In the early days of June 2011, the playerbase of EVE Online joined together in revolution and war. The enemy was not a diablocial space-tyrant, or an army of NPC spaceships waiting to give battle, but the company that created EVE, CCP Games. A recent expansion, Incarca, had launched with a slew of overpriced microtransactions and other features that generally fell flat in the eyes of players. In the days following the launch of Incarnation, an internal magazine meant for employees of the company leaked, espousing the values of “greed is good” among other things.
Tensions relaxed between the players and the game-maker over the course of a few weeks during the summer of 2011, and everything went back to normal soon thereafter. However, the players never forgot the Summer of Rage, and have often threatened to rise up again in protest to the company’s decisions, should it ever come to that. Fast forward to recent times, and these sentiments have begun to bubble up again, with players on social media announcing their departure from the game, calling for mass unsubscribing of accounts, widespread criticism of decisions made surrounding the game, and a feel of general unrest in the game’s population.
The Summer of Rage 2.0, as some players are calling it on social media, is beginning to take shape. Players are upset with the state of the game, with several controversial game changes surrounding resource scarcity and spaceship production, the state of in-game politics, and a perceived lack of communication from the development team driving the narrative.
To fully explain the “resource scarcity” complaint, we have to look back all the way to the winter of 2016. A change was introduced making the Rorqual, a capital class industry ship, into an enormously powerful mining vessel. The rorqual went from a passive buffing ship, to a powerful mining vessel capable of strip mining the game’s asteroid fields in a matter of hours overnight. These changes began introducing more raw material into the game than ever before possible. Players soon fielded massive fleets of these vessels, leveraging the relative ease of multiboxing the ships, that is, one player controlling fleets of these vessels on their own. The larger groups in the game used these ships to start an arms race of epic proportions.
Previous to this change, Titans, the biggest and most powerful war machines in EVE were rare, and terribly expensive to create, limiting their access to the upper echelons of EVE veterans. Within a year of the Rorqual changes, Titan proliferation was completely out of control, their prices dropping, in some cases, to a third of previous costs. Several changes were put in place by the developer to try to stem the tide of Titan production, but the damage was seemingly done.
Drastic measures had to be taken, according to CCP, to stop this overproduction of Titans, and basically every other ship in the game. Two major patches between 2019 and 2020 introduced a massive reduction of resources available in the game overall. These changes quickly saw mineral prices increase, and with them the cost of spaceships at all levels of gameplay steadily rose. This “Age of Scarcity,” as it’s known by the players, has seemingly overstayed its welcome. Inflation has caused many players to feel left behind those who were able to exploit the overabundance of resources, and left others feeling like they were punished for investing in the costly setup required to run Rorqual mining operations.
On top of the scarcity patches, roughly one year ago, one of the largest wars in EVE’s history began. The war has raged hot for nearly a year, causing destruction on a scale that is unheard of in EVE’s 18 year history, further diminishing the resource stockpiles of players and driving the cost of the vessels players need to fight in the war through the roof. Outside of the financial toll the war has taken on player wallets, the mental stress of the conflict also seems to be building in players on all sides.
War in EVE is one of the most interesting things the game has to offer, and probably one of the more realistic simulations of massive real life campaigns available in the virtual realm. Each side needs competent generals, massive supply chains, and most importantly, players to fight in battles that can last for hours across all time zones multiple days a week. Over time, these things take a measurable toll on people who are just trying to play a game to have some fun and blow off steam. With something close to half of the game’s active playerbase involved in the conflict, it’s easy to understand how the situation could create some tension among players.
Further compounding the stress of war and waning pocketbooks are the latest changes to the already complex industry system. Almost all spaceships and the ammunition and equipment for those ships are produced by players. Resources must be harvested, transported, and combined to create the ships, and when those ships die in battle, they are gone forever. Over the course of the war, those ships have been dying by the thousands. Since the changes implemented in the last few months, the production chains, cost, and complexity of crafting most ships in EVE have become more complex and expensive, leading to a further burnout of already overtaxed industry players.
Recent publications on the game’s economic state by CCP have shown a massive downtick in the overall production of ships. These numbers are leading to the belief that players are getting frustrated with the process and slowing or even stopping the creation of new industry jobs to create the vessels that keep the game alive and running. Both the scarcity changes and the complete overhaul of the game’s industry system may lead to a place where the EVE economy eventually achieves a more healthy balance compared to the recent past, but player frustration with the systems is growing to a point that the community is demanding action be taken via the games official forums, Reddit and across Twitter. The current system has been described as “all stick, and no carrot” by prominent players in the community, and that sentiment is being picked up by more and more people.
The confluence of all of these things, along with the normal concerns about balance, content and release schedules that are inherent in all MMORPGs, as well as a few changes that have negatively affected certain gameplay styles, have come to a head. Players have responded in a fairly predictable fashion, they’ve seemingly stopped logging into the game as much. Every player can see how many people are currently connected to the EVE Online game server, it’s a statistic that is plainly visible on the game’s launcher, and it is religiously tracked by players. There’s even a website dedicated to it, eve-offline.net, which gives a historical overview of the Peak Concurrent Users, or PCU, for any given day. This number has been dwindling over the last few months, and is currently showing the lowest PCU that EVE has seen since 2006.
