Tag Archives: Just Rambling

Reflecting on EVE Fanfest 2022

EVE Fanfest has come and gone and now it is Monday and most of us are still digesting the news of EVE Online and its path forward into its third decade.

20 years and beyond

And one of the immediate question is probably, “Was it a good Fanfest?”

I think if 2022 had been a normal year, if the things announced by CCP had come in 2018, then people would have been fine with the what was announced and what CCP brought to the table, or at least no more annoyed than we players, as a group, tend to be.  You cannot please everybody.

It might not have been a Fanfest of legend, an inflection point where the game changed dramatically, a Fanfest where a new vision was announced that would guide the game for the next half a decade.

It might have even been a good Fanfest.  After all, CCP did go after Faction Warfare, which has had problems for years and which has had to limp along with tweaks and minor fixes while sweeping mechanics changes elsewhere… things like Upwell structures… changed the scenery of the game dramatically.

However, as you no doubt know, 2022 was not a normal year for CCP or EVE Online.  We went into Fanfest some things looming over the festivities.

Leaving aside that this was the first Fanfest in Iceland since 2018, the first real Fanfest since CCP was acquired by Pearl Abyss, and the first official event since COVID hit, CCP had three burdens it needed to compensate for.

The first was the handling… or mishandling… of the in-game economy, driven as it has been by something like a college freshman level philosophy spelled out back in 2020.  CCP had been trying to reign in the economy for a while as they had made ISK faucets and resource harvesting (the Rorqual problem, which they caused despite the CSM telling them exactly what would happen) too generous, but it had been more of a “tune through modest nerfs” affair. People complained, but got over those changes pretty well.

Then CCP changed things up and decided to redo the economy, causing an era of economic starvation where, as an example, asteroid mineral output was dialed back by 90%.  When they relaxed that to 80% and unilaterally declared an era or prosperity, many players were unimpressed.  Everything was more expensive, earning ISK was harder, and capital ships were so dear that few dared undock them as their cost to replace was prohibitive.  People remain angry about this and even CCP may have finally figured out that they’re still standing a little too hard on the throat of the economy.  So quite a few of us, and I include myself, are still salty and distrustful after that.

Second was the subscription price increase.  CCP announced that subscription prices would go from a base of $15 a month to $20 a month, a 33% jump.  The price had not changed since 2004, but as I noted a year back, people have been trained by tech in general to expect prices to either go down or for capability to go up for the same price.; welcome to the world of Moore’s Law.

That doesn’t really apply to software development, which depends on people who don’t double in productivity every 18 months and who want to get a pay raise every once in a while to compensate for inflation.  But fans don’t, or won’t, see that and the subscription hike immediately led to demands that CCP give players something for the extra money they were asking for.  That’s not the way this works, but it set fans against the company.

Third, there was how expectations were set for Fanfest.  This was a completely unforced error caused when CCP threw CCP Paragon in front of the angry mob after the price increase announcement, which caused him to almost immediately say the following:

We are announcing big content updates for fanfest. it’s the largest one we’ve ever done probably.

-CCP Paragon, Discord Q&A about the announced subscription price increase

Again, I would hate to have been in CCP Paragon’s shoes, but there it was, spoken out and recorded in front of a live audience, copied down and quoted over and over again.  Everything would be made better by what was being announced at Fanfest.

That was never going to come to pass.  Any serious reflection on the game, the company, and the combined history of the two, would lead you to that conclusion.  I am pretty sure most within CCP knew that this was going to be an impossible bar to clear.  You can see it in the padding of the daily Fanfest summaries that CCP published, where they tossed in already announced things, like the Siege Green update slated to go live tomorrow, as well as any vague mention of maybe something being looked into at a future date.

That practice is essentially piling shit high enough in the hopes that the sheer volume will be impressive.

So, given those three factors, a lot seemed to be riding on the EVE Fanfest Keynote.  The keynote speech is where the high level big announcements are supposed to land.  You can go into depth in later sessions, but this is the build up to get everybody excited, the moment that sets the tone for the whole event.  We have seen that with EVE Fanfest and like events.  Blizzard, for example, knows how to roll a good keynote to make the most of what they have to offer.

However, CCP fell somewhat flat on the Keynote.  And when it failed to come close to meeting the already impossible expectations, CCP Rattati got on Twitter and doubled down on setting expectations badly, promising “more tomorrow.”  This is metaphor for how CCP is mishandling things.  There was not, in fact, “more tomorrow,” save for some additional details, so there was both a misunderstanding of what a keynote should be and an attempt to string players along, compounding disappointment.

So it goes.

Which isn’t to say that the opening remarks and keynote were bad.  There was a lot there, and a lot to unpack.  In addition to the things I brought up on Friday… and Faction Warfare still tops that list… there were some other tidbits that are probably of interest.

For example, there is now an official EVE Online Discord server, which you can join by clicking this link or using the QR code below.

EVE Online Discord server QR Code

The Discord server has SIX news channels, so I have five of those now piped into the TAGN Discord server so I will get all the news popping up without all of the other stuff. (I skipped the social media alerts, since I assume those will be news items that will appear elsewhere.)

Hilmar got up and spoke about how many people had played a game that was part of the EVE Online IP.

50 million people

While EVE Echoes accounts for something like 14 million of those players, that still leaves a lot of people who have been to EVE Online.

There was also some more specifics about EVE Online in general.

Players and Devs since 2018 Fanfest

CCP has been ramping up the EVE Online development team since the last time there was a Fanfest, with a target of having 150 people working on the game.

EVE Online development team growth

That is a pretty significant increase and, as Hilmar pointed out, adding people does not automatically increase productivity.  And it wasn’t clear if that included the expanded Shanghai dev team, which handles the Serenity server in China.  But that is still a lot of people working on the game, which might lead one to expect bigger things going forward.

But a lot of what came out of the whole thing was vague, unfinished, forward looking, or held back because CCP says they don’t want to spoil a surprise, leaving us with a road map to the game’s 20th birthday that looks like this.

The road to EVE Online at 20

But those are fairly general things, and there is still a lot of details to come on many of them, not to mention the analysis and speculation that the players will do on the bits and pieces that have been revealed.

So there isn’t much concrete here, mostly because not a lot concrete was delivered.  We’ll have to wait for the eventual dev blogs to see the details as to what is really coming.  But I am sure there will be more opinions coming from various sources.  The drama will continue until morale improves.

