Neville Smit is a good writer, a great thinker, and a very dedicated Eve player. He also represents a style of Eve play that is quite different from mine. It's for all those reasons that I have him on my blogroll, read him regularly, and appreciate his insights.
I saw his recent post, Occupy New Eden, before he sent me a note asking for me to comment on it. I confess, I was already going to do so. It's a dense post that packs a lot of issues into a single manifesto. I must apologize for the length of my reply, but there's a lot in there to discuss. You're getting your pageview's worth today.
The tl;dr (for those of that persuasion) is that I agree with his suggestions, but not for anything resembling the same reasons. I also challenge some of his premises pretty fiercely.
A Word on Connotation
First off, a side note. Neville, I strongly recommend rebranding the initiative. "Occupy" carries the odium of being a movement spearheaded by pampered, entitled little brats wanting to be freed from the burden of college debt that's a result of poor career decisions. Kids: I don't care that you bought into a narrative about college equaling a guaranteed job for life. I don't care that you find it unfair that a Social Inequality degree doesn't earn you anything resmebling a decent living. No shit, Sherlock.
To me, the Occupy movement brings to mind whiny Millennials with have no sense of history and the belief that they should be given everything with minimal risk or work. That attitude makes me sick, it makes me correct anyone who calls me a Millennial, "No, I'm Gen X" (I was born in 1980). When I heard of the Occupy movement, I was indeed frightened by the sheer number of participants... because it signified widespread mental instability among this crop of college students.
"Occupy" has very negative undertones for a sizable portion of the population, and hitching your star to that wagon is as likely to alienate a potential reader as it is to win them over. The movement is also hampered by having accomplished nothing at all before burning out. The words we use matter... they're the first impression a person has, and using a heavily loaded word tied to failure like Occupy is a dangerous tactic.
But, that's a side note. Let's look at the issues he raises and the content of his proposal.
That 85% Statistic
Unquestionably - CCP confirmed this - it's true that most Eve players remain primarily in high-sec. The minority are null, low, or WH players. A lot of bloggers and voices make the claim that because most players are high-sec players, they should be better represented in the development cycle. "Give us more PvE. Give us better exploration. Don't neglect the majority of your player base."
That number includes market alts, mission-running characters, haulers, and industry alts for players whose "main" is somewhere else. It includes a lot of other stuff that enables a lot of null, WH, and low-sec gameplay. I doubt the number of players who solely play in high-sec - or even value the high-sec characters more than all others - is that high. Yet, it does represent a portion of the player base, and each portion should be considered.
Eve is about the sandbox, yes? Each player being able to carve his/her own destiny, taking the mechanics of the game and using them according to one's individual will? And you'd be right to point out that this is equally true across all areas of space and is not restricted to null-sec.
And yet... some activities simply matter more than others because of marketability. CCP wants to sell the game, and to do that they need exciting stories that directly tie to competitive advantages - things Eve offers that no other game on the market can claim. Things like a true player-controlled economy. Things like owning your own space. Like massive fleet fights that last significant percentages of a day, not an hour. Like the persistent universe. Like hands-off GMs that allow you to commit all sorts of sins without out-of-game retribution. Like true, permanent loss being a fact, not an exception, and a clear price to every action that makes losses truly hurt.
Now, those competitive advantages aren't limited to just null-sec PvP. But null-sec presents the clearest, most obvious use-case for those advantages. The fall of the Imperium is measured in stations lost, sov systems flipped, and hard numbers of the diminishing member count. They're quantifiable signs of defeat, involving thousands of people. Conquest is sexy - it has been for all of human history, and it speaks to something powerful within us: the desire to exert your will upon another. No matter how civilized we become as humans, that desire will never leave us. It's primal.
The primal, the powerful, the universal... those are compelling reasons to focus marketing efforts on null-sec activities. In comparison, high-sec is static and isolated - nothing you do will change the strength of the Amarr Empire in high-sec. No matter how many times you rescue the Damsel, she's going to be in trouble again tomorrow. WH space lives and dies in silence; even the API doesn't track WH kills anymore. With each hole being isolated from the others (no fixed connections, I mean), conflicts are limited to single holes at the same time. The scope just isn't there.
