Monday, July 28, 2014

A Little Bit About EVE Online's New Executive Producer

On Friday, CCP announced the promotion of Andie Nordgren (aka CCP Seagull) to become the next Executive Producer for EVE Online.  Despite releasing the news on a Friday, CCP was not trying to hide her promotion as the marketing department set up embargoed interviews with PCGamer, Polygon, and Massively as well as an AMA1 on Reddit.  TheMittani.com published an article covering the AMA while Eve News 24's coverage was limited to reposting CCP Seagull's dev blog.  Responses from EVE's blogosphere was quiet, although Susan Black's post on Nordgren's AMA was superior to that found in the EVE media.

The official CCP press release contained a paragraph I found rather interesting:
"'It gives me great joy and confidence that Andie has accepted this challenge. Over the years I have watched her go from strength to strength at CCP and believe her deep understanding of how communities thrive and grow will benefit EVE even more in this new role,' said Hilmar Veigar P√©tursson, CEO of CCP. 'As senior producer, Andie developed and communicated a tremendously inspiring path forward for EVE which, now that she’s at the helm, we are confident will deliver EVE Online to new and exciting places in its second decade.'"
Following the departure of John Lander from the role of executive producer following Fanfest 2013, I had the feeling that Hilmar wanted to hire some big name figure like Scott Hartsman to fill the position.2  In its coverage of Nordgren's promotion, Gamasutra pointed out a dev blog in which Hilmar stated that CCP was already interviewing candidates to replace Lander and that the transition would occur in the summer.  In fairness, he did not indicate the summer of which year.

I can't get inside Hilmar's mind to say definitively why he changed his mind about bringing in someone from outside CCP to fill the position.  But what I can do is try to examine CCP Seagull's background.  What about Nordgren made Hilmar decide that while she is not the candidate he originally wanted, she is the executive producer that EVE Online needs?

Unlike many high profile CCP employees, I found no record of Nordgren playing EVE before working for CCP.  She did have a notable gaming background, just not related to computers.  Nordgren participated in the Nordic LARP community for over 10 years.  Perhaps her most notable (and relevant) experience was producing the ARG element of the highly acclaimed 2007 Swedish television series, The Truth About Marika. 



In 2008, Nordgren moved to the U.K. to work for RjDj, a company that makes music games/apps for the iPhone and iPad.  Nordgren described the company as, "creat[ing] mind twisting hearing sensations by weaving your environment into music, using the sensors on your music player."  In 2010, her work at RjDj helped place Nordgren onto a list of people the new prime minister of Sweden should listen to about digital business.

In spring 2010, Nordgren was hired by CCP to work as a technical producer in the Core Technology Group.  Before starting work, she wrote something that could have a bearing now that she is EVE Online's executive producer:
"The CCP approach to creating games is in many ways a computer game parallell to the style and immersive aesthetics of the Nordic style larp scene that I’ve been a part of for the last 10 years. Player driven emergent game play is central, crafted and supported by world class game design.

"This approach, and the many technical frontiers CCP are working on to enable these truly massive virtual worlds (and the agile way they do it), have me super excited to join the Core Technology Group at CCP as a technical producer."
Her initial work at CCP had her working with the two core graphics teams.  In a dev blog introducing Carbon and the Core Technology Group to players, CCP Unifex, then the head of Carbon development, described the teams:
"These teams are those working in the bowels of Trinity2, making it perform better, provide sexier visuals and use more up-to-date technology. The Carbon Character Technology video from earlier in this blog demonstrates a small portion of their work-in-progress. As you can see, this team has been working on the graphics technology for avatars and the environments they will inhabit. For EVE that's Incarna. These guys also develop and maintain our in-house tools system, ‘Jessica', which is used by pretty much every developer in CCP and contains the Trinity2 rendering engine. As requests for improvements, new functionality or bug fixes come in from the EVE developers, the Core Graphics guys get on the case and deliver. Jessica is also used by the EVE video team in making all of our trailers, allowing them serious time-saving shortcuts in staging assets for dramatic narrative effect."
In January 2013, CCP Unifex, now the Executive Producer of EVE Online, announced in a dev blog that he had split the old senior producer's role into two.  He made CCP Ripley the Development Director, "whose role is fundamentally to make sure that as a development organisation we execute on our plans as well as is humanly possible."  The second half of the role retained the title of Senior Producer, but whose responsibility was "solidifying the product vision and short, medium and long term roadmap." The new senior producer was CCP Seagull.

In her initial dev blog as senior producer, Nordgren spelled out three principles she wanted to follow.  The first was end the practice of making expansions about features and instead make them about themes.  The second, designing with "enablers" and "instigators" in mind, was a bit more controversial.  Since the subject will undoubtedly come up in the near future, here is what she actually wrote on the subject:
"There are some people who make things work - they pre-fit ships for a fleet op, they run mega-spreadsheets for the industry production lines needed to equip the war effort, build tools to manage a corporation or command large fleets. Their activities enable others to have fun in EVE. And then there are some people who instigate big plans that others can help realize. Whether in null, low or high sec, the dreams and ambitions of these people inspire others with purpose.

