Tag Archives: Yeah well that’s just like your opinion man

Five Bad EVE Online Ideas that will Never Die

EVE Online can be a divisive game.  People tend to love it or hate it, with the latter being the larger group if comment threads on gaming sites are any indication, though the largest group of all seems to be those who watch it from afar to be entertained.  And all three groups probably add up to fewer people that the active subscribed WoW population right now, though I suspect those numbers might have gotten a bit closer since the Shadowlands expansion.

And in such an environment, there are a wide range of ideas as to what the game should be, and everybody seems to have a plan that would improve the game and, naturally, boost player numbers because we all seem to believe that the majority of the universe shares our exact likes and dislikes and are shocked that these few outlier weirdos who see things differently from us seem to run all these games.  It is like some sort of conspiracy.

But there are a few ideas that seem to persist.  They pop back up again with a regularity that begins to grate if you’ve been around the community for a while.  Here are the ones I see that just won’t die the death they deserve.

1 – Walking in Stations

At the top of the list because CCP dabbled in this with Incarna. The company, after neglecting the core of EVE Online for a few years and plundering the efforts of the teams working on Dust 514 and World of Darkness, proudly launched what I heard one wag call “walking in a closet.”

Captain’s Quarters

I will admit that I was among those who thought the game needed avatar play when I started playing.  EVE Online has the curse of many vehicle games in that everybody is alone in the spaceship and you can’t wave or jump ceaselessly or dance on the mailbox in your underwear, which can give the game a sterile, impersonal feel.  Forza Horizon 5 has the same impersonal feel out in its shared world too.  Every car focused title does.  Are there people demanding “walking in Forza” as loudly as the walking in stations crowd does for EVE? (Seriously, are there?)

The problem here is that nothing in the core of the game is improved by having to walk around and I have yet to hear a suggestion from anybody that didn’t either make current functionality more awkward (e.g. you should have to walk to your agent in a station and speak to them face to face) or required CCP to essentially build a new game within EVE Online to accommodate avatar play.  That adds up to making things worse or development time spent away from the core of the game.

It has been made clear over the years that CCP struggles at times to keep up with the “flying in space” aspect of the game that is its core, so having them ignore that again for a multi-year stretch in order to build a feature of dubious value seems like a really bad business plan.

But people ask for this feature a couple of times a month on Reddit, though the request seems to rotate through the same small group of people.  And then there is Hilmar, who said they might bring it back at some point, which just cemented in my mind the fact that he might be head of the studio, but he has no clue about the game and just likes to say things that get attention.

Walking in stations is bad for EVE Online.  I will die on this hill.

2 – Dogfighter

This is the almost prototypical response from somebody who came to play EVE Online and happens to own a flight stick.  They go away disappointed that combat isn’t maneuver based, that they cannot used the tricks they developed playing X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter or whatever, often dropping by Reddit to announce their displeasure.  The reaction range between “this sucks” to long design documents about how the game should be rebuilt into a space flight sim.

But the core is always the same, that the combat is too simple, that you just press F1 and you’re done.

The first issue here is  the idea that every game must be built to meet their personal preferences.  If you want a space flight sim, I get that EVE Online isn’t for you.  But there are a lot of other options, so coming in and declaring that the game should be rewritten to meet your personal needs is a bit over the top don’t you think?  And that leaves aside the herculean effort that it would take to remake the game.  Get over yourself.

Second is that if you think combat in EVE Online is simple it is because you haven’t spent enough time with it.  Yes, you don’t have to get on somebody’s tail or calculate deflection in your head, but range and engagement envelopes and transversal and tracking and damage types and reload times and a host of other small details enter into each engagement.  That you are not thinking about this when you press F1 doesn’t mean it isn’t all in play, it is just likely to explain why your ship is a wreck and the other person has a fresh kill mark on his hull.

3 – Safe Space

There are a lot of flavors to this one, ranging from the idea that high sec should be completely safe (and sometimes that low sec should be like high sec is now) to being able to flag PvP on and off like you do in World of Warcraft to make yourself immune from all player attacks.

This seems to stem from people wanting to just be left alone to tinker with whatever space project they have going on.  And I get that.  It is a sandbox and some people want to play in their own corner where kicking over sand castles isn’t allowed.

The problem is that any safety will be exploited.  Any source of income that is unassailable will be overrun.  ISK per hour is a primary motivator for many, but the safety factor comes into it as well.

And you may ask who would even bother tracking down high sec alts, and I have an answer; all of us.  EVE Online has a rich history of wars in low or null sec finding their way into high sec.  In World War Bee there was a whole shadow war fought in and around Jita and Amarr with both sides trying to track down alts in NPC corps that were being used to ship supplies into the war zone.

So, leaving aside the usual argument about safety breaking the theme of the game, there are some more immediate ways in which it would break actual game play and the economy, and we don’t want to give CCP any more reason to go in and manipulate the in-game economy.  They are hamfisted enough going after imaginary problems, lets not make some real ones.

EVE Online is just a PvP game.  It has been since 2003 and that is the way it is going to be.  End of story, time to move on.

As an aside, I am always interested in how angry people get when another player blows up their ship, which glows white hot compare to the response to dying to an NPC.  I dream of an experiment where CCP mocks up a slightly different UI and tells an experimental audience that EVE is a single player game with advanced AI based on real world behavior in order to see if the anger is the same when your hauler gets blown up by a gang of suicide Catalysts if you believe them to be NPCs.

4 – Another Server

There are a few flavors of this one as well.  There are, of course, the people who just want a PvE server.  See above, plus I am not sure how sovereign null sec or faction warfare even work in the minds of those suggesting this, but there it is.

Others want EVE Classic.  They want to go back to the good old days, which correspond to the point in time when they were most enthusiastic about the game, or when some change in mechanics didn’t ruin things. (I still occasionally hear somebody angry about CCP adding in “warp to 0” as the thing that killed PvP, which was a change that happened in 2006 not long after I started playing.)  And, as somebody who is a big fan of the whole retro server idea, it is hard for me to not pine as well for some past fun.

The usual problems apply.  When would you set such a server?  What patch level?  What bug fixes do you retain and which are part of the flavor of the time?

But the enterprise will never get that far because CCP knows that two servers are not twice as good as one.  EVE Online needs a critical mass of players willing to take on the different roles in the ecosystem for it to function smoothly.  I am a bit sad I didn’t play at launch mostly because I wonder what the game was like with no established player market.  EVE can seem annoying because it feels like as soon as you decide what you want to do, you need to do six other things first to get ready.  But at least you don’t have to buy the blueprints for a hull, mine the ore, and build the ship.  The economy is the core lubricant that makes the game manageable.  Splitting the game into two servers threatens that.  The main fear for EVE is that someday the population will fall below a critical mass and the economy will fall into chaos.

So no second server will ever compete with Tranquility.

(And yes, I know there is a second server in mainland China.  But even now many players who used to play on that server are able to VPN into Tranquility to play with the rest of us.  In fact, one of the reason that the game turns in the concurrency numbers it still manages these days is because it has managed to attract many of the core players who fled the bad days of the Serenity server.)

5 – Better PvE

I am going to have to qualify this one because I don’t think any player, new or old, would have a real problem with something that led to a better PvE game in New Eden.  Better PvE isn’t a bad idea at its core.  But it is almost always expressed badly… and by badly, I mean people generally just demand better PvE and stop there, leaving what that even means to the interpretation of those hearing the demand.  Or, if they provide details, it generally describes much worse PvE.

Basically, it easy to say “better PvE,” but it is tough even describe it, much less make it happen.  What is better anyway?

Making it harder isn’t better.  If I’ve learned anything over the years, it is that players want PvE that is just difficult enough to give them a sense of accomplishment without any real risk of them failing.

You can make things like missions interesting for the first run.  But they don’t stay interesting after a few passed.  You can then make more missions… I think CCP has more than six thousand missions of various types in the game… but they tend to fall into a few simple categories.  In the end, PvE quickly becomes a solved problem.  You can add more missions, but is that really better PvE?

CCP has seemingly had some luck with randomizing PvE in Abyssal pockets.  The mechanic requires you to commit your ship before you know the foes and puts a 20 minute timer on the mission.  If you don’t make it in time you lose your ship and your pod.  But even with randomness, if it is still a 90% solved problem (fly a Gila) and they have had to make the rewards worthwhile to keep people running them.  All those muliplasmids to modify ship modules keep a lot of players going back to get the one that will give them the right MWD or stasis webifier or hardener for a fit they have in mind.

