CCP, Dust 514, and the Market

I have spoken a lot about CCP and my love for EVE Online on the show.  They have an incredibly unique product in a genre that has been hurting for originality.  About 3 years ago, CCP branched out from open world PC MMOs into a futuristic first person shooter for consoles called Dust 514.  Dust 514 was ambitious but ultimately underperformed and considered a failure.   But CCP recently announced that they will be creating another first person shooter, this time for the PC, with the hopes that the game will be more accessible to their already formidable fanbase.

For those who don’t know, CCP is the publisher of EVE Online, a space-simulation game with a free market twist.  The player is essentially an immortal starship pilot who can download their brain into clones.   The game allows you to fly ships, complete missions, and collect bounties as you would expect from a space-y, massive multiplayer online game.  Where EVE stands alone is in its take on crafting.  There are completely free and open markets where players can bargain and barter together in organically player-designated trade hubs.  EVE Online allows for extortion, theft, and corporate espionage as long as the game itself is not exploited.

In most other games with item creation, the player picks a type of crafting, gathers resources, and produces items excessively to grind experience so that you can make cooler stuff later on.  Typically  the player then takes these finished goods and either uses them or sells to npcs for a set price.  The vast majority of items within the game are not player crafted, but are instead given to the player as a reward for killing some big baddy or completing a quest. In EVE Online, however, every bullet, ship, and module is player created and typically sold to whichever player will use them, and all without intermediate npcs.  Not only that, but the parts, processes, and materials to build all of those things were produced, assembled, and sold by someone else.  It creates a massive. regionalized market, and when you combine that with the fact that anyone can be killed at any time in space, the game becomes a fascinating model of emergent order.  

Dust 514 was a companion game to EVE Online.  It was a free-to-play first person shooter about the essentially immortal boots on the ground of that universe.  It tried to keep many of the free market features of EVE and provide connective tissue, but most of those features were only accessible to a tenth of 1% of its players.  As a result, Dust 514 was never nearly as popular as EVE, reportedly just breaking even on its cost.  A few months ago, CCP saw the writing on the wall and shut down its servers due to lack of player base.  The market had spoken and it said that the game was not as good as its competition.  Gamers voted with their controller: they played different games that they liked better.

Markets work this way in general.  Every dollar is a vote for a product or service.  Competition is essentially products campaigning for that vote.  CCP put up a losing candidate for the gamer’s dollar.  When they shuttered Dust 514’s servers, it lost.  There are a stunning amount of candidates that are competing for that  entertainment dollar vote, and competition makes those products and services constantly try to improve.  That is what economists call opportunity cost: the value of the next best thing someone would do with their time and money.  It is fascinating to think about how lucky a product is for people to spend their hard earned money on it instead of, literally, anything else in the world or nothing at all.

In government, on the other hand, 50% +1% of voters get to decide what the 100% have to live with. For the most part, you only get to choose between 2 options. Could you imagine a world with only 2 games?