Monday, 30 January 2012

Power Gamers vs. Content Seekers

"Powergaming (or power gaming) is a style of interacting with games or game-like systems with the aim of maximising progress towards a specific goal, to the exclusion of other considerations such as (in video games, boardgames, and roleplaying games) storytelling, atmosphere and camaraderie."

Since the good ship CCP steered away from the oncoming iceberg of customer dissatisfaction last Summer, it has become clear that a new course has been plotted. EVE Online has enjoyed a far more comfortable journey in recent months, with the recent re-focusing onto improving creaky systems and giving the decks a much needed polish. It is understood that the intention is to continue with this embellishment.

However, the new course plotted is now unclear. However fanciful, the previous destination of "ultimate sci-fi simulator" at least gave everyone involved something to look forward to/speculate on/bitch about (delete as applicable). Although the destination may still ultimately be the same, the route is certain to have changed now. Especially since the tiny waypoint destination of Incarna was found to be populated by a hostile native tribe of agoraphobic graphics-card eaters. The ship's Captain and his command crew are understandably going to be far more cautious about sharing travel plans with their passengers for fear of building up too much expectation (again).

My concern is that after reaching for the stars and tripping over their own avatar, CCP may now become risk-averse, being content to simply follow the safe path of least resistance. With reduced resources after the 20% layoffs, is CCP's primary means and method of reading "what the player wants" through the CSM, as discussed in The Squeaky Wheel of Player Power?

This is not entirely a bad thing, with the strong null-sec alliance representation there, CCP can get great feedback from individuals in-tune with tens of thousands of players. The problem is, all those players are from the same corner of the sandbox. Will this influence affect the focus and direction of EVE's future development? If so, is it right that it should?

Some of the People, All of the Time

With much of the low-hanging fruit addressed, one of CCP's stated development targets is to focus on Faction Warfare. In Crucible 1.1, the ability to introduce entire alliances into Faction Warfare was implemented. I'd be interested to hear from long-time Faction Warfare participants as to whether this is considered to be a good thing or not. My concern is that it may be indicative of a nullsec-lite trend.

Is the future of EVE one where every aspect of the sandbox is to be optimised for the use of null-sec alliances or equivalent sized meta-groups? Is the diversity of EVE's player base to be abandoned in favour of a homogeneous environment that can only be enjoyed to its fullest extent by powergamers? If this is to be the case - and there are signs - I'd certainly like to know.

With this concern in mind, I attempted to get something out of "Ship's Captain" CCP CEO Hilmar Pétursson on Twitter today:
Hilmar Veigar: Any highlights from the weekend #tweetfleet?

Freebooted: @HilmarVeigar We've been discussing the future development of EVE and the influence players may have. How would you describe the road ahead?

Hilmar Veigar: @Freebooted the road ahead is exciting and along the lines we have talked about publicly, fanfest is the moment to talk about it in details.

Freebooted: @HilmarVeigar Would you say the "exciting road ahead" is the safe road or the brave road? I look forward to hearing the details at Fanfest.
Given his artfully empty answer to my first question, I was not surprised that he did not answer my second. Maybe he was just busy.

Are You a Content Seeker?

Firstly, I would like to clarify my definition of "content seeker". These are not necessarily just players who can be labelled and dismissed as "roleplayers" or "carebears" (although I'm sure the skim-readers will still assume that to be the case). There are many null- and low-sec combat pilots with an appreciation for the lore of EVE and the layers of immersion beyond the performance-obsessed powergamers.

From the perspective of a casual player or an outsider there is a beguiling darkness and a sense of wonder in simply moving through New Eden and being overwhelmed by the detail. Roleplayers certainly tap into that and build beyond it, but that is a niche within a niche. At the opposite end of the spectrum are the min/maxers for whom the enjoyment is in the DPS and the kill:death ratios. They don't give a rat's arse about the backstory.

The wider, middle area in this player spectrum is the new and/or casual players who have the overwhelming sense of "so much going on" because they are not yet judging and dismissing aspects of the game as we more established players are inclined to. They still have that sense of awe and wonder. To them, the fact that there are cadres of RPers out there somewhere pushing the storyline forward whilst conversely in the far-reaches there are thousands of null-sec soldiers participating in an endless grand bloodbath IS part of the immersion.

My point is that with the right marketing, both ends of the spectrum could be equally powerful motivators for people to get involved in EVE Online. However, presently only one end is being properly identified and exploited.

The Strangled Soul

Are there currently enough content-seekers to justify some more development resources to be thrown that way? Who knows? CCP Diagoras perhaps? However, I would say that if there is not, that would be down to CCP's failure to adequately invest in that aspect of EVE Online. They have endlessly marketed their grand fleet battles, their "player-driven narrative" and the news-baiting grand cybercrimes. Meanwhile, they've sacked their IP manager, weakened the content and writing teams and are operating with a reduced-strength community team.

I appreciate that running an MMO is all about the subscriber numbers. It may be that the number of players who enjoy the less hardcore military aspects of EVE are too few too carry any real weight and it has to be accepted that imagination-bereft powergaming min/maxers are the future of EVE.

At what point does letting players generate their own content just mean lazy development strategy? Is EVE Online on its way to becoming a soulless World of Fleet Fights?

