Tuesday, May 10, 2016

There is no 85%

In which I had a simple point, then buried it somewhere in a wall of words.

Last week… or so… Neville Smit put up a post under the heading of Occupy New Eden wherein he made the claim that CCP was spending too much time focused on null sec.

The root of his claim is that only 15% of population of New Eden operates in null security space and that they are getting a lions share of features which are dedicated solely to their benefit. This is followed on by what feels to me like a rather spurious assessment as to what counts as a null sec feature.  Citadels are grudgingly admitted to affect more than null sec, though he attempts to shove them back in the “null only” in the same sentence along with capital ships, and industry and drilling structures.

Left off of his list is… well… everything of interest beyond null sec.  If you read his post, CCP has literally done nothing for anybody besides null sec in however long.  Yes, it would be too much to ask him to list out everything ever, but this sort of “we got nuttin'” approach is belied by the patch notes over the last year, when CCP was alleged to be focused solely on null sec.

He then goes on to conflate the CSM 11 election results with CCP neglecting the 85%, with an extra helping of “the sky is falling” because of all those null sec players on the galactic student council.  That manages, in a single blow, to sell CCP short, misinterpret the power (or lack there of) of the CSM, and misunderstand the election results.

For the first two, if you believe CCP’s course is somehow charted by the CSM, you might as well give up right now and start weaving conspiracy theories.  On the third, the election results are the ongoing reflection of who is most engaged with the game… engaged and concerned with their well being.  Null sec, as noted, just went through a whole series of changes, some of which are not universally loved by some of the residents, and some of which were not well thought through by CCP before being thrust upon us, despite the fact that the CSM and players in the forums pointed out, in advance, the very flaws that CCP had to go back and correct.  Null sec players are rightly concerned, and concern (plus organization) turns into votes.  Meanwhile, the rest of New Eden didn’t seem exactly worked up about the election.  What burning issue did the rest of New Eden have that stacked up again, “CCP has completely changed our part of the game?”

This all gets pulled together in the false dichotomy that is “I am the 85%!”

CCP can apparently only work on null sec or everything else.  They can make null sec happy, or they can make the 85% happy.  Null sec has had their turn, it is time to leave them alone for another five years and concentrate on what is important.

The whole thing has me a bit irked, an emotion that might have come through up to this point.

There is no 85%

Almost every facet of WoW is an activity that caters to a minority of the playerbase … [WoW] is not a narrow game, but rather one that can be enjoyed in numerous different ways, by people with hugely diverse playstyles … We are [listening] – just to many, many different voices. And it may be that a given change, feature, or reward is simply aimed at a different portion of the playerbase. Or we could be wrong and we haven’t realized it yet.

Ion Hazzikostas, WoW lead designer, in a Forum Post

The fallacy of the whole concept of there even being an 85% was the first thing that sprang to mind when I read Neville’s article, and I immediately put up a placeholder post with that as the title… and then let it sit for a week.

I think we might all agree that EVE Online, with its sandbox nature, is a more complex game than World of Warcraft.  Yet there is a WoW designer holding forth about how nearly every feature in Azeroth is for a minority of their player base.  So how do you think that translates into New Eden?

I could go on for ages about the various groups that make up the alleged 85% and how they can actually be divided up into their own little minorities factions.  Instead, I’ll just whip out this chart again.

What to do in EVE Online - A Chart

What to do in EVE Online – A Chart

Have you seen this chart?  I put it up as part of a post about four years ago, and the chart itself is about five years old at this point, so is probably incomplete.  And yet it conveys the complexity that is our New Eden sandbox.

So go ahead and put an X through any of the boxes that are exclusively null sec features.  If you have knocked out more than five boxes on that chart I would be very much surprised.  Remember, if it is wormhole space AND 0.0, it doesn’t count.

That leaves a lot of boxes.

And you can jump straight to “Well, that’s the point, look at all those neglected features!” but you’re going to have to leave off any of those boxes that got some attention over the last year.  Did your favorite box get a new feature or two?  Does that box represent a small minority of players as well?  Because where this line of reasoning leads is down a path to exclude other small, and thus undeserving, groups.

You know who gets less regular players than null sec according to the year old chart used to prop up this argument?  Low sec.  How do you justify working on something that has less players than null?

And what about wormhole space?  That has less players than low sec!  How do you even justify working on such a small sub-section of the game?  How can you think about that when 75% of the game is in high sec?

Oh, right… Neville Smit is in Signal Cartel and lives in wormhole space.  Funny how that 3% of players got their agenda mixed in with the majority.  I’m going to guess if CCP spent many months dedicated to his part of space, which represents one fifth of the player base of null sec, we would not see a “We are the 97%” campaign spring up on his site.

EVE Online is large and complex and the various parts of the game are interconnected.  Making a demand that CCP focus on this alleged 85% is a hollow shell, because there is no such group as a single, unified entity.  CCP literally cannot focus on 85% of the player.

If we were going to go for truth in advertising on this campaign, it should simply be renamed “Screw Null Sec,” because it comes across as thinly disguised petulance about somebody else getting the attention.

There is Common Ground

There are a whole range of features that I would say crosses groups.  Particularly bothersome for me was Neville putting the new player experience on his list of demands for the 85%, as though null sec doesn’t care about new players.

And, to double down on my annoyance, CCP had just dedicated a chunk of the keynote at Fanfest to talking about how they want to improve the new player experience.  That seemed to me to be a pretty strong indicator that this is clearly marked with double underlines on the CCP development agenda.

