This is why we can’t have nice thingsRixx Javix
My wife and I just had the most incredible time in Iceland. Our second Fanfest was amazing and we both enjoyed every minute of it, meeting old friends and making new ones, which is what Fanfest is really all about. The people. I even managed to finally put to rest the four year old history between Suleiman Shouaa, the CEO of The Tuskers and myself. Which was awesome. And that’s the thing about Fanfest really, it is a chance to interact with real human beings and share the one thing we all have in common, our love for internet spaceships. It was a tremendous amount of fun.
Except for one thing.
That one thing stretches back almost six years now. I’ve written about this one thing for a long time on my own blog Eveoganda and here, on Crossing Zebras (most recently last Summer), and that one thing is the Eve Store and what it represents. So it was with some enthusiasm that I planned to attend the “Brand & Eve Store Roundtable” on April 7th. This would be the first chance I’d have to hear from the new Brand Manager since the new store finally opened. After the cancellation of my own contract with CCP and the resulting year-long attempt to finally get some answers about what happened, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand my interest in the roundtable.
Before I get into what happened during this roundtable, let me briefly outline some history here. As I mentioned previously I’ve been banging my head against this wall for a long time, but the real meat starts in the Summer of 2014 when my “Art Print Poster Series” really starts to take off and gain attention both inside and outside of the Eve community. That’s when new management approaches me to work together on re-visiting the idea of the Eve Store and how CCP works together with the fan base. At first we discussed a wide range of issues and solutions, these were very exciting days for me. Finally some progress and I imagined this process opening doors for all Eve community creators, not just myself. You can see this enthusiasm yourself in the video of my player presentation at Fanfest in 2015.
We finally decided to ‘trial’ the new posters during Fanfest 2015 and they became the highest selling item at the store that year. Players loved them. I signed a ton of posters. I spent the entire Fanfest putting myself out there to help promote not only the posters, but the concept of CCP working together with players. I was so happy, the barrier had finally been broken. The doors would finally be opened to many more creators and we’d get 3D printed ships, art, t-shirts, and tons of other stuff to enjoy.
None of which happened. And I don’t want to retread the reasons why this never happened. Because I believe in dealing with the here and now. The way things are, not the way we wish them to be. Which is why I was excited to hear from some new management at the roundtable. Lessons have been learned hopefully and I was eager to hear about how we can move forward together again.
Imagine my surprise when all we heard at this year’s roundtable was the exact same words that have been said to us over the past four years. Not words in different clothes. But the EXACT SAME WORDS. Fifteen minutes into the roundtable and I was so angry that I was afraid to speak. Literally I could not speak for fear of what might come out of my mouth. I felt a tremendous amount of pressure to say something and yet I could not bring myself to do so. Trust me, if I had opened my mouth I may have been kicked out of Fanfest. That is how angry I was. I’ve calmed down since then and all that remains is a huge hole of horrible disappointment in my chest. Everyone in that room felt the same way, I know because we all talked about it afterwards amongst ourselves. It is simply the most disappointed I have ever been with CCP. Ever. And I lived through Incarna.
There is so much negativity present from the team in charge of the Eve Store that I find it amazing they function at all. The people in charge actually admitted several times that they don’t know what they are doing, that retail is hard, and that they had to take classes in order to learn what they were doing after they got the job – a job they got essentially by default. There is no passion for the community and the incredible creativity that it has to offer, no understanding of the market and how best to exploit it to benefit all of us. The same droll excuses dragged out by the same tired people to try and explain away the fact that the Eve Store sucks. They still can’t ship to Scotland for goodness sake!
I walked through the Eve Store several times at Fanfest. You know what was missing? Spaceships. Not one product with a spaceship on it. (And I don’t include books in this because books are the domain of other people and Eve books are awesome!) Nothing that tied in to the entire event of Fanfest either. You’d think with all the effort that was going into producing the Kyonoke event that something, anything, would be offered – but you’d be wrong. This is “Marketing 101” stuff here people. Basics. Basics like patches. Missing. Ship models? Nope. Anything with a spaceship? Nope. Correct me if I am wrong, but isn’t this an internet SPACESHIP game? And for the record the free Fanfest shirt has spaceships on it, just to be fair.
There were people at the roundtable offering to help in any way they could. Every suggestion was met with the same negativity. One gentleman actually worked for a medical device company and had extensive experience with 3D printing and essentially offered to work with the CCP team to make a solution that would work for providing 3D printed spaceships. I now have three 3D printed spaceships myself thanks to @UndockRamp and they are amazing and extremely well done. (I still need to paint mine!) Others around the table offered similar ideas, some just want to sell a few items here and there, or provide specialty items to players. No one is looking to make a fortune here, the Eve player base is small. We understand that. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot of very talented people that would like to try. If only there was a way to do so. The only thing they got in return was more negativity and the same old excuses.
The “Frigates of Eve” book, which I had a chance to see in person at the Community Roundtable, is amazing. That sucker will sell out. The book team always does a great job and I have a tremendous amount of respect for Torfi and the entire art team at CCP. It is after all a book about spaceships! Our favorite subject. And it only highlights how horribly lost and confused the marketing and merchandising team at CCP remains.
