Sunday, February 14, 2016

The CCP Dichotomy

For the past couple weeks, I’ve been a little confused about CCP’s behavior. Great, responsive moves that suggest they have the future of Eve well in hand are followed up by evidence of tone-deafness that causes me to lose all hope in their stewardship of the game.

I really want Eve to succeed not only at retaining existing customers, but also drawing in new players. To that end, it’s very important to me that CCP’s cash flow and balance sheet remain healthy and robust. More money for CCP means more development resources and money for salaries to draw the best and most innovative employees. All of that is a win for Eve players.

A lot of players are angry at CCP right now. And I think they have a right to be angry… but I don’t think viewing the company as a unified whole is fair. You’ve got two competing interests in CCP right now; one of them extremely positive, the other negative or – at best – incompetent.

The continued growth of Eve isn’t happening. CCP stopped revealing the growth in subscriptions, which – combined with the drop in logged-in users – suggests that subscriptions have been declining. I think it’s been about two years since we’ve seen anything about subscription numbers.

A lot of folks blame the death of ISBoxer and the reduction in opportunities for super pilots to participate for those drops, but I don’t think so. ISBoxer really only harmed those players who fly more than, say, 3 accounts at once (less than that can be effectively multiboxed manually), and I can’t believe those numbers were incredibly high. Plus, we’ve had more supercaps and titans die since FozzieSov than ever before, so I can’t really believe super pilots getting fed up is a legitimate source of any theoretical drops.

Not only the absence of that data, but the length concerns me; even if subscriptions dipped at some point, you’d guess CCP would come clean when numbers picked back up, with a “Well, subscriptions dipped during this period, but we attribute it to X/Y/Z, and now we’re seeing subscriptions rise again.” That’s an inevitable message, after all, unless CCP never again shares subscription data. That they haven’t come out with that story tells me the subscriptions have not picked back up.

Long story short (too late…), I get that CCP is looking to revamp the game to draw in those two core audiences. Until that happens, though, I see why they want to develop alternative revenue sources.

Let’s look at the changes CCP has made to the game itself – the development strategy and follow-through. In the past year, CCP is delivering on a lot of player requests over the years. They’ve revamped the sov system with FozzieSov and occupancy sovereignty. While players have some complaints about some of those changes, the simple fact is that they’ve accomplished great things with them. CCP devs have made it impossible for one group to completely dominate null-sec. They’ve reduced renter empires to a thing of the past. (You can argue the fiefdoms we’ve got now are the same, but it’s not. Owning protection racket money isn’t the same; you still have your name on the map, which is a big thing for making players feel vested in their space.) They’ve made it possible for smaller groups to take sov. They’ve enabled harassment operations against big players (as TISHU has been doing to SMA), and they’ve neutered the ability for “one fleet to crush them all” to effectively counter it.

All of those changes have been requested by the gameworld for a long time, and it’s causing a lot of fun for nearly everyone involved. Jump fatigue added to the benefits by preventing one group from effectively smothering all supercap usage across the whole gameworld. Sure, PL is still a powerhouse, but they aren’t able to kill every super in use anymore, and that’s opened up a lot of fun for a lot of other folks. Supers are dying at an incredible rate, making life fun and interesting for everyone.

And the combination of all of these has made coalitions much less viable, and neutered them as an offensive force. The CFC is the last one that exerted its power externally to exist (Provi and DRF are regional powers only), and they haven’t had any meaningful deployments or conquests in years. The reason? Why conquer when you can’t hold? And why contest their overpowering numbers when you can just deny them content until they get bored and leave, then conquer it all back later?

Now, CCP is changing capital usage to eliminate the unstoppable Archon blob, adding citadels to simultaneously deliver on the demands to revamp the POS code, providing wormholes a place to set up a market, and creating destructible stations for players to fight over – those conflict drivers. They’ve prevented T3Ds from entering small complexes. They’ve added the ship skins players have been asking for.

