Eve-Online 2006 Battleplan

Even Eve-Online has its own Battleplan. You can read it in the dev blog feed I’ve set up (scroll down).

Oveur is probably the most competent mmorpg producer currently in this industry but the recent announces didn’t please me much (the delay to the Factional Warfare and the support for voice chat, for the most part). With this battleplan he goes in great detail to explain what are the reasons behind those choices and I think I’ll be back already in September if everything goes as they are planning (I expect delays). They haven’t lost the ambition, even if I don’t share some of their choices.

Most of what’s written in the Battleplan is what they already announced at the E3, but there are a few relevant changes about their schedule.

Actually, from the forum posts I read, the main point of Kali’s delay isn’t such a bad thing. TQ is doing well and a good stable Kali release is the best thing for everyone. However, Factional Warfare seems to be the main object of frustration. While it’s great to see such enthusiasm for a single feature within EVE, there is a boatload of reasons for the segmented release.

Yes, there’s another delay. Initially the DirectX 9 engine upgrade was planned to be released around September, with the first segment of the Kali patch scheduled for a late June/early July release and Factional Warfare not sooner than next year.

The new plan pushes back the engine upgrade to April 07, if not later, even if Oveur says that it may arrive sooner. While the first segment of the Kali patch won’t arrive before September and with the Factional Warfare that should be ready before the end of the year.

The reason of these delays, in particular about the first Kali patch, is the launch in China:

China is a very big project. We realized that it would be big, but never this big! The China release was not supposed to have any effect on Tranquility – and to try and ensure that, we doubled the number of developers here at CCP. We’re now up to 96 people.

Still, because of EVE’s complexity, there is a need for a lot of the talent to work on the China release at some point in time, which has caused a cascade of resource shifts. With the expectations of the China market and the nature of the MMO industry over there, you only get one chance (the China MMO market alone is bigger than its entire western counterpart).

We therefore switched the focus points of a number of core developers to make sure we would be successful. And I’m sure you would ask why; how can EVE China be in a position to cause delays for Tranquility projects?

It’s really simple at its core. If EVE is successful in China, the revenue which would become available to fuel the evolution of EVE would skyrocket.

We tried to prevent EVE China from affecting the Tranquility release schedule and diverted considerable sums of our revenue into trying to ensure that. However, it still happened. Fortunately, EVE China will get launched over the next month and the effects of a successful EVE China will bring EVE to new station-dancing, planet-bombing, asteroid-bursting heights.

So the launch is planned for June and they seem to have high expectations about it. I hope everything goes as planned but launching a product in a bigger market doesn’t mean that it will automatically scale with it. We have already plenty of examples of mmorpgs launched in different zones and with much different results.

Lineage didn’t go anywhere in the western market, WoW was extremely successful in the eastern market and EQ2 didn’t even manage to successfully launch. It’s extremely hard to find a pattern. Summary: unreliable results.

It will be interesting to see how the eastern market will react to a completely different product like Eve, but at the same time I would keep the expectations realistic. It’s extremely hard to predict how this launch will go and how it will affect the future of Eve.

About the delay to the “Factional Warfare” (announced for next year at the E3) it seems I wasn’t the only one deluded:

Prioritize, dammit! Factional Warfare is God!

As much as I agree with this point, it’s also the most risky project we have done for a while. We don’t want a situation where 120.000 subscribers start doing Factional Warfare only. (Remember level 4 agent missions?)

Likewise, there are a number of core features that need to be in place for us to be in a position to release Factional Warfare. Better Combat Organization is one, the Contract system is another. This simply needs to be taken in steps.

The main frustration comes from the timeline, since the path to Kali spans the next year from now and Factional Warfare would be at the end of that. Well, this isn’t exactly how it is today, but plans tend to change.

“Plans tend to change” and here is the new planned “best effort” schedule:

Kali One Release – September 2006

This is what we’re aiming to release in Kali One. The list is created from a number of criteria, the main factors being a “Prerequisite for future release”, “low risk, short development, big bang” or “we really need to get this done” project.

