The new, more frequent releases have been belt-fed out of CCP's doors at a rate which I've found almost unsettling as a veteran player used to the old, bi-annual schedule. I remain uncertain as to whether I prefer the new process, which barely leaves time for the traditional cycle of anticipation and investigation of the new features before adapting accordingly.
However, the approximately 6-weekly releases, of which we've seen 3 thus far: Kronos, Crius and Hyperion, have each targeted a particular area of gameplay alongside the grab-bag of rebalances and quality of life tweaks. In a way, this means that it's unlikely that every release will directly impact any given player in a major way. That said, everything in EVE is linked organically, and each ripple in the pond is likely to have some overall impact.
Over these release periods, I've watched with a mix of trepidation and schadenfreude as the much vaunted close relationship between EVE's developers and players has been put to the test. It's quite clear that not everyone is happy.
Observing largely from the sidelines means I don't have a dog in this fight, other than hoping for EVE's continued success. I certainly wouldn't want to see invested players become disenfranchised, however, after reading through the release specific feedback threads and various other places, some of the changes have certainly left some players disgruntled.
Kronos (3rd June 2014)
[30 pages of issues and feedback in 13 weeks.]
- New Ships: Mordu's Legion Command Garmur, Orthrus, Barghest & ORE Prospect expedition frigate
- Customisable sound levels
- New exploration content
- Removal of loot spew mechanic
- Previously useless drones revitalised.
- New station skins individual to each NPC corporation.
- Freighter/jump freighter rebalancing/nerfs.
Judging by the EVE-O forums and elsewhere, Kronos seemed to be relatively well-received despite the originally planned industry revamp being bumped to the subsequent Crius release. The remaining content included the fleshing out of the Mordu's Legion faction lore and the introduction of new ships alongside new and revised content contained something of interest to many current players as well as having enough verve to perhaps catch the eye of some passing trade too.
Crius (22 July 2014)
[96 pages of issues and feedback in 6 weeks.]
- Revamped industry UI and mechanics 
- Buggy release (much of which has been subsequently addressed). 
- Lack of ability to scale industry UI window, which occupies 80% of the screen at 1080p (although the bottom 1/3 can be reduced and double-clicking the top bar minimises the window in-situ).  
- Loss of invested time in researched blueprint originals.  
- Loss of invested time in grinding faction standings to allow high-sec starbase deployment (although high standings still contribute to reduced costs).
- Taxing industry jobs at player-owned starbases.   
- Inflated costs for industry gameplay due to blueprint revisions.  
Long-time industrialists who had invested time and effort to hone their blueprints to a incredibly high ('perfect') levels of time and material efficiency, taking months or even years, found their efforts cast aside by the new capped system introduced in Crius. Where previously blueprint originals could be researched ad infinitum (despite ever diminishing benefit), the new system maxes out at 10 levels of research, meaning those months (or sometimes years) of blueprint research beyond 10 levels which some players had undertaken had been summarily disregarded by CCP's revisions (early discussion saw CCP considering some kind of compensation, but they eventually decided otherwise).
That's not to say the reception of Crius' industry revision has been entirely poorly received, the feedback thread is also dotted with positive comments about various quality of life changes, as well as responses to the disgruntled, inciting them to 'adapt or die'.
Hyperion (26 August 2014)
[24 pages of issues and feedback in 1 week]
- Challenging 'burner' missions against single, powerful NPC ships.
- Shareable overview settings.
- Wormhole gameplay changes, including environments exclusive to small ships.
- Disruption of the wormhole playstyle status quo/ignoring player feedback.    
- Loss of previously stored overview data. 
- Mass-based spawn distance for wormhole travellers.  
Mirroring Crius' industry shake-up, Hyperion dropped a boulder into the tranquil pond of wormhole life, delivering changes to the dynamic generation of transient wormhole connections, purportedly rendering some established playstyle habits extinct (although possibly creating others). In Hyperion's case, a significant amount of player feedback was received prior to release (including this 91-page threadnaught), and although CCP devs amended their original designs, wormhole player dissatisfaction has apparently remained high enough for many to reiterate their concerns in the post-release thread.
