Monday, 30 January 2012

Power Gamers vs. Content Seekers

"Powergaming (or power gaming) is a style of interacting with games or game-like systems with the aim of maximising progress towards a specific goal, to the exclusion of other considerations such as (in video games, boardgames, and roleplaying games) storytelling, atmosphere and camaraderie."

Since the good ship CCP steered away from the oncoming iceberg of customer dissatisfaction last Summer, it has become clear that a new course has been plotted. EVE Online has enjoyed a far more comfortable journey in recent months, with the recent re-focusing onto improving creaky systems and giving the decks a much needed polish. It is understood that the intention is to continue with this embellishment.

However, the new course plotted is now unclear. However fanciful, the previous destination of "ultimate sci-fi simulator" at least gave everyone involved something to look forward to/speculate on/bitch about (delete as applicable). Although the destination may still ultimately be the same, the route is certain to have changed now. Especially since the tiny waypoint destination of Incarna was found to be populated by a hostile native tribe of agoraphobic graphics-card eaters. The ship's Captain and his command crew are understandably going to be far more cautious about sharing travel plans with their passengers for fear of building up too much expectation (again).

My concern is that after reaching for the stars and tripping over their own avatar, CCP may now become risk-averse, being content to simply follow the safe path of least resistance. With reduced resources after the 20% layoffs, is CCP's primary means and method of reading "what the player wants" through the CSM, as discussed in The Squeaky Wheel of Player Power?

This is not entirely a bad thing, with the strong null-sec alliance representation there, CCP can get great feedback from individuals in-tune with tens of thousands of players. The problem is, all those players are from the same corner of the sandbox. Will this influence affect the focus and direction of EVE's future development? If so, is it right that it should?

Some of the People, All of the Time

With much of the low-hanging fruit addressed, one of CCP's stated development targets is to focus on Faction Warfare. In Crucible 1.1, the ability to introduce entire alliances into Faction Warfare was implemented. I'd be interested to hear from long-time Faction Warfare participants as to whether this is considered to be a good thing or not. My concern is that it may be indicative of a nullsec-lite trend.

Is the future of EVE one where every aspect of the sandbox is to be optimised for the use of null-sec alliances or equivalent sized meta-groups? Is the diversity of EVE's player base to be abandoned in favour of a homogeneous environment that can only be enjoyed to its fullest extent by powergamers? If this is to be the case - and there are signs - I'd certainly like to know.

With this concern in mind, I attempted to get something out of "Ship's Captain" CCP CEO Hilmar P├ętursson on Twitter today:
Hilmar Veigar: Any highlights from the weekend #tweetfleet?

Freebooted: @HilmarVeigar We've been discussing the future development of EVE and the influence players may have. How would you describe the road ahead?

Hilmar Veigar: @Freebooted the road ahead is exciting and along the lines we have talked about publicly, fanfest is the moment to talk about it in details.

Freebooted: @HilmarVeigar Would you say the "exciting road ahead" is the safe road or the brave road? I look forward to hearing the details at Fanfest.
Given his artfully empty answer to my first question, I was not surprised that he did not answer my second. Maybe he was just busy.

Are You a Content Seeker?

Firstly, I would like to clarify my definition of "content seeker". These are not necessarily just players who can be labelled and dismissed as "roleplayers" or "carebears" (although I'm sure the skim-readers will still assume that to be the case). There are many null- and low-sec combat pilots with an appreciation for the lore of EVE and the layers of immersion beyond the performance-obsessed powergamers.

From the perspective of a casual player or an outsider there is a beguiling darkness and a sense of wonder in simply moving through New Eden and being overwhelmed by the detail. Roleplayers certainly tap into that and build beyond it, but that is a niche within a niche. At the opposite end of the spectrum are the min/maxers for whom the enjoyment is in the DPS and the kill:death ratios. They don't give a rat's arse about the backstory.

The wider, middle area in this player spectrum is the new and/or casual players who have the overwhelming sense of "so much going on" because they are not yet judging and dismissing aspects of the game as we more established players are inclined to. They still have that sense of awe and wonder. To them, the fact that there are cadres of RPers out there somewhere pushing the storyline forward whilst conversely in the far-reaches there are thousands of null-sec soldiers participating in an endless grand bloodbath IS part of the immersion.

