I haven't had a lot to say about Fanfest last week yet, and the reason is simple enough: I wasn't there. Other blogs can do a better job than I with talking about what went on. In general, if another blog can provide first-hand experience of a topic, I'm going to let them, and stick to areas where I have first-hand experience, not second-hand experience. I will be at Fanfest next year, though, so you can expect regular updates from me on the blog next year about it. ;-)
That said, speaking as someone who was roughly 4300 miles from this year's Fanfest, a couple of things struck me as a viewer from afar about different approaches from CCP this year as opposed to prior years. Both are quite positive, but both are also a little worrisome.
First, something that we didn't see at this year's Fanfest that has been a recurring theme at past Fanfests is a lot of over-hype. In previous years, CCP had become quite good at making long strings of promises that there was no way they could deliver on, and certainly not in a year. This year, CCP stuck to making promises about things that they could actually do, and actually do in fairly short order. That's a very positive step, and reflects that a healthy dose of reality has taken hold in Iceland. There's nothing wrong with getting people excited, and they did a great job of that with the EVE Forever video. But they made it clear that EVE Forever is a vision, not an upcoming release. It's not set in stone and a ton of things can change.
I did find it kind of amusing that EVE Forever features two things that we were promised wouldn't happen: it's been made clear that people wouldn't be attacking each other on stations, and it's been made clear to us that EVE players wouldn't get to bomb console players with impunity from orbit. EVE Forever threw an amusing spin on an alternative: EVE players can bomb console players from orbit if console players (or their agents) can ride a rocket into orbit and shoot EVE players in the face with a pistol. It's a funny idea, and a great one!
Other than that (and a brief tease of EVE running on Android devices), what was shown were actual deliverables in various stage of beta, most of which we'll probably be seeing on Tranquility this year. I was a little surprised how little work there was to show from the Captain's Quarters, but CCP has demonstrated an ability to meet deadlines under pressure. I was also stunned that there wasn't more shown on DUST 514. DUST 514 was practically a no-show at this year's Fanfest. No new teasers, no new demos... it was hardly even mentioned by name at all. Only a single round-table session about the on-going work to integrate DUST 514 and EVE PI Command Centers, and the EVE Forever video itself, were the only indicators that DUST 514 is still coming.
So, positive (in the sense that CCP is not over-hyping their products and is sticking to reality), but a little worrisome (in the sense that they've got a lot of work to do yet on the CQ, Incarna, and DUST 514, with not much at Fanfest to show for any of them).
The other positive but worrisome item from Fanfest were the final minutes of Hilmar's presentation during the final minutes of the "CCP Presents" presentation on the last day of Fanfest. Late in his presentation, he stood on stage with the new ISK 3.0 Player's Guide (which is excellent, by the way) and observed that EVE is "hard to learn, hard to explain, and hard to market." "We need your help to take the next level to explain EVE to the rest of the world," he said. He encouraged EVE players to help market the game, and joked that "EVE is real in the same way the Icelandic economy is real." He then went on to point out how involved EVE players are in this game, which is certainly true enough.
Back in the early 1990s, one of the competitors to Windows 3.1 was an IBM operating system called OS/2. OS/2 had a similarly rabid following, many of whom were IBM employees. IBM took similar steps to CCP in that it created customer groups (and even employee groups) to encourage guerrilla marketing and sales of the product. While well-intentioned, these efforts were not particularly successful. They also had a tinge of desperation, a tinge that CCP really doesn't need right now. Such things happen organically, not because you force them. CCP shouldn't try to force.
Still, all in all, Fanfest showed that CCP is listening to players more, and is hyping what they can't deliver much less. They're also realizing more and more that if they want more players, they need to address the "learning cliff." This is a refreshingly realistic approach to the annual get-together, and I hope that it keeps up.
There's one other note from Fanfest that I'd like to mention, but which doesn't fit into either of these two categories. It's also quite positive. A few weeks ago, as one of my position pieces for my CSM6 run, I mentioned that I felt CCP should remain neutral on the question of third-party application developers monetizing EVE support apps. Someone at CCP has decided that they feel the same way, and CCP now has a simple, coherent strategy for third-party application developers looking to monetize. As I understand the policy, if you wish to do this, you'll pay a one-time fee of $99 to CCP to compensate them for the assistance and API access you'll need. I'll keep watching this topic and digging into it, but for now, this strikes me as an excellent compromise. $99 is enough to keep non-serious players out of the game, but is low enough that serious apps won't even feel it. Well done, CCP!
As for myself, I look forward to being at Fanfest in 2012.