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The Mittani Speaks Out

By William Murphy on September 08, 2011 | Interviews | Comments

The Mittani Speaks Out
MMORPG.com:

Can you tell us a bit about who you are how you're involved with EVE, for those who don't know? Basically, why the CSM is a big deal and how they fit in with CCP.

The Mittani:

I'm the leader of the largest alliance in EVE (Goonswarm Federation) which contains about seven thousand pilots, and I'm the Chairman of the CSM. For the last two years I've written a column at Tentonhammer.com called 'Sins of a Solar Spymaster' about espionage and politics in EVE. I've been playing since 2005.

The Council of Stellar Management is a player-elected advocacy group of nine players that represents the EVE playerbase when dealing with CCP. Twice a year the CSM visits the CCP office in Reykjavik to discuss upcoming expansions and content for the game; in addition to the summits, we are also in near-constant contact with the developers through Skype and the CSM forums. The CSM is considered a formal stakeholder in CCP and in the development process. The relationship is largely a positive one, as the CSM and the game design team at CCP see eye to eye on most issues involving 'Flying in Space', the part of EVE that most people consider to be EVE.

The CSM is an almost unique institution among MMOs; it was created by CCP in the aftermath of a developer corruption scandal to restore trust between the company and its players. Sometimes the CSM is just there to bounce ideas off of, like a sounding board; sometimes things get contentious and the CSM behaves more like an aggressive watchdog, calling the company to account.

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MMORPG.com:

There's been some controversy lately, stemming from a post you made in private to your Alliance (Goonswarm). What exactly got you riled up?

The Mittani:

A well-regarded EVE blogger named Jester put together some damning charts which demonstrated that the number of players logging into EVE has stagnated in the aftermath of the incredibly controversial Incarna expansion, which was seen by many as a gameplay-free engine test for CCP's hypothetical World of Darkness MMO. Expansions in EVE typically show a spike in player interest in the game, but two of the last three EVE expansions have not featured any 'spaceship' content. The June Incarna release and the controversies surrounding it not only provoked literal in-game riots and a wave of players leaving the game, but Jester's chart demonstrated that, even three months later, the game has not recovered.

The CSM has been trying to convince CCP to allocate more development to what CCP calls 'Flying in Space', the core spaceship-based gameplay that most customers have signed up for, as opposed to Incarna, 'Walking in Stations'. In the face of declining logins and player interest, the CSM was going to publicly spotlight the neglect of Flying in Space in a formal salvo at CCP's upper management.

It's important to reiterate that the CSM gets along smashingly with the developers who actually make EVE, and we desperately want CCP's management to give these guys the resources necessary to make a beautiful game about spaceships.

Expecting the formal CSM spotlight to be ready in about a week, I wrote an update to my alliance to warn them that things were about to get ugly between the CSM and CCP's management. The CSM expected that after we published the spotlight we would have to do a major push to get media attention. Instead, even before the spotlight was written, Eurogamer published my internal update, and so we're off to the races. The story went viral and there has since been a blizzard of coverage which has helped us focus our pressure on CCP.

Since the CCP management is much more reactive to media pressure than quiet customer discontent, the CSM is quite thankful for the coverage.

MMORPG.com:

So you're of the belief that EVE is being used lately merely as a testbed for World of Darkness. Do you have any proof of this, or is it merely a feeling you and others have over recent content updates to EVE?

The Mittani:

CCP has made no secret of the fact that the Carbon code framework is intended to provide a code-base for all three of its titles - EVE, Dust 514 and World of Darkness. That Incarna is a framework for the World of Darkness engine isn't a matter of speculation.

It's important to understand that EVE players do not object to the idea of CCP developing other titles - personally, I'm a huge fan of White Wolf and the WoD. The controversy for the EVE playersbase is that the Tyrannis and Incarna expansions were perceived as being largely irrelevant to the core EVE experience. Tyrannis introduced 'Planetary Interaction', a little- used feature that will eventually somehow create a link between EVE and DUST 514. Tyrannis also was so poorly implemented that fixes for it ate up much of the development of the Incursions expansion, which at least had some spaceship content. Incarna has, since its release in June, provided EVE players with a single dingy room and nothing to do within it besides watching a single avatar sit on a couch.

This lack of focus on spaceships might be tolerable if the core spaceship gameplay of EVE was running well, but there are presently a number of dangerous imbalances that have been long overdue for iteration and fixes by CCP (we're talking years, not months), and that damage is reflected in the stagnating number of people actually playing the game.

