Catering the hardcore

Completing my comments about Eve-Online last patch (I canceled my sub again one week after the patch, as expected).

Right from a forum thread:

Invention is only for the elite with enough ISK to buy the BPO outright (so why need invention), super huge alliances camping 0.0 complexes 23/7, and all that.

Invention is not for the average player, or even above average. It’s only for BoB.

An invented item, once produced, would cost 1000 times more than an identical item produced from an unresearched BPO. Apparently CCP is very, very anal about protecting the ISK printing rights of the BPO cartels.

As I suspected, much of the “content” of this last patch is nothing that the infamous “casual player” can hope to ever see.

Last thing I remember that vaguely affected *me* was the introduction of the asian races one year ago and, recently, the instant bookmarks, the new character creation and the new map display. All features marginal to the gameplay and involvement.

CCP is doing near nothing for new players approaching the game and needing better “hooks”. For now it’s working for them, a week ago the concurrent number of players was near 32k.

But I still believe that they would be much more successful if they started to design the game also to “bridge” that gap between casuals and hardcore. This is another of those themes that is becoming common across titles and genres.

Eve-Online at 150k

It was confirmed on the boards, so I take the occasion to report it.

Eve-Online had 145k this November (it was at 142k at the beginning of September, so it’s sitting more or less on the same level) and it’s fair to assume that it gained at least another 10k with the release of the latest patch/expansion.

The number of concurrent players seem to confirm this as they hit another record this Sunday, bordering 33k online at the same time.

I was also trying to compare Eve numbers with City of Heroes numbers to see if I could find a pattern in common, as it’s another game we have detailed statistics about. But I noticed that CoH has a very odd and irregular behaviour with the subs/concurrent user peak ratio. Maybe I’ll comment about this later.

The other perspective (after “Revelations”)

So the “Revelations” patch for Eve-Online, or at least its first part, was deployed.

I don’t know if the servers came back up in time because the account management page didn’t work yesterday and I couldn’t manage to reactivate my account.

Today everything seems working ok and it’s quite an achievement. During previous patches the week after release was pure hell, with servers having problems and frequent reboots. So, as far as stability is concerned, this is one of their best patches to date.

From the perspective of a noob character not much seems changed.

The new map system is nice and, as CCP would say, “classy”, but it isn’t more useful than how it was. I find annoying some decisions with the UI, for example the constant pop-up as you move the mouse around, sometimes when you are just trying to pan the view and instead the mouse pointer loses focus to one of those menus. An option to turn off the mouseover actions and just trigger them on a mouse button click could have helped a lot (and something I suggested long ago).

There is now also a ring of stars/dots in the background representing the whole universe and that is part of the new “seamless” transition between normal view and the starmap.

On the other side the rings around planets now flicker as the textures on the Amarr stations. They talk about Vista and DirectX 10 and they still have massive texture flickering. Heh.

The other two things you notice right away are the wrecks instead of the loot cans and the contract system.

The wrecks need work because as they are implemented right now are just an added annoyance. Before you would blow up a ship, go loot it, and the loot can would disappear. With the new system the wrecks sit around in space and it’s really hard to know what you looted and what you didn’t. You know, the kind of problem that in WoW was solved with the sparkles ;)

The contract system is what I expected. Right now most of the offers I saw were scamming attempts (courier missions where the “collateral” cost was hundreds time larger than the reward, hoping to get rich quickly in the case someone gets the mission and then forgets about it), and some legit auctions. All the other types of contracts aren’t possible if not for your corporation or alliance, so not open for the public.

I still don’t see what is so much better than WoW’s system. Yes, it’s more powerful. For example instead of selling one item or a stack (as in WoW) you can bundle all kind of stuff together in a custom package. And there are more “freeform” contracts only available to your corporation or alliance (by the way, is it possible to create logistic groups within the same corp and open a contract only to that group instead of the whole corp?). It will become more interesting when, with the Factional Warfare late in 2007, NPC corps will open contracts and all sort of missions for the players.

For now it’s one of those features that sound “cool” but that I doubt will be used all that much. Outside of the standard auctions and scam attempts.

Finally, one of the smallest but most important changes that affects radically the gameplay is that now all the insta-jumps are gone and you can “warp to 0” everywhere by default. This means that travel times in general should be reduced significantly and that some PvPers will complain. The change was inevitable, though, and it’s actually bad that CCP waited this long to take a definitive decision.

Or you institutionalize a feature (like they decided to do), or you remove it altogether. You don’t leave in the game a semi-exploit whose use is limited just by the fact that it is tedious.

I wanted to check the new character creation, but to do so I have to delete one of my old characters and I discovered that the process takes ten hours. It doesn’t make much sense to me.

