One of the biggest eye-openers for me at the Iceland Summit was the Commitment to Excellence session.
The Commit to Excellence thread is probably the most supported thread in EVE-O Assembly Hall history. CSM put together a sober and respectful presentation explaining the concerns and perceptions of the player base.
The response from CCP was, to put it charitably, a wee bit defensive. You could almost see the FX of their X-Large C5-L Emergency Shield Overload Boosters being overheated as the CSM tried to break the tanks of their reality distortion fields.
I think one paragraph from the minutes speaks volumes:
Speaking on behalf of CCP, Nathan disagreed strongly with the claim that CCP isn’t committed to excellence. He pointed out that CCP probably spends a bigger part of its income on development than most other large, established game companies. He stated that this is a clear sign of this commitment.
That may be so, but it misses the point. The size of CCP's development budget is irrelevant because most of it is being spent on things that the current EVE player base does not want and does not care about. What counts to the current players is how much is being spent to improve the quality of their game experience.
Note also this line:
It was mentioned by CCP that the data does not seem to support that polished quality sells better than new features. This led to a discussion on the balance of customer acquisition through new features versus customer retention through quality and polish.
Several people have told me that EVE's long-term retention rate is quite high, which is in line with my personal impression. To put it another way, long-time EVE players are crack-whores, hopelessly addicted to the game we love.
So clearly, the key to long-term success is to generate more crack-whores, an insight that should surprise absolutely nobody.
However, the above line seems to indicate that CCP views the crack-whore production process as looking like this:
New Expansion -> Marketing Blitz -> Pulse of Noobs -> Some % become addicted -> long-term customer (high lifetime customer value)
However, there is an alternate path that can be significantly more effective:
Polish the Game -> Less Noobs -> Larger % become addicted -> more long term customers (with higher lifetime customer value)
The reason the lifetime customer value is higher is because the game is better, which means that the noobs stay longer, and the bitter old vets don't give up in despair.
As some of you may know, I run a website that helps people with search engine promotion. One of my favorite sayings is, "It's not the number of hits you get, but the number of sales you make".
In the context of EVE, doubling the noob retention rate is as good as doubling the number of incoming noobs -- and a lot cheaper. So focusing resources on polishing the game, and in particular those parts of the game noobs inhabit, is a big win.
For a final example of the reality distortion field, consider the Lag Issues and Resolution Status meeting, in which we are told:
Lag will always be an issue however EVE, but EVE is now, from a technical standpoint, in a better state than it has ever been.
Now read the technical justifications for this statement, which appear immediately thereafter.
All of them are true.
And all of them are meaningless from the player perspective.
Players don't care that "memory usage on the server per user has decreased in the last 12 months". That is as relevant to them as "the brand of coffee in CCP Coffeemachine has been improved".
All that matters to them is the end result -- does the game play better now than it did a year ago? If it turns out that higher-quality coffee resulted in more of the CSM's backlog getting attended to, then, and only then, would the upgrade of CCP Coffemachine be relevant.
So that there is no confusion, this posting is not an argument for "no new expansions". It's an argument for balance, and for the recognition of the fact that addressing the concerns of the current players is a profitable business model.
I contend that CCP is in the business of farming gamers, and sustainable agriculture is a better long-term strategy than slash-and-burn.