On Eve, Plex, ISK and Bitcoin

While browsing around the Internet today I came across an article on Dr. Eyjolfur Gudmundsson's view on Bitcoin in comparison to ISK and Plex, the main currencies of the Eve Online game. Reading into the points mentioned a bit further one comes across similar points that have been raised against Bitcoin many times. However, the comparison between Bitcoin and Plex is interesting enough that it can make for a good discussion.

Eve Online in brief

Just to make sure we're all on the same page here, let me quickly bring everyone up to speed on Eve Online and things surrounding it.

Eve Online is a space MMO game that is heavily focused on open-ended gameplay. Unlike most MMOs, where grinding for levels, loot and quests is the main focus of the game, Eve is a lot more focused on economics and large player corporation versus player corporation warfare. Most items in Eve are crafted by the players from simpler objects. For example, ores are refined into metals, which are built into modules, which build space ships the players use. Eve's economy is based on players performing each of those steps - players dig the ore, refine it and so forth, not the NPCs. Because of this, Eve's economy is closer to reality, with large supply chains, supply and demand, than say, World of Warcraft.

Eve's economy is running on ISK - The Interstellar Kredit. They are the base currency everyone is using in the game to buy and sell their wares. Eve is a subsciption-based MMO, meaning that each player has to pay each month in order to play the game. They can do it for real-world money, or they can buy an in-game item called PLEX - Pilot License Extension. Plex is bought and sold for ISK just like any other item in the game. The players can also buy Plex for real world money and put it in the game to sell for ISK if they want to get some in-game currency without having to grind for it. However, players can't sell Plex for real money, because that's violating the terms of services of the game.

So the exchange chain looks like this: fiat->Plex<->ISK<->Everything else in the game.

Arguments against Bitcoin

Dr. Gudmundsson raised a few points against Bitcoin in comparison to Plex:

  1. Bitcoin is volatile
  2. Nobody knows who is behind Bitcoin
  3. Bitcoin relies on trust
  4. Makers can cash out and crash the market
  5. Asks to prove that Bitcoin is not a scam

I do agree that the price of Bitcoin is volatile, but it's driven by an open market. Anyone can buy and sell it freely, so the price can be gamed by anyone with enough money and determination. Price of Plex in fiat is stable, because the market is a monopoly owned by CCP and people they license it to. You don't have a free market for Plex, since anyone that tries to sell the Plex they own gets their account shut down by CCP. Moreover, the Bitcoin market will never be flooded with excessive Bitcoins, sicne you can't make them out of thin air, unlike Plex which can be created at a whim. Heck, if someone makes a mistake selling Plex, like Amazon did (selling it at 90% discount), the commodity suddenly can lose a lot of value. All in all, Bitcoin's price is determined by free market, Plex's is determined by its monopolistic producer. Both of the approaches work because they both fulfil a different role.

Points 2-5 have been done to death and aren't that interesting in comparison, so I'll skip them. Instead, I will make some more general comparison between Bitcoin and Plex.

Bitcoin vs Plex

The main points Dr. Gudmundsson is making, is that a currency needs a government or an entity to back it - to assure it's value, price stability and so forth. In case of Plex - it is redeemable for game time and for ISK, therefore it's valuable. However, it looks like the big point about Bitcoin that Dr. Gudmundsson is missing, is that it is valuable because it's not controlled by anyone. If anyone backs a currency, that currency will only be worth something as long as they are around. Take E-gold for example - it was a centralized company backing its own currency. Because they had a real-world presence, they were shut down. CCP can be shut down and Plex will be worthless then. Bitcoin, just like gold cannot be shut down, since there is no central point of failure. Anyone can transact in Bitcoin as they do in gold if they have it - they don't need a third party to let them do so. Because Bitcoin enables anyone to transact with anyone around the globe instantly, it's valuable to the people that need it and that's one of the ways it derives its value.

Now lets say I wanted to use Plex like I would Bitcoin. I pay my friend a Plex for a drink, I start transacting with a few other people, and soon enough my Eve Online account is shut down since I just breached the terms of service... Well, so much for that... But lets say CCP relaxed their stance and let you trade Plex for anything. By necessity, it would be trade-able for USD (either it's trade-able for everything or nothing). Someone starts buying some illicit things with it and CCP suddenly finds itself needing a FinCEN Money Services Business license (Plex would be categorized as a centralized virtual currency). It's workable - now to buy some Plex you just need 2 photo IDs, a utility bill and you're all set (unless your account gets flagged for suspicious activity).

However, if all of this was tackled correctly, we could see a few interesting things come out of it. First of all, there would be little to no discounts on Plex - it would need to be sold at the market value, or else you would be just giving people money. On the flip side, people could start making a real income for playing Eve. You could have full-time professional players making a living wage. This could be huge! Thirdly, you would see people starting to use Plex to pay for real-world goods and services. With certain setups it would be damned easy, but that's a topic for another day.


At the moment, Plex is not a good currency outside of Eve Online as its use is heavily restricted by CCP and the terms of services. Given free reign, it would be a very interesting commodity-backed currency. Dr. Gudmundsson's arguments against Bitcoin are mainly misplaced and are similar to many concerns raised over the years.

I personally would love to see Plex explored as a free currency outside of Eve Online. If anyone from CCP would be interested, I could give you a personal overview of how it could be easily done and even show you a live demo of the implementation on live, existing technologies without any special code created by me.

Likewise, if Dr. Gudmundsson would be interested in having his concerns about Bitcoin addressed, I can personally explain every concept to him.

Interesting topic that didn't make it to this post but I would probably want to explore in the future - ISK as a currency with inevitable inflation...


  1. I'm a tad bit confused, so Plex can be earned by grinding in the game through selling your ISK for it, but only authorized resellers of Plex can go so far as to sell Plex for Fiat?

    1. Plex is created outside of the game by people buying it for real money (from CCP or authorized resellers). Once Plex enters the game, it cannot be legally re-sold for fiat, only for ISK and other in-game items. It's a one-way trip.

      The authorized resellers however can sell as much Plex as needed - they just need to pay CCP their share of the fiat. They don't buy Plex from the in-game market.