Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Incarna - Second Chance

Before I get to the point of this post, let's review to how we got to where we are.

Fanfest 2008 CCP released a video of walking in stations and people were excited. (NOTE: You have to go to the site to see the embedded video, feed readers like Feedly might not show it.)

People were more than excited, they were chomping at the bit. Imaginations ran wild with people talking about setting up bars, gambling dens, poker games, customizing avatars, etc. There was definitely enthusiasm for moving Eve beyond "just spaceships" into actual Sci Fi simulator. CCP leadership got caught up in the enthusiasm and over the next 3 years poured more and more developers into developing this tech demo into actual content.

Somewhere along the line, though, CCP got tunnel vision and decided they had to create the ultimate avatar experience. They threw out all the code and started over; they forsook space ship development for avatar and environment building, including the underlying architecture. Grumblings about this diversion of effort increased as major and minor features that had been delivered in questionable states were left in disrepair: Factional Warfare, wormholes, sovereignty mechanics... When asked about when they could get iteration on these features they were told there was no resources for the next 18 months, and that became a powerful bitter-vet meme in of itself. :18 months: CCP was running out of time to prove its vision.

When the Incursions expansion hit, it included the new character creator and players got their first taste of Incarna. It was amazing. People loved the sheer customization and fidelity of the avatars they could create. Everyone was playing with it for hours, space politicians, pirates, null-bears... everyone agreed it was pretty amazing and overall some hope for Incarna was restored. But not CSM5. They kept asking "What's the plan? Where's the gameplay?" and got no good response.

Then, in June 2011, three years after that initial tease, Incarna was released. The great promise delivered... melting video cards... single uncustomizable quarters... single player only... no gameplay.... station doors that won't open.... reports from video card makers that the technology to support more than one avatar at a time was years away...

And on top of that there was the NeX store with clothing items to customize their avatars. Hordes of people looking to get cool clothes, tattoos, implants for microtransactions instead found a limited supply and prices an order of magnitude higher than expected. What do you mean $70 for a monocle?! When the outrage poured into CCP they posted a dev blog in which they tried to defend their pricing models with the most tone deaf and defensive tone possible:

Assume for a short while that you are wearing a pair of $1,000 jeans from some exclusive Japanese boutique shop. Why would you want to wear a pair of $1,000 jeans when you can get perfectly similar jeans for under $50? What do other people think about you when they see you wearing them? For some you will look like the sad culmination of vainness while others will admire you and think you are the coolest thing since sliced bread. Whichever it is, it is clear that by wearing clothes you are expressing yourself and that the price is one of the many dimensions that clothes possess to do that in addition to style and fit. You don’t need to buy expensive clothes. In fact you don’t need to buy any clothes. Whatever you choose to do reflects what you are and what you want others to think you are.
From a certain point of view, I can see what they were trying to do. After all, your average veteran player has thousands of dollars worth of assets so pricing them in the range they picked didn't see unreasonable, but for players expecting to pay at most $10-$20 for luxury items it seemed like a cynical money grab.

Then came the leaked internal CCP memo called Greed Is Good in which two devs debate microtransactions and their philosphy for them. Regardless of the intent or limited audience the memo was meant for, the playerbase read it and were aghast at the philosophy contained therein.

The Summer of Rage followed this trifecta of idiocy and players rioted on forums, in blogs, and even in game. Three years of planning and development and players were not logging in and quitting accounts in droves. Then, on August 5, less than two months after Incarna release, CEO of CCP, Hilmar P├ętursson posted a dev blog that basically apologized to the entire playerbase:

Somewhere along the way, I began taking success for granted. As hubris set in, I became less inclined to listen to pleas for caution. Red flags raised by very smart people both at CCP and in the community went unheeded because of my stubborn refusal to allow adversity to gain purchase on our plans. Mistakes, even when they were acknowledged, often went unanalyzed, leaving the door open for them to be repeated.
You have spoken, loudly and clearly, with your words and with your actions. And there were definitely moments in recent history when I wish I would have listened more and taken a different path.
I was wrong and I admit it.
The end result was Crucible expansion. Although we got the other three captain's quarters for our avatars, from that point on Incarna was for all intents and purposes abandoned.

Which brings me to the point of this post.
The Point!

Its time to consider giving Incarna a second chance.

Incarna, that is to say walking and interacting in stations, is in of itself not a bad idea; indeed players were clamouring for it after Fanfest 2008. It was just CCP's poor planning and implementation that were bad.

It feels like CCP got their fingers so burnt by the players' ire that they have overreacted and virtually abandoned any Incarna development. I've thought about how to rescue Incarna and the NeX Store before, listing out a fake product backlog of features that could bring gameplay content and interaction into the current structure and got a lot of positive feedback. Players do want walking in stations, they do want customizable avatars, they will accept reasonable microtransactions for cosmetic enhancements, they just do not want it at the cost of all in-space development and feature iteration.

I fear its too late now that with Rubicon CCP is heading on a new 3 year plan that by all indications does not include any Incarna related development (updated character creator notwithstanding). There is an opportunity here for a competing sci-fi MMO to step up and fill the need of combining space ships with avatars (and no, Star Trek Online is not it).

TL;DR - It's time to give Incarna a second chance.


  1. Sir Jack Falstaff3:09 pm

    Great piece. I completely agree, and thanks for the non-hysterical history lesson. It's helpful to those of us who weren't around at the time.

    (also, typo in the title)

  2. I agree with you, but many do not. There is this irrational fear of it, and this assumption that EVE Online is about 'only' things you can do 'in space'. I'm past caring at this point, unfortunately. I'd love it if CCP were to do it (and ive bitched at the CSM saying as much) but if CCP don't, I and others who have nothing better to wait for... will simply end up leaving without saying much.

  3. Anonymous6:51 pm

    Also agree. There are so many great possibilities...

  4. Agree 100% however the summer of rage completely shifted CCP's attitude towards Incarna, causing them to fear anything even remotely associated with it. The perfect example is the 100's of unreleased clothing assets.
    The end result of all this is that CCP are now 100% focused on in space 'features' but also features that are low hanging fruit. Gone is the aspirational CCP where sometimes the talk was better than the initial feature, but also where things like Apochrypa could happen.
    We will see if the staleness of their game gives them a kick. I for one am extremely doubtful and feel that their increased focus on other games (Valkyrie, DUST, WoD) will make them unable to develop EvE further than itterations.

  5. Anonymous10:01 pm

    development has proceeded on incarna through WoD character models and creation schemes. they just split their development team into spaceships and avatars. They'll meld the two soon enough. Else WoD would be a complete and total loss of investment.

  6. They might be doing more on a second Incarna attempt than talked about. CCP may be too cautious to talk about any plans they have about it, at least I hope that's the case.

  7. Anonymous4:10 am

    For for myself as I have never given a damn about WiS, I'm continually disappointed I can't just download into my ships rather than having to depend on a disposable flesh bag to contain my mind but for those that do care and that the Incarna release so spectacularly failed I hope you get something workable and fun.

  8. Chanina5:33 am

    Agreed. I really hope we get WiS some time down the road. There is so much depth that a avatar supported game play could add to the game. Black markets, gambling and what not.
    Sometimes you just sit on station ship spinning, why not sitting in a bar drinking some cool stuff?

    With the development of World of Darkness the avatar based game play has some place to continue and I hope it will find its way back to Eve too.

  9. Good post. I'm still hoping for an alternative to ship spinning, so still hoping for some *REAL* WiS.

  10. Anonymous8:50 am

    I completely agree with everything in this post, however Star Citizen may steal a march on CCP this time.