The “other perspective” is to underline the contrast with the typical playerbase of Eve. You can go in one of the forums where there are some Eve players and, in all cases, you find very hardcore players discussing concept that are nearly immpossible to grasp. You can be as experienced as you want with games and MMO in general, but Eve is another beast, and what I noticed is that there doesn’t seem to be ONE player who isn’t deep in the game to the hardcore level.

My idea is that there’s nothing in between. This is one major weak point in the game. Or you fall in the hardcore category and go deep in what the game offers, or you bounce back. There is no middle ground.

Some say that this is due to the steep learning curve, but I’m one of those who fall in the category that “bounces back” and yet I know very well how the game actually works. I joined when the game entered beta 2, at the beginning of September 2002. I was there till the release (May 03) but I subscribed for the first time only in December of the same year in occasion of the first expansion. From there I occasionally returned to check new things and it’s the same I did yesterday for this new patch.

I log in, give a look to those new things, warp to an asteroid belt, blow up two pirates and after an hour I feel already like logging out without much desire to log in back later.

From my point of view Eve lacks an “hook”. something that motivates you to go look past the next corner (figuratively speaking, as we are in space). Something that can give you the desire to go back in the game because you have something left to do. Instead I feel detached from the game. The major goal seems to be wealth, but money matters only when it is an “enabler”. Money as a goal just sucks.

With every patch CCP devs legitimately develop content that is targeted at their hardcore players. Whether it is about player-owned stations, high level crafting/ships, jump clones, death rays, COSMOS systems and all the rest. Again the problem is that there’s not much in between.

Everyone says that till you don’t join a corporation and don’t get involved into that higher level layer you don’t really know where the worth of the game is. And I agree. But this is also one major flaw. In other cases we would talk about “obligatory grouping”, but in Eve grouping isn’t really obligatory, even if it’s actually a lie produced by a wrong perspective.

The point is: I’m forced to find friends to enjoy the game. When the opposite should happen. You play the game and by playing the game you get to know people, from there you build and enter a community. The game and the fun bring you there. And then you get to the other players.

While in Eve this is reverted. Get to the other players comes AHEAD of the fun. Getting to other players is a prerequisite to arrive at the meat of the game. While the opposite should happen. Your hook to the game should bring you to the other players. Firstly you develop an interest for the game world. You are hooked, having fun. You slowly get immersed, addicted. THEN you slowly get to know other players.

For example. Let’s say I enjoy comics. Okay. I read comics on my own. I have fun reading comics. I’m not part of a community, but the fact that I like comics can bring me to other readers and from there build a community. But it’s not like I had to join the community so that I could enjoy reading comics.

In the same way, using WoW as an example as it does this perfectly, it’s when you are already hooked to the game that you are slowly “brought” to other players. It begins with an occasional meeting in a cave where the other player has your same objective and it continues later on when you are brought to your first instance. The key for the success is that all those steps are connected. While in Eve there’s not enough in between (you got the pattern).

Lack of interesting content is one of the flaws. The missions are usually quite boring and not just because of the travel, but also because the combat encounters aren’t exactly designed to provide an ESCALATION of challenge, or stuff to discover or figure out. It’s also true that it’s hard to develop interesting and involving content in Eve, as the player getting a mission can have all sort of different ships and loadout. If you cannot predict the player’s potential, then you cannot plan an encounter that is fun and challenging without being or boringly easy, or frustratingly hard. Actually NPC agents check the ship of the player before picking a random mission, so there is surely room for improvements.

In a game like WoW the “hooks” aren’t just the new skills and loot or the classic “ding”, all of those simulated to en extent even in Eve, but the consistence of what there is outside. I got a sort of illumination while fiddling with a starmap. So big… but still so empty. What do I *care* about in all those thousands of systems? Not much, because the large majority of them are redundant. That’s the typical generated content: nothing to see.

This is a phenomenon very close to Oblivion’s rubberbanding. If the world “moves with me”, why moving at all? Simply put, there’s a lack of exploration, but this is a limited perspective, because what misses here is an “interest”. Why should I care for the world outside? What is there to learn, be part of?

Players are here to be entertained but Eve just empowers them so that they entertain themselves. But, obviously, this doesn’t work for everyone. That level often is either invisible (what should I do next? where’s the fun?) or unreachable. Again, there’s nothing in between.

And maybe it’s time to connect those two parts. Maybe with what they call “Factional Warfare”, if they don’t make it hardcore-only content too, and if they can finish it before the majority of the staff is moved on the new World of Darkness MMO.