Related:

Five Problems CCP Will Never Fully Solve

Time to just bang on about EVE Online a bit more before Fanfest.

Revelations – November 2006 – This is where I came in on things

Illicit RMT

To be fair to CCP, nobody is ever going to solve this issue short of abolishing all player trade and like interactions.  If one player can accumulate a lot of something somebody is always going to be willing to pay a little real world cash for it.

And I am not saying that CCP should stop trying to fight it.  There is a level of effort beyond which there are diminishing returns, but no effort at all leads to a worse place.  Anybody who has been in a free to play game like Lost Ark or Runes of Magic knows what gold seller proliferation looks like… though I wonder if people would even notice in Jita local chat.

But some gold sellers are just going to live in the margins, selling ISK or whatever, because there is some money to be made.  Of course, by raising the price of PLEX, CCP has made the margins a bit more habitable.  Nothing comes without a cost.

Botting

Like illicit RMT, I am not suggesting that CCP ignore bots.  And it does seem that CCP has made headway over the years, at least against the more egregiously obvious botting practices.

But here, as with RMT, there is always going to be an area in the margins where CCP is not going to be able to catch everybody.

In part, that is because the game itself is full of dull, repetitive processes that are easily automated.  And it isn’t just mining or courier missions.  If you do a little digging you will find bots that do all sorts of things and bot makers have long learned to put some variability in their actions so that you can’t spot them by looking for exact intervals between actions.

And then there is the fact that false positives are a worse than not catching a bot.  In a game where I suspect four out of five people complaining about bots think that anybody who warps to a citadel when somebody shows up in local must be a bot… which is manifestly not true… spotting who is actually a bot is much harder than it thinks.  Again, the game has enough routine actions that are dull and repetitive that spotting a bot is a coin toss at best.

Capital Proliferation

We have spent the last year hearing from team running the game that cheap capitals are bad.  But CCP also made the decision, against the advice of the CSM, to make the Rorqual a mining monster back in 2016, which made minerals so cheap that capital ships… which were all T1 builds so the cost was just minerals… were suddenly everywhere.  A titan in every hangar in Delve was the GSF goal at one point.

Then, last April, CCP made the big blueprint change and made capital ships very expensive to build, thinking that would solve the problem of there being too many.  What it did was make everybody reluctant to commit capital ships because the replacement costs were suddenly outrageous.  But they were all still there, in hangars, and they weren’t doing the game or CCP any good there.  World War Bee didn’t end on a glorious capital ship brawl, but on a half hearted sub-cap raid into 1DQ1-A, after which PAPI went home.

When it comes down to it, capital ships being blown up are better for the game than them sitting in hangars.  Big, expensive battles get game news headlines.  So CCP has begun walking back the capital ship part of their economic starvation plan.

New Player Experience

The new player experience has gotten better over the years.  I will stipulate to that.  But I rather suspect that it hasn’t moved the needle very much at all on the 30 day player retention numbers, because at some point, no matter how deep CCP goes with the NPE, a player has to leave it and join the rest of us in the core of New Eden… and the game is frankly too deep and too complicated for most people to grasp.

Really, the only long term solution to player retention is a strong, existing community that can find places in their myriad groups for new players to join and learn about the madness that is EVE Online.

Being Anything Besides What It Is

This is something that comes from both within and from outside of the game, the idea that it really needs to be something other than it is.  Remaking the game as something else was on my list of persistent bad ideas that won’t seem to die.

But, as I wrote five years back, there is not going back to the launch state, when all things were possible.  We are 19 years down the road and the game has cemented its reputation.  Millions of people have tried the game, most of them moving on, and thousands of posts and articles have been written about it as well.  Even if CCP were to decide to change directions today and turn the game into a huggy, cuddly space teddy bears simulator with no PvP whatsoever, it would still be eyed suspiciously and… well, the UI would still be an untamable monster that still surprises bitter vets with hidden features nearly two decades down the road.

The only way forward is to embrace the game for what it is and make the best… whatever it really is… that it can be.

It’s the End of the Metaverse as we Know It

It certainly feels that people talking about “the metaverse” have taken the universality aspect of of the “meta” prefix a bit too literally as the word “metaverse” is rapidly approaching the state where it means whatever the speaker thinks it mean in that moment.

Of course, we’ve been down that path before.  I remember when “MMO” meant a game with specific characteristics, like hundreds of people in a shared space.  Now it pretty much means any online game where six or more people can interact in some way.

There is the grand purist metaverse vision which says, as Bhagpuss so astutely put it, if there is more than one then it isn’t the metaverse.  That is the online ideal of sort, the place of Snow Crash and Ready Player One, where everybody goes or has a presence… though if you’ve read either, the actual real worlds they exist in are dystopian nightmares, so no wonder everybody is so keen to strap into their VR gear and get away from it all.

We’re probably never going to get there… or I hope we’re not… though we certainly seem to working hard on making the real world something to escape.

But this past week VentureBeat hosted a Summit on the whole Metaverse idea.

VentureBeat presents

It was preceded by a Facebook gaming summit… now Meta, but we still know who they really are… which has moved big towards the whole metaverse idea despite some skepticism within their own ranks, which I  covered previously.  While technically not directly part of the metaverse event, it covered a lot of the same ground, so it might well be counted as day zero of the whole thing.

Facebook has been on the metaverse idea for a while, as this now more than two year old trailer for their Horizon product indicates. (For some reason this ad was making the rounds this week as though it was new.)

At that point they were very much locked into the idea that VR would be the domain for the metaverse.  Also, legs were clearly not a thing.

However, on the first day of the summit, which was all Facebook, I listened to somebody from from the Oculus group tell the audience that the metaverse would need to be on every device, phones, tablets, laptops, consoles, as well as VR.

The same person also mentioned that when he joined Oculus, before they were acquired, everybody who signed on was given a copy of Ready Player One, which is somewhat telling I suppose.  In Snow Crash the metaverse seemed more like something the dispersed internet evolved into.  In Ready Player One it is run by an evil corporation.  So I guess they were already on board with being bought by Facebook before it happened.

A more disturbing trend to me has been the union of the concept of the metaverse and the crypto blockchain NFT demographic.  This has nothing to do with video games and everything to do with money.  Venture capitalists have found they can extract money from a crypto investment much faster than a traditional startup so have been pumping and dumping to their heart’s content.

