“There is a pretty overwhelming perception amongst EVE players that these changes are bad. I think they’re brilliant, but our players don’t. We’re going to face an uphill struggle, and the reason many of us never talk about this publically is that we’d be burned at the stake by the players.”
— Kristoffer Touborg, from the leaked “Fearless” internal CCP discussion pamphlet
Eve’s current woes are interesting for a number of reasons. Let’s run through them quickly.
First, the Eve playerbase feels both empowered and angry. They feel very much as though they should have a voice in how the game is run. CCP has not disagreed with this, and their “Council of Stellar Management” player advisory council is currently winging its way to Iceland, at CCP’s expense (and knowing the expense of last-minute airline reservations, more than cancelling any benefit from selling virtual monocles). We’ve seen player protests in MMOs before, but this is the first overt player riot – enabled in part by Eve’s own strengths of being a unitary server game so that if, say, someone decides it’s a good idea to shoot up a statue commemorating the in-game NPC leaders as a political gesture, it can get legs.
In-game political ownership, and a sense of that extending out of the game into the game’s corporate management, is not new to Eve – virtual worlds in general elicit that sense of ownership. (See the fury at Star Wars Galaxies’ NGE changes, or Prokofy Neva’s various writings demanding that Linden Lab not be permitted to run their own product without some sort of oversight). Part of the bargain of setting people loose to build your world for you – or more accurately, the social constructs that help build that world – is that those people tend to value their labor more than yours. And they should. Without the value added by its players, Eve is a spreadsheet simulator, Second Life is literally nothing whatsoever and Star Wars Galaxies is, well, post-NGE Star Wars Galaxies.
The NGE is illustrative here as well, in that, like that ill-fated attempt by SOE to move Star Wars Galaxies in a more mainstream direction, CCP appears to have plans for its MMOs that Eve players aren’t very interested in. Eve is a very hardcore, complicated, and most importantly, abstract game. The great majority of Eve players don’t care about monocles, they care about extracting 3% more efficiency out of their missile launcher speeds. The drama about $25 virtual shirts and $60 virtual monocles in the item store is amusing, the “walking in a small room in your spaceship” feature Incarna added to justify said item store is also amusing, but what enrages Eve players is the thought that they might have to pay $50 – or $5 – tomorrow to get that 3% missile launcher efficiency. Or worse, that someone else would. That was the part of the leaked internal discussion/propaganda leaflet that so enraged the Eve playerbase, where one member of the “point/counterpoint” discussion advocated exactly that. And that was why an Eve producer posting to the official blog finally said, point blank, in an attempt to calm the rioting, “there are no and never have been plans to sell “gold ammo”” (contradicting another section of said leaked document which said explicitly that ammunition sales were in fact under consideration).
Still, the fact remains – CCP introduced an item shop to Eve, a game which very vehemently did not need, nor want one. They patched in ambulatory avatars, in a game where most players ever appear only as abstract radar widgets, specifically to support that item shop. CCP is taking their game in places that their players do not want it to go. And the players know this. And they are angry.
To state the brutally obvious: this is not how to handle microtransactions. In fact, this is probably a textbook case in how NOT to handle microtransactions (a story that has been written already, actually). And in a hardcore abstract game such as Eve, I’m not sure microtransactions can even work, at least without alienating almost every player Eve currently has – in other words, an NGE-style extinction level event. And CCP is not a stupid company. They have one of the most successful independently-run MMOs in the market today. They effectively own the niche of PvP virtual worlds, to the point that fans are angry at the realization they have nowhere else to go.
The conspiracy theory one is tempted to indulge in, then, given that brutally obvious fact – is CCP, in fact, intentionally forcing an extinction level event? Do they want to alienate the hardcore playerbase that helped give the company the motto “harden the f*ck up”?
As a possible reason for this: World of Tanks has over 3 million accounts, today announced a publishing deal to appear in retail stores, and sells ammo that blows up other tanks far better at 5 to 7 cents a shot. Clearly the revenue model works. At least for people who aren’t paying a subscription fee to a game that isn’t World of Tanks. And that last key point may be what CCP forgot in its Aurum rush.
I suspect CCP can still recover player good will and staunch the bleeding of what anecdotally are already a significant number of cancelled accounts – but it needs to be done quickly.
“The most visible example of another game introducing virtual goods sales is certainly LOTRO. It is worth pointing out though that they made almost everything microtransaction based and at the same time removed subscription fees. Because other games with very different communities and very different gameplay styles are able to do something it doesn’t mean we can do the same thing with the same levels of success.”
“More revenue is of course an aim, but making our customers feel like they are being “double billed” to be able to play on the same level as others is just a step too far.”
— John Turbefield, from the leaked “Fearless” internal CCP discussion pamphlet