If EVE's development were synonymous with the BSG story arc, we're midway through Series 4 - Earth has been discovered, but it's a desolate shithole and Adama needs to find a new long-term inspiration for the human race. Are you listening Hilmar?

[A Clarification for Null-Sec Players: Before you entirely miss my point and interpret this as a rant against large fleet fights, I would like to clarify that I understand sov-war has its own brand of story and excitement and is a jewel in EVE's crown. My point is that I wouldn't want EVE's development to lose sight of the fact that there are other aspects to EVE that should not remain under-developed. I fear development is veering too far toward the appeasement of powergamers as a reaction to the Incarna rejection. I am not saying that nullsec concerns should not be addressed, simply that there should be a balanced approach.]


Further Reading

Aside from the comments beneath this article, the following responses and forum discussions have sprung forth from this blogpost.
  • Marc Scaurus responded intelligently with "The Arbiters of the Loudest Voices" on his blog, Malefactor (by Hugo Boss). ;)
  • Riverini syndicated the article on EVE News 24 (without the appended explanation for nullsec players) with should provide some entertaining comments.
  • Tikhon Fedorov bravely linked the EN24 version on the EVE-O forums and wrote his response there. Shitposting undoubtedly will ensue.
  • A surprisingly urbane and considered response came from the Reddit community. Mostly.
  • Also, encouragingly, CCP Affinity spoke up on Twitter:
Freebooted: Power Gamers vs. Content Seekers. Is EVE Online destined to become a soulless World of Fleet Fights? bit.ly/zVxo4U #tweetfleet
CCP_Affinity: @Freebooted I can assure you - no :) Part of my team are content developers and they have a plan! #watchthisspace
Freebooted: @CCP_Affinity That's great to hear, but those folks should speak up. I don't care about DPS on the new triaged milk-float, I want immersion!
CCP_Affinity: @Freebooted we've only just had release planning - give things time to settle in :) we will make dev blogs soon.

Sunday, 29 January 2012

The Squeaky Wheel of Player Power

"As a company CCP is I think largely viewed as one of the MMO companies that really genuinely listens to its subscribers - say what you like about recent events - but in the grand scheme of things we listen to our players a lot more than other MMO studios do. Now more than ever."
- CCP Headfirst, Associate Content Designer, Dec 2011

The relationship CCP has with its customers is fascinating. For the last nine years, the developers of EVE Online have nurtured their MMO creation into a multicultural boiling pot of online gaming activity. As a science-fiction sandbox gaming environment, there is little wonder that the universe of New Eden attracts such a diverse cross-section of players, from statistics-oriented combat purists to immersion-hungry content-seekers. Understanding and improving on the game experience for every kind of player must be a huge challenge for the developers.

Without access to demographical statistics, it is impossible to know exactly what percentages of players would respond positively to improvements to specific areas of EVE Online, however recent history (ie. the Crucible expansion) has shown that stats-balancing and refinement is a definite winning strategy, especially amongst the null-sec power-blocs. After a developmental own-goal last summer, the communication between CCP and subscriber seems to be once again improving. However, I hope that CCP is not now on the timid path of catering solely to the demands of the loudest voices.

The CSM: Arbiter of the Loudest Voice

The current Council of Stellar Management can rightly claim credit for their part in this improved relationship and they have worked hard to represent the wishes of the EVE players with whom they've had contact. Regardless of what critics may say, the CSM system has worked well to bring together an effective team of senior players to liaise with CCP for mutual benefit. Whether this was by accident or design is not important. The simple fact is, they got the job done.

With the elections for seventh CSM term approaching, those same individuals - stamina and desire permitting - are among the strongest contenders for the (now reduced number of) positions on the next council. They have an establish team ethic, have presumably fostered good relationships with CCP staff and they have experience. However, if the elections shake up the status quo, so be it. I'm sure some fresh blood would be useful too.

Concerns about the under-representation of particular communities or play-styles are irrelevant. An effective CSM should be able to represent the concerns of the playerbase irrespective of personal experience. It is down to the communities to convey their demands effectively to the CSM so they can be represented. This is why the present CSM comprises almost entirely null-sec alliance representatives, they're organised with ready-made voters. They know how to co-ordinate to be effective.

That said, it would be good to see some effective CSM seat challenges from other quarters if the candidates have something to offer. But just a few. The key is for each community to get behind a single representative rather than diluting the votes into ineffectiveness. It may be prudent for some potential runners to instead campaign on behalf of another or even to promote the CSM process in general for a fairer result.

Regardless of CSM composition, the importance of player involvement doesn't end with the elections. It is about giving persistent voice to all aspects of EVE in order to help the sandbox environment to thrive. A losing candidate should not recede into the shadows but should continue to champion their community.

A Voice for the Other Guys?

I have some concern that the established order (that being both CCP direction and CSM composition) has a bias toward the mechanics of EVE, without much consideration for the storyline and lore (I would be happy to be wrong). This is not to say that the gameplay mechanics should ever be compromised in favour of aesthetics, but equally I would not want to see EVE's ongoing richly-woven lore disregarded in pursuit of currying favour with the "player-driven narrative" of null-sec.

It is something I discussed with CCP Dropbear and CCP Headfirst in an interview last December. This is what they had to say on the subject:

CCP Dropbear: "Part of it comes down to how much demand we as developers can demonstrate for a certain feature to our bosses... If we can say 'hey, over the space of four weeks I've just managed to get 200 people to donate thirty billion ISKs worth of stuff for a fluff roleplay project that has no influence on any mechanic in the game'... It helps sell to them that there's interest in this."

