Lessons from Fanfest 2014

As many of you probably know, I’m fairly active on Twitter with the #PortDust514 movement which seeks to send a positive message to CCP to encourage better communication about the potential of a port for DUST to a next gen platform. Naturally talk about a port for DUST leads to talk about Project Legion, which ultimately leads back to Fanfest 2014 which turned into DUST’s version of The Summer of Rage also known as “The Rouge Wedding”.

For those of you who are newer to the game or need a refresher, it was during the 2014 Fanfest during the DUST 514 Keynote that CCP Rouge announced that development on DUST 514 was being more or less halted and the development team would instead be working on “Project Legion”. Project Legion, like DUST, was a FPS game set in the New Eden universe. While more of a proof of concept, Legion was being developed on the PC instead of the PS3. The reaction from the players was extremely negative with many players quitting the game and some going as far as biomassing their characters.

While the situation has since improved with CCP Rattati taking the lead for DUST and ultimately leading to future updates to the game, the events of Fanfest 2014 dealt a heavy blow to both the players as well as their trust in CCP; effects that can still be felt nearly 2 years later. So in the spirit of the ever growing #PortDust514 movement as well as the fact that Fanfest 2016 is only a handful of months away, I think it is important that we take a look at what transpired during the ‘Rouge Wedding’ and why exactly the players were so upset such that those same mistakes are not made again.

Platform Shift

This goes without saying that when an entire game is built upon the idea of a persistent world that is going to last 10+ years, no one expects it to stay on the PS3 forever. However when the game has been developed and marketed for many years as a console game, players were understandably shocked with the decision to not move to another console like the PS4, but instead shift to PC. An expectation was created while the game would not stay on the same console, it would persist through the years and follow a logical progression. In this case that expectation was PS3, PS4, PS5 ect.

While there is a very reasonable argument that development would be faster and more efficient on the PC, suddenly players who never had any intention of owning a gaming PC felt that their work and progress in DUST was all for nothing. It was no surprise that being blindsided by this fact left most of the console dedicated players extremely upset and bitter about the idea of a PC port.

LESSON: Hard business choices sometimes have to be made even it can be unfortunate for some consumers. However, the way in which those choices are presented is critical. Such things must be eased into gently with dignity and respect for who may be affected negatively by those changes.

Nothing Ado About DUST

Another startling element of the presentation that aside from a recap of the previous year of DUST, the DUST Keynote was largely devoid of anything pertaining to the immediate future of DUST. This is most likely because the immediate future of DUST at the time didn’t amount to much and the initial plan was to simply put CCP Rattati in charge of hotfixes. So now players have traveled to Iceland to see a keynote whose contents were not even about the game they came to see. Again players were left to feel like the unwanted stepchild left in the care of a distant uncle because the development team had decided to work on something else.

Players are of course interested in the future of the franchise, that is the driving force behind #PortDust514. However players also are not going to be very interested in a future that may not  be relevant to them, particularly if their expectations have been misled. Having such an announcement at Fanfest was very much a mistake and it’s content was not appropriately focused given the audience.

LESSON: Fanfest has left a bitter taste in the mouths of DUST players and should be avoided completely. While the marketing allure of a crowd of excited EVE players cheering over a PC port may seem appealing, CCP should recognize the poor taste in further alienating its existing player base for the benefit of promotional video of an excited crowd. The choice of platform for a potential port is likely based entirely off of the requirements of the project, but announcing such a thing should be done in a way that is both tasteful and respectful to the devoted existing player base.

Lack of Communication

Another ongoing problem is the severe lack of communication between the players and CCP. Leading up to the events of Fanfest, there was much radio silence coming from CCP and certainly zero indication that an announcement as game-changing as Legion was coming. The CPM0 were aware of what was coming, but due to the NDA were sworn to secrecy and not allowed to warn players about what was coming. Many people attending Fanfest were DUST players, and probably a fair number of those were console only players. People spent thousands of dollars to fly out to Iceland to be part of the festivities only to have the rug pulled out from under them with zero warning whatsoever.

Players have always begged for better communication and are often met with empty promises or a short increase in communication only for it to taper off as quickly as before. Even CCP Rouge promised better communication after Fanfest, and while the silence that followed was likely not his personal choice, it was painfully quiet in the players’ ears and did nothing to reassure them that they had not been forgotten.

While CCP had stated that they were taking a more conservative approach to dealings with players to avoid overpromising in the past, they took it way too far and as a result a near silence that only left players feeling as if they had been forgotten. As I write this article I’m listening to the recording from the DUST keynote and shaking my head at lines from Rouge like “We are all about the community” and “We will keep you updated and very very close to where this is in its development” followed by a short letter in the blog a few days later and then silence for 5 months, another short letter about 1.9 and then more silence.  Things did improve with CCP Rattati for a good while, but even in recent months the entire development team has gone completely silent save the occasional GM Archduke post or event announcement from CCP Frame.

