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

I Like Tweakage

CCP Games released a development update video by the EVE Online Executive Producer, CCP Seagull, about upcoming improvements over the next couple of months, as well as some other newsworthy tidbits:

It's a short update at less than four minutes, but for those who can't be bothered to listen, here is the full transcript:

Hello EVE Online. Last time we spoke was before the holidays and now 2017 is in full gear. We've just had the Council of Stellar Management here for a super productive summit. I want to say a huge thank you to the council members for coming all the way to Iceland to help improve EVE Online.
I'm also looking forward to the upcoming CSM elections and to getting a new great council in place for the upcoming year. If you ever thought about running just go for it. Vote to make sure that your play style is represented, or that those you trust to influence the game in a good direction end up on the council.
We are busy working on lots and lots of exciting stuff so let's talk about a few things that are coming up. We release changes to EVE Online almost every month. The changes we have already released and that are coming out in February and March show some of our commitment to continuously improving EVE Online. Especially after big expansions like Citadel or Ascension, we take the time to follow up with changes that we see are needed, and to get features out that make a ton of sense but didn't make it into the original release for various reasons.
Next week, for example, we're adding personal insurance to citadels and engineering complexes, more follow up changes to the new player experience, and we're fixing tons of defects, and making performance optimizations, too. Our engineers have also been hard at work chasing down some nasty issue with rubber-banding and that should now be resolved. While all of this improvement work goes on, we're also putting work into bigger things coming up. We're getting ready to share more of them.
Fanfest, which is now real, real soon, will bring a solid update to a roadmap for EVE with all the latest news. We also have several Dev blogs in the making that will publish way sooner than that. We have things to tell you about drilling platforms, about new fleet PvE and more, so keep an eye out.
Fanfest this year will be really special. You can still get tickets, of course. You will also be able to follow from home as we will be live streaming from the event. This year the event will take place at a specific location in EVE Online that you'll also be able to visit in-game while Fanfest is going on.
If you are on location at Fanfest in Iceland, you'll have a new and unique opportunity to take part in directly shaping the storyline of the EVE universe. There will be more news on both of these things as we come closer to Fanfest. We've also put out the call for player speakers at Fanfest, so check the community newsfeed if you think you could be a speaker.
Next week with our February release there is some action kicking off in New Eden. As CONCORD is asking capsuleers for help with shutting down rally points across space where the Angel Cartel and the Serpentis are conducting some shadowy business. You'll see these sites on your overview. Take a look,  but remember other capsuleers may be doing the same.
Enjoy space and I'll see you soon again in my next update.

Though brief, the update contains many interesting points, worth further commentary.

CSM Kudos and Ennui

Seagull thanked the eleventh Council of Stellar Management (CSM), and encouraged interested candidates to throw their names in for possible election to CSM 12 in March.

I must admit that when they were elected last year, I was skeptical that CSM 11 would be effective in representing the interests of all of EVE Online's different player constituencies, as virtually the entire group hailed from null-sec power blocs (except good Steve Ronuken).

But I was wrong - CSM 11 did a good job. And they did so with an absolute minimum of strife. Compared to some Councils in the past, CSM 11 was a model of harmonious teamwork. Most importantly, they engaged actively with CCP and advised them on some very significant new features which positively affected every type of space in New Eden.

So, CSM 11 earned some well-deserved kudos - and hearty thanks for good service. I'm glad they proved my worries to be unwarranted.

Regardless, my level of interest in the next CSM election is at an absolute nadir - and I must blame CSM 11 for that. They demonstrated that well-organized null-sec power blocs will continue to dominate the election, and will undoubtedly win virtually every seat on the Council once again.

In past years, I spent quite a bit of time listening to CSM nominee interviews and reading their platforms on the forums, and I published my evaluations and recommendations on this blog. I've decided to give up doing this for CSM 12, as it has become a pointless exercise.

