CCP Shelves VR: An In-Depth Look

David Matterall 2017-11-04

Despite the headlines found on gaming websites, you cannot find an official announcement of CCP leaving the virtual reality field on their website. To look at it the company’s profile on the web, it is still all about VR. The first images a visitor sees are of Rán Kavik, the original EVE Valkyrie, followed by Gunjack art. Inside, EVE Online developers who don’t work on VR pose with headsets on as if swimming through the air.

It is too early to expect a marketing and brand identity shift, but the shift may never come. CCP isn’t giving up on VR completely; it still wants to keep the industry influence it invested in, and possibly jump back in if VR takes off. Reminding visitors that it was a pioneer in VR may be valuable if CCP wants to jump back in. CEO Hilmar is happy to “see some credit in this market for the next 2-3 years.”

CCP released a statement to industry news sites:

CCP Games is restructuring its studio locations worldwide, driven primarily by reduced investments in virtual reality and an increased focus on PC and mobile games. This has resulted in a reorganization and centralization of its five studios across the world to three in Reykjavík, Shanghai, and London.

In the coming weeks, CCP will undertake the following proposed measures: The closure of its Atlanta studio with VR development moved to London, the sale of its Newcastle studio, and the elimination of some positions worldwide. The company´s Shanghai studio will be reduced and refocused to support growing business in China through local partnerships…

There are no changes to ongoing plans for EVE Online, and the company´s product pipeline is strong. In early October CCP confirmed the continued development of its PC FPS game, ‘Project Nova’ and announced a new mobile game, ‘Project Aurora,’ both set in the EVE Universe. Both projects are on track and unaffected by these changes. CCP will announce additional game releases directly or through partnerships over the next 18 months across PC and mobile.

Studio Closures – Atlanta and Newcastle

In 2006, CCP bought the White Wolf Game Studio, and along with it the staff based in Atlanta, Georgia, US. The staff there contributed heavily to the Apocrypha expansion, but their real assignment was the vampire MMO “World of Darkness” (WoD). The game was to share technology with EVE in the form of ambulated avatars. “Walking in Stations” and WoD were to both use the in-house character game engine called Carbon, which could be sold to other games. That didn’t work out mostly do to with bad management from Iceland, and CCP wrote off the experience as a major R&D loss. Layoffs came in November 2011 and 2014 forcing Atlanta to evolve into VR. The studio created the virtual sports game, Sparc, which released August 29, 2017.

The Atlanta office has a rich history as explained by INN’s Bill “Arrendis” McDonough:

CCP Atlanta is the last vestige of the original White Wolf Game Studio, which merged with/was acquired by CCP in 2006. Originally founded in 1986 as White Wolf Magazine, in 1990, the company merged with Lion Rampant, publisher of Ars Magica. A year later, under the direction of Mark Rein-Hagen, White Wolf unveiled the first game in the World of Darkness series, Vampire: The Masquerade. The popularity of the World of Darkness setting led to the merger/acquisition of White Wolf by CCP in 2006, making the Atlanta studio the oldest part of the [CCP] by a decade. In 2015, CCP sold off the White Wolf name and IP to Paradox Interactive, who subsequently spun off an all-new White Wolf under the leadership of CEO Tobias Sjögren. Martin Ericsson, formerly with CCP as a developer on the aborted World of Darkness MMO, is the Lead Storyteller for the revived White Wolf.

The Atlanta office is closing for good after these layoffs. The last former White Wolf employee (CCP Manifest, CCP Public Relations) is saying goodbye too.*

The Newcastle studio is closing too. In 2012 CCP hired five developers (formerly from Midway) to work on a pet-project called EVE-VR. It was an experiment. In 2013 it was shown at E3 and delighted the public, winning awards for innovation from magazines IGN and PC Gamer. The Newcastle studio housed the development team that turned EVE-VR into EVE: Valkyrie. The game finally released in 2016 as a free game for Oculus buyers, and in 2017 Newcastle released its first expansion, EVE: Valkyrie – Warzone. The game was released as a non-VR PC game a few weeks ago, sales of which fizzled without the support of marketing behind it.  Steam didn’t even have it on the Featured & Recommended page. The $30 million effort broke even, but CCP is in talks with a buyer, according to the BBC. They assure buyers that CCP can “confidently confirm that the first expansions, [Warzone], is not going away.” They may be shifting to an IP licensing role for the game and partnering with whoever buys the studio.

