The Flight of Seagull

 

When Andie Nordgren, AKA CCP Seagull, became the Executive Producer of EVE Online at CCP Games in mid 2014, the company was reeling from a series of setbacks that had started with the Incarna debacle in summer 2011.

In 2013 a round of layoffs had stripped almost 20% off CCP’s workforce – mostly in Atlanta. That office had mostly been dedicated to developing the World of Darkness MMO which was finally cancelled in spring 2014 after years of unsuccessful development. Some prominent figures also left the company of their own accord. Most notably the lead game designer CCP Soundwave and the previous Executive Producer CCP Unifex.

Turnover in this industry tends to be high, but it seemed that more was going on behind the scenes, and that indeed appeared to be the case. In the wake of the World of Darkness cancellation The Guardian released a scathing article on the internal troubles plaguing CCP, and on the employer review site Glass Door negative reviews were piling up. A picture emerged of a company that suffered from bad management and toxic internal politics, struggling to barely hold on to the success of its core product EVE Online, while unable to produce anything else that would diversify its portfolio.

In those days, many doubts existed whether that new Executive Producer could steer a course out of those troubled waters, while battling a stubborn senior management. Only a year earlier Nordgren had become Senior Producer, and in her first appearances on stage she seemed insecure. Her background was also not in game-design per se. Her previous functions within CCP had been more on the technical side. It is an oft-quoted business stereotype that engineering specialists don’t make good strategic planning managers. Would she be the right person to replace the quiet confidence of John Lander (CCP Unifex) or the boyish charisma of Kristoffer Touborg (CCP Soundwave)?

CCP Seagull hit the ground running

As it turned out, the doubters were proven wrong. CCP Seagull hit the ground running. Already during her time as Senior Producer, she had worked on a new long-term development roadmap. Since she came from the technical side, she had solid experience in project management and delivery of features – a trait very valuable for the second decade of EVE where CCP aspired to become more professional and organised as opposed to the haphazard startup mentality that had characterised the company up to then. However, Seagull was not only a professional match, but had interests throughout her life which resonate with the game itself. RPGs, LARPing, games in general and an affinity for modern (online) technology. Seagull was someone who could understand the potential and fascination a game like EVE Online has, and her tenure showed that she definitely had a vision for the future.

 

 

A New Focus

During previous years, EVE Online development had strongly focused on biannual expansions built around a main gameplay feature, such as wormholes, Factional Warfare, sovereignty or incursions, but in the post-Incarna period CCP had become almost gun-shy about introducing major new content. The order of the day was re-balancing and consolidation of EVE as a game. This could not go on forever though. At some point new aspects had to enter a game that was showing its age.

The result was a new release schedule and philosophy. The many balance changes and quality-of-life improvements still necessary needed to be deployed continuously in small but short increments, but on the other hand, there would also be a grand development roadmap with major goals. Game mechanics that had not been touched in years were to be completely changed or replaced; the sovereignty system dated back to 2009 and the distribution of resources in nullsec had been unchanged even longer. The infamously problematic Player Owned Structures (POS) and Outposts would be replaced by a whole new set of structures, and at the end goal of it all would be player-built stargates.

Such plans are of course not only the effort of one person, but CCP Seagull became the custodian of that roadmap in more ways than just publicly presenting it. In all her presentations she came back to the plan that CCP is committed to for the second decade, and the steps taken in game development showed clear progress toward the stated goals.

Some of the changes that happened along the way were not received with great enthusiasm. The introduction of Jump Fatigue with Phoebe is a gripe with many up until this day (despite rebalance), and the Aegis sovereignty overhaul has also been criticised ever since by diverse groups. Still, for the first time it seemed like CCP were committed to a long-term plan and actually appeared to stick to it. That reflects another change during the tenure of CCP Seagull.

In the past CCP has been notorious for creating expectations that were never fulfilled. At the cusp of EVE’s second decade they declared that only features which are already in pre-production would be presented. If a player watched a presentation at Fanfest about an upcoming new feature, they would know that it will be implemented with certainty within a release or two. Again, as Executive Producer, CCP Seagull was vouching for this, and so far CCP has stuck with this for the most part.

 

On Seagull’s Wings

The professional track record of Seagull’s tenure certainly ticks the boxes. Independent of what we might think of the specific details and implementations, EVE progressed. In terms of continuous rebalance and cosmetic improvements, the short-term release schedule worked out well, and the major features such as citadels and new sov mechanics were delivered as announced.

the EP can give the whole thing a personal touch

However, I propose that an Executive Producer can do more than just make sure that the development goals are met. Like a film director or the conductor of an orchestra, the EP can give the whole thing a personal touch, and I would say that CCP Seagull certainly did much to achieve that.