That’s an impressive list of accomplishments, and all of them in response to player requests and testimonials about their experiences. Sure, some players are upset, but they tend to be the minority compared to the hordes of players enjoying themselves. In fact, other than walking in stations, what HASN’T CCP dev rolled out recently that players have wanted?

That’s not to say everything’s gone smoothly, of course. Waving a magic sov wand isn’t as engaging as players hoped (though I’d argue the meta hasn’t rolled around to respond fully yet). But CCP dev is listening. FozzieSov is transitory until citadels come out, and will undergo some changes in the coming months/year.

And CCP’s reactions have been pretty reasonable as well. Players complained about their plan to create a new Force Auxiliary skill – requiring a whopping 210 days of training for players to get to 5 in all four races just so they could do what they can already do today – and raised good arguments, and CCP reversed that decision out. They’ve been responsive about the way they implement changes, while sticking to their guns on the need to make those changes.

You can disagree with their rationale, but the fact is CCP is listening to players in the way they develop the game. They have their vision for where they’re taking it, and it’s actually proving to be a fairly good one that we can work with. More than that, though, it’s their prerogative to make what changes they feel are necessary. Yet they aren’t declaring them by dictate; they’re involving players in focus groups, testing, and dev blogs months in advance (for the most part…) of the launch. They’re responding to player feedback.

Put simply, the development team is doing everything they can to do things right, are taking hard, necessary steps, and I genuinely believe they’re trying to put together an engaging system that creates positive customer engagement. They don’t always get it right, but their hearts are in the right place to leverage all of the assets available to them as effectively as possible.

That’s the development team. Then, there’s the customer relations side of the equation, headed by marketing. If the developers are an example of how you should change fundamental aspects of your 10+ year game, CCP marketing and customer interaction efforts have been a textbook example of how to ruin your company and brand equity.

Let’s hit the big one immediately: Marketing screwed up colossally on extractor aurum prices. On the one hand, the price of extractors is set to generate the cost of two subscriptions for every one month’s worth of training – one month to actually train it initially and a second month’s work in aurum to extract it. That takes the “micro” out of micro-transactions.

They demonstrated a tremendous amount of greed by exploiting those players who unsubscribed years ago. PLEX records were broken the first couple days after the patch because players wanted to strip their old characters; that meant CCP earning money for players to reactivate lapsed accounts to reactivate accounts, revenue for aurum, and revenue for buying extractors directly. Skill extractors cost more than every single estimate pre-launch.

But more than that, they waited until the last possible moment – around 5-6 pm Iceland time on the Friday before the patch – to announce the high pricing of extractors. They knew players would be outraged, and they waited as long as possible to drop that bomb. The timing suggests they didn’t want to deal with the immediate feedback, and so snuck it in at the end of a work week. That’s cowardly, exploitative, and – not responding to anything until Monday – poor customer relations.

The pricing of an extractor was more than the lowest tier of aurum purchase, and was structured in such a way that players would end up with a bunch of “wasted” aurum, and their solution was a short-term sale that served as a bandage on a bullet wound in customer relations. There was no acknowledgement of their attempt to screw us, no apology for the blatant money-grab and insulting pricing. They threw us a bone as if we should be happy to have anything from the table.

Add to that the CSM, whose members have been loudly and universally complaining about their poor relations with CCP. In a well-working system, the CSM should be nothing more than a permanent focus group. The perception of it now is that it’s a player board of directors with some sort of real power. In either interpretation, responsibility for such a group would fall within a marketing, customer relations, or public relations function at a company.

And look what they’ve done with it! If they intended it to be a focus group, they’ve allowed the sense propagate that it’s more than that. They’ve allowed it to become a celebrity-making tool and a group that believes – and which the gameworld believes – should have a platform of objectives to accomplish, should be accountable to the player base in some way, and should be listened to in any real way. If it isn’t just a focus group, they’ve treated it horribly and performed end-arounds that betray its vestment and overall trust in CCP. A focus group doesn’t need to be consulted on all things; a player advisory council should be.

Regardless, CCP isn’t clearly identifying what it is, what it should do, and what expectations it and players should have of it. What they do say is contrary to the reality of the experience. All around, it represents a failure of marketing and client relations strategy.

