Tag Archives: Blog Banter

BB80 – Oh That Crazy CSM Thing!

This is where most people would list their myriad reasons they are running for CSM. Maybe they would write out long platform statements with some overarching narrative. Their dreams of how to make EVE great again.

I am not going to do any of those things because I don’t need your votes you terrible pubbies.

-Aryth for CSM 12 campaign forum post

You weren’t going to vote for Aryth anyway, were you?

Here we are at the latest Blog Banter, number 80 in the series, and this time around the topic is the CSM.  Specifically:

CCP Seagull ecourages you to get involved in CSM12 and put your name forward to be a Space-Politician. On his blog Neville Smit noted that CSM11 had done a good job with minimum of drama. However he said he’d not be covering CSM12 like he has in previous years as he sees no point. The power-blocs will vote on who they want and unless Steve Ronuken manages to get on CSM12 it is almost certainly going to have every seat taken by the big null-sec blocs.

Is Neville right? Is the CSM moving more and more into just a voice for 0.0? Is this a bad thing? Are the hi-sec, low-sec and WH players going to lose out badly or is it really not an issue as its the same game? Could a totally null-sec dominated CSM 12 give a balanced voice for everyone?

I get to quote Aryth, pick on Neville Smit, and complain about the CSM?  Trifecta!

Anyway, in my usual style, I am going to spew forth a bunch of text and I hope, somewhere at the far side, to reach a conclusion.  I think I know what it will be, but won’t be sure until I get there!  The CSM 12 election is coming soon, so lets ramble.

Look at that CONCORD police Captain trying to suppress the vote!

Look at that CONCORD police Captain trying to suppress the vote!

I will start with the fact that I think electing what is essentially a focus group by having the player base vote is pretty silly.  You want to select by competence and core knowledge, not popularity for this sort of position.

Of course, it wasn’t always this way.  If you go look at the CCP historical timeline (preserved here) you will see this tidbit for 2003.

The historical record of sorts

The historical record of sorts from 2003

Yes, players were chosen by CCP.  That is the way things are generally done in the MMO domain when you want a focus group or player advisory board. (SOE, Blizz, and Turbine all did it that way.)  But five years into the game and one T20 scandal later, CCP decided that elections would… I don’t know really.  Transparency?  Here is what they said:

During their six-month term, delegates to the council will deliberate on issues of importance to the EVE community and work with representatives of CCP on the future evolution of EVE Online.

Oh yeah, and the terms were for six months back then… more elections… and there were nine members of the council and five alternates.

Anyway, an election gets popular people and not necessarily competent people on the CSM.

That, of course, leads us to who is really popular in New Eden.  There are a few people in the EVE Online population that have achieved space fame and who could thus get elected on their own.  To get there you usually have to take things out of game by starting a blog, running a news site, being particularly notable on Reddit, or by creating some sort of additional functionality for the game.  And that is no guarantee you will get the votes.  Riverini took a couple of shots, but his EN24 fame wasn’t enough.

For the most part though elections go to large, organized groups, and there are no larger nor more organized groups than the null sec blocs.  The nature of the game is that to survive and thrive and hold space in null sec you have to be organized.

I spent five years bopping around in high sec and was never in a corp that had more than a dozen people and probably didn’t know what an alliance really was.  That didn’t harm my play style at all.  In the back woods of Amarr space, far from Jita, life was peaceful.  The one and only time I was suicide ganked involved traveling from Jita to our little pocket in Amarr space via Niarja, which is the gank pipe.  I interacted with more EVE bloggers on their blogs out of game than I did with players in the game.

And then I moved to null sec and am currently in one of the small alliances in our coalition, having only ~1,600 members, while the senior partner is Goonswarm Federation with 24K members.  Yes, the member count is probably between half and two-thirds alts, but every paying account gets a vote.  So when an official ballot is put out for the coalition… which we mostly vote for, though Goon uniformity is largely a myth and candidates like Xenuria have been controversial on the official ballot… that provides a pretty strong base of votes.  The question is never about whether somebody from the ballot will get on the CSM but rather how many on the list will make it.

So if you’re not in null sec, how do you break into what is now the top 10 of votes?

It isn’t easy.  There have been various attempts to get a wider group or play style to back a candidate from, say, wormhole space or faction warfare.  That has worked a few times, but often there isn’t a clear choice as multiple candidates vie for the same demographic.

And if identify with a nebulous group like high sec, and your space blog is only getting 30 page views a day on average, and you are in competition with a ludicrous number of opponents (64 total candidates this year) for those coveted ten seats,  you don’t have many options.

You try to get on everybody’s review list or podcast and you promise to do things in the classic quid pro quo of politics.  You promise to represent this community or that community or several communities or all communities.  You promise to champion certain features or resist others.  If you’re really crazy, you promise to get CCP to do something.  You have to stand out, and just saying your knowledgeable isn’t enough.

I quoted Aryth at the top for a reason.  He doesn’t have to promise anything.  If you’re not in a null sec bloc, you’re running against somebody who doesn’t really need a campaign to win.  And he’ll get on the next CSM because he’ll be the top slot on the Imperium ballot and there is nothing you can post on Reddit to stop that.

Unfortunately, promises are a show of weakness, a sign of desperation to stand out.  When I first mentioned the elected CSM on this blog, back in April of 2008, I called it the Galactic Student Council.  Just like the student council back in high school, candidates can promise all sorts of thing, but in the end the school administration controls the situation and can ignore or veto the student council at will.  Likewise, the CSM serves at the pleasure of CCP and, as we have seen in the past, can be ignored with impunity.

