Sunday, 23 October 2011

Free-to-Play EVE Online


Incarna and the NeX store have been sidelined and presumably with them CCP's plans to experiment with EVE Online's subscription model. The brave folly of Incarna development was an attempt to make EVE Online attractive to a new demographic whilst introducing a new revenue stream. Sadly, neither is looking likely to happen in the immediate future.

But what if CCP could offer the EVE Online experience to players for free beyond the current 14- and 21-day trials. What if a free-to-play model (with microtransactions) could co-exist alongside the current subscription model in complete harmony? I think it's possible and here's how.

Non-Capsuleer Vessels

The lore of EVE often references ships commanded by non-capsuleers, however the only time they are encountered in-game is as hostile NPCs, the Law Enforcement presence seen at high-sec gates (and gank-sites) or the occasional trade caravan near stations. Why not let free-to-play customers add to this population of proletariat spacefarers.

I give you the free-to-play 'Captain' account.

Something similar to the existing trial account restrictions should remain in place (cruiser-sized vessels and smaller only, no Tech II ships) but perhaps with some tweaking, such as allowing Tech I industrials and Planetary Interaction.

The significant distinction between Free-to-Play (Captain) and Subscription (Capsuleer) accounts would be the means of controlling the vessel. Without the hyper-augmented abilities of a capsuleer, operating anything but the smallest of craft is a much more challenging task requiring multiple conventionally-trained individuals. However, whilst total crew numbers vary from vessel to vessel, the Captain and his command crew would be a constant and ever-present team.

The Command Crew

Initially, the new player would start off with enough Aurum (1000?) to hire a skeleton Command Crew from the NeX Academy to suit his chosen style of play.

A more talented Captain and/or additional officers would be recruited from the NeX Academy as funds allow. It is through the recruitment of command staff with the appropriate skill-sets that the player would tailor his Command Crew's ability and therefore ship performance. Whilst a player's officer roster can hold as many officers as the player is willing to purchase, only the selected 'active' officers will be counted toward the Command Crew skillset. The Command Crew must comprise one Captain and up to four other officers.

In the event of ship destruction, the basic escape pod will only save one randomly determined officer. More advanced escape pods with additional capacity will be available in the NeX Store to allow players to protect their investment.

Example NeX Academy Roster

Rank
Name
Race/BL
Skills
Morale Bonus
Traits
Hire Cost (AUR)
Captain
M.Starter
Min/Brutor
Spaceship Cmd. I
Minmatar Frig. II

Evasive Maneuvering
Hero
0
Captain
L.Esskrap
Min/Seb
Spaceship Cmd II
Minmatar Frig. III
Gallente Frig. II
Evasive Maneuvering
Motivator
150
Captain
B.Astard
Ama/Ama
Spaceship Cmd IV
Amarr Frigate IV
Destroyer III
Amarr Cruiser II
Navigation
Racist (Minmatar)
800
Gunnery Officer
H.Trigger
Min/Seb
Gunnery II
Small Proj. Turret II
Targeting Speed
Coward
50
Gunnery Officer
Deadeye Jim
Cal/Det
Gunnery IV
Sm. Hybrid Turret IV
Sm. Proj. Turret III
Med. Hybrid Turret I
Sharpshooter III
Trajectory Analysis III
Rapid Firing
Weak
500
Helmsman
P. Star
Gal/Jin
Navigation III
Afterburner II
Evasive M'vering III
Navigation
Motivator
200
Chief Engineer
E.Mon
Cal/Civ
Engineering III
Shield Operation III
Shield Upgrades II
Engineering
Focused
200
Lead Mechanic
M.Rench
Min/Vhe
Mechanic III
Exp. Armor Comp. III
Jury Rigging III
Armor Rigging III
Repair Systems
Patriot
500
Electronics Specialist
S.Parks
Cal/Ach
Electronics IV
Signature Analysis III
Propulsion Jamming II

Long Range Targeting
Miserable
300
Diplomat
S.Nothings
Ama/Kha
Diplomacy III
Fast Talk III
Financial Conn. III
Leadership
Judgemental
200
Trader
G.Gecko
Gal/Gal
Trade III
Retail II
Procurement II
Negotiation
Addict
150


This is just an example table, the values are all approximate and haven't been properly balanced and calculated, but you get the idea. The system actively simplifies skill acquisition for the Captain account holder, very much in line with the existing Skill Certification system. For further simplification, purchasable starter crew bundles could be available in the NeX Academy.

