CSM December 2011 summit – Highlights & Thoughts

This entry has been written ‘out of character’ to discuss EVE-Online’s development. 

This is a long one!

The minutes for the CSM 6 December 2011 summit are now out and can be read in full here.  There are 44 pages worth so I’m going to pick out stuff as I trawl through them.  I’ve been looking forwards to seeing this document as it typically provides the best insight into EVE’s future direction that we get in one hit.

First off, it looks like we may have some hints at what EVE’s new ‘themed releases’ might be; “Conflict (war, which is first up), resources (PI? Wormholes? Mining?), PvE, character advancement”.

From reading the section about the New Player Experience, CCP are unsatisfied with the way that the tutorial dumps new players in this vast sandbox without any social connections or a clue as to what to do next.  In that sense character advancement may be about giving players in their first six months a greater sense of direction through things like a revamped skill certificate system.

Funnily enough, I see Incarna as being an expansion aimed at new players.  Perhaps its two flagship features were CQ’s (positioned primarily to attract new players) and the revamped NPE/tutorial to go with it.  Which was to my mind why it bombed; there was nothing substantial there for established players.  I really hope that CCP don’t repeat that mistake in over focusing a whole release cycle on customers they don’t have yet.

Incarna

The CSM asked about Incarna (as in WiS), and CCP replied that it has not been dropped, but is undergoing review and is slated to be “developed on the backburner in a way that makes sense and will enhance the EVE experience”.

Later on in the minutes Hilmar admits that Incarna was, in hindsight, not truly being developed for EVE, but as a technology platform for other games that CCP then spent alot of time trying to justify for EVE.  Which seems accurate, given that over the years CCP failed to tell EVE’s players what Incarna was actually going to do, other than ‘be awesome’.

Hilmar then says something interesting that I think is very valid.  His concern has been that if CCP developed a game platform that was not a part of EVE, then EVE could be left behind as a game when it cannot benefit from the tech and game environments being developed for CCP’s other titles.

Well, I’m happy that they haven’t scrapped everything.  But it looks like we won’t be seeing anything more coming out of Incarna for some time yet, which is a shame.

Clearly CCP are looking to find out what role Incarna should play to make it meaningful and fun, rather than treating it as a marking opportunity or an empty shell of missed opportunity.  At a guess CCP might be hoping to return to it in 2013 once Dust514 has made it to market and WoD’s background development is further along and refined.  By then EVE will have had a couple of major releases worth of polish/renovation under its belt.

I’ve got mixed feelings about this.  I’m a fan of the idea of Incarna, but not of the 2011 vision of it.  I have been holding out some hope that we might have seen corporation offices in 2012 as a first iteration on multi-player environments, but I guess it is not to be.  Fanfest 2006 was a long time ago, and I really do want to see Incarna proper someday as a vibrant/gritty sub-world further diversifying, but not diluting, EVE’s world.

But, I agree that the core game has to come first for now, and there is alot of core gameplay stuff that needs serious attention over the next year or so.

The CSM

CCP want to tweak the election process.  Candidates for CSM 7 will need to ‘prove’ that they have a minimum number of supporters in order to appear on the ballot.  I like that idea, it essentially gives us two rounds of voting where the weaker candidates get thinned out early on leaving a smaller and more meaningful selection to choose from in round 2.  That should make for less diluted voting and allow for voters to research the candidates more than they would if faced with 50 names to go read about.

There was also talk about rejigging the structure of the CSM a bit and the voting system for next time, but there’s nothing much to get excited about there.

What is not showing in these minutes is any intent on CCP’s part to ‘reign the CSM in’ after their public ‘media rebellion’ of summer 2011.  But we are seeing interest in going over the election process that determines who sits on the CSM.

In my opinion, there have been times where this CSM have not felt entirely representative of the player base as I know it, or that they have been overly focused on a certain play style.  From the minutes it seems that there is a fair bit of support in the CSM for using FW as a testing ground for null sec design changes on a smaller scale, I’m not sure many FW players would like the idea that they are null sec’s guinea pigs. Something about the minutes sounds…dismissive.

A second example of this is in the NPE discussion where CCP/CSM discuss why people play EVE.  The CSM are broadly quoted as saying that EVE’s unique attraction is that “You can grief people” and that “its not a game for wusses”.

Huh.

The EVE community’s evil streak is well known, and the game allows for skulduggery, true.  But I don;t think that is what the majority of the player base genuinely set out to do when they log in.  EVE’s unique attraction is that sense of exploration and possibility, of empire building not just empire destruction.   EVE has become inundated with vocal ‘bittervets’ in recent times, but they are not the whole story.

