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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Thursday, September 22, 2011

Conspiracy of silence

Man.  Busy day today.  Let's talk about that devblog.

There's an old proverb that I'm reminded of:
Better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.
Or alternately, let's just go with this scene from Star Wars.

That isn't the devblog you're looking for.  Move along.  *waves fingers*

No?  OK.  ;-)

What's going on?  It's honestly not that hard to figure out.  There's three key phrases in this devblog.  Let's look at them one by one, but we're going to read the devblog backward, end to beginning, because I'd bet money that's the order that it was written in.  The phrases at the end of the devblog were "locked in" first, then the introductory phrases were written after that was done.  It's a pretty common speech-writing technique.

So let's start with the last phrase I want to focus on:
You've often told us that we promise too much and deliver too little, and this time we want to be certain that doesn't happen.

I'm not going to say Incarna was doomed from the start.  But I am going to say that what CCP wanted to do with Incarna was incredibly aggressive.  Think about it: for all intents and purposes, they announced their intention to build a second MMO on top of an already-existing first MMO!  That was a pretty remarkable announcement, and it's not at all surprising that it's fallen far short of where they wanted to be by this time.  Even more than this, CCP committed themselves to several expansions worth of content for this second MMO, and said flat-out that their first MMO wouldn't be receiving much attention during the process (:18months:).

Given CCP's NIH disease and the extra work that causes (watch for a post specifically about this in a day or two), it's not at all surprising that the delivery of Incarna has been... less than ideal.

The fact that they don't want to promise too much for their next few expansions is not at all surprising in this context.  Trebor wrote a short post, also referencing Star Wars, titled with the clever pun "Begun, the Feature War Has", but that's probably -- hopefully -- an overly alarmist view.  I don't think CCP is thinking too aggressively about massive new flying in space features because they've already been burned once by dreaming too big.

The simple fact is that if I were CCP Zulu, I'd hesitate to promise anything right now, because...
We have decided, to focus our collective efforts on the areas you have asked us to focus on.

OK... but what does that even mean?  Bet you even more money that even CCP doesn't know.  A couple of the other CSM6 members have said that they were given outlines about the sorts of things that would actually be included in CCP Zulu's devblog and that they were happy with some and concerned with others.  But of course, CCP has done studies of their player base, and characterized CSM members as "mavens".  Mittens might have very firm ideas about what he thinks the best direction for the game is, and the rest of CSM6 might back those ideas 100%.

But 100% of the U.S. South's leaders in 1861 thought slavery was a good idea.  Just because a group of people believe in something doesn't make it the right course.  And it doesn't mean that the people following those leaders believe it, either.

Some in CCP will argue that while the CSM is very smart, they're not particularly representative of EVE players just now.  And that opinion will be listened to, because it's reinforced by CCP's own view of the CSM as mavens.  No, CCP is going to proceed very cautiously, probably asking for (and listening to!) a lot of feedback from a really broad base of players, before they decide exactly what they're going to "focus" on.  So I'd back up Trebor's advice: get on that devblog comments thread and give them some feedback!

Which brings us to:
CCP has been doing extensive and intense introspection and revitalization. The result of this is a refocusing and reprioritization on a scale unheard of within our company.

It's easy (and wrong) to translate this to "Incarna has failed us", but that's part of what's going on.  CCP, as I say over and over again, is a business.  And the business results here are not good.

But let us be very frank: the business results before Incarna came along weren't much better!

CCP's average players logged in has been stagnant for 30 months, and the last time I checked, 30 months > 18 months.  I've asked people on several occasions what CCP could have been doing to improve the game during that time instead of Incarna that would deliver an order of magnitude increase in the player base, and what I generally get are iterative changes, not evolutionary ones.  Iterative changes are nice for the current player base.  They'll probably even bring back some lapsed EVE players.

But iterative changes aren't going to break the game out of the niche it's in.

So it shouldn't surprise us at all that the whole EVE development team is probably turning themselves upside down and inside out now trying to figure out what to do next.  "If not Incarna, what?!" is the question here.

EVE's current player base will scream "Flying in space, you morons!"  But even if CCP reached some consensus about what that means (they haven't) and even if they got focused on that... well, I wrote my little cautionary tale about happens then the other day.  I don't think CCP wants that.  I think they want to keep EVE as their most important product, but they desperately need their most important product to be bringing in millions of subscribers, not hundreds of thousands.

And with their previous plan upended, I don't think they know themselves how to get there.


  1. I'm going to resub to post on that devblog, mate. Excellent post. The one thing I will point out is the same thing you pointed out in an earlier blog (your Riefenstahl moment): eve will always be a niche product. Accept that and be happy with it. Accept that and polish that object, make it shine. That way you have a niche product that outlives hundreds if not thousands of other brighter, but shorter burning stars.

    -- Bomberlocks

  2. They can focus on EvE Gate and make it more useful as a start(mareket and training functionality without running EvE client), then maybe make some PvE activities less boring, if they do that I'll resub too. I quit this game because of boredom and sorry I do not have time to grief others in order to make the game more fun.

  3. It would be good if they worked on the new player experience, it's horrible at the moment. The first six months of the game needs to have not an easy mode, but at least a not so hard mode.

  4. About a year ago it was common for me to log in and see close to 40 thousand active "players" (bots, alts, etc) with a peak of around +60 thousand on the weekends (CCP was actually bragging about the numbers). Now I see about 20 thousand during the week with a peak of +40 thousand on the weekends. CCP has to be seeing the same decline, and maybe it's finally starting to concern them...

  5. I'm not sure why CCP "need [Eve] to be bringing in millions of subscribers" when it's a very profitable business as is, especially given the risks associated with getting it wrong - as illustrated by their mis-steps over the past couple of years. IIRC, the main conclusion from the SWG fallout was that if you have a successful but niche product, trying to chuck your existing users to chase the mainstream is a doomed enterprise that will most likely do nothing but irreversibly break your business.

    What happens if/when CCP realise that the answer to "If not Incarna, what?!" is "nothing" and that they'll have to be content with what they have for now?

  6. This is a great blog overall, Jester, but this is one of your weaker efforts, if I may say so. You parse the devblog to help answer the question "what's going on here", and the result is "CCP doesn't know themselves". Meh.

    I agree with B'locks above as well: Eve will always be a niche game. If it was a game with an attraction for millions of subscribers it would not be something many current (and former) players would want to play. Reading between the lines, you're suggesting that CCP cannot and will not cater too much to what the current playerbase really wants to see. By doing that, Eve will enter a death spiral. That's the abyss we're staring into today, because that's exactly what CCP has been doing for 2 years: ignoring their players. When you're in a hole, stop digging.


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