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.
You can follow along, if you want...

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Learn how to fly

OK, fair warning: this is a long post, and continues my discussion of the Open Letter to CCP from CSM5 About Incarna from yesterday.

And as promised, today we're going to look at Incarna from the EVE player's perspective.  But I'm going to cheat just a little bit in order to make one of my key points more understandable.  We're going to start by looking at Incarna from the perspective of a new EVE player in 2013.  Stay with me for a few minutes, because I'll definitely be getting to the current EVE player base soon.  As I said yesterday, I think CSM6 has a lot of options open to it, and I think there are a lot of hopeful signs here for current players.

I talked in a prior blog post about TeaDaze quitting EVE over brand dilution.  His objection to Incarna is that he believes it is going to be forced on EVE players whether they want to use it or not.  The Open Letter discusses this in points two and three using the phrase "forced integration", so that's going to be the phrase I use when talking about this as well.

The objection to forced integration centers on the belief that CCP is going to shift all current docked activities of EVE Online into what I only half-jokingly called the Microsoft Bob view of the EVE interface.  In other words, if you want to change market orders, update your ship fitting, move items around your hangar, or create contracts, you're going to have to move from the "Balcony" to the Captain's Quarters in order to perform these functions.  CSM5 objected strenuously (and correctly) against this in the June summit.  However, we have TWO forms of strong evidence that this is no longer CCP's plan.  First, we have the devblog talking about the updated NeoCom and a supporting devblog talking about the "corification of the UI", something that is surely being included in Carbon for WoD.  I don't see a Captain's Quarters being included in WoD, do you?  ;-)  Second, we have the lack of roadmap that CSM5 has complained bitterly about for Incarna.  I think if forced integration was going to happen, it would have been the very first item on the roadmap.  I see a little "Business" icon in the new NeoCom, right where I can get at it.  No doubt the art team is developing a new icon for it.  If they're publicly stating they're going in this direction, that to me is an equally public admission that they're not going in the direction of forced integration.

In short, I think the CSM is complaining about something that isn't there, and in the process, ignoring contrary evidence of something that IS there.

Now let's get back to that new EVE player in 2013, because I think there's also an amusing irony about forced integration that's being missed.  TeaDaze doesn't want to have to go to the Captain's Quarters refit his ship, place market orders, or move items around in his hangar.  I don't want those either.  But if the new NeoCom is where the interface is going as a next step, then both Incarna and spaceship players will be using it to perform those functions.  But let's assume that every single proposal in my Incarna game-play ideas post is implemented, and more besides.  Let's imagine a "fully fleshed-out Incarna" that CSM5 says in the Open Letter that they want.  Picture whatever Incarna means to you.

TeaDaze doesn't want to play this game.  At all.  He wants it to be 100% optional, just as PI, wormholes, R&D agents, faction warfare, and a dozen other EVE features are.  Fair enough.  There are probably a large group of players that feel the same way.  More power to them.

Let's assume our new EVE player in 2013 starts by feeling the opposite.  He wants Incarna.  He joined EVE for Incarna.

Just what -- exactly -- is this 2013 EVE player going to be able to do to make ISK without leaving the station?

Exactly.  Not a lot!

He can do PI, but not without undocking to pick it up.  He can research BPOs, but not without going somewhere to buy them.  He can do manufacturing or station-trading, but I don't know a single Industry toon that doesn't have to move goods from a manufacturing hub to a trade hub.  If he wants to manufacture DUST weapons or Incarna clothes, he's going to need raw materials and manufacturing slots.  He can hire DUST 514 mercs, but he'll need to undock to deliver them to a planet.  If I get my wish, he can hack BPCs from NPC stations, but he'll have to travel to those stations.  Presumably, there will be a way to make ISK without undocking.  There will be ways to spend ISK without undocking.  But one thing is certain: you're not going to be able to do both from the same station.  Not all the time.

There's forced integration happening with Incarna all right: Incarna players are going to be forced to fly Internet spaceships!

