CCP twitter accounts have been ablaze this week with hints of upcoming news and reasons for excitement in the world of Eve Online. CCP Fallout started things off with “OH MY GOD I HAVE THE BIGGEST SEEKRIT EVER AND THIS TIME I WON’T TELL!” a few days ago. CCP Guard, yesterday, said “This is going to be an exciting week” Today, no less than CCP Zulu – Producer Arnar Hrafn – tweeted “What a day for spaceships”.
These comments, together with other developer teases, sparked off intense speculation on blogs like that of RipardTeg; on twitter amongst even CSM members like Seleene and The Mittani; on Kugutsumen; on Goon jabber (in several channels that I was in). As Goonfleet Intelligence Agency director I saw the same thing happen in other alliances. A successful piece of viral marketing, then?
Well, it was certainly successful in building giddy expectations. But CCP has suffered a turbulent few months over not-so-micro-transactions, over crippling gameplay balance issues and – most damagingly – over the move to virtual abandonware of their flagship product in order to use it as a cash cow for other product development. An organisation which has suffered such serious reputational damage amongst its customers would surely not be foolish enough as to start a Big Week of announcements without the collateral to back it up. A company staring down the barrel of decreasing subscriptions when every cent is needed to fun their new projects wouldn’t try such smoke and mirrors. Would they?
OK sorry about that… OH CRAP it really is a wolf!
Day two and the omens are not brilliant. Yesterday certainly saw not one but two devblogs released. A good start. But one was about Fanfest in 2012: an event which everybody knew would happen and which affects the tiniest minority of players. The other was more positive and certainly contained functionality changes which have been requested by certain sections of the player population, but neither was a material change to the gameplay of flying spaceships in Eve.
One (the return of “ship-spinning” when docked, allowing one to see one’s ship in its hangar) was a visual and UI-based tweak worthy of a one-liner in a patch release, but certainly not the stuff of devblogs. A sparkly-obsessed few were apparently delighted but this is at most a “heh, ok” improvement. More damagingly, this is vintage CCP: it is nothing more than the return of a feature – no doubt at the cost of a couple of man-years of development, management graphical and testing effort – of something that was intentionally removed as a matter of policy earlier this year.
The second change was the improvement of the animation for jumping capital and supercapital ships into a system. Um, OK. I have a few capitals and a supercapital and even I am utterly unmoved by this. It will look good (hopefully: we have yet to see it) in a few promotional and battle videos but it won’t hold onto a single subscriber. And, once more it is no more than (yes, you guessed it) the return of an old, more poular feature.
Finally there were some improvements to the Captains’ Quarters: the Walking In Stations interface that is so clunky and unpopular (not to say demanding of graphical processor power, and I speak as someone with a one-week-old high-end beast of a PC) that it necessitated the climbdown over ship-spinning.
Panem et circenses.
As to CCP Fallout’s ill-advised trail of tweeting about “THE BIGGEST SECRET EVER”? A new font. I’m not kidding. Now nobody is saying that the replacement of the utterly illegible Eve font is anything but overdue. But if you tweet in all-capitals about massive secrets and exciting announcements then you had better have something more than a new typeface to back you up. This was a big mistake. Never over-hype to an already-disgruntled audience.
Heh suckers you fell… WHOAH I’m not kidding this time it’s a HUGE wolf!
Actually I retain the hope that at some point this week there will be a major announcement about real Eve gameplay. That is, a substantive, feature-laden announcement about Flying In Space. Knowing what we think we do about the timing of the first winter expansion, this week would make sense for an announcement about that. And after a series of expansions ranging from the flimsy to the delitirious, this one looks like it might at least improve the game, if not expand it per se.
But if the intention was to start small and build, daily, throughout the week to a crescendo then there should have been far better expectation management. Right now the mood is turning ugly and critical on forums such as Kugutsumen and f13, where the suspicion is that these cosmetic changes are markers for the level of ambition CCP now has for Eve. If there is better to come this week, then someone senior had better start saying so. If there is not: well, someone had better start writing, and fast. Because there is work underway at the highest levels of the playing community to make this into a very much more visible issue if CCP loses interest. And that, my friends, is not idle hype.