My point is that with the right marketing, both ends of the spectrum could be equally powerful motivators for people to get involved in EVE Online. However, presently only one end is being properly identified and exploited.

The Strangled Soul

Are there currently enough content-seekers to justify some more development resources to be thrown that way? Who knows? CCP Diagoras perhaps? However, I would say that if there is not, that would be down to CCP's failure to adequately invest in that aspect of EVE Online. They have endlessly marketed their grand fleet battles, their "player-driven narrative" and the news-baiting grand cybercrimes. Meanwhile, they've sacked their IP manager, weakened the content and writing teams and are operating with a reduced-strength community team.

I appreciate that running an MMO is all about the subscriber numbers. It may be that the number of players who enjoy the less hardcore military aspects of EVE are too few too carry any real weight and it has to be accepted that imagination-bereft powergaming min/maxers are the future of EVE.

At what point does letting players generate their own content just mean lazy development strategy? Is EVE Online on its way to becoming a soulless World of Fleet Fights?

If EVE's development were synonymous with the BSG story arc, we're midway through Series 4 - Earth has been discovered, but it's a desolate shithole and Adama needs to find a new long-term inspiration for the human race. Are you listening Hilmar?

[A Clarification for Null-Sec Players: Before you entirely miss my point and interpret this as a rant against large fleet fights, I would like to clarify that I understand sov-war has its own brand of story and excitement and is a jewel in EVE's crown. My point is that I wouldn't want EVE's development to lose sight of the fact that there are other aspects to EVE that should not remain under-developed. I fear development is veering too far toward the appeasement of powergamers as a reaction to the Incarna rejection. I am not saying that nullsec concerns should not be addressed, simply that there should be a balanced approach.]


Further Reading

Aside from the comments beneath this article, the following responses and forum discussions have sprung forth from this blogpost.
  • Marc Scaurus responded intelligently with "The Arbiters of the Loudest Voices" on his blog, Malefactor (by Hugo Boss). ;)
  • Riverini syndicated the article on EVE News 24 (without the appended explanation for nullsec players) with should provide some entertaining comments.
  • Tikhon Fedorov bravely linked the EN24 version on the EVE-O forums and wrote his response there. Shitposting undoubtedly will ensue.
  • A surprisingly urbane and considered response came from the Reddit community. Mostly.
  • Also, encouragingly, CCP Affinity spoke up on Twitter:
Freebooted: Power Gamers vs. Content Seekers. Is EVE Online destined to become a soulless World of Fleet Fights? bit.ly/zVxo4U #tweetfleet
CCP_Affinity: @Freebooted I can assure you - no :) Part of my team are content developers and they have a plan! #watchthisspace
Freebooted: @CCP_Affinity That's great to hear, but those folks should speak up. I don't care about DPS on the new triaged milk-float, I want immersion!
CCP_Affinity: @Freebooted we've only just had release planning - give things time to settle in :) we will make dev blogs soon.

10 comments:

  1. I believe the greatest expansion to EVE was Apocrypha.

    What made it that way was a combination of game expanding features and the rich storyline (through the chronicles) that preceded it.

    Crucible was a patch. Yes, new ships and modules. Yes, changes to gameplay. Yes, massive changes to artwork. But Crucible was still a patch.

    I believe for EVE to move forward it needs both. A tic-toc sequence of a fixing patch (like crucible) and expansion (like apocrypha for FIS) a fixing patch, then an expansion (like incarna for WIS). Both WIS and FIS need to progress, fixes/rebalancing need to catch up, and for the love of all things EVE the STORYLINE needs to keep pace with the expansions.

    Maybe we'll see summer expansion (+ fixes) for WIS and winter expansion (inc. fixes) for FIS until WIS is more completely realized. If WIS proceeds slower than this, fine. Substitute with FIS iterations.

    But the story must go on.

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  2. You're on a roll of really good posts here buddy.

    In regards to this post in particular, I think I am more inclined to be a content seeker (lolRPer) if there was a solid entry point into the lore of the game. As with all things Eve, there seems to be a very steep learning curve to the lore.