To have any power on its own, the CSM has to bypass CCP and cause players to follow them rather than the company.  That has happened exactly once, after the Incarna expansion, and was an extraordinary set of circumstances the root causes of which people disagree with to this day. (But it wasn’t about the price of monocles, I guarantee you that.)

Sion Kumitomo tried to do this again, tried to take his issues out of school, during CSM 10.  However, he faced two problems.  Well, three problems.  The first was being in GSF, which sets some people against him automatically, but that was really the least of his problems and could have been overcome with the right issue.

The second problem was his communication style, which is long and ponderous, and I write this with a straight face as I pass the 1,200 word mark on this post without reaching my point.  I am good at burying the lede, and often do it deliberately just to see who is paying attention.  But when Sion writes, he doesn’t just bury the lede, he kills it, buries it in an unmarked grave deep in the forest, evades the detection of the authorities, and only gives up the location 40 years later on his death bed.  But that really wasn’t his biggest problem either.

No, his biggest problem was that he was attempting champion an issue about which almost nobody gave a shit about, the CSM.  The dirty not-really-a-secret of the CSM is that, judging by voter turn out, most people simply don’t know or don’t care about it.  I mean, if go back and read my Galactic Student Council post from 2008, you can see that I had missed a lot of what was going on, and I cared enough to write a blog post about it.

And CCP can talk about the election all it wants, encourage people to get involved, put info up on the launcher, post on Twitter and Facebook, and it isn’t going to change much.  Even the highest voted turnout ever for the CSM was still a depressingly small slice of the New Eden population.  Part of that people will mind their own business because they just want to log in after work and manage their PI or run a mission or see what their corp mates are up to, while the CSM is this thing that we only hear about when things go wrong.

And even if they do decide to vote, they haven’t been listening to the podcasts or reading candidate summaries or review… the alleged “EVE Media” and those who pay attention are a tiny part of the game… you load up that voting screen and see that grid array of 64 candidates, none of whom you have likely heard of (unless you saw the Xenuria ad running in stations, then you might remember him… he does have a memorable avatar) and what do you do?  How do you pick one candidate, much less ten, out of a list of random strangers whose avatars (aside from Xenuria’s) mostly blur together in a mass of plainness?

So barriers to an informed electorate are huge and the benefits are nebulous at best.  And after the train wreck that was CSM 10, I was predicting that the institution of the elected CSM might become more of a liability than CCP was willing to put up with.  The end seemed nigh.

And then CSM 11 happened.  CCP Guard and CCP Logibro took over the CCP side of the relationship with the group and met with the mostly null sec members of the newly elected CSM and got to work.  Everything was mostly quiet, there were no controversies, the meeting minutes seemed to indicate that people mostly got along and that it wasn’t a null sec plot to turn the whole game into their favored play style.  As noted way up at the top, even Neville Smit, who was out agitating for the alleged 85% with his Occupy New Eden plan seemed pleased enough to simply vote for any CSM 11 incumbent that ran again.

So what happened?

I think CCP finally “got” what the CSM ought to be and how to handle it.  They listened, they didn’t take every piece of advice offered, sometimes to their regret, but no members of CSM 11 are out there raging about how CCP dropped the ball by ignoring the CSM or how CCP claimed CSM approval around things that the CSM never really endorsed.  CCP didn’t screw up.

Meanwhile, the null sec blocs seemed to have burned through most of their prima donna candidates who just wanted to be on the CSM for a forum badge, an ego boost, and a free trip to Iceland and elected a group that seems to care about the overall health of the game.  Somebody like Aryth understands the essential symbiotic relationship that exists between null sec and high sec and knows he has to protect both for either to thrive.  And somebody like Xenuria is there to get you new shoes. (He needs to work on hats though.)

So even the skeptic in me, who has long derided the CSM, has to admit that things are pretty good with the institution right now, in part because CCP decided that the relationship was important, and in part because CCP still goes outside the CSM to get opinions.

Of course, it could all go to hell with CSM 12, but we’ll see.  Right now the CSM is about the best we can hope for given the various issues and limitations I have rambled about above, even if it clearly isn’t covering all voices.  But you’ve seen that “things to do in New Eden” chart.  How could you get all of that covered, even in broad strokes, on a panel with only 10 seats?

So I suppose we should enjoy this happy period while it lasts.

Anyway, there are others who have picked up the topic as well who probably have more cogent points to make.  Find some of them here:

BB79 Longevity Has Its Own Rewards

We are opening up a new month with a new Blog Banter, the 79th in the seriesThis month’s topic is:

Should CCP put more effort into rewards for loyal customers? The mystery code from the collector’s edition hasn’t seen much use and whilst veteran rewards have been mentioned by CCP several times at Fanfests, we have seen nothing. Wasn’t there talk of a special station only 10-year vets could dock in at one point?

Is this lack of gratitude towards loyal customers alienating? Do people wish for a change here? Is it too self-righteous to expect small signs of gratitude for being a loyal customer? Is a customer purchasing half a year in advance more loyal than someone plexing every now and than probably missing out a few weeks or months a year? How do CCP place rewards in game without hurting the economy?

Or is it just a case of there is no need and HTFU snowflake?

I am tempted to just respond with a line from a Girl Scouts song;

Make new friends but keep the old,
One is silver, the other gold.

This is the essential divide, new players and old hands.  Any MMORPG that plans to survive and thrive needs both.  But there is always a tension between those two groups.  New players want to join and be accepted and be part of the game, often before they know the ropes, while the vets have been known to scoff at those with recent start dates because they haven’t paid their dues… or even done enough to prove they know which way is up.

And in EVE Online, a conflict driven game where we seem to go out of our way to find things that divide us from our fellow players, do you dare hand something to only one of the groups you need?

