Sunday, 28 February 2016

Does one swallow make a summer?

It's like waiting for a London bus. You wait ages for CCP to provide some basic life signs in their relationship with the CSM and then suddenly they spew a plethora of blogs, tweets and minutes at you. 

The summit has been declared a productive success. As the various CSM members - well those that bothered to attend, descended down the aircraft steps, clutching drafts of the minutes, peace in our time between the CSM and CCP was declared. Neville Chamberlain will be so proud of them.

To be fair, it is good that the summit did take place, even if it was in a reduced form. It is also good that CCP Seagull finally put words of support behind it. Something she hasn't felt disposed to do since before Eve Vegas. But does it actually mean anything? This time last year CCP Seagull and the CSM9 were saying the same sage things.  The CSM is really really useful and if we can only just sort out its purpose and tweak the communication issues it will all be fine.

It wasn't. The first 6 weeks of CSMX were serenaded with the sound of silence because setting up CSM/CCP comms channel were not given priority.  There then followed a couple of months where some work seemed to happen - I did participate in the Wormhole/structures chats for example, and there was a summit. After that there was the capital ships leak at which point CSMX was effectively shut down by the Devs. Now we are told it is all ok now so we might get a few more weeks work out of CMSX. But that is it. Out of a 12 month term we got maybe 4-5 months representation. The rest was filled with finger pointing, backbiting and sulking.

CSM XI won't be fine either. Someone will leak. Some devs will take their ball home to circumvent it and drama will ensue. We still be no wiser about what the CSM is for. Actually, no it be will worse than that. Eve Updates doesn't tell us any more than we knew 9 months ago. Citadels in spring and then nothing. So even if the CSM became a world leading institution there is no way to know who is the most appropriate CSM candidates would be. Low Sec, Industrialist, more Null Sec? Who knows.

So no, good as the summit might have been we only have words and very tired words at that.  I am not going to vote for it and I no have metrics to gauge which candidates I should endorse or deserve to be fed into this futile exercise.  

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

No Meta in this Madness

Timing is, as the cliché goes, everything. If you are going to release targeted and potentially juicy private conversations, make sure it happens at the point of maximum embarrassment to the victim. And thus we have a new CSM leak occurring during the CSM Summit in Iceland. Well played! 

Or is it? Timing is everything. The leak was timed to occur after the first day of the summit. The first day of the summit covered Capitals. So a wild deduction here. Someone thought lets find out about the capital changes first before we throw in the hand grenade. An indication of the leaker(s) self interest perhaps? Perhaps not. Either way, there is no denying the leak is salacious stuff, but the manner of its exposure has more in common with a fellow student telling tales to teacher rather than any high thinking trade-craft.

Then we have the scale of the leak. It wasn't just one. It was a waterfall to the point of overkill. Whoever was doing it doesn't have high expertise in the dark art of character assassination. That doesn't mean it won't be effective. The person involved has questions to answer. But the ham fisted shrapnel blast of pastebin detritus also gives the person grounds for sympathy. Not only is the leaker(s) attempting to hang the person but they want to draw and quarter them as well. It comes across as a vendetta which may perhaps cloud the purpose of the leak. Fundamentally, this is an act of spite, not a high thinking tactical play. A lot of good intel was burnt necessarily. 

And that takes us to the content itself. It wouldn't be the hardest thing to deduce most of the parties involved in the leaked comms. With a bit of effort you can probably figure out the source (not necessarily the same person(s) as the leaker(s)). In order to get at one person, the culprits have introduced is a lot a messy collateral damage that will probably be counter productive in the end. This is amateur stuff and some bridges have been unnecessarily burnt.

Quite how the CSM summit or the CSM itself goes forward from this is anyone's guess. Awkward. Ultimately, however CCP choose to deal with it, it will be a far more intelligent approach than simply behaving like sulking and spiteful juvenile students. Besides, if my experience at school taught me anything, beyond pyrrhic victories, the teachers could always out meta the delinquent students in the end.

