Will Odyssey succeed?

On June 4th, CCP Games will officially roll out Odyssey, the latest expansion of the EVE Online universe.  

This expansion is built upon a new developmental policy, introduced by the new Senior Producer of EVE Online Development, CCP Seagull, last January. Unlike previous expansions, Odyssey is designed quite deliberately around "a theme that can connect features and changes that touch multiple play styles in EVE across a spectrum of activities". Odyssey's principal theme is exploration, though there are a number of other features and improvements that touch on many aspects of gameplay.

The following video is CCP's description and demonstration of key Odyssey features, presented at Fanfest in April: 

An excellent synopsis of all the changes and additions contained in Odyssey can be found here, on the Neural-Boost.com news site. Go give this summary a quick review to see all that Odyssey will contain. (Thanks to Ripard Teg for the Tweet about this useful link.)

Odyssey does indeed include an impressive list of new features and improvements. But will it be enough to make it a successful expansion? 

What is a successful EVE expansion?

From CCP Games' standpoint, in order of priority, a successful expansion is one that:

  1. Draws more new subscribers into EVE Online, and retains them
  2. Encourages current subscribers to continue participation in the game, and pay ongoing subscription fees to do so
  3. Brings old players back to EVE, reactivating accounts and subscribing once again
  4. Encourages subscribers to open additional accounts, so that they can do more things in game with multiple characters

Therefore, a key metric of success is the average number of logged-in players per day. More log-ins means more player participation and more active subscribers, in general.

Using this key measurement, Ripard Teg documents the relative successes and failures of various EVE Online expansions in this excellent post. This analysis shows that CCP has had some hits and misses with their expansions throughout their history. The latest, Retribution, can be considered a major success, while the expansion just previous to that, Inferno, has to be considered a relative failure.

CCP's most significant blunder was Incarna, which led to the "summer of rage" and open protests by EVE players - resulting ultimately in layoffs and a refocus by CCP on core EVE Online functionality. If you ask CCP developers what expansion they consider to be the most successful, most will tell you that Apocrypha is the model of an ideal expansion release. However, based on the numbers alone, one could argue that Crucible or Retribution could be considered to be more successful.

Why do CCP devs hold such high regard for Apocrypha? This was a release that truly included something for everyone: new wormhole content, new ships (Tech 3 strategic cruisers), epic mission arcs, improved skill queue, revamped scanning, and a host of other incremental improvements that made EVE Online better and more fun to play.

CCP Seagull's announced development policy is CCP's attempt to capture the magic of this kind of expansion, and replicate it consistently. The question on everyone's mind is: Will Odyssey fulfill this vision? Will it be considered as much of a success as Apocrypha or Retribution?

Based on what I see coming in Odyssey, I have concerns. 

Exploration: Promises and Reality

The promise of Odyssey is that players will find the revamps to scanning and exploration to be attractive and more accessible. There is no doubt that the discovery scanner has a distinct "cool factor". The graphical sweep and sound cues, the display of anomalies and possible signatures in space, the ease of use changes to scanning and probing - all help to make exploration an appealing activity that is more accessible to newer players.

In fact, the recent dev blog on  "Probe scanning and other goodies" explains that making exploration as accessible as mission running or mining was a principal objective for Odyssey development. In this regard, it appears that CCP has achieved that objective, and therefore should draw interest from prospective new players - which, in turn, should produce an influx of new subscribers. This is the theory, anyway.

However, I have two concerns about the potential success of Odyssey's changes to exploration.

First, we are already seeing a lot of grumbling in the forums from veteran players about the "dumbing down" of scanning and probing. CCP's decision to remove Deep Space Probes, for example, has greatly annoyed expert probers. So, while the simpler, shinier exploration system may appeal to new players, it may simultaneously turn off the hard-core experienced players. Whether this will induce enough bittervet syndrome to cause EVE old timers to throw up their hands and unsubscribe in significant numbers is not really known, but I'd be surprised if that turned out to be the case. Overall, the improvements to scanning appear to be steps in a better direction, and it's likely that current players will simply adapt, bide their time, and await further iterations to the system, albeit with a fair amount of grousing.