The closest possibility to match the scale is faction warfare, which does affect an area of low-sec. But ultimately, it's not as if the Amarr or Caldari are going to fall based on the actions of players in-game. The danger is limited. Amarr will always be in Amarrian hands; the same cannot be said of VFK or S-EVIQ.
The simple fact is that null-sec presents the most quantifiable and clearest representation of Eve's raison d'etre, the representation that resonates with new customers. It stirs the blood, it inspires people to put themselves in our shoes. It draws in new players.
Up until FozzieSov broke up the Boredomperium, that best use case was on life-support. Horrible gameplay, no reason to fight, static borders, no real surprises or challenges, no opportunities for non-participants to make a mark and rise up. Yes, the players created the problem, but CCP takes responsibility for creating the system that the players exploited to tranquility.
CCP had to focus on fixing it. Not "nice to have", but absolutely needed to fix that problem, else it would be failing on the cornerstone mechanic for it's sole game. I'm sorry, but that was just more important than anything else.
That's not saying the other areas of space aren't worth improving. The above was only a justification for prioritizing repairs to null-sec. Neville is correct that CCP needs to pay attention to the other areas of space. I'd argue low-sec is actually in pretty good shape; FW space is compelling because of the range of fights you can get, but non-FW space needs a shot in the arm. I'd even argue that WH space needs a solution to prevent rage-rolling to prevent the key threat facing them: hegemonic control by one entity of an entire class of WHs.
But those are minor fixes. Listen to your players for how to modify and tweak those areas to include more enjoyable gameplay. The bigger issue is high-sec, which is just awful. How do I know this? Because most players stay in high-sec their whole careers.
After all, all those players drawn in by null-sec activity come crashing into the soul-crushing boredom and meaninglessness that is high-sec life. "Welcome! Now learn a series of bad habits that will get you killed anywhere but high-sec." The fact that so many players spend their in-game careers in high-sec is a mark of shame to us all. Players should not want to spend their whole careers in high-sec.
Right now, high-sec is not compelling or interesting, but most importantly, it doesn't encourage anyone to take the next step and branch out. CCP's ultimate goal is to provide content that keeps players subscribed.
In the past, CCP has shared the fact that players who are involved in a ship kill - regardless of whether they were the killer or victim - are far more likely to stay with the game. Eve thrives on player interaction. Yes, some players enjoy playing the game solo, and there absolutely should be space to do that if you choose. But if getting people to engage with each other is the secret to long-term subscriptions, every activity should include a) entry-level opportunities that can be done solo in a satisfying way, b) a career track that encourages you to move to the next, better-rewarding step, and c) the best rewards requiring you to go into more dangerous space and grouping up.
So, for high-sec, I'm a big fan of some of what Neville included within his manifest. We need opportunities to participate in all in-game activities for each area of space, but we also need to lock in clear incentives to move to the next step, to the next activity, and to the next level of danger. I'm not calling for level 1 missions in high-sec, level 2 missions in low, level 3 in null, and level 4 in WH space, of course. Each area of space has different appeal, and I get that. But we should have PvE options available in each. All should incorporate the same skills. Focused PvE tanking should be avoided as much as possible; it's not realistic and it does nothing to prepare players for a new activity (ie fitting for PvE is fundamentally different than fitting for PvP).
But high-sec should not be the best option to achieve high-end goals. Safety should have trade-offs that are so compelling that you feel limited enough to eventually branch out. Eve is not a game about safety. It's a game about profit and risk. You can define those two terms any way you want, but it holds nonetheless.
A good ecosystem should cultivate and curate high-sec players so they branch out and sprinkle in other areas of space. The fact that so many players live in high-sec isn't support that CCP should dedicate more resources to satisfy them there, but rather that they need to bridge the gap to transition players out of high-sec. Give them that content. Teach while pleasing. Otherwise, the gulf between high-sec and the other areas of space will continue to be too big for anyone to bridge, and we'll continue to see players languishing in daycare until they eventually log off entirely. Which happens now.
