Fanfest Perspectives: The Press PackNiden
For any true EVE player, the only drawback to Fanfest is that one simply cannot do all of it. The minute you step off the plane, until you zombie-walk back onto one, you are choosing what to be there for and what to miss, and so it was with me and what you’re about to read. I have chosen the parts of Fanfest that stood out to me. With no less than 15 staff on location however, we did our best to prowl every nook and cranny.
This year, thanks to the awesome folks at CCP, CZ was invited along with the mainstream press to Fanfest itself and special press events. This meant that I could hang out with devs in a much more relaxed setting and chat about EVE and other endeavours CCP are involved in. It also shows that CCP care about dedicated EVE media and the community, something that became more and more evident to me as Fanfest dew on.
On the first day, during a press dinner, Apothne and I got the chance to sit and chat with CCP Manifest and CCP Ruffige at length. While the other press folks seemed more interested in the food and talking about gaming in general, we immediately formed the EVE nerd cadre.
CCP understand the community a lot better than some people would have you believe
We got to talking about World War Bee and all the events surrounding it and it was impressive how interested and informed the guys were in the storylines and narratives encompassing the war. The discussion got rather esoteric as we got to talking about the community and types of players and personalities involved. It felt very much like we were on the same page and that CCP understand the community a lot better than some people would have you believe.
In EVE, it’s what the players do that’s the main attraction and the game’s marketing has naturally progressed in this direction. In essence, CCP need to use player storylines, and that has posed some unique and interesting problems as well as possibilities. Consider “theme park” MMO’s; there are tried and true methods of marketing expansions and new content – kill the new boss, get to the new level cap, explore the new area. But how do you market the sandbox? CCP have to roll with the punches and make use of what we, the players, do. That often means uncharted territory, and requires a deep understanding of what’s going on in our world.
Early Thursday morning, the press was permitted some hands-on time with CCP’s latest projects – Nova and Arena. As Arena seemed much more of a tech demo, I elected to focus on Nova and you can read mine or Gorski’s hands-on previews from last week.
In short, Nova is well put-together, but somewhat anonymous FPS. It’s like the strong foundation of a house that has yet to be built. It could be argued that CCP have learned their lesson from Dust 514 and are building the foundation first, and the more advanced stuff later, rather than the other way around. At this stage, Nova could be taken a myriad of directions, and it’s too early to tell which it may end up being.
In talking with the devs later on in the event, it was evident that they had heard the above feedback loud and clear. We might have a solid addition to New Eden on the horizon, but I don’t expect we’ll know for sure until next year at the earliest. I came back for a second run later in the day, at which point CCP had a kind of debrief with each group that had played in order to get their feedback. It’s a good sign that the developers have their ear to the ground and are on the right track.
The dream is still the three worlds seamlessly connected into one, but CCP aren’t counting their chickens before they hatch this time. And hopes of Unreal Engine-fueled walking in stations somewhere down the line are rekindled.
Soon after the press hands-on was concluded, it was time for the…
Opening Ceremony & EVE Keynote
If you haven’t seen the opening ceremony and EVE keynote, I strongly suggest you stop reading this article right now and do so.
I am not going to reiterate what was said (because you should 100% watch it for yourself), suffice to say that master of ceremony Hilmar deftly drew on both history, present and future to paint of a picture of where CCP is at today with all of its various projects and how it got there. However, the looking forward felt optimistic but grounded, not unrealistic. There was definitely a sense of expectation management, a lesson hard learned from previous mistakes.
What keeps coming back to me every year when I watch these, is that CCP have never gone corporate on us – it feels like it’s people up on that stage, talking as people do. I know what the alternative looks like, and I respect CCP immensely for not having gone that route.
Andie Nordgren is a remarkable success story in the history of the outwards-facing portions of CCP. You would be hard pressed to find an EVE player that dislikes her, and most have a sort of well-earned respect for her, a thing built from virtually nothing to what could be described as trust today – something few in the EVE community, dev or player, enjoy.
That is not to say that everything is sunshine and rainbows. Rumblings about the strangely morphing roadmap can be heard from several corners of the EVE media-sphere along with the lack of hype and wow-effect during the keynote.
Developing EVE for a community such as ours must at times feel like a bit of a Catch-22. We, the community, ask for more communication and openness from CCP, the latter acquiescing. We ask for realistic goals that we can trust more than the pipe dreams of before – expectation management – and get it. Now, we instead complain that there are no massive reveals, bombastic hype.