Declaration of interest

  1. As an occasional writer on Crossing Zebras, I work with the particular CSM member involved. However,
  2. It is no secret I am no supporter of the CSM institution. Yes, there are good people who work on the CSM. However, this event underlines precisely why the circus should be closed down.

Monday, 15 February 2016

Snakes and Ladders

The relationship you have with any online game is unique to yourself. You pay for a service and in return you receive an experience that is hopefully engaging. The manner in which it engages you down to your own individual peculiarities. When a game hits the spot the experience can become passionate. Something to fight for. And when, as they always do, a game starts to deviate away from that spot it can be similarly emotional. You have devoted time and perhaps money to a partner. You may even have a sense of entitlement because you have been loyal afterall. But in the cold light of day, this is to misread the relationship. The game company values your custom if it has any business guile. But not to the extent that it depends on you. You are at the end of the day just another data point on their spreadsheet. They would love to keep you on board but devoting time and energy to special snowflake customers is not necessarily best investment of time and resource. Making and selling games is a business not a romance.

CCP and Eve Online are no different of course. The product they make is more boutique than most and is an acquired taste perhaps. It is a mature game and has a small following that isn't growing any younger. It is ticking over. For the future, there are high hopes for Eve Valkyrie and Gunjack hasn't caused them any harm, bu the closure of DUST just leaves CCP with Eve Online as a consistent revenue source. A revenue source that not only has to fund the development of Eve Online, but also any new projects - such as the DUST replacement. The investors in Eve's VR commitment - which maybe more than just Valkyrie and Gunjack will naturally want a return on their investment. If the VR projects fail to deliver then it will be Eve Online players that foot the bill. Now I hope that they will succeed but it is a strategy seeking to pursue an untested immature market. There could be great rewards but there is no doubting the risk. But then again it is not as if CCP has much alternative. Living off Eve Online alone is not going to be sustainable forever. 

This poses a dilemma. To break the single point of failure - the dependency on Eve Online, CCP has to invest in new projects. But to invest in new projects, CCP has to sweat their only consistent revenue source to find the investment funds. The very act of doing that could hasten the demise of Eve Online and in the worst scenario bring down everything like a house of cards. It is a difficult tightrope to walk. But the walk has definitely started with Skill Point Trading.

Now as I have said before, I am not a happy bunny when it comes to Skill Point Trading. Magnus or Inga (or any other made up name) from CCP marketing wouldn't understand why though. They way they see Eve is like a game of Snakes and Ladders. All they have done is allowed you to bribe your way past some of the snakes. Now Eve is obviously a lot more complicated than that but I genuinely enjoyed the constraints and finding ways around what I couldn't do and planning ahead for the day when I could be able to do things. Those challenges - which for a solo player are big challenges - are now gone. So much for the snakes.

I don't think Magnus and Inga from marketing have finished either. Flushed with the perceived success of Skill Point Training they will be eager to squeeze more money out of Eve Online. If Eve becomes a Free to Play plus Premium Player game as I believe it will, then in effect as a premium player I get to pay to go up all the ladders as well. Free players wouldn't get SP unless they buy it or grind it, whereas Premium players get SP as part of their sub as they do now. But the monetisation will be more efficient so well done Magnus and Inga. But a game of Snakes and Ladders becomes a game with no snakes and no ladders. Very dull so why play it?

Thursday, 11 February 2016

Ups and Downs

As in life, in Eve you have good days and bad days. This is how it should be. If everything was perfect all of the time it would be like living in "The Truman Show". It would get stale quickly. This post should be considered in that context. Not every day has to be a good day and I have been lucky to have had an extended run of the good. But lately, I seem to have that feeling where I am the only sober person at the party. You could argue the opposite could be true and it is me that is drunk and everyone else is sober I suppose. Either way, I feel somewhat disconnected from Eve lately.

This isn't a whine about CCP specifically. Other tiresome and disappointing Eve related factors that I won't bore with you play a part. However, it is fair to say the Skill Point trading fest we have been through over the last couple of days hasn't helped if only because it has given me cause to reflect. But first to cover off the introduction of Skill Point trading. It has  has clearly been popular. If I had needed the ISK there was a killing to be made. It was astonishing what people were paying for Skill Extractors and the Plex volumes to fund this binge were not trivial if other peoples estimates are correct.