CCP Headfirst: "Roleplayers are a powerful lobby. If you put your money and your time and your effort and your forum posts and everything where your mouth is, just like any other lobby you can get things done."

CCP Dropbear: "It gives us more ammunition to take back to our bosses and say 'hey we should allocate more time to this' or 'there's some real interest'."

The key message is that CCP are listening, but we as players need to speak the right language. The simple fact is it is a numbers game. If we can make the right people see that there is value in a particular aspect of EVE, the wheels WILL turn. But we all need to be pulling in the same direction. Again, this was best illustrated in the Dropbear/Headfirst interview, when asked about players influencing development:

CCP Dropbear: "The community has already made it more than abundantly clear that it wants fixes to faction warfare."

CCP Headfirst: "A prime example is ship spinning... on Incarna... the one complaint that everybody heard the loudest was 'what happened to ship spinning?' ... if enough people shout loudly enough and push in the same direction... there you go, ship spinning is back. Just imagine the power that that same group of people could've had if they were asking for incursions for all the other various factions or being able to accrue loyalty points with all these other pirate factions and spend it on pirate gear based on the incursion system... putting FW space between Blood raiders and Amarr, Serpentis and Gallente."

Bear in mind that the player-influenced change Headfirst and Dropbear referred to came at a time when CCP were considered to be single-mindedly pursuing a development path not embraced by (many of) the players and were trying very hard to ignore the increasingly loud voices. Suffice to say we now live in enlightened times and the measures that were required to effect that change are (hopefully) no longer necessary. Further proof that the Ear of Sauron is now sporting a shiny new hearing aid, Lead Designer CCP Soundwave has gone on record to state that Faction Warfare is very much in the frame for near future iteration. Some initial tweaks have already been made.

This player consultation process is exactly what the CSM is for, but the councillors can only be as effective as the messages they are receiving. Players need to get behind the CSM and communicate with them, via the CSM section of the EVE Online forums, individual members blogs, Twitter and so on. Equally, the CSM needs to support the players - of all play-styles. But the plain truth is that EVE development is about subscriber numbers. Those numbers dropped after a series of faux pas last year, but were swollen by the improvements brought about by Crucible. How EVE Online's future pans out and in what direction development is taken is what is now at stake.

Crucible was designed to please existing customers and entice lapsed subscribers to return. Whilst this trend needs to continue, CCP must also look to growth and attracting (and retaining) new subscribers. Without that fresh influx, eventually the EVE player base will wither until all that remains is the dedicated hardcore somewhere out in null-sec.

If the only issues that are brought to the attention of the CSM and/or CCP are those that affect subscribers that play the null-sec sov-war game, ask yourself why. It is, after all, the squeaky wheel that gets the grease.

"It requires not a guarantee but a clear indication that there is interest in such things." 
CCP Dropbear, Content and Storyline Developer, Dec 2011

[CCP Dropbear and CCP Headfirst quotes were transcribed from a Voices From the Void interview which can be found here.]

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Celebrating the Community: The Free Boot Awards for 2011

Back in Meatspace it is award season again. Assorted papparazzi-riddled red-carpet glitz-and-glam occasions will be taking place as the most illustrious of our movie and TV pat each other on the back for jobs well done over the previous year (whilst their nefarious puppetmasters plot the downfall of the internet from their ivory towers).

Within the realm of digital entertainment, organisations have been doling out awards too, with MMORPG.com conducting a player poll to determine their 2011 Game of the Year. Despite (or perhaps because of) EVE Online's mercurial and tempestuous year, it won the award by a huge margin with 51.7% of the votes to second place Rift's 26.9%. It's nice to know as EVE creeps toward being a decade old it continues to evolve to stand strong against competitors.

Some more unkind commentators have suggested that EVE Online only won that vote because of it's community has little else to do but organise "poll ganks". If that's what happened, then so be it. That's just how we roll. More power to the EVE Community, quite possibly one of the most dedicated, creative, wonderful and frightening collections of warped genius on the internet.

In fact, with that in mind, the time has come again for me to name and shame those spend far too much of their time and talent doing things for the greater good of internet spaceships. CCP Headfirst recently claimed that the sort of people who play EVE are collectively so smart they should probably be running the world. I'm not sure that's such a good idea, but nonetheless, lets look back at 2011 and give some folk some meaningless but much-deserved recognition.

One note, these decisions and selections were entirely my own, made up on the spot with little to no research.  No offence or omission was intended, there are many other brilliant contributors, but I think this post is long enough as it is. However, now I think of it, if you want to give someone some recognition for their parody song, smart phone app, blog, service or other contribution that I've overlooked, why not leave a comment.

Enjoy.

Welcome to the Free Boot Awards for 2011

The Free Boot Legacy Award Section

With a slight change of format from last year's awards, this first section is in honour of fallen heroes. Here I give recognition to those who made huge contributions but for whatever reason are no longer doing so.

