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.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

The Plight of the Newbro: Part 1

As I've mentioned before on Twitter and Facebook, the recent humble bundle sale inspired me to give Eve another try as a newbie. I dropped 5 bucks on a new account and set myself down to the brass tacks of giving Eve a try from a fresh perspective. Of course I can't erase 10 years of Eve playing experience, but by completely separating my new account from my main (no dual box help, no isk transfers, no name drops, complete fresh start) I hope to keep the experience as authentic as can be reasonably achieved.

CCP has stated on numerous occasions that new player on boarding and retention is a HUGE issue that needs constant tackle. The New Player Experience (NPE) needs to be as good as it can be to keep as many people as possibly playing the game and signing up for subs. First impressions are everything in today's gaming world. Once you get a new player to download and give your game a try, you've got a very short window in which to hook them in and keep them around. According to one of the presentations this past fanfest, this has been a challenge for Eve.

Creating a new Legacy

I had some initial choices to make with my new account. My main account has 2 Intaki and 1 Jin Mei character. DJ FunkyBacon is obviously my public face, Mirana is my main, and then I have a 3rd I just keep parked in a market system to buy stuff and set up shipping for stuff i need on my main out in the dregs of lowsec. Obviously, my main lot in Eve involved gratuitous violence and shooting at people while maintaining an income to support that lifestyle. I didn't see much being served by tracing down my old path, I know it too well, so for my fresh start I decided to head in a different direction.

I went for an Amarr character, Ni Kunni, and graduated from Hedion University. These choices used to mean a big deal in the old days, but also lead to just about everyone who knew enough about them to roll Caldari Achura characters with the release of RMR. We also used to not only be able to pick schools, but classes of instruction to start the game with around 800-900k SP and a decent start on being able to do something at least on a mediocre level almost right out of the gate. This is no longer the case.

It felt like the character creation was purely cosmetic. It didn't really affect anything one way or the other which race or bloodline I chose, and schools didn't seem to matter either. It seemed a lot more like picking my favorite color than making any real choices, but I also understand the reason for the shift to this. It was thought at some point a few years ago, that players just getting into the game couldn't quite grasp the consequences of making early decisions, and would often end up with a sub optimal character in terms of starting skills and attributes for what they would eventually want to do. Those people who were not really new, would tend to gravitate towards the generally optimal Achura line (Charisma being a generally useless stat, that line had higher average attributes in all other areas and a very low charisma).

Good or bad, all characters are pretty much created equal now, new players can focus on what looks nice, and need not worry about gimping themselves in the future. Less to worry about I suppose, but I found myself quite limited coming out of the gate. I knew coming into the game that it would probably be a great idea to claim my +9 all attributes booster (that works for the 1st 2 weeks of play only) and get some skills training right away, but I opted to wait until aura told me to. That took a little while, and she never told me how to claim that booster. I cheated, and grabbed it anyway.

The old tutorial from when I first started in 2003 (and wasn't much improved when I rebooted in 2005) was a simple, "here's how to fly, here's how to shoot, mine this rock, good luck" experience. The new tutorial is a lot of reading. It's got some good basic guidance, but I can't help but wonder how many people keep clicking "next" without fully reading or appreciating what this information represents. I managed to get through the initial Aura tutorials and on my way to the career agent system 2 jumps away without much incident.

For the career agents, I decided to do all 5 before making any decision about what to do next. I would let how impressed I was with what was on offer lead the way to the next step. It took me 2 evenings of play to get through it all, though I wasn't going for hardcore speed or anything. In the end, I found the business line to be most appealing to my new player as I had no friends yet, and the advanced military agent made it pretty plain that without friends I was likely to get munched up by bigger badder people than myself.

Strictly Business

My plan at this point was to attempt to make my way in eve as a business person. Trading may play some part in it at some point, but capital off the bat was an issue. I had maybe 1.5 million ISK, 2 frigates, 2 Ventures, and a Sigil from doing all the career agents. I attempted to run some level 1 missions, and followed that up with some mining to get a feel for which way to head in the business of capital gains.

There was a time, when I was originally a newbie, when the best mining ship a newbro could get in Gallente space was an Imicus (don't look at me like that, the ship was WAY different back then). At that time, mining in an Imicus and running level 1 missions amounted to around the same ISK. Missions were far more engaging for a new player back then than mining, so you can guess which way I went with it in 2003. That is not the case any more.

With the introduction of the Venture, once I was able to train some basic mining skills, the ISK income from mining and selling the ore outstriped running missions by quite a bit. Spending 15 minutes filling my venture with Plagioclaise amounted to around 780k ISK, while running a level 1 mission in the space of about 10 minutes was netting me in the 120-180k range after bounty payments.  It appeared that if I wanted to make the most money for my time as a new player, mining was going to have to be the way to go.

During the minutes and hours of watching my mining lasers blink, and between trips to station to offload, I imagined myself the captain of one of those crab boats on Deadliest Catch. I began to formulate a plan for advancement. Make some money mining, but sell the ore, don't dare re-process it yet. Build some capital, get better mining equipment and get the skills up for re-processing, and eventually manufacturing. If I could get a steady cash flow going, I could get myself started on my way of being an international businessman of mystery.

The Plight

The biggest problem with my plan that I could find was the excitement factor. It was about at 0. There's only so much "game play" involved in mining, but with it being by far the most lucrative of the very few options available to me, I felt more or less obligated to go in that direction. One can only watch the pretty blue of mining lasers blink for so long before the eye begins to twitch. I began to peruse Eve-O and fired up my main account while waiting for my ore hold to fill. This ended up being fairly convenient for keeping up with CSM stuff that's been going on, but I can't help but wonder how the average new player feels about this. There's quite literally nothing to do in eve while the ore hold fills up. I mean, you can explore the different interfaces and buttons, pull up the map.... that gets old pretty quick.