All of this followed the hiring of a former EA “pay2win” head of marketing. To quote a reddit thread, it’s not that CCP doesn’t know what it’s doing; it knows exactly what it’s doing. It’s trying to squeeze the existing player base for what money it can. It’s identical to what it did with the price of skins. And that suggests a lack of faith in the future of the game; “get dank coin while the getting’s good!”

I’m not saying CCP should charge nothing for skill extractors, skins, or avatar clothing. I’m just saying their policies are directly crowding out people who would otherwise participate by being so damned expensive and being deployed in such an insulting way that belies such bald-faced greed. I know I was directly crowded out of the skill extractor experience, and I’ve been crowded out of the skin experience as well.

It’s also directly a slap in the face of the developers who are trying very hard to make the game engaging and well-balanced. Was all of the goodwill the devs had gained by trying to improve the problems with the game undermined by Marketing’s aurum/extractor pricing profit-grab? It certainly made their jobs harder.

This isn’t an isolated incident, but a trend. Developers respond to client feedback and refine that feedback with significant overhauls to core gameplay systems, and Marketing/client relations piss it all away with greedy, short-sighted decisions.

I’d be very frustrated if I was on the CCP development team right now, particularly if I was the public face of that team.

And I’d be very nervous if I was the CCP VP of Marketing. Good ones open up new revenue streams and cultivate a desire to participate in them. Bad ones anger the customer base with exploitative and insulting offerings that squeeze as much out of players as they can.

[ed. note: CCP Fozzie corrected me to clarify that he made no public comments about likely skill extractor pricing, so I've removed that quote. Many apologies, Fozzie.]


  1. lets say your main has a PER/WILL remap but you realise you need a

    INT/MEM skill. You fly in Null and dont want to risk implants.

    INT 17/ MEM 17 = 1530 SP/h
    you train 350,000 SP in 228 hours

    you switch training to alt on the same account. it has INT/MEM remap

    and never undocks so you can have +5s risk free.

    INT 27+5 / MEM 21 +5 = 2700 SP/h
    in 228 hours you train 615,600 SP

    you've banked 81k SP (115 * 350/500) or 52 hours training for future

    use for your main.

    you gain 4.35 extractors per plex

    so one PLEX gives 52 * 4.35 = 226 hours training used this way.

    a PLEX used for subscription gives 720 hours.

    so you can use 2 PLEXes per month and gain 131% normal training.

    if CCP halved the extractor price.
    SUB + Bonus
    720 + (4.35 * 2 * 52) = 720 + 452 = 162% normal training

    to take this to the extreme if the price were 30% the current price.
    you could buy 14.5 extractors for a plex.
    720 + (14.5 * 52) = 720 * 754 = 205% training for 200% cost.

    now factor in what benefits the program has.
    - main flys with a cheap pod.
    - multiple alts can be harvested this way.
    - possible others i havent considered.

    these justify a price premium.

    TLDR - 30% cost is game breaking. 50% cost is possible. 100% cost is

    the 50% cost with a bit of luxury tax built in.

  2. You make some good points, I'm really not sure about the NES argument. You don't have to buy skins for ships, it hasn't been practical for me to do so. You don't have to buy attire. I simply don't care enough about it. You don't have to buy extractors, SP will accumulate.

    SP only matters to experienced players, because they know what to do with it. Inexperienced players will, as history has proven, find an expensive way to make costly mistakes. You can't buy your way out of the learning curve. If you don't know why you're doing something, someone else will come along to teach you you were doing it wrong.

    The subscription numbers is an argument I'm more concerned about. At the same time I keep reading 'coming back to EVE, you guys still there' posts on Reddit. New Eden is a force all unto its own.

    ISK will buy PLEX will buy Aurum will buy the NES toys. Maybe not as fast as you like.

    I'm more worried about the pay2win people finding new ways to make the place worse. Because they will do that over time.

    1. I'm not in the "this is all pay2win!" crowd, specifically because the things CCP is selling are cosmetic, luxury, and don't provide unique benefits to let people compete. If you could only buy geckos via aurum, for instance, I'd have a problem with that. Skill injectors are a service.

