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Thursday, September 8, 2011

Blog Banter 28: "The Future of EVE Online, CCP and the CSM"

There are so many great responses to this so far that I cannot list them all here. For the complete list please look to the Blog Banter page at: http://freebooted.blogspot.com/2011/09/blog-banter-28-future-of-eve-online-ccp.html.

First a disclaimer, I am not pro-CCP or anti-CCP - beyond the fact that I love their game and will continue playing it until the bitter end if need be. What I say here, in a hopefully understandable manner, is more analytically than critical. There are plenty of critics and some even employ excellent analytics. But this is a thought experiment, not a rail-gun. It will be no where as exciting as sharks-with-freaking-laser-beams.

That said, let's begin the thought experiment. In your mind, go back in time to the beginning of the year. Incursion was just released. Smart Sansha slaves started showing up in all sorts of systems from hi-sec to null-sec. It was actually a very good expansion with something offered that players clamored for for years (smarter rats.) Though opinions vary greatly, this was an enormous expansion to the game and something the silent majority had wanted for quite some time (myself included.)

Now what? That is what CCP must have asked themselves over and over. In fact, they'd been asking themselves that very question for quite some time. T2, wormholes, incursions and all those FiS things were planned years in advance. How do I know? Because that is how business plans work the world over. It was all planned. So, now what?

What could CCP bring to the game that they had not already done? More null-sec? More smart NPCs? More wormholes? More ships? Sorry folks, that just doesn't work in the game industry or any industry. That is called "the status quo" and it is a story line to End Game. What else could they add to FiS?

Let's start with what EVE has:

  • spaceships (three different tech levels with mostly the same gear for them)
  • space stations (both NPC and player)
  • moons (moon goo)
  • planets (planetary industry, so much more than Farmville!)
  • advanced alien foes (Sansha)
  • arch rivals (read faction warfare)
  • private empires (read null-sec)
  • pirate havens (read low-sec)
  • "Beware: beyond here be monsters" (read worm holes and sleepers)
To be sure lots of this needs some "fixing" but what else does a space opera (which is what EVE is if you didn't know) need? Frankly, there isn't anything else. Think about it. Run through all the space operas you've ever watched or read about. Take ST:TNG for instance. Let's run through the list again:
  • spaceships (from NCC-1701D to the Borg cubes)
  • space stations (K-9 anyone, Farpoint Station (technically not but cool))
  • moons (several figured prominently)
  • planets (hundreds of them)
  • advanced alien foes (Hello, Borg! Oh, and don't forget Q.)
  • arch rivals (Klingons, Romulans and Ferengi, oh my!)
  • private empires (Do Orion slave traders count?)
  • pirate havens (more than a few rogues)
  • "Beware: beyond here be monsters" (the Delta quadrant, "The Traveller" episode.)
And there isn't much else is there? I think if you'd run this through any of the space operas, the list is fairly complete. So where else do you really expect CCP to go? Where else can EVE expand? If you think FiS will attract more players going into the future if it is simply made better, I think your wrong. How long until "been there, done that" trumps "wow, Internet spaceships?" If my years in gaming have shown me anything, it's that players are mostly in it for the new experience, not the same old experience with a new skin. The silent majority will bleed away more quietly than they played if all CCP did was the same ol' same ol'.

This thought experiment doesn't even begin to address the limitations the EVE platform placed on "fixing those things that need fixed." Having been around computers most of my life and making a living at it, IMO most of the "broken" things have their roots in what the developers can actually code. That's a platform limitation and a serious one. Remember the dev blog many months ago that discussed how Incarna lowers bandwidth consumption tremendously? That's the tip of the iceberg folks. Lag in massive fleet fights? Platform limitation. Limits on how many players can occupy a given system? Platform limitation. Just how much database power does it take to track 3 different technology levels and the redundant modules you find in all of them? That's a lot of platform people. Throwing hardware at it is expensive and won't work. I've seen that fail often enough to know better. The platform includes the software and that must change first. Software drives hardware. Together they make platform.

And CCP has been working on their platform. They have been working hard. They've made huge gains in database capabilities. The new Captain's Quarter's save lots of bandwidth. Moving off Python for anything is a huge gain. Think about all the incremental little wins they've had fighting the lag monster in fleet fights. There have been numerous hardware upgrades. CCP has not been complacent and not all their resources go to Dust 514 - not even close I think.

So now to the big question. Is EVE dying? Yes - and no. EVE is evolving. In every evolutionary step, the old creature type dies as the new creature type out competes it. It is the same process that occurs between species but it does not have the same result. In inter-species competition, one losses when the other wins. In evolution, there is no loser. In the end, there will be a new species similar but not the same as the old species. It will have kept the best of what it was and added what it needs to survive. The old species as it was will in fact have gone extinct. Standing in its place will be a somewhat similar looking, more upright tool user with an atlatl. That is the proper way of things. It is how species cheat entropy and it works. You are living proof of it.

So EVE must evolve. CCP knows this. They have been working on it for years. Yes, money is tight. This rotten economy was unexpected and they launched a major endeavor just before it hit. You should laud them that they went ahead with it anyway. That took balls, I'm telling you. They don't always communicate their intent well, but I believe their hearts are in the right place. I am willing to trust them. After all, it's only money.

So what of the CSM? I'll go back to the evolution analogy. It was recently discovered that two archaic human species, Neanderthal and Denisovan, contributed much to the immune system of non-African Homo Sapiens. Though those two archaic human species are extinct today (they failed to evolve,) they contributed significantly to most of your ancestor's survival. We carry there legacy within us now.

That is what the CSM must keep in mind. I feel its days as a separate species are numbered. It is both an asset and a liability to CCP. Lately it seems it is more liability than asset. It cannot survive in the current environment IMHO and most EVE players don't care about it (less than 1 in 5 even bothered to vote when it was made terribly easy to do so.) However, it can leave a legacy within what is to come. That won't happen if the CSM tries to fight CCP. They'll lose that fight for certain. As crude as it sounds, the CSM must mate with CCP. There, I've said it. I've carried the analogy too far. Stop giggling.

If the CSM really wants to help FiS survive, they need to help CCP understand how to bring those that love FiS together with those that love WiS. They have to embrace Incarna. They have to open the doors to their Captain's Quarters and breath deeply the stale, recycled air as they stand on their own two feet. Instead of pointing out everything that is wrong with Incarna and making ultimatums, they should wax poetic about what Incarna ought to be, what it can be, what it will be (credit to General Douglas MacArthur.) If the individual members cannot do that, then they should step aside. There are alternates who can. Sometimes politicians have to do what's right, instead of what their poorly informed and panicky electoral base wants. This is something Homo Sapiens evidently have a hard time learning and an even harder time accepting. But if the CSM wants EVE to survive, in whatever future form it takes, they must do it.

For those who love the EVE of yesterday and find the future I outline uncomfortable, just remember this: you are still an upright, tool-using, creative hominid of the genus Homo. We've changed a lot in the millions of years it's taken us to get to Internet spaceships, but we are still here. EVE as we know it now will be too, even after the DUST 514 settles.

Take heart! Fly careful.

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Be civil, be responsible and most of all be kind. I will not tolerate poor form. There will be no James Hooks here. We are all better than that.