Art by Redline XIII
When it comes to EVE Online, it’s often said that the community aspect of the game is the best part about it. Obviously, this is a statement that can be made about any MMO – interacting with others to achieve goals is more effective than trying to accomplish them individually, and more engaging too. But EVE is always considered to be different.
This is certainly due to the single-shard nature of EVE Online. When almost every player from around the world interacts in the same game space and can impact others, creating communities to achieve goals and protect against hostile actions is imperative. This type of community-led gameplay is what led to the first nullsec empires, gave rise to the likes of CODE. and the Anti-Ganking movement, and has produced some of the most complex political and diplomatic gameplay in video-gaming history.
Beyond the Friendship Machine
The ability for communities to create their own content both within the game and through outside-of-game discussions and agreement has also consistently been praised by members of CCP, gaming media, and even players. Indeed, it’s hard to find an individual who doesn’t think that our communities are noticeably different to any other gaming communities. Most major nullsec alliances run significant leadership structures, maintain their own IT departments to keep their communication networks online and secure, have finance departments making sure that incomes and expenditures are in check and healthy. These groups are effectively small-to-medium business equivalents, and really – where else in gaming could you find that sort of experience?
One man who could reasonably be called the most public proponent of EVE Online’s community bona fides is CCP Hellmar, also known as CCP Games CEO Hilmar Veigar Pétursson. Hilmar takes every opportunity he can to rave about the community and our achievements. In fairness, we have done some incredible things, consistently breaking world records for players involved in the same event and raising money for charities, as well as doing our best to support members in our communities through groups like Broadcast4Reps.
In fact, Hilmar will be attending EVE Down Under this weekend, in his first public appearance at the ongoing Invasion World Tour events. He will be giving another talk on the wonders of the EVE community, titled Beyond The Friendship Machine. According to the EDU MegaBlog, Hilmar will be talking about how the EVE community build friendships, and what makes us tick. This sounds promising, and if this session is even half as good as CCP Ghost’s EVEsterdam session on the psychology of players, this will likely be a really interesting presentation.
Approaching the Breaking Point
Unfortunately for Hilmar, much of the celebrated community action is done in spite of CCP, rather than because of CCP. The Siege of 9-4RP2 in January 2018 broke the world record for the most concurrent players involved in a single multiplayer videogame fight, but that engagement was an hours-long slog through massive Time Dilation, server instability and unresponsiveness, and client crashes. This is not new to EVE, of course. Every fight that involves ~1000 characters or more will be subject to some level of Time Dilation and the associated issues, and we push through these because this experience exists nowhere else in video gaming. CCP have recently been looking towards the future of server technologies through their association with Hadean Supercomputing Ltd., as well as their continued use of Amazon Web Services to host in-game chat servers, the ESI interface, and more. In addition, Hilmar addressed this directly at the ReBoot Develop conference in April 2019.
However, it is not just server technology that is straining under the load of CCP’s plans for the future. Over the past almost two years, CCP has been struggling under the burden of a significantly decreased Community Development Team, following layoffs in October 2017 that included well-known individuals such as PR manager CCP Manifest and CSM organiser and Tournament stalwart CCP Logibro among others. The following Fanfest, CCP Falcon spoke to MassivelyOP and stated that while the layoff had hurt the team, they had been finding new solutions to the problems of running community events.
These solutions mostly involved the use of contractors and the community organisations with experience in various areas. Two of the most obvious examples of the community stepping up are the use of the Plus10 Gaming team to run Alliance Tournament XVI last summer, and the current endeavours of StreamFleet, who have been putting in some heroic work managing livestreaming and recording of the Invasion World Tour events. Despite this, there are still reports of strains within CCP to provide adequate support to these contracting groups, and we have been seeing what appears to be a decision to move CCP’s limited community support assets away from community-run projects and towards their potentially issue-laden World Tour events.
Actions Speak Louder: Tournaments
Starting off with one aspect of community interaction that has taken a nose-dive into the ground ever since the departure of CCP Logibro, every EVE Online tournament going has been affected by CCP’s lack of bandwidth. Player participation in the August 2017 Alliance Tournament was at the highest ever level, due to the newly-introduced Feeder Rounds that took place on the dedicated Thunderdome tournament server. This innovation came directly from the mind of Logibro, and to heap even more praise on Logibro, he was directly responsible for the creation of what is known as the “Tournament Tool” on that server. ‘The Tool’ is a player-usable version of GM tools used to run practices and tournaments under the rules specified in that tool.
Following the removal of Logibro and his management of Thunderdome, CCP had no idea how to support Thunderdome and the player tournament community, a situation that has persisted and become even more terrible as time has gone on. The first casualty was the Anger Games 3rd iteration, set to run in November 2017. AG3 could not be run because nobody at CCP had any idea how to alter the ruleset of the Tournament Tool in such a way as to allow the rules to be properly implemented.