But I still find Abyssal pockets boring.  In the end it is the same thing over and over and some variation in foes barely qualifies as interesting unless I get a bad draw and die.  And then it is annoyingly expensive.

I have yet to hear a viable idea from anybody that would make PvE more interesting in New Eden.  But I think that says more about the nature of PvE in general than anything about us or CCP.  There might be an idea out there, and maybe it will find the right ear some day.  But for now, just saying “better PvE” isn’t very helpful and the suggestions that come with it generally involve making it harder or making people go through more hoops, neither of which really meet the “better” bar.

Honorable mentions

Those are my five.  But those are not the only ones that rattle around, so I have a few honorable mentions that I want to tack onto the end of this post.

Things Were Better When…

This is the person who doesn’t want a new server, they just want CCP to roll back to some past feature state that was “more fun” for very specific definitions of the term.  They want it in the current game, and it can be anything from removing “warp to 0” to going back to Dominion sovereignty to giving titans AOE doomsday weapons that can blow up a whole subcap fleet in another system through a cyno… again.

The problem is that, for the most part, much of what has changed over the years has been changed for a reason.  We bitch about Aegis sovereignty, but we bitched about Dominion sovereignty before that, and people certainly bitched about the tower/moon sovereignty system that came before Dominion.

In the end, even if CCP went back and changed the sov system back or removed warp to 0, it wouldn’t recreate the game and the fun times you were having back when they were a thing.  Dunk Dinkle likes to say “nostalgia is a trap.”  As somebody who likes to remember the good times, I take umbrage with that at times.  We can’t ignore the past because all we are is what the past has made us up until this very moment.  But when we gaze too far abroad with our rose colored glasses or think that doing something we did ten or fifteen years ago will do more than just rekindle some fond memories, then I have to agree with Dunk.  I want to be young again too, but removing “warp to 0” won’t get me there.

Subscriptions only

This is a specific subset of the “Things were better when…” crowd who would like to roll back skill injectors, PLEX, and free to play.  All of these are viewed as bad to various degrees… though we have had PLEX in the game for well over half the life of the game at this point.  The first big PLEX loss was back in late 2010.

This just isn’t going to happen.  It probably can’t happen and keep the game being developed at its current pace.  I have been down this path before, but to put it simply, the price of a subscription remains locked in 2003 while the price of everything else has gone up over the last 19 years.

Also, people playing EVE Online… that peaked in 2013, before either free to play or skill injectors showed up, so there is scant chance that going subscription only will end up in any scenario besides “EVE Online now makes much less money.”

Yes, I hate the cash shop mentality of MMOs.  I just want to pay my flat fee and play the game.  But the reality is most everything now has some sort of free option, so demanding cash up front just limits your options as a game.  That is just the reality of the market now.

Breaking up corps and alliances

This is the go to solution for people who don’t like null sec or who are trying to solve the “n+1” problem of sovereignty warfare.  Are null sec battles growing too large for the servers?  Are big null sec alliances keeping you and you five friends from holding space?  Then just put a cap on corp or alliance sizes!  That will put everybody on an even playing field!

The suggestion rarely include a number at which organizations should be capped, just that 30K Goons is too many Goons and we need to put a stop to that right now.  But that doesn’t really matter as there is no correct answer.

Let us say that CCP picks 1,000 as the cap for an alliance or corp or combination thereof.  What happens next?  Two things.

First, we go back to the bad old days when null sec groups were very selective of members.  I know there are some who long for those days, the era of the small, elite PvP groups holding vast areas of space.  But organizations like Brave, Pandemic Horde, or KarmaFleet, which have been highways into null sec for new players, they dry up and die.  Everything goes back to needing to justify why you get a spot in an alliance rather than one of the CEO’s alts.

Second, we find out it doesn’t change much.  Unless CCP also disallows standings, EVE Online players have shown that they can create meta organizations that exist outside of the structure of the game.  There is no in-game mechanism specifically for coalitions, yet they exist and have existed for as long as null sec has been a thing.

The limit just ends up turning the null sec clock back to 2011 or so when small groups ran big rental empires and formed coalitions to defend their holdings.  As we have seen elsewhere in the game, when CCP enforces scarcity, players change their behavior in predictable ways.  Well, predictable to most people besides CCP.

Banning people you don’t like

This seems to be the knee jerk reaction to many issues in EVE Online, that CCP just needs to ban more people.  Botters (which is anybody who repeats a game play loop in a game with a lot of repetitive game play loops), gankers, cheaters, scammers, exploiters, bumpers, whales, ratters, miners, Alpha clones, people with more than n accounts, scary wormhole people, under cutters, specific nationalities, play styles you don’t like, Goons… there was practically a “Ban Goons” subculture at one point in the game… and mean people in general. Basically, whatever is annoying you, CCP should just ban them.

Here’s the thing… somebody probably wants to ban you and whatever you are doing as well.  Also, CCP would like to stay in business and have a viable video game that pays the salaries and keeps the servers running and up to date.  While the EULA and terms of service give CCP the right to ban your ass for anything they want, becoming the game that bans people is a good way to become a game mentioned in the history of MMOs rather than in the current stable of running MMOs.

Player made SKINs

This comes up every time somebody posts a pretty JPEG of a ship they colored up themselves.  Somebody will see this and declare that CCP should allow players to make ship SKINs.  And, superficially, this seems like a good idea.  More SKINs in the store, the better, right?  And many of us like pretty SKINs… or at least SKINs with obnoxiously bright colors.  And CCP at least strongly implied that we would be able to make SKINs back in 2016.

This falls apart on a couple fronts.

For openers, being able to make what looks like a nice SKIN on you PC isn’t likely to be at all comparable to what it takes to make one usable in the game.  There are probably a dozen players out there with the skill, knowledge, and motivation to make decent SKINs, but they still don’t have the tools that the CCP art team has in order to make something usable by the game.  Those are, no doubt, in-house developed tools and not suitable for distribution outside of their environment.

Second, dealing with user made content is a lot more work than you think.  There is a reason that companies that try to leverage user made content either shut it down eventually (Cryptic, Daybreak) or just give up any attempts at moderation (Roblox).

The thought that comes up a lot is that CCP could just let the community vote on SKINs.  But have you met us?  Enough people would upvote penis SKINs to make this completely unviable.  Also, it assumes that SKINs are like mods, and that the whole thing could be treated like Steam’s Workshop, with little or no supervision.  This is completely wrong.

That brings me to the next issue, which is that SKINs are part of the game.  They are in the build, part of the client, and nothing at all like a player mod.  That means CCP would need to spend a lot of time vetting every submission, testing it thoroughly and examining it for hidden images, words, and penises, because once it is in the game it gets pushed out and placed on every system that has the game installed.

Which brings me to the final point on this, which is whether or not all the work would be worth it.  I don’t think it would.  The hubris in this is that players would automatically make cooler, more popular, better selling SKINs than the CCP art team.  The reality of user created content is that 99% of it is garbage.  Game mods and things like Steam Workshop let people experiment and get better, but that allows players to opt-in.  But putting something in the game that everybody will see, that is a step well beyond.

And, in the end, I am not sure more SKINs are better anyway.  The in-game store is already a pain to use… something it shares with online storefronts every where, which pretty much require you to know what you want because simply browsing is an awful experience… so fewer, high quality SKINs seems to be the reasonable plan that CCP is trying to follow.  It is probably no coincidence that the best SKINs are the ones on a few hulls while the ones that try to cover a whole faction or every ship in the game tend to be a bit “meh.” (The Biosecurity Responder SKINs are the exception there.)

Anyway, that is a lot of words.  I guess this could have been “Ten Bad EVE Online Ideas” rather than five, since I just kept on going with the honorable mentions.  But the first five are really “never go there” ideas that CCP might consider, while the latter five I think we’re pretty safe from.

And I didn’t even get into blockchain, crypto, and NFTs.  Those are bad ideas as well, but I am waiting for Pearl Abyss to tell CCP to do them before I jump back on that thread.

New Dawn heralds Permanent Scarcity in New Eden

The dev blog for New Dawn, the so-called “age of prosperity,” dropped a week back and the reaction has been… vigorous.