Eve-Online yearly patch day

So, Eve-Online went down for the September patch. Yes, I know it’s almost December ;)

As I commented months ago when the features were announced, it’s fun to see at them from another perspective, The WoW perspective.

Even Eve-Online can be inspired and “copy” WoW. And what it is incredible is that they are doing this without making look things out of place. I mean, you would think that adapting fantasy game mechanics to spaceship game wouldn’t be trivial.

So, this is what we have:

Rigs – In Eve “rigs” are modules that change a ship’s setting in a permanent way. So they aren’t modules that you can switch on the fly, but adaptations to the structure of the ship that till now weren’t possible. In WoW these are the “socketed items” that Blizzard is going to add with the expansion. They also involve the “hardware” (in WoW: your gear), they allow to specialize it more and they are also permanent.

Contract system – In Eve this is a powerful tool that allows to set auctions but also tasks that can be seen as player created quests. Obviously in WoW this is the Auction House, made more powerful and deep.

Combat Boosters – In Eve these will be temporary bonuses that will likely be used during combat. Combat Boosters are crafted through some new mini-professions. In WoW these are the “potions”, they are crafted through the professions and have a temporary effect.

And there’s also a mix of enchanting & disenchanting (invention & salvaging in Eve) made functional to the game.

So yeah, Eve-Online is adding auction houses, socketed items and potions. For the Battlegrounds wait next year :)

It’s actually odd that even CCP didn’t use those comparison to explain better how those new toys work. Maybe they want to appear original ;)

(disclaimer: You can find all kind of ideas represented in older games, but it’s obvious that the power of influence of a blockbuster is greater, even if it didn’t invent anything.)

Moreover the Kali 1 patch is named “Revelations”, and I think that even this “Kali 1” has been subdivided into ANOTHER three branches. Revelations Part 1 of 3.

So we are like… part 1 of 9 in total? For something that was expected to be concluded for May 06, and that will probably be dragged till we ding 2008 (wanna bet?). Heh.

Nevertheless their work is good, as I underlined a while ago when I commented those features (in the first link above). And I’ll probably resubscribe to check. Even if I doubt I can notice any difference with my noob characters and considering how all the content is usually only targeted to the hardcores. At least I can play with the new character creation. Which is amazingly good (and maybe I’ll quote and comment later).

In the meantime I also noticed that Pann has returned as Community Manager (not really manager but something else, I’ll edit when the forums come back up).

She left long ago to work for Auto Assault *chuckle* I wonder why she’s back, eheh… Kieron instead (he replaced Pann when she left), was coming straight from UO and he did a SO MUCH BETTER work than her. I don’t miss Pann at all.

Luckily it looks like she will do work on the background and not on the forums or directly with the community. Good.

On the matter of good communication (CCP is stiull doing better than everyone else with those great blogs and a good forum activity) I point out that they are working on a “Dev finder” function on the forums and they are also compiling a “daily digest” of all the posts (all stuff that I can link only when the site comes back up).

Do you wonder why Eve-Online development is crawling?

Because of this.

CCP buys White Wolf because one online world is too tight for them (FYI, they HAVE announced World of Darkness MMO at the fanfest).

In the meantime the patch that was expected for early September after countless delays is still far from being released, even with many of its features cut and postponed.

CCP triplicated its staff. While Eve-Online development slowed down three folds. Funny, ain’t it?

Details from an interview with a White Wolf guy:

The established brand that is White Wolf’s World of Darkness will be brought to ‘virtual life’ by the innovative team of programmers and developers at CCP’s Iceland headquarters.

I am sorry the financial details are not for public disclosure

Communication (between the two teams) will be regularly maintained by teleconference and AIM/Various chat programs.

Expect LOTS of spinning as they’ll desperately try to convince Eve players that the development of the new MMO won’t take away resources and focus from the development of Eve.

Of course they will be lies.

Jumping in the bandwagon

Idiots repeat mistakes.

Not the first time I underline this.

Magnus Bergsson: We will continue developing EVE. We will continue until people stop playing it. That’s basically our commitment to EVE. At the same time I can tell you that CCP is not going to be a single game company. We will have a seperate team working on any other titles that we will be… uh, maybe we are actually working on one right now. Who knows.

I see.

I guess it’s why Kali was delayed once again.

“We will continue until people stop playing it”. That’s the EXACT same type of commitment EA had with Ultima Online, Mythic with DAoC and SOE with Everquest.

They all used the exact same words.

“People playing” DEPEND on the commitment. Not the other way around. FIRST you put there the commitment, THEN people come to play if they decide it’s enough.

If people stop playing it’s because you are accountable. If that was the commitment of CCP with Eve, then the subscribers would have never moved from the disastrous launch of the game. If that’s your commitment today, you suck.

