Monday, 14 October 2013

The Siren Call of a Crack Whore (BB50)

Blog Banter #50 - Changes

Welcome to the continuing monthly EVE Blog Banters and our 50th edition! For more details about what the blog banters are visit the Blog Banter page.

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With the Rubicon expansion being announced and the SOMER Blink scandals (or non-scandals depending on your point of view) that have erupted on the community at the same time, it truly feels like an age of EVE has passed and a new one is dawning.

But which direction is it going? 

This blog banter can be about several different topics: 
- where do you think EVE is going? Is it a good or bad vision ahead?
- if you were EVE's new Executive Producer, where would you take the game?
- What comes (or should come) after Rubicon in terms of the mechanics and ship balancing we've seen? (CSM8 not allowed to answer this one!)
- Is there anything in EVE's ten year past that should be resurrected? Or buried and forgotten?
- What is the future of the community? What should or should not change?

The Siren Call of a Crack Whore

Everyone's EVE experience is a journey.

Those first few steps often made by a wide-eyed, naive debutant full of vim and wonder. The many opportunities laid before them by the grand concept of the EVE Universe will test and tempt them. User experience WILL vary.

Some will adapt and thrive, some will struggle and quit, others will fade and drift. Many will do all of the above. Repeatedly. It is the accepted dogma of New Eden and for some, an endless cycle.

It is this player churn that burns at the heart of EVE Online like a sun, capsuleer interactions and reactions generating content, drama and casting light on the dark universe that CCP developers have painstakingly created over the last decade.

The balance is so delicate and CCP's task as curators so perilous; without some nurturing, the light from the player-Sun will eventually dim, leaving a previously vibrant universe devoid of life. However, too much interference and CCP has learned to its cost that the reaction can be destructive.

What future can there be for such a strange and unique creation?

The First [Twenty-] One is Always Free

The single, most powerful lure which beckons EVE players into its dark celestial embrace is the vast potential and audacious scope of its vision. To the outsider, there is so much wonder and majesty to the EVE Online concept; tumultuous player conflicts, a constantly expanding history, endless explorable space, a labyrinthine backstory, beautiful visuals and ten years of polish.

Compounding this is the fact that EVE Online - and the broader EVE Universe - has organically evolved beyond its original design goals and has become something far more than a mere online game; it is a masterful work of social engineering which holds a mirror up to human nature, blurring the lines between traditional entertainment, vocational activity and lifestyle choice.

It is also a technological feat, with its single-shard universe creating a depth of continuity found nowhere else, especially now its doors are open to multiple methods of entry as pioneered by DUST 514. It is easy to see how the EVE Universe can be over-sold - there is so much ludicrous, bombastic potential energy about the thing.

The Promise

Yet for the insider, the veteran capsuleer, the invested player, it feels like something is missing, just out of sight in the mind's eye.

It's like we're waiting for the promise we saw in those early days to be fulfilled. We're eager to see if that half-formed feature will be moulded to completion, we're watching for that game-changing element that will make it all click (while perversely hoping they won't change too much and break stuff).  We're hoping that the next expansion will fulfil the promise we think EVE made us when we first started out, that EVE will become that thing we knew it had the potential to be. Waiting, watching, hoping.

In the meantime, we'll just go roam, chat, mine, ship spin, write a thing, etcetera. With apologies to John Lennon: EVE is what happens while you're busy making other plans. A culture of “making do” has developed.

What started as an inspiring relationship with a thing of depth and beauty becomes a desperate chase for a fix you can rarely satisfy. As the title said, EVE's siren call is the teasing beckon of an unpredictable, cruel, and frankly psychotic creature who makes victims and kings of us all.

With this realisation comes the ability to see behind the curtain at the naked reality of a game universe far less complete than we first believed. Like many of its players, it's still searching for something to fill the emptiness.

The potential we initially saw may still be there, but even after nearly 15 years of development, that potential has still not been fulfilled. You have to start wondering if it ever will be. Has EVE lost its purpose and simply become a gaming retirement home for embittered veterans, hapless dreamers and professional victims?

Something IS missing. But what?

The Conveyor Belt of Wish Fulfilment

The sheer scope of EVE Online is a developmental rod for CCP's own back.

Every EVE player has a different vision for EVE's future - such is the nature of an open and limitless game world which encourages - nay, requires - lateral thinking and some imagination. As a result, there is an endless list of of wishes and demands which cannot possibly all be met in the short-term. There are so many directions in which  EVE could be developed, demographics to which the game could and should appeal, that CCP's resources must either be stretched or focused.

Every direction chosen is a risk; too few resources will prompt a fumbled delivery, too many will leave fewer resources elsewhere.

Every direction ignored could be a missed opportunity or even lead to player disappointment and anger.

So it is that every CCP developer labours to appease the unpredictable demands of a multi-polar community, negotiate the shifting sands of the competitive MMO market, and soak up the pressure of being a gear in the wheel of the machine purposed to deliver CCP Seagull's “five year vision, a three year road map and a 12-month plan.”

Whether EVE's 20th expansion, Rubicon, really is the point of no return the name implies remains to be seen. EVE's journey has reached a point where things need to be mixed up. I want to see the old guard kept happy as new blood floods in. I want to see fresh content and new frameworks for gameplay, not just a few tweaks to existing mechanics (but we need those too).

Bottling Stardust or Just Selling us Glitter?

Since the end of the ship-steadying post-Incarna development phase ably led by the then Executive Producer  Jon 'CCP Unifex' Lander (now re-purposed to oversee CCP's mobile strategy), the senior officers remaining on deck are Senior Producer Andie 'CCP Seagull' Nordgren and Development Director Stefanía 'CCP Ripley' G. Halldórsdóttir.

Under their direction, CCP has certainly been making some of the right noises, but thus far nothing more significant than iterations and allusions have made it out of the workshop. It seems even after ten years, that awe-inspiring promise that EVE showed is delivering only more promises.

For EVE to thrive, it needs to embrace change; it cannot rely solely on the rheumy-eyed veteran players (as vital a component as they may be). The way must be paved to create future veteran players, but to do so modern gaming values must be embraced.

It must capitalise on the IP which is not only the market leader in mass-population emergent gameplay, but also has found significant purchase in fields as diametrically opposed as eSports and roleplaying.

It needs to find ways to share New Eden with those seeking immediate short-term fulfilment, to become accessible to a more casual market, to integrate modern gaming trends, but (and it's a big but) without compromising the great legacy which CCP has built. Having DUST 514, EVE: Valkyrie and an eye on mobile applications shows they have the materials, the tools and the ideology. So half the fight is already won.

But whether CCP are truly prepared – or even capable – of fulfilling EVE Online's true potential remains to be seen, or if they'll just flail in the general direction of success as they face-plant into the muddy puddle of untempered ambition. But I hope they try rather than try to milk the status quo and keep stringing us along with clever marketing and “just one more free expansion” crack.

They should throw stuff at the player-Sun - it'll either have no effect, burn brighter or explode. Do nothing and it'll just fade away - and that's no way for such an epic journey to end.

Dare to be bold, CCP. Dare to be bold.

[This is one of many community responses to the discussion topic posed for Blog Banter 50. See the officially curated list at Inner Sanctum of the Ninveah for views from around the EVE blogosphere.]