Friday, June 6, 2014

Double Whammy: Musings on Layoffs and Bad Press on the Same Day

In the summer of 2012 I responded to a job ad CCP had recently posted, and got an interview with the company. It seemed like a good opportunity and a cool job, but I was under no illusions of grand pay or anything. Though I'd gotten the wife on board for the possibility of a move to Iceland if my bid was successful, there were some doubts in our minds as to whether we could make it work long term. As these things go, I did not get one of the open jobs and was a bit disappointed, but I saw who got in and wasn't too surprised either.

Today I came to the happy realization that had I been successful that summer, I'd probably be planning my move back to North America today in the hopes I could find another decent job before my severance package ran out. Blessings in disguise being what they are, in retrospect, it really was for the best.

For those like me just getting home from work and wondering what the hell is going on, CCP today announced another round of layoffs, but things can never be just that simple. In what can best be described as "impeccable timing," The Guardian decided to drop a little bomb of their own today in the form of a rather scathing investigative report on the cancellation of World of Darkness and (you guessed it) gross mismanagement at the highest levels of CCP.

Well played Guardian, well played indeed.

Ok, let's talk about this a little bit. I'll start things off by saying that I'm glad I'm not part of CCP's PR dept, because this is not the sort of stuff these guys probably look forward to coming into work to deal with. Had these two bits of news hit separately, the discussions I'm catching up with online right now would be far more tame. The fact that they hit on the same day makes them seem more related than they probably are, and certainly more associated than CCP would like them to be.

I'll make one thing very plain about my views in matters like this. Any time you have mass unplanned layoffs at a company, it is a failure of management. Period. We can make all the excuses we like about market trends, changing consumer tastes etc., but when it comes right down to it, management lays out the vision, the employees carry it out. When management does a piss poor job, they may take the blame for it publicly, but it's the employees that typically take the first shot to the nuts, and this is the way it's been since the dawn of time. In war, it's typically the grunts getting shot in the face, while the Generals get to linger on with the knowledge that they got a bunch of people who trusted in their leadership killed. I suppose CCP's upper management can at least console themselves with the fact that no one died as a direct result of things they're ultimately responsible for.

No one who has been around Eve for more than a couple of years read anything in that Guardian article that shocked or surprised them. Two Step, Helicity Bosun, and Seleene might all be shaking their heads this evening with me, but none of us learned anything we didn't already know... except the bit about the fiction guys writing Hilmar's apology for him. I mean, I had a feeling he didn't actually write it himself, but was that apology really so distanced from reality that the fiction writers had to get the nod over the PR guys? I'm sure there's a joke in this somewhere, but no one's laughing at the moment.

Long before the layoffs of 2011 following Incarna, CCP had already established a solid reputation for releasing unfinished features in Eve, and then running off to chase the next pretty butterfly before they completed the iteration. We've now spent 2 years of development time going back, fixing elements of the game, rebalancing other parts, and otherwise smoothing out the experience at the expense of new content, and that has been taking it's toll on the player base.

Rather than find a happy middle ground, CCP has gone from one extreme to the other. I've found it extremely hard to get super pumped for the past 3 expansions content patches. I mean, fixing stuff is great, but there hasn't been much to get people really excited about, or to drag people back in who may have left the game for one reason or another. The situation is a lot like driving a car that is starting to lose control and head off the road: one of the absolute worst things you can do is sharply cut the wheel in the other direction.

An animated representation of WoD Development 2011-2014 according to The Guardian

Of course, the problem isn't just some woes with Eve development and a general lack of new content over the last 2 years. Eve survived at one time with a team of 60 devs, and since CCP owns the game itself, it doesn't really have to worry about a publisher like Sony deciding they're not making enough money and killing the lights. But this isn't about Eve anymore. This is about Eve bankrolling 8 wasted years of development time on a cancelled World of Darkness game CCP could never make happen. This is about Eve bankrolling a game fast approaching failed/cancelled status in Dust514. This is about Eve bankrolling Dust's successor, Project Legion, the game concept touted as what Dust should have been in the first place. This is about Eve bankrolling Valkyrie, which at least looks like it has a chance, but then so did Dust and WoD at one time, so please forgive me if I'm a little tepid in my expectations for that game at this point. Given this recent string of layoffs, one doesn't need to be able to read CCP's latest public financial report to come to the conclusion that Eve might be having a bit of trouble bankrolling so many other projects.

If this was all about Eve, I would tell you we're fine. If this was all about Eve, I would tell you there wasn't a doubt in my mind we would be starting our 3rd decade in another 9 years. I know what you're thinking, "here comes the obligatory 'Eve is dying' bit." Well... I'm not there yet.

