[EVE] Monocalypse Now

So the new EVE cash shop and captain’s quarters debacle turns out to be the gift that keeps on giving. For a game that’s quite niche (albeit popular in its niche) they are certainly generating a lot of press at the moment.

I have been mildly surprised at quite how much blogspace and press EVE has been getting over this. I thought it was an interesting angle on experimenting with the value of virtual goods, but I think to get this much outrage out of the fanbase over a cosmetic cash shop, there are likely many other latent frustrations boiling up at the same time.

Anyhow, hard on the heels of the leaked internal newsletter article on microtransactions comes what claims to be a leaked email from the CEO on an internal mailing list. I’ll reproduce this in full since it’s a) quite interesting and b) might get removed from the bboard. (edited to add: Yup,  got deleted while I was posting this. My blogging instincts are being quite good atm.)

As with all such claims, this could be a fake. But even if it is, I think it’s pretty well written and makes the sorts of points that perhaps a CEO should be making.

We live in interesting times; in fact CCP is the kind of company that if things get repetitive we instinctively crank it up a notch. That, we certainly have done this week. First of we have Incarna, an amazing technological and artistic achievement. A vision from years ago realized to a point that no one could have imaged but a few months ago. It rolls out without a hitch, is in some cases faster than what we had before, this is the pinnacle of professional achievement. For all the noise in the channel we should all stand proud, years from now this is what people will remember.

But we have done more, not only have we redefined the production quality one can apply to virtual worlds with the beautiful Incarna but we have also defined what it really means to make virtual reality more meaningful than real life when it comes to launching our new virtual goods currency, Aurum.

And how do you know if you have succeeded in making virtual reality more meaningful than real life? By seeing how much you can make people pay for it. This idea that cash value is the optimal way to measure meaningfulness is pure CEO. It is, to be fair, the basis of many values in modern society.

I won’t debate meaningfulness here, but their argument is that expensive things are more meaningful. I don’t feel that this adequately explains tea, cats, virtual reality, best friends/ partners (unless your social network is very high upkeep) or books, but crack on. Meanwhile, the phrasing just makes me think of the Red Dwarf Holodeck, which was called Better than Life.

Naturally, we have caught the attention of the world. Only a few weeks ago we revealed more information about DUST 514 and now we have done it again by committing to our core purpose as a company by redefining assumptions. After 40 hours we have already sold 52 monocles, generating more revenue than any of the other items in the store.

These purport to be the hard sales figures, for anyone who was curious.  I know Stabs commented the other day that he’d bought one via in game cash to speculate with, so not sure how many of the other 51 monocles were bought for the same purpose.

Still it proves a point, if it’s there then people will buy it. I wonder if they’d sell more if a character could wear two monocles at the same time. He’s right about having gotten a lot of attention, too.

This we have done after months of research by a group of highly competent professionals, soliciting input and perspective from thought leaders and experts in and around our industry. We have communicated our intention here internally in very wide circles through the Virtual Economy Summit
presentation at the GSM, our Fearless newsletter, sprint reviews, email lists and multiple other channels. This should not come as a surprise to anyone.

Currently we are seeing _very predictable feedback_ on what we are doing. Having the perspective of having done this for a decade, I can tell you that this is one of the moments where we look at what our players do and less of what they say. Innovation takes time to set in and the predictable reaction is always to resist change.

This is perhaps the more interesting section, because he’s right that the feedback was predictable. He’s also right to note that players won’t always do what they say they will do.

However, think back a year or so to Blizzard’s RealID campaign. They stood their ground for awhile (and I’m sure these types of emails would have been circulating Blizzard HQ as well), but eventually they blinked. I wonder if CCP is for turning also – if I had to guess, I’d guess not.

Intriguingly, the corporate culture seems fairly close to the hard nosed in-game EVE culture. I think there’s got to be room for a PhD in comparing cultures in virtual worlds with the cultures in the companies that produce them. Come to think of it, CCP is also looking as leaky as a sieve these days with all these ‘secret’ memos and broadsheets making the rounds. I wonder how many of the EVE devs also play the game and are perhaps a bit too much enmeshed in the virtual world for corporate comfort. (ie. If CCP employees find that virtual worlds are more meaningful than for example their RL jobs.)

