Thursday, 13 April 2017

EVE Fanfest 2017 Keynote: A Flock of Seagulls

You sort of know when a TV show has passed its best when it kludges together an episode using clips from previous episodes. The producers know the writing's on the wall so reusing old content avoids the need to invest in new scripts and develop new plotlines.A cheap way to leverage the brand which gives the networks something to fill their schedule with and to hold on to advertisers.

Fake Plague

This was one of my idle thoughts as I headed home after my brief re-engagement with Eve. I had been in the Postouvin system orbiting the fake Keepstar and fake asteroid mining colony. This as it transpired was the peak of CCP's in-game involvement with the Kyonoke Plague event at Fanfest. More has been promised but nothing happened for the 70 or so people hanging around the system. Just a little bit of in-character dialogue in local would have been sufficient but it was not to be. 

The really frustrating aspect was lack of acknowledgement of the players who had dutifully turned up. It wasn't as if this was a low profile event. CCP Seagull's opening Fanfest Keynote topic started with the Kyonoke Plague and she insisted "Parts of this story will unfold inside the game as well and your help maybe needed" It wasn't. 

My grumpy knee jerk view was to take it as a lesson learned. It turns out Eve lore is a parasitical activity. It feeds off the game but gives nothing in return. When you think about it, that is pretty Eve like behaviour but like a Jita scam I won't be seduced by that again. Give me time and my view might mellow.

The keynote itself appeared to echo the Kyonoke Plague. Lots of noise, good presentation but fundamentally little in the way of in-game substance and a nagging doubt that there were things CCP didn't want to tell us. I say "appeared". It actually did look like that but it seems there is more to the story beyond the keynote itself. Let's start by picking over the bones of what was said.

Nostalgia isn't what it used to be

So after the Kyonoke Plague (non)event topic, Seagull moves on to the achievements of the preceding year. Cue a video that gives us the following highlights:
  • Force Auxiliaries
  • Fighters
  • New Doomsday Weapons
  • Citadels
  • Serpentis Capital Ships
  • Multift
  • Billboards
  • Purity of the Throne
  • Coronation of Empress Catiz
  • Crimson Harvest
  • New Explosions
  • Command Bursts
  • Fitting Simulation
  • Alpha Clones
  • Porpoise
  • Engineering Complexes
  • Guardians Gala
  • New Skins
  • NPC Mining Operations

"What a year huh?" enquires Seagull. Well since she asked...  


Obviously, much of this was announced at last year's Fanfest. For many, including myself it didn't go down well and there was an obvious reason for that response. That list only ticks the boxes of a very narrow (but important to CCP) Eve demographic. 

What are you (and do you matter)?

Most people frame Eve players in terms of the space they reside in (LS, HS, WH or NS). You can use that generalisation to an extent but it misses the point. Players reside in a particular area(s) because it suits their playstyle. To use a mad  example, a person who likes playing electric guitars loudly is not going to feel comfortable playing in a symphony orchestra or a gospel choir. But they would more likely be comfortable in a punk band, rock band, or (insert noisy guitar music genre here). Telling the guy or girl to HTFU and get gud at playing the oboe isn't going work. They will just move on. But that was what the Wrecking machine trope was doing. 

Interestingly CCP themselves classify players using 5 "personas". CCP Quant in a PCGamer article explained it this way:

“From our research, there are five key personas,” he says. “There’s the professional, who’s the most elite player, involved in almost everything in EVE. Manufacturing, PVP, mining, and social activity. Then there’s entrepreneur, who’s similar, but more focused on industry.”
“Aggressors are what most people would consider pirates. They’re highly engaged with the game and more focused on PVP than the other personas. And social players spend most of their time interacting with their friends, and they aren’t really that active on top of that.”
“And then there’s the biggest chunk of the playerbase, which are the traditional players. They’re not really seeking out  group activities. They just want to mind their own business, either in small groups or alone. They only play EVE for an hour at a time, without having to rely on the social side of things.”
"And traditional players are the kind most likely to have periods of high activity in EVE, then long periods of low activity. “It could be their personal life gets in the way, or they just get bored. And these players don’t really leave, they just go dormant for a while. Then they’ll come back a few months later.”

So in CCP's own terms, last year's keynote was pitched at the "professionals", "entrepreneurs" and possibly the "aggressors but excluded and to a degree adversely impacted the majority "traditional" players. 

