Posted Tue, Nov 01, 2011 by The Mittani
After acquiring White Wolf, CCP attempted to develop both a World of Darkness MMO and a MMO-FPS hybrid (DUST 514), while simultaneously maintaining EVE. “[W]e thought we could achieve three impossible things at the same time," says Hilmar. Considering it rationally, there is very little overlap in development experience between an atmospheric, political roleplaying game about the undead and a spaceship PvP MMO - and neither project has any overlap with a Battlefield 2142-style first person shooter. CCP branching out from EVE into either DUST 514 or World of Darkness would be fraught with peril; doing both was raw, blind madness.
After the White Wolf acquisition CCP began to accentuate its hubris with an increasingly Orwellian stream of slogans. CCP is known for the daring potential of EVE and the travails of trying to bring that potential into actuality; eyebrows were raised when CCP proclaimed themselves to be icons of ‘Excellence’. While expansions dropped features midstream, CCP proclaimed their ability to ‘Deliver’. While trumpeting their ‘Innovation’, the company put out Tyrannis, a bland, derivative attempt to copy Facebook and Farmville. When I was summoned to Reykjavik for the Emergency Summit in July, I was alarmed to hear Hilmar actually use these phrases in regular speech - he seemed to believe his own Newspeak.
After the mortgage finance implosion wiped out both the Icelandic banking industry and the national currency - toppling the government in the process- Hilmar was one of the few business magnates left in the country with a revenue stream of hard currency, and CCP was awarded by the (next) Icelandic government for this post-apocalyptic success. One could jest that post-crisis Iceland has four export products - fish, aluminum, Bjork, and internet spaceships - and be alarmingly accurate.
And it was just after the crash that the management of EVE, infected with misplaced confidence from being among the last businessmen in Iceland left standing, began to truly lose touch with their customers - pushing out the Tyrannis and Incarna duds, going on a hiring spree, simultaneously developing two new games, and resolutely ignoring the continual cries for spaceship-focused EVE content.
People tend to explain success - especially accidental success - in terms of personal achievement. If you found yourself abruptly enriched while your peers crashed and burned, odds are good that you would rationalize your situation as a reflection of your superior worldview or methodology. Perhaps you would proclaim your ‘Excellence’, your ability to ‘Deliver’, or extol your ‘Innovation’, rather than writing off your fortunate circumstances as a stroke of good luck - particularly if your country, media and even your President had been aggressively lauding your ‘inherent superiority’ for years. As customers we may think dark thoughts about the hubris of CCP’s upper management, but the ugly truth is that many would fall prey to the same manias if they had been in Hilmar’s shoes.
As a leader, it’s hard to get the straight truth from someone who feeds their family with a salary you control. While Hilmar himself had extolled the CSM as a method for the players to ‘call BS’ on CCP, the CSM mostly deals with the mid-level employees who actually design EVE, rather than the off-meds corporate executives entranced by visions of global dominance. Besides, avoiding irrational business decisions is something that executives must do within their own company, rather than relying on their customers to perform this critical function. To ward against the dangers of hubris, CCP would have had to take aggressive steps to avoid buzzwordism, and enable their employees to speak truth to power - and then listen to them.
If Roman generals were followed during triumphs by a slave who whispered to them of their inevitable mortality, perhaps what Hilmar needed was the humblest CCP QA intern to follow him and remind him that he was not Lady Gaga.
I write this not as an apologia for CCP’s missteps, but to try to put an explanatory frame around what seems, in a vacuum, to be an utterly unbelievable series of business decisions - a spaceship MMO not adding new spaceships for 2+ years, $70 monocles, and a disastrous flirtation with microtransactions, high fashion and overheating video cards. If there had been a culture of openness within the upper echelons of the company and less kool-aid drunk by CCP executives, the obvious dictum of ‘don’t abandon your core product’ might not have been disobeyed.
But it was.