Play to Work, Work to PlayLuobote Kong
Did you miss it? I did. The paperless office revolution? Quite where the filing cabinets went is a bit of a mystery, but they have definitely gone. Looking round the office, I see a forlorn dusty printer sitting in the corner. But where did the fax machine go? Of course, all this was foretold back when the world was black and white. I remember a heavily optimistic TV programme bellowing at me about the future world we were destined for. It seemed to involve randomly spinning reel to reel tape machines with random flashing lights, and you could sense even the presenters weren’t convinced. Looking round now, the change is tangible but it doesn’t match the prediction. Certainly there is no paper, but there is no brown spaghetti fused with Christmas lights either.
The office has less people too. Working from home or indeed working anywhere but the office is now de rigueur. Attitudes have moved and yes, I missed that too. At one time, if you wanted to work from home in my line of work, you were regarded as a skiving, work-shy fraudster. Now you are regarded as lonely, needy loser requiring management oversight if you come into work. All of which means I can play Eve, or on this occasion write about Eve, as well as work. The laptop, tablet or smartphone are my workplace. The location is irrelevant.
“Work and play are merging as the technologies and attitudes we adopt for both coincide.”
This change has aligned with how we spend our spare time. Have you ever talked to friends and relations via social media in what would be considered work time? I have certainly updated Jita sell orders while being on a work conference call. I have also taken a work call while dodging a Sabre on a gate. Work and play are merging as the technologies and attitudes we adopt for both coincide. So that’s good. I can pretend to do spreadsheets in life when I am actually doing spreadsheets in space. What’s not to like?
Well, depending on your personal circumstances, potentially quite a lot. As with all disruptive changes, there is a cost. You wouldn’t want to be a bespoke weaver when the Jacquard loom was invented for example. However, in the past jobs lost through technical advance were accompanied by the creation of new high-skilled and well paid jobs. The loom manufacturers and ‘programmers’ did well, and even the relatively unskilled operators of the machines were paid more than they received as farm labourers. The wages from those and similar new jobs fuelled greater consumption and therefore more jobs. Jobs that over time were in turn automated as technological progress continued to do its thing.
Here’s the thing. The current technical advances we now are experiencing have spawned a rather different outcome. For as we are beginning to appreciate, computers have learned to handle unstructured information, interpret human speech, and understand our commands, actions, and even our intentions. Manufacturing and agricultural jobs have been significantly automated away. Service and administration jobs have replaced the assembly worker but for much lower pay. These too are under threat. Have you seen the touch screen ordering points in McDonald’s recently? With the current research pouring into drones, driverless cars, and 3D printing, you can perhaps see why the prospect of a low work society is becoming a real one.
This isn’t just my tinfoil. A study in 2013 by the Oxford Martin School in the US identified that 47% of jobs could be subject to automation by the year 2050. Yet another recent study (McKinsey Global Institute: Smart computers, skilled robots, redundant people 2013) suggests 150 million knowledge worker jobs will disappear (that would be me!).
Eve, like any other facet of the world economy, is not isolated from this change and in one aspect it is particularly susceptible. If you look at the age distribution of Eve players presented by CCP Quant at the last Fanfest in the graph below, pay particular attention to the age range of 15 to 24 year olds.
There is a deficit in this group and this is a problem that is not unique to Eve. Other MMO’s have or are experiencing similar pressures on what should be the new and next generation of players and it is a problem that has become more acute since the crash of 2008. Certainly, part of this can be said to be due to a change in game players taste. However, this age group is under significant economic pressure due to the disruptive impact technology.
For example, world youth unemployment (15-24) was estimated at 14% in 2014. The trend is still increasing. It is higher than 25% in parts of Europe. Alongside this is the decline in regular permanent jobs which are being replaced with short contract and part-time low paid irregular employment. There are even terms to describe those facing this scenario. In Japan they are called “Freeters”, “NEETS” in the UK and more generally the “Precariat” where people live in a situation of sparse financial predictability or security.
So against that backdrop, an Eve subscription becomes a challenge to an important demographic and even a PLEX commits a person to a block of time that they may not have available. FC, what do?
Of course, Eve is not the only game affected and others have responded with new business models such as Free To Play. There appear to be indications that CCP are at least considering this route if not already committed to it. If they were to choose this option then it would be hard to blame them. CCP cannot remain a one trick pony if it is to continue to survive. It needs to generate income for new projects like NotLegion as well as maintaining Eve. There is a whole debate to be had about the various ramifications around Free to Play but let’s leave that for another day. CCP has to make some response. Free to Play would be a reactive response, but is there something more proactive they could be doing?
“…we are considering today’s problem against old paradigms and guess what? They don’t fit.”
The great and the good tell us that a bit of a mindset change is required because we are considering today’s problem against old paradigms and guess what? They don’t fit. They go on to suggest that for this future world to be viable, there needs to be a fundamental reassessment about the concept of ‘work’ and our relationship to it. Now obviously, if you shove the great and the good in a room to consider this question, or any question, what you end up with is the CSM. So let’s not do that. It would be easier to look at what people are actually doing to respond to the changes they face today and see if we can draw any conclusions.
