Guilty as charged.
But hey, it's not like I didn't warn you. ;-) It's right up there in the banner text that I write about EVE from the bitter-vet perspective. And how does one become a bitter-vet? It happens because you predict the worst possible outcome, then say "I hope it doesn't happen this way, but..." and then... the thing you've predicted happens anyway. What has precipitated this prologue? I'll get to that presently. But before I do, I want to remind you that New Eden is a harsh, cold, unrelenting place where you can get scammed or betrayed at any time. Everyone remember that?
Great. Let's talk about player-to-player contracts, the tent-pole feature of EVE Online's winter 2012 expansion.
I hope it doesn't happen this way, but it sure looks like CCP is trying to ensure that EVE players can never scam or exploit the naivete of DUST 514 players.
Now granted, CCP has done a wonderful job of hiding what I believe is their intent with this feature. And Two step, Gods bless him, apparently asked about this explicitly during the CSM Summit session on this topic:
Two step asked if these contracts would be connected to Dust 514 contracts in any ways (sic), but the development team responded that this would strictly govern EVE game play for the time being.That's the only time DUST 514 is mentioned in the entire section. But absent DUST, it sure makes you wonder who or what this feature is for, doesn't it? Oh sure, there were about 15 possibilities listed:
- POS/POCO take-downs;
- POS/POCO defense;
- wormhole eviction;
- wormhole protection;
- 0.0 renter relationships;
- 0.0 manufacturing;
- individual corp member accountability;
- recurrent billing and services;
- reciprocal standings for allied entities;
- third-party escrow services;
- time limits for services renders;
- requirements for a number of ship kills during a war-dec;
- requirements for specific kill types; and,
- collateral agreements for loans.
Why did CCP even bring the topic up in the first place? We have a clue, and it's at the bottom of page 138 of the Minutes:
CCP Tallest, reading from the design goals document for the system: "We want to give players tools so that they can interact with other players in a structured manner, with an emphasis on putting meta-behavior into this structure. Examples would be bounties, mercenary contracts, kill rights, etc. The focus should be on players or player entities taking contracts with other players or player entities, not the environment. The causality is expressed when players build the rules for a contract, then the rules are active and lasting for a period. We'd like to leverage the interaction to create social objects, and review the current system if possible, moving to the long-term goal of contracts being for all player-to-player services, and the marketplace being for item exchanges."That's a long goal. Let's break it down.
Today, player-to-player agreements exist of course, but they're handled via tools that exist outside of the game itself. Most often, EVE mails, e-mail, and the EVE Online forums are used, as well as alliance forums for documentation of more private agreements. If a corp joins the CFC or rents space in from the DRF, there are formal or semi-formal agreements in place associated with that: the CFC corp has to provide a certain number of ships for CTAs, the DRF renters have to form up for ops, and so forth. If I hire Noir or some other mercenary group to fulfill an objective, there are EVE or e-mails communicated back and forth to describe the terms of the agreement. A well-known contract currently exists that establishes the goals and principles of OTEC for limiting technetium supply. And I'm told by a reliable witness that there is a cabal of players that collectively own tens of thousands of PLEXes that makes formal agreements on how many PLEXes should be sold at any given time and what the price point of a PLEX should be.
Only the very simplest player agreements, such as courier contracts with Red Frog Freight or the like, are handled entirely with in-game tools. And even some courier contracts require a little extra negotiation. That's what Blue Frog Freight is for, as an example.
Of course, the interesting thing about such agreements is that they can be broken at any time and there's no punishment in-game for doing it. So it happens all the time. The meta-game takes care of dissemination of the information that this or that person is untrustworthy and is likely to break such a contract. The Mittani got some mileage out of acting as a third-party escrow service for super-caps for a while, for instance, but he doesn't do it any more because word got out that he was untrustworthy at this service. EVE's "marketplace", for want of a better word, is quite good at self-correcting in this regard.
The team involved here, though, makes it clear that they want to scrap the current contracting system and "push more item trading into the marketplace, turning contracts into a more free-form service," in the words of CCP Soniclover. The tricky part, of course, is going to be in the process of "players building the rules for a contract, the rules are active, and lasting for a period." How does one program that? Nobody asks, but CCP Paradox volunteers that they will "formalize these agreements so that players don't have to worry about trusting the other party, because the mechanics would provide a level of guarantee."
Nobody asked "how?", at least according to the Minutes. Sure would have been interesting had someone done so!
That said, one of the goals here is clearly to move that "level of guarantee" into the game itself. If Mittens breaks three third-party super-cap transfers in a row, that presumably will be shown in Mittens's contract history. Of course, there's nothing saying that a scammer can't tell both parties "I'm going to use my alt X for this" and then populate this alt with ten or twelve phony (but apparently successful) third-party super-cap transfers, but let's not break CCP's spirit just yet.
That's all CCP has to say about this feature for now, though. They spent the bulk of the session canvassing the CSM for ideas rather than presenting a lot of specifics themselves. The thing that I'm having a hard time swallowing is the supposed lack of a DUST link on this topic. The entire point to the EVE-DUST link -- as I understood it -- was going to be the provision for EVE players to contact DUST players for help in either clearing off plantets or defending their own. Without a viable contract system to make such agreements, how will that link work? And without that need driving it, it's hard to understand the urgency for this feature.
But yet CCP decided to be coy about it.
What I worry about is that CCP is being coy about it because they don't want to throw DUST players into the deep end right away. If DUST players had to rely on the EVE-O or DUST forums to get jobs, then got scammed into attacking a planet for free because the person hiring them refused to pay, is the dark, cold world of New Eden going to drive a lot of starry-eyed DUST players off? Therefore we need a formalized contract system in the game to keep them from being scammed. And if that makes EVE slightly more difficult to execute scams in, goes this logic, then so be it. I hope it doesn't happen this way. But.
In the meantime, I'm having a hard time deciding who the player-to-player contract feature is for. The bulk of EVE players just don't seem to have much of a need for more than what the contract system provides today. As I joked yesterday, EVE had a "freeform contract" system in the past and nobody used it. Without a "killer app" for this feature, I can't build up a lot of enthusiasm for it. If the new contract system allowed the formalization of renter agreements, then the big alliances would like it. If it allowed for contracting of kill rights from player to player, the merc groups would like it. But widespread appeal? So far, I'm not seeing it.
Maybe I'm a cynic. But if I am, EVE and CCP made me this way. ;-)