Fanfest at a Distance

After five consecutive pilgrimages to Fanfest, the unique celebration of space nerds held annually in Reykjavik, I decided instead to do something different this year and stayed home to watch the proceedings on Twitch. It gave me a strange feeling.

I had become used to the persistent buzz and sense of hype that you get when you are surrounded by fellow fanatic capsuleers for three days. Watching Fanfest proceedings from hundreds of miles away through the online stream is definitely a much more detached and clinical experience.

Also, you drink a lot less beer.

Here are a few of my observations and opinions on Fanfest 2017, from my distant vantage point.

The Great Role-Playing Experiment

This year's Fanfest was a celebration of CCP Games' 20th anniversary since its founding, so I expected they would do something special to make this a different experience for attendees. To that end, CCP developed an in-game story about an outbreak of the deadly Kyonoke virus. The Fanfest location, at the Harpa center, became a role-playing experiment around this story: hosting a meeting of capsuleers to discuss containing the disease and stopping its spread throughout New Eden.

Ostensibly, this role-playing event was also being carried out simultaneously in EVE Online itself, around a citadel established at the system of Postouvin in the Solitude region.

While the level of participation at Fanfest was reportedly higher than expected, indicating a healthy appetite for role-playing events of this type, some players complained that the related in-game events around Postouvin were not as well executed - as it turns out, there was little to contribute by flying a ship to the H4-RP4 Kyonoke Inquest Center citadel. So, overall, it was a mixed success.

Still, kudos to CCP for trying this experiment. From what I've heard, it added flavor to the Fanfest experience. I hope this encourages CCP to hold similar in-game/real-world role-playing happenings at future EVE Online gatherings.

Hooray for Alphas

EVE Online's Executive Producer, CCP Seagull, began her keynote address by recapping all the key features and events of the prior year. The most significant of these was the release of the "free to play" Alpha clone option, which has been a strong success. Alpha clones make it much easier for lapsed players to return to EVE Online, and it provides an inviting entree for new players who want to sample the game.

Alphas have definitely increased the population of pilots in New Eden - though I'm concerned about the slow trend downwards in online counts since their initial introduction.

  The effect of the introduction of Alpha clones in November has had a significant positive impact on the average number of online players in EVE Online.

The effect of the introduction of Alpha clones in November has had a significant positive impact on the average number of online players in EVE Online.

I give CCP high marks for taking the time to introduce Alpha clones right. They carefully thought through what limits on skills and abilities these players should have, without making them unattractive to use - and at the same time, minimizing any negative impact on established subscribers. Alphas have been a very positive addition to EVE Online.

CSM Election Results

Six members of the eleventh Council of Stellar Management were re-elected to serve on CSM 12, which is a good thing, since last year's group did a more than competent job.

I fully expected CSM 12 to be dominated by players from null-sec alliances, and that is exactly what happened. Eight of the ten CSM positions were won by candidates based in null-sec space.

The mechanics of the CSM election are such that only well-organized groups have a chance to elect a representative, which means that the number of CSM members who play outside of null shall remain forever small - or non-existent. The remaining two seats were won by the capable wormhole pilot Noobman and good Steve Ronuken, industrialist and third-party application specialist.

Hopefully, this council will continue the tradition of CSM 11 and keep the interests of players in all types of space in mind. I hope they actively solicit the opinions of players in high-sec, low-sec and w-space, and factor these into their recommendations to CCP.

I, for one, am resigned to accepting our inevitable null-sec masters. May their term of service be magnanimous to those of us who dwell outside of their favored realm.

Finding Exoplanets

Project Discovery, the in-game citizen science project begun last year, will switch from analyzing proteins and structures in cells to looking for exoplanets. The EVE player base demonstrated their ability to digest and analyze a lot of data last year, and turning this towards space exploration is an exciting development - and in my opinion, makes more sense within the EVE universe. I can't wait to try it out.

All Hail Team Phenomenon!

For years, I have begged and pleaded for dynamic, reactive, unpredictable player-versus-environment (PvE) missions and encounters in EVE Online. We began to see bits of this with improved artificial intelligence in Drifter behavior, and again in a more robust form with NPC mining operations, both of which act more like players and not like predictable robots.