Veteran rewards are not a new thing in the MMORPG space.  I think the most ingrained one is the rewards in EverQuest II, a system that hands you something at regular intervals through your first year and then on every anniversary thereafter.

Having started EQII at launch, I have a whole host of veteran rewards ranging from titles to experience potions to house decor items to prestige housing.  I have liked a lot of the things I have received over the years.

Bitchin' Firiona Vie poster for my room

Bitchin’ Firiona Vie poster for my room

Of course, since SOE set this up, it is a bit screwy.  This coming November EQII will be celebrating its 13th anniversary.  Then, in less that two weeks I will get my 14th anniversary reward because SOE gave everybody an extra 90 days of “seniority” (for lack of a better word) with their first four expansion, so player anniversaries are 360 days ahead of the game’s anniversary for some of us.

My current account age

My current account age, already past 13 years

Then there was the point when SOE decided that time spent unsubscribed did not count towards your anniversary.  For the first few years then just marked from your account creation date.  Then somebody got angry about unsubscribed freeloaders coming back to reap rewards, so they coded the system to only count days when you were paying to play.  And then the game went free to play and suddenly people unsubscribe were still customers and they went back to your account creation date.

Having gotten past the transition to people playing for free with Alpha Clones, CCP could start doing something like that, handing out things to long time players.  I would keep it to purely cosmetic things… maybe a service ribbon on your medals page?  But then again, your creation date is right there in your profile, so anybody can see that.  But there ought to be something, as it would off-set a bit of what new and returning players get.

Because new and returning players do get the financial deals.  Offers for reduced subscription prices don’t make their way to current subscribers.  You need those incentives sometimes to tempt people to commit or return to the fold and get involved again.  And CCP does keep them low key enough that they are not an issue unlike.. sigh… we’re going back to the SOE well again.

I think the worst example of making your veterans feel short changed was the living legacy campaign, back when EQ and EQII were still subscription only.  SOE rained down equipment on players returning to the game… returning to use a summer of free time they had been given while loyal subscribers were still paying full fare… which caused more than its share of outrage in the forums.  I think that was about the time that “slap in the face” became the official corporate motto for SOE.

So, yeah… don’t do that.

Of course, the standard response to complaints from veterans of a game that new and returning players are getting special bennies is that they have been able to experience the game, having been subscribed and playing.  That is a benefit that money or incentives cannot retroactively change, but rings a bit hollow in many games.

However, in a game like EVE Online, that is actually a big deal.  If you were not around for The Great War, the Fountain War, the Halloween War, or the Casino War… well… you missed those events and they won’t ever be coming back.  The great battles at B-R5RB or 6VDT-H  or M-OEE8 (there are a few choices for that system, so take your pick; they were all special in their own way) were singular, player driven events and CCP couldn’t make them play out as before even if they wanted to.

Reinforcements bridge in

The battle at the station at 6VDT-H

Even beyond the “great” events, there are hundreds of small but meaningful (to those who were there) events that happen every day in New Eden that shape the course of the game in subtle ways.  Every little fight can change somebody’s perspective on the game.

And then there are skill points, the ace in every veterans hand.  The surest sign of longevity in EVE Online, even in an age where you can buy your way into the club, is the amount of skill points you posses.  I just posted on Monday how I had passed the 170 million skill point mark, which is a lot of skill points to my mind, an achievement I obtained not by being good at the game or paying any extra cash or by blowing up many ships or from having done any great service to the community, but by merely hanging around the game off and on for more than a decade.

In any MMO, the veterans tend to accumulate wealth.  But with skill points they also accumulate the ability to do things in a way unlike most other games.  So I am pretty sure long time vets of the game don’t have much to complain about.  We don’t get discount offers to subscribe, but we also don’t have to PLEX our way into the skill points we need to do what we want.

So CCP can continue on its way when it comes to special event, which is sort of the way World of Warcraft does it; events and rewards are available to those who are playing when they happen, and if you’re not you miss out.

However, if CCP wanted to give players a little cosmetic indicator showing years of service… a special portrait frame or something like that… I wouldn’t object.  But it is totally not necessary.  I have skill points and accumulated items and ISK and screen shots and stories and memories enough to mark my status.

Anyway, that is my view.  Others looking into this month’s topic include:

BB78 – Can The Slate Ever Be Made Clean Again?

After something of a vacation, it is time for another EVE Online Blog Banter entry.  This is number 78 in the series and it asks the following question:

Just for a moment engage your “willing suspension of disbelief”. Imagine that CCP, at downtime today, reset everything in Eve Online. Everything! When you logged in you were in a starter system with your character… but now with less than a million skill points, a mere 5000 ISK and a noob ship (now with civilian afterburner!). Markets are pretty empty other than a few seeded items. All Sov is gone. All player structures are gone. All PI infrastructure is gone. No corps or alliances exist. Nothing remains. New Eden is suddenly a completely level playing field and the next great gold-rush is on? Or is it? What happens now?

The great player wipe question.  I went directly there only a few months into the life of the blog, trying to split the difference between death and rebirth.  And I have been back there many times since.  It is a thorny question and not one easily dismissed, for each tired “obvious” response has its own set of counter arguments that you have to ignore in order to believe there is but one true path.

The pro-player wipe, or pwipe, side of things draws on a desire to relive the past.  Nostalgia is a more powerful force of nature… at least human nature… than people often believe.  Quoting Thomas Wolfe and declaring the very idea of being able to relive the past an impossibility ignores the flexibility of the human brain and memories.

I say this as one who has been on successful trips into the past.