 

 

The EVE lore and backstory development crew had been gutted by the layoffs between 2013 and 2014, and yet we saw efforts to develop the meta plot of New Eden on a scale that hasn’t happened since Incursion in 2010.

The Drifters appeared. Storylines that had lain dormant since the days of Arek’Jalaan and Templar One were picked up again. Fanfest 2017 was even partially turned into a LARP event that tied in with the game, and of course the Amarr Empress died and a new one was chosen through succession trials involving players. An event not held since the very early days of EVE.

Seagull often spoke of an immersive world that invites to exploration and engagement. As an old fan of RPGs she certainly understood the significance of that. At the same time, she also strongly favoured an approach that would put the players and their actions at the center of the game’s narrative and she elaborated on that during a presentation she gave on game design. The much celebrated This is EVE trailer is a definitive expression of that design paradigm and for a time it seemed that this new approach would bear fruit.

To help solve EVE’s notorious problem with player retention, the new player experience was also overhauled and the dated PVE gameplay got a few refreshing new aspects. EVE Online gained some more traction with the public, new players came in larger numbers again, and within the game new groups of players were emerging who worked off the content that was provided, most notably the Arataka Research Collective who became a major participant in the Kyonoke Inquest event at Fanfest 2017 as well as content creators in their own right.

 

Descent and Departure

Ultimately, though, the active player numbers of EVE did not grow in any sustainable way. The general trend is in fact downward. As much as Seagull did to become the leading representative of a reform in CCP attitude and development planning, it was not enough to make EVE recover from its apparent stagnation. Her efforts may have helped to avoid the worst after the crisis period between Incarna and the World of Darkness failure, but did she manage to become a protagonist of persistent change within CCP?

“the users are talking about themselves, not you”

In her presentation I linked above, Andie Nordgren proposed that things are going well in your design if “the users are talking about themselves, not you (i.e. the developer)”. Of course, EVE players like to gossip, speculate and discuss about the ups and downs of CCP and their developers, but again in recent times that talk has tended more towards the negative, and that would certainly be the antithesis to Seagull’s view.

2017 brought another round of layoffs as CCP discontinued their VR games (Valkyrie, Gunjack and Sparc). Yet again the community team has been hit hard, and it is noticeable. For example, the Alliance Tournament will mostly be organized by the players of EVE-NT, and the CSM elections have been postponed. Even the composition of Permaband has changed. The year before, Lead Game Designer CCP Scarpia left along with Senior Game Designer CCP Ytterbium and Technical Designer CCP Foxfour. Key personnel who were important for the ongoing efforts.

In the four years of Seagull’s work as Executive Producer for EVE Online, the business model has shifted too. Now the game has a free to play option, Skill Extractors and Injectors have been introduced to offer a new “quick fix” through monetization. Dust514 has been cancelled just like the VR games, and the original intended replacement – Project Legion – was never heard of again, potentially being replaced by a new FPS-Game project called Nova. That FPS shooter was announced as being close to release “within months, not years” by CCP-Hellmar, the CEO, but the results of that have yet to be seen.

the question is whether CCP will stay committed to this goal

Older players like myself feel reminded of the problematic times between 2011 and 2014, especially with Seagull’s departure. Of course, the decisions about other games or the monetization strategy fall outside the scope of her work, but one thing remains that was explicitly stated on Seagull’s roadmap: the opening of new space and the creation of player-built stargates. With Andie Nordgren leaving, the question is whether CCP will stay committed to this goal. Has the groundwork been laid already, and is the capacity there to make this dream a reality? Will a new executive producer be able to continue on Nordgren’s path of greater immersion, more player focus and faithful commitment to a stated development roadmap?

CCP has just introduced a completely new faction and a previously unknown region of space into the game. Is that a stepping stone along the trajectory Seagull has outlined for us, or will it whither on the vine like other CCP games and features have in the past?

For now CEO Hilmar Veigar Pétursson fills in as EP for EVE, and it is uncertain what we can expect. No announcements about major future developments have been made this Fanfest. Instead, in her last Keynote, CCP Seagull emphasized on base principles like balance, the sandbox, and exploring. She reminded us that the development of structures is ongoing and named specific dates for the release, so we at least know that this plan will be realized. For the rest we will probably have to wait until a new Executive Producer and Lead Game designer can be found.