Players felt lost, blindsided by serious news about the game they were so passionate about, and then left to speculate with deafening silence from CCP. This in and of itself was and still is the most damaging part of the entire situation and continues to make things worse the longer it goes on.

LESSON: Talk to your players and be honest. It is reasonable to be responsible and avoid making promises that cannot be delivered. However, going 180 and refusing to speak at all is far worse. Finding a middle ground and being honest about the state of things not only sets reasonable expectations in the minds of the players, but also shows the players that they are not alone and they will respect you for your transparency.

A Persistent Universe

The primary question that players were asking about the Legion project was “will my character transfer to Legion?”. This was a very valid question, especially considering that CCP had sold AUR and even ran special sales on AUR items up to Fanfest, knowing full well that development support for DUST would be be dropped after. Players immediately felt that they had been betrayed and tricked into giving CCP more money only to have the future stolen from them. That being said the possibility of their characters, assets, and experience transferring over to Legion was very important in the minds of the players.

DUST, like EVE Online, prides itself on the persistent nature of the universe and the deep and rich development of characters. The concept that you can build your character how you want and those choices will follow you for potentially years is part of what makes New Eden so appealing to many of the players. In a way CCP is in the business of selling SP to players, may that be the monthly fee of EVE online with its passive SP generation, or the hybrid system of DUST with purchased Boosters to increase SP generation. That being said, when the game and the universe are advertised and presented as persistent, players expect their characters to also persist, even if the platform the character fights on changes.

LESSON: Understand that players want their progress and their legacy to be as persistent as the universe claims to be. Making changes that make a player feel like their efforts and time they have spent upwards of years developing, will not be wasted simply because of a drastic shift in game platform or design choice.

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Boundless (Yet Bitter) Optimism

One of the ongoing jokes on Skype and Twitter is that I own the most overpowered weapon in the game, the Boundless Optimism. I have always maintained that I believe a next-gen version of DUST would come eventually even though I’m fully aware that my optimism borders absurdity and that other player’s lack of faith is completely reasonable. I am however also extremely frustrated and bitter because of all of the above mentioned lessons that CCP should have learned from Fanfest 2014, things still seem to be falling short.

Let me be clear in that I’m not pointing a finger at any specific member of CCP and while I am incredibly frustrated with the way in which CCP as a company conducts itself, I do truly wish to foster a better environment for everyone involved.

That being said, my Boundless Optimism tells me that a port of some sort is still inbound, but I am concerned more with the question of “At what cost?”. CCP likely has been developing behind a wall of silence and I am concerned that certain design choices are being made that could upset the players in a way much like Fanfest 2014 did. In all honesty the choice of a platform will likely be the PC as that has been the plan since Legion’s inception. While I wish the game could persist on both PC and PS4, I’ve adopted the stance that getting it off of the PS3 take priority, even if it can’t be on the PS4. Additionally the choice of when the make announcements falls in the lap of the marketing department and I only pray they’ve learned their lesson. The recent silence is already telling but I won’t dwell on the importance of player involvement in game design because I have already written on it.

Legacy of the Phoenix

That really leaves one more primary concern and that is the persistence of the legacy of the existing players. Please keep in mind that while I normally am not a fan of tinfoiling, I think this is a conversation we need to have so understand that what follows is purely speculation.

I am concerned that CCP will attempt to wipe or gimp veteran players for any potential transfer over to the new game. This may be for a number of reason such as wanting to avoid opening up a game to eager EVE players on PC and have them immediately stomped by experienced and SP enriched Dust veterans. This is an understandable concern, but wiping character SP would only provide a temporary fix to a problem that simply will not be fixed with SP normalization. Long running games by their very nature must attract new players over time to replace veterans who drop off for various reasons, and the longer the lifecycle of the game gets, the larger than SP difference will be between new players and veterans. This is why a well developed New Player Experience is critical at a very early stage of development, as it should not rely on the concept that SP needs to remain normalized for the game to be accessible to new players.

There is also the matter of assets, and while ISK and more liquid assets are far less likely to make it over to the new game, things like BPOs and SKINs are testaments to a player’s efforts and achievements for the past few years. Even if the exact function of those assets are modified in the end result, they are still part of that player’s legacy and history in the game. Players have invested lots of effort, money, and countless hours into building the legacy of their character, and they deserve for it to persist in one way or another in the next generation.

