Thank you very much everyone for placing me on CSM 6 and now on CSM 7 where I am currently serving as the Chairman! If you would like to contact me directly, do not hesitate to just send me an eve mail in game. Keep your eyes here and watch for new posts.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Lack of Communication

Tony Montana is disappoint.

It's obvious to anyone that's been paying attention that 'something is up'. It should be obvious due to the fact that the CSM has slowed down our rhetoric a bit after a couple Skype meetings with CCP Zulu, EVE Online's Senior Producer, and the fires burning in the player base didn't turn into full fledged forest fires. For anyone wondering why players are on the edge of walking away from EVE or the reasons for their frustration, go read my Reality Check blog that I published a couple weeks ago.

Back?  Okay.

In a nutshell, I can sum a lot this up by pasting a comment from one of my corp members last week.  This is a guy that's been playing EVE for about four years that's decided to leave the game and here is why:
"You get to a point where you wonder if you're going to see anything new in the game you've played for so long. I don't think that I am, which is why my last paid subscription runs out 12 October. When I say I want something to do, I mean I want something else to do. Going on ops and doing the same thing I've done countless times before isn't the be all end all for me. EVE used to evolve along with its players and that's just not happening anymore."
If you play EVE, how many times have you read something like this over the past year or longer? It's something I see happen constantly, especially with people that have been playing at CEO / Alliance leader levels for years.

Many players have hung on just to see if anything will change and if EVE will ever return to pushing the envelope as the spaceship MMO that made it what it is today.  I don't think it is coincidence that CSM6 is largely made up of that demographic - long term veterans with a mind to wake CCP up and help convince them that features like Incarna may eventually (if it's ever finished) bring in new subscribers, but it's going to lose them the people that have been paying the bills for the past eight years.
This is pretty accurate tbh...

Time Machine Dev Blog

The potential rage of both the players and the CSM have simmered down a bit due to the implied promise that 'change is coming'.  The fruit of the meetings CSM6 has had with CCP Zulu and the information in them will be borne over the next few weeks.  I believe the reception to what's coming will be positive. CCP has already started to put out a series of dev blogs last week detailing a few bits and pieces of things they are finishing up at the moment but the dev blog we all seem to be waiting on hasn't materialized yet.

As the CSM understood it, the 'big reveal' was supposed to be early last week.  That got pushed back a couple times until CCP Zulu released 'The Moments that Define History' last Thursday which left pretty much everyone that read it saying, "That's it?" For our part, the CSM was unhappy to say the least. We'd been led to believe that there would be some actual meat in the blog for players to chew on over the weekend. It made no sense to whiff such an opportunity to get some good PR for a change.

Since Thursday, the CSM / CCP Skype channel has been a near constant wall of text with us voicing our frustrations at the current situation.  One of those things we've done the wake of CCP Zulu's last dev blog, is start a thread on the internal forums (the CSM / CCP ones) that we, once again, be allowed to review dev blogs with potential major impact prior to their publication. To best illustrate our intent, I'm going to publish the post I made to CCP on the internal CSM / CCP forums.

Let me preface this by adding that the actual 'Time Machine Dev Blog' was authored by former CSM Chair Mynxee and published on Failheap Challenge last week. It has been re-used with her permission.  Here is the text of my post to CCP:

For those that remember what EVE was like back in 2003, this game became great because in the early days the developers of EVE saw EVE's players as a resource to be tapped. A large part of what made EVE successful was due to the game duplicating and improving on things players were already doing without the in-game mechanics. Yet for whatever reasons, there are voices within CCP that see players as the enemy and the CSM as 'terrorists' whose input is designed to tear CCP down. I cannot fathom how anyone familiar with the political process of getting 'elected' in EVE combined with people having to take RL vacation days to come be Video Game Politicians thinks we would want anything other than for CCP to be successful. Our frustration is because we don't get how CCP continues to blow opportunities to energize the player base.

With the exception of CCP Soundwave and his team's clearly written and informative blogs (because tbh, when BFF posts, it's pretty Space Bro language), there is very little at all 'Fearless' about the complete lack of transparency about what is going on right now from the 'management' level. Technical / QA blogs are a whole other animal and don't tend to cause riots in Jita.

