Monday, 25 April 2016

BB74—Fanfest Nerdboner

BB74 — Fanfest Nerdboner

The Most Important Reveal at Fanfest Was……

So when this Blog Banter goes live Fanfest will be over. Hungover geeks from around the world will be departing Reykjavik after a five-day binge of important internet spaceships and partying. Whether you were there in person, watched the streams or read the dev blogs on your mobile hidden under your work desk there was probably something in there that gave you a “nerd-boner”. What for you personally was the most important thing to come out of Fanfest 2016?

CCP Ghost

CCP Ghost introduced himself to us through his fascination with the workings of the human brain, in particular his own. This fascination has led him on a curious career path, which you can learn more about through his presentation. He has been recruited by CCP to help keep new players onboard. In his own words, he studied the mechanics and community of EVE and realised, “Holy Shit!” This was an amazing opportunity which he decided he couldn’t turn away.

New Player Retention

The main “revelation” about new player retention was that about 51% of new accounts never get past the first two hours. Player discussion of this factoid has led to explanations including:
  • they just don’t like science fiction
  • they are RMT characters used to transfer items of value without the logs showing anything
  • they are existing players experimenting with multiboxing
  • I’m not saying it was aliens, but it was aliens
CCP Ghost’s assertion—based on studying new players and interviewing them—is that many of these players get through character creation and are put off by the steep learning cliff. His opinion is that the new players are not given an opportunity to become emotionally invested before facing the mountain of technical learning required to become somewhat competent at the game.

Many of us will be thinking, “yeah, we knew that, now what?” We will be looking forward to finding out what CCP proposes for the new new new New Player experience.

The Old New Player Experiences

In the beginning, players were simply dumped in space with a rookie ship and left to their own devices. Later, a bare bones tutorial was introduced including an NPC which started shooting at you, and basic instruction in targeting, orbiting and shooting.

Variations on the theme have occurred, these days we have a tutorial where you start in a pod in a station, are directed into space to pick up your rookie ship, then basically led by the hand on a series of tutorials regarding the mechanics of the game.

Contrast this to the tutorial for, say, Homeworld, where you are given the backstory, introduced to the Mothership, go through a very rudimentary instruction on selecting and moving ships, and are immediately faced with a battle for the survival of your entire civilisation.

The Elder Scrolls Online experience starts with classic Chosen One storytelling: you are important, and along comes Commander Shep—sorry, Lyris Titanborn to help you escape from hell. Along the way you are introduced to new characters, the story expands around you, and you go on to save the world from the (literally) big bad guy.

In the Mass Effect series, you play Commander Shepard, basically the most awesome human ever. You start the game on a “shakedown mission” for a new one-of-a-kind spaceship, told that you are being evaluated as a candidate to be the first human Spectre (an elite force of law enforcement allowed to operate outside the law). This mission goes South in a big way and you spend the entire series saving the galaxy from their own complacency and the (literally) big bad guys using the civilisations of the galaxy as a huge sociological experiment.

An approach taken by other games is where you start off powerful, then through some devastating experience your powers are stripped from you, and part of the story of the game is recovering your powers and then reclaiming your rightful place in the world. This is sometimes referred to as a pinnacle experience, because you start the game knowing what it is like to be at the pinnacle of capability.

The Anticipation of Boethiah

Allow me a little diversion. I promise there is a point to it: this is about explaining my thought process to you, and not merely an excuse to write lots of words.

In the Elder Scrolls mythology, the Dunmer (dark elves) are led by a trio (Almalexia, Vivec & Sotha Sil) calling themselves the Triumvirate. They are basically powerful sorcerors using forbidden magic to style themselves as gods. In later parts of the storyline their cosy little arrangement falls apart, Almalexia goes mad and murders her colleagues, then the champion of Boethiah slays her, returning Dunmer civilisation to daedra worship. During her reign, Almalexia refers to herself as the Anticipation of Boethiah, considering herself to be equal to the gods who created the world (the Aedra and Daedra).

