Earlier this week, CCP announced an estimated 20% reduction in its global workforce in the wake of continued controversy surrounding its development ambitions. The company has offered little official comment since the controversy began earlier this year, and so what follows is a lengthy interview with Hilmar Pétursson, CEO of CCP, conducted yesterday evening.
But it was also a sincere and candid one that for the first time provides extraordinary insight into the developing crisis at the company, as well as CCP's plans for the future of Eve Online, Dust 514 and World of Darkness.
Eurogamer: Eve Online is no stranger to controversy and difficulties but this is obviously a very different and far more serious situation. You're in the Atlanta office at the moment where most of the job redundancies are taking place. What are your reflections at this moment in time?
Hilmar Pétursson: I feel very accountable for the situation and it's really hard to go through these steps in this way. We took on too many things as a company and our focus was spread too thin. These were very much the decisions that I as CEO made and supported, and I think everyone now agrees that we need to do these adjustments. That's a hard thing to realise, especially because people are hurt in the process. That's the reality.
Eurogamer: The list of people who have publicly stated they are leaving CCP reads like a Who's Who of Eve's community history and are popular figures with players. How does their departure tie in with CCP's renewed commitment to engaging with its community?
Hilmar Pétursson: A lot of great people are leaving the company through this process, famous or otherwise. The people who are recognised members of the community get more of a spotlight but there are a lot of people leaving CCP at this juncture. How it relates to the community - that is part of the restructuring, our community division has been spread around the globe and has had a lot of good contact with the community. But we've not been as effective. By centralising customer support and community, we have more people doing community work than we did before. Being co-located with the developers allows the information within the community groups to have a much more direct effect on the development process.
The structural situation made it very hard for the development side to hear the feedback from the players via the community teams and revamp plans based on it. It wasn't that the teams elsewhere were negligent or were "bad" community advocates. In fact, they consistently went above and beyond the call of duty in that regard, were experts at remote communication, and performed very well in such difficult circumstances. There's now an even quicker feedback loop between the playerbase and the development team. That's crucial for a game like Eve where the players make the content and it's important for the "playerbase experts" to have that unfettered access.
A lot of the mistakes we made over the summer were known quite well within our community groups, but they were not getting through to the people making the decisions due to not being co-located with them.
Eurogamer: What impact do these changes have on World of Darkness? Is there still a roadmap for its development and eventual release?
Hilmar Pétursson: World of Darkness is now a smaller team. As we now really need to focus on Eve and Dust, we have a smaller team than before and it's less coupled into our development process. We were running a very integrated plan which led to a lot of energy being spent on coordination, which drew energy out of actual proper value being generated. We're hoping that by focusing the company more, we have a better chance to make progress - especially on Dust and Eve.
Eurogamer: What's going to happen with Eve's micro-transaction store now?
Hilmar Pétursson: It's definitely not a priority for CCP right now. We're really focused on making kick-ass Eve expansions in the more traditional way that we've done so many times in the past. What becomes of the store and Incarna is something that's not a big priority right now, but there may come a time when it makes sense to revisit that.
Eurogamer: What effect will this summer's controversies have on the micro-transaction model announced for Dust 514?
Hilmar Pétursson: Certainly we've learned a lot about virtual goods and we're taking that learning into the team. But we've also brought some new team members into the Dust project who have more experience on that kind of model to make sure we do better.
Eurogamer: Dust is exclusive to PlayStation 3. Has Sony been involved in funding Dust through exclusivity? If they have, what influence if any have they had on the recent restructuring?
Hilmar Pétursson: Sony has had no influence on the restructuring at all. We are publishing Dust exclusively on the PS3 and Sony is very committed to helping us market Dust to the PlayStation 3 audience. That's their role in the situation.
"I absolutely considered [resigning] but I think that frankly it would have been an easy way out."
Eurogamer: The statement you issued on October 5th was extremely candid. Since the release of Incarna we've seen two very different personae - that of the leaked e-mail, and then this statement. Can you talk a bit about your mindset and how it's changed between June and October?
Hilmar Pétursson: It's a danger of having gone from success to success for such a long time. We've consistently bucked the trend with Eve now for eight years. Eve as an initial creation was an almost impossible feat and we've carried that through the years, growing each year. It frankly made me arrogant and making a change to the game as we did over the summer - in the way that we did - led to taking a look at the whole company as a result. We've done a lot of retrospectives leading up to this moment and it's been an ongoing process ever since August/September.
I just realised that I needed to look more closely at myself and go back to a different time when we were closer to our products, making decisions more in line with their benefits - and not for the benefit of our very ambitious strategic plan.
Eurogamer: The statement was so frank that it read as though you were about to announce your resignation. Did you ever consider that option?
Hilmar Pétursson: I absolutely considered that but I think that frankly it would have been an easy way out. Being accountable for this type of situation, leading the company into this position, it's also my responsibility to lead us out of it. I've had support from employees in doing that. I've now learned a life lesson from going through this and I hope that will make me a better CEO in the future.
Eurogamer: What was your own reaction to the leaks when they began?
Hilmar Pétursson: CCP has always been run as a company where all information is available to everyone. Fearless [CCP's internal newsletter] is an example of that where we have public discussions about really hard questions. To see that turned on the company was very disappointing. But we can't make one incident completely change us.
Obviously the company was not on a great course at the time and we needed to do something about it - but this was not a good way to point that out. To use that as a tool against the company was really disappointing to see, especially for the people who make and participate in the discussions. It was sad to see that being turned on people. A strength of our culture is to be open about things and I don't think there's a lot of information at CCP that people don't have access to. It was sad to see that being turned around and used to damage the company.
