Tag Archives: Just Rambling

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:

At Loose Ends on the Fantasy Front

I seem to have fallen off the fantasy MMORPG wagon once again.  This seems to happen every so often.

I stopped playing WoW a couple months after the Legion expansion hit.  My Winter foray into EverQuest II kept my interest for about a month, which seems to about par for the course.  I poked my nose into Lord of the Rings Online long enough to buy the level 95 Blessing of the Valar upgrade.

Two blessings, depending on your need

Two blessings, depending on your need

That got me a pile of stuff and whisked me off into a different place where I met up with Eowyn.

Yeah, about you and Strider... he's not that into you

Yeah, about you and Strider… he’s not that into you

However I soon lost interest there.  Well, “lost interest” might imply I logged in again after that, and I did not.  Of course, I might have been influenced by wanting to start out on something only to be hamstrung by the legendary weapon system.  I had to choose a weapon, which I then received.  But you cannot just use the weapon yet.  You have to find the special NPC to identify it and then choose a bonus and then something else.  I forget.  I am sure, as with every aspect of every MMO, that legendary weapons are somebody’s favorite part of LOTRO.  But it ain’t mine. I just wanted to grab it and run not worry about reforging.

So that fell apart.  I might go back, but the fact that I haven’t felt any need to do so for a couple weeks is pretty telling.

At some point in the last few weeks… erm, months… I also made a RuneScape account, played for a couple of hours, then never went back.

The fantasy MMORPG thing just isn’t holding me at the moment.  But the habit of at least the last decade and a half… or more if you count the TorilMUD, in which case we start to reach back past 20 years… makes something inside of me think something is missing if I am not playing one.

So my eye wanders down the list of possible other choices.  Do I try out The Elder Scrolls Online, which just added in housing and seems to be doing well enough to be secure?  Do I give GuildWars 2 another try?  Is there something still in Rift that I might enjoy?  Is it time to start digging into Project: Gorgon yet?  What titles on my 2017 MMO Outlook post are even live yet?

But should I bother.

EVE Online doesn’t fill that niche for me certainly.  But I continue to play Minecraft, which does much to fill the world and building and housing drive I might have.  And right now Pokemon Sun seems to have a lock on the RPG… or maybe just the collecting and achievement… aspect.

And there is also something I will call “virtual world weariness” in me that feels the essential sameness of all of these games so that they blur together into a gray, uninteresting mass.  It might be time for a longer break from such games.

Kickstarter MMO Metaphor

There were too many of us, we had access to too much equipment, too much money, and little by little we went insane.

Francis Ford Coppola, not at all describing Star Citizen

There is, even as I write this, a Kickstarer campaign running for a video game based on the movie Apocalypse Now.

ansplash

I have no real opinion when it comes to the game itself.  It might be the best game ever or allow one unique depth and perspective into the movie.  It might be all they promise and more.  I just know that it looks pretty sure that the campaign is not going to make its $900,000 funding goal.

Wilhelm’s Rule of Kickstarter campaigns is that if you don’t make 20% of your funding goal in the first 24 hours, you might as well go home.  You haven’t rallied your base or given enough notice or come up with the right pitch or simply just don’t have the draw to get there.

The campaign sits at 18% and is at day 14 of 30.  The prospects look grim.  They even have a backer in at the $10,000 mark, but not nearly enough backers in at the sane funding levels.

I didn’t even hear about the title through the gaming news media.  I stumbled on it by mistake on the Kickstarter site, and I was only there because I saw Bob Cringley had time to do another post on his blog so was wondering if he might have also found time to update people on when the hell their Mineservers might be showing up. (If ever.)

Still, when I found the campaign I had to laugh.

I wasn’t laughing at the campaign or what it was trying to accomplish.  Like I said, the intent there might be pure.

Rather, I was laughing at what a perfect metaphor the movie was for the big ticket, grandiose plans, uncontrolled feature creeping, perennially behind schedule, and always over budget crowdfunded MMORPG market.

And lets face it, the grand champion poster child for all of that is Star Citizen. You could make this it several others, but Star Citizen is the big fish, so let’s just go straight for the jugular on that one.

Every Star Citizen fan boy about to tell me Chris Roberts is a great man...

Every Star Citizen fan boy about to tell me Chris Roberts is a great man…

How can you have this thought… this mixing of media minds… and not put Chris Roberts up there in the role of Colonel Kurtz?  Surrounded by loyal followers who continue to give him money to driving a project that seems to have gone beyond being a viable venture.

I suppose if he could keep his posts a little more terse I might have to cast Derek Smart as Captain Willard.

They told me that you had gone totally insane, and that your methods were unsound.

