Saturday, 10 May 2014

Fanfest, NDA's and 'Rouge Wedding?'

So it's been a week now since Fanfest ended. I'm back home, getting over the tail end on the 'concolded' epidemic that is currently running rife through all the attendees. Patient Zero or CCP Saberwing as he's' more formally known, was sick as a dog at the beginning of Fanfest week and wisely didn't come out to play till the Wednesday night when he was over it. Except he wasn't quite.

The author with CCP Saberwing 
The problem is that I can't really get angry at him because it's was such a genuine pleasure to meet him finally. Shahin is a really cool guy and very energised for the community and the game overall. We have one of the best Community Mangers in the gaming world with Saberwing and coupled with LogiBro and the rest of the team, we are fantastically represented. And no one should be in any doubt that these guys will always do their very best for us. Even the trolls.

Those of you that follow my Twitter will know that I had a 24 hr delay to my arrival in Reykjavik due to a faulty fuel pump in the right engine of the Icelandair flight. So of course on my eventual arrival, I immediately unpacked the Uniform (seen here) and hit the The English Pub to get a drink. Or two.

Reevira was the first person I recognised, having met her last year and she had already gathered a lot of the Dusters already there, most of who I'd only shot in the face at some point and not met. I was about to get that drink and meet them all, when a crazy man shouted 'DENNIIIEEE!!!' and I was up pulled into a massive bear hug by CCP Praetorian. 

Left to right: CCP Saberwing, CCP Praetorian, CCP Z
Atli Mar is the Creative Director of Dust 514, one of the progenitors of the whole Dust concept at CCP and the person that I would describe as the beating heart of the game. His importance to the game is often overlooked or not known to the more casual players of it but trust me, without him they'd be no Dust. He is also an epic party animal.

Praetorian is also important to the story of this years Fanfest. I'm sure he wouldn't mind me saying this but last year while still very excited for the launch of the game, one could sense that he wasn't as engaged with it as much as you would hope to find the Creative Director of a game. He loved meeting the players and drinking with them but when talking to him about the game itself, you could detect a little weariness behind his nearly always smiling face.

What a difference a year makes....

Make no mistake, Atli is all smiles now. His enthusiasm is infectious and his mind is fired up for the possibilities that the game can now finally realise. And I'm confident that his re-engagement to the game is due to the man that he was dragging me to meet.

CCP Rouge, like nearly all Frenchmen is one charming mother fucker. JC as he prefers to be called is the near mythical Executive Producer of Dust 514, hired in October of last year to, I won't say rescue but rather steer Dust from the choppy waters of the poorly received launch of Uprising. Mythical is perhaps the wrong word but because of circumstances that would be made clear later, very little had been heard from him direct to the community. Our knowledge of him was gleaned from hints and whispered conversations with members of the CPM and the Dev's on the forums like Saberwing, LogiBro and Frame. He had become the Keyser Soze of New Eden.

JC's knowledge of the game is considerable. He plays the game a lot with various alts in different corps (including I suspect my own) and constantly reads the forums. He knows all about the major players in the game and the better known ones. And he makes a point of telling them that when he meets them finally. He greeted me like an old friend and immediately got me a drink. Later in the evening when I introduced him to Reevira, he embraced her and called her the Queen of Dust. She got very girly after that....

I'm hugely impressed with JC after spending a quite few hours taking to him over the week. I'm confident that CCP made the right choice to put him in charge and they spent a long time finding the right guy. He has already enacted many changes to how the game is developed in Shanghai. Sadly like all such transitions, some people have left the team but JC has brought in some impressive new talent to CCP Shanghai. None perhaps more important than CCP Z.

Julien is the Monitization and Progression Manager of Dust 514, a post that unbelievably didn't really exist till JC hired Z. It is also important to note that they had previously worked together for 6 years so the understanding between them is very strong and both know exactly what they are doing. 

Z is very excited for the possibilities that Dust offers and has all sorts of strategies and plans for the development of the progression system of the game. That first night of meeting me, he pretty much gave a full rundown of what would be said in his presentation later in the week, which is here to watch in full.

He also went into a little more detail than he perhaps meant to for his futher plans but I'm not going to do a disservice to his typically Gaelic enthusiasm by repeating it here. I do however share that enthusiasm and really hope a lot of what he told me comes to pass.

So on to the start of Fanfest itself.

The format of this years was a change from the previous years that I've been to and while I was initially annoyed by the lessening of the round tables, it was clear that a relaxed and creative atmosphere was the goal of the organisers this year. In this, they were successful but in other areas they were as slapdash as CCP can only be sometimes. And this year they were spectacularly slapdash when it came to Dust Keynote.

So this year I didn't have to rush around trying to cram as much in as I had in the last. And that enabled me to mingle and get to know my fellow players so much better than before. It also meant that the Dev's were much more at liberty to sit down with a bunch of us and really chew the fat. 

This new format is a great success and I hope it's repeated for next year. 

Now, I have to mention Valkyrie. It's almost impossible to describe to you just what a game changer this is going to be for interactive entertainment. But simply put, VR technology now works well enough to do for gaming what the addition of sound did to movies. 

This is the level of the huge leap that the gaming world is about to take. Until you try Rift for the first time, you won't understand that. 

It is also important for the story of this years Fanfest to in regards to Dust and Project Legion. As many of you know, Valkyrie will be also released on the PS4. Sony had several high ranking executives at Fanfest as well as virtually all the demo units of their answer to the Oculas Rift, Morpheus, in existence. And these guys were wearing the biggest shit eating grins you've ever seen. When launched in the inevitable PS4 bundle with a Morpheus headset, Eve: Valkyrie will sell more PS4 than any Metal Gear Solid or Final Fantasy sequel ever could. If you own a PS4 in a year and don't have Valkyrie and the headset, you will be considered an idiot. End of discussion. 

Right now, Sony love CCP. An important point to remember.


So on to the Dust Keynote and while getting to that we have to talk about NDA's. They are important for many reasons but the most important in the context of what happened at Fanfest is that they allow CCP to speak openly and be free to propose all sorts of ideas without the details being made public. And that's important. What may be thrown away after a two minute discussion in a meeting and decided to be no longer pursued by the Dev team, may cause a huge amount of forum rage to have been even considered. But ideas such as that have to be considered so that they can be found to be lacking in substance. 

Everyone working at CCP has to sign one, standard in the gaming industry. As do any partners that they may work with, such as Sony or Nvidia, both in a business sense and those that work with them in another capacity, such as the CSM and CPM. Without them, creative endeavours such as Dust in a competitive industry simply couldn't happen. And they are serious documents, applicable to pretty much any country with copyright and trademark laws. The penalties for breaking them are severe and will end any career you might hope to have in an industry that uses them. Not to mention you can also get sued for many thousands of pounds. Anyone reading and then proceeding to sign one will tell you that you had better take them seriously. And I'm telling you to take them very seriously...

So while I respect the opinion of those in the forums who say that the CPM should have 'leaked' details of Project Legion, that opinion could not possibly have been formed by anyone that has ever read one and put their signature to it. So I would dismiss such opinions as being possessed by those not in full knowledge of the facts.

I would also note for anyone that has espoused on the forums that had they been in the position of the CPM they would've leaked the information, congratulations. You've just saved CCP the time they would've have wasted considering to ask you to sign one. They would almost certainly veto you, as the CPM white paper affords them the right to, from ever being on the CPM in the first place.

'Rouge Wedding?'

The CPM and those with advanced knowledge of the Legion announcement were very, very nervous as to the reaction to it. It has since transpired that the CPM had already unanimously told CCP, on multiple occasions, that its announcement at Fanfest was a bad idea. News of it should have already been released and more details as to the future of Dust made clear, a view that I totally agree with them on.

However for reasons we can only speculate about, CCP as a company decided to ignore those warnings. Not the first time they've ignored either of their two advocacy groups, the CSM and CPM but without doubt the worst possible time they chose to ignore warnings.

Speaking privately to CCP staff afterwards, I can tell you that internally, CCP regards what happened as a bigger self inflicted PR disaster than the infamous Incarna. I can also tell you ignoring the CPM in future, is going to be less likely.

While I have no claim to any inside knowledge on the reasoning for CCP to ignore the warning of its advocacy group, past experience has demonstrated time and time again, that the massive gaming media impact that the annual Fanfest has and its potential for marketing purposes, can, has and did in the past, cause CCP to think with their metaphorical dick and not with their head.

It is also regrettable that even though they plan Fanfest months in advance, the slapdash methodology of which I spoke earlier reared up again. It prevented them from ensuring that the new Executive Producer of Dust knew that the Q&A Round Table after his important Keynote was not going to be Live Streamed and instead left him in the belief that it was.

It was JC's intent to use a streamed Q&A to answer everyone's concerns as the continued dev work of Dust 514 on the PS3 while the team also worked Project Legion. Denied that assurance, the forums of course, imploded. Understandably so.

What of course followed was the usual self induced CCP panic to fix a cock up of their own making, with JC having to repeatedly hijack the Eve TV Live Stream to give assurance to the established PS3 based console Dust players that Character retention and transfer to other formats for the game was a top priority. This culminated in the appearance of JC at the beginning of Saturdays CCP presents Keynote to inform everyone that Dust Characters WOULD be carried over to Project Legion and the aimed for PS4 version.

You remember how I told you Sony love CCP? The deal that allowed that transfer had only been agreed to on Saturday morning. JC only promised the transfer would happen when he KNEW he had the deal to do it.

You'll all find that is how CCP Rouge works. He'll only promise what he knows is deliverable.

As to the Rouge Wedding thing, now the forums have calmed down a little and solid information as to the fate of your Dust Merc's settled, can we really in all honestly compare it all to the betrayal and murder of a fictional family from a book?

Of course not.

The PS3 had simply hit a wall. Many of the features that CCP wanted for the game were either simply technically impossible of the ageing console or made difficult by a backend to Dust that required a complete rewrite, with no guarantee of success. Anyone unwilling or unable to see that will soon learn to do so as we find out more about Legion.

Gratuitous glamour shot of me and the lovely
Reevira, Queen of Dust
The Shanghai team, genuinely believed for the longest time, they could pull it off on the PS3. It took a fresh set of eyes to objectively look at the progress made and decide that it couldn't be done on a limited format. When CCP said they were laser focused on the PS3 at Eve Vegas, they were. JC had barely started and Project Legion hadn't even been thought off at the time.

The change to the PC format also allowed the corporate refocusing on New Eden that CCP as a company had chosen to embark on, using a format they are intimate with and using the X86 Chip Architecture that is now shared by all the next gen consoles as well as the PC. A point that JC and the team are at pains to remind everyone of but won't promise till they know its going to happen.

As to Dust on the PS3? It's not dying. But it can't be the game we all though it would. The PS3 can't hack it. But it will be worked on still. The lessons that CCP and Sony both learned from it, are invaluable to both. Balance work done on Legion will find its way to the PS3 and vice versa. Legion content that can make the journey over will do so. And it will continue for at least a year after Project Legion is out on the PC. By which time of course, it might be on another console too.

There are a fantastic amount of positives about Legion. Don't let the poorly conceived way it was announced colour your hopes for it.

Dust is not Dead. Long live Dust.