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.

On the ESS

The revised ESS system was released this week into New Eden.  As a former member of the CSM, I was aware of the basic idea for a long time, but now feel free to comment on the actual final design outcome.

The ESS posed some difficult design problems that have been addressed by fairly strict limitations on the environment in which players can interact.

Stepping back, it’s safe to say that EVE players are some of the most dedicated min/max gamers around.  They will relentlessly test, iterate, and hone in on ship fittings and tactics to master specific environments.   

Much of the hardest PVE content in the game has been mastered in this way, to the point that a player faces no real difficulty.  Burner missions, 10/10 escalations, and Abyssal space are intended to challenge players, but due to min/maxxing, they pose no real threat to players with the information on how to beat them.  They have become ISK printing machines, not challenges.

PvP is quite different than PVE, but even in PvP we have seen this same min/maxxing lead to optimal fits and tactics with little room for variation.  Abyssal PvP encounters rapidly became only run by a limited group of players due to their mastery of the specific fits and tactics there were basically optimized for the environment.

The live events team has done a great job with the Abyssal Proving Grounds, where the environment is rotated through to keep interest levels up and prevent long term stagnation. Even so, optimized fits rapidly emerge and dominate the environment. 

Which brings us to the revised ESS system. The environment has been very strongly controlled to remove many options from ship tactics to attempt to “force” good fights to occur.

The issue is whether completely optimized fits and tactics will appear for the “robber” side or the “defender” side creating a situation that is not fun for players.  

The fewer the tactical options due to the environmental restrictions, the simpler the task of optimizing is for theorycrafters.

We are still early in the ESS Era, but watching the ship doctrine choices in ESS encounters will be telling on whether players will be able to master the ESS, as they have every other limited environment in EVE.  

Only time will tell, but I’ve learned to never bet against on the hive mind of players to solve any puzzle placed in front of them.

On the Ecosystem Changes

I am occasionally on EVE talk shows and tweet about my feelings on the game. People sometimes ask why I am “against change” and “refusing to adapt”.  Here’s a slightly longer explanation about my views on the Ecosystems work for clarity that doesn’t fit well onto Twitter, Reddit, or Twitch.

Why am I frustrated?

My frustration with the Ecosystem changes over the last year is simple, they are dull, boring, weaponized inconvenience with nothing exciting for the average player.

Let’s compare to other major changes in EVE.  Each of these changes were radical and changed fundamental aspects of the game at the time.  Whether you like them or not, there is something about each change that created excitement, enthusiasm, and gave players significantly new things to do in EVE.  We can argue if they were long term good decisions, but it is inarguable that players were hyped and enthusiastic about the innovative changes.

Capital Rework – 2015

Near complete rework of the way Capital ships operate – introduction of modern fighter mechanics and creation of Force Auxiliaries.

Result: Entirely new fight dynamics for capitals ships in almost every situation. New roles for pilots, new escalation metas, new PVE opportunities.

Aegis Sovereignty – 2015

Complete work of null security space sovereignty system

Result: New war strategies, increases involvement of sub-capitals, new entosis strategy & doctrine, significant redrawing of the null sec map.

Upwell Citadels – 2016

Replacement plan for POS (Control Towers)

Result: New fight dynamics, new avenues for industry, un-coffined supercapital pilots, new choices for structure placement and use.

Athanor Moon Mining – 2017

Complete rework of moon mining process

Result: New shift in revenue streams from passive to active, allowed wide involvement from many pilots, created open trade in moon materials, created high risk locations for fights.

Again, you don’t have to think all of these changes were great, but in each cases they were new, enticing activities for players that created enthusiasm and new emergent gameplay.  Many will argue the pros & cons of each major change now in hindsight, but there is no doubt that the changes brought out excitement and enthusiasm in the players.

Now consider the changes to resources in the Economy work

Resource Redistribution – 2020

Resources are harder to acquire.

Result: Mine in other places. Haul more. Stuff costs more.

No new ships
No new incentives
No new strategies
No enthusiasm

Even the most positive comments are “It won’t be that bad…”.

The most enthusiastic players have pinned all their hope on some great, unannounced future feature set that will make all this “eat your vegetables” talk worth it.  