Essentially, the word “metaverse” has become shorthand for “NFT vehicle”  for some so, while the Oculus guy didn’t mention them, Facebook is all in on the idea, while other speakers, such as Brendan Greene of PlayerUnknown fame, who helped establish the battle royale genre, spoke about his new project, Project Artemis, a world sized metaverse, which will be on board with the NFT train.

Because somehow over the objection of the developers who actually have to do the work, execs and finance people have seemingly embraced the NFT idea as the way to move assets between games in order to create a single metaverse out of everybody’s own pocket virtual world.

However, I will say that, for the most part, the summit wasn’t over-hyped on the whole crypto NFT thing.  There were certainly crypto proponents on the schedule and who sessions were about how this is going to be great once more people jump on the bandwagon.  But there was also some recognition that NFTs needed to win people over, something that had not happened yet, though I did hear one speaker go on about how if gamers weren’t going to get on board with NFTs then they would just find another demographic, leaving gamers behind.

I am not sure who else they are going to get to buy into it… well, I have a guess… but Ubisoft, which has literally bought into NFTs, is certainly finding gamers unwilling to invest in NFTs.  They feel that gamers just “don’t understand,” which is the most common crypto scammer talking point around.  We like to point out how bad Activision and EA are, but Ubisoft is literally the worst and has been for more than 20 years.

Honestly though, while I signed up for the whole event, I would guess that I checked in on maybe half of the sessions, and some of them weren’t all that interesting.  There was, for example, a pleasant man from Helsinki speaking about industrial applications for VR and the metaverse and I just took my headphones off and went on with something else.

The only session I was completely in for was the one featuring Raph Koster, who got the last 20 minute speaking slot at the end of the whole thing.  I teased him about that on Twitter, though he spun it as getting the last word.  Still, they gave some guy 30 minutes earlier in the day to talk some nonsense about The Matrix and promote his book, so I was feeling a little defensive of Raph’s place in the order of things.

But I need not have fretted even a bit.  Raph came in strong with that last session, with a short slide deck, which made him stand out from most of the presentations.  He was there to talk about how we even get to a metaverse, where you’re able to move from one world to another across vendors, a issue he framed as a social problem.  There are standards to be agreed upon and rights and ownership and all sorts of things that need to be sorted out before we start thinking about walking between WoW and Fortnite, which seemed to be the interoperability metaphor of the conference.

Many of the issues that need to be resolved have been under discussion for ages at this point.

He didn’t come up with any specific answers, but blockchain and crypto did not enter into it his talk, those not being solutions to any of the current problems facing the metaverse.

I did stick around for the post-game summary by the GameBeat staff, who were cool on the NFT idea, which surprised me a bit since their parent, VentureBeat, seems keen to cover all things crypto.  But, then their audience is more investors and VCs, and crypto is what investors want to head about now.  You have to give your audience what they want, even if they want garbage I suppose.

The whole thing is up on YouTube on VentureBeat’s channel if you are interested.

As noted, Raph is at the end of day two if you want to watch his 20 minutes. (Also, seeing Raph live, Playable Worlds might want to update the promo pic they use of him, which must be from 2006 given how much gray hair he has now.  Why not play up his age and experience rather than trying to keep him looking forever 35?)

The site also did decent summaries of some of the sessions on their site, which are a little more detailed that the presentations.  I’ll link to a few of the more interesting ones:

Those last two are interesting for specific definitions of the word, like if you want to hear the crypto side of things try to rationalize why the metaverse needs them.  I think that quote about leaving gamers behind is in that last session.

Not everything at the event was worth hearing, but it was the place to be if you wanted some insight into what the people… mostly money people… want to hear about.  The GamesBeat team kept things going, though occasionally the slipped up a bit.  I think they were about done with the event when this poll popped up.

Yes? No? Both? Neither?

So it goes.

And, while we’re on the topic of the metaverse, interoperability, and NFTs, I figure I should toss in a video that cam up last week.  It is 30 minutes of a developer going through the issues, one by one, about how NFTs don’t solve any of the problems that need to be solved for the metaverse.  It is just shy of 30 minutes, but it is pretty to the point.

I’ve seen all these points before, but it is nice to have them summed up in one video.  He also has a follow up video because the crypto bros came after him with the whole “but we want to be able own/trade independent of the developer” scenario, which he also picks apart pretty well.

However, if you really want to dig into the NFT/crypto thing and have two hours to spare, I highly recommend this video from Folding Ideas.

It is essentially a documentary look into where cryptocurrencies, blockchain, and NFTs came from, what they really are, how badly designed they really are, who is making money on them, and how the scam really works.  Spoiler:  It is all based on the greater fool theory.

I don’t think there was a lot shockingly new to me in that video, except for the cost, and the variability of cost, of blockchain transactions, which would make the whole thing a non-starter for any legitimate enterprise.

Seriously, you would have to be insane to use crypto for your business unless it is a scam.  Any CEO of a legitimate company that says they are seriously considering NFTs is throwing out a buzzword to boost their stock price or doesn’t understand how they actually work… though you cannot rule out both being the answer.

Anyway, the video did nicely tie together a lot of different threads and I felt it was well worth the time, so much so that I listened to it twice. (While doing some quests in EQII.)  Hat tip to Massively OP for linking to this video.

Addendum: If you prefer the written word to a two hour video, then there is David Rosenthal’s Stanford talk that he reproduced on his blog, which gets down into the details of crypto and how it goes so very wrong.

Memories of a Checkstand Lifestyle

A strange thing happened on the way to my COVID-19 vaccine shot.  Well, not on the way, but at the location where I got it.  In the online concert-ticket rush to get a vaccine appointment the first appointment I was able to snag was at the Safeway on Shoreline Blvd. in Mountain View.

That happened to be the store I worked at in high school and college back in the 80s.

I had not been back to that store for ages.  Even in the 90s when I had an apartment just a couple miles down the road I made a point of shopping elsewhere.  When I went back into the store for the first time in at least 20 years, I was hit with a reverie of memories, good and bad.

And it isn’t even the same store.  At some point in the 90s they tore down the store I worked in, which was done in that somewhat iconic mid-century style with tall ceilings and large front windows that let in a lot of light.  I probably have a picture of the store somewhere, but I am too lazy to dig it out right now, so I grabbed an image from the web that gives the right sense of what I mean.

