Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Blog Banter #36 - It grew on us

Our favourite cheap-shoed blogger put out the question for June, here it goes:

"With the Inferno expansion upon us, new seeds have been planted in the ongoing evolution of EVE Online. With every expansion comes new trials and challenges, game-changing mechanics and fresh ideas. After nine years and seventeen expansions, EVE has grown far more than most other MMOGs can hope for. Which expansions have brought the highs and lows, which have been the best and the worst for EVE Online?"

I only joined at the end of Apochrypha, so I probably have less of a broad perspective on the scale of expansions than other people. Still, I wish to add my thoughts to this. Nine years is a considerable time, even in human terms. In the cyber world it's usually months, or one or two years if you're lucky. But EVE is going on for almost a decade. There are core elements that it kept, or usually even improved, and there are those that changed drastically, even in the face of a few expansions. It was a long road so far, and if all goes well, it probably will take longer to come to an end. EVE is opportunity, EVE is history, EVE means something for most people that get in tough with it. A cruel mistress that also lets you know yourself better. And gets you probably a hundred or more friends. This is her lifeblood, the bonding of people over ends of a gun barrel, remote repairer, trade window, and so on. So let us look deeper, because there's so much to look at.

So it has come to this

Space MMO that is hard. It was hard to learn, hard to handle. Basically you had little chance without learning from others - and their mistakes. I still smile at the stories of the veteran players. It was a lot different, they say. It was harder, they say. But usually they forget one thing. Not only has EVE high learning curve, human nature of learning and getting better by repetition plays tricks with their memories. 'Didn't have the tools for' does not equal 'couldn't do it'.

When facing a new peoblem, some people just take out their wits and slove it. Others either learn their methods or keep on bitching. For the development of such a grand game as EVE, all is needed. Without the innovators, it would not be dismissed as not possible. Without the adopters, it would not be seen as a problem. Without the unsatisfied, it would, well, be dismissed as a non-issue. This is the case with many features we now have. The best known is the POS system. But CCP demonstrates that they watch their players closely time to time. They miss the mark sometimes, but they do develop the game for us and not to us. They very much care about how we play, and they always had to, to keep EVE what it is. When they didn't, it turned to a very long backlog and crazy crunchtime.

Like a flower in a digital garden, EVE has grown slowly but steadily. It opened its petals - and thorns - one by one. There were various types of things that happened. Expansive and extensive growth is both determining in EVE's growth. Extensive growth lies in the introduction of new features, entirely new ways to play the game. Expansive growth consists of additions that improve existing gameplay. This is a principal view and not one linked to a particluar piece of content. For example, the addition of Wormholes is clearly an extensive growth, but the addition of the ship Orca is merely an expansive one: it does not mean new gameplay, just expands on an existing profession.

Whith that in mind, most of the expansions had a healthy mix of both growth schemes, well... Up until Dominion. The balance has been upset. Some features were concentrated on, but some, that desperately needed an expansive growth had been left on the shelf. People have reacted to this unpleasantly, to say the least, finally stirring some media attention. I won't go into that here. What I wish to emphasize amidst this all is that EVE has become to the active members of the community more than just a game. It has given good times and bad times. It made people learn more about themselves through the unaviodable learning from their mistakes.

That is what keeps it alive, and that bonding is what should be built on by CCP. This they probably know, as they demonstrated many times that they usually know full well what their players want even if they are ordered to develop otherwise. Hopefully that era has come to an and. Cruicible's success despite being a somewhat half-sized expansion lies in the fact that it addressed some of the most desired expansive growths.

Changes and not-changes

In the life of a product, there are things that are wise to change, and there are things that aren't. There are so many conditions and contexts here. First of all, people tens to like their 'tea' just as it is used to taste. If it changes, it better does in their favor, else they will react negatively. Some will turn to another product, some others will scream that they wnat the old back. If the chage is favorable, however, they will probably attract more people to the same product. If the product has a realatively long lifetime (think of car models, TV shows, or your favourite music band - and of course, EVE online), it is more likely that there are features which people will severely miss, even if it's unimportant or bad (ship spinning anyone?).

So, to change, or not to change is a tough question for most things in EVE. If it's not, then it is neglected. What usually is the problem here is that CCP is not very good at balancing this part out. They sometimes change things that should not be touched. From a developer perspective, they might seem as a good idea, but human nature says otherwise. Some things just grow on us. We don't really like them when we meet them first, we know they are not very good but we learn to like them regadless. This is a time in EVE's lifecycle when the developers' focus is shifted on to expansive development, which is good, seeing that there are things that seem neglected, outdated, and as such, subject to change in the near future. However, the question will not be exactly what could and could not be changed in them, but what can and must be changed, and in a way that actually improves the experience for players, and does not reduce functionality.

So, CCP, watch out for these things! Unified invetory is the latest of the examples, but I think there are key questions that when answered, will help EVE grow and become more friendly.
  • Is there an improvement in functionality (as in, can I do everything I could with the old one, but better / easier / faster / with less clicking)?
  • Is there an improvement in performance?
  • Does the change make the feature more dynamic, and does it allow further expansion of the feature?
  • Is there a balance between all these factors?
  • Is the feedback from the players testing constructive?
The first four is pretty simple. Now, let's dwell on the last one a little before I let you go. How does constructive feedback tie into this? Well, it's pretty simple. These players are people, and they act like people. If something does not meet any or most of their expectations, they will not sit and think, they'll usually just say it's bad / shit / fubar / whatever. But if they see any hope in it, they will tell you what they miss. Past experience shost that CCP is good at interpreting what players do and want correctly lets hope they keep to that strategy and emergent gameplay will spawn emergent development as much as possible.

Sessym out.

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