-Capt. Willard, on meeting Col. Kurtz

That is a fun mental image to play with, but it is too much.  The movie is too large, too dramatic, too bloody, too wrought with peril to really be a metaphor for Star Citizen.  The real metaphor requires you to pull back a level, to consider the making of Apocalypse Now.

There is a great documentary about the making of the movie, Hearts of Darkness.  It illustrates the parallel between the theme of the movie and the reality of making the movie, with Coppola himself taking on the Kurtzian role, out in the jungle, making a movie that nearly grew beyond his ability to shape.

I can picture Chris Roberts in that situation as well.  He had a vision, but the scope may well have grown beyond his ability to shape and bring to fruition.  Some of the problem is letting things grow because the wider scope is what he really wants.  But not every problem is of his making.  Coppola in the jungle face expensive problems with sets, actors unprepared (Brando) or ill (Sheen had a heart attack) and a range of studio execs back in the states wondering what he was doing with all the money and reminding him that he was past his deadline.

For Chris Roberts you can substitute in technology not up to his vision, the need to build some things from scratch, the need to change engines, and of course a whole range of people wondering what he is doing with the money and pointing out that the promised November 2014 ship date disappeared in the rear view mirror quite a ways back.

Coppola got an enduring classic for all his problems, explosions, and a million feet of film.  We are still waiting to see what Chris Roberts will deliver.

And the irony is that the game that inspired this metaphor in my head, it isn’t going anywhere if it is depending on its crowdfunding run.  But it has been a down time for video game crowdfunding, so they might have to go back to more traditional methods.

I Will Play Candy Crush No More Forever

In which I finally get a post I started on about two years ago out of my drafts folder.

Five years ago we picked up an iPad 2 after Christmas with some gift cards and a bit of cash we had around the house.  The iPad was a luxury good in my opinion, not something we needed, so I wasn’t going to pull money out of the budget for one but my wife, ever the clever shopper, pointed out how we could get one without touching any of our accounts, so we went out and got one.

While it was supposed to be a device for the whole family… and I did try to share… I quickly became its primary user.

Everyone in the house has played with my iPad

I even got an app for the cats

A lot of games have come and gone on the old iPad over the last five years, but three seem to have stuck through the whole time; Ticket to Ride, DragonVale, and Candy Crush Saga.

Ticket to Ride is an example of a board game translated to the tablet just right and remains a joy to play through to this day.  I own it and all its expansions. (I still think the Windows version is crap by comparison.)

DragonVale is something my daughter wanted to play.  But then I started helping her with it, eventually becoming the sole person interested in this little “breed and collect” game.  At some point I will do a post about how this game has evolved over the last five years and how it should be a model for others who follow.

And then there is Candy Crush Saga, a horrible game from a horrible company… they literally took another company’s game, made their own version with slightly better visuals and a new name, and then, at some later point, actually tried to suppress the game they copied… that I downloaded just to see what all the fuss was about.

The game itself actually isn’t all that horrible.  It is just another minor variation in the long tradition of tile matching games that stretches back to the early days of the computer age.  Once we all had color monitors, we started matching colors to score.  And the game is actually well put together, stable, colorful, and all the things that make for success.

The horrible bit is the business model.  And the company that made it… mustn’t forget King.com, now part of the happy Activision-Blizzard family.

Candy Crush Saga uses every marginally ethical trick in the free to play book to get people to spend money on it, or at least get people to annoy their friends about it.  It is the true spiritual successor to FarmVille in my mind.  The key barrier to playing are time gates.  You only get five plays, and a play gets used up if you fail on a level.  They regenerate at a rate of one every 30 minutes, so if you’re facing a hard level.  And then, once you hit the end of a 15 level segment, you hit the 72 hour wait gate.

Pay us, bug friends, or wait...

Pay us, bug friends, or wait…

Oddly, what Candy Crush does with time gates is not radically different than what DragonVale does.  The latter has its own time gates that you can buy your way through.  However, their aggressive application differs just enough that one annoys me and one doesn’t bother me at all.

Anyway, because of their business model I made it a goal to beat the game without spending any money on it ever.

Back when I picked up Candy Crush Saga on the iPad, there was some debate as to whether or not the game was tilted to force you to pay in order to advance that far or not.  There were all sorts of hurdles and timers and levels where random chance had to fall your way to keep you from progressing.  But was that enough to deter people and make them pay?

King said it was not, pointing out that 70% of players who had gotten to the then top level, 355, had not paid them any money.  You could beat the game without paying!

Later, as the game went on King was saying that 60% of players that had beaten the game by reaching the cap, which was then level 455, had not ponied for the privilege.

