monoclegate

The Daily Grind: What’s the biggest scandal the MMORPG genre has ever seen?

Over the weekend in the Guild Wars 2 spyware article comments, a commenter remarked that Blizzard’s Warden spyware was “the biggest scandal in MMOs” over the last 10 years. I was pretty surprised to see that claim; I was aware of Warden, but it probably wouldn’t even make my top 10 list of scandals across the industry. The first one that pops to mind is Blizzard’s RealID, probably followed by Monoclegate, the Funcom insider trading case, the EVE jumpgate scandal, the Sigil Games parking lot firing fiasco, and the NCsoft/Bluehole lawsuit.

I’m positive I’m forgetting some juicy ones. What’s the biggest scandal – scandal, mind you, not just drama – the MMORPG genre has ever seen? Lay ’em on me!

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EVE Evolved: EVE Online’s CCP Games is gambling with the livelihoods of employees

Last week we broke the story that EVE Online developer CCP Games is backing out of the virtual reality games market, closing its Altanta office and selling its VR-focused Newcastle studio. The long-held Atlanta office was acquired in the merger with White Wolf in 2006 and has been hit with several rounds of layoffs over the years, with a major hit in 2011 after the Monoclegate disaster and another 2014 when the World of Darkness MMO was cancelled. The Newcastle studio was the development house responsible for CCP’s VR dogfighter EVE: Valkyrie, and both Valkyrie and CCP’s new VR game Sparc will now be maintained by the London office.

Around 100 staff were laid off in the restructuring, roughly 30 of whom worked in CCP’s headquarters in Reykjavik, Iceland. Though we were informed at the time that these changes would not impact the development of EVE Online, it since became apparent that more than a few non-development staff were cut. In addition to the EVE PR staff and others that were stationed in Atlanta, all but two members of the EVE community team in Reykjavik have also been let go. There are reports that several GMs and the localisation manager for EVE have departed too, and the mood on twitter from staff in Reykjavik recently is best described as sombre and a little shaken.

In this extra edition of EVE Evolved, I dig into CCP Games’s history of taking risks with staff’s jobs, look at some of those affected by the layoffs, and ask whether there is more fallout to come.

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Massively Overthinking: Consumer protections in the MMORPG industry

Veteran Massively OP reader Miol says he’s exhausted by a recent string of stories in which MMO companies screw gamers over, one after another: ARK Survival Evolved, Albion Online, Skyforge, and now Black Desert all figure into his list, just from the last week.

“I want to ask what more can gamers do to protect themselves and everyone else as consumers than speak up? It feels exhausting to always stay vigilant and feel upset all the time, since games, as an everchanging medium, give devs so many opportunities to screw us over with every single patch or update. And the worst immediate consequence seems many times a meek apology for what they’ve done, only for them to try out something different that maybe could go over unnoticed.

“You guys have reported about this UK watchdog group ASA, who investigated No Man’s Sky, but even they dismissed the tons of complaints about false advertising. Steam did declare some changes to advertising on their platform, but I still don’t see them taken place. If even those big negative stories don’t have that much of an impact, what hope is there for all the smaller communities, spread thin globally? There was a recent wave of gamers imploring each other to not pre-order, but that ebbed away fast enough, when the next shiny pre-order advantages over other players were presented. But even so, this still can’t protect you from what may happen after the launch!

“As said by Bree many times: Merely quitting won’t help either, as the studio will never know why most of the times. But also sending feedback for nine whole days didn’t help Skyforge players to make its devs to scramble! So what else could we do? Or should we just take rotating shifts to call them out?”

We’ll take the first shift right here in Overthinking.

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The Daily Grind: Have you ever boycotted an MMORPG?

Blizzard Watch ran an editorial yesterday quoting former marine biologist and World of Warcraft Lead Systems Designer Greg “Ghostcrawler” Street on the subject of video game boycotts: “I would not advocate boycotting a game as a way to make a statement, especially if deep down you still love the game. You’re just not likely to drive change as a result.”

It’s not a new idea, but it’s one worth revisiting whether we’re talking about something as big as economic and political sanctions or something as small as quitting a video game with a big ol’ flounce: Even if a whole crapton of people quit over something terrible in a game, it’s unlikely to have much of an effect since the developers won’t know why. There will always be exceptions — like the NGE or monoclegate — and they’re such outliers that they have names. For the most part, games really can’t react to a few thousand people quitting over a patch here and there. Boycotts just aren’t specific enough.

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EVE Evolved: Should CCP start developing Walking in Stations again?

In all the time that I’ve been writing about EVE Online, one of the most common recurring comments is that the game badly needs some compelling avatar-based gameplay. Many people have been compelled to try EVE over the years after hearing some crazy story of a record-breaking heist or massive ship battle only to be put off that you spend all of your time trapped inside a spaceship (or an escape pod if you run into trouble). CCP has even been teasing us with the idea of getting out of our ships and walking around inside stations since as far back as Fanfest 2006, but the feature never fully materialised.