The distribution of recruits with particular skills could be an immersive way to reinforce racial diversification across New Eden. If a player is looking to recruit a Projectile Gunnery specialist, he would need to travel to Minmatar space. If a Drone specialist with Missile skills is required, the player might need to locate a Creodron station in Caldari space. If he wants a Captain that can fly a Succubus, he'll have to head out into hostile Sansha territory.

The Traits system is designed to add a little personality to the characters, affecting how the crew interacts with one another and the world around them. It is also one part of the Command Crew system that could also benefit Capsuleer account holders. Well you didn't think I was going to let the freeloaders have all the crew management fun did you?

Example Traits

Trait
Description
Addict
There is a chance that this officer will smuggle possibly illegal goods into the cargohold.
Coward
This officer has a heightened sense of self-preservation and will always be first in line for the escape pod.
Focused
Cannot be demoralised by other officer traits.
Hero
Will never enter the escape pod if another officer is on board, choosing to go down with the ship.
Judgemental
Will be demoralised in the presence of Racists, Cowards, Addicts or Weak officers.
Miserable
This officer is always glum and will demoralise any Weak officers.
Motivator
This officer's never-say-die attitude is an inspiration to all fellow officers, negating the negative effects of Miserable or Weak officers.
Patriot
This officer will be positively motivated if the majority of the crew are of the same race.
Racist (race)
This officer will be demoralising influence in the presence of fellow officers of the listed race(s). Acts as a Motivator in single own-race crews.
Weak
This officer will be demoralised by the presence of Miserable or Racist officers and does not contribute to morale bonuses.

Crew Morale

The command crew, whether they constitute the entirety of a frigate crew compliment or are the senior officers aboard a cruiser with 500 hands, will be influential characters in dictating how the ship is run. Their ability to work as a team would reflect on the effectiveness of ship operation. The scuttlebutt in the engine rooms might be that the chief engineer is a miserable sod, whilst the gunnery teams idolise their senior officer. The galley might be awash with rumours that the Minmatar Science Officer has got it in for the Amarrian Captain. Or perhaps the command crew are a dream-team that operate like a finely tuned machine.

It is their traits that decide how the officers interact, the end result being a Crew Morale score ranging from +5 to -5. In the case of a positive bonus, this can be conferred to the Morale Bonus of any one of the active Command Crew. In the case of a negative Crew Morale, this always affects the Captain's Morale Bonus.

Essentially, the sum result would be a bonus of up to 5% on any one given skill, which is effectively the same as a single high-end implant. [This could be restricted to 3% if this concept makes the anti-“pay-to-win” zealots foam at the mouth, or indeed removed entirely. Doing so would make Command Crews simply a cosmetic feature on Capsuleer accounts.]

The Command Crew System In Action

For example, let's assume I am new to EVE and have just activated my free-to-play Captain account. After choosing the starting location of Bourynes in Gallente space, instead of the character creation screen I find myself viewing the NeX Academy Recruitment Centre interface. Whilst looking through the list of available personnel I can admire the stunning realism of each potential recruit as they are rendered in the Carbon engine.

I have 1000 Aurum to spend on my first crew and I've read that combat missions are a good way to get into the game, so I go for this crew set-up.

