|Real life CSMs may or may not resemble the above.|
So... I almost didn't attend this summit. Primarily, the date got changed and I had to flex some travel plans in order to make the trip. Secondly, after eight years of playing EVE, over three of them working in Game Design at CCP, I thought I had seen it all... then the events of the past spring took place. The consistent, stumbling idiocy of CCP's Incarna roll-out, not to mention everything from Tyranis onward had me ready to throw in the towel. In retrospect, CSM6's first summit was a Unicorn and Rainbows affair. Then there was the fiasco of the meeting minutes release after the Incarna Emergency Summit, where nearly two months was spent 'editing for tone'. It all only served to reinforce that something was very wrong. Add it all up and I wasn't the only one thinking, "If it's going to be more of the same, what's the point?" I summed all of this up in my Reality Check blog back in September.
Then all hell broke loose and CCP turned the company upside down, shook really hard, and reset thier course. The events leading up to the Crucible release included a remarkable turn around in day to day communications with CCP. The CSM forums came alive and the shared Skype channel with CCP was no longer just about who had a Diablo 3 beta key. CCP'ers were finally doing what they'd always wanted to do and the difference showed in every facet of the CSM's interaction with them. More on this later on.
I also have to mention a long Skype chat I had with my old friend CCP Diagoras (Lord of the North John Turbefield) that got me fully on board again with CCP's new direction. I hear the term 'bitter vet' tossed around quite a lot; folks, few of you have anything on guys that have been playing since the game went retail and have also had the joy / frustration of said game being your job as well. The events of the past 18 months (heh) were quite the roller coaster ride. I watched features I worked on as a dev go untouched and plans for iteration of the same go stagnant for too long, which was primarily why I decided to run for CSM. A lot of people asked me why I was running for CSM when I had already worked at the company. You know who didn't ask me? The people still working at the company. :)
Let's just be honest and admit up front that Crucible is the 'low hanging fruit'. The current expansion is full of everything that should have already been taking place over the last 2+ years. It's great stuff and I take nothing away from the hard work to get it all done but it's also the 'easy' stuff in the sense that it really wasn't that hard to find things to do / fix / iterate. The hard part starts after Crucible. It's still up to us as players and the CSM to help keep CCP ummm... 'focused'.
I tried to take pictures here and there but had to be careful not to catch any ~NDA~ graphs or naked butts so people could see a bit more of what the experience is like.
|"Yes, I am taking a picture of this. Go get your kid off the runway."|
For whatever reason, only two of us were flying out of JFK but I never spotted the other guy, some dude named xxDeathxx. A 5.5 hour flight landed everyone within 10 minutes of each other around 0640 in Keflavik. I quickly spotted all the other CSM duders that came from Boston and Mittens wasted no time in being the first to ask me the hilariously odd question, "So, have you seen Mr. Death?" This would turn into quite the story that we followed as the day went on.
An hour or so later we were in Reykjavik and, having most of Tuesday to adjust to jet lag and chill, we all grabbed some food and a few hours sleep. The plan was to meet up with the Euro CSM'ers who were landing in the afternoon and head over to Islenski Barinn, which is pretty much the CCP bar. A few of the devs, including Diagoras, Sreegs and Punkturis, came in early which started the first of many evenings that went long past midnight.
|Ketchup in a yellow bottle. Really, Iceland??|
Early on we got an update on what was happening with Mr. Death. He'd been unable to make his flight out of JFK the night before and was working on trying to make the next one. I don't claim to understand everything that went on here but apparently there was some kind of screw up with him needing a VISA to get on the plane to Iceland. CCP went into overdrive and Diagoras spent most of his Tuesday trying to expedite matters by, "...getting a Russian national living in the United States a Danish VISA so he can come to Iceland." By all accounts, considering all of this was taking place in a time frame of less than 18 hours, there was no way Death was going to make it. "He's gonna have to bribe or threaten someone. No one is even going to be awake. This situation is too complicated. Welp."
As the evening wore on (we're all still at the bar), Diagoras got a call from CCP asking, "Should we just cancel the flight / hotel?" Not wanting to be subject to the wrath of an angry Russian should a miracle occur, he said, "Let's give it another hour or so." Thirty minutes later, Diagoras' phone rang - it was Death saying that he had taken care of everything and was getting on the plane. Tinfoil on whose legs were broken and which Danish consulate worker had some extra spending money for Christmas took up the next half hour of partially sober discussion.