Brendan Drain offered an interesting counterpoint to the complainants in his recent Massively article, Wormholes Should Be More Dangerous, citing 'blatant self-interest' as the motivation for most of the objections to recent changes with a disregard for what might be good for the game at large.
Damned if they do...
While work on the content of each expansion presumably runs concurrently, with dev teams having individual schedules aimed at different releases, Kronos evidently benefited from starting out as a traditional expansion and had more meat on its bones. Comparatively, Both Crius and Hyperion seem to have had a much more troubled start in life, delivering seismic changes to industry and wormhole environments respectively, each leading to vocal dissent from a proportion of the veteran players representative of those playstyles. Sindel Pellion's A Tale of Internet Spaceships metaphor of CCP shaking the ant farm springs vividly to mind.
In neither case can I claim to be an expert, having simply taken the pulse of the forum communities where invested players have voiced their concerns both during the pre-release test phases and subsequently after the changes have gone live. There's no shortage of disenfranchised and frustrated comments from players claiming that they have lost the will to continue pursuing their internet spaceship hobby.
Without access to hard numbers, it's impossible to say whether CCP's new, aggressive and frequent ant-farm shaking policy is having an impact on player subscriptions with either a positive or negative trajectory. Certainly the best external source is Chribba's EVE Offline server monitoring website, but any indication of a player response to the new development regime is obfuscated by the traditional Summer slump and the fact that unrenewed subscriptions may take some months to expire.
The following graph shows the average weekly concurrent users since 2006, with this year's Summer high being 26,458 on July 24th.
According to that graph, high points from previous Summer periods are as follows:
31,849 on 8th August 2013
30,251 on 9th August 2012
30,957 on 21 July 2011
33,695 on 1 July 2010 (or 31,961 on the 22nd July if you want a more similar date).
29,861 on 3 September 2009
24,947 on 17 July 2008
21,539 on 3 July 2007
17,507 on 24 August 2006
So we have to go back to 2008 to find comparable Summer numbers to this year's (although admittedly, this Summer isn't over yet). This would suggest to me that, at the very least, there are some teething problems with the new release process. It is possible that the releases are either not addressing an expected decline or are perhaps even contributing to it. In any case, the average user count is down by about 20% on the previous 5 Summers.
However, also worth considering, as CSM member Mynnna pointed out on Twitter, is that the Summer period also has an impact on CCP's development resources as many devs flee the spaceships (and the volcano) for more relaxing vacational pursuits. This might go some way toward explaining why some release features may have been delivered with less polish than would have been optimal, perhaps also compounded by a degree of low morale due to the recent lay-offs. But if that's the case, does this expose the lack of wiggle room in the new rapid release strategy? Mynnna also offered some other insight into the presentation of the recent releases:
Admittedly, it's easy to become negatively influenced by the famously demanding and "toxic" EVE-O forum culture, and I should perhaps take the acrimony to be found there with a pinch of salt. But in doing so, would I be falling into the same trap as CCP developers who have been accused recently of ignoring feedback?
In any case, in true EVE player form, I figure that one player's broken game experience is another player's opportunity. If industry veterans are really throwing in the towel en-masse, it may be a good time to revisit manufacturing to exploit any void they might leave. Also, first-hand experience will be informative in ways that forums full of rage, trolls and apathy can never be. I've recently been flirting with the new industry experience in the hope I might be able to exploit the dissent (more on this in a subsequent post).
I'll reserve drawing any conclusions for now, as it would be premature based solely on some nebulous numbers and a few forum threads. In the meantime, what's been your experience of CCP's bold new release strategy? Has it shaken up your gameplay experience in a good or bad way? Are you finding the constant changes exciting, daunting, or tiresome? It'd be very interesting to hear from those who've got the good sense to avoid the EVE-O forums.