Eve is ok, but would be in a much better place if all it had to worry about was itself. Right now Eve (and our subs by proxy) is carrying the world of CCP on it's shoulders. Over 100 people have lost their jobs in the biggest string of layoffs since the 2011 post-Incarna 20%. Unsurprisingly, the people that seem largely responsible for those lost jobs also seem to still be calling the shots. I really hope they are praying to whatever Viking gods they worship that Valkyrie is a smash hit right out of the gate, and that Legion truly becomes the game we always hoped Dust would be. If neither of those games can hit the ground running, Eve might still be here, but I'm betting a lot more of our favorite game developers won't be.

If those games were to get cocked up bad enough, negative spill over into Eve development might be impossible to avoid, not to mention what CCP's obligations to it's investors might add into the mix. I'm confident, however, that as long as Eve can support itself we'll be ok in the short term... at least as long as CCP doesn't go tits up on another pair of failed games, and has to get bought out by EA or Sony.

I realize I've dropped a lot of doom and gloom on you guys tonight; days like today have that effect on me. I'm truly hoping for the best with regards to Legion and Valkyrie, partly because I want to play more awesome games set in the Eve universe, but also because I want my friends and acquaintances developing games at CCP to have long and fruitful careers making awesome games I want to play. Unfortunately, what keeps coming out in the media has given myself (and others) pause on what can reasonably be expected.

16 comments:

  1. "I suppose CCP's upper management can at least console themselves with the fact that" they're still getting paid to do the same crappy job they were doing last year.

    Nice, write-up. Came expecting the usual CSM apologies for CCP, acting as their PR arm, and came away pleasantly surprised. I'm much more pleased that I supported your candidacy. You continue to impress.

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    1. Says the RMTer. Hey Poe. Get fucked.

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  2. We can only hope that the layoffs were related to a restructuring that will fix a lot of these issues (like those in the Guardian article) in the future, and not out of any kind of desperation.

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    1. As long as it's the same management in-charge of the ship (and it mostly is), I would not hold your breath that much of anything will change.

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    2. Agreed. Laying the responsibility at the devs or some other low-level job is not going to change anything. There needs to be a change in management.

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  3. Good write up FB.

    Some say that these are business decisions and that fact shows that CCP is healthy. I dispute those claims. Layoffs regularly coupled with the dropping of WoD, Dust514, Valkyrie and the whole VR thing being sold, etc... plus the writing off of millions of dollars isn't a healthy company. It's a mismanaged company with a BOOF at the helm. Hilmar needs to go. He's a literal idiot. His psychotic, child-like giggling on stage tells me he's more of a self worshipper than anything.

    I'd like to start a movement, and have requested to have my name removed from the monument I don't believe the monument is a player tribute. It's a tribute to Hilmar by Hilmar. How many salaries did that sky facing penis cost? Hilmar doesn't care about the players. If he did a fiction team wouldn't write his apology. Fuck him

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    1. The Sky Penis was a giant Ego Stroke, true, but tbh CCP has money, that's not their problem. Their problem is managing. They can't manage shit, not their money, not their Company, not their Games. They could even out-source a lot of this work if they wanted to, but that's really the thing, they don't, they won't. I suggest you read the Guardian Article linked up there, it's a serious eye-opening jaw-dropper in regards to this.

      For those readers unaware: Pre-Incarna EVE was basically "oh, this [insert] is broken? Hold please, I'll try to find someone who cares to redirect your complaints to. Oh wait, no I won't. Talk to the hand, bitch." You like Cruisers? Gotta fly this. You want to fly that? Sorry, no dice. You fly Cruisers, you fly that, period. Don't be fooled, the other Ships are just pretty aesthetic Models, they serve no actual function.

      CCP was forced to change that due to mass-riots, & now they've spent 2 years cleaning up a decade-long mess (just as they'll be spending many more, at their ever-constant snail-like development pace), but in truth, they were only forced to change externally (EVE with the Rape Jita Riots that resulted in Crucible, & at long last, DUST with Legion, now that they've finally accepted that the Console is a sick joke for such a game, even though they'll never admit they made a mistake of epic proportions, once again due to Management), & there is truly little we can do about CCP's Management, unfortunately.

      We can only hope that when they eventually bankrupt themselves, they don't sell out to EA/whoever & instead get picked up by someone who'll give us a true "EVE II: The Rebirth", & not a "MILK IT FOR ALL ITS WORTH" Cash Cow Game.

