Fear And Monocles

“There is a pretty overwhelming perception amongst EVE players that these changes are bad. I think they’re brilliant, but our players don’t. We’re going to face an uphill struggle, and the reason many of us never talk about this publically is that we’d be burned at the stake by the players.”

— Kristoffer Touborg, from the leaked “Fearless” internal CCP discussion pamphlet

Eve’s current woes are interesting for a number of reasons. Let’s run through them quickly.

First, the Eve playerbase feels both empowered and angry. They feel very much as though they should have a voice in how the game is run. CCP has not disagreed with this, and their “Council of Stellar Management” player advisory council is currently winging its way to Iceland, at CCP’s expense (and knowing the expense of last-minute airline reservations, more than cancelling any benefit from selling virtual monocles). We’ve seen player protests in MMOs before, but this is the first overt player riot – enabled in part by Eve’s own strengths of being a unitary server game so that if, say, someone decides it’s a good idea to shoot up a statue commemorating the in-game NPC leaders as a political gesture, it can get legs.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cCHDMf6i3Vk

In-game political ownership, and a sense of that extending out of the game into the game’s corporate management, is not new to Eve – virtual worlds in general elicit that sense of ownership. (See the fury at Star Wars Galaxies’ NGE changes, or Prokofy Neva’s various writings demanding that Linden Lab not be permitted to run their own product without some sort of oversight). Part of the bargain of setting people loose to build your world for you – or more accurately, the social constructs that help build that world – is that those people tend to value their labor more than yours. And they should. Without the value added by its players, Eve is a spreadsheet simulator, Second Life is literally nothing whatsoever and Star Wars Galaxies is, well, post-NGE Star Wars Galaxies.

The NGE is illustrative here as well, in that, like that ill-fated attempt by SOE to move Star Wars Galaxies in a more mainstream direction, CCP appears to have plans for its MMOs that Eve players aren’t very interested in. Eve is a very hardcore, complicated, and most importantly, abstract game. The great majority of Eve players don’t care about monocles, they care about extracting 3% more efficiency out of their missile launcher speeds. The drama about $25 virtual shirts and $60 virtual monocles in the item store is amusing, the “walking in a small room in your spaceship” feature Incarna added to justify said item store is also amusing, but what enrages Eve players is the thought that they might have to pay $50 – or $5 – tomorrow to get that 3% missile launcher efficiency. Or worse, that someone else would. That was the part of the leaked internal discussion/propaganda leaflet that so enraged the Eve playerbase, where one member of the “point/counterpoint” discussion advocated exactly that. And that was why an Eve producer posting to the official blog finally said, point blank, in an attempt to calm the rioting, “there are no and never have been plans to sell “gold ammo”” (contradicting another section of said leaked document which said explicitly that ammunition sales were in fact under consideration).

Still, the fact remains – CCP introduced an item shop to Eve, a game which very vehemently did not need, nor want one. They patched in ambulatory avatars, in a game where most players ever appear only as abstract radar widgets, specifically to support that item shop. CCP is taking their game in places that their players do not want it to go. And the players know this. And they are angry.

To state the brutally obvious: this is not how to handle microtransactions. In fact, this is probably a textbook case in how NOT to handle microtransactions (a story that has been written already, actually). And in a hardcore abstract game such as Eve, I’m not sure microtransactions can even work, at least without alienating almost every player Eve currently has – in other words, an NGE-style extinction level event. And CCP is not a stupid company. They have one of the most successful independently-run MMOs in the market today. They effectively own the niche of PvP virtual worlds, to the point that fans are angry at the realization they have nowhere else to go.

The conspiracy theory one is tempted to indulge in, then, given that brutally obvious fact – is CCP, in fact, intentionally forcing an extinction level event? Do they want to alienate the hardcore playerbase that helped give the company the motto “harden the f*ck up”?

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VgvM7av1o1Q

As a possible reason for this: World of Tanks has over 3 million accounts, today announced a publishing deal to appear in retail stores, and sells ammo that blows up other tanks far better at 5 to 7 cents a shot. Clearly the revenue model works. At least for people who aren’t paying a subscription fee to a game that isn’t World of Tanks. And that last key point may be what CCP forgot in its Aurum rush.

I suspect CCP can still recover player good will and staunch the bleeding of what anecdotally are already a significant number of cancelled accounts – but it needs to be done quickly.

“The most visible example of another game introducing virtual goods sales is certainly LOTRO. It is worth pointing out though that they made almost everything microtransaction based and at the same time removed subscription fees. Because other games with very different communities and very different gameplay styles are able to do something it doesn’t mean we can do the same thing with the same levels of success.”