Sooner or later, no matter whether he or she wants to or not, our 2013 EVE player is going to be forced to undock.  The Incarna team not only recognizes it, they're counting on it!  The Incarna devblog has exactly three graphics on it.  The top graphic has five post-it notes on it.  I invite you to consider carefully the bottom right post-it note.  "LEARN HOW TO FLY" in big capital letters.  It is, in fact, the only solid feature we've been told about for the Captain's Quarters so far: the fact that there are going to be much stronger tutorials for Internet spaceships built right into it!  I for one am looking forward to leaning my feet on that promised ammo can and seeing what it can do.

Because if there's a game that needs a reboot of its new player experience, EVE is it.

See?  I told you there were hopeful signs.  ;-)  And I'm just getting started sharing them.  Damn, this is turning into a long post.  Stay with me.

Let's turn our attention to the current player base, starting with the players in the CSM.

One of my struggles during campaigning for CSM6 in the last couple of weeks is my need to frequently remind people that I'm running for CSM -- not for the position of EVE Game Designer.  ;-)

But at one of the CSM summits -- I suspect it was last December but I'm having a hard time finding the reference in the 94-page SHC thread on that summit -- when CCP's ideas about gameplay for Incarna were at their nadir, CCP asked the CSM directly what gameplay they'd like to see in Incarna.  Again, I don't know if it was last December or this June (can one of the current CSM help me out here?), but... daammmmmn.  What a missed opportunity!  I think that line, more than any other single line, was what drove me to throw my hat in the ring for CSM6.

EDIT (9/Mar/2011): Mynxee found it for me.  See the comments below, and check the next post.

And I think that opportunity is still an open door.  I think that CSM6 can have a direct impact on Incarna development over the next 18 months... if they will but re-engage with the Incarna team, no matter what it takes to do that.  "Bullshit, Jester!" I can hear some of you saying out loud, and fine, fair enough.  You're entitled to your opinion.  But I think I'm right, and I'll tell you why.

CSM5 got CCP to create the "balcony" that we're going to get this summer with nothing but solidarity and the force of their will.

Remember, CCP's original plan was to drop us directly into the Captain's Quarters.  Any time someone has been telling me "The CSM can't do anything." the last couple of months, I've been telling them the balcony story.  So far as I'm aware, CSM5 didn't have anything in their pocket to encourage this completely new feature.  They had no player round-tables, no actual data, no anything at all.  But the balcony was a great compromise between TeaDaze's "Internet spaceships only!  Incarna optional!" position and CCP's "Must change the paradigm!" position, and CCP recognized that.  Even if TeaDaze doesn't like the compromise, I think it's a good one.

No... I think CSM6 will have remarkable access to alter the course of Incarna if they will simply try.  I think CCP would love to have more Incarna ideas put in front of them.

Remember that the CSM has "stake-holder" status.  That word is a loaded word in the business world.  Stake-holders have a certain measure of power, yes... but with great power comes great responsibility.  I think several members of CSM5 have been so busy fighting CCP on Incarna that they've forgotten that they have a responsibility here.  John Kotter is a well-known Harvard Business School professor and author; I own several of his books.  His eight steps for organizations looking to implement change should be required reading for every CSM6 candidate, as far as I'm concerned.  About stake-holders, he's said the following:
"I've seen too many technology projects get dumped on project teams and task forces that simply don't have enough clout, enough credibility, connections, you name it, to be able to do a difficult job, and so, surprise, surprise, they start getting frustrated and the powerful people in the company just ignore them or do what they want to do anyway. Also, on a lot of the IT projects, if you go up to the typical line manager and say to him, 'You've got this big thing going on here. What's the vision? Paint a picture for me. How's the company going to be different in 18 months when this is all done?' They can't even see it. So of course they haven't bought into it. And if they haven't bought into it, are they going to cooperate?"
Sound familiar?  It should.  It even has an :18months: reference.  The simple fact is that the CSM5 did not buy into Incarna.  And as a stake-holder, buying in was part of their responsibility as a stake-holder, once the CEO of CCP made it clear that this was the direction the company was going.  Once that decision was made, any arguing CSM5 made against Incarna became irrelevant.  If you're an EVE dev, who are you going to listen to: the guy what pays your pay-check?  Or nine people who sit in a conference room in the building where you work for four or five days a year?  Whether conscious or sub-conscious, the Incarna team recognizes this, and the CSM got (rightfully) shunted into an "ignore them" pile on this issue.


"I got a little secret for you: I don't make deals with peasants!"

