In recent weeks, CCP Games has been mired in controversy, after controversy, after controversy, in the run up to EVE Online’s first Fanfest event in four years.
I’m talking, of course, about selling in-game ships for real money with no apparent consideration for the in-game economy, introducing a 33% hike in the cost of a one-month subscription during the worst global living costs crisis in more than 30 years, and a Reddit AMA by CSM XI member Xenuria, which alleged widespread unprofessionalism and a sheer lack of any real management whatsoever.
So with Fanfest 2022 just around the corner, and ahead of what CCP Paragon described as ‘probably one of the largest content updates CCP has ever done’, I thought it would be interesting to revisit the years since Fanfest 2018. We’re going to look at what happened, what didn’t happen, and how well CCP has addressed concerns over that period. We’ll talk about game balance. We’ll talk about the Eras of Scarcity and Plexperity. And along the way, we’ll talk about the EVE Online community, and where it seems to be going.
Buckle up – it’s going to be a long and bumpy ride.
Now, the last Fanfest was an interesting event – truly, seriously interesting. CCP (and others) spoke on a wide range of topics, from the somewhat dry topics of game balance, game design, and Structures, all the way through to the introduction of the Triglavian Collective. Of course, we also saw some simple comedy “fun” in the form of the EVEprov event, and then the genuine hilarity of CCP’s CCP Games Games, which will see a return to our screens this year. To top it all off, EVE’s official historian Andrew Groen gave a talk on his second volume of the player history of EVE.
It’s difficult to properly summarise the sheer quantity of news we received back in 2018. I could spend half of this entire article expounding on the Outpost changes, which saw player-built stations become faction Fortizars, as well as CCP’s planned and executed replacement of POS functions. We could (and have, in many articles) discuss the whys and wherefores of what balance changes occurred around or were announced at Fanfest 2018, and that is exhaustive. Faction Capital ships, Strategic Cruisers, the Monitor, Triglavian Ships and modules, Shield Slave implants… The list goes on, and on. Fanfest 2018 truly was a no-holds-barred event.
It should also be noted (though we’ll circle back to this point a little later) that 2018’s Fanfest was the last time we saw an Executive Producer on a stage, engaging with players, and describing a positive future for EVE Online. CCP Seagull’s Keynote address was a tour-de-force of vision and philosophy, wrapped in upcoming game changes and delivered in just under ten minutes.
She talked about game health and balance as a team priority – not just ships and structures, but security and development efforts to make EVE more difficult to bot, and the Little Things that make up the Quality of Life in EVE. We also heard about plans for “deepening the sandbox”, creating opportunities for players to “test themselves against others” and to find “more meaningful decisions to make”, coming to EVE through a “richer, deeper experience of space colonisation where you as a player can take over more and more of what is possible to do in this universe”. We also heard Seagull talk about pushing the boundaries and having fun along the way – expanding EVE as a game, EVE as a technology stack, EVE as an experience. And, just to top it all off, CCP would be doing this “while pushing for a healthy ecosystem and a deeper sandbox”.
This all sounds great, right? I think we were all on board with whatever Seagull had in mind by this point. Seagull had a reputation by this point of getting things done well. When she made a statement about a change, it happened – even if it wasn’t as initially described – and largely, those changes were positive. Seagull, as Executive Producer, had spent four years earning player trust and the benefit of the doubt.
And Then, The Bubble Burst.
Unfortunately for us all, just two short weeks after taking to the stage, CCP Seagull had announced her departure from CCP Games in an EVE-O Forums post, stating that she was departing for family reasons. At the time, we wished CCP Seagull all the best for the future, and we continue to hope she is doing well.
At this point, CCP Hellmar, AKA CCP Games CEO Hilmar Pétursson, took the reins as the Interim Executive Producer for EVE Online, a role he would hold for around three months. During *his* keynote address in 2018, he had this to say about the future of EVE Online, and the ‘EVE Forever’ tagline CCP have been pushing ever since: “I am actually more hopeful than ever that we can do something amazing together. We have come a long way together, but we can go a lot further.”
He cited a few major aspects for believing this. The advent of Free-To-Play EVE during the Ascension expansion, their growth in “scientific understanding of what goes on in EVE”, and the new and exciting developments that were upcoming at the time (read: Triglavian storyline). Lastly, Hilmar was excited about the future of EVE because he had been playing EVE Online a lot that year and was interested in the game as a game again.
