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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Friday, July 15, 2011

We suffer for our art

Over last weekend, while nobody was really paying attention, CCP posted their EVE micro-transaction strategy.

This devblog is interesting to me not so much because of what it says but because of what you can read between the lines in it.  The subject of various iterative improvements to EVE Online was brought up repeatedly during the CSM May Summit.  Let's look at the simplest example.  The CSM really got behind and pushed on the "dead horse" POS mechanics problem.  Just about every single little thing about POSs is bad.  There have been so many things tacked onto them and then un-tacked from them over the years that the final product, circa 2011, is so ridiculously badly done from a game design perspective that the only good solution at this point is going to be to throw it all away and start over from scratch.

CCP recognizes this and seems to be open to it.  Problem is, that would require new art, and the art team has their "plate full".

This position came up a lot during the May summit.  Art is the bottleneck for just about any change envisioned to the game.  It came up so often during the summit, in fact, that the CSM -- very smartly -- requested a separate session during the summit to discuss it.  It's pages 35-37 of the minutes.

And once the session began, the CSM badly dropped the ball.  The session has to be regarded as a total failure.  If the minutes for this session (written by Mittens) are any indication, CSM6 should be ashamed of themselves for their handling of it.

Oh, it starts out promisingly enough.  The CSM are told the art department "has ~30 people, split into teams - one for characters, one for space and one for station interiors. The Space team is currently working on the turrets, an effort of many months."  Further details are provided on the new turret models as an example of the art team's work: there were 65 turret models, they take about as long as a ship model to create, a ship model takes five to six weeks to create, and the team can work on four such models concurrently.

Invoking a little bit of simple math: 65 models divided by four is 16.  16 times five weeks is 80 weeks.  Did it really take 80 weeks to make the new turret models?  CSM6 apparently didn't ask, and the art team only volunteered that job took "many months."

The CSM then completely ignored the fact that apparently, two-thirds of the art department's time is devoted to "characters" and "station interiors."  It didn't come up again.  At all.  The minutes for the session are 17 paragraphs long.  Half of one paragraph has anything at all to do with Incarna.  The remainder is the CSM advocating for all sorts of art for the in-space game, when it's clear that the art department is devoted to anything but the space game.

Even more than that, not once did a member of the CSM ask: "How much of the art department's time is currently being devoted to developing clothes and items for the micro-transaction market?"  Not once did a member of the CSM ask: "Compared to a ship or turret, how long does it take to create an item of clothing for the micro-transaction market?"

CSM5 had a blind spot with regard to Incarna.  CSM6 has inherited it.  Mittens has said in public that he doesn't care about "space barbies," and this attitude has infected the rest of CSM6.  This really really needs to stop.

Ignoring Incarna and not caring about it is not going to help the CSM or the players understand the resources and time that CCP is devoting to it.

So.  Back to that devblog.

The Incarna character models have five slots: "Footwear, Bottoms, Tops, Outer, and Eyewear".  The devblog further specifies that there will be three tiers of items for the character models, "an affordable tier, a mid-tier, and a deluxe tier."  In addition, there will be "occasional exceptional offers of rare goods for a very limited number of customers" and that "our fashion designers are making coordinated outfits."

So far, I'm counting 15 models that have to be made just to have one "coordinated outfit" in each of the three basic tiers.  During the summit's EVE Marketing presentation (page 11), the CSM was told that "variants (e.g. different colors) are different items."  The graphic in the devblog most often shows three color variants for each item, something that's also consistent with the free items already available in the character creator.  So we're up to 45 models to have one coordinated outfit in each of the three basic tiers, in three color variations each.  And I don't think CCP is going to stop at one coordinated outfit in each teir.

Anyone getting the impression yet that this involves a lot of art?

CSM6 really should have delved into this, and it's a real shame they didn't.

One more thing: the devblog is somewhat coy about how much all this stuff is going to cost, hiding the costs behind PLEXes instead of specifying costs in Aurum.  Let's do a bit more simple math, shall we?  As I said above, there are going to be three tiers.  At the affordable tier, we're told that one outfit "can be purchased and assembled for roughly the value of one PLEX in total."  One PLEX is 3500 AUR, which means that "affordable" tier items will be between 500 and 1000 AUR each and that the total cost will be 3500 AUR.  Or, put another way, about 360 million ISK, or $18 U.S. in real life money.  About the same cost as a fully-fit Cynabal.  Or two fully-fit battleships.  Or three to four fully-fit Dramiels.  Per suit of clothes.

Apparently, this qualifies as "affordable."

Mid-tier outfits will cost "3-4 PLEX" total, which comes to about 12,500 AUR, or about $65 U.S.  1.4 billion ISK.  Or about the same cost as a fully-fit carrier or Machariel.  Or about the same cost as a single monocle.  ;-)

Deluxe-tier outfits will cost "two to three times the price of an affordable outfit on a single piece" of the outfit.  In other words, you will spend two to three PLEXs per slot, and there are five slots.  12 or 13 PLEXes total, or about 45,000 AUR.  Two hundred and thirty dollars U.S. for a single complete outfit.  4.7 billion ISK.  And that isn't even the exceptional tier, items "for the wealthiest members of the EVE community."

Good Lord, EVE players are suffering for CCP's art.