      And it's fine for CCP to make money off their game by selling additional optional "style" features. It took resources to develop, it isn't essential... that's fine.

    2. "I'm more worried about the pay2win people finding new ways to make the place worse. Because they will do that over time."

      I am more worried about those plex2play people, as they are *already* making the place worse. The blue donut and lack of engagement to maintain their risk aversion so as to maximise their plex2play style is what is hurting the game.

  3. I'm not a big fan of skill injector training and have no plans to either buy skill injectors or go into skill point farming. However, given the huge acceptance of the feature, are skill injectors really unreasonably priced?

    I should add one additional point I didn't see you mention. The price has to be set at a point that makes it unprofitable for illicit RMT operations to participate in the market. So far, I haven't seen any indication they have done so. But they are making money on all the people resorting to buying dirty ISK to buy their skill points.

  4. Regarding your comments on marketing, you are quite on the mark.
    Marketing have been undoing all the exceptional work done by the other departments for a long time.
    However, the new hire, is still quite new, and is unlikely to be driving this under the circumstances, and it still has the fingerprints of the previous CCP marketing people all over it, from the pricing levels, the way it was announced, and the sheet disregard for the effect on the player base.
    We can speculate as to whether the final decision was made by marketing, or higher management, but I wouldn't mind betting it was a last minute "dictate"
    Either way much credit is due to all the smart, committed, hard working people in CCP. Even if it seems some of their colleagues are not only disfunctional if not actively destructive.

  5. Regarding your comments on marketing, you are quite on the mark.
    Marketing have been undoing all the exceptional work done by the other departments for a long time.
    However, the new hire, is still quite new, and is unlikely to be driving this under the circumstances, and it still has the fingerprints of the previous CCP marketing people all over it, from the pricing levels, the way it was announced, and the sheet disregard for the effect on the player base.
    We can speculate as to whether the final decision was made by marketing, or higher management, but I wouldn't mind betting it was a last minute "dictate"

    1. Speculation ahead... I think what happened here was CCP executives saw an opportunity to increase the monetization in a way that didn't affect gameplay balance and offered players something they wanted. They pushed through with it, but overshot too much in the way they promoted and structured the pricing vs. aurum packages. They forgot to consider the voice of the customer here, which caused all the frustration. Adding the direct cash option for extractors helped, but by that point, they had tipped their hand by forcing people to buy extra aurum with the initial pricing structure, which was an over-reach.

      95% reasonable, but that 5% was aresnic in the soup.

    2. As we are making guesses, mine is that skill trading is a necessary step toward evolving the game toward new possibilities. In the future any game design decision leading a skill tree to a dead end can be alleviated somewhat with the possibility of trading skills, and getting rid of the dead weight. In a game that is geared toward longevity (talking decades here), this is a smart feature.

  6. Neither extractors, nor skins or clothing is mandatory or even significantly beneficial to remain competitive. I don't care if they charge $10000 for a frig skin as I'll never buy a single one. If you want to play space barbie instead of spaceship competition, they SHOULD rip you since you'll leave anyway.

    1. You have paid. The development time spent on the ship you didn't buy has been wasted, meaning you did not get something you could have used.
      A portion of your subscription paid into that waste.

    2. Then again... is it waste if it draws someone else to the game?

  7. CCP have had many opportunities to adjust to the backlash on their pricing over the last few years, but they don't.

    That suggests enough people are paying the exorbitant prices - leaving marketing and the accountants to think their decisions were fine.

    I personally think these items are too expensive, that CCP lose goodwill with many in their player base, and that if priced better they would make more profit through volume than they do now.

    1. Yes that. 100%, at least for me personally. I would spend more then just my subs if that were true. Think they are missing out on so much profit :(

  8. Fozzie is a "game designer" (and not even a trained one) and not a developer.

    Prizes are usually made by monetization, not marketing.

