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Tag - CCP Games

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Sovereignty for the Little Guy

sov

EVE Online’s July patch-pansion, called Aegis, brought with it an universe-sundering change in the core, defining feature of the venerable MMO – sovereignty. Reception for the Aegis Sovereignty System (more commonly referred to as Fozziesov in the EVE Online community) was mixed, at best – and is no better today. In recent weeks, Nulli Secunda announced they were closing their doors; Black Legion is ceding their sovereign territory (a move announced with an eloquent post headlined by the statement “Fuck Fozzie”); and UAxDeath (a prominent Russian alliance leader and, more recently, a CSM member) famously issued a proclamation of dislike on the EVE Online forums.

Last week, though, I found myself in nullsec for the first time in years, helping a ramshackle bunch of pirates, wormholers, bittervets, and industrialists take sovereignty in Scalding Pass. A Band Apart, the alliance more famous for its leader than for anything it has actually done in the game, took sovereignty with a handful of players and a great deal of pluck. It was as unlikely a sight as I’ve seen in the game – more unlikely even than the Phoenix dreadnaught I caught (and killed) in a lowsec belt, where it was ratting. 

maybe someday they'll let us name the damn system as well

That’s our system, J2-PZ6.

To be clear, this is not an event that would have taken place without the implementation of Fozziesov. While Black Legion may complain that ‘sov isn’t fun anymore’ – a sentiment that is totally valid for the PVP orientated sov holders of the world – no one can deny that sov is fundamentally more accessible now. A Band Apart took sov, after all, and did it without the protection of a regional super power or the exchange of mass quantities of ISK.

The trouble present in the EVE community – or rather, the sov-holding EVE community – is not a question of whether the current system works. Instead, the conflict between player and developer would appear to resolve over a far more fundamental question: what does holding sovereignty even mean anymore?

Gone are the days of Great Wars, but if we’re honest those days have been gone for some time. Gone are the days of vast renter empires. Gone are the days of Fortress Delve, the Big Blue Donut, Mittanigrad or bust. In its place are idiots like me, floating around wondering how I entosis things; Freeport republics that are open to all (and totally ingenious scams – but that is another topic altogether); solo pilots actually taking sovereignty in underutilized stretches of space all by themselves.

eve-captureevent

 

The Old Guard take this new age as a sign of disrespect, a slap in their collective faces by the very company they feed. They forget that Fozziesov is, essentially, exactly what they clamored for just a year ago: occupancy-based sovereignty. Sure, the system is a little clunky – no one claims it to be perfect, least of all CCP themselves. Sure, the system is obtuse – I, for instance, still haven’t the slightest idea how we took sov aside from the vague term ‘entosising’.

But. A Band Apart took sovereignty the other day. We promptly found half of the alliance locked out of the station due to obscure administration permissions and settings; we spent a good hour or so laughing at those that couldn’t get in, then laughing at our alliance leader as he, chagrined, attempted to fix the situation (an event memorialized in the name of our station: “Dad Lost the Keys”). Within days, we were beset by angry locals that fielded a force we couldn’t overcome (a seven man fleet consisting of a battleship and some cruisers of various flavors) without resorting to a swarm of Griffins that had just been brought in by a plucky industrialist within the alliance.

These things, these shared experiences and tribulations that will serve as the foundation of trust and friendship in the years to come, would never have been born without Fozziesov.

Progress can never be achieved without some disruption of the status quo; you have to break a few eggs to make an omelet – pick your favorite cliche and know that it will likely hold true for the EVE Online of today, next week, and next year. All that remains is to ride it all out and see where the chips fall.

CCP Announces Iterations On New EVE Sovereignty System

ExeFile 2013-05-25 23-27-59-330

Yesterday, game designer CCP Fozzie announced a batch of changes to the recently-rebuilt EVE Sov system.

We previously touched on the new mechanics, commonly called “Fozziesov” or “Aegis Sov.” EVE’s nullsec players have been crying out for changes to the sov system for years now, and the Fozziesov mechanics are the product of months and months of discussion in Reykjavik. They also came with a promise to improve, patch, iterate and otherwise build upon the new system.

