Hypernormalised Bees

Caleb Ayrania 2016-11-21

A while back, I was planning on writing a review of Adam Curtis new documentary ”Hypernormalisation”(1), but I decided that the reality presented in it would be more interesting, as a take on EVE online, and CCP. Before continuing, I would like to strongly recommend checking the documentary out. The full depth of his coverage about the reality we live in has been made even more relevant by the recent US election.

Hypernormalisation

The term “hypernormalisation” is taken from Alexei Yurchak‘s 2006 book Everything was Forever, Until it was No More: The Last Soviet Generation, about the paradoxes of life in the Soviet Union during the 20 years before it collapsed.[3] A professor of anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley,[4] he argues that everyone knew the system was failing, but as no one could imagine any alternative to the status quo, politicians and citizens were resigned to maintaining a pretence of a functioning society.[5] Over time, this delusion became a self-fulfilling prophecy and the “fakeness” was accepted by everyone as real, an effect which Yurchak termed “hypernormalisation”.[6]

Just like Curtis applies this in his documentary, I will dare to claim we have something very similar going on in New Eden and especially in our relationship as stakeholders to CCP. This is not just another EVE is Dying rant, but rather a claim that if, we let ourselves be as disillusioned and passive, accepting the new norm, as the aforementioned Russians, we could very well risk a tragic whimpering end of the game.

We could go into the very deep details of all the ways that this claim is exemplified, but I will keep it to my two most obvious and preferred ones.

Good boy, bad boy!

The first is how CCP seem to play the Goons as a group they can vilify or glorify according to the zeitgeist, or the current state of the developer pipeline and available man-hour resources. We see this all the way back to the historical events like the moon goo bug, and the OTEC cartel events, where even though being warned, CCP remained passive for way too long resulting in lopsided advantages to some. When the drama hits, it’s easy to paint with a wide brush and repeat the Goons own motto: that they are here to destroy the game. This, regardless of the many times it’s been corrected, has been interpreted as pushing the boundaries of the games design flaws and disrupting other players status quo. CCP then tend to lean back and let the rest of the world believe that the flaw is not theirs, but the behaviour of Goons.

The opposite is when they take advantage of emergent events and promote the creative content generated by the Goons, this especially true when big wars and dramas ensues. Here CCP dress themselves with being the skilled creators of the sandbox that has this unique selling point of facilitating the emergence of such content.

However the details are usually very clear to show that it’s the player’s own interactions, away from the game – in real life, and working on proactively finding ways to “break the game” to generate this content, that is the actual reason wars kick off. It’s not the CCP designed emergence that is in effect at all. There is no direct design that generates rage between individuals in the EVE meta, and social community intermezzos. There is no obvious planned design that facilitates creation of cartels, or bake blue donuts. Some might argue that it is the consequence of design and the semi voluntary PvP of New Eden, that makes these things possible, and of course that is to some extent true, but this is a fact that is now 15 years old, and the iterations on the game has not made the this kind of content creation easier, I would tend to claim the opposite.

belaguy1

A looming learning Chasm

The second is what is somewhat illustrated in the above image. It shows the criticism of some of the changes to the game design over the past era, and what it points to regarding combat is even worse regarding the so called “circle of life”.

inset-circlelife

The details of this ecosystem is a bit more complicated, but for now the Disney explanation will be adequate. The universe has raw materials, that powers production, that grants the tools of all activity in EVE, and among them destruction of said produce, that then gets recycled back into the system by its yields in primary and secondary benefits. Primary being the direct access to materials from the “predation” and secondary the politically competitive benefits. This way all activities are the products of players time, and raw materials made available and accessible by design. Distribution in space and replenishment over time are the key underlying factors in all this.

My claim is that in the past a lot more strains and bottlenecks were present, whether that was resulting from either progressive design choices and changes, or not, now we are suffering under “inflation”, maybe more correctly raw material product creep, and severe overstocking. In a recent interview with the Imperium economist, Aryth, I raised this question, and he admitted that he saw the issue as relevant, but not easily fixed. I find it a bit more pressing to resolve. Primarily because with the current design pipeline, if more easy-mode is initiated, it will be practically impossible to turn the ship around, one or two years down the line. Having been around long enough to know that good content, or even any content at all in EVE, is made by players pushing themselves and challenging the status quo and each other, I fear the potential apathy. This is why I suspect that these players will drift away, or even as Aryth threatened us with, leave in a massive exodus. “If Goons leave the game is dead”, was his exact words. Maybe it’s more correct to say if players and groups like Goons leave, the game will certainly change so much, that it will no longer be EVE Online in anything but name.

In conclusion I believe it is time to lift the veil and demand more from CCP, the same goes for the CSM, that is supposed to bridge the gap between us as stakeholders, and them as content facilitators. CCP does NOT make the game we play, they are janitors by their own admittance, and if they don’t listen to the actual creators, and bring the wrong type of sand to the sandbox, or just the very dry stuff that is useless in sculpting, then we will be hard pressed to keep the game content rich and entertaining.

There is however a shimmering light on the horizon, and things have been brewing over the last year or so, under the wings of Executive Producer CCP Seagull. The outlook is promising, and this new hope could alleviate a lot of the above mentioned problems. I am thinking specifically of structures and the roll out of what she promised us back when she took the stage for the first time. It does not however resolve the acceptance of this hypernormalisation, and how we all know that something is wrong, but won’t point fingers. CCP won’t because of fear of unveiling some incompetence, and players remaining silent, because historically it’s been a Quixotic endeavour to voice any opinion, lastly our is CSM remaining silent or ignoring the problem, for fear of losing voters or their position.