I don't know the exact Plex figures and I don't know how long the party will continue, so I can only speculate on the potential long term impact on the Eve economy. The price of Plex will be interesting though. There will be more PLEX in the economy which should in theory lead to a downward trend in price. But there is another aspect to PLEX's intrinsic value that has irrevocably changed. PLEX at its more basic level provided game time. In the past, game time was the only way to acquire skill points other than buying a character from the Bazaar. Not now though. So assuming the maths work out, you could choose to buy just one months game time plus 2 months worth of skills from the market instead. Those who Plexed just to train alts might not be doing so in the future. So possibly a reduced demand for PLEX in addition to surplus introduced by this weeks rush to get/sell skills. To be honest, I don't know how the maths actually do work out, but even if it is only notional, the intrinsic value of a PLEX has been debased by this change. If that has any real value effect at all, it wont be a positive one assuming CCP don't intervene into the market.

Meanwhile, in a bittersweet moment my two characters in training both reached level V on the respective skills they had been training for three weeks. In the past, it was a significant moment. Now it is just a notch on the bedpost that can be simply resolved by throwing ISK at the problem. It is a de-motivational feeling but I accept this is probably a minority view.

As to the future, we were given another citadels dev blog by CCP. This talked about rigs and modules for the most part but also went into details around fuelling the beasts. I am excited about these in general. But what really grates is that the medium citadels won't have market services. So essentially solo players and small corps are being explicitly excluded from this game-play aspect for reasons unknown. CCP have never justified it and the CSM member I spoke to about it never got back to me. Either they don't know, aren't allowed to say, choose not to say or are being ignored by CCP.

Sort of related to this was a translation of an interview given by CCP Seagul on Reddit. It was a very good interview and she is a fascinating person. But when she says "My role is much more making sure the players have the tools to make what they want with" well the aspiration is being selective when it comes to citadel markets. Some players will have a better toolset than others. And that is perhaps that is why I have this hopefully temporary lack of engagement. I am beginning to feel I am playing Eve despite the game and not because of it. I don't want it to be easier or harder. But I don't want to be forced or at least constrained into a particular play-style just like every other game either.

Anyway, enough of the negative, more positively I have found a new ship to play with! Vets will of course scorn it as they did my love affair with the Echelon. If you have been following, a week or so back after my ganking misfortune I ended up buying a heap of Prowlers. The more I think about it the more I think it was a buy sale put up as a sell sale. But no one has ever contacted me about it. Anyway, I am still selling these things selectively at different markets. That means ferrying them from Jita and then flying back. On the return leg I can buy something I can fly and make a quick profit in Jita. This has included things like Astero's, Zephyr's, Leopards and so on. It was then I came across a Primae.

Originally issued exclusively in 2010 way before my time. It is bonkers like the Echelon but actually useful. Well a little bit useful. But it only cost 7m ISK. I was going to sell it but since I am still perfecting my PI colony knowledge before I head into a wormhole. I thought I could use it for its intended purpose such as it is. It has a PI hold and a Command Centre Hold as well as a cargo hold. It only has four low slots. Because some opportunist is bound to think of it as a killboard trophy due to its rarity I put hardeners and tungsten plates on it so that it might hold out until Concord arrives. But it is not worth much and won't carry much, so if it explodes it won't be the worst that ever happened. In its favour, it is quite nippy and saves me dragging out the Orca. As long as I keep finding little gems like the Primea hidden away in Eve there is a good chance I will keep on playing it.

Monday, 8 February 2016

Skill Trading Launch and Offers

Skill Extractors are going to be available for purchase from tomorrow. There has been a fair amount of debate about the costs for these things. The perception seems to be that they are high although I am not sure I agree. I think the emotion is due in part from the way expectations were raised by CCP. They were never going to be cheap, However, in classic marketing style CCP told us we had a problem we didn't know we had. But that was ok because here is the solution to the problem we didn't know we had. The solution called Skill Trading. Many people bought  into that.