That promise is being fulfilled, as the reaction to Fozziesov has been far from uniformly positive. Many of the features are sound in principle, but require tweaking in practice. Most of the complaints seem to revolve around the amount of wasted time it takes to defend space, even against nuisance raids. Fozziesov has seen the rise of the “trollceptor” fleet: gangs of difficult-to-catch Interceptors roaming through space and triggering defensive timers with no intention of contesting them in battle, merely wearing down and annoying the defender with busywork. More overarching complaints, like the relative paucity of rewards for holding space, will have to be addressed as well.

The general thrust of the proposed changes seems to align with the most common player concerns with Fozziesov, as chronicled by Thoric Frosthammer and Wilhelm Arcturus. It is reassuring to see iteration come so quickly, and the promise of further work on Sov is good to see, as well. CCP put their “superstar” devs on point for this; with Fozzie working on mechanics and Punkturis building the interface, it’s hard to imagine a stronger commitment.

Most interesting, perhaps, is the “preview” of coming updates in the final paragraphs of CCP Fozzie’s post:

Galatea is just the beginning of our commitment to iterating and improving nullsec and sov. We are hard at work on the changing coming in future releases, including formal methods for dropping sov, the ability to turn IHub upgrades on and off, updates to the formula for calculating activity defense multipliers, new PVE experiences for sov nullsec and much more. Nullsec and Sov remain our focus here at Team Five 0 and we’ll be continuing to update you on progress as we go forward. We are listening to your feedback and continuing to observe the results of our changes as we make them.

These Galatea changes will also obviously not be the final changes to the capture mechanics themselves. We have some changes we know we want to make (like partially captured structures returning to defender control at a slow constant regeneration pace to reduce the need for “maintenance linking”) and others that we don’t want to rule out but that also need more investigation and internal/external discussion before making final decisions (such as ship restrictions on Entosis Links). Thanks to everyone who’s been providing constructive feedback so far, we hope you’ll continue.

The promised iterations are to be released, along with a host of other features and updates, on August 25 as part of the Galatea update.

Drifter Wars Turns EVE Online Into A Side-Scroller

eve online drifter wars

Update: CCP Games has asked Rixx to pull Drifter Wars down, in accordance with their intellectual property rights. The game can no longer be played, but the original article has been preserved below for historical purposes.


 

The EVE Online community creates all sorts of external tools and software for players to use, from Aura to Eve-Central. However, there are surprisingly few fangames, especially given the general tech-minded playerbase CCP has cultivated.

Drifter Wars is one of those precious and rare non-CCP EVE games. Created in a collaboration between Rixx Javix and Igor Puschner, Drifter Wars is a side-scrolling shooter in the vein of Gradius. You can pick from a few different ships, travel from left to right, and shoot incoming enemies. That’s about all there is to it.

While Drifter Wars isn’t a particularly good side-scrolling shooter, it’s such an interesting concept that it’s worth playing through at least once. There are, however, many flaws for the discerning shooter player. There is no wiggle animation on the player ship when going up and down, there’s extremely bad slowdown when the attack cooldown is charging up, bullets have no impact when they hit an enemy, the controls are a little too rigid, and there’s very little visual or audio feedback when you actually do something cool.

What if the EVE Online ships were rendered in side-scroller fashion? How does the universe of EVE translate to an arcade game? Where are all the EVE fangames, for fuck’s sake? These are the questions Drifter Wars asks, and while the answer isn’t a great game, it’s certainly a great project. We need more fangames, and hopefully the hard work of Rixx and Igor will inspire others to take up the mantle. I may not be a fan of this game, but if they improve on it and release a sequel, it’s quite likely that it’ll be a genuinely good experience. Keep an eye on it.