Our first Free Boot goes to a community giant who devoted years to building the vibrant EVE blogging community we now enjoy. Over half a decade ago a few individuals took up the quill and shared their thoughts on this niche internet curiosity that was EVE Online. A certainly "Blogfather" forged these scattered few into a genuine community, introducing the Blog Banters as a means of sharing readership and ideas, maintaining a blogroll as more blogs emerged and forming the Blog Pack to provide a one-stop-shop introduction to EVE blogging. Crazy Kinux, the man-mountain from Canada, finally stepped down from his many community roles last year to pursue a career within the games industry. Now known on Twitter as Social Dave, Crazy Kinux is the recipient of The Free Boot for Outstanding Services to the Community.

Another community leader that took his final bow last year was a man whose legacy is still going strong. He led the way in embracing new social media and conceived of the Twitter #tweetfleet community, a hashtag so hotly contested that ferocious defences have been mounted in recent months against attempted takeovers from The Deadliest Catch TV Show and Star Trek Online. They failed and 00sage00's Tweetfleet legacy remains strong. Props to Rickipedia for taking over. The Come Back and Fight for Your Legacy (You Slacker) Free Boot Award goes to 00sage00.

In the early part of 2011, a CSM5 led by Chairwoman Mynxee, showed foresight of the coming storm and, frustrated by communication bottlenecks and NDAs, controversially warned of their concerns in an open letter to CCP. This brave stand was the catalyst for much of what was to come and it is a shame that Mynxee (along with Teadaze) was worn down by her experience that she didn't make it to Fanfest and subsequently retired from EVE. Whilst credit is also certainly due her successor, this year's third Free Boot goes to Mynxee for Holding the Line before CCP's ill-judged Incarna implementation was apparent to all.

The Free Boot Blog Award Section

With so many great writers sharing their talent for nothing but the hope of the odd comment, it seems unfair to mention only a few, but the blogging community has seen some exceptional bloggery that really should have a boot thrown at it.

Buried amongst all the incredible events of last year was a quiet tale of truly machievellian genius that was recounted in side-splitting detail. A series of blogposts bestowed infamy upon an individual who can only be described as EVE's greatest celebrity victim. Zedrik Cayne's blog series explaining how he and co-conspirator Morin Blain managed to exile high-sec nuisance Socratic to low-sec is a true slice of EVE. Zedrik Cayne's EVE Blog is deservedly awarded the Free Boot for Blog Series of the Year.

The Summer of 2011 was a tumultuous time for EVE Online. The release of the "walking in stations" Incarna expansion was very poorly received, with unprecedented reactions from the playerbase including a vocal outcry against Monoclegate, with "rioting" in-game and mass unsubscriptions. CSM6, led by The Mittani, scrambled to assist in damage limitation by attending an emergency summit in Iceland. Amidst endless tidal waves of rage and indignation, one man's merciless satire managed to see the funny side of an otherwise bleak period in EVE's history. On his blog Fiddler's Edge, Mord Fiddle wrote 'Fever Dream', a Chaucer-esque imagining of the negotiation between CCP CEO Hilmar Pétursson and Alexander "The Mittani" Gianturco. Wicked, witty and at the time a much needed tonic, this post is the winner of the Free Boot for Blogpost of the Year.

In a blogosphere that has evolved into a cacophony of hundreds of voices, the past year heard one voice bellow out above them all. It's speaker is articulate, knowledgeable and prolific. In fact, the sheer volume of articles (sometimes 3 posts a day for an annual total of 531 posts) of a consistently good quality has earned the author the moniker of Roboblogger. Following a period of reflection following an unsuccessful CSM campaign last year, Ripard Teg bounced back from to write some influential and insightful articles. Particularly this one (Some Curves Aren't). All in all, Jester's Trek is the deserved winner of the Free Boot for Blogger of the Year 2011. Now Ripard, please stop and let us mortals have a go ;).

The Free Boot Behind the Curtain Award Section

Crowd Control Productions. Once a merry band of brave Icelanders fearlessly charging into the MMO arena, now a sprawling corporation trying to stay true to the ideals of its founders whilst having to behave like a traditional business. The good ship CCP sailed through difficult waters in 2011 and not without cost. Without being behind the curtain myself, I am undoubtedly going to miss mentioning many individuals deserving of our thanks and praise, so before any names are dropped, let us award an honorary Free Boot to every CCPer, past and present, who has done their part to keep the ship afloat. Thank you.

A special mention must go to the 20%. Underserving of their fate, a fifth of CCP employees lost their jobs as a cost-saving exercise following the failure of Incarna. Whilst only a few names were widely known amongst the player population, I hope that the new year has found every one of them with good fortune and bright futures.

For those that remained and stepped up to steady the foundering ship, the first award must go to The Developer of the People, the voice of reason in the misunderstood and out-of-context Fearless internal magazine, The man published then as John Turbefield and now cementing his position as a much-loved Dev with his endless "stat porn" tweets and devblogs. The Free Boot for The People's Champion goes to CCP Diagoras.

With the community team devastated by the lay-offs, and communication being one of the key failings during the Summer of Incarnage, CCP's road to redemption looked hazardous. As the recovery was slowly made, a diminutive man of boundless energy managed to deliver more information to the players than should have been possible, CCP Guard was that voice in the darkness and did as much as anyone to repair the tattered player/CCP relationship. Although all members of the community team did well to stand tall in difficult times, the Free Boot for Community Dev of the Year goes to Sveinn Kjarval, a.k.a. CCP Guard. Woop woop!