Prosperity Promised

Those digesting the dev blog came up with a number of issues, and the hits just keep coming as people try out New Dawn on the test server.

In the face of player backlash, including a protest in Jita that brought the system down to 10% time dilation as angry players shot the monument, CCP went to MMORPG.com, their current go-to site to tell their side of things, in order to proclaim their good intentions and to scold the players for being mean.

This from the company whose motto used to be HTFU.

I found the whole CCP line in that article rather irksome because even the most charitable read of the text has to send the message that the people deciding on game changes are completely disconnected from the players and have no idea what it is like to actually play the game.

Less charitable is that they are shading the truth to make themselves look less ignorant of the realities of the game for players.

The reality is probably somewhere in between, as there is evidence for both conclusions.

The  tale from CCP seems to be that this one particular Dev Blog was being taken way too hard by some of the player base.  The problem is that this view ignores the entire context of the anger, which has been built up over the last two years as CCP proceeded to nerf nearly every player income source.  In that time I think they only passed over wormhole ratting and incursions, the former now being the largest ISK faucet in New Eden.

So when they claim that the CSM didn’t tell them that this dev blog might piss people off or that they don’t understand why things are blowing up so badly right now, they are brushing off two years of context.  People were angry already.  The storm had built up, and then CCP held out hope back in July that scarcity would be ending in Q4.

What they didn’t do was define what that meant.  Even back then I was confused as to where they might go given that the team, led by CCP Rattati, was pretty clear that they felt that economy needed to be “fixed” and brought into a state they felt was sustainable.  I didn’t have much hope that ISK and ore would flow freely again.

But then, on the Tuesday before the dev blog, they did a post announcing its imminent arrival, unveiling the take line for the New Dawn quadrant, “The Age of Prosperity.”

In the article CCP half halfheartedly admits that maybe they could have been better on messaging, but the claim remains that they had no idea the dev blog would be this inflammatory.

But even on Tuesday I knew that unless there was some serious relaxation of scarcity that people would be pissed.  To promise and end of scarcity is one thing, but to promise and age of prosperity, that was setting an impossible expectation.

I left a comment on the post about the Tuesday announcement over at TNG that said:

I am not sure why they felt they needed an announcement for an announcement, but I expect that the phrase “new age of prosperity” is going to come back to bite them by the end of the week if they are not careful.

Guess what, it did.  And when I can predict something it is generally obvious in the extreme.

So when CCP goes on about the CSM only giving them a “premonition” (whatever the hell that means) that the reaction might not be positive, I have to wonder what sort of island they live on.  Oh, yeah, right, that volcanic one in the north Atlantic to which no news travels it seems.

And the update itself, as proposed, seems to be at best a “side-grade” from the current state of affairs.  The dev blog opened big with how resources were going to be doubled… doubled from the low ebb at the end of two years of nerfs, but at least that felt like a step in the right direction… only to get into the details about of waste and nerfs and time sink mechanics that tally up to almost no net change.

Scarcity is here to stay, CCP just wants to cement it in place behind game mechanics like waste and compression.

The crazy thing is that CCP thought we would like this.  One of the new features called out by players is the new compression mechanics, where a Rorqual pilot has to feed resources into a module and wait for them to compress, then do it again, and again, and again, that being the primary function of the most expensive mining ship in the game in New Dawn.

But the article paints something of a Bizarro world view from CCP about that change:

“Compression was intended to be one of the most interesting [additions,]” Snorri [CCP Rattati] stated. “It definitely wasn’t meant to be an oppressive thing.”

And yet as soon as players tried it on the test server, that was the reaction, that CCP was trying to punish Rorqual pilots, which brings us back to the “do they even play the game” question, which comes up quite a bit when CCP makes changes. (Or maybe those who do play can’t tell the boss they have a bad idea.)

CCP asserts in the article that of course they want feedback and of course they will iterate on the design and of course it won’t go live as it stands now.

But it is hard to take that seriously.  CCP has a long history of ignoring feedback and pushing things onto the live server even when problems are presented to them.  Even the problem that CCP sees in the Rorqual, the super mining capital ship, was one of their own making that they pushed into the game in spite of feedback.  Ayrth, then one of the Imperium CSM members, told CCP exactly what the Imperium would do, that we would go all in on Rorquals and mine Delve to an extent they clearly could not imagine.

We’re now doomed to perpetual scarcity, with Rorqual pilots enraged, because CCP couldn’t tell what was good for the economy back then.  So we should believe they are on the right path now?

And then there is CCP Rattati, the Director of Product for EVE Online.  One does not get that sort of position without holding strong views, without feeling like they know the right path forward.

For those familiar with WoW, he has become the Ion Hazzikostas of EVE Online.  He is driving the direction of the game, he holds very strong opinions as to where the game needs to go and how players should be playing, and while he gives a nod towards feedback, he has never once let it get in the way of his own vision. (And he has his own credibility issues.)

And it is hard to argue with the idea that the economy is a core feature to EVE Online, maybe the essential feature of the game, without which everything falls apart.  But I very much get a sense, especially with the talk about the game going on to outlive its creators, that his eye is very much on a generation of new players and the design is focused on how they will advance through the game.  I can very clearly see a new player progression path in all these mining changes, with waste and skills and ships lining up.

That makes him a bit of an inversion of Ion Hazzikostas, who is focused on an established core of end game raiders. CCP Rattati seems fine abandoning the established core of the game in favor of new players.  And new players are important to any game with a long term vision.  But I have yet to see a happy ending for a game that gives up on a large installed base in order to attract and build a new one.

We shall see.

I have no dog in the mining fight, my mining days being many years in the rear view mirror.  I stick around for wars and null sec politics and the story arc created by the players.  But New Eden, for all of its diverse play styles, is an integrated, interdependent unit that rests of the economy.  I hope we don’t end up wrecking that.

Related

Why Harry Potter Wizards Unite Failed

The news hit this week that Niantic would be closing down their Harry Potter Wizards Unite title, with it being removed from the App Store in early December and shut down completely come January 31, 2022.

This doesn’t even look like my neighborhood

While “failure” isn’t in the announcement… the marketing department says that says that they are set to complete a two year story arc and that not all games are meant to last forever… I am pretty sure if the title were bringing in even a quarter of the money that Pokemon Go still manages to grab we would be hearing about a bright future for the game.  But the numbers I find on the web seem to indicate the title made about as much over two years as Pokemon Go makes on a good, but not great, month.

So how can a game that is pretty much the same as Pokemon Go, just dressed up in a different but extremely popular IP, fail to gain the same traction?

Wait, did I just answer the headline question there?  Maybe, and I certainly have opinions as to what went wrong.

My experience with Harry Potter Wizards Unite is somewhat limited.  As my wife and I approached the level 40 cap then in place in Pokemon Go, we thought we might give the recently launched Harry Potter game from Niantic a try.  If there is an IP more popular in our household than Pokemon, it is Harry Potter, since my daughter and I both read the books and my wife likes the movies.

I grabbed a copy from the App Store, which was a bit of a challenge as I wasn’t quite clear what the game was called and if you search on “Harry Potter” there are a lot of results, which is a problem right away.  Wizards Unite was not, and is not, the only Harry Potter game in the store.  But I managed to find the right app, downloaded it, and signed up.

I got through the intro and into the game where I went over to the park near us where there is a Pokestop and a gym in Pokemon Go to find there a fortress and something else… I don’t recall now… and there were things to catch or battle by doing wand motions, but it all looked very much like a re-skin of Pokemon Go.

I didn’t hate it, but nothing about it really grabbed me and when Pokemon Go upped the level cap to 50 my wife and I just carried on with that and never looked back at Harry Potter Wizards Unite again.

So I made it to level 10 5 and stopped, that hardly makes me an expert on the game.  Fair point.  But as a fan of the franchise, I still wondered why it didn’t grab me.  I should have been in the prime demographic for the title.  But here’s the thing.

Pokemon Go is a brilliant translation of the franchise into a mobile AR enabled game.  As a player you get to become that 10 year old in every one of the core RPG titles and go out into a world inhabited by Pokemon to catch, collect, and trade them.  You get to battle in gyms, battle other players, and even fight against the legendary Team Rocket and its leadership.  It took a while to get all that in play, but even at launch it convinced me it was a Pokemon game to play.

