The Tragedy of Dust 514

 

Here on Crossing Zebras, we have talked extensively about our fears for Dust 514 and whether it can stand tall in face of competition from the likes of Planetside 2, Call of Duty and Battlefield. It appears that we aren’t the only people thinking the same thing. One of the most senior members of Goonswarm Federation’s Dust 514 wing, Goonfeet (and coincidentally, one of the best people to follow on twitter) has written a guest blog telling us why he thinks Dust 514 is doomed to failure.

Announced in the Summer of 2009, CCP abruptly revealed a new product in development called “DUST 514.”  Proclaimed as a Sci-Fi shooter that not only took place in New Eden but also heavily interacted with it.  I’m not entirely sure what had perked my interest.  I had never been anything more than a casual FPS player, and I certainly wasn’t that big into consoles.  Perhaps it was because I was a big EVE player.  Maybe I was looking for something different.  Regardless, Dust had definitely caught my attention and before I knew it I was hooked in the hype.

Four years later, I wish they had just scrapped the entire project altogether.

Developed in an era of CCP’s “wouldn’t it be cool if…” attitude, I look at the game now and wonder how they spent those four years building such an unimpressive product.  Maybe they were too preoccupied asking themselves if they could do it that they never bothered to ask if they should.  EVE Online survived because there really wasn’t a direct competitor that threatened its existence.  Dust has several, and all of them have far better name recognition and have a history with more polished titles.  When the exclusivity deal with Sony was announced, there were obvious concerns to everyone.  No PC client meant that many EVE players would not be able to participate.  The longevity of the PS3 was also an issue.  Finally, the development of a very similar product in Planetside 2 meant that CCP would not be allowed to halfass it.  Unfortunately for them, the product they delivered was underwhelming.

evedust514screen2a-1358643512

It was funny reading the reviews at launch.  Almost all the positive reviews highlighted the potential of the game, not the actual state of the game itself.  Others regurgitated things the CCP Chief marketing Officer David Reid had sold people at the last two Fanfests.  The mediocre and bad reviews almost unanimously slammed the current state of the game.

The key feature at the release of Dust was Planetary Conquest.  One month later, several of the major groups involved with it have announced they’ve pulled out or will not defend the districts they’ve taken.  PC, in a nutshell, took the worst aspect of EVE (structure grinding) and made it their key feature.  District battles are under a timer system, and will almost always take anywhere from a few days to a week to capture, even if unopposed.  Battles are often against the same people every time, and alliances with hundreds of players will often only have small groups who actually take part in it, a bad side effect of the limited 16 vs. 16 matches.  Even if you have a small number of districts, the amount of timers you will face to defend it can be overwhelming.

Benefits of owning a district are very minimal.   The biggest incentive is the ISK your corporation gains passively by selling excessive clones to a NPC corporation.  Because there is no mechanic to set a corporate tax rate, the only other way for a corp to survive is to live off donations.  The other benefit is having the ability to have corporation battles with other groups at very low expense.  The only reason this is a benefit is because they completely removed the corporate battle system in Uprising, so if you don’t own any districts you’re out of luck unless you want to buy a clone starter pack (80 million ISK each) and pray to god you can take a district with it.

The other key feature that was sold directly to the EVE Online audience was the ability for EVE ships to orbital bombard planets.  When the feature was first revealed at FanFest 2012, there was a lot of excitement.  It looked and felt cool.  A year later the orbital bombardment mechanic has been watered down; there are no launch codes and you’re limited to both the class of ship and waiting for ground teams to accumulate a certain amount of warpoints before you can launch a strike.  The novelty wore off very quickly, and the interest EVE-side plummeted.  Again, another key feature that needs serious iteration after being shipped.

There are numerous core problems with the game.  The game itself does not look that great, and the graphical lag at anything but the lowest settings is huge drain on system resources.  These problems might be directly tied to the limited hardware capability of the PS3, but that’s also on CCP’s shoulders for delivering a product that doesn’t play well.  Bullets don’t fly past their max range, if a player is outside of the maximum range of a weapon by even one centimeter, not a single bullet will hit your target.  Having to reset your PS3 after a couple of quick fights just so your system won’t freeze in battle and cost you valuable equipment is a necessity.  Voice comms are shaky and low quality, which at times can make coordinating with your teammates difficult.

