Aug 6, 2015

Walking In Stations: An Impossible Dream?

Recently, the Neocom podcast crew put out a Tinfoil Factory episode on Walking in Stations. It's a lively discussion worth listening to. The panel is composed of players (including two Signaleers--Dorian Reu and Illustria Madeveda) who embrace a variety of play styles and who range in character age from nearly the beginning of EVE Online to just a few weeks old. I found myself smiling wistfully at some of their starry-eyed ideas, many of which have been discussed in the past. Otto Bismarck's opinion of Incarna as it was implemented had me nodding in sad agreement.

The idea of avatar-based gameplay has been bandied about by CCP and players for years. Here's a little history which might provide some insights into the topic. Yes, you'll have to click the links and actually read stuff to become better informed.

EVElopedia's Walking in Stations page states that avatar-based gameplay was first referred to as Ambulation. "Walking in stations" (WIS) was a more descriptive name that eventually stuck as the general reference to avatar based gameplay. The release that was intended to start the ball rolling for avatar based gameplay was called Incarna.

As far as I can tell, Ambulation was first publicly discussed in late 2006 at Fanfest with a follow-up in the Walking in Stations dev blog by CCP t0rfifrans. Several months later a dev blog on Walking in Stations: Tactical Map by CCP Eris Discordia was published.

In 2007 at FanFest, Ten Ton Hammer did a video Q&A with CCP t0rfifrans about Ambulation.

In 2008, CCP t0rfifrans was interviewed by Jim Rossignal for Rock Paper Shotgun on the walking-in-stations future of EVE. He was also interviewed at FanFest by's (then) managing editor Jon Wood about Walking in Stations.

I couldn't find anything in 2009 from CCP about the state of Incarna development or more details about what kind of walking-in-stations content was in the works. This doesn't mean there wasn't anything, but in the time I had to research this post my Google-fu didn't reveal any.

In 2010, CCP was talking about a Summer 2011 Incarna release but had provided no information about what it would contain. Given the relatively ambitious schedule for such a major feature, CSM5 (to which I was elected Chair) requested a status update (to no avail) in the internal forums used for communicating with CCP. We put Incarna on the agenda at all three summits: in June (page 12 of the Minutes), October (page 15 of the Minutes), and December (page 7 of the Minutes). In early October, CCP t0rfifrans published a dev blog that introduced the new Character Creator but reiterated that doing so did not mean an Incarna release was imminent. In December, CCP Ph00ze released a dev blog that talked about the technical challenges of the new Character Creator but did not mention Incarna or release date details for the Character Creator beyond Soon(tm). By the end of December, CSM5's concern was growing. Outside the Summits, no devs would engage with us about Incarna's gameplay or design details yet CCP's apparent intention was to release Incarna within 6 months. After careful consideration, we determined that our obligation to represent players' concerns warranted a public statement to CCP about our Incarna concerns in the form of an open letter on the forums. This statement was extremely controversial and received zero response from CCP (despite our giving them several weeks to respond to it prior to its publication).

It's no secret that 2010 was an extremely disappointing and frustrating year for me, especially as regards Incarna -- a feature that, based on prior hype from CCP, I had been wildly enthusiastic about. Suffice to say, I had a very bad feeling about the planned Incarna release.

In 2011, dev blogs preceding the Incarna release proliferated. CCP Chiliad talked about content for the Incarna release. CCP Zulu soon after announced a release date and summarized what was coming in the first Incarna release. CCP t0rfifrans and CCP Flying Scotsman provided a video preview of Incarna. It was starting to become clear that "walking in stations" really meant walking by ourselves in a single room with nothing much to do there. The release of Incarna that summer was a huge disappointment relative to "walking in stations". That disappointment was exacerbated by extremely short-sighted and misguided decisions that CCP made regarding the pricing and type of items made available in what we now know as the New Eden Store as well as the total lack of attention to flying in space features that were screaming for iteration or just plain broken. Cue rage and drama, riots in Jita, mass unsubs, and finally a re-focus on the Flying in Space part of the game.  Note: For further insight into the Incarna expansion (which involved more than avatar-related stuff), see Sugar Kyle's A Look at the History of Expansions, Part 22 and Part 23

Fast forward to 2015. Following the Incarna debacle, CCP suffered a few shake-ups, resources were re-focused on the spaceships, and many welcome improvements have been implemented for the Flying in Space part of the game. In many ways, CCP is a much better company and EVE is a much better game. It's not surprising then that players continue to discuss their hopes for Walking in Stations.