EVE Online Changed My Life

EVE Online

I remember when I first sat down to play EVE Online. It was the summer of 2007. I was new to San Diego, with a new job and my first child on the way. I was a real adult for the first time, as I had just separated from the Air Force and was on my own in a way I had never been before. It was a stressful time, a time that I sought solace in something soothing. For months, that thing had been World of Warcraft – but its hold on me had waned and I was in search of new experiences in MMOs. I forget how I heard of EVE, but at that point in time it was downloaded and ready to play. When I pressed the button to login, I had no way of knowing that EVE would forever alter the course of my life. But it would. It did. It does still.

I was young and dumb. I didn’t have a ton of confidence in myself. I was coming off a six month ‘vacation’ during which I had struggled to even get an interview, much less a job. I felt lucky to have finally found something, but it didn’t pay well and it was a contract job. There were no benefits for me or my growing family, there was a ton of out of pocket travel expenses, and I was doubting every decision I had ever made. My very pregnant wife was staying with her mother 3 hours from San Diego as the due date approached and I was, quite frankly, pretty down about everything.

EVE did not immediately change that. In fact, I didn’t even make it through the full 14 day trial the first time I tried it. Or the second time, for that matter. I bounced from MMO to MMO, looking to recreate some of the feelings I had experienced in World of Warcraft, to no avail. Much of that experience had been tied to the friends I played with, friends that were now thousands of miles away and swiftly falling out of touch as our lives went in separate directions. Eventually, though, EVE and I clicked. Still, my life didn’t really change due to EVE. I didn’t play much as my son was born and work picked up steam.

Two years went by. I was working at another government contractor – still for not nearly enough to live on in San Diego and still with no benefits – and I still felt very much like the same child I had been when I entered the Air Force. Sure, I paid taxes now; I had credit cards; I got smog checks for my car; but that was all just dressing, the trappings of an adult hung on my immature psyche. I didn’t know what I was going to do with my life, other than the nebulous answer of ‘IT’. I was well into my 20s and felt utterly lost, which is a pretty bad thing to feel when you have a wife and a kid.

To hide out from this growing sense of trepidation about my entire life and all the choices I had made, I dug deeper into EVE. I dug deeper into EVE’s community, reading blogs and the like. I started my own blog. I made lots of good friends in-game and then started a corporation with them. And then a podcast. People started reading my blog and I began to experience something really silly – a moderate level of EVE notoriety.

I made more friends and more acquaintances; I started cohosting a popular EVE podcast (for its day); I started running some community services. I became confident in my words, in my knowledge of the game, and in myself. Sure, a lot of the ground work for this confidence was laid down in the military and I could equally claim that joining the Air Force changed my life. The difference is that the military didn’t necessarily encourage me to be me; it encouraged me to be a good member of the military. With the podcasting, the blogging, and the community stuff I did in EVE Online, I began to understand who I was.

Yes, this all sounds melodramatic and silly and this whole post is a bunch of navel-gazing at the end of the day. However, it is no less true. It was only by putting myself out there, into a community of people who had similar interests but (importantly) widely differing viewpoints on a variety of issues, that I grew up.

After blogging and then working for TheMittani.com for a spell, I had grown a pretty great list of friends and acquaintances, people I have gone out of my way to meet outside the game. I’ve had beers with total and complete strangers and felt more or less at ease with them. I went to E3 and EVE Vegas and Blizzcon (oddly enough), all thanks to EVE Online. I got into the gaming industry thanks to EVE Online; I doubled my salary in a little under two years thanks to EVE Online. I’ve met CEOs of corporations both virtual and real. I spilled beer on a CCP developer.

In EVE Online, particularly early in my experience of the game, I found out the benefit of patience. EVE is a cruel mistress to the impatient, a fact that is regularly made plain every time a hauler dies with billions of ISK in it, or a blinged out mission ship dies to a gank. At TMC, as I was made into an editor and then a general manager of sorts, I found out how to work with people who, typically, are kind of hard to work with – video game nerds. Also at TMC I learned what drive and motivation really were about; I learned what it was to be good at something and comfortable with saying so; I learned about greed and how to let go.

