What’s in Store for Eve?

 

As anyone who attempts to visit store.eve.com can tell you, the site is “temporarily unavailable while we work on bringing you a better shopping experience.” It has been this way for a long time. The purpose of this article is not to re-hash the troubled history of the Eve Store, nor to throw shade or point fingers at anyone. As always, I want to focus on a more positive message and propose a working solution. A way to get the Eve Store back from the ashes in a world increasingly dominated by ‘on-demand’ services.

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you can easily find illegal Eve IP knockoffs for sale

Spend any amount of time on the internet looking for Eve swag and you’ll quickly realize just how much of it is out there. Visit any third-party on-demand site and you can easily find illegal Eve IP knockoffs for sale, from RedBubble to Amazon, there is no shortage. As these sites continue to grow in popularity and ease-of-use, this problem will only continue to increase in scale. Frankly, it is only the desire to work legally within the system that keeps people like myself and others from jumping into this market with both feet. Most of us want to work within the system. It is important, both from CCP’s perspective and ours as players and fans. CCP want to control their own brands, and understandably so. It is imperative that the brand be presented in its best light, from a quality and control standpoint. As players and fans we understand this. But we also want the chance to purchase merchandise and swag that proclaims our love for all things Eve.

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The problems from CCP’s perspective are daunting however. As I discovered working with QMX on my poster series, third-party providers can often let you down. Remember that Eve is a global community and as such, shipping is a major issue. Not only is it a major logistical nightmare, but costs can vary significantly across the board. This can make it extremely difficult to build into a profit margin. Many potential partners, like QMX for example, are simply not prepared to offer solutions for that issue. In that specific case, it leaves a major portion of the Eve audience without the opportunity to purchase items without significant shipping charges. Traditionally, the way around that issue is by warehousing, purchasing items in bulk from a supplier and then moving them to a central location for shipping after purchase. That solution takes manpower, planning, and a large potential audience of buyers. CCP tried that solution once and got stuck with a lot of merchandise. Understandably, that isn’t something they are looking to repeat any time soon. Once bitten.

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Which brings us all back to a cold, hard fact: The potential audience for Eve is rather small. Compared to other global IPs, the number of people around the world that would be interested in purchasing Eve products is tiny. There is no way around this. And it creates its own set of issues. If we go the traditional route to solve that issue, which would most likely be pre-orders, we can often be stuck with a number of potential projects that never happen due to low demand. This creates a negative environment that can adversely affect other projects. The lack of a large potential buyers market also makes it difficult to negotiate partnerships, because the numbers are so low. This can hamstring all but the most unique and higher-cost items. Like books and levitating Nyx models.

Can we find a solution that bridges the gap between our wants and desires, and cold, hard reality?

I’ve purposefully painted a rather dismal picture. Building a proper Eve Store is no small task. CCP is not a large company, selling swag is not their primary business. They make games. The Eve audience is rather small and spread out over the entire world. There can be no doubt that providing Eve players with merchandise that proudly proclaims the Eve IP in all its forms is good for the brand, even though it might not be great for business. It is a low-profit, marginal, and time-consuming proposition, but one that players are desperate to see fulfilled, even if it means creating illegal knock-offs. Is there a way to make this work? Can we find a solution that bridges the gap between our wants and desires, and cold, hard reality?

I believe there are solutions. But it will take (and pardon me for using a phrase that I hate) some out-of-the-box thinking.

Let us imagine together an Eve Store portal that is home to everything that CCP creates, books, models, everything directly from corporate. In addition, the store also includes items for sale from officially licensed providers who are using third-party on-demand vendors to create merchandise. All of which is presented to the buyer as a unified, cohesive brand store. In this imaginary store, orders are collected and distributed individually, or they are individually distributed to separate providers, that is a mechanical issue that can be worked out in development. Either way, these individual licensed providers are creators that have been granted limited licenses with CCP for specific areas of interest. In this imaginary world CCP has developed a small handful of limited licenses with approved creators. Each one of which has very specific constraints that protect both the creators and CCP.