CCP are drawing on their two most important tools: player feedback and past experience
After having deployed the biggest change to nullsec sovereignty in years, CCP are now rolling out Citadel and all new structures along with a massive revamp to capitals – arguably some of the biggest changes and updates to EVE ever – and still some complain. Would it have been better if they had kept these things close to the chest, announced them at Fanfest and then just rolled them out? I think this would have been a terrible mistake, echoing the overconfident missteps of the past. CCP are drawing on their two most important tools: player feedback and past experience.
It may not translate into the sexiest keynote ever, filling the audience with hopes and dreams, but it most assuredly was the right way to go about it. It felt real.
Both Hilmar and Andie put heavy emphasis on player stories – something we would see expanded upon later on during Fanfest by CCP Ghost, and definitely striking a chord with what CCP Manifest was talking about when we sat down to chat on the day before Fanfest.
I think once the dust settles and we get on with our EVE lives, most of us will look back at this year’s EVE keynote as something that we could rely upon, rather than fodder for yet more articles and podcasts lamenting how this or the other thing never materialised or how an expansion was rushed out the door without player feedback and time to mature.
Later on, during the closing ceremony, CCP’s new Chief Customer Officer, Maria Sayans, made the comparison to Dan Calin when talking about Andrew Groen who closed the proceedings in the main hall on the first day. I’m a huge Dan Carlin fan, so this really struck a chord with me. If you have watched Andrew’s presentation and are aware of Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History podcast (and if not, you most certainly should do both), you’ll understand where she got the idea. Groen’s book, Empires of EVE, is the ultimate testament to that player actions matter in EVE Online, unlike any other virtual universe on this scale. To date, one of the best answers to the question (we all get from time to time from outsiders), “What’s so great about EVE then?” is simply “Here, read this book.”
Harpa & Chill
Rounding off the first day of Fanfest, the press was invited to a reception with the devs at the top of Harpa. The majority of the press being regular gaming writers, their task revolved mostly around trying wrap their heads around the big picture of EVE and finding ways to convey this to their readers (mostly by interrogating CCP Ghost). My own discussions with devs and a few of the newly elected CSM members revolved more around the details of the keynotes, Project Nova and the new council.
It will have not escaped anyone that the Council is on the verge of change… or a cliff. It will be interesting to see how CCP handle CSM XI, and indeed, how CSM XI handles itself. At this point, I’m quite convinced that neither knows for certain. Watch this space.
The next day kicked off with nasty hangovers and the Game Design Panel. As usual, it was a mix of interesting and not-really-a-question questions, and the devs did their best to answer the former and politely shoot down the latter. I also managed to jump the gun on on-grid links, but Fozzie was kind enough to indulge. Naturally, the topics revolved a lot around Citadels and the various mechanics that govern them, and it was evident that this was the area where the devs had the most concrete answers since it has consumed so much of CCP’s time over the past year.
there is hard data that supports that it is beneficial to player-to-player interaction and retention
One of the other interesting topics that came up was the daily tasks initiative that CCP are going ahead with. Essentially, as CCP Rise explained, it is intended to replace the login motivator that skill queues used to be. The thing that surprised at least me (and CCP it seems), was the fact that CCP found out that these skill queue log-ins actually had value – it was assumed that these were of little use and rarely lead to any actual gameplay or interaction. This turned out to be incorrect and now CCP are testing the waters with a simple mechanic in order to gather information on how well it’s working. To put it bluntly, logging in to shoot one NPC may seem dumb and feel like a force-fed chore that many people are not fans of (including me), however, there is hard data that supports that it is beneficial to player-to-player interaction and retention – realities that trump many other concerns.
Also, ECM crushes dreams. Apparently, there are a lot of ideas, and they’re all shit. I don’t envy CCP in having to solve this problem.
The Ships and Modules presentation was, as expected, a smorgasbord of data and mechanics, with a heavy emphasis on capitals. There are a lot of interesting topics to follow here, but I leave that to Gorski Car, Suitonia, Apothne and some of the other EFT gurus we have at CZ.
But holy shit that Vanquisher!
After these key events, people mostly spread between the player presentations and roundtables. Thanks to General Stargazer, CZ has most of the roundtables available on video and you can go and check those out yourself.
The roundtables are an interesting topic to discuss with players; some feel that they are the best possible way to communicate with the devs and get their ideas, wishes and fears across, others feel that they are a waste of time and that devs don’t really take any action based on what is discussed. To that I would say that it really depends on which ones you go to and what CCP are developing right now.