I'll just use CCP Zulu's last dev blog as an example since it's the most recent example of how things continue to break down.

*** Gets in a time machine and pretends we had some input on Arnar's last dev blog ***

Intrepid pilots of New Eden!

We are listening to you and we want you to know that your pleas for more attention to EVE's Flying In Space features have been heard. In recent weeks, CCP has been doing some extensive introspection about our focus and priorities in response to what you have been asking for. As a result, a decision was made to refocus and reprioritize on a scale unheard of within our company. These are indeed defining times.

Torfi’s most recent dev blog provides a small taste of what’s to come. Going forward, we intend for Flying in Space features to be primary and receive as many development resources as we can feasibly allocate to them. As discussed with the CSM, the Winter Expansion will focus on null sec changes, but there is a lot more to come. As you can imagine, such a large scale refocusing impacts a lot of people and resource dependencies. We are in the midst of working up a plan. As soon as we have it mapped out, we'll share it with you. Not the satellite view, not the microscopic view, but the big picture view with enough detail to provide a "warm fuzzy" about the immediate future of FiS features and to permit constructive feedback from the community.

You have often told us that we over-promise and under-deliver. Our tendency in that regard has bitten us in the ass many times. Not fun. So, to avoid it we're taking the time we need to produce solid, realistic draft plan for the FiS features you have said need the most love. By 'some immediate future date', we expect to share the plan with you for feedback and refinement. Meanwhile, I will post at minimum weekly briefs so you remain aware of our progress. Once we share the plan, I will keep the dialog going as the hard work of implementing that plan and tweaking it as necessary continues.

We all want EVE to be the very best game it can be, the game YOU love, the game you can't not play. Together, we can and will make it happen.

Watch this space.

Arnar Hrafn Gylfason
Senior Producer of EVE Online

See? There are even a few weasel words in there to allow for some "flexibility". But at least this kind of information would have given people something tangible to count on as well as the sense that there is a process happening that is organized and makes some sense.

I'm sure some will dismiss this as more ramblings of a former employee that has actually been playing the game for over 8 years and has some inkling of what goes on in player's heads. Yes, I'm mad, because it happened when I was at CCP and it continues to happen to the people elected by the players to liaise with CCP. I've watched this game and the company that makes it change from both sides and I don't understand why things continue as they are. It's obvious that I'm not alone in this feeling due to the number of current and former CCP employees that do speak to the CSM about how frustrated they are.

I honestly don't care about any sort of 'blanket' rule or anything that sounds like the CSM 'demanding' anything. What I am tired of seeing though, and I know that a lot of people inside CCP are tired of seeing, are the people in charge of actually talking to the player base through dev blogs continually screwing it up.

Once again, no one is asking for detailed plans or post it notes or meeting minutes from release planning. What is being asked for is a common sense approach to dealing with a very intelligent and involved player base. Part of that is using the elected representatives of that player base in a way that helps everyone feel they are getting maximum benefit from the process.
Responses to my post and those of the other CSMs have been fairly positive so far. I honestly don't think that CCP wants to continue stumbling over and over again with it's messaging but they have obviously got to change the way they are doing things.

It could happen.

Worth the effort?

The good news is that the CSM isn't alone in feeling this way. Certain folks in CCP are frustrated as well and are becoming more and more vocal about how communication with the players continues to fall short of where it could be.  So, yes, I believe it is worth the effort of the CSM to keep trying and for players to hang on just a bit longer.

Another effort the CSM has started is this thread here to make sure it is public record exactly what we unanimously support in terms of EVE Online's resource allocation:

CSM Statement regarding CCP refocusing

Have a read and please give the thread your support.  Don't 'like' it tho because Trebor is whoring up the likes and rubbing our noses in it, the bastard.

As I noted in the post I made to CCP above, some within CCP already use the CSM regularly to funnel ideas and blogs through but, so far, it's not been an issue we've pushed hard for. Considering the potential for large amounts of information starting to emerge for the 2011 Winter expansion and the course of CCP in 2012, the CSM is doing everything we can to make sure those in CCP that want to improve communication with the players have an opportunity to do so.