Did CCP fail here too?  Absolutely.  It was their job to sell the vision of how things were going to be different with Incarna, and this they haven't done.  Instead, they've been taking a hard line, a hard line that the CSM can't understand because they haven't bought in themselves.

Every time the CSM has pushed back on this issue, CCP has pushed back harder.  A hard-ass stance on Incarna is only going to guarantee that this trend continues.  I'm not surprised at all that CCP chose to ignore this letter when it was first sent to them on the CSM internal forums.  What exactly could they say?  There are no good answers for them.  Barth on SHC wrote a long post on Scrapheap about this focusing on the CSM perspective of the "power" of being a stake-holder and while Barth is a very smart guy, on this issue, he just doesn't get it.

Damn, this is a long post.  I'm almost done, I promise.

As I said yesterday, Incarna is coming whether we want it to come or not.  As far as I'm concerned, it was CSM5's responsibility to get real data on player concerns and bring them back to CCP.  Not what the CSM thought; what the players thought.  Had a CSM member sitting at the table when CCP asked for Incarna game-play ideas said, "Tell you what.  I'll take the lead on that, talk to some players, talk to the rest of the CSM, and we'll get back to you with some ideas at the next summit," CSM5 would have been roundly successful on every single aspect of their term, instead of every aspect of their term except this one.

Happily, it's not too late to turn things around.  There's a well-known joke in the business world called "Three envelopes."  Even though it's incredibly unfair, I think the first thing CSM6 has to do on Incarna is open envelope number one and blame their predecessors.  To her very great credit, I think Mynxee realizes this.

CSM5 has shown that the Incarna team is willing to listen, and is willing to change course, IF the CSM will ask for changes other than "dump Incarna."  That one thing, they cannot do.  CCP has to change the paradigm... they have to boost EVE subscriber numbers... and this is how -- as a company -- they've chosen to do it.  The die is cast.  I'm hopeful about Incarna because I think that a) it's going to bring in a lot of new players, and bring back a lot of lapsed players, and b) there are a lot of possibilities for it that are pretty freakin' cool in their own respect.

And I think there are a lot more EVE players that want this feature than the CSM is willing to give credit for.  IF it's done right.  The CSM can help.  If they choose to.

With a little luck, the new Incarna players will have to learn how to fly.  And so will CSM6.

10 comments:

  1. Simply an awesome post. Your head is totally on straight. #VoteRipardTeg

    -Liang

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  2. Most insightful, hope to see you on CSM with Seleene and Trebor.

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  3. Even when I disagree with you on some points, I admire your ability to state your position clearly and back it up. That is why I endorsed you as a candidate after many conversations prior. However, I'm not going to address or attempt to refute your speculation, even though I believe much of it is naive and pie-in-the-sky. That's just my cynicsm talking of course--but that cynicism came from somewhere. I simply suggest you revisit this topic in six months' time. It will be interesting to see where your head is at on the matter at that time.

    That said, I suspect...and actually hope...that the disconnect CSM5 has had with Team Incarna is a personal one, based in personal dislike or rage targeted at some CSM members by certain CCP people who are heavily involved in Incarna. For whatever reason. Who can say, if it is true. But IF it is, that suggests CSM6 will have a chance to build a bridge across that divide. I hope you can do it, I really do. Nothing that CSM5 did was done for any other reason but concern and care for the game and wanting to fulfill our stakeholder role and communicate the truth. I daresay if you're on the CSM6 team, your negotiating skills will come in handy--if you can get Team Incarna to come to the table and agree to ongoing engagement of CSM instead of "no news, nothing to show" sessions in Iceland.

    BTW, that meeting you remember where CCP asked CSM about ideas for Incarna was the October meeting, I think. We discussed a whole bunch of ideas but we only had one sesson with Team Incarna and much of the session was taken up by discussion of microtransactions and how they would be implemented in Incarna. Also, the focus of that whole trip to Iceland was supposed to be more one of education and information push to CSM so that we could feel more informed as a stakeholder and be on more equal ground with other stakeholders regarding background, CCP's annual kickoff message, and development processes. So we did not go prepared to discuss Incarna or any other feature in any detail because we didn't expect to have the opportunity to do so.

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  4. Well, I think you just secured another vote.