I hope that will be sooner rather than later, and I also hope it will be someone who understands the phenomenon of EVE Online as deeply as Andie Nordgren did.

 

 

Tags: Andie Nordgren, CCP Seagull, Tarek Raimo

About the author

Tarek Raimo

Former nullsec spy (no not under that name of course) and current failure at lowsec solo PVP, Tarek spends his time not logging in to the game as much as he keeps thinking about its social and metagame nature and sharing some of those thoughts with the CZ readers.


  • Kari Trace

    So sad to see Seagull leaving, though the reason is understandable. Where CCP goes from here, based on there recent actions, does not instill confidence.

  • Viince_Snetterton

    The CEO has appointed himself EP? Oh man. Once again, this company has no real mgmt. How can they lose their EP( who I am glad to see gone) without having someone in the wings of at least some capability to step up, at the very least on an interim basis. But then again, with all the purges of talent over the past years, guess it is not too surprising, given this company’s abysmal track record.

    • Kamar Raimo

      Why are you glad Seagull is gone?

      • Another User

        CCP you get more Bee’s with Honey, when with salt.

    • Anthony Gray

      …so whats your beef with Seagull?

  • Tash-Murkon

    “The result was a new release schedule and philosophy.”

    And this principle was scrapped right away as features were rushed in unfinished, unpolished and unusable state to TQ, ridiculing this new philosophy from the start and making EVE users angry and frustrated because now they didn’t have to deal with unfinished mechanics every 6 months but instead every 6 weeks or even sooner. Great work there.

    “This could not go on forever though. At some point new aspects had to enter a game that was showing its age.”

    These new contents came into EVE more successfully and better received every 6 months than every 6 weeks for the above reasons.

    What Seagull talked about was rarely ever realized into actual and actually good and enjoyable gameplay. Instead it resulted in annoying and tedious gameplay that was unfinished and unpolished on top of it.

    • Kamar Raimo

      To be fair, we have had years of unfinished and unpolished mechanics entering the game. At least in the second decade they actually came back and re-iterated on things. Not in years but in months. Remember the failed Crius Industrial Teams mechanic. They scrapped it. That was the first time I ever saw CCP taking a feature out of the game again because it didn’t do what they thought it would. On top of that, ships have been rebalanced, the Jump Fatigue mechanics have been adjusted twice and Citadels saw some balance changes too. I have never previosly seen CCP addressing issues as quickly as in the last five years.

      • Easy Esky

        The real reason that Industry Teams was scraped was because it was a perfect intel tool. It allowed for a mercenaries to be hired and kill a industry hub which was producing Capital Components. Which would have normally been hidden in its location on a security island.

        How it works is; the services are of the Ind-T are bidding/auction. For the winner of the auction, then the Ind-T appear in the system. Which you would be expecting to do specific task that the Ind-T help with. But it was setup so that industrialist could be nomadic and and follow the Ind-T to the current system. Thus also taking advantage of the bonuses which the Ind-T offered. But the location of the Ind-T is public knowledge available to everybody. So if you do something very specific like Capital Components anybody can work out your location and then kill it. (just picture the knowledge of where the Capital Assembly Arrays are located).

        There are plenty of under-utilized features in this game that would equally deserve just scrapping or a complete overhaul. Cosmos missions being singular run would certainly qualify. Resource Wars is a failure but not removed.

        • Kamar Raimo

          I think COSMOS missions fall under the legacy code category where nobody really knows how that stuff works anymore and they would rather not touch it, or otherwise it is so low priority that nobody bothers. I agree they should either be fixed or taken out, because they only confuse new players.

          Resource wars are still a really young feature, and they do not provide any intel leaks like you describe, so it’s not a priority to remove them either.

          What remains is, that the new development regime has produced features which can be adjusted and rebalanced quickly, as opposed to old stuff which is hidden in a tangle of old undocumented code.

          We can only hope for a replacement of the corp management interface, because I seriously doubt there is anybody left at CCP who could even begin to unravel that mess.

      • Tash-Murkon

        I disagree that CCP is working better and more timely on features and iterates on them now than before. The Agency is still in a wholly unusable state months after combining most PVE stuff into it. CCP just neglects it. The industry window is still lacking features and performance years after the introduction. New PVE is being released and then left lingering. Contracts are still a mess and will be even more so with the RNG modules. Ship balancing was being neglected for years and only recently has picked up a little bit … only to be dropped again with the cancellation of the dedicated balance team.

        CCP management simply does not give their teams the time that the new release method promised.