"We will start working to give the 'Enablers' better tools, and to make sure 'Instigators' have cool and worthwhile ways to make an impact on the EVE universe when they inspire others to join them. We believe that helping these two archetypes achieve their own goals is the best way to have the sandbox of EVE thrive - by supporting them in creating their own exciting plans and schemes that people can be excited to join both when they arrive fresh out of a starter system or when they are looking for the next adventure in their ongoing EVE career.

"Giving third party developers better tools and more powerful access through CREST will be a big part of making life better for 'Enablers.'"
The final principle is to make players not feel like they are out of things to do in the game.  Having re-read the dev blog, I'll add the entire section here so I don't take her words out of context:
"We want to make EVE more accessible, but without making it casual, removing sophistication or dumbing it down. We think that today there are a lot of situations in EVE where you are left without any good answers when pondering what you should do next - unless you find someone already on the inside who can tell you. So for both new and experienced players, we'll be looking at what kind of answers we are providing to this question - both as a way to better point people to things that are already in the game, and as a way to find new features to develop for play styles or time requirements where we have gaps today."
Following Fanfest 2013 and Nordgren's teasing of player-built stargates, CCP ran into a major problem.  They failed to fill the now vacant executive producer position, relying on Chief Marketing Officer David Reid to temporarily fill-in part-time.  The executive producer is a full-time job, and Reid was put in a tough spot.  Especially since Hilmar had publicly stated he was looking for someone from outside the company to fill the executive producer role.

Declining Player Activity From June 2013 to June 2014

I'm not an expert by any means, but that kind of leadership uncertainty lasting for any significant amount of time had to have hurt the organization.  As an outside observer, I wonder how secure anyone felt a medium to long term plan was with the knowledge that someone new could just come in and throw everything out the window.  Will we wind up calling the period from summer of 2013 to summer of 2014 the lost year?

EVE Online, however, was suffering from more than just a management issue.  The team looking into implementing the vision of player-built stargates found many obstacles in EVE's aging systems and code base that would prevent delivering a Jesus feature that could attract new players.

The Roadmap Presented At Fanfest 2014
At Fanfest 2014, Nordgren presented a roadmap that requires fixing many things that players have wanted changed for years.  Basic systems of the game (see the graphic above).  If CCP had problems recruiting from outside the company before, would anyone want to walk into a situation where most of the game needed rework?  And of those who would, how many would want to move to Iceland?

Of course, circumstances have also changed, making Nordgren a much more attractive candidate for the position.  First, she has a year more experience dealing with the actual game and not just the underlying systems.  Also, a year more experience demonstrating to senior management within CCP that she knows what she is doing.

Next, the business conditions have changed.  When Hilmar's dev blog was posted, CCP seemed at the top of the world.  EVE Online had just surpassed 500,000 subscriptions, DUST 514 was a month away from launch, and World of Darkness still seemed a game that could make it to launch.  Today, World of Darkness is dead and DUST 514 is on death's door.  CCP has a promising game, EVE: Valkyrie, on an unproven platform and a FPS, EVE: Legion, in development.  As for EVE itself, CCP no longer touts the number of subscribers to its flagship game.  In the press release announcing Nordgren's promotion, EVE is described as "the groundbreaking, sci-fi online game with hundreds of thousands of subscribers worldwide."

Does a sense of urgency exist in Reykjavik?  If the move from a six-month to a six-week deployment schedule is any indication, the answer is yes.  Another reason to pick someone from within CCP who is familiar with the plans for the game instead of an outsider who will need months to get up to speed with not only the plans, but the corporate culture and player expectations. 

Retaining players is a priority and someone new to the EVE universe could easily step on some toes and begin a firestorm of protest.  That occurred last fall with first plans to reintroduce the Golden Magnate and Guardian-Vexor as prizes given out by Somer Blink to promote Eve Vegas, then giving 30 Ishukone Watch Scorpions to Somer Blink employees.  Given her background of not only living through the Summer of Rage and its aftermath but her LARP experience of creating worlds, I don't think Nordgren would allow that type of disruption in the fabric of the EVE universe to occur.

My belief that she has taken the hard-learned lesson that players will now look at what CCP does and not what it says was reinforced by a late answer to Nordgren's AMA:
"As I go through the comments again, I just want to add something about why I am not going into specifics a lot. There are two main reasons:

"One is that CCP has a history of promising things and then not delivering what was promised. I am not going to be a part of that pattern, so I am very careful to not put specifics out there when I am not actually talking about things that are far enough into development that I know what they are, and that we are going to ship them. For example, I mentioned that we are working on properly sharable overviews, because it is both something that I was part of initiating, and something CCP Karkur and her team has in a state far enough that I am confident we will ship this actually soon, without the (tm). (When it comes to player built stargates, they represent a vision, not a specific implementation of how that will work - those specifics will come when we get to actually developing that part of the vision.)

