Tuesday, 20 September 2011
Blog Banter 28 Review: The Future of EVE Online, CCP and the CSM
The long history of EVE Online is punctuated by controversy.
The Council of Stellar Management was conceived in the wake of the so-called T20 scandal in 2007, wherein a CCP employee was exposed to be unfairly supplying in-game items to players. The CSM was formed from the player community to promote transparency and increase communication between CCP and it's customers. The second term of the CSM was itself embroiled in controversy when a member abused his position to gain advantage in-game.
However, the CSM has also provided many benefits to the world of EVE. Over the past four years, the six elected player councils have provided a platform with which to take their ideas and concerns to CCP, having the opportunity to influence and improve the game that unites and divides us all. The previous CSM incumbents dealt with difficult issues during 2010's Summer of Rage at the “18 months” scandal.
The last few months have been not been short of controversies in the world's premier spaceship MMO, with a passionate player-base responding vociferously to underwhelming expansions, controversial 'microtransaction' marketing and inflammatory leaked internal documents. In response to the outcry, CCP called a 'Special CSM Summit' as a damage limitation measure. Initially, this emergency meeting seemed to pour oil on troubled waters, with the CSM members working with CCP staff to send more positive messaging out to the player base.
Sadly, several weeks later, the much anticipated minutes to this irregular meeting were still unreleased. The CSM began to voice their frustration at CCP's delay and their apparent attempts to change the wording of CSM statements. A “miscalculation” by the CSM led to unprecedented media coverage of CSM Chairman The Mittani's statements, with numerous articles in the gaming media discussing the CSM's displeasure.
With CCP and it's customer base at loggerheads, it was at this point that the EVE blogging community was 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?"
Over thirty bloggers took up their quills to pen their thoughts on this subject and, although opinions varied, there were some themes that were overwhelmingly prevalent. An almost universal view was one of perceived neglect, with CCP's development of EVE Online coming under fire.
Fizz, not Whizz!
The catalyst for much of the recent angst was statistical revelations made by Ripard Teg, which appears to show a plateau in the growth that EVE Online has enjoyed since it's inception in 2003. Corelin ominously suggests that “In this industry you are either growing or sinking. EVE is no longer growing.” MarcScaurus identifies the avatar engine alpha-test backfired and that CCP should “...stick to what has been proved to work – iterating solid gameplay additions.”
S.W. points out how two of the three previous expansions haven't been about spaceships and the introduction of Incarna features is proving to be “slower than maple sap in December”. Cozmik R5 covers similar ground, disappointed that Tyrannis and Incarna were simply laying groundwork for other CCP projects. A Scientist's Life in EVE posits that CCP's resources are spread too thin because of these projects, causing development of EVE Online to suffer. Sessym supports this view, calling for CCP to find a better balance in developing 'Flying in Space' alongside 'Walking in Stations', fearing the bias toward Incarna and stating “The prospect of our favorite game losing its soul is unnerving”. Tgl3 wants 'WiS', but not at the expense of 'FiS'. Drackarn identifies the potential of Incarna but says they've "done a proper Gerald Ratner in deploying it.” Baa concludes EVE isn't dying, it's in transition, evolving into something more than just flying spaceships.
Incarna Content and Discontent
Some banters invoked the spectre of Star Wars: Galaxies, where poor development decisions led to it's demise. However, post-Incarna deployment, Pyrotech03 logged in fearing he would find EVE “on the expressway to SWG” only to find business as usual, stating “...my spaceships still fly, my guns and bays still shoot, my wallet still bleeds me dry…” Akenisis was impressed with the Incarna experience but wants to see the return of ship spinning. He shares Druur Monakh's view that EVE is still engaging but there is not enough focus on player retention. Druur also cleverly glides his way around the limitations of Captain's Quarters with a roleplay solution. Blastradius1 wrote some amusing fiction on the subject; “What the hell did I care about trotting around in a space station? I was a pilot, not a jogger.”
Lex Starwalker criticises the lack of new content and suggests CCP could learn from SW:G's successor, Star Wars: The Old Republic and from Rift, citing them as healthy competition to bring out the best in CCP. Conversely, Suicidal Pancake is concerned that other Sci-Fi MMOs will benefit from the mishandling of EVE's current fortunes with attractive alternatives due to enter the market. He goes on to suggest that the upcoming winter expansion will be critical for EVE's future. Jacabon Mere underlines this thought stating “The next expansion will be the last straw for many players if it is underwhelming”.
The Divisive CSM
Whilst CCP almost universally came under a degree of criticism, discussion of the Council of Stellar Management led to a more diverse spread of opinion. Along with many others, Orakkus believes that the CSM is behaving appropriately to minimise player alienation in the face of CCP's poor PR and failure to listen to their customers. Kuan Yida recognises the value of the CSM, but raises concerns about the lack of balanced representation of the playerbase. EveHermit claims the CSM cannot to be taken seriously due to influence from alliance-sized interest groups. Drackarn proposes some organisational changes to address representation concerns.
