Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Learning From the Past and Moving Forward

This posting will mark the 3rd and final in my commentary on the SOMERblink issue that I've been talking about this week. My last 2 postings have been about the things that were wrong with this situation, and I'd like to close up with a look into the future and how these things might be handled in a better way.

If you need to catch up, the first 2 postings in this trilogy can be found here: POST 1 | POST 2

I'm a huge fan of Eve, and by proxy CCP is one of my favorite game developers on planet Earth. I celebrated my 10 year anniversary a couple months ago, and no other game in the history of gaming has been given the time I have given Eve. On June 24th I made the following statement on facebook that was seen by some 57,000 people:
"So many game companies will blow off feedback and just plow ahead with what they're doing anyway. One of the things that makes CCP unique is their ability to take constructive feedback, and hone it into something awesome."
I believed in CCP during the T20 incident, I believed in them in the wake of Incarna, and I still believe in them now. Don't get me wrong, I also believe they've made some monumental mistakes in the past, but I've never seen a game developer with their ability to adjust, respond, and make things right.

Looking back for a moment, much of the community backlash can have it's roots boiled down to the following:
  1. SOMERblink prizes donated to them by CCP were effectively sold and profited from by requiring monetary participation by the winners to get their "free" tickets.
  2. The size and scope of the prizes were unprecedented, even after they were toned down.
  3. With regards to the IW Scorpions: By selectively gifting in game items that can be traded and/or sold for great profit to anyone they choose, the integrity of the sandbox was compromised. This issue was exacerbated by the secret nature of the gifts.
That's the nutshell. Each of those points could probably be expanded on a bit, but when boiled down, that's what we're left with. But those are the problems, I'd like to look at solutions.

In no way would I like to see CCP pull back completely and NOT reward people and organizations they feel have given them and their game a fair shake. Prizes donated to community sites and given away to players are a great way to draw attention to CCP approved 3rd party services, and there are many individuals who contribute to the Eve community in some significant way that should be able to show off some bling.

Number 1 is a fairly easy fix. Any site that is gifted items from CCP for contests or giveaways should be just that; given away. No community site should be permitted to sell the items directly, or sell chances to win the item, or sell chances to win "free" tickets to win the item. The winning of these items should be open to any player of Eve Online with an account in good standing, and should require NO monetary participation to win, either in ISK, or real life currency. The increased traffic, awareness, and sales or donations gained as a result of the increased awareness and traffic is the effective reward.

If it is shown that players are prevented from participating in these events because they are arbitrarily banned from the community site in question for behavior that would not get them banned from Eve Online, these sites should not be given prizes from CCP to give away. Recall not long ago when CCP pulled out of in-game RP channels and set up their own official ones when it was revealed that the players running these channels were banning other players from participating simply because they didn't like or agree with them.

I am aware that in game items and other swag are sometimes given out at player gatherings and events both sponsored and supported by CCP. I've been to one myself, and considering the hundreds, if not thousands of dollars a lot of the people going to these events spend to attend, a battleship model or a coffee mug, or an in-game ship like the quafe iteron is a nice thing to take home as a momento. You effectively bought the stuff by attending.

Number 2 is a bit murky. How does one determine if a site has been given prizes of a size and scope that dwarfs the support given to other sites? CCP has certainly raised the bar quite a bit with this latest SOMERblink prize fest, that is for sure. In short, unless the prize pool is really, and I mean REALLY flagrant, you can't. Perhaps this is something that can be run by the CSM for their opinion before final prizes are determined?

It's become apparent that the community and marketing teams don't feel the need to consult the CSM with regards to these things, but I would argue that had they consulted the CSM prior to this latest outcry, most (if not all) of it could have been avoided entirely. I'm not saying the CSM should have a say in what's given out, so don't get me wrong on this, but using them as the sounding board they are meant to be might help weed out some issues before they become issues at all.

Number 3 is where things get interesting, and my suggestions get radical. No single player or entity should EVER be given any item by CCP for personal use that can be traded or sold, thus affecting the sandbox and giving that player an ISK or item advantage over other players for the simple reason they have done something to get into the good graces of CCP.

Let me repeat that.

No single player or entity should EVER be given any item by CCP for personal use that can be traded or sold, thus affecting the sandbox and giving that player an ISK or item advantage over other players for the simple reason they have done something to get into the good graces of CCP.

Non cosmetic, trade-able/sell-able items would not be acceptable in any other game community, and shouldn't be tolerated in Eve either.

In other games, such players are rewarded. They might be given a special mount to ride around on in one of those fantasy RPGs that is bound to their account. They can show it off to other players, but they can't trade it or sell it. When I used to play Pirates of the Burning Sea, I had special flags I could put on my ships, and a special colored parrot I could have on my shoulder to signify my participation in Beta and other contributions. I could show them off, but they had zero affect on the game itself, and I couldn't sell them.

This might be a hard thing to adapt for Eve since just about everything can be sold, traded, or contracted to other players. But there are things that exist in Eve that cannot.