Being a lowsec meathead through and through, I of course attended the Lowsec, FW & Crimewatch roundtable. Unfortunately, it felt like I’d stepped into a time capsule to last year’s roundtable, because many (if not all) of the issues remained the same, such as the inability for FW pilots to use AOE weapons due to standings mechanics, among other things. It was plainly obvious to me that little time had been devoted to lowsec and FW in the shadow of Aegis sov and Citadel. Which, and I’ll catch some heat for this, is understandable. Lowsec isn’t in a bad place. But yeah, I wish they’d sort the smartbombs issue out – it’s been years now.
During Friday afternoon Xander and I were also invited to the o7 set to appear on stream and talk about CZ. CCP Antiquarian and Chocolate Rahne let us babble on about our little corner of the EVE world and we did our best to describe what CZ is all about to the viewers. To be fair, Xander did most of the talking and I filled in the spaces between. It’s a gratifying thing when you pour so many hours into this thing and get a little recognition like this. It really helps keep us going and honest to what we set out to do.
To the Death!
Rounding off Friday, two items remained on the agenda: The Amarr Championsips, with CZers Apothne and Suitonia involved in the commentary, and the Thing You Should Not Miss when going to Fanfest: The Pub Crawl.
The Championships turned out to be a super tight contest and the live team, lead by CCP Antiquarian, did a great job of covering the event that was both late and went well over time – he even made a joke about Apothne’s tight shirt and that gets an upvote from me.
Unfortunately, we’d also booked the CZ dinner that evening at the amazing Tapas Barinn, squeezed in between the Championships and the Pub Crawl. As several of our guys were involved with the event itself, and others had to wait for significant others that were on the Sisters of EVE Tour, the get-together was a bit of a disaster. But eventually, we had about half the team there and managed to stuff our faces in a hurry and enjoy a little of each other’s company before rushing off to the Pub Crawl.
As per CZ tradition, Xander, Jeg and I made sure to end up on Team Five-0. The Crawl did not dissapoint, you can read more about that in my submission to the CZ Minutes last week.
The Wrecking Machine
The final official day of Fanfest proved to be an interesting one for us.
Our man Dunk Dinkle was set to appear on the revived Alliance Panel, so naturally, lots of the CZ team showed up – and so did everyone else who could. The Serenity room filled up instantly, with people sitting on the stairs and some even not being able to get in. I think it’s safe to say that this is a part of Fanfest that most of us want, and when Seleene and I spoke with Manifest later, it was suggested that it should even be expanded upon.
So Dunk does his thing representing Brave, followed by Seleene’s (who recently also joined the CZ team) extensive presentation on The Mercenary Coalition. Then it was time for the Bastion guy, which turned out to be a snooze fest – but not for long!
After a minute or so, he nudges me, suggesting we have something ‘big’
In the middle of the presentation I notice that Xander is typing furiously on his phone, I mean more than he usually does. After a minute or so, he nudges me, suggesting we have something ‘big’ from Darius JOHNSON. I whip out my phone and start talking with DJ as well. Apparently, the rumors had been right and he was back. An article was in the works about the announcement of the formation of Ten Dollar Bond (in reference to Something Awful, the original source of Goons).
This could not wait. It had to be published the second it was done and the timing could not be better. You can read the result here. Suffice to say that the piece created waves in the community and Harpa itself very quickly and CZ broke yet another traffic record.
I spent the remainder of the evening waiting for the Party at the Top of the World chatting with Manifest, Rise, Fozzie and Bobmon from EN24 in the press lounge.
The devs seemed happy with the way Fanfest had gone and Rise noted that it had been relaxed and smooth. We talked about some of the player reactions to various things, as well as some hot topics that had been making the rounds in EVE media circles for some time. The way Manifest talked about these things reminded me again how well informed he is about what goes on in this world, parts of which are only known to a very select few. CCP Ghost joined us and I got a chance to talk to him about his excellent presentation and how he’d handled the small army of press that interrogated him the day before.
A thing that pleasantly surprised me was that these guys were excited about something like the article by DJ the same way you’d expect players to be. Even Andie came by and was quite aware of what was going on. They knew the history, they understood what it meant.
What this again reaffirmed in me is that the border that many seem to draw between players and devs, between us and them, is far too wide. A lot of the CCP devs are a part of this community, just as much as you or I. They are on this crazy ride just as much as we are, a lot of our perspectives are shared, we are in this experience together.
This, ultimately, is why I have such faith in CCP and the future of EVE Online.