Eve-Online IS still growing

Yesterday Eve-Online had more than 30k players active online (30.538).

Active subscribers are currently at 142k.

I wish I could say the same about DAoC.

In the meantime I’m waiting CCP to actually develop and show something. They patched recently but it was just a whole lot of work on the backend in preparation for Kali (performance improvements are always great, though). I was expecting that patch to come for the end of July, instead it arrived for the end of August. Still no mention when we’ll finally see something done. What about the Battleplan?

I cannot avoid to think to Mythic everytime. They are like one the negative image of the other. Eve-Online has a great direction, a growing, dedicated team, but still cannot manage to develop things at an acceptable pace and respect deadlines (but, despite this, the growth of players is rewarding them even if development is super slow). Instead DAoC has a bad direction, a costantly shrinking dev team and ambition to “feed” Warhammer, but they always respect deadlines (but the players feel directly that the project is just being left behind and are trickling off).

When is Kali One coming, you ask? I’d like to see it in the end of September, but Dragon still needs maintenance on TQ, so we can’t assign as many resources over to the final push of Kali One as we wanted.

The communication through the dev blogs is excellent, though. Thanks a lot. That’s the VERY BEST communication I’ve seen in this industry so far.

If someone from CCP passes here: could we have a “dev tracker” page with links to dev posts on the forums? That would be nice.

That blog from Tuxford about fleet battles is great (you can still see in the dev blog with the title “post vacation thoughts”). Good ideas as well. Reduce the range of ships, formation flight, AoE weapons and directional defences. All great. The problem is to get them in the game in the foreseeable future. Should I remind you that formation flight was promised for release? ;p

Usually the large battles are completely ignored in game design and nothing is made to make them more fun and interesting.

Why Eve-Online has more than 100.000 subs (Mythic angst flavor)

I’ve received today the third issue of E-ON (the fourth is already out, but I’m always one behind) and there’s an interview with CCP’s CEO, Hilmar Petursson:

E-ON: Do you think it’s risky that CCP has all its eggs in one basket? Shouldn’t you be working on EVE 2, or some generic fantasy MMO by now? Isn’t it slightly insane, the resources you pour back into Eve?

Hilmar: I would say it makes perfect sense. I would actually use the word ‘insane’ to describe someone that didn’t stick with their product through tough times, who failed to do everything humanly possible to make it reach the success it deserves (I am using the phrase ‘humanly possible’ loosely here, btw).

I feel that question so fucking irritating (and maybe made with that purpose). Even more so because that kind of mindset is so widespread between both industry people and players.

It’s not ‘insane’. It’s completely RETARDED. How could you consider those questions legitimate?

The reason why Eve can count on more than 100k (currently surclassing DAoC by a fair amount, confirmed even by the total number of concurrent players online) instead of 20k is BECAUSE they poured back into it so many resources. If they didn’t, Eve would have joined the already quite big pool of failed projects, or at least never moved from those 20k it had. Zero-growth.

Why it would be reasonable to demolish all that Eve has built along the years to make a prettier sequel? Why it would make sense to always go back to zero?

You could say that Eve is successful just because it was lucky that noone else tried to revindicate that niche of the market. But let’s even assume that SOE or someone else with big money decided to go after Eve and “own” it. You would really think that it would be easy to develop a similar game with that huge scope from zero, spend three or more years into it and then expect to outclass what Eve is right now, plus all that CCP would be able to achieve in the case they really sustain this kind of aggressive development for those three years?

Not doing that would be like applying the mudflation to the real market. You build value (Eve 2) by devaluing what you have (Eve 1). It wouldn’t make sense, instead, to consolidate the value you have already and that you know is solid?

Or maybe people think that gambling is serious business?

I cannot believe how marketers and industry people can say that it’s more risky to try to increase the value you have instead of selling it off. The best way to secure the market would be about developing a core game that is valid and profitable. Then you work from there, reinvesting all you earn from it so that you can move out of reach of your competitors. That’s how you can distantiate them, that’s how you gain a definite advantage and are able to feel a little more safe.

And when you are able to reach a reasonable safety, you don’t stop there. Instead you use that advantage and your experience to continue to anticipate what others will be able to do. And you lead, and you increase your capital and value ON TOP of what you have. Not by devaluing what you have.

Instead if you keep abandoning projects to try new ones, then you are just going to be blown away by the first wind, because instead of consolidating what you had, you just dispersed it. All the little value you had, and all the value you could have produced. And you’ll finish with NOTHING in your hands because you threw everything away like that.

