Last summer, with the release of EVE Online’s Incarna expansion, CCP faced one of the worst backlashes from their community the company had ever had to deal with. It was hardly the first time the company had been in a collision course with their players, but this time it rocked the game – and CCP itself – to the core. When it was over, 20% of the work force was forced out (if this was due to the protests or due to other underlying economic factors shall remain unspoken) and the entire plan for the future of the game was rewritten.
What happened during, and after, the Incarna protests is a great example of something that certain MMO companies seem to forget. The social graph that social media companies love to talk about it very much alive in MMOs as well as on websites such as Facebook and Twitter. Many players spend years in these games and no player exists in a vacuum – while soloing has been given more room in modern online games, most players still form relationships with the people around them; through guilds or random meetings with strangers. Some of these relationships last as long as a player is active, some even escape the bounds of the virtual world. Many of us can tell stories about how we met new friends playing World of Warcraft, just like I tell you stories about how I met new friends through Twitter.
One of the companies that seems to need a reminder about this is SOE. The decision to partner up with German ProSiebenSat.1 (you are excused if you think that name sounds more like a virus than an actual company) and sell off the European servers for eight of their games and at least two future titles is typical of a company that simply does not care or factor in the bonds that their community can create. While the bottom line always is important, and needs to be taken into account, the complete disregard for human interaction that they’ve shown during this whole affair is scary to say the least. At some point, SOE forgot that their players are not isolated islands that simply pony up money to play their games.
While it might be harsh, I do hope that the protests that have erupted on the Everquest 2 forums will keep up. In EVE Online, players could riot inside the game using game mechanics and that way drawing CCP themselves into the meta game. That’s not really possible in theme park MMOs like the ones SOE run, so the forums will have to do – it’s worked before, after all.
I cancelled my Station Access subscription when the news about the P7S1 deal broke. Even if I can still play my illusionist on Crushbone (since my characters there will still be available), and Vanguard is left alone for now, I don’t want to pay money to a company that shows this total disregard for how MMO communities form and how they stay alive. Like most dedicated MMO players I’ve seen a lot of bullshit over the years. Breaking apart communities that have had years to form is one of the most idiotic things I’ve ever been a part of.
I am proud of the people who stand up and protest, the people who are cancelling their subscriptions after years of play. While there’s a clear risk that there is no way out of the deal with P7S1 for SOE, and that the whole thing is a part of something much bigger, cancelling your account and telling the higher echelons of management what you think might have a positive impact on other MMO companies with the finger on the trigger of something equally stupid.