Suppose for a few minutes that you were a veteran EVE player with six or seven years experience. Maybe you even are. You might have a super-carrier, a jump freighter, a good size capital fleet with a half-dozen carriers and a couple of dreadnoughts, and a very large selection of sub-capital ships scattered across three or four home systems. You've also got a large inventory of assets scattered across space and even if you don't use them all, you probably would have become very comfortable with all of your ships, assets, and potential capabilities.
Now suppose that CCP came along and told you that in order to balance the game for newer players, they were going to take away two thirds of your assets. Super-carrier? Gone. They're going to take that away. You can keep the jump freighter, but you have to give up most of your carriers and all but one of your dreadnoughts. Then you have to give up a large swath of your sub-cap fleet and your stored modules. And you have to downsize to only a couple of locations instead of three or four. Anything that you're not actually using disappears and you only get to keep those things that you undock in every week.
Wouldn't care for that much, would you?
The simple truth is that humans are humans and we're all genetically wired to expect uninterrupted growth... expanding empires... expanding capabilities. Nobody wants to downsize and people become downright resentful if they're told that they have to. If CCP tried to do this to players, there would be a howling from the player base that would dwarf the summer of rage. People get used to having a lot of toys, assets, and capabilities and don't want them taken away.
And this is why people who say "If DUST 514 fails, CCP should just cut it loose and concentrate on EVE" (and with it, strongly hint that CCP should cut loose their staff in Shanghai along with DUST) are kidding themselves. You would become resentful of CCP tried to take away a few internet spaceship pixels. So you can imagine how CCP probably feels about people who think they should drop half their company and what they're working on.
Last year at Fanfest, grand dreams were painted by CCP of possibly needing multiple venues to hold all of the fans that would be coming to Iceland to celebrate EVE and DUST 514 for their tenth anniversary Fanfest this April. It isn't going to happen. Sure the tenth anniversary Fanfest will be a very important event, and sure there will be some DUST 514 fans in attendance. But they're not going to eclipse the EVE crowd the way I think some people at CCP thought they might. Last year at this time, I was concerned that DUST might very well become the tail that wags EVE's dog. That doesn't look likely to happen, either. I still think DUST is going to be at least somewhat successful and CCP is an incredibly patient company who have shown with EVE that they're willing to wait and let a market develop for their products.
But at the end of the day, CCP also reports to investors, and those investors expect results. And this is probably why we've heard CCP talk a couple of times this year about doing an IPO. If DUST 514 were a massive success, then an IPO would spread out their investment base so that CCP executives weren't answerable to such a small number of people. But even if DUST isn't an immediate success, spreading out the investment base is desirable for exactly the same reason.
In the meantime, if DUST 514 doesn't deliver on its promise of a greatly expanded player base in the combined EVE Online universe, that means CCP has to turn back to EVE to deliver on it. Because otherwise, they're forced into a situation where they have to downsize (again). And as I covered at the top of this piece, they won't want to do that. You wouldn't either if you were them. They want to keep the staff, assets, and capabilities they have today, working to make DUST into something that can be successful. They just need a way to pay for them. That means more revenue coming in, and if DUST can't bring it in, EVE has to.
This is one of the reasons why I think we've seen such a focus this year on trying to draw more new players into EVE Online. In an unguarded moment in conversations between matches during the New Eden Open, CCP Fozzie let slip that one of the goals of the ship rebalancing this year has been to "narrow the gap" between T1 and T2 ships. We've seen greatly expanded capabilities from the T1 frigates and cruisers, and when we see the rebalancing hit the T1 battle cruisers, I think we're going to see the same thing there. Meanwhile though, I'm not holding out a lot of hope that the T2 ships, when they are eventually rebalanced, are going to be receiving such revolutionary changes as their ancestral counterparts. We can probably expect them to be 20-25% better. But not very much more than that. The veterans are just going to have to decide if 25% better is worth four or five times the cost.
As I mentioned when I posted my favorite Thorax fit, if any of you out there are looking at that ship and thinking "if this is what they've done to the Thorax, I can't wait to see what they do to the Deimos!", you might want to rethink. The Deimos refit will probably be pretty good. But amazingly good? No. CCP wants to narrow the gap between veterans and newer players. That means keeping the upgrades to the Deimos and the other T2 ships to a minimum.
Now this isn't anything new with other MMOs. Lots of other MMOs try to balance their game between newer players and veteran players so that they can jointly enjoy the experience. EVE has never bothered. Two players in the same ships can have markedly different success with them in the same situation. We've all been told for a long time that one low SP player that specializes in a Rifter is going to be just as good at it as a high SP player with lots of skill points spread broadly. But I think we all instinctively realize that isn't quite true. The veteran player is going to have much better fitting skills, more ISK for good implants, and if he is veteran enough, has probably trained support skills to Level V that the new player can only dream of.
I can easily see CCP wanting to narrow that gap, too.
In short, if DUST 514 struggles to find an audience, CCP is going to do everything they can to keep the DUST 514 development staff working regardless. That means finding the revenue that they need to support those developers from other sources... namely EVE. That means increased and continuing efforts to bring new players into EVE even if they have to do so to the detriment of the investment of veteran players. It's going to be a tricky balance to master: some veterans are already grumbling about running out of things to do. In the meantime though, we can see the first steps: newer players encouraged to get into T1 support cruisers that are nearly as good as their T2 counter-parts. Even with the down-grade, a Scythe which takes a few months to master is about two-thirds as good as a Scimitar which takes a couple of years. And some of the e-war cruisers are arguably better than their T2 counter-parts. Whether this message can be delivered to potential players is going to be a marketing challenge... which brings me back to that previous couple of posts where I argued that CCP is probably looking for a Jesus feature for 2013 so that marketing will have something big to work with.
Yeah, this stuff is all connected. It's hard not to see the connections.
Don't get me wrong: the news for veteran players certainly isn't all bad. If CCP can succeed in bringing in a lot of new players wanting to take advantage of this narrowed gap, then that's a lot more content for those of us who have been here a while, right?
At the beginning of 2012, I said that this past year was going to be CCP's most challenging yet in terms of striking a balance between these competing factors. Like DUST 514 itself, that prediction is going to be a little delayed.