Thursday, December 6, 2012

It's a Show About Nothing: BB41

BB41: Director’s Cut

The universe of EVE is not without its drama and epic stories, both in and out of game. Imagine a publisher, movie studio or television network asked you to prepare a pitch for a new brand of EVE-flavoured entertainment. This could be your big break, what would be your synopsis to bring New Eden to the wider audience?

Imagine a program in which you watch people tell stories and take part in them. They involve group drama, schadenfreude, comedy, bumbling idiots, triumphant moments, blatant irreverence, myopic world views, and endless ironic snobbery and elitism.

Yep. It's "Seinfeld" in space, y'all.Welcome to EVE Online.

This really is a game about nothing. Oh sure, there are spaceships and planets and stations and ermagherdlazors. But at the end of the day, nothing happens in this game unless we make it happen. The game itself is literally about nothing. Ok, that's not quite fair. The "game" is about us. We the people, capsuleers across the heavens. Moreover, it's about our adventures. So I guess the game is at its heart about the adventures we create.  And some of the best parts of creating your own stories and having your own adventures are sharing them with your friends. Usually over coffee or some other beverage. I'm not sure about you, but it happens to me in EVE all the time.

"So I almost tackled and killed a Harby last night."
"What happened?! You didn't kill him?"
"Nah, I had a long point fit so he pulled range and got away."
"He got away?! Why didn't you have a short point?!"
"I don't like the short point."
"Why don't you like the short point?!"
"It's too short."
"Too short?!"
"Too short. They should have a medium point. You could call it a mid-point."
"You can't call it a mid-point. Other things are already called mid-points."
"What if I called THIS my mid-point and called other things 'other things?'"
"What if I called YOU 'other things?'"
"How would I know? I wouldn't know you were talking to me..."

You get the idea. Seinfeld. Space. The neat thing about this metaphor is that it already gets the ratio of men to women right, when you factor in all of the side characters and Elaine. And the characters are already familiar. Every corporation has a Jerry. Every corporation has a George and a Kramer. Most alliances have at least one Elaine. It's sounds like a terrible idea until you consider it's based on one of the most popular American television shows of all time. Which in turn was based on, well nothing.

We'd fly together. We'd fight. We'll be doing this anyways. We need  to do it. Otherwise, we'd have nothing to talk about.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

A Day of Thanks

First and foremost, Happy Thanksgiving to all of my brothers and sisters-at-arms, my friends, my internet spaceship family. I know that a relative few of you are actually celebrating the holiday with me, as it is an American tradition, but that doesn't prohibit us from sharing the meaning of the day. And within New Eden, I have much to be thankful for.

I am thankful for my alliance, Li3 Federation. 9 months ago I was adrift in a sea of stars, plumbing highsec for its treasures but searching for direction more than anything else. Li3 has given me the opportunity to experience EVE on more levels than I could have imagined, and allowed me to forge some incredible friendships.

I'm thankful for Jade, who took the time (LOTS of time ;) ) to talk with me late one Spring evening, who has challenged me to think about this game in new and exciting ways, and who gave me the chance to become the pilot I am today.

I'm thankful for Patrick, our alliance XO, who has become one of my best friends in-game or out. Even though the package never made it to Canada (trust me, that's code for something) I look forward to talking with you every time I log into EVE, and to sharing many more Tengu-Ares kills. Please give Christy and Stephanie my best today.

I'm thankful for Shooter, my exploring partner in crime. I wish you, the missus, and Bubs all the best and I can't wait to talk to you again when I get back.

I'm thankful for Thrace, my trading mentor, who taught me the ins and outs of being a successful station trader, and freed me from having to spend my time grinding away ISK rather than enjoying myself in fleets looking for trouble.

I'm thankful for all of my friends in Li3, who have given me the support network I desperately needed but didn't tell anyone about these past six months. Your humor, relentless ball-busting, and keen debate has been a continuing source of enjoyment and entertainment. You lads and lasses are amazing and are truly the reason I log in to the game. Also, thanks for not blowing up my faction-fit Proteus when I fell asleep at the gate.

I'm thankful for Mat Westhorpe aka Seismic Stan for taking an interest in my humble essays, and supporting me at every possible opportunity. You have extended the warmest invitation to be a part of the blogging community I could have possibly imagined, and for that I am eternally grateful. You continue to be an inspiration, my friend.

I am thankful for Marc Scaurus for his continued efforts to not only coordinate the blogging community but to celebrate it as well. I've never won an Ebee (but I got nominated!) and I've never been selected to the BlogPack, but these initiatives continue to motivate me and give me something to shoot for. Though I haven't gotten to do an official post about it, Marc, I hope that whatever the future holds, you continue to play a huge part in the coordination of our community. Your efforts are often invisible, but never unnoticed, and are always sincerely appreciated.

And last but not least, thank you to CCP Games for creating this wonderful, beautiful, maddeningly marvelous spaceship game. It's been quite a ride over the past few years but you continue to design, improve and innovate upon the greatest gaming experience ever created. You have my eternal gratitude, and USD30 every month. Thank you.

Happy Thanksgiving, all. And thank you. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Irrational Fear

Last night, after I had turned in my entry to Blog Banter #40, I went to bed wondering about the state of the EVE blogging community. I had taken a brief break from blogging as I had become hyper-immersed in-game and needed to step back to tend to RL business.

I hate stepping away from the game and from writing, but I took solace in the fact that I would be able to keep up with current events thanks to EVE's robust meta-game. One of the reasons the EVE community in general (and the blog-o sphere in particular) is so strong is that when two or three or four of us take a break at the same time, there are still over 100 hundred blogs and EVE-related sites out there providing new content for our EVE-hungry brains.

What got me thinking last night was the arrival of and what sort of impact it would have on the Blog Pack. If you haven't seen yet, please do go explore. It is an expertly produced source of EVE news and opinion, though as the name of the site might suggest, one that risks running afoul of editorial bias in the stories it runs.

My thought webs traveled roughly along the path of, "I wonder if Scaurus ever got around to putting up the August and September Ebees. Oh man, A Scientist's Life in EVE and Nash Kadavrr are retiring. That's two more legacy blogs on the Blog Pack stepping down. I wonder if some day this blog will become as well known as theirs. I wonder if we need the blog pack anymore, now that we have theMittani. Why go to 30 sites when you can go to one?"

I felt threatened by this thought when I had it. It was a fear that upon reflection revealed itself to be irrational.

In the end, I went to bed feeling positively encouraged about the state of the blog-o-sphere. Which was hilarious, because when I woke up this morning and starting reading over the blogs in my own particular feed, I found this at EVEOGANDA which had been inspired by this post at Malefactor.

Go ahead and read'em. I'll wait.

Now THAT'S a little spooky! One of the criticisms levied at the EVE blogosphere is that at times it resembles an echo chamber in that we all tackle the same topic at roughly the same time and that we all more or less agree with each other. It is true this happens occasionally, but the diversity of content and opinion occurring on our blogs daily pretty much renders the term "echo chamber" useless. Still, it is highly coincidental that there were at least two other bloggers thinking about this very topic over the last day or so.

There is a tendency in our community, and really in human nature, to be threatened by change. Over time we naturally settle into a comfort zone. We become comfortable because we become familiar with our environment and learn how to survive and thrive in it. Change is unfamiliar. A changing environment brings unfamiliar challenges, and even though we rise to meet those challenges time and again, their unfamiliarity makes them scary. Our greatest fears always stem from the unknown. I went to bed feeling good about the EVE meta-game landscape and my place in it, so what did I know?

Two things.

First, no matter how well done or ANY site is, it will never be enough to satisfy the appetite the EVE community has for content. I can typically read through all of the content themittani has to offer on any given day in 30 minutes or less. I can then spend another 30 minutes sifting through all of the updates on the Blog Pack, and if I'm feeling REALLY desperate for more, head over to EN24 to see if there was anything else I had missed. I regularly visit, and that's just for reading. If I know I'm going to have some extended downtime, I can download Lost in Eve, Podside, and other podcasts for listening while I'm away from the computer. It sounds like a lot, but I highly doubt I'm even half as voracious as many other members of the EVE community in my search for content.

Secondly, the issue of bias is one that every editorial site will be forced to mitigate, be they an aggregator or a solo endeavor. TheMittani has it, I have it, EN24 has it. We all have it. The only sites that can avoid such bias are those sites that have no editorial component to them whatsoever and instead are merely feed dumps such as evebloggers. In the quest to understand an issue, motivated readers are going to seek multiple viewpoints from multiple sources. For editorial sites that typically only run one piece on a particular issue at a time it means your visitors will come to you for your insights, but they're going somewhere else as well.

None of this touches on the competitive aspects of producing or hosting content, or the degrees to which new bloggers will be inspired to pick up their pens by the shifting metascape. These are yet further reasons to feel confident that the number of content sources aren't going to evaporate any time soon.