Take the example of Mythic. With DAoC they achieved a relevant position in the market. For a while they kept consolidating that value and the company grew and bacame more solid. Then they moved their resources on that bad idea that was Imperator, and then Warhammer. The result is that now the only valuable product that Mythic has is still just a betrayed DAoC that is quickly sinking into oblivion and all that relative safeness that Mythic had secured as a company, completely gone. To the point that their only possibility left was to sell out:

I saw that our games had to change. We were already changing Camelot, but not enough. Not fast enough.

At the time, Mythic was independent. And so if we failed with Imperator, there wouldn’t be anyone to bail us out.

With all the money and resources wasted on Imperator, with DAoC sinking like a plumb, of course going with Warhammer from scratch was risky. It wasn’t just another attempt between many to grow the company from there and secure more value. It was “or it goes, or it’s over”. Because they drove themselves into a corner. Because they burnt all that relative safety, as a company, that they achieved.

It’s too easy to fill your mouth with money then. It’s too easy and it won’t be for long.

The truth is that Mythic, despite the great start, despite the surprising and impressive growth, is now smaller than CCP. Losing to that sci-fi game without avatars that obviously couldn’t be as successful.

With one game only that when, rarely, people talk about, talk about in past tense.

And Matt Firor isn’t different:

Really, to be successful, a MMO title must be perceived as successful when it launches. If it is not seen as a major contender, and have buzz and excitement among its community the day before it opens, it will almost certainly fail. It’s a situation unique to MMOs in the gaming industry.

Yeah, tell that to CCP and Eve. Tell that even to Scott Hartsman and EQ2, which started as an announced spectacular failure and instead was surprisingly able to become at least a decent game and secure a moderate success, even if still deluding for its initial expectations.

In fact it’s true. It’s a situation unique to MMOs. Only one of these games is able to have a disastrous launch and still manage to fix its problem, improve with the time and become one great game one day. Only MMOs can evolve, only MMOs have second chances.

On single-player games it doesn’t happen. If they launch and they suck you can patch them later all you want. But they’ll never sell.

The launch for a MMO is important only for one simple reason: because after years of pointless hype, lies and false hopes, the players can finally see the game for what it is, and not for how it was presented.

The king is naked.

Eve-Online has its World Cup, go watch it

The World Cup is over but Eve-Online decided to organize its own version and host an official tournament involving the best alliances in the game and done through 5 Vs 5 battles.

I don’t think it’s the first tournament they have, but what’s new and cool is that this time they launched an “Eve TV” that is streaming all the matches. Complete with commentators durning and after the events.

My bet for the final is Lotka Volterra Vs Band of Brothers.

More useful links:
The rosters for the tornaments ordered by date or group and with all the results.
Finals (I think they should have staggered these more, to build some hype and wait, and also to let people to download, follow and discuss the matches instead of rush everything in one day)
Some recorded battles to download.
Torrent files for the full three days. (go, go, smart use of pirating resources)

I think the only thing missing are the replays. The action is actually quite confused, the videos a bit blurry and it’s kind of hard to figure out the dynamics. But it’s still incredibly interesting and I’m quite addicted.

It also makes me wish, as it always happen. I don’t think that what they are doing is the very best way to present that type of content. Official touraments are a great idea (and one that I’m suggesting from a few years) but they need a different execution to be really enjoyable.

Idea for an Eve-Online TV client

Think for example to an “Eve TV client”. As a standard Eve-Online client to play the game, but modified to be public and become just a front-end to watch the matches.

You would have the option to stream the matches as they happen, or download them from players’ repositories and then load in the Eve TV client to watch even while offline.

Not only you would solve the problem of the blurred image and confusing action, since you would see directly in a perfect client, rendered by your PC. But you would also have the possibility to replay scenes from different points of view, watch a full match from the perspective of a particular ship and even “enter” one to see the modules that are being activated. So that it would be easier to figure out and learn the tactics that are being used.

Streaming a match in that way would also spare a *huge* amount of bandwidth because you would only need to send the movements and actions of the ships, plus maybe the voice commentary. But it’s still something quite manageable and even on this site I could easily host for download the whole tournament.

It would be a great idea, and also a wonderful way for CCP to publicize their game.

Guild Wars has the support for something similar (the “Observer mode”). You can watch the most important matches directly with the game client, but the limitation is that there’s no way to save them to watch them later. So you can often just see one once, shortly after it happens, and then it’s over.

Developing that sort of technology is easily doable, even if it would take some time. So it’s just about deciding the convenience of taking some resources from the actual game to make this possible. I think it would be worth it, and it would even contribute to the popularity of the game.

Better than waste those resources to found new mmorpgs as unnecessary replacements, in my opinion.