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Eve Online

The Mittani: Solar Spymaster

After the press conference called by CCP earlier this week, to give the press a chance to ask questions about what turned out to be one of the biggest crises in the history of EVE Online, I sat down with Alex "The Mittani" Gianturco (also called "Mittens"), the chairman of the Council of Stellar Management, to discuss the issue further.

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What was initially planned to be an interview about the CSM's role quickly turned into a discussion about not only about the latest controversy; instead we touched upon a wide range of subjects, ranging from EVE culture to what to do about supercapital ships inside the game.

The interview below is published more or less unedited, with only a few minor side-tracks cut out and some questions tightened up. If you need more background to what has happened in EVE Online over the last few weeks, make sure to read our write-up of the press conference.

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Left: The fifth Council of Stellar Management during the CSM panel at Fanfest 2011. Right: The real-life version of The Mittani.

Gamereactor: Amongst some players, the Council of Stellar Management is seen as nothing more than a PR-opportunity for CCP - something that neither CSM5 or 6 have managed to change. Do you think there's anything you can do to change that perception?

The Mittani: I don't think there's much you can do - or should do - to silence the tinfoil crowd. As for the majority, I suspect most people are now on board with the CSM, or more so than before. The emergency summits + having actual deliverables on features makes an impact

Time Dilation? CSM did that. Iterative Ship Balance, which has only just begun? Again, CSM pushed for that. We have to actually bring red meat to the table, by the time the next election rolls around. But that takes time, because dev cycles are long Incarna was all planned already by the time CSM6 took office, so the first CSM6-tweaked expansion will be the winter one.

Typical MMO-community stuff, then. The communities usually want things to move much faster than they actually can. Like bringing ship spinning back - it won't be a simple matter of un-commenting lines of code, as some people on the EVE Online forums suggested.

Right, exactly. There's this enormous gulf of understanding between players and devs as to what it takes to actually create a game or an expansion, and how long it takes. Those who refuse to believe the CSM see an admission of these business realities as a sign of 'co-option', or being in cahoots with CCP.

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CCP CEO Hilmar Pétursson presents the sixth Council of Stellar Management at Fanfest 2011.

How do the discussions between the CSM and CCP look then? How does a "usual" meeting look and how did the emergency summit look in contrast?

Normally we get to select a big chunk of the topics to discuss at a regular summit - we can essentially call divisions within CCP to the meeting and they're obliged to give us presentations and answer questions. Regular summits are often more like a congressional hearing as a result - 2-3 CCP folks from a given division present and answer questions about a topic of the CSM's choice. CCP also selects some topics that they want our feedback on, but usually there's a big overlap. For example, everyone on both sides acknowledged in May that Ship Balance is a huge issue.

The emergency summit was entirely revolving around issues brought up by the Incarna release - performance issues, virtual goods strategy in the future, the NeX store's rollout, the number of unsubs during the crisis.

In May, since on most topics we were satisfied with the direction of what we'd wanted to discuss, and CCP folks broadly agreed with our various suggestions, the CSM was happy; in the emergency summit we were pretty pissed off about the situation and some of the missteps involved (most of which were CCP -> community communications failures).

People who've never been to a summit assume that it's a lot of fun, but in practice it's an unpaid business consulting job in a country that's very hard to get to - most of the CSM6 folks are Americans or ANZACs. So the overall attitude was, essentially, "If you had listened to our advice on communication when this situation broke out, we wouldn't have to be here today having this summit." CSMing is sort of a thankless and masochistic enterprise one undertakes because you care too much about a certain spaceship videogame.

Were you prepared for the amount of work it would take? Listening to Trebor (Robert Woodhead, who has been on both CSM 5 and 6) talk during Fanfest, it seemed like he spent hours every day on it...

The CSM is a tremendous timesink for those willing to put the work into it. If you're willing to just let it slide it's a free trip to Iceland, but if you feel actual obligation to the community as a whole - or at a bare minimum, those who voted for you - it can devour hours of time each day. This is why there's such a lag post-Summit in getting minutes out, for example; most of the CSMs are burnt to a crisp and transcribing minutes is just a whole extra pile of work on top of what you just did. That's why it ended up being Trebor and myself doing so many of them, after May.

Personally, I was prepared for it because Goonswarm Federation has had many reps on the CSM in the past, so I knew what I was getting into.

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Speaking of other Goonswarm members, it seemed like Vile Rat (Sean Smith, CSM 6 member and member of Goonswarm Federation) wasn't very happy with the way the emergency summit turned out. In general, when you sat down to write the statement, how united were you by the time you started writing?

