Microtransaction missteps in Eve Online

GDC Online 2011: CCP postmortem discusses studio's first foray into virtual item sales with its subscription-based sci-fi MMORPG, from player protests to premium monocles.

Who was there: CCP Games associate producer Ben Cockerill showed up at the 2011 Game Developers Conference Online to share lessons learned from the introduction of virtual item sales into its venerable sci-fi massively multiplayer online role-playing game Eve Online.

The introduction of player avatars to Eve Online led to virtual goods.

What they talked about: Earlier this month, CCP CEO Hilmar Veigar Petursson issued a public apology for changes the company has made to Eve Online of late, specifically the introduction of virtual item sales that he described as rather underwhelming (emphasis his). Cockerill showed up at GDC Online to detail exactly what went wrong--and right--with the game's virtual item launch.

Cockerill began his talk with a quick history of the subscription-based game, from its 2003 launch to today. While CCP introduced the tradable "Pilot License Extension" in November 2008 (technically a virtual item), the company didn't launch a wider virtual goods model until recently. When the developer introduced avatars to the game (previously players would only see themselves as a spaceship), it believed that opened the door to the personalization and collection display impulses that can help drive virtual goods sales. Given that its upcoming PlayStation 3 shooter Dust 514 (slated for release next year) would also rely heavily on virtual goods sales, Cockerill said CCP wanted to build its experience and expertise in the field with Eve Online as quickly as possible.

To start, CCP looked at how other games handled microtransactions from a behavioral-psychology perspective. One of the things that surprised the team when they looked at other games' virtual items is that they tended to congregate sales around three specific price points, such that there were bargain, standard, and premium tiers. CCP's strategy was to try and position their offerings like a clothing boutique rather than Walmart; they focused on a small number of items with high graphical quality. To enable sales, they also introduced a new currency into the game: aurum. Currently the only use for aurum is to buy virtual items in the in-game store, but Cockerill expects to expand its uses in the future.

The store launched in June with just eight items, and Cockerill said, "We received a lot of negative feedback postlaunch." That adverse reaction included a protest with hundreds of players working together to try to destroy an in-game memorial to make their point. He acknowledged that part of the protest was related to other changes made with the introduction of avatars to the game, but added there was definitely a bit of virtual-item rage as well. The concern among players was that success in the game would eventually become determined more by how much money people spent rather than how much time and expertise they displayed.

Of the eight original items, Cockerill said all but one was in the mid- to high-tier price range. Players naturally assumed the lower-tier range would be neglected going forward, which served to push some of them away. The second wave (and the forthcoming fourth wave) featured more lower-tier options, but it wasn't enough. Cockerill said virtual-goods sellers should release a range of goods at all of their price points to start with, or else they'll face the wrath of the user base. What's more, the team should have targeted the desires of its then-current user base, who cared much more about having virtual clothes for their ships instead of their avatars.

Mistakes aside, Cockerill said the team did get some things right. He pointed to the $65 monocle that players can purchase in-game and said that despite the controversy it generated among players, it was the highest-grossing item for the virtual-goods launch. Additionally, the introduction of virtual items could have unbalanced the game's player-driven economy, but apart from a temporary fluctuation around launch, Cockerill said the game's virtual currency prices have been stable.

Quote: "We learned a heck of a lot in a very short amount of time, which might not have been the nicest way to do it."--On Eve Online's virtual items launch.

Takeaway: Despite player protests and a public apology from the CEO, Eve Online's virtual goods launch was by no means an unmitigated failure. CCP learned a lot about what works and what doesn't and is looking to implement those lessons into its next microtransaction effort, next year's PS3-exclusive Dust 514.

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Discussion

19 comments
Finy
Finy

Why prices are getting higher and higher?? This is a game not a fashion show!

Kayweg
Kayweg

"We learned a heck of a lot in a very short amount of time, which might not have been the nicest way to do it." This is what they learned: Microtransactions for vanity items only -> no prob...some will buy, most won't care. Microtransactions for non-vanity items (ships, weapons, modules, skills, standings etc.) -> player riots and subs cancellations by the tousands. Hope is they not only learned, but will remember the lesson.