That is almost the core of the entire franchise, which was based on a video game that came out in 1996 which did pretty much those things.  The collectible card game, the TV shows, the movies, the spin off games, they have built on and expanded beyond that core, but the core is still there.  If you played Pokemon on your GameBoy or DS, you left you house in the game to do all those things.

Harry Potter doesn’t benefit from that.  Based on the books and a series of popular movies, Harry Potter always feels like we’re going some place else.  Our world is parallel to the world of Harry Potter, and wizards pass through our muggle society, but they are of a different realm entirely, and the magic of the series is being let into that realm and going to places that aren’t in our neighborhood or across town at the community center.

Basically, Pokemon Go can make you feel like a Pokemon trainer, but Harry Potter Wizards Unite never made me feel like a wizard.  My local park spawning Pokemon and having a gym seems is adorable, the same location with a wizard fortress… well, it doesn’t really sell me.  The park isn’t dark and foreboding, it is a happy place with grass and a playground and kids playing.  It is a place where Pokemon fit right in and wizards probably don’t show up until past my bed time.

We’re probably bordering on that immersion topic I have been harping about.  Maybe there is a post about Pokemon Go possible in that series.  I’ve been to Minecraft already, so why not?  I certainly seem to be making a “sense of place” argument here and how Pokemon Go succeeds and Harry Potter Wizards Unite fails.

Which isn’t to say that great Harry Potter games are not possible.

I thought the LEGO Harry Potter titles were great, as an example.  But you know what LEGO Harry Potter did?  It brought you into the world of the books, reimagined in LEGO form, and let you explore an experience that world and the stories we know from it in a fun and whimsical fashion.

And that, I think is the key.  If it sent me off to a LEGO version of my park, that would be kind of cool, but it wouldn’t be Harry Potter.

So that is my working theory.  Harry Potter Wizards Unite did not capture the essence of Harry Potter the way Pokemon Go did with Pokemon.

Honestly, I think it would be tough for a lot of IPs to work well in the structure of Pokemon Go.  I can’t really see Star Wars or Lord of the Rings working at my local park either.  Maybe Star Trek, as time traveling away teams are canon, or perhaps some sort of superhero IP, but it would have to be done just right.

Pokemon Go just caught the lightning because it was just the right IP at the right time on the right platform.

24 Million EVE Online Pilots Means What?

As part of their announcement that EVE Online was now available on the Epic Games store CCP put out a press release that indicated that more than 24 million “pilots” had played the game and that more than 91 million ships had been destroyed.

Some numbers

Those are some impressive numbers.

When I write about older titles in the MMORPG genre I often refer to a game’s “installed base.”   Those are the total number of users who have played the game and who are still interested in or fond of the game. They are often a lucrative resource for a company to sell to.  There is a direct correlation between that “installed base” number and how successful an older game can be playing the nostalgia card with retro servers and the like.

EverQuest, for example, while peaking at 550K subscribers, was the biggest show in town when it came to the genre for the first five years of its run.  During that time several million people played the game and then moved on.  So, while many players didn’t stick with the game forever, they played long enough to have had good times.  When SOE, and later Daybreak, started offering old school servers based around early content, that became a significant part of the title’s business.

Likewise, we saw WoW Classic revive the fortunes of World of Warcraft when Battle for Azeroth was foundering a bit, and Old School RuneScape… playing the retro card there has gotten it concurrent player counts more than a lot of titles have total players.

So EVE Online looks to have a sizable installed base to work with.  Even if they can’t play the retro server card, they can still market to appeal to players who have played and lapsed over time.

The question is, how big the core installed base, the players that got invested enough in the game, really is.  And for that we have to first figure out what 24 million “pilots” really means.  That could mean characters, accounts, actual individual people, or some other metric they came up with after a night of too much aquavit.

Fortunately, even as I was thinking about what it could be, CSM member Brisc Rubal was using his position to find out from CCP what it really meant.  On The Meta Show on Saturday he said that he got clarification and that “pilots” really meant “accounts.”

That means 24 million accounts have been created for the game.

But he got even further clarification.  Of those 24 million accounts… and I know I keep rounding down, but I am going to get into some sloppy math in a bit and that will be my margin for error or some such… 18 million were created by unique individuals.

So the largest potential installed base for EVE Online is 18 million people.

Of course, it is not that big.  Not every one of those players spent enough time to form at attachment with the game.  After all, we’ve all seen this chart from EVE North 2019, haven’t we?

How many new players log back in as time passes

And that wasn’t even news in 2019.  We had seen a similar sort of chart back at EVE Fanfest 2014.

New Player Trajectory

People who leave without engaging, people who don’t log in after a day or two, nothing has hooked them.  They got a glimpse, didn’t find anything to their liking, and moved on.

This was the view of EVE at the time

The retention problem has changed over time.  That 2014 chart reflects the pre-F2P era, when you had to commit a bit more to even get going because the whole thing required a monthly subscription after the 14 day trial, a fact that chased a lot of people off before they took their first step towards the game.

Now, with free to play, the reality of the first chart, where nearly 90% of new players fall by the wayside in a week and the overall long term retention is something like 4%, that 10% “Group / Diverse” long term retention path probably feels like the good old days.

That means that the installed base isn’t 18 million.  But it also isn’t 720K, which would be 4% of that number.  It is somewhere in between, though much closer to the lower number I would guess.

So I am going to do a bit of hand waving with the data we have to come up with a guess that, while not solid, has some foundation in reality.  And that is where we get to that gap between 24 million accounts and 18 million individuals.

That is a gap of six million, and I am going to use that as the basis of my estimate, because to me those are the secondary and tertiary accounts that users who are committed to the game, people who would likely count in the installed base, players that CCP could reasonably be able to market to with some new initiative.

So if that is six million alts and, let’s take a 3 alts per main as an estimate… I know, somebody will say that person X has a hundred accounts, but a lot of people still just have one, and even Goons by the last participation metric count are a little past 4 to 1…. that means that there are maybe 2 million individuals out there that have committed to the game enough to manage multiple accounts.

That leaves 16 million in the total users, who can’t all have turned and run, so I am just going to somewhat arbitrarily declare a million of them…  6.25% of that total… are also in the installed base of the game.

That gives the game an installed base to draw on of maybe 3 million individuals, and I am going to use the slop in my rounding down to 24 million at the top to hide the current player base, where CCP has said they have an active monthly user count that runs between 200K and 300K.

That is pretty healthy.  But EVE Online has had some promising numbers of late, like that floor of 110K subscribers that the redeemed ISK token line in the July/August MERs seemed to indicate.

Of course, the question is what CCP does with this installed base.  As I noted above, they don’t really have the retro server option, the New Eden economy being a bit precarious as it is.  Splitting the player base with another server would likely doom both, leaving aside the giant elephant in the room of what an EVE Online retro server would even be.

So they have untapped potential.  Can they do something with it?  What would lend itself to getting the installed base engaged and back to the game?  Or is the installed base really a thing at all for New Eden?  When you “win” EVE and log off, do you want to come back?  It is a game that can absorb all the effort and dedication that you have, so would you miss it when it was gone or just feel relieved?

On Perks and Paying More

While I was away last week I saw a dev post come up in the EverQuest forums (I subscribe to the dev post feed in Feedly and, while it delivers a lot of garbage… you get every reply to a dev started topic… it does pop up something interesting now and then) about a new monetization scheme for the game.

Not being able to write about them at the time, I forwarded a link over to Bhagpuss who put together his own post about the idea.

As he noted straight off these “Perks,” as Daybreak has branded them, are not really perks at all.  “Perk” comes from “perquisite” and is generally something you’re entitled to already, not something for which you have to pay.

Poor naming choices aside, I was kind of interested to see another attempt to bring in more money for an older title, because I was on a bit earlier this year about how the price of just about everything has gone up over the last 15 years, and yet somehow we’re still paying $15 a month for subscriptions.

Daybreak subscriber prices

The response to that was… not positive if you were an MMO developer.  Massively OP picked up the idea and their staff responded mostly against the idea of subscriptions being more (that was back in May, but their answers didn’t change much when they did the same question yesterday), while the comments were vehemently against any such thing, with a theme of “I want more if I am going to pay more” appearing.

And I get that as a gut reaction, but any attempt to go deeper seems to get met by the “greedy developers” trope that is so common.  Think about the answer I would get from the family that runs the Thai restaurant down the road using the same argument.  Twenty years back a standard entree was $6.95, these days it is $17.95.  Should I expect to get more for the extra I am paying?  Are they greedy restaurateurs, pocketing that largess?

