Bits & Pieces: May 2016

I'm on vacation in Florida, which is sort of strange, as I was at Fanfest in Iceland only a couple weeks ago. You may be wondering, why is Nev taking two vacations in a row? Well, if you've ever been to Fanfest, you know why. Even though I paced myself - mostly because my charming bride accompanied me to Iceland this year - Fanfest is pretty much a non-stop party for four days. At the ripe old age of 57, I just don't bounce back from that kind of sustained festivity as I once did. So, I'm here in Clearwater Beach, enjoying a view of the Gulf, surrounded by family, with nothing to do but eat, sleep, and watch the waves roll in. I have discovered that this kind of lackadaisical lifestyle agrees with me.

To help you appreciate my dire situation, here's my view this morning...

I'm definitely living like the 1 percent this week. I could get used to this.

I'm definitely living like the 1 percent this week. I could get used to this.

While sitting here counting the seagulls and sipping a rum-based concoction, I find my mind inevitably meanders to thoughts about EVE Online. Perhaps it is the recency of Fanfest that has me dwelling on ideas about New Eden. Or maybe I'm just bored - it's hard to tell. In any event, I thought I'd jot a few random thoughts here as I'm sitting on my balcony overlooking the aquamarine-hued waters.

At this moment,  I'm thinking, "This is the best way to do a blog post, ever." (/me sips rum drink contentedly)

Happy birthday, EVE!

CCP designated May 6th as "Capsuleer Day" to commemorate the 13th birthday of EVE Online. I haven't picked up my Upwell Consortium pod skin yet, but from the banter on #tweetfleet, people seem to like it. I already have a "golden pod" that I got from the EVE Online Collector's Edition package I bought a couple years ago, so I'll probably use the new skin on one of my industrial alts.

Commemorative gifts are nice, to be sure, but more importantly, we should recognize the achievement that CCP Games has attained: 13 years and still going strong is very unusual in the volatile field of Massive Multiplayer Online (MMO) games, which tend to have an average life span of about three to four years.

To what does EVE Online owe its longevity? Certainly, the decision to make EVE Online a single-shard virtual world has a lot to do with its long life. As a direct result, player actions matter much more in EVE Online than in other multi-server MMOs, and they have lasting impact. There is a real and universally shared history in New Eden, and players make the biggest marks on it. No other MMO can make this claim. This factor, more than anything else, is what gives EVE Online its lasting appeal.

There is one other factor that must also be acknowledged: the ongoing dedication of CCP Games to the continuous improvement of the game. Certainly, they have stumbled along the way, but they have recovered each time, and inexorably and consistently increased the game's options and entertainment value, year after year.

When I first joined the game in 2009, EVE Online was a much less robust world. Today, we have so many more options - more ships, more modules, more player-controlled mechanics, more structures, and even more types of space to explore. And with rare exception, those new options have also proven to be better for the game - generally, they have brought more fun and made the game more rewarding to master.

From the very beginning, EVE was built to last. And over the last 13 years, the caretakers of EVE have continued to nurture and develop the game. For these reasons, we are able to celebrate its 13th anniversary. We should all be grateful for the opportunity.

I look forward to the next 13 years in EVE Online!

A Spike of Interest

Another obvious reason for the relative longevity of EVE Online is the undying passion of the player community about the game. It's blatantly apparent to me that people really care about this game. The recent spike of interest in my last post, Occupy New Eden, demonstrates this passion very well.

I've been extremely gratified and humbled by the amount of reaction and thoughtful commentary to my admittedly very critical post. (If you haven't read it yet, you can find it here.) Not only did this post garner the most number of comments I've ever received on this blog, but it also was cross-posted by more blogs, and generated more analysis posts by other bloggers, than anything I've ever published here. Clearly, the subject struck a chord, or a nerve, depending on your point of view.

The comments and perspectives on my post ranged from full agreement to complete rejection. I expected as much, but not to the degree on either end of the opinion spectrum that I received. I got some particularly hostile and highly argumentative comments, which I did not publish, and some extremely well-articulated opposing points of view, which I did.

Some readers disputed my "85 percent" figure, saying that many non-null characters are alts of null-sec players. This is true, but according to CCP's analysis, the number of alt characters and multiple accounts is lower than generally believed. Regardless, no matter how you look at the numbers, the majority of players do not operate principally in 0.0 - this is a fact that a few null-sec dwellers simply will not acknowledge, apparently, despite any CCP-produced statistics to the contrary. There is little I can do to convince people who refuse to be convinced, and so I simply leave that small minority to their own opinions, and wish them well.

