EVE Online press conference answers vital questions, transcript inside

After what should have been the celebrated release of the long-awaited Incarna expansion last week, the EVE Online community erupted into flames. The controversy began when players realised that the vanity clothing items in the game's new cash shop were ridiculously overpriced. The $68 monocle became a centerpiece that the media latched onto, in the same way that World of Warcraft made the headlines when Blizzard had the audacity to sell a $25 mount.

The story should have ended there as a piece about a crazy Icelandic game company selling virtual clothing for more than real clothing. Unfortunately, some conveniently timed leaks from inside CCP caused this simple issue to escalate to the point of panic, causing in-game riots and a significant number of subscription cancellations. The company's silence on the simple question of whether non-vanity microtransactions would be introduced was seen as an admission that gameplay-affecting items would end up in the cash shop.

CCP flew the Council of Stellar Management, EVE's democratically-elected player representative body, out to Iceland for an emergency meeting last week. The result of the meeting was a joint statement between CCP and the CSM addressing all of the major concerns players had. Last night, CCP ran two press conferences over Skype to give EVE fansites and the gaming media a chance to ask additional questions that weren't covered in the official statement. Skip past the cut for our in-depth three-page transcript from the gaming media press conference, including answers to several pressing questions sent in by Massively readers and some great issues raised by other participating members of the press. Comments can be posted on page 3.

Massively: The CCP statement mentioned that there are no plans to introduce "game breaking" items or enhancements in the NeX store. Is functionality or convenience that's not necessarily "game breaking" going to be sold, and is CCP aware that bypassing the player-run economy to provide anything that can be produced via normal in-game means is game-breaking?

Arnar Gylfason (CCP Zulu, Senior Producer on EVE Online): That's actually a very interesting question. For the second half of that question, I want to take the example of PLEX. PLEX is something that you can take out of context and say it's a way for you to buy ISK with money. People buy PLEX for money, sell them on the market and get ISK out of it. If you were to put it up like that, I imagine most people unfamiliar with the subject would say "This is game breaking!" and that it's definitely "buying win." However, it's important to note that there is arbitrage through the player economy and this is done through the player market. There is no magical ISK spawned when it is bought, and you are not buying ISK directly from CCP.

When you go through that thought process and when you see the level of public acceptance that PLEX has today, I think there's a lot of those things to be mindful of. Yes, you're absolutely right, we can't really go against the player-driven market or the player-driven socio-economic state of EVE. In terms of what is game breaking, I don't think I can answer that in an hour long interview, not to the extent that it really deserves. But it's important to see the CSM for what it is here, as we were able to have that conversation over the period of two days. [We discussed] what is acceptable, what isn't acceptable, what are the gray areas, what will we never do, and what will we possibly do at some time.

The Mittani (Alexander Gianturco, CSM 6 chairman and EVE veteran): I haven't really seen anything that would worry me from CCP yet. If it gets to the point where we're discussing something I would consider to be game-breaking, I have a long-standing history of going against CCP quite publicly (even before I took over as the chairman as CSM) and we will continue to guard the players' interests. I don't get the feeling that CCP right now has any intention of breaking the game.

If you go to Reykjavik and you meet these people, you understand that CCP's policy has been to recruit the employees in Reykjavik from the people who eat, sleep, live and breathe EVE Online. The reason why these leaks are coming from within CCP is precisely because of that. From a certain perspective, the employees of CCP would rather do what they think is necessary to defend EVE Online as a game, and care more about it having a quality that they like than even about their own jobs.

I haven't seen any plans for game-breaking microtransactions and I suspect that if any such plans were ever to come about, all hell would break loose. But I don't see that in the near term of the next year, or really as long as Arnar and Stoffer are around, I would be shocked if that sort of item or enhancement was released.

As I see it, the issue is generating things out of thin air. For example, selling tech 3 ships directly would kill off a lot of the incentive behind wormhole exploration.

Arnar: To follow up on Brendan's point there, the issue being generating things out of thin air, you're absolutely right. It's important that whatever we do and whatever part of the game we touch that this player arbitrage remains, that there is no magical appearance or vanishing of items on behalf of CCP, that this is more player-driven.

The CSM has proven to be an excellent filter mechanism for testing ideas against the playerbase and avoid controversies like this. In this case, they weren't included in the communication path. Will the CSM be included in that communication path in future as a formal mechanism?

Arnar: The CSM is included up until a very specific point. The CSM is an excellent sounding board, but we can't really put ourselves in a position where they start dictating business policy or business strategy. We involved them in the development of the NeX store and the items themselves but when we came to the pricing itself, it was just a process that we took outside of normal development processes. I'm not going to say it was right or wrong, that's just the way it went.

The Mittani: I can probably speak a little more freely because of my position. From the CSM statement, it should be obvious that the rollout of the NeX exchange was a debacle from the player perspective. One of the action points that is coming out of the summit is that CCP should have explicitly stated their tiering strategy -- explained it in a devblog and showed the visual targets for the items in the noble exchange. Had they done this, most of the controversy regarding the noble exchange would have vanished in a puff of logic.

We have very good communication that we're very happy with on most of the core aspects of EVE Online. We had some contact about the items that were going to go in, but we were not consulted about the pricing strategy. It appears to me that the Noble Exchange was rushed out the door without a proper stocking of items and without a proper communication of the strategy. In hindsight, CCP probably would have delayed it for a couple of weeks to sort it out, but they didn't, and here we are.

I don't really feel terribly upset about the screw-ups about the noble exchange. I'm irked that we weren't consulted about the pricing strategy, mainly from the perspective of the lack of communication resulting in an inflaming of the playerbase. But at a fundamental level most of the people on the CSM are not particularly concerned with the sale of vanity items. CCP could charge $20,000 for a monocle for a space barbie and most of the CSM, with a couple of exceptions, wouldn't give a crap. We care about keeping gold out of the sandbox. That's my perspective on the NeX exchange. We weren't consulted about it because the people who normally consult with us were not involved in the choice of strategy.

CCP has made it clear that its current strategy involves forcing player to dock into the captain's quarters (performance permitting). Can you explain the reason behind that strategy? More specifically, would Incarna-only gameplay and incentives not be enough to get people to use it?

Arnar: Forcing players to dock at the captain's quarters is a form of what we actually wanted to get through, which is making Incarna a seamless part of the EVE Online experience. It's not so much about forcing people to dock into the captain's quarters or forcing people to use features, it's more about making it a fully integrated seamless part of the world.

I think through our discussions with the CSM last week we came to a very agreeable understanding of how to give people back the option of having the ship spinning; having this intermediate stage or something that still fits within the seamless fluid transition between flying in space and Incarna. That's something we're going to expand on a bit through design and iteration over the next months and hopefully implement some time soon.

So we will dock into our ship and then get out into the captain's quarters? From space to ship hangar to captain's quarters?

Arnar: I don't really want to comment on specific design at this point since we haven't really done it but the important part is that the entire world feels seamless and integrated, that it's not a toggle switch in your settings or something that you actively select when you dock, just that it's seamless and integrated with everything else. And we'll, of course, make designs and design ideas available whenever they become available.

Head over to page 2 for questions from other people at the conference asking about the recent controversy, EVE's survival as an MMO and the leaked documents.