I take great delight in the fellowship that writing about and discussing EVE creates. And I find sweet relief in knowing the "One Ring" we feared was coming never will.  

Glory Hole: BB40

“There is no finer spectacle in the universe of EVE Online than the explosive dance of weapon-laden spaceships in combat. The yearly Alliance Tournament is the jewel in EVE Online’s eSports crown and the upcoming New Eden Open  should deliver the same gladiatorial entertainment showcase.

Given the scope of the sandbox, what part should eSports play in EVE  Online and what other formats could provide internet spaceship  entertainment for spectators and participants alike? ”

Admittedly, the title for this post has very little to do with the topic at hand. It was more for the sake of provocation, and to scratch a minor item off of my bucket list which was to do a post with a shamelessly pornographic title. Then again, maybe the idea of a contrived spectacle in which peens - 'e' or otherwise - are being shoved in someone's face isn't all that misleading after all. Either way, you're reading.

I watched with great pleasure the alliance tournament this year. It was the first time I had followed the event even casually. Watching different setups and tactics at work against each other was fascinating to me as a burgeoning FC and as a pilot ever more frequently exposed to group PvP. I have a few years in game now, but with my move into sovereign nullsec the ability to fight effectively against a variety of opponents using a revolving door of ships and pilots has become an exponentially more valuable commodity. The ability to direct my alliance mates in the heat of those moments even more so and so I sat glued to the screen, cursing the lag-tastic presentation and taking mental notes I was sure to forget a short time later.

This opportunity to watch and learn in real-time, however, was where my fascination with the tournament ended. The names on the jerseys weren't important to me. I didn't care if Pizza or RvB or PL or Rote Kappelle or anyone else won. If the event had been titled "PvP Showcase: Small Gangnam Style" or something equally goofy I would have been just as attracted to the broadcast. The fact is, EVE doesn't need to sponsor a competition to engage me. EVE IS competition. 23/7. Always on. Always live.

eSports have been around for a long, LONG time. They go as far back as the days of Pong and Donkey Kong being on tap at the local coin-op arcade. Only in the last 5 years or so have they accelerated their evolution toward professional events replete with corporate sponsors, significant prize pools and media coverage being noticed and more importantly being accepted by a mainstream audience. Such periods of expansion tend to reward earlier adopters more handsomely, as Blizzard has discovered with Starcraft in Korea and EA Sports is finding out with its Madden franchises in the US.

However even if the current expansion eventually reveals itself to be merely a bubble inflated by corporate hype machines, CCP could be forgiven for trying to participate and position itself as the proprietor of such bloodsport. Successful events like the Alliance Tournament create a healthy and lasting impression in the minds and imaginations of potential customers and as we have all observed at one point or another, EVE needs all the new blood it can get.

So if eSports have a place outside of EVE, how about inside? In a word: sure. I don't think it is unreasonable to suppose that the types of gamers drawn to compete in such events are found in greater proportion in EVE than they are in other games. What was that famous demographic that Mittens is so fond of mentioning? "Hyper-competitive, college-educated thirty somethings..." That one. I'd be lying if I said I didn't think that was a fairly accurate description of the majority of capsuleers. "We are EVE players..." we tell ourselves. We're snarling beasts in spaceships, just waiting to unleash hell on anything that gets in our way.

Competitive people will necessarily seek contest. The added allure of an indulged ego and the reward of some sweet hangar queens for a victory in a relatively high-profile competition is naturally going to find widespread support among us. Even among those of us who don't seek out such conflict, though maybe for different reasons.

So what other formats might also find an engaged audience and willing participants? I really couldn't tell you other than to say that if I can learn something from it, I'll probably watch it. After all, when it comes to spaceship porn, for me, EVE is kinda like Playboy. Mostly, I just read it for the articles. 

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Not So Fast

You really didn't think I was going to let October draw to a close without saying anything, did you? Shame on you...  :)

This entire month finds me in a place familiar to much of New Eden: a period of transition. How thoroughly apropos that it occurs coincident with the arrival of the American autumn.

Under ordinary circumstances this is my favorite time of year. The brilliant explosion of colors in the leaves, the brisk snap of chilled air at dawn and dusk. Heralds of the holiday season to come, a season spent in the warm company of family and lifelong friends.

This particular year, it marks a painful transition. One that has taken me out of the game for more time than I care to acknowledge.

Sparing you the gory details, suffice it to say that RL requires my attention. Which is absolutely devastating, because I've come to realize that my day-to-day interactions with my alliance-mates constitute a support network that is deeper and more complex that I had previously considered. These are my friends. My brothers (and sisters)-at-arms. My sounding board. My purpose and my satisfaction.

Yesterday, after not having logged in to comms for well over a fortnight, I signed in. I was greeted with the old familiar cheers, my mates celebrating my return with a healthy dose of ball-busting and good spirit. I could feel the rush in the back of my jaw, my pulse quickening, my eyes dilating. Like a heroin-addict deprived of his sticky brown sugar uncovering a long-forgotten score. I was home.

Logging into the game would have proved dangerous so I deferred, instead catching up with my friends and lobbing barbs as they were lobbed towards me. I never responded to BB39, asking us to define our home in New Eden because I never could answer that question to my own satisfaction. Consequently I never published an entry. Yesterday, I found out why. My relationships with these men and women may have begun with Eve, but they endure without her. Game or no game, it is within my friends that I make my home.

This isn't one of those grand, "I'm leaving the game. X up if you want my stuffs..." sign-offs. I will return to New Eden when my affairs on Earth are settled. The meta-game, and my participation in it, will go on. Eve...heh...she stays with you. And I miss her, after all. But if I'm really being honest, I miss my friends even more.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Terms and Limits

Well, here it be September and I hadn't said anything yet. Let's get to changin' that, shall we?

A thought occurred to me as I was preparing my post on the CSM minutes released several weeks ago. Ok, check that; a thought occurred to me while I was at work and thinking about what further editing I was going to do to my post on the minutes. I've actually had it written for a few weeks and have sort of let the whole thing simmer. Getting the BB37 Review and then my response to BB38 up in a timely fashion had something to do with that as well, but I digress...

No, I was considering the various viewpoints expressed by our delegates during the summit, and how each area of game-play had one or two corresponding representatives weighing in more often than others. The transcript format made this especially apparent as it highlighted which delegates became more vocal during sessions addressing specific aspects of game-play and which voices faded into the background. I found this extremely interesting and actually encouraging, as it demonstrated that certain entities representing certain power blocs weren't dominating the conversation as was previously feared. Well, ok, maybe a little, but not nearly as much as the doom-and-gloomers would have you believe.

As I was considering why this was so encouraging to me, I had to boil it down to the function each CSM was performing during the summit. In the end, these player-elected representatives are sent to Iceland and tasked with providing CCP the player perspective on all of the various elements of EVE. It was a task that most of the CSM performed admirably. In most cases, no one was "blatantly" pushing an agenda to the exclusion of other viewpoints, nor were they reluctant to raise an objection or voice an opinion when the situation called for it.

The thing that got me thinking was the experience driving each delegate's perspective. Well, that and the fact that somebody (not naming names) described 16-17 titans as "not that many." Despite the fact that the summit was largely agenda-less, that didn't prevent different delegates from honing in on some of their hot-button issues. And at times, these issues were beaten into the ground in discussions.

Again, in and of itself, that's not a big deal. It would be unreasonable to expect someone to accurately and fairly represent every single issue within the limited amount of time available during the summit sessions. There is a practicality issue there, to be sure. But two things worry me about the trajectory  these examples suggest the CSM to be following. The first is the idea that next year, the same people will be beating the same hot-button issues into the same ground. And that is something that nobody wants. Not me. Not CCP. Hopefully not you, either.

The second is the fact that while we have several different playstyles and arenas of expertise represented, there is one that is noticeably absent: the itinerant, inexperienced capsuleer.

I spent my first two years in EVE bouncing around from opportunity to opportunity. I was in a highsec newbie corp, then moved to a major nullsec alliance. After a brief break from the game, I returned to the sov nullsec arena before leaving for a solo journey. From this solo journey, I (re)joined forces with some of the friends I had made from my very first days in New Eden as a scattershot corp based in highsec but with excursions into lowsec and nullsec. That lasted until I discovered my current corporation and alliance, and returned to sovereign nullsec where I am still flying today.

I was a gypsy for a long time in EVE before I found my home. I suspect it is the case for a lot of players out there as well. The wanderlust life appeals to many of us, no doubt, but nowhere is that style of play represented on the CSM. Sure, there are several reasons for this that have nothing to do with the way the CSM is run, most notably the fact that players who operate in relative isolation have a hard time consolidating enough votes to make a serious run for the council. But not only are these players not represented, the people elected to represent the rest of us are drifting further and further away from the "new player experience." And I'm not talking about the introductory tutorials.

