Rage when communicating with or about CCP is the norm for much of the EVE community. If some posts on EVE-O boards, Reddit , and elsewhere are to be believed CCP has reached a new low in both gameplay and community relations. EVE is on the cusp of total collapse, CCP is on the verge of bankruptcy while actively working to alienate its player base, and the CSM is nothing more than an impotent fig leaf used to absorb blame for idiotic game design decisions. When all is said and done the reason for this disaster is the arrogance and stupidity of one man: CCP Fozzie: Destroyer of Fun, Murderer of EVE.
In reality the above could hardly be farther from the truth. An objective look at the difficulties faced by the EVE game design team and the environment they have to work in paints a very different picture from the one shared by the community at large. First off, CCP Fozzie acts as a lightning rod due to his status as a lead developer, but a careful reading of CSM minutes and forum threads shows that there are entire design teams and a great many other actors influencing each change to the game.
As well, while there are many legitimate problems with EVE today, which the author of this article has not hesitated to raise over the course of his writing career at this site, the game design process and CCP’s communication with the community is better than it has ever been in the history of the game. A look back at the state of CCP’s focus on EVE (or lack thereof) and relationship with the community in 2011 illustrates how much progress has been made. When Incarna was released, CCP was devoting considerable resources to non-EVE games. Features were implemented in a vacuum and then left in place without any further iteration, no matter if they worked properly or not. Feedback from players on what worked well or poorly was almost completely ignored, and CCP’s devs and management were so out of touch with the community that they were shocked when players reacted poorly to $70 monocles and leaks foretelling the implementation of “pay to win” mechanics. To quote The Mittani shortly afterwards,
If there’s one thing that all of the Incarna chaos has taught us, it is that CCP listens to only two masters: their subscription numbers and the media.
The difference between then and now is huge. Developers communicate often and early, frequently soliciting player feedback on proposed changes months before they are supposed to go live. Plans for changes are altered or even completely rethought based on player feedback. A reading of the CSM minutes shows they have a major impact on what gets changes and how, though they are hardly the only driver of what changes. Events like the jump fatigue round table and dev appearances on many EVE related shows, however imperfect, allow players to ask questions directly of the devs. Most importantly features are not left to rot half-finished or broken. The sovereignty changes just received a balance pass which was announced by CCP Fozzie as follows,
Galatea will contain the first (and definitely not the last) set of updates to the sov capture system released in Aegis, thanks in large part to your excellent feedback and observations we’ve made of the first few weeks of the new system on Tranquility.
Instead of giving credit to this new CCP, one that has made huge progress since Incarna and the summer of rage, many of the most vocal parts of the player base have been moving the goalposts and using the Nirvana fallacy so they can stay mad. Now that CCP is focused on EVE and making the changes the community demanded, they are engraged that the changes are not perfect on the first pass. This is hardly a fair expectation of a small company running a single-shard game over a decade old, something completely unique in the history of computer gaming. Culturally this sort of response is laughably old news for anyone who routinely reads any comment section ever on the thing called the internet. There is a good bit of scientific work on why people are generally rude and aggressive online. The layer of separation which prevents things like eye contact, along with the loss of inhibitions brought about by the illusion of anonymity, causes people to behave in ways online that they would not dream of in real life.
This would not normally be a huge deal; any veteran of the internet knows that much of what gets posted about any topic online is either deliberate trolling or sincere but pointless ranting from posters so locked into a single viewpoint that interacting with them is pointless. However, community interaction with CCP takes place almost entirely via forums, and the Dev team really does seem to read every post when it comes to feedback on proposed changes. Even though devs are likely to be fairly jaded about the internet, dealing with the same rage and negativity month after month, no matter what they do, must have an impact on their perception of the community.
Consider for a moment the difficulties that a game developer would experience trying to make use of player feedback. Each comment from the player base typically only represents the interest of a narrow group of players, and may be intended to benefit them to the detriment of the game. Others are simple trolling, sometimes well-disguised as informed opinion. Winnowing the valuable feedback from the mountain of chaff that comes with it is a massive task, and inevitably good advice will be ignored. The people who were right go on to scream “I told you so” at every opportunity. Players whose interests were be harmed by the changes continue to argue for a rollback and predict disaster. The trolls tell everyone to HTFU and write about delicious tears. None of this helps clear the air to allow the devs to arrive at an optimal solution.
Then there is the nature of EVE Devs themselves. As was recently demonstrated at the Jump Fatigue round table, they can be less than diplomatic when directly interacting with the community. Many players seem to take this as evidence that CCP does not care or the devs are outright contemptuous of the player base. Instead of this worst case perception players might take a moment to try and put themselves in the dev’s shoes.
Game devs are programmers and EVE players; there is a reason that “writes beautiful Stackless Python” is not a hiring criterion for senior State Department diplomats. One of the particularities of CCP is that backend employees, who at any other company would never be allowed out of their dim and computer filled basements, are routinely called on to interact with the player base. Unsurprisingly they are often not as good at it as career PR professionals, but at the same time it gives the players an opportunity to influence the game available nowhere else. For the devs, who are doing their best and making changes they think player are asking for only to have the response be “we hate you, die in a fire like EVE is right now,” is it any wonder they are showing some frustration?
Many players, especially the most jaded among the community, will scoff at the points raised here. The easiest response for a bitter vet emotionally invested in raging at CCP is likely something along the lines of, “Well they should be better at game design and PR, it is what they get paid for after all.” This response is a cop-out to avoid stepping back and making an effort to put down ingrained biases. Everyone should be better at what they do; the author should not need editors to proof his writing before it gets published, Goons should not lose Ishtars to roving gangs in Deklein, and B-R should never have happened because the N3 coalition FCs should have known that the CFC could hard-counter their supercap numbers. Perfection is unattainable; success comes from making the best of what is available.
For this reason players who truly care about EVE, but adopt a negative, despairing, or aggressive tone when responding to changes, should re-evaluate how they interact with CCP. Constant negativity risks undermining the gains so painfully made since Incarna by causing the devs to stop listening to the players. For those that care to look there is a mountain of evidence that coherent, polite, well researched player feedback is having a real impact on the game. Not as significant of an impact as the players doing the writing might perhaps want, but an undeniable impact. Remember, the devs rely on our subscriptions to put food on the table. They have more reason to care and want to do well than even the most rabid player; we aren’t locked in with them, but they sure as hell are locked in with us.