We have another meeting with CCP Zulu scheduled for this Wednesday (Sept 28th). Hopefully we'll see something in the next few days that shows they 'get it' and I can start blogging and talking about happy things. I'm tired of all the negative crap tbh but it's been a frustrating road to walk lately.

"Watch this space."  Heh.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Minutes & Meetings

So, at long last the meeting minutes for the Emergency Summit held a couple months ago are public.  I blogged about the issues with the delays last week, complete with a timeline as to what happened and when.  Early this week, everything seemed to be resolved and here they are:


Actual Minutes LINKAGE

Official Forum Thread LINKAGE

FHC Forum Thread LINKAGE

As expected, people haven't wasted time in diving right in and finding what's not there, dissecting the layers of meaning and whatnot. Unsurprisingly, my favorite prolific blogger Jester has already published his overview.  Here's an even more succinct / humorous version on EVE News 24.

What's my overall take?  Well... heh, it could be a lot worse. It almost was! I know some folks are pretty bent over the fact that the minutes aren't full of the CSM going full retard and raging constantly but that doesn't mean there weren't some very loud and heated exchanges at the summit. I've been reading a lot of the forum replies and I'm kind of freaked out that just because the minutes do not read like a Stephen King novel everyone assumes that the CSM quietly sat around and nodded our heads at everything. That's not the case at all; it just doesn't look good to anyone for the minutes to sound like Shadoo FC'ing a PL Fleet. Take this, for example:

After reading the CSM statement, Hilmar made some suggestions as to its tone. The CSM thanked Hilmar for his advice, but decided that it properly expressed their conclusions. It was released unedited.
It doesn't take much to realize that the CSM is trying to be nice here. I listened in on this entire session and we were all pretty much, "Huh? No. Dude! This IS the nice version."

I've seen these summits both as a CCP representative for Game Design and now as an elected CSM member.  I can say with all honesty that the tension in the room for this summit and the level of, "No, that's bullshit WTF is wrong with you guys?!" far exceeded anything I've seen previously.  It was a complete 180 degree difference from the much more cordial setting of the first official CSM 6 summit. It was a very emotional couple of days. So... like... relax.  We raged when it was appropriate.  Hell, I'm pretty convinced that Trebor performed a ritual that caused the volcano to go off that weekend.

So, moving on, something truly interestng / cool happened this afternoon...

CCP Zulu has the eyes of a serial killer.
The Bat Phone Rang

The Senior Producer of EVE, CCP Zulu, arranged to speak to the entire CSM (those available) on a group Skype call today. The official version of what went down was published on the EVE forums but I'll re-print it here because it will make this blog entry look longer:


Hello Everyone,

Amidst the recent forum activity about reports of decreased subscriber count, discontent about lack of resources allocated to "Flying In Space" (or, as we know it, Eve Online) and, despite Gridlock and Team BFF's efforts, general stagnation when it comes to fixes and improvements, the CSM just met with CCP's Senor Producer for Eve Online: CCP Zulu.

During that meeting, we discussed the players' concerns with the man who has the ability to resolve them. We cannot share the details of the meeting itself because it is heavily NDA'd, but ways to resolve your concerns have been discussed and a follow-up meeting is planned.

Stay tuned...

Meissa Anunthiel, Vice-Chairman of CSM 6

So, that's the basics.  WTF does it mean? Well, I made myself pretty clear on my stance on things in my Reality Check blog a couple days ago. This meeting was something of a surprise and the content of it was enough to convince me that CCP is taking the concerns of the CSM and the players very seriously. Beyond that I cannot say more other than Zulu doesn't tend to bullshit people.

It's times like this that I loathe the "NDA" and wish we could say more. I understand why it's not happening now, but it doesn't change the frustration factor for anyone. I believe that CCP understands the current situation is something they cannot stay silent or inactive on, hence why Zulu asked to speak with the CSM today.

