Friday, 9 March 2012

BB33 Summary: The Capsuleer Experience

Twenty-nine bloggers took part in Blog Banter 33, answering CCP Legion's call for discussion about “...where and why people lose interest in eve...”. He invited the community to “pour your heart (or guts) out and tell us what you think is good or bad with the current new player experience and what you think could be done about the problems."

The following article is an overview of the many great discussion pieces that were written across the blogging community. I'd like to extend thanks to all the participants and I hope that we've collectively been of some use to the newly-formed Player Experience team.

It is worth bearing in mind that all of the participants are existing EVE players, with experience ranging from a few months to numbers of years. Each blogger approached the discussion in their own unique style, referencing their own experiences, those of individuals they have encountered or played alongside, and in some cases they gave their impression of the current New Player Experience after having played through it again for a fresh perspective.

In referencing each of the original blog articles, the purpose of this summary is to gain a broad impression of the perceived problems and suggested solutions relating to the New Player Experience, but the reader is encouraged to follow the links to the individual blogs for more details that cannot be gleaned in this overview. Here I have covered those themes which were commonly discussed throughout the banter, but further investigation of individual blogposts will reveal a hidden trove of additional ideas; some brilliant, some controversial, but all worth reading.

  • The Target Market

Establishing what kind of players would otherwise be long-term EVE subscribers but are failing to stay the course is important to ascertain. Is the goal to compete in the wider MMO market or fortify the niche that EVE Online dominates? Where do new subscribers come from? Should the New Player Experience aim to appeal to the bored World of Warcraft player and the disappointed Star Wars fan or should the target be strategy gamers, twitch-gamers or mini-game addicts? Matching product and customer is key - good marketing can sell ice to eskimos once, but they'll never come back for more.

Over the years, the marketing may have been misleading to a degree, as described by Emergent Patroller; “There is a wide gap between what EVE looks like, and what actually goes on in the game.”

Ender Black acknowledges that players who enter EVE Online via external communities integrate far more easily than the many potential “new pilots who just see an advert or remember hearing a friend talk about it”.

EVEhermit thinks “It is okay to allow a level of natural culling for those who are simply unsuited to the game. It is not for everyone. [CCP should] try and keep those who could fit in long term, but who fail to get over that very hard initial hurdle of their new player experience.”

Blastradius1 seems to support this sentiment, stating “Short of changing the game completely into something much more generic, childish and dull, Eve has no capacity to retain these kinds of people.”

Drackarn believes "We need to make the NPE better. But we must not change the fundamentals of Eve to get there.”

Seismic Stan has a different approach, debating whether EVE Online could broaden its appeal to “compete for the attentions of players stepping beyond the mainstream clichés, looking for a fresh online gaming experience that doesn't involve elves...”

Kody Gloval suggests, “Eve needs things to do that are more casual friendly. Then it will be 'new player' friendly.”

Crash wants the New Player Experience to be tantalizing enough so that he will endure steep learning curve, the long skill queues and the isk grind to realize the depth and immersion of one of the best MMOs around.”

Nikolaj Vincent says, “...no one really leaves because a game has a steep learning curve. They leave because they're not having fun.”



  • The Initial Experience

With the addition of the far more immersive avatar-driven introduction and the re-worked fully narrated opening tutorial leading to the acquisition of your first ship, the initial few minutes seem to elicit a largely positive response from those who have experienced what has gone before:

Compared to the new player experience when I first started EVE Online it is night and day better.” - Ender Black shows his age and his circadian cycle.

"...really refreshing... interactive, it was ‘real’... conclusion was spectacular.” Marc Scaurus was impressed with the initial tutorial experience (until he attempted the career missions).

"Space and everything in it looks fabulous, so it is actually great fun to just fly around and look at things.” - Emergent Patroller

Although in the eyes of some, there is still room for improvement even in this comparatively polished segment of the New Player Experience:

A story-line would be helpful, as to why you are here, where you came from, etc.” - Gilbert Hamilton

Hans Jagerblitzen discusses the re-modelled rookie ships, “I'd love to see a wider array of civilian modules to allow for experimentation and learning without skill limitations. There has to be some real substance here, cosmetics won't be enough to hook players alone.”

Mara Rinn found another source of disappointment, [Not] being able to leave the ship and interact with other people as a person is one of the things I found most off-putting about EVE right at the beginning. It still upsets me that the CQ door is locked.”


  • Tutorial Missions
Once the player has grasped the basic controls and obtained his rookie ship, he is encouraged to undertake one of the career missions that were in place prior to the addition of the Incarna tutorial.

PROBLEM:

Marc Scaurus highlights the deficiencies of the existing tutorial career missions, decribing them as “awful” and “this experience was so bad I logged before I finished the military arc”. He goes on to say that whilst the concept is good, “the execution is what sucks.”

