Wednesday, 30 September 2015

The CSM Member: The Canary in the Coalmine?

It has started depressingly early his year. Potential CSMXI candidates have started putting their hats into the ring for your delectation and delight. Baring their soul and a shopping list of changes for us to judge and pass sentence on. They must be mad. If you consider CSMX are barely halfway through their current tenure it is also premature. What they are pitching now could be completely irrelevant come April.

Whatever your opinion, you cannot deny CCP have delivered a lot of game defining changes already this year. There is more to come that we know about - structures for example, and more that we don't - capital roles for example. I wouldn't be surprised if here is even more completely off the radar. This is not trivial stuff and it is what the next CSM is going to have to work with, refine and build on.

It seems to be the habit of the Everati to come up with a preferred list of candidates. I might do that but not some time and besides, who cares what I think. But it worth exploring what the CSM role actually is compared to what candidates and the voting appear to think it is. So lets start with CCP.

CCP does care about the CSM. It devotes time and resources to it. A business does burn money on something like that if there is no value proposition. They will continue to support it so long as the benefits outweigh the costs. The main benefit is a straightforward one. The job of a CSM member is to be the canary in the coal mine. To constructively identify flaws and suggest improvements to future features and changes CCP plan to introduce. It is user assurance. Assurance done by users chosen by the users so it should be good right? Well maybe.

The thing is we are talking about humans here. CCP, like all the organisations I have encountered of a similar size will be dysfunctional. It is just the nature of the beast. Crossed lines of communication, conflicting roles, responsibilities and priorities, etc will all conspire to confuse the poor CSM member. Getting things done will always seem harder than they ought to. Some CCP teams will use the CSM, while others might not even be aware of its purpose and usefulness. Assuming CCP do make use of the CSM's talents - and they do, then the member is going to be bombarded daily with several hours of work. CSM is a job. Even more so with the current release cadence.

An CSM's relationship with both CCP and other CSM members will determine the extent to which you get listened to. Crying or sulking on social media every time they want something or undermining other CSM members they don't like will just result in them being frozen out of the debate because they offer CCP or indeed their voters no value. Constructive, productive and preferably evidence based discussion is what a developer usually wants to hear.

That in essence is the CSM job. If a prospective candidate feels they can just turn up and 'fix' EVE with a shopping list of demands they are going to be very disappointed. That is NOT the job. CCP have a plan. A plan they outlined in April and CCP Seagull reaffirmed on the o7 Show a few weeks ago. If the candidate's ideas coincide with CCP's plan for 2016-2017 then their voice might get heard. If it is an easy fix then it might get scheduled. Otherwise they won't get any priority or will be dismissed out of hand.

So while I don't want to dampen the enthusiasm, I will be cautious of any candidate promising to drive changes. Sure they will be part of the change process, and that can be rewarding and interesting in itself. But they won't be driving it. That is down to CCP as it should be. It is their jobs on the line after all.

Sunday, 27 September 2015

When the peasants revolt...

This is going to be a weird one. If you are time pressured, then this most likely isn't for you. To be clear this isn't an Eve is dying or Null is Dull post. Quite the opposite actually. But in the end that will depend on your perspective.

Eve is now 10 years old and changing before our eyes. Old certainties are being challenged. Some will be enhanced, while others will become historical footnotes. Change is never easy. Things break, people get angry and drama ensues until some sort of equilibrium is restored. What Eve is looking forward to now is a fundamental shift in its player organising principles. This could be a very interesting ride. Let me use a dodgy historical analysis to explain why...

When a social system starts to break down, it is the leaders or chief beneficiaries of keeping the status quo that are the last to read the writing on the wall. A mixture of complacency and denial prolongs the inevitable. Actions could have been taken to smooth the transition from one social system to another. But the powers that be either resist change or just don't have the insight to see it. Eventually it comes to a the point where something snaps. The trigger that disposes the old and brings in the new can be dramatic in such circumstances. Often these are characterised as a revolution or coup d'etat and  history is littered with such examples. From modern times we look at the likes of  CeauČ™escu or Batista. Going back further we have Marie Antoinette or the final fall of the Roman Empire after 1500 years. The important thing about these events is not what actually happened on those days. The French revolution wasn't about cake. More significantly, it was the world or country had become profoundly different after that event from what it had been before the event. The benefit of historical hindsight allows us to make that judgement. But the judgement was not made at the time, at least not by the individuals concerned. How could they not know? This is what always intrigues me. 