* Contracts
This is the most extensive addition in this release, something which will affect players of all ages. Gives you the ability to manage corporations offline and create “missions” for players and corporations alike.
* Combat Organization
The new seamless map with new system scanning, new gang features and better facilities for situational awareness.
* Exploration
Rewarding exploration of space, utilizing new system scanning and the new seamless view (see above), enabling you to discover escalating paths. This is a prerequisite for Next-Gen R&D, which will be used for gathering a plethora of R&D items.
* Next-gen Research & Development
We’re opening up this aspect of EVE with Reverse Engineering and Invention, enabling you to create Tech II blueprint copies by gathering knowledge and technology through various means, such as exploration.
* Combat Boosters
Creates regional uniqueness for 8 regions, from 0.0 COSMOS constellations with unique resources to mini-professions and specialized starbase structures. A whole value chain will be created around these items, enabling players of all “ages” to be part of the bigger process.
* Ship Upgrades & Salvaging of Shipwrecks
This instantly creates content throughout the whole EVE universe. By making all destroyed ships – player and NPC alike – drop new ingredients, which are salvageable with the right profession skills and tools, we create a massive market for ingredients and ship upgrades, which the average EVE player can now utilize to further upgrade his own ship.
* Tier-3 Battleships
The third battleship will be added to all races. Battleships are one of the most frequently used ship classes in-game and the class has only had 2 ships for each race. It’s time for the third Tier.
* Tier-2 BattleCruisers
This popular ship class receives its second battlecruiser to all races.
* Eight New Regions
We’ll be opening up the eight existing but closed regions in the “top right” section of the universe (No, not Jove, just below them). They won’t be owned by any NPC faction and there will be no conquerable stations, only ore and stuff. This is done to make room for more players. It will include various rogue NPC entities.

This is our goal for September. Some of this will in all likelihood not make it, but now you have an idea of our intentions and what we want to achieve.

Kali Two Release – December 2006

Factional Warfare. Nothing else.

Kali Three Release – April 2007

Our final graphics engine upgrades and a similar feature set to Kali One.

The “contract system” is probably the most interest feature they are going to add and that I commented along with the Factional Warfare as they are strictly connected (it’s the backbone of the mission system that will be used dynamically by the NPC factions to assign tasks to the players). But I don’t think it will have a so huge impact on the game during this first stage.

The other features aren’t so clear but there will be more dev blogs coming in the next weeks with exactly the goal to go in great detail about each change. In the meantime there’s this older post with some more details. The most important point is to understand how they’ll be integrated with the game and made accessible to the players. They say that some of those features will have an impact on everyone, we’ll see if this is true and how the players will react.

I just wish they took some time to add formations (I’m waiting them since they were promised in beta) and a better combat representation. Those are still my pet peeves along with some smaller bugs and inconsistences that are in the game since forever.

The delay to the Factional Warfare is unsurprising and expected. As Oveur explains it depends on many other systems and it could easily become the most radical change in the game since release. The potential is HUGE and I really hope they get it right. My disappointment about the delay was mostly because this is a system so complicated and rich that it will become more a “thread” for all the future updates than just a system that is being added and then left behind. I see it as a whole new direction for Eve. A new beginning that should become an overall structure where every other part of the current game will be relocated and reorganized. So it was better to start this as soon as possible because I saw it as an ongoing project that will absolutely need to be segmented by itself. There’s a first step and then all the rest to add more “juice” to it (professions, new missions, new relationships, careers and so on).

Probably the biggest challenge is about putting player corporations and NPC corporations in the exact same condition and potential, so that the overall Factional Warfare structure will include both seamlessly and without discriminations (in the sense that the “logic” of this system won’t make any difference between a player corp and an NPC corp). If this happens it will be easier to integrate the current corp activities in the new overall scheme without disrupting them. This is how I would plan to solve the problem outlined by Oveur, instead of nerfing the impact and potential of the whole system:

We don’t want a situation where 120.000 subscribers start doing Factional Warfare only.

Instead I think they should. But continuing to do what they are doing already WITHIN the context of the Factional Warfare. I see this system as an overall organization. A “motivation”. Rules and possibilities that will apply in particular to the corps that are already active in the game.

I don’t mind the delay by itself, but I think that the accessibility of the game should have the priority and I hope that the Factional Warfare won’t be limited to just a weak attempt without fulfilling its true potential or really starting to move the game in that new direction. It’s both evolutionary and revolutionary. It’s important that it won’t be rushed out, but at the same time it is important that it can become an overall structure for the game, and not just a sidetrack.

Before it was wishful thinking. With the added resources and the growing playerbase this is becoming a necessity for the game. It needs to evolve to support what will come next.

After having said all this, I’m going to criticize what Oveur says about the voice chat. In particular about the implicit accessibility issues:

Sure, not everyone wants it. That’s one of the main reasons why only those that do want it will have to pay for it. It’s optional. There will be opportunities for a corp to enable it for all its members, which is really our main target group.

Nobody is forcing you to use it.

Well, this is far from reality. Voice chat can discriminate and when you are not alone like in a mmorpg you are never really free. You’ll have to adapt. If you can.

Simply put: some can and want to use it, some cannot. This will become another selective process and it will become another barrier. Who is in and who is left out.

The optional support for the voice chat WILL create reasons for a discrimination and WILL divide. This is never good for a mmorpg, whose main purpose should always be about integration.

As I wrote, selective processes are THE WORST OF THE WORST for a mmorpg.

Quoting Darniaq again:

What actually matters is the rules players set. You can mock and sneer all you want, but if 39 people use Voicechat for Raiding or PvP or just dicking around at the Auction House, the 40th person is going to use Voicechat too.

Players make the rules. Everyone else decides to follow them or gets excluded.

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