With the latest EVE Online expansion, Inferno, comes the promise of many things; a revitalised faction warfare dynamic, a refined system for defining wars and allies, the means to hire mercenaries and some spectacular new combat animations (see EVE Online: So Beautiful, I Can't See It for more on this). Unsurprisingly, in many of these cases there have been some teething problems, but this is mostly forgiveable when planting seeds for the future.
However, one particular "seed" seems to have fouled the harvester and tainted the crop: The Unified Inventory. Perversely embracing the spirit of Inferno, the EVE Online forums are afire with vitriol and dissent as many players struggle to get to grips with this new User Interface element. Whilst some are struggling with fixable bugs, others are finding the basic design concept a barrier to their style of play. Contrary to this, some players are speaking out in defence of the new system, citing that it is "fine once you get used to it". A few even prefer it. In any case, the torrents of forum posts indicate that it is having a significant impact on the user experience.
This puzzles me. I can't help wondering how the Unified Inventory can be so divisive. Is its design suited to some playstyles more than others? There has certainly been some negative comments made by capital ship pilots and POS managers, but equally salvagers and casual PvPers. The Inventory interface is clearly something that impacts every EVE player to a degree. Perhaps the rage is the result of an over-entitled player base who are falling into the habit of threatening to unsubscribe every time something is tweaked?
Test Server, Please Ignore
Having wrestled with the developing Unified Inventory on Singularity, I took an early dislike to the concept. I felt I was being forced to interact with the client in a particular way that I found less appealing than the method it replaced. I couldn't help feeling that it was a solution without a problem - there were many more offensive elements of the user interface than the inventory system. However, I accepted that mine was only a single "use case" and that the designers had the majority in mind. I realised I would have to accept this new irritant and hope I'd grow into it if I wished to continue playing EVE.
However, I was not alone in my concerns; on investigating the Test Server forums, individuals far more diligent than I had gone to some length to detail the Unified Inventory's misgivings. Tippis wrote a particularly constructive in-depth analysis of the problems in his blogpost, The Shift-Click, It Does Nothing. He even went to the length of making an explanatory video.
Representing Player Concerns?
Despite the growing feeling amongst the voluntary testers that the Unified Inventory was not fit for purpose in its current state, it was clear that CCP were not intending to deviate from their plan to include it in the initial release of Inferno. There was a notable absence of CSM dialogue in the relevant forum threads. Surely they, or the previous CSM (in many cases the same people) had been made aware of this feature and had been given the opportunity to provide input and feedback? Emails and tweets were sent by myself and other concerned players, but no response was forthcoming until my submitted question was addressed in the live CSM Town Hall meeting held on the weekend preceding Inferno's release. This was my question:
"There is concern from some quarters about how the Inferno release of the Unified Inventory will be received by the playerbase. There are some well-reasoned arguments that the feature is incomplete and reduces functionality. Have the CSM been consulted on this matter at any point, what are your thoughts and do you think there will be a player backlash after patch day?"
Their response was a unanimously non-committal "it's fine", which suggested to me that they either had no knowledge of the feature in its current state and the associated player concerns or they had been NDA'd to the point of being no use on the subject. Either way, it was a disappointingly brief and dismissive answer and not indicative of effective representation of player concerns.
Controlling the Fire
Inferno was deployed and at little surprise from the SiSi testers, the predicted player backlash began. In an effort to remain positive about the changes, I want to understand what is it that some players are finding appealing about the Unified Inventory. Please let me (and others) know and help convince me that this is a good change.
My main issue is this: I want to choose my tools and how to use them, not be railroaded into someone else's preconception of the correct way. I have long been content to browse my hangars and containers in multiple windows filled with colourful icons. I enjoy this. Having accrued lots of loot over the years in many stations, it's like having treasure troves or boxes of Lego I can sift through. However, I am receptive to the idea of having better tools with which to sift and to analyse my total assets and their locations. I play casually and am often reclined (back problems), content to just use the mouse, but having to sit up and use a keyboard shortcut every time I need to spawn new windows is irritating. I've only got two buttons on my mouse and until recently that was enough. I have many other issues with it too, but this is not the place to list them.
I feel, given the diversity of tasks performed in our sandbox, more than one size of bucket and spade is required. Is it me who has not given it enough of a chance or is it you who hasn't used it enough to discover its shortcomings?
[Update: since the publishing of this post, CCP Soundwave has released a new Devblog addressing some of the Unified Inventory issues. There are plans to provide a drag-and-drop alternative to the evil shift-click option, which makes me happy. I've also made this suggestion with regard to emulating the old system for those who preferred it. Whether this widely condemned feature can be made universally accepted remains to be seen. I wish this was taking place on Singularity though.]