  It also wouldn't hurt to unseat Mynnna as the richest bastard in EVE.