Imagine for a moment that it was the Aftertimes, and CCP was presenting at Fanfest or an in-person meetup and that the big keynote message was “Nocxium is in low sec now!”

Do you think there would be cheers? 
Do you think this would create excitement in the room?

Of course not. 

As I have said before, this is all stick, no carrot.

More “The beatings will continue until morale improves!” than “Here’s cool new ideas!”

And all this Ecosystem change is about getting to ‘Healthy Ecosystem State’, a state that has never been described, never been detailed, and worse, never explained to the average pilots why it matters.

Players are told “Trust us.”, which is code for either “we don’t know” or “we don’t think you are smart enough to understand”, both of which are terrible.

In previous large changes, explanations were simple: “Large Slowcat carrier fleets are basically invulnerable and have no counter, they gotta go. Capital ships need to blow up a lot more often.”

Most frustratingly, we see innovation from CCP sneaking in around the edges. Filaments, EdenCom ships, Proving Grounds, and Space Weather all have generated recent excitement, but that excitement continually tempered and diminished by the overwhelming wet blanket of the Ecosystem changes repeatedly smothering enthusiasm. 

Players need incentives
Players need excitement
Players need innovation

That’s not what players are seeing, they see harsh tweaks to force players to act in very specific ways, which in the sandbox universe of New Eden, is about as un-EVE as it gets.

On the Quantum Cores

Yes, structure spam is an issue.

Yes, bashing structures is painful with little reward.

Yes, as a former CSM member, this was a topic brought up to CCP and discussed.

That said, I feel that the announced change will not get the desired results of more sustained conflict.

tl;dr: They are burning down the house to kill the spider.

The change will cause corp & alliance logistics team headaches, leading to some consolidation of structures in a familiar form of “weaponized inconvenience” that we have seen with Ansiblex relocation and Abandoned structure states.  People like me who do this kind of work will complain, but much like the other changes, the job will get done and the organized groups will continue on unscathed.

I’m not against change or some version of the Quantum Cores, but the proposed implementation is unlikely to create the results expected by the Dev Team.

Personally, I’d rather spend alliance ISK on blowing ships up rather than on paying a retroactive tax on maintaining the status quo as most larger groups will do.

The change will lead to fewer structures in space and further incentivize players to concentrate in space and travel less.  Again, the optimal strategy will be to join larger groups for better protection from attack.

As we have seen with other major changes intended to create conditions for conflict, this will likely fail to do so as well.  Scarity has failed to create conflict.  Nerfs to supers and capitals have put fewer targets in space, reducing the ability of “hunters” to find prey, continuing to reduce people fighting in space.  Mining has moved in dramatic fashion to minimal risk High Sec space.

Boom

Yes, for the first few weeks there will be an orgiastic spike of destruction, much like the Abandoned Structures change, but once that is over and areas are purged, there won’t be many new structures being put up to replace them. 

If you couldn’t defend a structure from getting blown up the first time, you certainly aren’t going to anchor a new one in it’s place to get blown up for a second time.

Industrialists will likely see structure construction wind down to a trickle. Between the great unanchoring of citadels pre-Abandoned change and new consolidation, the stockpiles of structures and standup modules will be significant.  I’ve built over 200 citadels myself and don’t expect to build many more in the future.

Structures consumed a lot of P4 material in the past, so we will likely see increased supply with lower demand leading to further prices drops, accelerating price declines. Besides having less to build in this area, smaller industrialist will likely find fewer places to build and those will likely have higher indexes.

I’m not a High Sec person, so I can’t speak with any authority, but based on what I saw during the first weeks of Abandoned states, I wouldn’t want to be a high sec structure owner that can’t easily form 250 person fleets for defense.  Bob help the structures in High Sec if the Null Sec powers decided to ‘farm’ them for Cores rather than buy them.  As The Mittani clearly showed in Niarja, the force that can be brought to bear from large Null Sec groups is extreme and outstrips any typical High Sec group capabilities.

As I mentioned in my time as a CSM member, there is a disconnect between how the Dev Team thinks players will react to changes and how players actually adapt to change.  We have repeatedly seen design changes that do not work in creating conflict and getting more players going more places, just in creating speedbumps for people looking for fun.

