EVE 2013 (and my crystal ball)

This entry has been written from an ‘out of character’ perspective to talk about the next year or so of EVE’s development.

Retribution has landed and Christmas is coming.  Also, the CSM winter Summit took place over the weekend.  I thought I would take a little time to look ahead and make some crystal ball predictions of what I think CCP & 2013 might have in store for EVE-Online, ahead of CSM/CCP information from the summit (may the minutes arrive swiftly!).

2012 (and the final months of 2011, post-Incarna) has been about iteration and renovating some of EVE’s oldest core features and mechanics.  This has largely been about repaying ‘technical debt’ and lost customer goodwill of the previous 18 months where CCP invested heavily into the misdirected Incarna project along with Dust514 & Worlds Of Darkness, at the expense of EVE’s existing internet spaceship game.  That might not have been so bad if EVE had not been suffering from so many long term design issues and niggling issues as it was.  Crucible, Inferno and Retribution were all about fixing long standing issues and polishing up the existing mechanics in to a much better state.  There will be plenty of differing opinions on exactly how far EVE has come since, but for my money EVE is a much healthier game now than it was 18months ago.

However, there is still much to do.  Factional Warfare and high sec have both benefited considerably in this time, but null sec less so.  Null sec has benefited ‘indirectly’ from general improvements such as new or rebalanced ships, but Sovereignty mechanics and the like have not really been touched on yet and there is a general perception among many players that null sec has become stagnant.  I think everyone would agree that it could be improved upon, but I doubt that anywhere near as many would agree on how to go about achieving that.

Null sec is a large and complex beast, inhabited by thousands of veteran players with strong opinions and large, organised power structures through which to tell CCP what they think.  It is no accident that so many of the CSM representatives are null sec players from one CSM term to another.  The size and complexity of null sec is undoubtedly why CCP haven’t taken it on directly yet, the solutions to null sec’s woes (real or imagined) are not likely to come from ‘little things’ fixes and iterations.  CCP will need to roll up their sleeves for this challenge and tackle some fundamental issues.

I think that the mood of the community is starting to form a pretty clear message.  Following Incarna it was clear what the players wanted CCP to do; stop chasing rainbows (A.K.A. ‘Jesus features’) and fix all that broken stuff which was already in the game!  We have now had 18 months and three expansion cycles of that, so there has been a huge amount of smaller improvements and iterations made in that time.  Now players are increasingly turning their thoughts towards seeing something big, new, and kinda shiny.  Happily, I think CCP are thinking the same.  They spent 18months on Incarna/neglecting other stuff, then they spent 18months fixing and polishing stuff.  Time to move on.

Another notion that keeps resurfacing is the idea that CCP have in the past not given themselves sufficiently long development cycles to deliver large features, which results in CCP pushing out their shiny new big features before they are ready for the limelight.  Which is what happened to factional warfare and planetary interaction, as both of which needed significant redesign/fixing in later expansions (PI was dramatically redesigned in the following expansion, but FW went neglected for years before being given a longer redevelopment time throughout 2012).  Obviously there was also Incarna, but I think that project spent years in on/off development and isn’t comparable to say PI, FW or a POS revamp.

Prediction 1: We will see a shift away from the traditional Summer/Winter expansion cycle.  I think we may see a move away from the two expansions, towards one large ‘shiny new content’ release later in the year and perhaps two smaller ‘iterative’ releases in between.  I think that CCP will need a large team working on the POS revamp throughout the year in order to deliver a strong, polished cool new thing and that will make it much harder to deliver a strong summer expansion at the same time.

Prediction 2: During the New Eden Open coverage CCP Soundwave said that there is going to be a ‘smaller release’ around late January that will include a new mechanic where a new type of NPC dog tag can be collected from killing low sec NPC’s and handed in for a sec status boost.  There will also be some other things in this release.

The way it was talked about made the whole thing sound more like the Inferno ‘Escalation’ pre-expansion release rather than merely Retribution 1.1.  So, I think that this Jan/Feb release will have a title and that it will mark the beginning of Dust514’s ‘open beta’ where the Dust players will have their final character wipe and the game goes live on TQ.  There will be some more tiericide ship rebalancing (probably Battlecruisers).

Prediction 3: Sometime around Summer we will get a second, largely iterative release with more ship balancing.  This should see all sub-Capital T1 tiericide done and attention turned to T2 classes.  Command ships are already on the operating table and I think are being looked at with an eye towards off-grid boosting being eliminated, which the NEO coverage showed CCP Soundwave feels very strongly about taking on.  Off-grid boosting dies here.

Prediction 4:  Income review.  Back in the Summer CSM summit minutes, there was mention of CCP reviewing all income sources in the game.  This is probably being done by those poor sods who had to produce that 40+ page analysis of Crimewatch 1.0 that CCP Greyscale’s team used to design Crimewatch 2.0.  In order to get EVE’s economy, player wealth and risk/reward balance under control, over 2013 we will see sweeping changes made to ISK sinks and faucets throughout the game, from lvl 1 missions to Incursions to Sanctum anomalies.  There will be nerd rage, there will be tears.

Prediction 5:  There probably will be adjustments made to null sec’s sov structure shooting (or some other element of the sov mechanics), but I don’t think that we are looking at an entirely new sov system being implemented in 2013.  It will be iterated upon, not replaced.

Prediction 6:  By the end of the year, CCP will have started to talk seriously about a return to bringing avatar-based gameplay to EVE.  I think that EVE needs something wholly new and radically different to push hard into its second decade, and I think that CCP know that as well.  The exploration-based gameplay that Team Avatar were prototyping earlier this year will form the core vision for a new and much more focused approach to avatars in EVE.  Social spaces will happen later on and be shared with Dust514 players if CCP can overcome the cross-platform technical hurdles.

Prediction 7: We probably won’t see Planetary Ring Mining in 2013.

Prediction 8: If there is a surprise major ‘shiny’ thing happening in 2013, I suspect it will be a Planetary Interaction revamp to tie in with Dust514, making that area of EVE a slicker and sexier prospect in the process.

I will probably be revisiting this post once the CSM winter minutes come out.  2013 needs to be the year that CCP get ambitious again in order to keep EVE relevant and exciting.  I think that they are also well aware of that and the tone going into the CSM summit has been interesting.  I look forwards to those minutes with interest.

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