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Mabrick: Building Better Worlds for Whom?

April 21, 2014

I’ve been at Norwescon 37 all weekend, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t read the dev blog Building Better Worlds before I left. It doesn’t mean I haven’t thought about it constantly since last Monday. It doesn’t mean I haven’t read Jester’s initial post on the subject here, or Eve Hermits post on the subject here, or much more importantly, K162′s posts on it, here, here and here. As I see it, Jester means well and is a very knowledgeable EVE Online player with the inside track on these changes, though he can’t talk about it. But he’s a PvP player first and foremost. He himself has admitted he uses industry and PvE to pay for his PvP habit like so many multi-account players. EVE Hermit is also a knowledgeable player who actually concentrates on industrial matters first and doesn’t just pursue it in an Alt capacity to support his PvP. But when it comes to things industrial, my personal go-to blog is K162. That’s what corporation industry is all about. They do it right in my opinion, so I pay close attention to anything written there.

What K162 tells me is to pay attention to Douglas Adams: don’t panic. This industrial revamp is nothing to go all Yosemite Sam over. In fact, it really shouldn’t be all that much of a surprise to anyone who’s been following CCP’s dev blogs and interviews over the past several expansions. For those who need it spelled out, they put it right at the very start of the Building Better Worlds post. The summer industrial revamp (it really isn’t an expansion unless you count it as foundation for a later expansion) adhere to policies CCP has been following for quite some time.

  1. Any industry feature must have an actual gameplay attached to it in order to exist
  2. Any industry feature must be balanced around our risk versus reward philosophy
  3. Any industry feature must be easily understandable and visible to our player base

These are not things they invented just for the industrial revamp. There was never any doubt in my mind they would apply to such a redesign, if such a redesign were to ever happen. Now the cat’s out of the bag, I’m not shocked by it. From and EVE Online industrialist perspective, there’s nothing wrong and there is actually quite a bit right about it.

But it is wrong nonetheless. It’s all about that first item above. Who determines what “actual gameplay” is? CCP is probably the only game company who takes it upon themselves to make that decision. I don’t mean that they allow certain gameplay and disallow other gameplay. They are not so blatant about. They do, however, favor certain gameplay over others and that is writ large on this revamp.

That said, it’s obvious I’m concerned with the direction CCP seems to be going overall. I prefer one of the gameplay styles CCP does not favor. You see, I evidently have committed the horrible sin of not generating player content. The same goes for EVE Hermit. He too will suffer for this revamp along with every other casual industrialist in EVE Online. This revamp isn’t about making industry better for us. It sends an ultimatum. Play our way and don’t expect any sympathy from us when you can’t make any ISK to continue playing this game. This is our game and we say what is a good gameplay and what is not.

A couple of weeks ago I received an in-game message from one of my readers. He had a very specific question for me. I want to share that question and my response because it outlines my overarching concerns about EVE Online. Here’s the question.

A while back you had a post about how Eve was not able to keep the new subs that came from the huge super cap battle. I was a bit confused because a short time later CCP released a dev blog indicating a large number of people had continued past their trial. Then I read Jester’s post indicating the same. Jester wrote that his numbers could be off simply because an insufficient amount of time had passed since the event. I look at the numbers now and it appears there was a peak, but now it’s gone.

What’s your take on this? Did CCP gain a bunch of new subs, then lose them or do you think there was a net gain for CCP?

I’d also love to hear any thoughts you have on the future of Eve. I always considered Jester an optimist, but recently he’s had some negative blogs about the future of Eve. What’s your take here as well. Oh, and today we get a survey that focuses on PVP? That has to mean something.

These questions are precisely what I’ve been asking myself for well over a year. I’ve thought a lot about EVE Online not from a gameplay perspective, but from a gamer perspective. My concerns for EVE Online are not about the gameplay as my answer to the questions asked above illustrates.

I play a lot of different games. I’ve played EVE Online longer than any of them. That speaks to its allure even to people like me who don’t particularly enjoy PvP. That said, I know I am not the average gamer in this world. The average gamer will not devote hours and hours a session to get somewhere – to unlock achievements if you would. That’s where I believe EVE Online is weak. There is not much you can do in the game in a 30 minute stretch. I can go through an entire League of Legends game in 30 minutes. The same goes with Starcraft II. In The Elder Scrolls Online, my latest addiction, I can do something worthwhile in 30 minutes any day of the week.

When large events like B-R happen, people read about it and think, “Wow, I want to be a part of that!” So they subscribe. They may even understand that EVE is hard, that it has a very steep learning curve. Most gamers aren’t afraid of steep learning curves. It’s what we do after all. But when these new player find out it can take three hours just to reach a very small goal, they often realize they can’t devote that sort of time to the game.

The other thing they want is to keep those achievements they’ve earned. In most MMOs, that’s a foregone fact. You earn special armor in TESO, you keep it. No one can take it from you. In EVE Online, that’s certainly not true. You can’t dare undock in a pimped out ship because there is always a suicide ganker lurking nearby who feels that since they can’t have it you can’t have it. Instead, the only achievement system we have is the killmail system and that is too easily gamed. It makes no distinction between noobs and veterans on the killmail, so most PvPers would rather go after a noob. In fact, that may be the only PvP that lasts less than 30 minutes. Even PvPers can’t spent hour after hour trying to get the “good fight.”

