Space MMO EVE Online and its developer CCP Games are usually spoken about in a positive manner. We often hear about the awesome things that go on in the sandbox, or how CCP has gotten players involved in game development through their CSM programme. In the past few months, however, negative sentiments toward the company have been growing at an alarming rate. Players have been complaining about lag and the quality of game design ever since the Dominion expansion was released. As far as players can see, EVE Online was in a fantastic state after the Apocrypha expansion's release, and it has gone sharply downhill since then.

Over the past two years, players have made an increasingly vocal case to CCP in favour of fixing bugs and gameplay issues before adding new features. They point to previous features, such as faction warfare, that were abandoned shortly after their release in favour of developing yet another new game feature. Over the years, EVE has been littered with incomplete features in dire need of balance tweaks and gameplay revisions. The past few months, in particular, have seen a worsening of public opinion. The release of the CSM minutes and recent devblogs have caused a significant vocal backlash from the community.

In this controversial opinion piece, I dig into the controversy surrounding CCP's recent communication with EVE Online's playerbase and the reactions forum-going players have had.
The beginnings of dissent

The Apocrypha expansion was almost universally loved. In addition to adding 2500 new hidden wormhole systems for players to fight over, it presented huge PvE opportunities in the form of tough Sleeper exploration sites. In the months that followed the expansion's release, massive fleet battles with over a thousand players per side even took place in nullsec without the customary lag and node deaths that follow clashes of that size. With the release of Dominion, however, something changed. Fleets of only a few hundred began experiencing terrible lag and node deaths, sometimes before fights even began. With Tyrannis, the lag-monster grew teeth and horns, causing the issue to become even worse.

Since then, CCP has been continually met with questions about fixing current bugs and iterating on old, neglected game content. The forum community largely agreed that CCP had fallen into a bad pattern of developing new features and then failing to iterate on them after release. When any new feature is released, problems not foreseen in the original design eventually make themselves known. A game studio that follows truly agile development strategies should be able to slot balance tweaks and game design adjustments into any future development schedule. Instead, we have issues regarding faction warfare balance and other old features that have gone largely unexamined and unchanged for years after their release.

CCP Communication

Although discontent has been brewing on the forum for some time, the bulk of the current opposition began shortly after the Council of Stellar Management returned from this session's summit in Iceland. Twice per year, the council meets with CCP at the company's Icelandic headquarters to put forward player issues in a bid to have them resolved. Following this term's summit, chairwoman Mynxee and council member Ankhesentapemkah both expressed concerns about CCP's attitude. Despite their new status as a development stakeholder, the council members were told that there were no resources available to dedicate to CSM issues. When the meeting minutes were finally published, it became known that CCP would have no resources to commit to player issues for the next 18 months.

With players angered at the prospect of their issues not being tackled for the next year and a half, CCP released a follow-up devblog detailing the company's allocation of developers for the following 18 months. The blog confirmed that more developers had been assigned to the future Incarna expansion than in-space EVE features, lag and bug-fixing put together. Many players have taken this as almost an abandonment of their favourite game. Although one team is assigned to continue work on planetary interaction, the focus on Incarna and new features reverses CCP's fanfest promise to iterate on old game systems.

The final straw

In a case of incredibly bad timing, this week CCP Zymurgist posted a request for players to vote for EVE Online for "Best Online Game" in the upcoming European Games Awards. This itself is nothing new, as EVE is often nominated for awards and the developers do commonly ask for players to vote. Unfortunately for CCP, the request came at the peak of the current community outrage. As a result, the thread's response has been an overwhelming "No way in hell."

Feeling the need to expose this situation to the public and put some media pressure on CCP, players began bombarding news outlets with the story of EVE being broken. Gaming news website CVG was the first to bite, reporting that players were "furious as Tyrannis patch causes latency," and quoting some of the forum's more colourful posts on the issue.

Soon after, CCP Games issued a follow-up statement to CVG explaining that there is an entire team dedicated to tackling lag, and that lag is CCP's number one priority. Eurogamer picked up the story of CCP's dedicated lag team, also noting the fact that CCP had enraged players by asking them to vote for EVE to receive an award. Influential gaming blog Kotaku posted a similar summary of the issue, talking both about CCP's lag-busting team and the fury players have expressed over the audacious award voting request.

A matter of opinion

While the sudden media coverage of EVE's lag issues and CCP's award-voting request lends some exposure to the issue, I would take this particular issue with a pinch of salt. Massively has received countless requests from players to cover the story, despite having already covered player dissatisfaction with CCP's development plans in several key articles. Considering that we don't normally receive requests like this, I think it's safe to say there has been an organised effort to convince news outlets to pick up this story. Perhaps players, exasperated by CCP's apparent dismissal of CSM requests, felt that putting some media pressure on the company was the only way to remind the decision-makers who pays the bills.

I think players are entirely justified to complain about new features being built at the expense of bug-fixing and iteration on old features. However, I believe the current outrage is mostly a symptom of the clear communication rift that's opened up between CCP and the EVE playerbase. Having spoken with both CCP and the CSM, I get the impression that CCP has failed to provide players with adequate context for the information delivered to players.

For example, developers stated that no resources would be dedicated to CSM issues, but failed to mention that no resources are ever really committed to individual issues during the summit. They also released numbers showing how many developers are working on in-space EVE features, but we have no idea whether it's more or less than other expansions. Our only frame of reference for that is the 300 developers CCP concentrated into the Apocrypha expansion, which was an exceptional expansion delivered in record time.

Summary

It's clear that a large proportion of EVE's forum community is in outrage over CCP's recent activity. Many legitimate concerns have been raised about CCP's proposed development plans. There's a growing perception that a huge disconnect exists between what players want and what CCP thinks players want. While I personally believe this is just a symptom of a communication gap between CCP's decision-makers and the EVE playerbase, it's clearly hit a nerve in the community. The ball is now in CCP's court, and we'll be watching closely for any official moves the company might make to reassure players.


Brendan "Nyphur" Drain is an early veteran of EVE Online and writer of the weekly EVE Evolved column here at massively.com. The column covers anything and everything relating to EVE Online, from in-depth guides to speculative opinion pieces. If you have an idea for a column post or guide or just want to message him, send an e-mail to brendan@massively.com


This article was originally published on Massively.
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