Back when CCP was a small company, publishing an MMO unique in the field of MMOs (unique since the days of the original Ultima Online, at least), CCP had some serious viking attitude about it. This was a game made by people living every single day on a goddamned volcano. They didn't brook any calls for the pussification of their game. There was little difference between the attitudes of the hardcore players and the employees developing the game. This was a pitiless, brutal game. It was a true sandbox. The players decided conflicts, the game didn't limit those conflicts artificially (even given CONCORD intervention in high-security space.) They didn't so much as say these things outright, but the attitude on the forums and in the blogs spoke it plainly. "People are going to try to ruin your day. Get together with others, ruin their day back." "Harden the fuck up players. This isn't your little sister's pussy Asian instant-messenger MMO. This is motherfucking EVE Online." "Watch your back, because no one is watching it for you."
The years crept by. EVE Online grew. CCP grew. Dreams beyond EVE began to foment. Vampires. First-person shooters. Console gaming. Microtransactions. No longer content to just be the niche player on the block, they wanted to be recognized far and wide as innovators. Not an unnoble goal to be sure, but how you go about reaching that goal is important.
CCP opened offices in Atlanta and Shanghai. They hired more people. They bought a floundering roleplaying company known for a certain vampire game. They ballooned to 600 employees. Public relations materialized. Communication with their customer-base became muted, distant.
EVE Online now had to support two new games in development. The first, DUST 514, a first-person, console gaming tie-in to the EVE Universe. The marketing speak on how the game would tie-in sounded very much like the old HTFU attitude reborn. The playerbase was excited for this, more HTFU gameplay is always welcomed. The second game though, a vampire MMO, World of Darkness, based on Vampire: The Masquerade, is where that old HTFU attitude officially came off the rails and it impacted every aspect of CCP. World of Darkness was to be about fashion and good-looks, its goal to attract a general MMO demographic.
To support these two new endeavours, EVE Online had to grow. Under its current model and subscription base EVE couldn't support development of both titles for more than a couple of years. Development on EVE Online shifted from "flying in space" (which is 90% of the gameplay) to microtransactions and "walking in stations." As a proof of concept for World of Darkness (part of a development framework called Carbon), an avatar system was developed for EVE. This was supposed to attract that wider audience of players, from MMOers more used to seeing their character "in the flesh", so to speak, rather than just a spaceship. It was supposed to allow players a greater degree of simpatico with the world they were playing within. It was a bold move away from core gameplay.
CCP is known for its boldness. Unfortunately, CCP is also known for biting off much more than it can chew.
Walking in stations, or Incarna as it became known, was a colossal flop. The walking in stations portion of the game consisted of a single room and your avatar. No actual gameplay was included. There was no interaction at all with other avatars. As such, the microtransaction system, which included various forms of fashion for your avatar, proved useless. Why dress your avatar up if no one else can see it? Barely anyone was buying the new dress-me-up clothing.
By this time, CCP's relationship with its customer-base was at an all-time low. It was almost as if CCP viewed its customers as the enemy. Communication was spotty and pretentious. Talking down to the customer was the norm, the attitude that the customer could not understand the bold, exciting new direction that CCP was heading towards, so CCP would drag them kicking and screaming, and eventually they would see that CCP was right. And all would be well again. What CCP didn't understand was that the customer was under no obligation to be dragged kicking and screaming anywhere.
Incarna proved this point. Subscriptions fell off sharply. CCP reacted with more pretension. It still believed the customer was dead wrong, was short-sighted, had no vision for the future. Internal newsletters and CEO emails were leaked, basically stating that the customer was to be ignored, CCP knew what it was doing. Communications from the player-run council, the CSM, were edited for softer language. Corporate marketing speak was thought to be the saviour. But CCPs customer-base isn't a bunch of 12 year old kids, they are more savvy than that. The customers saw through these weak attempts at controlling the message.
The thing is, if the customer doesn't like where you're heading as a company, and they stop giving you their money, then customer is in the right. They don't have to have to follow a corporate path they don't agree with. And without the customers' money, how was CCP going to fund its brave, bold new vision? It wasn't.
And then the turnaround happened. Walking in stations was going to be put on a simmer. It would eventually be released more fully, but CCP would take its time with it. Release it properly. In the meantime, CCP would re-dedicate themselves back to flying in space, the core concept of EVE Online. The playerbase cheered. Subscriptions were renewed. CCP started communicating with its customers again. What had become a two-year malaise within the community and the game, well, it was finally having some excitement breathed back into it.
Was that HTFU attitude back?
Players were beginning to think so. Until CCP offhandedly took two actions towards changing the sandbox, an attempt to artificially control player-run conflicts, soften the play environment. The first was a statement by the CEO about toughening up high-sec space, making CONCORD smarter, thus making high-sec safer than it already is. A rash, ill-thought response to combating a sudden spat of suicide-ganking by a single alliance (something that wasn't going to maintain itself for very long.) The second was to change war declaration policy, effectively giving every high-sec corporation the option to engage in PvP or not. These are both radical changes to the sandbox. Attempts to pussify a particular area of the game, to attract the wider audience they couldn't attract with their previous walking-in-stations iteration. It's a Trammel-izing of EVE Online (this will deserve its own post.)
CCP. Taking that two big steps forward, then immediately taking a step back again. There are obviously two schools of thought within CCP still. The old HTFU attitude, and the newer carebear attitude of making things safer and easier for a certain demographic of player. The former is what made EVE Online what it is. The latter is what every other MMO in the world strives to be.
2012 should be interesting1. Where does CCP go from here? Which internal faction wins out in the end?
1(I had thought to make a Mayan calendar joke here with reference to New Eden, but couldn't make it work.)