BB #50: Time for a New Doctrine

With the Rubicon expansion being announced and the SOMER Blink scandals (or non-scandals depending on your point of view) that have erupted on the community at the same time, it truly feels like an age of EVE has passed and a new one is dawning.

But which direction is it going? This blog banter can be about several different topics:
– where do you think EVE is going? Is it a good or bad vision ahead?
– if you were EVE’s new Executive Producer, where would you take the game?
– What comes (or should come) after Rubicon in terms of the mechanics and ship balancing we’ve seen? (CSM8 not allowed to answer this one!)
– Is there anything in EVE’s ten year past that should be resurrected? Or buried and forgotten?
– What is the future of the community? What should or should not change?

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I am going to look at this as an amalgam of most of the above topics, with the exception of specific Eve Online development stuff. The reason I’m doing this is because the future of CCP isn’t about Eve Online. That was last decade. The next decade will not be successful if Eve Online is the absolute focus of CCP. I know a lot of players don’t want to read/hear this, and many will react vehemently against it, but Eve Online is about as big as it is ever going to get. There is no more growth opportunity in it. It is the bulk work of CCP’s gaming empire for now, but it is not going to bring victory.

As evidence of this fact, one only has to look at log in numbers independently supplied by Jester or head over to EVE-Offline. Oh sure, the total number of accounts has grown a little in the past few years, but they are not new players. They are alts, and a single player can only actively play so many alts at one time. That’s why the log in numbers are key in the determination that Eve Online won’t bring CCP the success they need.

We’ve discussed the average number of alts a given player has within this community in the past, but CCP has never released hard figures to my recollection. But my experience over the past year of actually playing with other people tells me there are probably, on average, two alts for every player giving a total of three characters per real person. This is not to say everyone has three characters. It is an average. Goblin has eleven by his own admission. From things Jester has said over the years, I’m fairly certain he has more than three accounts. Most of the guys in my own corporation have multiple accounts. And no, these aren’t just multiple characters on the same account: too many people I fly with these days multibox.

It’s good that players have multiple accounts, because every account generates revenue. But they do not generate growth, and without growth Eve Online cannot take CCP to the next level as a business. Without getting to the next level, CCP will simply decline until it vanishes.  Like Strategic Simulations Incorporated (SSI,) they’ll end up bought and resold until no one remembers their past glory and younger upstarts retire the brand. To stop this from happening, CCP needs a new doctrine for their second decade.

Back in my early days in the military, I had a British officer, Major Joe Baker of Her Majesty’s Parachute Regiment, as an instructor. Back then, before AirLand Battle doctrine, NATO had this idea called Active Defense. Major Baker’s position on it was simple. If you just jump around a lot while waiting for the Soviets to come kill you, you are still going to die. In other words, a good offense is the best defense and no amount of “active defense” was going to win a land war in Europe against the Soviet Union. Here’s the analogy for those who don’t see it. No amount of expansion, balancing, new modules, or ship types – or anything else pumped into Eve Online – will make CCP succeeded in the coming decade. It’s the gaming industry’s equivalent of Active Defense, and they’ll see their players bleed away one by one until a tipping point is reached and they become SSI.

No, what CCP needs is it’s own AirLand Battle doctrine. The key point about AirLand Battle was that it was offensive by design, not defensive in nature. It relied on ALL assets to win: land, sea and air. It did not concentrate just on the main battle area as Active Defense did, but extended the fight into rear areas, the sky overhead, the ocean depths and even space. Offensive pressure was created on every front and with all means at NATO’s disposal. They did not limit themselves and no region, continent or even planet was theoretically off limits. That is what CCP must do in the coming decade if Eve Online is to survive.

That is why we have Dust 514 and CCP is continuing to develop the game. It doesn’t have to be Halo or Call of Duty. It only has to be different enough from Eve Online to appeal to a different sort of gamer. But even a tangential relationship seems to be having an ill effect on the game. People who play first person shooters (FPS) really don’t want a situation where those who have more ISK or are in the biggest organizations win by dint of in-game assets or sheer blob size. More offensive fronts are needed because Dust 514 is really no more than Eve Online on a planet.

So in comes Valkyrie. There is a lot of appeal in this product. It appears to be a genuine FPS and so far ISK and affiliations have nothing to do with the game play. It’d be best if it stayed that way. If any of the sandbox mentality creeps into Valkyrie, it will send non-Eve players running for the exits. Fact of gaming, most gamers don’t want to play in a sandbox. They want games with rules and boundaries and many just want it to be their persona versus the environment. They don’t want to be forced to deal with other players at a time or in a manner not of their choosing. At most they want evenly matched sides and an opportunity to win within the framework of an impartial system. That is one reason Alliance Tournament is so successful and deserves special mention as one thing CCP invented last decade that has been successful. So Valkyrie will help CCP in the next decade so long as it works more like Alliance Tournament and less like the general sandbox.