A typical 60s Safeway store design

That image is about the same template as the store I used to work in, right down to the rocky wall style outside the exit door.  The store there now is more in the squared off, few windows, design.  But every store has a similar feel and even that new style couldn’t repress the flood of images and emotions of being in that location.

Working in a grocery store is kind of a strange retail experience.  You end up seeing the same people over and over.  And this store, nestled in the middle of several large apartment complexes, was especially prone to the “same faces” phenomena.  Apartment dwellers, as I was told, tend to buy groceries more frequently, often stopping in on the way home from work to buy something for dinner.  So I often saw the same people every evening I was there.

And, living not too far away, the strangeness was compounded.  I would go to downtown Mountain View for lunch or to visit the used bookstore and would constantly see faces I recognized.  Some I would be able to place… this guy smokes Marlboro reds in the box, that woman is a pain in the ass about showing her ID when writing a check, and this other person isn’t allowed in the store because we busted them for shoplifting… but others were just annoyingly familiar but lacking the context of the store in which to place them.

It was a decent job at the time, though I worked through what was very much a transitional era for the grocery industry.  Or one of them anyway.  It was a union job.  I had to join the United Food and Commercial Workers, which was still a new-ish union at the time, being a consolidation of a couple unions.  I showed up just as the union was losing its leverage.  There had been a big strike a few months before and the union had to make quite a few concessions.

I started as a bag boy, or a courtesy clerk in the contract parlance, and spent my first year bagging groceries, putting things back on the shelves, cleaning up spills, and rounding up shopping carts in the parking lot.  At the time we had electro-mechanical cash registers that looked to be out of the 50s.  I remember once, early on, the power went out and the cashiers all had to fish around in the checkstands to find the cranks that attached to the side of the registers and allowed them to be operated manually.  There was a journal tape from each register than had to be pulled every night after the store closed and was used to reconcile the books for the day, something that often took hours.  Any mistakes made by cashiers had to have a note in the cash drawer to help with the balance.

Those were soon replaced by NCR electronic cash registers, which had a 10 key pad and could take code numbers for specific products to get prices.  Those were in place before the summer I went off to checkers school.  Learning to be a checker, being promoted to food clerk, meant spending a week up in Oakland at the Safeway training center taking a class that you could fail.

I had to learn to use the 10 key pad by touch, accurately key in prices, know the categories of items which meant knowing the arcane sales tax rules of the state (which meant knowing things like water not being taxable, unless in containers under a half gallon or in frozen form (ice) and prepared food not being taxable unless it was heated), and the dreaded fruit and vegetable identification test.  This involved a timed test where I had to identify the fruit or vegetable in question and supply the produce code for it.  There was a lookup sheet for the codes, but if you had to look them all up you during the test you might not make the time limit.  There were 50 items to identify and you were only allowed to miss five on the test.  There were people who did not make the cut.  I drove up to Oakland with another person taking the class and we would quiz each other in the car on the ride back and forth.  I had college classes that were less demanding.

But this was when the union was still pushing the image of professional food clerks.  And the pay, at the time, was decent.  As a freshly minted food clerk in 1985 I made $7.68 hour.  But, after every 500 hours on the job I got a raid, which capped out after 2,000 hours… basically a year of full time work… at $13.48 an hour.

That doesn’t sound like much in an era when we’re talking about a $15 an hour minimum wage, but that was decent money.  And there was overtime, holiday pay (double time), Sunday pay (time and two thirds when I started, time and a half after the next contract), and a 50 cent per hour premium for hours worked between 7pm and 7am.  And, if you wanted to run the show, be in charge when the boss was away, there was also head clerk pay, which I immediately signed up for, so ended up earning a lot more during my 2,000 hour run up to journeyman clerk than I might have otherwise.

I made more in 1987 than I did at my first three post-Safeway jobs in tech.  I think my total income in 1994 finally passed my Safeway peak.  Couples I knew who both worked for Safeway bought houses, raised kids, and sent them off to college on journeyman food clerk salaries.

My health insurance was basically no cost to me.  They handed me a Kaiser card and required no employee contribution.  Of course, that is also a reflection of how messed up the US health care system has become.  And if I worked the equivalent of ten years of full time I qualified for the first tier of the long since gone pension system.

It felt like a bit of a plateau in my life, that I had hit the first step where I had a real job, decent pay, and could be an adult if I so desired.  A lot of people I worked with dropped out of college and decided to stick with Safeway as a career.  You were getting a decent paycheck every week and the work wasn’t horrible.

Of course, there were a lot of downsides to the job, the general public being a key one.  But it was an uncertain life.  Only those employees designated as “full time” were guaranteed at least 32 hours a week.  Everybody else, myself included, only had to be given 16 hours a week.  If business was slow, staffing had to follow, and you could find yourself getting some thin paychecks.

And the work schedule… I blame my own current unwillingness to plan very far ahead on that.  The schedule for a given week was supposed to be posted in the store by 5pm on the Thursday of the preceding week, but good luck with that.  So, generally speaking, I didn’t know what I was up to until Friday of the week before, and how you got scheduled was the luck of the draw and how much the boss liked you.  They had to schedule to cover the store needs, so you might end up working all hours of the day or night.  I generally worked 3pm to midnight during the week, which covered the peak evening rush.  But I might work 6am to 3pm on Saturday to cover the frozen food or dairy guy’s day off or midnight to 9am if one of the night stocking crew was on vacation.  I had weeks where I just worked evenings for long stretches… the manager would get lazy once in a while and just re-used the previous week’s schedule if there were no vacations to cover… and I had weeks during the summer when people were out on vacation where I saw every hour of the day in the store.

Then there was vacation.  Even as the lowliest clerk on the list I was allowed two weeks of vacation.  But the sign up for vacation was a bit of a challenge.  A big chart would go up at the beginning of the year, with all employees listed out in seniority order.  Everybody picked their weeks in that order, but the store could only allow so many people to be out on a given week, and once that number was hit for a given week, that week was blocked out.  So not only did I have to know when exactly I wanted to go on vacation at some point in mid-January, I could only choose weeks that were still open to me when it was finally my turn to pick.

I think I got a week in April and a week in October that time around, which corresponded pretty much to the two ends of the allowed vacation season.  And the weekly work schedule was written from Sunday through Saturday, so your vacation weeks, which had to be taken in week long chunks, were also Sunday to Saturday.  If the boss liked you, you might get the Saturday before and Sunday after your vacation off.  But you wouldn’t know about the Sunday in advance, since the schedule wouldn’t be up until the Thursday before.