This, unfortunately, was not the start of a renaissance, but the slow beginning of a long downward spiral.
So What Actually Happened to EVE Online?
Naturally, this downward spiral didn’t happen overnight.
Across the transition period, and even after the July 2018 announcement of CCP Mannbjorn (who?) and CCP Burger as the Executive Producer and Creative Director of EVE Online respectively, the trains ran as smoothly as we can ever expect from CCP. They executed the Outpost to Fortizar changes well enough, only managing to break the entire universe once in the process – even if we’re still waiting for the promised monuments. We saw the migration of navigation structures from POS. The Triglavian storyline progressed slowly but steadily, bringing us Invasion Chapter One and the promised ships, modules, and mutaplasmids. And a fairly reasonable approach to game balance was maintained by CCP Rise and team, who have been a driving presence behind uncountable ships balance changes across the years, as well as the eponymous (and now decade-old) tiericide project.
The Cracks Begin
It was early 2019 when we first started to see fractures in the vision presented at Fanfest 2018. After all, creating a deeper and more meaningful universe is difficult when players can’t reliably talk to one another using the in-game chat system, or when your flagship competitive tournament goes on an extended hiatus. Losing your Lead Community Manager, a former-GM-turned-CCPer who dedicated sixteen years to EVE Online and its community, is also one hell of a canary in the coal mine. I would challenge any of you to find a player who met ex-CCP Guard who doesn’t miss his energy and insight into EVE’s community, even if he made the right decision for himself and, as he put it, ‘was leaving on a high note’ (EVE-Offline numbers from the time definitely defend this statement). I’m pretty sure that challenge is impossible.
We can then fast-forward a little bit, past the Hadean technical demos that never went anywhere (Thanks Hilmar), and past the unfounded ‘Banning of the Fountain Three’ (NO COLLUSION, FULL EXONERATION), and past the Triglavian Invasion part one. We’re also going to gloss right over the player events that happened during this period, because I’ll be honest, they were just excuses for players to meet up and talk – there weren’t a great many groundbreaking new things unveiled. One honourable mention goes to CCP Ghost’s “ Insert session name here“ from EVEsterdam; this was a fantastic presentation on his research into the actual interactions of EVE players, both in-game and out. This was very swiftly co-opted by Hilmar as the basis for his “Friendship Machine” publicity, and not too long after this talk, Ghost was quietly shuffled off to go help with NPE 4.0, and 5.0, and 6.0, etc. We’ll come back to the NPE a little later, though.
We’re instead going to skip through to the end of June, which was the point at which some ‘bright spark’ at CCP decided to unleash a hyper-aggressive version of the Drifters across low and nullsec. This period of time is one that I personally (and somewhat traumatically) refer to as…
…Welcome To The Shit
At the end of the day, this really sums up some very long few days for anyone with Citadel gunning rights across Low and Nullsec space. This was an awful mechanic, designed to do nothing but force player groups to defend their infrastructure against rats, of all things. All across K-Space, players with space-jobs were forced to man structure guns or lead fleets to hunt the most irritating and disengaging NPC fleets we have possibly ever seen. There was a point during this hellishly moronic period in time where players were defending against these spawns around-the-clock, running multiple alts gunning structures across multiple regions.
To borrow a section from Rhivre at the time: “On the back of recent questions about new-player retention numbers, this forced exercise in monotony brings longer-term player retention back into the limelight. After all, how long can these players – who are the logisticians, FCs, and support personnel of major content-creating player groups, in case you weren’t aware – keep up with the demands upon their time that this world event has created? It may well reach a point where these players simply decide that the game is beyond unplayable, and leave forever, exacerbating CCP’s issues with maintaining an effective playerbase.” A reminder – this was back in 2019, and there was plenty worse coming.
The real kicker of the Drifter Menace, though, was that it disrupted a major ongoing player conflict in Nullsec, between the Imperium and PanFam in Tribute and Vale, and numerous smaller campaigns across the South and East. CCP, by way of spawning Drifters in ‘random’ systems and setting them to shoot anything and everything possible until they were killed, enforced an “all players, back to your corners” policy. In a sense, CCP said ‘fuck the sandbox, fuck the player stories and the “deeper, more meaningful universe”; EVE players, here, have a crapshoot of enforced PvE’. Welcome, players, to the shit.