But CCP didn’t have a solution, a new proposal, right then and there, so out come the pitchforks and demands.

We know the new player experience is bad.  CCP, which is on its fourth iteration since I showed up in New Eden, has given us depressing numbers to illustrate this.  A failure here is literally money out of their pockets and I am pretty sure if they had an answer as to HOW to introduce people to New Eden that made them stick with the game, that would have been front and center.  But they didn’t.  EVE Online is a busy yet subtle experience and they are still searching for the mix that will get the depth of the game across..

Null sec alliances are keenly aware of this.  For years Goonswarm has had their own introduction and training program to bring new players from Something Awful into the game.  I have seen day one Goons in fleets in null on many occasions.  Then along came Brave Newbies, which showed the power of harnessing new players, an idea which was stolen by the other groups.  So today somebody with no null sec experience can get into a corp like KarmaFleet and get the help they need to get going.

But that is all for naught if CCP consistently drives people away in the tutorial, or whatever passes for a tutorial these day.  This is a 100% issue, not an 85% issue.

Okay, that might have been an overly specific item.  But one of the magic things about EVE Online is its interconnectivity.  You cannot draw a circle around a group of players and say that they don’t matter to you.

Jita is probably the best example of the confluence between the various parts of New Eden.  For as long as I have been in a null sec alliance the one thing you could depend on was a jump freighter service that would deliver things to and from Jita.  We buy our stuff from the main high sec trade hub.  When we have a fleet doctrine and are losing ships, manufacturers benefit.  The economy is the web that binds us all together in New Eden, and when null sec is neglected and stagnates, it is reflected in the market, because we blow up more shit than anybody else and ships exploding drives the economy.

Maybe Null Sec IS a Bit Special

This isn’t my first time reading this sort of divisive demand on a developer in which a player claims that the devs are focusing on something that doesn’t represent the majority of their customer base.  I think I have seen that in literally every fantasy MMORPG ever that has had raiding or dedicated PvP or arena combat.

And EVE Online has all three!  Holy balls!  Incursions are raids, PvP is pretty much everywhere, and then there is the alliance cheating tournament for your arena fix.  And I haven’t even put null sec specifically in the picture yet.

These sorts of features, what I would call “aspirational content,” has been a pretty solid part of the MMORPG landscape in the 21st century, and I have long been on the other side of the fence.  No raider I.  And yet I have seen the point of having such features and have come to their defense on the very rare occasions when companies have decided to trim such features.

I think it is important that MMORPGs have options that may seem narrowly focused when viewed against the whole of the game’s population.  In the last 17 years of what I will call the “post-EverQuest age” of MMORPGs most of my time has been spent in solo or small group content, but I have generally not begrudged a disproportionate amount of resources going to such content, because it gives people something to aim for, a goal to achieve, and something special for those willing to put in the effort.

And this has especially been the case in EVE Online.  From 2006 through to the end of 2011 I spent my time in high sec pursuing various careers.  During that time titans, wormhole space, factional warfare, and Dominion sovereignty all showed up and were all hugely interesting to me despite them not really touching my play time directly.  But they were all there and made the game a more interesting and complex place.  Tales from other play styles are fun to read.

But null sec has a special place in that regard.  There have been some headline grabbing events in EVE Online that haven’t been about null sec… the great bank scam and tales of the Guiding Hand Social Club spring to mind… but for bringing attention to New Eden and driving people to try the game, nothing beats null sec alliances blowing each other up.  How many articles on gaming sites that don’t focus on just EVE Online (or even just MMOs, like Massively OP) has the game gotten this year?  And how many of those were about something other than null sec wars or a certain book written about a null sec war?

Like it or not, you have to admit that null sec grabs attention, making it a marketing engine for the game.  So to spin this whole thing on its head, the 15% is doing most of the work to get people to come try the game.  Maybe that has earned null sec a bit more developer attention.

So What?

Okay, I have probably been riding Neville a bit hard in this post.  He is a good person and an asset to the game and the community and probably doesn’t deserve as much push back as I have given.  And I get that part of his whole shtick is to get people to simply consider whether or not there is an issue here to be resolved by being provocative.  But when you go that route, you have to expect return fire in kind, as I have done above.  Consider this counter-provocation I suppose.

That said, I tend to agree with the actual list of things he has on his site.  CCP does have a large garden to tend in New Eden and barely enough resources to even keep the weeds in check.  I just don’t think we need to call for the company to ignore one part or another.

In the end, I think what primarily sticks in my craw… though I’ve been all over the map here, so I don’t blame you if you are confused at this point, because I certainly am… is this public and unnecessary divisiveness.  It is a call for the community to war with itself.

EVE Online already has a bad reputation.  Go read the comments on just about any related post over at Massively OP.  You will read about how it is a horrible game, maybe the most boring game ever, spreadsheets in space, populated by horrible people who do horrible things and you had better not bother playing because you will be scammed, ganked, and podded within five minutes of staring the practically non-existent tutorial.

We are already under siege.  And we, as a community, already fight amongst ourselves pretty viciously.  We hardly need a movement to encourage it.

So, in summary, I think we should give up the 85% idea and simply join together, link arms, and shout down anybody who suggests walking in stations as a feature, because I am not sure we can handle any more boxes on that “what to do” chart.

I look forward to your adoring agreement in the comments below.

Spaceships über alles!

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