From a financial perspective this isn't the worst idea as "professionals", "entrepreneurs" are big spenders. So we had the conflicting indicators of CCP's increasing profitability yet player activity crashing after the Citadel release. Cue the mandatory player activity graphs:


Eve player on Tranquility since last Fanfest

The introduction of Alpha clones was well executed and mitigated the activity crash but it hasn't addressed the cause. More on that later. Anyway, the impression possibly taken away from this review of the year is not necessarily positive one. In my case it reminded me why I had stopped playing.

Eve player activity on Steam since las Fanfest

Alpha Clones

CCP Seagull then talks about Alpha Clones. She is rightfully proud of their introduction and declares it a great success. But is it? Really? It has not been a failure certainly and has been implemented seamlessly into the game and she and the team deserve credit for that. It could have gone badly wrong. But they haven't been a runaway success either. If you have the "professional" mindset you can probably make them work but other than that they are a bit meh. Alpha's are barely discussed now.


Book

Next up is the new book. Well presented and looks a quality product. Great for the lore parasites but does nothing in game so let's move on.

LARP

aka CSM. CCP's plan to make it a solely Nullsec body was largely successful. The odd streamer still gets in so they will have to try harder next year. Reducing to members down to 10 from 14 clearly wasn't enough. Personally, I think the less CSM members the better so 4 down, 10 to go.

Project Discovery. 

For science with planets! This is amazing but it is an iteration rather than something new. A different episode of the same show so the novelty is not as striking.


Eye Candy

The same could be said of the next Topic. The look and feel of Eve. New graphics and rendering demonstrated by the model of the Vexor over time. This is all good and who doesn't vote for goodness? But a bit of a reality check is needed. Apart from the new suns, this investment in eye candy is to sell skins primarily. Eve's look and feel to the average player is a visual car crash of the Overview, HUD, Market, Local, Scanning, tripwire and multiple blinky flashy things. On a laptop there is no screen estate left to look at the magnificence of Eve. You could really be in real space and not know it. Maybe we are, but more importantly, what is that Sabre on the overview about to do.... File this under beautiful but useless.


The Big Reveal - for NullSec

This this point we nearly halfway through the keynote. A keynote is supposed to set the future tone or direction of the subject of discussion but nothing substantively new or different has been shared. This changes when CCP Larrikin waltzes onto the stage. He announces something genuinely new. PVE. My ears prick up, New smarter PVE. It really sounds interesting. But then you realise it is for Alliances or large corps and for Nullsec. Panic over, the majority of players can dismiss this because they will probably never see one of these sites. This is one for the "professionals" only and therefore just a continuation of CCP's existing policy. 

And besides, CCP Larrikin is... well how can I put it? Well he is an Australian. Nothing wrong with that. Someone has to be. But when an Australian says it is "Part of our push for immersive, reactive, dynamic, playerverse environment content that contextually fits with your location!" you have to pinch yourself. It would be like Trump reciting Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment in the original Russian through the medium of Twitter. It is just wrong. Fortunately, this section only lasted 6 minutes. Existential crisis averted.


Structures

Next topic was a look back at structures and the new moon mining platform. Again a lot of time being burned for a small demographic. It is all good and clever but for most irrelevant and for some a disincentive. Another addition for the "professionals" and "Entrepreneur's" playpen though. Again this is not anything substantively new in any case, just a previously announced creative iteration of what has gone on before.


New Ghost Experience

Time for CCP Ghost to talk about the New Player Experience. But CCP Ghost decided to talk about CCP Ghost again instead. He does it engagingly and I guess his new found understanding of gravitational forces is a good thing but it takes while to get to the point. "Players need a purpose!" he declares.  Actually players want CCP to stop nerfing their purpose into the realms of impossibility but it amounts to the same thing. Or at least it might do. We will never know because it turns out that what looked like a profound insight was actually just a cheesy segway to the next video. The video was quite good which is unfortunate because we have now forgotten what CCP Ghost was talking about (Players need hands? Squirrel!).

Eve Aurum is Dying

CCP Seagull returns to the stage to snap us back into reality. Aurum is dying she tells us. We know but we don't tell her. She probably suspects though. People are looking at their watches. It has been one hour and 6 minutes of a non keynote keynote speech. This could be a record. Finally she caves in and boots into keynote mode.


Finally the Keynote

Phrases like "Empower capsuleers to take over more of the universe" start pouring out her mouth. Now if there is one thing we have learned over the course of CCP Seagull's tenure (apart from her being extremely good at her job), it is that when she says "capsuleers" she really means alliances and large corporations. The more she says "capsuleer" the more the average player should worry. 