EVE avoids the ‘grinding EXP’ by having an entirely passive skill point system.  Dust only partially has passive SP, and the weekly active cap means that if you’re not grinding your maximum each week you’ll quickly fall behind.  To deal with this, players will often just AFK in the MCC and contribute nothing to a match.  This in turn causes public matches to be usually decided by which group has less AFKers.  CCP was warned repeatedly in the closed and open betas that the grindy nature of the game was a huge problem, yet did nothing about it.

Balance between the various classes and weapon systems is still a big deal.  For instance, the top Caldari Logistics Suit serves as a better assault suit than the top Caldari Assault suit.  Weapons are either overpowered or generally useless.  Sniping from safezones that the enemy cannot get to is also another problem.

Friendly fire, a mechanic that allows you to intentionally or unintentionally hurt or kill teammates, is turned off in every mode with the exception of Planetary Conquest.  In a universe that brags about how cruel and unrestricting it can be, it’s silly to watch an orbital strike land within meters of you and not instantly kill or damage you in the slightest.  CCP likes to brag that EVE is real and that every action has a consequence.  In Dust, that could not be further from the truth.

Documentation for the game is near non-existent in any official capacity.  This is also a problem with EVE.  All of the documentation for EVE was almost exclusively written by the customers, and Dust is no different.  EVE University, Goonswarm Federation, and Test Alliance Please Ignore, three of the most well known and successful EVE groups, all have their own self-written documentation to get players familiar with the game.  Forcing a similar system with DUST is a critical mistake and just adds confusion to an already unpleasant experience.  The newbie tutorial in Dust is a series of matches against other new players, with no explanations for why things are happening or what to do.  A common problem with the newbie academy is established players creating throwaway accounts to farm new players.

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There have been a lot of complaints within the Dust community that the links to EVE need to be drastically expanded in order to attract more players.  I disagree wholeheartedly.  The game itself will never sustain a community if there aren’t drastic improvements to even the most basic gameplay.  The links will be meaningless if game itself is terrible, and developing it on both games will be entirely wasted if either game is suffering.  EVE is in a pretty healthy state; DUST is on life support.  Forcing interactions between the two when one game is in trouble is a disservice to the other.

CCP’s customer service has been appalling for years.  Petitions in EVE can sometimes go unanswered for weeks, and Dust is no different.  Because of changes to the skill tree players were offered a respecialization if they filed petitions.  A month later, many of them still have not received them which has severely limited their builds and many have left in frustration.  Even worse, several players have reported that their accounts were reset completely, with all SP and ISK set to the default amounts.  When a bug gave out a bunch of free ISK to many players, CCP removed the ISK several days later.  This left many with a negative balance and only the petition system to get out of the hole.

With all of the faults of the game, there are a few things I do like.  The simpler and easier to use starmap is superior to EVE’s, I hope one day they add a modified version for the EVE client.  Pay-to-win is generally not an issue, with the notable exception of the skillpoint bonuses.  All armors, weapons, modules, and vehicles have an ISK counterpart and are generally not that difficult to keep stocked unless you’re throwing them away in meaningless public matches.  The CCP staff have been available for discussion on twitter (particularly CCP Nullarbor and CCP Fox Four) and usually get back to you within a reasonable amount of time.

With the probable failure of Dust, I now look at World of Darkness and wonder if that’ll flop in similar nature.  Two disastrous products in a row is bad for any company; especially for a medium-sized entity like CCP.  Can they survive two duds in a row?

Tags: dust, dust 514, hvac

About the author

Xander Phoena

The good looking, funny, intelligent member of the team, Xander set up Crossing Zebras with Jeg in April 2012 mainly because he was talking too much about Eve on his other podcast. Playing the game for almost five years, Xander still has absolutely zero clue about how to actually play Eve but somehow still manages to talk a good game.

  • Poetic Stanziel

    Development of EVE will suffer, because it will continue to be Reyjavik who props up the development studio in Shanghai. Not too mention already propping up Atlanta, which will only worsen if WoD flops too.

  • Anon

    I figure WoD has slightly less risk of flopping than Dust because it’s a less competitive market (unless they just make it a generic RPG.)

  • Chief

    Dusts fate was sealed in February when the list of developers working on
    games for the ps4 was shown and CCP wasn’t one of them. This meant they
    had to push it out when it wasn’t ready.

    I also disagree with
    this blog, if there was a meaningful connection between dust and eve it
    would go a long way to making up for the poor graphics and gameplay.

    If you could fight on stations, if POSs where on the surface of planets and moons you could fight for those, why isn’t there unique gravity for each planet/moon to make environments a little more interesting. There is soo many things they could have done to make dust have a unique play experience but they didn’t do.