Vile Rat wasn't present at the summit; he couldn't make it to Reykjavik. The statement was drafted by those who were present and had seen the data provided by CCP about their future plans. That said, I have sympathy for Vile Rat's essential point, which is that CCP should commit to "never" having non-vanity microtransactions. While we tried to get such a commitment, CCP was unwilling to do so - which is fairly normal for corporations. Governments will say 'never' (and then change their tune later) but corporations are less willing to paint themselves into a corner indefinitely. I say that not to excuse their behavior, but to explain it.

Which brings up back to what we said about MMO-communities above - a player's view of how things should work is not always the same as the way things actually work in business. Which of course is understandable as well. But do you think there's anything that CCP could say, or communicate, at this point to calm that part of the playerbase down?

The playerbase in general, or the most vocal critics? The crisis and the emergency summit occured because the situation escalated into literal riots breaking out, not because a small group of people wrote angry posts on third-party sites.

I think CCP could do a much better job of placating the broad playerbase through more dev blogs, particularly video dev blogs so players can see the actual people behind the words in the blogs - it's a much more credible medium.

I'd like to see CCP commit to 'never', but because there's such a credibility gap - if not a credibility rift - that I don't think it would make too much impact.

My personal take is that anyone who 'trusts' a corporation of any kind is a fool. I'm fond of a lot of the folks at CCP and I don't think they have any non-vanity microtransaction plans, nor do I feel like I was deceived at the summit. But I think it's kind of ridiculous that some people expect to trust corporations, or to think that any kind of commitment from CCP would truly quell the critics. At a fundamental level, on the microtransactions issue, we'll have to look to Hilmar's leaked email: pay attention to the actions, not the words.

What's your general take on the people that work on the game on a daily basis? During the press conference you praised both Arnar and Soundwave, for example.

They're great guys and honestly are working for the good of the game. No question. The vast majority of CCP employees in the Reykjavik office are zealots about EVE. If they didn't care more about the game itself than their job security, there wouldn't be these leaks. I don't know the percentage but most of the people who I've met there are former or current active players.

I suspect most of us fear suits. Suits ruin games, just look at Sony. The risk is that as CCP expands they'll pull in folks from outside of their culture who don't have any understanding or connection to EVE. That's my concern.

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Arnar "CCP Zulu" Gylfason and The Mittani from the video posted together with the CCP/CSM statements about Monoclegate.

Do you think there's a way CCP could deal with that? They have seen quite an explosive growth over the years. I mean, the bigger a company gets, the further it moves from the original company culture.

I'm not sure what they can do about it; if there was a simple solution, I wouldn't be concerned. Having a hiring preference for actual EVE players works for the Reyk office, but they have studios in many areas which have nothing to do with EVE. Rapid expansion seems culturally dangerous, to me.

The word "culture" in interesting though. Yesterday, after the press conference transcripts came out, I had a discussion with people on Twitter who were quite upset about things you said - not only at the meeting, but also things you've said on Twitter. As an EVE-player, I don't bat an eye anymore, but for an outside the discourse between players can be quite harsh. Do you think the general EVE culture can come into play when these kinds of controversies happen?

Yes and no. The controversies in EVE regarding Incarna remind me of other 'player revolts' such as the Blizzard "Real Name" initiative. EVE Players tend to be more paranoid and inquisitive than most MMO players, I'd hazard, as well as more ruthless - but in terms of public scuffles with the company which makes their game, I don't think CCP has it any harder or easier than Blizzard. WoW is a pretty softcore game, yet folks over there get just as riled at Blizzard as a bitter, sadistic 'kill yourself' EVE vet does at CCP.

It also might be wise to distinguish folks like me from the "EVE culture" as a whole; my online identity is primarily that of a member of the somethingawful.com forums. The average EVE player is much nicer and doesn't hang out on SA.

Still, two major alliances right now are the Goons (from Something Awful) and TEST (who came from Reddit). And especially Goonswarm has been around for years, putting quite the mark on EVE as a whole.

That's true. But we won our position through conflict. The Great War was essentially a 3-year cultural clash between the older, e-bushido honor types who couldn't abide Goonswarm. Yet we did win, and the culture has changed; sometimes it bothers me that we're almost the 'default', culturally. It's irksome to see pubbies try to imitate our memes and such.

Pubbies?

Pubbies. Members of the public. People who aren't from SA.

Goonswarm doesn't recruit from EVE players, we only recruit from Somethingawful, for example. We have some membercorps who recruit pubbies, but not the actual proper Goonfleet/Goonwaffe corps.

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Some classic examples of Goonswarm, and anti-Goonswarm, propaganda.

What was it with EVE that made the Goons decide to stay? What was it with EVE that made you stick with it, even after all the controversies?

It's a sandbox game that allows limitless griefing. Back in the day when the game's culture was opposed to us, it was more fun, but even today EVE is one of the few games where you're allowed to make a living off scamming or spying, or just ruining the fun of other people for the sheer joy of it.