        • Kamar Raimo

          Maybe I am just used to so much worse by CCP 😀

  • RoAnnon

    good article, enjoyed reading it.

  • First of all: thank you to CCP Seagull for all the hard work she has done.

    Great piece.

    The problem I see with EVE Online is that CCP does not appear to really understand the wealth of the universe it created. There’s definitely a component of ‘we have to be able to implement it’ and that is going to inform what can actually be built.

    However, there are many things that can be done in a universe like EVE that enhance the overall experience. Capsuleers have no home. Which is odd when you consider they are at the very top of the New Eden social strata.

    I talked to CCP Edelweiss at Fanfest about the fact that since you have Alpha and Omega clones, there are now different social circles on which to build. You could give new Alphas their own little shop, where they run their operations and get to know EVE Online while establishing themselves as an entity. It could tie into the Omega social circle that could benefit from Alpha clone operations.

    An Alpha clone could have its own, limited, influence in the game. They would eventually run into the limitations of what they were allowed to do and that would inspire them to upgrade to Omega. The reason for doing this is so that they would not be immediately thrown into the padded room together with you, homicidal maniacs that you are, and run away scared, never to be seen again. Only after they acclimatised to the brutal nature of the place, which I don’t want changed, would they get a feel for ‘what the game can really do’.

    The real problem from the point of view of CCP is that they work on the engineering challenge and they think of features that we might like.

    What they do not do, or they don’t appear to care very much, is view New Eden as a social construct from the perspective of what it means to be a capsuleer. We get lore but we don’t get culture. We can scarcely express what it means to be a capsuleer. Only in very select circumstances do we see a way to doing that. Chribba has done it. Mittani has done it. Vile Rat has done it. A few others, no doubt have done that. They have become names because they stood out. We want means to allow us to stand out.

    It can’t all be about war. I can scarcely understand the meaning behind gaining Sov, as a reason to go to war. Kill mails are like lollipops for kids. You care about kill mails? Why? What do they do for you?

    What you want to do is to engage with the environment such that you impress your indelible stamp on the place, by allowing changes to be made that affect the sandbox permanently.

    War will happen but it can’t all be about war. War should be a rare occasion, it should not be a semi-permanent condition. It’s the wrong way to look on society. It is society we want to see emerge in New Eden, such that it becomes its own reality.

    We have seen embers, we are tantalisingly close to something like it. We are not living up to the promise of what New Eden can become.

    • Kamar Raimo

      The funny thing is, that CCP repeatedly expressed how they are themselves overwhelmed by the thing they have unleashed with EVE. They even had the Icelandic president do a speech which basically expressed how surprised the Icelanders were that something conceived on their little island could resonate so far across the world in such unexpected ways. Seagull seemed to me as the first person who did not just stand there gawking and saying “how cool is that”. She actively developed a concept on how to work with this potential. Watch the linked presentation by her, it explains her perspective really well.

      Even to this day, Hilmar still talks about EVE like the kid with an ant farm, or rather like the protagonist in G.R.R Martin’s story Sandkings. Check it out, there is a freely available reading on youtube. That story is almost like the horror version of CCP vs. EVE history.

      • DireNecessity

        If EVE’s origin story story is to be believed (though a little dated, see https://crossingzebras.com/on-stability/ ), CCP more or less bumbled across the magic that is EVE. While I agree with you that Seagull may well have been the first Executive Producer to truly understand what CCP had unleashed, that alone doesn’t much change how CCP is supposed to maintain the world created. If one is an over the top alpha personality, I imagine working with CCP Seagull proved aggravating since she was really doubling down on the “No, no no, we’re not in charge here, the players are, we just facilitate” and what over the top alpha personality wants to hear that?

        I’ll miss Seagull, even if we didn’t agree about everything (a rare occurrence), I always felt like she was on my side. Still, once the lightening’s out of the bottle, it’s difficult to cram it back in. Despite CCP’s numerous missteps over the years, they haven’t killed the magic they’ve unleashed yet. It’ll continue to prove a difficult beast to take down. I believe we’ll be OK.

        • Kamar Raimo

          I particularly liked that disarming effect of her personality. She wasn’t indulging in the “alpha personality” narrative but recognized that this game has many ways it can be played and experienced, and I think her desire was to encourage all of them, not only the king-of-the-hill types.

          15 years on, I get the feeling that this has been lost. The idea that every little action in the game is part of a larger emergent narrative tends to get lost in the era of “join one of those 3-4 major power adjuncts that cater to new players”. The message these days is less “you can make a difference” and more “there is a place for you to fit in”.

