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.

Friday, 21 October 2011

Blog Banter 29 Review: Immersion

The question asked of the EVE blogging community was this;

"EVE Online is renowned for its depth. Its backstory, gameplay and social aspects are all qualities that draw players in. What does immersion in EVE Online mean to you?"

Many and varied responses were written, but at the end of a pretty bleak week for this particular corner of EVE society, I reckon an uplifting tonic is required. So I have shamelessly sifted through all the banters looking for the inspiring and positive reminders of why we are all associated with EVE Online. After all, there must be something that keeps us coming back for more of whatever it is they keep dishing out.

"When I started out playing EVE, I was immersed in how fascinating the game was, the sense of vastness, the unknown, the exploration, experimenting, and the myriad of goals available for you to chase down." - EVE Hermit

"I didn’t just pay a monthly subscription to shoot people in space for no reason. I continued my account because I was a character in the grand story that is EVE Online...We are EVE Online, and our story is infinite." - Adainy Gwanwyn

"Eve is not a game. It's a simulation... so complex, so encompassing, and so "real" that is is easier to get pulled in to a very large degree." - Kirith Kodachi

"There's always the risk of something unexpected, always the chance for an adrenaline rush, exhilaration, joy, raw anger and disappointment, great achievements and monumental losses..." - Sered Woollahra

"When you are successful you feel satisfied as if you have dined on the finest roast and the finest wine. When you fail it feels like you've been stabbed, trampled, beaten and bled dry." - Cozmik R5

"...the biggest immersion factor for EVE Online is that every action has a reaction, or the freedom to get one." - Myrial Arkenath

"EVE requires only your participation that it may mold the universe around you." - Truen1ight

"We don't play Eve, we take part in it." - Drackarn

"...the game was a sandbox, and the content was largely created by people. There were no shards, so your actions resonated and genuinely changed the game world..." - Bel Amar

"The single universe, New Eden...When you hear about an event in EVE... It isn't some random event that has no chance to affect you in any way." - PyroTech03

"The many options EVE shows us give us the feeling that we control our own path..." - Kenza

"...comparing the immersion experience to past games I've played, Eve Online is by far the leader... Eve Online is pretty deep and varied." - Yosagi Yojimbo

"When I log in, I'm someone else - which makes Eve a happy distraction from all the bull." - Ranis Garr

"In a way I feel cruel to sit back and let them waste ISK or ships on things I could have helped them on, but to do so would break my cover and ruin the very experience I am very much enjoying." - Akinesis on staying in-character.

"Betrayal is not a long quest line in New Eden – it is a heartbeat away. Strength, innovation, and results are rewarded in New Eden, not just following a formula or guide." - Ender Black

"When I am in the middle of a confrontation, my focus sharpens and I am in the zone monitoring the FC, yellow boxes, distance, tracking, asking for reps, and all the other battle minutia." - Jaggins on macro-immersion.

"We feel every impact of an enemy projectile as if it broke our very own skin...we know that the survival of our ship is dependent only on whether we would be able to outsmart our very human enemy." - Druur Monakh

"I’m killing bad guys, fighting to free my people from the shackles of an Evil Empire, all that good stuff." - Kuan Yida

"Immersion is where the story meets the experience... The gripping overarching story of New Eden..." - Scitor Nantom

"We don't need every detail spoon-fed to us... just plant the seeds and let fertile imaginations immerse themselves." - Seismic Stan

"There’s just something about this universe and this community that is immersive." - Katia Sae

"I'm not here because of the spaceships. I'm here because everything else that goes with them..." - Sessym

"Immersion is also chatting to your corpies on teamspeak and in corp chat, discussing ship fits, the movie you just watched, whether or not you have wife aggro..." - Keyanu

"...here I am, on Twitter, as part of the #tweetfleet, getting involved with other people from the game, and it is SO MUCH FUN!!" - Ligand Nital discovers the EVE metaverse.

