Thursday, March 5, 2015

Monday Night at CCP Headquarters

As a null-sec player who enjoys small gang PvP, I’m naturally writing a longer post about the Phase II changes, but I wanted to take a moment out to talk about the untold story about the release of these details, which I think is a fascinating topic.  Basically, I can’t help but think about how the past few days have been for CCP.

Sure, for the past few weeks, the timeline for releasing the dev blogs detailing their new null sovereignty framework started to firm up, but I suspect the final release date didn’t settle in as “Tuesday” until late last week or early this week.  Until that point, the people who are most affected by the reveal – Marketing and Communications, the developers who put so much time running scenarios and crunching numbers, and Fozzie himself – probably didn’t feel too nervous or concerned about how well it would go over. 

Having worked for the past ten years on communications and marketing, I certainly can relate to the way they must have felt.  Plans are one thing, but “plans” can always be changed.  You have a deliverable due on a date, but until you sit down and bring all the pieces together, everything is fluid.  Anything can change.

Logically, they no doubt knew release day was going to be busy with feedback coming quickly and from all sides of the inevitable debate.  Null-sovereignty IS the quintessential element about Eve, and messing with the mechanics behind it is fraught with peril.  No matter how much people hate the current system, no proposed system will be as perfect as the imaginary one in each player’s mind.

But sometime within the past few days, the draft of the dev blog received final sign-off by all of the subject matter experts and the Marketing and Communications team (“Phrase it this way, to set expectations,”… “Remind people that we want feedback and soften up the authoritativeness here”…) and was just waiting for final approval from all the “higher-ups”.  The content was framed, written, and structured, and the final release date would be finalized.  The decision to push back the release to Tuesday probably happened only on Monday.

It’s a strange moment, when all the materials are produced and your finger is hovering over the “send”, “publish”, or “activate” button.  You start to second-guess yourself, even though you intellectually know what you’re releasing is as good as you can make it.  In the case of the dev blog, Fozzie and team knew they had put in plenty of clarifications that this was a plan, that it could change, and that they had given ample justification for the need for each element in the plan. (Bang-up job, by the way.  You guys really set the table nicely.)

But I suspect the nervousness was sitting like a blanket over CCP’s headquarters on Monday and early Tuesday.  I suspect a great many people missed a lot of sleep Monday night, worrying about the player reaction to what was contained within.  It’s unnerving, knowing a surge of player emotion was coming, but not knowing the flavor of it.  Would players appreciate the necessity of the changes, fixate on specific gaps, or simply rage and burn down another in-game monument in protest.  “Incarna” and “Walking in stations” were likely echoing through the minds of team members who were around during that time.  Though, of course, no one would be brave enough to mention them.  Speak not the devil’s name, for he shall appear.

The moments after pressing “the button” are the hardest.  Beforehand, you have the work to keep you busy.  You’re trying to apply everything you know about your audience, the pain points, the needs, the motivations, and want to phrase everything just perfectly.  You’re concerned about the length… will people read as much as you’re putting out?  But try as you might, you can’t find anything to cut without undermining the delicate balance of what you’re trying to communicate.

But after you hit “the button”, it’s locked.  You can’t do anything else.  You always have at least one idea you wish you’d have incorporated.  One turn of the phrase, one emailed suggestion that arrives a bit too late.  And with something as important as null sovereignty, you worry about individual biases influencing the final results so much that you’ve missed the mark.

It’s a hard thing, to be responsible for communicating a set of ideas that either asks someone to change their behavior or which will make them uncomfortable (and these changes certainly do that!).  You fight and battle to set the tone within your readers’ minds that best prepares them to be receptive.  But almost always, you only know that a piece of writing or communication will truly resonate with your audience after it’s happened.  You always find flaws with it, and a perfect stroke is hard to identify ahead of time.

So, as you review and debate the content of the Phase II null-sec changes, spare a moment of thought for the many people who nervously worked on the document and spent at least one guaranteed sleepless night in service of this silly little spaceship game we all love.



  1. Nice job.

    I was reminded of putting a software product out the door, though in the old days there was this time where you've made your gold master CD (yes, CD) and it's off to the duplicator. Any bug you find in the next two weeks would be one that would be in the shipping version, but would be incredibly expensive to stop ship on. Your customers are waiting and you're starting to think of the next version, but in reality you're on edge waiting for the CDs to go in boxes and slowly make their way out to all of your customers...

    I don't know if that's better or worse than knowing that you'll probably wake up tomorrow and already have 20+ pages of "opinions" waiting for you.

  2. You know... I love this game, and I love writing my blog and reading all the other blogs and all the meta 'stuff' and flying with my bros ingame... and I really like your blog as you are a null player who's gameplay I kinda 'get' as I am a small gang wormholer.... but,

    "Null-sovereignty IS the quintessential element about Eve." uhhh... no, it's not.

    Yes it is a big part, a huge part, and yes the epic battles get the most 'press'... but it is not THE quintessential element , the end game of EVE. EVE is at its core a true sandbox with a multitude of playstyles and 4 (arguably 5) distinct spaces... High, Low, Null, Neg (Anoikis) and New (Thera and the new hundred)...

    Null is but one of these and does not even have the highest concentration of players... By active player count, Hisec is the end game of EVE... and I can guarantee you CCP will never do anything to really piss off the silent majority of hisec Industrialists and carebears... the number of potential lost subs there far outweighs all of nullsec combined.

    The real difference between Null's population and Hisec's is that the nullbears are louder due to the more integrated mechanics of nullsec... Hisec'ers are soloists and small and large groups that have no desire or need to take knee to a null overlord in order to play in 'safe' space... they prefer to make their own way and let CONCORD provide the policing and protection that the Great Alliances (are supposed to) do in nullsec.

    So while I get that you love your gameplay in null and everyone oooohs and ahhhhhs over the Great Wars and the Epic Space Battles... I too love my space and the smaller scale but still quietly epic things we do... So nullsec is but one element of that-which-is-EVE and we need ALL of the players, playstyles and spaces that make EVE as a whole what it is.

    Personally I think CCP watches the subs in all spaces after a Major Blog 'reveal' or a Patchspansion Rollout with more trepidation than they do the forums or Blogs... no, the real player reaction they worry about most, that which keeps them up at night and make them hesitate before pressing 'publish'... that only shows up when they see the 'reaction' on the subs chart.

    Numbers tell the tale, all the rest is just talk talk... =]

    1. I agree with everything you said. You're absolutely correct.

      That said...

      My quote means that null sovereignty is the "big idea" that really makes Eve unique among the wider gaming world. It's a perfect example of Eve's sandbox, how players are the content, and the scale CCP strives to communicate.

      That doesn't mean it's the perfect gameplay style, or the most important, or the one meaningful to the most players (it's not). A signature element of a game may be one that looks really cool and has renown, but adds little.

      One of my favorite book series is Dune. In the prequels, you get to see that the Butlerian Jihad - a two-hundred year (or, arguably, 18,000-year) war against thinking machines - was named for Serena Butler, a relatively unimportant non-entity who became little more than a figurehead for a massive movement.

      High-sec, small-gang, or wormhole play doesn't get the press, sov null does. That's not fair; I think wormhole action and small-gang are more fun. I spend more time trolling lowsec than I do in null. And yes, it gives an inaccurate sense of what Eve "is about".

      But I do still believe it's the signature element of Eve.