So now we are all grateful to CCP for being good to us and especially the newbros. Grateful until they reveal the price. A price that appears to be neither good for us or newbros. Assuming of course you can actually figure out what the price actually is.To me this is the bigger problem. When you factor in the various ways you could buy Skill Extractors in the future then the cost is far from transparent. Or at least the optimal cost is. Adding in the additional promotions and discounts makes it  more complicated again. So it is hard to establish what the cost really is and whether it is value for ISK/Money/Aurum/Plex/Fedos.. I think only UK mobile phone contracts are more complicated. Anyway, there is a dev blog out describing the opportunity and choice we undeserving capsuleers have been given. 

As a side note, the statement:

"If you are looking at renewing your subscription, our offers on 3, 6 and 12 month subscriptions now include free Skill Extractors for a limited time"

brought a wry smile. I renewed one of my accounts for six months last week and therefore missed out on the never to be missed introductory offer.. Now I care little about the extractors because I don't intend to sell my SP and the extractor trade will be as manipulated as the plex market is. I am also highly skeptical about where this is going. So I will steer clear of them. But I have learnt one lesson. I won't be renewing that account again for more than one month in advance just in case there is another never to be missed introductory offer for whatever else CCP are planning. 

More widely the raised expectations and subsequent disappointment amongst some of the players will keep simmering. It will be hard to put the expectation genie back in the bottle. So now CCP have a problem they didn't know they had. A simple consistent and transparent cost might be a good start.

Friday, 5 February 2016

Serenity SP Gifts

I have waxed lyrical about Skill Point trading since it was first announced just before Eve Vegas. I'm not going to plough up that debate again because it is going to happen regardless. My existing concern has been and still remains that it is a trojan horse for the introduction of F2P or some other feature yet to be announced. Now that isn't necessarily a bad thing in itself if it brings new players to the game and makes CCP's profits more robust.

The issue as I see it is existing players are being encouraged to mess with their skills without necessarily being given all the facts. The skill points I buy once the February release is shipped might be worthless in say 6 months time because CCP announce the next phase which manipulates the supply and/or the cost of SP.

On the surface, I might appear a bit paranoid and obsessive about this. The reason I am deeply skeptical of CCP motivation is in part due to the way this was announced and that SP Trading alone doesn't seem  to justify the time spent on it. The other part is I try to follow what is happening in China on the Eve Serenity server. The China instance of Eve is interesting. It doesn't have the history of Tranquility so in a way there are less taboo areas for their partners - Tiancity- to steer clear of. It does seem that CCP are trying out ideas in China that could be targeted at Tranquility in the future.

Eve China had a fairly disastrous start because the local gaming culture was to RMT the hell out of it. The game was essentially reset and players were encouraged to return with hefty bribes of Skill Points. I mention all this because CCP/Tiancity are now handing out Skill Points again for a Chinese New Year promotion. I took a google translated screenshot below:

 You can find the chinese link here

There is also a cool video on Youku:

So it is clear that in the right circumstances CCP are quite prepared to shower players with Skill Points. If I were thinking of selling my Skill Points (I am not btw), my instinct would be to sell the SP at the first opportunity because CCP might just flood the market. If you are thinking of buying SP you might want to reflect on what is happening in China where CCP seem quite prepared to mess with the supply. On the other hand CCP could just make it clear what they really intend to do.

Thursday, 4 February 2016

Thera Local Chat

Just a quick one. My good friends at Eve Scout have decided to provide another new service to the community and frankly this is too good not to share.

As you probably know, Eve Scout/Signal Cartel currently hunt down and publish the wormhole links to Thera. They are politically neutral and it is resource used by many across New Eden. This of course means traversing the expanse of New Eden can be a lot quicker, and Thera itself is quite a special place. I regard it as my second home.

In its own way, Thera local chat exemplifies this. Unlike wormhole chat in general which is typically silent (although I tend to ignore that tradition myself), Thera chat has its own scammers and rogues like any trade hub but there are also the occasional celebrities and power blocs passing through.