I believe high-sec players are looking for a certain experience. Give them that experience, but as you do, do it in a way that they both enjoy and that conditions them to want it less and want the next, more dangerous step more.
Why the CSM System Is a Failure
Let's get real for a moment. The CSM XI results were a travesty. Half of the members are Goonswarm or PL members, and nearly all are null-bloc candidates. It's clear that it demonstrates the utter failure of the CSM process as constructed. But, why?
Old-guard null-sec blocs feel betrayed and frustrated by FozzieSov. When the voting occurred, the CFC was under no real threat at all, and as a result, everyone non-CFC voter felt FozzieSov failed in its goal, creating an impenetrable CFC fortress. That was incorrect, mostly because the boredom of living in a fortress caused all the bloodthirsty barbarians (ie. PvP-focused null players) to leave, which weakened the defenses. "Everyone got bored," isn't exactly a rousing endorsement for null-sec.
Neville posits that the drama surrounding the CSM is to blame for poor non-null voter turnout. I doubt it, because you're never going to get high-sec to care. There isn't anything in high-sec to care about. The gameplay is awful. The safety it provides runs contrary to the nature of the game's value-proposition. Why should anyone care about it, based on what they've seen?
Plus, let's say a high-sec candidate is passionate and motivated... how the hell is that person supposed to stump for votes? High-sec is fragmented and isolated. Some of that is by nature. Some players simply want to be left alone. You have a lot of new players who don't know what the CSM is, why it matters, or what all the problems with the game are. To recognize a problem, you need to know enough about the topic to identify the defect. At the same time, players who start in high-sec and stay with the game make connections, and in so doing, they tend to get drawn out of high-sec. Knowledge and engagement is key to supporting a cause, but they're also the things that draw people out of high-sec. I honestly can't blame players for not voting when they don't know about the purpose of the CSM or the issues facing the game.
Wormhole space, on the other hand, is intentionally divided. It's meant to be more isolated, which harms the ability for any WH candidate to gain votes from WH space. Beyond that, though, the relatively smaller number of WH players is a barrier, since fewer players are cut out for that bare-knuckle lifestyle. They aren't going to be able to pull the numbers a null bloc could, despite their passion for WH space.
Low-sec... I don't know what to tell you. Maybe the low-sec power blocs that exist simply hate each other too much to vote for each other's candidates. Voltron only forms because of null-sec incursions; otherwise they go back to shooting each other with glee. They're kind of like Italy during the Renaissance. It's just as vicious, too. There's a lot going on, but no one can get along enough to vote together, and no group is large enough to exert true voting power.
But, what I'm describing in each area of space isn't the result of the behavior of the CSM; it's the result of the different natures of these regions.
Neville proposes a wide range of changes to the CSM election process. CCP aggressively promoting voting. Ceding the field of the CSM to null-sec and creating separate focus group boards of each area. But these recommendations are trying to tweak aspects to make a failed system work better when the system itself is flawed.
The CSM process didn't fail because the wrong people voted or didn't vote. It failed because it made the mistake of relying on democracy.
Democracy is an idiotic way to select focus group members upon whose opinions you plan to shape your game. Now, I can't even blame CCP for this. After all, the CSM was created because players were pissed off about CCP's arrogance and failure to listen to them. At first, the CSM had to be democratically elected because players lost faith in CCP's ability and desire to source feedback.
How quickly do you think CCP realized the CSM being democratically elected was a colossally terrible thing? I suspect it was pretty damn early in the process. Assuredly when personalities, not customers, populated it, and that was very early, indeed.
But we're in a different place now. CCP has been listening. And indeed, most of the failures have been on the players' side this time. Vote brigading. The very idea that the CSM should have a platform to change CCP and Eve. The parallel between the CSM and real-life politicians despite the the lack of power and the overbearing power of each, respectively. Using the CSM as a bully pulpit.