And then there is World of Darkness. It’s a completely different genre than Eve Online, and hopefully that will make it a completely different sort of game. If Eve Online along with Dust 514 is the land component of CCP’s new doctrine, and Alliance Tournament is it’s air power component, and Valkyrie is it’s orbital component, then World of Darkness must be it’s nuclear ballistic submarine fleet. CCP already has a sandbox. And I’ve already pointed out it appeals to a very narrow spectrum of the gaming population. If World of Darkness actually comes to be, and it is not a sandbox, it will be unlike anything CCP has done. It will appeal to a completely different sect of gamer. CCP must have this component to have a successful doctrine.

But there are impediments to establishing a new doctrine with which NATO didn’t have to deal. In many ways CCP has the same problem many celebrities face. Celebrities get type cast based on the roles they accept early in their careers. Who ever thought in the 1980s Tom Hanks could be more than a comedian? Who thought Bruce Willis could do more than Die Hard? Do you remember John Wayne as Rooster Cogburn or Sean Thornton? If CCP is really to succeed in the next decade, they have to shrug off the shackles of being just a sandbox MMO game developer and become more.

That is why their branding campaign is crucial to their future. It won’t necessarily make a lot of money, but things like a television series, a comic book, EVE Vegas and all the other stuff they do, even though it is Eve Online related, get’s them name recognition. It shows that they are more than just a bunch of computer programmers selling a sandbox MMO to a diminishing player base.

This is key to CCP’s success in the next decade. It is the game designer’s version of networking. We all know that networking within any industry is the key to future sales. I once asked my company’s president why we take customers on fishing trips. It’s because it builds a shared experience, even if he doesn’t catch anything. Even negative experiences are shared experiences. Both make a connection between you and the customer that is more than prices on a sheet of paper.

It is no different with CCP. They need to reach out, stretch themselves, shake hands with other players in the gaming industry and push out the envelope of their affiliations. To be taken as more than just another game developer, they must show the world they are capable of being more than just another game developer. That will create shared experiences and new opportunities in the future. This is perhaps the huge unseen benefit to Dust 514 for CCP. They now have a shared experience with the console sector of the industry. It provides a new avenue of advance for CCP.

That is the doctrine CCP needs to pursue. They have to be more than the world’s best sandbox MMO developer. One trick ponies always go extinct. They have to employ all their strategic assets to reshape the battlefield and break out of their singular niche. Their new image needs to be one of a broad content provider, not just an insular Icelandic oddity. The only way they are going to do that is to expand beyond Eve Online. It will take a tremendous amount of effort. Eve Online will not even get the lion’s share of attention it used to get, though it will still be important. That’s what must happen if this new doctrine is to succeed. In the end, it will save the sandbox because it will save the company from fading into obscurity.

5 comments on “BB #50: Time for a New Doctrine

  1. “I find Rammstein's explanation of “one-trick-ponies” to be quite valid.”

    Well, I still agree with Mabrick that CCP should expand their business, if they can afford to; I'm just saying that they should expand their business because they're unlike most other businesses, not because they're like most other businesses. (making video games is an unusual business).

    “Do some or all of those same principles hold true if you were to apply it down to a squad or individual base level?”

    That's perfect, CCP is a squad trying to become a company; not NATO trying to beat Russia. Except squads don't grow into companies(do they?), so perhaps military analogies aren't the way to go here.

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  2. While you make a sound argument for that kind of philosophy and how and why it should be applied. I find Rammstein's explanation of “one-trick-ponies” to be quite valid. There is a reason specialists can do quite well for themselves. People recognize their ability to perform one-thing, and perform better than anyone else.

    While I understand that you are analogizing CCP as a larger entity in a war. Do some or all of those same principles hold true if you were to apply it down to a squad or individual base level?

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  3. “So, do you think they should go develop another theme park MMO?”

    For something like WoD, I can't get the image of a LARP done through the Internet out of my head. If that is themepark, then sure. If it isn't that's good too. Whatever it is, it should be far more social by design than Eve. One of the reason there is this big community outside the game in Eve IMO is because there are no social aspects to the game itself. I believe CCP should avoid that if they want to attract a different type of player.

    “One of those that change to F2P after one year? Or starting with F2P right from the beginning?”

    If they decide to go F2P, they should probably do it straight from the beginning. When an MMO goes from P2P to F2P, it's typically seen as a sign of failure. CCP doesn't need that type of marketing.

