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?
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.