The Internet is an amazing place: It’s now a major source of information, global communication and sharing. It’s a source of great evil, douche-baggery, and generally brings out the worst in people, and it’s also revolutionised basic economics. People on the internet are simultaneously the most vocal, and the most insignificant group ever, but they can still make a difference if the try hard enough. I’ve said this before, but EVE Online – the space-based MMO from Icelandic company CCO – is a fascinating game to hear about. Start playing it, and it requires a level of concentration and patience few can generate, but it’s still amazing to hear about none the less.
Not sure how many of you have been following MMO-news over the past two weeks, but EVE has had a major drama-incident that was a bit of an eye opener all around.
It started, with the release of the latest content expansion for the game, Incarna. (EVE has two free major content updates a year, along with patches). The first of the two major changes with this update was the first tangible step towards ‘Ambulation’. Before this, there were no ‘people’ in EVE for you to see, just the internet spaceships. For a while, CCP have been working towards allowing your avatar to leave your ship and walk around, and Incarna finally allows you to do that in a limited way with the new Captains Quarter’s area. In this area, you can walk around, do all of the things you could do in the old interface, and even some things you can’t.
There was a little bit of grumbling here, as many of the core fan base resented being forced to adopt something they’d never really wanted in the first place, but this was all within the norm. Change brings about resentment, and there will always be resistance. It’s worth noting though that the Captain’s Quarters actually overloaded some users GPU’s, which is very shoddy design on CCP’s part. It’s fair enough wanting to force people, however gently, into adopting this new evolution, but Jesus Christ at least make sure your user base can handle it.
The second major change – and the main source of the drama- was the introduction of a new micro-transaction store. The store only sells vanity items for your avatars, using a brand new currency called Aurum. Aurum can be bought with real money, or in-game money providing you can generate enough. Anything, from skirts, to jackets, to monocles can be bought, and they will be viewable on your avatar and your avatar picture and are basically a status symbol. The problem here was everything was ridiculously priced ($25 for a blouse, and more than $68 for the monocle, for example), which caused more grumbling and also had some negative bleed back into the main economy via inflation. Again, the grumbling here wasn’t that surprising, as other MMO’s have introduced ridiculously priced vanity items to similar grumbling.
Shit seriously got real though when a series of internal newsletters, emails and a poorly worded dev-blog were released to try and justify the current state of affairs, and calm the malcontents. Suffice to say, the EVE online community was NOT happy – the dev blog was condescending, the internal memo from the CEO basically suggested that they shouldn’t even bother listening to anything the community says, and the internal newsletter hinted at the sale of gameplay-affecting items via this new store, something that CCP had promised it wouldn’t do.
It was the kind of corporate mentality that you all hate companies like Activision and EA for, and yet you can’t help but expect it from them because they are massive multi-billion dollar entities. CCP, despite not always being the sharpest tool in the shed, have usually been nice about the business side of things, which was why the attitude was so shocking.
What did the community do in response? They rioted. And this is why I love EVE as it’s one of the few games where protest movements like this would actually work. Thousands of players flooded the major economic areas of the game, which overloaded the servers and caused major drop-outs, effectively bringing the in-game economy to a halt for a short period of time. Simultaneously, droves of players were unsubscribing and moving on to other games. Whether it was this event specifically, or just the general sense that things were escalating, CCP offered a truce and flew out the CSM – a democratically elected body of players who are supposed to represent the interested of the EVE community – for an emergency meeting. They met, talked, released a statement, and now things seem to be quieting down.
Just goes to show how rubbish I can be at this whole blogging malarkey – I was supposed to write this as it was all happening, but it’s all finished now. Still, in general it’s a pretty interesting event to watch unfold, even in retrospect. At the time of writing, most issues have been resolved – CCP are working on making Captains Quarters more stable, they addressed concerns over micro-transactions – stating that they will never sell “game-breaking” items (although the definition of which is still vague), and that they will be introducing more, less pricey items. To be honest, the price of the vanity items was never the main point of concern in the first place – yeah, it’s a bit idiotic to not add “low tier” items for the less well off, but everyone generally accepted that ridiculously priced items like monocles were basically a sign of wealth, and they were cool with that.
What they were not cool with was being treated with the level of disdain it appeared CCP had for them. As it turns out, much of the drama was down to basic miscommunication and ill thought-out words. The only thing that hasn’t being addressed was Hilmar’s (The CEO’s) internal email where he said CCP would look at actions, and not words. CCP has refused to comment on the internal email and Hilmar himself hasn’t apologised or anything, so I doubt that’s ever going to get revolved. Players will forget though, and even the ones that don’t, EVE is a game you don’t walk away from over something like that unless you were wanting to quit anyway.
No one would have faulted CCP for trying to expand their business model. Even though players sometimes forget, the majority of us recognised that this is at the end of the day a business, and CCP need to increase their revenue if they want to grow – especially to help find projects like DUST 514, which is something I am very interested in. Communication is key however, and CCP have a history of not being very good at communicating their point of view properly, which is a shame because so much of this could have been avoided otherwise.
On a lighter note, I came across this Cracked.Com article (love those guys) detailing the 7 biggest dick moves in online gaming. Guess what? Two are from EVE Online.