There are many things I still try to internalize, lessons that have yet to be understood fundamentally, from EVE. I made many friends and understand better every day what it means to actually be a good friend. I learned how to differentiate respect and admiration and friendship and liking a person. EVE was, for me, a mental proving ground. A place I could experiment with leading, following, second-in-commanding. The most cutthroat digital universe was, in fact, my safe place.

I grew up and matured and began to understand how to operate as a human being, and to strive towards being a good one of those to boot, all because of this internet spaceship game that I sat down to play in the summer of 2007. Eight years later, I can only look back at my 2007-self and wonder where that guy would be right now, had EVE never caught on with him. It isn’t a pretty picture, if I’m honest, but the important thing about looking back is to understand and appreciate what you have now. I have a great family, I have great friends, I have a great job and greater prospects for the future. All of these things, as well as some of the very best memories in my life, I owe to EVE Online.

EVE Sovereignty At The Brink

EVE Online

Two years into its second decade, EVE Online is in serious trouble.

This is a game that, at its best, is about politics – influence, war, territory, diplomacy, tribal gangs flinging spaceships and slurs at each other. Lately, it’s about different things. Things that other games do better. And the playerbase is shrinking as a result.

The actual number of subscribed accounts is hard to determine. We do know that it is significantly lower than the 500,000 subscribers figure trumpeted by CCP in February 2013, and that number included their relaunched Chinese server. Two posts by EVE blogger The Nosy Gamer dig into the exact numbers, though he believes that subscriptions don’t matter so much in an age of microtransactions and cash shops. He may be right; subscription numbers aren’t the best measurement of EVE’s vitality, given the number of players with multiple accounts. The most accurate metric we have is the number of accounts actually logged in and, thanks to EVE-Offline.net, that data is available.

It doesn’t look great.

peep that slope

2013 was a very strong year for EVE. After a brief slump at the end of 2013, the PCU (number of concurrent players) was spurred to what would become 2014’s high point by the famous Bloodbath of B-5RB, netting CCP a massive publicity win. It has been almost all downhill from there, with the huge activity gains of B-5RB wiped out within months. (I’m not cherry-picking data here – if anything, the 5-year graph looks worse.) From 2011 through 2014, EVE averaged nearly 50,000 concurrent players. For the past few months, New Eden has struggled to draw 30,000 – a drop of roughly 40%. How did we get here?

Let’s dispense with some oft-repeated untruths. No, CCP’s anti-botting/RMT efforts haven’t driven away nearly half the playerbase. That is silly for reasons of proportionality alone. No, the banning of ISBoxer and other automation tools is not responsible for the situation. The idea that a relative handful of multiboxers and ISBoxer users was inflating EVE’s PCU by tens of thousands is laughable. Players are leaving EVE because EVE isn’t interesting anymore and what makes EVE interesting is the political narrative.

To know why EVE is struggling, we must understand the political history of the game.

Influence.png

First, let’s clarify this “politics” idea. There are of course many things that EVE does decently enough and a few things that EVE is fantastic at. But EVE’s most unique feature (and its greatest draw) is the political narrative in nullsec space, the territory conquerable by players and unpoliced by NPC do-gooders. In this space, unique among MMOs for its particular brand of lawlessness, groups of players can forge political bonds, control and exploit territory, and strive for dominance unfettered. This is the arena that produced B-5RB, Asakai, the Goon/BoB conflict (known by its participants as the Great War), spies and commanders, heroes and villains, and the vast majority of the stories about EVE worth reading. It’s what makes the Verite Rendition Player Influence map so magical – every entity on that map is composed of hundreds or thousands of people, and they all have stories.

Take any major EVE battle of the sort that occasionally leaks into the broader media. The actual fighting itself is usually only interesting in a narrow technical sense; the actual experience of a player combatant may not be particularly exciting or even enjoyable. I’ve participated in my fair share of big fights. I remember high points like magnificent bombing runs and Doomsday beams flashing across the starfield. Mostly, I remember low points: interminable waiting, time dilation, my client stuttering and choking, tediously following the fleet commander’s orders, boredom and frustration. This is not interesting. What is interesting is the battle’s consequences; in New Eden, the battles have consequences – or at least, they should.