It's quaint that CCP Seagull encouraged people to nominate themselves for CSM 12. Alas, the only ones who shall emerge victorious are the candidates who need to campaign the least, as they can confidently rely on the backing of their sizable alliances to ensure their election, regardless of their actual interest or qualifications. The null-sec blocs will win as many seats as they desire. I can only hope that they put forward candidates who understand and appreciate the diversity of EVE Online player constituencies, and that they can advise CCP Games in a somewhat balanced fashion.

I urge everyone on CSM 11 to run for re-election. That way, we'll at least get a known quantity of Council effectiveness, and a minimum of drama, once again.

A Tweak Here, Another Tweak There

Seagull says we can expect some minor changes over the next few weeks, such as the addition of ship insurance availability in Citadels and Engineering Complexes, and some performance improvements.

For the last few years, CCP has done an admirable job in providing a nearly continuous stream of tweaks and fixes. As a result, EVE Online players today have come to expect minor enhancements to the game on an ongoing basis, but it wasn't always this way.

When I started in 2009, CCP's developer team was locked into a cycle of two major releases per year, each of which focused mostly on game additions. All too often, if an old feature was broken, it might stay that way for a long, long time before it got CCP's attention - much to the fury and frustration of many players.

But with a change to more frequent development update cycles, the game's overall quality has been greatly improved. Today, there are very few features in EVE Online that remain truly "broken" for long.

Alas, few players recognize this today - it's become the new normal. This persistent commitment to quality is something for which CCP's development team does not get enough credit.

Fanfest Beckons

Seagull mentioned Fanfest, scheduled for April 6-8, where details will be forthcoming about some more substantial new features. I have been to five Fanfests, and I encourage any passionate EVE Online player to attend, but I won't be making the trip to Reykjavik again this year. Instead, I'll be watching on the live stream, which Seagull confirmed will be available.

She said a number of potentially important items related to Fanfest that are worth further comment:

  • "A solid update to a roadmap for EVE" - Well, it's about damn time. I was hoping to see an updated roadmap for development of EVE Online at last year's Fanfest, and was sorely disappointed. Then I hoped to catch a glimpse of a roadmap at EVE Vegas, but again was let down. Now, finally, CCP Seagull explicitly promises an updated peek at where EVE Online may be going next. It's been long overdue, and I can't wait to see it.
  • "Drilling platforms" - Two little words that could change everything, especially for how alliances earn ISK in null-sec space. Will CCP finally upset the passive-income moon goo mining monopolies of the power blocs in 0.0 space? Will drilling platforms be a catalyst for requiring more interaction to maintain income streams? Or will they just be revamped versions of the same sedentary mechanics we currently have in the game? I, for one, hope to see some radical changes. The potential riots by spoiled players who feel entitled to constant streams of income for relatively little effort should be amusing to watch.
  • "New fleet PvE" - Incursions and Level 5 missions have been EVE Online's long-standing staples for those looking to earn income through small gang multi-player activity. There are other options for earning ISK with groups of players, such as mining operations, but they have always been rather limited. Further, players have long figured out how to optimize these activities, and they have grown quite stale. I'm delighted to hear that new fleet-based PvE options are in development, and I'm both eager and anxious to learn more.
  • Mixing in-game story development with Fanfest - now this is an interesting idea! CCP Seagull mentioned that the gathering of capsuleers in Real Life at Fanfest will be incorporated into an event happening in New Eden, simultaneously. So, if you attend Fanfest, you will automatically become a role-player, regardless of whether you want to be one or not! In addition, as a delegate attending the capsuleer meeting, you'll be able to affect the in-game storyline in some way. I love this idea, and can't wait to see how it is actually executed.

Tweaks aren't enough

As I mentioned in my previous post, I'm not actively logging into the EVE Online client these days. I needed to step back away from the game for a while, and let it continue to develop. My intention is to jump back in when enough has changed to make EVE feel new again. I've been monitoring the EVE media closely, watching the latest developments, in hopes that this will inspire me to re-engage.

