Monday, June 27, 2011

Actions Speak Louder Than Words: The New Era Of Distrust In Eve

"Currently we are seeing _very predictable feedback_ on what we are doing. Having the perspective of having done this for a decade, I can tell you that this is one of the moments where we look at what our players do and less of what they say. Innovation takes time to set in and the predictable reaction is always to resist change. " [emphasis added]

The uproar in the Eve Online player community continues over the thought of CCP adding "pay-to-win" items to the Noble Exchange.  Pay-to-win items are not things like ships, fittings and ammunition produced by players that other players can currently buy using real life cash by using the PLEX mechanic.  No.  What has many players up in arms is the thought of purchasing items only produced by CCP that are superior to anything players can make.  Not only will this force serious PvP players to spend a lot of real life cash to compete, but such items will negatively impact the player economy as many items will no longer sell well, if at all.

Until Sunday, CCP's communications seemed to ignore this central point to the concern over "pay-to-win".  CCP Pann, in her post in response to the original threadnaught posted the following:
"As I see it, the chief complaint is regarding the high cost of goods in the Noble Market. Second, many people are unhappy about the Captain’s Quarters. Third, there are some performance issues with Incarna. "
That answer basically just threw gasoline on the fire.  Within two hours of her post, the thread had reached 34 pages and 1000 posts as players demanded to know if the Noble Market will move beyond selling vanity items.

Why the concern?  In addition to the potentially game-changing items, players want to know if they were lied to.  Back in November, in response to the uproar over the possibility of the selling of neural remaps, CCP Zulu wrote in a dev blog:
"It‘s clear that it‘s the will of the community to keep virtual goods sales outside the spectrum of what we classify as the 'merit economy'. That refers to skills gained over time or items that have a gameplay impact. So after discussions, designs, brainstorming and all sorts of processes we‘ve come up with a strategy that we‘ve already polished with the help of the CSM and would now want to present to the larger community.

"Virtual goods sales in EVE Online will evolve through sales of vanity items, first in Incarna but later in-space features. The scope will be (and there‘s no design has been done around this, we‘re just talking strategy now) that anything that doesn‘t affect gameplay directly can be, potentially, sold for PLEX or other means. Ideas that have come up include Incarna clothing and furniture, logos on spaceships and swapping out portraits. This is by no means a comprehensive list, nor is it a commitment that said items will be available for sale, I mention these as an example for what type of items we‘re thinking about. "
In an effort at damage control, CCP Zulu posted a dev blog about 20 hours later.  Below is the opening paragraph:
"This week has seen quite a controversy unfold. In almost the same instant as we deployed Incarna - which by the way is one of our more smooth and successful expansions, not to mention absolutely gorgeous - an internal newsletter with rather controversial topics addressed leaked out. To further compound the confusion there was a clear and rather large gap in virtual goods pricing expectation and reality with a large segment of the community. I‘m going to address both these issues right here. "
"More smooth" expansions?  With all the reports of graphics cards crashing and burning attempting to run Incarna (including Eve columnist Brendan Drain's), this expansion may have been the most painful for users since the boot.ini problem that accompanied the launch of Trinity.

More importantly, the dev blog still did not address "pay-to-win" items.  Since only selling vanity items was a stated policy, that should be a simple, right?

But it gets worse.  Did you notice I wrote "posted" and not "wrote" above?  That is because I listened to the special DJ Funky Bacon show (which will remain available on the Eve Radio Rewind for a week) Friday night/Saturday morning that discussed the events of the past month and the CSM members present, The Mittani, Seleene and Trebor Daehdoow agreed that the language used in the dev blog doesn't sound like it came from CCP Zulu.  Considering that Seleene actually worked in Iceland for CCP as a dev, that is about as good as it gets to an outside analysis.  Then at the end of the show, Eve News 24 posted a leaked internal email from CCP CEO Hilmar Peterssun about the situation.  This passage from the email I think confirmed the analysis on the show:
"A vision from years ago realized to a point that no one could have imaged but a few months ago. It rolls out without a hitch, is in some cases faster than what we had before, this is the pinnacle of professional achievement. For all the noise in the channel we should all stand proud, years from now this is what people will remember. " [emphasis mine]
I think at this point people began wondering if people inside CCP are lying to Hilmar.  Because Incarna did not roll out without a hitch.  But looking at the passage could lead an observer to think that Hilmar wrote the dev blog that has CCP Zulu's name attached to it.  But whoever wrote the dev blog, the post lit a fire among Eve players, with the response thread reaching 1000 posts in 90 minutes.

With players doing everything from protesting in Jita and Amarr to flooding the Perpetuum servers in their search for an alternative game, New Eden was truly burning.  One enterprising player kept track of all of those claiming to have cancelled their subscriptions and the total came to at least 2500 accounts.  That figure must have been low as CCP Zulu wrote another dev blog published Sunday in another attempt to calm the angry mob.
"The tone and demeanor of my blog on Friday did not correctly portray my emotions towards the community and player base at large. I love and respect EVE and its community on a level that's hard to really do justice in words. However I let my frustration take charge of me, fueled by emotions that had built up due to a breach of trust we at CCP have been experiencing over the past few days. I know that sounds ironic considering those are the exact same feelings you have been having towards CCP.

"For that I am sorry.

"Having cooled off a bit and taken a solemn look at the situation, I see it's clear we need to strengthen the deep mutual trust and respect that's been so unique and descriptive of our relationship. There are certain questions you want answered and there isn't room for more error in our communication on those topics or our perception of the root causes. "
As all players know, having a spy (or spies) in your corporation leaking damaging information is very upsetting.  And with players posting faster than people can read, CCP is probably undergoing information overload attempting to analyze the feedback.  So the call of the CSM to Iceland this week on very short notice was welcomed by some but seen as a delaying tactic by others.  Given the public statements of CSM members such as The Mittani, Seleene, Meissa Anunthiel and Trebor Daehdoow before CCP Zulu's second dev blog, CCP was already faced with dealing with a pissed-off CSM.  The Mittani's post in the response thread only reinforced that sentiment.
"This blog is a promising but much-delayed first step. The events of the past few days have left me feeling skeptical of the entire situation, since the May Summit itself went peachy, yet then these issues with the NeX prices cropped up, undiscussed, out of nowhere - not to mention the Hilmar mail, Greed is Good, et cetera.

"Mark me down on the 'actions not words' end of the scale - In Reykjavik, I'm going to want to see exactly how the NeX prices were decided upon, how they were drafted, and which suits where were behind this nonsense - and who chose to not mention this to the CSM. Perhaps most important is understanding the degree of financial motivation behind this, and why it came from CCP like a bolt from the blue, and thus how likely similar bolts from the blue might be in the future.

"I don't have much more to say beyond what I've already said on Eve Radio and in my CEO Update, which is crossposted on Kugu and Failheap.

"We'll see how Reykjavik goes."

Mr. Peterssun has stated that this is the time where CCP should not listen to its players but watch what they do.  We are also at a point where those players who are not actually quitting (and I think there are a lot of people crying wolf about this) will keep a wary eye on CCP's actions in what they do.  For a lot of people, CCP can't say anything that will comfort them anymore.  The new era of distrust has begun.

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