EVE doesn’t seem to produce many meaningful struggles anymore. B-5RB is, once again, illustrative: the battle occurred only as a result of a series of mistakes and uncharacteristic moves on both sides. Players without an obscenely expensive supercapital-class ship were directed away from the battle proper by their commanders, to preserve server resources for the more useful Titans and Supercarriers. Finally, the battle’s actual strategic consequences were muted, as both sides had sufficiently deep war-chests to replace their losses in a matter of weeks. The war itself was a passionless thing, driven mostly by the need to give players something to do. No righteous fury or struggle for survival animated B-5RB.

These are symptoms of the game’s political ossification.

Shuffling the Deck

In December 2009, EVE’s 12th expansion (Dominion) was released. Dominion came with a new sovereignty system – a complete overhaul of the mechanics determining player control of space in nullsec.

It was not a good overhaul. The pre-Dominion sovereignty system wasn’t good, exactly, but it lacked the more pernicious and damaging flaws that Dominion carried. Dominion-era sov warfare was a grinding, oddly-designed mess that heavily favored the defender. The complexity of the system discouraged new blood from attempting to enter the nullsec game and conferred further power to the veterans who already held space.

The number of new alliances moving into nullsec plummeted and even alliances with terrible leadership were able to hold their space indefinitely, simply because grinding through Dominion’s legion of timers and other obstacles was not worth it. Even the conquest of uncontested space was a chore. To successfully attack, alliances needed more members. They began to merge and grow. Coalitions became less “alliances of alliances” and more autocratic.

Dotlan

As alliances bloated in size, their culture and identity became diluted. As they became richer and more well-established, leaders were less inclined to risk their hard-won gains on wars or other failure-prone ventures. The Verite Influence map started to have mostly the same names on it. For years.

These player organizations, mostly safe behind the high walls of Dominion sovereignty, evolved, becoming more Byzantine and bureaucratic. Familiarity with the mechanics bred the ability to exploit them. Coalitions developed unified communications platforms, reimbursement and welfare programs, and a whole system of internal management. Groups that were once autocracies now insulated the leader behind a wall of fleet commanders, diplomats, metagamers, and a dozen other kinds of functionaries and specialists. Some of this was happening before Dominion and would have happened without it, of course – players evolve. Dominion just reinforced the stifling effect that the sovereignty mechanics sparked.

After a few years of adjustment, EVE’s political narratives stopped being as interesting or dynamic as they once were. Everyone had fought everyone before, usually many times.  Just as a first-past-the-post, all-or-nothing electoral system discourages third parties and narrows the field of viable candidates and parties, the all-or-nothing sovereignty system discouraged smaller alliances, eventually forcing the vast majority of nullsec players into a trinary, and then a binary, galaxy.

As a member of one of EVE’s most long-lived and influential alliances, Goonswarm Federation, I witnessed this phenomenon firsthand. The first half-decade of EVE was a time of consequences – dramatic upsets, narrative, clashing ideologies, space opera made real. After half a decade of Dominion all we had left was the core gameplay, and it’s not a secret that much of EVE’s core gameplay isn’t actually very good.

 

influencecropped

Fozziesov

To CCP’s credit, after more than five years of Dominion stagnation, they have finally come around to replacing the Dominion sovereignty system. Developed under the aegis of Game Designer CCP Fozzie, the new mechanics are almost universally referred to by the community as “Fozziesov.”

The way Fozziesov actually functions isn’t that important; it follows the EVE Online tradition of taking already-complex game mechanics and obscuring them further behind weird terminology. Activity Defense Multiplier? Entosis Link? Ugh. The question is: will it work? If it does work, will it be enough to revitalize the nullsec political game? Ideally, Fozziesov would shake up or break up EVE’s coalitions and lower the stakes of conflict. Many prominent coalition and alliance leaders have in fact stated that they’d welcome to a return to the freewheeling, balkanized EVE landscape of old.