But to seriously consider such a massive feature necessarily leads to some important questions:
  • Does CCP have the chops to design and implement a Walking in Stations feature that would mesh with the Flying in Space game and be favorably received by players? 
  • Is such an investment even remotely feasible? 
I don't know the answers to these questions but the history of CCP's efforts relative to avatar-based gameplay doesn't inspire confidence. So, while it's fun to brainstorm about Walking in Stations, I think it is an impossible dream for the foreseeable future. Yeah, sorry to rain on your parade, WIS enthusiasts :P That said, I have no doubt that such a feature properly implemented could be amazing and fun. And despite my pessimism, I really do hope the time comes when the CQ door is unlocked and we can pursue our hopes and dreams in stations and other structures as well as in space. I just hope that time doesn't come until CCP is prepared to do it right. What "right" is remains to be seen.

Note: Please comment about any inaccuracies in my post, with links to supporting info if possible, so that I can make corrections. 

Aug 4, 2015

Reasonable Expectations

Sugar Kyle raised some interesting questions today in a blog post titled Deserving: "What as a player do you think you deserve? What do you expect when you log in?" She mentions the anger she feels when some players claim that those who embrace certain play styles don't deserve to be well-treated, or deserve the ISK they make, or deserve other things they may possess or experience in the game. Her post prompted blogged responses from both EVE Hermit and Mike Azariah (and I bet more will chime in; this feels like a mini Blog Banter in the making). EVE Hermit makes the point that some players don't seem to get that in a sandbox game, anything that doesn't violate the TOS/EULA is fair play. Mike Azariah talks about the irksome attitude of entitlement, in particular that of players who fail to put in the effort to inform themselves and then whine when they experience a loss because "no one told me" about this or that danger.

All of which got me thinking about expectations in-game and out. We all have our own ideas about what to expect from CCP, the game client, and our fellow players. For most of us, those expectations fall within a spectrum of reasonableness. I like to think that's where mine fall, anyway.

As a CCP customer, I expect access to a reliable game client, regular information about the game's development, expedient communications about issues, community engagement, and ongoing effort to iterate on and evolve the game. I expect the game to provide interesting challenges, mechanisms that support accomplishing objectives, visual beauty, and good usability. I expect the sandbox to be preserved and to get some new sand every once in awhile that is consistent with New Eden's lore and its fabled harsh environment. I don't expect that the way these things get implemented will please me 100% of the time (although I do expect to express my opinion about that by for example voting in CSM elections or responding on the forums or in social media). CCP has been meeting my expectations handily in the last couple of years.

Probably not a reasonable expectation but one can DREAM!

As a player, I expect to have to inform myself to thrive and survive. I expect that uninformed, misguided, or risky decisions will provide expensive lessons. I expect that other players are out to kill my ship and my pod and take my stuff. I expect that if I'm clever, I can avoid most of the mistakes that are there to be made. I expect that what is fun for others may not be fun for me but is still worthy of respect. I expect that every player I encounter or engage with in some way has the potential to be an in-game friend or enemy in the future but either way treating everyone with respect has no downside. I expect to forge my own path and figure out how find profit and fun. These expectations have served me well in balancing "EVE is Real" feelings against the reality that all the stuff we worry so much about losing is just pixels in a video game.

As a CEO, I expect to fiercely and lovingly nurture the corp culture envisioned by myself and my co-leaders and that my corp members signed up for. I expect to have to deal with issues, drama, fumbles, and dropped balls. I expect to have to remind new players constantly that learning to play EVE means reading...a LOT...and that undocking and dying is part of the game. I expect to demonstrate at least once a day that I am still a noob in so many ways. I expect to be annoyed, frustrated, challenged, overwhelmed, and to fail at many things. But most of all, I expect to have fun, to be delighted by the people I play with, and to have memorable experiences with them. Signal Cartel has exceeded my expectations in every possible good way.

Having reasonable expectations is essential to maintaining a healthy perspective on CCP, EVE Online, and our community of players. It helps inform the patience required to stay the course whether you're skilling for a specific ship, growing a corp or alliance, or are fostering dreams of sov, market, PvP, or other paths to glory. It helps keep things in balance both within the game and between the game and RL. It helps by giving new players a longer-term view which hopefully encourages them to stick with and become immersed in the game. I think most long-term EVE players are pretty good at managing their own and others' expectations. One of the best things we can do for new players is to help them do it better, too.