More concerning is whether or not Odyssey's new scanning and exploration system really provides interesting content to grab and hold new players' attention - enough for them to subscribe, and keep subscribing on an ongoing basis. Unlike Apocrypha, which provided hundreds of wholly new, exotic places to explore, each with variable behaviors, enemies and mysteries, the anomalies in Odyssey are the same old, tired suburbs in current space. The new hacking mini-game is intended to provide a new level of challenge and engagement, but even here, early reviews from players' experiences on the test server are mixed: "another click-fest", "incomprehensible", "frustrating", and "repetitive" are just a few of the initial reactions on the forums. Unless the final, released version includes the required fine-tuning, this does not bode well for Odyssey's post-release evaluation.

The Matter of Production

Odyssey will include some significant changes to the source of all industry in the game: raw material resources. First, changes in production alchemy and in the distribution of moon minerals throughout New Eden will likely cause major realignments in nullsec politics, as the current power blocs race to figure out where the most valuable materials are located, and how they can get control of them.

This is perhaps Odyssey's greatest feature, as it should provide reasons to shake up the status quo in nullsec, and could start some significant wars - or at least, a lot of ultra-intense alliance-level politicking. The implications of this realignment won't be fully known until the locations of all the new resources have been discovered, but I suspect it will make for some very interesting times in 0.0.

In addition, rarer ores in null security space will now include some low-end minerals. This, with dramatic improvements in the industrial capacity of outposts, will encourage and enhance mining and production in 0.0 - at least in theory.

However, changes to the production of ice, a principal ingredient in POS fuel, should give miners and industrialists good reason to worry. By moving static ice belts to anomalies, and by greatly limiting the amount of ice in each, the cost of refined ice products will most likely continue to rise - perhaps dramatically enough to negatively affect the profitability of Tech II invention and production in POS installations. If this scenario develops to an extreme extent, then major alliances, with enough resources to control all aspects of production, might be the only ones able to manufacture Tech II items in quantity. The opportunity for individual entrepreneurs, mostly based in high security space, to produce Tech II modules and ships profitably could disappear.

Some well-known EVE industrialists dismiss such concerns by saying that manufacturers will simply pass the higher costs of production on to their customers, but this assumes that changes in EVE market prices have a relatively small effect on the quantity of goods demanded. If that was true, and demand in EVE markets was highly price inelastic, then sellers should be able to find buyers for any good at nearly any price. As any experienced market trader who has played the -0.01 ISK pricing game knows, this isn't the case in EVE. Prices do matter - they affect demand for goods produced in the EVE economy.

Odyssey's changes to ice mining are a giant blinking warning light, and industrialists have good reason to be wary. As in all economic matters, my potential doomsday scenario is just one possible result of the expansion's changes, and I am most likely just being paranoid. As someone who makes a significant portion of my income in small scale, high-sec based T2 manufacturing, I truly hope that my worries turn out to be unnecessary.

I've read a lot about miners decrying the end of "casual mining" in the game, as a result of Odyssey. Personally, I welcome this. Mining in EVE Online has been boring for far too long. And moving ice mining to anomalies, in particular, will at least make the bot runners a little more miserable. This is a good thing.

One last comment on Odyssey's ice and ore mining anomalies: some players are gravely concerned that the discovery scanner, which makes it much easier to find ore and ice anomaly sites, and therefore makes it much easier for aggressors to quickly locate a target, represents a huge danger to miners. I think these concerns are overblown. In high sec mining anomalies, I'll simply switch to a mining ship with a bigger tank, like a Skiff or Procurer, and be more diligent about monitoring my surroundings. The real threat is going to be in low sec and null sec mining anomalies - miners can no longer simply watch for combat probes as their cue to bug out. But you'd think they'd at least be watching Local for bad guys in system.

Regardless, Odyssey will certainly require miners and industrialists to adapt, or change professions. Unfortunately, most people do not react well to big changes. This also does not bode well for a successful post-release evaluation of Odyssey.

The Impact of Tags for Security Status

Odyssey will allow players to hunt new rats in low sec belts and collect special tags which can be traded in to CONCORD to improve their security status. CCP hopes that this will produce more targets in low-sec to invigorate PvP opportunities there, for the price of slightly more suicide ganking in high sec. However, I suspect that CCP will be only mildly successful in improving the quality of life in low security space, while inadvertently making high sec carebears more miserable than they intended.

Gankers are not stupid, on the whole. They know how to PvP, most of them, and they know how to protect themselves. The competent ones will not be easily caught in a low-sec belt while ratting.

This will definitely make life in high sec more hazardous, however. The number of potential gankers will absolutely increase after Odyssey. The smart gankers will use this to target fat freighters or mission-runners flying blinged-out faction-fits, as usual. But by making it easier to improve security status, the cost of spending that status on a gank just went down. So, I suspect we'll see more suicide gankers blowing up high sec miners in anomalies "for the lulz" alone. 

