API OP plz nerfSpaceSaft
Third party software is very much the proverbial “elephant in the room” when it comes to EVE Online. Most players know of websites and programs that provide help with playing EVE, but even though on average EVE has an older and more well-educated playerbase than many other MMOs, my hunch is that most of them don’t care about the details how these sites and tools work. If you count yourself in that group, I’ll try to explain why you should care and why you might feel uneasy.
Maybe you know of other MMOs that offer the possibility for people to mod the UI and/or create macros which help players automate common and repetitive keystrokes. An EVE example would be webbing and warp scrambling enemy players. There is almost no reason not to do both at the same time, but CCP has decided that the option to do that with the press of only one button would give players with such a macro an unbalanced advantage. So they don’t allow it. Trying anyway would be considered hacking the client or automating keyboard commands (botting), and would result in a ban if you were caught.
At the same time, CCP gives us the API and the static database export. Among other things, the API can be used to retrieve information on your character, your assets or your transactions outside of the game. This is very useful if you want to know your skill queue status, for example, without having to start up the client. The database, on the other hand, contains everything that’s in the game but not tied you personally, such as the amount of damage ammunition does or the rate at which ore is converted to its respective minerals. Providing access to the database is a nice service, because while players could reverse engineer or copy all the values from the game to spreadsheets, at best they could only replicate what CCP already provides through the client. With the database, CCP gives us the whole, correct, and updated package.
Let’s go through some examples of how people are using combinations of the two to gain advantages in EVE.
EFT and pyfa are tools that can calculate how a ship’s fitting will perform in game. They use your character’s skill-data through the API and make use of the game’s database. By themselves they don’t give you an advantage. They do exactly what the in-game fitting tool could do if you had all the skills, ships and modules to create fits and look up the resulting numbers. The “theorycrafting” portion, including ideas concerning how to fit, would still have to come from you. These are good examples of helpful tools that don’t give you an edge in combat, and don’t do anything that you can’t do yourself. They are really nice quality-of-life improvements.
This website provides abstract maps that are objectively more useful than the in-game equivalent because they simply display more information at once i.e. security status, sovereignty, whether there is an ice belt in this system, etc. But it also gives you a tool which uses the distance between systems—information you can find in the database—to calculate the optimal route if you are traveling by jump drive. The EVE UI doesn’t do this. While people are not generally in a hurry to plan their jump route and could figure out how to do it manually—although it would take longer to do so—it’s undeniable that people who use such a tool to create a computer optimized travel path get their planning done faster and probably end up using less fuel while accumulating less jump fatigue than those who don’t. It gives users a small but clear advantage of ISK and time. Otherwise, it’s mostly harmless.
What you can also do with the API is check your assets. This has become an issue since the introduction of deployables—namely the siphon unit—because the API allows you to check the assets in POSes too. From the database players can retrieve the normal extraction rate for moon goo, and therefore they can deduct that if there is less moon goo than there should be after a given time, there has to be a siphon unit at the POS. Without use of the API, a POS owner or friend would have to check for siphon units by flying to the POS. This requires time and effort and involves the usual risk players face when traveling through space. Using the API completely removes that. The information it provides is 100% reliable, accurate, instantaneous and risk free.
This puts people who don’t use the API to check on their POS at a disadvantage. It also harms the players who placed the siphon. Because they could expect a longer time until discovery, they would reap more profit from their siphon if the POS owners couldn’t gain intelligence through the API.
This is only one example of what can be done by combining the API with the database. You could also crunch numbers on your transactions to find profitable trade-goods, or do complex asset management. Such information is incredibly valuable for people who engage in industry, manufacturing and trading.
Obviously these tools potentially improve the EVE experience for everyone. I think EVE is a better game for having them. It’s also a plus that the API and the database give players the option to improve the game in ways CCP doesn’t want to commit resources to, but at the same time they provide really significant quality-of life-improvements and advantages in ways that are neither obvious nor equally easily accessible to all players. EVE provides no hints at all that these tools even exist.
Those who know how to make full use of the API and database can even write their own tools that can do things automatically everyone else has to achieve with tedious operations. Coding is not really something that is encouraged or rewarded by the game directly, and there is very little mention or help in-game to guide you to it. Learning how to use the API and database has been a very fun and rewarding journey for me personally, but I wouldn’t expect everyone to be willing to commit the time to do it.
Risk vs. Reward
I am not happy with how much the risk vs. reward idea of EVE gets distorted by the possibilities of full database and API access. Normally you have to risk in-game resources to get in-game rewards or achieve your goals, but through API and database you can freely make use of in-game facilities without being restricted in terms of ISK or skills and it carries no risk. The information they offer is nearly instantaneous. To use the database you don’t even have to be subscribed. To be fair, that means you can’t really use it to your personal advantage, but you can potentially benefit a corp or alliance you lead.
This is a complicated topic with many grey areas, so actions like turning the entire API off would definitely be the wrong thing to do and would do more harm than good. I do think, however, that some aspects should be more limited than they are now.
What is needed is a review of what the API enables and how that affects gameplay for everyone. If there is a frequently used tool/website in connection with a part of the game—like Evepraisal or contracting large amounts of items—this possibility should be pointed out by the game. If there is a way to take advantage of the information the API provides in a significant way—with siphon units, for example—steps should be taken to reduce this advantage or to disable the part of the API that gives this type of information. Finally, if there are applications that significantly improve playstyles for everyone involved, I would like to see CCP advertising them so that no one misses out.
CREST is currently worked on and ideas floating around (see CSM minutes day 1 here) about sending automated messaging or using chat channels without the client. To illustrate what I mean by that, think of an alliance that wants to move to a new region in sov null and needs to conquer it. Some constellations will be more defended than others, which can easily be seen by the system index or by how fast the change of ownership takes place. Let’s assume different corps are supposed to assault different constellations. Because ‘no plan survives contact with the enemy’ it is very likely that who attacks which constellation and how needs to be changed. With some programming, it can be determined which areas should be focused on by everyone at the same time and which can be left to less active timezones, which doctrines are needed and so on. These changes then need to be communicated. Right now this has to be done by the leadership, but if there is a way to send automated messages, this logging on, talking to people and actually lead could be done by a computer. Similar things could be true for industrial corporations.
This is something I would strongly advise against. Coordinating and making decisions based on data are challenges all players face. Processing data automatically normally just gives people an advantage in figuring out what to do, it doesn’t help them acting on their decision. But instructing subordinates is the action for leaders. The advantage gained by being able to crunch numbers from the API and then sending automated instructions to players in game should not be something exclusive to those who know how to use it.
Something to keep in mind: information has value in EVE and there is a lot that could be done with this fact. Introducing a price tag (in ISK) or a limit to the kind of information requested from the API (maybe only once per day or week?), could create an inconvenience for those used to the old ways, but the result would be player created content in the form of one player sending another on a mission to gather said information for less than the API use would cost in time or ISK.
I think that the API gives an unfair advantage to people who know how to use it to do things faster, easier and safer than players without that knowledge can. The inner workings of tools that rely on the API and the database are sometimes complicated, never explicitly mentioned in the game, and if you really want to take full advantage of the API and the database, you need to learn programming. This is in stark contrast to the policy that modding the UI is prohibited with the justification of fairness and equality for all players.
Consider why we have the API and what its place should be in a game where gathering and processing information is often critical to the way we play. Information is a resource, just like ISK, time, or warm bodies and its availability and use should be balanced.