Does CCP Seagull's latest development update provide enough change to rekindle my interest in EVE Online?  Frankly, no - not yet. She describes a lot of good tweaks and fixes to the game, and I'm pleased to hear them - I like tweakage. But in general, they are still just tweaks. To stir my passion for flying in New Eden, I need something more - a new project that I can sink my teeth into, deeply. So far, I haven't heard anything that provides that to the degree I desire.

But I remain optimistic, and I will be monitoring Fanfest closely with great interest. It's only a question of time before enough has changed to provide sufficient impetus for me to leap back into the game on a regular basis again.

Until then, fly safe! o7

BB #74: Fanfest 2016's Biggest Reveal

Welcome to the continuing monthly EVE Blog Banters and our 74th edition! For more details about what the blog banters are, please visit the Blog Banter page.

So when this Blog Banter goes live, Fanfest will be over. Hungover geeks from around the world will be departing Reykjavik after a five-day binge of important internet spaceships and partying. Whether you were there in person, watched the streams or read the dev blogs on your mobile hidden under your work desk there was probably something in there that gave you a "nerd-boner".  What for you personally was the most important thing to come out of Fanfest 2016?

Clearly, the focus of Fanfest this year was on Citadels, which add whole new levels of player control and game play options. When the expansion is released this week, I'm certain there will be a massive rush to try out all the new features of the new structures.

Citadels are the first of an entirely new line of structures, and will soon be followed by more specialized industry, mining and other platforms. Structures will likely change how players interact in EVE in many profound and unpredictable ways. 

But Citadels and structures are not the biggest new things shown at Fanfest this year. Two other reveals were much more important to the future success of CCP Games and EVE Online.

I want to be Tron

The first of these is Project Arena. Though not yet completely ready for general release, this virtual reality (VR) game could be a bigger hit in that rapidly emerging market than EVE:Valkyrie. I had a chance to try the demo and found it to be very easy to understand while being challenging and fun to play. Think of the flying disc scene in the original Tron movie and you get an idea of what Project Arena feels like.

This is the kind of game that appeals to a very wide audience. If it were to become the reason that people buy a couple sets of VR goggles, then it could become a huge moneymaker for CCP. Project Arena has that kind of mass appeal.

Fixing the Leaky Bucket

The second big reveal was the introduction of CCP Ghost, who will be leading the new Team Genesis on refining the new player experience (NPE). According to him, EVE has no trouble attracting new players. Nearly 1.4 million people tried EVE Online last year. The problem is keeping them - more than half gave up in less than two hours. 

CCP Ghost

CCP Ghost

The opportunity system introduced last year succeeded in providing help and guidance to novices as they were flying in space, but it did not go far enough. Those opportunities covered the essential mechanics, but they did so without context.

CCP Ghost believes that new players want a safe zone in which to be guided to mastery when first starting the game, then relaxing that support as players become more proficient. One way to do this is to put the new player in a narrative, in which they complete tasks that are relevant to an emerging story. This approach not only explains how to do things correctly, but also provides reasons why one would do them.

This would help new players to develop an emotional connection to their character and give them a greater sense of achievement. The rich backstory of EVE Online provides ample opportunities for engaging players in the game, and also provides a way to show how they can create their own meaningful story inside that universe. 

in addition, CCP Ghost wants to give new players more "pinnacle moments" of deep, exciting engagement. Many new players join EVE after reading or hearing about large battles or wars, but then they discover that they may not have such an experience in the game immediately, and drop out. By giving a new player a taste of such experiences - in a simulation or an NPC scenario, perhaps - that interest is reinforced, and the player remains, wanting more,.

This is the kind of NPE that EVE Online needs badly. Today, plenty of new blood is pouring into the game, but like a bucket with big holes drilled into it, EVE's current NPE is letting far too many of those players to leak out far too quickly. If CCP Ghost and Team Genesis can close those holes, then the impact on the game would be extraordinary.

Imagine what EVE would be like with double its current population, and the funds for new feature development that growth would provide to CCP. It would change everything.

Fly safe! o7