TorilMUD, the Forgotten Realms based MUD I played for many years went through three distinct periods with pwipes in between and probably the best time I ever had in the game was after the third pwipe.  That was in early 2002 if I recall right, nearly a decade after I made my first character, so the game was not new to me.  There were no more feelings of first discovery to be had, no sense of wonder and anxiety in exploring the low level areas of the game.

But there was a huge rush of fun as everybody started out again at level one.  Many old players returned and there were lots of familiar names as we set out with our basic newbie equipment to slay orcs and kobolds and those buffalo outside of Waterdeep.  TorilMUD is very much a game that requires grouping and having ample low level groups to join is something that only happens at pwipe.  After enough time passes the usual thing happens and the regulars are all at the top of the level curve and those few lowbies you see online are often alts, twinked with good gear so they can solo.  If you start new then, low level zones tend to be dead and groups difficult to find.

The game had changed quite a bit since I started playing just after the 1993 pwipe.  But the mechanics do not matter as much as you might imagine.  There is a lot of fun/nostalgia to be had just being on a fresh server where everybody is starting over again.

As a follow on to that, I will point to the progression servers in EverQuest.  Back in the Fippy Darkpaw server era, Skronk and I had a great time running through old Norrath.  Granted, it helped that we started in Qeynos, the side of the world long in disfavor with SOE and so which still has old school graphics.  But even our runs to redone Freeport and The Commonlands were not spoiled by revamped visuals.

Bandit fight in West Karana

Bandit fight in West Karana

And we were not bothered by the how much the mechanics of the game had changed over the years.  A few people were nit picking about how such and such a thing wasn’t like that back in 1999, but on the whole players seemed happy to just jump onto a fresh server with new players and old content in order pretend we were all young(er) again.

In the case of EverQuest, this is born out by the fact that of the three most popular servers running, two of them are nostalgia/progression servers, with the third being a community heavy role play server.

Not so many servers as the old days

Not so many servers as the old days

And, yes, the call of nostalgia is an emotional one, not a logical one.  But we are not logical beings.  I think the past election is proof of that.  I’ve certainly seen enough in life to support the assertion that people general make their decisions immediately and then find and weight facts to support that decision after the fact.  And I know I do it too.

So I can see the emotional appeal of just wiping that database and restarting Tranquility afresh.  Imagine New Eden with 40K rookie ships… erm, corvettes now… undocking.  A New Eden with now loyalty points yet banked, no faction yet earned, no huge piles of ISK socked away in wallets, no markets piled high with equipment, no sovereignty claimed, and not a tech II module or BPO to be found anywhere.  Everybody equal; the same starting equipment, the same amount of ISK, the same number of skill points.  A bright new universe of choices and second chances.  Alliances to be rebuilt, empires to be forged anew, fortunes to be sought once again.

It doesn’t have to be technically 2003 again… or 2006 for me… to feel at least some excitement at the prospect of a pwipe.

Cormorant Docking - Trails On

Cormorant docking back in the day

Of course, there is the flip side to all of that, wherein a pwipe would be very, very bad for CCP.

As human beings, we often get very attached to our “stuff,” and the distinction between real and virtual stuff is no distinction at all for some, regardless of what the EULA might say.  In fact, one of the draws of MMORPGs, the thing that keeps them going for beyond a decade, is often tied into our virtual inventories and accomplishments.

Stuff… be it bank tabs full of cosmetic gear and outdated crafting supplies or hangars full of ships and modules… is part of the link the tethers us to these games.  The sunk cost fallacy is alive and well as people will continue to play a game, even after it goes stale for them, simply because they have accumulated so much stuff.  And levels, experience, or skill points further cement that bond.

I don’t play EVE Online merely because I have 160 million skill points, but all those skill points and what they enable within the game do make me much more likely to log in.

And somewhere in between… at a different spot for everybody… is a balance, a spot where loss of stuff would break the tie between them and the game.  A good portion of people don’t want to start over again, and I am sure that some who do would find that wish challenged in the face of a rookie ship reality.

Of course, CCP knows this.  Every decent MMORPG company knows this.  This is the reason they don’t clean out the character database regularly, why you should worry too much about what it says in the EULA about when they CAN delete your account, because when they actually WILL delete it is a different story.

For CCP to do a pwipe, especially one as described, would be insanity given the current state of the game.  It would be throwing out a known situation in hopes that an unknown situation might be “better,” for whatever definition of the word you wish to choose.  “Let’s roll the dice and see what happens!” is not a viable business plan.

So it ain’t gonna happen in New Eden.  Or not any time soon.

And neither is a fresh server.  Leaving aside the cost of setting up and maintaining another live server, one of the lessons from the EverQuest and EverQuest II is that, while some people will come back for a fresh/retro/nostalgia server, a large part of those who will play them are already subscribers.  One of the forum complaints about the Stormhold server in EQII was that it stole enough players from live servers as to make forming groups for raids a much more difficult task.

Opening a fresh server would steal more players from Tranquility than it would bring in new players, and then we would end up with two servers with less players than the current one.

For a game that thrives on having a certain critical mass of players… any why else would you bring in Alpha clones than to try to keep the game above that level… a second live server (outside of China, which doesn’t count) looks like a non-starter as well.

So we shall plow on through space as before, all of us together aboard the SS Tranquility, for the foreseeable future.

Still, though, it is fun to imagine what we all might do if after some future downtime the whole thing came up fresh.  The reactions would range between sheer joy and utter rage I am sure.  I’d give it a shot.

Alternate titles I considered for this post:

  • You can sort of go home again
  • Playing with your old toys as an adult
  • Roll on rose colored glasses
  • Nostalgia is a can of worms
  • The clean slate
  • How to kill New Eden
  • Nostalgia is a wreath of pretty flowers which smell bad

Meanwhile, other bloggers tackling this month’s topic include:

BB77 – Everything Has a Season

We’re mutants. There’s something wrong with us, something very, very wrong with us. Something seriously wrong with us… we play EVE Online.