And there's still whole swathes of EVE who hate us purely for being goons, so that still amuses. Usually they have no idea who we are or where we come from, but that's fine.

Right. But the griefing is interesting, EVE is a harsh mistress. Which also helps create a certain culture. Similar to Darkfall.

Agreed. All the same though, I think it's a bit much to say that player vs ccp controversies are particularly different than those in other games. People love to wig out about MMOs.

To wrap up the crisis, any final thoughts on the subject? What do you think the future of EVE will bring, speaking broadly? Where will EVE be say, two years from now, you think?

With EVE it's impossible to predict more than 2-3 months in advance. The biggest issues to me are ones involving Flying in Space: the need for better and more regular ship balance, the ruinous nonsense of supercapitals (which have rendered subcaps, the vast majority of ships in EVE, entirely irrelevant in nullsec), the crisis of fleet lag (which is increasingly under control), the need for people to have an actual reason and benefit to hold sovereign space besides raw pride, the need for a total revamp of the awful Dominion sov system... these are my issues. Space Dollies and expensive monocles don't matter to me, it's making sure that CCP focuses on the actual Internet spaceship game and fixes the various sucking chest wounds in that gameplay.

So I'm happy the crisis is over, but I'd really prefer to see focus and attention shift back to Flying in Space - with the understanding that non-vanity MTX should never have any impact on Flying in Space. I don't think the crisis would have exploded as fiercely if there wasn't so much resentment in the community of CCP taking their focus off Flying in Space when FiS is so broken.

And you expect more of that to happen in the winter expansion?

I hope that some of these core issues get addressed. God knows we, as the CSM, were quite focused on them in May and left the summit with the impression that they would be - more details will come out when CCP gets around to approving the minutes for release.

I think the reactions [to the "I Was There" trailer] was quite telling. Most of us joked about how if it was realistic, 60 supers would drop on the battleship fleet, and then they'd log off to go play League of Legends or Heroes of Newerth or World of Tanks. It was a great trailer, don't get me wrong - an image of the EVE we'd like to play again, the post-Apocrypha era of Flying in Space which is now seen as a kind of Golden Age

You mean the one released today? (The trailer in question can be found at the bottom this article.)

Yep. With the comical all-Gallente fleet.

Hey, not a bad word about Gallente. I got 13 million skill points in Gunnery...

'Ha ha, a battleship fleet! Using Hyperions!'

I trained Gallente first on Mittens. Believe me, I know your pain. Used to be a Megathron sniper back when sniping BS mattered, in, oh, 2007.

Yeah. I feel dirty, as a Gallente, to undock and go ratting... In a freaking Drake! With missile launchers! Kill me, kill me now. But what was it with Apocrypha that has so many of the bittervets dream about those days?

Fleet lag wasn't bad, supercaps were very, very rare and could be killed by subcaps - the AoE doomsday sucked but you'd often only have to tank for one. So it meant folks mostly used tanked sniper BS and most real combat was decided by that. No one enjoyed Titans, of course, but they weren't in the 'utterly gameplay ruining' category that they came to be after they proliferated.

We have like 2500 supercaps ingame now, with 500 built every quarter according to the QEN. That means that inside of a year we're likely to see an unironic 500-supercapital fleet used in bloc warfare.

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A screenshot of a DRF Supercapital fleet, courtesy of EVE-News24.

So let's play armchair designers for a sec. What do you think should be done, practically, to change the proliferation of supercaps?

Oh, that's easy enough. EVE Balance used to be fundamentally along a Rock Paper Scissors design. Supercaps are unbalanced because, working in concert, they obviate any other strategy besides 'more supers'. The trick is to tune them back into being an "anti capital" counter, rather than being able to render subcapital ships useless.

Right now, Titans can Doomsday tiny-signature ships like Logistics or even Interceptors. Doomsdays should still be one-shot-kills, but only on capital class vessels. Titan guns can also track fast enough to shoot down BS rapidly and with impunity; their tracking should be tuned such that this isn't possible. The idea for Supercaps should be that they require an escorting support fleet, not that they can roll around and own everything themselves. That's the Titan fix, in my opinion: DD's only on caps, tweak gun tracking so they can't slaughter BS.

Motherships probably need an EHP nerf since with remote-rep circlejerking they're very hard to kill in a blob, but the real fix is a fighter bay. Right now they're silly because they can use any kind of drones, and thus counter subcaps as well as caps. If they can only carry fighters or fighter-bombers, voila - they need support, and can't just scrape off Hictors and Dictors with impunity like they can now.

I'd also like to see Electronic Attack ships given a special role where their Ewar actually works on supercaps. Voila, Supercaps are now proper anti-capital killers, EA ships suddenly have a purpose in EVE, and subcap fights will actually matter once more.