"The other reason is that I am not going to sign team members up for designs and work - because making changes to EVE is complex and unless you work in one of our teams that have programmers, designers, testers, art, sound - then you can have all the ideas you like for perfect solutions, that may then not even be possible because of design aspects or technical aspects that don't come up until you sit down and actually work through the problem. Executive Producer is a management position that is there to drive the game forward by creating and serving the organization that makes it - not to design it in detail. If I did, I'd be a terrible Executive Producer.

"Now, I of course understand that this gets frustrating, especially with burning topics like null sec and sov being discussed - and I get frustrated too because I can see how many answers sound too vague and like empty promises of "someday maybe" - but the fact that I am not talking about specifics does not mean that we as a team that makes EVE Online don't have specifics or won't do anything. If anything, it could be seen as a good sign that the Executive Producer for EVE does not micromanage teams or promise certain fixes without knowing they are possible to deliver."

Finally, I am going to close with another video.  The part where Nordgren starts to explain the roadmap and her vision begins at 1:16:46 if the coding doesn't work.  When I watched again I could see how all of her experience influenced what she was presenting.


The question now is: CCP Seagull isn't the executive producer that Hilmar originally wanted, but is she the executive producer that EVE needs?


NOTES:

1.  Ask Me Anything.

2.  At the time, Scott Hartman had left Trion and his position as the head of RIFT.  He would later return to become CEO.

15 comments:

  1. Shame that I didn't discover this blog earlier.
    Great article, taught me quite a lot regarding Seagull.

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  2. Dinsdale PirannhaJuly 28, 2014 at 10:08 AM

    Bottom line, whatever CCP has been doing, and she was a big part of it, is NOT working, based on the PCU and the shrinking sub base.

    CCP does NEED new blood, specifically to break up the existing culture at CCP, because that culture spawned the mess we have today. Her entrenchment at the top is the opposite of what Eve, and CCP, needs.

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  3. Bottom line, whatever CCP has been doing, we're yet to know of it and to see its effect.
    Man, you're such a pain.

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  4. With the LARPing background, one would assume that CCP originally hired Andie Nordgren to be part of the World of Darkness production effort, yeah?

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  5. Not really. However, the teams she worked with did work on the graphics engine for World of Darkness, so you could say that her LARP experience gave her a leg up on other candidates.

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  6. Dinsdale PirannhaJuly 28, 2014 at 9:54 PM

    What on earth are you talking about? We just had a release last week that showed explicitly what CCP has been working on. This Ayn Rand acolyte was at the helm for the entire debacle, and the PCU shows what the players think of it. She also laid out what her priorities are. Breaking null sec stagnation, even going as far as breaking the cartels, is looking like late 2015, maybe even 2016. And high sec continues to get hammered under her watch.


    So yeah, we see EXACTLY what CCP has been working on, and what they plan on focusing on. None of it looks like something that will turn around the Titanic.

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  7. Seagull is intensely aware that 0.0 needs reform. She can only do what is humanly possible. The last rushed, incomplete, poorly mapped change to 0.0 is what brought us the current situation. Better that it's done properly this time.

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  8. And stop calling people Ayn Rand acolytes ffs. You even called me that and I hold her in utter contempt.

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  9. Oh yes, let's focus on nullsec, I am certain that high sec players will just keep paying for the privilege of being ignored and/or shafted with each patch...

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  10. Did you just call a feminist socialist an 'Ayn Rand acolyte'

    How retarded can a human being get?

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  11. Shades of Usenet. The interwebs have come full circle.

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  12. Hopefully the LARP experience will help her realize there should be more to New Eden than the military-industrial complex.


    We've had more and more tools for bashing each others heads in for a while now. I'd like to see something genuinely collaborative and inclusive for a change. Stargates are a step in, at least, a different direction.


    Great article Noizy.

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  13. Great article indeed. LARP is LOL and EVE being in a LARPer's control means the end is near. LARP. LAME, unimaginative (despite claims to the contrary), small-minded, willing to settle for something less-than-real, .. i could go on. Please. Tereshkova? Really?

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  14. Huh. I thought she was a dyke. Guess I was wrong seeing as how she just had a baby. Sorry, Andie! No offense :)

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  15. Looks like Gianturco has EvE Online right where he has wanted it from the beginning; all he needs to do is tell his Something Awful minions that it is time to move on to the next game, and he will have accomplished his original, primary goal, the same primary goal every time the SA crowd infests a game.........the death of said game.


    The instant and simultaneous loss of over 10,000 active subs will sink CCP. They should have never coddled Goon cock as much as they did, but hey, they were warned. Repeatedly.


    History repeats itself.


    I wonder what game will be next on their destruction list?

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