We know that isn’t how it works.

There are other factors of course.  MMOs do not exist in a void and, as I mentioned in my post, we have been conditioned over time by the idea that tech should get cheaper and not more expensive.  But even Moore’s Law has to adjust for inflation.  And these days a lot more things are demanding a subscription, from Microsoft Office to Netflix to XBox Live, all of which influence our sense of value.

So when the Perks announcement came along, I was interested to see how they would be received.  These were, after all, optional items that delivered extra value for the price, and very close to what the current darling MMORPG, FFXIV does with retainers.  So who could possibly object?

Everybody?  Is that the answer I am looking for?

I suppose the coverage of the plan didn’t help.  Over at Massively OP they opened with the greed dog whistle by asking, “How can Daybreak milk even more money out of subscribers?”

I mean, unless I am missing some positive connotation for “milking” in this situation.

The comments naturally follow that lead, with a lone outlier mentioning FFXIV.

Over at MMO Fallout the tone was less overtly hostiles, though sarcasm was clearly in evidence at the idea of a subscription on top of your subscription.

The utility, or lack thereof, was barely up for debate.  The news story was “greedy devs at it again.”

Which, as noted, is ironic not only because of FFXIV, but also because this would not be anywhere close to the first time that the company that was once SOE offered and extra subscription option for additional stuff.  Those with long memories may recall that EverQuest II has such an extra at launch, offering access to their special players site for $2.99 a month.  There were also a special GM driven events server that had an extra monthly toll to play on.  And Station Access, the one subscription plan for multiple games, started off life as an extra cost option that offered perks, including extra character slots, which were enough to prompt many of the people in our guild back then to pay the price even though they were not going to run off and play EverQuest or PlanetSide.

Fine, whatever.  If we won’t pay more for a subscription, or even tolerate the idea of optional extra subscriptions, then I’ll just assume everybody is happy with cash shop monetization.  That must be true, right?  People certainly are not out there clamoring for the return to a subscription only model in order to banish the horrors of cash shop monetization.

Oh, wait.

We won’t pay any more for a subscription, hate the cash shop, and complain that studios won’t risk millions to make something new, betting instead on franchises and sustaining already profitable titles.

We’ll see how that works out in the long term.  But I’ll be investing in popcorn futures when Playable Worlds announces the monetization scheme for their metaverse project.  The things Raph wrote about just yesterday don’t come for free.  There is a lot of upside to the thin client idea, but it has to do the processing that the server normally does plus the work you desktop does as well, and somebody will need to play the bill for both.

Of course, it is possible that people say they won’t pay more… until they have to.  It is hard to judge the price elasticity of subscriptions without somebody challenging the $15/month meta.  If a game could go to $20 a month and keep the same number of subscribers, they do it.  They’d also drop to $10 if they knew they would double their subscriber base.  But nobody is willing to bet their game on that just yet.

Was the WoW Level Squish a Good Idea?

It will be coming up on a year next month since Blizzard introduced the big level squish as part of the run up to the Shadowlands expansion.  I started thinking about it as part of the mudflation post earlier in the week and whether or not it was worth the effort.

Of course, I have no way of measuring its impact beyond my own perception, and I am not sure if even Blizzard could answer that question right now, there being so many other factors impacting their user base this year.  But a lot of work went into making it happen and details like not being able to answer a question has never stopped me from asking one.

So this is going to be more of a gut check I suppose.  An emotional response.

And even that isn’t going to give a clear answer.  I am of mixed emotions on the topic even a year down the road. (It feels like more than a year ago to me, but time is a blur.)

To start with, I didn’t even think Blizzard would do it.  I am on record a number of times thinking the idea was too risky for Blizz, which can be very conservative on game changes.

That conservatism was apparently outweighed by the growing absurdity of levels in between any new player and the current content.

So in I went to the level squish and… I did okay.  It took me a bit to figure out that there was both an old school path through to the level cap as well a series of parallel paths through to the cap.

My vision in Excel format

I got a couple of characters leveled up through the new system before Shadowlands.  It was definitely speedier than before.  So technically a win.  And I feel like making all the expansions viable paths through the game was a good idea.

On the other hand, the whole thing was more complicated that needed, which is kind of the traditional Blizzard method.  If you were a new player it put you on the Battle for Azeroth path, but if you were making alts you had to go find Chromie and get on the path you wanted, and you had a chance of accidentally ending up in the old layer cake path through the game.

The horizontal stack with level caps on each expansion

And if you made a Demon Hunter, as I did, you might not realize you were in that layer cake model until you found that the mobs all grayed out before you made it to 50.

So the whole thing seemed like it had some good ideas and clearly had the intent to serve both new players and veterans alike.  But did it?  Is it a long term win?  Was it worth the effort… and reworking every expansion to scale and be viable for levels 10 to 50 was a lot of work… make that a thing?

Part of it is hard to appraise because you’re viewing from the outside.  And when you add in the long content drought after the Shadowlands launch and then the company blowing up with the lawsuit it is easy to think that Blizz could have spent their time better.

So I am left feeling neither all that positive or all that negative on the change, which is odd because a year ago I it seemed like a big freaking deal.  So it goes.

Immersion in the Nebulae of New Eden

Back to the immersion track again and this time I am going to change things up completely, leaving behind the fantasy realms of Middle-Earth and Norrath for outer space.  It is time to take a crack at EVE Online.  That is, after all, where this tear about immersion started a while back.

This should be easy, right?   CCP even ran an ad campaign around the “I was there” idea, which seemed to me to be a clear suggestion that immersion was a thing.

Of course, that was made for the Incarna expansion a decade back and ends with the player in the ship hangar of the captain’s quarters, a feature gone from the game for about four years at this point.  It was not a high point for the game and the relations between CCP and the players.  But it was trying to get at something about the game.  Was it accurate though?

EVE Online has a lot of things going for it when it comes to immersion.  It is a futuristic dystopian space empire game, which means not only can the game get away with a lot, but things that might seem immersion breaking in a fantasy MMORPG like Lord of the Rings Online are perfectly acceptable in EVE.  There are no naming conventions to break, no cultural references that you can make that aren’t ancient history in New Eden, things like in game chat channels and voice comms are totally appropriate to the setting.

And the game even enforces a bit more reality that your average MMO.  In the future currency is all electronic… it is mostly that way today… so a cash balance at your finger tips that is measured in the millions or billions of ISK is totally within the scope of what one should expect.  But the magic storage back doesn’t exist.  You can’t store something in your hangar in Jita then run over and pick it up again in Amarr.  You can’t even use the magic mail service that exists in WoW and EQ and so many other titles to insta-ship things to yourself or others.

Which isn’t to say there are not delivery services in New Eden.  They’re just run by other players.  Contracts, scams, industrial enterprises, spies, piracy, it is all there.  I even think the space flight aspect is probably more realistic to what we ought to expect that your typical dogfight in space simulator.  Do we think people will fly ships by the seat of their pants or do we thing computers will do the calculations and take the ship where you want to go?  I think entering a command to warp to a particular destination is probably more likely.

So here is the odd twist, at least for those of who read my posts about the game.  If I am writing about some big battle where thousands clashed and ships were exploding left and right… that even probably involved very little, if any, immersion for me.  Or maybe it is a different sort of “in the zone,” I am not sure.

But generally with those fights when were on voice comms with hundreds of people in a fleet and you’re getting instructions over your headset and trying to follow broadcasts and keeping an eye on your position and you overview, it can be a lot of work, a lot of switching around and not focusing on one thing, and getting focused on something is an easy gateway to immersion.

Add in time dilation and the UI not responding and having the outstanding commands window up and having the FC change their mind based on intel coming in on a channel that he can hear but you cannot…. it is probably very warfare realistic… but it not something that where I get that “I was there” feeling.  It feels very much like a video game.  An amazing, complex, video game with thousands of people involved, but still a video game.

One of the problems with EVE Online is that I spend a lot of time playing the game while tabbed out in some other window.  I am looking at Jabber channels or something in Discord or one of the many web sites with game information like DOTLAN or zKillboard… or maybe just looking up something that was mentioned on voice comms or linked in fleet chat.