With recent iOS updates for Candy Crush Saga the level count has moved past the 2,000 mark.  New levels get added regularly, I have to hand them that.  But the ability to beat the game gets harder with each new 15 level segment they add.  I mean, if you don’t pay.  I could get to the top level in an afternoon with an unlimited budget.

So King has long since stopped talking about how many people beat the game for free… I am going to guess that the percentage has continued to dwindle as the levels have increased… instead focusing on the percentage of players who chose to pay, a number that I saw reported at about 2.3%.  So 97.7% of people who play do not pay, depending on that thin slice to fork out over $20 a month on average to keep things going.

That is your free to play market place right there.  It seems to work for some companies.

My own progress towards beating the game, getting to the top level, started to lag behind.  Without spending any money the time gates and super hard levels start to hold you back.  I spent three weeks on a single level at one point, during which I think King added 30 levels to the game.  Yet I persisted.  Once I am on a quest I do tend to hang on.

However, a final problem arose.  For Christmas my wife got me a new iPad, and 32MB iPad Air 2, bringing me somewhat up to date on the iOS hardware scene.  The upgrade was due, the old iPad 2 was struggling to keep up with new apps and had developed a memory fault that caused apps to crash when they queued too much data.  So I backed it up and restored everything to the new iPad Air 2, then wiped the old one and started it up fresh as just a viewer for Netflix and Amazon Prime videos, where it still seems to be able to hold its own.

And everything ran great on the new unit.  I am quite happy with it.  However, there was one issue.  All of my progress on Candy Crush Saga was lost.  Unlike every other app on the old iPad, it didn’t store its data in a way that let me move is across to the new unit, even though it was the same Game Center ID.

So that led to a dual moment, the feeling that my quest was over before it could be fulfilled and a sense of being released from a minor obsession.  Because I was not going to start over again.

So I can report that I made it nearly to level 700.  I took screen shots now and again to mark my progress, the last one being at level 680.  I made it beyond that, but pics or it didn’t happen I guess.

Last point recorded

Last point recorded… waiting for that 72 hour timer

So we’re done with that.  Meanwhile, Candy Crush Saga continues its tenure on the top revenue generating iOS apps, and King.com keeps adding levels to make sure it stays there.  They pretty much have to since, again in the Zynga mold, they haven’t been able to remake their success through remaking the same game over and over again.

Five Years in Null Sec

Back in December of 2011, even as Hilmar was telling the CSM that the era of the “Jesus Feature” was over, I was again subscribed to EVE Online.  Having unsubscribed after the debacle that was Incarna, I was back to see what CCP had done since then as they launched Crucible, an expansion that promised to get back to the nuts and bolts of the game and start a trend of fixing stuff that people had been complaining about for years.

I had to admit that it was pretty, with new nebulae and start gates that appears to be lined up to shoot you at the correct star even.

Jump Gate in Action

Jump Gate in Action

But as pretty as the update was, it wasn’t holding me.  I was back and looking at all the stuff I had in my hangar, leftovers from the various paths I had trod over the previous half decade in New Eden… mission, mining, production, arbitrage… along with 70 million skill points in training and felt no inspiration.  I was subscribed for a month and figured I would spend it toddling about looking at pretty things and then let my account lapse.

Even my friends, the people who came and went from our little corp, were all gone… all save Gaff.  Gaff was back and playing, but he was out in null sec where he had gone a year or so previously, and there was not getting there to visit, though he did stop by in high sec for the occasional romp.

He had tried to get me to join him in null sec in the past, but I am one of those people who gets stuck on “things,” and all of my things were in a station in Amarr space and I couldn’t imagine trying to get them all up to where he lived in Deklein.

This time, however, my commitment to the game was waning such that I was up to take a chance.  I filled out an application to join BSCL, got accepted, changed my home station, and self-destructed.

I was revived in the station at CU9-T0, the headquarters of my new alliance, TNT, but quickly scooted off to 0P-F3K, the system that BSCL mostly called home.  It was December 18, 2011 and a conflict had just broken out.  After the great VFK headshot Goonswarm had taken what was once DekCo, transformed into the Clusterfuck Coalition, or the CFC, once its boarders expanded, on the road after some neighbors to the northeast that were seen as threats.  The CFC struck out at them and these foes, White Noise and Raiden, announced they were set to come get us, promising to rid Deklein of Goons, a statement which was turned into the infamous cry of “VFK by February!”

It was war and I had to figure out what was what in a hurry.