Of everything announced at Fanfest 2017, the one thing I am most excited about is continued development of truly world-class PvE content. The next step, to be released in May, are special Blood Raider shipyards which use advanced AI routines and realistic ship fittings to mimic player-piloted behavior.

Alas, these shipyards will only be found in null-sec space, but Team Phenomenon promises that this is just the first step, and we will eventually see really interesting PvE content throughout all of New Eden. Soon, intelligent-acting NPCs will add a whole new dimension of life and interaction in the game. I only wish it were happening faster.

Other Generally Cool Points of Interest

There were some other bits of news during Fanfest that are worth a quick mention:

Frigates of EVE Online - a new book with detailed cross-sections and explanations of what makes the most popular ships in the game work will be published this summer. It looks ultra-detailed and beautiful. Frigates of EVE will have a limited edition (1337 copies - get it?), but also a regular unlimited edition, just like the previously published EVE Source book. (Thanks to Cyrillian Voth for the correction on this!)

Graphics updates galore - CCP continues to upgrade the graphical look-and-feel of elements in the game. The venerable Vexor and Cormorant cruiser got a complete graphical redesign and are both now beautiful to behold. But more impressively, EVE's stars now come in far more detail and variety, and even with better sounds (which is weird in space, but who cares?).

Permaband in Rock Band - soon, you'll be able to pretend you're CCP Guard playing a song by CCP Games' in-house band in Rock Band. And here's a nice new EVE-inspired song from them, too...

Refinery Structures - the next phase of player-operated structures will be the medium and large refineries, which will be used for moon mining and reprocessing. The new mechanics for moon goo resource collection will require active player engagement, which is a good thing. See my prior post for an explanation about why I'm happy to see the new refineries, but not very excited about them. I long for a small, entry-level version of engineering complexes and refineries that would cater to the needs of solo entrepreneurs.

More tweaks to NPE - in a highlight of the opening keynote address, CCP Ghost described the ongoing improvements to be made to the new player experience in EVE Online. Specifically, he intends to give new players a greater sense of purpose by overhauling the character and ship selection processes, and emphasizing the connection of the character to their ship. This begins with a new introductory video: the Birth of the Capsuleer...

Simplifying EVE Currency - starting in May, PLEX will become the only in-game currency, as Aurum will be converted and PLEX will become much more granular, with a month of in-game time to cost 500 PLEX. Further, PLEX will be exchanged through a secure "vault", which means no more blowing up ships transporting PLEX in space. This makes me kind of sad.

A Future Vision, Updated

In her keynote address, CCP Seagull described her longer-term goals for EVE Online development. The eventual goal of enabling the colonization of new space still remains. In addition, the objective of turning an increasing amount of control of in-game elements to players continues. Eventually, this means players taking over all aspects of space travel, including control of stargates.

Citadels and similar player-operated structures are an important aspect of turning increasing degrees of control of game elements over to players. CCP Seagull committed to continuing development of structures, by adding more functionality to them and by introducing new structures with new capabilities over time.

Not as visible to players, but equally important to the long-term vision, has been the nature of space in EVE Online. To that end, CCP has been building tools for content creation, which started with Drifters and Circadian Seekers, and which is now expanding to more intelligent behavior by other non-player characters, such as the new Blood Raider shipyards. In short, NPCs will be given increasing amounts of agency and realistic interaction with players in EVE.

CCP Seagull committed to improved in-game content:

"We hear you when you say you want more and better PvE content in EVE Online. And we intend to make that in a way that fits in the depth of EVE Online gameplay and the EVE universe. Our vision is that the world itself, and its various NPC inhabitants, should play as much of a role in what happens in EVE Online as the actions that you players take - that the big challenge in playing EVE Online should not just be about figuring out what other players will do, but also to figure out how to master an environment and a world that requires you to innovate, where the answers are not all given or can be looked up in some guide. And we also believe that this world shouldn't just provide you with interesting gameplay challenges, it should also look and feel amazing."

The ultimate goal remains colonization of new space through stargates, but no definite timeframe has been released for their availability. "We are dreaming of the day that will happen, and building slowly towards it. But we will bring it to you only when we think it will be truly spectacular."

Until then, CCP Seagull says, the focus of the next major update, to be released in the winter of 2017, will be on using the new tools to create new and exciting content in Empire space. "Discovering what this [new content] is will be part of the new experience, as well."

