Last Friday EVE Online players were given access to the minutes that detailed the latest in a series of biannual meetings between the developers (CCP), and a body of player representatives known as the Council of Stellar Management, who are democratically elected by the player base each year.
This document is often heavily redacted, especially with regards to any short term changes, as CCP typically prefers to announce new features or balance changes via a Devblog or at a live event. That fact is demonstrated by the two sessions listed in the contents page which have been redacted for release at a future date, with the titles “New Feature”, and “Players of EVE Online”. I’d expect to hear more about what lurks behind here at the upcoming stop on CCP’s Invasion World Tour in Vegas.
What the minutes do give us however, is a look into the longer term plans for EVE Online, and where it’s development energy is currently being spent. It also provides a chance for players to - through their representatives - ask CCP questions about the direction of the game, bring up areas that the community see as problems, and provide feedback on in-development features.
There undoubtedly will be a bevy of community written opinion pieces, podcasts, and reddit analyses to come off the back of this. However, instead of giving my thoughts on what was said in the nearly 28,000 words, what I hope to do here is to simply break out what I think are the key facts that CCP shared with the public through these minutes.
CCP’s Primary Focus is on New Players
EVE Online has a reputation of being a difficult game to play, and perceived low retention rates following it’s 2016 move to a free-to-play model has dominated discussion at live events such as EVE Berlin, where the introduction of several features with the aim of decreasing the complexity of the game for new players was recapped by the developers. This theme is heavily represented in the minutes, as CCP’s creative director, CCP Burger states in the opening paragraph of the minutes that;
“The focus of the [development] team into winter is split into 80% early retention and 20% veteran stagnation”
Rather than the flat focus on the 2 hour mark that was seen in CCP’s previous attempts to redevelop the New Player Experience (NPE) in 2016 with the Inception project, the focus of this effort seems to be split into two separate time frames and desire. The first being to instill a feeling of purpose into a new player during the first 15 minutes, as that is where the biggest drop off in retention is felt, and the second is to improve the usability of features that players can encounter in their first 30 hours of gameplay to increase retention over a longer period.
Areas that CCP are focusing on here include the character creation system, general UX and default settings improvements, and aid in identifying what specific ships are for. It’s likely that a revamp to the initial tutorial is on the cards as well, with the Executive Producer CCP Mannbjörn wanting to produce something that flows more smoothly into general gameplay, in order to allow players to quickly get involved in the game at large.
It seems unlikely that this will result in any changes to the underlying systems of the game, as reworking the skill training system’s attribute system is noted to be out of scope of CCP Fozzie’s team, who are taking charge over the first 30 hours of gameplay range. Potential improvements to the corporation finder, along with the benefits of human interaction in promoting retention are heavily covered by the CSM and CCP during the course of the summit, but no concrete plans are presented.
This focus on new players extends all the way to the high level, with CEO of CCP Games, Hilmar Veigar - Known here by his developer name, CCP Hellmar - explains that his point of view on the topic;
“CCP Hellmar [...] stresses the importance that after 16 years it is imperative to get a new generation into the game in order to set EVE Online to outlive us all.”
The CSM and CCP Agree That the Endgame is Stagnant
As noted in that initial paragraph, the remaining 20% of dev time which isn’t being put towards the NPE, is being directed at combating stagnation in the playstyles of veterans, with CCP seeing the Chaos Era as their way of impacting this. Something that might surprise those unfamiliar with the CSM is the fact that, despite being filled exclusively with veteran players from different areas of space, they feel much the same way. This point was best represented by Merkelchen, a representative from The Imperium;
“Merkelchen brings up an earlier conversation with CCP Burger and CCP Hellmar and the image of the titan blob. He makes an analogy of how these titans are like the end game raids in WoW, and he only thinks that these 1,000 titans in the image are 1,000 subscriptions that were there due to a purpose and a goal. He goes on to say that CCP must delete the Rorqual tomorrow if they don't want to see this just be the norm.”
The main rift that seems to be occurring between CCP and the CSM is on what exactly causes this stagnation, which was exposed more thoroughly in the AMA held between the CSM and CCP Hellmar. Here, CCP Hellmar lays out that his belief that the current stagnation is caused by the predictability of outcomes, which causes a sense of control to become actual control over the events taking place. Meanwhile, the CSM continually reinforces their point that they believe the problems of stagnation come from the balancing of the systems of the game, with Olmeca Gold pointing to the dissipation of the hunter playstyle over time, and Gobbins pointing to the lack of objectives for nomadic PvP based alliances to fight over.
Another point that plays into this is the theory that more players joining and being retained by the game would help to deal with what is seen as political stagnation in nullsec, as Hilmar comments that “so many people survive the early game that only a certain type of people goes through and they dictate what follows”. By making EVE Online more accessible to the kinds of people who do not currently make it to the status of being ‘veterans’, he expects them to present a disruptive force, that would destabilize what is seen as an established order.
