It has been ten years since the Incarna expansion released for EVE Online and set off probably the biggest confrontations between CCP its customers in the now 18 year history of the game.
It came at a moment when CCP was at its absolute pinnacle of ambition and hubris. Before Incarna the company was shooting for the stars, had set their sights on, in their own words, world domination. Before, EVE Online was just a stepping stone on their path to greatness.
Afterwards… well, EVE Online is really the only money maker they’ve had.
Which isn’t an uncommon story in tech. It is rare for a company that finds success with one product to be able to repeat that success with another. Even less common, however, is finding success at all. So you have to give them that.
I always find it odd that the events around the Incarna expansion get summed up by some as “monocle-gate,” a reference to the $50 cosmetic item introduced into the in-game store. People who use the term “monocle-gate” brand themselves as outsiders in my eyes, as the monocle was a side-show at best and, once everything had calmed down, stayed in the in-game store without much further comment.
For many people, myself included, it was avatars and captain’s quarters that broke our faith in the company.
Walking in stations was a bad idea.
Or at least it was a bad idea for CCP as their execution was less than stellar.
After hints and hype and neglect of the rest of the game, to say that the captain’s quarters were underwhelming is an understatement.
I came back to the game just to try out the expansion and I couldn’t muster much enthusiasm for the update. And to get this feature they had to not only forego working on other more core issues to the game, but pretty much had to rob the World of Darkness team of resources as well.
I’m not sure CCP could have pulled off a World of Darkness MMO, but the diversion of resources from that and DUST 514 made sure we would never find out.
More importantly to many players, the captain’s quarters replaced the hangar view that had been a staple of the game since launch and which had the utility of immediately displaying which ship you were in as it was right there in the middle of your screen. If you didn’t care for the useless fluff that was the new quarters, your only alternative was a view of a hangar door. That hangar door was viewed by many as, and I apologize for dredging up this ancient angry metaphor, a slap in the face.
When Hilmar derided requests for a return of the old hangar, dismissing it as “ship spinning” people were pissed. When he pushed back on growing player complaints about the changes, he hyped up CCP’s technical achievements at their ability to inject solo avatar play into a spaceship game. He wasn’t going to listen to player complaints. CCP was going to stay the course.
Not listening to players remains Hilmar’s signature move, as we saw most recently during the Blackout and are experiencing now during the economic starvation plan.
So a useless and processor hungry new feature, the removal of the interface everybody was used to, the neglect of many problems in the game to focus on fluff, Hilmar’s pompous “I know best” attitude, a requirement that 3rd party apps pay a license fee, and even that monocole, had effectively poured gasoline all over the landscape.
All it needed was a match to really set it off, and CCP was happy to oblige in the form of the Greed is Good? issue of their in-house magazine Fearless. (link to it here) When that leaked… some coincidental timing on that… with its discussion of selling premium ships, gold ammo, and other crass monetization schemes, it was too much for many players.
People speak of the Jita riots which, like the monocle, betrays a simplified view of the event. A bunch of players did orbit the monument in Jita and shoot it as a show of protest. But the monument wasn’t a destructible object in the game, so it was very much symbolic. Did that shift CCP’s view? I somehow doubt it.
Word is that, on hearing that CCP only cares what players do and not what they say, many players decided to see if unsubscribing was an action that would bring attention to their unhappiness. I was certainly in that group, cancelling my subscription in annoyance at the company. That seems a much more likely lever of change when it came to CCP’s view of things.
In a rare display relevance, the whole fiasco gave CSM6 an opening into some agency and they helped harness player discontent at the company into a coherent message. For a brief period of time the CSM was a voice the company couldn’t ignore, which led to an emergency CSM summit in Iceland, where some accord was reached, though both sides had to issue their own statements on the whole thing as CCP wouldn’t step down from Hilmar’s attitude. And Hilmar was like Sadam Hussein at the end of the first Gulf War, defiant, shooting his gun in the air, and still claiming victory in the face of catastrophe.
While CCP wouldn’t admit they had been wrong in any of their decisions or attitudes, their actions after the fact played a different tune. Maybe Hilmar had a point with that idea.
For quite a stretch CCP tread very lightly on the monetization front. They learned that moving slowly, drawing tentative lines, and laying smokescreens (i.e. lying) was the way to go. So we went from skill injectors and a promise never to introduce skill points directly into the game to skill point packs in the cash shop over a few years. It took time, but they got there by making each step small enough to not generate outrage until we got to the destination. The slippery slope demonstrated.
On the bright side, CCP did also show a renewed interest in actually fixing things that were bad or broken in the game. We didn’t always get what we wanted and CCP has had some strange ideas on what is good for the game, but they have at least kept focus on it.
And then there was walking in stations. Player reaction made it a feature that was pretty much dead on arrival. They did introduce a few different captain’s quarters to match the different empires, but it was never seriously worked on after Incarna.
CCP demonstrated that they did not have the resources to make walking in stations a feature of the game and keep the flying in space aspect of the game evolving as well. What we received with Incarna was hardly more than a mock up of a real walking in stations feature. Making it viable, useful, and multiplayer would have required CCP to essentially build a new game, ignoring the old.
Flying in space won out over walking in stations. You don’t ditch your paying customers for some theoretical new customers. The history of tech is littered with the wrecks of companies who tried that.
The captain’s quarters lingered in game, with barely 10% of the player base opting to use it. Then came Upwell structures, new code that did not have the captain’s quarter’s integrated into it. Given how long it took CCP just to get insurance available within citadels, integrating the captain’s quarters was clearly not in the cards. Usage of the feature declined further.
Then came the drive towards 64-bit, which was being held back by the code.
One of the first things that we want to investigate is to release a 64-bit EVE client to better utilize your available system memory when playing. Compiling a 64-bit client has been held back by the outdated middleware that was needed by captain’s quarters.
That was the death knell for the feature. It will never return.
In the end, Incarna did at least focus CCP on what was important to the current player base, and we have gotten a lot of improvements over the years. It hasn’t stopped them from going in on VR or believing they can make a successful shooter, but they don’t neglect flying in space as much.
It also made CCP more wily when it came to monetization, pushing them to boil the frog slowly. But, as the frog knows, we still get boiled in the end.