Breakfast took place around 0800 at a place right across from the hotel we were staying called The Laundromat. The food was pretty good but what was most important was that it had lots and lots of bacon. This made everyone, especially Mittens, very happy and ready to have some serious spaceship talks.
|CCP's 'Expansion Wall' in the reception area. Sorry so fuzzy. :(|
The meetings with the CSM take place on the fourth floor of CCP HQ in a large room called 'Trinity'. All of the main conference rooms in the office are named after a past EVE expansion. CCP now has these cool plaques in all of the conference rooms and a wall of them all in the reception area. Each one has listed the number of subscribers at release of the expansion and the number of employees. It's pretty sobering to see that during the first few expansions, CCP didn't even have 60 people working for them. I was hired shortly after the release of Revelations, EVE's eight expansion, and I was employee 117. Three years later when I left, CCP was over 600 people. Kinda nuts, huh?
|In Tranquility with Prom, Xhagen, xxDeathxx & Elise|
Meeting with Senior Producer of EVE & Hilmar
This meeting focused a lot on what's been going on internally at CCP since the 20% layoffs a couple months ago. Without going into specifics, we saw how CCP is being re-organized and who is going to be in charge of what. There are a couple details I'm literally jumping up and down to talk about but they will have to wait until CCP makes them public in the near future. It all looks good on paper (and at least there is actually something on paper now) so we'll see how it all pans out. There should be a video blog about some of this after the holidays.
Future of the CSM
CCP Xhagen and the CSM spent a good ninety minutes discussing everything from how the current CSM compares to previous ones to the actual nomination / election process. We can't talk about this. There will be a dev blog or three about it. Welp.
EVE Veterans / Loyalty Program
Most online games have some sort of initiative to reward long time players for forking over their money every month for long periods of time. This discussion was not only about what kind of 'rewards' might be offered but also how to continue increasing information flow to players so they don't rage quit over things like the Retribution still only having one mid-slot. CCP is also looking at ways to simplify how players with multiple accounts can access their information. We also saw some pretty cool stats about numbers of subscribers over different periods of time which really need to go into a dev blog soon.
The Economy & The PLEX
While these two sessions certianly had enough specific information to stand on thier own, CCP Dr. EyjoG was present for both and I'm combining the write up as I remember there being a lot of crossover. Also, as usual, most of it was heavily ~NDA'd~ so I can't go into as much detail as I would like to until the minutes are released.
All of this kicked off with, what else, lots of numbers. Most of what went on in these sessions covered things like the consumer price index and the general health of the EVE economy. One early point that stood out to me was that EVE currently has four 'markets' - the normal market, the contract / auction system, the loyalty point store and the NEX / aurum. There was some discussion about how to make this more efficient but nothing is written in stone yet.
Incursions got a lot of attention, with respect to how players have quickly figured out how to min / max everything to do with them. Obviously there needs to be some tweaks made but this is one of those good problems to have because it shows how many people are actually using the feature. Personally, I'd like to see the AI evolve even further and have Nightmares camping the Jita 4-4 undock. While CCP is at it, Sleepers should start attacking POS's in WH space.
The PLEX related stuff was super serious and, after some initial points and info from CCP, turned into a massive Q&A session. I can't go into much detail on all this except to say that I walked away a bit less confused and ragey than I went into it. There will be a more thorough write up about it all in the minutes and over the next several months in dev blogs. One amusing thing which was noted late in the day was that several of the pie charts used in the presentations all added up to 110%.
We started around 1330 and wrapped up at nearly 1700. After over three hours of this, Prom's eyes were pretty glazed over and he was all, "Chart all the things!!!"
CCP Sreegs is still very Darius Johnson in his presentation skills, which is always good for several laughs. We got a good overview of what he's been up to and asked the usual questions about botting and people doing bad things, but there's not a lot I can really talk about here until the official minutes are released. Bummer. :(
|Corporate buzzwords are serious business at CCP.|
This day was also the day of a CCP Global Staff Meeting which meant that we were evicted from the fourth floor and conducted our business in the second floor Exodous conference room. It was actually even bigger than Trinity but lacked the over the harbor view and windows of any kind. Despite the lack of natural light, we were mostly sober and awake for what would prove to be an 'energetic' day of discussion. There were six actual sessions scheduled for Day Two, and while the names of the sessions helped to steer general conversation, there was quite a lot of overlap (again). Remember that my summaries are just highlights and do not reflect the complete depth of these sessions, which you'll see more of when the minutes are released.