One might make the case that having someone like Kelduum Revan on the council, someone who interfaces and works with new players everyday, would go a fair measure towards easing this disconnect. But I don't believe that goes far enough. Because in the end, you'd still be talking about someone who is years down the road from anything resembling the type of player he was elected to represent.  

So, how do you prevent these scenarios from happening going forward? With regards to the first issue of a stagnant CSM, the obvious answer is term limits. And not just for players, but for the alliances they are a part of as well. It is the only way to ensure that the CSM does not become the personal sounding board for a particular player or alliance year after year after year. That's not to say players or alliances couldn't sit on the council for more than one term, but having that input and opportunity to interact with CCP for many years can only do more harm to the integrity of the CSM and EVE at large than good.

Now, there are two arguments against limiting CSM terms that you're likely to hear in any sort of debate on the matter. The first is that limiting terms prevents council members from accruing the experience necessary to have a meaningful impact on CCP during the delegation cycle. There are several reasons this is pure bullshit, but I'll only mention two here.

Firstly, there were a couple of stand-out delegates participating in this year's summit who had never been elected before, but who did an excellent job of giving feedback and input where necessary. Clearly experience was not necessary to deliver on what they were elected to do.

Secondly, one thing that jumped out at me from the first 30-ish pages of the minutes was that in several instances, some of the experienced CSM delegates were basically asking CCP to tell them what to do. In fact, there are a number of times when CCP Xhagen tells the delegates that what the CSM is asking CCP to decide for them is up to the CSM themselves! Experience, it would seem, is not a guarantor of wisdom.

The other argument that you're likely to hear regarding term limits is the idea that limiting terms somehow removes accountability from the delegates. And while logical on its face, this argument turns out to be yet another steamy mass of manure. Here's why:

First and foremost, CSM delegates do not act alone. They act in concert with one another to achieve aims and ends decided upon in advance of the summit. And they are accountable to one another. If a CSM acts in manner inconsistent with either the purpose of the Council or the code of conduct of a delegate, he can be removed by other Council members.

Additionally, even if a delegate went rogue and pursued a selfish agenda, 19 times out of 20 that selfish agenda is still going to benefit that delegate's constituents. And though it might not be the most productive way for a council member to proceed, it would still be performing the task the delegate was elected to accomplish. 

So now that the veterans are sorted, what about the newbies? How do we ensure they are fairly represented and their voices are heard? The answer, again, is a term limit. But a term limit of a different sort.

Determining what constitutes a 'newbie' in EVE is fairly subjective, but it would be fair to say that any player with under a year's worth of game time would qualify. And that one-year mark would be where I would draw the line for anyone intending to represent the "new" players of New Eden. Anything over that and your "new pod" veneer has already begun to wear too thin, your veteran stripes emerging to the fore.

I do believe that a 'day one' player would not make an effective Council member. The issue isn't that they're not well-versed enough in EVE's idiosyncrasies to weigh in constructively. It's that they're not versed at all. A player with less than three months in the game is simply not going to know enough about EVE to be able to contribute on a meaningful level. So you need a lower bound as well as an upper one. A player with no fewer than three months in game and no more than one year strikes the right balance between freshness and depth of perspective.

These are opinions, of course, and as such are open to debate. And I invite you to participate in that debate, both in the Comment section of this blog and in the broader community. Because as EVE matures and the CSM grows in responsibility and stature, these issues are going to become increasingly important. And that is why we as a community need to start having the debates of tomorrow today. Else, we risk a problem we'll be unable to solve on our own terms.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Minutes

INB4 blogosphere gets swallowed whole by Inferno 1.2 discussions...

Holy Mother of Mercy. The CSM and CCP have finally agreed upon and published the minutes from the CSM summit held months ago, and after a full read and some re-reads of specific sections, here are my thoughts.

  • We have finally returned to the state of things as they existed pre-Incarna. Players are more or less satisfied with changes coming down the pipe; no major new content this winter but a rework of some things players have been griping about for a long time. There is some grumbling; there's ALWAYS going to be grumbling. But at the very least there is no "OHGODOHGODWE'REALLGONNADIE!!!" making the rounds. None that is being taken seriously, anyways.
  • That said, the current development cycle as outlined by the devs is a bit troubling. Disclaimer: pure speculation to follow...As it stands, we're currently on a trajectory in which resources that were supposed to be dedicated to EVE may end up re-purposed towards DUST514 in order to help get it off the ground when it launches. If that happens and EVE gets the 'temporary' backseat treatment it will mean we'll have successfully gone 18 months with little to no new content. With the focus mentioned on the Incarna prototyping being done at the moment it could be a full TWO YEARS before anything resembling a "true" content expansion is released. How's THAT for soon(TM)?
  • It was mentioned at one point that there is no "Jesus Feature" planned for release until at least 2013. Ring mining at this point seems the most likely candidate. I don't necessarily have a problem with the one new content item being an industry one. If anything needs re-balancing, it's the allocation of New Eden's strategic resources. But being primarily a combat pilot. I want combat stuff. Admittedly, this is more me being petulant than anything else.
  • It seems that EVE has settled into an expansion pattern of content in the summer, iteration in the winter. This summer's expansion would actually be an exception to that rule, but generally it holds. It makes sense given that EVE sees its largest drop-off in activity during the summer, when students are home from uni and families go away on holidays. Conversely, EVE sees its biggest surge of activity following expansions. Why not do everything you can to prop up those summer numbers?
  • MASSIVE props to everyone who worked on preparing and editing the minutes. It was no doubt a tremendous undertaking. However the format of the minutes needs work. I truly DO appreciate the level of detail provided, as accountability is becoming an increasingly important issue with the CSM and will only become more important as time goes on. So the inclusion of a transcript will be a necessary evil, even if it does make the final document a bit unwieldy. However, a meaty outline at the head of each section would go a long way towards making the document more readable.
  • I find it disturbing that CCP is still iterating and developing with an eye on the NEX store and RMT possibilities. I really just want this to go away completely. I understand that's not my decision to make, but all the same. The whole thing hangs over EVE like an ugly black cloud that just won't quite move on to the next town.
  • There are some seriously pro-active members on the CSM, there are some grievously inactive members. I'm not here to name names or point fingers, but the document was extremely helpful in terms of figuring out who is who. 
  • Personal bias: there is a LOT more spitballing that takes place at these things than I previously realized. I think it's a great thing that people representing the players get to participate in this process, but it does highlight the importance of having a diverse delegation, as you need to be able to consider each individual area of the game from the proper perspective. I still hate reading the "Wouldn't it be awesome if..." stuff. I'd rather focus on what's in the game than what COULD be in the game.
  • CCP Unifex seems to have a firm handle on balancing the game of EVE versus the business of EVE, and how to make use of the tools the CSM provides him. The more I read about what he has to say, the more I appreciate his approach.
  • It was a little disturbing to see the CSM solicit CCP for guidance on how best to run the CSM. Not only do we now have delegates who have served multiple terms, but they are delegates serving on a PLAYER-RUN and PLAYER-APPOINTED council. I'd feel better if they were taking more initiative in setting up their own rules and regulations. I understand that CCP Xhagen has to approve everything, but this should be more of a rubber-stamp process than asking him to puppy-dog them through the process. You open the council up to SERIOUS abuse by CCP otherwise.
As I said, just some loose thoughts based on my interpretations. If I've grossly miscalculated or misunderstood something, I'm not terribly worried. I'm sure you'll let me know. You're EVE players, after all. ;)

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Blog Banter 37: The Review

With Blog Banter 38 now up and running, it is time to call to close Blog Banter 37. After seeing A Scientist's Life in EVE do such a great wrap up of BB36, and in a bid to protect Seismic Stan's sanity for at least one more month, I thought I would heed the to call to review the 31(!) responses to this month's burning question!

Inspired by a series of events transpiring outside of the game, Stan posed the following question:

"EVE Online sits on the frontier of social gaming, providing an entertainment environment like no other. The vibrant society of interacting and conflicting communities, both within the EVE client and without, is the driving force behind EVE's success. However, the anonymity of internet culture combined with a competitive gaming environment encourages in-game behaviour to spread beyond the confines of the sandbox. Where is the line?"

Here's what New Eden had to say:

BB37: Do Unto Others!
Rixx Javix, proprietor of EVEOGANDA and leader of the Thukk You, Frill Me movement is first in line and opens his response with a bang. Invoking the Golden Rule and clarifying CCP's role in interpreting the application of that rule, Rixx's response is a brusque reminder that society, virtual or otherwise will tolerate only so much before turning you over to people who will make violating the EULA the least of your problems. 