If it wasn’t for the purely ego and grudge driven conflict we see in the current wars, New Eden would be fairly dull place with small groups filamenting around hoping to catch a ratting Myrmidon (if they are lucky).

Don’t chase kitey bullshit.

See you on grid.

Her Majesty

What I learned on the CSM

Being on CSM 14 was an honor and a privilege. I got meet many people and I learned several things.

Here are three things I’d like to share:

CCP is a business

Players can easily get caught up in the subtle nuances of their playstyle niche, but CCP looks at EVE Online development with two key goals in mind: bring new players into the game & generate revenue.

CCP is a business and they need to continuously grow. Whether players want to hear it or not, catering to the person who has been playing for 5+ years is not CCP’s primary goal. Development is always going to prioritize work that directly influences the new player pipeline over other needs in game. We are seeing a balance in development currently, but bringing new players into the game is almost always going to be prioritized heavily.

Monetization can be a dirty word to some players, but without generating revenue, there will be no EVE Online. Some monetization ideas are non-controversial, like ship SKINs, while other options, like those involving skill points, are highly controversial. CCP will continue to look for ways to make money, and players should expect them to do so.

You cannot please all the players

Being on the CSM opened up my communication with a large number players with various viewpoints. Even on topics I expected to be non-controversial, I heard from players with serious concerns, some with serious vitriol.

Every change to the game will be faced with criticism by someone. As I have previous described, “CCP could cure cancer, and some players would complain that they are putting doctors out of work”.

Trying to make all the players happy is a fool’s errand. You cannot ignore player concerns, but you have accept that someone is going to absolutely hate a change with fist clenched anger, regardless of the benefits other players might see.

EVE is more complex than you can imagine

After playing EVE for over 12 years, I thought I had a good understanding of most aspects of the game. I could not be more wrong. The deeper you look into any playstyle, the more strange and byzantine it gets. Esoteric missions from the first days of the game with significant rewards that the developers have no idea how they were created. Obtuse ways to calculate the industrial production across the universe. Use of PVE oriented modules to influence PvP success. Elaborate manipulations of high sec crimewatch and war dec mechanics. Endless attempts to predict and force wormhole behavior.

Yes, as you read this, you think to yourself, “naw, I know about all that stuff”, but you are wrong. There some crazy ass shit that goes on quietly behind the scenes that the CSM discuss among themselves and even stranger stuff you hear from the developers during late night drinks in Reykjavik.

The intensity of thought and persistent effort that players put into EVE to gain an edge is unmatched in video gaming. I was continually surprised by information discussed on the CSM as to whether a complex and convoluted action was simply innovative gameplay or abuse of the game. No single player knows it all. No developer knows it all. It’s simply to much for any one person to grok.

Part of the continuing allure of EVE after all these years in the mind numbing complexity and the impossibility of truly mastering the entire game. There is always something new to learn or white rabbit to chase.

Snooters, maintaining her chill

War

War is likely coming to New Eden

For most of Brave, this is not due to a grudge or animosity.  It’s about blowing stuff up.

There are a lot of grudges between other groups in the game, but those aren’t a prime motivating factor for Brave.  Our pilots want to have fights and get a chance to use their big toys. 

It’s been almost a year since the end of our last serious war effort, and the familiar internal discussions of pilots wanting something ‘serious’ to do has continued to increase.

War is hard and will likely tax the energy of everyone involved.  Bonds will be forged and memories made that last far longer than the conflict itself. EVE is about making stories, and stories will be made.

We will not underestimate our opponent.  They will care as much about protecting their home as we would about ours.  The true deciding factor will be maintaining morale and the will to fight.  I have no idea how that will go.

War will bring glorious memes and shitposting, as is tradition in EVE.

I, like many others, have good personal relationships with players in every large coalition, even those that have attacked us in the past.

Brave is pushing our members to keep attacks in-game and not resort to personal attacks against individuals.  We are all part of the spaceship nerd community IRL, and 2020 is hard enough without being personally attacked.