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  4. Hi Mabrick,
    some pretty good points you raise there. I don't agree with the points or the conclusions of every argument but all are well presented. EVE may have reached its maximum population, the interest in sandbox space MMO is limited after all. But I think it can keep growing a bit, with development going more to user friendly interfaces than spreadsheets in space.
    What they need for the Sandbox of EVE to feel more real is to get more live into it. Connecting different games to the same universe is a good idea to achieve that. Especially with the mobile gaming awaiting on the door steps there is potential for more mini-games effecting the eve universe. Think about PI or even a City Management game for mobile devices to influence the market or system population.

    World of Darkness is still a mystery with too few details about it to know what it will be. Sure is it will provide Avatar based game play, which could be integrated in EVE later in the path. Things I have heard about WoD is that politics and player driven territorial warfare will be part of the game. It won't be a theme park MMO at least not in the classic sense. Is there a difference between Open World and Sandbox game? I think WoD will be an Open World like game such as Skyrim.
    The Sandbox design itself doesn't prevent you from delivering good PvE content. That is what EVE is currently lacking and I hope they get good option for that in WoD.
    Creating a world influencing PvE environment is a challenging task but it would provide a depth into a game that no MMO currently has in place AFAIK. Both WoD and EVE could profit from such an extension.

    You state: “They have to be more than the world's best sandbox MMO developer. One trick ponies always go extinct. They have to employ all their strategic assets to reshape the battlefield and break out of their singular niche.”
    So, do you think they should go develop another theme park MMO? One of those that change to F2P after one year? Or starting with F2P right from the beginning?
    I don't think that the “sandbox” is limiting the number of customers but the genre and the useability. Even if WoD will be a sandbox game the genre is very underrepresented and has plenty of fans waiting for something.
    At the end of the day, the player gets home, wants some distraction and fun all reachable in the limited time he has. If you want a large population you need to deliver stuff for different time frames to spent. Don't playing a game because all I could do takes too long is as bad as getting bored because the small stuff is all done and nothing left.

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  5. You raise a lot of good points and interesting examples, but pretty much everything you write here seems perfectly aimed for Blizzard circa 2007–and CCP is not that. CCP isn't NATO, CCP is Switzerland, or Monaco.

    “In other words, a good offense is the best defense and no amount of “active defense” was going to win a land war in Europe against the Soviet Union. Here's the analogy for those who don't see it. No amount of expansion, balancing, new modules, or ship types – or anything else pumped into Eve Online – will make CCP succeeded in the coming decade.”

    I still don't see the analogy. Who plays the Soviet Union to CCP's NATO (and CCP shouldn't be NATO, as said above )? What about the other 193 game development companies + potential companies that will be started in the next decade? A two party wargame as a model for an economic simulation with hundreds of independent actors isn't really the best possible model. As for your claim for CCP success in the next decade: first define “success”, before using it as a yardstick. Is CCP being where it is now, 10 years from now, a success? Most MMO's fail within months, and that would be 20 years for EVE, so if your answer is no, then that's a pretty tough measurement you're applying.

    “One trick ponies always go extinct. …Without getting to the next level, CCP will simply decline until it vanishes. “

    So if you were offered the choice between being Steinway and Sons in 1856, or T&P's Ventures Unlimited, you'd choose T&P's because 'one trick ponies always go extinct”? I would venture to guess that most companies that have lasted the last 150 years are probably one-trick ponies, that do one thing and do it well. If you look on “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_oldest_companies”, most of them are “one-trick ponies”. They didn't get to the next level, yet they didn't vanish either. Is EVE more like a hotel and/or brewery that will be around for the next 900 years, or is it more like a one-trick pony with a very limited lifespan? Well, it's probably more like the latter, but the fact that it's around ten years later means that it's already defied the trend.

    Now, if you look at the most valuable companies in the world today, you're looking at companies which have relentlessly expanded into new markets, sure.(thinking about companies like Exxon, Apple, Microsoft, DuPont) But did they do so riskily, or did they do so since they succeeded in their core business well enough that they had extra cash to expand with? I believe that it's more the latter, and that for CCP to attempt to copy the results of these other companies, rather than their total situations from beginning to end, is the worst kind of 'cargo cult' thinking. That's really where I'm differing from you. I fully believe CCP should expand; but by focusing on EVE, making money in EVE to the point where expansion isn't a financially risky proposition, and then expanding to other markets. Apple didn't borrow a ton of money to make the Mac; it used operating profits from the Apple II and from the sale of stock at high prices due to the success of the Apple II. Ditto for the Ipod/Iphone etc, Jobs didn't come back and revitalize Apple by coming out with the Ipod, he fixed their core business and only then did the additional product lines come out.

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