This Far, No Further...
Eve is Real. And in this reality, Confessions of a Closet Carebear paints a picture of a world that has both a light, positive side and a dark, negative one. He then applies the two to a concept termed the 'Eve Bubble' to create a loose framework for determining how far is too far, and for determining whether Eve is Real or Eve is Too Real.

Faking It
Nikolaj Vincent at Eve Stratics begins his entry with a consideration on the utility of EVE by discussing both the outlet for unhealthy behavior it provides and the social training ground it can be. By examining the juxtaposition of EVE against the backdrop of real life he creates a playfully interesting argument for why breaching the sandbox might not be such a terrible idea after all. 

Grit in Your Guts
That faithful Kiwi at Aggressive Logistics raises the possibility that the line in question is in fact a moral one; a question of someone's character and belief system in equal measure. The futility of using this as a barometer for determining how much of what we do in-game is acceptable is discussed, before drawing a line of his own. Only this line isn't drawn in sand, but in flesh and blood.

The Line in the Sand
Kuan Yida at Random Posts from Auga also suggests that the line in question is moral in nature. He briefly describes his own personal code of ethics in our "troll's paradise" before outlining some specific examples of acceptable and unacceptable behavior. Again we see the "in-game good, out of game" bad framework discussed in some detail.

Eve Is Full of Idiots
In what might be my favorite post title, Notes from New Eden sums up their sentiment perfectly while leaving the door open for exploration. They discuss how we're all idiots in EVE and how we're all equally wrong in some way or another. NNE also notes the uniqueness of Eve's tendency to blur the edges between it and real life and concludes that ultimately it is up to the the law of whatever land you live in to help you mitigate any threats the idiots may wish to inflict.

Drifting out of Touch
Aurelie at Emergent Patroller uses a deeply personal experience to teach us that meta-gaming and line crossing are nothing new in the world of Eve Online. She talks about her emotional reactions to those events to explore how irrational people justify irrational actions, as well as the precautions one can take to avoid becoming a victim. I'm trying hard to remain impartial here, but this has to rank among the most powerful responses to this crucial question.   

It's All About Consequences
From Orakkus at 2nd Anomaly from the Left comes a thought-provoking piece on the "fictional" distinction between our in-game and out-of-game selves. He approaches the question from the angle of consequences, and how it is these consequences rather than the actions preceding them that define the line, as well as whether or not we've crossed it.

Lines in the Sand
Mara Rinn of Rinn's Rants begins her response by categorizing the pilots of New Eden as either "polite gamers" or "boundary-pushers", and uses this distinction to illustrate who really decides where the line is. She also considers CCP's perspective on the matter and imagines their response would be truly polarizing.

When Did it Get So Fuzzy in Here?
In his debut post, Morg Braktar discusses the moving target that is the "line" on his blog Quiet as a Morg. Morg reduces the line to its most basic existence inside each one of us before expanding his view outward towards the EVE community at large. Ultimately, he concludes the line exists only where we as a community commit to upholding it. E Pluribus, Unum, friends.

Where's the Line?
Anshu Zephyran of Structure Damage offers a concise yet insightful post regarding the definition of the line and the difference between in-game violence and out of game violence. For Anshu, it just so happens this magical persistence we adore in game is the very element that defines how far is too far.

The Line in the Mind
TurAmarth ElRandir of A CARBON Based Life takes a step back from the game and uses an instructive example from an overwhelmingly popular US television show to teach us that even though the line is vague and can be morally subjective, it is as internalized in us as our own conscience, and that Jiminy Cricket might have been on to something.

Don't Cross the Line
"Eve is real, they say. But how real can we allow it to be?" Virto Nex of Cannon Fodder begins. Virto narrows his gaze on the reality of EVE, in that it is merely an escape from the persistent reality we live and breathe every day. In pondering the interaction of the outlet EVE provides and the players that plug in,  he considers the relationship between a player's actions and the consequences of those actions as well. Play nice, kids. We're all here for the same toys.

What Happens in New Eden Stays in New Eden
Lukas Rox of Torchwood Archives opens his response up with a brief thought on internet anonymity and how that skews behavior in the absence of perceived social consequences. As have other entries in this banter, Lukas acknowledges that CCP has their strict definition of where the line is, and uses a personal example to illustrate the fact that the players and CCP differ in their willingness to accept anomalous social behavior so long as the consequences for doing so aren't severe.

The Line in the Sand
When he tells you that the "line" as we've discussed it doesn't exist, you'd be forgiven for thinking that Splatus of A Journey Through the Mind was about to fall in line with many of the other banterers and tell you that the line was subjective. The trick up his sleeve is obvious when he explains why the line doesn't exist: we don't exist either. The rest is best explained by Splatus in this engaging and provocative response.

Cracked Rear View
Breaking with tradition, Ripard Teg of Jester's Trek weighs in on this particular blog banter with a glimpse into the DNA of EVE Online and MMOs at large. And just like any 'gudfite' in EVE Online, he's brought friends, most notably Aristotle. I'm assuming we're going to forgive him for naming his piece after a 'Hootie and the Blowfish' album, since he's Jester and he gets away with these sorts of things. ;-)

The Line
Kirith Kodachi of Inner Sanctum of the Ninveah briefly weighs in by eschewing the Golden Rule. Thinking he's drawn his line in the sand, he's shocked to discover it to be quicksand, and that he has himself fallen in...

A Line Removed
In this piece by Winterblink of Warp Drive Active we discover that the line has actually been stolen. A little bit of creative sleuthing reveals the true culprits, and why this game that is such a clever mix of "holyshits and whatthefucks" has driven us all to become such bloodthirsty bastards.

Shredding the Fabric
Corelin from Mad Haberdashers drops by to put in his two cents, citing the "John Gabriel Internet Dickwad theory" before pointing out that the line isn't as nebulous as people make it out to be. Good news, asshats; you're still in. 

What Happens in New Eden Stays in New Eden
Morphisat, author of the aptly named Morphisat's Blog steps in and offers a brief summary of BB37 to that point. Suggesting a hard line, with a soft, chewy "spy" center, he summons the ghosts of Machiavelli before taking his leave. 

A play in three acts, by Blastradius1 of Blastrad Tales. Act One: A sandbox, two players, and a disagreement. Act Two: John Q. Law, shades of white and black writ gray. Act Three: A penny turned, it's second side considered. The whole of EVE in perspective, windowlickers be damned. 

A Wretched Hive of Scum and Villainy
Drackarn of Sand, Cider, and Spaceships starts his way in Jita and winds his way throughout the rest of New Eden to show us that this game truly celebrates line-crossing in any number of forms we might personally find distasteful but that are accepted in aggregate. He also considers the notion that any line we had has been trampled to death by those fighting to get across it first. 

The Matrix Has You
Eve is real. A Scientist's Life in Eve was there. In game and out, Eve is real. He considers the ramifications of that and defines where his own line stands in the process. And while you may run afoul of him in-game (I wouldn't, he'll blow you up), running afoul of the law is another matter entirely, in-game or out. 

The Double-Edged Sword
Tommy Rollins of Rollin's Ride in Eve invites us to consider the duplicitous nature of Eve players as well as the line itself. Citing both soft and hard examples of that line, what truly fascinates Tommy is to what degree we players appreciate having two sides to choose from.

Human After All
Hans Jagerblitzen, current CSM delegate and author of Hans Shot First, calls into focus the grand social and psychological experiment that is EVE Online. In doing so he reminds us gently at first, then more directly that despite the environment that the game has created, it will never absolve the players who participate of accountability for their actions or the responsibility that comes with the very human ability to choose.

I, Firstly, writing at Flying Silent, am the man behind this particular entry. In it, I attempt to devise a philosophical framework for defining the line, what falls within the boundaries of it, and what lay beyond. By examining what constitutes the game, the meta-game and the exo-game, Marvel as I confound and confuse before ultimately clarifying my position.

Morality Is a Social Contract
Adhar Khorin of Margin Call examines the line in the context of social contracts that exist both in-game and outside of it. They are indeed two separate contracts, with key differences between them that help us determine "good" from "bad."

Pandora's Sandbox
Host of the Blog Banter and author of Freebooted and Tech4News, Seismic Stan weighs in with his thoughts on the topic he originally proposed. Comparing the rabid fan-bases of both European football clubs and EVE Online, he demonstrates how passion and enthusiasm can turn ugly, regardless of the arena. He also considers the responses of those who have posted before him, seeing a reason to hope the EVE community might be able to transcend EVE's brutish reality. 

Lines Don't Look That Great When Drawn in Sand
Evehermit, sole proprietor of Evehermit's Blog posits the existence of not just one line, but hundreds all equally valid. Taken together, they require a "flexible moral compass" on the part of the intrepid navigator. Failing that, he invokes the "Golden Rule" to help navigate the murky, sandy waters.