    The only reason I still play dust is to troll people in tank squads.

    • Pinky Feldman

      Thats the thing though, for them to add more to the meaningful connection would require taking even more dev resources away from either EVE or DUST.

      Also, in an FPS, the graphics and gameplay matter so much more than they do in an internet spreadsheet game, because the gameplay itself doesn’t impact the entirety of your experience. Lets say I log on to go on a roam and I have 2 hrs to play each day.

      Jabber ping goes out and I get in fleet. I wait 20 minutes while the FC forms up the fleet. We finally undock and spend another 20 minutes waiting for stragglers. An hour later, the fleet has left and we’re roaming jumping gate after gate. If i’m a newbro, this experience is intense since i have no idea WTF is going on. If i’m older i’m probably surfing the web or watching a movie on another monitor. After burning for almost an hour, we find a smaller gang to fight, jump in but we lose half our fleet to socket closing and get our ass handed to us.

      Look at how little time you spend actually in combat. In fact, if you have chill comms you probably still had fun and might not even pay much attention or remember the fight that much anyways. Likewise, the guys you fought remember that fight as the amazing time they fought outnumbered and the enemy fleet ran away because they were getting slaughtered so hard. So much of the focus on EVE isn’t on what you’re actually doing, but what you can be doing and what you’re apart of. It’s why so many new players start out doing industry.

      In an FPS, the entirety of the experience is the gameplay itself since you’re always in combat and with pre-existing competition, players simply move on.

      I think DUST can survive up to a certain point on bad gameplay, but from what i’ve heard it sounds like they may be under that bar.

      I also think that their release strategy of attempting to follow the WoT beta model was bad.

  • OmenNihilo

    I really hope that DUST doesn’t die. Because I’ve never played a deeper and more rewarding fps. For all it’s faults DUST is a good game so I’m betting on CCP.

    • xanderphoena

      As a huge fan of Eve and a huge fan of console FPSes, I really can’t agree that Dust is a good game. In my opinion, the whole point of a console FPS is that ‘pick up and playability’ which Dust simply doesn’t have. It’s turgid and slow and it looks terrible.

      I sincerely hope they turn Dust around but it needs a LOT of work.

    • HVAC Repairman

      I hope it does well, but people are delusional if they think the game will come even in the same ballpark as other FPS titles. CCP dropped the ball, and now they’re years behind in a genre that won’t forgive being so. Could it have a small, niche following which keeps it alive? Possibly, but it will never come anywhere close to the grand vision that they tried to sell everyone.

  • Lucius Exitius

    CCP is pretty good about fixing issues and making it better. They tend to listen to the people and so I see them fixing issues and making this game better. To be fair I haven’t played it but I would imagine when it comes out for PS4 it will be a much more stable game.

    • xanderphoena

      I think the fact that CCP haven’t as yet joined the list of over one hundred different developers for PS4 is very telling. I would presume a PS4 variant is in development but I wouldn’t guarantee it. For example, if PS3 people are playing with PS4 people with (presumably) a higher res display and (presumably) a better controller, they are at a much better advantage before we even get started right?

      Or they keep PS3 and PS4 people apart and you have a fragmented playerbase. Either system has major issues.

      • Mat/Seismic Stan

        If I recall correctly, Sony announced at their initial PS4 reveal that the controller design would remain unchanged due to it already being on the money.

        • xanderphoena

          There is a newly designed controller Matt. It’s broadly similar to the DS3 but there are some pretty big differences such as the touch pad and new sticks.

          http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2013-02-21-pictures-of-the-rather-handsome-dualshock-4-controller-for-ps4

          I would presume the build quality is substantially better and ‘tighter’ than the DS3 seven years wrong. But I could be wrong, hence the ‘presumably’.

          • Lucius Exitius

            Yeah and the awesome share button is going to be well…awesome! I don’t think there will be any advantages, the will fix the lag and slim up the client, its CCP they don’t get it right the first time but they always make it better.

  • Mat/Seismic Stan

    This was a fantastic article – really informative. I’ve recently started playing DUST, but have had very little time to devote to it so haven’t had a chance to develop much of an opinion.

    I have to say, I’ve enjoyed what little time I’ve had to play. I found it an engaging experience for short periods (which is all I have these days) and as an EVE player I took confidence from the knowledge I can go deeper and tinker with fittings and setups when I found more time.

