The Summer of Rage, part deux

12 June, 2017

Another rebellion in Eve Online.

EVE_Online_YC119_5_Keyart_2560x1440_WLogo

All images credit to CCP hf

In the world of online gaming, passionate player bases are not hard to come by. Sometimes, when a game developer and a fanatic fan base have differences of opinion, the friction produces sparks. When conditions are right, and when they’ve persisted long enough, those sparks are set for an eruption into uncontrollable flames.

Late afternoon on Friday, June 9th, Eve Online developer CCP Games released information regarding a patch scheduled to go live under a week from its announcement. A Monthly Economic Report (MER) for the month of May had shown an uncontrolled ascent in player incomes that threatened to destabilize the in game economy. The culprit identified in CCP’s analysis, was the over farming of NPC bounties. For an abridged background, traditionally the Eve Online in game economy is left to the player’s actions in game to steer. While CCP uses some mechanics to control its in game currency (called ISK) to prevent the economy from spiraling out of control, these direct interventions were traditionally incremental and not immediately impactful to the daily life of an Eve Online capsuleer.

This is not to say that game changes made by CCP have not had dramatic effects on the overall economy. Regular expansions to the game have changed its fabric through the introduction of new ships, game mechanics and things to explode. The patch was set for release under a week from its announcement, action was being taken that was neither incremental nor unnoticable. There had been no forewarning through any communications CCP had sent directly to the player base or even its elected player representatives, the Council of Stellar Management.

News of the patch would set off a firestorm of player protests in and out of game. Players had reached a breaking point and an outpouring of frustrations pent up over years of Eve’s evolution of changes exploded in game and across social media. Players derided CCP’s ability to listen and act on their feedback. In significant numbers, players began announcing their intention to finally quit the game. A popular movement to unsubscribe accounts was taking shape. A response to players late on Friday from CCP would result in convincing still more people to give up on a game some had played for a decade. An outsider looking in might ask, what led up to the triggering of a player uprising?

A History

To understand the mindset of the players frustrated enough to unsub their accounts, it helps to visit issues they would oft reference in their posts. Players pointed to a checkered history of Eve Online developer CCP Games and its decisions for changes and development of the title. At its most basic level, players felt ignored or rebuffed when providing feedback to many deep problems plaguing their ability to have fun in the game.

Players needed to look no further back than to the Incarna expansion in 2011. The expansion saw microtransactions take center stage while ignoring actual gameplay and spaceships. Developers attempted damage control only to find their action fanned the flames, memos were leaked, then accusations of lies and deception by CCP followed. Player trust in CCP eroded to a breaking point. The 2011 Summer of Rage was on, complete with wonderful memes. Players staged protests in game, trade hubs were marked for disruption and brought to their knees under the load. CCP management and players stood back and watched just how magnificently the situation had hit the fan.

When the smoke cleared, there was time for reflection. CCP would turn around 5 months later and launch an expansion titled Crucible. Player-centric could hardly describe it. Crucible was a full of improvements to game-play, balancing, graphics, ships and countless other facets of the Eve player’s virtual life. CCP had risen to the challenge of overcoming Incarna. Immediate threat of catastrophic failure averted, development and updates to the title carried on. Eve was a game nearly a decade old that continuously required modernization to stay relevant amongst competitors for its audience.

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All images credit to CCP hf

The first domino to fall toward the current upheaval likely traces back to late November of 2014 with an expansion titled Phoebe. Phoebe featured a change that removed a player’s ability to pilot a ship from one end to another of the New Eden universe in very short amounts of time. While the changes were a boon to smaller, local entities, more older nomadic groups saw their method of having fun vanish overnight. Some veterans of the game were disenfranchised, many had made the pre-patch travel methods part of their preferred style of on-demand content. Utilizing their ship’s jump drive with some logistical planning, even the remote backwaters of New Eden were within reach to join a large battle in progress. The expansion certainly had given smaller entities a chance to grow without the looming threat of larger distant third parties, but a rift had been formed between those players and the those preferring the nomadic play-style.

Following the dust settling of Phoebe, a major change in territory ownership mechanics called Aegis had seen a bumpy launch in July of 2015. The Aegis Sovereignty system replaced a one called Dominion Sovereignty that relied heavily on a structure shooting event. In premise, Aegis relied on controlling a battle grid across a wider constellation of space. On its face, it would create a more active engagement across many star systems and involve more pilots actively making decisions. Many flaws in the system pointed out by players regarding the tedious nature of the mechanics prior to release took much longer to iron out than they felt was necessary. Where Dominion was regarded as boring, Aegis was regarded as tedious, frustrating, and too much work. Changes originally requested by players before launch were still being rolled out 4 months later. The Eve player base did not respond to the changes as something worth logging in for, active player counts continued to stagnate.