We look forward to good fights, laughs, looting the field, the butterfly effect, and inevitable betrayal.

See you on grid.

-Dunk Dinkle
Electromagical Majordomo, Brave Collective

P.S. Wear a face mask

P.P.S. As an industrialist, in an anarcho-syndicalist collective, I will likely get filthy rich as a war profiteer.

CSM 14 – Final Update

June 13th, 2020

Yesterday, the results of the CSM 15 election were announced.  Congratulations to all those elected.

The next few weeks will be a transition period as CSM 15 members sign confidentiality documents, get accounts to access CCP systems, and receive a basic orientation on how the group meets and interacts with developers.

For a short period, there will be a overlap of CSM 14 & 15 members to discuss the transition and pass on any ongoing work and answer questions.  By early July, the change should be complete and my term as a CSM member will be over.

CCP has gone through significant changes over the last year, and the next year looks like significant change for EVE Online as long term plans are designed and implemented. The role of the CSM to reflect player desires and concerns remains an important part of the design process.

The last year has been a privilege to serve as a representative of EVE players to CCP.  Meeting so many new people at meetups and online was wonderful.  Being entrusted with people concerns & hopes with the desire to improve the game was an honor.

I did my best to provide regular updates on what the CSM was doing, clearly state my positions on various topics, and earnestly try to answer every convo, EVE mail, Discord message, email, and in-person request with my full attention.

While I didn’t always agree with what players asked for, I tried to reflect their concerns to CCP so that their voice was heard.

While I won’t be on the CSM, I continue to play EVE and remain a part of this amazing gaming community. I remain available to anyone that wants to chat or has concerns, to share what I can.

Snooters gatecamps at the fig tree

CSM 14 Update – Week 50

As always, there’s not any specific information to share due to the confidentiality of the discussions.

June 6th, 2020

Discussion of upcoming game live events

Discussion of new in-game features

Discussion of CSM transition

Discussion of game client changes

Dunk’s Corner

Don’t have a big topic to write about this week. 

There’s a tremendous amount going on in New Eden lately. 

The Triglavian Invasion is a big draw for all kinds of players, showing up for lore, PvE, and PvP action.  Plenty of activity and action all over these systems.

Toss in the abandoned structure Spring Cleaning and people have plenty to do daily.  I’m usually too busy with space logistics to do bashing, but the structure bashers seem to be having a great time with a minimal amount of looting drama.  Many items returning to circulation after years of being forgotten in out of the way hangars.

Upcoming are the new EDENCOM ships and events.  This kickoff will surely lead to a nice industrial race to build the first ships and get them into combat. 

The addition of more needlejack yeet filaments into the game continues to create impromptu fights and surprises in every region. 

Caldari militia are systematically flipping Gallente systems. Hail Tibus Heth!

Alongside all these events, there large scale fights occurring all over the map.

If you think New Eden is stagnant, you simply aren’t logging into the game.

Feral queen bee caught – who says you can’t control the Goons?

CSM 14 Update – Week 49

As always, there’s not any specific information to share due to the confidentiality of the discussions.

May 29th, 2020

Extremely detailed discussion of upcoming new design

(that’s astoundingly vague, but it’s all I can really say)

Dunk’s Corner

Today is the start of voting for CSM 15.  Many groups have recommended ballot slates, but I encourage you to make your own decisions.  The CSM is there to represent YOUR views, which may differ from your group.

Here are my suggestions on what you should look for in a CSM representative.

Ability to listen – A CSM member needs the ability to listen carefully to both CCP and players.  CCP has a plan and roadmap.  A CSM member needs to be able to listen to the plan and take the time to understand WHY it is seen as important by CCP.  Rather than defaulting to an immediate reaction, a CSM member needs to gather the information first, consider it, and then give feedback.

Similarly for players, a CSM member must be open to listening to players who have wildly different agendas and different perspectives.  Ideally, the CSM member can present the concerns to CCP in a constructive way that ensures CCP is hearing a wide range of feedback.

Ability to compromise – A CSM member needs to be able to work well with the rest of the CSM and CCP in a positive way.  This often requires compromise and ‘politics’.  A CSM member that creates acrimony or cannot adapt to the concerns other CSM or direction of CCP, will find themselves unable to get much done.