It isn’t all bad news. The first thing to say is that humans are highly flexible, creative, good at interacting with other humans, and good at recognising patterns in the way that machines aren’t. There will always be work that demands these attributes. So clearly there is a unique capability humans have that can be harnessed. It is just the part of the ongoing revolution that has yet to be unlocked. While they might be under pressure, the 15-24 demographic is not sitting idly by, wallowing in their collective misery as the world of work turns against them. They are smart, proactive and interactive and are finding new ways to create value and earn a bit of money. Often this is through leveraging a hobby or interest, be it cooking, makeup or indeed playing Eve. For example, this can range from blogging and streaming at one end of the spectrum through to activities generally regarded as less desirable in the context of Eve where it involves full on RMT.
This tells us something important even though it might be obvious. The idea of Eve being a workplace rather than just a place for recreation is not alien to many people. While this notion is not particularly insightful, it does establish point of reference. This is not something you have to persuade people to do. They are already game for it. However, it poses a dilemma for CCP. Players ‘working’ can detrimentally impact the experience of players ‘playing’ and convoluted EULA terms have to be crafted to protect the balance without harming the bottom line. Nonetheless, the principle is established. People other than CCP employees can derive an income off Eve and with the external drivers of the world economy being what they are, this is likely to become prevalent.
So to recap, a key demographic is struggling to find a stable income and therefore finds it hard to engage with Eve. However, a motivated portion of this age group has turned to Eve as a solution to the wider problem as a minor income source. Exchange rates and the cost of living in some countries can make this more than a trivial sum. They are doing this by using skills that machines cannot match to the extent that CCP employs people to keep them in check. Now hold that thought for a bit.
Meanwhile, CCP has embarked on something remarkable. I personally think it is most innovative thing they have attempted. Even if it fails, I think it will still be a definitive point in history because of what might be learned from it. No, I am not talking about VR. I am referring to Project Discovery. Project Discovery is a collaboration with The Human Protein Atlas, a Swedish research project. The project seeks to “identify all proteins our genes are coding for, and their spatial pattern of expression, to ultimately understand their function and connection to disease.”
“Citizen science” is not a new phenomenon. Neither is the idea of packaging it as a game. For example, Cancer Research UK has made the “Play to Cure” game app as a means of crowdsourcing research. The difficulty has been to keep the ‘researchers’ engaged once the initial altruism and enthusiasm has subsided. Project Discovery is different in that it isn’t really crowdsourcing, and in reality it is more like an outsourcing model. Although no money may have exchanged hands, CCP are in effect bidding for a work contract and pitching us players as the resource. We are an asset that CCP can deploy. Eve players are an intelligent, motivated and available asset that most employment agencies would love to have on their books.
From the player perspective we notice nothing and we don’t need to care. We just keep doing what we do because Project Discovery is seamless and integrated with the game and it is set in context of game lore. This is a key point. We won’t all want to play the minigame because ~science. We will play it because it is part and parcel of playing Eve and we get blingy Sisters of Eve stuff as a reward.
“CCP will have proven it can motivate a large workforce to help solve a real world problem.”
Now for the tinfoil. If Project Discovery is a success, CCP could go further. CCP will have proven it can motivate a large workforce to help solve a real world problem. It could sell the processing power of Eve to other commercial organisations as a service and integrate their requirements into the game. We players become the wetware computing power in the equation. The open nature of the New Eden universe and the current state of PVE makes Eve a very versatile environment. Like a new office block with utilities already patched in, it could be configured for multiple purposes. Other games would less suited to incorporate something like Project Discovery without compromising the gameplay in some way. So there is a new potential income stream for CCP which is derived in much the same way as Amazon leveraged the IT services required to order and deliver CD’s to what is now the cloud computing leviathan we know as Amazon Web Services.
But why let the tinfoil stop there? If CCP were successful in selling wetware solutions, it would eventually hit a couple of problems. Firstly, capacity as it finds it doesn’t have enough players available to do the tasks (or in our terms PVE) that CCP’s clients wish to fulfill. Secondly, the success would bring competition. Other games developers would get into the market and attempt to poach Eve players. This can only go one way. Eventually CCP and other games makers will have to pay you to play, as a Free to Play offering would not be sufficient hold on to their player base. As I have already indicated, the direction the world economy has taken means there is a new generation of players that could be opened up if there was the prospect of earning money and CCP would in this scenario have a means to pay them.
OK, so much for the tinfoil. I did pose the question about whether Eve could be more proactive about the changes we are all experiencing. I think the answer, with a little bit of a leap of the imagination, is that perhaps they are being proactive already and that could conceivably lead to Eve becoming a place of both work and play in the future. Maybe it is just fantasy. But if you have lasted this far and you are a diligent Pathology Lab Technician please don’t blink. Because if you do, you might miss your job being outsourced to a drunken pirate, a market scammer, or any other of the heinous individuals that inhabit Eve. Oddly, that future would appeal to me.