In the midst of the controversy surrounding the NeX store, an internal company newsletter called Fearless was leaked via EVE News 24. In it, potential microtransactions like the sale of ships, ammo, and faction standings were explored, things CCP had previously agreed were off-limits. Titled "Greed is Good?", the newsletter sent players into a frenzy. In Friday's EVE Radio talk show, ex-CCP employee and current CSM delegate Seleene recalled the newsletter from his time at the company:
"It's supposed to be there to help employees digest what's going on in the company and the company mindset," he explained. "It's not just an opinion piece." In his view, the newsletter is used by CCP to "get people to have their noses pointed in the same direction" so that by the time a feature is going live, "there's been a bit of internal messaging that says this is what's coming and it's going to be awesome, so be ready for the awesome."
What's the big deal?
Most of my co-workers and friends who don't play EVE haven't really seen the big deal with the leaked newsletter. CCP is a company whose primary objective is to make money from its games, and how it does that should be up to it. For upcoming titles like World of Darkness and DUST 514, this might not be much of an issue. The issue is specifically that EVE is an eight-year-old title with a section of dedicated players. New players join and quit every day, but a core of veterans who have stuck around for years bought into EVE under the understanding that the game wouldn't have microtransactions at all.
When we were sold the idea of microtransactions, the interpretation agreed on by CCP and even the oldest veteran players was a strict vanity item scheme based around Incarna clothing, furniture, customised ship skins, and similar products. Microtransactions not affecting gameplay has become a core concept that has been accepted across the MMO industry as a safe option. When it became known that the company was discussing gameplay-affecting ships, ammo, and standings for cash in spite of a previous agreement not to implement those features, players did not react positively.
The simplest resolution
Following the release of Fearless and the renewed worry over gameplay-affecting microtransactions, players began to ask one question over and over again. In massive yellow letters all over the forum, players repeatedly asked whether CCP was going to add gameplay-affecting microtransactions to EVE. This should have been a simple question with an existing answer -- CCP had already reversed a previous decision based on the promise of having no gameplay-affecting items.
This question is at the heart of the current dispute, and answering it immediately would have gone a long way toward resolving that dispute. The complete silence for several days on what should have been a simple question has been the most damning thing yet for CCP. Soon after Fearless was leaked, CCP responded to Massively's request for an interview by offering to have CCP Zulu answer any questions we had. I compiled a reasonable summary of the events leading up to the current player outrage and a list of detailed questions that would have answered every issue players were facing.
Rather than responding to the questions, CCP Zulu published a devblog the following day attempting to address the Fearless and NeX price issues. The devblog didn't answer the main question of gameplay-affecting microtransactions and didn't answer any of the questions I had asked. Instead, the devblog served only to further enrage players with its extremely condescending tone and its assertion that it had addressed most of the issues players worried about. Perhaps the only positive thing to come out of it is that it was so unlike what Arnar normally writes or says that some players don't believe he wrote it at all.
Source of the problem
The third-party app contract and NeX store prices were both issues that anyone with even a passing knowledge of EVE or business would have recognised the flaws in immediately. It would have been obvious that these would lead to mass anger within the existing playerbase, and so these mistakes should have been easily caught long before publication. It's unreasonable then to think that these ideas went through the normal development process without any internal complaints being raised. To me, this suggested that the ideas were being pushed through in spite of complaints. The only people capable of that would have to be in upper management.
During Funkybacon's EVE Radio talk show on Friday, the evidence for this mounted. It became clear that the CSM, which is normally used as a filter for ideas to judge the playerbase's reaction in advance, was not consulted on any of the recent controversial decisions. When Hilmar's inflammatory internal email to all CCP employees was leaked on EVE News 24 while the show was live, we began to suspect that cutting the CSM out of the decision-making process was no accident. In the mail, Hilmar insisted that CCP would not pay attention to what EVE players say on these matters, evidently including the noise on the forum and the CSM in its capacity as an acceptance filter for forewarning.
Hilmar stated that he would instead be basing decisions only on what players do, which so far has meant on how many monocles are bought. This email sparked in-game protests in Jita and Amarr as well as forum threads trying to keep track of unsubscribed accounts to show that players are speaking with their actions.
how the power players of EVE give newbies a place in the world and how the best possible thing for EVE's long-term subscriptions would be to help new players to find their place in the community. Those players who tend to subscribe for only one or two months before quitting could easily be converted into motivated members of a corporation and a community, and they would stay for months or years longer as a result.
These recent events have left me feeling that CCP has done the complete opposite, opting to discard the power players and the community they create in exchange for high sales and microtransaction turnover. As cynical as it may sound, a strategic decision to ignore everything but sales appears to have been mandated at the CEO level. Meanwhile, employees like CCP Soundwave who have been demonised by the playerbase have remained silent, perhaps not allowed to talk about the issues until official statements are made.
Before Incarna went live, Torfi Frans Olafsson compared the expansion rollout to changing the engine on a racecar while it's doing 200 miles an hour on a track. This week we found that CCP may be intending to change the driver at the same time. While I do believe players are over-reacting and a lot of old anger has come out in these past few days, I find myself drained of my normal enthusiasm and wondering how CCP will ever claw its way back from this latest media disaster. The CSM is being flown to Iceland to discuss the issue in an emergency meeting, and I seriously hope that something good comes out of it. I don't want to look back on this weekend in years to come and say to people, "This was the day that EVE Online died."
Brendan "Nyphur" Drain is an early veteran of EVE Online and writer of the weekly EVE Evolved column here at Massively. 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 or guide, or you just want to message him, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.