CCP’s Dilemma

As we begin 2021, CCP faces a dilemma on the future direction of EVE Online.

At it’s core, the appeal of EVE Online is it’s ability to provide a sandbox where players can create their own stories, rather than simply following a storyline created by a game developer to guide you between elaborate cut scenes.

Whether it’s the solo player looking to achieve their own goals in industry, the PvPer that wants to rise on the killboard, or the large group looking to crush opponents and steal their star systems, EVE Online allows those stories to be written.

More recently, the CCP Dev Team has been more focused on directing action in the sandbox than they have in the past.  Specifically, the Ecosystem team has been trying to “fix” the economic resource balances in the game and reduce the ability of the wealthy players and groups to project as much power. 

This comes into conflict with some of the core marketing needs of EVE Online that are used to attract new players.

“If it bleeds, it leads” is a core tenet of attracting attention in news organizations, and CCP’s marketing relies heavily on bloody conflict to create headlines and stories that circulate on gaming sites and social media.  

Popular articles about EVE Online are invariably about large scale conflict, mass destruction, world records, and personal conflicts that spin out of control into wars.  Occasionally something like Katia Sae breaks into the news cycle, but the vast majority of eyeballs are drawn to gigantic fleets slamming into each other and expensive wrecks littering the field.

Rarely do you see an article about some small gang battle in a random system popping up on Kotaku or Polygon.  No one is writing articles about achieving Mastery levels in manufacturing or mining quietly in low sec for Crokite.

There is no book of “Small Frigate Fights of EVE”. 

The server-spanning, empire-crushing, tens-of-thousands-of-players wars are what get books written about and are the stories told for years afterward.

Unfortunately for CCP’s Marketing team, the game design is pointing in a different direction currently.  The continuing changes to resource availability, reduced ISK generation, infrastructure investment, and capital ship gameplay are basically disincentives to the exact kind of conflict and battles the are the lifeblood of CCP’s ability to get attention.

While these disincentives are frustrating to most players, they show no sign of effectively stopping “capital proliferation” or large scale empire power projection, some of the stated goals to justify the “starvation” that players are dealing with currently.

The frustration continues unabetted with no public design targets, timelines, or tangible “carrot” for players to be looking forward to besides “weaponized inconvenience”.

The on-going server spanning war is completely player driven conflict.  The war has nothing to with the economy or scarcity, and is based on a combination of grudges and existential threats that go back years. 

While the current war has been helpful in generating headlines so far, the future is not so bright for new headlines.  The debacle of the second fight in M2-XFE effectively ended the possibility that we will see a record breaking battle of that scale again. The lesson learned was that “people tanking” is a thing, and that pushing the server too hard is tactic.   Leaders will avoid the situation of being humiliated in a battle due to the game itself falling over.

The Dev Team response to M2-XFE gave no sign that the situation with player numbers in fights would see any improvement in the future, further dampening enthusiasm for these kinds of titanic battles. Not that there is an easy solution here, but the game meta has changed significantly due to M2-XFE.

Beyond that, once this conflict is over, we are faced with a game system that pushes large groups into the most economically rational decision; turtle up, generate resources, avoid losing powerful ships as they are hard to replace.  For smaller groups, the protection of the larger groups and defensible infrastructure becomes more attractive, reinforcing the conclusion that the smart move is it be part of an umbrella.

Once this war is over, the likelihood of large scale, newsworthy stories drops precipitously.

War is not profitable.

Generating resources, ISK, and ships in wartime is painful and frustrating.

Even the victors in war need time to rebuild their wallets. The losers, even if they are eager for revenge, will be far away from striking back.  Considering the direction that game design is heading, all sides will need even more peace time to regenerate strength.

CCP is committed to the current design path with economy for the foreseeable future, creating quite a dilemma.  Continue to reduce the rationale for war and ability to create large scale conflict, or enable conditions that create the events that make headlines.

Which way will we tip?

Not an easy one to solve.

People play EVE Online as an escape for the humdrum and horrors of real life.  They will endure some inconvenience in the game, but their willingness to grind in a system that is literally working to make their time less valuable has limits. 

I don’t have any answers on how to solve this, but CCP is going to have to grapple with this dilemma at some point, sooner or later.

When this war ends, many players are going to be taking a hard look about how much they log in and are willing to grind.   It’s one thing to endure frustration, while striving to support The War Effort, but another to see it as the New Normal.

The next six months will be interesting to watch, as CCP begins to reveal their plans for 2021 and which path they intend to walk.