Thursday, 20 October 2011

Eve Online: a harsh winter in Georgia

I was very sorry to see that Eve's owner CCP Games has had to lay off 20% of its staff. 120 people have lost their jobs mainly in Georgia, USA staff who were working on World Of Darkness. WoD is not canceled but its future must be in some doubt.

It's a horrible time of year to lose your job as it's tough to get a new one in the pre-Christmas period. My very best wishes to all the staff affected.

It must be a very bitter time for the former White Wolf staff. White Wolf was one of the top tabletop RPG companies. Vampire: The Masquerade, Werewolf: The Forsaken and Mage: The Awakening are superb games that took the genre away from its high fantasy roots. They must have felt when they merged with CCP in 2006 that the titles were in safe and loving hands.

So what went wrong?

Basically CCP over-extended. Hiring more and more staff based on a tradition of exponential growth it ended up too bloated. It's not complete disaster, Eve is a cash cow and will I think have a favourably received Expansion this Winter. I expect it to push back to previous subscriber number and concurrent user highs. Hopefully they'll be a little more restrained with the extra cash if so.

In the longer term I have my doubts about DUST 514. It's a PS3 only shooter that affects the Eve power structure. I think it will attract some Eve power gamers (Something Awful for instance will encourage a strong DUST guild to support their very strong Eve guild) but generally speaking console players don't stick to one game for long. They need to attract both Eve players who don't usually console AND console players who don't usually play MMOs. I do think though there's some satisfaction to be had from the feeling that fragging a load of reds is contributing to carving out an empire somewhere. DUST may feel more significant than your average shooter.

Once DUST is released though they will be in a much stronger position. Games always need more staff to develop than they do to manage live. And even a disappointing launch will bring more revenue in than pre-launch when you don't get any.

Hopefully at that point investment in WoD will pick up again.

One of the casualties of the cuts has been the customer service team, including forum moderators CCP Fallout and CCP Zymurgist. A lot of players are confused by this as they see the cuts as a consequence of bad customer relations.

I don't think the cuts are really a consequence of bad customer relations although that didn't help. (And the players who in June urged everyone to unsub for "the good of Eve" certainly contributed). CCP was over-extended and was relying on growth to pay the bills. The disappointing summer expansion meant the subscriber base didn't grow. People haven't lost their jobs because there was a riot at Jita people have lost their jobs because the game failed to become more interesting.

The cut of the CS team is similar to something I saw when I was working in the City of London as a librarian. When companies are in trouble they cut peripheral staff. The banks kept bankers and sacked librarians (even though we were terrifically cost-effective). CCP has kept people who develop Eve and sacked people who manage the perception of Eve. Equally understandable, equally short-sighted.

Is there light at the end of the tunnel?

Yes.

This Winter's expansion looks like it will be really fun with a new problem for industrialists and a new target for pvpers in the form of player-owned customs offices. Popular re-balances are coming, particularly a capital ship nerf and a hybrid turret buff. I think it's an Expansion that will boost numbers. DUST, as I've said, will provide more money once launched than it does while in development, that's axiomatic. And WOD will eventually, unless complete disaster strikes, get back on track. There is room for a stylish, sinister Vampire roleplaying game in the MMO market.

Best wishes to CCP staff, present and former.

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