One of the cool things about these sessions was we had CCP Soundwave with us for the entire day, who is now running the three main design teams aimed at space iteration and development. CCP Greyscale, whose hands are in pretty much everything design related, was also present for a couple hours and an assortment of Team BFF All Stars were in and out of the room all day. Good times.
We got an overview of everything Crucible-related and a chance to push for more of this or that. The tentative schedule of future point release patches and what the CSM would like to include in them was also discussed.
Nullsec - Stations, Sov, Resources
There was quite a bit discussed here but the #1 request the CSM made is that we want to blow up stations. Destructible Outposts are going to be absolutely key to any kind of sov revamp. In the past, for Dominion, the idea was to have wreckable stations that you would be able to repair. Progress on several fronts has apparently made it possible to completely destroy player built outposts. 'Possibly' does not mean with 100% certainty that it will happen, but it's looking more likely than ever before. Obviously the mechanics of what to do with people's stuff need to be worked out but I feel like CCP is now on-board with the fact that big explosions are good things. I'm very curious to see where all of this leads.
Another big topic in this session was how NPC stations in 0.0 affect null sec warfare. Looking at ways to put more control in the hands of the players is something else CCP Soundwave and his team will be looking at this next year.
The old 'Farms & Fields' topic came up again, along with moon goo re-balancing and other sov / null sec-related incomes. There is a lot to do here but for the first time in years CCP seems to have the resources and the mindset to actually tackle and resolve many of the old issues that continue to plague us all.
Factional Warfare & Wormholes
This was all about one feature that could have been amazing and a feature that is already amazing but could use more love. Both are front and center in terms of things that CCP wants to iterate on in the coming year. FW will most likely start with a series of minor tweaks before introducing some new elements that breathe new life into the feature. The Wormholes discussion focused a lot on what it's like to live there and how the economic opportunity scales with other EVE 'lifestyles'.
CCP Tallest (the man is just a shade under seven feet) is Team BFF's primary ship balancer dude and we got to speak with him about... hell, pretty much everything. He asked what all was still fucked in the game and took a lot of notes. This is similar to what happened at the first summit back in May, only this time Tallest has an expansion under his belt and a better feel for how to prioritize things and get stuff done. This talk wasn't just limited to us throwing out ship names, but actually discussing each ship class and some of the specific ships themselves.
Another issue the CSM brought up was something close to my own heart - for characters that have been in supercaps for the past few years (Seleene has been in a Nyx since late 2006), pretty much everyone has maxed their drone skills. With the complete removal of the ability to use drones in supers, this renders several million skill points worth of training completely obsolete. A few different ideas on this were discussed and it kind of branched off into, "Ummm, no, supercaps are not 'fixed' just because you changed a few numbers and removed drones. Let's iterate some more, okay?"
Oh yeah, on supercaps - Yo, CCP, let supercaps fit a supercap point (hic scram) so we can #death2allsupercaps even more better good, okay? Sheesh!
Future High-level Discussion
This was actually broken down into two sub-categories: War and Fixing broken systems. Seeing as how they are pretty much the same topic (i.e. sov war is Still. Fucking. Broken.), this was one three-ish hour long bitch / brainstorming session. The positive aspect of this session was made clear when it became increasingly obvious that the people working on the future of EVE are not following any 'Stone Tablets' being handed down from the mountain.
What do I mean by that? Well, up until recently, the Game Designers of EVE did not set the course of the game, nor were their opinions solicited for major feature work decisions. For years, a group of what I'll call 'middle management' would go off site for a few days and through some ritualistic process end up with what the next expansion should be about. The actual Designers would then be handed these ideas to turn into reality. This process, known as being given Stone Tablets from the mountain top, has now been more or less banished and the results are as plain as the Crucible expansion.
