“In recent months, the relationship between CCP and it’s customers has been the subject of some controversy. The player-elected Council of Stellar Management has played a key role in these events, but not for the first time they are finding CCP difficult to deal with. What effect will CCP’s recent strategies have on the future of EVE Online and it’s player-base? What part can and should the CSM play in shaping that future? How best can EVE Online’s continued health and growth be assured?”

I can’t presume to understand much about the development process that goes on behind video games or how even begin to go about planning and co-ordinating the continued expansion of a successful title like EVE Online. I’m not a games developer.

However, I am a keen and experienced games player who has been playing video games ever since I could reach the fascinatingly tactile control ball of the Missile Command machine at the back of my Nan’s Bingo club in 1981. I loved that ball, it made the game entertaining even if my Nan wouldn’t give me money to play. I was sad when it was replaced by Tron which, although more varied and impressive in almost every way, didn’t have a spinny ball thing.

Anyway, I digress. My point is this: in order to attempt to understand CCP’s baffling EVE Online development strategy I’m going to further muddy the waters by transplanting the concepts wholesale into an industry in which I have been on both sides. This will undoubtedly only serve to completely befuddle myself to a standstill as I stretch the analogy to ridiculous lengths. But stick with me, I think I have a point. Here goes…

The Great British Pub

I used to work in the British pub trade. It all started in 1996 when I drank so much beer during the Euro ’96 Football Tournament that I ran out of money before the end of the competition. In order to see it out with my friends, I got a job on the other side of the bar. Next thing I knew I was the Assistant Manager, which was essentially still just a barman, but the Landlord trusted me enough to cash up too. Over the years I helped to run a number of pubs, each with it’s own character and clientele. Some were quiet suburban pubs, others were of the louder and more colourful persuasion. But each venue had it’s own distinct theme and vibe.

You could think of a given pub environment as an MMO. Like an online game, every pub would have it’s core regulars; the old fella who would come in with his dog at opening every morning to drink a pint of mild and do a crossword, the aging alcoholic punk who would drink his way through his Giro in a day, the mob of football fans that would take over on match-day and the gaggle of divorced man-eaters who stalked the music nights. They might not have been the management’s idea of the perfect clientele, but they were loyal and they put money across the bar.

Most importantly they were the ones that enabled the pub to stay open. It was up to us to ‘add more content’ to bring in more customers, but we needed to make sure these folks stuck around too.

The important thing that I quickly learned was to understand the customers and make them feel welcome. If I greeted them with a smile, made the effort to remember their names and favourite drinks they would feel valued and would be increasingly likely to return. In quieter periods, if they sat at the bar and wanted a conversation, I would engage them, but if they sat in a corner reading a newspaper, I would leave them alone. On busy nights and weekends, compromises had to be made in order to keep the drinks flowing, but a well-meaning smile and some eye-contact would work wonders. People would be forgiving of a delay in service as long as they had been acknowledged.

In this way, I collected people. Folk may come for the theme and the entertainment, but they’d stay for the service.

As the pub grew in popularity, we would look at ways to improve and tweak the experience, spending more money on better and more frequent live music, getting the pool table re-felted, having a bit of a redecorate, organising interesting events. I treated new customers with the same high standard as the regulars and they too often became regulars. In this way, I believe I contributed to the improvement of the fortunes of at least three ailing pubs. But that’s not to say that our successes weren’t without their problems.

Lost Respect and Misplaced Entitlement

Having built up a successful base of customers and worked hard to ensure that they felt comfortable and at home, this had an occasional unfortunate side effect. Sometimes, the regulars would cross the line in some way. They would drink well past drinking-up time or might wander behind the bar to ‘get a cloth’. Generally these indiscretions could be handled amicably, but my requests to drink up have met with the bar equivalent of being told to ‘DIAF’. With added fists.

These rare problems would arise from an inflated sense of entitlement that the regulars got as a result of being treated with the respect due them as an important part of the pub community. Sadly, some customers failed to reciprocate that respect. Generally, they were given the option to behave or find somewhere else to drink. Our pub would not be improved by their continued negative presence. In an amusingly poetic symmetry, many such confrontations were caused by a “dust” problem somewhere in the background. But on this occasion, it wasn’t being produced by the staff.

Similarly, as the pub grew more popular and busy, some regulars who were originally attracted to the quietness of the pub found that they could no longer enjoy the solace the place once offered and they would move on to a new pub. Some folk would just outgrow the pub scene or move away. Faces and regulars changed.

But Stan, EVE is Not a Pub

I never said it was, but I hope you can see some similarities. I have some sympathy for CCP as they have spent a decade developing a successful niche MMO which they quite rightly want to broaden in appeal. I certainly love their vision of “the ultimate Sci-Fi simulator”, but I think they are failing to keep up the required level of service to many of their regulars. Fortunately, said regulars are not backward in coming forward and have made their feelings known. That CCP had the good sense to establish the CSM is now proving to be a major boon and the system is working as intended. Had the CSM not existed, I believe CCP would have blundered on and stubbornly stuck to their chosen path. They may still do that, but at least now they are aware of the potential consequences.

On the flip side, I believe there is a section of the community that just want to complain and will find something no matter what. I have no time for those people, many of whom can be found expounding their nonsense on the forums. They’ll attack the CSM, CCP, the game design, and even other players without ever offering something positive. These people should go find another pub to drink in.

The Moral of the Story

The pub to which I referred in most of this post was the Fish & Firkin in Southend, Essex, England. The building was a converted three-storey Victorian construction and I actually lived in one of the rooms for the duration of my employment, which came to an abrupt end when the owning Brewery decided upon a drastic change of direction. Despite our resistance, they scrapped the spit-and-sawdust Firkin brand and adopting a fancier All Bar One wine-bar concept. The change in policy also meant no live-in staff, so I left to pursue a career in the Ambulance Service. I have no idea what became of that particular pub, but thirteen years later, All Bar One is a very popular chain throughout the UK.

So the upper management got their way, the regulars adapted or moved on and I found an alternative career. You can fight the Establishment, but you’re unlikely to win. No-one lost, but things certainly changed and it turned out All Bar One was a good idea.

Draw your own conclusions.