Finding creative and workable solutions that navigate between the various points of view is no simple task, but progress is often stopped until consensus can be reached. 

Understanding of complex dynamics – EVE Online is a complex game with complex issues.  There are no simple fixes.  Most changes can have impact outside of the target problem and a CSM member needs to be able to understand the complex dynamics of the game.

Specific expertise can be important, but if a tight focus on one area of gameplay is the only lens a CSM member looks through, they will often miss the effects of a proposed change in an unexpected area.  Being able to understand how others play the game and being able to think from an ‘opposing’ point of view is valuable in reaching good decisions.

Lastly – The person has the commitment to do the job – The CSM election can be seen as a popularity contest and in many ways is.  Being a good member of the CSM requires a lot of time, focus, think skin, and persistence.  History has shown multiple players being elected and then basically going AFK from their role as CSM when faced with the workload.  If a candidate is running because they think it will be ‘fun’, they probably won’t be a good CSM member.

Snooters, chillaxing in her sov space, sniffing for intel on neutrals…

CSM 14 Update – Week 48

As always, there’s not any specific information to share due to the confidentiality of the discussions.

May 22nd, 2020

New in-game efforts for players

Revisited various balance & gameplay topics to check status

Discussed imminent Second Quadrant releases

Discussed longer term Third Quadrant plan

Dunk’s Corner

Last week I posted a short note on CSM voting dynamics.  This sparked a little discussion and some people asked what could be done to change voting to create a wider diversity of CSM members.

Here’s a review of some of the options that have been discussed. 

ALL OF THESE OPTIONS CAN AND WOULD BE GAMED, just some less than others.

Limiting ‘block’ candidates to one per group – The idea would be to disallow block candidates, typically at the coalition level, from putting multiple candidates on the CSM.  Or even disallow multiple candidates at the alliance level.

This idea is trivially easy to get around. With coalitions undefined in-game and alt alliances trivial to create, this is a non-starter.  Some may call for CCP to decide who is and isn’t in a ‘block’ but this would open a can of worms where CCP is asked make subjective decisions about out of client player affiliation.

Creating spots for specific playstyles – This idea would create slots for specific playstyles such as high sec, low sec, small gang PvP, industry, wormholes, etc. and ask players to campaign for these slots.

The issue here is how do you define if a player is qualified for a slot or not?  As an example, I am a director a large null sec alliance, executor of a high sec alliance, and top 1% industrialist.  Can I run for any of those slots? Most large groups could field candidates that qualify for any spot imaginable.

There is thought of limiting voting on slots to characters that partake in the playstyle. Again, this becomes untenable scale.  Again, as an example, on one account I have my null sec PvP main and a high sec hauling and market alt.  Which slot does this account qualify for in terms of voting for “playstyles”?

We have seen that CCP’s tools are not perfect when attempting to determine a player’s playstyle from data and metrics alone at the character and account levels.

Hybrid CSM – This idea is to have part of the CSM filled by open voting and part of the CSM reserved for “playstyle” candidates in slots created by CCP. 

This option has the same issues as the wider “playstyle” slots idea, it’s too difficult to prevent gaming the system and making characters designed to be eligible for “playstyle” slots and receive block voting help.

Voting based on players not accounts – This idea would have voting based on players not accounts. Each player would have a ballot as opposed to each account having a ballot.

This would reduce the influence of players with multiple accounts (widely seen in null sec groups), skill farmers, and other serious multi-boxers.  Also, this idea would attempt to move to a voting system that cannot be ‘bought’ as we have seen in previous elections.

CCP’s ability to determine actual humans owning multiple accounts is fairly good.  However this too, could be gamed, but only with significant effort that doesn’t scale.

However, this doesn’t guarantee any prevention of multiple CSM members from a single group or ensure any single playstyle is represented more strongly than before.

I would prefer this idea, as it solves some problems, but it doesn’t address everything.

Unfortunately, these is no simple way to lessen the influence of powerful social groups on the CSM election. It’s true that political parties make a difference in real life and New Eden.

Snooters enjoying Spring weather