A secondary effect of Aegis was that groups having exerted the efforts and successfully battled on to conquer sovereignty were now obliged to protect it. Attackers required very little skin in the game to start a contest for a defender’s sov. Corporations and Alliances found themselves shackled to their homes, victims of their own success. Many are unable or unwilling to redeploy as they had the flexibility to in the past. Gone are the days where providing temporary mutual aid in a far away star system did not leave their homes vulnerable to even the smallest of threats. It was easy to blame this as a reason larger conflicts were becoming increasingly rare.

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All images credit to CCP hf

The Citadel expansion of April 2016, introduced new Citadel structures into Eve Online. Citadel also included significant redesigns to the form and function of Capital class vessels, the Dreadnought, Carrier, Super Carrier and Titan. Relevant to the economy, Carriers and Super Carriers went from good to fantastic NPC bounty farming vehicles almost overnight. New space structures called Citadels provided much more utility and protection for space-faring ships. CCPs goal was to replace the troublesome Player Owned Starbase (POS) with a more capable structure (and also one that they knew the codebase for).

With Citadels, came a new gameplay mechanic for destroying them. This mechanic was far more restrictive relative to its predecessor, the POS. Citadels lack the vulnerability of the POS. They are less engageable outside of a timezone predetermined by the defender and require three successful battles to destroy where two were required in POS warfare and it could be engaged at anytime. Under careful management, the smallest Citadel structure could be invulnerable to destruction for three weeks once successfully deployed. As a result of the nearly unassailable nature of a Citadel, they have proliferated throughout New Eden. The consternation caused by Citadels has reached critical levels for many capsuleers. They point to them as yet another feature released by CCP with unbalanced mechanics and lacking required iteration on their designs to make them the same sources of content offered by their predecessor, the POS. A structure invulnerable for 3 weeks is admittedly ridiculous in the scope of Eve Online, yet no changes have been announced to address it.

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All images credit to CCP hf

Moving on to November of 2016 and CCP released a patch titled Ascension. It would create what players would refer to as a true ‘ISK printing machine’. A long neglected ship, relegated to a rarely used niche fleet support role for Asteroid mining operations had its feature set and utility increased to a staggering degree. The gold rush was on for capsuleers to retool their own ISK making operations to one including this ship, the Rorqual.

There would be more than a ripple in the game as a result of the flood of minerals being brought to market from Rorquals combined with raw ISK from Carrier and Super Carrier NPC bounties. Many veteran players that had the characters trained and able to fly those ships welcomed the easy ISK, but many also knew it would also have a cost somewhere in the economy. For the moment though, the ISK was rolling in for capsuleers able to safely field the ships.

Future changes on the roadmap threaten to disrupt aspects of the game that players have built their Corporations, Alliances, and game-play styles on. Integration methods for common third party software tools with data from Eve Online are having their feature set reduced. Notably, capsuleers will no longer be able to determine the end date of their subscriptions through a third party tool. One issue tied to this is that a player could find their account expired at an inopportune time. They may be left stranded or vulnerable in space unable to fly a ship they were sitting in at the start of a long fleet operation due the change in their account status.

Corporations and Alliances currently screen applicants for ‘bad actors’ (spies or known disruptive players) via a tool referred to as an account wide API. This API gave visibility to all characters linked to a player’s Eve account, their transaction histories and much more. Known players with bad histories could be screened out and declined from joining their groups. Trust is at a premium in Eve. Assets accumulated and built up over months and years are often shared amongst groups in the name of cooperative game-play. Changes to the API system will reduce the visibility to just one character of three slots possible on an account, with no way to confirm that other characters linked are actually on the same account as each other. The practice of using multiple accounts in Eve is commonplace. In making this change, security is taking a major step backward. Does this reduce cooperation or inclusiveness amongst players? Does it result in less investment by players who feel their assets are likely to be lost to infiltrators?Empire Assets

All images credit to CCP hf

In addition to security concerns, player corporations and alliances utilize outside communication tools (Teamspeak, web forums, etc), and are facing an uncertain future. Many of these third party tools use APIs to validate authorized users for server groups, manage levels of access, and countless other features that help these entities run smoothly. Most alliances are spending real money for these out of game services they feel are required to maintain a well run corporation, alliance or coalition of entities. Where Eve Online lacks in game features, many players are willing to pay out of pocket to make their in-game lives easier. The deprecation of many API related features threatens to make the space lives they’ve built completely unmanageable.

