By Alec Meer on June 24th, 2011 at 11:24 pm.
Following a fairly vague response to the uproar around Eve’s frankly ridiculous prices for in-game avatar vanity items (e.g. a shirt requiring virtual currency worth $25 of real money, or alternatively enough in-game money to buy several very large spaceships) introduced in the new Incarna expansion, CCP have addressed the issues head on. The latest blog from Eve senior producer Arnar “CCP Zulu” Gylfason is probably one of the more extraordinary developer comments I’ve ever read. Case in point: “People have been shocked by the price range in the NeX store, but you should remember that we are talking about clothes. Look at the clothes you are currently wearing in real life. Do you have any specific brands? Did you choose it because it was better quality than a no-name brand?”
And there’s more. I’m just going to have to quote most of it verbatim, because… well, essentially he’s trying to argue that Eve’s in-game clothes can be directly equated to real-life clothes, both in terms of value (or lack thereof) and of self-expression. It’s a fascinating talking point for sure. It’s also almost definitely going to make a lot of Eve players very angry.
“Assume for a short while that you are wearing a pair of $1,000 jeans from some exclusive Japanese boutique shop. Why would you want to wear a pair of $1,000 jeans when you can get perfectly similar jeans for under $50? What do other people think about you when they see you wearing them? For some you will look like the sad culmination of vainness while others will admire you and think you are the coolest thing since sliced bread. Whichever it is, it is clear that by wearing clothes you are expressing yourself and that the price is one of the many dimensions that clothes possess to do that in addition to style and fit. You don’t need to buy expensive clothes. In fact you don’t need to buy any clothes. Whatever you choose to do reflects what you are and what you want others to think you are.
We will gradually introduce items at other price points, definitely lower and probably higher than what‘s in the store today. We hope you enjoy them and are as passionate about them as you are of the current items that are for sale.”
It’s almost midnight where I am and so I’m not exactly in the best state for a sociological debate but… well, I’m more than a little startled at this justification. And not just because I’ve never met anyone who buys $1000 jeans. Yes, our increasingly digital lives mean in-game self-expression can and should be considered as important as real-world self-expression, but I just can’t get to the point where I can quite so directly equate a few lines of code and texture files to something that can keep me warm or make me look marginally less horrific when I go out.
I do admire the chutzpah of admitting that neither real or pretend clothes have any tangible value beyond the subjective, however. And there’s certainly something in the assertion that people will take note and react if they spot you wearing an evidently expensive item, but whether a fixed in-game store with fixed in-game prices for cyber-monocles is actually equivalent to wearing a rolex… No, it doesn’t sit right. Partly because of the oddity of holding a graphic to be the direct equal of something that’s tangible, that is manufactured and shipped and felt and smelt and stretched, and partly because these are Eve’s first-ever in-game clothes, so the difference between what’s high-fashion and what’s purely functional hasn’t even slightly been established as yet. That’s the point, perhaps – this first run of items will establish how many people are prepared to pay how much, and the higher and lower can spawn out of that. Trouble is, it’s all happening rather noisily in public. Starting Icarna with only low-priced items might well have proven less controversial.
Not to mention that, quite frankly, Eve isn’t exactly the best game to test theories of clothing-based vanity and self-expression – it’s built up a formidable reputation and playerbase because it’s about space war and politicking, not poncing about in expensive shirts. Clothes-selling was a big enough risk for this particular game to take in the first place, even before tagging them with such high prices. Whether right or wrong, the theory of digital vanity item’s subjective value being comparable to a real-life vanity item’s subjective value is a fascinating one – but Eve and its playerbase rather seems like the wrong testbed for it.
On the other hand, I wonder if the talk of lower price items arriving soon might just be a veiled admission of error for this run of avatar clothes. If, in a little time, cheap items are very much the norm with a few expensive ones also available for those rich or fool enough to want them, perhaps the problem will quietly go away and people will be content to spend a little extra to customise their characters more or less as they see fit. But claiming the current state of affairs (where even the lower-priced purely cosmetic items equate to more than cost of a month’s subscription to the game, or any number of in-game ships and upgrades that actually do stuff) is essentially just a social engineering experiment that upset players haven’t yet grasped the wisdom of probably isn’t going to make people feel better.
Also addressed (and confirmed as real) is the leaked CCP internal newsletter, ‘Greed Is Good’, which contained some rather frank discussion about the merits and potential of microtransactions, and how best to make players indulge in tons of them. Given the general community sentiment is that the new Eve vanity item store is currently absurdly overpriced, that newsletter probably couldn’t have leaked at a worse possible time for CCP.
So Gylfason calls for an end to the personal abuse and harrassment of CCP staff, and claims that the newsletter was essentially the firm playing devil’s advocate as it tried to make up its own mind about microtransactions. “The opinions and views expressed in Fearless are just that; opinions and views. They are not CCP policy nor are they a reliable source of CCP views as a company. The employees who submitted articles to that newsletter did exactly what they were asked to do, write about theories and opinions from an exaggerated stand.”
So it was just a glorified roleplay exercise? That’s what CCP are claiming, anyway. There’s more here. Gylfason seems genuinely upset about the response to Incarna and the newsletter, and I’m sure many in CCP feel similarly. Who wants to upset their fanbase, after all? I’m really not convinced that blog is going to put any of the outrage to bed, however. In fact, it may just increasing the apparently growing sense of a rift between the game-players and the game-makers. Hopefully it can all be ironed out soon – Eve is, after all, no stranger to drama, protest and politicking, but always seems to keep its head above the water despite it.