I got to our staging system in VFK-IV, got on coms, got myself a doctrine ship, and was soon bumbling my way through fleets trying to figure out what was going on and not screw up.  But by December 21 I had already bridged off of a titan, been in a fleet fight, done a structure shoot, and had seen all sorts of new things in the game.  And probably more importantly I became part of the ongoing story that is null sec space.

Null Sec Sov. December 27

Null Sec Sov. December 27, 2011

Long after seeing a titan was no longer special and I had trained up skill points to fly in every subcap doctrine the coalition could come up with, being part of the sweep and story of null sec space has kept me interested in the game.  Before I came to null sec I used to drop my subscription and take a break every so often, usually after I wore out whatever goal or project I had been working on.  Since I came to null sec I have remained subscribed and logging in.

As something of an MMO tourist, being in a null sec alliance and part of a contentious coalition has afforded me the opportunity to witness many of the noteworthy events that have sometimes made it to the mainstream news.  To abuse a former CCP advertising catch phrase, “I was there” for:

  • My first “big” fleet fight in EWN-2U which saw the newly released time dilation mechanism in play (post)
  • Burn Jita of various flavors (Burn Jita tag)
  • Z9PP-H when CCP fumbled the node and saved TEST (Post, though I left just before that happened)
  • The Lazamo at 3WE-KY (post)
  • 6VTD-H at the end of the Fountain War (Post with lots of links about the battle)
  • HED-GP when we were killing nodes with drone assist (Post)
  • B-R5RB, which remains the most expensive battle in New Eden history (B-R5RB tag with several related posts)
  • M-OEE8 and the great betrayal of the Casino War (Post)
  • Defeat in the Casino War and the great migration to Delve (Delve 2016 tag)
  • M-OEE8 Keepstar fight with the most pilots ever to pile into a single system (Post)

Those are points in time that a lot of people will remember.  I think the one big event I totally missed was Asakai, which happened while I was at work and was done before I got home.  And these are just peak events.  For each great clash there are many smaller battles.

And even when there isn’t a wider war going on… which is usually when some vocal non-null sec players start chanting about “blue donuts” and “stagnation”… there is always something going on, even if it is just planning and building for the next conflict.  We can’t sustain constant war, it takes too much out of people.

And the story continues.  That series of discreet events I listed out are just points on the arc of a much wider and ongoing tale of which so many people have been a part.   Some actors and organizations come and go, others change sides or become part of new organizations.  If you read Andrew Groen’s book Empires of EVE, that is just part of the story, a great snapshot from null sec, but only a snippet from the ongoing saga of 0.0 space.  War, alliances, spies, betrayal, conquest, victories, defeats, old hands, bitter vets, new bros, null sec has it all.

Null sec sov Dec. 20, 2016

Null sec sov Dec. 20, 2016

Granted, null sec isn’t a game niche for everybody, and there are aspects of it that do get tiring.  After a couple of years of mostly being in the blob of main fleet, the whole effort was starting to wear on me.  If you look back at January of 2014, when B-R5RB happened, I am only on six kill mails.  They were six titans from that battle, but I wasn’t doing much else and my Dominix got left behind in the system after the Russians collapsed and lost all of that space.

And then Reavers came along with ops where 100 ships is a big turn out for an op and got to do all sorts of different sorts of fights all over New Eden.  And that isn’t a constant activity.  We deploy for a bit, have some fights, then come back home to do other things.

All in all though, being part of null sec is pretty much what made EVE Online finally “stick” for me.  Every time I think maybe it is time for a break, something new comes up in the story and I decide to stick around a bit longer just to see how that plays out.

In Which I Ramble About Being All Things to All People

Yeah, well, that’s just, like, your opinion, man

-The Dude

If you asked me what the most egregious flaw in MMORPG development has been over the history of the genre, I would say it was a “lack of focus.”

All together now, "Stay on target!"

All together now, “Stay on target!”

Overreach, trying to have too many features, trying to appeal to too many different audiences, listening to too many voices saying that they will give you money if only you support their pet feature, has ended up with a lot of time wasted on features that did not enhance a given game over time.

Vanguard is probably the poster child for this, a game that launched with too much breadth and not enough depth. (Star Citizen could claim that crown from Vanguard, save for the “we’re still in Alpha” loophole that will be going on for the foreseeable future.)  All those races, all those starting zones, PvP and different types of PvP servers, huge landscapes devoid of content, all running on server code not ready for prime time.

The game wanted to leap past day one EverQuest and be EverQuest five expansions into its life.  Instead it jumped down a well and was on life support for the next seven and a half years, finally being let go when even a free to play conversion couldn’t make it economically viable.

That trajectory might have been different had the vision for launch not been so grandiose.  A few races, one continent, and a focus on content around that might have led to a different outcome.  Maybe.  They still would have needed more time on server code, but maybe with less emphasis on a huge world they could have spent some money on the underlying mechanics.