It’s an extraordinarily difficult task for CCP to attempt, akin to reversing a historical process – taking EVE from coalitions down to nation-states down to tribal groups. However it is an extraordinarily difficult task worth doing; revitalizing the nullsec game is probably the only way to reverse EVE’s declining numbers.

Respected EVE politicians and alliance leaders are skeptical. Reaction to Fozziesov in action has largely been neutral or negative. This doesn’t necessarily mean anything; EVE players will gleefully attack CCP for any action they take or propose to take and it’s too early to make a definitive judgement of Fozziesov. Still, it is worrying. A failure to return dynamism and fun to nullsec could be fatal. One experienced fleet commander hits the nail on the head:

Mechanics might change, but the general vibe around Eve is that most people have been around the block so many times that they don’t want to put much effort into it anymore. Content creators of olde are largely inactive. Apathy from the old guard isn’t a bad thing – as long as there is a fresh generation to take over. But does that exist?

I hope that new generation does exist because this game is worth saving. Let’s not underrate what CCP has accomplished: more than a decade after launch, despite everything, EVE Online is unique. Games that pitch themselves as competitors to EVE tend to fail (see also: ArcheAge, Perpetuum, Darkfall, etc). Figuring out how to make PvP territorial control work within an MMO is terrifically difficult. MechWarrior Online has been putting it off for three years now.

EVE is not dying. I suspect that New Eden will be around for another decade, if not longer. It’s just becoming less and less interesting – which could be worse than death.

CCP Announces ‘Gunjack’

Gunjack

On August 3rd CCP Games, developers of EVE Online, blasted out a press release, unveiled a trailer, and activated social media accounts for the rollout of a new game: Gunjack. It’s an arcade turret shooter, set in the EVE universe, and intended to be a release title for the upcoming Samsung Gear VR (the mobile-based ‘little brother’ to the Oculus Rift). The release of Gunjack is stated to coincide with the ‘official release’ of the Gear VR, which appears to be a bit of a nebulous concept; the Gear VR Innovator Edition has been available for purchase since 2014 and other iterations have since come out.

As for the game, it looks – well, it definitely doesn’t look great. And as someone who has long watched CCP, this announcement is more bewildering than anything else. Among the many questions that come to mind are the following:

  • Why a simple, bland-looking turret game? Just to have a piece of the action on another upcoming VR platform?
  • Isn’t having not one, but two games in development for unreleased platforms while the playerbase of their core product shrinks kind of, um, risky?
  • For that matter, why do this instead of fleshing out Valkyrie?

The answer to that last one may have something to do with CCP’s structure. Valkyrie is being developed by a team based in Newcastle, while Gunjack appears to be the product of CCP’s Shanghai studio. Of course, it’s obviously very much based on Valkyrie – to my eye, it’s essentially Valkyrie with player movement stripped out and turret game mechanics slapped in. It seems likely that CCP essentially sent Valkyrie over to Shanghai and said “alright, make a game for Gear VR using this tech.”

CCP Shanghai was supposed to be working on something else, though. We can only speculate about the fate of Project Legion (a re-imagining of CCP’s troubled PS3 shooter DUST 514 intended for the PC), which, as of earlier this year, was already being downplayed in favor of its predecessor. It is unclear what impact the development of Gunjack had on Project Legion’s apparent deprioritization, if any.

There’s historical reason to be skeptical in a more general sense here; CCP has a checkered track record with new titles. DUST 514 was (and remains) a flop and the long-lamented World of Darkness MMO was cancelled after languishing in development for nearly 8 years. EVE Valkyrie looks fantastic, but remains unreleased.

One thing is clear: CCP is going in hard on VR. As CCP’s CEO says in the press release linked above:

“We believe that virtual reality will be a defining element of gaming’s future.  It may take some time to get widespread adoption, but we’re going to be there on day one,” said Hilmar Veigar Pétursson, CEO of CCP.  “We’re making smart investments in VR so we can learn important lessons early and blow people’s minds when they get their hands on their first VR headset.”

CCP appears determined to make a big splash as VR arrives for the broader consumer market in the near future. Whether the investment is worth the risk remains to be seen.