Taking One for the Team

CCP RubberBand announced in a dev post that industry Teams are to be removed from the game. This new feature, introduced in the Crius expansion last summer, allowed industrialists to bid on specialized non-player character teams who provided material and time efficiency bonuses on manufacturing and research jobs in a system.

CCP Games hoped that this would encourage players to coordinate their bids, since winning a Team's services would help all industry in a given system for a limited time. In theory, Teams would reduce the higher production and research job costs in high-industry usage systems.

In actual practice, this did not come to fruition. According to CCP RubberBand, the Teams feature saw "single-figure percentage use in manufacturing jobs and near nonexistent use in research." Therefore, CCP Games has decided to phase out the Teams feature over the next several expansions.

Why did Teams fail?

While elegant in concept, the implementation of Teams was flawed from the beginning:

  • The interface for the chartering process was clunky and non-intuitive to use. There was not a convenient way to track the current status of bids. Imagine trying to win an auction on eBay and not being able to quickly see the level of competitive bids, changing in real time. What could have been a fun feature was obscured by this lack of visibility.
  • Players didn't pool their bids as expected. In actual practice, many players interested in chartering Teams simply took advantage of the winning bids secured by others operating in their system. There was little incentive to connect with other industrialists in the same system to coordinate efforts. Why make the investment in ISK or time, when you could just use Teams for free?
  • The majority of Teams were not worth a bid. Far too many of the randomly seeded Teams simply did not have very attractive bonuses, relative to their cost. While you could filter for different types of Team bonus specializations, the number of good teams to find was always very limited.
  • Teams really didn't matter. The simplification of industrial processes in Crius and Pheobe made it much easier to conduct research, invention and manufacturing jobs. The use of Teams to perform these functions profitably was never a requirement for success.

The Teams UI for chartering (bidding) is not great for telling you, at a glance, what bids you have made, how you are doing, who is winning, and where.

Why drop Teams?

It's unusual to see CCP Games decide to remove a new feature from EVE Online. CCP RubberBand's announcement came as a surprise to many industrial players. While this decision is based on commendable goals, I wonder if phasing out Teams as a game mechanic is really the best thing to do.

For one thing, as has already been proven by player action, Teams are easily ignored. In fact, the current user interface encourages this behavior. Further, the incremental bonuses versus cost are generally minor - Teams do not provide highly impactful advantages to those who use them. (In fact, this is one of the problems with the current manifestation of the idea.) Therefore, why expend developer time and effort to take them out of the current industry system, which is otherwise working well after the recent significant revamps?

Rather, would it not be a better use of developer time and resources to invest in improving the Teams model? Since so few people are using Teams, and their current impact is so slight, why not simply leave the current mechanics in place?

Why I Like the Idea of Teams

There is a vast resource in New Eden that capsuleers ignore, almost completely. We are told that the populations of the Empires are vast, and yet, we do not interact with the native people who inhabit the worlds and stations that we fly by so frequently. I think this is a wasted opportunity for CCP Games to add new layers of richness to the game's mechanics.

The addition of the use of native populations by capsuleers would make New Eden a more real place, in my view. I've written about this idea before. I was excited about the addition of Teams to the improved industry systems because they represented an opportunity to begin thinking about in-game NPC populations as a capsuleer resource. With the removal of Teams, we pilots are once again almost completely isolated from the humanity that we supposedly affect so significantly.

While some may discount my point of view as mere role-playing, let me present a bigger picture. I envision a New Eden where the actions of native people matter, and one in which the actions of capsuleers have consequences, not only from other pilots, but from the NPC populations as well. I want a New Eden where whole worlds rally to my cause - or fear my arrival. I want a dynamic game where what I do in certain regions of space has greater impact than simply seeing a faction standings score go up or down, or if I have to navigate around a few hostile Navy ships.

The incorporation of Teams was a tentative first step towards such a vision. The lore explaining their formation and purpose was compelling, and full of potential of a New Eden where people matter. Now, I fear, it may not be fully realized. What a waste of a good opportunity to add a whole new dimension of play in EVE Online.

How to Fix Teams

First, let's realize that Teams are not really broken, per se - rather, they are simply not being used very much. How can we improve their value to players, and make them more popular?

  • Make the chartering system highly visible. The Teams user interface needs a complete overhaul. Bids should be easily seen for each Team. We should be able to see them at a glance, without any obscure mouseovers and pop-up boxes required, and we should know what systems are bidding on a Team, and how much they are bidding. If these are truly to be real-time auctions, take a cue from the interface at eBay. By the way, sniping is fun - the interface should have a countdown clock and should show last-second bids scrolling by in real time. Make winning a Team exciting! I should get the same thrill winning a Team as I do when I outbid someone at the last moment on eBay.
  • Publish public stats and rankings about winning bidders. Nothing stimulates participation like competition. An opportunity to be part of a "top ten Team bidding systems" list would be motivation enough for more industrialists to participate. Not only that, but it would also provide some useful intel for people seeking potential targets. Let the Teams mechanic help create more player content. 
  • If you want to encourage players to participate in system-wide bids, make it a requirement for getting their benefits. Change the Teams bidding mechanic to restrict the benefits received on any winning bids to only those players who actually contributed. In other words, no more freeloading - the only way to get value from Teams is to actually contribute something to the bids in your system.
  • Make Teams matter. Stop the random seeding of teams - allow players to "train" Teams and put them up for bid in the auctions. This was hinted at in the original dev blog on teams, in which CCP SoniClover said, "Putting team creation and training in the hands of players would add a new profession to the game. Creating and developing teams would likely be something players could do on planets, as part of Planetary Interaction (PI). A team owner could then auction off his teams and get a cut of their extra salary cost." This would reduce the high frequency of randomly-generated "junk" Teams, and create a market dynamic that would provide more relevant Teams bonuses to industrialists - ones that they would actually want to bid on.

  • Expand the application of Teams to invention. This was considered by CCP Games before, but discarded before the Pheobe changes to invention - and I think that was a mistake. Teams for improving material or time efficiency will always be under-utilized, in my opinion, but Teams that help improve the results of the invention process would be a boon to Tech II inventors and reverse engineers.

As far as I can see, CCP Games is giving up too early on Teams. There is great potential in the idea - they simply did not go far enough. Rather than withdraw and retrench, I urge them to reconsider, and be bold and brave.

The devs have shown more courage in the last few months than I've seen from CCP Games in a long time. They are no longer afraid to break some eggs, so to speak, if it means making something awesome. Teams is an awesome idea - it just needs some more love, not to be locked away in the dark recesses of the "maybe someday" closet.

Fly safe! o7