TurAmarth ElRandir sees also potential in the current underwhelming system, “...the Tutorial System that currently exists is fully capable of preparing a new pilot for EVE [but] I do not believe that it does a good job of it as it stands presently.”

Scientist's ten-year-old daughter was the lab rat he used to test out the “Ease of EVE”, his hope being that the experience would be more user friendly than his was in 2010. “Unfortunately after the initial stages it 'felt' like much hadn’t changed, and that those bits that had changed (for the better I might add), now seemed to contradict or confuse some of the later bits.”

Tommy Rollins feels that the tutorials as they are lack some fundamental lessons, “The tutorials are good, but they still aren't where they need to be. From my perspective, they're missing the heart of the game: player versus player combat.”

Lukas Rox is concerned that “the NPE ends with a 'Tutorials are finished, now go find yourself a corporation'.”

SOLUTION:

It seems that to a point, the New Player Experience has been refined to be an effective initial tutorial. However its most recent updates seem to have been a job half done, with a notable drop in quality and continuity as the new player undertakes the career missions. It seems that a thorough revision of these missions may paper over some of the cracks.

It is notable that many current players seem to have withstood their initial experience through preparation and reliance on third party instructional tools. Kat Robspierre explains, “The New Player Experience - at least when I did it in Nov and Dec 2010 - gave me very little to become the tycoon to which I aspire. The research I did before hand, especially reading The ISK Guide, is what helped me.”

Hans Jagerblitzen (amongst others) would like to see more meaningful ship fitting guidance finding its way into the tutorials, “Last time I checked, the advantages of fitting a shield tank vs. an armor tank, or a passive vs. active tank, are all gameplay fundamentals that haven't changed in years. There is no reason these basics should not be included in the tutorial.”

Several bloggers suggested some interesting ideas for introducing the player to both the community and PvP combat through public rookie missions. Earlier introduction to other players enduring the same problems might create a positive problem-solving culture as they find their way together.

Corelin proposed rookie arenas in limited access systems, pitting groups of rookies against each other; “On entering the arena the player is added to one of two fleets... Upon joining this fleet you have kill rights on all people on the other side. Go crazy folks...” Corelin also discusses solo missions whose paths intersect with other solo missioners, resulting in conflict.

A more co-operative PvE concept was proposed by Ugleb, “At the end of your single player intro ... you might be handed a mission offer to go undertake an epic arc designed for groups of newbies.”

Grimmash envisages this might have longer-lasting benefits, “Eve could use a 'push button, get bacon' PvP option. This would let both new to PvP pilots come out and play, and open up a competitive arena system for more serious players.”

Certainly those players who go on to choose the more solitary gameplay path are destined for a lacklustre experience, as Crash points out, “Missions haven't changed significantly in the three years that I've been playing EVE and frankly, they're boring, outdated, and create a class of players that are commonly referred to as 'carebears'.”

There are calls for more brutal, PvP-like solo mission experiences, Logan Fyerite suggests, “Give an advanced PvP tutorial, create a special NPC just for this tutorial. Make it similar to a sleeper frigate, give it sleeper frigate AI, and a 100% chance to web and scram.”

The consensus is this should also cut both ways, Tommy Rollins says,“If the noob doesn't fit a scram, have the NPC warp off if it is about to explode. Explain both how and why it happened.”

The missioning system is certainly the “questing” comfort zone for many mainstream MMO players. A revision here to include missions aimed at groups, corporations or even entire alliances opens up a realm of exciting new co-operative and competitive opportunities that will aid in acclimatising the more solitary, PvE-centric players to the idea of interacting with other players. It's certainly an alternative to dropping them in at the deep end and hoping they can swim.

  • User Interface
PROBLEM:

The current method of delivering information to the new player is through a series of pop-ups and windows. Interacting with these is described thusly by Orea, “They upset the flow of starting a new character by appearing as a somewhat unimportant pop-up box somewhere on your screen. The relevance of the window appearing is not always obvious. Personally, It almost screams 'close this window' at me.”

"...getting a bunch of tutorial windows popping up is sometimes confusing... Eve is hard to pay attention to when you are new. Gilbert Hamilton amends the January 2010 “EVE is hard” marketing slogan in support of Orea's view.

Seismic Stan thinks that the visually unappealing windows and pop-ups might act as a deterrent, “Within minutes of following Aura's instructions, the new player will find themselves drowning in ugly little windows, all inappropriately sized to show the information within (and un-resizable in some cases).”

The text heavy introduction comes under fire from Mabrick too, “Reading how EVE is played is no good. People hate reading manuals... It is amplified in EVE by the fact noobs want to play now, not read about how to play later. The manual oriented introduction has to go...”

It's not just the text windows that might upset rookies;“The in game star maps do not do a good enough job of conveying where you are in the universe, or where you can go.” says EVEhermit.

