PLEX stands for a Pilot's License Extension. Per the Wiki:
PLEX offers an alternative way for people to pay for their subscription without the use of our more conventional payment methods. Using PLEX, pilots can earn game time simply by playing EVE. The PLEX system improves on the current method of secure time code trading since it uses the EVE market to nerf price fixing. And since you can only sell time codes to people who want to play for that time, the system is capped.
Money only flows one way and that is into the game. PLEX cannot be cashed back out for real money. Of late, CCP has taken to allowing players to participate in Eve related real events through the payment of PLEX. This is a form of backwards brokerage. However, CCP is not asking money for the PLEX they are simply giving the player credit for using the PLEX. It is a legal tangle and a dance of words but it all focuses back on the fact that once money goes to CCP for PLEX it never comes back out of CCP as money.
There is a side effect to this I have never liked. That is the conversion of ISK into real money to create a real world equivalent of loss. It is a comparison tool. But, it is a flawed tool. It works under the assumption that at each point in time a PLEX costs Y real currency and converts into X ISK (in game credits). That means any item in game at that point of time has a real world equivalent of that Y real currency.
Such an example: Forbes Magazine on the recent Pandemic Legion Super AWOX - EVE Online Player Loses a Spaceship Worth Approximately $9,000
"It smarts to lose a fight in a video game. It smarts more when you’re playing an MMO, where your losses are on display for your entire community to see. It smarts even more when in that fight, you lose a ship worth approximately $8-9000."The problem is that not everyone buys PLEX. While PLEX may be a comparison tool it is one of choice. If I never buy PLEX and earn all of my ISK in game and use my in game earned ISK to buy items, I am not using real world dollars. My ISK is worth my subscription. It is not worth real money. Someone who spent real money to gain the instant gratification of an in game item may have an attached real world value to that item. I do not. I didn't lose 8 thousand dollars worth of a ship if I lose a ship that expensive. I never paid the eight thousand dollars.
What I didn't think about was how it might look to the outside world when they read a sensationalist article title such as the one Forbs write.
"I heard a lot of mentions of EVE years ago when I havent even played it. And these mentions were always bad about how somebody lost a 4000$ ship, me not knowing what they meant instantly thought pay to win."
-Quote from Eve University Public Help Chat (July 9th, 2013)
The above quote inspired these words. The concept of PLEX meaning Eve is a Pay to Win (P2W) game is not new or uncommon. Many people are confused about the economy of Eve. Being able to spend real money to buy game money often means a player can just bypass the game and access 'end game' content quickly. Many people who even play Eve are confused about what PLEX is and how it effects the game. If the player base is confused (I know the person in that link is superbly ignorant, but still) it is not surprising that someone on the outside looking in can make a series of quick assumptions that may cause them to bypass the title.
I do know that news sites want to grab the attention. Dropping the notion that almost ten thousand USD were burned in a video game battle is dramatic. It is also misleading. Something I personally loathe about sensational news. PC Games N managed to have an eye catching title (Eve Online ship worth 309 billion ISK goes up in flames, comms goes wild) with big numbers that didn't place an incorrect notion into the mind of the gamer. I also understand that Forbes and PC Games N have different audiences. Forbes has to draw in the reader while PC Gamer is dealing with gamers who understand what coms are and how exciting a big in game battle may be. It still does not mean that an assumption is not planted in the readers mind about the mechanics of playing Eve. I'd forgive Forbes, for the author admits he does not play, if they did not add:
"The developer famously released a $60 monocle a few years ago."
I know that they do not play Eve. That line moves the title of the article from attention grabber to a possible thought process. The NEX store allowed items to be purchased with real money. These items were all vanity items. The player base revolved over the idea. Badly. There was Drama. It goes to show that the player base did not want Pay to Win. They did not want that in game clothing item to become a spaceship purchasable directly with real money even if it could be sold in game for game currency afterward. That is why I find a distaste at these comparisons. They are a poor representation to what Eve is.
I asked Razor to remove the ISK to IRL money conversion from our killboard for these very reasons. It creates an incorrect view of Eve. People may (and will) bicker back and forth if acquiring ISK and buying in game characters with ISK is paying to win. Some will defend PLEX and others will condemn it. There will be smugness on the side of the PLEX user for game time and the subscription payer. The views will never be eye to eye on every level.
While some players may not be fond of PLEX bringing in the ability to purchase large wads of in game currency it must be noted that without PLEX we would be in the same position so many other games are with endless ISK sellers. They are still around and some people still insist on using them but it would be a different situation. I log into other games and all I seem to do is stumble over people spamming game currency sale sites. I like that absence (for the most part) in Eve.
The most amusing point to note in the comparison of ISK to real currency and the insinuation of the ships lost being purchased with real money is that Pandemic Legion, the alliance that houses the lost supers, is known for being filthy space rich. It is an alliance so well known for its wealth (which it published in its yearly finical audit because this is Eve and that is 100% normal) that people accuse them of participating in real money trading.