Piling On

In American football, teams can be penalized for "piling on" - a group of players jumping on top of an individual opponent, after a play is completed. There's nothing to be gained by doing this, yet it happens more frequently than it should, because players get caught up in the emotion of the moment, and just dive in without thinking, even though that play is already over.

We are seeing an example of a piling-on phenomena in progress, started by an article in The Guardian about the cancellation of World of Darkness (WoD) project by CCP Games. That article focuses mostly on the comments of a disgruntled former developer and game master, Nick Blood - a strangely coincidental name for someone working on a vampire game - previously known to the EVE Online community as CCP Dropbear.

Portrait appearing on Nick Blood's Google Plus page

Portrait appearing on Nick Blood's Google Plus page

In the article, Blood states that WoD was badly mismanaged by CCP Games, with resources constantly being poached to work on EVE Online, DUST 514 and other projects. He further condemns CCP management for a lack of vision for the design of WoD, and asserts that this led to repeated development failures and ultimate cancellation.

The article provides an inside perspective, albeit a very jaundiced one, into the many problems troubling the WoD project throughout its seven-year history - and it makes for fascinating reading. It documents the lack of clarity in direction, and the effects of disruptions to availability of development resources. In short, if Blood's assertions are accurate, World of Darkness died from a complete absence of vision and commitment by CCP Games management.

Let the Piling On Commence!

The "tell all" inside revelations of the Guardian story give it a sensational aspect that makes it irresistible to other news outlets, and as a result, the post itself has become news. Dozens of blogs and websites have picked up the story, and republished the key assertions from the original article.

The problem with provocative news is that it can produce a cascading effect in the press, with each repeated re-telling raising the volume to a crescendo that greatly amplifies the impact of the original story. This is a public relations issue for CCP Games' marketing team, certainly - and one that is impossible to contain. Once the bad press genie has escaped the bottle, there's no way to stuff it conveniently back inside.

In fact, to attempt to do so only exacerbates the situation. When the story first broke, several EVE Online players commented via Twitter why CCP Games management didn't issue some sort of rebuttal, but this would have been a bad move, as it would only add more fuel to the story's flare-up in the press.

Further, the timing of the Guardian story's publication could not have been worse, as CCP Games announced a layoff of 49 employees, on the same day. There couldn't have been a more perfect storm of PR negatives for CCP. These may continue to reverberate in the industry and throughout the EVE Online player base for months.

Is the Message Getting Through?

There are some obvious lessons to be learned from the Guardian article, including:

  • Management attention and focus is essential to success.
  • Projects need dedicated and sufficient resources to be completed with quality.
  • Effective management begins with the ability to visualize and communicate a clear picture of a desired future state.

CCP Games has not denied that they ignored these critical lessons in the WoD project. Nor have they denied that their ambition exceeded their ability to execute. At the recent Fanfest conference in April, CEO Hilmar Pétursson admitted their failure, and he also apologized for this in the press. He further described the company's revised strategy of focusing entirely on the EVE Universe.

As a result, the revelations in the Guardian story or the most recent layoff should come as no real surprise to critical observers of CCP Games' management team. We already knew that the WoD project was bungled, by Hilmar's own admission, and the sharpened strategic focus on EVE portended potential additional changes in staffing. The Guardian story exposes the extent of mismanagement of WoD, if the primary source is accepted at unfiltered full face value - but that is something for which Hilmar has already taken responsibility.

For devotees of EVE Online like myself, the only important question is whether Hilmar and the rest of the CCP Games management team are learning from their mistakes. In this regard, the Guardian story could be a dark cloud with a silver lining. If it, and the echo chamber of critical press that it engendered, serves as a persistent reminder of the consequences for poor management, then perhaps this will make it more difficult to revert to bad behavior.

In a previous post, I described the importance of both earning and learning in successful businesses. The price for learning is often high - but the price for failing to learn is always much higher, and more difficult to bear. The lessons being taught to CCP Games' management are tough, and require hard choices. It's clear that they are not avoiding these, as shown by the most recent layoff. Now we can only wait and see if they are making the right choices, and whether or not their re-focus solely on the EVE Universe converts bitterly learned management lessons into earnings and success.

I honestly do not know if the current CCP Games management team can do this. If they fail, they bring down not only their business and livelihood, but an entire global community who are wholly invested in their continuing success.

Fly safe! o7