“More revenue is of course an aim, but making our customers feel like they are being “double billed” to be able to play on the same level as others is just a step too far.”

— John Turbefield, from the leaked “Fearless” internal CCP discussion pamphlet

 

There Ain’t No Drama Like Spaceship Drama Cause Spaceship Drama Don’t Stop (Now With 200% More Cats)

This week in Eve:

Incarna shipped! You can now walk in your spaceship. No one else can see you walk in your spaceship but yep you’re walking. So there you go.

The in-game clothing store also shipped. You can now spend $60 on a monocle. To be fair, it’s a really nice monocle and I think monocles cost about $60 in real life. Oh wait, sorry, I meant $6. So there you go.

Most players responded with “What was CCP thinking?” This being Eve, someone promptly leaked exactly what CCP was thinking. (hint: pretty much exactly what you think they were thinking)

The Eve player base responded with the calm demeanor you’d expect by, um, literally rioting. The devs responded with, uh, yeah.

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? 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.

If you do not buy a $60 monocle A LOSER IS YOU. So there you go.

BREAKING BAD CEO EDIT: Apparently EveNews got their hands on an internal email sent out by CEO Hilmar Petturson to CCP employees regarding the rioting in the streets, er, spaceways? about Eve’s newfound love for macrotransactions (when microtransactions just aren’t big enough!). It’s important to note that there’s no confirmation Petturson actually wrote this. Because…

Naturally, we have caught the attention of the world. Only a few weeks ago we revealed more information about DUST 514 and now we have done it again by committing to our core purpose as a company by redefining assumptions. After 40 hours we have already sold 52 monocles, generating more revenue than any of the other items in the store.

That’s right, biyotches, CCP made THREE. THOUSAND. DOLLARS. Truly, this amount of money from vanity store items is unprecedented in the MMO industry.

Currently we are seeing _very predictable feedback_ on what we are doing. Having the perspective of having done this for a decade, I can tell you that this is one of the moments where we look at what our players do and less of what they say.

Or, as Hilmar The Very Savvy Business Cat says…

But the best/worst part, that makes me really hope for Petturson’s sake that this is some clever troll of a forgery or possibly the work of a very drunk Icelandic summer pub crawl, is this line:

But we have done more, not only have we redefined the production quality one can apply to virtual worlds with the beautiful Incarna but we have also defined what it really means to make virtual reality more meaningful than real life when it comes to launching our new virtual goods currency, Aurum.

I…. what was that, Hilmar The Cat That Leverages Synergy?

So there you go. You go.

I Feel A Disturbance In The Force, As If Several Servers Cried Out In Terror, And Then Were Silenced

SOE to close Star Wars Galaxies in December.

On December 15, 2011, Sony Online Entertainment (SOE) and LucasArts will end all services (MMO and Trading Card Game) for Star Wars Galaxies (SWG). The shutdown of SWG is a very difficult decision, but SOE and LucasArts have mutually agreed that the end of 2011 is the appropriate time to end the game.

The launch of a different Star Wars-related MMO by a competitor in late 2011 is, no doubt, a coincidence.

Massively has more from John Smedley on SWG’s closure.

The decision to shut down SWG is first and foremost a business decision mutually agreed upon between SOE and LucasArts. LucasArts has a new game coming out, and the contract would be running out in 2012 anyway, so we feel like it’s the right time for the game to end.

SOE has taken flak for various problems in the game’s past — do you think the company will take a reputation hit for this decision, and are you prepared for that?

There’s really nothing we can do about it. We’ve taken some hard-knocks for SWG in years past with the NGE. We’ve apologized for it. It was a mistake, and not one we’re going to make as a company ever again. But we’re really proud of the great work that we’ve done over the years since then. I’m really proud of the game. It’s great. Is it going to bum people out that it’s over? Yes. Including us. Maybe even especially us.

How is the staff taking it?

Well, nobody’s losing his job or anything. They’re going to be transferred onto an undisclosed new project in Austin.

For now, I leave you with the best of SWG:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1aqSp7Qji-M

And The Lamb Lies Down In A Crate On Broadway

Your frequently asked questions about the dude shipping himself cross-country while playing LotRO.

1: He has a friend driving him across the country on a truck, so no, it’s not just “sticking a tag on a box and mailing yourself Fed-Ex”.

2: Performance art would be my guess. Also the fact that bloggers like myself really can’t resist stupid stories like this.

3: Probably not a Warden since they’re pretty latency-dependent!