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  5. My objections are fair more wide ranging than your examples (which seem to be designed to make it seem I'm making a big deal out of nothing).

    Trust me that the information we discussed at the summit had far more "forced integration" in it but due to NDA I can't discuss it yet (and it might change, one can hope - but the lack of contact since the summit doesn't bode well).

    I have no doubt that it will be possible for an Incarna player to make isk without ever leaving the station, and I don't mean just using the existing eve market. I also have no doubt that CCP will do everything they can to get people out of the CQ and into Incarna proper no matter how that effects the flying in space game (one of the things discussed for Incarna would have a direct effect on FiS combat!).

    But I have also repeatedly called for people to make up their own minds when the time comes rather than continuing to attack my position based on nothing more solid than the marketing releases from CCP.

    You know full well the amount of time and effort I put into Eve and the enjoyment I got from it as part of Agony. You more so than any of the other people spending their time bashing me for daring to disagree with CCP should get some idea of how difficult a decision it was to walk away completely...

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  6. First, as I've said on your own blog already, thank you TeaDaze for all of the time and effort you've put into EVE over the years. You've been a fantastic supporter of the game, and have done more as a key member of AGONY to teach this game to new players (including myself!) then virtually anyone else in the game. Your departure from EVE will be a major loss. I will be very sorry to see you go.

    And granted, I don't know what's been shared with the CSM regarding Incarna that's under NDA. Mynxee has implied several times, though, that it isn't a lot. The Open Letter itself implies that there's no road map. If I *am* elected to the CSM, and this information is presented to me, then perhaps my opinion of Incarna will change.

    And one more time, your work on the CSM has been outstanding.

    Except... IMO... for this one issue.

    I apologize. I really do. But you've got a blind spot here. CCP has said that WiS has been a major goal and would be a major change to every single aspect of the game for how many years now? You heard the same presentations I did at FF last year. And yet you make it sound like you're being ambushed by CCP. But it is really difficult for me to understand how you can claim surprise. How can you claim to be surprised?

    Even more than this, though, I really do feel like it was the CSM's responsibility to pull players into this issue far more than CSM5 did. The CSM represents the player base, and it's become clear that CSM5 is far more united on the Incarna issue (most or all against it, some violently so) than the player base at large is (quite divided, with what I believe is a small but measurable majority in favor of it).

    I'm sure you've read the infamous Noah Ward interview by now. He's openly dismissive of the CSM in a lot of ways as out of touch. I'd bet a sizable sum of ISK that this is the reason why.

    I'll say it again and again and again: CSM5 did a remarkable, historic job. As a group, you did fantastic work. You personally did fantastic work. Every EVE player has reason to thank you.

    Except on this one issue.

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  7. I agree with you that CSM6 really needs to be able to engage with CCP about Incarna - and I think you have shown you 'get it' with respect to the potential Incarna actually has. This is why I have given you 3 votes.

    I hope CCP can demonstrate a vision comparable the the one you have written, because at least then they won't be derailed into doing things 'because they are awesome' or need be included to 'be part of the Sci-fi simulator we envision' but because they match a vision and roadmap that spells out success.

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  8. Very interesting and well laid-out post. Just one thing struck me. You mention that "they [CCP] have to boost EVE subscriber numbers".

    Do they really?

    Just pondering that point. Of course, from a company point of view, you want to amass as much money as possible, so more subscribers are nice. But do we, as players, care? From our position, it might be enough if CCP creates a steady, if not stellar (excuse the pun), profit, that's enough to make new expansions and bug fixing feasible. Hardcore Casual Blog had an interesting post about this topic a short while ago.
    I know you talked about this before yourself, but sweeping change always risks alienating your current base, without attracting a new one. Sometimes steadiness, couples with incremental change, might be the best course.
    Who knows, maybe Incarna, for all the discussions and drama and endless slippage, might just turn out to be rather incremental and ephemeral.

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  9. CCP has been hiring steadily for the EVE team. They've also been expanding their teams for DUST 514 and WoD, neither of which are bringing in any income. Those hiring practices were almost certainly built on an assumption of the continued growth of the EVE subscriber database bankrolling all that additional work.

    They really need those new subscribers, yes. ;-)

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  10. Ah, a high-risk business model based on assumptions that now might bite them. Good point. ;)

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