Now To Sound The Air Raid Sirens
CCP seemed to grasp that their NPC assault project was frustrating and angering the playerbase very quickly – within a week of it beginning on June 25, all was said and done.
Then came the blackout.
The Nullsec blackout began on July 12, and for those who are unaware, this was the application of wormhole-style local system chat channels to Nullsec. There was no development of the concept, there were no mechanical tweaks – there was nothing to suggest any development time, just a quick decision to turn it all off. And so, for a period of 66 days, there was no distinction between how local chat operated between Spooky Space and Nullsec. 66 days of nobody in Nullsec knowing who is in their system or who isn’t, across the galaxy. CCP sure were on a streak of enforced “gameplay” across summer 2019, huh?
To say that this was controversial is both realistic and also massively underplays the seriousness of the gameplay impact the Blackout had on players and player communities. Some players loved it – they had an opportunity to hunt around without chasing away the easy targets, or they could drop into systems and have time to cloaky-scout and set up some great drops that were impossible to counter. Other players hated it. “Home defence” fleet efforts became almost irrelevant overnight. Those decisions needed to become prescient and pre-emptive, and the only ships that could survive out in space were those who had the ability to tank and cyno in a standing response fleet. Anyone just trying to live their life in sov space and avoid the hunters just docked up and walked away.
By the time Blackout ended on September 16, the week-on-week average Peak Concurrent User count of EVE Online had dropped by more than five thousand players.
Interestingly enough, it was in the aftermath of this Era of Chaos that we saw the formation of Team Talos – a development team whose initial remit was to focus on balance and faster iteration of gameplay changes, and headed up by CCP Rise. Team Talos were initially set to work on a two-week release cadence, focusing on areas of the game that could do with some tweaks. Talos broke out of the gates with Warp Drive Active on October 15, then released changes in Howling Interceptors, Beat Around The Boosh, Rapid Fire, Kicking Over Castles, and Naughty Or Nice, all by December 11. After a brief Christmas holiday period, Talos got back down to it, and Arrendis and I interviewed CCP Masterplan about Talos’ future in January of 2020.
The Era of Scarcity
With the good comes the bad, and while I had planned to spend some time talking about the market changes and the Hypernet Relay, I find I can’t summon the energy. A quick summary: in December 2019, CCP decided to increase taxes, change the minimum amount you could place an order for an item from 0.1 ISK to whatever 4 significant figures of your intended price worked out as, and also introduced a “future-forward, paradigm-shifting market opportunity”, according to CCP Hellmar in London at the World tour. All you need to know about the Hypernet? It’s a raffle. Buy tickets, have x% chance of winning the thing. Go have fun with your tombola (UK Version).
The far more significant change in December 2019 was also very subtle – CCP removed Veldspar and Scordite from asteroid belts in Nullsec, and also slapped a significant nerf on the amount of ore available in upgraded Nullsec sov (just as a reminder, sov holders have to pay monthly fees for those upgrades!) This turned out to be the beginning of the “Era of Scarcity”.
Scarcity, and the impacts thereof, have been the overwhelming topic of conversation ever since. Beginning on December 17, 2019, Scarcity would officially span almost two years, ending with patch V19.11 on December 08, 2021. It started out with December’s simple anomaly changes, but very quickly accelerated. In February 2020, CCP delivered a devblog which touched on Moon Minerals for the first time in half a decade or more. In that devblog, we were told that “the market reaction will be closely monitored. Predictions have been made and the readiness to take measures is in place. After all, the industry is an integral part of how minerals are consumed, and as such it plays a great role in the mineral market’s behaviour as well as current stockpiles in inventory. No stone will be left unturned in the mission towards a better future.”
These changes were further described in a devblog on March 27, 2020. I haven’t been able to identify the specific patch these changes were implemented with, due to CCP’s patchwork reporting over the years. But as the years went on, the cascade continued. Patch after patch, small incremental changes that added up to a sweeping change in the EVE Online economy. Over the course of 46 published devblogs and patch notes related to the ecosystem and era of scarcity between July 5, 2019 and November 17, 2021, CCP Games created a narrative.
That narrative? To suggest that this is the only logical flow of development for EVE Online. A series of changes, designed to sweep us away and hold us in the current. A series of changes the economy is still suffering under, and may never recover from; but given that we’ve covered the basics, I’m going to do a tour of the major hits on my way to concluding this monster of an article.
September 2020: The Beginning of Redistribution
In a devblog on September 25, 2020, CCP provided an update that claimed to be the first step in resource redistribution. There were a number of key points, and I quote:
As mentioned in the EVE Online Ecosystem Outlook blog from March, the goal for this update is the reduction of inventory. Alongside that, the following is expected:CCP, DevBlog 25/09/2021
– More movement in Lowsec – and potentially more destruction
– Increase of mining ship losses
– More market transactions for ores/minerals
– Mineral income from refining items to increase
– Prices of minerals to change
Unfortunately, CCP Rattati, by this time the Director of Product for EVE Online, also went on live on Twitch to discuss the ecosystem changes in person on September 25. Speaking alongside host Carneros and also CCP Psych, CCP Goodfella, and Caleb Ayrania, Rattati made a lot of comments, as you might expect. Here is his ‘best’ highlight from the stream transcript:
Trust needs to be earned, for sure, and we’ve probably let you guys down before with lack of iteration. So I think what we have committed to is to react very quickly to this, the launch, within a week, two weeks, three weeks, so we’ll be monitoring the situation in high detail. Then we basically, we just say, stick it out, it’s going to get better, we’re closer to the end of the tunnel. And if you choose to, let’s say, discontinue, if you had Athanors back in the day or some big operations that you say basically ‘we don’t trust you, we’re just going to stop doing this’, feel free to pick it up again. But my message at the time was stick it out, maintain operations, maybe reduce your investment until it becomes clear, but my recommendation is stick it out. If you don’t, you’ll be back when you see the big picture.CCP Rattati, 25/09/2021
Trust needs to be earned. Yeah, that’s for damn sure.
The 2021 Industry Changes
Moving onwards, I couldn’t go any further without mentioning the April 2021 Industry Mega-Patch. Not-so-affectionately referred to as Feldustry (because dear lord, Kenneth Feld, if you want to step in front of CCP’s bullet live on air then you can damn well be tarred, feathered, and go down with that ship), this change was a massive alteration to capital and supercapital ships, and that also trickled down into the T1 and pirate subcapitals.
What happened here was the introduction of a few different extra “complexities” (read: tedium and frustration) to all levels of non-T2 ship construction. We saw (super)capitals suddenly require Tech-3 gas reactions sourced from wormholes, alongside gas from lowsec, and Planetary Interaction materials too. The supply chains needed for these ships went crazy, and that’s reflected in the MER for the period – that spike and then major drop around the middle of April in produced value is everyone cramming build slots before the patch.
When a T1 Battleship requires lowsec activity to produce, the EVE economy has an issue. When a pirate frigate needs both PI and lowsec gas reactions to produce, the EVE economy has an issue. When the value of the base PI required to build a supercarrier is worth more than all of the standard capital components combined, the EVE economy has an issue. Inflation, directly caused by developer mismanagement, has been hitting EVE Online for years now. So what’s next?
Actually, at this point… My conclusion. After writing more than three thousand words, I’ve realised how much I don’t care about the nitty-gritty details any more. I’m unsubbed, completely. I play Discord Online with my community, I help support the competitive EVE tournament niche, I work here at INN. But the thing that gets me is that I no longer want to log in to EVE Online. I’ll do it for my communities, I’ll do it to support events I consider to be valuable. But actually flying spaceships in the galaxy, going hunting, leading fleets – all things I have done previously? CCP has successfully turned me and my 8 subbed accounts away over the years.
The End Of The Road?
It has been a very long time since I’ve published an article like this. It’s long, for a start – I’ve not written this many continuous words since I discussed “The Future of EVE Online” or “Actions Speak Louder” way back in 2019. I’d be lying if I said Real Life hasn’t had an impact on my priorities – a front-line pandemic experience will do that to a person, never mind the rest of everything.
But the main reason I haven’t been writing like this, though, is because there is so much *shit* to wade through in recent years. I mentioned at the beginning of this article that we have not been in a renaissance for EVE Online following CCP Seagull’s departure, and I stand by that assessment. A little earlier I mentioned the 46 published devblogs and patch notes related to the ecosystem and era of scarcity between July 5, 2019 and November 17, 2021. Tens of thousands of words, uttered incrementally over more than two years, and largely designed to create an inexorable wave – to suggest that this is the only logical flow of development for EVE Online.
Any veteran player – defined by myself as anyone who remembers the before-times, the EVE Online before mid-2018, before the latest Hilmar resurgence and the Rattati administration – has, at this point, been steadily wading through that proverbial sewer of updates to keep playing EVE Online. Don’t get me wrong, there were shortcomings and issues back then too. But at least we had hope. We had excitement, we were regularly updated about a vision about the future we could buy into, and most importantly, we had some trust in the developers to keep our concerns and feedback close to heart.
A Train-Wreck In Slow Motion
Recently, Arrendis published an article on the sheer insanity – and apparent CCP business strategy – of selling fitted EVE Online ships for real money. He had this to say on the topic:
“Almost 10 days after the original post raising concerns (and weeks after the CSM began raising them quietly to CCP), we get this insulting bullshit post from Swift. They pulled the pack? Really? The pack that was part of an event that had ended? That pack?Thanks Arrendis
Awesome. They got all the money they were gonna get from the pack, and ‘pulled’ it right when they were planning to, anyway. Thanks guys. Really. Not for pulling the pack, because obviously, you didn’t. No, thanks for demonstrating just how fucking stupid you think we are, and how little respect you have for your customers.
And that’s before you tell us you want to turn us into another revenue stream in a virtual sweatshop.
Fuck it. Burn it all down. It’s what you’ve been doing for years, you might as well go ahead and get out the accelerants.
In my opinion, everything CCP has pushed in the last 4 years has been an affront to EVE’s core values. It’s been a major indication that CCP don’t know who they are or what they’re producing any longer, too. Now, I’ve railed long enough and hard enough about EVE Online in articles and on talk shows, and ultimately, I’m still talking about the same shit, three years later. If CCP cared about player feedback, they’d have adjusted, changed course, sought input from the CSM.
They haven’t done this. And I’ve been trying to implement a turn of phrase recently that I think we all should try – when they show you who they are, believe them.
So I’m going to sign this off by reiterating parts of my 2019 editorials that I think are still relevant today.
My Own Words, Back To Bite CCP…
“Herein lies the generally uncommunicated and unrecognised truth about the EVE Online NPE: it’s not about the first six hours. It’s not even really about the first three days, despite the massive percentage of retention drop-off in that period of time. It’s about the players who come back beyond the initial tutorial experience. It’s about the people who are dragged, kicking and screaming, into the mission system that appears to have been untouched in more than a decade. For the early-days new player, nothing is easy after the tutorial. The actual NPE is all about the players who, by luck or by skill, make it past the antiquated gatekeeper that is NPC missioning and find something worthwhile beyond that gatekeeper. As it is, CCP need to recognise that their efforts have to address major sections of the early gameplay sections that have been untouched for so long, instead of rehashing the same few hours of initial gameplay.”
“Given enough time and enough typewriters, monkeys are going to write the complete works of Shakespeare. A profitable business, however, does not have enough time to wait for sheer chance and a pile of monkeys to do their job for them. CCP need to start demonstrating they recognise how to keep EVE Online engaging for the players while remaining reasonably challenging, and they need to do it before their subscription numbers completely slide off a cliff. The players who leave will have chance to break their EVE habits forever, and that is bad for both CCP’s bottom line and the wider player experience too.”
“I have been advocating for a new Crucible-level patch for many months now, and I stand by that; EVE Online needs another mechanic (and bug-finding/fixing) patch in order to help players feel as if their dedication has been worthwhile. This could actually help new players, it could address supercapital oversuperiority, it could address any number of issues that we all generally agree are problematic. CCP, if you take a step out and collaborate with the players at least a little in order to to find solutions, we can take a step and help as well—I promise, we want more conflict and fluctuation too, we just want it to be worthy of this incredible sandbox.”
“Ultimately, you are blaming the players for playing the game you have made, and you are blaming us for optimising the gameplay, instead of recognising that you need to change the gameplay on a substantive level to address the current stagnation issues. Please, for the love of all that is sacred, actually address the root problems you have created, instead of prioritising quick and dirty short-term fixes.”