Similar stories of narcissism and prideful arrogance are repeated through all forms of fiction from fairy tales to contemporary science fiction and fact. Banks that are too big to fail. A scientist believing he can reanimate a body composed of stolen body parts. A powerful sorceror/scientist using artifacts they don’t understand to build empires that crumble when the magic/technology they were dependent on stops working they way they wanted.

At the NPE roundtable, CCP Ghost indicated that he doesn’t need to engage with the players through social media since everything he needs to know is fed to him through regular CCP-internal social media reports (a common corporate process, I get media summaries in my job too). I couldn’t help thinking of the Incarna debacle where CCP was engaged in constructing a “Jesus feature,” promising us it was going to be awesome, then only engaging the playerbase when resorting to major damage control mode.

Additionally at the round table, CCP Ghost spent most of the time listening and watching while CCP Delegate Zero and CCP Surge answered most of the questions. I can imagine that CCP Ghost was quite happy examining the players in the room like so many specimens in a jar, but this behaviour was ringing alarm bells for me because the player base are used to interacting with CCP employees, and if this attitude is indicative of future behaviour it doesn’t bode well. I read pitchforks and torches at the castle gate in the tea leaves.

If you are going to study us at least tell us what you have found.

The New New Player Experience

During the New Player Experience round table, there was some suggestion from CCP that the next iteration of the New Player Experience would include some element of “pinnacle experience”: possibly a scenario (or three) where you are shown various roles you can fulfill, introduced to a plotline in your chosen empire, and basically led on an NPC-centric experience that culminates with the new player being unleashed upon the cluster as a capsuleer with a purpose.

Team Genesis, consisting of CCP Delegate Zero, CCP Ghost, and CCP Surge (at least, that is who I wrote down during the roundtable) were not really there to tell us what they were planning since the point of the round table was to socialise a couple of ideas, gather thoughts on NPE, and see what type of questions the players had. I suspect they have some nebulous concept or “ten thousand foot view” idea of where they’re going, with details to be fleshed out over the next year and actually implemented some time later.

The players, on the other hand, wanted to emphasise the new player on-boarding that already occurs and ensure that CCP is aware that the veteran players very much want to help get new players into the game. We were presenting suggestions for things that can happen today, right now, in order to improve new player retention.

Very concrete versus quite abstract.

Interpersonal vs Impersonal Attachment

When playing games, I have various levels of attachment to the characters. In Monopoly, I prefer playing the iron because it represents the mantra of “mind the pennies and the pounds will mind themselves.” I always lose Monopoly of course. In Mass Effect I have one save game I am particularly attached to because of the relationships and decisions I/we made. I am differently attached to another Commander Shepard because she’s a Vanguard which I found to be a particularly stimulating playstyle: it’s billed as high-stakes, and my other half can verify that when playing Vanguards I experience elation when a gambit pays off and frustration when I don’t get it quite right.

The short version of all that is that I get attached to games in different ways, and even different ways in the same game.

But being attached to a game is a very impersonal form of attachment. I wax nostalgic, open up Mass Effect, play through to the part where we save Tali from the Shadow Broker’s agents (doesn’t everyone love Tali, doesn’t the Normandy feel empty without her?), realise just how many hours of driving the Mako over awkward generated landscapes are in store, then put the game away again. Saving the world from the Reapers, by driving the Mako for days on end?

Yeah, nah.

When playing multiplayer games, I am willing to forgive the most horrible mechanics to be able to spend time with people (i.e.: humans) I like, in-character or out-of-character (I like role-play). I will look for ways to resolve group disputes that I would otherwise have walked away from. I will spend more time learning difficult mechanics even when my personal frustration level would otherwise have driven me to tears. All of this because I have people whose company is much more pleasant than the game is annoying.

The Future

So what am I excited about? I am excited about CCP Ghost and whether his ideas are more Incarna or Teir-icide. I am interested in hearing more from Team Genesis about tactics for inculcating new players with impersonal and interpersonal attachment to EVE and the community. I am anxious to discover whether CCP Ghost is every bit as awesome as he claims he is :D

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