Illustration: “This delightful watercolour tells the story of Cupid, the god of love, who ran to his mother Venus, vainly trying to escape a swarm of bees whose honeycomb he had stolen. In his rush to escape, Cupid dropped his arrows. According to the fable told by the Greek poet Theocritus, in his Idylls, Venus laughs and says: ‘Are you not just like the bee – so little yet able to inflict such painful wounds?’ Cupid the Honey Thief was part of a series of watercolour illustrations of mythological subjects which Dürer painted in 1514. “

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Comments

  • David Matterall

    So, assume incompetence, before malice?

    There’s some interesting points in there – that players create gameplay, not the tools/mechanics. This is a known thing, but your article goes a bit further.

    November 21, 2016 at 10:12 PM
    • MacCloud David Matterall

      One can only assume incompetence for so long until you have to come to the conclusion that you may have become a tool to be used either as free promotion or a scapegoat for poor decisions in mechanics or company policy. of course its all roses when a group is used as a positive example as its free advertising for them, but when it swings the other way a developer like CCP does nothing but hurt itself by demonising and disincentivising certain players from wanting to take part in the great social experiment that is Eve.

      To that extent CCP is gambling with a core group of players who are long term repeat customers for the possibility of adding new customers. And with the retention stats of eve online (prior to alpha clones) that’s a pretty dangerous business strategy indeed! What Eve Online’s ‘actual’ player retention rate is as dual model limited free to play game is anyones guess though.

      I think the interview with Aryth is a great example of how CCP believes that as they own the game and by extension they own the players playing it and aryth points out that for at least one group (goons) they had to prove a point to CCP and not play into the narrative.

      But the self perpetuating nature of being closed off to differing and challenging points of view fuels an echo-chamber culture that gives rise to hypernormalisation and i think if CCP starts becoming more intimately involved with only one side of the in-game political sphere and shuns genuine criticism of itself and its leanings it could well give rise to Eve own form of social boom and bust as an ever more politicised CCP would shun yet another player group as the ‘bad guys’ and slowly cannibalise its long standing repeat customer base for ever more increasing amounts of uncertainty.

      tl;dr
      grrr goons..
      ohh damn! umm…
      grr test?
      ohh fuck :S
      grr pl?
      where has everyone gone?
      oh at least we have world of dark…

      November 22, 2016 at 7:31 AM
      • Caleb Ayrania MacCloud

        Damn MacCloud, dont write better content in the comment section, there is no ISK compensation down here. 🙂

        Or rather damn well said!

        November 22, 2016 at 8:46 AM
        • MacCloud Caleb Ayrania

          hehe! yahh that is true, no isk for me maccloud here 🙁 but i was trying to express a point and when i had written it up it seemed it needed a bit more context otherwise itd sound like a ‘woe is me and my ilk’ when in fact it came from a more academic and politically neutral concern for the community and the company.

          November 22, 2016 at 4:08 PM
  • vexter

    I think Eve would be a much better game without you. I think that you have exploited a stupid group of players into giving you money for far too long. That is money that could have been spent on Eve… CCP, fear is the mind killer. Ban Goons for the greater good!!!… I give this about 10 seconds before I am banned. Or maybe the new Imperium will be open to differing opinions? LOLz :/ fly safe.

    November 22, 2016 at 7:15 PM
    • Caleb Ayrania vexter

      *looking for an argument to respond to* Error Argument not found!

      November 22, 2016 at 8:06 PM
  • PewPew

    I’m not even quite sure what you are suggesting, that CCP hates goons?

    If you want things changed maybe you could make a list of the changes you want to see, that would be quite helpful, saying things are bad is easy, fixing them is hard.

    I particularly liked this sentence:

    “There is however a shimmering light on the horizon, and things have been brewing over the last year or so, under the wings of Executive Producer CCP Seagull.”

    More metaphors than you can shake a stick at.

    November 22, 2016 at 7:58 PM
    • Caleb Ayrania PewPew

      This is not a feature creep piece.. When its cultural and social issues and choices at work, its not something easy to resolve. If I had a suggestion for a simple solution, I would have made that as an argument. The closest I could get was bring back Torfi, Soundwave and Halldor Fannar .. and the WiS vision, but that is not a solution for the attitudes I am arguing, its a potential change by indirect means.

      #metaphorsarecool

      November 22, 2016 at 8:13 PM
    • Ganthrithor PewPew

      IDK there’s a long history of CCP ignoring problematic gameplay elements until Goons position themselves to leverage those mechanics: shortly thereafter the mechanics are changed or declared an exploit. See:

      – POS bowling
      – AOE doomsdays
      – Tracking titans
      – Technetium
      – Drone triggering mechanics
      – ???

      Basically small groups like BoB upper management or PL start doing things and nobody bats an eye, because, “It’s a special thing skilled veteran players have cleverly figured out.” When we start doing it, the line becomes, “Oh my god, anyone can do this thing which doesn’t really worth the way CCP intended and we need to fix it because this isn’t what we meant to enable; we need to fix this now.”

      Sane way of thinking about it: Until a large group of players does a thing at scale, it’s hard for people to acknowledge that a thing is problematic and worthy of immediate attention.

      Tinfoil way: Everytime Goons are ready to get ahead, CCP slams the door in our face.

      It’s sort of like during the election: any impropriety from Clinton = she’s a criminal. Trump exploits tax loopholes to not pay income taxes = he’s a genius and we should all admire his business acumen.

      November 23, 2016 at 11:22 PM