I know it's hard for people to accept but the CSM is pushing very hard for complete and solid information to be passed along to the players as quickly as possible. We are scheduled to have another meeting soon and the CSM will continue to push for MORE SPACESHIPS and less Incarna Catwalks (holy shit, right?).

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Reality Check

It's September which means that we, as EVE Players, are usually returning from summer vacations and have more time to play EVE again... or not?  Historically, the summer always sends EVE into a lull of activity and then things get busy again as people come back and want to shoot each other. Anyone that's been paying attention to the daily PCU for EVE or actually playing the game has probably noticed that a lot of folks aren't bothering to log in at the moment. Some people aren't content to just speculate about this sort of thing and go a bit further.  Enter a guy named Jester.

Last week, one of EVE's most prolific bloggers published some information that has opened a lot of people's eyes to the fact that all of the 'EVE is dying (again)' hysteria might not be completely off base.

Some Curves Aren't

If you haven't read this, it's well worth your time. Go ahead.  If you don't like lots of words, I'll save you some time and post the graphs that has everyone like me saying, "See? I told you so!" These graphs represent the rolling averages of players online:
This is the 'all time' graph.

This is the '2011' graph.
Jester and others have written lots of stuff on what all this means but I'll sum it up: Something is WRONG with EVE.

If CCP's internal numbers look anything like this, it proves that Incarna and other recent expansions have done nothing to spike the interest of the gaming community. EVE is stagnating due to a complete lack of player interest in the state of the game. It is also obvious that whatever perceptions CCP had about what Incarna was supposed to do in terms of raising their subscriber base have not played out. Older players, like myself, are losing their enthusiasm due to the fact that much as CCP wants to work in the fashion industry and make games about vampires, their flagship product is a game about spaceships.

As CSM6 continues to say, "We need new things to do, not new things to wear!"

Behold all that EVE might be!

The Reinvention of Null-sec

This brings us to a pair of dev blogs published recently by my former colleague at CCP, Greyscale:

Nullsec Development: Rules and Guidelines

Nullsec Development: Design Goals

I'll let Taylor Swift's awesomely diverse range of facial expressions explain how most EVE Players greeted these blogs:

The Goddess of Being Surprised.
For the most part I think many were happy to see that anyone at CCP was even thinking along these lines. There was an almost audible sigh of relief that someone 'got it'. People spend so much time bashing CCP because of their terrible P.R. and bizarre top-down creative direction that it was refreshing to finally see some blogs come out that said things players, especially veterans, could unabashedly agree with.

However, due to the way things have been going the past couple of years in terms of Flying in Space (FiS) development, the skepticism meter is spiking. The fact is that no matter how much people like Soundwave and Greyscale 'get it', unless they get the resources and manpower needed to implement these ideas we will never see them hit Tranquility.

My personal take on the dev blogs is pretty simple: I've seen a lot of this before. Hell, I've said a lot of this before to players when I was on the other side of the table. It's great to see again but what saddens me is how Greyscale's 0.0 road map reminds me pretty much exactly of stuff that was discussed between Apocrypha and Dominion (about 2.5 years ago). I could go back and pull out old emails and (if I still had access) meeting minutes on the internal CCP 'Trac' pages that had shitloads of similar trains of thought to them. It's all been updated and thought through again, but the core principals and goals are the same: iterate on existing crappy game play and make it more better good fun awesome.

Dominion itself was originally a much larger expansion which everyone acknowledged would be the first in a staged series of expansions that went through the next 2-4 development cycles. Unfortunately, Dominion was never finished properly; it was chopped off at the knees and reinvented into something that bore no resemblance whatsoever to the lofty goals its original design aspired to. Multiple objectives, intel / stargate tools, a proper treaty system, wreckable outposts, real siege / sov warfare, mega alliance-sized industrial projects, wormholes leading to new, completely empty areas of 0.0 that had to be built up from scratch… Basically, a renaissance of industrialization and ISK sinks.

None of these ever made it to Tranquility because somewhere along the way, CCP forgot that what makes their game great is the core game play derived from Flying In Space. Instead, all of the iterative and interactive content was shelved and we got the expansions of Planetville, Sansha Zombies and A Crappy Room To Sit Alone In.