We went out with a decisive strategy on pricing and we will stay the course and not flip flop around or knee jerk react to the predictable. That is not saying nothing will change, on the contrary, in fact we know that success in this space is through learning and adapting to _what is actually happening_ and new knowledge gained in addition to what we knew before and expected.

All that said, I couldn’t be prouder of what we have accomplished as a company, changing the world is hard and we are doing it as so many times before! Stay the course, we have done this many times before.

Standard wisdom on player (over)reaction to game changes is to sit tight and wait for the storm to blow over. For all players talk about quitting, there is no immediate EVE-substitute for them to flee to. Some games are more interchangeable than others.

But leaking an email explicitly stating that they have no interest in listening to what players say is probably not ideal PR. Neither is releasing a new patch with severe performance issues that might put off any new players who are attracted by the furore.

ps. I think this is one of my more inspired blog titles :)

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15 thoughts on “[EVE] Monocalypse Now

  1. I think there’s got to be room for a PhD in comparing cultures in virtual worlds with the cultures in the companies that produce them.

    I think you’re right. At least one. Sorry if I missed it earlier — is that your topic?

  2. It is a very good title. I just started playing EVE and this storm is bad. If they really think their fanatic players are going to take this, they are wrong. The thing is, a player can be easily replaced by a new player. Unfortunately, EVE is old and younger generations don’t like old things. They want new fast paced ADHD games. If the players stick to their guns and quit, the game is dead. The chances the gamers will stay away from the game they love so much is very small. CCP knows they have them cornered like a drug dealer outside the Betty Ford Clinic.

    I hope the players get what they want but not at the expensive of employee jobs. Either way somebody needs to “nut up or shut up” -Zombieland

  3. A good post and interesting read.
    Project Entropia and Entropia Universe has already shown that people can pay a lot of money for virtual items; although in those cases it is usually not mentioned what the average player spends.

    The RealID comparision is not entirely the same thing IMHO; the RealID case was about privacy – this is just money and what you can do with it.

    I think the prices for these items might work out, because the price levels will make sure that using these will make people somewhat special and unique – not everyone will be running around with monocles. So they address an issue which many other MMOs struggle with – how can you make your character stand out in the crowd. There will likely be enough people buying it so they make a good profit, but not so many so that they cannot stand out.

  4. But leaking an email explicitly stating that they have no interest in listening to what players say is probably not ideal PR.

    Especially when their previous PR blitz’s message was “We listen to the CSM, honest!”

    This quote also caught my eye:

    Second, we must sell our units of virtual currency – the AUR – at appropriate rates. No pair of pants, no matter how cool, should cost the same as a new Maserati; similarly, it would be silly to buy sunglasses for my avatar and pay the same price that I would for a faction battleship.

    That’s exactly what they’ve done, so even their internal messaging is out of sync with their actions. No wonder things seem to leak.

    Personally, my biggest issue is that they are planning to sell faction ships. Their previous claim was that they were planning on selling ship skins; It’d have the same stats as the vanilla ship, and you’d still need the vanilla ship to purchase the skin. Currently, even if you buy a ship with the ISK that you got from selling a PLEX, someone must have acquired the minerals and the ISK to build that ship. But if you can buy the entire ship without any ingame cost, the PLEX/Aurum economy becomes the primary economy, and the ingame economy becomes just the aftermarket. That is a massive change for someone like me who played Eve for the economy.

  5. There’s so much wrong with their viewpoint it’s actually quite frightening.

    “years from now this is what people will remember.”