In recognition of his innovation and the championing of a section of the EVE community that often plays second fiddle to the stat-mongers and min/maxers, the subtler, more machievellian story-weaving and clue-leaving that has seen the lovers of EVE lore not go without this year, for the live events that breathe life into a pre-generated world and for the glorious mystery that is the Arek'Jaalan Project, Nick Blood/CCP Dropbear is Freebooted's Most Innovative Dev.

Whilst the dramatic turn-around of CCP's fortunes was clearly a monumental team effort, every team needs a leader - especially in difficult times. I think that few would argue that despite vitriolic criticism levelled in Fearless-gate, the man who responded to the slings and arrows by stepping into the breach in heroic fashion and forging the path ahead to the acclaimed Crucible expansion was the former Goon named for a giant robot cassette tape. The Freebooted Dev Hero of the Year can only go to Kristopher "Stoffles" Touborg, CCP Soundwave. Well struck, sir.

I final mention should go to CCP CEO Hilmar Petersson. Whilst there is no Free Boot award for him, he should be admired at least for standing and being counted when he realised bad decisions had been made. Although it was too late for some, disaster was averted and some good decisions were eventually made.

Free Boot Community Award Section

EVE Online is far more than just a game, it is a complex society made up of many communities. Each of these communities can only thrive with contribution from all of its members. However, amongst those communities are individuals who go above and beyond to further improve and promote their communities and even reach out to other communities.

With the departure of Crazy Kinux, the man who built the blogging community, the amorphous network of player-maintain sites may have drifted in broken up into disparate parts. However two (well, three) individuals worked to continue the Blogfather's work. The first was Black Claw who for a number of years had quietly maintained the EVE-Bloggers portal, a single live list of headlines featuring every published EVE-related article. With CK gone, his work now became of increasingly critical importance. Secondly, (and a little awkwardly) is erm... me. I run the Blog Banters so I'm giving myself a Golden Boot. I got told off for leaving myself out last year. Okay? Good. Thirdly, and arguably most importantly, the Neo-Blogfather, the new Curator of the Blogpack and drawer of good pictures, Mr Rixx Javix. let us all enjoy our imaginary Free Boots for Services to the Blogging Community.

Next up is a woman who is tireless in her work within the community. I've had the opportunity to work alongside her on a few projects and I know how passionate she is in her work. Curator of the Podpack - a collection of all EVE-flavoured podcasts, as well as long-time host of Voices From the Void, sometime writer for Tech4 and phenomenal voice talent, Arydanika is the velvet-voiced rose of the podcasting community. Truly she deserves a Free Boot for Services to the Podcasting Community.

Honourable mentions should go to all the other hard-working members of the 'casting community. If only more people appreciated the hard work and effort that goes into maintaining a regular podcasting service. So imaginary mini-boots go to Max Torps, Noise and Penelope Star, Ender Black, Jason Acinom and Erin Anwynn, Jade, Angus McDecoy, Priest Kristoph and Chad, Breki, Arkenor and Petter, Kil2 and Kovarix, Chyph3r, Marc Scaurus, Kirith Kodachi, Pixie Twilight, Mintchip, DJ Wiggles and anyone else who takes the time to make audio entertainment for us EVE folk. You're brilliant, please keep going.

Another tireless and sometimes under-appreciated community contributor is Riverini of EVE News 24. I recently had the opportunity to see how he runs his operation and he puts a hell of a lot of effort into providing a community news service almost single-handedly. Along with co-writer Bagehi, they manage to report and produce multiple articles each day in what is literal production line of news. Although sometimes divisive, there is no doubting Riverini and Bagehi's dedication to providing an ambitious community service. A Free Boot for Community Dedication to you both.

It would be a huge oversight in a community award process (because this is a well organised and deeply-thought-out event, honest) if recognition wasn't given to those very individuals who were elected to represent the community to CCP. A heartfelt thanks should go to every member and alternate of the Sixth Council of Stellar Management for all their hard work throughout the year, even the "King of Space with his crown at a jaunty angle". In the past, we've seen some burn-out from the pressures of the role so it's clearly not an easy task. A highly valuable imaginary Free Boot Award goes to The Mittani, Trebor Daehdoow, Seleene, Meissa Anunthiel, UAxDEATH, Killer2, White Tree, Vile Rat, Draco Llasa, Two Step, Elise Randolph, Prometheus Exenthal, Krutoj and Darius III.

The final community award goes to a man who has long been a quiet force who has long moved among us, masquerading as a mere mortal. Without complaint or ado, he has gone about his blogging for longer than some EVE players have been allowed to drink and is one of the original Blog Pack forefathers. Coupled with that he has supported and written for EON magazine and co-edited EVE Tribune. Not content with this, he regularly podcasts from his Inner Sanctum and has recently volunteered to help out with editorial duties for Tech4 News. Proving that you can be a gentleman, a grown-up, a parent, an EVE player and still find time to contribute to the wider community, the Free Boot EVE Online Lifetime Achievement Award deservedly goes to Lord Moose Beaver himself, Kirith Kodachi. And now I feel less guilty for not mentioning him last year. ;)

The EVE Online community. Unparalleled.