Then came 2018’s Alliance Tournament, an event that had the lowest participation in years. That drop came largely due to the lack of hype CCP was able to generate and a feeling of everything being last-minute and without significant planning. Prizes for this event were not finalised and announced until mere weeks before the tournament officially began, long after signups had closed. Following this performance, CCP announced in February this year that the Alliance Tournament XVII was to be postponed ahead of a revamp, with it set to return in 2020, but they would provide support assets to ensure that certain hand-picked player tournaments could be run while CCP would directly be responsible for a series of 2v2 competitions at each World Tour event.
It didn’t turn out that way though. Just three months after claiming they would provide support for players to run tournaments, CCP showed that they had no idea what was actually required to achieve that goal during the StreamFleet Showdown Invitational 2, which almost had to be cancelled following massive technical issues with the Thunderdome server. These issues, coupled with a major problem involving arena boundaries during the final of Russia’s live tournament, resulted in a document being emailed out to all tournament organisers. This document detailed the full lengths of support for player-run events on Thunderdome, and suffice to say, the available support is so minimal as to effectively kill off all player-run tournaments for the foreseeable future. Expect to see a more detailed review of just why this happened in the coming week.
Actions Speak Louder: Team Security And Community Interactions
In recent months, problems and rumours of problems have come to light, raising questions about the ability of CCP to respond to security issues. In the biggest issue of the year so far, one of the most community-engaged CSMs around was banned in a reactionary move from CCP following what now appears to be an attempt to meta-game the CSM. Brisc Rubal, alongside Pandoralica and Dark Shines, spent more than two weeks of this year banned from playing EVE Online following a report that Brisc had broken NDA to provide confidential information, resulting in the three players profiting from an unfair advantage. The speed and public nature of CCP’s actions caused an uproar, and further internal investigations revealed that none of these players had done anything to break the EULA or any other agreements. The sheer speed of the initial banning left many players wondering if Team Security were involved in the initial investigation at all, and if they were, what level of investigation was undertaken that meant the evidence collected was not sufficient to satisfy CCP’s policies when reviewed?
Additionally, CCP appears to be moving towards new policies surrounding a massive community problem—botting. In recent weeks, CCP Peligro has been tweeting about bans made by Team Security for botting offences, even going so far as to list the top-25 most banned alliances historically. This was followed by articles from CSM members Jin’taan and Suitonia discussing the botting problem and potential solutions to this issue, which included the alteration of space to provide NPC staging areas in some of the most bot-prolific areas of nullsec and potential thoughts of a serious revamp to the rewards for ratting anomalies with the intention of hurting bots. However, one of the biggest hints of a new policy regarding this at CCP was the effective destruction of a corporation in Tactical Narcotics Team. This corporation saw the vast majority of its players permabanned for breaches of EULA, with some newer players moved to NPC corps. This was a first for CCP, and appears to target not just the players breaking the Terms of Service, but also the corporation that they belonged to—CCP directly hit that small community.
Combining this with comments from CCP about how player alliances need to be doing more to combat botting, and that if players don’t step up, their alliances could be impacted directly, leads us into the region of that likely policy shift. If CCP start negwalleting alliances, they could very adversely affect the abilities of those alliances to pay sovereignty bills, run Ship Replacement Programs, provide infrastructures for their communities, and participate in EVE conflicts at scale. Taking these points together, it appears that Team Security is finding itself struggling to keep up for some reason, and is feeling the need to lean on the community instead of finding a more robust and reliable solution.
The Pearl Abyss Question
The most peculiar aspect to the apparent issues CCP have been facing in the last couple of years is that in October of 2018, CCP were publicly acquired by Pearl Abyss, the Korean developer of Black Desert Online. The price, a cool $425 million USD, was supposed to provide CCP with the room to grow and push the game forward into what is being referred to as the ‘Third Decade’, and in his announcement DevBlog, Hilmar made sure to stress that the community was still central to EVE Online development, and that any decisions with the potential to affect EVE Online would be made with us all, the player community, at the heart of those decisions.
So then, where is this being demonstrated? It isn’t being seen by the players looking to run events on Thunderdome and create content for hundreds of players at a time. Nor is it seen in the live events, where players in Russia did not receive the T-Shirts promised as part of their entrance fees. And it isn’t being seen in the way CCP are seeming to address major community issues, with Team Security set to make player organisations more paranoid and untrusting to new members, just in case that player is an undiscoverable bot. Finally, it definitely isn’t being demonstrated by CCP’s inability to replace CCP Guard, an incredible communicator who tendered his resignation over four months ago now.
At present, it is nearly impossible to say whether these various problems are individual issues with relatively simple fixes, or if the spate of community problems are indicative of a larger issue at CCP Games. Regardless of the answer to that, it is clear that players are not receiving the consideration that is deserved by a community of tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of paying customers who are, if Hilmar is to be believed, the very lifeblood of EVE Online’s incredible experience.
Update: The original version of this article indicated that players in a TNT corp were banned for botting. While it is suspected that these players were banned over a small number of bots in their midst, CCP has told them only ‘Breach of EULA’. The players affected are still trying to get more information.