Meanwhile in New Eden, other events were taking shape. A recent large scale war had come to an end just after the launch of Citadel. The objectives won, boundaries of alliance territories were redrawn and players on both sides of the fight settled down to recoup income and assets lost during the fighting. An era of ISK generation through ‘bearing or ratting’ (focusing purely on PVE to generate ISK instead of PVP to generate fun), set in across the New Eden universe. Fueled by a seemingly endless and cheap supply of minerals, the Super Carrier, rarely used outside of capital combat engagements began to take center stage for ISK generation. As a result of the Rorqual mining, their production costs plummeted by almost half. They had also seen a buff to their combat abilities earlier, widening their engagement profiles. Their resulting popularity and more importantly, accessibility due to lower costs, were a perfect storm of changes creating perfect PVE machines for harvesting NPC bounties. Their effectiveness in the nearly anyone’s hands was staggering, as Eve’s MER would soon reflect.

Lord Maldoror2

All images credit to CCP hf

Rorquals on the other hand would see repeated nerfs to their capabilities. Players that had invested time and ISK to retool their income generation methods, saw their return on investment continue to fall like the rocks they were mining. The bountiful amounts of minerals they produced continued to put downward pressure on their market price. Frustrations mounted. The mineral bubble everyone saw happening was about to burst, and CCP was holding the pin.

The damage however, was already done. New Eden found itself in a relatively peaceful era of cheap vessels, fueled by this new crop of Super Carrier pilots and Rorqual pilots. Industry focused players dropped prices of all manner of vessels as their costs for raw materials fell. Capsuleers all over New Eden could now afford higher class vessels for their own ISK generation or combat needs, even if their in game characters skill set didn’t quite have the ability to utilize the ship’s maximum potential. There was less risk involved in making a now not-so-large purchase than there had been before this time of plenty.

There is a saying in Eve, “Don’t undock what you can’t afford to lose”. Well, all manner of players were undocking vessels that should have been beyond their means. Powerful, once very pricey Faction class warships were selling for fractions of their previous values. Fleet battles devolved into fleets fielding the identical types of top level Faction vessels because they were flying what they could afford to lose. The battlefields all began to look alike, why use an inferior ship if you could afford the best in class? The stage was set for an intervention.

It all went sideways

On Friday, the 9th of June at 09:58:00 UTC, CCP Larrikin made a Dev Post titled: Fighter Damage Reduction. It was actually one of three important posts dating back to the start of June describing significant game changes.  Nerfs to the Rorqual and general mining operations came on June 1st. A post late in the day of June 8th addressed the issue of Faction Battleship proliferation. Then there was the coup de grâce on the 9th, featuring the Fighter Damage Reduction. Now, it warrants a reminder, Eve Online has been around since 2003. By the numbers, the Fighter Damage Reduction thread is at time of writing, the second most responded to Dev thread on the Eve Online official forums of all time. It came as no surprise that the thread was locked several times since its original posting. Many posts being ‘not relevant to the discussion’ were removed. The rage was real.

The player response to the Fighter nerf centered on concern not about its impact for PVE, but how it would change the dynamics of Carrier and Super Carrier use in PVP combat. That is, after all, their primary reason for existing. Corporations and Alliances fight battles utilizing these weapons of mass destruction to protect or take spoils of war. Where the immediate disconnect occurred is in the manner they, CCP, chose to address the problem, they are also nerfing PVP combat capabilities at the same time. 20% is a drastic reduction in firepower. The cost/benefit balance of using Capitals vs other Sub-Capital class ships certainly swings wildly towards the Sub-Capital for many situations. In order to nerf PVE rating incomes, CCP took a sledgehammer to PVP capability also. So to target this ‘1% of 1%’ CCP targeted most of the Eve playerbase in their methods to control the bleeding. In a keystroke, the field of battle had been significantly altered, and players with their investment in machines of industry and war were now left in a limbo, unsure what just happened.

The frustration of much of the player base was palpable. They were lead into a wonderland of overpowered, underpriced and openly available ships. After feeling the highs of easy money, they now were forced to stare down the barrel of yet another nerf to the Rorqual, nerfs to all manner of Carrier and Super Carrier usage and nerfs to Sub-Capital Battleships. It would be very hard to play Eve Online and not have skin in the game in one of those targeted categories. Asteroid miners, Super Carriers pilots, and maybe newly minted, but newer players that got a taste of using powerful Faction Battleships as a matter of course all despaired at the changes. Why had CCP buffed these ships so much, only to suddenly pull the rug out from under them? It didn’t make sense when the trend had been so obvious for so long to anyone paying attention. Were they paying attention?