How many new subscribers in EVE will suffer this fate? Probably not a lot. But it will affect quality of life for the large population of established carebears in the game, and at least a few of them will simply give up. I worry that "tags for security status" may backfire on CCP, and drive the number of log-ins down over time, though I hope that this will not be a significant number. However, as a wise man once told me, "Hope is not a good strategy."

The Bling Factor

With all the trepidation expressed so far, you might think that I am wholly pessimistic about the chances of Odyssey's success. But that is before consideration of perhaps the most important aspect of this new expansion - the "bling factor" - and Odyssey is chock full of that.

Behold, I submit for your closer inspection: the new gate jump effect. Just watch it again...

I think CCP Soundwave captured the feeling correctly. Transitions overall are more natural and immersive in Odyssey: undocking, ship death, podding, jumping - they are all more cinematic, and more fun.

The radial menu is also a significant improvement in usability. It just works better. The ability to select the precise distance of an orbit, quickly and intuitively, makes it better. The ability to use this on any object in the overview makes it better. It's faster, and it just plain looks cool. Though I can see using the old right-click cascading menus from time to time, I think most people are going to appreciate the radial menu feature much more.

Wormhole dwellers will remember Odyssey for one thing: private starbase hangars. For that alone, they will love this expansion. A lot.

The highly successful "tiercide" ship balancing initiative continues in Odyssey, with Tech I and Navy Battleships - and the new Navy Battlecruisers. EVE players always love new ships. And the changes in skill paths for destroyers and battlecruisers, while somewhat disruptive for current players, makes a lot more sense to new players, so that should be a net positive for Odyssey.

Cosmetically, from the discovery scanner to some of the improved ship skins, Odyssey has a lot going for it. It certainly looks good. And that might be enough to carry this expansion into the "success" column.

The Final Analysis

So, will Odyssey increase the average number of daily log-ins? 

Yes, I think it will.  Odyssey should be at least a moderate success. Weighing the positives against the potential negatives, it shapes up to be a good expansion, and should draw more interest in EVE Online.

Is it another Apocrypha? 

No - there just isn't enough really new content to warrant that kind of comparison. For that to happen, I think we need to see an expansion that includes features like:

  • A developing storyline featuring the collapse of empire to capsuleers - to control by the players themselves
  • A revamped nullsec sovereignty system built on the development of "farms and fields" to build and protect and fight over
  • A completely integrated DUST and EVE economy
  • Modular POSes that can be placed anywhere - and the opportunity for players to create and develop their own "home" 
  • Tech 3 frigates, cruisers and battleships
  • Playable pirate factions
  • Truly new space to explore - did someone say "Jove"? 

Perhaps we will see these in some exciting future release. But for now, we have Odyssey to look forward to. On June 4th, we find out if it plays out as CCP intended. For all our sakes, I hope it is indeed very successful.  Set a long skill to train! 

Fly safe! o7

On Planetary Conquest, Dual Character Training and Corp Quitting

I read the last couple of CCP dev blogs with interest. They are worth a bit of review and commentary.

The Rise of the DUST Bunnies

First, a few words about the announcement about Planetary Conquest - the use of DUST 514 mercenaries to take ownership of districts on planets, and therefore provide bonuses to Player-Owned Starbases anchored above moons orbiting the planet with those conquered districts.

"DUST bunnies" are about to get very popular with industry-minded corps and alliances in EVE.

"DUST bunnies" are about to get very popular with industry-minded corps and alliances in EVE.

This is currently only of interest to a few EVE alliances who have started "DUST bunny" corps as members. For example, DUST University is a DUST 514 mercenary corp that is part of the Ivy League Alliance, of which my own EVE University corp is also a member. So, if D-UNI ground troops take over districts on a planet, any E-UNI POS anchored over moons of that planet will receive bonuses for improved manufacturing time or reduced fuel consumption.

Initially, Planetary Conquest is limited only to temperate planets in the low security space of the Molden Heath region, but CCP's intent is to roll it out throughout all of New Eden once they is confident that the system is working as intended.

The bonuses to POS effectiveness and efficiency are not insubstantial. Once Planetary Conquest becomes a widespread feature, I think this will drive alliances to add their own "DUST bunny" corps, so that they can take advantage of the obvious production benefits. Additionally, it may also encourage manufacturing-oriented independent corps to seek alliances with strong DUST mercenary corps, who can then provide them with competitive POS performance bonuses.