My First Active Command Crew


Rank
Name
Race/BL
Skills
Morale Bonus
Trait
Cost(AU)
1
Captain
L. Esskrap
Min/Seb
Spaceship Cmd II
Minmatar Frig. III
Gallente Frigate II
Evasive Maneuvering
Motivator
100
2
Gunnery Officer
Deadeye Jim
Cal/Det
Gunnery IV
Sm. Hyb. Turret IV
Sm. Proj. Turret III
Med. Hyb. Turret I
Sharpshooter III
Traj. Analysis III
Rapid Firing
Weak
500
3
Helmsman
P. Star
Gal/Jin
Navigation III
Afterburner II
Evasive M'vering III
Navigation
Motivator
200
4
Chief Engineer
E.Mon
Cal/Civ
Engineering III
Shield Operation III
Shield Upgrades II
Engineering
Focused
200
5
-
-
-
-
-
-
-


I don't quite have the Aurum to fill the last spot on my command crew, but I want to see if I like the game before I consider paying any real money. I've got enough of a skills base to get me into any Tech I Minmatar frigate I can afford, although I am going to have to shield tank it until I can hire a decent mechanic. The Command Crew seem to get on pretty well and have got a Morale rating of +3. My Gunnery Officer is potentially a bad apple, but his skills more than make up for that.

Looking at the Morale Bonus settings on my crew roster, I see that I have a choice of Evasive Maneuvering, Navigation, Rapid Firing or Engineering to which I can confer the +3% bonus my highly-motivated Command Crew give me. I'll go with the default Captain's bonus of Evasive Maneuvering for now as it'll make my ship a bit more agile, but the interface looks simple enough to change on the fly.

Happy with my recruitment, I admire my newly hired motley crew as they lounge around in my Captain's Quarters. They look cool; my Captain is looking thoughtful as he sits on the couch, the Gunnery Officer and the Chief Engineer are on the balcony admiring my newly purchased Burst frigate, and the Helmsman is reclining on the bed. I feel like I'm in an episode of Firefly. They're a scruffy bunch though, maybe I should invest in some uniforms...

In Conclusion

Although this is a speculative bit of game design, I really think something along these lines could use existing EVE Online resources to achieve a lot of what Incarna was meant to do. It would make best use of the Carbon engine, the Captain's Quarters and the NeX Store to provide an engaging and immersive gaming experience that would encourage emotional attachment (and possibly financial investment) in new, casual, experienced and veteran players alike.

Additionally, the actual gameplay content would be of value to both Captain and Capsuleer account holders and is meaningful enough to be fun and engaging without being unbalancing. The most significant impact the system could have, if players were prepared to scour New Eden for all the high-end recruits, would be to a have a single +5% bonus to a given statistic. Hardly game-breaking and, as mentioned earlier, can be reduced or left out entirely from premium Capsuleer accounts if "Pay2Win" concerns are an issue.

As importantly (especially for the CCP money men), it provides an alternative non-subscription gaming style that might attract more curious or casual players without interfering with the status quo. If anything, the introduction of player-controlled non-capsuleer vessels would only enrich the universe of New Eden.

23 comments:

  1. I am jealous of your brain.

    This is an amazing idea that I can completely get behind.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Didn't get the chance to read the whole thing (on the go at the moment) but I like the idea in principle. I think though that there should be a static "Captain" in the "Captain" Account I.E. the Captain of the vessel should be a player created character rather than someone you hire for Aurum. Will give a sense of attachment and a premise for the player to upgrade from being a captain to being a capsuleer later. Will read the rest when I get home.

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  3. Very, very nice idea. Well thought out.

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  4. I have to read this again once or twice, but at first glance: _very_ interesting idea.

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  5. I am jealous of your brain.

    This is an amazing idea that I can completely get behind.
    ------
    I very much second the above. After the winter expansion (and its continuing refinement), and after CCP gets some of their 'mojo' back, this would be a great next step.

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  6. This is really two distinct ideas that don't really need to be tied together. The first one, the idea of having a simple free2play account with time limits etc, but making the character a non capsuleer, is fantastic!

    I think it stands on its own without the need for crews etc. It's like the EVE equivalent of "free to play until you get to level 10". Would need some limits to stop it being useful as a free cyno alt etc, but those are minor details

    I also find the idea of Nex store items that do impact gameplay, but are restricted to non capsuleers fascinating. A way of separating pay2win and subscription models, but letting both fit in the game simultaneously.

