This entry is an ‘out of character’ post to discuss EVE’s development.
There is a lot of controversy floating about in EVE at the moment, and reaction to CCP’s recent dev blogs by Hilmar and Zulu has been interesting to watch. There are three camps emerging amongst the player base to my mind.
The first camp is cheering at CCP’s apparent u-turn in development, delighted that they are ‘ditching’ the waste of time and failure that is Incarna and ‘walking in stations’. Long awaited fixes to “EVE’s core gameplay” are now on the cards and soon they will be able to turn off the Captains Quarters forever and go back to the old style hangar.
Camp two is those people who are disappointed that CCP have abandoned their vision for Incarna that these people and all their friends had really been looking forwards to. Some in this camp believe that CCP’s focus for the winter expansion is a mistake and that the flying in space people have ‘enough toys to play with already’.
Camp three are the people with a more rounded view. They see potential in Incarna down the road but are well aware that EVE’s famous spaceships are not in such good condition right now. I like these people, they talk sense.
Incarna (The Summer of Discontent)
I have been playing EVE continuously since 2004, and this past summer has probably been the lowest point for EVE that I can remember since that period where the server nearly dropped dead because the expanding player base had outstripped the hardware. That was bad from a customer service point of view, but it had a redeeming factor.
So many people wanted to play EVE that CCP was struggling to deliver a service that could physically support them. This was eventually resolved with the completion of an entirely new Tranquility server.
Incarna has culminated with a more worrying scenario; the playerbase has become disenfranchised with CCP and increasingly apathetic towards EVE itself. The numbers of active users have been falling. CCP have made great gains in the war on lag, but less people are playing enough to notice.
Hilmar’s blog is CCP’s public acceptance of this situation. I hope that it really does mark the start of CCP turning this around, as I would like to still care about EVE a year from now.
For me, Incarna failed because its content was not aimed at the established playerbase. At all. CCP targetted it at new customers, bringing in full body avatars to appeal to people who don’t ‘get’ being a spaceship and revamping the New Player Experience. These are both good things, and it is good that CCP did them. However, no established player will give a damn about an improved tutorial, no matter how good it actually is.
Most importantly however, the launch of the CQ and NeX store fuelled every fear the Incarna sceptics have been harbouring and nurturing for years. They add no functionality that was not there before. And they were performance hogs to boot.
I think that CCP’s key failure with Incarna is one they have been repeating for years. They do not talk about their ideas for the actual gameplay or give any indication of progress. Players want to know what they will be able to do with a full body avatar, CCP refuse to comment. This simply fuels the perception that Incarna has no point.
When Incarna rolled out with a single room and no new functionality, many players felt that years of scepticism had been validated. Until CCP do start talking about the gameplay aspects then this view will not change.
Winter is coming….
A popular phrase that one. The preliminary feature list is out, and people are divided on it. It seems that CCP are facing up to the reality that establishments, the meat of Incarna, is not ready and will not be ready for awhile (I’m guessing late summer 2012). They are also realising that their customers are tired of waiting for, well, everything.
What they are doing for the winter expansion cycle seems pretty obvious. They are going after the ‘low hanging fruit’ of neglected EVE features. Some people are calling this a cheap option, a bit of a cop out, grasping at straws and so on.
I think that it is precisely the right thing to do. Lets think about the recent expansions.
Tyrannis was a miss-fire, Hilmar later dubbed it “how not to do an expansion”. Its title feature Planetary Interaction was kicked out of the door well before it was ready, many players were not all that interested in it and dismissed it for the connection to console-only Dust514. Discontentment grew.
Then came Incursion, and things got interesting. CCP delivered a surprise new feature, Incursions, which was quite well received even if it wasn’t the PVP content many wanted to see. The carbon character creator came out which people grudgingly liked but still felt it wasn’t ‘essential’. CCP was forced to break up their deployment into a staggered release schedule which became surprisingly popular. CCP declared intent to continue with this approach from then on. But the biggest success of Incursion was team BFF’s ‘little things’ initiative to fix all those niggly little things in EVE. The players loved it.
And then, Incarna happened. CCP released Incarna 1.0 and fell silent. There was no staggered release, there were no more features on the horizon. Not even the other CQ’s. That was that. After the glimmer of hope that was Incursion, CCP fell back on bad old habits with a vengeance and a long series of PR disasters.
To me,the winter expansion feature list reads like ‘little things’ on steroids. Instead of fiddling with jump clones they’re tackling capital ships. Instead of marking BPC’s from BPO’s they are sorting out blasters and with them a sizeable chunk of Gallente ships. They are actually going to touch factional warfare! My jaded old roleplayer’s heart skipped a beat at that one.
Some are dismissing the winter ‘expansion’ as a mere bunch of patches. I think we should applaud that thought. We loved Team BFF for their series of fixes and tweaks, the prospect of another patch adding more stuff in a few weeks time, then another and yet another. I’m all for a repeat of that over the coming months taking on the long neglected meatier features of EVE.
It my hope that while CCP chew through the low hanging fruit that is light on art assets and programming so that they can continue to beat Incarna into shape in the background. They can do a huge amount of good for EVE in rebalancing under utilised ship classes and bringing sub-capital warfare back to null sec; and they don’t need to pull all of the artists off Incarna to achieve it.
CCP can do both, their mistake was in ignoring one almost entirely to push the other out of the door.