Seeing the PCU dip so low, has caused great concern across the community, with calls that EVE is a dying game, desperately in need of intervention. Referencing the PCU like this is a double edged sword, it can cause players to jump to conclusions about the health of the game without having the full picture of the data that CCP themselves can see. However, as with most things, perception often trumps or supercedes reality. As more players stress over the PCU, more players take notice, and in turn begin to stress about it. EVE Online players are typically fanatical for their chosen hobby, and that hobby being in what seems to be clear danger, causes them to lash out.
The final straw that seems to have broken the proverbial camel’s back, was added to the pile by a post on Reddit, exposing a new real-money offering from CCP. A new notification was added to the game when a new player loses a spaceship in combat with another player, or to NPC pirates. When clicked, this notification caused a pop-up to appear, explaining to the player that for just five dollars, they can easily buy some of EVE’s premium currency, PLEX, and sell that on the open market for a quick injection of in-game cash to replace their loss and get back into the fight. One of the players that was shown this contextual offer shared it on Reddit, here.
If there are only two things that EVE players are prickly about, they are protecting/nourishing new players (so that they can grow up to be good targets to prey upon themselves) and monetisation. The latter circling all the way back to the original Summer of Rage. Player outrage surrounding this advertisement immediately reached extreme levels, filling the subreddit dedicated to the game, the official forums and Twitter with angry players posting their feelings. This rage, combined with all of the other stresses players are feeling about the game, are what led to the loudest cries for a Second Summer of Rage.
The casus belli for the second ‘war’ players are calling to rage against the very developers of the game they love has been established, and the battle lines are being drawn. Kotaku had a chance to speak to CCP about the current situation and state of the game over a virtual meeting with several members of their community team and EVE’s Brand Director.
“Since Sept 2019, we’ve been trying to ramp up the speed of everything in EVE.” Sæmundur Hermannsson, EVE’s Brand Director explained to Kotaku, “We started with the Chaos Era, and then Rapid releases, then finally settled on our quadrant releases.”
“Our Ethos, our Motto, has been ‘Run fast, learn fast.’ (In the case of the pop-up) We had a team that ran fast, got these offers in, and this time around, they probably ran a bit too fast.” Hermannsson admitted. He went on to explain that with this particular implementation, they did not speak to the CSM beforehand. The CSM is a focus group of players elected by the user base at large, who interface with CCP on behalf of the players. They are under an NDA, so that they can have frank discussions about upcoming changes and give input on potential player reactions to new things added to the game. In the days since the implementation of this particular offer, the CSM have spoken with CCP about it, and Kotaku has been told that adjustments to the offer have been made.
According to CCP Swift, the newest member of the community team, “One of the problems is that over 10,000 ships explode every day in EVE. This particular contextual offer applies to maybe 1% of those ships.” He went on to explain that it’s not an in-your-face pop-up, but something that the player would have to actually seek out in their notification panel and click on to actually trigger the pop-up.
Additionally according to Hermannsson, “Another issue with this feature is that we have a lot of teams/Devs working on long term NPE projects. The plan was to not show things until we’re ready to fully announce them. We have been doing a lot more offers, Plex bundles, skin packs, etc, and those are a much quicker turn around that system enhancements.” He did concede that perception is reality, and that “All the community can see is the offers, but we have been working on NPE in the background a bunch, it’s just not ready for public consumption, it’s the perception of this imbalance that is the big problem.”
As far as the dwindling PCU is concerned, data on the CCP side tells a slightly different story. The decline of the PCU is not something that they can completely disregard, but EVE does traditionally have a summer slump, and this one is potentially a larger one than normal. It is entirely possible however, that the stressful state of the world has as much to do with that as other things. COVID-19 has caused many people to be sequestered in their homes, with little to do in many cases other than play video games.
Now that the pandemic pressure has started to lighten across the world with preventative measures, vaccinations, and the advent of a summer season, it’s only natural that players aren’t playing as many video games. Internal DAU numbers, daily active users, tell a slightly different story to CCP apparently. While there has been a dip, according to the company, they see a much smaller one than what the PCU reflects. The PCU highly favours longer session game play, that sees more players logged in for longer periods of time, and they seem to think that players are simply going out in the world more, rather than sitting at home and playing the game.
Hermannsson explained to Kotaku, “If you look at the decline in DAU it’s significantly less than PCU. But EVE players can only see the PCU. Admittedly there is literally 50% drop in PCU, but DAU does not show the same thing.”
“My philosophy is that the OG summer of rage was less to do with the monetisation side at the time, and more that the content was threadbare,” CCP Convict, a Community Manager for EVE, explained to Kotaku. Convict was a player for a long time before joining the company, and was around during the original Summer of Rage. “I think the reason that this current one is gaining momentum is that the community has some missing context that they don’t have full access to.”
The outcome of the Summer of Rage 2.0 is yet to be seen, as player tensions are still running high and there has been no official response from CCP Games as of yet. EVE faces PCU slumps every summer, and that this summer may be exaggerated by outside factors. With more content on the horizon, and the year-long war moving into a new phase soon, players may have more reasons to boot up the game. EVE is very much a living universe, and changes planned for the near future promise to address at least some of the concerns players are raising. Will this Second Coming of Rage be the giant watershed moment players expect it to be? Only time will tell.