Keep with me. By 1453, Byzantium/Constantinople was always going to fall to someone. It could have been the Serbs but it ended up being the Ottomans. For Byzantium, like all of Europe had been mortally wounded by the Black Death. Killing between a third and a quarter of the continent's population, but for cities the proportion was higher and Byzantium lost 50%. It really was toast.

Elsewhere in Europe the Black Death had a equally profound effect on another social system the Romans had introduced. The decline of serfdom. Serfdom was the mechanism that bound a peasant to a lord. They gave up their freedom in return for protection, In exchange for a small plot of land they were bound to give their labour, products and rent to the lord of the manor. This wasn't just farming. It could involve working down a mine for example. It wasn't the worst possible system. Lords could be lordly and the peasants got to survive. However, if you survived the Black Death then all bets were off. Labour became scarce, It was a new world where land was plentiful, wages high, and social mobility increased. The obligations to the lord had all but disappeared. The beginnings of a market economy and indeed industrialisation as higher wages encouraged innovation..

WTF? This an Eve blog? OK, here is the thing. Eve has sort of undergone a Black Death of sorts. The war on bots and other changes to the game has reduced the population of New Eden in terms of active players. Space is plentiful and the legacy Alliances and Coalitions have retreated resulting in a Balkanisation of Null.  ISK is easy, available labour (active capsuleers) is a scarcer resource. Everyone is recruiting. SRP is a given. It has never been a better time to be an active independent capsuleer.

Yet still there are Corps, Alliances and Coalitions that place conditions of servitude on their members and renters. Sure they provide content, but it is content that serves the alliance and not the aspirations of the individual. Some like Nulli and Black Legion have seen the writing on the wall and have acted accordingly. But others continue as if nothing has changed. Now that can only be so because their members still consent to it. There is however discontent. Currently the blame gets focussed on CCP rather than their leadership as it is in the interests those leading to deflect criticism. The Russian burn Jita protest might be an example of this. This approach may work in the short term. But ultimately, if players believe the propaganda they will leave the game. If they get wise to it they leave the Corp. So it is not a sustainable position you would think.

It would seem likely that these resistant Corps/Alliances/Coalitions will have to change or perish. But are they capable of changing? What originally made them strong, the command and control mechanisms and policies underpinned with a robust infrastructure, could now be regarded as a weakness. Metrics based management (pap links) has had its day. Just acknowledging the change is not enough. Having built an organisation on one paradigm it hard to change it to another. For example, look at Eastman Kodak. A company that developed a commercial digital camera in 1975. It recognised the future but failed to understand the implications until the day it became bankrupt.

The most likely scenario then is there will be some dramatic cascade failures. It is hard to predict when it will happen. That depends on the single-minded the protagonists intend to be to resurrect the old status quo.

But consider this, the ultimate "blue doughnut" in 1914. A meta game of millions designed to keep the peace and balance in Europe after the decline of the Ottoman Empire. Essentially, a raft of hidden diplomacy to keep the established order. But then an assassination attempt bordering on comedy somehow kills its target in Sarajevo. While Gavrilo Princip may have only fired two shots, the act resulted in 17 million deaths, the collapse of four Empires and albeit briefly, the unified slavic state Princip had wanted.

With hindsight this was all predictable. The same will be so in Eve. What will the trigger be? An unpaid sovereignty bill perhaps? Nah, that could never happen. But something will. The writing is on the wall.

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

The ISK Conundrum

There have been a couple of debates amongst the Everati on the subject of ISK. The suggestion being there is too much swilling about New Eden and this could be a good or bad thing depending on your perspective. Now, if there is one thing that differentiates Eve from any other game then it is the economy. ISK plays its part as the primary medium of exchange and defines the value of most things in Eve. It also has a secondary but no less important role (to some) as a measure of player performance. ISK earnt per hour, Kill/Loss ISK ratio are examples. Get on the wrong side of those measures and prepare to be publically humiliated, be it a dumb trade, a blingy ratter or an inadvisable cargo. 