But we do have a reputation to uphold within the wider game community, so if you see any of these people in-game, kill them. Congratulate them too by all means, just make sure they're dead first.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

BB32: The Sandbox Argument


"A quick view of the Eve Online forums can always find someone complaining about being suicide ganked, whining about some scam they fell for or other such tears. With the Goons' Ice Interdiction claiming a vast amount of mining ships there were calls for an "opt out of PvP" option.

Should this happen? Should people be able to opt-out of PvP in Eve Online? Should CONCORD prevent crime rather than just handing out justice after the event? Or do the hi-sec population already have too much protection from the scum and villainy that inhabits the game?"


I've read through many of the blog banter responses so far and quite frankly I'm disappointed. There's an overwhelming prevalance toward a short-sighted "feet under the table" attitude. The majority of current EVE players seem rooted in preventing the growth of this sandbox MMO, resisting change and every opportunity and decrying new ideas.

Already this myopic attitude has all but brought an end to Walking In Stations which, however misguided in implementation, was an idea with the vision to attract a much wider demographic to boost the fortunes of EVE Online as a whole. Sadly, Incarna is now viewed as a developmental leper by the many players still foaming at the mouth from the mob rule of last summer and we are unlikely to see if the concept would have eventually yielded fruit.

My earlier mention of the sandbox is key to understanding my stance. Many commentators repulsed by the idea of a change to the current combat/aggression mechanics to foster a more nurturing environment claim that the ubiquitous risk of loss in New Eden is its Unique Selling Point. They are incorrect. Many games remove your progress in the event of your death. The USP is the risk and the sandbox environment. If all participants are not able to do as they please, then its not really a sandbox is it?

This is a double-edged argument; to prevent any action through the implementation of a mechanic undermines the sandbox principle - in the case of suicide-ganking of high-sec PvE-ers, either the perpetrators or the victims will complain their sandbox privileges are being violated. So already we've found the edge of our sandbox, it's got limitations.

Reasonably you may argue that those already playing in the sandbox have jurisdiction and should dictate the nature of the castle-building and hole-digging that goes on. To a degree, this is true. The owners of the sandbox certainly need to ensure that the current children are happy smashing each others castles and that there is enough sand to go around. But equally the sandbox curators need to consider what happens when these children inevitably grow up, get bored or develop different tastes.

Of course, there will always be the educationally subnormal ones who will sit and play in the sand forever and certainly someone should always be on standby to wipe the dribble from Special Ed's chin. But where is the harm in introducing new elements to the playground for children of different tastes. Some of the existing sandbox occupants might even find they like an occasional change of pace, playing in a new variation of sandpit. Children like Ed would eat less sand in a ballpit anyway, and more children like him might find their way into the sandpit if allowed to play in the safety of the ballpit first. This new influx would be sure to please those horrible children who like picking on kids like Ed.

Less resistance to change would do EVE Online the world of good. It's all very well the existing elitist playerbase demand that all possible new players be put through Hell Month just like they did, but those self-serving campaigners are simply the spoilt children who don't like poor little Ed because he smells funny and still wears a nappy. There have been plenty of perfectly plausible suggestions made elsewhere in this Blog Banter that would support both the existing playerbase, but allow for a softer approach to entice the Special Eds of the gaming world.

Lots of comments are probably inbound about how I don't understand EVE and the introduction of more casual or safer elements would kill EVE. Many might claim that my use of tasteless analogies shows a complete lack of empathy and I clearly don't know what I'm talking about. I have two replies to that; 1. You're all closed-minded, unimaginative sheep. and 2...

I
N
G

U

Have you eaten too much sand?

Blog Banter 32: Non-Consensual Combat Restrictions

This month's Blog Banter comes from Drackarn of Sand, Cider and Spaceships. He has foolishly chosen to poke the hornets' nest that is the non-consensual PvP debate. Whilst you read his question, I'll be finding a safe place to hide.

"A quick view of the Eve Online forums can always find someone complaining about being suicide ganked, whining about some scam they fell for or other such tears. With the Goons' Ice Interdiction claiming a vast amount of mining ships there were calls for an "opt out of PvP" option. 

Should this happen? Should people be able to opt-out of PvP in Eve Online? Should CONCORD prevent crime rather than just handing out justice after the event? Or do the hi-sec population already have too much protection from the scum and villainy that inhabits the game?"

Banter on my friends.

[Not sure what a Blog Banter is but want to join the conversation? Click here for an explanation.]

Links to community responses will magically appear in a tasty list below.

Community Tubthumps, Tears and Titters

Saturday, 14 January 2012

The EVE Online Mentality and Me


I love EVE Online.

I have a deep and long-standing affection for EVE Online and what it represents. I understand its history and its pedigree. EVE was the ambitious product of pioneering Icelandic underdogs who dared to push boundaries and chase impossibilities. I am in touch with EVE's decades-old roots in Braben and Bell's Elite just as I see EVE's potential in the future of digital entertainment. I see the genius in EVE's grand “emergent gameplay” sandbox and the tendrils that grow beyond into its unrivalled “metagame” environment. I have felt the full-body tremble of adrenaline and the entrancing serenity that EVE's gameplay can provide. EVE Online is unique and I understand how and why it is “Real”.

I hate EVE Online.