While CCP obviously has a few big feature ideas on the back burner, they aren't talking about them much yet. Instead, the emphasis is on continuing the good work done over the past few months and integrating that into a larger plan. In other words - one step at a time, make all the pieces fit, avoid ~awesome~. This is good because maybe some of the cool stuff that was supposed to be in Dominion might actually get into the game next year.
|Yay! (Actual opening slide)|
|CCP Alice and assorted other denizens...|
The most interesting development for me was the change in mindset regarding 'EVE Offline'. For many leaders in EVE, a lot of their time is spent doing things that do not actually involve logging in and shooting stuff yet still requires them to interact with the game client at times. There has always seemed to be an unwritten law that if you wanted to interact with EVE in any way, you would have to actually log into the client. That concept is finally evolving to where things like a tablet / smartphone client or app that allow you to manipulate your market orders or log into corp / alliance chat is under serious consideration. Obviously, such things aren't going to happen overnight, but they are finally being discussed as possibilities and that makes me very happy.
I'm short-changing everything that happened in this session but when the minutes are released you'll have a better idea of some of the details. All in all, I think everyone on the CSM was pleasantly surprised at how cool this session turned out to be.
|Yes, 'Aurum' is an actual store in Reykjavik.|
Stab. Stab. Stab.
Okay, I'm just going to say again that I'm not opposed to CCP making money for fluff in the game. I actually think that if implemented properly they could do some very cool things with it. Doing it improperly (Incarna) cost CCP more than just some subscriptions - it's made the entire player base even more skeptical of the entire concept. Still, there are a number of cosmetic, non-gameplay affecting things, that could be done through the MT route such as ship paint jobs (flames on my Rifter!) or corp uniforms for Incarna.
Of course, the next sanity check for anything MT related is that CCP needs to, quite literally, get their head out of their ass about the prices. When a t-shirt made of pixels costs more than a real t-shirt in the RL online store You. Are. Doing. It. Wrong. CCP has said that before they dive back into the world of micro-transaction, they will work closely with the CSM so there are no $1000 jeans.
To that end, one of the main points discussed in the the roll out of the NEX Store was the introduction of Aurum as yet another form of EVE currency. Many on the CSM would just like to see Aurum abolished completely and have the entire MT system use PLEX broken down into 'micro-PLEX'. I'm one of them. Apparently this is something that CCP can actually do (with some time and tweaking) but there's no promises. Regardless, I think Aurum is stupid and unnecessary. #death2aurum
New Player Experience
We all told (horror) stories about how we got started, how we keep new players from feeling overwhelmed, how to explain to noobs all of the various tools the game client doesn't provide that you actually need to own properly, etc... Basically, this whole session was an hour of the CSM explaining to the CCPers how to get people to want to keep playing EVE.
Also, did you know that Goonswarm is a newbie training organization? It's true! Mittens took great pleasure in walking CCP through the Goon wiki and a recruitment drive thread on Something Awful. Funny and interesting stuff.
Art - Eye Candy
|Monocle God is actually very happy in this pic.|
First off, one of the things that CSM 6 bitched about early on was the horrible rookie ships that everyone starts with. This is your introduction to the game and you are forced to fly something that looks pretty ghetto. Well, that's being solved as we were shown the concept art and nearly complete renderings of all four new Rookie ship skins that will be going into EVE "soon". The new Reaper, in particular, looked amazing and makes me wonder how scary the Rifter will look if / when they get around to tweaking it as well. So, yet another example of how the CSM has no power. :)
Next up were a series of demos showing effects in space. I can't really say much about this (NDA) other than it's obvious the Art duders have been watching a ton of Battlestar Galactica. If they can get some of this stuff in game... holy crap...
There were a couple other things that I can't even hint at which made jaws literally drop but will hopefully be public in the near future. I suspect that some of this stuff is being held back for Fanfest and rightfully so. Remember the feeling you got the first time you watched the 'Trinity' expansion trailer? Get ready for that feeling again.
Much like all the other CCPers, the Art guys seemed almost giddy to have an audience they could share their excitement with. They are working on stuff they want to (SPACESHIPS!) and you could tell they are loving it.
|I googled 'bad EVE U.I.' and got this...|
This was an extra session that got added into an empty slot on the last day... and it was good. The only problem is that I can't really discuss many specifics because a lot of what we saw is likely going to be unveiled in dev blogs after the Christmas holidays. What I can say is that there is an extreme focus on efficiency and actually trying to make the interface more attractive. There's simple stuff like stacking multiples of the same kind of active mods (shield hardeners, etc...), glow effects and other widgets that reflect what CCP calls, 'an escape from weirdness'.
One other important thing of note is that there is particular care being paid to the needs of colorblind players. The UI team is taking extra steps to ensure any changes they make will be able to be optimized for the visually-challenged.