I enjoyed reading all the comments and reactionary posts by other bloggers. Many of these helped improve my understanding of the situation, and what might be done about it. But my essential point of view remains unchanged - CCP's development is currently focused mostly on features of primary benefit to null-sec space, and that isn't going to change significantly for the remainder of the year. I think this focus is clearly out of proportion to the distribution of players in EVE Online, and that needs to change.

I'm a patient man. I can wait until 2017 to see if the tides of CCP development efforts shift back towards a more balanced distribution across different types of space. I will bide my time and watch - and continue to share my observations and opinions here.

Meanwhile, thanks again to everyone for the level of interest you demonstrated. I am very flattered by all the attention, and will strive to be worthy of it.

Back to the beach

My family is beckoning me to sign off and join them on the beach, so I'll wrap this up for now. All the best to all of you poor capsuleers who don't have the opportunity to live in paradise, like I do. I'll see you in space again soon - I'll be the relaxed, mellow one. Please don't attack me too quickly, as my reaction times will be dulled by all this sunshine and surf.

Fly safe! o7

Occupy New Eden

Matterall, the host of the "Talking in Stations" podcast, invited me to join the panel on last week's show. He had read my posts about Fanfest 2016, and it seems we have a similar point of view on the event's content: essentially, we were both underwhelmed.

During our conversation, I reiterated my complaint that the bulk of Fanfest's content catered mostly to the interests of players who operate in null security space. For those of us who dwell mostly in high-sec, low-sec and w-space, there was not much news.

Certainly, Citadels will have an impact on all types of space, and there were a few other things that will have utility outside of 0.0 (e.g., the new mobile app, redesign of mining ships, limits on bumping), but it is clear that CCP's attention for the rest of 2016 will be on tweaking capital ship combat, enhancing Citadels, and releasing industry and drilling structures - all vitally important to players in 0.0. Other initiatives of interest primarily to high-sec, low-sec and w-space dwellers, such as renewed PvE content, changes to faction warfare and enhanced new player experience are all ongoing, but nothing definite was announced at Fanfest.

It was my hope that CCP was going to turn more of their attention to enhancing game play options outside of null-sec - or at least give us a more defined vision of development plans in that regard - but I left Fanfest disappointed on both counts. Perhaps this is indeed their intention, but based on what was shown at Fanfest, the focus of CCP's scrutiny appears to remain on null-sec, at least for the next year.

We are the 85 Percent

While I understand the value of revitalizing null security space, CCP's continued catering to the cares of 0.0 constituencies seems disproportionate to the numbers of most EVE Online players. According to CCP Quant's analysis, less than 15 percent of players operate primarily in 0.0. The vast majority - more than 85 percent of EVE Online players - play outside of null security space.

CCP Quant's analysis of players by type of space - more than 85 percent operate outside of null security space.

Make no mistake: the game mechanics for sovereignty and capital ship combat absolutely needed to be reviewed and refreshed. Further, the introduction of Citadels and related structures is required to give 0.0 empires something meaningful to fight for. And the changes that CCP has wrought so far has restored a vitality to life in 0.0, as demonstrated most recently by the war in the north. This is a good thing for EVE Online, in general.

But the specific interests of the 85 percent of EVE players have been neglected for too long. Those of us who dwell in wormholes, in low security space and in Empire are growing weary of being treated as second-class citizens of New Eden. For many of us, we looked to Fanfest 2016 as a possible turning point, where CCP Seagull and the EVE Online developer team could have begun to turn more attention towards the needs of the majority of the player community. Alas, this was not to be.

If anything, the focus on the interests of null-sec became even more pronounced at Fanfest, not only in the keynote addresses, but even more in the results of the elections for the eleventh Council of Stellar Management (CSM XI).

Behold, your Council of Null-Sec Management

The number of voters for CSM XI was the lowest in seven years, and as a result, every slot on the CSM went to null-sec bloc endorsed candidates, except for one - Steve Ronuken, who was re-elected from the last council. In past years, the majority of positions on the CSM have always been filled with null-sec candidates, because the 0.0 alliances are more monolithic and better organized than the highly fragmented player organizations in w-space, low-sec and Empire. But this is the first time that almost every position on the CSM has been filled by 0.0 candidates.

Of course, the reasons for this outcome fall mainly on the majority of players who chose not to vote. But blame can also be shared by CCP and the last CSM, as well. CCP once again did little to promote voting for the CSM to the player base. Though they distributed messages in the launcher and in-game mail, these mostly passive measures were clearly ineffective. In addition, the shenanigans within CSM X, including dismissals, negative public statements and boycotts, did little to boost confidence in the CSM within the player community.