I wasn’t going to join in on the blog banter this month because the topic seemed to have the potential for hysteria about it.  And then people piled on with all sorts of variations on the theme, not all of them the obvious answers, some good, some bad, some a bit silly, and I felt that I had to get my two cents with a set of simple, coherent arguments.  Instead I ended up with the steaming pile of confused opinions below.  And that was after I trimmed out some of the more rambling bits.  But I don’t have anything else ready to post today, so proceed with caution/skepticism.

So this blog banter, the 77th in the series, posits the following:

Is there a malaise affecting Eve currently? Blogs and podcasts are going dark and space just feels that little bit emptier. One suggestion is that there may be a general problem with the vets, especially those pre-Incarna and older, leaving and being replaced by newer players who are not as invested in the game. The colonists versus immigrants? Is this a problem? Are there others? Or is everything just fine and it’s just another bout of summer “ZOMG EVE IZ DYING!”

Just to bring things in to perspective, Noizy noted that we are coming up on the 13th anniversary of the first known usage of the phrase “EVE is dying,” which happened on July 30th 2003.

So is EVE Online finally dying?

Certainly the PCU count is down.  You can go look at the data yourself, but even anecdotally I have seen the numbers go down of late.  Not too long ago there would be 19K to 22K players on TQ during my evenings, now that number seems to range from 16K to 19K.

This year the PCU hit its high point towards the end of April and has been trending down ever since.  Of course, that pattern happens to match the recent war as well.  Wars get people playing the game, but they also burn people out.  Even DBRB, a man of seemingly boundless energy who led fleets nightly for a couple of months, has wandered off the range to play ArcheAge.

Add in the fact that it is summer when people often go on vacation or simply go outside… I hear Pokemon GO is popular these days… and it seems like the cause of the recent decline is pretty easily explained with a bit of hand waving.

Of course, the PCU count has been going down for a while now.  But, then again, CCP has been making it easier to “play” EVE Online without logging on.

Back in my day there was no skill queue at all and you had to log in every time a skill finished training in order to get the next one started.  Short skills were a menace.  Starting a 12 hour skill before bed and knowing that it would finish while you were at work and the next skill would have to wait until you got home to start was a mild pain in the ass.  Level V skills were good, if only because you wouldn’t have to fiddle with that sort of thing for as much as a month, or even more with some skill.

Cormorant Docking - Trails On

Space, back before training queues…

Then we got the 24 hour queue, so you only had to log in once a day at most.  You could pack in a bunch of short skills and they would take care of themselves.  Life was better and we didn’t have to log in as much.

More recently we got a skill queue limited to 50 skills or 10 years in duration, which allowed people to pile on lots of skills and log in even less frequently.  You could play only on the weekends with that, and leave the training queue chugging along unattended for the rest of the week.

Finally, this year we got skill injectors so, with enough money, in-game if you are industrious, real world if you are well off, you can have all the skills you want right fucking now.  You can make a new character in the morning and be able to fly a titan by lunch.

Not that I really object to any of these additions.  As focused on level V skills as I am of late, I don’t want to go back to no skill queue at all.  And even skill goo has its place, as it tears down the barrier of time… for those who can afford it… so newer players can “catch up” to the veterans on the skill front.

All of which probably dented the PCU numbers, at least a little bit.  Beyond that though, they are indicative of my broader point, which I will get to any paragraph now.

MMORPGs… by which I mean the shared, persistent world sorts of game that were en vogue in the middle of the last decade, and from which I explicitly exclude lobby games, shooters, MOBAs, and what have you… are a niche, market no matter what Mark Jacobs may have said in the past.  People who play them, who put in the time, have a tolerance for the efforts required, who will pay a monthly subscription, are outliers in the video game market.

The core of the video game buys a video game, plays it, then moves on.  You mother, over there playing Candy Crush Saga on her iPhone, is closer to the core reality of the video game market than you are.

One of the many recurring dumb arguments I have seen over the years is whether or not video games can be considered a hobby or not.  When we get into MMORPGs, with their complexity and changing dynamics and time requirements, I would argue we are well into the domain of the hobby, and sometimes straying close to the boarder of obsession.

Among other oddities, MMORPGs stick around for a long time relative to other video games.  Yes, they get new content and technical updates, but you and your characters persist through them.

EverQuest has been around and getting regular updates since 1999.  How many other 1999 video games have gotten that much attention and effort put into them over the years.  Here is the list.  There are games there that were successes, faded, disappeared, and were revived with updated versions in the same time frame.  EVE Online has been going since 2003, and the list from that year is also very much stuff we don’t play any more.

MMORPGs, when they are successful, have long lives… for video games… that go through different stages.  I tried to map that out in a previous post.  There is the time of youth, the time of growth, when an MMORPG is fresh and new and a majority of its players are relatively new to the game.

And then there is middle age.  Growth has slowed down or stopped.  Some decline (Deklein?) has set in.  The majority of the player base are veterans of the game, and there tends to be a gap between the new players and the the vets.  In WoW or EQ or whatever, that tends to mean that the old timers are clustered at the level cap.  In EVE it manifests itself more in the form of skill points, knowledge, wealth, and stories about how things used to before there was “warp to 0,” but the effect is the same.  There is a gap.

And, at that point, the company has to decide who its customers really are.

Middle age isn’t a bad thing, not completely.