I goes without saying therefore, but I will say it anyway, to play Eve you need to acquire ISK. To acquire ISK you need to do something ISK worthy. As we all know, ISK acquisition is relatively easy for a player and gets even easier over time. It is quite hard to be ISK poor despite what Jita Local might tell you. I don't have the figures, but what does seem to be apparent is that players aren't short of ISK. I have a few billion and I can afford most things but doubt I would be anywhere close to the top 25% in terms of wealth. 

But do I have too much ISK? Arguably yes. Most of my wealth is liquid with only a small percentage of it committed to trading orders and stock. This is hardly the best way to leverage the ISK I have. But then my income covers my current and planned outgoings. Anything I might lose has already been replaced as I have a certain amount redundancy built into the way I operate. I don't fly something expensive (for me) until I have already purchased a duplicate replacement. I tend to assume something is lost the moment I undock it. Even then, only a small percentage is wrapped up in the ships I fly. My Blockade Runners are the most expensive followed by the Astero at around 70 million ISK. Actually, I am more likely to fly an Interceptor (or Echelon) rather than an Astero these days at a cost of around 20 million. I could fly a Stratios because I have the skills and the cash. But it wouldn't add much more to my game apart from some Sister's of Eve bling. So I have more than enough ISK, and if things got tough I could easily ramp up the ISK making activities further to cover the shortfall. But is that bad for the game? Well on one level certainly not. I take more risks - building a POS and moving away from hiSec because I have a financial parachute should I need it. In the end however, these activities just make even more ISK. Not that I am complaining, all ISK is welcome, but I don't actually need it to have fun. 

So why might it be bad for the game? Well I have made a number of untested assumptions and generalisations. Consider the "ISK acquisition is easy" statement. Established players like ourselves are a self selecting sample of opinion. If we have played Eve for a couple of years then obviously we know how to make ISK. A different perspective might come from the players who haven't cracked the ISK making recipe. These are the ones who don't play Eve any more because Eve without ISK isn't fun. These are perhaps the players we made a killing out of in the market. Our ease at making ISK may well result of other players struggling to make there way.

Now I am not saying we should make Eve easier. I am just suggesting there is more to this than finding ways to bring the multiple Titan owning trillionare who refuses to log on down to size. If there is an issue with ISK, it is not the accumulation of it that is the problem. It is the failure to deploy it to any purpose once you have it. I think there are two aspects to this. Firstly, ISK as a performance measure drives behaviour. Winning the ISK war is seen as important for example. It doesn't matter that you can afford to lose something expensive but it does matter if you lose something more valuable than your enemy looses. The reputational damage caused by refusing a fight seems less than humiliation of losing  to a less expensive armed opponent. Weaponised boredom makes sense from that perspective.

The second aspect is there isn't much you can do with one's excess ISK capital. Hiring mercenaries, donating to a good cause or buying plex or skins are the obvious things that come to mind (have you seen the price of plex?), but it would be nice if there was something more tangible. Amarr war bonds to support the navy against the drifter menace for example. Maybe not. But where there is a problem there are always opportunities. Perhaps CCP are thinking up something as we speak. I hope so.

Friday, 18 September 2015

Looking Back and Moving Forward: Seagull Expands

Yesterday was a big news day for Eve. In fact it has been a big news week when you add in the CSMX Summit and other earlier announcements. There is a lot to take in. I recommend you read the Dev Blogs, especially CCP_Seagull's entry. I can't do them full justice here so I will cherry pick those that closely impact my game-play.

So let's start at the top with CCP_Seagull. The headline news for me was expansions are back, but in a hybrid form. So we will still have the monthly updates for things like quality of life, rebalances, and developing lore changes. But big changes in mechanics and new features will released together as a coherent whole rather than piecemeal. Essentially to avoid repeating the current scenario where capital's are struggling for a role because the full Sov changes have not been rolled out yet for example. The expansions will be rolled out when everything is ready rather than regular intervals of say 6 months thus avoiding the Incarna scenario. 