To be honest, the only thing that makes me believe we’ll ever see anything good happen in SPACE is that Soundwave and Greyscale are doing it but that doesn’t mean they will be allowed to follow through on any of it because who knows what butterfly CCP will want to chase next to the detriment of their core product. As I said on last night's special EVE Radio broadcast:

"CCP needs to find the 'romance' of EVE again. CCP needs to fall in love with the game beyond the money it makes for them to work on other projects."
Take the bad away, CCP!!
Time for Revolution

Just imagine what EVE would look like today if the resources of the past two years that have been wasted on all this other stuff would have gone into FiS? Instead of focusing on what made 300,000+ people want to play the game and building THE definitive spaceship MMO for all time CCP decided to branch out in too many directions at once. Instead of proper iteration on the features players really care about, we got new ones completely out of the blue.

Make no mistake about it - without the enthusiasm and drama created by the players of EVE, CCP would never have been as successful as it has become. They laid the groundwork but it was the players actions within the game that made the it interesting to the media and other potential subscribers. Today, those people that helped build EVE to where it is (many of whom are on this CSM) struggle for reasons to even log in. The leaders of EVE are doing the same thing again for the 4th or 5th time and the soldiers following them are desperate for something new that catches their interest. I’ve been playing for eight years now; when I talk to players that are barely two years in and they say they feel like they’ve done it all... something is WRONG with EVE!

The romance of the game is gone. There are no heroes or villains anymore. The old rivalries have faded. The people that used to drive the narrative of EVE are bored and all of the old fires that used to keep things moving have died to embers. Players look around at the space they hold in null sec and wonder why it matters. There is no mystery or wonder left.

My Advice to CCP

There needs to be nothing less than a revolution in how the management of CCP sees EVE Online. I think that the management of EVE has just plain forgotten what 'EVE' is. They have become so distracted by all of the other projects that they are trying to work on (DUST / WoD) that they no longer remember that EVE Online is a game about Spaceships. The Flying in Space part of EVE is the core of CCP's business and they have starved it of resources for too long. Without proper FiS development in EVE, all of CCP's plans for Dust and World of Darkness will not come to fruition.

CCP needs to change course or else the flat-line of player subscriptions and logging in is going to turn into a cliff. Whatever projections they may have had about what Incarna and Tyrannis was supposed to do for their subscriber base is obviously not happening.

EVE Online is still the sole product that CCP produces that supports any other endeavors they pursue. It is their bread and butter. Without an EVE that keeps players excited, CCP are never going to see DUST come to fruition much less see World of Darkness completed. Unfortunately, their core, flagship product is dying right now.  It is dying not just because of a lack of game mechanics or this thing or that thing being 'broken' but because the thought processes that are driving the creative direction of the game are broken.

EVE's managers used to actually play their game.  They used to understand that what got them the good press was the stuff they didn't have to pay for! I'm talking about the players making videos of their exploits and writing stories about what happened. The greatest stories of EVE are not about going into your room and changing into a new pair of sunglasses; they were about taking down alliances with nothing more than a forum post. They are about epic battles and heists; about trickery and all the other human drama that occurs in game. If EVE cannot provide the proper setting for these things to occur, everyone will stop listening because there is nothing good to hear, to do, or to be.

Newsworthy drama resulting from players doing crazy stuff with spaceships sells subscriptions. Drama caused by dumb clothing prices in your (badly presented) micro-transaction store and reported with a sneer by the gaming media and elsewhere does not.

We can continue to talk about game mechanics and everything that needs to get fixed, and those things do need to happen, but in order for the game to get back to what it once was there needs to be a shift in how CCP views this product. They need to see it as something more than just a money maker.  Otherwise we are going to lose the game that so many of us fell in love with a long time ago and so desperately want to fall in love with again.

It is possible to make all our dreams come true: a return to glory for EVE, an increase in revenues for CCP. It just requires CCP's management to turn their heads and put resources into the things that will make those dreams a reality.