After playing EVE for nearly five years, I am currently undergoing a process of rediscovering and falling in love with the game all over again. One of the things that stand out to me is just how gorram pretty the game is. Recently SKINs were released as a feature, which allows pilots to obtain licenses to change the color scheme of the ships. This feature had a bit of a rough roll-out, there was a bug that allowed any SKIN to be applied to any ship, this lasted less than a week.
The bug did a lot to popularize the SKIN system, filling Reddit with hundreds of images of various ships SKINed in different ways. However, it also greatly misrepresented the feature as it would end up being, and I feel that players have lost sight of the WHY things are being done the way they are. So today I am going to peel back the curtain. This is a topic I have discussed with many CCP personnel, and I feel I have a good idea of the strategies being used. Allow me to share that with you.
First of all, decisions about SKINs have to be made from a business standpoint. It has been quite some time that a successful feature has added to EVE Online that functions as a new revenue stream. It is worth noting that the last time such things were attempted caused the Summer of Rage. So I think it is pretty reasonable for them to be cautious from a business standpoint. CCP has had a lot of ups and downs in the last few years, economically, and they could really use a win. In this regard, the business view of SKINs is huge. Considering the success of League of Legends and other free-2-play models using cosmetics as revenue, the incentive is very much there.
Secondly, SKINs represent a technical challenge that cannot be ignored. When the ships rendering code was first being designed, it would seem as if the idea of changing skins as it is currently conceptualized was not part of it. That in and of itself is fine, they wouldn’t be a very good development team if they couldn’t implement new features, or modify existing ones. However, such things are tricky. Combine that with the modern development cadence, and a firm idea of Agile methodology, you have the ability to release features in waves, allowing you to test concepts with small experiments, ramping upwards as you go.
So with both of these considerations, lets look at the release of SKINs as a timeline.
Originally SKINs were just modified ship plans. This actually produced new ships, so it may or may not have utilized the new system for managing what SKIN should be shown while flying in space. In all likelihood, the separation of skin and ship was already made, but transitions and UI for changing wasn’t put in until phase two. During this time they released two or three options for each race for each ship size, as well as providing several pirate ships. There were three methods of obtaining these ships: Aurum, CONCORD LP (for police pursuit Comet), and drops from sites (for pirate ships). This phase functioned as business test more than a functional one. It seems pretty obvious it was a success. However, it is worth noting that this is the last time SKINs have been added that were not Aurum.
Then came the SKINs. 102 new ship SKINs were introduced. These SKINs followed very specific rules.
It was at this time that the bug involving SKINs was introduced. This had a few very interesting effects.
Foremost, it proved that the interest in SKINs was high. VERY high in fact. I would argue that the introduction of SKINs was the most popular new feature I have seen in years. Unfortunately, most of the excitement was over the bug, rather than its completed form. The primary argument for its removal was one of technical limitations. Many people dismiss CCPs argument, but one must bear in mind the environment in which this was happening. On the one hand, CCP desires for this feature to be successful and profitable. On the other hand, CCP was also still mindful of how explosive the community can get, especially when real money is at stake. At one point I was fearful the entire project would get scrapped thanks to the bug, all it would have taken is for the business side deciding the project was more trouble than it was worth. Eventually, EVE moved on, and a dev blog entitled “New Skins This Summer” was released that more or less functioned as a well reasoned argument for the bug’s removal.
With Carnyx came the first SKINs released after the bug was fixed. In my belief this is when CCP really started sending messages with the ships and SKINS they chose to release. Lets look at them.
- They were all T1 (and many of the ships already had other SKINs)
- They were all attached to a couple of corporations within empires. (Syndicate stands out as a bit of an exception here)
- They were all purchased with Aurum.
- They were all only a specific SKIN for a specific ship.
- If the corporation the SKINs are for matches a T2 ship, an alternative was provided. (No T1 ship would be allowed to look like the T2 version of the ship).
Although this is only four ships there is a lot of things to note here:
- Thukker Tribe Vargur
- Police Kronos
- Blood Raider Paladin
- Kaalakoita Golem
Shortly thereafter they launched the SKINs for the Stratios, Astero, and Nestor. This represented the first time that pirate ships were given SKINs.
Finally they released a set of SKINs that represented a clear expanding of the product, and a removal of some primary rules. Most notably, T2 ships now have the same SKIN as the T1 version of the ship.
- The ship chosen is the Paladin (A T2 ship)
- The Paladin is probably the T2 least likely to be flown in huge numbers in a fleet. (Outside of blops)
- Marauders are huge ISK expenditures, and usually used in PVE, where investment in individual ships is far more popular.
- The Blood Raider Paladin is a permanent pirate skin (previously all pirate skins were temporary)
- Police Pursuit Kronos is purchasable by Aurum, not LP like the Comet.
Amarr – EoM
Caldari – Wiyrkomi
Gallente – Intaki Syndicate
Minmatar – Republic Justice Department
We have now received several releases for these same corporation, which I think gives us quite a bit of insight as to how they are developing these skins. At first we would get several skins for certain ships, however over time I think they have been mostly focusing on specific skins across multiple ships. This could in theory pave the way to allowing players to buy a skin for all ships of a certain race. This has been a hot button issue since the days when the bug exposed how awesome it was to SKIN ships in ways CCP did not originally intend. However, it is important to remember that CCPs choice to allow SKINs to apply to multiple ships is a business decision, and we have no real data to show how they are thinking about the grumbling (I imagine it doesn’t impact them much).
Clearly the rules of SKINs have changed, and when you lay it all out it starts to make sense. When the SKINs were first released, the system wasn’t 100% robust. Enough of the feature was built to allow people to begin playing with the experience. Over time, more tools and QA is being performed and as the system is tested both from a business and technical standpoint, it expands. Each release since the bug has stood as a message to the players about how the system is improving, and what new things they are comfortable with.
People who criticize the system need to understand the goals of it, and the reason behind the decisions made. This has been a careful rollout for what they hope to be a major support structure for the years to come. Things such as multiple ship paint options, or limited time options are still up for grabs, but the SKIN system overall is evolving to match a fairly standard cosmetic model. It is very likely that in the future this will stand out as a amazingly well executed rollout, considering the bug that was presented.