Poetic Stanziel questions the barrier presented by Non-Disclosure Agreements and echoes concerns about the CSM's apparent lack of appreciation for wormhole-related issues. Shadai also discusses NDAs and questions whether CCP should control the minutes of meetings with the CSM. He also identifies hypocrisy in The Mittani's criticism of CSM5's open letter to CCP whilst subsequently releasing a similar document. Ripard Teg also compares and contrasts the present CSM with the previous one. Helena Khan is optimistic about EVE's future but is disillusioned with the current CSM compared to it's predecessor.
Collapsing Support Mechanism?
Mike Azariah suggests that The Mittani's recent confrontational stance has merely been self-aggrandising posturing. Rixx Javix's student council analogy supports this viewpoint, suggesting that his behaviour is to be expected; “The institution of the CSM will continue to harm EVE. It is only natural. It must turn on itself. It must attack the institution that created it, it must feed. It will destroy.” Keyanu agrees and calls for action, "The CSM seriously needs looking at and action taken as I feel they are a destructive force."
Gilbert Hamilton's view is that the CSM is “crap wrapped in a different way by people who need to invent things to make themselves feel like they've accomplished something, instead of getting actual work done.” Lex Starwalker agrees with this sentiment.
Parity Bit decries the CSM, believing that it is failing to meet the criteria set out in The Council of Stellar Management: Implementation of Deliberative, Democratically Elected Council in EVE, highlighting that some CSM members have publicly stated that they represent their constituents rather than the EVE society as a whole. He also criticises their attempts to “blackmail CCP with threats of bad publicity”.
State of the Society
The impact of recent events on some of the communities within EVE society was a recurring topic. Evehermit feels that CCP are out-of-touch with the player-base and this has upset an important minority of players. Rixx Javix views this minority differently, stating the few vocal forum whiners, bloggers etc. are just “...the tip of the iceberg. If we melt the iceberg will just readjust and float on.”
MarcScaurus and Lex Starwalker have opposing views; with Marc impressed by a community with enough allure for ex-players to continue contributing, whilst Lex feels that the largely negative community is not attractive to new players. A more fatalistic and philosophical view looking at the 'bigger picture' is offered by Roc Wieler, whilst Seismic Stan compares MMO development to British pub culture. Both recognise the necessity for growth and change.
Myrhial Arkenath, as the CEO of an alliance, has notice a decline in player activity. “while a company owns a game and is thus entitled to do with it as it pleases, it is still a good idea to develop what players really want.” Kirith Kodachi supports this perspective and as a long-time player is proud to say he was there for the many FiS developments. He said, “I care about spaceships. Give me more reasons to say I was there, or I might end up saying "I used to be there."”
The minutes were finally released on 9th September 2011 and the CSM's media assault was called off. In response to the barrage of dissatisfaction, a conference call between the CSM and Senior Producer CCP Zulu took place, resulting in the following statement from CSM Meissa Anunthiel;
"Amidst the recent forum activity about reports of decreased subscriber count, discontent about lack of resources allocated to "Flying In Space" (or, as we know it, Eve Online) and, despite Gridlock and Team BFF's efforts, general stagnation when it comes to fixes and improvements, the CSM just met with CCP's Senior Producer for Eve Online: CCP Zulu.
During that meeting, we discussed the players' concerns with the man who has the ability to resolve them. We cannot share the details of the meeting itself because it is heavily NDA'd, but ways to resolve your concerns have been discussed and a follow-up meeting is planned."
On 19th September CCP t0rfifrans, Creative Director, released a devblog announcing the return of ship-spinning. He also provided details on some other 'quality of life' fixes and featured a screenshot of a Caldari station interior. There were hints at other things but he ended with “All in all, we‘re moving forward. It's too soon to make announcements about what expansions and features we are developing, that will be announced in due time.”
Whether this is enough to quell the fiery hearts of the maddening crowds, only time will tell, but it's a start.
“EVE has grown stronger every year since its inception; these bumps in the road are an inevitable part of the journey we must endure as a growing company; and we would not be here today if we opted to isolate ourselves from the player experience of EVE Online.” - CCP CEO Hilmar Veigar Petursson, 2007
And Now For Something Completely Different
So endeth the 28th Blog Banter. I've made a note to myself to be wary of such heavy topics in future, they make summarising a mountainous task.
I'd like to end on a light note. Although the blog banter is a conversation not a competition, if this banter were to have a winner I think few would disagree with it being Mord Fiddle's genius medieval parody, Fever Dream, featuring The Mittani summoned to King Hilmar's court. That he never said it was a BB entry is not important. He doth winneth.
Truly EVE hath the best bloggers in the whole of webdom.