Catching up with some blogs I’d missed over the Christmas holiday, I have just managed to read the pre-New Year posting over at Ecliptic Rift that asks the perfectly legitimate question why EON has such a privileged position with CCP and other third-party projects seemingly do not. Or, more accurately, why MMM Publishing are allowed to charge money for EON while the makers of apps, such as the recently retired Capsuleer, have to subsist on infrequent donations and goodwill until they inevitably shut down. I shall answer with a little undocumented history.
EON didn’t spring into existence on a whim. It wasn’t a fan project first and a cobbled-together commercial enterprise second. What would become EON was always intended as an official EVE product, because it was felt that without CCP’s on-going support it would never be able to sustain itself. With that goal in mind meetings were held, a pitch was made and both parties, CCP and MMM, were keen for an EVE magazine to progress from idea to reality. People keenly shook hands, however that was just the beginning. Next came a good six months of phone calls, follow-up meetings and drafting of contracts: putting in and amending clauses and paying lawyer brains hundreds of pounds per minute of their processing time.
It was a little under a year between the very first meeting with CCP and the first issue of EON rolling off the presses. This was back in 2004/05, when CCP were a comparatively small Icelandic developer less than 100-stong. With other organisations we’ve worked with since, that same process has taken up to two years. I know of one “official” gaming magazine that spent four years in legal/production limbo. In short, it takes a fair bit of commitment to set up a partnership between two organisations, especially when a template for that partnership hasn’t existed before.
EVE Strategic Maps is an excellent case to throw in here. Many will remember Serenity Steele hawking a book around Fanfest 2006, having spent the better part of two years developing his atlas of New Eden. He wanted to see it on sale and that outcome looked likely to happen. Everyone who saw it loved it, including CCP, who gave their blessing for publication to go ahead. But things began to stall in the mire of agreements and contracts. Realising it was getting to the point where the costs were beginning to outweigh the potential returns, in 2007 Serenity visited us on a do-or-die mission. We had a contract with CCP already, so why not just publish the book through us? A simple agreement was drawn up, CCP gave their blessing and the ESM book went on sale. We now have a similar arrangement with Laci and the ISK guide that’s coming out.
I absolutely sympathise with the makers of Capsuleer and EVE Metrics, who were compelled to retire their respective projects. Capsuleer was the first app I installed when I got my iPhone and I’ve spoken with Roc Wieler many times about the app becoming either an official EVE product or semi-endorsed premium one. It was something I would have liked to see, but it was that administrative mire that drowned out the project more than, I believe, a lack of desire to see it through.
At one point MMM were approached to help broker something for the Capsuleer boys, with a possible solution being that we might fund development of the app. After lots of soul-searching however, we concluded that our merry band simply wasn’t geared towards coding or software development, or even overseeing such projects. We are but seven people (three in 2004), successful with print projects, but out of our depth when it comes to the arcane language of computer chips and microprocessors. Also, when you create something like an app, with desires to turn it into something approaching a client, we’d have needed to renegotiate the basis of our entire agreement with CCP. There always was the option for the Capsuleer chaps to broker a commercial license for themselves however, although it would have been a risk that might not have paid off, just as EON was a risk for MMM back in 2004 when the legal bills started piling up.
It’s one thing to have CCP developers and EVE players like what you do, quite another to turn that into an income that benefits the uncaring beast that feeds on revenue. I suspect that what may need to happen for the situation to change is for a resource-rich someone (or perhaps even an organised collective of EVE players), to negotiate a deal with CCP to allow indie EVE devs to capitalise on pre-approved third-party apps or web-based projects, just as MMM are authorised to do with print projects. It would require a lot of effort initially; flights to Iceland and/or Atlanta, lots of (gently) poking the right people and follow-up calls and some very serious legal wrangling over fine points that might seem insignificant to rational people, but the long-term benefits for some of the most talented minds in the community could far outweigh the necessary hassle.
It’s tough to make that breakthrough – I suspect much tougher in 2011 than it was for MMM in 2004. However, hopefully in the not-too distant future, when someone has developed an all-in-one EVE ship and Dust mercenary fitting tool and wants to make a return before they inevitably lose interest, rather than try to go it alone in approaching CCP, they could approach the CCP Partner that specialises in API monetisation and third-party apps and get them to do all the tricky negotiating. I rather think the ‘Association of Independent EVE Developers’ has a powerful formality to it.