CCP may want to take a look at this, because I suspect that once the veneer wears off of the shiny ship, nice space visuals, and someone realizes they're using their game time to catch up on their reading, porn, or both, they may begin to realize that those things are even easier to catch up on without Eve running in the background. This may be where we start losing new players to the abyss.

There's really just no engagement in mining, and I've come to terms with the tediousness of mining being the reason I originally quit Eve and sold my first character back in the late summer of 2004. That's also why I've avoided it like the plague since I returned fresh in January of 2005. The fact that it appears, at least on the surface, to be the absolute best option to make money by far for a new player not immediately interested in hitting up the PVP path of FW in lowsec, does not help matters.

Let Me Tell You 'bout My Best Friend

I couldn't let my newbie story end on a sad note. One of the benefits of playing Eve for over 10 years is that I know a thing or two about how the game works. Everything is more fun with friends, but I needed to find the right kind of friends. I began hitting the in game recruitment ads looking for some carebears that looked like they had senses of humor.

It was a challenge sifting through all the ads of mining and industrial corporations claiming "new player friendly" but warning off people with less than x number of skill points, or who were newer to Eve than a month. A lot of people also seem to take themselves and their mining/industry pretty seriously. I did finally find an ad that seemed appealing, written by a fellow that seemed slightly off his rocker and might be interesting to fly with.

Upon joining the public channel for this corp and speaking with a couple members, it became apparent that they were recently the victims of a highsec wardec. They'd recently lost some folks, but felt like it was mostly dead weight. The guys that remained seemed to be enjoying themselves, and their leader was a bit off kilter. Seemed as good a bunch as any, so I packed up my stuff and headed out to their space for a few days to see if they were everything I could hope and dream for in a carebear corp.

To be continued....

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

FW series EP 8: Change

Fellow alliance mate, BAJRAN BALI (aka kds119) was busy on the test server getting ready for Kronos last week and put together a great video going over some plexing changes, and what they mean for those of us in the Privateer business of Factional Warfare. As usual, his work is informative, and if you're like me and downloading the new client after a long day at work, this might be a good thing to be watching while you wait to get in the game.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Ripard has left the Building

I've got an interesting topic to get to in my next posting, but before I delve deeply into my rebirth into the life of a newbro in Eve, I think it only appropriate to also touch on one of Eve's biggest stories this weekend: Ripard Teg.

He announced yesterday that he's hanging it up. Some people seem surprised, but nothing in this community lasts forever except the Thorax's status as "The latest combat ship commissioned by the Federation." Ripard's prolific writing has been a phenomenon unto itself, and I'm amazed the guy had time to actually play Eve between postings. It's no secret that I rarely, if ever, had anything agreeable to say about the fellow and his musings, but between him, Gevlon, and Riverini representing the People's Front of Eve is Bad Because grr Goons, he was probably the most sane, and certainly most coherent of the bunch.

So that's that then, Ripard has issued the Eve community a "fuck this shit" breakup letter. Of course he was more eloquent than that, but once you boil off all the fluff, that's about what you're left with. He did leave the door open for cameo appearances, and avoided the "fuck this game" farewell that sees Poetic Stanziel kicked around like an ugly stray dog every time he has something to say about Eve, so that's something to note.

Of particular note in Ripard's farewell posting is a re-affirmation on his part that the Eve community is in a downward spiral. Rixx Javix picked up on this as well and commented on it. Ripard is right in some respects, but not in the way he thinks he is.

I'm approaching my 11th anniversary with Eve this summer, and in all those years of being a part of the community, I can say without hesitation that the "griefer" or villainous sub-sect of the Eve community is more tame today than it ever has been. What has been changing drastically over the last couple of years is people's tolerance for it, with a very vocal subset off the community getting louder on issues today that many of us tolerated even a couple of years ago.

The line for what was/was not acceptable bad guy behavior was in a different place in 2005 than it is today. Hell, it was different in 2009. Miners are up in arms about criminals in catalysts blowing up their multi million ISK mining ships in high sec... in 2005 we were doing that shit in KESTRELS, and swiping loot from jet cans with no suspect flags or any other recourse for the guy that got his stuff stolen. In fact, you pretty much had to jet can mine back then because none of the ships had a decent enough hold to keep you in a belt for longer than 5 minutes, and heading back to station included a lovely 15K docking run to add a minute or 2 to the commute. CCP has bent over backwards to make highsec a safer and more convenient place to live than it's ever been, and yet the more they do, the louder the mewling gets for more to be done, and the line continues to move.

The prospect on spending all your Eve days like this likely
causes more newbro biomassing than ganking.
Ripard is of the firm belief that scammers and gankers are ruining the game for the newbros in highsec, but the fact is that there aren't enough griefers left in the community to account for the large numbers of new players who don't stick around. Engagement is the issue. The fact that the ONLY thing a new player fresh out of the gate can really do to make money is mine in a venture while he or she skills up for a mining barge is likely a HUGE issue. I would lay down my entire wallet on the bet that boredom for new players is probably the number one newbie killer in the game over grief play.

I'll get into a much more in-depth look at the plight of the newbro in my next posting. In the mean time, while I'm of the opinion that much of Ripard's rhetoric was misguided and wrong, I am a bit sad to see him go. He's a good writer, and his blog was a good source of information from an aspect of the community that I have very little to do with, and often find myself at odds with.  For certain, the people who's voice he carried to the rest of the community have lost a great deal with Jester's Trek closing it's doors, and I have lost a worthy adversary in the land of opinions about Eve. I'll be interested to see who picks up that particular torch next.