Friday, December 22, 2017

Some Strange Logic For An Award

Sometimes, reading an article in the gaming press leaves me scratching my head. The latest example comes from Massively Overpowered. The publication awarded its "Biggest MMO Industry Blunder of 2017 Award" to CCP for the Icelandic game company's pullback on making virtual reality games and the accompanying layoffs, particularly of the community team. If that was the biggest blunder, then the MMORPG industry had a terrific year. Just as an aside, the MMORPG industry did not have that good of a year.

I have plenty of candidates for worse moves. The readers' pick for the award went to Gazillion and all the bad moves the company made that resulted in the shutdown of not only Marvel Heroes, but the company itself. I would throw in Sandbox Interactive's decision to sell in-game currency as part of the package to play Albion Online as another blunder. The move made the game a prime target for hackers and credit card fraud and most likely led to hundreds of thousands of dollars of losses. When Sandbox tried to clean up the fall-out, the game experienced DDoS attacks, further exasperating the launch situation by making the servers unplayable for hours at a time. The latest drama surrounding Star Citizen maker Cloud Imperium Games and Crytek may prove the biggest of the decade, but those decisions began in 2015 or 2016 and the fallout won't hit until 2018 at the earliest.

With a list of a few alternatives out of the way, I have to say I find the logic behind MassivelyOP's decision a bit unusual. I will dismiss the arguments of Brendan Drain, MassivelyOP's EVE Online columnist. He has a history of overhyping EVE compared to the rest of the industry. The highs are always higher than they really are, and the lows are never that low. Instead, I want to concentrate on the reasons given by writer Eliot Lefebvre and MassivelyOP Editor-In-Chief Brianna Royce for handing CCP the award. I will quote them in their entirety:
Eliot Lefebvre: "CCP Games and the Incredible Layoffs and Shutdowns. I spend a fair amount of time making fun of Jagex, chiefly because Jagex makes RuneScape but falls down horribly when trying to make anything else. CCP Games is like a version of Jagex that apparently can’t even manage making its one game at this point. Gutting the EVE Online community team to the point of killing community events indicates that there’s a whole lot of disconnect going on at the most fundamental level. On some level, this is a 'blunder' that predates 2017. Heavy investment in VR was a dumb idea when it first happened. But the chickens came home to roost this year, and so here we are."

Brianna Royce: "I don’t even play EVE Online anymore and I’m horrified at the way CCP dumped the entire community team over its VR misjudgments while telling the press and the players that everything was fine, situation normal – that EVE Online wouldn’t be affected. Any studio that truly believes — or thinks we’re dumb enough to believe — that a game of EVE Online’s magnitude (and frankly, toxicity level) will be just fine without a solid global community team is in trouble indeed. Seems like we’re in a 'killing the goose that lays the golden egg' situation with the Reykjavik company."
The "Virtual Reality is overrated" meme is strong with MassivelyOP. In CCP's case, is the charge justified? As a potential negative, CCP's quest for investment cash led to the venture capitalist firm New Enterprise Associates as an investor in the company. I think many people familiar with the MMORPG industry will look at Columbus Nova's takeover of Sony Online Entertainment as an indication that the involvement of venture capitalist firms is always bad for a game studio. A mitigating factor was the involvement of Novator Partners, a company that already was the largest investor in CCP before the injection of cash for VR development.

To consider CCP's entry into the VR games market a failure, CCP must have lost a lot of money on VR development, right? Not so fast. In an interview with Rolling Stone in March, CCP's CEO Hilmar Veigar P├ętursson stated that the company had broken even on EVE: Valkyrie. Combined with the success of Gunjack and Gunjack 2, once the Newcastle studio is sold to pay back the venture capitalists, CCP should walk away with a profit from its adventures developing VR games.

One can legitimately hold the position, as many of the writers at MassivelyOP do, that the future of virtual reality is bleak. In that case, the withdrawal from VR is a good thing, right? Apparently not. Which has me confused.

Now on to the decision to gut the EVE Online community development team, which really is the basis for MassivelyOP giving the award to CCP. The move seems really strange. The biggest head scratcher was the release of CCP Logibro, especially since soon after the layoffs CCP posted a job opening for a community developer for Project NOVA. Project NOVA is CCP's second attempt to build an FPS set in the EVE Online universe. CCP Logibro was a member of the community team for CCP's first game, DUST 514. Given his extensive experience as a community developer, plus the multiple roles he fulfilled with EVE, one can only assume he was caught up in some sort of numbers game. The role seemed made for Logibro.

Will gutting the community development team have a major negative impact on EVE? History says no. CCP seems to conduct employee layoffs every three years (2011, 2014, 2017), and every three years the community team gets hit hard. I expect CCP to do what it always does and slowly build the community team back up to strength.

Given the rationales given by the MassivelpOP writers as well as EVE's history, calling CCP's withdrawal from VR development and the release of the community team the "Industry's Biggest Blunder" seems a bit overblown. Should CCP's actions made the list of items for readers to vote on? Definitely. But given how damaging some of the other events on the list were, I don't see how CCP "wins" the award.

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