She also says moar structures and moar ships in case there was any doubt. We already know who they are for. It looks bad. It then looks doubly bad because the route map has vanished to be replaced some banal illustrations of moody Eve spacescapes. Capsuleer (Alliance) stargates? "Not now dear" Seagull scolded, "When the time comes". Frankly, for a keynote - all 8 minutes out of 82 of it,  it was vacuous. And that is triply bad because you just know that CCP will be introducing features that they don't want to talk about. Skillpoint extraction, Alpha Clones, and the death of Aurum are all examples of non-trivial game changes that haven't been announced at either Fanfest or Eve Vegas.

Almost as a side note CCP Seagull mentioned there will be an expansion in Winter that will be PVE in empyrean space. That could mean anything or nothing and I took it as the latter. And that was it.


Conclusion Part 1

So as you might have grasped, my very partial view was the coming year will be a rinse and repeat of the previous year with a new PvE opportunity for Nullsec thrown in.because PvP is so hard in Nullsec. And the previous year hadn't been a good one. What would happen next is predictable. CCP continues to make money as player activity continues to decline. The worry being they have already played the free to play card to bump up the stats. So like the tired old TV series you make the mental note to not by the next boxed set....


Conclusion Part 2

But then something odd happened.  At some point after the "Keynote" CCP Seagull had an interview with one of the gaming press - MassivelyOP. You really should read it. It is not that it contradicts what she said but it does shed a completely different light on the new PVE functionality and the Winter expansion in particular. Her cagey and cryptic keynote performance is replaced with narrative that is far more engaging and forthcoming. But most importantly there is a coherent vision that actually ties it all together.

For example, when asked:

MassivelyOP: "We’ve heard about the Blood Raider shipyard, this alliance-scale PvE that mimics PvP. So obviously the next stage for this is to scale this down and roll out more of this type of PvE. Is there any kind of time scale for that?" 
CCP Seagull said: "That’s going to be, in some form or another, a big part of the winter expansion. We want to bring this type of content to highsec in a distinct way where we want to make something for highsec first, which is something we haven’t done in a long time. We have a bit of a history now of many developers’ hearts kind of living in nullsec or lowsec, and of course we get a lot of community feedback from there, and I think it’s time for us to make something for highsec first. Of course that’s also a way for us to engage with all those new players out there, by bringing the content to them rather than waiting for them to find their way to the content on the fringes.".

She then goes on to say a lot more but like I said, you really need to read the article for yourself. There you have it. A high sec expansion coming this Winter. Of course, there are a multitude of questions this raises. Alliances and large corps in Hisec are a rare commodity if only because wardecs don't make them viable for example. But the fundamental question has to be why on earth couldn't she have said that during the 1 hour and 22 minutes of not-a-keynote speech we had endure? Worth buying the boxed set do you think?


Friday, 24 March 2017

CCP Aurum backtrack, Postouvin, and further small guy oppression

Good news for common sense this week. CCP's Team Size Matters, the team responsible for phasing out Aurum decided that taxing the majority of accounts 100% to prop up the PLEX price for the few and to wipe off CCP's balance sheet liabilities without honouring them was perhaps a bad idea. So now they are proposing that accounts with less than 1000 Aurum will be refunded in PLEX. Just not straightaway.  This is a massive improvement, but there are problems still with this approach. As I said before, tinkering around with currencies results in plenty of unintended consequences. Precisely what that PLEX will be worth by the time the Aurum poor accounts are reimbursed is an open question.

In other news, CCP's Team Five O released a couple of structure Dev Blog's : THE ADVANCING WORLD OF UPWELL STRUCTURES and INTRODUCING UPWELL REFINERIES. There is quite a lot digest there but Kirith Kodachi does a decent analysis on EN24 here. The takeaway for me is that the solo casuals and small corporations are being stuffed again. Lowsec and Hisec are also being punished by ongoing developer indifference. Eve may be more profitable than it has ever been but the activity slope continues its journey south. Continually mugging independent players is not going to improve matters.