          On one side I find it amazing that players have basically created their own safe areas in nullsec, who would have thought, on the other hand it takes away from the frontier spirit that I remember from the days when I started. Back then nobody was safe and even the largest alliances could be annihilated if they made the wrong move.

      • > They even had the Icelandic president do a speech which basically expressed how surprised the Icelanders were that something conceived on their little island could resonate so far across the world in such unexpected ways.

        I was in the room for that speech.

        I agree with your view. One night a bunch of nerds in an attic in Reykjavik (or wherever), drunk out of their skull have this amazing idea: let’s make a spaceship game with a player-run economy. The Icelanders have this idea of ‘yeah, why the hell not, let’s give it a shot’ as an outlook on life. They’re an island culture and Iceland is a brutal and harsh environment. If you don’t take the occasional chance you’ll never get anywhere.

        So they make this spaceship game, and it’s just at the right time where gaming on the internet becomes feasible. In the early 90s you had MUDs. There we discussed the possibility of making not just online games that were entirely ASCII-based, but they would have actual rooms you could walk around in, with nice graphics. But you could not do that then, the networks were too slow (you could slow down the response of the server by spamming the enter key 🙂 ), not enough people had a computer and who in the world would ever put money into a game on the internet? We thought it would never happen.

        A space ship game is the right thing of course. Who is going to love a space ship game? Sci fi nerds. What do sci fi nerds have? A computer of course, they’re nerds. What will they want to do: play a game of space ships on the internet. It was a success destined to happen.

        So, the nerds in Iceland make this game that’s as harsh as the environment they live in. It’s a perfect match. From an engineering part it’s fantastic. Hilmar commented on grinding to replace a ship he lost and how it amazed him that he cared so much about that. That’s the first step. And it’s the right perspective.

        The next step, and this is one leap I believe they never really made, is that it can’t just work on the perspective of human psychology as it pertains to playing games (push a button here, get a shiny bauble), they have to translate the idea into the gaming universe itself. That is what Seagull pointed to: the players run the entire show. The thing with that is: it can’t just be a sparse set of game mechanics, important as they are.
        What it really needs is the culture(s) that you see in the game. The four factions gaining deeper meaning inside the game by each having their own customs (music, food, art, literature, etc…) Culture is what brings the universe to life. Culture is why you do the things you do and not the things other peoples do.
        Max Singularity has created the 6th Empire and is, I believe, working on Max Amarria. That is adding culture to the environment. All the people at Fanfest engaging in cosplay: acquiring identity in the universe. If you want to be successful that’s what you want your players to do: extend their sense of self into the gaming universe.

        This is obviously not a small thing, this is a big thing. It might take more engineering than what is possible, but then: EVE Online itself is this harebrained scheme that got big enough for the actual president of the nation to comment on it.

        Because this is the century for gamers, and it will be, and people do engage with identity in games (walk through a gamer con and you’ll see all manner of cosplay and things that people build because they want to express their sense of belonging) EVE Online is a perfect universe to do exactly that. If the right features are provided.

        That’s why I’m saying it shouldn’t just be about Sov, it should be about culture, identity and the needs that emerge from what the culture sets itself as a goal and the conflicts that arise from that, which the game mechanics can help resolve.

        Because EVE Online is the kind of game it is, it has the potential for a vastly expanded expression of what it means to be a capsuleer in New Eden. If CCP could manage that, they’d make one of the very first real third places that people don’t want to leave because they’d have more agency in EVE than they do in their actual life (which is an extremely scary thought but we’re already seeing that kind of thinking).

        What EVE Online is today is a shadow of the formidable expression of ideas it could become. CCP can either choose to go on a boring, predictable and utterly useless path making a passable game, or they could engage on a path towards a universe that people would flock to to live out their dreams.

        • Kamar Raimo

          You will probably love the next piece I am working on which is exactly about that: in-game culture and immersion 🙂

      • Tash-Murkon

        If you are overwhelmed, you fix your stuff first and don’t keep producing even more overwhelming stuff on top of it. CCP doesn’t get this, though.

        • Kamar Raimo

          For some time after Incarna that is what they tried, but then players started to moan that it’s all balance and nothing new. Maybe, instead of hiring whole dev teams to make some other game for once, CCP could hire a crew for a limited time period who just fix and consolidate existing content?

  • MooseArmy

    Hilmar will destroy eve, he is a business man and an investor and great at making and milking things for money, but as a director no.