NOTE: more details on CCP Seagull's vision can be found in this interview with Massively Overpowered

I find myself reacting to CCP Seagull's vision in two ways:

  • Disappointed that the prospect of exploring truly new space, and being able to colonize it, is still an unspecified time away. I like the direction very much, but I am very eager to arrive there. Yet, it sounds like this may still be years away from coming to fruition, sadly.
  • Delighted about the investment in a much more interactive and realistic world in Empire space. For several years now, content development in high-sec and low-sec has been relegated to back-burner status, while CCP focused on "fixing null-sec". It appears now, finally, that much-needed effort is coming to a suitable conclusion, and CCP now has the tools to truly revitalize and reinvigorate content options in Empire.

Did I say "delighted"? Forget that - I am ecstatic. This is exactly what I've been wanting to happen in EVE Online for over three years. I can't wait to hear the details. I'm definitely planning to attend EVE Vegas in October now. Hopefully, we'll then hear a few more clues about what the winter expansion will bring.

Regrets, I Have a Few

Do I regret not going to Iceland for Fanfest again this year? Well, yes and no.

I definitely missed reconnecting with online friends and reveling together about our shared adventure in New Eden. As good as CCP's Twitch stream production is, it can't replace catching up with fellow space nerds over a beer or three (or four or more...) and making new memories.

Nevertheless, I did appreciate the more relaxed feeling of watching Fanfest events from a distance. I observed most of this year's presentations with my feet propped up on my desk, sipping freshly-ground gourmet coffee. It gave me a more sober (yes, definitely a lot more sober) and objective point of view on the news and announcements.

But I haven't given up on live interaction with space friends altogether. I attended EVE Vegas last November and had a great time, and I fully intend on going to the slightly smaller American version of Fanfest once again on October 6-8. Based on the tease that CCP Seagull gave about the winter expansion, I anticipate that Vegas will be even more fun than last year.

Fly safe! o7

So Ends Fanfest 2016

Fanfest 2016 has ended. I won't recap all the specific news from the event here - for more details, see Drackarn's useful summaries on his blog, the news reports on Crossing Zebras, and the recorded streams to be available soon on CCP's Twitch and YouTube pages.

Instead, I thought I'd simply record some of my thoughts and impressions about my fifth Fanfest experience.

Much Good News for 0.0

I previously documented my disillusionment over the keynote addresses on the opening day of Fanfest in this post. The heaviest proportion of announced features will clearly provide the most benefits to players based in null-sec space, by far.

Regardless, it's very hard for me to dislike anything that I saw. The new Citadels are impressive structures, and will be a dramatic new addition to the game. Especially if you play in null security space, you're going to love Citadels, without a doubt. This is generally a very good thing.

However, I was also hoping for news in the opening keynotes about features for those of us who don't play in 0.0. Fortunately, during the last two days of Fanfest, I did hear a few interesting tidbits that encouraged me.

Goodbye to Perpetual Bumping

For example, bumping is being addressed - ships that are trying to align and warp, but are being bumped out of alignment continuously, will be able to warp off regardless after 3 minutes. That means that the strategy of bumping freighters out of range of gate guns to make ganking easier - or just bumping people for hours to make their lives miserable - will become nearly impossible. This is a good change - it still leaves plenty of room for professional gankers to operate in Uedama and Niarja, for example, but minimizes the harassment potential of bumping tactics.

If a ganking crew can't take down a target within three minutes, they either didn't bring enough ships, or they just stink at ganking. This little but important change might make me start flying my freighters again, and return to part-time space trucking.

Methinks I detect the hand of Mike Azariah in this change. If so, here's a tip of the hat and a hearty thank-you, Mike - and to whomever else is responsible.

More Hugs for Noobs

One highlight of the entire event for me was the higher level of interest in helping new players - this was a recurring theme. I have been long concerned about the need for EVE to do a better job in retaining novices, so I'm delighted to see a renewed focus on the new player experience (NPE).

I was very impressed by CCP Ghost, who was introduced in the opening keynote. He and his new Team Genesis are focusing on improving the NPE. In a roundtable discussion, CCP Ghost and CCP DelegateZero both emphasized the importance of making an emotional connection with new players by giving them more "pinnacle moments" earlier. They also talked about weaving the NPE inside a story-driven narrative, to provide better context about why EVE mechanics work as they do.

