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.

1 comment:

  1. A very interesting and fresh view on things.

    And I simply love the expression "the hay for the new horses was being stolen from the mouth of the cash cow,"

    You, sir, have interesting views and nice ways to express them. My compliments