For many, CCP's sudden turn against wardecs--after more than five years of silence--came like a bolt out of the blue. CCP's new claims about wardecs also seemed to contradict everything they had said in the past about ganking and player retention. What gives? To understand what's happening now, we must first remember what happened back in 2015, the last time CCP undertook a comprehensive study about the effects of highsec PvP on EVE.
Carebears argued for years that killing a newbie in highsec inevitably leads to the newbie cancelling his EVE subscription. Pro-theme park voices on the CSM urged CCP to perform studies on this topic. Said carebearists assumed that the studies' results would validate their assumptions. But when the moment of truth arrived, it turned out that the carebears were dead wrong.
CCP Rise, one of those tasked with finding support for the carebears' theory, explained:
"We have tried and tried to validate the myth that griefing has a pronounced affect on new players - we have failed... Isolating players away from the actual sandbox seems very contrary to what we would like to accomplish."In a presentation at EVE Fanfest 2015, CCP Rise went further. The results of all of CCP's studies showed that suicide ganking newbies improves retention rates.
Rather than driving people away from the game, killing them makes them more likely to continue playing. It's almost as if people want spaceship combat in their spaceship combat game. Moreover, people who do quit EVE virtually never do so as a result of losing ships or being subjected to non-consensual PvP.
The results of CCP's studies helped shift the company's focus away from nerfing highsec PvP. They seemed satisfied with the evidence showing that they wouldn't increase their subscriber count by making highsec safer. Now, however, we're being told the opposite is true when it comes to wardecs. Which study should we believe?
As I said in an earlier post, CCP has only released the barest details about their wardec study. They claimed that player activity in a wardecced corp goes down and stays down. We know that this would be true even if players continued playing after dropping corp, or if they shifted their attention to out-of-corp characters on the same account or other accounts. The carebear crowd--including those on the CSM--lack access to the results of CCP's wardec study, but they have attempted to interpret what little information CCP gave us in order to show that the study was comprehensive enough to cover all bases. Unfortunately for them, they're missing the most crucial piece of the puzzle--no matter how they try to parse CCP's words.
There's one big difference between the wardec study and the ones that CCP Rise was involved with, and that big difference explains the opposite outcomes. Something very important is missing from what CCP told us about the wardec study. It's the dog that didn't bark. Can you guess what it is? As a hint, I'll show you that Fanfest presentation slide one more time:
Do you see it now?
When CCP Rise and his colleagues looked into the effect of ganking on player retention, they weren't interested in measuring "player activity" or what was going on inside a corporation. They wanted to know if players were cancelling their subscriptions or not. Either those ganked players were still sending CCP money every month, or they weren't.
Did the wardec study focus on subscription cancellations? It would've made sense for them to do so, but no one at CCP has breathed a word about it. The dog hasn't barked. If CCP had found a negative effect of wardecs on subscription retention, then we would've read something about it in those CSM minutes. We would've seen CCP say something like, "30% of players in wardecced corps unsubscribed within a month," or maybe "Players in wardecced corps were ten times as likely to unsubscribe within a month compared to players who weren't in wardecced corps," or maybe "10% of account cancellations included wardecs among the reasons for unsubbing from EVE." Instead, we heard nothing of the sort.
The most likely explanation is that wardecs don't have a negative effect on player retention. But CCP is beating wardecs with the nerfbat anyway, just to see if it works. Why now, though?
While the CSM summit was coming to a close, CCP made its public announcement about selling out to Pearl Abyss, which acquired CCP for $425 million. Perhaps that's the reason for the sudden about-face. "But James 315," you say. "They just got $425 million. If anything, CCP no longer needs to worry so much about subscription numbers!"
Yes, except for one tiny little detail.
It turns out that when Pearl Abyss bought CCP, there was a catch. Take a look at what CCP's CEO revealed in an interview with Variety:
"The $425 million sale is a combination of a $225 million upfront payment and up to $200 million in a deferred performance-based payout."$200 million of the $425 million purchase price isn't guaranteed. For the non-guaranteed portion, CCP can get a maximum of $200 million, but only if they hit certain targets. That is to say, the amount of money they get depends on whether they meet their business goals or not. And that puts the following tidbit from the CSM minutes about wardecs into a new light:
"Sort Dragon wants to take a step back and not worry as much about the mechanic specifics but rather what the next steps involved in this change. CCP Fozzie says that at this point they are waiting for a more detailed request from the senior management to see what the business goal is in this case, but are still investigating the potential mechanic changes."Suddenly the picture becomes clear. CCP's payday depends on hitting their business targets, and they need to hit them right away, on the timetable set forth in their deal with Pearl Abyss. As a result, it looks like CCP has gone into full "frantically turn the dials and see what happens" mode. If so, we can expect a lot of experiments and violent shifts in policy in the near future. Not only in highsec, but in the rest of the EVE galaxy. I suspect nullsec dwellers might be in for some interesting changes, too.
Will nerfing wardecs work? The answer is no. We've been here before. A few years back, CCP allowed itself to be seduced by the idea that getting rid of awoxing would lead to a dramatic increase in the number of subscribers. Here's how that turned out:
It was exactly as I predicted. And that prediction remains relevant here, too, so let's close the series with it:
"As the last several years have shown, nerfing highsec aggression doesn't bring any extra money to CCP. It's the awoxers themselves, people like Psychotic Monk, who will feel the effects. They won't have their favorite activity in EVE anymore. But highsec only needed One More Nerf™ to make carebears safe, so no one else should worry.Not a very bold prediction, granted, because carebears always complain about getting killed in highsec.
One small prediction, though: After awoxing is removed, carebears will still complain about getting killed in highsec."