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Friday, July 27, 2012

We are the Cogs of a Social Engine

There is a new interview with Eve’s senior producer, Jon Lander, over on Gamasutra. It is a good read though some of it is rehash of where CCP went wrong last year and how the company has course corrected. The rest is both alarming and reassuring at the same time.

The most interesting quote, IMO, is, “[EVE] isn’t a game, EVE is a social engine.” I’ve heard words like this before. I don’t quite know how I feel about the statement. I think I’d like to spend my 200th Eve post mumbling about some of my ruminations on it.

To make sense of it, I have to decide what a social engine is first.  There is no definition of one that I can find. To take it literally though, it is a device by which a social engineer can influence society in the same way a lawn mower is used by a home owner to keep the grass short. Influencing society is what a social engineer does. This alarmed me. I’d already been suspicious of CCP trying this sort of manipulation on capsuleers since the much disliked Incarna. Had CCP really not seen the errors of its ways? Were they still manipulating Eve players for some business reason not strictly related to Internet spaceships?

To answer that, I have to ask myself what motivates CCP. Is it to have a fun and enjoyable Internet spaceship game, or is it to be a successful business. I come down on the successful business side of that question. If CCP is not first a successful business, the rest is irrelevant.

To that end, what does CCP need to be a successful business – or more accurately, a more successful business? I don’t think it is Eve Online. Eve Online is a revenue earner for certain. Subscription numbers are rising again, if slowly. I don’t really see this on Tranquility but that does not include the Chinese server that is separate from the rest of us (I wish it wasn’t President Hu.) Taken together they most certainly show subscription growth in active accounts.

But I don’t see Eve Online as being a growth venture for CCP. That is what Dust 514 is. In that regard, it is more important for the success of the business than Eve Online. If I were running CCP, I would certainly apply social engineering via my social engine to get capsuleers more into a social frame of reference to support that project.

In short, I’d stir the pot and create a hornet’s nest of conflict. As I’ve said before, that is what Dust 514 is all about. There is too much there to be coincidental. I know how high level planning sessions go from my own personal experience. But don’t take my wild speculation on that. To quote the interview, “We’ve got a theme. We’ve got some business goals.” (Emphasis mine.) What are those? The article spells it out plainly, “one that will drive the movement of players and resources in the game, even those who don’t engage in PvP combat.” (Emphasis mine again.)

Do you still think Mabrick is full of crap? Does it rile you to think CCP is manipulating “your” game? Don’t be. This social engine is unlike any engine you’ve seen.

There is great benefit for us in this manipulation… and at this juncture, perhaps friendly encouragement is a better term. You see, I don’t think this is done with the least bit of malice on CCPs part. Quite the contrary I’ll wager. Though I’d like them to be a bit more honest with themselves (and us) about the fact that it exists, this friendly encouragement is taking CCP and Eve Online in the best possible direction.

Firstly, anything that enables CCP to grow as a business is good for all of us. Remember how sad we all were last summer when the result of our distain for Incarna was the loss of so many jobs? If you don’t feel even a shred of quilt about that you are niggardly and should be ashamed. This bit of social engineering that is Inferno should go a long way toward making amends for those decisions (from all sides, unsubscriber and hubrisite alike) that made those layoffs necessary.  If it helps Dust 514 to become successful, if it allows some of those jobs to return, it will be worth it. It will not remove the guilt, but it will make it easier to live with.

Another benefit coming from this friendly encouragement is a more robust player community. I’ve been playing Eve online for over four years. In the past three months or so, I have had more interactions with other capsuleers than I’d wager I had over all the other months. There have been people I disagreed with. There have been people who disagreed with me. There have been people who even agreed with me. There have been incredible acts of support.

I will never forget the night Karn Prime jumped his Drake through three gates to fly escort for Keiko, my Orca, as I made my Planetary Interaction run while MABMM was war-decced by Goonswarm. For lack of a better term, letters of support came from many unexpected directions. I have made new friends, learned to respect my adversaries (even though I malign them constantly,) and generally have a more concrete connection to those with whom I share this game. Believe me, that isn’t a bad thing.

Today I feel like I am truly a citizen of New Eden rather than just a tenant of Essence. It makes me feel good. That is strange considering the heart of that connection is a long running discord with null-sec alliances and specifically Goonswarm. But there you have it. I may never see eye-to-eye with them, but I am getting to know them better. They will undoubtedly say I need to work on that a lot more, but at least there is more of a connection than before. And it is all moving in the right direction from the friendly encouragement perspective.