I also watched ScaredPanda talk about her "Newbro Experience" - she's a relatively new player, known primarily for her Twitch streaming about EVE Online with an emphasis on solo and small gang frigate PvP - something in which she has become quite accomplished. She was nervous and hesitant, but she had some good advice for new players.

The Importance of Story

Another theme I heard over and over was the importance of stories to the player experience in EVE Online. In his presentation about his new book, which chronicles the early history of the game, Andrew Groen explained that EVE Online's unique sandbox enables players to make their own stories within the game, and create a very real shared history.

In his opening and closing addresses, Hilmar talked about how EVE Online is a "story-making machine", and how that provides a unique player experience. CCP Ghost discussed the importance of connecting players to the backstory of the game, and enabling them to create their own narrative as they interact with and within the EVE universe.

Even the President of Iceland, Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, talked about how his country has long emphasized story-telling as a defining force of their culture, and how that is now made possible by CCP Games for people all over the world through EVE Online.

I recently wrote about the importance of story, and how EVE Online provides a uniquely valuable opportunity for players to experience crafting their own fantastic tales of victory or tragedy, heroism or cowardice, gain or loss. CCP recognizes that the true value of EVE Online comes from its amazing ability to be a story-making machine. This goes to the core of what makes us human - we all love stories, especially when we can play a critical role in them.

Will high-sec industry die?

Alas, there was little to be learned about industry structures, expected to be released in the fall. CCP Fozzie and CCP Nullabor briefly covered them in their structures presentation, but provided few details.

I'm keenly interested in the statistics for industry structures, which will come in medium, large and extra-large sizes. My principal question is: will they be viable platforms for solo or small gang invention and manufacturing in high-sec space? Certainly they will be used to great effect in 0.0, low-sec and even in wormholes, but I am not sure they will be profitable in empire, or if they can be properly defended against serial griefdec corps. I will be watching keenly for news, and will crunch the numbers when they eventually arrive.

For now, CCP devs were careful to emphasize that player-owned starbase (POS) towers are not going away, but their end is on the horizon. I'll be surprised to see if they are still being supported by next year's Fanfest. I'll continue to crank out Tech II modules using my POS arrays for now. Hopefully, I'll be able to use the new industry structures to replace my POS. Otherwise, I'll sadly close that aspect of my EVE career, and move on.

The Best Ship is Friendship

Over the last three days, I spoke with many comrade capsuleers, and we generally agreed that if CCP Games had withheld all the news about Citadels, and released it in one massively big hyped-up announcement at Fanfest, as they used to do before they moved to a more frequent incremental update schedule, then this would have been the most amazing Fanfest ever. We'd all have been blown away by the artwork, the new mechanics, and the amazing potential of the new structures.

But we have been spoiled by the openness of CCP Games. They have been releasing bits of news in dev blogs about Citadels for months. The net result is that there was not much news to share at Fanfest itself. After the opening day's keynote addresses, I couldn't help but feel a little let down - and my feelings were far from unique.

Regardless, I'm glad I went to Fanfest, because the main reason for going is to meet and talk and celebrate with fellow devotees of the EVE universe. In this regard, I had a fantastic time, and that made the whole trip worthwhile. It's hard not to have a good time during Fanfest, and I will most likely return once again next year - which will be my sixth pilgrimage to Reykjavik.

Fanfest 2017 will be on April 6-8. I've already marked my calendar.

Fly safe! o7

Fanfest 2016 Opening Day Impressions

Today was the first day of Fanfest in Reykjavik. It was a bright, sunny and brisk morning, and I strolled into the Harpa conference center with enthusiastic anticipation. CCP Games stacked all the major keynote addresses into the first day, so that the developers would be free to chat openly with all the attendees during the remainder of the event. I was expecting to hear a lot of exciting news about plans for the future - both imminent and for the longer term.

Alas, I ended the day disappointed.

Some Good News

Make no mistake - there were some good bits of news presented. Hilmar set a good positive tone, as any good CEO should. CCP Games is in the best financial position in years, and a profitable CCP is good news for anyone who enjoys playing their games. There have been some solid successes in the company's virtual reality (VR) offerings, EVE:Gunjack and EVE:Valkyrie. The PC-based Project Nova is shaping up to be a better free-to-play replacement for the discontinued PS3-based DUST 514 first-person shooter. Even the discarded World of Darkness intellectual property found a suitable new home.

