Go Go Team Avatar!

This entry has been written from an ‘out of character’ perspective to discuss EVE’s development.

I’ve been waiting for this little announcement for awhile, and to be honest although I’ve been waiting with a little anticipation, there will be some who approach it with apprehension.  Ever since Incarna died in a fire and CCP scrapped their immediate plans for WiS, I’ve been waiting to see the first hint of what the future is for Incarna.  Some players seemed convinced that it was dead and buried, but hey, some people are surprisingly short sighted.

And now, months later and following the successful reception of Crucible, CCP have finally dared to tentatively stick their neck out a little bit and mention development of WiS again in this dev blog.

So, there is still one dev team working on WiS, which probably means about half a dozen devs.  The blog is, as expected, vague on details and talks about CCP’s reconsidered approach to development of the non-spaceship side of the EVE vision.  What is interesting however is that CCP’s creative director CCP t0rfifrans is the product owner and team lead.

Once CCP dramatically switched their development focus in late 2011 their plans for EVE went from delivering their massive and excitingly ambitious ‘future vision’ to a much more modest focus on polishing and updating EVE’s ‘core gameplay’.  Rather than adding a whole new dimension to the EVE experience via Incarna/establishments, they switched to doing stuff like ship rebalancing, smaller features like POS fuel blocks and UI/usability fixes.

The dramatics of last summer scaled back the sense of raw ambition to a much more conservative approach.  Crucible has delivered alot of good and needed fixes, but I think that EVE’s future has felt downscaled somewhat at the same time.  From what has been shown so far, 2012 will be a year that delivers a considerable amount of stuff that EVE’s existing players will like as long neglected features get some belated attention.

But I’m still a little concerned that the ‘players PR victory’ of 2011 could see EVE settle into something of a rut.  The established player base in EVE can be a very entrenched one, often resistant to any change that could prove disruptive to their habits.  New players can find it tough to get started in EVE, and one of the reasons for that is the typical veterans attitude towards newbies or simply the more casual player.

In 2011 CCP attempted to reach out to new players and introduce major new features that could bring significant fresh blood into the game.  But much of the established player base considered that to be a waste of effort and were frustrated at the lack of development of features that veterans value.  And they fought back against that.  It seems to me that the metric many existing players use to measure an expansions success is the number of account reactivations it prompts.

Thats how many players return to EVE, not how many new players are brought into it.  Now that is a very insular way of thinking.  Is someone who used to play EVE and left (possibly repeatedly) actually more valuable than bringing in someone who might actually stick with it?

2011 rattled CCP and shook their confidence, that is obvious.  I think the timing of Team Avatar’s blog is a good example of this.  For the past 3-4 months CCP has avoided discussion Incarna’s future publicly, and not made much visible effort to deny the assertions of some that it was a dead and buried failure.  It is only now after 3 months of well received updates and rebuilt goodwill from the player base that they have finally dared to start talking about it again, in the most cautious and guarded of ways.

I for one am glad to see them stick their head up above the ramparts again.  CCP had the right vision, but had gotten very lost in their execution of it with their woefully miss-pitched NeX Store, lack of tangible gameplay goals for Incarna, the ham-fisted attempt to force players into using incomplete new features (the CQ being functionally pointless and entirely decorative, and Minmatar only) and all at the expense of neglecting EVE’s most obviously broken core gameplay for a very long time.

But the vision remains compelling.  And this is why I find it interesting that t0rfi is the man at the helm of Team Avatar.  CCP’s ongoing focus on fixing and updating existing features doesn’t sound all that, well, creative.  The ‘vision’ for much of it is already there, its simply a question of improvement and expansion. The creativity is most needed to realise WiS into something that adds value, depth and growth beyond EVE’s well trodden niche.

Incarna remains the opportunity for CCP to evolve EVE itself to a new level (Dust514’s potential impact on EVE’s day to day gameplay is yet to be seen).  Recent months has seen CCP make huge technical strides in delivering on those much vaunted epic fleet fights (in the form of time dilation and server/client optimisation) and the next year will see the core spaceship game polished and renovated.

Incarna is the missing piece, lets hope that CCP have learnt the right lessons from 2011.  Maybe their ambition tempered with a healthy dose of realism will finally bring EVE closer to the potential of that vision.

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One Response to Go Go Team Avatar!

  1. Ugleb says:

    It occurred to me later that I didn’t really hit on what I think that CCP should be doing with WiS (can we still call it Incarna?), so here is what I posted to the dev blog’s comments thread:

    Here is what I’d like to see done with WiS in the short to mid-term.

    Captains Quarters are, and should remain, single player environments. They’d need to be re-designed to accommodate more than one avatar.

    There needs to be a basic multi-player environment added. Even if it is purely decorative.

    This could be a corp office, a public gallery or whatever. We simply need a space on the other side of that door where we can encounter and ‘meet with’ other player avatars. Test the basic technology, see what players think of it.

    Frankly, I’d support a single relatively large room dominated by a massive version of the CQ’s viewscreen where I can walk up to another players avatar and open a convo or trade window. If you can stick a window in showing the system’s background nebulae/starfield/the planet below (not a live view of the outside, that would kill the server) then that would be sweet.

    Get that most basic form of functionality/eye candy in and go from there.

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