Friday, November 30, 2012

Entropic Vector

"Now comes the, uh, the really icky part."  - Dr Okun, Independence Day

Unlike many of my colleagues these days, I am very zen on the subject of nullsec.

Much is being made lately of the pacification of nullsec. There's a great deal of hand-wringing and apocalyptic chatter going on in the blogosphere.  And, yes, I know it's all a bit dull at the moment.

Two very large coalitions that have a shared history, player DNA and close ties presently dominate the sovereign nullsec map. They have vanquished the elite PvP coalitions and alliances by a combination of punches that include overwhelming force, canny leadership, deep pockets and effective diplomacy.  Their remaining potential enemies in nullsec have no stomach for being rolled over by either coalition and have turned their attention to tearing each other to rags.  As they do, I've no doubt all sides in these conflicts are maintaining a smiling diplomatic face to the technetium throne. After all, when you wake to a grizzly bear in your tent, it's best to maintain good relations.

Of course, if the bear has decided you're either food or threat, smiling won't do you any good. But it can't hurt.

The fate of the vanquished varies. Some, like White Noise, have disappeared entirely; as never was. Some, like Raiden[DOT], have made common cause with their conquerors; accepting a vast slice of humble pie and severing the last emotional ties to BoB of old in exchange for a place at the table of sovereign nullsec's new order. Smaller alliances in enemy coalitions that show particular promise in defense of their systems are occasionally solicited by CFC or HBC to switch sides and hold their space under the region's new lords and masters. This policy at once secures vassals prone to fighting hard for their space and undermines the cohesiveness of the alliances remaining in the enemy coalition.  And, of course, still other enemies have retreated from sovereign nullsec altogether, to NPC nullsec or lowsec.

From a political standpoint, nullsec has achieved a rare state of stability under what I regard as a single monolithic power.  I say rare, because nullsec in Eve is, by its nature, resistant to stability.  There are a number of factors that make it so.  While the current lords of nullsec have shown remarkable insight into identifying and offsetting some of these factors, there remain a sizable number of them that are, by definition, beyond their control.  Thus, despite many advantages, not least of which is imposing size and an aggressively cultivated reputation for invincibility, both the CFC and the HBC are engaged in a delicate balancing act and are vulnerable to being upset by external (and internal) events.  Things, as they say, fall apart; the center will not hold.  And, in Eve, the center is a very unstable place.

As with gravity, entropy works.

Everybody loves a winner, as the swollen membership of both coalitions will attest. However, there is something in the rush to join these coalitions that is reminiscent of the irrational exuberance of investors who buy only when the markets are performing close to their peak, on the assumption that past performance will predict future results.  Their ride is usually a pleasant one at first; until suddenly it's not.  And, since late investors are least likely to have recouped their initial investment before things go sour, they are commonly the most likely to suffer when the the bubble pops.

Mind, it isn't that I necessarily want the two coalitions to fall apart. I regard Gooswarm and Test Alliance Please Ignore as an extension of the nullsec bear experiment begun with the alliances of the now defunct Northen Coalition (not to be confused with the DOT alliance of the same name).  Now, with members of the massive coalitions blue to each other and a non-aggression pact in place between the CFC and HBC, huge swaths of space have been pacified to the degree possible in player controlled nullsec. In pacified nullsec, industrial bears can ply their trades far from potential enemies and largely undisturbed.

With the number of viable external threats dwindling, Goonswarm in particular appears to be taking a long hard look at how to develop its nullsec markets and develop its non-supercapital industrial capacity.  For political reasons, this is largely pitched as an economic war against empire space; leveraging nullsec resource advantages in order to replace high and lowsec as Eve's dominant source of high value manufactured goods. However, despite their easy access to a vast wealth of rare ores, nullsec faces profound obstacles to developing a robust industrial sector. Some of them are already emerging in articles and posts in the Eve press and blogosphere. Others have yet to surface.  We'll talk about both next time.

Some of these obstacles are build into the game mechanics, which Goonswarm is already lobbying to have changed via its media arm and CSM connections.  Many of the obstacles to industrial nirvana, however, are internal and will involve tough changes to long-held nullsec attitudes, practices and economic givens.  And it must be remembered that CFC and HBC are composed of a diverse collection of alliances, many of which have conflicting cultures, play styles and interests.  Implementing even needed change across coalitions, the allegiance of  whose member alliances are based on the success of status quo, will be what organizational behaviorists call 'the really icky part' of managing for the lords of nullsec.

It's going to get interesting. Sooner, I think, rather than later. 

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Who Owns The Mittani?

"You hereby grant CCP an exclusive, perpetual, worldwide, irrevocable, assignable, royalty-free license, fully sub-licensable through multiple tiers, to exercise all intellectual property and other rights, in and to all or any part of your User Content, in any medium now known or hereafter developed."
 - Eve® Online End User License Agreement

You'll recall we discussed what the transition of The Mittani from an in-game character to a corporate trademark in terms of Mittens as an entity independent from The Mittani®, the trademark for the eponymous Eve website

Now, if you've been paying attention you'll note that doesn't restrict itself to Eve-specific content.  Articles about a other online games have gotten play on TheMittani, such as the recent articles on MechWarrior online. There are book reviews of various stripes, few of them directly to do with Eve. The editors obviously are not chaining themselves to the decks of CCP's ship. It's no secret that they intend to diversify their content, with hopes of becoming a player in the larger online gaming media community. Slow and steady growth beginning with the ready-made Eve audience as content providers are discovered or step up is a rood, low risk business plan. In time I expect to see Eve Online become a subset (albeit an important one) of TheMittani® brand content.

