Another bad news day

This entry has been written from an ‘out of character’ perspective to share depressing thoughts.

I promise to write something more upbeat over the weekend, but today has turned out to be a bad news day for CCP and its employees.  As reported at Polygon and Eurogamer, CCP have made another round of redundancies cutting 49 jobs, primarily in Reykjavik but including some from other offices.  Combined with the April World of Darkness layoffs that makes for over 100 fewer staff at CCP.  I can but offer my sympathies and best wishes to those affected.

Every time CCP announces a layoff, something that seems increasingly common of late, I wonder if anyone I know has been affected, then I wonder what this means for CCP’s development projects.  Clearly seeing that coming, CCP’s statement includes this:

“Development teams and plans for EVE Online, EVE: Valkyrie, DUST 514, and ‘Project Legion‘ are not impacted by the restructuring.”

As a player, this is of course reassuring.  All projects are still in the works and nothing is being cancelled today.  Hell, you could argue that this statement sort of confirms that ‘Project’ Legion is an ongoing ‘thing’.  So that’s positive.  But it does raise the question then of where those 49 jobs have gone from.  Again, the statement says:

“As part of our strategy to focus on the EVE Universe, today CCP conducted a restructuring that resulted in the layoff of 49 people in our publishing organisation”

My next question then has to be what CCP define as their ‘publishing organisation’.  I’m picking up (second or third hand) from social media that cuts have hit departments as diverse as Operations, Office IT, Customer support and Community teams, Marketing and the Web team(s), with an apparent focus on customer support.  Which sounds like just about everything not involved with implementing new features in the actual games.

I have also heard some pretty well known dev names being mentioned with a fair few long serving employees falling victim.  CCP’s Xhagen, Eterne, Loxy and Hunter all are apparently leaving the company.  Xhagen was a shock to me as he is a 10 year veteran, the guy who founded the CSM and a producer/product owner for multiple projects including the ship skins and the just deployed New Eden Store.  It’s all quite depressing.

The other piece of bad news out in the media today for CCP is this article in The Guardian.  Overall the piece is about the way that the games industry treats its employees (badly) and its projects (short-sightedly) but it specifically delves into the protracted development and eventual cancellation of the World of Darkness MMO as a case study.  I am hearing that the article is considered well researched and does seem to be, although all sources for it are former CCP employees so I would read it with that point in mind.  Having said that, much of the content rings true and I can well believe that it is as accurate an accounting as those of us who were not there ourselves are ever likely to see.  I’d recommend reading it for yourself, but it isn’t a joyful read.

Nick Blood is named repeatedly, he was formerly known as CCP Dropbear and was one of the kery figures involved in bringing live events back to EVE through the Sansha invasion running up to the Incursion expansion.  I gather the reason why he is the only employee named in the article is because he quit not just CCP but the games industry all together (which is the ultimate point of the article) so his future in the industry is hardly at risk here.  I expect other sources remained anonymous as they do want to remain employable elsewhere in gaming.

It is a pretty damning piece, but largely of historical interest.  There are all sorts of points raised about the dark era of CCP’s ‘War on the impossible’ in which the company expended years of effort (and who knows how much money) on inefficiently flailing about trying to simultaneously develop EVE-Online, Incarna, WoD and Dust514 all at once and making little progress on any of them.  It was the period where EVE’s development jumped from one thing to another leaving a trail of unfinished and broken features behind that have taken years to clean up since.  Incarna made it as far as the Captains Quarters while WoD never made it out of internal alpha builds.  Dust514 as we well know launched poorly and fell far enough short of its vision that CCP are now building Project Legion to replace it.

The article focuses on WoD, but can easily be read as a description of Dust514’s development cycle.  It is abundantly clear, and has been for a long time, that CCP repeated the same mistakes across the company.  What the article does describe to us is how that happened.  CCP have long made a point of espousing the virtues of their Carbon technology platform, it is a means for work done on one project to be applied to another.  It was the starting point for Incarna in that the avatar tech CCP developed could be used in both EVE and WoD which would generate more bang for development buck.  Another example was that EVE’s inventory code was going to be used in WoD, again reducing the need for reinventing the wheel.  Its a pretty sound notion I think, but it comes with a risk.

The thing about being flexible is that it is easy to become distracted and gradually blown off course.  CCP fell into that trap.  It has long been known that CCP have at times moved staff between projects as needed, EVE’s Apocrypha expansion was hailed as a company wide effort pulling all of CCP’s resources together for one big push.  And it was, Apocrypha remains to this day one of the most celebrated expansions ever.  But it had a cost.  I recall CCP Torfifrans talking about Incarna work halting during that period and then scrapped and restarted fresh afterwards.  The same happened to WoD no less than three times it seems.

CCP have made a habit over the years of pulling staff off their main projects to work on other things for months at a time, leaving skill gaps in teams that would hamper development until they could return.  Also described is CCP’s method of funding projects.  Rather than assign each project a budget, CCP run a cenmtral R&D fund that all projects draw from.  That essentially means that a project will never run out of funding so long as the company has money coming in, which would explain how WoD’s budget never ran out, or why Dust514 was able to take as long as it did to slowly tick over.  I really do wonder how those projects would have gone if they had been working with a finite budget gradually ticking down.

I have long felt that CCP are historically big on grand visions but weak on developing to well defined goals.  Incarna never had a clear goal behind it.  CCP never managed to articulate what it was specifically meant to achieve.  That failure to define has been reflected across their projects as Dust514’s implementation drifted away from open sandbox principles and became locked into a rigid team death match model with no clear plan on how to become much else.  WoD was taken to alpha, scrapped and rebuilt with a different vision three times over nine years.  EVE leapt from one idea to another failing to deliver the promised iteration on what had come before for years.

I think, I hope, that CCP are putting those days behind them.  EVE has been developing with increasing focus and certainty in recent years that I find reassuring.  I do not think that EVE is dying, I think the game is in good hands.  My concern these days is increasingly not over the game but the company behind it.  CCP squandered so much time and money on ambitious plans that did not pan out for them.  It is so important now that they turn their current projects into solid products as I really don’t think they can afford another failure a this point.

Sorry this wasn’t a more positive piece, but I think it is an important topic.  The next post will be more upbeat, I promise. 😉

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