That in a nutshell is what I meant about B-R not being able to give CCP a permanent increase in subscribers. There is no long-term reward in the game for those with only 30 minutes every other day to commit. And people with those time constraints are a vast majority of all the potential gamers who might want to try EVE Online. I think CCP already has those of us who can and will spend hours upon hours trying to “get somewhere.”

And that is why EVE Online is not dying. It could probably go on like this for years. But EVE Online is also not growing. That is my biggest concern. In our world, companies who don’t show year after year growth do not get the investments they need to expand. Lack of expansion means even less business interest in the company. It is not EVE Online I fear will die, it’s the company that writes it. If CCP goes under, our game ends – period.

I believe CCP understands this. That is why we have DUST 514 and now EVE Valkyrie. That’s expansion of the company. That brings interest and investment. But DUST 514 didn’t pan out as much as CCP likely needed. EVE Valkyrie was absolutely (IMO) a god send. It likely really saved their bacon. I believed that even more strongly after their writeoffs of last year. The only reason you keep something on the books like obsoleted code is to pad them. Padding the books means nothing good in the business world, nothing at all.

This was obviously written before the World of Darkness announcement. That announcement only heightens my concern. The last paragraph is billed as something positive, but is it really?

Although this was a tough decision that affects our friends and family, uniting the company behind the EVE Universe will put us in a stronger position moving forward, and we are more committed than ever to solidify EVE as the biggest gaming universe in the world.

Here’s another view of that statement: all their eggs are in one basket now. With this revamp and its bent toward group play, you can surmise they only like white eggs. That is horrendously frightening from my gamer point of view.

Still, it is not necessarily wrong for CCP to feel this way. At the con Saturday I was talking to a friend, Tanaku Green, about EVE Online and more specifically DUST 514. He is not an EVE Online player. He is, in fact, a Blizzard Boy – no offense intended. But he is absolutely fascinated by the idea of being able to affect the EVE Online universe from the first person shooter console game that is DUST 514. And guess what: you can do that in a 30 minute gaming session. You can help make a difference even if you have limited play time – like the 99.9% of gamers who don’t play EVE Online.

Of course, there is risk in tieing your company to one product and then narrowing supported gameplay to large-scale operations. We’d like to think of EVE Online, DUST 514, and EVE: Valkyrie as separate products. That is not entirely true. One universe means one core development process. They are all tentacles on the same octopus. Shoot the Octopus between the eyes with a spear gun and all the tentacles curl up lifeless. Octopi have a highly efficient body plan, but it’s not the most redundant ever evolved.

But hey, what do you expect from a company whose #2 guiding principle on an industrial revamp is all about risk versus reward? They’re putting your money where their mouth is. Just don’t forget game developers are not immortal like capsuleers. The only game developers who look to be immortal at this point in history are Sid Meier and Chris Roberts. I think many EVE Online players are already familiar with Star Citizen. As a go it alone sort of gamer I know I am. How many of you know the next Civilization, due out this fall, is called Civilization Beyond Earth? Follow the link for Sid Meier above and watch the trailer folks – O M G. It’s not MMO, but it supports up to 8-player games and it’s C I V I L I Z A T I O N I N S P A C E. You know, I don’t know any EVE Online PvPers who see this as competition, but believe this gamer when he says… this is competition. It’s competition for my time and my money. Never forget there are far more of my type of gamer out there than those who are die-hard PvPers. Knowledgeable individuals like Doctor Nick Yee have shown this.

To all those PvPers who may have just read that and thought to themselves (or yelled at the monitor,) “Then go play another game you pubbie!” …that’s my point. There are folks who will do just that. They will walk away from EVE Online over this. They are in love with the space aspect of the game, not the PvP aspect of the game. They want blinged out ships, not questionable killmail lists. Sooner or later they tire of being suicide ganked undocking from Jita, and they go play elsewhere. That hurts EVE Online because in a game with only 500,000 subscriptions every real person counts. And this PvP or DIAF attitude eliminates real players, not just accounts.

There is one thing CCP could throw into this revamp that would make me not care about the nerfing done to high-sec time-limited gameplay. Just make it impossible to blow another ship up in high-sec unless it’s an agreed upon duel or a war dec. That’s it. Make it impossible to suicide gank anyone who chooses to stay in an NPC corporation and pay for bling with real money. If they pay for it, they should be allowed to keep it. That’s what gamers of that ilk expect.

As for suicide gankers, if they want to shoot other players, force them to go to low-sec or null-sec too do it. If CCP is truly serious about their risk philosophy, then they must stop suicide ganking – and that means Burn Jita too. There is no risk in it for those that do it. I know. I was a member of an alliance with a suicide-gank wing for nearly a year. I remember well their laughs about blowing up stupid carebears in high-sec. If you don’t do this CCP, then you’ll only confirm your bias. So how about it? Do you have the guts to end suicide ganking in high-sec once and for all? Will you prove you are as willing to take your low-risk no-reward philosophy and apply it to so-called PvPers as readily as you apply it to players who prefer to live and work in high-sec for legitimate time constraint reasons?

– Mabrick

He’s been around the block a time or five. With over 15 years of MMO playing under his belt and a memory that reaches back to pencils and dice, he offers his insights into the not so virtual reality we call Eve Online.