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Sins of a Solar Spymaster #47 - A Crisis of Excellence

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There's something recursively Orwellian about corporate slogans; even the most innocuous of them will, in time, become emblems of shame and hypocrisy. We've seen this recently with BP's long-standing green marketing campaign collapsing in the face of the Gulf Oil Spill, and in the much more innocent world of internet spaceships as CCP's 'Excellence' slogans - so proudly trumpeted at the previous Fanfest - turning into an ugly reminder of the state of Tranquility today. While no one can deny that the number of players in EVE has continued to increase steadily, the state of the game itself has begun to crack under the strain of rushed development cycles, partial feature implementation, and crushing, inescapable lag. As players, we expect the odd explosion or botched patch from CCP or other developers; we MMO players are a masochistic lot, and despite a lot of forum noise to the contrary we are quite forgiving of developers. Yet now we have had two patches in a row from our Icelandic darlings, and neither has gone kindly for the game we love. It's time to be blunt.

CCP's Bad Habit

CCP has a bad habit of partial development.

CCP has a bad habit, and that habit is partial development. Their continued pattern over the past several years has been to announce features for a future patch, develop half of them, put the remaining half on 'development backburner' - the dreaded backlog - and then forget about them as soon as a shiny toy distracts them. These features put on the backburner are not random odds and ends, but crucial functions without which the features that did get implemented cannot perform effectively. The dev cycle does not behave like a well-prioritized system designed to triage the more critical functions of the game, but rather the erratic high velocity trajectory of a kitten jacked up on methamphetamine.

The most obvious example, and one which is presently messing up Nullsec life something fierce, is the half-implementation of the Dominion Sov system. Some of you may recall the 'treaty' feature; this was the other face of the shift away from POS war and towards upgrading and nurturing smaller sectors of space. Nullsec was increased in value with the buffing of anomalies and iHub upgrades; space was explicitly intended to be rented out to lesser entities. Yet the hard fact is that administering renters is a tremendous pain in the ass and generally not worth the effort unless you have an entire team of directors with spreadsheets dealing with the payments, the standings issues, the inevitable diplomatic scuffles. The vision of Dominion was to increase the value and the population of Nullsec both by adding to its profitability and aiding in the creation of vassal entities - to incentivize the 0.0 empires to extend a hand to non-nullsec players and invite them to experience the 'real' game.

Conquest Has Stalled

Conquest has stalled and territories have balkanized

The Treaty system was to automate the rental agreements which had become common, allowing space-holding alliances to have a coded standing system based on geography. You would be able to create a contract between an alliance and a renting corporation, change standings to be functional only within a certain system, and automate tax collection. This cuts out almost all of the misery of administering renters; they can be kept blue only when in one area and shot when they stray outside their designated territory, collection is handled much like corporate taxes are, and everyone involved can tell exactly what the nature of the agreement between entities is. But near the release of Dominion, the treaty system was cut and sent to the 'feature backlog'. A massive crunch to produce Planetville - er, Planetary Interaction - ensued, and somewhere along the line the meth-kitten decided that it would be a good idea to mash together a hair dryer and a hand blender and introduce a new ship, the Primae.

In practice, conquest has stalled and territories have balkanized; even the massive campaign between the NC and SC resulted in no real territorial changes. Part of this is because there is no real impetus to hold more territory. Wars between blocs still occur out of habit or old grudges, but because of the partial implementation of Dominion without the treaty system, there's no need for more territory for its own sake as in the pre-Dominion era. An alliance can upgrade a modest amount of space to be reasonably profitable to sustain itself, but taking more space beyond that limit is costly and would require installing renters - which are, sans Treaties, a huge hassle. So rather than the exodus of new inhabitants joining the excitement of nullsec, we see mass stagnation across the powerblocs, even as the old Great Powers begin shedding territory to cut costs or simply abandoning it entirely.

Buggy Code is Bad

Features should be delayed until ready to avoid adding buggy code to Tranquility.

This is but one example of the costs of a runaway backlog of promised yet never implemented features. Most of the playerbase would agree that new features should be delayed until 'ready'; buggy and half-baked features wreak havoc with the game universe, and since there's only one shard in EVE it is all the more important to not push bad code onto Tranquility. A perfect example of this is the two great super capital massacres of recent memory. Dominion was designed to raise the stakes of combat, yet has only brought us ever more crippling levels of lag; rather than Titans and Supercarriers engaging in epic slugfests, in both Y-2ANO in Fountain and now at 6NJ8-V in Venal these ships are dying to black-hole levels of lag. A battle where 10 Titans die should be something that CCP can point to proudly as an example of the high stakes of pvp in EVE, yet in 6NJ we saw again the spectre of blackscreens, 'ghost' ships, and hundreds of players being unable to function at all for many hours.

Apparently CCP is of the view at the moment that the playerbase is unhappy because of 'petition support' issues; they have decided to reach out, asking to interview a random sample of players on MSN or Skype about their experiences. Yet the voices of the representatives of the playerbase are quite clear. One of the most popular threads in the Assembly Hall, by CSM rep Dierdra Vaal, calls CCP to account for the ever-expanding development backlog. I urge everyone selected for these interviews to focus on the problems created by the schizophrenic development cycle: the backlog, the lack of focus on core systems (ie: lag) and premature patches. Until these problems are dealt with, EVE will remain in a crisis of faux excellence.

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