10 comments:

  1. It seems like everything Eve has been completely taken over by Space Barbies. Unfortunate.

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  2. Those figures CCP is throwing out for development time on their art sound absurd. Six weeks for a single ship? I call bullshit.

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  3. 1- I'm happy you summed this up nicely; I didn't have to read the original.

    2- F@#% the NEX.

    3- I'm a step away from saying F@#% CCP, and that's sad.

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  4. Riptard, you are so focused on the USD conversion, it frustrates me, because (like others) you are missing or minimizing a huge factor in this. There is a LOT of PLEX in the game, and there are even more players with tens of billions of ISK or more (I'm not one of them). A single PLEX is about 380-400 million ISK. You manage to bold and italicize the USD conversion, but barely mention the actual in-game currency conversion. 4-5 billion ISK? Suddenly it's not so bad in that light if you have the ISK to burn.

    Yes - the CSM should have spent more time finding out WTF with the art team - but you (and everyone else) who is making direct USD conversions for Aur are missing a vital component - PLEX.

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  5. I recognize that most EVE players are going to buy a PLEX with ISK, buy AUR with a PLEX, and then buy these clothes "without spending real money."

    And in so doing, you're doing a lovely job of lining CCP's collective pockets. The real money aspect of this cannot be ignored.

    4.7 billion ISK is enough money to play EVE for free for a year. That has a real life value in the real world. Ignoring it is exactly the same fallacy as selling the mods you produce below cost because "the minerals don't cost me anything when I mine them myself."

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  6. That's what happens, when you as a host company create the setting to (proverbially speaking) "suck" an external consumer group (regardless of whether it is a stakeholder or feedback component or - the new version - an advocacy group) into the detail focus.

    Effectively speaking, you get them into the same trench as employees, seperate from decision points. A natural consequence is a very tight focus.

    Add to that the absence of stakeholder elements of interaction (by own choice) and you have a group dynamic where the detail agenda focus of one participant group can easily be accomodated in presentation without engaging on the detail agenda focus of the other participant group - without causing conflicts by embedding in or pairing against bigger pictures.

    It's completely hilarious when you do the math towards a manhour level, based on sprint assignments.

    That doesn't mean people willingly ignored priorities or the intrinsic big picture - resulting from two environments to the product both requiring a resource allocation focus - being deliberately manipulated. It is possible, but not necessarily the case. You know how these things go, the customer perspective is simply never that same perspective of the host company (regardless of individual perceptions below the group level).

    I'm not willing to put on the tinfoil hat so many people are chosing in reference to CCP's productivity. I know, 40 hour workweek filled with World of Tanks and Facebook for work at work is a popular theme among customers. And sure, we've seen plenty individual examples of that over the years (prior to WoT with plenty other games and stories of social excess). I don't think customers should go there tbh. It is already messy enough that two out of three consumer interaction currencies for the service have been compromised so terribly already (belief, trust with emotion being the currency left standing).

    The irony, is that CCP's statements towards CSM in these matters are accurate. The question is, should CCP clarify that to CSM, or should CSM seek out such matters on its own, or is CCP even aware above the departmental level in question of that situation.

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  7. Funny thing about the pricing structure is that it ultimately is just too silly to take seriously. I mean, does it even compare to SL prices? Real life prices are one thing, but these are still virtual goods, not real goods. You aren't actually wearing them, so they're, by all accounts, not worth as much. SL assets are perhaps the most sensible base-line (since that's a virtual goods market that actually WORKS with the real-world market, generally), and should be the basis of any pricing structure they think they can cook up.

    As it stands, they're the laughing stock of Microtransaction companies.

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  8. "During the summit's EVE Marketing presentation (page 11), the CSM was told that "variants (e.g. different colors) are different items." The graphic in the devblog most often shows three color variants for each item, something that's also consistent with the free items already available in the character creator. So we're up to 45 models to have one coordinated outfit in each of the three basic tiers, in three color variations each."

    Presumably recolours don't take nearly as long as building a new model. In fact, recolours don't have to take any time at all.

    It makes sense that CCP isn't allowing players to design outfits, because they want to keep outfits thematically appropriate. Throw the door wide open and players WILL make dongs and furries. However, they could make the models available and let players do recolours of existing models. Have the players submit their designs for approval, then a couple guys make sure that they are up to a minimum standard and then assign the aurum price, database #s and whatnot. If the design is accepted the player gets 10 copies of the item, to use or sell on the open market or whatever they want. Within a few months there would be thousands of variations of existing items that cost CCP basically nothing to produce.

    As it is, I won't be buying any clothes regardless of price teir. There is even less variety than there was on Sisi. I'm not going to shell out for clothes now, and then do it again in 3 months when they release something nicer -- not at these prices. If I ever pay for space clothes, I'm not going to do it until there are hundreds of items to chose from.

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  9. @Anon2156: Yep, very true, but keep in mind the same thing applied to the turret models. The Modulated Strip Miner II, for instance, is just the Strip Miner I with a color change. Ditto the Salvager I and Salvager II.

    Though to be fair, I haven't counted up all the turrets to see if those items count separately in the 65 new turret models.

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  10. There's no way a ship can take 5 weeks unless they count the initial design phases, i.e. the sketches on paper. I mean, when they did that design a ship contest, you had fucking amazing designs that could fit right into EVE being posted in less than two weeks, and a majority of those were 3d renders, which meant that the assets were already made in 3d and just had to be optimized for in-game use

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