It would be nice to see our CSM remembering that more often.  EVE is about friendship with the people you fly with as much as it is about sinking daggers into the backs of those you fly against.  Just thought I’d share the thought while I’m already ostracising myself by supporting Incarna…

EVE Veterans/Loyalty Program

There is an interesting culture change right there.  This isn’t about attracting new customers, but rewarding the ones EVE already has.  Which is something that I think CCP very much lost sight of during the :18 Months:.

Apparently CCP are thinking about creating “CCP Master Accounts” which will let us lump all of our accounts together into one.  It sounds much like Blizzard’s Battle.net which is home to you Starcraft II, WoW (no, I don’t have one) and soon your Diablo 3 accounts.  With Dust514 and World of Darkness both in development it makes sense that they’d want to do this as it isn’t just EVE-related.  It will be very handy though, so I hope they do it sooner rather than later.  It’s in the ‘early design stages’.

The Veteran program will reward you based on how many months you have been subscribed (non-consecutive, so if you take a break it carries on counting as soon as you re-sub) and reward you at intervals.  Sounds nice.

The loyalty program on the other hand will reward you for being continuously subbed over long periods without a break.  If this is applied retrospectively then I’m laughing as I have been continually subbed since I started playing in mid 2004… 😉

Economy

It seems the EVE economy is quite healthy and not going to collapse on us this month.  Which is nice to hear. 🙂

PLEX prices are becoming increasingly important and CCP are noting that price fluctuations in PLEX have pronounced ripple effects elsewhere.  There isn’t much comment around this though, so it doesn’t sound like CCP are planning anything drastic here.  An interesting point though is that CCP consider it to be in their interest for PLEX prices to be low; if the price gets too high then subscribers drop off and players spend more time grinding for ISK rather than playing in a way that enriches the game experience.

Apparently the average number of jumps per player is decreasing.  There is speculation that this might be due to the null sec jump bridge networks but there is no conclusive data.  Another possibility that occurs to me is that there are more titans than there used to be and more players might be using wormholes as short-cuts.  It might also be that the agent quality changes reduced the need to travel between your high quality agent and a market hub than you used to; now you just use the closer agent as he’s just as good.  Who knows, I’m speculating.

CCP is considering multiple options for iterating on Incursions.  They seem to want less cookie cutter setups and more unpredictability and they will be adjusting the distribution and payout of sites to encourage players towards the higher end sites rather than farming the lower level stuff.  Hear hear!

What I like less however, is that CCP don’t seem much concerned about the geography of incursion spawns; which region an incursion will appear in.  I would like to see more of them in null sec interfering with wars and the like rather rather than it being almost entirely an empire thing.

Security

Work continues to battle the bots.  It sounds like CCP are taking it seriously, even if doing so is largely invisible to us as players.  The approach that CCP Sreegs is taking is to ‘plug the holes’ (my words) in the EVE client to reduce how much an unauthorised client can interact with it.

I’m glad that CCP seem to be not giving up on combating botting, its something that de-motivates me sometimes about EVE.  I read on EN24 recently that 2011 was the year that players decided to accept botting as a part of the game and to embrace it.  I really hope that the average player hasn’t done that.

Null Sec

It looks like CCP might be replacing Rogue Drone alloy drops with bounties, there is the suggestion that this could increase the value of mining (by removing a high end mineral source) and combat super capital proliferation in the Drone Regions.  I think it makes the Drone Regions conceptually less interesting but I suspect it could work out to be a good thing.  Less super caps and more miners makes for better PVP options in my opinion.  We all need stuff in belts/sites to gank. 😉

It sounds like CCP are keen to add new capital ships to the game, with a strong possibility of a capital ship class dedicated to tackling other capitals.  The CSM is wary given CCP’s poor track record of balancing capitals generally, and supers in particular, but I do wonder if there might be something to this.  If we had a capital capable of reliably pinning down several other capitals (and surviving more than a minute or two to do it), that would free up the sub-caps to tackle each other rather than everyone clamouring to point a cap ship.

A new heavily-tanking tackling class with minimal offensive fire-power could be an interesting mechanic to add into the mix.  If it was only capable of tackling capitals then it wouldn’t have much impact on sub-capital warfare either.  I do think that there is room for a bit more capital ship diversification, and that it should be aimed at capital vs capital warfare rather than adding to the ability of cap ships to ruin the day of sub cap warfare with impunity.

There is an interesting little discussion on destructible outposts (but nothing solid) with the issue of what happens to everyone’s stuff being most prominent.  Personally, I’m not a fan of outpost spam.  I did my share of grinding through Providence to evict CVA and was peripherally involved in repopulating all the damned stations afterwards.  It was not fun, and would have been preferable to just blow up a fair few of them.