Lastly, in order to guide us, CCP has to know us. I have to concede the company seems to have embraced this at last. This is perhaps the only really good thing that came from last summer’s turmoil. And though Mr. Lander stated it’s not their game anymore, I feel he is incorrect. Before Incarna, it was CCP’s game. Now it belongs to all of us – CCP and customer alike. That is the healthiest form of business relationship and one I whole heartedly support – even if I have to PvP (gods I can’t believe I just typed that.)

So that’s the other side of the social engine mechanism. In this instance, it’s one of those machines that functions both ways. From one side, it delivers behavioral modifications designed to meet business success goals. From the other side, it delivers feedback on how those modifications are best implemented. And overall, it keeps the conversations flowing from top to bottom, bottom to top and, perhaps more importantly, from side to side. We are all in this together now – even when we agree to disagree.

For tl;dr, I can’t put it better than Mr. Lander did,
"We build a social engine that people actually love, hate, despise each other, love each other, backstab each other, and play the good Samaritan. People know each other, and there is this history. They feel a big emotional attachment to that, and that keeps them coming."
I certainly hope so.

Fly careful.


  1. People are the key to success, "good" and "bad".
    Its this simple?

  2. "Firstly, anything that enables CCP to grow as a business is good for all of us."

    Stop. Just stop. You lost me, right there, because I keep seeing this, and there is so much wrong here I don't know where to begin.
    Know what would "grow" EVE and thus CCP? Making EVE into every other "generic PvE game with some-PvP-content-tacked-on", except in Spaaaaaceee ... make it something that the "mainstream" MMO crowd who's used to no-consequence, feel-good-all-the-time gameplay, could get into.... subs can and WOULD go up. No question about it. Add awesome PvE content, regular GM live-events, and relegate PvP to low and null (and perhaps then only certain parts of each, after all, with entitled persons 1 inch == 1 mile == 100 miles ... and so on)... and watch the dollar signs roll in.
    Would that be good for EVE? Well, perhaps, in the same way that communism would be "good for America". _Might_ be "good", but it wouldn't be America anymore. Same diff.

    "Anything that's good for x, is good for a-z," I'm pretty sure that's the opposite of the "reductio ad absurdum" logical phallus-y, perhaps "decreasum cogitas infinitum, ad beyondum", or something like that.

    Also, to answer the tl;dr: who the hell plays "Good Amarrian" in EVE? White Knight gameplay is not a valid strategy in EVE, you know. And that's perhaps really too bad.

    1. Also, to answer the tl;dr: who the hell plays "Good Amarrian" in EVE?


    2. Just remember, I did not say best for us. I only say good for us. Best is a subjective term as you have quite pointed out with your particular vision. But when you compare successful CCP to bankrupt CCP auctioning of Trinity to pay it's debt, successful CCP is indeed good for us.

    3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. @Mabrick:
    Bravo sir, bravo. An excellent post, I really have nothing more to add than that.


  4. “[EVE] isn’t a game, EVE is a social engine.”

    I hate this statement. Eve is, of course, both. As Jester's post today points out CCP got into trouble last year when they forgot this, went to far down the social route. After all if Eve isn't a game who needs space ships, let's have some nice Captain's Quarters to roleplay in.

  5. I would guess that they mean something different from what you read when they say "social engine". You read it as "something to be used for social engineering". I suspect, however, that they meant it in the same way that game devs talk about "physics engines" or "game engines". A physics engine is code that does physics calculations for you, and allows you to tack them into a game so that that game has physics. A game engine is something to which you can add content so that you have a game. (E.g. the "RAGE" engine of Rockstar, on which they built GTA IV.)

    Read this way, the EVE "social engine" is "something put in place so that our players can interact with each other."

    Of course, I'm very cynical about this interpretation. To me, it sounds like them trying to jump on the "social networking" bandwagon, and show investors (or whomevever) that "hey, look at Twitter! We're like that!" It's buzzword bingo. While, yes, there is some truth in that interpretation, choosing to spin EVE that way sounds like trying to hitch it on to a bandwagon that doesn't entirely fit it.

  6. I just wanted to say, thank you Mabrick and congratulations on your 200th Eve-post. I really enjoy reading the stuff you put down here, and other than Jester's Trek you are definitly my favorite Blogger to sit down down and relax to while I sponge up some great Eve discourse or other. Sure I read plenty of other Blogs for Eve Online but you are tied with Jester for #1 ! Please please don't ever quit lol.. Cheers!


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