Which is, like so much, is perfectly in sync with the technology age of the game.  Of course we would have access to all sorts of data… and data overload can be a thing.  If you have the wrong overview setting or mis-heard a command because something else was going on of the FC is too excited and only keyed up his mic half way into what he was telling us… but that is all very realistic too.

What isn’t, however, is the UI itself.  The game has gotten better over the years, doing things has become smoother, but having to fumble around with that user interface that is suppose to represent the state of the art technology thousands of years in the future doesn’t quite sell it.

Okay, so where do I find immersion in the game?

I can get there in big fleet fights, but usually only if I am flying logi, the repair ships that accompany a fleet into battle.  I can get into the zone in that role, and it is one of the reasons I spend as much time as I have over the years doing so, because your part of the battle is fairly small.  You need to stay on your anchor and keep an eye on broadcasts, locking up and repairing ships as they call for help.  This is often facilitated in a fight by a spy in the opposing fleet who will communicate the enemy’s next target.  Somebody in command will call out the name of the next target and tell them to broadcast for reps and we’ll all lock them up so they will have repairs already on them as hostile damage begins to land.  When things are going well it can be an assembly line of reps, one ship after another until suddenly the broadcasts stop if the fight has gone your way… or until the logi ships start dying off too quickly and you can no longer hold and then your side is probably on the losing end.

That is certainly a thing.  And even in smaller fleets, especially Reavers fleets, I can get in the zone flying a combat ship rather than logi.  Having an FC you know and trust and knowing what you need to be doing can get you there.

But for the most part immersion is kind of a solo thing for me in New Eden.

While most of my posts about big fights don’t involve immersion, almost every post I have made about doing some minor task… usually flying a ship through hostile space on my own… has involved some immersion moment.  Especially when I jump through a gate in low sec or null sec space and find hostiles on the other side.  I was reminded of that last week when I lost a Purifier to a gate camp.  I came through and saw them on the overview, that they had the gate bubbled, and my heart rate went up noticeably as my body responded to that sensory input with an little jolt of adrenaline.

A physiological  reaction to something that happens in game is pretty much proof of immersion in my book.

Anyway, looking back at what I have written so far I have been meandering.  That is often my style.  But I don’t need this to be 10K words, so I am going to try to pull immersion in New Eden into better focus by comparing it with my past two posts, which were about LOTRO and EQ in order to tease out what elements of the game help me find immersion and what works against it.  What do they titles have in common for me?

For LOTRO I listed out:

  • Familiar lore
  • Good adaptation of the lore to the game
  • Feeling of place within the game
  • Mechanics are familiar but not identical to other fantasy MMORPGs
  • Familiarity with the game
  • Well done landscape that feels like Middle-earth

And for EQ I said:

  • Feeling of place within the game
  • A connected world that required travel
  • A feeling of different places in that world
  • A simply huge world at this point
  • A freshness that has somehow remained with me
  • Night/light really changing the feel of the game
  • A sense of danger in the world
  • Mercenaries if you can’t find a group now

Lore comes up right away for LOTRO.  Without Tolkien’s works behind it LOTRO is just a poorly implemented fantasy MMORPG.  Lore is key to the experience for me.

Not so with EQ and not so with EVE Online as well.  The lore of New Eden just doesn’t do much in the game for me.  It isn’t compelling for me and is, in some cases, a bit annoying.

For example, the idea that ships in New Eden have crews is dumb, an artifact of somebody slipping a mention of crews into the old game wiki.  Nothing in the game supports the idea of crews and much argues against the idea.  Even those who love the idea of crews gladly toss aside the complexities involved with their pet theory.  Where do they come from?  Are they impressed into service?  Are they slaves?  Who willingly gets on a ship with an immortal capsuleer who will be reborn if the ship blows up?  Are planetary conditions so bad that people are willing to die?  This is a plot hole worse than where they go to hire henchmen in James Bond movies.

I am a proponent of the lone capsuleer theory.  The game takes places thousands of years in the future where technology has made capsuleers immortal gods of the space lanes.  Am I supposed to believe we have the technology for that and faster than light travel, but somehow my missile bays need somebody standing around loading them by hand?  I think not.  Besides which, how do my skills and implants and boosters affect ship systems unless it is me running everything.  I am alone on the ship, I am a part of it and it is an extension of my body.  This is the lore hill I will die on.

Sorry, got a little carried away there.  Let’s just say that the lore is a split decision for me on a good day.

I am going to skip down on the LOTRO list to familiarity with the game, which is kind of a draw for me in EVEEVE is a game of continual learning, so familiarity means that you have a foundation from which to work.  But there is so much to know.  The wise quickly learn their limitations and fools like me rush in and get schooled.  There are 65 regions in known space in the game and after 15 years of playing I still run across region names I cannot place on the map in the MER… and if I’m listing them out from the MER that means a bunch of people live there.  So kind of a wash on familiarity, but that was why I wanted to get it out of the way and move on to the big one.

Then there is a sense of place.  I said in the last post that this felt like an item that could be a through line on all of these posts, and this one will support that idea.

EVE Online very much has a sense of place.  Not in the way that Middle-Earth in LOTRO or Norrath in EQ do.  Not really.  I mean, space in New Eden is as beautiful and varied as the landscapes in LOTRO, and the size of EQ is only matched by the size of EVE Online, something enhanced by the lack of instant travel and automated post box deliveries I mentioned above.  It feels like a place because it takes time to move through it.

But New Eden doesn’t have a lot of personal touches, places that are special because the devs designed them that way.  There are a few monuments scattered about space.  But a lot of the places that are special are because the players made them so.

My personal map of New Eden and the places I’ve been

Jita, the main trade hub of New Eden is an accident of design.  The Caldari Navy Assembly Plant at Jita planet 4 moon 4 was once the first mission hub for new Caldari players back when rolling up Caldari gave you an initial skill advantage for PvP.  So lots of new players are coming back from missions and selling their stuff and suddenly it because the place to sell.  Jita 4-4 is your space mall.

The graveyard in Molea was a player driven effort.  CCP has since made it a thing they shepherd, but it went for more than a decade of being a place made special by the players.  Other monuments in the game are there to remember things that players did.  There are plenty of systems made famous for events, like B-R5RB or M2-XFE, where titanic battles were fought.

And then there are the places that mean something to us individually.  Two years back I wrote a post about my homes in New Eden.  Anybody who has played the game for any length of time likely has a system or two or a station that they feel like they lived out of, that has memories for them.

The funny thing is that while space if pretty, it is also kind of generic.  It doesn’t change much as you travel through a region.  One system can look very much like another.  They only become special because of the things we experience.  It is our stories over layered on top of New Eden which makes one system memorable and another just another pair of gates on the way to some place.  New Eden has a sense of place because we make place there special.

And that leads me into another item which isn’t on either of my other two lists, and that is the player stories.

Every MMORPG has player stories.  I write here about the tale of the instance group and my time in other games, essentially retelling the stories of my time spent.  But those tales are often in the context of the lore and the larger tales of the game itself.  I wrote about Hellfire Ramparts yesterday not because we did something unique, but because we ran a piece of content.  Our experience was our own, but it was parallel to what many thousands of others have experienced.

EVE Online, being a good sandbox, lets players have stories that are not on the same rails that everybody else has experienced.  It can be small, personal events.  If you have decided to move to a new region in high sec, just finding a new home, hauling your stuff, and getting to know the new neighborhood is a story.  A lot of stories depend on interaction with other people.  There is a lot of PvP in New Eden.  Ships blow up.  Players pop up where you don’t expect them… or sometimes they land exactly where you do expect them.  It is a difficult game to find the fun in at times because the fun isn’t always dispensed in bite sized increments.  And the scripted stuff, missions and events and the like, are often a bit tedious after the first run or two.  PvE is content that can be mastered and, thus, made routine.  But player stories about them doing their own thing, that is what makes the game.

People often complain about sovereign null sec.  It is boring.  It is too safe.  Wormholes are more lucrative and low sec has better small gang fights.  I’ve heard it all over and over and have been called names because of where I live.  F1 monkey is always a favorite.  Gevlon said I was a slave, like I somehow couldn’t log off.

But here is the thing.  Out there in null sec I am a part of a much larger story.  We just saw a 13 month war that had 120K in game characters attack a group of less than 40K in a campaign that swept through a dozen regions and laid waste to at least half of them.  It was a struggle the size of which just doesn’t happen in other games, driven by politics, deals, grudges, and a desire for fame and a place in the history of New Eden.  Andrew Groen has written two large books on the history of the null sec empires in EVE Online, and there is certainly material enough for a third.

