Crowd pleasing stagnation?

This entry has been written from an ‘out of character’ perspective to discuss the friction between creating features/content that either moves EVE forwards or keeps it ‘real’…and familiar.

In March 2011 CCP unveiled their Future Vision trailer, a definitive public statement of their grand vision for the EVE universe.  EVE-Online spaceships, Dust514 ground combat and Incarna’s avatar-based interactions brought together to create an all-encompassing ‘sci-fi simulator’ allowing players to act out all of their science fiction fantasies.  As ambitions go, it is basically the gaming stuff of dreams and the presentation received a standing ovation when premièred at Fanfest that year.

In May 2011 Incarna was launched and utterly face planted.  Last summer saw widespread player discontent and mounting frustration over long neglected aspects of EVE and the lack of progress on developing and fixing core spaceship game play features.  Also, CCP realised that Incarna was simply not ready and the design just did not meet anyone’s needs. Since then, CCP has radically changed development focus and put the emphasis back on the spaceships.  Incarna is all but mothballed for the foreseeable future.

To many, this outcome meant victory for the established community and hopes are raised that EVE, the internet spaceship game, will finally be polished and iterated upon to again become a truly awesome game.  The problem here, I think, is that CCP had to scale back on that grand vision.  And in the face of player backlash, they seem almost afraid to reach for it again.  Watching the community always proves to be an interesting thing in EVE, and here is what I have been thinking for awhile now.

The EVE player community is becoming increasingly risk-adverse and is shooting itself in its collective foot. Players are increasingly convinced that they want more of what they know and less of what they don’t.  The past year has seen players demanding iteration and fixes to pre-existing systems, and a rejection of wholly new things.

To a point, that is what EVE needs.  Factional warfare and the war dec system are/were both badly neglected areas of the game that benefit greatly from renovation.  Although Inferno did not turn either into perfect game features, I’d argue that both are much better than they were before and with more work still being done on them they should, I hope, be in a pretty good state after the winter expansion cycle and CCP moves on.

EVE needed CCP to do that more than it needed an entirely new feature.  But at some point, EVE does need those new features.  My concern is that when CCP does try to introduce something new, as they did with Incursions, that players will reject the new thing because it changes the game rather than iterates on something else, like maybe null sec or wormholes.  I’m very much concerned that CCP are now thinking like this.

In the CSM minutes, CCP stated that there will be ‘no jesus features’ in the winter expansion.  That phrase bothers me.  Most players I think were expecting CCP to say that they would be working on either the Starbase (POS) overhaul or Planetary Ring Mining as the headline feature; instead, we won’t be seeing either for another year or more.  To me those features did not constitute a ‘jesus feature’, but CCP do seem to consider them as such.

Early communications from CCP/the CSM indicate that a Starbase revamp will likely change a great many things and is a redesign from first principles.  Force fields might be removed entirely, which could have a profound influence on how players behave around POS.  They might let us mount jump drives to move pre-built starbases around.  Personally, I can’t wait for CCP to rip out the current POS code entirely and replace it with something much cooler, more fun and much more user friendly.

But, it seems like alot of players aren’t thinking that way, prompting CSM Two Step to write this blog post to address common concerns.  From that, it sounds like your average wormhole resident would rather CCP didn’t rework the system but make smaller tweaks to the current system.  You know, that one they are used to using.  I find that mind blowing.  Players would really prefer to keep the garbage they know than see CCP aspire to creating something new and all-round better?

Consider now, the Vagabond.  Inferno 1.1 brought the Minmatar V3 texture re-skinning and one or two little surprises.  The Vagabond lost its ‘frill’ (solar panels, ‘ears’, whatever) to an unannounced cosmetic tweak.  CCP’s art department are continually updating ships models in an effort to keep EVE looking beautiful, and in this case they decided that the Vagabond would look better without its impractical frills.  This had the side-effect of making it look almost identical to the Stabber.  There was a player protest which may have resulted in a return of a tweaked frill.

What I find interesting here is that much of the response to the change I see here is inspired by some sense of, well, stasis.  Consider:

The ship I once feared and now flew with aggressive intent of my own, the proud distinguished silhouette of a killer amongst the space lanes was changed forever. Believe me, this wasn’t just about the Vagabond. This was about all of the meaningless changes over the years, the accumulation of small chips and dings and pecks at the walls of our Eve foundation. Oh yes, some changes have been good, some have been awesome, but these, these small erosions of tradition, of heritage, of common-sense science-fiction lore… When will it stop?!

