Welcome to Jester's Trek.
I'm your host, Jester. I've been an EVE Online player for about six years. One of my four mains is Ripard Teg, pictured at left. Sadly, I've succumbed to "bittervet" disease, but I'm wandering the New Eden landscape (and from time to time, the MMO landscape) in search of a cure.
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Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The die is cast

OK, fair warning: this is going to be an insanely long commentary on the Open Letter to CCP from CSM5 About Incarna.

And just to make the commentary even more horrifically long, it will be presented in two parts.  Today's part is Incarna viewed from my most cynical, business-savvy side.  It looks at Incarna from CCP's perspective, ignoring player concerns entirely.  Today is about why I think CCP is doing Incarna.

Part two, tomorrow, will look at the player perspective and what (if anything) the next CSM can do about Incarna.  Thus, the little graphic.  Today, this is the devil post.  Angel post tomorrow.(1)

From here on out, this post is written from CCP's perspective.  Let me say that again for the cheap seats: This post is written from CCP's perspective.

Ready?  OK, hardeners on.

I think the letter was a mistake.  There's almost nothing in it that can accomplish anything... nothing in it that can help anyone.  The CSM should be trying to engage the Incarna team.  They should be trying to get them to open up, share their plans, or for Heaven's sake at least talk to the CSM about where they want this thing to go long-term.  The one correct thing the letter does is ask repeatedly for that.

But publicly embarrassing the very team that you're trying to get to talk to you is not not not the way to get them to talk to you!

Even when they're not stubborn programmer Vikings living on a volcanic rock in the middle of the North Atlantic.  ;-)

This is basic negotiations... basic management.  Praise in public.  Chastise in private.  "I am told that this letter upset certain people at CCP very much," Trebor has said about the letter.  You think?  If CCP was my company, I'd be pissed off, too.  The entire letter basically screams "We the CSM know your business better than you do, CCP, so how dare you not check in with us."  You bet I'd be pissed.  Incarna is being done in an ad-hoc, on-the-fly manner?  I think you just described the last seven years of EVE development... and it seems to have gone all right so far.

More than this, though, as I've said before, CSM5 made an enormous mistake in alienating the Incarna team.  That post annoyed a few CSM5 members, but I stand by it.  CSM5, your personal feelings have no place in this.  You are our representatives.  The fault here is not all on the CCP side.  Or maybe I just missed the round-table that you led with players asking us what we thought about Incarna.  Even if you hated hated hated Incarna, you should not allow personal feelings to get in the way of keeping the door open.  I've been told there were personality conflicts between members of CSM5 and members of the Incarna team.  And if you're looking for a reason why the Incarna team kept CSM5 in the dark, I suspect that's a big one.

But by publishing this letter, you've just made CSM6's job more difficult.

As it is now, the Incarna team probably feels like they don't have to listen to the CSM because I'll bet they feel like Incarna is going to make the CSM irrelevant. If you're not completely pissed off at me already, stay with me for a few more minutes.

Every company dreams of "changing the paradigm" and making an order of magnitude jump in their customer base. In 1981-82, 300,000 CP/M computers suddenly became three million IBM PCs. In the early 90s, 10 million DOS computers became 100 million Windows 3.1 computers. There's absolutely no doubt in my mind that somewhere in CCP, someone is dreaming of 300k EVE players suddenly morphing into three million DUST 514 players.

That thinking has almost certainly infected the Incarna team as well.

Remember: CCP is a business.  Take a look at the hard numbers.  The dark purple triangles are the EVE subscription database.  Ignore the other lines for a minute.  In January 2007, EVE passed 150,000 subscribers.  By April 2009, it passed 300,000.  In order to maintain the growth curve that EVE has enjoyed since 2003 and the growth curve to support their hiring practices over the last two years, the game should have passed 450,000 subscribers in October 2010.  Not only did that not happen, growth has completely stagnated for the last eighteen months.  Some have commented that the EVE graph is beginning to look alarmingly like the Ultima Online and Everquest graphs.  Just today, Casiella Truza, a respected EVE blogger, compared the EVE graph to the Star Wars Galaxies graph and said Incarna could break EVE entirely.

Can anyone share with me what CCP could have done with the in-space game to bring in those 150,000 subscribers they needed?  Because right now, CCP is highly motivated to change the paradigm: they've got 18 months of stagnant subscription numbers urging them on.

I'm sure that the Incarna team not only believes they can change the paradigm, they believe they have a license to ignore current player concerns as irrelevant, since I suspect they believe Incarna users will soon massively outnumber the current player base.

The Incarna team is out there, right now, assuring Hilmar that once Incarna is released, hundreds of thousands of people (mostly women) who have heretofore had no interest in EVE will subscribe. In this view, Incarna doesn't need game-play because the game-play will be iterative and integral to the fact that Incarna involves a character model, not a spaceship model. In this view, a combination of The Sims, Second Life, and old-fashioned role-playing will suddenly take over, with Incarna players providing their own game-play through EVE Voice chit-chatting as they walk down the Jita bazaar to check out the latest in EVE clothes, quarters, or the latest tattoo (each available for 99 cents).

I mean, seriously, what need does this vision have for mini-games? C'mon, how 20th century can you get? The players insist? All 300,000 of them? Do they? Please. Fine. We'll give them one mini-game. But I guarantee you, it won't be needed. And my, how the money will roll in--

::coughs:: OK, yeah.  I let the devil side get out of control.  Sorry about that.

People, Incarna is coming and there's nothing at all we can do about it.  CCP has been very public about the fact that "the ultimate sci-fi simulator" has been their goal for coming up on half-a-decade now.  CCP had the money to roll the dice once.  And it's been done.  The money's been spent.  Alea iacta est.  Nobody, not even CCP, can predict where the dice will fall.

Tomorrow: what can CSM6 do about all this?  Hint: the word "stakeholder" is likely to come up a lot.  Another hint: there's actually some very hopeful signs.

(1) Graphic courtesy of Disney's The Empreror's New Groove, far and away the most under-rated movie in the Disney repertoire.  Their copyright, their property, blah blah blah.

5 comments:

  1. Hehe, nice capture of what is essentially one very understandable side of one of CCP's company values: "we stand united".

    Yes, there is more than one side to that, and there are other values:

    “CCP‘s culture is strong, and is built on four core values: We are fearless, we stand united, we pursue excellence, we practice transparency. Such values cannot simply be dictated by committe or by installed by fiat. They have to be lived and breathed by everyone in the company, including the board and its chairman, or they are not credible. Also, the values are truly validated only when there is a crisis or a severe test facing the company. Will it then live up to its values, or are they empty talk?”
    http://www.styreinfo.no/chair-of-the-year-2009-vilhjalmur-thorsteinsson-ccp-games.4596501-156623.html

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  2. Great post -- though keep in mind, of course, that the CCP CEO has described the CSM's function as "calling bullshit".

    I think they took him up on that.

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  3. In my experience, when someone says to me "I want you to call bullshit on me if it's appropriate", they don't mean it. ;-)

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  4. Some well-reasoned thoughts there. I've been a long-time believer in Incarna *as product* but, to an extent like yourself, I'm far less convinced that it will meet the desires of current pod pilots and somewhat unsure that it will bring in droves of newcomers with their monthly fees.

    But, as they say, we shall see ...

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  5. Praise in public. Chastise in private.

    Works everywhere, to varying degrees, except in Iceland. They do not distinguish between public or private. Just like there is no distinction between people and positions / functions.

    It's where a long list of foreign companies, governments and institutes have chewed their teeth broken on.

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