Take for example the golden pod for purchasers of the collector's edition. I'm fairly sure that a pod is not trade-able in eve. Skin a new pod, make it pink and slap a picture of a cat on it, or do something else with it to make it cool and flick a switch on the account of the player in question to make all of their pods like this. If the type of pod shows up on kill mails, so much the better. Every time the player is podded, their murderers will know they have slain a pillar of the community... I hope they can live with themselves.

What about tatoos, or T-Shirts for the character creator? Is there a way to activate such things to be player specific without requiring an item that can be traded? A gold star forehead tatoo to be shown loud and proud in someone's character portait might be a nice thing to be shown off, and will probably go over better than the gold monocle! (cheap shot, sorry.)

Here's another badass one. Chat text. I think Orange is the only color not already taken by CCP, the GMs, or the various divisions of ISD. Imagine if every time Rixx Javix or Sindel Pellion typed something in local you could see it around all the spam because it was ORANGE! This one might require an agreement between the player and CCP though... can't have someone with orange text scamming the newbros with promises of implied trust from CCP because your text is orange. If complete orange text is too confusing, or needed someday for a future division of ISD, perhaps just a colored highlight similar to how Dust players show up in chat.

For the record, I see nothing wrong with the free accounts given to fansite operators. Free account time can't be traded, and while you could make the argument that it's like giving them a free plex every month, it's not. In all likelihood, it's saving them a few bucks a month RL money, and in the rare cases where they would be buying PLEX with ISK to pay their account, their income is probably such that 600m a month isn't going to sway things much.

And That's That 

So there you have it. I told myself I didn't want to end this by just pointing out problems and not offering up some tangible solutions. I sincerely hope that CCP is taking a long hard look at what a large part of the community found wrong with this situation, and is taking steps to allay those concerns for the future. The past is done. For better, or worse, the best that can be done at this point is to look forward.


  1. I think you're missing a bit of the cause of the backlash, namely the absurd justifications peddled for this incident:

    1) This player corp is 100% trustworthy and always has been (from a developer, in EvE of all places)

    2) This player corp provides content (they do SPONSOR content, but the content has been developed by other entities. There was an AT before SOMER, and there was a Hulkageddon before GSF sponsorship.)

    3) This player corp encourages people to join and stick with EvE (I would hazard to say this is absurd, as I have never heard even an apocryphal account of someone joining EvE just to play Blink, nor have I heard of anyone maintaining a subscription to EvE solely to play Blink.)

    and the omission of the most obvious rationale:

    4) By encouraging the purchase of additional GTCs through this service to sell for ISK (to then lose, encouraging more GTC consumption), this player corp encourages some much-needed positive cash flow for us, even though they get a percentage and that should be reward enough.

    This comes across as quite patronizing to me, as if I can't tell that 1-3 are ludicrous and that 4 isn't significant. When I think back on other CCP gaffes, this really strikes me more like Incarna ("People will love our half-finished engine and overpriced NeX crap, despite what they're all saying") than T20 (*silence* *silence* *scrub forums*).

    If you remember when CCP had to do a bunch of layoffs post-Incarna, one of the hardest-hit teams was community relations. "Well, anyone can talk to players."

    Apparently not.

    1. I don't disagree with you. My personal feelings on this whole situation can be found all over my first 2 postings about this. If you look at the criteria I've laid out for solution 1, there is no way that SOMERblink could be considered a valid recipient for CCP prizes unless they found some way to actually give the prizes away to people not actually signed up for their service.

      Here's one of my quotes from a comment on TMC:
      The point isn't so much that SOMER hasn't done anything for the community, because sure they have. The point is that the community has also done a lot for SOMER, and they've done quite a bit for themselves. SOMER "employees" are not exactly volunteers, and are all paid a plex per month plus up to 125m an hour for the time they put in. Let's make something very plain here, NO other community site has been compensated so generously for turning such huge profits.

      Sponsorships are not philanthropy. They are advertising, and every time SOMER dumps a few billion into sponsoring an event, they are getting their name out there, attracting more of an audience for their service, and making a return on that money spent. And that's FINE! I don't mind seeing their logo occupying prime real estate in event announcements, promotions, and video feeds. They deserve it for sponsoring that shit. They do NOT deserve such lavish rewards direct from CCP, especially in this back room sort of manner

    2. I'm looking at this post in something of a vaccuum, since it will likely be read as such (3rd and final posting, etc.).

      Yes to your points, all valid. However, the most annoying thing to me as a customer of CCP is the attitude they demonstrate when a company representative tries to feed me the justifications I outlined, as if they weren't blatant lies.

      The EvE playerbase has stuck with this terrible game for a decade, has lived through T20 and Incarna and countless other failures, has seen through them, in some cases has turned CCP around before they destroyed their only product, and has stuck with it.

      The playerbase deserves a little more credit than they're being shown.

  2. Two-part response, wall of text warning. (1/2)

    Speaking as one of the moderation staff in the aforementioned RP community channels, "players running these channels were banning other players from participating simply because they didn't like or agree with them" sorely misrepresents the situation, and if all you've done is read the TMC article, that is an unsurprising statement to make since it is extremely, unequivocably biased, having been written by one of the people who was banned.