More positively, I was induced to log in for the first time in ages. This was due entirely due to the Kyonoke Plague Outbreak. I am always a sucker for Eve lore so I took a trip to Postouvin where the Society of Conscious Thought are setting up a Keepstar for the purpose of  researching the plague and to hopefully find a cure. CCP are also running an event at Fanfest that will in someway be connected to this site so I am genuinely curious to see how this will develop. Postouvin is an isolated pocket of Hisec so care is needed passing through Low and Nullsec. I took the direct route and used an Ares Interceptor which slipped passed a small and probably drunk gate camp without issue. I came across Marc726 in Postouvin and he as ever describes the scene and background perfectly  He puts my clumsy screenshots to shame:


Spot the Ares competition
Final note before I sign off. I am really surprised how much tax my HiSec POCO's have pulled in while I have been away. The neoliberal economic model of generating income from non productive assets is alive and well in New Eden. But given where the real world now is, it is beginning to look a bit dated don't you think? Probably a post in there somewhere. Another day perhaps.


Friday, 17 March 2017

RIP AURUM (announces CSM to their friends. Two days before CCP Dev Blog)

Well it was almost a well kept secret. Yes, the  PLEX CHANGES ON THE WAY! Dev Blog was announced yesterday along with the accompanying video below:


This was preceded by a spike in PLEX prices so it's not unreasonable to suspect there was a leak. I am sure the very useful CSM (as they keep telling us) will be mounting a full investigation in order to justify your vote. They should have enough ISK by now to afford one. Hell, I will even help them start with this Jita PLEX price history:


OK, with that fantasy out of the way, what is the impact of this change? Firstly AURUM - the currency you buy things from the New Eden Store with is being abolished. Secondly, PLEX is going to be made more granular and will be able to be used in the same way AURUM currently is. So much simpler then and this is the line CCP are pushing. Anyone with 1000+ AURUM will have their balance converted into PLEX. Anyone with less than 1000 AURUM will lose it if they don't spend it.

This of course stinks for those impacted and this might be the majority of accounts. CCP's rationale is they don't want the market flooded with PLEX. Now there are a number of established ways you can avoid this. Just give players game time for example. But no, CCP has decided to tax the poorest accounts by 100% to subsidize the richer accounts by keeping the value of their PLEX stock up. A healthy reminder if I needed it on why I stopped playing Eve.

However, if you put the inequitable transition to one side, the change on a day to day basis is not that disruptive to the game. Like Skill Extractors, this is a stepping stone to some other change. Quite what that might be is unknown at the moment. Well I say that but you could ask the people who bought PLEX off the market a couple of days ago. They might have an idea. My tinfoil would be Beta, Delta clones and Weekly game passes but that is pure speculation but it is not unreasonable to think that Team Size Matters hunt for revenue generation continues unabated.

Longer term I think there is a problem. In the real world, debasing a currency doesn't end well. In this post Bretton Woods era currency is backed by a promise. The ability of a country to deliver on that promise helps determine the strength of the currency. The Venezuelan Bolivar is not strong and the country has an inflation rate of 62%. The Kuwaiti has inflation of 3% and has one of the strongest currencies. So when CCP shy's away from a (in game) currency undertaking or devalues its currencies in some way then at some point the trust in those currencies falls. And tinkering with the currencies is becoming a habit for CCP. 

The intrinsic value of PLEX isn't what it was two years ago. Back then a PLEX (or a sub) provided not only game time but the only way (ignoring the character bazaar) to get Skill Points. While you can still use game time to accrue Skill Points, it is not the only way to get them now. Skill Injectors and Alpha Clones can also do this. So if your need as a player is primarily Skill Points, then game time is not necessary. Consequently PLEX through CCP's actions has less intrinsic worth than it used to have.

Also, the liquidation of AURUM into PLEX is going to unleash a lot of locked up PLEX onto the market. A market is based on scarcity and PLEX is going to be less scarce. It is likely then that the Aurum you bought is going to be worth less in ISK than you thought once it is exchanged for PLEX.

Putting this altogether, the dilution of PLEX and CCP's willingness to cancel a promise of value and you have the prerequisites for  a significant PLEX price fall. Of course, CCP can always intervene in the market but there comes a point as in 2008 and real life quantitative easing where it ceases to work.

That point is determined by the final factor: player confidence in the currency. That is harder to determine. A diamond is just a bit of squished carbon but tell that to Mrs Kong. So I could be wrong. But if I was playing, I wouldn't be hoarding PLEX.  Afterall, can you think of a real life converged currency and which wasn't underwritten by a promise? I'm sure the Greeks can.

P.S. PLEX Vault? Carebear that I am I still fail to see the need for this. Pretty disappointing really.