Gambling in video games has been a hot topic in 2019, with lawmakers in Europe and the United States making moves to stem the tide of loot boxes. EVE Online has had its own brushes with gambling, but they seemed to come to an end in 2016 when CCP banned all forms of gambling in the Ascension expansion. In addition to prohibiting players from using EVE currency or assets to take part in or promote gambling services operated by third parties, the developer also banned two popular casino websites that had become intertwined with EVE’s culture. The players who ran the sites were permanently banned, and all of their in-game assets were confiscated. All of this made the recent announcement of the HyperNet Relay, a way to gamble built natively into the EVE client, come as quite a shock.
The HyperNet Relay was announced at the end of November, on the same day that it was pushed onto the EVE Online test server. The HyperNet Relay seems similar to one of the most popular features of several of the previously-banned third party casino sites: raffles. The HyperNet is a trade network in which players are able to see how many tickets are available for a certain item and how much those tickets cost. Players can buy as many tickets as they like, and once all the tickets available for an item are purchased, the HyperNet chooses one ticket as the winner, and that player is awarded the item.
At first glance, this is a simple transaction: players pay in-game currency for a chance to win an item, potentially at a fraction of that item’s full cost. It is gambling, but the only risk is in-game currency with no apparent value in the real world. However, EVE Online’s in-game currency is famously tied with real-world equivalents; this is the game with $300,000 dollar battles after all. Players are able to buy a kind of premium currency, PLEX, from the in-game store with real-world money, and either redeem a certain amount of PLEX for subscription time to the game or sell it on the open market to other players for in-game credits, known as ISK.
Because of the ability to turn real-world money into ISK and then use ISK to buy tickets on the HyperNet Relay, players basically have the ability to gamble away substantial amounts of real money on the HyperNet Relay. After the announcement, one player made a post on Reddit requesting the ability to permanently opt all of his characters out of the relay. In the comments of the post, he detailed a story of how he lost $17,000 gambling on the third-party gambling sites that were banned with the Ascension expansion. CCP Convict, a community developer for EVE Online, was quick to respond, detailing how players can permanently disable the feature for their account and explaining that these instructions would be made available in their help database on articles relating to the HyperNet.
Gambling concerns aside, one of the stated goals of the HyperNet is to increase the “trade velocity” of very rare, high-value items. EVE has a plethora of unique ships, ultra-rare ship skins, one-of-a-kind crafting blueprints, and incredibly rare ship equipment items that sell for tens or even hundreds of billions of ISK, the equivalent of hundreds or thousands of U.S. dollars. Because these items are rare, they often sit in the inventories of collectors for years, but one hoped-for goal of the HyperNet is that these rare items will re-enter circulation in the economy.
For example, a ship that might go on the open market for one hundred billion ISK, or somewhere around $1000, might take a player weeks or even months to find a buyer willing to pay that much money out at once. However, if listed as a HyperNet raffle, the seller can choose to list up to 512 individual raffle tickets, each at a fraction of the total price. This can quickly help find people willing to part with a small portion of the item’s total worth for a chance at owning it. Savvy sellers have even marked their own merchandise up instead of selling the tickets at prices that total to the value of the item, so they can sell them at a rate that adds up to well over 100% of the cost of the item.
Listing items on the HyperNet is not completely free of risk, though. To list an item, a seller must provide an amount of “HyperCores,” a new item added to the game alongside the HyperNet Relays, proportional to the total value of all of the tickets in the raffle. HyperCores can be purchased off the existing in-game market from other players, but can only be created via exchanging PLEX for them via the New Eden Store in-game. Since all HyperCores in the game are created by trading in the game’s primary premium currency, PLEX, this makes HyperCores a sort of pseudo-premium currency themselves.
Every raffle lasts for three days, or until all of the tickets are sold—if a raffle expires before the sale is completed, the item being raffled is returned to the seller, and everyone who bought a ticket is refunded their ISK. The HyperCores, however, are consumed and gone forever.
The consumption of the HyperCores can serve to add an even further level of gambling to the HyperNet. If a seller overvalues the item they list, or the demand is not as high as they expect and not all of the tickets available sell, they can lose a considerable amount of premium currency in the process based on what they paid for the HyperCores. This happened very famously just a few days after the release of the HyperNet Relay, with one of the rarest ships in all of EVE Online as the subject of the raffle.
The ship, called the Raven State Issue, was awarded to the winners of the Third Alliance Tournament in 2006. Only four of the ships were ever created, making it one of the rarest items in the game world. The ship is so rare that an acceptable value for it has never really even been established, but at one point in time, a player by the name of Bluemelon tried to sell one on the open market for 2.6 trillion ISK. The vessel did not sell for that price at the time, and no other Raven State Issue has been seen for sale publicly prior to the release of the HyperNet Relay.
A few days after the launch of the HyperNet Relay, a Raven State Issue, most likely the same vessel Bluemelon attempted to sell, appeared on the HyperNet, with 512 tickets costing nearly 8 billion ISK each, or somewhere around $90, adding up to a staggering 4 trillion ISK. That is the equivalent of somewhere between $37,000 and $51,000, easily one of the most expensive pieces of virtual equipment ever up for purchase.
As soon as the raffle was on, tickets began to rapidly sell, in part due to the frenzy to be a part of EVE history, and in part because of the promotional energy put behind the raffle itself. A group of players led by a player known as progodlegend organized a sort of high-roller club as soon as the HyperNet was announced, and this raffle was the crown jewel of their opening festivities.
Unfortunately for those involved in the raffle, the tickets quickly stopped selling. Three days after the raffle began, it expired with 317 tickets left unsold. When the raffle expired, 591,671 HyperCores expired with it, never to be seen again. The value of those lost HyperCores was something around 205 billion ISK, or around $2,000, making the failed raffle of the Raven State Issue one hell of a gamble.
The HyperNet Relay received mixed reactions when it was announced. Some players didn’t appreciate that EVE was essentially turning around on its decision to remove gambling from the game. Others welcomed the return of the raffle-style gameplay, and have made (and lost) quite a bit of ISK since its release. The long term effects on the game are quite a way off from being known, but several high-value, incredibly rare ships have been seen selling on the HyperNet for much more reasonable prices than the Raven, so at least the concept of moving those ships around seems to be working. The HyperNet has also created a market for other difficult-to-sell items, from unique mutaplasmid modules to rare and valuable corpses. The future will tell if the HyperNet causes a problem for EVE.