Art by Cryo Huren
And yes, umm, we are announcing big content updates for fan fest. It’s the largest one probably we have ever done.”CCP Paragon – Q&A Session.
Two weeks ago, we were treated to a Q&A session with CCP Paragon, who decided to do an impromptu session, due to the outrage being felt at the subscription price increase. Not something that happens regularly at all.
Many questions were asked, one that many people wanted an answer to; Content, where is it? Are we getting any? As many of you reading this are aware, the last couple of years have been extremely dry in terms of content other than database number changes. New systems, overhauls, updates or anything that may introduce some emergent gameplay has been sorely lacking. We have had systems such as the DBS and ESS, but as we will come to understand, these systems simply don’t work as intended, engagement is simply not there, and the DBS actively reduces content. But I digress.
A Lesson in Managing Expectations
Expectations were set very high by this Q&A. With a CCP employee suggesting that we should be excited, hopes were raised. Understandably. We all have a passion for Eve Online. It is a unique, niche game that requires substantial levels of input to play at a respectable level. There is a reason when something is not as expected, or that CCP fails to live up to their end of the bargain that people get very, very unhappy. We love EVE Online. We have a passion for EVE Online. For many of us, EVE has been a companion, social tool, and coping mechanism for many years, especially during the last few. Inherently we become more attached to something the longer we do it, and when we are attached to something, it is difficult to watch it become demonstrably worse. Yet this is what we have been doing for years now.
Like many of you, I was very excited as the fan fest began, but that excitement started to wane during the keynote. I kept hope, started to speak to people. I reached out on Twitter and was reassured that more was coming, and while that certainly was true, the more still didn’t feel like it was enough.
The problem you see, dear capsuleers, is that CCP didn’t bring up much. The last few years have been such a sore spot for a lot of players – many of whom were sat in the room, and we got four minutes of what can barely be called justification. Fanfest was essentially a “fresh start” for them. I imagine this was driven by marketing—let’s not mention the problems of the last few years very much and look forward. A great idea in most instances, but in this one, it was terrible.
Context Means a Lot
For CCP to use the term “Strong Foundations” after the last few years, cuts deep. Eve is demonstrably not in a healthier place right now than it was previously. The health of EVE is determined by one thing and one thing alone. The number of players playing the game. There is no other metric by which you can ascertain the health of the game. Other metrics such as churn and retention can help inform the player count, but the overall player count is the apex in terms of how healthy EVE Online is. That number is in decline.
From CCP’s perspective, they have a desire to create a system where people are unable to achieve what they previously did. They see the reduction in minerals being mined as a “success” and I think this is one of the hardest things to come to terms with as a player. Most players who understand EVE see that the more ore mined, the cheaper ships become. Then, people become more likely to go out and blow them up.
On The Treadmill
A design concept that other games use exists, called a content treadmill. Games attempt to make sure the content treadmill is not all bunched up at the beginning. CCP is, rightly, trying to space out this treadmill but they are putting this treadmill for new players above and beyond anything for their oldest and most loyal customers. And this, my dear capsuleer friends, is the biggest problem we have. How do you balance a game that involves someone with 19 years of accumulated resources with someone who started yesterday? The truth is, you can’t.
CCP has spent the past few years systematically taking apart player systems and content generators in order to achieve a “healthy” EVE Online. Again, healthy to most long-standing players of EVE Online means more bums in seats, more players in space, and more content.
To CCP this means reducing the overall capacity of older players and alliances in terms of production and hardware generation. Why? Because older players have more disadvantages than new players for CCP, as I will come to explain. Rorquals are another great example of this, outside of CCP using them to increase their profits.
Reign of the Rorqual
Rorquals were overhauled to become the premier end-game mining platform, able to chew through rocks like nothing before it and that is exactly what they did. But while players were warning CCP of this, and obviously using it to good effect, CCP was using Rorquals in order to improve their yearly profits via Skill injectors. CCP showed record profits around this time, and as we later came to find out, CCP was looking for a buyer.
With their financial goals somewhat achieved, CCP has now done an about-face on Rorquals and nerfed them, blaming all in-game financial and systematic woes of EVE Online on the proliferation that they themselves pushed, for financial gain. But which type of capsuleer is most likely to buy a skill injector? A relatively new pilot wanting to get into a shiny new ship today, or a 10-year-old player that has already skilled in most meta ships?
The New Player Development Cycle
CCP has spent the last two years working on the New Player Experience (NPE). The NPE consumed most of their development bandwidth. In terms of production output, and viewable progress in-game, the last two years have been extremely slow and stagnant with only a brief NPE in place and a further addition coming shortly afterward. So, what has CCP been doing during this time? Again, insight into how CCP works is key here, but the most concise way of explaining it is perpetual tool production.
A developer starts creating a tool. Development halts because of a problem. So they create another tool to fix that problem. But wait! This new tool also has a problem, and they make two new tools to fix this problem! Perpetual tool creation is an issue that faces a lot of development, and CCP is no different.
During these two years, we have seen concurrent numbers drop, and we have seen the number of ships that are produced drop. We have seen capital ships produced drop. Every metric regarding player interaction, or content generation has seen a marked decline.
But What About the Future?
Well, dear capsuleers, this is where it gets depressing. Fanfest was a process of explaining aspirational future developments with very little created. But there were many undertones if you know where to look.
One single line from Hilmar’s set was the biggest indicator. 57% of players have joined the game since the last Fanfest, four years ago. The NPE was the largest topic brought up by devs through multiple sets. CCP has spent the last two years, primarily focused on new players and retention.
Retention is great. But what isn’t great is that CCP has made a cost-benefit analysis of veteran players vs new players. And they picked new players. This is exemplified by the above, certainly. It also fits that there is no new content for the main zones of veteran players, namely null-sec.
The Conundrum, Going Forward
Now I imagine some people are scratching their heads at this point. Why would CCP want to bring in one new player, with one account? A veteran might be playing with an average of 5 accounts. That’s a fairly easy question to answer. They want to retain that new player. They want that new player to buy skill injectors and become invested. Then buy alts, and inject those accounts too.
A veteran already has the alts trained up, mostly. CCP knows this, CCP sees this. We have a real problem on our hands here. When it comes down to it, CCP will pick a new player over a dedicated, long-term, loyal customer. This was avidly on display during fanfest. CCP was almost gloating over having a majority of its player base be new players. And that came in front of an audience that included some of its oldest and most loyal community members.
CCP undoubtedly has its job cut out for itself, but so do we as its paying, playing community. The next few years are going to be difficult, that is for sure. We are going to lose many long-standing members of our community. It will be a huge shame to see these people leave. It will rend communities and make the game a poorer place for having lost some great people. Will CCP management care? No, they are counting on it.
Addendum: Please be aware, that by CCP I mean middle/upper management, rather than ground floor devs.