I actually agree with the Vagabond protest as I think the change made the Vagabond visually indistinct from the Stabber, when before there was a clear distinction.  But I don’t agree with the sentiment above.  I think that the art department should push forwards and seek to renovate and improve on old models.  If they stop, then the game will begin to age visually and grow stale.  What I see here is though is more about nostalgia resisting change, for the sake of hanging onto something because that is how it always was.  I remember liking the Vagabond more pre-Trinity graphics upgrade, although if I could find a picture of it now I’d probably wonder why I did.  Hanging on to how things were isn’t always such a great idea.

There is another recent example of that.  Unified Inventory.  No wait, bear with me.  The new inventory isn’t perfect, but I don’t think that its as terrible as some make out.  It launched badly, but CCP did rapidly deliver iterations and fixes to address much of that.  I think ultimately that its main crime was to be different.  It was a different layout to what players were used to using, so they were frustrated by it.  With time, people have started to get accustomed to using it and the irritation is subsiding.

During the alliance tournament KIll2 made a comment while discussing UI design with CCP Punkturis guesting.  To paraphrase, whenever a UI change is made, he immediately looks for the buton to change it back.  Whatever the change is, his first reaction is always negative and he resists it.  I think that is a very typical reaction and one that everyone has when confronted with a new version of MS Office – “Wtf did they do with the print button???”. 😉

EVE is approaching its tenth anniversary.  It is a very long running game with a very stubborn community.  I think that there is the increasing risk that EVE’s problems are being exacerbated by its own entrenched community.  In order for any game to remain fresh, it must adapt and change.  And for that to succeed, its community must be willing to allow changes to be made.

Ripard Teg over at Jester’s Trek recently wrote an article That’s just the way it is. I actually don’t agree with alot of the specific peeves in there (apart from Jita market alts, I agree they should be gone) but I do agree with the overall sentiment.  Just because things are this way, and just because you are accustomed to them being that way, it does not follow that things should remain that way.

I think that the ‘EVE project’ is in danger of losing that sense of grand vision, and a lot of the time I get the feeling that it is the hubris of the community pressuring CCP into turning away from it.  Crucible was the most popular expansions in recent years, and to my mind it was one of the least ambitious.

Yes, EVE needs polish and iteration.  But it also needs to retain that sense of vision.  If we don’t permit CCP to reach out for it and to try new things, then EVE is already all it will ever be.  That would make me sad.

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4 Responses to Crowd pleasing stagnation?

  1. evehermit says:

    I’ve been struggling with a couple of blog posts (about mining barges and the blog banter) – because both are getting sidelined by this exact topic. I get the sense that CCP has been too gun shy since Incarna, and put in a little too much effort to placate the players instead of focusing on what is best for the game. The players in turn are reacting somewhat like spoilt brats who have had too many of their whims meet – and now have an excessive sense of entitlement. As you suggest, that is not ideal for the health of the game.

  2. Ragnar Rancidbreeks, bitter hi-seccer says:

    Yopu say “Incarna is all but mothballed for the foreseeable future”. Why ? Why haven’t CCP taken the *brave* step, and said “NO” (in a loud voice) to Space Barbies. They tried it — *no-one” liked it (or if they did, they didn’t speak out, and by doing so lost the right to have their opinion heard). CQ and all to do with it needs to be stripped out. There is now supposedly video of CCP’s Space Barbies Do Exploring Anomalies. *Unless* this includes PvP (which includes getting noobs along and then shooting them *in the back* for their loot and lulz, it will never take off.

    If CCP secretly *want* Space Barbies, the answerr is simple (and won’t cost them above a couple of whatever-Icelanders-use-for-pennies) :: they announce that they aren’t going to do it, but that their retain the rightt o do so in the future, and it will according be a breach of the EUL for anyone to try to develop it. Witin 6 months at the most, *someone* will have built a Space Barbies simulator that is as compatible with EvE as it can be without access to the inner coding. Then CCP, through (say) Chribba, buy them out and have their code-monkeys perfect the interface coding, then obtain licences for the necessary avatar models, and then bring it out as “EvE Junior: Hello Kitty Does Outer Space”.

    And then the null-seccers will gank/grief it all.

    • Ugleb says:

      That is a write up on the Incarnate prototyping. CCP always said they would continue to go back to the drawing board and start over. The project was never entirely scrapped.

      There are players out there who want to see CCP make this work, but it is a ling way off. Since I wrote that article CCP management scrapped the dev blog. Work continues but they don’t dare talk about it. I can only conclude that they fear a backlash while they are trying to promote Dust514.

  3. good post ugleb.
    i think youre spot on.

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