Even if we assume the character to player ratio is something around 5 to 1 (I make this call knowing that the current ratio in Goonswarm Federation is 4.2 to 1) that is still a lot of people involved.  That is maybe 30K real life individuals involved in a virtual space war that carried on around the clock for over a year and spawned host of narratives, intrigue, and propaganda that spilled out into the real world.

I had to come up with a new term just to try and find some way to capture the feeling of being involved in such an event.  I will call it “Meta Immersion,” the feeling of belonging to something that isn’t real yet becomes a real part of your life.  This is a special aspect of New Eden that just doesn’t happen at scale in other games that I have played.  Empires rise and fall, alliances are made and broken, leaders become famous for a season and maybe infamous come the next, it is all quite a big deal when you dig into it.

Okay, I am getting all breathless about story here, I know, and I am already three thousand words into this post.  Maybe it is time to try and sum up to some bullet points.  So let’s see…

Pro Immersion

  • Sense of place
  • No fast travel options makes the size of the game more tangible
  • Scales up to “meta immersion”
  • A vast canvas for story, from the smallest to those with a cast of thousands
  • Lore that is compatible with player stories
  • A company that sometimes cares a lot about player stories
  • A lot of good complexity
  • Most meaningful trade skills in any game ever
  • Unique mechanics
  • Skill and knowledge focused versus gear focused game play
  • A sense of danger in the world

Against Immersion

  • A UI that really struggles to tell you what you need to know (remembers everything, tells you nothing)
  • Most info you need is outside of the game (tabbing out breaks immersion)
  • A lot of bad complexity (try managing a corporation)
  • No other game prepares you to play this one
  • CCP can’t quite grasp its own game or the implications of some of its actions
  • CCP goes through bouts of “you’re playing wrong” and breaks things
  • Other players on voice coms (and in the forums and on /r/eve)
  • Loss is very much part of the game, which is a tough hurdle for many people

That last one is a hurdle for so many people.  I still hate losing a ship.  If there is one thing that MUDs then MMORPGs have taught us as players is that gear is sacred.  I remember back in TorilMUD where a first offense for doing something considered cheating (which included a bunch of things that would be normal in WoW today) got you the choice of losing half your levels or all of your gear.  That was no choice at all.  With gear getting back your levels is no problem, but without gear a level cap character was useless.

In EVE Online ships are not like that.  Aside from a few very special items, ships are expendable, more like ammo than gear.  I’ve lost 334 ships in 15 years, which is a small number really.  That is almost twice a month.  If you lost your gear in WoW that often you’d quit.  But in New Eden you just go to Jita and buy a new ship.  There is enough competition that the market is usually good at finding the lowest acceptable price for producers and most anything can be had for ISK.

Anyway, I have rambled enough about EVE Online for now.  There are probably half a dozen things I meant to write that I forgot and no doubt a couple I went on at length about that could have been cut back.  But this is an exploration via writing on a blog where everything is a first draft.

So that is three games down.  Where should I go next?

The series so far:

On Immersion

Yesterday somebody triggered me on one of my most/least favorite hobby horse discussions, that of immersion.  Sometimes I think I have grown enough over the years to not get wrapped up in online arguments about such things, but apparently immersion is not on that list yet.

This time the immersion argument brewed up as one of the objections to CCP’s pop-up advertisement in EVE Online that comes when you lose a ship, encouraging the player to buy some PLEX so they can purchase a replacement ship.  This has led some anger… erm, some additional anger, because there is always anger… in the community.

Use your credit card to finance your revenge!

This led to any number of reactions, including the dead idea of returning to a subscription model, as well as any number or arguments about why this pop-up pushes the line in way that past monetization of the game has not.  Immersion features in some of those arguments as the pop-up comes during combat when you lose a ship, which puts it in a new category for some.

Sending players to the out of game website cash shop to spend real world money crosses an immersion line for some.

Enter Pollyanna, done explaining that the PCU drop is normal and nothing to worry about, who followed up to argue that immersion is a strictly definable thing, the same for everybody, and that this pop-up does not break immersion because PLEX exists, pop-ups exist, and links that take you out of game exist.

And there you have me triggered and engaging in a fruitless online argument.  I mean, they’re almost all fruitless, but I live in hope as 1 in 100 or so actually end up with some mutual understanding.  Not this time.

It probably took me a bit too long to figure out that Pollyanna didn’t give two fetid dingoes kidneys about immersion, that they were just there to defend CCP with religious fervor.  So I packed that up, muted the whole thread… thank you for that feature Twitter… and decided to write again about immersion.

The main problem is defining what immersion is, or if it is even a thing at all.  I add that last bit because I have had people argue that immersion is literally impossible, though those arguments often seem to assign an unrealistic definition to it.

So let me dispense with the “there is no immersion” side of the argument by saying that it isn’t an absolute belief that the game is real and you’re a part of it.  If that is the definition to which you are wedded, then there is no immersion.  But I am going to say that I both believe immersion is a thing and that I have never once literally believed I was in New Eden or Azeroth or Norrath or any other video game location.

Immersion is more like a release of the real world, the entering of something like a hypnotic focus on the game and its mechanics, becoming briefly one with the game, reacting at some level like the game is real even if you simultaneously know at a more logical part of your brain that you are simply playing a game.

Examples of this from my own personal experience include the rush of elation on defeating a difficult boss, the sudden boost in heart rate when you jump through a gate and find a camp on the other side, or the real knot in your stomach as you reach a cliff and see how high up you are.  These are all physiological reactions that indicate that some part of your brain believes what your doing in a video game is real.  That is immersion.

And, seriously, if you say you have never experienced anything like that I am going to have to ask why you even play video games.  That is the runner’s high, the payoff, the rare moment that makes the effort worth it.

Sometimes immersion is more subtle.  There can be what I have heard called a “competence high,” where you’re just doing very well at something like a simple match 3 game, where the moves are all coming to you and the game is totally going your way that qualifies to my mind.  Inventory management can even be like that.

The thing is that immersion isn’t a constant or reliable.  Sometimes you go through a gate and there is a camp on the other side and it is just another thing in the game.  Not every high place makes you feel a bit of acrophobia.  Not every boss fight, even difficult ones, give you a rush.

I have, in the past, likened being immersed to falling asleep.  I cannot explain how either happens.  There is just generally a point in time where sleep or immersion is not a thing, and then it is.

And things that break immersion can be as capricious as things that wake you up from sleep.  Some things are always going to do it.  The alarm clock is always going to wake you up, the game client crashing is going to break immersion.  Generally speaking, things that take you out of the moment are going to break immersion, and that pop-up could very well be such a thing for some people.

Now, you can certainly ask whether the people who are making the immersion argument really mean it or are just throwing that out there.  It is fair to question them.  Have they even seen the pop up?  (I haven’t) Were they in a state of immersion when the it came up?  Has immersion even been something they have mentioned as important in the past?

But if your counter to the immersion argument is that we all know what PLEX is in our logical brain, that the game has a pop up when log in, or that something like EVE Academy has a link that takes you outside of the game, so this pop up could not possible break your immersion, then I am going to suggest that you don’t know what immersion is or that you are arguing in bad faith because defending CCP is more important that whatever may or may not be immersion breaking to other people.  You certainly don’t get to arbitrarily define what immersion is and dictate what does and does not break it.

Anyway, thank you for listening to my TED Talk and/or my thousand word sub-tweet!

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Is LOTRO Effectively in Maintenance Mode?

I feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread

-Bilbo Baggins

There was a lot of optimism when EG7 announced their plans to purchase Daybreak Games.  It was a heady moment for many of us when EG7 gave us a bunch of data about the various titles.

Enad Global 7

There was also statements from EG7 about investing in titles like Lord of the Rings Online, including what seemed like crazy talk about a console version.  It felt like good things could be coming.

Almost five months down the road the, now that the afterglow of the announcements has passed, some of us are now getting a little impatient to see what changes, if any, the coming of the new Swedish overlords actually bring.  As with other such transactions, you only get so much goodwill time before the old problems become your problems.