  9. 3 accounts? Mate, I flew 16 accounts manually right up until a few months ago when game releases for the PS4 took over my life. People underestimate how easy it is to multibox. ISBoxer just made you slightly less efficient for less effort, and made 50+ fleets feasible.

    Considering how many extractors have been sold, their price point seems to be fine. I mean if they were priced to high, people wouldn't buy them, right?

    1. A lot of players are certainly taking advantage of it. The question is whether enough transactions were crowded out of the market (buying less than they would have at a lower price point) to overcome a lower price point. I believe they were; but that's up for debate.

      ie. if you have 10,000 transactions at $5 cost each, but could get 15,000 transactions at $4 each, you're pricing model has effectively left $10,000 on the table and satisfied potentially 5,000 fewer customers.

      The debatable part is whether the increase in volume would outweigh the loss in per-transaction cost. I think it would have, based on my own experience and the reaction to the pricing from the player base.

  10. That is a very good, and in my opinion true, post.

  11. While I agree with pretty much every point you made, there is one thing you didn't consider:
    Supers and Titans die since phoebe, but not because of they were used in action. Pretty much every super that died in the last year (with single exceptions of course) died because they were moving from A to B and the changes that came with Phoebe made moving extremely dangerous.
    Look at how many kills supers and titans do and then look from which groups those kills are. It's almost exclusive Goons and PL, with some Lowsec groups also using them then and now. Most nullsec entities don't use them anymore, primarily because of their only value right now is to kill dreads (something subcaps do much more cost-efficient), and regular caps also get far less use than before.

  12. Very well said. CCP, please pay attention.

  13. Still not as bad as the new camera.

  14. The concept of SP extraction and injection flies against all rational and constant science we were told to believe in during the decade+ this game has been around. SP, or time subbed was a sacred cow of religion in this game, whether useful to a newb or not is unrelated.

    That illusion of the basis of this games religion is gone. Couple that with Camera from hell and drastic changes to modules and ship basics and we get a lot of disenfranchised and confused players. Screw it, im going back to Rocket League now.

  15. Great article. I'd add the continuing inability to revive the EVE store to the list of marketing failures.

  16. There is a dichotomy. No Devs or Players were clamouring for Skills Trading before it was announced and yet it was given a priority. This goes higher up than marketing because on their own I doubt marketing would have the clout to get the priority this has been given.
    CCP only has one consistent revenue stream at present. Eve Online. Valkyrie might add to it but it is in an immature market and hard to guarantee in the short term. Eve Online is a mature game but with an ageing and static demographic. CCP needs to fund new projects to be sustainable and that requires additional revenue to invest. Where is that coming from? Eve Online. It has to be milked at the same time as being improved to encourage new players and retain existing ones. That's the dichotomy. Skills Trading and the (late) implementation decisions are a symptom of that. There will be other symptoms to come I am sure.

  17. Hmmm... I am not convinced.

    I have only anecdotal evidence, but login counts seem to be higher when I log in - why I even got traffic controlled at Jita a couple of nights in a row (moving to null, logistics).

    Where does the subscription numbers are down come from? Your own gut feel? Truly curious/interested to know because we can both be mistaken with this sparse data...

    As far as the extractor/injectors pricing is concerned... I am not sure that it is too much or too little... I do know an incursion group I am involved with recently fielded two full fleets (normally have to send lots of pings to even fill one at times). Lots of people clamouring for ISK, playing the game. That part of it I view as positive...?

    These guys have been big buyers of skills (T2 fits make a world of difference!) and are happy spenders at this price point...?

  18. You're really full of it. 300+ pages of players vehemently rejecting the idea of sp trading and the example you bring up is the pricing which most people don't care about as they are against the whole idea in the first place.

    1. Point of order... The issue I have is the way aurum pricing compared to skill extractors. The pricing model was insulting because of that factor. I do believe the cost of extractors is high, but ultimately the impact of that limited only to potential profit.

    2. Point of order... The issue I have is the way aurum pricing compared to skill extractors. The pricing model was insulting because of that factor. I do believe the cost of extractors is high, but ultimately the impact of that limited only to potential profit.