Bullying the Sandbox
In a living example of the very issue we set out to discuss, Sindel Pellion of Sindel's Universe posted a foul-mouthed, insightful essay on the topic, received some harsh feedback for her point of view, and took down her post within the span of about 24 hours. Whether this was a legitimate withdrawal, or an attempt to prove the point is open for debate. But if it was intended as an example; well done, Sin.

A long answer and a short one
Bringing Blog Banter 37 to a close is Jace Errata/Cobalt Snake of Year of the Snake. After spelling out the location of the line in terms of real-world consequences and declaring his position, he describes the EVE Universe as being populated by (to paraphrase) "raging douchebags inflicting raging douchebaggery on non-douchebags and douchebags alike." And with one final comment on the sandbox metaphor, he is off.  And with that, so am I.

My many thanks to all of the participants of Blog Banter 37 and to Seismic Stan for giving me the opportunity to write and host its review. It is a large undertaking, but a truly rewarding one as I get to know each blogger and their point of view more intimately and reflect on their influence on my own.  See you in BB38!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Back to Basics

Logging on last night found me completing a host of administrative duties for our new alliance, followed by some indulgent scanning for something to do/shoot and later a strat op on behalf of the coalition. During the form-up for the fleet, an alliance mate convo'd me and asked if I'd keep an eye on him during the op as he was new and didn't have a firm handle on everything we'd be doing.  I cheerfully agreed, and kept a vigilant eye on our chat window in case he had any questions.

Ultimately, he arrived a little late for the party, with the fleet standing down right as he got into position. I wasn't about to chastise him as he's a newer player and just now getting situated in our new area of operations. I was thrilled he took the time to make sure he got a ship set up that would be consistent with our objectives and that he was enthusiastic about supporting the alliance and coalition at large.

He was a little disheartened about not having the chance to do so, however, and asked instead if anyone wanted to 1v1 for fun-sies. I asked what kind of ships he had available and after figuring out what I had that would be a relatively even match, undocked and warped to a safe. After teaching him how to add fleet members to the watch list, he warped to me as did one other corp-mate interested in a bit of sparring and stress-testing.

As he was in warp, our budding young combat pilot asked me if I wouldn't mind sharing some of my PvP knowledge with him, as this is the area of the game he is most interested in. I was happy to oblige and we began the discussion by talking about the importance of dictating ranges, tackling, and speed. My corp-mate continued the discussion by discussing some common tactics to be used around gates and the like. Having gone well past my bedtime I logged off for the evening, feeling a little dissatisfied with my advice.

It wasn't that I felt the topics covered weren't important or that the advice given wasn't useful, but I felt fairly sure that I could have done a much better job with the time we had. I've just never been in the instructional role beyond answering one-off questions in corp or fleet chat.

Experience is the single biggest factor in a PvP pilot's skill progression, and I made sure to emphasize that. But in those rare moments of down time, I'd like to be able to offer more effective assistance to those taking the initiative to learn. So I'm asking all of you for help.

If you have any advice to offer in terms of effective "learning plans," I would truly appreciate your assistance. I've never been a member of Eve University or Agony Unleashed, so I don't have any experiences to draw on in that regard. Anyone who does, by all means, is welcome to share any teaching insights they may have gained.

I will thank you in advance for your time and advice. As will all of the new pilots I have the great fortune to work with going forward.

Thanks again, New Eden.


Sunday, July 29, 2012

Sandbox Jenga: BB38

"In his recent "That's just the way it is" post on Jester's Trek, blogger Ripard Teg posits that the established EVE player-base has come to accept many of EVE's design idiosyncrasies, rarely questioning their purpose or benefit. Conversely, he also suggests that new players might not be so forgiving of these "quirks". In an interview with Gamasutra, Senior Producer CCP Unifex describes EVE Online's developers as "relatively hands-off janitors of the virtual world", underlining that he has only four content developers but "a lot" of programmers and engineers.

Has a culture developed where CCP has started to take player effort for granted - expecting the "social engine" to fulfil tasks that might otherwise be CCP's responsibility? Or should this culture be embraced as part of "emergent gameplay" with these quirks accepted as the catalyst for interaction?"

I was a little perplexed by this month's blog banter. I sat staring at the question, reading and re-reading trying to make sense of how the individual pieces fit together. Ultimately they don't. It's really just a pile of pieces that sorta go together and sorta don't. A big, disjointed mess, like a fallen Jenga tower or David Hasselhoff's career.

See, this issue with this month's topic is that it is actually comprised of several smaller issues whose roots and stems aren't co-terminant but aren't mutually exclusive either. The engine propelling the game forward is comprised of many different pieces. Pieces which go together to form sub-systems. Subsystems that work together to create energy and then harness it to create motion and ultimately forward progress. Maybe that's why the banter at hand seems so opaquely mysterious; I'm not much of a car guy.

That said, you don't need to be a mechanic to know that in such a complex apparatus as a motor vehicle, each subsystem depends on various other subsystems performing their tasks in order to accomplish their own. The complex player-developer relationship and all of the various Hasselhoff-shaped Jenga pieces included in that relationship are no different as players and developers rely on each other in order to accomplish their goals.

Even in a sandbox, perhaps especially in a sandbox, players need developers to maintain and iterate on the virtual world they occupy. Every day we capsuleers rely on these hard-working men, women and possibly farm animals (don't know, never been to Iceland) to clean the sandbox, make sure all the toys are in it, and make sure there's enough sand to play with. When the customary games the players devise for themselves become stale, we rely on the developers to give us new toys to play with or to change the way the old toys work. This in turn allows us the ability to create new games for ourselves or to make the games we've already created more fun.

In the Gamasutra article quoted in the blog banter question, Jon "CCP Unifex" Lander referred to CCP as the "janitors" of EVE. I would have used the word "custodian," because I imagine it's exactly what Lander meant. The distinction is subtle, but important. Whereas janitors merely clean and maintain the property of others, custodians are also entrusted with the protection of that property. As players, we entrust CCP with our game. Among a vast number of other duties not listed here we trust CCP to maintain EVE and to protect her against threats of imbalance and of stagnation. We entrust them to protect our markets and opportunity to earn profit by aggressively ferreting out RMT'ers and botters. As players we are capable of assisting in these tasks but ultimately they are the charges of our digital custodians.

However, a custodian's role goes only so far. As the custodian does not own the property he or she has been tasked with cultivating, the ultimate decisions regarding the present and future state of the property rests with the owners. I've said this before, but it bears repeating here. EVE Online might belong to CCP, but this game belongs to us. For those unfamiliar with my thoughts on this, I'll clarify.

EVE Online is very much the sole and exclusive property of CCP Games. It is intellectual property CCP has spent over a decade developing and at this point millions of dollars investing in. The infrastructure is theirs, the tools they have created within their digital realm are theirs. But the content, the "game" of EVE Online belongs to the players. It is content the players have spent nearly a decade developing and iterating on and have invested millions of dollars in. It is my contention that in describing CCP as the "janitors" of EVE, this is exactly the relationship Lander was attempting to portray.

Bearing that in mind, it becomes trivial to respond to the second part of this month's blog banter. Of course CCP relies on us to mitigate, adapt to, and bitch about the quirks. Not only are they the catalysts for interaction, they are the catalysts for change as well. After all, this is our world. CCP's just designing it. But what about that pesky first question? Are the true "content" providers being taken for granted? Or worse, taken advantage of? 

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the player-developer relationship is the tension that arises between the two and the root causes of that tension. The tension that exists between EVE's custodians and its architects arises from a lack of understanding of roles and responsibilities in a shared universe. Based on Lander's comments in the interview, it seems that CCP understands it's place in the EVE universe very well. I find it absolutely fascinating that the players are the ones who seem to be struggling to comprehend theirs.

The friction that arises as a result of that struggle has brought into sharp focus the relationship players and developers enjoy with one another. Are they taking us for granted? Are we doing the same to them? To a degree it conjures the ghosts of BB37 but with the question rephrased, "Where does the sandbox end and the game begin?" The responses to that question will vary as widely as the people who answer it but one thing remains constant. Despite the friction, one couldn't exist without the other. And together, we've built an truly incredible and immersive experience.
It's ironic that maybe the most critical aspect of this interplay would be the easiest to gloss over, but it must not be overlooked or forgotten. It is the vital element that sets EVE apart from every other MMO out there. And it is this: the relationship between player and developer is not unilateral.

As capsuleers we have an unprecedented level of access to and influence on the people who maintain and iterate on our sandbox. I'm fairly certain there isn't another company in the world that flies a team of player representatives to their international headquarters every year. CCP developers engage us on the forums and on Twitter. They read our blogs and listen to our podcasts. They actively solicit our feedback and use it to become better custodians of the game and content we've created. And even though it might take some convincing, if we call CCP out for taking a mis-step they're willing to change course in service of a vision other than their own.