Unfortunately, the message coming from the LOTRO team seems to be the usual litany of deferral and excuses.  Last week the community got a Q&A with the executive producer and to say it was a disappointment would be something of an understatement.  All sorts of things people have been asking after for years like a scalable UI or wide screen support to make the game playable on larger monitors are nowhere in sight.  They mostly seem to be on about bugs and whatever new content they can scrape together.

Most disturbing to me was the response about legendary items, a horribly grindy feature that should have been left behind in Moria:

We want players to have things to do while they are leveling. I know that some players are ‘Oh, this is too grindy and sometimes we overdo it,’ but ‘grindy’ doesn’t scare me as much as ‘I don’t have enough to do.’ I don’t have enough to do is worse because players want to play the game but they don’t really have goals to pursue.

This betrays such a basic misunderstanding of what makes people stick with these sorts of games that I despair for any future for the game, even if EG7 decides to throw some money at it.  This is all of the worst conspiracies about MMO devs confirmed, that they make things purposely grindy to keep us with the game longer.  Have you met your players?  We do stuff just because we can.  We don’t need enforced mandatory grind, we’ll make our own thank you.

I honestly thought we were past that somewhat when WoW launched as was relatively easy to level up in compared to the industry as a whole and yet people still found things to do in the game.  I guess not.

The legendary items thing really strikes home for me.  Despite my enjoyment of Lord of the Rings Online over the years… I bought a lifetime subscription back at launch and own every expansion… I have never made it very far past Moria in the game.  Part of the reason is that Siege of Mirkwood is just an uninspired expansion where Turbine was clearly just mailing it in while they threw resources at some of their fruitless projects.  But it has been mostly due to the constant need to attend to the legendary weapon… and not the one legendary weapon I got back before Moria, but whichever drop I happened to get that was an upgrade.

Yet somehow they are worried that if they dumped legendaries that players wouldn’t be able to depend on drops to keep up with DPS… though we pretty much have to depend on drops for that anyway.  I guess maybe I should be happy they aren’t planning to make them more grindy, which was pretty much the message back in January, but adjusting the “suck” setting back 10% still means things suck.  And they’re talking about challenge modes that will make grinding your legendary even more of a requirement.  They seem 100% locked into “grind makes the game” as a philosophy.

Leaving aside my personal investment in the demise of legendaries, the whole tone of the Q&A was as depressing as any of the worst periods of the Turbine or Daybreak eras.  Even the positive bits, like the new bit of content, The Further Adventures of Bilbo Baggins, turned out to be hollow, being made up of reused assets and mechanics.

A development team that was going to get an infusion of resources to help it along would surely be able to offer a more convincing vision for the future.  Instead I am beginning to wonder if EG7 isn’t simply perusing the Gamigo business model of buying up tired titles and milking the last bits of life out of them before shutting them down.  I previously dared to speculate as to what LOTRO needed.  Now I wonder what the game can even hope to get.

It should be a good moment for the game.  It is celebrating its 14th anniversary and a major potential competitor, the Amazon funded Middle-earth MMO, has been cancelled. (Though the LOTR series under development is still on, so there may still be a renewed interest in all things Middle-earth.)  Instead, the game is starting to feel like Bilbo at the top of the post, stretched too thin for the resources they have with no relief in sight.

Expert Systems in the Face of Failure

As I noted yesterday, if there is one thing you can count on from CCP, it is an overly grandiose and technically incorrect name for something mundane.

Last week CCP announced a new feature called “Expert Systems,” which I immediately summed up as “rent a skill,” as you’d be hard pressed to convince me it was anything else. (It was certainly nothing like an expert system.)

No expert that I know

It has been billed as a way for new players to try out skills they have not yet trained, which doesn’t sound awful on the surface.  The announcement, lacking in details though it was, did specifically mention the “magic 14” skills as part of the plan along with some industry stuff, but nothing about it was crystal clear.

The thing that got a lot of people riled up was the implication that this would be a paid service.  The gut reaction was “pay to win,” though “rent to be mediocre” might be more accurate, but the deeper issue on that front for me was the company having its hand out looking to make money from helping new players figure out the game.  That isn’t a good look.

Well, that and the whole thing seeming to add up a tepid and ineffectual compromise that won’t change anything, which got me back to the bigger problem of the new player experience and how it drives away pretty much everybody who tries the game.

We saw this chart back at EVE North in 2019, which was when CCP said they were making the new player experience a priority.

How many new players log back in as time passes

But we’ve seen charts like that in the past like this one from FanFest 2014.

New Player Trajectory – 2014 edition

CCP has been focused on the new player experience, the NPE, for a year and a half now, tweaking and making modest updates and generally trying to fix the issue without really doing anything too radical.

And it seems to have largely been a wasted effort so far.  CCP was given a golden opportunity during the pandemic to increase its user base.  Every month of the pandemic I have posted the revenue chart from SuperData which has indicated that revenues across the board have been up 15% for video games.  Even CCP has seen a bit of that surge, with the peak concurrent player count finally cresting above the 40K mark back in April as people sought indoor activities during the lockdown.

Hilmar himself was on a Venture Beat panel in late January where he said that EVE Online added 1.3 million new players in 2020. (This number gets mentioned again in the Expert Systems post.)  That was more that the previous few years combined, a gift to the company from the pandemic.

The question is, where did they go?  If CCP was running at the 4.4% long term retention rate their EVE North numbers suggested (which also didn’t seem bad compared to numbers I could find from comparable titles), that ought to have dumped another 57K players into New Eden.  That would be about a 20% boost over the approximate 300K monthly active users that Hilmar has mentioned in the past.

With that big of an influx of new players… so I am assuming they are not counting returning vets joining the war or looking for something to do during lockdown… the peak concurrent players online ought to be up enough for that surge to stand out.

But is it?  Looking at EVE Offline, it doesn’t seem to be.  After the great valley of the null sec blackout and Chaos Era, when CCP seemed keen to actively drive players away, the PCU climbs, sees a surge around April and May, then settles back down to about where it was pre-blackout.  Congratulations to CCP for flattening the curve?

Further evidence for CCP failing to capitalize on the jackpot scenario include the 2020 financial results from Pearl Abyss.  On the surface it looks like the EVE Online IP is growing.  But in we cannot forget that in Q2 2020 CCP was able to re-open the Serenity server in China and in Q3 EVE Echoes launched and attracted a couple million players on its own.  If you were to subtract those two items I suspect the EVE Online IP bit of the chart would be closer to flat.

And then there is the bottom line for the Pearl Abyss acquisition of CCP, which ended up with PA paying just $225 million of the potential $425 million price tag due to CCP missing performance goals, which I am sure included some revenue requirements.  Hilmar and some other big investors missed a payday there.

Fun times.

I don’t want to go all “EVE is dying” meme now.  But in the face of all of this, which stinks heavily of failure, the idea that CCP spent dev time to design and implement this new Expert Systems feature which allows new player to rent skills for some amount of currency in a game where skill injectors exist seems like a wasted effort.  It doesn’t feel like something that will move the needle at all on new player retention, in large part because it doesn’t feel like something that will impact a new player’s experience before they get frustrated or bored and log off.

I have bemoaned the fact that EVE Online is old and cranky and and has issues that will never be fixed because, after nearly 18 years, there just isn’t the time, money, or wherewithal to do it.  And I myself have been cranky about CCP in the past about things like selling skill points and the fact that when they say they won’t do something, that statement has a hidden expiration date of about a year.

But I try not to get too worked up about monetization.  This is a business and, frankly, the price we pay to play hasn’t changes in almost 18 years.  It was fifteen dollars a month in 2003, it remains fifteen dollars a month in 2021.  But I am going to bet somebody has gotten a pay raise or the rent has gone up or costs have otherwise risen in that time.  To balance that out you either have to make more money or have less staff.

So I am not irate like some about the real money aspect of this so much as being unable to see how this will make a lick of difference.  Software development is a zero sum game.  You only have so much time and resources, and if you waste them on things that don’t make the product better you cannot get that time back.

Now, maybe I am just not seeing the big picture here.  Maybe CCP has all the right data to hand and they know that this is a winning idea.  I’d like to be wrong in my assumptions and the announcement was vague enough for a lot of wiggle room as to how this will turn out.  Unfortunately, I have been party to way too many half assed, badly calculated products and features in my career to have a lot of confidence.

The real problem with software is that is written and designed by people who all have their own special collections of bad ideas.

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