It was very much a lifestyle.  I was often working when most people were done with work and off in the middle of prime business hours.  I had a new car and an apartment in Mountain View that some Google employee is probably paying more than three grand a month to rent now.

Eventually though it became clear I could finish school or keep working at Safeway.  I got a lot of hours, so always had money, but never had time, which led to me taking fewer classes than I should.  I never skipped a semester, but there were some weak showing when it came to units.   Eventually we got a manager that told me he’d schedule me whenever he damn well pleased… previous ones had been good about at least giving me the first half of the day for classes… and I put in my notice as soon as the fall semester got close.

That was well over 30 years ago but, to this day, when I have anxiety dreams I don’t dream about showing up for a final exam and realizing I haven’t studied or getting to the end of a semester and finding out that I forgot to drop a class or any of the usual suspects.  I dream that I have gone for lunch on my shift back then and forgot to get back when my time was up or that I am there and ready for my shift but have forgotten my apron or name badge or some other part of the required uniform.  I sometimes dream that I still work there part time, that I never quit, or that I had to go back to help make ends meet.

Anyway, two visits to that store… I have both of my vaccine shots now… shook up a bunch of old memories.  If I can filter them down I might make a series about some aspects of the job.  There were some humorous bits as well as the usual disappointing human behavior and the reality of having to deal with people every day.

The Apology

The cynical side of me was betting that Blizz would just ignore this and hope it went away.  And, given that there were 40,000+ hardcore cheering fans inside the convention center and about 40 protesters outside as the opening ceremony began, they probably could have pulled it off in the short term.

Instead, the first thing that happened was J. Allen Brack got up and read his apology for what happened.  You can read the text here.

Reading from the teleprompter

As one would expect, the reactions to this were many and varied.  Ars Technica called the apology vague.   Massively OP put the word “apology” in quotes, so I guess they were not buying it.  But they have taken a hard editorial line against Blizzard.  I don’t recall them putting in little editorial apologies for covering other badly behaving companies like Riot.

Others seemed to take the apology as enough.  SynCaine declared victory for the protest.  They certainly got a response.

My own reaction remains somewhat mixed.  The apology was actually fairly vague, though this was a speech at a fan even and not a courtroom elocution, so it was probably too much to expect a rehash of every detail.  Brack said he was sorry for what happened and didn’t shift blame or claim extenuating circumstances.  He didn’t say that the Chinese or Bobby Kotick or whoever made him do it or go the NBA route and try to cast himself as a hero by going on about on how he talked the Chinese down from an even harsher penalty.  He didn’t mention China or Hong Kong at all.  The only thing he did seem clear on was that Blizzard did not live up to the standards to which it claims to aspire.

But what are those standards?

You have to parse things carefully to figure out what he was sorry for, and even then it is pretty opaque.  He said Blizz was too fast to pass judgement then too slow to respond to the outcry that judgement caused.  I think the latter at least is correct.  Going more than a day made things worse certainly.

As for not living up to the purpose of the company, there was some hand waving about bringing people together across the world through video games.  The promise was to do better on that as well, though I am not sure what better or worse really looks like.

He did not announce any specific changes either, nor hold up a “Free Hong Kong” sign, nor put the flag of Hong Kong or the guy walking around dressed up as Winnie the Pooh up on the big screen behind the stage.  Going openly and loudly against China was all that would appease some people, and that was never going to happen.  Blizz was never going to jump into the political ring.

And he didn’t let Blitzchung, or the two teams that were banned for showing support for Hong Kong, off the hook.  Their suspensions stand, and I am okay with that.  There were rules about that, Blitzchung knew them, knew he would likely face sanction, and chose to disobey them for a higher cause.

Blizz, in my opinion, still has to penalize him for what he did, because he did do something wrong and he knew it.  Blizz rescinding the ban would just send the message that it is okay to bring your politics into the tournament.

Most people seem worked up about the ban because they support Blitzchung’s message.  I am sure those people would be fine suspending somebody who said something that didn’t align with their world view, which is the typical free speech hypocrisy we see every day.  Blizz isn’t the government.  They don’t have to allow free speech in their tournament.  So as long as Blizz applies bans in such circumstances independent of the message, I think they’re acting correctly.

It would be different if Blizz were to go after somebody for political statements they made on their own time or tried to lecture people about the situation in Hong Kong.  That would be a whole different kettle of fish.  But participating in their tournaments on their dime you have to play by their rules.

Given that, I am not really sure what the promise to do better really means.  I guess it will mean being consistent with a six month ban for similar violations, applied regardless of message, that taking away prize money earned is wrong, and that penalties should be more slowly deliberated on and more quickly communicated. Maybe?  As anybody who has watched (and understood) the show BoJack Horseman knows, apologizing or feeling bad about what you’ve done doesn’t matter if you don’t change your behavior.  So is that the behavior change?  If not, what is?

For the most part I liked that Brack got up first thing and spoke about this issue, rather than ignoring it or downplaying it or waiting until after 5pm on a Friday to post it to their site.  And the apology had some good aspects, as I mentioned.   But the promise to do better didn’t leave me all that reassured as I am still not clear as to how that translates into action going forward.

So it is complicated.  I am no fan of China.  I haven’t forgiven then for Tienanmen Square.  They are a totalitarian, repressive regime and are engaged in ethnic cleansing as I noted previously.  Letting them into the WTO was a mistake to my mind, given how they abuse it.  The idea has always been that a free market will infect China and force it to liberalize. (Though the real plan has always been simply to make money, because we’re like that.)

The problem is that China doesn’t have a free market.  Every company in China operates only at the sufferance of the government and must be expected to act as agents of the government on deemand.  Any foreign company that does business in China has to partner up with one of those government approved entities, give it control in a joint venture, and be ready appease the Chinese government on demand.  So I would have rather Blizz avoided that altogether.  But that ship sailed years ago and they are hardly alone in doing business in China and to sanction them while giving Apple, Google, GM, the NBA, or whoever a pass doesn’t work for me.  And should you even punish a US company when many of its main competitors are owned in part or in whole by companies like Tencent and NetEase? Doesn’t that essentially help China more?

This is me thinking too much about the whole thing.

If after the apology you’re still on the #BoycottBlizzard bandwagon, I get it.  I don’t think you’ll get what you want, and you really aren’t doing anything to hurt China, or even support Hong Kong, but if Blizzard disappointed you then withholding your support is reasonable.

As for my own reaction, I didn’t rush off to renew my WoW subscription or pre-order Shadowlands.  My financial support remains withheld for now.  But it seems much more likely that I will do both when I feel the time is ripe.  I still have a good amount of time left before I need to do either.   This incident won’t stand in my way, but I will remain sensitive to how Blizz may behave in similar circumstances going forward.  And I wonder who will push the boundaries next and how Blizz will respond.  They could still mess this up.

On this topic:

Interdiction Nullification and Warp Core Stabilizers and Absolutes

I am going to wander into this minefield in the way that only the uncaring can.

Interdiction nullification and warp core stabilizers are twins in that they are hated by subgroups of New Eden.  They are hated because they make getting kills more difficult.  There are plenty of wandering excuses as to why they are bad game play or how the lore shouldn’t support them or whatever, but in the end it comes down to people angry that they missed a kill.

Interdiction nullification is a null sec and wormhole thing, a feature of certain interceptors, a strategic cruiser subsystem, and luxury yachts which allows them to bypass warp disruption fields as though they were not there.  Basically, it allows you to fly through bubbles.

A field of bubbles… they are everywhere in null sec

Bubble come in a few flavors, which are mostly covered over at the EVE Uni Wiki.  But it is pretty safe to say that bubbles are the primary method of holding down hostiles outside of empire space.  They have the advantage of being an area effect tackle method when launched from an interdictor, so if deployed correctly they can hold down a whole fleet.   A null sec fleet commander that undocks without some interdictors isn’t looking for kills.

So, in null sec or wormholes, a ship with interdiction nullification is an exception to what is otherwise a hard and fast rule, that what gets caught in the bubble can’t warp off.  That it is a somewhat recent addition, that many of can remember a time when interdiction nullification wasn’t a thing, makes it all the more contentious and even CCP has seen fit to make changes, removing the feature from combat interceptors last October, ending the reign of the Fozzie Claw.  But it still remains an aspect of fleet interceptors, such as my Ares.

Ares on the move still

And, while people may moan about Slippery Pete Tengus or, more recently, nullified Lokis ranging around space, passing through stop bubbles with impunity, you can still stop them the old fashioned way, the way people have to in low sec.

Which brings us to the warp core stabilizer.  The stab, as the module tends to be abbreviated, fits in the low slot of any ship and adds one to the strength of the warp core of the ship for each stab you add.  That number, warp core strength, is used in the calculation of tackling.  A few subcaps like deep space transports and the Venture have a bonus to warp core that reflects their role, and capital ships have the own bonuses, but for the most part one is the basic number.

A Thanatos getting the tackle treatment

That number gets used against the tackler trying to keep you from warping.  They are likely fitting a warp disruptor or a warp scrambler with which they are trying to keep you from warping away.  The disruptor applies one point of stopping power, while the scramble applies two along with having some side benefits, like shutting down microwarp drives.  There is also the infinite disruptor that HICs can fit and some other details which the EVE Uni wiki covers, but those are the basics.

The simple arithmetic of the encounter is if the tackler applies points equal to or greater than your warp core strength, your ship won’t warp.  If you want to defeat a disruptor you need one stab, while a scrambler requires two.  If somebody has fit two scramblers and your ship only has three low slots, you’re not getting away.

Stabs are not a get out of jail free card however, despite the way they have been cast at times.  They do eat up valuable low slots and they come with a penalty when fit in the form of a hit to scan resolution and targeting range, as this chart indicated. (Chart source)

Warp Core Stab Variations

So fitting a pair of stabs drops your lock range rather dramatically and increases your lock time as well.

The reason I have lumped these two items together is that they have a couple things in common.

First, and most loudly complained about, is that both of them are absolute counters.  If you have interdiction nullification no bubble is going to catch you ever.  If you have warp core strength one greater than the person trying to tackle you, then you absolutely get to warp off, end of story.

It is my read that it is the absolute nature of these counters which gets people worked up.  There are just situations where the prey is going to get away no matter how on your game you are.

That brings me to the second thing that these two things have in common; they both counter mechanics that are themselves absolute.  If you are in a bubble and lack nullification, you won’t be warping anywhere unless you motor out of range or kill the bubble.  Likewise, if you apply points greater than or equal to your target, they don’t get to warp off.  You can argue that they can fight you to get away, but if somebody is trying to get away it probably means the fight is going to you regardless.

There used to be a way to counter getting tackled with a disruptor or scrambler in the form of ECM.  However, people complained loudly about ECM being “cancer” and CCP decided that ECM was not fun or engaging game play, so with that patch last October they made a change so that you can always target the person who is applying ECM.  With that change you could no longer break tackle via ECM.  It was already an unreliable mechanic with a chance to fail, but it was pretty much eliminated as an option at that point.

You can carry ECM drones.  Those have been nerfed as well, but they still have a chance of working.  You better have a a drone bay, no need for other drone types unless your drone bay is large, and a big enough tank that you can wait around aligned to warp while the game rolls the dice to see if the drones will land a hit and break the lock on you.  Your ECM drones also have to live that long, since blowing them up is an option for the tackler.

And yes, you can go reductio ad absurdum listing out all the ways the target could have avoided the situation before they landed in the bubble or were pointed, but you might as well just start with “don’t undock” and save us all the bother.

I am reluctant to endorse any idea that leaves absolute mechanics in place without a counter.

In fact, if it isn’t obvious by now, I am not fond of absolutes like this as mechanics, and even less so as fixes to mechanics.  So when somebody brings up the often discussed on Reddit idea of changing it so stabs simply won’t allow you to lock targets at all, I sigh with dismay at yet another absolute fix that serves the specific needs of one group. (I am also suspicious of simple “just do this…” solutions, as they are almost always faulty, so add that in as well.)

What to do?

I don’t have an answer, but I feel as though people are not asking the right questions around these.  The assumption that warp bubbles, warp disruptors, and warp scrambles ought to be absolute mechanics seems baked into the discussion, so the ongoing drive by some to remove or render useless anything that mitigates these mechanics feels like people bitching about not getting enough kills.

Was Cataclysm a Required Prerequisite for WoW Classic?

We got the date this week.  WoW Classic is coming on August 27th.

