Black Thursday

While surfing the twitter universe last Thursday, I noticed a tweet from @Freebooted linking an article from the Guardian about the tragic development and cancellation of World of Darkness, CCP’s failed attempt at making a vampire-themed MMO. Citing former Atlanta employees, the piece went into great detail about how severe management issues and resource allocation carried on over an eight year period, before finally being shuttered two months ago resulting in the mass layoffs of most of the Atlanta office. A few hours later, the video-game news site Polygon broke news that CCP had just laid off 49 employees, with strong pressure from investors being listed as the likely reason for the layoffs. The result of the two articles lead to a very public showing of sympathy to those laid off, as well as anger being expressed to the higher level executives in the company, namely CCP CEO Hilmar Veigar Pétursson. I’m going to be pretty honest; I’ve never really agreed with how the EVE community views CCP. I’ve always viewed CCP Games as a company first, while a great majority of the fanatical subscribers seem to treat CCP more like a professional sports team. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve enjoyed the twitter conversations with CCP employees and most of them are entertaining follows. But at the end of the day, they’re employees of a gaming company, not rock stars or celebrities. CCP Games is a business, and as such they have a responsibility to make the company thrive. As long as the layoffs were made for survival purposes and not based on greed, I understand the decision. But with that said, there are concerning large picture issues with the company. Over the years I’ve had a chance to network with a few ex-employees, and while I take everything I hear with a grain of salt, I’ve never heard anything particularly flattering about the upper levels of CCP management. The company reviews on Glass Door the past year have been overwhelmingly negative, with Hilmar dropping from an approval rating in the 40’s to 25% as of Monday. The article that appeared on the Guardian is fairly consistent with things that I’ve heard in the past; talented low level and mid-level employees are constantly held in-check by the problems created by people above them, that projects are constantly trashed and rebooted, and that resource allocation has been an issue for years. Whenever something negative involving CCP comes up in the wire, I typically refrain from publicly commenting because there are multiple sides to every story and there’s enough people speculating already to fill a stadium. But if you look back at all of the projects and titles CCP has worked on over the years and the problems that have arisen because of them, it gives credence to some of those negative opinions. world-of-darkness But if you want to judge senior leadership based on facts instead of conjecture, lets take a look at the four games that have been in active development over the years:
  • EVE Online – Nearly killed the golden goose with a bad overall future vision combined with incomplete features that had been rushed for years. It wasn’t until the subscriber base started flatlining that management changed development strategies.
  • Dust 514 – A series of bad decisions lead to the game being released on PS3 after several years of development. Less than a year after release, CCP admits their execution of that Dust vision was a colossal failure and the long-term development for Dust will take a backseat to work on Project Legion.
  • World of Darkness – Vampire MMO sits in development hell for eight years before finally being scrapped, resulting in 20 million dollars of code being written off as a loss.
  • EVE: Valkyrie – CCP’s latest announced product was not the result of any future vision or planning, but that of a handful of low-level employees building the base of the game in their free time. Future success depends on the VR technology taking off.
So when you start to judge the company alone by the products they’ve worked on, you see an alarming trend. Of their four products (not counting Project Legion), one nearly died, one might as well be dead, one is dead, and one they had nothing to do with initially. A few people in the past have speculated on World of Darkness that CCP was contractually required to develop a game. If that’s true, that makes the decision to sign the merger even worse if they had no realistic plan on how to develop and release WOD. The massive failures of those titles alone would have resulted in the firings of most executives in any other company, yet I have seen little responsibility shown by those who made those mistakes. Layoffs are sometimes the cost of doing business. But when you see a company frivolously throwing money away on things like monuments and failed development strategies while they’re in financial dire straits and laying off employees left and right, you’re free to openly criticize those the people who made those decisions. So, I’ve started thinking about this long and hard, and I’ve come to a single conclusion: Maybe the wrong people are being laid off?
Tags: ccp, hvac, layoffs

About the author

HVAC Repairman

LIKES: EVE Online, twitter, Payday 2, Marvel Heroes, trolling Xander
DISLIKES: EVE Online, Blawrf McTaggert, people who use the phrase ‘€œcowboy up’

  • Anon

    Reasonable analysis, although I’m not sure I’d agree with either the company being in “financial dire straits” or EVE having been on the verge of death in the wake of Monoclegate.

    On their finances, while they did have negative cash flow last year, their cash reserves are high enough that they could have several such years before being in a crisis. I firmly believe that the recent layoffs are due to a combination of investor pressure and an earnest effort to switch the company to a philosophy of running leaner overall in terms of staffing.

