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Sins of a Solar Spymaster #67 - The Incarna Postmortem

Posted Tue, Sep 20, 2011 by The Mittani

The EVE playerbase is beginning to show signs of outrage fatigue, like a long-suffering American leftist. The latest major controversy since the Incarna release began with a blog and a graph. The good news is that this graph did not spark riots like the previous Incarna mess; the bad news is that the graph indicated that there’s fewer players around to riot in the first place. Since I had no small part in provoking the chaos and the ensuing media frenzy, I’m going to gloss over What Happened rather than rehashing it in detail.

CCP and CSM

The summary version is that Jester’s PCU chart unleashed (another) howl of anger about the delays and failures of the Incarna expansion; the CSM began harassing CCP in the gaming press over the neglect of ‘Flying in Space’ (what everyone besides CCP calls ‘Eve Online’), and now the CSM and CCP are in heavily NDA-bound weekly meetings to discuss and try to resolve the situation. Fun stuff.

Meanwhile, my Defense of Incarna column, which I wrote before the release of the expansion - appears well-intentioned but hopelessly pollyannaish, not unlike trying to explain to a Fat Acceptance cultist that they should stop scarfing down Big Macs.

The questions, then: why, beyond the hyperbole, did Incarna faceplant so badly - and should I commence to eating crow for my quixotic defense of it?

Having watched the disasters unfolding since Incarna’s release in June, it seems that just about everything that could go wrong for CCP has gone wrong - Murphy’s Law on an internet-galactic scale. One can’t help but feel sympathy for the employees who have worked through all of this mess. Yet most of the failures and errors can be traced to poor decisions made by human beings rather than acts of god or mere bad luck.

Window View

The One-Avatar Wall
The single biggest reason why Incarna has been a mess is disappointingly banal and mundane. Flat out, CCP bit off more than they could chew, code-wise. If Incarna had been finished and released remotely on schedule without making graphics cards shudder and cry, we would not be having this conversation and the playerbase would be looking forward to the Winter release and speculating about that. As I write this, it has been three months since Incarna launched; we were supposed to have four racial Captain’s Quarters and Establishments with some kind of contraband gameplay by this point. Instead, we’re still stuck with the launch date Minmatar CQ and a seemingly endless progression of band-aid patches.

Much of the criticism of Incarna vanishes if there had been a successful deployment. The NeX Store and its virtual goods would have a public arena to conspicuously consume in, removing the common refrain of questions like - “Why should I buy expensive boots, if only I can see them?” The cries of “Give us things to do, not things to wear” also goes away, as CCP would be theoretically hard at work on spaceship content rather than still wheel-spinning on Space Barbies.

Alone in the Dark

This doesn’t excuse CCP’s management, of course; some kind of feasibility testing should have taken place before committing the company to an apparently near-impossible task. We can only guess at the nature of the technical hurdles impeding the release of Incarna, but the consensus seems to be that CCP hasn’t figured out how to get more than one avatar in a room without making graphics cards do their best Chernobyl impression. Incarna may have gone much better if CCP had just licensed a proven 3D engine and built within it, rather than trying to reinvent the wheel.

Ugliest Foot Forward
In a world where all of the Captain's Quarters released on schedule, CCP’s choice to lead out with the Minmatar CQ wouldn’t have been significant. Yet we do not live in that world; we live in a world where the playerbase has been forced to stare at a rusted, dingy hovel for three months - one explicitly designed to feel claustrophobic and run-down, at that. While Minmatar players may ‘trust in the rust’, most of the playerbase has chosen races with a more traditional science fiction aesthetic.

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