Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Open Source Intelligence: Why Jester's Charts Mattered To The Mittani

In the real world of intelligence gathering, open source intelligence refers to "overt, publicly available sources (as opposed to covert or classified sources)."  Those who deal or have dealt with real world intel might tell you this about a fact they just stated to make clear that they are not revealing any information that could potentially land them in jail for revealing state secrets.  Those who have been "read on" to have access to more sensitive information sign non-disclosure agreements that have a bit more power than those issued by game companies.

The famous Eve Online spymaster The Mittani found himself in a similar situation recently.  As head of the Council of Stellar Management, he led the player representatives who traveled to Iceland to attend the 30 June - 1 July emergency meeting held in the wake of the launch of Incarna and leaks of the Fearless newsletter and an internal email by CCP CEO Hilmar Petersson.  As is customary in these meetings, much of the good stuff is restricted from the public by being placed under an NDA.  From reading the recently released minutes, I believe that one of the topics The Mittani refers to as "secret squirril shit" was information about subscriptions.  Here is the relevant passage from the minutes.
"The second leg of the session involved showing the CSM how Incarna was received in terms of subscriber numbers and trends as well as informing them of other buisness and analytics metrics.  While the initial trends gave an indication of how things will go, they don't tell the whole story.  The CSM and CCP had a productive dialogue regarding these trends and how they compared to previous expansions." (page 3)
This section had to have been written by CCP.  But notice how vague this paragraph is?  No information about the trends.  The information is obviously under NDA.  So what is The Mittani to do?  He can't take any action based on subscription information, because the information is "classified."  To do so means he forfeits his position on the CSM.

In comes Jester with his latest analysis of the average daily player concurrent usage on Tranquility.  The beauty of Jester's graphs is not only does he chart the average concurrent users after Incarna, but all the way back to 2006.  That means that The Mittani now has "open source intelligence" that is sweeping the player base about player activity over the past several expansions.  Open source intelligence is also actionable intelligence, and whether you like Mittens or not, he knows how to exploit actionable intelligence.  The Mittani took Jester's graphs and ran with them.
"What we see here is the impact of the neglect of what CCP now calls "Flying in Space", what you and I call "Eve Online". Usually after an expansion there is a surge of players who join the game; these create peaks and valleys in PCU (Peak Concurrent User) numbers as people kick the tires on the new content and then either stick around or leave. Incarna, which has taken a tremendous amount of development and marketing resources from FiS, essentially had no impact.

"Read that again. No impact. Millions of dollars and months of development, into a toilet. Meanwhile we suffer a backhanded Sanctum nerf and have had no new FiS content besides Incursions since the introduction of Wormholes."
Could The Mittani have made that statement before Jester's charts became widely distributed?  I don't think so.  I think the subject would have been covered under the NDA.  But with the information now public, The Mittani was free to launch his media offensive.  CCP caved within a week, not only publishing the hotly contested minutes of the emergency summit but holding a voice conference with the CSM assuring them that CCP would address player concerns.  The Mittani posted:
"I agree, 'sounds good' is unsatisfying in this situation. Red meat is the only thing that concerns CSM6, not sound bites - deliverable improvements to EVE and a ruthless focus on FiS.

"Yet updates to the players have to come across as best they can across the wall of the NDA, and right now we can only divulge that a meeting occurred and that methods of resolution were discussed.

"I thought it was a useful conversation and I look forward to the next meeting - useful enough that we'll be relaxing the media pressure for now. Take that for what you will."
Of course, most of the latest meeting was also placed under NDA.  But things have a way of turning in a different direction in the world of New Eden, especially outside the world we see in the monitor.  Stay tuned.

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