4: 7 days.

5: Yeah, it is pretty dumb

6: I’m pretty sure it’s not technically against the law to lock yourself in a crate for a week.

7: Yeah, I’d be worried about the hard drive, too.

8:

Always Bet On Poo

Always bet on Catholic schoolgirls.

Duke Nukem Forever is out. No, really! It only took 15 years. So now people can talk about the game as opposed to the development drama.

Surprisingly, a shooter that took 15 years to make about a foul-mouthed Schwarzenegger clone did not address the same target market as, say, Shadow of the Colossus or Braid. To quote Ars Technica:

In the first few moments of Duke Nukem Forever, your character pees in a urinal and then earns an achievement for reaching into a toilet and extracting a piece of human excrement. Why does the game reward you for doing this? I have no idea. It’s not part of a joke or important to the story; the designers of the game apparently feel that you would miss out by not holding some poo in your virtual hand.

So, this is not a game that is not going to make you feel deeply about life, unless to you life is poo (in which case, Blizzard’s World of Warcraft has entire quest lines that will bring you fulfillment). This is a game where… well, here, look at the cover.

WHAT WERE YOU EXPECTING, PEOPLE. This is not subtle! Look, there’s a nuclear explosion, and Vegas, and aliens, and covering all of that is some big guy who is waiting patiently for you to give his pistol a blowjob. This is not Shakespeare! Well, except for the plays we don’t talk about. This is the very epitome of embarrassing low brow entertainment. This is, to put not too fine a point on it, the gaming equivalent of a strip club. Which is fine! The fact that strip clubs exist do not prevent you from going to a sushi bar for a nice dinner. It’s a big world, and they coexist peacefully. Plus, if you do want to go to a strip club (and I’m totally not judging you here, really) you’re not going to consult the reviews first. “Oh, I’m not going to Spearmint Rhino tonight, the review in Friday’s Times said it was loud and overrated.” NO! You just go! You just buy the game, and you play it, and you maybe giggle slightly nervously as you blow pregnant rape victims apart with your shotgun. You just DO, OK?

This is why reviewers exist, really. They exist to have FUN with games like these. Such as the above-mentioned Ars Technica review:

I have to install and play this piece of garbage on the PC to see how that version holds up, and make sure there’s nothing to be salvaged from the multiplayer.

Or Destructoid:

A festering irrelevance with nothing to offer the world.

Or Gamespot:

While much of Duke Nukem Forever is embarrassingly bad–the kind of game you point and laugh at–its biggest problem is that it’s so tedious…This game takes an icon and turns him into a laughingstock. Except, no one’s laughing.

Or the Escapist:

A deeply flawed game that I would have stopped playing after five minutes were it not a requirement of my job to play longer.

This is what reviewers pray for nightly. A game that is so awfully, joyously unreviewable that every drop of snark they can muster can just masterfully splatter all over the virtual page. Reviewers are grateful for things like this. Such as this review of the movie aimed at the identical target market for DNF, Sucker Punch.

The first is its complete failure to create any sort of meaningful narrative. To be blunt: This movie is dumb and doesn’t make sense and appears to have been written by sleeping frogs.

Now come on. Admit it. The reviewer loved writing this. I mean, you can’t use “appears to have been written by sleeping frogs” for, say, the latest Pirates of the Caribbean movie. Sometimes a movie, or a game, is just so gloriously off the rails that you rejoice at being able to bust out the metaphors you never, ever get away with.

Which makes the hamfisted attempts at ‘damage control’ by Jim Redner, until-very-recently-2K’s public relations rep, even more odd.

too many went too far with their reviews…we r reviewing who gets games next time and who doesn’t based on today’s venom

What? No! You don’t threaten people with access to content management publishing systems to stop using content management publishing systems! Much like DNF wallows in the joy of its own affection for poo, its PR team should wallow in the joy of the reviews that point out it’s poo. Link to them! Celebrate them! Give DukePoints to whomever uses the most spittle-flecked metaphors! You’re poo, you like poo, roll around in the poo and smile while you show everyone your poo!

And then, announce Duke Nukem Forever After. 2012 release.

A (Lack Of) Programming Note

I’ve gone ahead and switched the internal blog commenting system back on. The forums will stick around in their current woefully ignored state (I’ll probably need them for something else eventually) but I haven’t had the time to integrate them fully into WordPress as I planned to, so they tend to be more of a hindrance to commenting on things for all save the hardest of core.

We meant to do better, but it came out as always.” – Viktor Chernomyrdin, typically cheerful Russian politician