    If they genuinely believe EVE will be remembered for a single (and, actually, pretty sparse) cabin that’s taken 6 months to be developed, I don’t know where to go with that. I was drawn to EVE (and I’d imagine a great many others were as well) at the prospect of a full, player-controlled universe, not by walking around a totally irrelevant room that’s actually reduced in functionality from its predecessor. In 6 months other games have developed whole zones that have more content per square meter than EVE’s lonely little cabin does. It’s a pathetic offering, not a breakthrough of immense proportions.

    “After 40 hours we have already sold 52 monocles”

    In a game of 300,000+? That’s not good, Chuck. Can you imagine if Blizzard sold (52*15; the rough equivalent of items per user in the West) just 780 sparkle lions in the first 40 hours? It would be a catastrophe, not a brilliant sale. It suggests not only how overpriced it is, but also how little people care about something that *no one else will see*.

    “This should not come as a surprise to anyone.”

    O’rly? Because I thought CCP’s view was:
    “EVE will never have microtransactions.”
    But then:
    “Microtransactions will DEFINITELY ONLY JUST BE COSMETIC. PROMISE. XXXXX.”

    Explain to me why people should have expected you to outright lie. Or, rather, why people should ever trust you again, since evidently everyone should be unsurprised when you do a U-Turn.

    “All that said, I couldn’t be prouder of what we have accomplished as a company, changing the world is hard and we are doing it as so many times before! Stay the course, we have done this many times before.”

    What he doesn’t seem to understand is that he did all this without costing the players more. Perhaps CCP need to hire people who actually play the game, not economics professors.

    It’s incredible just how far CCP have plummeted in my estimation as devs. For a brief period I had them right up there, when I started to really enjoy EVE.

    Now, they’re worse than Astrum Nival and gpotato.

    • Aligned with Dril’s comment, this quote stuck out to me:

      “I can tell you that this is one of the moments where we look at what our players do and less of what they say.”

      I get the impression this implies that players (as if this group is completely uniform) complained and then turned around and paid anyways. I’m sure the vast majority of the players speaking against it, didn’t buy it either and If we are talking about what players -actually did-, that was to NOT buy the monocle (with only 52 sold).

      An excellent post Spinks!

  6. Blizzard caved on Real ID for the forums because people were quitting. I doubt EVE will see anywhere near the same reaction over this.

  7. To CCP, welcome to the Ayn Rand world you so love.

    If they want to survive, they must back down.

    To players of all games, you don’t have to sit back and take the derision many game developers show to you.

    It is the person who pays for dinner who usually has the upper hand. And we all are paying for that dinner.

  8. Great title!

    I think that CCP need to stand firm. Very few people are actually quitting and this really is a storm in a teacup. You could already pay to win, it’s exactly what the Russian billionaire who set up Red Alliance famously did. And the monocle rage is hilarious.

    Consider a pyramid. At the top you have the people who wipe their behinds on £100 bills and will buy $68 monocles just to annoy poor people. Say 0.01%. Just under them you have the people who couldn’t care less about wasting $10 and who would have bought monocles just to annoy people who couldn’t afford them had they gone on sale for $10. Then you have the 99% of people under that who wouldn’t waste the money even if it was “good value”.

    It’s the second category that have started the bandwagon. It’s not people like me who would never actually wear one. It’s the people who wanted to buy it but couldn;t because it was too expensive. Nothing is worse for vain people than to have their noses rubbed in the fact that other people out there are richer and more vain and can get cooler stuff.

  9. I’m looking at this.

    Then I’m looking at Team Fortress 2 being given away entirely free with it’s cash shop being filled with fun and flavourful cosmetic gear that you can, if you’re moderately lucky, get in the game anyway.

    And then I’m feeling a little sad for CCP.

    Partially cause TF2 has http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=36lSzUMBJnc

  10. Makes me wonder what Blizzard decided to do behind the scenes with RealID. Clearly, that whole tech is to mine data and resell it to other companies. So far besides demographic and video game, they only have a small sliver of data (people who like video games also like xyz), but I imagine they’d want to get more info on products (people who like this music genre like zzz).

  11. Pingback: Killed in a Smiling Accident. » Blog Archive » Free to pay to play to win

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