This is all stuff I've pushed for with CCP. Obviously I can't comment on if they even listened to my drivel or not. One can only hope.

By the way, "bittervet" is a term that is used quite often in EVE-circles, but exactly what it is might not be totally clear to a new player or someone not playing EVE. How would you explain the bittervet syndrome?

EVE provokes a tremendous bitterness in veteran players because of the unrealized potential of the game. Many of us have seen the game go through ups and downs in terms of gameplay quality; we've seen excellent expansions and total disasters which are utterly out of touch with what the playerbase wants (Tyrannis comes to mind). The EVE in our minds could be one of the best games ever made, yet the EVE on our computers is usually a sad reflection of that potential. After so many CCP missteps and flat-out failures, veteran players tend to view the company as either malicious or incompetent; they desperately want to like EVE again, to have the potential become the actual, and they blame the company (usually fairly, might I add) for that unrealized potential.

For example, imagine where Flying in Space could be if CCP didn't waste their time with Planetary Interaction, the Facebook knockoff "Eve Gate" (which no one uses), setting up "Eve Voice", the entire Incarna expansion, et cetera? I even like Incarna, in principle, but there's a lot of folks who don't, and however you add it up there are a ton of resources and expansions there which could have made Flying in Space so much better than it is today. If you think on that for a while and you love spaceships, you'll begin to seethe with rage as well.

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So Jim Rossignol was correct when he wrote on Rock Paper Shotgun that "[the EVE players don't] have anywhere to run if things go bad. It's not simply that they enjoy the game and get indignant about perceived threats to it, it's that they realise it essentially irreplaceable in the wider scheme of games"?

That's an excellent take on the volume of the fury. Worse, there's in many cases a consensus among bittervets about where the game should be going or what's broken about EVE; 'supercaps are overpowered' is hardly a controversial statement, any more than 'ship balance in EVE is sadly negelected'. This isn't a tiny minority squabbling amongst themselves - what's broken about EVE is plain as day to everyone, including CCP.

The Summer of Rage was very much about this lack of iteration, about leaving old broken systems behind while putting in new fancy ones - a lesson that it at least seems like CCP have learned now. How big part did the CSM, especially CSM 5, play in changing things?

The Summer of Rage was possibly CSM5's finest moment. I think that they did an excellent job of channeling the outrage of the players in a constructive way and the lesson about iteration appears to have been heard by the CCP producers currently in charge of the game. The way in which they wielded that power expanded the role and scope of the CSM substantially in both CCP and the player's eyes - it showed to everyone, unequivocally, that the CSM could be more than a PR stunt. Obviously I disagreed with the CSM5's lack of experience on issues of importance to nullsec that came out at their final Summit, but the Summer of Rage was a success for the entirety of the playerbase.

Incidents like the Incarna release and the Summer of Rage demonstrated to CCP that there's a Sword of Damocles hanging above their head - their players stick with EVE because they have no place else to go, but that they need to be mollified with core gameplay fixes or else they'll unsub. And CCP listens to unsubs.

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Just a few creative pictures circling in the EVE community after the Incarna expansion launched.

The whole dynamic between players/CSM/CCP is quite special in EVE. Some people have a hard time understand why people like you, Trebor or Mynxee (and all the others, for that matter) feel the need to go to Iceland and be "tough" on CCP. How come a game about internet spaceships is such serious business?

Ah, that guy didn't like me much because I was mean.

Still, there is a point there.

EVE is more analagous to a competitive sport to a game like WoW. There are 'teams' with thousands of people in them, and due to consequential PvP their wins and losses have consequences. People are crazy about sport, people are crazy about EVE.

So EVE is, in some ways, real? ("EVE is real" is a slogan revealed by CCP at Fanfest earlier this year, which we wrote about back in April.)

I think that's a bullshit marketing statement and I cringe whenever I hear it. It's a snazzy ad campaign. It's no more 'real' than any sport is real. Hockey is real, Football is real - folks get hit and scores are taken. But at the end of the day these are all 'games'. EVE is a game/sport on the internet. I think it's a bit farcical to suggest that New Eden actually 'exists'.

Sure, absolutely - but the feelings of losing your ship, your sov, your empire, can be quite real. Isn't that more of the point when saying that "EVE is real"? That sense of loss hardly exists in other MMOs. For example, you guys did bring down one of the biggest empires EVE has seen so far, that sense of loss that members of Band of Brothers felt when the alliance was disbanded must have been quite real.

It's a fair point. I tend to cringe whenever I see ad campaigns of any kind though. When I meet people who ask me about EVE, I don't try to convince them that it was 'real' - it's just a particularly intense game. That's my anticapitalist streak showing though.

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