Thursday, October 24, 2019

The Story Of 2019 So Far

A couple weeks ago I wrote about how data can tell a story. I began writing this post flying toward a key point in the story of New Eden: Las Vegas, Nevada. What I encounter this weekend will play a critical role in how the story turns out.

The origins of the story stretch back to late 2018 and January 2019. CCP, recognizing economic problems in the virtual word of its flagship game, EVE Online, began a series of changes to the game world to reign in the issues before they tore the game apart. Change is a part of any MMORPG. Developers are constantly assessing the state of their games and implementing new features and altering existing ones. Players typically call these things expansions, buffs, and nerfs.

Into this story comes a man. Someone who was around at the start of the in-game universe. As his company grew, he became distracted from the world he helped create chasing other dreams. But in October, the studio he ran was sold and his focus narrowed. He returned to the world he helped create. For purposes of the current story of New Eden, let’s call him Odin.

To the residents of a virtual world, the developers are gods. They have the power to turn piles of junk into gold, and beloved forms of game play into horror shows not worth engaging in anymore. In New Eden, the gods saw the amount of virtual currency flowing into the economy and declared it bad. Beginning in February, the developers began to take steps to reduce the flow of wealth into the game.

Also, in February Odin began making his presence known. He was back, and not pleased with what he saw. In addition to the faucets and sinks being too far out of balance, he saw stagnation in an important area of the universe, null security space. As he put it, the developers needed to stir up the sandbox, because the players had solved the game and "the sand in the sandbox has turned into cement."

On 28 May, CCP deployed the Invasion expansion onto Tranquility. The gods deployed the new content, while containing bugs, in such a way that each phase of the new content corresponded with lore points. Pauses to fix the bugs before deploying the next phase were built into the continuing story of the Triglavians. This content for high sec, and later low sec, was a welcome addition to EVE’s overall lackluster PvE content.

Hubris can afflict even the gods. After the careful rollout of the Triglavian invasion content, the developers rushed out content involving the Drifters to add the residents of null sec to the new state of the universe. Odin declared the beginning of “The Chaos Era.” Odin saw that part of the problem in New Eden was the early acquisition of knowledge and the greatest of the gods determined to limit any foreshadowing as much as possible.

The denizens of null sec, from the most powerful autocrat to the lowliest line member, decried the state of the Drifter content. The new release was bug-ridden, and after an initial scare, was more nuisance than something to fear. Not a good omen for the future.

In July, the gods decided to change one of the immutable laws of null sec: the way the local chat channels work. Starting on 12 July, the local chat channels acted as those in wormholes space. Instead of immediately showing when a player entered a system, players only appear when typing into the chat window. In a lore announcement of the feature to the players, the god described the length of the change as “indefinitely”. For which, I assumed the gods would evaluate the effects of the changes and, if the conditions warranted, revert the changes on the next scheduled release on 13 August.

Somewhere Loki is smiling, because the bit of chaos Odin intended to insert into null sec didn’t work well. Player versus environment activity immediately took a nosedive in null sec. PvP activity, after a relatively brief period of rising, also witnessed eclines as well. And yet, Odin and the other gods did not reset the local chat channels to their conditions on 11 July. The gods changed the world again on 13 August, and the chat system remained the same. What could have been a one-month experiment that didn’t do particularly well turned into a natural disaster of historic proportions.

As one of New Eden’s most powerful autocrats, The Mittani, once observed, EVE is ultimately a democracy. One in which players vote with their feet. In New Eden, horrible corporation or alliance leaders cannot make players stay with their organizations. Likewise, the gods of New Eden cannot make players log into their game. Unfortunately for CCP, the gods of another virtual realm, those of Activision-Blizzard, planned on opening a new, long-awaited universe called WoW Classic.

On 26 August, the number of players logging into New Eden drastically declined as dissatisfied players now had a place to which to flee. The decline continued until the gods relented and restored local chat channel functionality to null sec on 16 September.

Players are not machines that return automatically when the gods flip a switch. As of yet, player activity has not returned to June levels. PvE activity, as measured by NPC kills recorded by Dotlan, reached that level this past weekend. New Eden may see that level reached for a full month in November. PvP activity, on the other hand, has continued to decline since the return of local chat to normal. So far in October (through 23 October), player-flown ships are exploding 29.5% less often in null sec and 19% less often in low sec as compared to June.

I began writing this post over 30,000 feet above the surface of the earth. I finish, sitting just a few yards away from the stage where the story of the gods of New Eden will continue. Will CCP present a vision and content that will inspire their players and see the game climb to the levels of last year? Or will Odin continue acting on the theory that restricting the information flow to players is the best course of action for EVE Online? Sometimes, the faithful require a sign from the gods to continue their belief. We will see if the gods of New Eden agree.

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