CCP also said they intend to provide Planetary Conquest bonuses for Planetary Interaction operations, sometime in the future. That will only increase the attractiveness of building a competent DUST infantry corp in alliance operations.

I only wish that DUST 514 did not require a Playstation console to play. If they ever port it to the PC, I'll definitely give it a try - I am not a console gamer. Meanwhile, I'll let Dennie Fleetfoot and his D-UNI mercs do my district-taking work for me.

UPDATE: CCP announces that Plantetary Conquest bonuses will be delayed until May 22nd.

PLEX for Utility Character Training

PLEXRclick.jpg

Also announced by CCP is an exciting new option in the upcoming Odyssey expansion - dual character training. This will allow players to activate a training queue for an additional character in their main account for a month, in exchange for a PLEX. This will be very useful for training "utility" characters for a specific, limited purpose: hauler, miner, trader, manufacturer - anything that only requires a few weeks of training to make a useful alt character. Now you can have this character in your main account and not have to pay ongoing monthly subscription fees, once they are trained.

The potential downside is a further increase in the demand for PLEX, which could drive already escalating prices even higher in the markets. However, CCP assures us that they've studied the potential affects of this new feature on market dynamics, and that it will all be alright.

Uh-huh. Sure, CCP - I totally believe you. Now, please excuse me while I join all the other PLEX speculators - and wow, what a suddenly large group they are now. I wonder why?

Is dual character training a good idea? It all depends on how you value your time. You can train another character in your main account now, for free, by just turning off your training queue on your main character and turning it on for the alt character.  I have done this twice: for a small-scale trade character and for a small corp CEO character, delaying training on my main character by a couple of months.

Is it worth well over a billion ISK to not interrupt training on your main character for sixty days? That is essentially what you are doing if you use this dual character training option for two months. Frankly, I find it hard to justify this level of investment in what will still be a relatively low-skill utility character. No doubt such a character is handy - and I use mine frequently - but I can't fathom why someone would not exercise a little patience and simply switch their training queue for a while, at no additional cost.

Still, for the excessively ISK wealthy and over-caffeinated impatient players out there, the dual character training for PLEX option is a handy option. Kudos to CCP for thinking of it.

Now, if I'm guessing right, PLEX will continue to go up, as a result, and I will get in-game rich.  We shall see how that goes.

Corp Dropping Timing Changes

On May 6th, you will be able to drop from a corp immediately if you are docked in a station, instead of having to drop roles and then wait 24 hours to quit the corporation. This one-day delay was always a pain for players, and CCP is right to get rid of this archaic mechanic.

I'm very eager to see how all these changes play out! So far, I generally like what I see and am hopeful that Odyssey will be a successful expansion. We shall see in early June!

Fly safe! o7

THE ICE MUST FLOW...

IceMiningFleet.png

To paraphrase the great science fiction author, Frank Herbert: He who controls the ice, controls the universe. And so it seems that CCP Soundwave would like the role of ice to be in EVE Online.

In an interview last month, he said:

“We’re going to be tinkering around with minerals. Personally I’d like to see some changes to ice, for example. There’s a lot of interesting opportunities there. I think ice is very underplayed as a very tactical resource... it should essentially be the oil of Eve Online. It would be good if it was something that people thought about instead of something you get from endless mining barges in Empire that may or may not be piloted by people.”

Indeed, the Odyssey expansion will include changes to ice mining which will limit its supply. CCP Fozzie estimates that the amount of available ice in high security space will cover about 80 percent of the current demand in the game, thus forcing more players to mine for ice in low-sec and null-sec space. In addition, permanent ice belts will disappear, and be replaced as randomly-located in-system anomalies.

As an ice miner, I applaud the forthcoming changes to ice mining in Odyssey. Moving them from fixed belts with virtually endless supply to anomalies that respawn in different locations, four hours after their depletion, will make automated mining by AFK botters more difficult, at least.

I detest bots, especially the obvious ones doing their all-day extractions in ice belts. The most blatant example that I have seen personally was an ice miner who was ganked by a couple of Catalysts - they left the pod intact on purpose, I think, to make a point. The pod sat there for two minutes, then warped off to a station - and then warped back to the original position in the ice belt, where it stayed for another four minutes, before warping back to the same station again. Back and forth went the little, obviously macro-operated, mindless pod, while everyone raged about it in Local chat.  A few even thanked the gankers for exposing the bot. Everyone in system sent a petition to CCP about that particular botter, and I never saw him online again.