I have a grinding frustration and burning resentment for what EVE promises. I have seen EVE grow from a single brave idea into the half-formed expression of a thousand great ideas. As EVE has unfurled its wings and matured into the beguiling creature that it almost is, it has often faltered in its achievements, undecided in its purpose. In trying to catch the eye of every possible suitor, EVE has sometimes failed to please her current escort. EVE flirts with concepts that could stun the soul, yet can turn away with whispered promises barely delivered. EVE flatters to deceive - she is a honeytrap, a tease and a bitch. EVE is the Other Woman and she is endlessly cruel.

Surviving and Thriving in New Eden

That's the opening flourish done with. I hope that buried within the metaphor and hyperbole I managed to convey my intimate comprehension of EVE Online culture and the powerful contrasts that drive it. I believe it is important for any commentator to understand that EVE Online's complex metagame can be as much a part of its gameplay as the core mechanics. There are a myriad of communities that interconnect and interact to form the wider society. And within them are parties whose opinions are radically opposed. The relationships that EVE players have with each other, and indeed the game itself, run far deeper than is traditional for a game community. In an impersonal world where neighbours barely acknowledge each other, EVE Online fosters kinships and enmities that are lasting.

Of course, to some this may all seem ridiculously heavy-handed and romanticised. I often step back and remind myself "it's just a game" before continuing my endless pursuit of the casual EVE experience. Having played intermittently since its release in 2003, I have experimented with a multitude of play-styles and explored many aspects of EVE's depths. I have come to understand how demanding this pastime can be. For some, EVE is simply a pleasant spaceship-themed distraction, for many it is an engaging hobby, for a surprising number it is an all-encompassing lifestyle. For a few it is a religion.

Undoubtedly, the lifeblood of EVE Online is interaction. There are a plethora of ways for players to interact in-game, from simple text communication channels to a multitude of competitive environments from industry through trade to non-consensual combat. As well as the in-game organisations of corporations and alliances, the many social circles that comprise EVE society also take place across a host of out-of-game social networking environments, from various forum communities to the Twitter-based #tweetfleet and elsewhere.

Another unique aspect of EVE Online is the relationship between CCP staff and their customers. The player-elected Council of Stellar Management facilitates this relationship by serving as a liaison. This opportunity for insight and influence into EVE's development rarely fails to be the source of some acrimony. Whilst it is encouraging to have this degree of developer/player interaction, it is something of a sword of Damocles and is as often the cause of controversy as it is the remedy.

Personally, as a player I just want to be Buck Rogers, Han Solo, Mal Reynolds and Dave Lister. EVE is a sandbox, so happily it lets me do that within the constraints of my own mind. Like a good book, EVE provides the framework and plants the seed, letting my imagination do the rest. I have traded, missioned and roleplayed. My actions have led to the destruction of many ships and other in-game assets (mostly my own). I've managed an active corporation, organised their migration into the hostile regions and participated in grand alliance operations involving hundreds of players. The beauty of being an EVE player is that you've never quite seen it all.

Me, My Quill and My Mic

I have previously explored and discussed the endlessly stimulating world of New Eden and its associated themes through various other written ventures, largely centred around my blog, Freebooted. I have a passion for writing and blogging gives me the opportunity to experiment with various writing styles and concepts. Having this complete freedom has allowed me to report on my Fanfest experiences, conduct interviews, offer editorial opinion and technical suggestions.

Freebooted has also allowed me to write more fanciful works, such as a TIME magazine article from the future, a game mechanic review disguised as the script for a Top Gear parody, an interview with my own in-game character, sci-fi fashion tips and a ridiculous knockout competition mocking the ship names of EVE.

Due to the popularity of some of these pieces, I became involved in the vibrant EVE Online podcasting community where I fell into producing various short audio skits before embarking on an ambitious new fiction podcast project. I also recently authored the unexpectedly popular satire 'Incarna: The Text Adventure' in which I gently poked fun at both the much-maligned Incarna expansion and its detractors.

Throughout my writing endeavours, I am always mindful to remain positive, constructive and good-humoured. I am a passionate EVE player and a versatile writer with a good understanding of the subject matter and the audience. By writing for Guild Launch I hope to obtain the opportunity to put these attributes to good use.

-oOo-

A Footnote

This article was originally written as a submission for the EVE Online Correspondent Contest at Guild Launch.com. A winner has yet to be announced, but I recently contacted Guild Launch and they confirmed that the competition is still going ahead despite "a few delays". The original prize included a tour of the CCP offices in Atlanta and an audience with some of the staff there. Clearly the subsequent layoffs would have made that a very awkward encounter and the rethink was unsurprising.

I note that several of my blogging associates have entered. I recall Myrhial Arkenath tweeting to that effect and Ender Black's entry has just been published on the Guild Launch Development Blog. Yikes, tough competition! And they're just the two I know about. I wish Myrhial, Ender and anyone else from the EVE blogosphere the best of luck in the competition.

Blog on.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

A Community Diminished: The Fall of the EVE Bloggers Portal

The EVE Online Bloggers Portal has long been a resource I have enjoyed and I am ashamed to say, taken for granted. It is singularly one of the best sites to find some up-to-date EVE-related reading material. For years it has quietly been the spine of the EVE blogging community, aggregating the hundreds of individual blogposts and news-feeds. Much gratitude is deserved by Black Claw/Alexia Morgan and Biore for maintaining the site.

It saddens me to read that Black Claw will be shutting down this service, as stated in his latest blogpost here. I can understand completely that he no longer finds value in playing EVE and I respect that he wants to use his time in other ways, but this doesn't explain why he wishes to shut down EVEbloggers.com.