The heady vigor of youth is gone.  But there is now a base of resources and wisdom to build on, and things that seemed impossible in youth are viable.  As the SNL skit used to say, “I know how escrow works!”  I know this because I have bought and refinanced houses more than a few times, something 18 or 22 year old me would have found bizarre.

Likewise, CCP has built on what it created.  There was, and continues to be, an era of additional features to enhance the New Eden experience.

But for a middle aged MMORPG, its customers are the installed base.  They are the ones invested in the game, the ones who make the big in-game events possible, the ones who pay the bills month after month.

That doesn’t mean that a company should ignore new players.  New players should be encouraged, as replacements for departing vets are needed.  In fact, one of the greatest failures of CCP has been its consistently bad new player experience, which has been driving of potential players wholesale for the entire life of the game.

But new players aren’t showing up in sufficient numbers to pay the bills and there is no feature that CCP can add to the game now that will ever restore it to that era of growth it enjoyed for as long as it did.  I defy anybody to point out another MMORPG that managed to restore meaningful growth via any new feature besides simply giving the game away for free.

The installed base is the life blood of the game and CCP must cater to it, first and foremost.  Anything that isn’t focused on, or in support of, spaceships being out in space and fighting or controlling territory or harvesting resources or hauling or defeating the NPC scourge is extraneous.  Those are the customers CCP has now, and selling them out for some illusory potential new customers would be a tragic mistake, the sort of thing MMORPGs don’t bounce back from.

So where was I?  Oh, right, is EVE Online dying?

Yes.  Yes it is.

But I am also a bit of a fatalist when it comes to the big picture.  I too am making my way inexorably towards death.  Things have their time, and nothing lasts forever.  Some things have a recurring cycle.  I’ve been through almost half a dozen recessions, nearly as many droughts in my life, and a seemingly endless series of IT upgrade projects.  I expect I will see a few more.  Other things have a single arc; lives, video games, the earth.

So why EVE Online is dying, it is still in the midst of it arc, it is still in middle age.  There will still be opportunities, wars, PCU spikes, and general revivals based on space, friends, foes, and nostalgia.

In the end, we play EVE Online now because it entertains us and gives us fun memories.  The memories bit is why I write this blog, which reminds me that I didn’t even start off on the side track to the topic “EVE blogging is dying!!1!”  There is a whole different post in that, but I will live it alone for now.

So there I am.  Others have different, and likely more succinct and coherent, opinions on this month’s topic.  You can find them here and linked below:

And a couple of posts related to the picture being painted:

BB76 – The Sanctity of the Fleet Commander

This month’s EVE Online Blog Banter, number 76 in the series, asks the following:

At fanfest CCP Fozzie proposed a potential new ship class. Let’s call it the fleet commander’s flagship for now. This is to try and prevent “FC Headshotting” where the opposing fleet knows who the FC is and alpha’s them off the field leaving the rest of the fleet in confusion and disarray. Fozzie mentioned a ship with a great tank but no offensive abilities. Is this a good idea? Is FC head-shotting a legitimate tactic? If CCP do go down the route of a “flagship” how might this work? Also is a new ship the answer or is there another way of giving an FC the ability not to be assassinated 12 seconds into the fight without letting players exploit it?

There are a bunch of arguments and assumptions in that package, and I am going to peel out the ones I want and leave the rest behind by asking and answering a few questions.

Do people head shot FCs?

Yes.  As an example, in the currently running Casino War, shooting the opposing FC is pretty much the go-to first move for both sides.  As an example, we went up to Fade to shoot Pandemic Horde and they shot DBRB’s ship repeatedly.  They didn’t manage to pod him however, so people kept giving him ships so we could keep going.  It happens all the time and, we have so many spies in each others fleets that we know FCs are being called specifically.

Is head shotting FCs a problem?

In my opinion, no.

If you are doing fun fights or honor brawls or whatever, like that one Reavers did against Ron Mexxico late last year, then killing the FC first is frowned upon as being unsportsmanlike conduct.  Plus, when you blow up the enemy FC, the other side is likely to leave, so it tends to be a fight ending move.  If you want fights and fun and kill mails, you don’t shoot the enemy FC first.

But in other circumstance, like a war where you have objectives beyond shooting some dudes, the FC is just another potential avenue of attack, just like logi, boosters, tackle, or whatever.  And, as with those other roles, there are already precautions a fleet can take to keep their FC alive.

Should FCs get a special ship?

They have special ships.  They are called command ships, and they come in eight fun flavors, two from each empire faction.  EVE University has a nice article about them.  And they are tough birds already.

Asher's Damnation attracting all sorts of attention

A Damnation command ship attracting all sorts of attention

For example, yesterday’s post was about how our Hurricane fleet got massacred in a fight.  90% of the line ships were blown up.  But you know who got away?  The battle report has them right there at the top, the two FCs… well known and always targeted… in the battle, Thomas Lear and Asher Elias.

Hail to the FCs

Hail to the FCs

Good for them and their shiny command ships.  I know that Thomas was targeted and had both armor and structure damage still as we rode out of the POS shield into the final battle.  So command ships, and fleet precautions, can work to keep FCs alive.

In addition to command ships, which are battlecruisers, CCP gave us command destroyers a while back, so FCs of fleets made up of smaller ships have a tougher option as well.

A Pontifex command destroyer

A Pontifex command destroyer

But are those ships really meant for FCs?

Maybe not… not for the role that FCs actually play in the game.  Command ships seem more focused on providing boosts for a fleet.  Like many ships, they were designed for a role CCP thought we should use, and then have been used for other roles instead.

And since CCP gave command destroyers that extra fun AOE MJD option, they get targeted and shot with extreme prejudice.  An FC flying one of those is waving a red flag and asking for a head shot most days of the week.

So FCs should get a special ship, a flagship or some such, right?