Originally called Ambulation and later renamed to Walking in Stations, EVE‘s avatar gameplay represented a massive technical challenge of a scale that the studio had never tackled before. The feature was reportedly partially developed and then scrapped several times over the years, with grand plans periodically emerging for things like player-owned social bars, gambling minigames, and holographic war rooms. When the feature finally landed in 2011’s Incarna expansion, it didn’t live up to expectations, and the backlash from its ludicrous microtransaction prices and the perception of wasted developer time had serious repercussions for CCP’s bottom line. Development on avatar-based gameplay ceased at that point, but nearly five years on I’m beginning to think that now would be the perfect time to revisit it.

In this edition of EVE Evolved, I look at the reasons that avatar gameplay failed in EVE the first time and why I think now may be a good time to pick it back up again.

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EVE Evolved: Does skillpoint trading make EVE pay-to-win?

EVE Online‘s realtime skill training system has been a major point of contention throughout the game’s lifetime, being a boon for those with little time to invest but often stunting players who prefer to work toward goals. While you could grind your way to your first billion ISK and can play the market freely, skill training will slow your progression. The system made a lot of sense back in EVE‘s early life when subscriptions were the only game in town, as you’re guaranteed to make progress even if you don’t have time to play. EVE quickly got a reputation as an MMO that rewards careful planning more than hours sunk into grinding content, and it settled in that niche for quite some time. For new players, however, skills represent roadblocks lasting anywhere from a few weeks to a few months depending on what ship you want to fly or what role you want to play.

The inability to grind for skillpoints has been a common complaint among today’s prospective players, who believe they’ll never be able to catch up to veterans no matter how good they become at the game. Those complaints may soon be silenced, however, as CCP has announced plans to let players extract skillpoints in unwanted skills and sell them on the open market as Transneural Skill Packets. You’ll be able to respec your character by extracting skills you don’t use and re-assigning their points to other fields, and players who grind their way to riches will be able to buy skillpoints to boost their characters. The player reaction to the announcement has been oddly mixed, with over 150 pages filled with doomsday predictions on the forum but more cautiously optimistic responses from the EVE blogging community and subreddit. So what’s the big deal with selling skillpoints, and does it make EVE pay-to-win?

In this edition of EVE Evolved, I look at EVE‘s skill system, what will change with the introduction of the Transneural Skill Packet system, and whether this makes EVE pay-to-win.

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EVE Evolved: CCP can’t just focus on EVE Online any more

The recent announcement of arcade shooter EVE: Gunjack for the Samsung Gear VR has prompted some pretty interesting negative responses from gamers this week. There’s obviously still a lot of ill will in the air over the cancellation of the World of Darkness MMO, and people have been a bit skeptical of CCP‘s plans since Monoclegate and the underwhelming reception of DUST 514. Many of the comments on Massively Overpowered and other sites suggested that CCP should release Valkyrie before starting work on yet another title, or that the studio should stick to EVE Online and stop wasting money from EVE subscriptions on side projects. People are honestly suggesting that CCP should keep putting all of its eggs in one big (and slowly shrinking) basket, but that just doesn’t make business sense.

Nobody should be surprised that CCP wants to develop several new games or that it’s failed to replicate the success of EVE Online. EVE activity seems to be on a slow decline, and the truth is that very few independent game studios strike it big with even one game. Previous success is not necessarily an indicator of future success, and it’d be naive to think one game can support a large studio indefinitely, so CCP naturally has to keep working on new titles just like everyone else if it wants to survive. If we want EVE Online to still be around a decade from now, it may depend on experimentation with new games and emerging trends such as VR today. There may even come a time when CCP won’t revolve around EVE Online but around whole collection of titles spanning the EVE universe and beyond, and it won’t get there without taking some measured risks.

In this edition of EVE Evolved, I look at why CCP can’t just focus on EVE any more and why developing lots of small experimental games could benefit EVE Online in the long term.

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CCP Games buys back $20m in bonds, drops Legion trademark

News is circulating in the EVE Online blogs and forum that developer CCP Games has just bought back $20 million in publicly traded bonds. The bonds were sold to the public back in 2013 and required the company to publish detailed financial accounts each year for investors to see. Now that the bonds have been bought back, CCP no longer has to report its financials publicly. The move has led to widespread speculation on exactly where CCP got the funds to buy back its bonds, though it may have simply found cheaper finance elsewhere. Adding fuel to the speculation is the fact that CCP has also recently removed its trademark on EVE Legion.

Blog The Nosy Gamer has put together a fascinating rundown of how the bonds came to exist and some speculation on what this move means for CCP as a company. The debt seems to originate from the time of the 2011 Monoclegate scandal, when CCP was pressed for cash and an $11.8 million US loan was due for repayment. The company managed to secure a long-term loan with Silicon Valley Bank to cover the repayment, and from then on it owed $20 million to that bank. A total of $20 million in bonds were then created in July 2012 and listed publicly on the Icelandic NASDAQ exchange the following year. The Nosy Gamer speculates that CCP may have a large new investor, perhaps due in part to its impressive focus on VR at EVE Fanfest 2015.

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