Regardless, I ended the day feeling disillusioned - even a little depressed.

I will not recap all of the details of the proceedings. You can go read Drackarn's solid first-day summary. Instead, this post will focus on why I left the Harpa at the end of the day in a dour mood, instead of feeling uplifted and excited.

A Good Day for Null-Sec

If you are part of the 15 percent of EVE Online players who operate mostly in 0.0 space, you undoubtedly liked everything you heard in CCP Seagull's EVE Online keynote session:

  • New big citadels to play with and explode
  • New pirate capital ships with absurd bonuses
  • New capabilities for the Rorqual industrial capital ship, with cool new mining drones
  • New industrial and drilling structures coming soon
  • More interesting gameplay coming for warfare links soon

And then there is the CSM XI election - or should we rename the Council of Stellar Management to the "Council of Null-Sec Dudes, plus Steve Ronuken"? The turnout for CSM XI was the lowest in six years, and as a result, the null-sec power blocs and affiliates secured every slot except one.

Good for the null-sec blocs - they all voted as instructed. It's just too bad that CSM XI already fails as a representative body for the entire EVE Online player base. In the past, the majority of CSM positions were won by null-sec candidates, but at least there were token representatives for w-space, low-sec, high-sec and other interests in the game. The CSM XI team will be all null-sec, all the time - except for Steve.

I feel sorry for Steve.

Not Much for the Rest of Us

If you are part of the 85 percent of EVE Online players who don't principally play in null-sec space (using CCP Quant's statistics), then you probably felt like me, and were left wondering, "Is that it?"

Apparently, we are "somewhere in the middle" of CCP Seagull's development roadmap, shown with a line bisecting a vague timeline. I learned exactly nothing from this, except that we are "somewhere in the middle" of something happening sometime - maybe. Hopefully.

  So, we are "right about there" in CCP Seagull's development roadmap, as shown by the line - whatever that means. (Image stolen with apologies to  Drackarn from his post .)

So, we are "right about there" in CCP Seagull's development roadmap, as shown by the line - whatever that means. (Image stolen with apologies to Drackarn from his post.)

I did like the news about the phone application in development - soon, high-sec corps will finally be able to get instant mobile notifications whenever there's a new griefdec. So, that's something, I guess.

Oh, and mining barges and exhumers are getting a makeover. Yay.

Perhaps the topical presentations and roundtable discussions tomorrow and Saturday will make me feel a little better. But for today, as a former high-sec based industrialist and now wormhole explorer and pacifist space hippie, I'm feeling a little ignored. Perhaps we in the unimportant 85 percent of the player base should just leave Fanfest to the 0.0 crowd, as it seems to be so inordinately oriented to that elite and exclusive audience.

Really, I'm not bitter. Do I sound bitter?

Well, perhaps I am, a little.

A Few Nice Highlights

One bright spot was the introduction of CCP Ghost, who will be tackling the new player experience (NPE). Ghost impressed me as a smart man with an interesting background and a fresh outside perspective. Here is someone who seems to understand the importance of story, and how players can build an emotional attachment to their characters as they develop within the story of EVE Online, to the point that they can then start to make their own stories. His presentation was short on details, but I liked what I heard. I'm planning to join the NPE roundtable discussion, and will hopefully learn more.

My charming bride and I also had a chance to try out the Project Arena prototype, which was a lot of fun. Think of Tron flying disc fighting and you get the idea - a very good VR experience.

I also enjoyed Andrew Groen's session about his book, A History of the Great Empires of New Eden. I also got him to sign my copy.

What will the rest of Fanfest bring?

Regardless, my high hopes to be wowed in the opening keynote addresses of Fanfest 2016 were dashed. Perhaps my expectations were too high. Perhaps the focus of Fanfest really is on just the most vocal null-sec devotees, and not on any of the remaining player base, and I just didn't know - hard to believe since this is my fifth Fanfest trip, and I've never really felt that way before, but I guess it's possible. Or perhaps I'll hear a few bits of news in the next two days that make me feel like CCP hasn't forgotten players like me.

We shall see. I will share what I discover here, so stay tuned.

Fly safe! o7