It didn't take long for people to realise that something was fundamentally wrong with the prices on the Noble Exchange. At around $40 for a basic shirt, $25 for boots, and $70 or more for the fabled monocle, items in the Noble Exchange were priced higher than their-real life counterparts. As players made some noise about the ridiculous prices, an internal CCP newsletter all about the company's microtransaction plans was purportedly leaked. In it, plans to sell ships, ammo, and faction standings for cash were revealed, plans that strictly contradict previous promises on gameplay-affecting microtransactions. Shortly afterward, all hell broke loose as a private internal memo from CCP CEO Hilmar was leaked to the press.
In the past few days, I've been contacted by dozens (if not hundreds) of concerned EVE players who are afraid that the game they love is coming to an end. I've even been in contact with an insider who is scared of the risks CCP is taking with the jobs of over 600 employees in four countries, scared enough to leak internal documents and emails. In this week's colossal EVE Evolved, I delve into EVE's latest controversy and shed some light on the biggest community flashpoint since the T20 developer corruption scandal.
Before Incarna was released, players viewed the new microtransaction shop with benign optimism. As the shop would only contain vanity items, most players either didn't care about the shop or looked forward to playing dress-up with their virtual dolls. I will admit that I fall into the latter of those two categories and would certainly have bought some cosmetic items had they been reasonably priced. It's not surprising that CCP would test the waters on expensive microtransactions; after all, the only way to tell whether players will buy them is to test and see. What's really surprising is that the cash shop opened with no reasonably priced items at all.
If the monocle had been an exceptional case, it might actually have caused more people to buy it. Seventy dollars or 1.4 billion ISK for the item is ridiculously expensive, but it does act as a status symbol of being rich that shows up on your avatar's portrait in-game and on the forums. It's the fact that every single item was equally overpriced that I think really kicked off monoclegate. If there had been cheap clothes and new glasses for under 1000 Aurum, the monocle would have stood out as a status symbol. I doubt players will be comfortable with anything basic being priced in the thousands of Aurum range until the winter expansion brings multiplayer environments to Incarna and we can actually show off those purchases. Even then, I'd expect room expansions, furniture, and store fronts to be the high-value items in Incarna and not basic clothing.
A trick of psychology
The NeX store prices seem to be designed to take advantage of an interesting trick of buyer psychology: the price anchor. In the book Predictably Irrational, author Dan Ariely showed experimentally that we tend to adopt the first price we see for a given type of item as an anchor value. With a default value set, anything lower suddenly seems like a good deal. This is the same psychology that powers sales of games on Steam and even contributed to Minecraft's early success -- even if an indie game doesn't sell well at $20, pricing it at $20 and then having a 50% off sale will net more sales than pricing it at $10 from the outset.
Having been introduced to the monocle at a price point of 12,000 Aurum, more people will probably buy it in a 50% sale for 6,000 than would have bought it if it came out for 6,000 initially. It's actually an incredibly good idea from a business perspective, especially as the items can be bought during a sale and then traded on the open market for ISK. This could have worked extremely well for CCP, but unfortunately the company tried to apply that premium pricing strategy to every single item in the store.
Perhaps CCP was hoping that ornate and pretty clothing could be sold at even higher rates if people accepted $20-$40 for basic clothing. Whatever the reason for the massive prices on basic clothing, those price anchors don't appear to have stuck. This may be because we already have a basis for comparison in real-world clothing and would automatically expect a virtual version to cost less than those existing price anchors. As the most expensive item, the monocle that may have been OK on its own has become a symbol of the ridiculous prices, and that controversy itself has fueled some sales of the item.
Halp! My computar blewed up!
One of the main worries with the captain's quarters was that they may take longer to load than the current ship hangar. These fears were initially dismissed with a promise that it would be just as fast to do anything after the patch as it would be after. While the Incarna environment loads asynchronously in the background and the full UI and neocom are available immediately, the loader does cause computers to stutter, slow, and stall momentarily. Some players have reported lower frame rates in captain's quarters than they get in Crysis II on full graphics, and the forums are filled with reports of overheating GPUs and system shutdowns.
I personally found the captain's quarters to be extremely cool and newbie-friendly for the two minutes mine worked before switching off my graphics card and causing a bluescreen. Anticipating these issues, CCP temporarily added the option to disable the captain's quarters. Management had to be convinced to let this option exist even on a temporary basis, and CCP has stated several times that it has no intention of letting players opt out of Incarna forever. CCP intends Incarna to be as integral a part of EVE as mission-running or fleet warfare and perhaps worries that if players aren't forced to use it, they'll opt out of the new paradigm.
This attitude mirrors that seen during the launch of EVE Gate, the web-based social networking platform for EVE. When EVE Gate launched, all player information and profiles were made public by default. CCP worried that if the system didn't opt players in by default, nobody would use it and it wouldn't be useful as a social networking tool. When the service went live, a surprising number of players logged in just to turn it off and make their details private. We've seen the same thing with the captain's quarters, with a huge section of the forum community opting to make use of the temporary off switch.
When EVE was young, development focused on helping players to do what they wanted to. When players began forming ad-hoc alliances, CCP introduced formal alliances. When players began using secure containers and logged off industrial pilots as supply depots in deep space, CCP introduced modular starbases. Somewhere along the line, this changed and CCP began cultivating an adversarial relationship with the EVE playerbase on a strategic level. EVE players have shown little enthusiasm for Incarna, EVE Gate, and other recent projects, and CCP's response has been to try to force players to use them.
These are all things that should have been optional but incentivised, for example by the inclusion of skill changing in EVE Gate and station-only content for Incarna. We could have reduced broker fees for transactions created while we're in our captain's quarters, automatic shipping of PI goods to the station, or remote access to agents within the region. We could even have special Incarna-only black market services like standings-based manufacturing slots and refineries with lower tax. It doesn't take a genius to come up with viable incentives for using Incarna, and yet CCP seems adamant that we should just be forced to use it.
Read on to page two, in which I look at why the leaked Fearless document is such a big deal, why CCP's silence has players terrified, and ultimately where these issues are coming from. If you'd like to comment on the story, you can do so on page two.