    As far as rules go in the two channels in question, we are typically very relaxed. We don't like banning or muting people at all - we would rather be able to sit back and let people participate. It takes a lot (and I do mean a LOT) of work and effort to get yourself permanently removed from those channels in the vast majority of circumstances. The only real exception where we just slap people in the face with bans first offense is when people decide "hey, let's troll the RPers and spam the fuck out of their channels" and start throwing massive numbers of people into them - we've had to blanket-ban a few nullsec entities for this kind of crap, and have whitelisted members of them who either were already participating, or contacted us to ask for access. Roleplayers are a constantly maligned and marginalized group in online communities; should we really sit back and accept the abuse and grief hurled at us on a daily basis?

    In the case of the author of the TMC article, it was a final response to over a -year- of disruptive and toxic behavior - including racism and threats of RL violence against other users - that was making the channels difficult to use for other people. The decision to ban that user was not made lightly. Again, it took more than a year before the moderation staff - all seven or eight of us at the time - finally stood up and said enough was enough. That person had been given many warnings and multiple opportunities to behave and had not once done anything to change their behavior. We have been essentially threatened with blackmail at multiple points since then by this person as well. Why? Because we threw them out of a couple channels that they were being constantly disruptive in and contributing to a negative atmosphere that made many people uncomfortable.

    The most ironic part here is that the person who actually put in the ban for that user, is the very same person - now a CCP employee - who came and told us that we were doing it wrong and that "someone" had complained to IA about "fairness".

    The other 'high-profile' banning that occurred also happened after more than a year of issues - and was, in fact, of someone who had previously been on the moderation staff but demonstrated a complete inability to follow the rules we were holding everyone else to. When the person who owned the channel confronted them privately about the issues, and asked WTF was going on to see if something could be sorted out, they received insults and personal attacks instead of a discussion.

    Something sad about this, is that there were other channels, moderated by entirely different groups, that these people could have used - and in the case of the latter person, did use - where RP and live events were discussed IC and OOC. Those channels have also been affected by this, and they shouldn't have been. Because of this, the only real reason someone would want to be back in the channels they'd been banned from has nothing to do with access to CCP or event actors, but everything to do with the ability to be disruptive and make the channels unpleasant for everyone else.

    1. (2/2)

      Our objection to that mess is that it was handled extremely poorly from CCP's end. Last time I checked, correspondance through petitions, and theoretically to/from IA, should not be shared outside of the directly involved parties. It would have been one thing for them to post a devblog saying "hey, we're setting up some new channels for people interested in live events who want to talk with the team and interact with the actor characters, we're going to be using these, here they are"; instead what was done was to have a dev barge into the existing community channels - the very same person who banned the TMC writer in the first place, back when he was a player - and tell us that the moderation staff were horrible people who were doing it wrong by removing people from the channel for more than a year of constantly disruptive and unhealthy behavior that could have gotten them in trouble with the GMs.

      Thing is, you know why we handled it ourselves instead of dropping petitions in CCP's lap? Because at the time, the policy was "if it's in a player channel, we aren't going to do shit about it - only if it happens in a channel that you are forced into, that is, local, npc corp, etc., will we take action". Apparently that isn't the case anymore, but instead we are being punished for doing exactly what CCP would have told us to do in the first place.

      And the three primary channels affected by this are not the only casualties. The biggest casualty, in the opinion of a number of roleplayers, is that there will no longer be participation in player-hosted events by actor characters, such as in PIE's 10th anniversary ball event, where two actors, one from the Ministry of Internal Order, and another from the Amarr Navy, appeared to give their blessings and speak a few words, or another event hosted by a Sani Sabik loyalist that had a representative from the Blood Raider Covenant present. This is the true casualty of what's happened here - the ability for the world to interact with us and our characters. We've always had the ability to interact with the world - in some limited fashion - but rarely did the world look at us and poke back.

      So, tl;dr: A couple people were banned from some RP community channels, not because they weren't "liked" or "agreed with", but because their behavior was toxic and detrimental to the ability of other users to actually make use of the channels, and after over a year of warnings and requests to alter their behavior, they persisted. Instead of moving to other channels where other moderation teams were in charge, the decision was made by one of them to set out on a quest for revenge. It has nothing to do with fairness, it has nothing to do with 'biased' moderation. It has everything to do with a few players who were so blinded by their butthurt over being removed from two channels that instead of using the alternatives available to them, they decided a quest for revenge was more appropriate, and fucked over everyone in the process.

    2. Well then based on your account, that only shines worse on CCP in this case, not better. If 1 person can make an outcry to IA about CCP involvement in a player run channel over this, but a public outcry against secret giveaways does not yield any results, what are we left with?

    3. I don't know, but I hope that fully explains the couple of comments I made on twitter the other week when the SOMER nonsense started. If it doesn't, you can mail me if you want; I might not remember to check here.

  3. Sometimes I think if CCP were to go looking for - and find - some common sense, they might find all those boot.ini files....(sorry, couldn't help myself.)