Players were grasping for something. In a not unexpected twist, the game servers were having performance issues the day of the announcement. Players were being disconnected from the server or having other non intended results when flying around New Eden. The Reddit posting picked up and with vigor. Some posts contained recommendations to solve the issue, many more were flaming CCP for their continued mistakes, other posts  appeared in support of CCP, and  encouraged those disillusioned players to go ahead and quit, or HTFU. Where players were unable to battle each other in space, they battled via shitposting on Reddit.

And the flames burned white hot

There were notable mistakes made after the release of the Dev posts that served only to stoke the firestorm.

New Stars

All images credit to CCP hf

Later on Friday, after CCP Larrikin’s Dev post, CCP Quant released the Eve Monthly Economic Report. Taking to Reddit in an apparent attempt to justify the incoming nerfs, CCP Quant made reference to a statistic actual Eve players would know and recognize as an outlier. CCP Quant also inferred those same people involve themselves with RMT. RMT stands for Real Money Trading/Transfer, a prohibited and bannable process where ISK is sold for real money outside of the game in a private sale. Being a RMT’r is shunned by the community at large, certainly not an accusation to toss around.

What we have here is literally the top 1% of the top 1% screaming their lungs out over these nerfs, while trying to convince the rest of the player-base to think that CCP is ruining the game for everyone. What we are really doing is keeping it from becoming yet another hyper inflated virtual economy at the cost of pissing off a particular group of players. Prior to this patch, a relatively small group of players were making the same amount of isk in npc bounties as the entire player-base did a year ago.

This isn’t only screwing with the money supply but it’s dramatically increasing RMT. When you can reliably sit and make 500M pure isk/hr** pr. account** (hence the number of “unsubbing 17 accounts” threads), some people choose to look at it this way: you can be making over minimum salaries in some countries in RMT.

-CCP Quant

CCP Quant, previously held high regard with the community for his in depth analysis of the Eve economy. Regular Reddit posts and analysis of prior MERs complete with pretty graphs enamored the numbers nerds. Surely, players that enjoyed a game nicknamed ‘Spreadsheets Online’ would have open minds to a Data Scientist from CCP. All the warm history was forgotten after he dropped that comment. It directly caused increasingly negative threads, most were bashing all of CCP as anti-player. Importantly, Quant’s post typified the perceived deep lack of understanding of what CCP was doing in game changes past and present.

Perhaps, the individual that fills the current open position for a Senior Manager of Communications will provide a more comprehensive method for managing communication both to and from the player-base. In the peak of the firestorm, players were posting threads regarding their decisions to unsubscribe from the game, CCP Quant’s post added fuel to the smoldering embers of player frustrations that had been glowing for several years. Images of players unsubscribing their accounts were posted, and an unofficial strawpoll was created to tally the damage. Players were motivated into voting with their wallets.

The response on the Reddit Eve community had been swift and merciless. By a very unscientific hand count, starting from roughly the time of the Fighter Damage Reduction Dev post to about 36 hours proceeding it, 217 threads directly relating to the changes vs 62 threads not directly related were posted. Suffice to say, the Eve Reddit community is still very much abuzz on the topic.

All this has happened before, and will again.

It’s easy to look at the result of Incarna and wonder if CCP had actually matured after the experience. Nearly step for step its mistakes have been repeated. Company goals, this time eyeing a sale, have swung hard toward earning more revenue and away from earning the satisfaction of subscribers in a dwindling player-base that, even able to play for free, is stagnating. An incredibly unpopular patch, born either of errant data or company direction was pushed upon the Eve Universe, the corporate line was held against the tide of player push-back and a CCP employee made a grave PR mistake. Combined as they had for Incarna, a comedy of errors have cost the company a great deal of the trust capital some individuals at CCP had fought so hard to earn.

Had the Incarna mea culpa been a sign of sincere desire for change? Had it instead merely been a means to an end? Will CCP’s adjustment to the severity of the June release signal an understanding of past mistakes? Early indications do not yet point to a light at the end of the tunnel, unless that light is a train, and in that case, choo choo.

All this has happened before and will again. While the extent of the damage to player loyalties in this most recent covfefe is unknown, the question of whether CCP will have the ability or even the will to recover the trust (and subscribers) of these disenfranchised players remains unanswered at least for now. One thing is for sure, we are getting some spicy memes out of this, so my popcorn is ready.

About the author

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ThirdSin has been playing Eve since 2013. His adventures in New Eden have taken him through numerous alliance failscades in nullsec and most recently he finds himself flying throughout lowsec with Shadow Cartel. When not ducking purges from his alliance Exec, he also enjoys all sorts of RTS and FPS games during fleet form-ups and sometimes during fleets…

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