Anyway, you don't have to take my word for it now because Eve Scout have decided to put Thera Local Chat online. You can find it on their website here. A warning though, it will probably not be suitable for work. This is true especially now because Wingspan are up to no good in Thera currently. So check it out and give a donation to Eve Scout while you are there.

Monday, 1 February 2016

CCP Stopping the Press... sort of.

Billy Brag - a British singer/songwriter, used to have an interesting approach to writing a love song. He would try avoid using the word "love" as he thought it was a lazy way to describe something that as we all know is profoundly complex and dammed confusing. Were this made compulsory I can think of a whole raft of terrible songs that would simply disappear in a puff of logic. Sadly this will never happen. I say this to help illustrate a problem. How to write about the CSM without mentioning the actual word. I am struggling but I am open to suggestions. But here I am with another clickbaity post on the topic and I can't just help but feel a little cheap and dirty. This isn't another grr CSM article. Been there, done that,  read my Crossing Zebras piece. I shall take some solace in that.

However the latest catastrophising around the CSM does raise some interesting questions. For those that don't know - and that will be most people I guess, CCP changed the eligibility conditions for CSM candidates. Now CCP are perfectly entitled to do that. The CSM is their creation, they pay for it and they claim it has a purpose that is 'useful', even though they have not spoken to it for 6 months. Maybe they can write it off against tax.(I know, I should just let it go). ANYWAY, the most contentious change is that owners and paid employees of gaming media sites are now barred from being on the CSM. Originally is appeared to be more wider in that even a sad little blogger like me who earns nothing (I don't monetize) would be regarded as an existential threat to CCP's business, but it has been refined in that this now impacts only sites that cover other games. So as long as I don't do a paid review of Tetris I am safe. Assuming of course I was barking enough to actually want to be on the CSM and deluded enough to think that someone would actually vote for me.

You can see the sense in the new rule. If you are paid to work under an Non Disclosure Agreement (NDA) for a gaming site as well being a CSM under a different NDA for CCP and the site boss demands you provide some inside knowledge to justify your wage then what are you going to do? Feed the kids or enjoy a nice trip to Iceland? There is obviously a conflict of interest and hungry kids make a lot of noise.

So on that level, it is not an entirely unreasonable rule change but of course that is not quite the whole story. The process as to how the rule change came to be is not at all transparent. The White paper that contains the change was originally presented to the CSM to assure. However the version they saw did not contain the change. It was added later. Quite who decided to add it and why they chose to do it deliberately without consultation. My speculation is that it originated from somewhere other than the CCP Leeloo or CCP Falcon. If it did come from one of them then it would have needed sign off from someone higher up in CCP. Either way someone decided to intercede at a late stage with wording that was so initially ambiguous that it would have excluded most of the space famous applying for the CSM. The later refinement that resulted from the outcry may have helped clarify the intention in part but it also then highlighted those to be excluded. Which in effect turned out to be one person - Sion because he receives money from TMC according to The Mittani in tweetfleet slack. It could also have effected Chance Ravinne and Uaxdeath if they were still standing.

Not unsurprisingly, because of the way it has turned out and the way it was executed, The Imperium feel they are being (or are at least portraying they are being) victimised for a variety of reasons. Even if it is not true, the shambles leading to this point makes it a plausible spin opportunity. In their position I would likely do the same. Their actual response we will leave to the drama department and will probably be forgotten in 6 weeks or so. Quite where the refreshed kickstarter appeal sits in this now is hard to see. To me this crystallises the point that is being overlooked. Why should gaming media sites not be represented at the CSM table? Yes the NDA obviously, but put that to one side for a minute. Why wouldn't CCP want feedback from gaming media sites? TMC, when all is said an done, provides a lot of Eve coverage. Others could do more if incentivised to do so. If CCP wants to promote Esports as a new growth area as it has said it does, then it is going to need them and the coverage they bring. So while there is degree of sense in the new rule (if not in its clumsy implementation) for the CSM, there is a legitimate need for a forum where gaming media and CCP can engage. It would also bring some legitimacy back to the CSM as being solely a player council. Although it might just be easier to get rid of the CSM altogether. But then I've said that already (sorry).