When Brad McQuaid showed up again with his Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen Kickstarter campaign three years back, I was happy with his vision… back to the core of what made EverQuest a success… and doubly so at him saying that the plan was to keep things small and focused.  And then people started pestering him about features they wanted to see in his new game and vision creep seemed to have returned.  When he caved in to a loud corner of players and said PvP would be a thing, I gave up on following the game.  What attracted me to it was his statement about focus, and once that was gone the project ceased to be special to me.

Not that I am anti-PvP.  I have enough posts about EVE Online here to show a commitment to that as a play style.  But I am not convinced that PvP needs to be a feature in every single MMORPG.  It needs to be an integrated, core feature and not something tacked on in the hope of a few more box sales.  That is where it works, where it is good.  However, there is a loud group of players who will show up and rant about any game that dares not have PvP on its feature list.

EverQuest II is my favorite example of time wasted on PvP.  It is a game where the core feature set and audience is PvE that spent way, way too much time trying to make PvP viable by tacking it on to the game in all sorts of ways.  There battles with avatars, and arena battles, and battle grounds, and different servers with different rule sets over time, and eventually there was a point where they redid all the gear so that it have both PvE and PvP stats.  And, in the end, after attempt after attempt to make PvP a thing, they finally gave up and went back to focus on the core game play, the PvE questing and dungeons and raiding, that keeps its main audience going.

Of course, I have a flip side example for EQ2 in EVE Online.  There has always been a persistent rumbling from people about making New Eden more PvE friendly or making high sec completely safe from non-consensual PvP.  CCP has admirably stuck to its vision of the game on that front, but they nearly slipped at one point.

When we speak of the Incarna release, a lot of people jump straight to cash shops and monocles and the insider talk of selling “gold” ships or ammo ala World of Tanks.  But the cash shop still exists and monocles are just as expensive today as they were five years back.

That was all fluff.

The main issue was the captain’s quarters and the diversion from flying in space to avatar based game play.  That was what was rejected after Incarna, but only after a dismissive attitude from CCP about ship spinning… something that was even in their CSM summit statement…  and the like.

But results trump attitude, and after Incarna we got a renewed focus on flying in space with the Crucible expansion that started a long series of reworks of broken or ignored features that were part of the core game play, after which the game reached its subscriber peak.  They seem to get that they have a core they need to maintain. (Which they even mentioned in an interview today.)

And yet there remains a loudly vocal group of players who insist that EVE Online needs avatar based game play, the dreaded “walking in stations” crowd, despite it being such a non-core feature that to make it viable CCP would have to essentially develop another game within EVE Online in order to make it any sort of real attraction.  And to do that it would need to shift resources away from space, which is where everybody who plays the game today is invested.

Arguments about avatars attracting new players are all pie in the sky wishful thinking, while ignoring core game play and the primary audience for the game simply cannot be justified.  But still somebody brings up “walking in stations” every time the future of the game is discussed.

Straying from your core audience can be a win, but only if you know the demand is there, and there is no evidence that an investment in avatar based game play would add a single player to New Eden.

You can point your finger at me and rightly say that I am not a game developer, so how would I know.  And it is true, I work in a different segment of the tech industry, enterprise software.  It pays better and is much more stable.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t have a sack full of stories about companies with solid products that bring in 99% of the revenue ignoring them to chase some pie in the sky vision because the VP of sales heard some analyst at Gartner say that the future was in “nano-plastic biometric IPv6 reporting schemas” or some other nonsense feature.

And let me tell you, the urge to stray from your focus is tested a lot more by a fortune 50 retailer telling you that they will only consider your product for their seven figure RFP if you support crazy feature X than by any number of gamers grumbling in your forums.

So I certainly have a sense of what happens when you lose focus along with a series of “no customer ever used” features I on which I worked for my resume.

All of which makes me a bit more optimistic about the MMORPG market these days.  WoW clones attempting to appeal to all demographics are dead for now.  Even WoW has felt the pinch for being too much of a bland reflection of early versions of the game.

Instead we have a range of “niche” titles in development, games that set out to be smaller and so can focus on what makes them what them special rather than feeling the have to have every feature ever present in any MMORPG ever shipped.  We wait upon Shroud of the Avatar, Camelot Unchained, Project: Gorgon, Crowfall, and probably a bunch more to validate once again that an MMO can be small and focused and successful.

But if you’re still out there shouting that every game needs to support your pet feature, you’re might want to reflect on whether you’re actually part of the problem that got us to the grim state of big MMORPGs in the first place.

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: