Thursday, September 8, 2011

Blog Banter 28: "The Future of EVE Online, CCP and the CSM"

Recent events with the CSM Emergency Summit minutes (or lack thereof) and the subsequent dissenting CSM voices on EVE Radio, assorted blogs and various other gaming media have brought the relationship between CCP and the CSM (and therefore the players) to the fore once again.

Tweetfleet conversations later discussing the situation led to calls for a Blog Banter to facilitate a broader dialogue across the blogging community. As a result, the following questions have been asked:

"In recent months, the relationship between CCP and it's customers has been the subject of some controversy. The player-elected Council of Stellar Management has played a key role in these events, but not for the first time they are finding CCP difficult to deal with. What effect will CCP's recent strategies have on the future of EVE Online and it's player-base? What part can and should the CSM play in shaping that future? How best can EVE Online's continued health and growth be assured?"

OMG! EVE IS DYING! (again?)

Well, we've all heard it. In the almost 4 years I've been playing EVE, I've heard it a lot. EVE is dying. Usually when CCP comes out with an expansion that doesn't meet the wishes of a specific group of players. But then, we all watched the logins increase, from 20k, to 30k, to 40k, and more. And then there was Incarna. I'll admit I log in less since Incarna. In fact, I have two accounts due for renewal in the next 2-3 weeks that I disabled auto-renew on when Incarna came out. And I'm not sure I'll renew them. I've rambled about the expansions before, but looking seriously at each of the semi-annual expansions, Incarna is the first one that is absolutely nothing about spaceships. CCP claims it needs to move towards 3D character interaction (walking in stations) to move forward, but that motion is slower than maple sap in mid-December. Incarna was "released" in June 2011, with one small room and no interaction. Today (September 2011) it's still just one small room and no interaction. This room is supposed to be your quarters, but really it's only accurate if you live in a Minmatar station. So there are 3 more small rooms that haven't come out of CCP yet before we even start talking about actual interaction. And this was considered an expansion of EVE Online. So where did it all go wrong? How about missing the point completely. Here's a quote from the EVE Online website:

What is EVE Online?

EVE is a Massively Multiplayer Online Game (MMORPG) that takes place approximately 20.000 years after our times in a galaxy on the far end of the universe. When you join EVE you assume the role of a freshly graduated „Capsuleer“, a relatively small group of elite spaceship pilots capable of controlling powerful spaceships on their own from within their capsules. Capsuleers are often referred to as "The immortals" due to the fact that the highly advanced capsules they are connected to from the inside, are capable of instantly dowloading their consciousness to a clone of themselves in the case of physical destruction.

This sounds like a game about flying around in spaceships. In fact, that's the reason I started playing back in 2007. Unfortunately, 2 of the last 3 expansions haven't really been about flying around in spaceships. Tyrannis was about planets, and getting stuff out of planets, but no interaction with your actual spaceship (unless you call a mid-space rendezvous with a static box interaction). Incursion made us hope CCP realized the game was about spaceships, and it was pretty good. Incursions are a great way to get players to work together and make a good amount of money in game. It brought some freshness to EVE, although it took several months to trickle out completely. And then there was Incarna. Incarna brought the NEX (a RMT Cash shop for clothing for your new EVE Avatar) and a single room where you get out of your POD and sit on a couch alone. Incarna also brought most standard gaming rigs to their knees with it's intensive hardware requirements and 3D engine, so much so that many veteran players disabled it, only to discover the insult of CCP - when you disable Incarna, you stare at a door. No ship. No hangar. In fact, as far as spaceships go, Incarna reduced the number of functional tools are game playability when in station. Many people took this suggestion (see the door) and cancelled their subscriptions, including myself. As I mentioned, two accounts come due in the next couple weeks. So why would I renew them?

This is the same question many have asked since the release of Incarna. People at CCP used to play EVE. Many still do, I'm sure. But do they do more than log in, flip a skill, and watch the video screen in their Minmatar Captain's Quarters? There was a time that CCP paid attention to what was happening in EVE Online and made adjustments to the game, because they recognized what their players were doing, and came up with ideas to make it better. Then there was a time that CCP recognized that EVE needed something fresh, and exciting, and they added new ships and content to the universe. But that freshness is now stale, changes have been made but not iterated on (like the never-finished nullsec upgrade Dominion), and updates to some ships have made others virtually useless.

So much bad news. So what is the future of EVE Online?

I'm going to be positive, because even after 4 years I still spend hours reading and writing forum and blog posts about this game that I love, but the reality is, CCP has to recognize the issue and act on it sooner than later. I think (I hope) that the winter expansion will bring the focus back to spaceships. Even though team BFF seems to be a small piece of the hundreds of CCP employees, they are the team that seems to actually play this game we love, and they are trying to work on the spaceship side of the game (or at least that's what they say). But as the weeks (and months) pass, more and more subscriptions (like mine) are tailing off, and the number of folks logged in is dropping. Hopefully CCP sees this trend, and in the winter expansion (or before it) they will bring back one small piece that everyone took for granted – low-impact ship spinning. So many would log into EVE, and just sit in station while using corp/alliance/chat (or now Jabber) and undock when there was action. When CCP took away that view, many stopped logging in because the heavy load of the Incarna Engine on a computer, just to stare at your ship, made it hard to do other things while EVE waited. Now, when the ping comes across Jabber, fewer folks are actually logged in, so why bother at all? By showing us the door or 75% CPU/GPU utilization to stand alone in a room, CCP has asked us not to log in and wait, so it becomes effort to log in at all, and people just don't.

The CSM knows it, and they are gearing up to try and push CCP to recognize that bleeding your cow to death isn't the wisest course of action. Posts by The Mittani, Seleene and White Tree show that the CSM is gearing up to do what CCP seems unable to without them - try and save EVE Online. Because if the current trend continues, and there isn't growth for the spaceship side of the game, EVE will die before it can become real (the fantasy shown at FanFest).

Upper management in CCP needs to look at the logs, really and make sure that the spaceships get as much attention as the spaceshirts - because if they don't there won't be anyone to wear the fashionable artwork coming into the NEX.

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