Both Atlanta and Newcastle were centers for VR, while Shanghai produced DUST 514 and supported EVE’s Serenity server before developing the VR hit Gunjack I & II. Those three studios were hit hard by this round of job cuts. CCPers Elvine (Sparc community) and CCP Frame (producer of Gunjack) were released.

EVE Not Affected…

The EVE community team was hit hard, apparently reducing the department to two members; CCP Guard and CCP Falcon. The multilingual community staff was cut too, including CCP Leeloo and CCP Phantom. Leeloo was the CCP liaison to CSM at one point and helped with Russian, while Phantom wrote up “This Week In EVE” and helped with German forum posting. The head of the Localization effort for EVE, CCP Shadowcat, was released too. Localization is the group that translates EVE into other languages; German, French, Russian. Unconfirmed reports point to four to five GM’s eliminated too.

The fate of the Alliance Tournament is undetermined, managed by the departing CCP Logibro; it will need a new contact point at CCP. Perhaps EVE_NT’s presentation of the early tourney rounds was impressive enough to have CCP hand them the entire tournament. If this happens, it will cause controversy.  The owner of EVE_NT, Nashh Kadavr, was a CSM member last year that pushed for more e-sport support from CCP.

CCP and its players have always had blurred lines between them.  Many of the game designers were advanced EVE players with no experience in the industry before working at CCP. Devs and players have held private discussions since Beta, and the CSM comes out of that tradition. It is the formal manifestation of dev-player communication, created after a breach of trust during the T20 scandal.

That scandal, which prompted the creation of the CSM, also caused the creation of the CCP’s Internal Affairs department. IA was firewalled from the rest of CCP. It monitored activity that appeared to be cheating or favoritism from devs. It’s run by CCP Arkanon, a long time CCPer, who was let go in these layoffs, sadly.

Iceland has a strong union culture; foreign staff is automatically put in unions to avoid abuses for foreign workers. Firings are hard for a business to do unless they are part of restructuring layoffs, so dismissals are grouped up and done together, which may show why the cuts are so deep.

Laying off nearly 30 in Reykjavik affects EVE. The development pipe may be untouched, but that presumes EVE is strictly a game. Former CCP Leeloo does not see EVE as just a game, as her dire post entry on Facebook describes:

I knew I would get fired, it was inevitable, it was just a matter of time…

I understand that you had to make the numbers look right and I understand that we are the easiest to let go…

throwing out the whole EVE Community Team might be the single biggest mistake this company has ever made…

Today, for the first time in over ten years that I’ve been with this game I feel like it’s the beginning of the end… If you talk to any EVE player, they will probably agree with me on the fact that no feature in this game has kept them going like the community. I know this was always the case for me.

For me too. Thanks to everyone that worked hard on EVE Online and the other games. We appreciate your efforts. They created hours of entertainment for many people.

Optimism

CCP is focusing on EVE Online and might mean they are getting out of the technology building business, especially when they are partnering with mobile developers to make games based on EVE, such as EVE Aurora. The Carbon engine was a gamble that didn’t pay off. CCP took a large write off on R&D for it, but the successful R&D effort is not an area that is giving returns yet.

Cutting 27% of staff is something done with months of preparation, so this direction shift likely started sometime after FanFest when Hilmar gave VR one more push during the CCP Keynote. We may see more changes and adjustments to staff as people settle.

CCP t0rfifrans title changed in January moving into an expanded role. His job description reads:

“Defining partnership strategy, managing of relationships with key commercial and operational partners of CCP games in North America… Providing leadership in the identification of target projects and the execution of IP Development projects.”

He’s moved to Seattle, a tech hub.

CCP’s focus on EVE is a good thing. If community-fostering changes come, they will hopefully be successful. Judging by comments made by Chief Customer Officer Maria Sayans at the D.I.C.E. Europe presentation in 2015, before she came to CCP, the accurate picture of the ‘quality of service’ for all players is essential. To get that,  the reliance on things like forums (and Reddit) would be curbed in favor of more statistical data gathering such as net-promoter score and emailed surveys. The shift normalizes player feedback so “loud” players don’t overshadow the quiet ones.