However, he goes on to explain that he is dissatisfied with CCP due to the mishandling of his accounts. Whilst I suspect his treatment may be symptomatic of an understrength community team (I think they were hit as hard as any CCP department in the layoffs late last year), I appreciate that there is no excuse for poor customer service. Nonetheless, I am disappointed that the community is being punished for this by being deprived a valued community asset.

Clique Favouritism?

Personally I have seen other signs that the community team may be operating under a siege mentality, with evidence of a lack of resources or understanding of some areas of EVE's complex society. Some examples that I have recently experienced suggest a bias toward the "cool kids".

For example, Mintchip produced a brief and awkward interview with Lead Designer CCP Soundwave at roughly the same time CCP Dropbear and CCP Headfirst gave an insightful and entertaining interview about EVE's storylines, live events and some exclusive DUST 514 info for Voices from the Void. Which interview got some CCP love in the December newsletter? Yep, you guessed it. The Mintchip/Soundwave non-event.

Another example of lop-sided favour concerns the recent podcast produced by one of CCP's favourite sons, Kil2 (of Alliance Tournament commentary fame). Along with Kovorix they have started a podcast focusing on solo combat. More power to them, however I felt for Arydanika who despondently pointed out the My EVE section of the official forums, where her thread which she regularly updated with the latest podcast episodes and information was vastly overshadowed by Kil2 and Kovarix's new effort. Which one had been tagged by both CCP developers and GMs? Yep, the new one by the cool kids.

A Team Besieged

On both occasions I counselled an attitude of indifference. It didn't matter, we just had to keep our heads down and plug away because we do it for the fun, not the favour. There's different audiences for different products and the real satisfaction comes from hitting the mark with your own listenership or readership. However, as anyone who runs a blog, podcast or other EVE web resource will tell you, knowing that you're being appreciated is what makes the hard work worthwhile. CCP holds huge sway over this traffic. If they play favourites and forget those that are tirelessly promoting their game and running services, I can understand why community contributors like Black Claw or Arydanika might become disillusioned or feel undervalued.

This isn't a criticism of the Community Team, I think under the circumstances they are doing what they can. CCP Guard has been an absolute phenomenon and I'm sure there are others in the engine room who deserve plaudits too, but I can't help feeling that these balls occasionally being dropped are due to the loss of key staff who had an understanding and a relationship with sections of the EVE playerbase that are now going unnoticed. This is perhaps an expected late symptom of the 20% layoffs, the hangover that we're expected to ride out. But even so it is a bitter pill to swallow.

Has anyone else noticed this change? Is the need to focus on the numbers forcing an understrength community team to leave some of us out in the cold? Or is being sensitive to these issues indicative of an over-inflated sense of entitlement?

Please share your thoughts.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Tech4 News Needs You

Do you have the chops to write some fictitious journalism set in the EVE universe? Can you imagine what the working conditions on a gas extractor are like? Can you picture the chaos of how the average capsuleer's hangar would really work? Then maybe you'd like to come help on the Tech4 project. Read on.

Seed Planted

The Tech4 project was set up in Summer 2011 after a chance meeting between CCP Dropbear, myself and Casiella Truza/Kyle/Iurnan Mileghere (of the currently inactive Ecliptic Rift blog) whilst attending EVE Vegas.

The main purpose of Tech4 was to provide an entertaining and accessible introduction to the main themes of EVE lore (particularly Dropbear's Arek'Jaalan Project) and to provide a doorway into the roleplaying side of EVE Online for both the casual EVE player and general sci-fi enthusiasts.

So the idea of a group of lowly non-capsuleers attempting to report on the machinations of their far more powerful capsuleer "overlords" was born. After all, New Eden is populated by trillions of normal citizens and they need news too.

The non-capsuleer approach gave us licence to approach old EVE lore afresh, to be a bit sensationalist, to get things wrong and be "Chicken Little" about these warmongering demigods. It was light tabloid journalism for baseliners and a fun accessible content for non-roleplayers and even non EVE-players.

The focus was to be an in-character podcast with immersive content and high production values. So with three of the best voices in the EVE podcasting on board, Angus McDecoy (Fly Reckless), Arydanika (Voices From the Void) and Erin Anwynn (NotalotofNews Newshour), after I wrote the first script the ball started rolling and things have been going from strength to strength.

Tech4 and You

This discussion on EVE roleplaying forum Backstage made it clear there is a demand for RP journalism supporting and entertaining the roleplaying community. There is an opportunity to expand on the content of the website beyond the occasional fluff story as we've been doing thus far.

Kirith Kodachi (Inner Sanctum of the Ninveah blogger, EVE Tribune Editor) has already volunteered to help us in an editorial role and we'll be looking for any and all creative sci-fi journalism that fits the Tech4 brand.

This could be anything from the amusingly irrelevant (eg. a review of the latest Planetary Vehicle, an expose of imitation Quafe manufacture at a deadspace complex) to more player or game-driven pieces (faction warfare politics, a capsuleer interview, a tech focus on hybrid weapon systems).

Ultimately, the purpose is to entertain and inform.

If you'd like to contribute, please contact me at seismic.stan@gmail.com or Kirith Kodachi at kkodachi@gmail.com