    Any FPS experience, as far as I’m concerned, is sub-par on a console controller in the first place. That DUST allows keyboard/mouse was a big draw for me, to the point where I actually stumped up the pennies to buy a cheap PS3.

    I’ve not played any other FPSes on the PS3 to compare and contrast, but I’m hopeful that CCP can stay the course and develop DUST through the inauspicious start just as they did with EVE when it first launched.

    Well, I say hopeful – having read this, perhaps a little less so now.

    🙁

    • Pinky Feldman

      Control is a big issue as well I feel like. Games like WoT can get away with some gameplay awkwardness because for a new player and even experienced gamers, controlling the tank is different than what they’re used to since the gameplay is just different enough and arguably a step up from piloting vehicles in FPS games, which is what they’re used to.

      Compare that to an avid FPS gamer who comes into a game with a preconception based on past experiences of how a FPS should feel in terms of basic control and response. There is no clean slate, you’re being compared, and then they move on if its bad.

      • xanderphoena

        I think you hit the nail on the head here Pinky. Fair or not, console gamers WILL compare this with CoD and Battlefield and it doesn’t control anywhere near as well. It’s sluggish and frankly, even post Uprising, it looks bad.

        • Mat/Seismic Stan

          Yeah, I guess that’s why I appreciate this article – I’ve been out of the FPS loop since Battlefield 2, so I’ve got pretty low standards of expectation. I’m not being a blind fanboy by any stretch and can understand how far from the cutting edge DUST is.

          That said, maybe there’s a niche market for DUST in that all the hardcore FPS players will clear off to play something a bit swankier, leaving old codgers like me to enjoy a pleasant ramble through Molden Heath. 😉

  • Liner Xiandra

    The game “launch” with the Uprising build pretty much throw out everything out that had been established within the beta that was fairly solid. New skill ladders and weapon/suit bonuses all over the place. Made the whole year in beta before that a mockery.

    New skills also meant that the racial differences became more apparent, and even more so when only a third of all racial variants are in the game.
    Want to play as a heavy now in game? Skill up through the Amarr tree. Want to play as a Caldari Heavy? 1) you can’t as its not in game yet; 2) if it does get released, you are now stuck with SP sunk in Amarr heavies that don’t count towards Caldari Heavy.

    Imagine playing EVE online with only Caldari and Gallente ships, but only Autocannons and Artillery as weapons available; and hybrids coming :18months:

    In a world that’s littered with enjoyable FPS’s, its quite amazing that CCP Shanghai got so many basic things wrong.

    • Pinky Feldman

      Yeah, its the complexity and rock, paper, scissors of setups, knowing that you can play smarter to beat a team that’s better than you, that gives game depth for players to explore and enough complexity to retain interest when losing. I’m not just referring to EVE either.

      Look at DOTA 2, where you can lose based on team comp, just as easily as you can by playing bad. You’re not just learning how to control your hero better than the other guy, you’re learning the heroes themselves and team strategy with different compositions.

  • Poetic Stanziel
    • HVAC Repairman

      The views of two separate groups could not be more diverse

  • callduron

    For me the disappointing thing about DUST is how little it matters to Eve. I’m a very junior FC for TEST as well as a big PI producer. And since the very engaging war in Fountain started I haven’t played DUST once.

    I had thought that I’d be having to log into DUST to help defend Fountain but it’s still utterly irrelevant. And I only bought the PS3 because I thought it would matter in Eve.

    You may be right, HVAC, that they need to fix more basic things in DUST first but a lot of Eve players won’t be playing it until it matters.

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  • EVEman

    I’ve said it from the beginning, the primary reason why it will fail is that it was released only for PS.

  • james

    Dust was a great idea on paper and it might have even been a good game if done correctly. Unfortunately the developer had no idea what they where doing and delivered one of the worst fps games I have ever played. It looks and plays worse than golden eye on n64 (which is a great game in its time). Maybe they should have gotten a third party to develop dust 514. a studio that new what they where doing with a shooter could have nailed the idea. To bad ccp failed hard

  • Jan Compaf

    one other problem is that they constantly nerf everything in the game, as soon as you get used with a weapon it gets nerfed making it useless, some vehicules have been removed and they still not back in the game, i dont know how some ppl can play a game that is nerfed so many times

  • William Fenton

    Good.

    I’m pleased the game flopped like a whale on a beach; nothing more than the CCP morons deserve for ignoring their actual community – PC EVE.

    How stupid exactly was it for them to not let those Eve players into a game based on the universe that, not only they have immersed themselves in, but have actually created themselves.

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