    The best entertainment companies start projects very small and ramp up late, once they are certain they have something good, rather than ramping up early and expecting something great to happen fast. After EVE, CCP’s management, with cash flowing in and a desire to follow up EVE’s success, figured “more is better” and approached World of Darkness with that in mind, growing (repeatedly) a large team without waiting for more clarity on how to crack the code of making it a good game.

    I think the EVE VR -> EVE: Valkyrie experience helped a lot in getting the idea across to CCP’s management that a small team can launch an innovative product more easily than a large team, when they have some freedom and less pressure to answer hard questions all at once. This idea is used at some of their best competitors, such as Blizzard, as well as prominent companies in other entertainment fields, such as Pixar. These companies wait to ramp up projects until they are close to where they need to be creatively, then they go all-out.

    On the question of how close EVE came to death, I think Incarna was certainly a key, critical moment, and demanded a response, but at the same time, EVE’s uniqueness in the MMO marketplace meant that they had more resiliency than most other such products would have. I think that the player reaction to Incarna wasn’t entirely predictable, and CCP did a pretty good job of understanding the urgency of the situation and reacting to it. There’s no question that EVE’s development processes have been completely overhauled for the better as a result of that experience.

    • Forlorn Wongraven

      I have faith in the process since all the major producers that saved EVE after Incarna are still in the company, right?

      • Kamar Raimo

        Yeah. It’s a relief to know that they kept John Lander.

        Also, I’ll just leave this here:

        “CCP remains committed to the franchise and our promise to make a compelling, rich, and deep World of Darkness experience” – Ned Coker, December 2013

      • Anon

        It’s been three years. People do move on to new jobs. We don’t know what politics (if any) caused Jon Lander to move on, but we do know that the people running EVE’s day to day development today are a different team than the one in place before Incarna. There have been changes. Are they the right ones? Who’s to say until we see the results?

        • Forlorn Wongraven

          Most of the guys that steered EVE into near death are still in high management positions in CCP. And the guys who saved it are gone. This just creates a bad feeling.

  • Forlorn Wongraven

    In EVE online CEOs step down when they can’t hold together a corp anymore, led multiple failed projects and have a long list of bad decisions. And if they don’t step down members will move on and go somewhere else RIOTING.

  • Easy Esky

    What bothers me is the volume of players that vapidly nod and site that CCP should remain solely focused on Eve. Should I point to a company like Ford Motors – should they have remained a maker of the Model T?

    It is in this vein I raise concern that Valkyrie does not need to be tied into New Eden. I certainly do not see a significant cross-flow of interest between Dust and Eve. So the business approach to made Valkyrie Eve-centric is already flawed based on existing trends with the player base.

    As for Incarna. What reception should have CCP expected? Previously greeted enthusiastically at FanFest, A full body avatar was a clear want from the player base. It seems that the blame is always only on the side of CCP. Where were these voices from FanFest when the riots broke out?

    • Malcanis

      The riots weren’t because CCP decided to develop avatar gameplay.

      The riots were because CCP left EVE to rot for two years and then FAILED TO DELIVER avatar gameplay. What we got for two years of waiting for blindingly easily fixed issues like rockets (yeah changing 2 numeric values is a gigantic development project, right guys?) was to be able to watch our videogame self watching TV in a cockroach infested hotel room, alone, until our video cards boiled off their heatsinks.

  • Saint Mick

    The only way to change senior management and shakeup an organisation like CCP is through shareholder/investment pressure. Given the size of the Eve player base and the passion this brings out in people, why don’t players buy stock/invest in CCP and then try and bring about change from the inside? Am I being delusional in suggesting that a player buyout might be viable?

    • Alphax45

      CCP is not public; you can’t just buy shares. You’d need a LOT of money to make an impact. I don’t think the player base is in a position to do so. There are also international issues as the player base is all over the world.

  • Quasi

    They took the “loss” on the WoD code but not only do they get to take that loss against their taxes but they have been making about 3 million a year in transferable tax credits for the past 8 years, which I think is a large reason they kept on redoing the code. The studio was actually making a profit by not putting out a product, only thing I can think of is that it became a cash flow problem as the tax credits where only released once per year and the stockholders wanted a more consistent cash flow (plus the Georgia tax credit was barely extended this past year).

  • Malcanis

    Don’t be one of the bads who go on about what the monument cost. Please, just don’t.

    It wasn’t enough to pay for one dev-year.

    • HVAC Repairman

      I didn’t go “on” about it, I mentioned it in passing in one line.