Try finding THAT level of interaction in a theme park MMO. I'd pull a Jester and say, "go ahead, I'll wait." But I hate waiting, and in this case I'd be waiting for a VERY long time. Put another way, if that's what you call being taken for granted, I'd be damn curious to see what being appreciated looks like. 


Friday, July 27, 2012

Ascending the Learning Curve

By now we've all been a part of and been made painfully aware of EVE's steep learning curve. Hundreds of posts have been written about it. Devs are furiously iterating and re-iterating upon the NPE. Newbies fall victim to it every day. Some of these intrepid souls drag themselves up out of the clone vat and into another ship to have another go. Some just go.

The how and the why of EVE's learning curve have been discussed nearly to death, and I see no need to heave another rag into the laundry basket. But I took part in a particularly enjoyable evening the other day that got me pondering the when of that curve. As in, at what point do you know you're closer to the top than the bottom? For some I'm sure this is a gradual realization. For me it was an epiphany, occurring on the night in question.

Our alliance has been on the move, having recently departed SpaceMonkey's Alliance and the CFC in a bid to become full-fledged members of the Honey Badger Coalition. Part of this process involved a logistical move out of Branch and into a staging system to facilitate the transfer of our alliance assets to the exact opposite end of the galaxy. The initial staging system was in lowsec, where, by the way, you're still allowed to shoot people in the face. After chasing off a gate camp to secure our pilots' ingress, I whipped out the ol' scanboat and got to work on nailing down some extra-curricular activities for the boys in system.

By that point, most of the mates had logged for the evening and those that remained were committed to station-bound activities or making supply runs. So the alliance XO, myself and one other took to some PVE boats to take advantage of our opportunities for making some last-minute iskies before the final push into our new home.

The first plex was accomplished in short order, with a decent score of faction mods and a Gila blueprint for the effort. Our third companion docked up for the evening but the XO and I labored on. As we were half-way through the second plex, however, a new contact entered local and a Drake popped up on d-scan.

"Drake," I reported.

"Keep an eye on local, he may not be alone..." was the reply.

We kept at it for a few more minutes until another contact, and then another entered system.

"We're in PVE boats. Better safe up for the moment." the XO suggested. So we docked up and I switched up for something a little more appropriate for the occasion. And as my Ares burned clear of the undock, the two new contacts either logged or left system leaving only the original drake.

"Drake's still here, mate..." I relayed, the excitement and anticipation of what might be a satisfying kill slowly building in my voice. "Let me see if I can get a bead on him."

"Roger that. Getting into the Tengu now. Call point if you get it."

I've been putting some work into my d-scan skills as of late so I had the location of the Drake narrowed down pretty quickly, though my heart sank as I resolved it to be at one of the two towers surrounding the third planet in the system.

"Balls! He's in a tower." I defeatedly called out as I began warping to the towers to get visual confirmation of the Drake's position. Which, for some reason I couldn't quite comprehend, I was failing to do.

I double-, then triple-checked my d-scan settings trying to figure out why the Drake was still in view of my instruments but not my eyeballs. Frustrated with my obviously fail d-scan fu, I aligned for the station when some other possibility finally occurred to me.

"No way..." I thought to myself. "There's no *&^%-ing way he's at the planet. That'd be impossible."

Sure enough.

"POINT!!!" I hollered into comms as I frantically began coordinating the cavalry's arrival. The Drake offered only slightly more resistance to being destroyed than did the pod, eating only 2/3 of the way through my shields while the XO did the heavy lifting.

"YARRRRRRRRRRRRRR!!!!" My first lowsec kill. Now a T1 exploration-fit Drake isn't exactly the shiniest trophy to hang on the wall but it's a trophy nonetheless. It's my trophy. Riding high on the achievement and the later destruction of an afk cyno-pilot (and pod!), I logged off for the evening proud of my minor accomplishments. I had successfully d-scanned, tackled, and destroyed a neutral in lowsec. And taken my sterling 5.0 security status all the way down to -0.2 in the process. Lowsec is dumb like that.

It was while replaying the events of the prior evening in my head the following morning that I achieved my epiphany. "I've done it! I've graduated from TOTAL noob-dom and gained admission to LESSER noob-dom." I've climbed a great many rungs on the famous curve, with many more to come.  But the Drake kill drove the whole point home for me; my EVE-prowess is growing.

As wonderful a feeling it was to finally realize I was no longer the worst player in the game, one question nagged me persistently. What the *&^% was the Drake doing on that planet?! He HAD to know better. And if he didn't know better, why not? I already knew the Drake was exploration-fit based on the killmail, so I knew WHY he was in system, but it wasn't until I checked the pilot's employment history that the rest of picture filled itself in.

The pilot was in fact a newbie, 6 months old. Ever so gently, remorse began to set in.

Please don't misunderstand me; I'm not the least bit remorseful for the space violence. Although I didn't start out this way, I've come to like exploding other people's spaceships. It's a challenge and a rush unlike any other. But as I was contemplating the explosion of this particular spaceship, I recalled the day of my first loss in lowsec and my introduction to the harsher side of EVE. I had just learned to fly a Catalyst and was proudly burning around highsec belts in my shiny new destroyer when I thought I'd poke into the island lowsec system next door. I warped to the top belt looking for rats. I didn't find any, but I did notice a ship land 30km off me and start locking me. Ignorant of what my attacker was trying to achieve, I warped to a different belt in search of rats, and again was soon joined by the aspiring pirate. Only this time he landed on top of me. There would be no escape this time, and while I was sat in my pod confused by what had just happened to my shiny new ship the pirate offered a bit of advice in local.

"If someone tries to tackle you when you're not ready to fight and you get away, don't give him a second chance."

A sage, if obvious, piece of advice that wasn't so obvious to my tiny, greenhorn Eve-brain. But it's advice I've heeded ever since. And it's why I felt remorseful for violencing the obviously green Drake pilot back to his med clone station.

Whether or not he would have listened, it was incumbent on me to pay forward the favor paid me all those years ago.

We're all steadily climbing up the EVE food chain. Step-by-painstaking-step we're all STILL ascending the learning curve. And whether you like it or not, you are part of someone's learning curve just as someone else will be a part of yours.

You may shrug that off. But it's our duty and responsibility as capsuleers on our eternal trek to the "top" to help others along the way. This doesn't mean we all have to hold hands and sing "Kumbaya." But it does mean that when you're in a position to help someone learn something about this game, it's your obligation to make that moment as instructive as possible. We don't just owe it to the newbies, we owe it to New Eden. And if we truly want EVE to continue to grow and to flourish, we owe it to ourselves as well.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Retreat to Move Forward

Heads up: This post is going to seem a little out of context unless you read this post by Emergent Patroller. Even then, this response is pretty squarely directed at her but posted here as it was going to be an overly large comment.


I find it sadly ironic that I only learned you were to be a member of our proposed alliance by reading your post today. I have a tremendous respect for your writing and always look forward to seeing a new post of yours pop up on my radar. Had things gone as planned and our two entities merged, I might never have uncovered that you were flying amongst us. Now I know you're not, and that makes me sad.

From the tone of your post it seems you have a decent read on the situation, though with a few discrepancies. I'd rather not publicly air the laundry, but I can comment on a few things and would like to do so here.

First and foremost, there is a great deal of sadness on the part of the null-sec wing having to part ways with the worm-holers. I certainly can't speak for everyone, but personally I bought into the vision of "unifying" different aspects of New Eden under one roof. It is a beautiful dream and one I have no doubt we will continue laboring to achieve, albeit through different avenues than originally intended.  It is with a heavy heart that those of us pursuing our goals in 0.0 move forward alone, but based on the events preceding the schism and the response to those events on BOTH sides of the alliance, moving forward alone has become our only viable option. I can also assure you that NO-ONE is taking this loss harder than the man who worked so hard and gave so much of himself in service of the alliance he created.

I have never lived in wormholes, but I do love vacationing there. The rich content and group-centric game-play wormholes demand appeal to both my love for EVE and my love of the people who play it. And I would absolutely have loved to have spent time with all of you, either in space or on comms or both. I was looking forward to excursions into the deep as well as hosting those of you who would liked to have gotten a taste of sov 0.0.

While I agree that wormholes and nullsec cater to different styles of play, the demands placed upon individual pilots and the organization as a whole don't diverge by as large a degree as you might think. Our challenges are different (I certainly don't envy you your POS management headaches), but the means we rely on to meet these challenges are the same. Both wormholes and 0.0 require a dedicated group of individuals working together to advance the corporate agenda. Both arenas require its devotees to be willing to fight to the end for what they believe to be "their" space. And they are both extremely lucrative and extremely dangerous. And because of these similarities, I still believe the original vision of "two arms, one body" can and will be achieved.

