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.
“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. A professor of anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley, 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. Over time, this delusion became a self-fulfilling prophecy and the “fakeness” was accepted by everyone as real, an effect which Yurchak termed “hypernormalisation”.”
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.
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”.
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. “