In an interview following the keynote at Fanfest, developers insisted that “DUST players would not be left behind” but this statement in of itself felt like knee-jerk damage control and was not explained in depth. CCP could certainly wipe everything out and would likely have every legal right to do so. However I think in the act of doing so it would prove to the existing playerbase that CCP truly has not learned the lessons it should have learned from Fanfest.

The act of porting the game to the next generation not only opens up the door for a new generation of gameplay, but also for a new generation of interaction with CCP and the players. The opportunity to salvage the morale of the existing player base and capturing the attention of new players is something that is not only good for CCP, but also great for the players. I do truly hope from the bottom of my heart that they take this golden opportunity to make right on the wrongs committed in the past and offer the players the kind of respect our devotion has earned and that we as the players need to return the favor in turn.

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Compromises

I say this to both CCP and the players alike. Compromises MUST be made for the sake of the game and the community. As they say, in a true compromise, no one is completely happy, but that also assures that no one is completely miserable. For either side to simply demand “Things must be this way or it will be awful” is not only counterproductive, but directly damaging to the relationship between player and developer.

For a player to demand “give me X or I’ll Y!” is akin to kicking in your neighbor’s door then demanding a cup of sugar. In most cases your neighbor probably isn’t going to do anything to give you what you want and just throw you out. At the same time, for a game company to either completely ignore the players or not take feedback seriously is similar to a chef serving someone crab after the customer has already told them that they’re allergic to shellfish. In either situation someone doesn’t get anything they want and both parties will be unhappy with each other.

To the players, remember that whatever the port offers is probably not going to be 100% perfect in your mind, and try to understand that some sacrifices must be made in order to make everything work. It’s not perfect, but I know we can all do our best to make it the best it can be.

To CCP, please don’t hide anymore. If anything the #PortDust514 movement shows that we are more than capable of having a civilized conversation and we are more than willing to work with you. Even if you think we may hate a decision that you’ve made because you see it as the only option, just give us a shot. There are many many very talented and intelligent people in the community who may be able to offer a solution that you may have missed.

This will never work if we keep the wall of animosity and silence between us. Only honesty and transparency on both sides will make this a successful project and I implore you to let us be a part of building the next stage of this story. It may be hard, and we may trade blows from time to time, but we are ready and waiting to get to work.

Let us set aside our differences and meet in the middle so we can re-imagine our limitations, such that we may rise again.

Biomassed #PortDust514 header

About Pokey Dravon 88 Articles
Pokey Dravon has played DUST 514 since early closed beta and is a founding co-host of the Biomassed podcast and blog. Follow on twitter @PokeyDravon
  • Dust Merc

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9djuORzi9rU

    Jim dust was on the third planet !
    My thoughts also.All the Dev talk on the Eve side is like CCP putting salt in an open wound

  • Shotty GoBang

    Great stuff, Pokey. +1

  • Vrain Matari

    Good points reasonably made, Pokey.

    There’s an important game design issue embedded in the question of what and how much player progress should carry over from Dust to Dust2: namely veteran vs. New player balance.

    Dust is an mmorpg shooter in a persistent universe, as it should be, as it’s successor should be – this is New Eden, after all. It’s a game design model that guarantees an uneven playing field for New Players.

    Given Dust’s current design, the idea of transferring over all assets is daunting: the vets have become monsters where an experienced squad can legitimately employ Dust’s game mechanics to ruin the player experience for hundreds of new players. One could understand if devs were hesitant to let the ravening mob we vets have become loose at the launch of a new game.

    It is important for CCP’s success thatDust2 != Dust. If we want transfer of progression and assets Dust2’s player experience will need to be a much more thoughtful and robust game design than what we have now.

    Pokey’s article and the associated forum thread are a good litmus test for Dust2’s designers:

    1) Is the New player experience in Dust2 robust with respect to massive skillpoint differences?

    2) Is the New Player Experience in Dust2 robust w.r.t. massive ISK & AUR differences?

    Persistent MMORPG-style games are at an interesting point in their evolution: titles like Crowfall and Chronicles of Elyria are attempting to find engaging and immersive answers to the vet vs. noob game design problem, along with other several developers.

    Given CCP’s experience, they have an important contribution to make to the next generation of persistent mmorps, provided they’re willing to step up to the plate in a way that they haven’t been willing to do with Dust. Dust2 2 is the absolute best venue in which to make that contribution, because hands-on first person shooter skill amplifies the massive ISK & skillpoint imbalances inherent in this style of game.

  • da Gand

    Well Done hopefully CCP actually sees this blog and the message gets through the thick head of whoever is in charge

  • RedBleach

    Well done Pokey. This is very well constructed and articulated to bring a valid understanding about the need for some discussion as both sides are presented.

    CCP, please hear us.

  • ( DeaDPooL )

    Good thought process .