Eurogamer: Did you ever identify the people who were leaking?
Hilmar Pétursson: That's a very complicated question to answer because there are a lot of legal matters involved - so I would choose not to comment on that.
Eurogamer: Back in June, I wrote about the challenges of resolving these issues while having to assume that any discussions will enter the public domain. How did you manage the situation?
Hilmar Pétursson: A lot of the realigning has happened a few months after, in the middle of summer. I think everyone saw how much the information had been taken out of context, and everyone realised how damaging it can be, trying to fix the company in the public spotlight. Since then we have done a lot of introspective work where we have teams working on various development initiatives, talking about our challenges and what needs to improve.
That frankly has been a very inspirational process to see how people love the company and want to make it stronger by really being frank and open about their mistakes and where they see the company needing to restructure - because the communication is not flowing and teams are not being productive. That was a really inspiring moment where we saw a lot of people really applying themselves and getting to the bottom of everything that had been going on.
Eurogamer: At the time of the Icelandic economic crisis in 2008, CCP issued a statement that Eve was protected and in good financial health. Is the game still profitable as a standalone investment?
Hilmar Pétursson: Absolutely, very much so. The business model of subscriptions in a thriving MMO like Eve is a very robust one so this was never the problem. How we handled Eve as a result of having very ambitious plans as a company is really what the failure was, and we're now addressing that by focusing our attention on Eve. The game itself is a robust entity.
Eurogamer: One of the significant shareholders in CCP was declared bankrupt as a result of the economic crisis. To what extent have external interests affected CCP's current reorganisation?
Hilmar Pétursson: I would say very little. The company is very independent from external forces because Eve allows us to be. It was the leadership of this company that made these plans and embarked upon them - but they were overly ambitious. We were unable to execute all of this at the same time. There really aren't any external factors pushing us any which way.
Eurogamer: So you can confirm that the situation with CCP today is only different from that of six months ago because of the recent issues with the Incarna expansion?
Hilmar Pétursson: Absolutely. Incarna was the final point of realisation that we were trying to do too much at the same time. We were creating avatar tech for two games, integrating in a single code branch with teams around the world all contributing. It was a very ambitious thing and we didn't do it well enough. We're taking that in and addressing that. We've learned a lot, and we will certainly do everything we can to avoid those mistakes again.
Eurogamer: Does Eve Online now have more developers overall as a result of this reorganisation? Is the Eve team stronger and larger as a result?
Hilmar Pétursson: I don't think the overall number of developers working on Eve was really the problem. It was the focus and prioritisation of what those people were doing which was the problem. In some dimension, we had too many people working on Eve while we were developing Incarna. It was a large team of people, all over the world, adding to it as a way to execute a big strategic plan of the company - rather than to add value to Eve.
So I would say we have never had as many people adding direct product value to Eve. We're way more focused on that than we've ever been. The really big change here is that we're now more focused on the classical Eve experience that people have come to know and love. That's the go-forward plan.
Eurogamer: So it's a question of working better, rather than working bigger?
Hilmar Pétursson: I would very much say so.
Eurogamer: Regarding Incarna, we were expecting to have the other Captain's Quarters by now, along with the first steps towards station Establishments. Is there still a development roadmap for Incarna?
Hilmar Pétursson: We're releasing the racial variants of the Captain's Quarters this year and that's mainly because we had that work completed. It also includes some optimisations and other fixes. I think the community has spoken loud and clear that they want more classical Eve features to come out, and that's the priority for us. Incarna is there, and we might pick it up at some point later down the line, but the voice of the community is quite clear. People want more spaceships, and more flying in space features. That's very much what we are responding to.
"People want more spaceships, and more flying in space features. That's very much what we are responding to."
Eurogamer: Can we expect to see another expansion of the scope and popularity of Apocrypha?
Hilmar Pétursson: That is very much what we're aiming for: a really focused awesome expansion like that, but right now we're doing the winter expansion, along the lines of our focus on flying-in-space. It's very much my hope that we achieve a fantastic expansion like Apocrypha, which was a great example of what we as a company can achieve if we really focus on a singular mission like that.
Eurogamer: The Council of Stellar Management [CSM] has been increasingly vocal and rebellious in recent months. What's your relationship with them like at the moment - your personal feelings and those of the company as a whole?
Hilmar Pétursson: The CSM has been under constant evolution based on what's going on in the current environment, what's going on with CCP and Eve, who's on the Council and all that. The CSM has helped greatly through the years in getting feedback for aspects of the game.
But some of my concerns right now relate to whether the CSM is maybe focused on a particular aspect of the game and I'm starting to get feedback from players that they worry the CSM is too pre-occupied by a certain playstyle. That might mean we may need to change the structure, but definitely the CSM has worked as a feedback tool greatly throughout the years. We will have them over at the end of the year, after everything that's gone on, and we will have a chance to talk about that. We'll just see where we are and take it from there.
Eurogamer: What's the message you want to get out, both to lapsed players and to the current players as a result of this reorganisation?
Hilmar Pétursson: Well, the message is that we have heard you and we are now taking action to be more aligned with the needs of Eve Online. As a company, we've been trying to achieve many things and it was just too much to do at the same time. Eve Online has hurt for it.
Now we're really focused on product value for Eve and we're following through on those statements with the winter expansion and the roadmap ahead, which we will go into more detail with at Fanfest. Already some things will have happened prior to that, and that's really the message. CCP is now back in business when it comes to making an awesome - in the classical sense - Eve Online.
Eurogamer: So you're back in the spaceship business?
Hilmar Pétursson: We are back in the spaceship business.