It seems to me, at least from the outside, that we have tremendous leadership on the gaming side at CCP. Since CCP Seagull took over the game has been on course and attained the kind of development that has kept it interesting, expanding, and full of potential. Meanwhile, the marketing side of CCP remains rudderless, aimless, and haphazard. It feels as if there is little or no true leadership on that side of the ship. And while certain people can exclaim that, “We’re a gaming company and not a marketing company” all they want, the truth is that you need both to survive in every business. Product and marketing. Service and marketing. Engineering… and you get the idea.
As we all know, marketing has never been CCP’s strong suite and that remains an area of unrealized potential in my opinion. It also remains my area of expertise, so I’m not preaching in the dark here. But in a world where marketing is lacking, that only makes merchandising even more important. Even considered as a loss-leader or a break-even enterprise, merchandising can be an effective marketing tool.
Back in late 2016 I started a store-front called the Rixx Javix Store. I did so because I grew tired of waiting on CCP. The store exists to sell Alliance Wear and non-Eve IP “related” products of my own creation. It is run through RedBubble, who after an extensive search, I found to be the best of the “on-demand” branded store-fronts. Since launch the store has sold over 500 items and shipped them all over the world. RedBubble maintains shipping centers in the US, Europe and Asia. The items are quality made, in the same kind of “sweat shops” that CCP’s shirts are made, and shipping is reasonable. (I put “sweat shops” in quotes because that was yet another reason that was given for why CCP doesn’t go down the on-demand route and stop worrying about warehousing.)
I’ve even had items purchased and shipped to Russia, which the CCP team informed us was virtually impossible during the roundtable. Granted the store is an “on-demand” store front, so the quality isn’t the same as custom made merchandise, but we offer hundreds of items. All without the Eve IP sadly. But it would be easy enough to professionalize the offering and offer Eve related items.
I know the Eve community and the creators in it and how passionate they can be. I know that many of them have solutions to other problems and are eager to try them. I know that it would be easy to third-party many products and solutions through an on-line portal exactly like the Eve Store. I know that the world of on-demand printing and production is only getting better every day. And I know that such an approach solves the eternal problem of low demand from a relatively small audience. I also know that, while relatively small, the Eve community is also incredibly passionate and dedicated. Something I believe the team at CCP may have forgotten.
If CCP is not a merchandising company, then why are they so determined to keep trying to be one? Let CCP focus on what they do best, making games. And find someone else to take care of the merchandising for them. It doesn’t even have to be me. Although I’d be great at it. We can make low quantity work FOR us and not against us. We can make limited run items available for short periods of time, have weekly contests to design new t-shirts and offer interesting and creatively unique items that people actually want. Alongside staples like stickers and patches and keychains and mugs and whiskey flasks. The Eve Store could be a fun, interactive, engaging environment that reflects the community and slowly becomes part of that very same community. Instead of a dead, unresponsive website that offers things created by people who have seemingly never played a minute of Eve.
Retail is not hard when you have a dedicated and passionate audience desperate to proudly purchase your products. Sure we may be small compared to other audiences, but that no longer has to be a problem. In fact, I strongly believe it can be our biggest strength. Our most powerful asset.
Two days after Eve Vegas last Fall I offered the very first item on the Rixx Store. It was a “Warp to the Dance Floor” t-shirt. The same one worn by Manic Velocity during the opening ceremonies at Fanfest last week. He got his shirt from my store because the actual Eve Store doesn’t offer it. They did have black ones at Fanfest however, for three times the price and only in black. That took them six months. It took me two days. And that’s only because I had to set up the framework of the store, the design took maybe fifteen minutes.
Why am I the only one that sees this as a problem?
The last excuse is the one that hurts the most. During the roundtable it was said multiple times that CCP doesn’t want to work with community members because they don’t want to “set up anyone to fail”. This was said at least four times. And it was this comment that drove me to angry silence. What exactly is lost when someone fails? Ponder this question a moment and realize that to many people my poster project with CCP from 2015 might be considered a failure. I didn’t pick the store that sold our posters. I didn’t negotiate the deal with them. I didn’t realize until people started complaining that shipping to anywhere outside of the US would cost so much. Someone else handled all of that. The same someone else exclaiming that they don’t want to, “set up anyone to fail”.
So let’s assume for a moment that I consider that adventure a failure, which I do not. Have I quit? Have I slunk off into a corner sobbing uncontrollably? Of course not. If anything that experience has only served to invigorate my resolve. Failure then is often the way in which we learn valuable lessons. What worked and what didn’t work. Mistakes we made that we can agree not to make again in the future. Failure is often out biggest success. And our greatest Teacher.
I sat down in that roundtable eager to hear about the lessons we’d learned and the path forward that we could take together as a community. A wiser path. And instead all we heard was the same tired excuses and the same old negativity.
A wiser man than me would probably give up. By all measures of sanity I probably should. But instead I am going to re-double my efforts. The Rixx Store will continue stronger than ever. In fact, if you run an Alliance in Eve and would like to offer your members quality swag at an affordable price, we should talk. And I have several other projects that I am dedicated to working on in the coming months. One of which I will be traveling with later this year to play-test at player meets around the world as a build-up to next year’s Fanfest.
I encourage you to also not give up. CCP is a great group of people that make a fantastic and incredible game that we all enjoy. It is possible to love them all and still not be happy with everything they do. I believe it is our obligation as a community to point out their failings from time to time, in the hope that things will get better. It is in that spirit that I continue to believe the best days of the Eve Store remain in our future.
Keep the courage.
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