Classic is as Classic does

With that things felt… more real.  People started making plans.  I got an email from one of the old instance group, which we formed back in 2006 at just about the same patch level that WoW Classic is planned to launch with, indicating that we may yet again get the band back together.

I also started thinking about what class I might play.  Do I want to go back again as a pally with an offensive spell that is only good against demons or undead, along with auras and judgements and five minute buffs?

And do I go straight for consecrate on the holy tree?

You too can play with the talent calculator again.

I know Earl will go warrior and Skronk with a priest.  Maybe a druid this time, so I can do the run across the wetlands just like back in the day?

More on that as it develops.

And, of course, with the date announcement there was an unleashing of negative responses, often in the J. Allen Brack vein that nobody really wants WoW Classic, that it will flop, or that even if it starts strong people will soon realize it sucks and walk away.

I would have thought the ongoing success of EverQuest retro servers would have answered this question.  They form a part of the ongoing viability of the 20 year old game.  I suppose you do have to believe that Blizzard will learn from that, which is always a dubious proposition.  But even if Blizz thrashes about and moves at its usual glacial pace it should be able to make a success of selling nostalgia.  It certainly has a larger installed base to work with than EQ, and they are already suggesting that The Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King variations on these servers could be in the works if WoW Classic does well, though Mr. Brack does remain the doubter in chief on that.

All this also got me thinking again on the Cataclysm expansion.

A date that will live in infamy…

Oh Cataclysm.  If there were thirteen expansions, this one would cost 30 pieces of silver.

I have many negative thoughts about that expansion.  Even in hindsight, where I take in other factors, like having played WotLK straight through from launch until Cata launched may have worn me out on WoW or that I followed Cata development more closely than any other WoW expansion which left me few surprises, there are still a lot of sins there.

And not the least among those sins was the reworking of the old world.

I get that Blizz was trying to improve the flow through the game to the current expansion, facing the problem of levels both with that and by limiting the expansion to just five more.  It was a first, if not very effective, cut at the levels issue.

And I will admit that many of the redone zones are actually better.  They have coherent focus and quests that further the story rather than the sometimes random series of of unrelated tasks that seemed to make up much of the content.

But MMORPG players seem to be an oddly nostalgic lot.  In a game that you don’t pick up, play for a few weeks, or maybe months if it is a particularly excellent game, but play for years, the history matters.  This was part of my “no good expansions” theory of the world, that expansion bring change, even to areas that otherwise remain untouched, which in turn leads to people pining for how things used to be.

In EverQuest many of the original zones have sat untouched for years, looking little different than they did back at launch, and yet Project 1999 is a thing, trying to bring back an original, untainted version of the early game, while purists decry the Daybreak progression servers as they include post-launch changes to the game.  The purists are small in number however, and Daybreak’s nostalgia farming continues to do well.

So I wonder if Blizzard had dialed back their plans a decade back, decided not redo the world, perhaps opting just tune it up to allow flying, tacking on the starter zones for the two new races the same way they did with TBC, and then just focusing on the new zones and dungeons and raids, if we would even be talking about a launch date for something like WoW Classic today?

The strongest argument for WoW Classic is that you cannot simply go back to old zones and see places as they used to be.  There is no was to easily simulate the old days, the way things used to be back at launch, because Blizzard changed it all.  Some zones didn’t get hit too hard, but others were changed drastically.

Once I ran a raceway… now it is under water

In doing that, in removing the easy out option of telling people that the old game still exists if they want to visit places like the Mirage Raceway, did Blizzard set themselves up to eventually have to create something like WoW Classic?

I still feel like MMORPGs are new ground for Blizzard in some ways, even almost 15 years in.  SOE launched it first nostalgia driven progression server a dozen years back when Blizzard was still trying to come to grips with WoW, the game that took over the whole company.

It feels like WoW Classic is them finally discovering yet another facet of the genre that makes it different from their stand alone games of the past, where you released something, maybe did an expansion, released a few patches, then moved on to other things.

MMORPGs are long term commitments.

The Time Zones of New Eden

This isn’t a particularly insightful post, at least not is you’re really into EVE Online.  This is more of a reflection and maybe a bit of info for those who do not play or to somebody years down the road researching the game I suppose.

It is one of the quirks of there being one EVE Online server for the whole world that the time of day plays into what opportunities you have.

Okay, there is another server.  But the population on the Serenity server in China is small enough that it doesn’t really count.  The current count on the relaunched server is frankly tiny.  And the players in China have ways of slipping through the Great Firewall to play on Tranquility with the rest of the world in any case.

Anyway, there is a pretty consistent ebb and flow of population over the course of the average day on Tranquility, or TQ.  You can see it repeated ad nauseum on the charts over at EVE Offline, the same hills and valleys over and over.

A typical week in New Eden

The deepest valley in the day is down time, the daily restart of the server that hits at 11:00 UTC and kicks everybody offline for a few minutes most days, though it can be longer from time to time.

Since downtime hits at 3:00 am or 4:00 am local time for me, depending on whether or not we have daylight savings time in effect, I’ve never been up and awake and online when downtime has hit.  I’ve been logged in.  I left my ship drifting during B-R5RB and went to bed, getting logged out at downtime, but I was fast asleep.

That, however, is mid-morning for for those in Europe, early afternoon for the Russians, and passing midnight for those in Australia, with the former two already starting to ramp up the online population.  There is something of a daily ski jump in the chart every day before downtime.

From there things keep ramping up as the Euros get into their evening and day breaks in the US, peaking at around 20:00 UTC.  That is still a bit early for me on the west coast of the US, being about lunch time.  The Russians, then the Euros, start logging off as the US and Canada hit their prime time.  I’m usually not able to get on before 00:00 UTC, by which time all the sensible people in Europe have gone to bed.

The steep downward slope flattens just a bit as US prime time hits, but continues on down to the daily nadir around 06:00 UTC, when the population begins to ramp up again for another day.

Exciting though all of that is… sarcasm, sorry…the real impact is what it means for those playing the game at any given time.

And it just isn’t PvP.  Yes, if you want to blow other people’s ships, you’re better off logging in when the population is at its peak.  Likewise, if you want to stage a million dollar battle, it should probably be timed to commence in the evening European time to let the US players get in on it… though, honestly, experience says that a bunch of us in the US will call in sick or find a way to be home for these things if they are early in the day.

But the population count also has an impact all all sorts of PvE tasks.

