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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Monday, March 14, 2011

Quote of the Week: Pigeonholes

The Quote of the Week comes from last week's Gamasutra interview with Noah Ward, the Lead Game Designer of EVE Online.

Last week, I wrote a pair of blog entries about Incarna, one that I (for my own amusement) referred to as the "devil post" and a second one that I called the "angel post".  And while the response to the angel post has been overwhelmingly positive, the devil post raised a lot of hackles.  In the devil post, I wrote about Incarna strictly from CCP's perspective, completely ignoring the concerns of EVE's current player base.  I wasn't surprised that it annoyed some people.  In it, among other things, I insisted that there was definitely someone in CCP that was pushing for an order of magnitude jump in EVE's player base and in so doing, felt perfectly justified in ignoring current player concerns over "future player" concerns.

After reading this interview, it's clear I was underestimating.  It turns out that the person thinking this way is EVE's Lead Game Designer.  Here's what he had to say to Gamasutra, and it's the Quote of the Week:
And also, you know, we've got 350,000 subscribers, because we've been growing from much smaller. It would probably be an order of magnitude more if we would build something that was a little bit easier to get into, if there wasn't that "learning cliff" that everybody jokes about.
You'd think I'd be happy, reading someone's mind from 4300 miles away.  But having done it?  Not so much.  ;-)  Because the interview goes beyond this.  Far beyond.

The interview is rather stream-of-consciousness... surprisingly so.  Ward rarely finishes one thought before moving on to the next, and doesn't finish that one before the interview moves on to a new topic.  As a result, it makes for rather frustrating reading.  I was curious whether this was a result of this interviewer, so I went looking for other Gamasutra interviews with Ward and found two.  One is an overlooked sidebar piece that was done side-by-side with the main interview: Ward's view of metrics as a development tool.  The other is a two-year-old interview done of Ward by the same interviewer on CCP's switch from a Waterfall development methodology to the Scrum development methodology.

Interestingly, the other new interview regarding metrics follows this same stream-of-consciousness style.  There is no strong through-line in the metrics interview, and as a matter of fact, Ward seems to take one position in the beginning of that piece, and a second position by the middle of the piece.  However, the older piece on the switch of development styles, done by the same interviewer as the recent one, shows Ward with a clear through-line from thought to thought, question to question.

So, either the Gamasutra editor has changed in the last two years, or the change is with Ward himself.  I'm not qualified to say which it is.  However, what really strikes me in both of the more recent interviews is how dismissive is Ward is of EVE Online players in general and of the CSM in particular.  With regard to Ward's view of the CSM, two things jump out.  The first one was this:
...you've probably devoted a lot of time into EVE in order to win a seat on the CSM.  So it's up to us to really sort of listen to what they're saying and interpret what it is they need, rather than just doing exactly what they're asking for...
And if that isn't enough, he also says this:
I know I've just actually been reading a lot about these different user types lately, and the expert user type, we really cater to that, and we have for a long time. So, we've built up this community of expert user types...
And then the CSM is that type. As we listen and improve the game in directions that help the expert user type, we might be doing a disservice to the more mainstream people.
Ouch.  That's called pigeonholing, and I can't imagine a more dismissive line to take with the CSM than to imply that they are somehow separated from the "more mainstream people" that play EVE.  But that pigeonholing isn't limited to the members of the CSM, and neither is that overall dismissive line.  On the previous page of the interview, he flat-out states that CCP was "talking about a lot lately" about "improving older systems".
Of course, you're not going to see that [in Incursion], but this is going to be like our new theme. We've talked about it a bit. We've mentioned it to the CSM, and we've mentioned it to players.
Uh... huh.  That's not exactly the order I remember things happening in over this past summer.  I for one remember things happening in the exact opposite order, as a matter of fact: players screaming at CCP that this was something they wanted done, and CCP folding on it after CSM and media pressure.  But OK.  Let's fly right past that for a moment and go on to the next thing.  Apparently, CCP has built up a database of player "behaviors" in game, and there are "about seven personas" that the bulk of EVE players fall into.  He then goes on to describe characteristics of two of the seven, the "unwinding professional" and the "maven."  In the metrics article, Ward talks about not wanting to fall into the trap of making EVE a "Skinner Box", but yet when talking about these seven personas...
But looking at these different personas and seeing like what is their goal when they play EVE, what is it that they do, and what's the game loop that they're in when they sit down and play it, and trying to like optimize that for them. This is sort of just something we're starting to look at.
Uhhh... Mr. Ward?  Noah?  I hate to break it to you, but when you start designing your game around stereotypes and how you keep those stereotypes playing your game... that's exactly what the Skinner Box is all about.

Soooooo... yeah.  On one hand, this was kind of a depressing interview and I can only imagine CCP is going to have to a lot of damage control in the coming days.  On the other, though, it gives CSM6 quite a lot of ammunition if they choose to take an aggressive tone with CCP in this year's term...

However, compare and contrast the Noah Ward interview with the fantastic interview EveCommune did with CCP Xhagen over the weekend.  What a great interview!  And unless something else comes up, that will be the source of my QOTW for next week.  It'll be a much more hopeful quote, I promise.  ;-)

4 comments:

  1. I just wanted to touch on the "give them what they need, not what they ask for" quote: that is actually a common theme in engineering, software and otherwise. Done right, the 'needed' solution can implement multiple 'asked for' solutions at once.

    The maddingly difficult part is to recogize when the needed solution happens to be exactly what people are asking for.

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  2. Yep, I totally get that. What bothers me is the fact that there are at least two separate filters that those requests are being put through between the CSM bringing them up, and the developers working on them (if they do).

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  3. Aye. I have a feeling I will have to re-read that interview again, to see what else I missed.

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  4. Problem is whether it's dismissive or not CSM may be absolutely correct to ignore most of CSM's request from this last batch. CSM seems very focused on the world revolving ever more around a couple dominant null sec blobs and making life ultra convenient for them and forcing the rest of the players into null sec on blob alliance terms.

    CSM is using the code word "expert" for that lazy thought process of CSM where they simply lobby for what is good for themselves and not the game, which is terribly hopeless for new players ever entering null and becoming anything but a small spec in a large blob.

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