Also, ironically, all of things you are relieved not to have to take part in, sov. politics, CTAs, blobs etc. are aspects of the game the wormholers would not have been expected to take part in. The wormhole branch and the null-sec branch were intended to remain firmly entrenched in their respective corners, the twain never intended to meet. Unless, of course, they chose to.

The emotional response will vary from pilot to pilot. Some of us began our careers with the alliance in wormholes. Others have been recruited with a focus strictly on the nullsec side of things, myself included. Having never met any of you, you'll forgive me if the "break-up" metaphor is a little lost on me. But I know that is not the case for all of us in 0.0. I don't have any firm evidence, but I do believe there are a few pilots from the nullsec branch that will be remaining with the wormholers and vice versa. We've even seen a few members depart from the alliance to remain with our former alliance-mates in Branch.

These comings and goings can and will happen in such a vast universe. From the perspective of this nullsec pilot, while we mourn the loss of company our focus does not waver. Our goals do not change. We are here to achieve sovereignty. And we are doing exactly that.

I can't speak for the alliance, but personally I bear no grudges nor do I wish you ill-fortune on your path forward. To the contrary, I hope you and your mates experience unqualified success now and in the future. To me, all this really means is that if I find you in our space or in yours, my guns will be hot. And regardless of the outcome of that encounter, you'll have a 'gf' in local from me, and an oh-seven as I speed your clone on its way home or the other way around.

Therein lies the beauty of EVE. In any aspect of the game, either in service of our allegiances or in spite of them we're going to play and have fun together. And THAT is really what the vision was all about.

o7, Mate.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Full Market Alchemist

So, this morning CCP Fozzie made his devblog debut with some announcements regarding changes to the production of technites. Remember that technites are produced by reacting technetium and are the principle material involved in T2 production. Technetium, of course, is that super-rare moon-goo that exists only in the North and is currently the focus of a price-fixing cartel known as OTEC. OTEC at present is comprised by the ClusterFuck Coalition, NCDOT, Pandemic Legion, Test, and probably someone else I'm leaving out. But those are the big ones. For the rest of this post, you probably only need to remember that the CFC includes Goonswarm, since that's all most people tend to focus on.

The reactions to Fozzie's post have fallen into three relatively predictable categories: A) Yay! Prices are coming down! B) This is market manipulation and potentially game breaking. C) Fuck Goons.

Let's address these quickly. I'll have more to say about it a bit later, but in the interest of getting a "inb4 Jester hogs all the angles" post up, I'm opting for brevity.

    "Yay! Prices are coming down"

Probably. The changes announced are intended to be a pressure-release valve for the currently sky-high tech market. The only issue with this is the looming possibility of similar lockdowns in the markets across the other materials in the alchemical matrix. Already, Jita has been completely cleared out of Cobalt, one of the most efficient alchemical reagents currently being proposed. Whether or not this will prove to be a lasting shift in the demand-supply curve or a temporary market shock driven by speculation will remain to be seen. My money is on a relatively swift market correction once these changes go live.

    "This is market manipulation and potentially game breaking."

Actually, these changes should prove to be neither. Fozzie makes a good point in his post that currently the EVE market doesn't mirror real markets in that opportunities for innovation in response to market factors doesn't currently exist as a mechanic available to players. Instead, the devs have to step in once in a while and provide it for us. The reason such a deus ex machina-type action isn't game breaking is that given the tools to do so, players would already have done exactly the same thing. Only they would have done it two years ago. In other words, we're being given the tools to decide what the market for tech should be, based on supply and demand factors that already exist in the EVE market. Again, more on this later.

    "Fuck Goons."

There's always a healthy dose of this kind of sentiment in basically every thread on the forums, so seeing it here as well isn't all that surprising. The interesting thing about this, though, is that a lot of players who think this spells the end of the CFC don't realize that The Mittani has actually been advocating for these changes for a long time. He realized how imbalanced the the technetium situation would be at its introduction and knew it would inevitably be changed, either through liberal use of the nerf-bat or through the introduction of new game mechanics. So why not take advantage of it while the opportunity existed? If there's one thing EVE players are good at, it is finding and exploiting opportunities. Mittens is no different.

The second part of the "Fuck Goons" sentiment that is being overlooked on the forums right now is that despite the proposed changes in technite production, harvesting moon goo is still going to be VERY profitable. Just less so.

So, as I said before, I have other thoughts on this, but in the interest of expediency, I'm going live with this post now.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Questions of Character

I tripped over a curious line of thinking while I was constructing my response to BB37.

You see, I was pondering how the game, the meta-game and the exo-game go together. The game and the exo-game are the easiest to define. The muddy, murky meta-game much more difficult to do so. But why? Venn diagrams are simple enough to understand, right? You've got your one circle, you've got your second circle, and they overlap each other in places. And for most uses of such a diagram, that's all you really need to see. You don't really need to see why they overlap, you just need to understand that they do.

For this particular exercise, though, I had to really drill down to understand the lines that define those boundaries. And even though it didn't make it into the piece, I spent a lot of time considering the concept of role-play and how it fits in to the game at large. More precisely, I had to deconstruct the mechanics of role-playing to determine exactly how and where real life and character life part ways.

What hit me funny was that despite all of the smack most players talk about role-players and how strange and ridiculous they are, I think it's the rp'ers who are actually the most effective at drawing the line between their exo-game identities and their in-game ones. Going back to the Venn diagram, if you were to create two separate diagrams, one for role-players and one for non- role-players, you would see that the area of intersection between the game and the exo-game is much smaller for role-players than it is for everyone else. It's completely counter-intuitive to think in these terms, but amazingly, it is the role-players who are most effective at drawing the line between the game and real life.

The reason for this is the way the role-player plays the game. When he or she enters the game-space, the rp'er has to consciously separate themselves from their exo-game identity to inhabit and portray their in-game one. They may share a lot of qualities and idiosyncrasies as their character, but they are always firmly aware that they are "in character" and that everything that happens in the game is happening with regards to that character and not the person behind it. And when the time comes to log off and return to the exo-game, it's a conscious return to their human identity.

Now don't get me wrong, I'm not suggesting by any stretch that there isn't some ego-confusion involved and I have to imagine that in a lot of cases it is a difficult thing to remind oneself of. Hell, role-players sperg in local, too. It's just that when they do it, they sperg in character. For the most part though, I'd be willing to wager a lot of ISK that no matter what happens in the game-space, when they log off for the day or for a few hours, the rp'ers have mentally 'logged off' more completely than most.

Others, myself included, have a much fuzzier line. Those of us who are heavily immersed in the meta-game of EVE, the bloggers, the pod-casters, the streamers, the propagandists, the third-party devs, etc. tend to blend EVE and real-life to a greater degree. To use myself as an example of a non- role-player, I don't create or exhibit qualities that don't exist in my exo-game persona in Firstly. If you were to have a conversation with Firstly on comms or with Rick at the bar, the conversation would very likely be the same. That said, I take a lot of the game with me when I log off for the night. I spend a lot of time considering things using Firstly's frame of reference, whether that is time spent reading blogs, writing my own, studying ships and doctrines to improve my piloting skills, having conversations with other players on Twitter, whatever. The point is that more often that not even if I'm physically logged off, mentally I'm still very much engaged in the game. And all evidence suggests I'm not alone in that regard.

It's an intricate and nuanced concept, to be sure. And when you consider whether or not Firstly is actually meta-living while Rick is busy meta-gaming, it gets downright scary. But you can leave that alone for now. While you're at it, leave the role-players alone, too. They're more like you than you might think.     

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Trichotomous: BB37

"EVE Online sits on the frontier of social gaming, providing an entertainment environment like no other. The vibrant society of interacting and conflicting communities, both within the EVE client and without, is the driving force behind EVE's success. However, the anonymity of internet culture combined with a competitive gaming environment encourages in-game behaviour to spread beyond the confines of the sandbox. Where is the line?"

When I first read this month's Blog Banter I thought it would  be a fairly straightforward question to answer. "Bah, I'll whip up a response when I get home from work tonight," I naively thought to myself. But when I sat down and really began to consider this question I was amazed at the vast complexity that unfolded before me. The more that I thought about it, the more complex the issue became. Down the rabbit hole I tumbled furiously grasping after a solution that seemed ever further out of reach until finally, I had it. Now I'd like to share it with you, because this is truly an issue that affects all of us.

You'd be forgiven for thinking this can't be that important. After all, EVE is only a game, right? 

It's true; EVE is only a game. But if you feel this way, please do me a favor. Please take a moment and go read the White Rose Conventicle blog. 

Yeah. You can't. 

The events leading up to and including the demise of WRC are really what this question is all about. Where does the game end and real life begin? When do we stop being capsuleers and start being humans? 

