EDIT (22/Sep/2011): Apparently, my tea leaves were pretty good. The assumption proved accurate.
Understand that? Great. Let's roam. Undock and meet me on the out-gate.
From CCP Fallout, we now know that tomorrow, we're going to see a major devblog from CCP, apparently being written by CCP Guard. CSM6 members are happy and a little nervous about this one. Seleene confirmed that the blog hasn't been run by the CSM yet(1), but he says the overall news will be good and is likely to launch a lot of speculation.
EDIT (19/Sep/2011): See the edit at the bottom of this blog entry. The "important" devblog won't be by CCP Guard, and it might or might not appear tomorrow.
I might be completely wrong, but this feels like it's going to be huge... a turning point in EVE's history. Remember, :18months: started in June of last year; it ends in December, with the as-yet-unnamed winter expansion. It's too late to add new features to that expansion. What CCP is planning to put into it is locked in. We'll learn exactly what that is in due course, maybe even tomorrow. In the meantime, planning for EVE 2012 has certainly begun in Iceland.
With that in mind, I'd like to build an entire blog entry on a tissue-paper thin assumption: let's assume that my prediction from Saturday is true, and that CCP is set to announce that 2012 development will be All About The Spaceships: at least two major expansions dedicated solely to EVE Online's "core business." Ship balancing and rebalancing, time dilation, new capital ships, a complete null revamp, T3 frigates and battle-cruisers, faction warfare iteration, new incursion sites, and on and on and on. They'll ask players for feedback on what they should work on first, and take those suggestions. Incarna becomes completely optional. Let's assume for one blog post that it's all on the table.
CSM6 gets everything it wants. EVE's current players cheer in glorious happiness at CCP finally turning its attention to the game they want to play. If you don't want to leave the ship-spinning hangar view, you don't have to. TeaDaze and thousands of others come back to New Eden(2).
Let's draw back and look at the big picture, from this moment in time, building on this assumption.
What would that mean?
First thing: I'm going to start with some facts, and I'm sorry, but these facts are going to hurt your feelings. CCP has taken surveys and gathered hard data on this, and in unguarded moments, they've let this data slip. Lots and lots and lots of people have tried EVE Online. And a large percentage of those people don't stick with it. EVE's been around for eight years now. Trust me: MMO players have heard of it. Space nerds have heard of it. People who have a fantasy of flying their own spaceship have heard of it. A ton of people who are interested in the concept behind EVE Online have tried it.
And most of them have decided that it isn't for them.
CCP has hard data on this: the majority of people who try EVE Online unsub and move on to other games. They say it's too hard, or they say you can't identify with your in-game avatar as a ship, or they say they aren't interested in the basic concepts underlying the game, or they say the player base is newbie-unfriendly, or they say the game-play isn't very good. Guys, it's time to wake up and face reality: an MMO based primarily around spaceships is probably always and forever going to be a niche product. Star Trek couldn't sell this product to a mass audience. Star Wars couldn't sell this product to a mass audience.(3) EVE Online as it is today has no chance of doing it.
So, if CCP goes down this track, EVE Online will forever remain a niche product with a half-million subscriptions or less. That's result #1.
A lot of EVE players will immediately say that's not necessarily such a bad thing, and I agree with them. Only a small percentage of the people in the world play Rugby, or build and fly experimental aircraft, or play cast members in Renaissance Faires, or race cars on the amateur racing circuit, or enjoy folk music. That doesn't mean these pursuits are less valid. It just means that fewer people get into them: they're niche hobbies. But those that do enjoy those hobbies enjoy them immensely. EVE being a niche product is no bad thing, in my opinion.
Mittens has mentioned on several occasions that one of his goals is to get thousands of unsubbed former EVE players to resub. He's never said that one of his goals is to get hundreds of thousands of people who've never played EVE before to start.
That was what the Incarna team has said their goal was. Breaking EVE out of the niche is their goal.
But EVE players have been blunt in their rejection of Incarna. We haven't seen hard numbers on it, but I'd bet more players have the CQ turned off than have it turned on. And if CCP decides to direct the bulk of their focus for EVE Online development to flying in space over walking in stations, then the Incarna team's goal goes out the window. You can't have your cake and eat it too.
What EVE players will be left with as of this winter's expansion will be the ability to leave the CQ, walk out The Door, and access the Establishments, whatever that means. But all of that would be optional. The only thing we know CCP wants to do with Establishments is move the sale of "contraband" items there. Let's say that means boosters. Anyone who wants to buy boosters has to get out of their pod, leave the ship spinning interface, and physically walk into an Establishment to do it. That would cause some minor rage, but nothing major. There's never been all that big of a market for boosters, so making people "unpod" to get them isn't going to affect all that many players.
So, EVE's players get exactly what they want, but as a side effect, EVE remains a niche product. What next?
Well, it turns out CCP is a business. And businesses like to make money. And CCP's stated goal is to make a "total sci-fi simulator." We've all seen the video. That's where CCP wants to go. They believe that they can create a mass audience product with this vision.
But nobody said that they had to get there with EVE. It turns out that CCP has another sci-fi-based product to build that vision from...
Right now, I can easily envision a situation where DUST 514 players enter the same Establishments that EVE players enter. After a buy-in cost, DUST will be free-to-play: that guarantees an audience. And if that's the case, DUST 514 will have avatars, PvE, instant-on PvP, vehicle combat (perhaps even flying vehicle combat), sov fights, social interaction, a player-driven market via Establishments, optional micro-transactions... and hell, maybe even unarmed capsuleers in those Establishments to shoot at.
Yeah, that's right. The Establishments might very well become a new low-sec for EVE Online players that choose to unpod and venture into them. Want those boosters? Better hire some DUSTies to watch your back once unpod. ;-)
The only thing DUST 514 won't have is actual spaceships. But that's OK, because the larger New Eden "total sci-fi simulator" "product" will have spaceships. If you're part of the mass audience, great! Here's your assault rifle and here's your DUST 514 account. Go nuts! But oh yeah, if you like spaceships, we have this other game -- part of the same universe! -- that will give you your spaceships. It's smaller, but the people that play it really like it.
All of this is premised on DUST 514's success, but right now, DUST has a lot of positive buzz. It's not that far to stretch.
In other words, if EVE players get what they want, but if DUST is successful, then I can easily see EVE Online becoming Diablo to DUST's World of Warcraft: one of CCP's side businesses. A profitable, successful, enjoyable side business, to be sure. But still, a side business.
Be careful what you wish for: you might get it.
EDIT (19/Sep/2011): CCP Fallout reports:
To which I immediately asked:
Just to be very, very clear, it's Arnar (Zulu)'s devblog that I consider the important one. That's the one I'm waiting for.
(1) Which is sometimes the harbinger of hysterically bad devblogs, hee...
(2) Hey, I can dream. ;-)
(3) TOR doesn't count. We've seen what "space combat" in TOR is going to look like. TOR isn't going to be about spaceships.