GunBladeHero
GunBladeHero

Think I will enter the micro transactions business, it's like robbery except you can't be charged for it!

koospetoors
koospetoors

I don't know what's sadder, a $65 monocle or that some people actually bought it...

Ikthog
Ikthog

I've got this idea for a transaction model. You spend hundreds of hours in the real world, earning actual currency, and then you spend it on items that actually exist. The cool thing about my model is that a $65 monocle actually makes some sense. I wonder if I can patent this.

packtop
packtop

Another mmo where maller will rules the games i played lot of mmo with virtual items sales and not once it was fair for those who didn't pay in the game. I know it's the people that spend money in the game that make the game run and maybe it's fair for them to have some advantage but not to the point where someone who have spended a few thousands dollars in the game can beat someone 20 lv higher then them easily... When i start a mmo and see that thoses who have spended thousands of dollars in the game rules the game i seriously don't feel like starting to waste my money on that mmo because i sure won't waste thousand of $ on a mmo just to have a chances against thoses who do i think that's just stupid...

Barighm
Barighm

Virtual goods that have no purpose beyond looks is the only acceptable item out there, but I'm surprised they didn't consider options to pimp your ship. I mean, really, that's just common sense and I know next to nothing about the game.

Cartr1dgeBased
Cartr1dgeBased

wait, so dust 514 is a pay-to-win? i'm so not in...... @Spahettificator cape for ship would be damn cool. like billy in xenogears (cept billy was a beetch)

Spahettificator
Spahettificator

Not interested in microtransactions until I can get a cape for my ship. When that happens I might consider it :P

williebazerka
williebazerka

In Fairness I shouldn't be so negative towards the company.I really thought that was the greatest thing what they were doing with the council.But when I read they didn't do what they said or was it they delayed doing the changes it let me down.I've been interested in learning Eve but with the steep learning curve I don't know if I would have enough time with a trial offer to see if I would like it.

999realthings
999realthings

If the spreadsheet style gameplay and insance difficulty curve don't scare away most pontential players, then a stupid mircotranstion like $65 monocle should.

Cornmuffin87
Cornmuffin87

@williebazerka they have been doing that for a few years but they have always at best ignored the CSM (player council). Especially in the past it was more for show, but to their credit I think they started trying to listen more (I have not followed the 2011 CSM at all though)

williebazerka
williebazerka

I remember reading about a council made up of Eve players and they were working with the company to make Eve online a better game.I never heard of a company doing that but a year later I guess they didn't act on any of the changes.It seems like they jerked the players around.

Cornmuffin87
Cornmuffin87

I cancelled my sub (again) about 7 months ago, and probably for good this time. CCP is pretty notorious for not listening to their players, and the time leading up to my last departure was filled with a bunch of public mishaps. The biggest problem with CCP is their introduction of new mechanics with every expansion, only to forget about the previous ones...leaving them with all their shortcomings and bugs (faction warfare for one. Funny case because a large population of FW players were angry about being ignored by CCP, then CCP even forgot to send staff to the FW panel at fanfest. icing on the cake). There are so many areas where they need to expand and fix, and introducing insultingly expensive $60 monocles is not one of them. It became pretty clear to me that the higher ups at CCP just didn't give a F*** about the game anymore. *edit* sorry meant faction warfare, not fleet

Evenios
Evenios

it was a bad move and they should have allowed you to use in game money to buy the items. They need to release walking in stations after years of years of teasing it so that we can actually finally interact with other avatars. I have cancelled my subscription untill this happens.

DiscGuru101
DiscGuru101

P.S. A $65 monocle is sheer madness.

DiscGuru101
DiscGuru101

I haven't played Eve-Online since 2009 but I'm surprised they attempted micro-transactions. Personally, if I could spend $15 and get a better spaceship I probably would, but that would certainly upset anyone who spent 100-hours playing to buy one in game.

XenoLair
XenoLair

Wow... subscription based + micro transactions.. talk about greed.