The fact that I will have to do a little more work to find ice belt anomalies, and compete for them with other miners, does not bother me in the least. It will make what is arguably the most boring activity in all of EVE into something a bit more interesting. And that is a good thing.

As a Tech II manufacturer in high sec, my ice mining needs are relatively low - I only have one small POS tower to fuel, so I should be able to do that even with the more limited supply available. I will need a relatively paltry 7,500 blocks of fuel per month, which means that at my skill levels, I will need to solo mine ice for about ten hours per month, more or less, to get the quantities of products I need to make the required fuel - and that will leave me with a lot of extra hydrogen isotopes and liquid ozone left over to sell in the market. Totally do-able.

So, let Odyssey come, I say, with all of its changes to ice mining. I welcome it.

However, as someone who makes most of his ISK from sales of Tech II manufactured items, I get concerned when I hear CCP Soundwave talk about moving all ice mining to low-sec and null-sec - and even more concerned when a recently elected CSM member - one of the two permanent seat holders, no less - agrees with that opinion. In one of his recent blog posts, Ripard Teg says:

"I might annoy some players by saying this, but I'm coming increasingly to the opinion... that Soundwave might have a point.  Why not move ice mining to low- and null-sec?  Yes, it would double or maybe even triple the price of isotopes.  But unless I miss my guess, this is one of the few cases where the bulk of that expense would fall firmly on those most able to afford it.  High-sec players don't need a lot of isotopes.  Yes, it would drive up the cost of T2 manufacturing right across New Eden, but as I've covered before, high-sec players don't use a lot of the output of T2 manufacturing.  While high-sec players buy the occasional T2 ship or module, they don't lose very many of them.  It's mostly null-sec players actually consuming T2 ships and modules so the increase in prices would mostly fall on them."
smallminPOS.jpg

At Fanfest, I had the pleasure of meeting Ripard Teg briefly. He's a good guy and a knowledgeable EVE player, and I voted for him enthusiastically. I thought he'd be a reliable and reasonable balance to the nullsec-bloc representatives. I may have been wrong.

First, I disagree that high-sec players don't buy or use T2 modules and ships - in fact, I would bet that the majority of T2 modules and ships are found in empire space, but only CCP could tell us that for sure.

I do agree that null-sec players consume T2 items at a higher rate than high-sec players - but this is why Tech II manufacturing in high-sec is such a good thing. Even with the coming changes in Odyssey designed to make it easier to conduct manufacturing in 0.0, it will still be difficult to do all that is needed, especially for Tech II items. That is why small-scale Tech II manufacturing operators can enjoy modest success in high-sec. We have a ready market for our wares in null-sec players, who in turn supply us with the Tech II components made possible by their moon goo mining operations. It's a balanced, symbiotic market relationship.

Another erroneous assumption is that the amount of Tech II manufacturing in high-sec would continue at the same levels, despite a dramatic increase in the risk or expense level to maintain those operations. Instead, I am certain that if ice mining were restricted only to low-sec and null-sec, then Tech II manufacturing in high-sec space would simply disappear.

The pending changes in Odyssey might encourage me to go to low-sec to experiment with ice mining there, but I suspect that the risk-reward ratio will not be worth it. If that was my only option, then I doubt I could mine enough ice to keep my little research POS operating consistently, and I also doubt I could afford to buy a supply on the open market and still make a consistently high profit margin. I suspect I would be forced to stop manufacturing, and find some other way to earn an income in EVE.

And failing that, I'd probably consider dropping out of the game. For without a reliable source of ISK, which also matches your tolerance for risk, you really can't play EVE very well, or for very long.

For this reason, I am somewhat confident that CCP will not make the mistake of moving ice out of high-sec space, completely. To do so would run the risk of scaring off a significant portion of its largest customer base: those inventors and manufacturers who reside primarily in empire.

However, I am now very aware of the sword-rattling of CCP Soundwave, who seems intent on destroying the entrepreneurs of high-sec Tech II manufacturing. And I am somewhat alarmed about some of the surprising allies that he might now find on CSM8. For that reason, I am ice mining like crazy, in a mad dash to build up a cache of fuel blocks, to hoard in anticipation of the possible assault.

I sincerely hope it never becomes necessary to use this.

Fly safe! o7