The combination of neglect and botched, non-spaceship expansions is pushing the game towards a dangerous tipping point. Since EVE is a single-shard game, the social dynamics of the controversy makes this situation critical. Other MMOs occasionally see servers fall below critical social mass and implode, and they simply merge the players from the dying server into a healthy one. There is nowhere for CCP to merge New Eden should the playerbase continue to lose interest in the game. We must prevent this.

MMORPG.com:

Has there been any word from CCP? What is it you'd like to see them do in response to this brouhaha?

The Mittani:

The CSM has a lot of friends within CCP who vehemently support our position; you don't move to Reykjavik and work for CCP unless you want to work on a spaceship game. Our conflict is primarily with the upper management allocating the dev teams to non-spaceship content. The CSM feels that they have not taken the concerns of the players seriously enough and that this presents a threat to the health of the game.

EVE needs new things to do, not new clothes for our avatars to wear. In addition to fixing the broken aspects of Flying in Space, CCP needs to dedicate more feature teams and developers to their flagship product - which is, incidentally, their only actual product right now. New ships, new regions, new ideas, new activities - in spaceships. A great example of an expansion done right is Apocrypha, which introduced wormholes that led to completely new types of space and a whole new class of new ships.

MMORPG.com:

Your claim is that EVE's main feature, you know that "space" bit, is being neglected. From an obviously seasoned player's perspective, what needs to be done to remedy this? At PAX, quite a bit was talked about the future of EVE and 0.0 changes (sovereignty caps, supercaps, and the continuation of work begun back with Dominion). Is this not what you had hoped for?

The Mittani:

We absolutely support the developers working on Flying in Space right now. CCP Soundwave, who was recently promoted to the lead spot for FiS design, is arguably the most competent design lead CCP has ever had, and his team are likewise standouts. However, they flat-out do not have the teams and resources to get their excellent ideas implemented. The CSM and the game design devs see eye-to-eye on most of the issues of the day - bringing sanity to supercapital ships, iterative hull balance, and addressing the lack of purpose in nullsec. But these are fixes to the 'sucking chest wounds' of EVE gameplay. EVE can't be sustained on fixes and tweaks alone - it needs proper spaceship-focused expansions once again, flagship expansions that the playerbase actually wants, expansions that provide new things to do in the sandbox.

MMORPG.com:

As a part of the CSM, your voice obviously carries a lot of weight in the community and with CCP. I know this post wasn't meant to be released and spread like this, but now that it has, do you wish there was a better way to go about your concerns?

The Mittani:

The strategy the CSM intended to use to spotlight these issues was always the same: make an announcement of the risk the game is facing from neglect and hammer CCP's management in the media. CCP's upper management has made it clear over the years that they are willing to ignore player uprisings and mass postings by players on the game's own forums, but they have responded with alacrity to negative media attention in the past, as this impacts both their marketing budget and the esteem of their peers in the industry.

So, strategically, the Eurogamer coverage hasn't changed much for us. Tactically, I'd prefer events to have gone as the CSM had planned originally. I'm a polarizing figure in the community, and much of the initial press suggested that the CSM's criticisms of CCP's management came from me individually, rather than being the consensus opinion of the entire CSM. The CSM has since been very active in public to make it clear that FiS Neglect is our unanimous concern. The CSM had intended CCP to read the Goonswarm update as a shot across the bow before we went public with a formal FiS Neglect spotlight, a last chance to negotiate before chaos erupted. However, the CSM had recently concluded that negotiating privately with upper management was a nearly fruitless proposition, so I suspect it wouldn't have made a difference.

MMORPG.com:

We plan on interviewing CCP about this as well, if there's one question you'd have us ask them, what would it be?

The Mittani:

EVE is a game about spaceships. When are we going to finally see a proper, all-developers-on-deck spaceship expansion like Apocrypha which truly expands the universe that the players love?

Please be nice if they send you to someone on the community team or game design. While the CSM is angry at the upper management of CCP, it's very important to distinguish the poor decisions being made at the top of the company from the great work done by their employees. The CSM doesn't want this to turn into a "Rarr! CCP is a monolithic entity, incoherent rage goes here" mess.

William Murphy / Bill is the Managing Editor of MMORPG.com, and lover of all things gaming. He's been playing and writing about MMOs and geekery since 2002. Be sure to follow him on Twitter for all of his pointless rambling.
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