    That being said, you, you could leave the NEX part of it out and it would still be a great idea. Give people a non time limited trial, to help with new player retention...

    ReplyDelete
  7. Thanks for your input folks. There's been a bit of discussion on Twitter too.

    Some folks have raised concerns about the Pay-to-Win aspect of the Morale Bonus system on capsuleer accounts. Personally I can't see the issue (the maximum possible bonus of +5% on one stat would be very hard to achieve and relatively inconsequential), but I appreciate that it's an important concern for some. As stated in the post, it wouldn't have to feature in premium Capsuleer accounts at all.

    I'd be happy to just have a crew roster on my capsuleer account.

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  8. Thing of beauty, Stan. I can think of a few modifying skills . . . Emergency Procedure I "For each level of this skill an additional 10% of your crew will make it to escape pods"

    m

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  9. Incredible, just incredible. Great work Stan :D

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  10. This is an excellent plan.

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  11. Note to self: Zero cost Officers need to be ubiquitous and have enough core skills to enable all styles of play at the most basic level. If not, a new player could blow all their starting Aurum on their first command crew then get them all killed and have no way of continuing play without further investment. That would be likely to drive a lot of new players away.

    Captain accounts should always be able to undock.

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  12. This would be incredibly difficult to implement without it being exploited. But so long as people with armies of captain accounts alongside their 2/3 capsuleer accounts weren't ruining it for the rest of us I'd like to see it made to work. Obviously it's a rough draft at this point, but CCP should definitely hire you :P

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  13. As to the question of capsuleer players having hordes of captain accounts; I think the current restriction on trial accounts (can't have a trial logged in at the same time as a full account)could be applied to counter this concern.

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  14. I need to introduce an incentive to retain a Captain account after the initial 1000 AUR is spent. As the model stands, there is no reason why after losing most of his officers a player wouldn't simply start a new account rather than purchase AUR for replacement crew.

    Implants, skill progression and aging have all been suggested. I intend to further refine this concept.

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  15. You do realise that this could be actually more fun for some people than the current EVE experience? :D LoL

    I1m following your works and I have to say you're really into this non-capsuleer thing, which I, for one, can understand an applaud, seeing that the average EVE player always jsut sees capsuleer this and capsuleer that. There's a whole universe we have under our feet, and it'd really add some life to the game.

    That said, I don't really think your idea at its current state would mix well with the rabid capsuleer crowd. Especially if you consider that 'capitain accounts' as they stand would have to use the same market and contract system. If they didn't, that would mean they are spearated from New Eden's renowned economy - what's then the point of joining EVE?

    I would recommend to shift the idea more towards corporations and services they give to the NPC corps and the capsuleer community (manufacturing noobships for example :D ) to make things that now are just made out of thin air have a process to go through. Also, imagine a mission for and NPC corp where capsuleers are shooting free-to-play accounts for their bounty, because they were tasked by a pirate faction to camp a site and are rewarded based on how many capsuleers they force away...

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  16. I love this idea!
    Have you mentioned it on the EVE Online forums?

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  17. Yeah, I should probably stick it on the EVE-O forums.

    I've got some amendments, additions and tweaks that I'd like to incorporate first, but I'll certainly send it up the CCP flagpole for it to be officially ignored ;).

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  18. This is an awesome idea; I agree with the previous Anon that a F2P "Captain" account should have a single, constant Captain character associated with it. It could be set up to use nearly the same character creation assets and system as Capsuleers.

    As an incentive to keep going once you spend your initial Aurum, allow skill training, using the same system we have already; and because Captains lack the implants and other cybernetic advantages of Capsuleers, they would have lower attributes/longer training times, be unable to use implants, and be unable to inject a skill at Zero without immediately training at least one level of that skill.

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  19. Herp derp, followed a link and didn't realize this was an old post.

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  20. Astrial Stargazer18 December 2011 at 07:14

    Looks good, you could even work in failure rates if you are using Old ships for more of a fun factor...can you say space tugs. Hope it goes somewhere.

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  21. I love Eve online, really great article.

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