"Immerse yourself. I owe no one an explanation. I have jumped in. And I damn well plan on swimming further out to sea." - Rixx Javix goes Cpt. Ahab on us.

Thank you to all contributors for your inspiring words and the reminder of why we immerse ourselves in this nihilistic, schadenfreude-fuelled craziness.

We are EVE Online.



Sunday, 16 October 2011

Audio Immersion: Tech4 News

With this month's blog banter discussing immersion, it seems like a good opportunity to mention one particular experiment in the immersive depths of EVE lore. Borne of the idea of exploring what the ordinary denizens of New Eden might think of the capsuleer warmongers and tycoons that roam the heavens, Tech4 News is a podcast with a difference. This “unlicenced broadcast” examines the lifestyles and technology of New Eden from a purely in-character perspective.

Although T4N's target audience is primarily those who are involved in the roleplaying and storyline areas of EVE Online's sandbox, T4N also aspires to be an entertaining listen for all EVE players and science-fiction enthusiasts. The supporting website is an in-character GALNET site, so despite receiving great comments, we've not published them there in order to preserve the immersion. I thought I'd reproduce them here instead;

“Very awesome listen, enjoyed it very much. Sounds very believable and interesting. I’ll be sure to tune in for the next broadcast. Keep it coming.”
- Crest Washere

“Thank you for this entertaining podcast. I already made a subscription on iTunes. Love to hear more… “
 -Chuthulhu

“Beautiful work. I live in wormholes, and you really captured the enigma, especially in the last part. Who said that EVE players don’t like RP?”
- Sylera Alithe

“Fan Tastic. Nice work all. Jesus, I bet that took some planning. With that dodgy bunch of accents the timezone alignment must been … interesting.… where’s that damn Tardis when you need it?”
- Meyiza Heer

We've had some positive comments on iTunes too;

"I really love the idea of having a fictional podcast based in the EVE universe. The production quality is high and it is awesome that they are all familiar voices from popular EVE podcasts. Great job guys."
- Kebowlin

"Nice to see a look into the universe behind the game of EVE Online, from the perspective of those who 'live' there!"
- Samantha Pearson

"Great podcast about the stories of New Eden. Worth a listen by old and new pod pilots alike."
- Smokiehopper

Thanks for all for the supportive comments so far, it's nice to know we've at least partially hit the mark and there is an audience out there for this kind of thing. We're reasonably happy with our first attempt and Episode two is in the works.

We have learned some lessons from the pilot episode, so we hope to go on to produce something a little tighter and more polished as well as being more accessible to the casual listener. We have a few additional cameo roles to fill, so I'll be looking for a couple of voices from those foolish enough to have previously offered help.

As Tech4's anchor Paydas Adavaar might say, “Keep your eyes to the skies.”

Check out the Tech4 News website or download the trailers and episodes from iTunes.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

BB29: Pixels or Passengers?


"EVE Online is renowned for its depth. Its backstory, gameplay and social aspects are all qualities that draw players in. What does immersion in EVE Online mean to you?"

I find the universe of EVE beguiling.

It is in the quiet moments whilst bereft of purpose that I catch myself contemplating the invisible details in my mind's eye.

Only a few days ago I was absent-mindedly admiring my newly purchased Mackinaw when I noticed what could be two silhouettes at one of the portside windows on the forward section. In truth they were little more than some darker pixels, but my imagination was already considering the nature of the individuals I perceived.

One was clearly taller than the other, was one sitting? Or perhaps it was a child. Hang on! What the hell was a child doing on my industrial mining ship? In fact, what business did anyone have gazing out of the window? Shouldn't they have duties to attend to (child labour concerns aside)? It may be a fancy Tech-II ship run instinctively by the integral commanding capsuleer, but that didn't give crew licence to swan about stargazing and 'roid-spotting.

Unless... maybe the figures weren't crew. Perhaps they were paying passengers - a privately-funded science expedition conducting studies. Maybe that entire deck is dedicated to the study of astrogeology and it was full of students. There might even be a museum and a gift shop for tourists. If there were these independent enterprises taking place on board bringing in non-capsuleer cash, it would certainly explain why I never have to pay the crew with my ISK. I really must find a way to reward my enterprising command crew, I would never have thought of that.