This change feels right on so many levels and I imagine he marketers in CCP are happier because the have a tangible event they can push to the outside world. An opportunity that was lacking in the current cadence. On a personal level it addresses a problem I had raised on here and with a CSM before. Current skill training times force you to take a long term view (especially with my low level SP). That's fine but it is less fine when your objective you have been aiming at for 2 or three months can be compromised with only a couple of weeks notice. The only realistic response was to train for less ambitious short term objectives. In my case that meant I stopped dual training and held off starting an addition account. Disheartening for me and a financial impact for CCP. So the changes allow me to seriously re think that decision. A final point before moving on, it was good to see CCP_Seagull restating the vision. She had been a bit under the radar lately. I appreciate she wants to make teams like Team 5-0 be more autonomous. That is a good thing. But the context to why the teams are doing what they are doing can get lost when things get fraught and that is where the upper echelons need to step in - if only to deflect the heat.

Next on the list are the structure changes from CCP Nullabor's devblog . The thinking up to now has been draft and this is just the latest iteration. I was concerned by the previous iteration. Overall, it smelt like a global fix to a null problem so imposed null game-play on wormholes for example. Not now. More than that it has disposed of the Entosis wanding. You have to shoot them and they will shoot back. So capitals and dreads in particular will have at least that role. Frankly I am astonished. CCP have clearly listened and more importantly understood the feedback from all areas of space and appreciate he distinctions. So I am very impressed and not a little relieved about the direction non sov structures are taking. Of all my concerns only one now remains. Currently, structures will not auto defend. Given everything else they will be capable of this doesn't make a whole lot of sense. Sure, thoughtful attackers will be able counter it easily but it would limit opportunistic trolling (in the way they have had to do in Null) and as a solo casual player I would not be able to man the defence in all likelihood.

Moving on to the o7 show, CSMX member Sion proposed the formation of 'focus groups'. Essentially groups of specialist matter experts that they can refer to in the wa that Sugar Kyle and Corbexx have worked with wormhole groups. So in principle this is absolutely fine but I do wonder who would represent the likes of me. I can't be a bad thing to get more focussed feedback that doesn't involve the phrase "FozzieSov in cancer!"

To wrap up, there was a little noticed quality of life test on SISI for the scanning map was announced. The new beta map was very disappointing from a scanning point of view of the point of being almost unusable. In fact, I still use the old one. The announced  changes look spot on so hopefully it will be implemented soon.

Beyond this, there is a whole lot more that I haven't looked into - multi-buying for example. All in all a very impressive few days. CCP have clearly been listening and the CMX have been communicating. Looking forward t seeing more of CCP Seagull too.     

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

A Slight Pause

Time has been precious recently. The usual conspiracy of real life responsibilities have stolen the free time I have. So my Eve life has been not much more than updating orders. I did have a couple of pompous opinion posts lined up around negativity and the economics of Eve. However these were torn up after a some other commentators made some rather excellent contributions elsewhere. The one on Eve and the demise of the Ottoman Empire is still alive but barely.

As I write, the CSMX is being held in Iceland. If last year provides insight, then many future changes to Eve are held back until after the event. Despite this, that hasn't stop some things being announced. The trollceptor looks as if it is being consigned to history. Fortunately, Interceptors will remain the same other than being unable to mount an Entosis module. So my Exploroceptor is safe and the almost audible intake of breath whenever I enter a nullsec system might become a thing of the past.

The noteworthy change from my perspective is the proposed fleet warp changes are being paused. Now I never understood the reason for this change in the first place. It seemed to be more based on dogma rather than hard fact. For example, I often commute to work on a train. Yes it is dull but a least I don't have to worry about driving the train. Whether I drive or not, it doesn't make me any more or less engaged in my work once I arrive at my workplace. By making the journey I have already committed myself to doing some work. If the powers that be decided I had to take a more proactive role in driving the train I would stop using the train altogether and just use my car instead. Alternatively, I would insist the train driver should take on the additional responsibilities themselves if they wanted me to catch their train. At which point the driver abandons the train and goes on indefinite strike. Probably a poor analogy.

So in a corp setting, it just meant more work for the FC if they wanted participation and control. For a solo player it meant an additional scouting alt. Neither option could be regarded as engaging. Anyway, the decision is on hold so at least CCP are reflecting on it. If we can move away from the players must be engaged at all stages ideology it will be helpful. By either creating or joining a fleet, the player has already indicated they want to undock and are therefore already engaged. Getting them to undock in the first place would be a better area to concentrate on. Something I am planing to do once I can get this week done with.