If I was in CCP's position, now would be the time I'd do away with the CSM elections. I'd have been waiting for years for the flaws in this voting system to become so obvious that I could change it to an appointed focus group board and be branded a hero for saving the process. I have no doubts CCP knew where this was going, but the players weren't ready for a dramatic change. Now, though, we have a board of 10 null-sec candidates, 7 of which come from two alliances.
Are we ready to give up this stupid exercise in "Let's make everything democratic!"?
Make the CSM board composed of 4 candidates with an industrial background, 4 with a PvE background, and 4 with a PvP background, one from each area of space. Sprinkle in some additional specialists based on the projected development track for the next year. CCP knows the distribution of player emphasis, activity, and passion better than we do, so they know which opinions to value more heavily than the others.
Do away with this election crap and appoint them. Make a shortlist of possible appointees by sourcing reasonable arguments raised and shared on the Eve-O forums, reddit, blogs, and news sites. As different features rise up, constitute temporary boards anchored by members on the standing CSM that relate to that field and augmented by players from the gameworld at large. Then, when it's over, decommission that focus group.
For God's sake, follow some basic best practices for gaining the voice of the client.
The fault with the CSM election process isn't the people voting, the awareness of the vote, or anything like that. It's the fact that you're depending on something as foolish as a vote to begin with. Not everything should be democratic, particularly if you actually want to accomplish something.
Development Moving Forward
Now, all that said, it'd be easy to assume I'm outright rejecting Neville's call for more representative development. That's not true at all. He raises a lot of good points I agree with entirely.
In fact, in reading everything in his manifesto (again - a terrible word from a madman to describe a reasonable strategy), I agree with every point of it. Only my end goal would change. Create more variety, dynamic reactions of NPCs, and opportunities to create a true career track to all activities which originates in high-sec and ends in low, null, or WH space. You should be able to stay in high-sec all your Eve life and find engaging gameplay there, but the game should structure rewards and condition you to not want to stay in high-sec. You should be subtly influenced to want to venture forth and improve your return on time spent.
For instance, remove the damage-type lock for each NPC race, requiring you to omni-tank your ships - just like you need to do for PvP. Make boss rats warp of to another gated location (appearing in your journal or on the overview) if you don't point them down - just as would happen in PvP. PvE should teach you fitting habits and skills that you can later apply to PvP. Right now, the two are fundamentally different; I'd never take a PvE ship into a PvP situation.
Make NPC ships have the same strengths and weaknesses as player ships. Gursitas "drakes" and "ravens" shouldn't shoot lasers, they should be able to change damage types with reload times, and they should be susceptible to player ewar; you should be able to cap out a mission overseer who's repping like a boss. The new NPC dreads should not track you like frigates, or be able to lock frigates in 5 seconds. Reduce the number but increase the strength of NPC ships, so they better mirror the likely scenarios in player PvP. Make the rules the same, so PvE players can gain skills to form a foundation of PvP. That way, if they find themselves caught in a surprise PvP situation, they aren't completely ill-equipped and out of their league. That's the kind of thing that leads to frustration.
We need to create bridges and transitions between areas of space and activities to build on a player's engagement. Engaged players stay long-term and are more satisfied than players who engage in a one-off activity. With that, also, Neville and I agree. Eve needs improvements in its PvE situation, and it needs to welcome all activities equally.
I don't want to shut off anyone's game. I just want to create systems that cultivate interest and ability to engage with the next level of risk, reward, or complexity. Right now, that's not the case.
Earlier, I mentioned that not all activities are equal, and that's true. Instrumental activities (those that lead to something else) aren't as important as intrinsic activities (end-state activities people choose to spend their time on), and activities that signal long-term engagement with the game (ie. continued subscriptions) are better than those which are revenue dead-ends.
But that doesn't mean those instrumental activities are meaningless. They can be enriching, fulfilling, and exciting in and of themselves. They just need to lay the groundwork for something more at the same time.
I want to reduce the number of people in high-sec not by driving them away (as we're doing now), but by cultivating them, drawing them in, and delivering both enjoyment of high-sec activities and the promise of even more satisfaction by growing beyond the bounds of high-sec.
That's a strong Eve. Null-sec has had its iterations. Let's fix the other links in the chain now.