This then leads onto the issue of NPC null sec stations and their total invulnerability allowing for sov-less super capital heavy alliances to project great power and be immune to counter attack.  I am impressed by the lengths the author(s) went to in order to not say ‘Pandemic Legion’ repeatedly throughout that bit.

A strong theme presented is to make the station services in NPC sov vulnerable to attack but have them regenerate over time.  I like this alot.  You could then strike at an enemy staging system but we would not see whole NPC regions becoming incapped wastelands because no-one ever reps anything they don’t own.  I hope that CCP go ahead with this one.

Factional Warfare

CCP are looking at FW as a mid- to long-term prospect, with some possible things happening this summer.  They want null sec sov and FW sov/occupancy to be more alike, but recognise that neither current system is ideal.

That isn’t very surprising.  While FW was originally in development many players suspected that CCP were using it as a test bed for a future null sec revamp, so it makes sense to me that CCP ‘return’ to this idea of making the two functionally similar, particularly if CCP hope to see alliances that start out in FW go on to become new players in null sec.  I mentioned earlier that some CSM sound keen to use FW as a null sec testing ground; I’m not keen to see FW dismissed as such and I think it will need to retain some intentional distinctiveness of its own and be more than just ‘lulz-null-sec-for-the-little-people’.

We might be seeing an election system in FW where the militias can elect a more formal leadership capable of setting objectives or commissioning system upgrades and setting tax rates in controlled territories.

Combined with letting alliances join FW, the above could be very…interesting.  I strongly believe that the outcomes of FW should influence everyone using low sec, and this kind of thinking is sounding good to me.

The risk of it though is that null sec power blocs might be given too much ability to control FW purely to simplify their own logistics.  CCP will need to be careful not to let the null sec meta game create a new type of stagnation within FW, and to make it stand up as a long term play style choice in its own right.

Cloak Hunters

CCP are hypothetically considering adding a dedicated cloak hunting vessel that would function in some mechanic ‘more like finding a submarine than pulling a blanket off’ a cloaked ship’.

I am not a fan of AFK cloaking as a means of griefing ratters into not ratting.  It is too effective for too little risk and allows you to deter other players from playing while you yourself are not playing either.  Game mechanics should encourage play to actually undock and play.  Its just more fun that way.

On the other hand, a cloaked ship can’t be too easy to find otherwise scouting and solo or small gang hunting becomes even harder to pull off in the face of an omfgwtfblob response.

Like the CSM, I’m cautiously positive on this idea.  But maybe the anti-cloaker ship should not be a cloaking ship itself.

Webcell

There is a new website on the way as well corp forum functionality through EVE Gate.  This is cool.  Every corp should have its own forum and this reduces the need for every CEO to host their own website or rely on their alliance forum to host a sub section for them.

Microtransactions

Again nothing solid here but the discussion of ‘micro plex’ is interesting.  The CSM are of the opinion that Aurum is totally discredited and should be abandoned entirely.  Instead the idea of ‘micro plex’ comes up where a plex could be broken down into 30 micro plex which can be used to buy MT items or spent in smaller increments on game time.  I’m less down on Aurum as such, but this last bit does sound good.

This might allow for players to trade micro plex for ISK providing more flexibility in how much you need to pay up to get the MT items you want without having to fork out for an entire plex.

CCP seem keen to increase the number of ways to sink PLEX out of the system, rather than see them stockpiled.  It isn’t clear from the minutes if they are concerned about something that is happening now, or something that might happen.  Are players stockpiling PLEX in order to bump up the prices?  Would adding more sinks change that behaviour?  I’m not sure.

CCP are not currently ‘actively’ working on MT related things for now, but are sitting on a bunch of unreleased items for the NeX store.  The CSM advised them to continue sitting on them in order to use them later as part of a new MT plan launch.  Given that CCP aren’t working on MT atm that means we aren’t likely to see any of that stuff any time soon, if they listen to the CSM.  Oh well.

CCP are however looking more closely at ship related vanity items (and only vanity items), given that Incarna is off the menu for the foreseeable future.

Conclusions

Well, that’s alot of stuff, and I didn’t talk much about some sections of the minutes.  The next year will see EVE polished and iterated upon while CCP work internally to make their company behave more like a large company in order to harness their own potential to actually make stuff.

The next release cycle is going to be interesting.  It has to tackle some meatier features than Crucible did, and CCP are committing themselves to delivering stuff that adds value for all players, not just stuff to lure in new ones.

Here’s hoping they do just that.  I am a die hard EVE fan, my fiancée refers to it as ‘the other woman’.  But there have been times over the past couple of years where I very nearly lost the spark.  I’m hoping that 2012 is the year CCP really do put the love back in.

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One Response to CSM December 2011 summit – Highlights & Thoughts

  1. Pingback: Blog Banter 32: Would you like for me to attack you? | uglebsjournal

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