By Jim Rossignol on September 6th, 2011 at 3:30 pm.
When Eve’s Council Of Stellar Management (CSM) was formed, it was a bold move by developers CCP. The creation of a player-elected ombudsman was intended to deal with what was seen as a lack of communication between the playerbase and the company, as well as providing a forum to address issues such as perceived instances of corruption, instances like the one that sparked the CSM formation in the first place. In the light over the controversy over Eve’s cash shop, the CSM met with CCP again, expressing player concerns. Following a series of apologies and concessions, not too much seemed to come from this, but now the CSM chairman, infamous Goon boss Alexander “The Mittani ” Gianturco has spoken out, concluding: “We will not stand idly by as an alliance while our subscription money goes to waste, watching the game we pay to play spiraling into entropy due to the folly and neglect of CCP’s management. It is not yet time to start a fire, but get your gasoline ready. ”
What this means isn’t entirely clear, but it seems that Gianturco is ready to wage a PR war to pressure the company into behaving in the way that the player expect it to. The way he and other players like him think their subscription money should be spent is probably a little different to how CCP think it should be spent. And that’s going to be a tough issue to resolve. As one of the most influential factions in the game GoonSwarm are not to be taken lightly. Whatever they decide to do could ultimately yield massive pressure on CCP, although whether it can actually change the course of what is now a global corporate juggernaut isn’t obvious to me.
Whatever the result, those flames could end up reaching pretty high. Unfortunately for CCP, players like Gianturco are much better at this stuff than they are. The company has been prone to devs saying the wrong things, as well as making some catastrophic design errors along the way. Of course that’s almost always forgiveable because things can change, and the game is a work-in-progress. It’ll evolve. It always does. But CCP are increasingly unable to come away from misjudgements or battles with player-opinion while also looking like a winner. This will be their most difficult challenge yet. And I believe that’s because this is the most fundamental battle they are ever going to face: a battle over how to run both their game, and their company.
What is being fought over is fundamental because it’s about what paying a subscription for a game actually means. The subscription model of gaming is a cash-machine the likes of which gaming has never known, but it is in decline. It’s being experimented with in Eve, which is adding a “cash shop” for extra income. You still have to pay a sub to play, but not you can buy a few extra bits and pieces if you have the money spare. It’s a milder version of the system that now powers dozens of free-to-play projects. This isn’t the issue at stake here.
What Gianturco is upset about (and by extension the players he represents) is that rapid and dynamic development of Eve’s core game – flying about in spaceships and blowing stuff up – seems to have been stymied thanks to CCP’s other projects. At one point this was the focus of every single expansion, but no longer. These other projects include both extending Eve via “Walking In Stations” and Planetary Interaction, and the two new games: Dust 514 and World Of Darkness. Gianturco and his allies believe that these are not things they wish to be paying for.
Clearly CCP were always going to have to pay for the development of their new game via the earnings from their first. This should surprise no-one, least of all Eve players. CCP have been a one-game company for a very long time indeed, and it was inevitable that they would want to branch out. Sadly this enormous growth seems to have coincided with poor expansions for Eve (some of them having little at all to do with “flying in space”) and a downturn in player numbers. As Gianturco points out, the expansions should yield a spike in players, but Incarna did nothing. And what a surprise: the kind of people who are interested in Eve’s cold, brutal spaceship wars aren’t lured back by avatars or rooms or trinkets. They want space war. Better space war.
What people are going to argue is that if they are still expected to pay a subscription, then the service provided had better be exemplary. If CCP still want to charge monthly, then players had better see the fruits of what they are paying for. Not just in new projects for CCP, but in better things for what remains the most interesting, innovative, and important MMO in existence. CCP have created a service, and that has created expectations. They are not being met.
Sure, make your new games, CCP, but don’t starve the golden goose. Or try to transform it into a cow. It’s my feeling that CCP should have invested doubly in Eve, and forgotten their baffling PS3-only F2P shooter project. Eve should be polished to the sparkle of a diamond by now, and the expansions for Eve should now be coming thick and fast: wormholes should have been an incredible new frontier for the game, ripe for the kind of etching in of detail that we’d already seen in the main galaxy. Combat and spaceship tech should be continuing its gradual evolution, and the most exciting aspects of the game – alliance functionality and territorial control – should have been given repeated passes. Players expression should have been facilitated, making that pirate dream more real, or allowing even more elegant tactics to be invented. Layering in irrelevant tech is evolving the game into a realm indifference, rather than excitement.
I personally felt the spark of the game disappear quite some time before all this, when changes to territory war did nothing to allow smaller factions to stake their claim. Coupling that with the ludicrous use of super-capital ships, the enjoyment I’d got from running small factions, skirmishing, and operating hit-and-run combat, was eroded to the point where I could no longer sustain interest in the game that I had loved more than any other. I’m not bitter, because those five years were incredible, unrepeatable, and massively valuable to me as a person, but I fear the current arc of development within the game is going to have a similar consequence for many other players. And I know how sad that can be. There will become no reason to pay a subscription to sustain the evolution of something that is changing in a way that is unappealing.
I hope there’s a way back for CCP, but I always said that Eve’s exciting and dynamic evolution could lead it into a dead end. Perhaps that is what is nearing. I guess we’ll find out soon enough.