If I am playing World of Warcraft, the current server population doesn’t have a lot of impact on me.  In part that is because I play on a US timezone server, so the population is likely to be peaking when I am on in any case.  But even if I have insomnia and log in way off-peak, unless I want to use the dungeon finder or queue up for a battleground.  And, even then, the fact that those work cross server means that I am not totally without hope of getting a group of the fellow sleepless together.  But running around doing quests in the open world isn’t much changed regardless of when I am on, give or take running into a few people out in the world.

In EVE there is the obvious effect that, when more people are online, there are also likely more people likely to be hunting you as you go about your business.  There are more gankers waiting for you in Niarja, more followers of James waiting to bump your mining ship, more gangs on gates while you’re trying to haul your PI or minerals back from low sec, and more scouts looking to get you while you’re running anomalies.

But it also affects you even when somebody isn’t looking to shoot you.  I’ve been out doing a bit of ratting with an alt after taking over a year off.  I’m back to running the much beloved Blood Raider’s Forsaken Hubs.  I have a post about that brewing, once I hit a particular milestone.

I make a point of doing that as far from peak hours as I can possibly manage.  That is, in part, for safety.  I’m usually tabbed out as my drones take care of the rats for me, so I pretty much never dock up when a hostile shows up in system and my response time when I get jumped can be comically slow.  Again, there is a tale behind that.  So being on when there are fewer hunters is probably a good thing.

But there is also a competitive need for that.  In a world where the easy and cheap solution to subcap ratting is a Vexor Navy Issue running forsaken hubs, there are only so many such sites to go around in a given system.  When I have tried to do a bit of ratting closer to peak hours it becomes a task finding a system where you can reliably land in a hub and not find somebody’s VNI already feasting on Blood Raiders.  You end up either having to watch the probe scanner to try and jump on a fresh pop or you have to find a system where there isn’t so much competition.

And, of course, the systems without so much competition tend to be pipe systems with lots of hostiles passing through looking for targets or those near NPC Delve where hunters stage.  I’ve actually fewer encounters hanging out in a pipe system, most likely because the hunters probably expect you to be more on your guard, but lots of non-blue traffic coming and going does put you on edge.

I recall, back in the day, that when I was running missions in high sec, that the population of the current mission hub I was hanging out in was also had an effect on how things played out.  There seemed to be a limit to the number of mission spaces the game would allocate in a given system, so at peak hours you could end up being sent out of system, often more than just a jump or two.  I recall one of the reasons for packing up and moving to Amarr space was being in a seemingly safe mission hub system only to have the agent assign me missions half a dozen jumps away in low sec.  At the time I was still figuring out how to deal with NPCs, so having players show up to shoot me discouraged taking those missions.

Anyway, I’m not sure I’ve arrived at the point I set out to make.  That is the problem with just thinking about a topic and setting it to write before you’ve really nailed down where you want to go with it.  But I’ve used up my writing time and I’ve got nothing else on tap, so this is what you get.

Quote of the Day – Activities in Mordor!

This new end-game system allows players to pledge their allegiance to one faction at a time. Pledge yourself to the Dwarves, Elves, Hobbits, or Men, and unlock rewards through activities in Mordor, including a unique story arc! Players will accrue Allegiance Points which advance your character along a given Allegiance. These points can be earned through acquiring items found in Mordor, completing repeatable quests, and more.

-Allegiance Mechanic, Mordor Release Notes

Here we sit, waiting for the Mordor expansion to go live.

Keep an eye open for Mordor!

The launch was planned for Monday, but was postponed until today.  Now we have entered the period of downtime, after which the expansion should be available.

Nothing left to do but wait and wonder and look at the patch notes for Update 21, which covers the expansion.

Of course, that leads me back to what we’re going to be doing in Mordor, how we’ll be interacting with the main story, and just how far we might be asked to stretch canon.

Mucking about with the core of the stories has been, as has been brought up elsewhere, has been a concern of mine since Lord of the Rings Online was announced.  Almost eleven years back, about ten posts into this blog, I was already writing about those concerns.  How was Turbine going to handle building an MMORPG with thousands of people wandering around while keeping the linear framework that is the story itself?

The team has done a pretty good job so far.  The player sees the story advance.  You get to interact with some of the key actors in the story, but they aren’t strewn about the landscape to bump into over and over again… except in Rivendell… no matter how far you progress you can still go back to Rivendell and find everybody still hanging about.

Most of the time as a player you are occupied with subordinate tasks, things that move the story along behind the scenes, but which wouldn’t get you a mention in the book.  And so it is that you spend a lot of time helping the quartermaster corps of the local Dunedain contingent by slaying bears, boars, wolves, and the occasional servant of Sauron.

So while there was no chapter about the brave battle against the tomb robbers of Esteldin, if there had been my character would have figured prominently.

Once in a while you get to be an uncredited extra in a key scene in the story.

Of course, the flaws of the MMORPG genre are manifest in the game.  The servants of Sauron pop up again as soon as you wander off… as does the mass of wildlife you spent all that time slaughtering to help provision the various outposts of the free peoples.

And their outposts are many.  It was a bit much in the early part of the game.  I don’t recall Eriador being that densely populated.  And the game moved along, the population density became more out of character.

While Moria was a delight to explore, the dwarves did seem to be devoting a lot of time and resources to fixing up their old home when there was a war raging.  But at least they had a reason to be there.  I’m not sure why Mirkwood has so many people wandering about.  If any place was more barren of life… save the odd dark squirrel… and spiders and elves at the far end… it was Mirkwood.  But you cannot run an MMORPG zone without a half dozen quest hubs.

So I do wonder what we will encounter in Mordor, and when in the timeline of things we shall be doing that.  There is, after all, no time between the battle at the Black Gate and the destruction of the one ring (spoiler), the former only ending with the latter.  The up front promise of the release notes…

Witness the fate of the One Ring and Sauron! The Epic quest line reaches a major milestone, and remains free to all players.

…is pretty much the end of the tale save for the cleaning up afterwards.  We can’t even go find Frodo and Sam, really, as the eagles arrive and whisk them off to rejoin the remains of the fellowship.

Still, I am keen to see Mordor, even if the tale there is going to be another series of supply runs for the free peoples and some sort of post-war favor buying system.  Tourist of Middle-earth, that’s me.

I still have yet to decide which character is going to get that level boost into the expansion.  I had best decide soon.

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: