EVE Online and the Return to Expansions

There is a joke about business consultants that says if they go to a company that has a diversified portfolio of products that they will say the company should focus on its core competencies, but if they go to a company that is focused on their core competencies they will say the company should diversify their portfolio.

Distilled down, consultants often get paid to tell you that the grass is measurable greener, complete with supporting data, case studies, and customer interviews, on the other side of the fence.

But some times we don’t need a consultant to make us change course.  Sometimes we run off in pursuit of that greener grass all on our own.

Which brings me, in a round about way, to CCP’s decision to return to the idea of expansions, which was something that CCP announced at Fanfest.  Expansions are back.

Those who have been around for a long time remember that twice annual expansions used to be part of the EVE Online experience, and many of us remember those expansion names with a mixture of fondness and dread. (I have a bunch of those splash screens here if you want a ride down memory lane.)

Incarna – June 2011 – That guy looks more skeptical every time I see him

But back in 2014 CCP decided that expansions were not the thing anymore.  The era of the Jesus feature was over. Instead they attempted to go to a ten release a year cadence.  Incredibly, in hindsight, they tried to give each of those ten update a name… and theme music.

A new musical theme used to be a feature of every expansion or update for a long stretch.  those were the days.  It was a time of many things.

That proved to be too much work… names fell away and music stopped being a thing… but at least we were getting timely updates.  One of the downsides of the expansion era was often large gaps between any fixes as the company preferred the expansion to be the release vehicle.  And once the expansion hit, updates were often focused on fixing things broken in the expansion as opposed to other areas of the game.  And not every expansion was a big splash feature event.  I think we ended up with Revelations II because it was mostly fixing what was shipped with Revelations.

Revelations II – June 2007

CCP eventually opted for the quadrants idea, where each quarter of the year would have a theme and would feature updates based on that theme.  That was a bit more reasonable, better suited a modern development cadence, and still delivered fixes and updates on a regular basis.

And it wasn’t like we didn’t have some expansion-like releases.  I called the Invasion update an expansion, as it introduced the Triglavians to New Eden.  Kind of a big deal.

The Invasion was May 2019

So, in my way, I get why CCP wants to go back to the twice annual big expansion format.  It hearkens back to the peak years of the game, when growth was continuing and it seemed like CCP had the potential to conquer the world.

And believe me, some part of me wants to relive that era.  Amazing things were happening.  Huge wars, new features, crazy new ships, new areas of space, it seemed an endless bounty if you just squint hard enough through those rose tinted lenses.

But there was a lot going wrong, a lot of dropping features and moving on, a lot of broken things left unfixed, and not a lot of focus on quality of life.  The end of the expansion era saw a team show up dedicated to just fixing things, and we liked that a lot too.

Finally, while I haven’t gone and done a study of the time between announcements and launches like I have done with WoW, even years later I am left with the distinct impression that the time frames there were short, that we got 6-8 weeks build up before an expansion.  That is almost nothing compared to a WoW expansion or a new Pokemon game release, which we might be fed tidbits and updates about for a year of more.

Which is pretty similar to the build up for big features we’ve had since the end of the expansion era, so I fail to see much of a difference… unless they plan to announce things much earlier.

Anyway, I don’t have a hard point to drive home here.  It is more of a question as to whether or not CCP can recapture player enthusiasm with expansions again.  If nothing else, an expansion implies the company is bringing something big to the game.  You can get away with tuning and adjustments with quadrants, but for an expansion to land it needs to bring something new.

We shall see.  It was another of the things at Fanfest about the future rather than the present.

The TL;DR

  • The expansion era had its own set of issues.
  • CCP has been able to deliver expansion-like content with full fanfare since that era.
  • So what are we solving for by going back?

4 thoughts on “EVE Online and the Return to Expansions

  1. Archey

    In general, I like the big expansion idea because of the hype, the fanciful names, and the fact that it kinda forces them to innovate at least once in a while. I also remember the unfixed bugs and incomplete features though.

    It seems like anything from 2-4 major named updates per year is a good cadence as long as they have multiple smaller releases to fix all the issues. But then again, this is CCP, so anything they do, positive or negative, will fall by the wayside after a while anyway.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Pallais

    My late wife worked for a management consultancy (Booz Allen, I think). She said the problem working as a consultant is that you could never tell a company that they were doing just fine. If you did, the company would start to wonder why they were paying so much money to be told to ‘stay the course’. (It would also piss off your employer.) You always had to suggest changes in order to justify your existence and presence at that company. You hoped your suggestions were good ones for the company, but in the end, as long as the consulting fees got paid, your employer really didn’t much care about the advice given. Advice that when sour could always be explained away.

    As someone who has been a contractor on the technical side (programming), these comments put a lot of the contract contortions I saw into perspective…

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Archey – My gut reaction to this announcement was positive, and then I started thinking it through and really wondered what would be changing. As always, we’ll see.

    @Pallais – I was the site coordinator for our ISO 9000-2000 certification and audits, and it was a similar thing there. The auditor, which we contracted with, felt they had to mark us down on something with every audit, but they also wouldn’t go very deep on thing because they knew if they were a real pain in the ass we would go elsewhere. It was a system with perverse incentives.

    Liked by 1 person

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