Maybe.

I mean, on the one hand, I love new ships.  New ships attract attention, stir the pot, change the meta, or whatever other metaphor you want to throw in there.  And a special new ship would give CCP a chance to introduce a few new annoying, long skills to train… that people will have trained to V via skill injectors in about 15 minutes.

But CCP’s track record on keeping Genie’s in bottles isn’t so good.  Anybody want to dig up that quote about how many titans they thought would ever be in the game?  I am pretty sure that number was lower than the number lost at B-R5RB.

Players in EVE Online are ingenious, and they end up using things in unintended ways all the time.  So putting a super hardened special FC ship in the game invites abuse.  And putting up a barrier, like making them expensive, is just an invite for the rich to get richer.  We already see fleets setup around Vulture or Slepnir command ships.

NCDot Slepnirs in a bubble

NCDot Slepnir fleet in a bubble

And we have had a demonstration of how ISK translates into power during the current war.

So, while I can come up with any number of suggestions… bigger tank with less weapon mounts, special FC siege mode, nerfs to damage and a boost to target painters or some such… I would be reluctant to endorse anything specific knowing how things have gone in the past.

So no FC Flagship?

I wouldn’t discount the idea entirely, but you would really have to convince me it was a good idea.  And then CCP would have to make four flavors, one for each empire faction, two shield tanked and two armor tanked, only one of which would be the obvious right choice and so on.

Such a thing wouldn’t even have to be a ship.  There could be a fleet commander module that, when fit or activated, boosted shield/armor/hull resists, disabled weapons mounts, and acted as an unjammable target designator or some such.  Just be careful about what it does, because it will be used for things you cannot imagine later on.  Even now I am thinking about fitting such a module on a hauler to make it more gank resistant, so maybe a module isn’t a good idea.

And, as I said up near the top, I don’t think this is a big problem in any case.  Certainly it is not one that CCP needs to divert a lot of development cycles to in order to “solve” it for whatever definition of “solved” you care to choose.

In the end, if somebody tries to head shot your FC, they are sending you a message about what sort of fight they are looking for, and you should respond as you feel fit.

But, I am also not an FC and I fly in fleets that tend to be objective oriented most days of the week, so what doesn’t look like a problem in my corner of New Eden might come with a different perspective elsewhere.

And speaking of different perspectives, here are some other bloggers who have taken a shot at this month’s topic:

BB75 – Shooting in Stations

This month’s Blog Banter, number 75 in the series, asks the following:

What Does Project Nova Need to Be Successful?
At Fanfest CCP showcased their current iteration of the FPS set in the Eve Universe. Following on from DUST514 and Project Legion, Project Nova is shaping up to be a solid FPS with CCP taking the decision to get the game mechanics right first. However with so many FPS out there what will Nova need in order to stand out from a very large crowd and be successful? What are the opportunities and perhaps more importantly, the dangers for CCP? How can Nova compete against CoD, Battlefront and Titanfall to name a few?

And the topic of the month certainly hits the nail on the head.

EVE Online Forever

EVE Online Universe Forever

CCP has certainly found success with spaceships.  EVE Online is an enduring money maker, having just turned 13, and while the jury is still out on EVE Valkyrie in the long term, it certainly happened to be the right title at the right moment for VR and so will likely pay off the investment in the title.  But those two, and the board game Hættuspil, are about the limit of success for CCP.  Certainly DUST 514 didn’t pass that bar.

But at least CCP has some experience in that area now.  And they corrected one of the DUST 514 problems already by putting Project Nova on Windows, where most of its fan base resides.   But Project Nova still faces huge competition.

A prophecy?

A prophecy?

I think the last line in this month’s question undersells the market.

That last one is they key here.  According to Steam we’ve already had 30 titles released so far this year that match both “FPS” and “multiplayer” as keywords.  And while they are not all stars or even good or likely direct competitors, they are mucking up the market.

So many titles...

So many titles…

So we have a crowded market where the big players toss out a new, big budget, best selling titles at least once a year (along with a retro title now and again), and only a few titles endure and remain popular over time.  Given that, CCP has some options:

Play to your base – Give it an off-planet, space theme and put it in the EVE Online universe.  I only saw a bit of the footage from Fanfest, but it looked like fighting in stations or citadels was already on the list.  It felt a bit like Marathon updated to me.  Maybe give people a bit of the in-station experience that a small part of the player base craves.

Link with EVE Online – This is a bit more risky.  While a given, and something that would get EVE players interested, CCP should not make anything in one game depend on the other.  We were promised orbital bombardment with DUST 514, but I never ended up dropping rocks on anybody.  On the flip side, links with New Eden could make for a more enduring title, which I think might suit CCP better.  I do not think of them as a studio able to crank out a new title yearly.

VR perspective – CCP already has work invested in VR, so their claim to fame could be in bringing the first space themes FPS to market.  Granted, that would limit, rather than increase, their audience at this point, but it plays to a potential strength that CCP is trying to establish.

I am not sure that any of those would guarantee success even if Project Nova is good.  I am not convinced that being good is enough in a market where being the latest Call of Duty seems to be the key to financial success.  I think the best that CCP can shoot for is to be enduring, like EVE Online itself, to make something that has a solid and interesting base which can improve and evolve over time.  What that looks like though… I do not know.

Of course, my FPS days are long behind me.  I haven’t been any sort of good at the genre since the days of Desert Combat.  I don’t wish Project Nova anything but success, but I am not sure how you get there from here.

And just a couple blog banters ago the topic was what other games set in New Eden should CCP pursue, and my own entry was about as far from an FPS as one could get.