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  3. Marc, there's a ton of entry points to the Lore. Just wander around the fiction portal (http://wiki.eveonline.com/en/wiki/Portal:EVE_Fiction). The re-done wiki does a LOT better job of tying things together and cross-referencing the chronicles and lore entries. Looking for most of the older chronicles in one PDF? CCP has you covered there as well (see bottom of http://www.eveonline.com/background/).

    I think better IG integration would help in that regard, and I know that's one of the longer term projects for the wiki revamp.

    Give these things a shot. Who knows, you might like it.

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  4. I don't normally comment, but part of Marc's reply highlights one of the things that really irritates me about a large section of the eve community (be warned, this is likely to turn into a rant).

    I do tend to get quite irritated by the 'lolrp' attitude of a lot of eve players. I've been playing eve since January 08, and not once did I stick with a character for more than about 3 or four months. Not because I didn't like the game, I think eve is awesome, but because I just felt no attachment to the character.

    So, I started my current character back in September 10 and purely by chance came across the Gradient corporation of Electus Matari. I'd never even considered roleplay as an option before, but I thought I'd give it a go.

    More than a year later, I'm still playing as Kala, and still having fun. The RP community is one of the strongest and most vibrant group of people I have ever seen in a game, and the near instant dismissal of them by most of the rest of Eve really does not do them justice.

    I understand that its not for everyone, but I wish people (not directed at anyone in particular, just as a general term) wouldn't be so quick to condemn it.

    As for entry to the lore, as mentioned above, the evewiki is a really awesome place to start. However, I'm now gonna poke CCP and ask for some lore progression please! It doesn't even have to be much, but right now most of us RPers have been having to go over the same stuff again and again since Apocrypha. New things please!

    Kala

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  5. But... When are you joining KBG?

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  6. Mark726 is now working on his "Magnum Opus" which is at least starting life as a series of blogposts on how to get into EVE lore. An RP for Dummies, if you like.

    He has agreed to allow me to publish them here. Watch this space.

    And also, Nashh, I'll join up when I have time to play EVE at any level. I'm avoiding it at the moment until my other duties are reduced to a more manageable size.

    This may change if I can figure out how to dual-box life.

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  7. To step out of character....Grand explanation and comparison of different gaming styles, Seismic Stan!

    I'm with you on pushing for immersion and content. The beautiful bones of the game mechanics need not have the flesh of content rotting from it.

    I am a content seeker for sure... very much an explorer of the vast reaches of space. I also seek content from other players. Yes, I'm a roleplayer, but I'm every bit a PVPer as well. The two are not mutually exclusive, no matter the temptation some have to classify playstyles this way.

    I'm a roleplayer in a PVP nullsec corp... and it works quite well. Here's how it works... the roleplayers speak the game mechanics just like the non-roleplayers. Yes, even on the voice comms. It all falls under "game lore" anyways... the talks of fits and ship and ship part names, etc.

    Now, do I always speak from the point of my character? No, I'll joke about current trends in the world and we'll all laugh about the latest memes. Some even bring in talk of other games and etc.. but I'll interject some game lore into the live communications in a relevant way. The debates about what empire makes the best ships I've heard recently within corp went right along with this. :)

    CCP does need to continue to immerse people and continue the "Eve Is Real" effect. We don't want Eve to seem real only because of the loss of ships and the actual risk people take. That can be emulated in the real world... people then might as well gamble with bad odds, or rock climb without safety lines.

    No, for Eve to be real, it takes the SciFi element. I mean, we do fly super-internet spaceships. There is a lot of story behind them and the star systems they race through.

    So, if anyone wants a start into the lore.. yes, the Eve Wiki... and also, check out *cough*, excuse me... *cough*.. seems Stan gave me this cold Tech4News

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  8. The tough thing for me is trying to RP as a high-sec industrialist. I've been lucky enough to find a great bunch of folks that make this work.

    Which is great, because CCP doesn't give us much to work with - even as an industrialist, I'm really just a cog in the war machine. I can't build or do anything that doesn't end up punching a hole in someone's hull eventually...

    http://chasingisk.blogspot.com/2012/01/why-do-i-do-what-i-do-yc114.html

    More importantly, these are some things CCP could do to help me really RP the cut-throat businessman - um, I mean philanthropist - I want to be...

    http://chasingisk.blogspot.com/2012/01/why-im-not-businessman-yc114.html

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Lay it on me.