Even in space, disappointment lies in wait as the rookie player encounters the ship control method for the first time. Kody Gloval says,“When you get in the game and start thinking “THIS is how we control the ship? That’s shit!” you start feeling unhappy from the get go.”

The visual spectacle of ship-to-ship combat is often missed as Nikolaj Vincent points out “Most combat was comprised of your weaponized ship being reduced to a few pixels with enemies being slightly larger red pixels.”

Contrary to the opinions of some, Mara Rinn isn't convinced UI improvements would contribute to subscriber retention, “Would player-modifiable UI be awesome? Sure! Would player-modifiable UI encourage new players to stay? I'm not so sure.”

Orea suggests “...proper educational cut scenes and lots of them. Start a new character with the new 'Awakening' video. When she asks 'what are you waiting for pilot?' this should open a prompt where you choose which tutorial you want to go to next.”

This idea is also supported in Logan Fyerite's raft of suggested improvements, “Teach things in video form like transversal, tackle, optimal range vs falloff.”

Adding character to the currently generic starting environments would draw the player into the narrative of New Eden, Tommy Rollins suggests, “If you get all excited about becoming a freedom fighter on the front page, you should be pointed in the right direction towards Faction Warfare after graduation. This could be so much more immersive. One would actually feel ties to the Federal Navy Academy or Republic Military School.”

Certainly the opportunity exists to exploit existing art assets to better convey key tutorial components in a far more immersive way. Why not make better use if the giant screen in the Captain's Quarters for short animations and videos describing combat principles like orbiting, transversal and optimal ranges. It would bring meaningful content to the Captain's Quarters for the price of a few Flash animations and some audio work.

Additionally, during a given tutorial mission, why not have the animated headshot of the active agent on the vidscreen? This would create an impression of actually interacting with (NPC) individuals rather than just reading a post-it note they left on their desk. It would be like undertaking a distance learning course, but it's better than nothing until establishments arrive.


  • Griefer Culture

PROBLEM:

A recurring concern for some bloggers was the griefing of rookies. In every case the distinction was made between the “fair” griefing of established players and the practice of victimising the unprepared. Defining unacceptable behaviour is easier than policing it, I'm sure.

"When I pass through starter systems I am often appalled by the number of griefers hassling the new players.” says EVEhermit

Blastradius1 thinks “Eve loses many of the right type of new players... through the presence in the game of arseholes.”

Mabrick says, “Telling noobs who've been griefed that "it's a lesson, learn it" is ridiculous. We do this for fun. That is NOT fun.”

TurAmarth ElRandir has witnessed the same 'noob-griefing' activity;“There are those who do so and do it proudly. I know this is already a bannable offense… but everyone knows it is unenforced. CCP does not want to lose existing players by pissing them off by ‘nerfing’ their gameplay.”

In many respects, the problem is a cultural one, with EVE Online's accepted grief-play culture being at odds with mainstream play-styles. Drackarn's 'first date' analogy illustrates this magnificently:

Woman: So what do you do for fun?
Man: You know those sand sculptures people do on the beach...
Woman: Oh wow! You make them?
Man: No. I wait until someone has just finished one then I run in and kick it down.
Woman: WHAT? Why would you do that?
Man: Their tears are fantastic. They get really upset and they almost cry. It's epic.
Woman: Erm.... I just remembered I left the iron on. Be right back! /flee

Whether or not the PvP transaction analogised here is one you approve of, it is undoubtedly a deterrent for some potential subscribers. The big question is whether the number of subscribers lost to this phenomenon is acceptable to CCP and if not, whether the interaction can be changed without driving away subscribers content with the existing system.

SOLUTION:

The dichotomy seems to be centred around the opposing fundamentals of an open-world sandbox encouraging all play-styles and an aggressive and compulsory PvP environment. These two fundamentals are not happy bed-fellows.

Whilst not advocating an “artificially protected environment”, EVEhermit calls for “much clearer and easier to understand aggression mechanics.” as well as other methods for protecting the unwitting rookie against inappropriate griefing.

Earlier in this article suggestions were made for arena-style tutorial mission areas which would serve to provide some protection against inappropriate griefing.

  • Community
PROBLEM:

The successful retention of many subscribers is down to their early interactions with other players. We've already touched on encouraging positive interaction with communal tutorial missions and we have highlighted the negative encounters of griefer culture. However I think it is an accepted fact that whilst many players came for the spaceships, they stayed for the community. But the rookie finding his place in that community might not be all that easy.

Ender Black is concerned about “This air of paranoia pervades New Eden as a type of blanket smothering the life out of the new pilot's crib before he can even cry out for help.”

Emergent Patroller recalls his suspicious formative weeks, “I accepted no help from anyone and rejected all offers by corporations to join them for about a month.”

