Friday, December 18, 2015

The Man In The Mirror

Sometimes things happen that I have to write about. When someone gives me a juicy softball like Sion Kumitomo served up on TMC today, I can't help but take a swing.

Don't worry, I won't do an imitation of James315 analyzing that proposal, although I probably could. Instead, I will try to limit myself to a piece of tinfoil he threw out that caught my attention since it touches a subject that interests me. No, not RMT. Get your minds out of the gutter. The subject involves how CCP will act once the studio has multiple games in front of players. Sorry DUST players, but until CCP moves your game onto a next gen console or onto PC,  DUST doesn't count.

Let's stipulate that Sion is absolutely correct about the following statement from his TMC article:
"What follows is the complete and unedited reform proposal I sent to CCP back in August that was subsequently discussed at the fall summit. It received near-unanimous support from the CSM, and was endorsed by CCP Seagull and CCP Falcon to be put into action during this term. Then it was killed. No other reform proposals have been offered:"
I do appreciate the subtlety of Sion's setup for his proposal, but he inserted a couple of assumptions that he leaves readers to fill in the answers.  The first unasked question is, "Why was it killed?" The second unasked question is, "Who is high enough placed to overrule CCP Seagull and CCP Falcon?" The unspoken argument is that Sion's proposal is good, but higher ups didn't want to see Sion's idea implemented. But why?

First, we need to look at the DICE connection. If Sion is correct about someone overruling both CCP Falcon and CCP Seagull about accepting his proposal for retasking the CSM, I believe the logical suspect is Senior Vice President of Product Development Sean Decker, who reports directly to CCP's CEO Hilmar Veigar P├ętursson.  When Decker moved from Stockholm-based DICE to CCP, many, including myself, believed the reason was his expertise as the head of Electronic Arts' Free4Play group. But he also had experience overseeing multiple game studios. For those unfamiliar with Decker, here is how the press release announcing his hiring described him:
"'Sean’s extensive experience in the games industry will be extremely valuable for us as we enter the second decade of the EVE Universe,' said Hilmar Veigar P├ętursson, CEO of CCP.  "The next few years will be the most important in the company’s history, as we build on the launch of DUST 514, expand EVE Online, continue development of World of Darkness, and kick start our efforts in mobile gaming.'

"Prior to his time leading EA’s 'Play4Free' group, Decker served as vice president and general manager at DICE, where he oversaw the Battlefield and Mirror’s Edge franchises, and at EA’s Los Angeles studio, where he directed the Medal of Honor and Command & Conquer franchises."
Not too long after his hiring, CCP made the decision to close down World of Darkness, so I don't think anyone can hold the failure of that project against him. About that same time, EVE: Valkyrie started picking up momentum. Who did CCP choose to lead the effort for the studio's first foray into virtual reality? Another veteran of DICE, Owen O'Brien. The September 2013 press release announcing his hiring described O'Brien thus:
"O'Brien joins CCP following a long career at the award-winning game development studio DICE in Stockholm, Sweden, owned by publisher Electronic Arts. At DICE, O'Brien led production of the critically acclaimed game Mirror’s Edge, which was heralded for its creativity and groundbreaking take on the first-person action genre.

"'I worked with Owen for many years at DICE,' said Sean Decker, senior vice president of production at CCP. 'His experience bringing Mirror’s Edge to market will be invaluable as we work to make virtual reality an actual reality for gamers worldwide.'"
Fast forward two years. Not only has O'Brien produced a highly anticipated came that will come bundled with the Oculus Rift pre-orders, but CCP released another virtual reality game, EVE: Gunjack, for the Gear VR. I would imagine both Decker's and O'Brien's stock is riding pretty high within CCP right about now. Due to CCP's efforts in the realm of virtual reality, CCP managed to pull in $30 million in venture capital money to continue to fund additional VR development. Now is the time to introduce the final member of the DICE connection.

On 8 December, CCP announced the hiring of Maria Sayans as the new Chief Customer Officer. According to the press release:
"In her role of CCO, Sayans will focus on the company’s total relationship with its customers, overseeing CCP’s Marketing, Sales, Web Development, and Customer Services teams in Reykjavik, Shanghai, Atlanta, and Newcastle.

"Sayans comes to CCP from Electronic Arts (EA), where she spent 14 years in a variety of key marketing leadership roles.  Most recently Sayans was senior director of marketing at EA’s DICE studio, where she oversaw the global marketing efforts for the Battlefield and Mirror’s Edge franchises."
Having successfully overseen the development of Valkyrie that could make CCP a studio with two major games, Decker reached out to another familar face to help promote and run the game post-launch. Given that his moves have worked out so far, I feel hopeful for the future of the game maker.

I realize the history lesson is nice, but what does the DICE connection have to do with Sion's proposal for restructuring the CSM? From watching Sayans' presentation at D.I.C.E. in Barcelona this September, she seems to prefer surveys and focus groups over feedback from forums. Focus groups? Isn't that what CCP is trying to do now, most notably with a capital ship focus group?

If I can try to put the pieces together, Sion's proposal had the members of the CSM acting like unpaid employees working on putting together focus groups. I am not a mind reader, but I have enough experience to know that a new boss likes to come in and do things their own way. I'm pretty sure that Sayans had a system that worked at DICE and probably wants to institute the same system across all of CCP's games, including EVE. I think I'll go out on a limb and state that she would rather get the opinions of players on the games rather than putting them to work organizing other players.

So, what is the future of the CSM? I don't know. But I'm pretty sure that Sion's proposal is not the answer. What I really want to see is the first dev blog from Sayans (aka CCP Denebola) to find out what the future has in store.

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