Some further changes such as the potential for “space weather” to temporarily impact ships in certain areas of space which change over time, or a more fluid resource system leading to resources shifting around the map are discussed, but no concrete plans are mentioned beyond the conceptual level.
The Invasion Will Last for a Year
The Invasion is CCP’s newest PvE feature, forcing groups of players to band together to defend systems from attacks by the mysterious Triglavian Collective, which are focused on high security space. Previously, CCP has had a bad record of abandoning new PvE features shortly after release if the show poor adoption rates, as was most recently seen with Resource Wars. As such, it was pleasantly surprising to hear the following from the leader of the team assigned to The Invasion project;
“CCP Shreddy says that the team wants to work on this for at least a year since keeping the players involved and evolving the content has been something CCP struggled with in the past. “
This iteration has been noticed by the playerbase, with new introductory versions of the sites being added a few weeks ago, and constant tweaks and bug fixes keeping the content fresh and stopping it from becoming frustrating to play through. Currently, the Invasion content has as much engagement as the more long standing (and lucrative) Incursion gameplay, although it is struggling to convert players away from other PvE activities.
The Alliance Tournament is Probably Dead
One of the things that personally stood out to me in the minutes was the discussion about a 2020 revival of the Alliance Tournament, which CCP has been silent on since announcing it would be put on hiatus for 2019 earlier this year, with a promise to bring it back the following year. After being asked if it was “gone forever” by Olmeca Gold, the following response was given, containing a laundry list of issues that might present it’s return;
“CCP Dopamine says the community team would really like to see the AT come back because they understand that it was special to an important group of EVE players. CCP Falcon says he loves the AT and has a long history with it. He identifies some issues in bringing it back including space to produce the stream, the development time to make sorely needed updates to the tournament tools, staffing the tournament since in the past it's been a passion project and relies on CCP volunteers, and general stagnation of the format of the tournament. “
Whilst this doesn’t rule out a potential for these problems to be overcome, it serves to put into perspective the lack of resources generally allocated to competitive EVE Online play, and priority put on it by CCP at large who consider it to be purely a passion project. As such, it currently seems unlikely that the Alliance Tournament will return in the same scale it had previously held, if at all.
CCP is Still Evaluating the Blackout
The Blackout, which was lifted around a week after the summit’s conclusion, was heavily discussed over the course of it over the course of three direct sessions - and mentioned in many others. This change was undoubtedly controversial, coming on the heels of several other rapid changes such as the introduction of Drifter attacks and CCP selling skillpoints directly to players - Which CCP had previously promised to never do.
All of these changes at once have seemingly made it difficult to evaluate what the impact of the Blackout alone really was, with Senior Game Designer CCP Rise mentioning that they were still trying to understand if their Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) were significantly impacted by the change, and many questions about the data behind the supposedly evidence-based development strategy that CCP is undertaking being responded to with some variation of “we haven’t looked at that yet”.
Ultimately even Hilmar has backed off of his initial public stance as expressed in an interview with the Talking in Stations, where he (along with CCP Falcon) assured the community that they were keeping a close eye on the data, and were happy with the results being generated. Stating in response to a question from Merkelchen about his opinion on the Blackout that;
“There is a lot of data that can be read in a variety of ways, and CCP does not want to jump into conclusions without taking enough time to review it. The changes have certainly impacted botting positively in a significant way.”
As such at this point there isn’t much in the way of conclusions or aims with the Blackout that can be drawn upon to guide community discussion going forwards, and whilst I believe it’s likely that we will see a future iteration on the concept, nothing that was brought up appears to have made it past the NDA.
Expect More Drifter Invasions
The final point to highlight here is that the Drifter event, which saw NPCs continually attack player infrastructure in nullsec over around a fortnight, is considered a success by CCP due to the buzz it created after being initially conceived as just a test to see what players did in response. Criticism is given by the various members of the CSM and the community at large on the power level of the ships used and intensity of the event was received by the team involved, who acknowledged problems with both bugs and poor balancing of the event, but went on to say that they intended to do better next time.
This was only further reiterated on by Hilmar, who in response to criticism by Vily that the event had felt like CCP interfering directly in the sandbox, rather than giving players tools to do so themselves said the following;
“CCP Hellmar says that it is not the intent for CCP to be playing these demigods and poking at the sandbox but unfortunately, they just need to start like this and allow it to evolve into the vision.”
All of this combines to give the impression that these large scale world “EvP” events are likely to return in some form or another in the future, with players being forced to focus on defending their homes from intruding pirates, aliens or other potentially dangerous forces.
So, that makes up what I see as the major points that were revealed to the general public in the CSM minutes, but there are likely a dozen other nuggets of information buried away in it’s pages. If you think I missed something crucial, or want to add on to a topic raised above, feel free to bring it up in the comments below.