These limited licensing agreements are the heart of this system, so let’s take a look at how they can work. Since this is a trial program we’ll create only five such agreements in the first year, just to see how things go. Each one will have a built-in time limit, say 18 months, at the end of which will be a review process. Each license will spell out areas in which each creator can create and sell items bearing IP from Eve, Valkyrie or other CCP trademarks. Such as apparel, print, models, etc. There will be some overlap allowed, but not much. Each provider is allowed to partner with their own providers but standards must be maintained and each creator will be held to a standard. How do we manage this without increasing manpower at CCP? Easy, we make the players themselves the judges by implementing a “Amazon” style review system into the site itself. Creators are held to that system and should they fall behind a certain threshold the agreements can be cancelled within a time-period. Which makes another license available.

Not all license agreements have to work with outside providers, there is room in this system for creators that provide their own supply and shipping. Again, the point is to take as much of the management out of CCP’s hands and automate it, as possible. Granted, we’d need someone placed at the center of the process, someone that can monitor and implement the program. Either a CCP employee or a trusted outside provider who answers to someone at CCP. It would only take a minimum amount of manpower to implement and maintain the system once the legal and technical platform was built to support it.

CCP gets a vital, creative, and engaged store and creators get access to a legitimate, official channel

In this imaginary system CCP makes money from the selling of their own content and from the increase in traffic to the Store, but not from the items sold through the licensed creators. Given that the potential income from these sales is so low, it would be cost prohibitive to implement a system to monitor each transaction. Especially when those creators are already responsible for creating, selling, shipping, and third-party shares, of any potential profits. This creates additional incentives for each creator to provide superior products and service. CCP gets a vital, creative, and engaged store and creators get access to a legitimate, official channel to sell their wares. Everyone wins.

It is possible to take this idea even further. The entire enterprise could be developed, built, maintained and operated by a third-party provider. It would probably take someone who is intimately involved in the community and who understands exactly what that community wants, but it could be done. You’d just flip the process and CCP’s products would be the ones hosted in such a system, which would require sales reports and management time, not to mention coordination – but it could be done.

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Such a system would encourage other providers as well. Think about The Empires of Eve book that Andrew Groen did through Kickstarter. What better place to sell such a book than within the Eve Store? If we are going to create five limited provider licenses we can certainly provide one-time product specific licenses on-demand for projects like Andrew’s book. Or others. Imagine an artist who likes to paint custom watercolor portraits? Or a craftsman who enjoys making spaceships out of cut paper? The Eve community is full of such people, why not also create an environment that showcases their talents and products as well?

Another option is to simply do away with the idea of an Eve Store completely. Issue a handful of licenses and let the providers sink or swim on their own merits. This option does have some positives for CCP, it requires much less manpower and commitment, as well as significantly less development time and no need for server space or maintenance. There would still need to be oversight certainly, and requirements to maintain the licenses, but a more open concept allows for even more diversity. It doesn’t portray a cohesion to the brand, drive traffic to a central source, or provide as much protection for the potential buyers – which is why I wouldn’t recommend it as a first step. But given some effort, it could work.

And yes, no other gaming company is doing something like this. It is different. In my own career I’ve always been a problem solver and I’ve worked with merchandising programs and products for companies and brands like Marvel Entertainment, the Pittsburgh Steelers and Penguins, and several paintball enterprises (and others) over the years. What I’ve learned is that each situation is unique and challenging in its own way, but that, working together, we have always found a way to make it work. To the benefit of all parties.

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I’ve worked directly with CCP over the past 18 months and I know a little about the challenges they face. Back during Fanfest 2015 I gave a player presentation about my involvement and the hopes I had that it was only the beginning of a new era between the players and CCP. Afterwards I sat on a roundtable with Andrew Groen and CCP Spitfire and openly discussed such an era in front of players. I met personally with CCP Seagull, with Torfi, and with any other employee that I could bend an ear with about these issues and challenges. I had a dream then, and I still have one today. I’m not going to give up on it. The plan I laid out above is only one potential path. There are others as well. But I truly believe that a path exists that works for all of us. A path that protects CCP and provides opportunity to creators.

In the end, that is why branded merchandise is so important. When I wear an Eve t-shirt out in public it not only proclaims Eve for all to see, it also generates interest, curiosity, and promotion to a new audience. It portrays Eve as a viable, engaged and involved community of players connected to a wider universe. It is, after all, a badge of honor. Something fun, something serious, and something you own.

It’s time to open the door again on the Eve store.

Tags: artwork, EVE Store, merchandise, rixx javix

About the author

Rixx Javix

Artist, video maker, blogger, lowsec pirate and overall a pillar of the EVE community for years - Rixx Javix wears many hats (and makes them!).