As a result, CSM XI is the most unrepresentative body yet elected, relative to the actual player community distribution. Their collective experience shall likely over-emphasize the interests of null-sec organizations, to the detriment of all players in other types of space. This does not bode well for restoring the faith of the majority of the player community in the CSM.

Some players and pundits have proposed ways to reform the CSM, in order to restore a more representative distribution of elected candidates, but no method suggested so far is immune to gaming by the well-organized null-sec political blocs. Unless CCP is willing to very aggressively promote voting for the CSM, and provide stronger incentives for participation, existing monolithic power groups will continue to have significant advantage. 

Rather, I propose that we must simply accept that the CSM shall forever be dominated by null-sec candidates, and rename this body to "The Council of Null Security Management". Let the 0.0 groups have their elected body to advise CCP, as it seems hopelessly inescapable anyway.

To balance this, CCP should also appoint advisory focus groups to represent the interests of other types of space, and for specific mechanics under review. The CSM could recommend potential candidates to these focus groups, including themselves, but the final selection of participants should be made by CCP to serve their needs. This is the only reasonable way to ensure that CCP is getting a broad range of input from all types of players, and avoid the tunnel-vision perspective that the CSM cannot help but provide.

The dream of the CSM as a representative body of advisers to CCP is dead. Long live the CNSM - and broader input from experts appointed by CCP to specific focus groups.

The "Occupy New Eden" Manifesto

It is easy to complain about the current state of affairs, but that serves no purpose without a clear vision of how to improve upon the status quo. Those of us who play mostly outside of null-sec space are feeling increasingly ignored and disenfranchised. What would a better EVE Online look like for us in the 85 percent?

Here is my draft of a manifesto. I welcome further suggestions for addition or improvement - please log your ideas in the comments.

  • We want a new player experience (NPE) that welcomes novices and gives them a safe environment in which to learn the basics of the game. More importantly, the NPE should draw players into a narrative, cast against the rich backdrop of EVE's lore, to provide context about why capsuleers do things as they do - and to create an emotional bond between player and character. The NPE should lead players to interact with other social groups in the game, and thus improve new player retention.
  • We want Player vs. Environment (PvE) options that are dynamic, variable, engaging and meaningful in the context of the lore of New Eden. We want non-player character (NPC) agents who interact with us in a realistic way, and are more than just dispensers of missions and tasks. We want a standings system that is more dynamic and which requires more well-considered choices by players. We want NPCs in space to behave like players would, interacting with and reacting to player actions, and even with other NPCs. We want PvE options for solo, small gang and large group engagement, and which pay fairly by balancing risk and reward.
  • We want more variety in exploration, with options for finding the unknown in deep space, and not just running standardized data and relic sites. We want new space to explore, with commensurate dangers and rewards - and the potential for unprecedented discoveries.
  • We want more variety in harvesting operations, which provide greater rewards for group interaction and for operating in riskier environments, and which offer viable options for execution by solo players, small gangs and large groups.
  • We want industry, market trading and hauling options that scale rewards relative to risk, and which are viable for solo, small gang, and large group players in every type of space.
  • We want war declarations to mean something in every type of space, with equivalent risk and commensurate reward for both the declarers and defenders, beyond just an expenditure of ISK, and which also encourage active engagement by all parties involved.
  • We want a broader factional warfare front, with better ways for both new and veteran players to become involved and engage in lore-driven player-vs-player (PvP) combat.
  • We want piracy and mercenary careers to be viable and entertaining professions.
  • We want in-game support for player social groups, such as NPSI fleets and incursion teams, and not just for formal corporations, alliances and coalitions.
  • We want both formally game supported and informal PvP options for 1-on-1, small gang and large player groups in every type of space.
  • We want more opportunities to interact realistically with the lore of New Eden, and to affect it in meaningful ways.
  • We want wormholes to remain dangerous and mysterious space, with more options for discovery of new routes to uncharted systems and space.

Some of this vision may apply equally well to null-sec space, but most of it is specific to options outside of 0.0. These are the kinds of things that the majority of players in EVE Online want to see developed and incorporated into the game.

I invite anyone who wants to see more attention and development allocated to the interests of those of us who do not principally play in null-sec to join me in this campaign. Perhaps it is time we finally get together, and start an "Occupy New Eden" movement. Perhaps then CCP might sit up and take notice of their largest subscriber constituency, and give us our due.

I am the 85 percent. Who's with me?

Fly safe! o7