Breaking up is hard to do

Fri, Jun 24, 2011

EVE Online has long been my favorite game. I buy new games, play them for a while, and then go back to EVE. The gameplay speaks to me on a very deep level. I’m not in a large alliance fighting to control large areas of space, with billions and billions of ISK to my name (though, I’m sure the people that are feel the same way about how they play). I’ve just got my own little corner of space carved out, working it and maintaining it with my small corporation. We were recently involved in several large battles (and a war which involved spending 3 billion ISK on mercenary assistance) to defend our home. And that makes this game mean something to me. I’m not grinding for XP, or for a new mount.. I’ve built something, and I’m defending it. There’s a reason for me to fight.

Now, as a game developer myself, I usually roll my eyes at forum rage and take the side of the developer. Like it or not, there’s usually a very good reason for the choices a developer makes to your favorite game. But I can’t help but think that CCP has made a few bad choices about EVE lately:

The $99 API access issue

One of the greatest strengths of EVE that we tried to emulate a bit on PotBS, was the out-of-game access to in-game information via their web API. This has been a huge boon for them - tools such as EveMon, EFT, and countless others make the game much more accessible to players. Earlier this month, CCP announced that any applications or websites using this data or the EVE IP would need a license. Any of these services that asked for ISK, received ISK donations, or ran web ads would require a $99/year commercial license. Previously, these services were not allowed to receive real-world money, so CCP pitched this as a way for developers to do so. However, there was some confusion on this issue, as their FAQ also stated “No, the commercial license does not allow you to charge real life money for any in-game services.”

I was absolutely astounded at this. When I was working on PotBS, I was always amazed at people like ArmEagle, who wanted to set up applications using our data for us. For free. This not only gives you more cool tools to play with, it builds your community and increases player retention. Charging people to build these tools for you is absurd, and would likely mean that most would close down.

Fortunately, CCP has backed down from their position, but not without angering many of the devoted customers who build such tools.

The $70 monocle issue

The most recent expansion for EVE, Incarna, gave players the (limited) ability to walk around in space stations as their characters. This is a huge change for EVE, as previously, a player’s only view of their character was of their spaceship. Incarna also added an RMT shop in which players could purchase vanity appearance upgrades for their characters for real money. (Or at least, a currency derived from a currency derived from real money.) EVE players were annoyed by this, since CCP had previously stated that RMT would never be a part of EVE. (Even going so far as to mock RMT in their 2008 april fools’ joke.)

I have personally added an RMT shop to an MMO before. Trust me, I understand here. And I wouldn’t really care about EVE doing it, were it just vanity items for real money. But EVE’s in-game economy is one of the most important aspects of the game.. it balances the entire game world, even for those who never get into the economic gameplay. Not only can these RMT items cross over into the regular in-game economy (which we did on PotBS as well, and I’m still not sure if it was a good idea or not), but someone at CCP leaked an internal newsletter which listed ideas for more direct economic crossover, like buying ships with RMT.

On top of that, CCP has set the prices for these items (that other people can’t even see yet) comically high. $70 for a monocle, $20 for a shirt. (Note that real-life shirts are also $20 in EVE’s web store.) For comparison, a full costume pack that’s usable by any character on your Star Trek Online account will set you back about $6. They’re getting a lot of bad press for it, and of course have a forum full of 40-page threads of complaints. I wonder what the fallout here will be.

So despite the title of this post, I’m not leaving EVE yet. But I’ve become very wary. I’m hoping that the trends I see don’t continue. I’m not going to ragequit, I’m not going to flame in the EVE forums about how CCP just lost my two accounts. I’ve been on the other side. My two subscription fees don’t make a dent in their numbers, I can assure you. But it just might not be a game I’m interested in fairly soon.