As Shalee Lianne points out, the problem is magnified by the reliance of player content and community to guide the rookie player, “Unless you have someone there holding your hand when you start EVE, you really don't have a clue what's going on.”

Mabrick warns of an over-reliance on players finding guidance themselves, “Telling noobs to join a corporation ASAP to get hands on training won't work. They want to play 'now.'”

Urziel99 is sceptical of the services offered in-game, suggesting they “try their luck in Rookie Help and pray there is an ISD or an experienced player training a new account to answer their questions.”


SOLUTION:

Embracing the community is a strongly supported theme amongst the banterers. “EVE is an MMO, and the quicker people get into the multiplayer aspect of it the better.”, says Jac.

Shalee Lianne discusses CCP endorsement of rookie-friendly corporations like EVE University, who deliver the right information to rookie players without taking advantage.

Mabrick goes into further detail on how a CCP-approved player-run corporation might work, with unique attributes similar to existing NPC corps and a veteran player incentive scheme to encourage interest in tutoring.

Kody Gloval feels there should be more ways to “help players find activities they will enjoy and can start off casually, before progressing deeper into them.” and accepts that the required support is best found from the community. “what made the big difference for me…entering Eve with the mindset of wanting to play with others.”

Ender Black is a strong advocate of relying on the community to encourage the necessary emotional investment, “The key to retaining new players is getting them into our corporations... and giving them purpose.”

Mara Rinn also supports this view, “You are the content, not the NPCs. There is no mechanic that CCP can add to the game that will encourage genuine social interaction. It's you that needs to encourage the new player to stay, not CCP, not the NPCs.”


  • Time versus Reward
PROBLEM:

According to Shalee Lianne, a new player quite rightly “wants to have fun with the game shortly after purchasing it, not three months from now.” describing a scenario where a rookie is invited to play by a friend (as encouraged by the Buddy programme), but the result tends to be “okay we have your training queue set up, you can come fly with me in a week!”.

Drackarn discusses this issue too; “You cannot grind XP, you cannot power level. You just have to wait. Therefore the NPE is something ‘you have to plough through in order to get to the good stuff’.”

SOLUTION:

Lockefox suggests that skill progression is unnecessarily laboured and is a barrier to player enjoyment. “Pare down skills that fill similar roles into a single skill, reduce ranks on skills that are 'must train', and remove redundant or useless skills entirely to keep newbies from training useless skills.”

Grimmash highlights that time-to-entertainment is delayed even before the wait for skill completion, “Get rid of skillbooks... You can require pilots to dock to unlock new skills, but realizing you have to fly 5 jumps because no stations close to you have the books you need is a waste of player time.”


Conclusion

It is worth noting that every blogger whose opinion features in the above discussion has, for whatever reason, withstood the slings and arrows of EVE Online's New Player Experience and stayed the course. The hard truths would come from those who tried out EVE and walked away dissatisfied. Whilst the EVE Online experience can't please all the people all the time, it certainly has the capacity to make some fairly common sense improvements to broaden its appeal.

Clearly aspects of EVE are showing their age and this is damaging. Game design concepts that were acceptable a decade ago are now weighing heavy around EVE Online's neck. The existing subscriber base has built up a resistance to many of these foibles, but a new player is far less likely to be as forgiving.

Overall, the message from many Blog Banterers with regard to the New Player Experience has essentially been for better delivery of EVE's core principles. However, what exactly those core principles are varies from player to player. That said, few would disagree with that fundamentally EVE Online is a science-fiction themed player-versus-player sandbox environment (with room for improvement). The existing players accept that. 

But will newcomers?

4 comments:

  1. I have no time to read all those blogs so this roundup of opinions was very enjoyable. And as always, wonderfully written. Thanks!

    I just don't remember the learning curve being that daunting at all in 2007 when I started playing. I just flew what I could fly and had fun doing it with the people I met and "adopted" in game.

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  2. Rundle Allnighter10 March 2012 at 02:03

    I would like to see a change where new players start the tutorial already cross trained for all 4 frigates types to level 2. This would allow parity, freedom of choice without giving away too much. They can fly 4 of the initial frigates. The tutorial can guide them towards training level 3 and gaining the next 2 frigates. Total give away is around 2 hours of training time and 40,000 isk per race. And then asking to train an additional 8hrs or so each. Even give them some basic fitting skills through the course of the tutorial. Make the tutorial explore each race frigate type and what makes each race different.
    When they complete the tutorial they would have a broader base of knowledge and more choices on how to proceed on their new eve career.

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  3. Very nice writeup Stan. As always it is very interesting to see which particular sentences you pick out of the different blogs to assemble the whole.

    Oh, and technically the Emergent Patroller is a Sleeper Drone so it's gender neutral :)

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  4. Great writeup Stan. Thanks for taking the time to read up on everything and sum it up for us.

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Lay it on me.