We saw a lot of promising mock-ups and while we will probably see some functional changes in the near future, I wouldn't expect to see anything like a full visual overhaul until next summer at the earliest (possibly even later).
The CSM & Hilmar
|The room has a red tint for some reason (fire?)...|
Among the things we asked about were, quite simply, "How did you miss what was going on? Were people not talking to you? Were you not listening?"
Hilmar was extremely blunt in stating, (I'm paraphrasing here), "It was a fundamental breakdown in the growth of our company... After doing the same things, people want to design new game play... the 'Jesus' features start... When you keep doing the impossible... when you keep doing things over and over that people tell you, 'Oh, no you can't do that! It's crazy', and you keep succeeding... you believe that you can do the impossible and no one can tell you any different.. You become married to your own opinion."
Hilmar said that he sees his role as providing a working environment where the company is structured so that people have known pathways to have thier opinions heard by people that can actually get shit done. This sort of bluntness permeated most of the meeting. He didn't seem to be trying to make excuses and wasn't shy about answering much of anything.
Another point that was raised with Hilmar and that I put particular emphasis on was working to make sure that CCPers feel comfortable actually playing the game. CCP Internal Affairs is still working with basically the same rules that were initially developed 4-5 years ago in response to the T20 scandal. This is a big point for me that I had unexpectedly reinforced on this trip. On Thursday night I was having a talk with someone that will remain nameless and was told he had run a report internally that showed PVP activity for CCP employees in July 2011. The number of devs that were involved on another player's kill mail was exactly eight. Eight out of over six hundred. Granted, July was a pretty shit month for anyone playing EVE, but that's still a staggeringly low number.
The CSM, and myself in particular, were very adamant about the fact that while devs playing openly is probably never going to happen, there should be an evolution of their policies in this regard. CCP has the tools and oversight to properly monitor their people and almost everyone I speak to on this issue welcomes the idea of having a dev as their wing man in a fleet, even if they do not know about it. EVE is a better game when the people working on it can enjoy it as much as a 'regular player'.
Of course, we also made sure Hilmar understood that the video dev blogs are the best thing the company has ever done as, "It's harder to rage at faces than words."
Most importantly, I heard this: "The main focus over the next year is fixing the project that is EVE." In the same line, Hilmar stated that he's mostly concerned with making sure that the people working on EVE are happy, "... which means more Crucible work and fixing what is broken in the game." He indicated that there was a lot of 'retrospective' work done within the company that was very eye opening and shocking for him and he's now focused on making sure the kind of environment that existed for the past couple of years does not happen again.
|Iceland Air likes to name its planes after volcanoes.|
No More 'Jesus' Features
There's been lots of speculation about what this means; it's basically Hilmar's way of saying that CCP is no longer looking for a silver bullet ~awesome~ solution to to EVE's subscriber curve. There's a solid commitment to finishing and fixing as opposed to the stone tablet mentality of the past.
A lot of people have mentioned Apocrypha and Crucible in the same breath as examples of great expansions. As I've said previously, what we're looking at right now with the amount of resources that have been refocused on EVE is the potential for an 'Apocrypha' every 3-4 months. That's not bullshit; it's actually possible due to the fact that there are literally five times the number of teams working on EVE today as there were three months ago. The actual content of what is to come is certainly going to be the subject of many CSM / CCP chats as well as continually improving forum communication between CCP and the overall community.
I saw a comment on Twitter a couple days ago that referred to Crucible as a 'tactical' expansion in preparation for the more 'strategic' stuff still to come. That's pretty accurate. As Mittens said, in the aftermath of the 'October War', everyone is gearing up for the inevitable 'Feature War'.
|Iceland Air security gets to know Elise a little better.|
Will CCP stay the course? Based on what we've seen recently I'd say, for at least the next year, yes. What will happen over the next year is anyone's guess but, aside from the 20% layoffs stuff, morale within the office is way up primarily because folks are getting a chance to work on the things they've been banging their heads against the wall about for years. I'd say we're looking at a solid 12 months of full throttle EVE EVE EVE before CCP takes their foot off the gas. That's fine with me for now because when the people working on the game are doing stuff that they WANT to do and actually have the resources and mandate to do it on a level that's never existed before, we'll probably see EVE evolve quite a lot in the next year.
I'm not all starry-eyed and rainbows about it all, but the immediate future looks good and we should all do everything we can to use this opportunity to help get the game where we want it to be.