Except I did. All because of a couple of pixels.

We don't need every detail spoon-fed to us via the glacial development of the Incarna engine, just plant the seeds and let fertile imaginations immerse themselves. This is not to decry the concept of human avatars and walking in stations, I want the dream that Incarna represents, but not at the expense of the popularity or success of the core game.

There is more than one way to flesh out New Eden.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Blog Banter 29: Immersion

Last month's Blog Banter topic was a bit of a politically-charged monster, but over thirty bloggers sank their collective teeth into it. The resulting conversation was thought-provoking, eye-opening and made my brain bleed a bit, but spleens were vented and valid opinions were poured into the digital ether. It was a cathartic community experience and I like to think that the "echo chamber" played its part in presenting player opinions to those who wanted to hear them.

This month I thought we could try something a little gentler, more elegant and open-ended. The question is simply this;

"EVE Online is renowned for its depth. Its backstory, gameplay and social aspects are all qualities that draw players in. What does immersion in EVE Online mean to you?"

I look forward to another host of unpredictable and excellent articles.

For anyone new to the concept of a blog banter who wants to take part, some blog banter guidelines can be found here (or check out the above links for examples from last month).

Happy blogging.

As they are published, I will maintain a list of relevant blogposts below.

Blog Banters

Monday, 3 October 2011

Incarna: The Text Adventure v1.1

The "Devblog"

The internet is a strange and unpredictable thing, especially when populated with EVE players. Last week, whilst suffering from a bout of post-night shift insomnia, I entertained myself for a few hours by following up on a half-baked idea I'd been sitting on. I posted a link to the resulting blog-post maze on Twitter and called it Incarna: The Text Adventure.

To my astonishment, in forty-eight hours 'Incarna: TTA' had more unique visitors than this Freebooted blog gets in a month and it's now had more page visits than Freebooted has had since I started tracking the statistics. Big thanks to EVE News 24 who generated a huge amount of interest. Needless to say I was stunned.

Some of the kind comments taken from around the web:

"Satirical Genius" - CCP Manifest, CCP's voice of sanity.

"..actually more fun than the CCP version." - CSM Seleene, the sensible good-looking one.

"Pure genius." - Ripard Teg, Blogging Robot from the Future.

"Every so often something brilliant happens...Enjoy." - Rixx Javix, Word Autocannon.

"This is seriously brilliant. I was laughing out loud before I even left the balcony." - DavidKMagnus, interwebs dood.


Obviously, as a "game" (and I use that term very loosely), I:TTA has little replayability due to the limited content, so unsurprisingly the huge traffic spike tailed off to almost nothing after a few days. As an experiment, I thought I'd try to breathe new life into it to see if those players would revisit to explore the "new content".

I really enjoy writing what is essentially a tongue-in-cheek review of EVE, it's developers and it's community and would be more than happy to continue to update it on a regular basis if there is a persistent audience for it. But equally I can accept that it may have just been a flash-in-the-pan and its day in the sun is now over.

This "patch" is the litmus test.


The "Patch Notes"

Incarna: TTH v1.1
  • Some minor grammatical and layout changes have been implemented.
  • The Agent Finder tablet and other coffee table items are now interactable.
  • The holoscreens are now useful.
  • Planetary Interaction has been enabled.
  • Capsuleer Care and Protection have overcome their comms problems and are now available to assist via the intercom system.
  • Room Service is now able to provide a limited menu.
  • The concierge is available to deal with your complaints.
  • It is now possible to escape Captain's Quarters by means other than undocking (clue: ask Tech Support).
  • The mysterious station atmosphere problem is explained.
Additional Update #1
  • It is now possible to commit suicide if the claustrophobia gets too much for you.
Give your graphics card a break and enjoy Incarna: The Text Adventure. Then come back and tell we what you thought.