For example, years ago when YouTube personality and EVE player Mintchip joined CCP as a dev for DUST 514, her announcement thread got over 400 negative posts creating a firestorm that forced CCP to lock the thread.  Those posts were created by just 11 players using different accounts. Sometimes what appears to be a firestorm, is just a flame.

CCP trimming down and focusing on their flagship – EVE Online – is not bad for players.  With the new structures and PVE content introduced the business strategy may be to double-down on EVE, keep players happy, and grow the IP. Seeking new kinds of players through different games may be ground ceded to partnerships rather than risks that jeopardize CCP’s stability.

 

 

 

*Originally, we printed that CCP Manifest turned down an offer to move to Iceland, but he corrected the record in comments. “Correction: During the recent layoff I was not offered an option to relocate. Previously there were vague informal offers (without details) to possibly relocate, but it was never presented as a requirement.”

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Comments

  • DireNecessity

    Matterall,

    You don’t do written articles for INN often these days but when you do they’re fine reads. This one is no different.

    I’m not sure gutting the EVE Community Team was good idea even though you make a surprisingly coherent argument for it. I suppose they can always rehire if things go terrible. Time, as they say, will tell.

    If I may ask, how do you know the ‘just 11 players’ number in the Mintchip imbroglio?

    November 4, 2017 at 1:19 pm
  • Lrrp

    Just another item that CCP wasted money on. When are they going to learn the only thing they got going for them is Eve. Concentrate on what you know how to do and stop wasting resources on things you don’t.

    November 4, 2017 at 2:12 pm
    • kralz Lrrp

      hmmm “know how to do”….

      November 6, 2017 at 11:20 am
  • Good stuff, Dave.

    November 4, 2017 at 2:16 pm
  • CCP_Manifest

    Correction: During the recent layoff I was not offered an option to relocate. Previously there were vague informal offers (without details) to possibly relocate, but it was never presented as a requirement.

    November 4, 2017 at 8:33 pm
  • Arrendis

    Cutting 27% of staff is something done with months of preparation, so this direction shift likely started sometime after FanFest when Hilmar gave VR one more push during the CCP Keynote.

    Still not convinced that this has been in the works for months. Not the way they were presenting ‘Four FanFests in 2019’ at Vegas, and not the way this appears to have been a completely unexpected gut punch to so many people still in Reykjavik even a week later.

    November 6, 2017 at 4:38 am
    • I dont think you can let go 100 people without a lot of planning – If there was a list of redundancies ready to go, I consider that planning, but maybe some companies have a layoff list constantly in their possession.

      Remember Hilmar looked pretty deflated at EVE Vegas. I’m sure he know something by then, and Leeloo said she expected it sooner.

      November 6, 2017 at 8:38 am
      • theseconddavid Matterall

        I recall thinking hilmars Vegas keynote was odd. It almost seemed like a classic eve morale speech given at an alliance meeting right before shit hits the fan.

        November 6, 2017 at 1:50 pm
      • Arrendis Matterall

        There’s a lot of things you ‘can’t do without a lot of planning’ that we see CCP do without a lot of planning. 😛

        November 6, 2017 at 2:46 pm
  • theseconddavid

    I had no idea about the Iceland foreign worker union. The wholesale cuts make much more sense considering that. To fire one at a time, you are going to have to fire with cause in a union shop.

    November 6, 2017 at 3:57 pm
  • Freelancer117

    Eve Online has a problem, when the company invests increasing resources into the game the return on those will rapidly decline.

    Meaning ccpgames only have to allocate a very small dev team and budget to new eden to get the largest amount of profit back.

    This makes a lot of capital available for side “projects”, and a(ny) company debt that is incurred can be paid back by eve players.

    Having side projects can be motivational for the higher echelon management to have business trips and offices abroad.

    And if you believe ccpgames would be long ded because they only had the one product, the tranq server is still up after almost 15 years.

    Thx to the enthousiasm from the capsuleers and the sorely missed community devs.
    (o7 Logibro)

    Regards, a Freelancer

    ps: http://rebrn.com/re/-might-be-the-single-biggest-mistake-this-company-has-ever-made-3649593/

    November 6, 2017 at 9:48 pm