TheMittani®, as a profit-making venture using Eve copyrighted content, such as logos and artwork, will be paying the well defined fees for using CCP intellectual content on monetized fan sites.  But if one day TheMittani® becomes a going concern in the online gaming press, their content and influence extending far beyond Eve, and a piece of TheMittani® begins to have meaningful cash or influence value, CCP could decide to point out that it owns one of TheMittani®'s key assets: Its name.

Who owns your in-game name? CCP says it does (see above).

For example, let's say Rixx Javix makes bank selling Jixx Javix® masks and branded cod-pieces. And let's say he is then approached by Disney® who want to buy the rights to Rixx Javix® (in order to star the rascal as an interstellar pirate/anarchist in their next Star Wars movie).  At that point, with vast fortunes on the table, CCP could step in and point out that Rixx Javix was originally developed by the player for Eve Online using CCP assets.  Thus, CCP being the owner of all Eve online content (you read the license agreement when you signed up, didn't you?), Disney® must negotiate solely with CCP for rights to the Rixx Javix® character.  Then they turn to Rixx himself and demand their share of the profits from his masks and codpiece business. 

Or let's say Mat Westhorpe of Freebooted writes a novel featuring Seismic Stan that is so screamingly popular it becomes an international best-selling series. The release of each book is more anticipated and published with more fanfare than the last.  Neil Gaiman contracts to do the graphic novel. James Cameron demands a screenplay. Mat's wife grudgingly admits his time playing Eve might (possibly) have been less than an utter waste. And then, as with Rixx, CCP quietly says 'ahem' and holds out a hand for a majority slice of the Freebooted pie. Because, after all, Seismic Stan is CCP intellectual property.

See? A few random synapses fire and all of a sudden I'm raining on everybody's parade. It's a gift.

However the law being what it is, and international intellectual property law being even moreso, it will take a more lawyerly person than myself to answer whether and where CCP's claim to your character's name would stick in a court of law when real money is on the table. So, if you're getting ready to shred that 600 page magnum opus starring your Eve character into the shredder, hold off until you've had a qualified IP lawyer look things over.  

In the meantime, I've no doubt TheMittani®'s board of directors have thought all this through, and anticipated the potential difficulties of their brand name being owned by CCP.  They've probably already come up with a legal remedy acceptable to both parties. The ink on such an agreement is likely long dried ere now.  Nothing to see here, move along. These aren't the 'droids you're looking for.

Or so one might hope.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Monetized Coalition

A bit over a year ago, in a post titled 'House of Dreams' I wrote about game designer CCP Greyscale's design goals for Eve Online. At the time I wrote that the goals were ambitious and mostly laudable. However, I noted at the time that the gulf between generalized goals drawn out on a white board and the execution needed to achieve said goals is exceedingly wide and with fraught with unfriendly practicalities. 

Probably the most unfriendly practicality of all is how quickly the dunes in the Eve sandbox shift as the players therein push and jostle and remake the landscape.  CCP designers like Greyscale seem to be at a complete loss when attempting to anticipate how the player community will leverage the game's digital mechanics. Indeed, 'game design', which normally assumes some degree of control over game-play and its impact the players' experience is something of a misnomer in Eve.  CCP designers have shown exceedingly limited insight into how altering, introducing or eliminating game mechanics will impact game-play.  Indeed, where game design is normally a proactive occupation, the CCP designers have become largely a reactive force; introducing changes that have no hope of incenting the desired player behaviors, and then behaving as though the resulting in-game mishigas was their intent all along.  

At this point the designers seem to have given up altogether and turned away from improving the capsuleer experience in a manner that expands the player base. After all, monthly fees are the old revenue model. The new revenue model is micro-transactions. Why fuss over whether or not the kiddies in the sandbox are throwing cat feces at one another?  After all, what's really important is that they remain in the sandbox. 

Then it's a simple matter of raising the cost of cat feces. 

And, if you look around, you'll note that the cost of cat feces is, indeed, going up.  The trick, though, is to keep the players in the sand box despite the rising cost.  Those are the players CCP wants most; the ones who stay through thick and thin.  They want players whose social lives revolve around the game, who are in large 'winner' alliances and coalitions, or plucky underdog alliances.  For players who closely identify with their corporation, alliance or coalition, leaving is not an option.  Alliances and coalitions that failscade are bad business for CCP.  Players in such alliances are much more likely to leave New Eden than their more secure counterparts. 

Now, capsuleers won't pay real money for golden ammunition.  But dust bunnies will.  And if dust bunny muscle becomes as essential to nullsec sov, as it soon will be to FW, then holding nullsec is going to take an application of real money micro-transactions.  Lots and lots of real money micro-transactions.  And who better to fund the needed micro-transactions than massive nullsec coalitions.  Let's face it: The leadership of a ten-thousand player coalition could easily maintain a sizable bunny army if sov (or messing with someone they don't like) were the reward.  I mean, just holding a Test Alliance Please Ignore bake sale would likely fund a couple of well supplied dusty armored divisions for months.

So, if big coalitions represent both player retention and a large pools of potential micro-transaction, why in space would CCP want to make them to go away? And the answer is, I believe, that they don't.  Rather than wasting money continuing the fight and spending CCP assets on fruitless design changes meant to eliminate the elephants in the Eve living room, CCP appears to have decided to milk the elephants.  I mean, have you checked the price of elephant milk on the commodities markets?

As Ripard Teg commented recently,  "Greyscale's dreams aren't distant. They're dead, dead, dead".  Small nullsec territories? Small fleet PvP?  Fields and Farms?  Nice ideas, I suppose.  Hard work, though.  And there are easier ways for CCP to turn a Kroner.