EVE is one of the few games, and may in fact be the only game (I really don't know) in which the trichotomy of game, meta-game and exo-game interact quite so frequently and so directly with one another. Thousands of pilots are locking horns in systems all over New Eden trying to explode each other's spaceships. The conflict in Delve is predictably spilling over to the meta-game in the forms of innumerable propaganda Photoshop jobs and even a song by Sindel Pellion of #tweetfleet fame. An EVE-blogger found her website the victim of a DDOS attack. How are these related? How should they be related?

To understand where the line truly is, that is to say where the sandbox ends and real life begins, it might help to define the game, meta-game and exo-game a little more clearly. Fair warning: it's about to get philosophical up in here.

The 'game' occurs in or rather occupies the space we as human participants enter as soon as we log in and assume the identities of our characters. For instance, I'm not technically Firstly until I enter my password into the client and hit 'Connect.' 

Until I do that, I'm Rick. No half-quotation marks necessary. That is who I am. I will never be forced to define the terms of my physical reality to the game or even the meta-game, as Rick exists and is able to exist independently of the game. Rick exists in the exo-game.

That's not true of Firstly, who does not exist and is not able to exist independently of the game. Firstly's existence is dependent on the game. No EVE, no Firstly. Pretty simple. How Rick and Firstly are related is more complicated.
The transition from Rick to Firstly begins when Rick begins to ponder Firstly's existence as Firstly. That is to say, as soon as I change my frame of reference from Rick's frame of reference to Firstly's I leave the sphere of the exo-game and enter the meta-game. I still may not have logged in, but I'm contemplating life ON the inside from the perspective of someone IN the inside. This blog, and all other EVE blogs, exist squarely in the meta-game. Flying Silent is an activity undertaken by an exo-game entity using an in-game frame of reference, the potential consequences of which occur in either the game or the meta-game. 

In this way each piece of the puzzle is defined by three characteristics: relative identity, theater of operation, and theater of consequence. Add intent into the mix and not only do you now have the line, you have everything you need to determine whether or not someone has crossed that line. Allow me to elaborate. Or don't. I'm elaborating anyway...

The Mittani and the FanFest 2012 Alliance Panel fiasco is a truly illustrative example of how these concepts work together. Here you have a guy named Alex suggesting other pilots engage in game and meta-game activities to effect an exo-game consequnce. And this is why such an example is so instructive; it was an exo-game entity acting on behalf of his in-game entity in a meta-game environment encouraging in-game actions to effect an exo-game consequence. Whether or not he was serious is irrelevant. The line was crossed when the consequence being hinted at would transpire in the exo-game. Had the consequence being encouraged been something inherently bound to the game, such as getting a pilot to vacate a system, or something intrinsically bound to the meta-game such as encouraging said victim to stop posting to the CAOD forums, The Mittani would likely have received a 'pass.' As the consequence explicitly expressed as the desirable end result of in-game pilot actions was to transpire in the exo-game, this was a blatant and irrefutable crossing of the "line" we bloggers are openly contemplating the direction and velocity of. 

It really wasn't my intention to impose quantum mechanics on metaphysical interactions, but sometimes you just have to play the cards you're dealt.

The point of all of this is clear, even if my effusive prose is not. Actions that have consequences within the game are on the 'right' side of the line. Actions that have consequences within the meta-game are on the right side of the line. Actions that have consequences within the exo-game, that realm that exists and is capable of existing independently of the game, are not. So where does intent fit into that mix?

Attempting to determine whether or not a particular action was intended to have only in-game or metagame consequences can be a difficult task, but not impossible. Any actions we take, either as humans or capsuleers automatically undergo a test of "reasonable expectation." That is to say, can our actions be reasonably expected to have consequences in the game, the meta-game, the exo-game, or some combination of these elements? And that's really what helps define the boundary of the sandbox.

Those actions that can be reasonably expected to have consequences in only the game, meta-game or both can and must be allowed to occur. Those actions that fail such a test must be condemned swiftly and decisively. I'm certainly not suggesting that this is an easy standard to apply. But in the absence of a more concrete one, it is a framework that allows for a definition, and more importantly an enforcement of the lines that define the game, the meta-game, and the exo-game. 

EVE is a beautiful game. You might even go so far as to call it a virtual reality. Flying in space can be a breathtaking escape from the rigors of our day-to-day lives. But in the end, it must remain a game. Its reality must remain virtual. Because eventually, escapes that become too 'real' become something else entirely: distant memories.  


Saturday, May 26, 2012

Blog Banter #36: The Expansion of EVE

"With the Inferno expansion upon us, new seeds have been planted in the ongoing evolution of EVE Online. With every expansion comes new trials and challenges, game-changing mechanics and fresh ideas. After nine years and seventeen expansions, EVE has grown far more than most other MMOGs can hope for. Which expansions have brought the highs and lows, which have been the best and the worst for EVE Online?"

It was about April of 2009 and I had an MMO itch that needed scratching bad. I had just retired my WoW account in November of the previous year and was contemplating going back. I was kicking this notion around with my best friend, also a WoW ex-pat, who vociferously tried to persuade me against the idea. "Yeah, sure, maybe there's a new expansion out, but you know it's gonna be the same "Go kill 10 rats" bs over and over again. Why don't you try a new game? I've been hearing good things about a game called EVE Online. And they just did some huge expansion so it would be a great time to start. Why don't you check that out?""

He was talking, of course, about Apocrypha; the expansion that completely revamped exploration and made it into a viable profession, introduced wormholes and T3 ships, and lots more all-around bad-assery. So it was within a few days of Apocrypha's release that I became a certified capsuleer and began plumbing the depths of what would be the most engaging and seductive game I've ever played.

I may be bringing a lot of personal bias into this, as Apocrypha was my first interaction with Aura and the capsuleers of New Eden, but I truly believe it stands as the best expansion in terms of content in the history of EVE. I never got to see life before Quantum Rise. I never knew the joy of the Industrial-ites at the release of Red Moon Rising. But I know how much I love exploring. I know how deep an impact wormholes have had on this game, and how truly magnificent flying, fighting and exploring in my Proteus feels. I think Apocrypha brought more to this game, and to the broadest audience IN the game, than any other iteration of EVE before or since. And despite the fan-boy like enthusiasm for its release and subsequent effects, I don't think it will stand as the patch that has brought the highest high OR the lowest low. It will not be counted, on this blog at least, as the expansion that has been the best or the worst for the expansion of the game. No, strangely, only one expansion qualifies for every single category mentioned: Incarna.

By now, nobody is a stranger to the reasons Incarna should be ranked pejoratively. After all, we're talking about the release housing the new feature that was single-handedly responsible for the Summer of Rage and the greatest number of cancelled subscriptions in the shortest amount of time in the history of Eve. It was Incarna that was responsible for the infamous "Watch what they do, not what they say" and 'Fearless' scandals. It fairly directly triggered the emergency CSM summit in Iceland, and quite possibly facilitated a layoff of 20% of CCP's workforce. And despite all of this, Incarna might be the best thing that has happened to EVE in its 9 years of existence.

Before Incarna, EVE had been plagued by a laundry list of game mechanic flaws and other 'to do' items that was expanding seemingly faster than the distance between galaxies. All of them slated to be fixed "SoonTM." But CCP had slowly and steadily begun diverting resources away from EVE online so as to devote more assets to it's upcoming vampire MMO World of Darkness and the EVE tie-in for the PS3, Dust 514. These were and still remain ambitious projects and important to the future of CCP, to be sure, but the hay for the new horses was being stolen from the mouth of the cash cow, and EVE slowly began to starve to death. As content stagnated, so did the player base, which eventually began to shrink, albeit very slowly at first.

CCP's CEO, CCP Hilmar, was unconcerned as to the shrinking player base, and even less so with the why of it. He had a plan. A grand vision of the future of EVE that would simultaneously inject her with new life (and new subs) and propel EVE and CCP far into the future and ahead of the competition, possibly for good.

And this might have worked, if the direction Hilmar intended on going wasn't 180 degrees away from where EVE's subscribers wanted the game to go. So rather than turn around and run with EVE's new direction, the players simply continued walking in the same direction they always had been. Only now that direction was away from the game.

And at that exact moment, something amazing happened. Hilmar realized he was wrong. With the ship careening towards a crash landing he lept behind the controls and pulled up before it was too late. And in so doing, he turned CCP's worst expansion and darkest hour into one of it's most optimistic and brightest; an indefinite shelving of the private vision in favor of a renewed and intense focus on the original one, the vision that had set EVE apart from its competitors all those years ago. After a very heartfelt and public apology for having let things come to this point, Hilmar announced that effective immediately, Flying in Space was CCP's number one priority.

And that, dear pilots, is why Incarna should be recognized as both EVE's worst and her best expansion. Incarna delivered EVE to the brink of ruin. But it also gave CCP the opportunity to shed the undead-weight and to refocus its efforts and energies on creating and iterating on the world we all fell in love with. An opportunity that, without the disaster of Incarna, CCP might never have had again.