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  4. As a New York Rangers fan, I see a lot of similarities between CCP and The Rangers. Both teams had a tremendous amount of talent, that could not make things gel. Until recently, there was a change at the top, head coach John Tortorella had to go. That was last year, now the team is in the finals. I am not saying that the CEO needs to go, but there must be someone up top that is responsible for all this. Certainly, not the devs they keep laying off. I really hope everything works out for them.

    Call me naive, but I thought WoD would have been a perfect fit with the EVE crowd. I mean all WoD is dress-up, and politics. It is basically The Next Store and corps (called clans).

    Anyway, this was an excellent written article.

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  5. I fully agree with most of the what you wrote and it is pretty much the same baseline like my rant on GD, however one point always strikes me as weird:

    No new content. Imho this is a falacy, new ships/mechanics/explodables arent really content. Its what people do with the stuff that is content. And from that perspective, everything else but changes and tweaks in game mechanics are a very inefficient form of providing a framework expansion for new content to emerge.

    Looking back through history, the major impacts came usually from things that looked like details to most people, not the new shineys.

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    1. I think the same way here. For me, the biggest changes for my gameplay have been, by far, the FW overhaul and the frigate to cruiser rebalances. For some people these were barely patch notes, for me these were absolute game changers.

      Still, you need to have some bit of shineys here and there to attract new people and people that left the game. They have no gameplay at the moment, so no change will be a gamechanger for them.

      Charlie Firpol

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  6. Maybe it actually *is* time to start thinking whether Eve really *is* dying. Bugs go unfixed (POS issues, Angels anoms, lack of conceptual leadership on FW, etc), new bugs crop up, and CCP continues on with, as the author stated, the newest shiny they want to tout. If the Guardian article is true, and I have no reason to doubt it, this really casts a shadow on the future of the game (not to mention CCP). Lack of management leadership and project vision eventually comes home to roost, and as someone who's had at least one active account running at all times since 2006, the lack of follow-thru on CCPs part is getting really old. Something needs to change, either in vision or in practice.

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    1. To me dieing implies some sort of fatal flaw, eve is wasting away from neglect. The game doesn't have to die at this point but CCP sure can starve it if they choose to.

      Maybe head of the art department needs to be in charge, who ever it is might not be technically qualified but they seem to be running the most productive segment of CCP.

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    2. If you can call prioritizing Station re-colouring over a Dominix Model overhaul smart, then yes, I suppose they're "productive."

      If anyone, I'd vote for Fozzie to be in charge, then he won't have any excuses for pumping out Nestor-style Shitboats.

      Overall however, I agree. I'm only a recent return to EVE after a several year hiatus, but even I see that CCP is STILL one hell of a hackjob. Their long-term planning seems to be vague, if it even exists in many cases (say Pirate Ships), even post-Incarna, which is just unbelievable.

      Instead, they stick to the same old tactics of - draw our attention away by showcasing desire to implement (in the latest case in point) an In-Game Ship Painting Program (Fanfest 2014, whatever they called it), which won't have made it into the game before the end of the 3rd Decade, minimum. I mean seriously CCP, nobody fucking cares. Really.

      What we do care about is seeing the oh-so-long awaited continuation to Dominion's Sovereignty 2.0, a much-needed revamp to the UI which is a hideously poor everyday reminder of 2006, & so many other important things that CCP has, unbelievably enough, STILL not touched.

      Mini-Rant here: Why the hell can we STILL not see the Status of Drones in Drone Bay, & why the hell does "Right Click on Folder - Deploy Drones" STILL deploy the damaged, half-dead Drones instead of the damn full-health ones? I mean ffs, it's just a simple tiny Quality of Life improvement, but there are thousands of these relics that have STILL yet to be addressed. The UI Team sometimes makes me think it's comprised of 1 person that does 1 thing a week. Unbelievable.

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    3. We don't know who sets that at teams work goals, all we know is that they seem to meet them.

      With the resent patch/expansion the dominix model and skins were finished in time, so were the typhoon, moa, condor and mordus ships among other things. What wasn't finished was the industry overhaul and ui. I can't recall a fanfest where the trailer wasn't ready, or content getting delayed because the art assets are not done.

      The point I'm making is really simple CCP has staff that can manage projects, allocate resources and complete their before deadlines. Unless they run that department with viking magic there's competent management in there somewhere and perhaps that talent would be better spent on things we are not always too far zoomed out to notice.

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  7. It's like CCP have stopped chasing the "Jesus feature" and are chasing the "Jesus game" instead.

    The odds are against Valkyrie being a success simply because they are developing a game for a platform that isn't even available yet and we have no idea how it will perform in the market place.

    It's like CCP is addicted to gambling.

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