Anyway, that is my submission for Blog Banter 75.  Others answering the call:

BB74 – Bump and Grind

This month’s blog banter , 74th in the series, asks the following:

So when this Blog Banter goes live Fanfest will be over. Hungover geeks from around the world will be departing Reykjavik after a five-day binge of important internet spaceships and partying. Whether you were there in person, watched the streams or read the dev blogs on your mobile hidden under your work desk there was probably something in there that gave you a “nerd-boner”. What for you personally was the most important thing to come out of Fanfest 2016?

The most important item for me, personally?  That is a tough question.

First of all, there was a lot of stuff brought up at Fanfest.  CCP has a summary page of topics posted for each day (day one, day two, and day three) which gives you a nice list to choose from.  And from those posts I could probably justify at least half a dozen as important or interesting or just plain fun.

I particularly liked CCP Quant noting in his presentation during the keynote that the ratio of player assets in the game, 3,070 trillion ISK worth, to liquid ISK in the game, 978 trillion ISK, comes out to just about 3.14, or pi.  (Also, CCP Quant is NOT having your PLEX market manipulation theories, which might be the most amusing post-Fanfest read.)

And there were plenty of things that were important to the game, not the least of which was the new producer, CCP Ghost, giving us a vision of a better new player experience that might actually engage players rather than drive them away. (Also during the keynote, official video of which is now up.)

But given all those choices, I am going to pluck a small item off the list, one that showed up on day two of Fanfest and which did not take up much time.  It was, however, big enough to make it to the day two summary page.

  • Ship bumping – at maximum for 3 minutes
    A small, but important change is coming. A ship will get into warp no later than 3 minutes after the warp was initiated, regardless of any bumping, as long as the warp engines aren’t disabled (warp scrambled, bubble etc.).

When this has been implemented, a ship will enter warp after three minutes even if it is being bumped out of alignment.   Right now a ship, especially a big ship like a freighter that takes some time to align, can be bumped off its alignment indefinitely and without consequence, holding it in place until it can be blown up.

Clearly this is a swipe at suicide ganking in high sec, where somebody bumping a freighter on a gate in Niarja, a prime ganking system between Jita and Amarr, isn’t any sort of news.  Happens every day.

But why pick this particular item?

Yes, I have been on both sides of the coin.  I have lost a ship to gankers, back before I knew that was even a thing, when I blithely auto-piloted my way through Niarja with a valuable cargo.  And, during Burn Amarr, I tried my hand at the ganker side, joining the catalyst swarm to kill three freighters.

A Dead Obelisk

A Dead Obelisk with a bumping Machariel flying past…

Fair to say that suicide ganking isn’t really my thing in New Eden, so what brought me to this upcoming change?

For me, this change illustrates the intersection of a few threads that permeate the game.

First, there is the desire for CCP to not restrict how players play the game.  They want a wild west sandbox where we can create the content rather than trying to force us into some standard roles.  There is no playing EVE Online wrong, though you can still play it badly.

From that point of view, suicide ganking is completely legitimate and CCP is on record as such.  It is emergent game play and they will not do anything that will kill it off completely.   There will be no “safe” high sec.

Second, there is the desire by CCP to keep things in some state of balance.  If something is too easy, if some ship is too strong, if some aspect of the game seems to be killing off others, CCP is motivated to tinker with the game to try and fix that.  They have to, because while there is no “wrong” way to play EVE Online, people will flock to anything that presents itself as an optimal choice.  As Edward Catronova, something of a fan of EVE, once said,

Being an elf doesn’t make you turn off the rational economic calculator part of your brain.

Or, in this case, being an immortal space pilot from the future doesn’t turn that off.  When drone assist was the was to win battles, fleets of carriers and Dominixes and Ishtars ruled the space lanes.  When heavy missile spewing battlecruisers were over powered, Drakes were everywhere.  When insta-locking Svipuls are totally too good, guess what is a feature of every half decent gate camp?

So CCP steps in… or, in the case of Svipuls, will hopefully step in soon… and changes things up, nerfs one thing or boosts another.

And, thus, when suicide ganking seems too easy, CCP feels compelled to ratchet up the difficulty, as they have done on a number of occasions over the years.  They don’t want to kill it, they just want to make it more of a challenge.

Of course, how well they have manage that leads me to the third thread, which is are unexpected consequences.  CCP is at a huge disadvantage when it comes to making changes to the game.  There are a couple hundred people at CCP at most looking at game mechanics, and many less on any given change, while there are tens of thousands of players looking for the optimum fit or tactic or whatever.

The mental processing power alone favors the players who will optimize after any change… something that isn’t improved when CCP won’t listen when players, or the CSM, point out the obvious flaws.

So we have, once again, CCP attempting to tweak things against suicide ganking, hoping to tamp it down some.  But we have yet to see how players will respond.  Will this make things more difficult for suicide gankers and cut back on kills, or will things simply settle down on a new optimum path?  Will it be as easy as just having a sacrificial warp scrambler hit the target every two minutes and fifty seconds to keep it in place?

And what else will come from this?  How many capital ships in low or null sec will escape now because somebody is holding them down on a gate by bumping, but the three minute timer lets them go?  What other ripples will come from this particular pebble being tossed into the pond that is New Eden?

I always find this sort of thing interesting or amusing or important because it is, in its way, the essence of the interaction between CCP and its players, the give and take, the friction, the way things develop and progress.  It isn’t anything unique to EVE Online, but these little items feel like they have more impact in New Eden than in places like Azeroth or Norrath.

Anyway, it was is a small thing, but one that jumped out at me.  And the question didn’t demand the biggest reveal or most dramatic new feature, just what was important to me.

That is my response to BB74.  Here are some of the other submissions: