Saturday, 31 March 2012

Showcasing EVE Online: An Embedded Journalist's Odyssey


My first article for MMO community hosting service Guild Launch has been published. Exploring EVE Online: Fanfest and "The Nation of EVE" discusses the nature of EVE's complex society and looks at highlights from Fanfest. It also sets me on a path which will require help from the EVE Online community.

As the Guild Launch blog is an "out-facing" website, with a readership comprising non-EVE players, I see this as an opportunity to showcase aspects of EVE Online's community and gameplay that are often overlooked in favour of the more sensationalist aspects of EVE activity. In the greater gaming world, it is a widely held misconception that all EVE players are selfish bastards just looking to hound new players from the game.

It is my intention to corp-hop for a year in order to experience and write about the wide variety of activities and communities that we know exist, but the rest of the world dismisses as the antisocial behaviour of just another bunch of griefers. By documenting the multitude of social and gameplay options available to the EVE player, I hope to paint a picture of a diverse, engaging and open universe of endless possibilities. Unless I find you are all selfish griefing bastards, in which case I'll write about that instead. It'll still make good copy.

Over the course of the next year, in no particular order, I will be looking to explore the following aspects of EVE Online:

  • New Player Experience/Training Corporations (I'll be doing this first).
  • Faction Warfare (post-Inferno)
  • Null-Sec Sovereignty Warfare
  • Industry/Mining
  • Market PvP
  • Low-Sec Piracy
  • Ninja Salvaging
  • Small Gang PvP
  • Can-flipping
  • Wormhole Exploration
  • Incursions
  • Roleplaying
  • Scamming
  • Metagaming
  • (anything else I've overlooked)

I have had some offers already, but if your corporation or alliance is prepared to take me under their wing to showcase your chosen play style, please get in touch.

Of course, I realise that this venture will raise all manner of concerns regarding operational security and spying. I can only state that I intend to approach this project with complete transparency and it is neither in the interests of my integrity as an "embedded journalist" or the spirit of showcasing EVE Online for me to leak like a sieve or stitch anyone up.

I would work with my host organisation to examine the gameplay at hand and integrate with its community for the duration of my stay. In this way we can work as a society to show an alternative face of EVE Online to the one perceived by many readers, your corporation or alliance will get some exposure and I get to meet lots of cool people. Everyone's a winner.

I'm not trying to portray the "Nation of EVE" as something it's not, but let us at least give the gaming world the opportunity to make an informed decision.

Together let's showcase the true face of EVE Online.

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Mark726 Discusses: Political Realities in an Online World


Hey everyone. It’s Mark726 again. This time I PROMISE it’s not for another long-winded review of EVE Lore (though I’m continuing to update tidbits here and there if you’re interested). No, I’m here for a much different reason: to talk about the recent dramas with The Mittani and the CSM. I won’t rehash events, and I certainly won’t prognosticate on the wisdom (or lack thereof) of CCP’s decisions and actions. More than enough ink has been spilt on that particular topic, and I am positive that the storm is only just beginning (I’d stay out of Jita the next few days if you know what’s good for you).

No, I’m writing this from a bit more abstract perspective: that of an admittedly amateur political scientist/observer. Ever since this uproar started, I have been repeatedly struck by how closely the contours of this scandal (and at this point, regardless of your feelings on the subject, I don’t think anyone could claim that this is anything but a scandal) follow the general contours of a modern political scandal, at least in the United States. The timing, the public relations, the behind the scenes urgings, the public urgings, the seemingly no-win scenarios… If you swapped out the names of the related players from some of the more journalistic blog posts out there, and substituted appropriate names only, there is no reason that you wouldn’t see exactly this kind of response, in exactly this kind of turnaround time for any major scandal.

Most specifically, I’m reminded of two US political scandals of the past few years: U.S. Representative Anthony Weiner’s resignation over some rather raunchy texts and pictures, as well as Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich’s impeachment by the Illinois legislature following a dramatic arrest and indictment by federal prosecutors. Without boring non-political or non-American readers out there, suffice it to say that the outlines of those scandals would seem eerily familiar. A sudden revelation that sweeps both the local populace and national media outlets. Startled reactions from those immediately affected. Calls for calm from some quarters as well calls for blood from others. Backroom negotiations, urgings, and discussions well out of the sight of the public. Reactions, underreactions, overreactions, and just about everything in between.

The Weiner scandal differed from the Blagojevich scandal notably because Weiner chose to resign from office rather than subject himself to embarrassing ethics proceedings, while Rod Blagojevich (my as-always too egotistical former governor) decided to attempt to withstand the public humiliation to cling to power. Here, TheMittani attempted to resign the chairmanship while still keeping his seat (something others have tried in RL political scandals, with somewhat mixed results), but CCP quickly nixed that idea (though I suspect there were either some mixed signals or lack of communications entirely from CCP, else it’s hard to explain the odd timing between TheMittani’s resignation and CCP’s announcement of his ban/removal from CSM 7). But in each of these situations, you see exactly the same maneuverings from the affected politician, the public, and other elected officials who alternatively want to defend him, destroy him, or merely save their own behinds. It’s truly remarkable what a game of internet spaceships has evolved into.

As I glance over the blooming threadnaught of CCP’s announcement, I’m struck by something else as well: the halting, hesitant starts to a debate over the meaning of democracy (CCP has, of course, already published its own views on the democracy and EVE back when the CSM was first formed; it’d be interesting to know if their positions have changed in recent years, but that’s somewhat beyond the scope of this blog). Oh, it’s mostly used to support a poster’s own opinions over what CCP should or should not have done (I wouldn’t expect anything less from most EVE players), but it’s interesting to watch the development of at least some of the posters trying to craft a democratically-centered theory on what CSM is supposed to stand for, and the duties CCP owes the playerbase in this situation (whether CCP actually owes us anything is another matter entirely). But look at some of these references to voting players vs. active accounts. What democracy means in the face of low voter turnout. Whether a vote for one players means active disapproval of someone else. Democratic means to ensure smooth succession in times of crisis. When voters should be given a second chance when new information comes to light (and, for that matter, what it means for people who would still vote to elect someone even when that negative information comes to light). How to ensure that people who voted for someone booted from office can still maintain representation. Trust in elected bodies to deal with crises about those elected bodies. The ethics of public officials vs. private citizens. We’ve even see some attempts to analyze the benefits of a representative system vs. a direct democracy. My beloved #tweetfleet has not stayed out of the discussions either. I’ve seen some people engage in that most beloved of legal pastimes: parsing words and phrases in governing documents that are vaguer than anyone would have liked in this kind of situation. Yes, compared to modern political theory much of the discussion (though certainly not all) is simplistic and self-serving, swaddled in veiled insults and other quintessentially EVE language. But it’s there, and I don’t think you’d be seeing this kind of talk in many (if any) other games.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I know the CSM isn’t really a governmental body, nor do I expect it to be one. There are any number of significant differences between a player-oriented advisory council and a democratically-elected governmental body. This is, after all, only a game and I wouldn’t expect in-depth insights or analyses of these kinds of problems. But neither would I expect to see these problems discussed in a game setting at all. The things I’ve mentioned above are issues inherent to a democracy, and theorists and philosophers have been arguing them for centuries now. These are issues that democratic polities in times past and present have had to confront time and again to ensure stable, functioning governments that can survive in times of crisis. The variety of ways you see governments and constitutions around the globe deal with these very real problems demonstrate that there is no general consensus to many, if not all of these issues. To see them tackled about a group of players in a game is nothing short of incredible to me, and makes me wish that I had taken the Ph.D. path just to write my thesis about this.

Don’t tell me that EVE isn’t real, and not always in the ways that you might think.

- Mark726 of EVE Travel

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

An EVE Morality Tale: The Mittani Versus Alexander Gianturco


The returning chairman of EVE Online's elected player council has offered the resignation of his chairmanship following complaints about his incitement of the EVE player base to harass a "depressed" player to suicide. The story surfaced on Massively and will undoubtedly proliferate throughout games journalism and the blogosphere.

Whilst mental illness and bullying are serious issues, they are emotive and as such very easy to sensationalise. I hope that the matter can be dealt with maturely and without fuss. The awkward truth is there are many more forces at work here than are immediately obvious and they should be considered before any snap judgement is made.

The Mittani

It should be considered that The Mittani is the product of his environment; an environment in which morality is flexible and player culture requires participants to "harden the fuck up". Equally, smear campaigns and dirty tricks are often resorted to in the "metagame" environment beyond the confines of the game engine itself. If a group of players are prepared to and capable of DDOSing an opposing team's Teamspeak server, what other steps would they be prepared to take to make life difficult for an opponent? How genuine is the complainant's concern? What are the motives of the reporting journalists?

At this point I would like to make it clear that I am not in any way condoning hateful behaviour. I have long been disappointed by the bigotry and disrespect that is increasingly prevalent on the internet. The lack of regard for others shown by many internet users is only encouraged by the anonymous nature of unpoliced and unpoliceable web environments. Furthermore, rightly or wrongly such behaviour has become acceptable practice in many communities. It was inevitable that disrespectful attitudes would bleed over into real situations. As stated earlier, The Mittani is a product of that environment; his sharp and uncompromising manner has been a keystone of his success as a divisive but charismatic figurehead for the EVE Online community.

Alexander Gianturco

I do not know the man, but as an EVE blogger and podcaster it has been in my interests to pay attention to The Mittani's exploits throughout the EVE Online environment. I have written an examination of The Mittani's rise to chairmanship in The Creature From the Null-Sec Lagoon. I have had some moderate success mocking him in several (sometimes tasteless and offensive) audio parodies and satires. Every step of the way it has been clear in my mind that the individual I have been exploiting has been The Mittani, not Alexander Gianturco. He could have taken exception to some of the more unkind things I have said, but he didn't. He has been a good sport, as he was for the photo at the top of this article.

In the last year or so, I have attended a number of events where I have spoken to him in passing, but not until the Sunday night after Fanfest did I have a chance to actually have a conversation with him. When I did, I was with my (non-EVE-playing) wife and I was quite clear that I wanted to gain a better understanding of the distinction between The Mittani and Alexander Gianturco. I had not attended the fateful Alliance Panel and at that point was unaware of the coming controversy.

Despite the conversation being almost entirely between Alexander and myself, my impression of him at that time is no more relevant than that of my wife's. She had a strict religious upbringing and she commented that Alexander's impassioned and protective statements regarding his followers reminded her very much of some of the more zealous church ministers from her childhood. Alexander's apparent single-minded devotion to the causes of his Goon community and EVE Online as a whole was evident. This was a man passionate about his beliefs and his hobby. Whilst endearing, it is perhaps also a reflection on The Cult of EVE.

That said, I am aware that he is a capable reader of people and a consummate politician, so I suspect he was projecting the persona he felt would solicit the most amicable response from his audience (ie. my wife and I). But don't we all? I came away from the encounter with the assessment that Alexander is a social chameleon - I've met his like before. He has the ability to adapt to his audience and give them what he believes they want to further his own ends. Most of the time Alexander Gianturco's audience is a community that mocks the weak and revels in dick jokes. The Mittani is Alexander's chameleon cloak for that environment. What else can he be? He is the product of his environment and those who contribute to that environment should not be so quick to judge.

Mocking a "suicidal" player was tasteless, ill-judged and needless, but it was just a black-humoured joke taken too far and should be treated in that context and nothing more.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

The Trials and Tribulations of a Proto-Journalist

In stark contrast to my bewildering first Fanfest experience last year, this time I have blagged the privilege of a press pass courtesy of my Guild Launch sponsors. So far this has been a double-edged sword with the private previews I've so far attended containing tantalising information that I'm not yet allowed to talk about. I imagine this is akin to the NDA frustration that the CSM members have to endure.

Luckily, due to contacts made at last year's Fanfest, I have been fortunate enough to link up with a couple of veteran journalists in the form of Petter Martensson (FZ.SE) and John Bedford (Eurogamer) who have been kind enough to take me under their wings and endure my rookie mistakes (note to self: laptops are no use if left in hotel rooms).

It's been an interesting experience so far, with Ned "CCP Manifest" Coker playing Pied Piper and leading all the naughty little hacks to the gloriously bizarre edifice which is the Harpa Centre. We were shown to our secret press cave down in the basement from where I now write this.

Between presentations (about which I don't think I'm allowed to write yet), the journo blob takes up residence in this press cave. It is filled with a strange school classroom vibe, with the quiet, studious atmosphere punctuated by furious typing and muttered conversations. Every once in a while a few of them disappear off to play a game I'm not allowed to talk about yet. It's my go shortly.

I've had some opportunity to wander the halls and corridors of the Harpa Centre and, given my inability to write about the D-game, instead I'll share some random photos of my experience so far, from last night's TweetFleetMeet and the first day of Fanfest.





The check-in queue at 11am

The 2012 Icelandic Gurning Champion spotted.

The Hack Pack interviews a beret-wearing RPer.

Some Important Space Nerds

Riverini's EN24 presentation wasn't that popular.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Fanfest 2012: The Althing for All Pilots

Law Rock at Þingvellir
In times past, Viking tribal leaders would meet at a gathering called an Althing. At some point important Matters of State would be addressed, but Norsemen being Norsemen, you can be certain that drinking, carousing and fighting was high on their agenda too.

To this day, at the centre of Icelandic politics is the Althingi, the name for their parliament. I imagine it to be somewhat more civilised these days, but the tradition of mixing beer, celebration and politics seems to be fundamentally part of Icelandic culture, which is why Fanfest makes so much sense.

Revisiting the Cult of EVE

I suspect every Fanfest attendee has some kind of an agenda; be it to share ideas, build support, make new contacts or just drink beer with strangers. For every kind of EVE fan, there is a presentation to behold, a roundtable to participate in or a developer on their "must meet" list. And of course there is also the drinking and celebration too.

My attendance this year represents a strange confluence of agendas and aspirations. Officially I am flying the flag for Guild Launch as their new EVE Online correspondent, so I have to acclimatise myself to the ways of journalism. Fortunately, I have an ally in fellow Fanfest attendee Petter Mårtensson; AFK corpmate, podcaster and luckily for me, seasoned journalist. He'll know how this stuff works.

My Guild Launch focus will be very much on the community side of EVE Online. More than anything, I intend to soak up the atmosphere and gain a greater understanding of EVE Online society. I am very aware of the demographic diversity of EVE Online's player base. I'm not certain that Fanfest attendees will be a proportional representation of every flavour of EVE player, but it's surely the best place to start. My experience last year taught me that for every howling crowd of drunken alliance zealots there is a bewildered and reserved figure with a different story. I want to meet them all and learn more about every side.

Evangelist? Me?

However, I won't just be wearing my Guild Launch hat. I have my personal crusade too. I intend to find out what the future holds for the lore and backstory of EVE, especially with regard to the Arek'Jaalan Project in the absence of its champion, the newly-wed and recently departed CCP Dropbear. In particular, I would like to find out if there has been any recordable subscriber growth as a result of the Arek'Jalaan project or associated initiatives. I firmly believe that Arek'Jaalan represents an aspect of EVE that is undersupported and underdeveloped at present and I would like to see more player/developer interaction along these lines.

The ultimate purpose of the Tech4 News project was to support the gameplay style that Arek'Jaalan represents, providing a gateway to a deeper, more thoughtful lore-driven EVE experience. If storyline-driven content is something that CCP has little interest in encouraging, then I have spent the last six months seriously barking up the wrong tree. However, with development focus reported to be on Faction Warfare and a surprising player outcry against changing the names of modules, I suspect that is not the case.

Skol, Skol, Skol, Skol

But mainly my intention is to meet and enjoy the company of good people and to geek out over the future of internet spaceships (and space-soldiers). I hope to put faces to names and have a drink with my fellow bloggers, EVE players and hopefully some CCPers. Maybe I'll be able to catch up with some CSM6 members or some CSM7 candidates and either thank them or commiserate with them. It'd be also be great to raise a glass with some Tech4 contributors; I know Drackarn is going (and we've got stuff to discuss) and also Myrhial Arkenath. I hope to see you there. Are there any others? If you're reading this and you're in Iceland, lets go for a drink or ten, starting with the TweetFleetMeet at the Celtic Cross.

After all, when at the Althing do as the Vikings do.

Monday, 12 March 2012

Sister Eve: Space Nun and Agony Aunt

Welcome to the helpline by the hard-talking, hard-drinking space nun with a direct commlink to God. Sister Eve has got the answers to all your problems, she drinks single malts from a pint glass and can mine, shoot and doesn't give a FAQ. No problem left unsolved. Read on to see how the unadulterated wisdom of the blessed has already helped many of her readers.




Dear Sister Eve

Does playing EVE Online count as a religious activity?

Hilly P.


Well Hilly, playing EVE Online will certainly bring you closer to God. The opportunity to fly through the heavens and wonder at the beauty of God's creation often moves me to tears. That said, I fly a Falcon which looks like Lucifer's lunchbox, so even God has off days.

S.E.



Dear Sister Eve

I have a confession to make. I am so addicted to EVE Online that I regularly miss church. Should I repent?

Ricky


Ricky, many of the activities in EVE Online take so long that you will undoubtedly need to sacrifice real life opportunities. But on the plus side the gameplay gives you plenty of time to pray. Or drink. Or both. Just make sure it's red wine so you can claim it's the blood of Our Lord.

S.E



Dear Sister Eve

My ship was destroyed by another player whilst I was autopiloting through high security space. I thought I was safe but now I've lost everything. I petitioned it but CCP aren't going to do anything. The players are cheats and the GMs are corrupt.

Angry Carebear


Well Angry, I know this isn't what you want to hear, but you're shit out of luck. It's the nature of the game sonny. As a "sandbox" world, players are free to make their own moral choices and face the consequences.

This practice of "suicide ganking" is not considered cheating (even if it is a mortal sin), so there is no GM corruption. Whilst your attacker's ship would have been destroyed by CONCORD, he may well have had a friend nearby to scoop your wreck, leaving you with nothing but bitterness and resentment. The lesson to be learned is; don't fly AFK with valuables onboard. If your ship can be destroyed by a ship worth much less than the value of your cargo and fittings, then you are vulnerable. Either keep your wits about you or accept you are doing God's work by giving to the needy.

S.E.



Dear Sister Eve

I'm thinking of playing EVE Online but I've heard bad things about the players. Is it safe for trans-gender players?

GalaxyQuean


GalaxyQuean, EVE Online players are beautiful, splendid, wicked folk. In much the same way an invading army is - individually they may be tolerant and professional, but they are there to fight for their cause and probably to kill you. With extreme prejudice. And dick jokes. Some of them are okay people, but in truth, most of them are total titbags. In their defence, they believe they're paying a monthly subscription for the privilege of behaving how they like. Sadly, like most of the internet, anonymity gives voice to bigotry, pettiness and The Devil's work. You can petition inappropriate behaviour but you're better off by being forewarned and forearmed with a thick skin and a crucifix. You can also take strength in the knowledge that they will one day be burning in hell.

Out of curiosity, do you sit or stand?

S.E.



Dear Sister Eve

Why do you play Internet spaceships? Shouldn't you be doing God's work?

Curious Cal


Cal, I am doing God's work. The open nature of the gameplay of EVE Online exposes players to moral temptation in a controlled environment. There is no better divining rod in the world than EVE Online for finding the morally bankrupt, the sinners, the bullies and the cowards. There are many, many souls to be saved here. Plus I can get through a bottle of scotch whilst mining and still be able to play like a pro.

S.E.



Dear Sister Eve

Does God play EVE Online?

Bert159


Bert, yes he does, and he loves it. He says it's the best game in the world other than, well... The World. He's in my corp and he flies stealth bombers (he says they're good for surprise smitings). He's not our CEO anymore though, we voted him out cos he's a terrible listener. He thinks that emails and direct contact is inappropriate and he made us pray just to get our ship losses reimbursed. Now we've got this great new guy called Jay Escariot in charge and I feel we're in much better and safer hands.

S.E.



Dear Sister Eve

Who do you fly with? Are you looking for a corp?

Bob


Bob, I'm pretty trusting and fly with a lot of folks, but I <3 my corpies and I'm pretty happy where I am thanks. JC is a great FC and all of the Apostles really know their stuff. I'm learning a lot about ship manufacturing and hauling from Noah. Moses mostly takes us on Stealth ops with his Black Ops Redeemer Battleship - he's great at getting us back home from hostile territory. I'm a bit suspicious of new guy Pontius though, he rarely logs on and doesn't seem interested in getting his hands dirty.

S.E.



Dear Sister Eve

I've heard about your corp and your CEO. You need to know your place - I'm the only god that counts in EVE. Don't get any ideas or we'll ruin your game.

Lots of love.

Alex


Alex, are u mad bro? Bring it.

S.E.


If you've got a problem with EVE or life, Sister Eve is the answer to your prayers. You can contact her to confess your sins or to get a dose of her life-changing wisdom by leaving a comment below.

Friday, 9 March 2012

EVE Online Video Marketing: Promises or Lies?

You can't always believe your eyes. This is real street art.
For the past few weeks, much of the EVE community has been discussing the New Player experience, both in the thread started by CCP Legion of the newly formed Player Experience team and as part of the recent Blog Banter.

Many fantastic suggestions and concepts have been put forward by the community and the Player Experience team are hopefully now armed with a well-realised and broad view of the community perspective to compliment their own goals and ideas.

It is those very goals that I ponder and the methods CCP intends to employ to achieve them.

Where to Now, Guv?

For many years EVE Online's developers were labouring toward the goal of creating a complete sci-fi experience, as CEO Hilmar Petursson described it at last year's Fanfest, "the ultimate science-fiction simulator". However, with the grand strategy to introduce immersive avatar enviroments in last Summer's Incarna expansion being poorly received by existing subscribers, the subsequent subscription cancellations led to staff lay-offs and significant restructuring.

With CCP now a leaner, more focused organisation once again ascendant following the release of the critically acclaimed Crucible expansion, their resources are almost entirely focused on the core spaceship gameplay. With the CEO's declaration that there will be no more "Jesus features" and a big gamble upcoming in the form of the PS3-based FPS DUST514, has EVE Online's future been re-purposed as "the safe bet" with much more modest design goals?

I would love to know the new strategy moving forward and what demographic the Player Experience team will be looking to entice to play EVE. Will they be looking to fortify their position as the king-of-the-hill in the player-driven mass-PvP arena? Or will they be aiming to leverage other aspects of EVE's sandbox, capitalising on the rich variety of gameplay options New Eden promises? Personally, I hope the net will be cast wide, for fear of EVE Online inexorably becoming a playground solely for e-sports combat teams.

The Disappointment Factory

I do have some concerns regarding the promises being made by the existing video marketing. The most recent video, CDIA Files: Agent Missions, is slick and informative, providing a beautifully presented impression of the game that we wish EVE was.


The audio element is fine, with some relevant and useful advice that interestingly encourages PvE activities (which gives me hope that CCP's target market is broader than the PvP evangelists would like). I think this is smart - the PvE element is certainly more familiar to most MMO players and can act as a gateway whilst the new player "learns how to pilot his ship".

My issue is with the visual portion of the video, which is framed by a sophisticated HUD overlay that repeatedly brings up context-sensitive information and elegantly arranged menus. The main view is continually crammed with ships fighting at close quarters, with breathtaking flyby shots and menacing close-ups. Only briefly (@ 1m 28s) do we see a single window from the real UI and at no point do we see the rookie torture device we call the overview. Visually this video is almost pure fiction.

The true face of EVE.
A potential subscriber convinced to try EVE Online after seeing this video is going to be bitterly disappointed to find the truth is an ugly and archaic windows-driven interface and a combat environment that requires them to ignore all the graphics and watch some coloured boxes and text.

The terrible truth is that for all its slick presentation, this CDIA Files video is a lie. I so wish it were true, but it is not. EVE Online has many strengths on which it could be promoted, but I fear that this marketing angle is flawed.

Of course, if this is actually a visual proof-of-concept for an imminent UI overhaul and intelligent cinematic camera tools, I would be rabidly happy to eat my words. But if that is not the case, CCP should not be surprised if the majority of rookies do not stick around for long. This won't be the first time CCP have been tripped over by expectation management.

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?

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Blog Banter 34: The Rise of the Spaceship Politicians

The polls have just opened for the election of candidates to occupy the 14 seats on the 7th Council of Stellar Management. To kick-start a topical CSM-themed banter, CCP Xhagen - fierce champion of freedom of speech and in his words, "the guy that gets yelled at when the CSM dudes do booboos" - has offered this question:

"How would you like to see the CSM grow, both in terms of player interaction and CCP interaction?"

Banter on!

[For more info on what the Blog Banters are and how to participate, read this post.]

Further Resources

Blog Banters

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

BB33: Widening the Net - Accessibility, Activity, Adventure

"...we want to make the first days, weeks and months in EVE enjoyable and not just something ‘you have to plough through in order to get to the good stuff’" [and the newly formed Player Experience team will focus on] "...where and why people lose interest in EVE... We invite you 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."
- CCP Legion, Player Experience Team

EVE Online as it stands provides a peerless experience in some respects, but an underwhelming one in others. I think the fundamental answer to the “new player problem” lays with CCP's target market. The essence of EVE Online's player retention challenge is concerned with what kind of player CCP intends to attract to EVE Online. This needs to be clearly defined before appropriate steps can be mapped out to retain them.

EVE Online is unique in that it provides an unrivalled social networking platform centred around a grand science-fiction environment. As EVE's gameplay and communities have evolved, the core focus of all EVE Online activity has quite rightly remained on the combat, with all other in-game tasks feeding that ultimate purpose. After all without conflict, there is no story.

The Only Fish in the Pond

The messaging in almost every piece of EVE marketing generally involves two concepts; being in big fleet battles and being a devious bastard. Indeed, EVE's game universe certainly provides opportunities for the individuals attracted by these precepts. This market is well-advertised, well-serviced and is the mainstay of EVE Online's existing culture. A culture often resistant to being more inclusive of other play-style cultures.


If CCP's intention is simply to continue to dominate this mass-player e-sports cultural niche, then the new player simply needs to be able to easily find a path to the player communities which provide access to the PvP content they seek. Ergo, iteration of existing game mechanics and improved tools for player-driven communities would continue to fortify this subscriber spine. The new player will soon find or be found by a corporation or alliance appropriate to his gaming needs.

However, this is a subscriber market already exploited. No other MMO is seriously contesting EVE Online's dominance in this field and players seeking the core player-versus-player spaceship combat experience are likely to be satisfied with what they find. EVE is supreme in its niche and with renewed focus on the underpinning mechanics, it looks to be digging in to defend its position for a long time to come.

But beyond this niche, there are vast swathes of players looking for a different MMO experience. EVE claims to be a sandbox, but does it provide entertainment beyond PvP combat to the appropriate standard?  Can it and should it compete for the attentions of players stepping beyond the mainstream clichés, looking for a fresh online gaming experience that doesn't involve elves or World War II might easily be seduced by the idea of a living, diverse sci-fi universe?

Lured By Lies?

They come looking for this...
A new player to any MMO signs up on the strength of his preconceptions. Preconceptions he will already have formulated based on what he has read, seen or heard from others. With EVE Online, he may have read nefarious tales of internet spaceship skullduggery, been coaxed to join by existing players or been entranced by slick video footage of grandiose and cinematic spaceship fleet clashes.

The first two of those lures will bring forth a rookie player under few illusions about the harsh realities of New Eden; they come to participate in the more amoral activities available and furthermore, the community-invited player will be coached and aided by more experienced players. However, the lone player attracted to EVE for it's promise of magnificent space battles and epic sci-fi opera, as suggested by countless promotional videos, is destined to be crushingly disappointed.

This is not to say that the experience that is encountered by the new player is without merit. There is a different, more personal and majestically bewildering initial experience to be had. But it is not the one that is advertised and likely not one that will be enjoyed by the influx of players seeking the instant shock-and-awe gameplay shown in the videos.

I'm not suggesting that large fleet fights don't exist, but they are rarely accessible to the new player and even when they are, are nothing like the impressive cinematic experiences shown in the promotional videos. The power of the stunning visuals is completely lost as tactical needs and technical limitations require the player to forsake any real eye candy.

...but instead they find this.
However, I get ahead of myself. By the time the rookie player is exposed to these kind of experiences, he'll already be hooked by the community alongside whom he fights. CCP know they already have this angle covered.

So it is to the kind of player who might more easily be repulsed by their early EVE experience that we look. The Star Wars: Galaxies refugees, the WoW-weary masses, the MMO neophyte. And here it is in the first few minutes of gameplay where much of the retention battle is won or lost.

Death by Windows

Many players who might find themselves potentially entranced by the sedate depths of their first few hours in space have first got to overcome a number of unnecessary and potentially deal-breaking hurdles that might have them all out to (the Dune) sea or even running for the hills (of Azeroth).

Familiarity breeds subscriptions.
The new avatar-based introduction does a fantastic job of allowing the player to feel connected to the game-world with what will be for most gamers a familiar third-person MMO view. It is here that Incarna shines, with the initial Captain's Quarters providing a comfortable transition from other MMOs to New Eden's more space-based affair.  However, it won't be long before they must do battle with the repulsive user interface which, even with the recent updates, is an archaic carbuncle on the early EVE experience.

Much of the tutorial segment of the early experience is adequate, if lacking excitement. There is  enough to engage the new player, in fact if anything the sheer volume of information is a likely deterrent for those players not prepared to persevere.

The recent addition of a fully spoken Aura tutorial is excellent, further engaging the player and providing some solace from the squads if hideous boxes that will soon pollute the screen. It is here that EVE really does itself a disservice, with the initial positive experience starting being ruined by what feels like your art teacher giving you written homework. To worsen the experience, the default size of the tutorial text window is often not quite big enough to contain all of the text displayed, demanding unnecessary interaction with a fiddly scroll bar. 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). Nonetheless, with perseverance, the player will soon be prompted to undock where the stunning visual experience will sadly be marred by the frustration of fighting against disorienting camera movement and a fussy right-click drop-down control system.

Five minutes into the first tutorial - more windows than a greenhouse.
As soon as the basic orientation is over, the player is directed to the career agents to learn more about particular play-style choices and Aura falls silent, with nothing but windows and text to relay the rest of the information. Archaic and off-putting, to say the least. At this point it really is a battle of visual beauty versus mental frustration. I cannot help but wonder how many will have made it this far. I suspect already, many will have become disillusioned and are veering toward the decision that their experience is an unpleasant one due to the unintuitive and alien nature of the interface and controls.

Nothing short of a complete overhaul of the user interface will resolve these issues. In a world of infinite time and resources, I'd love to see the following:
  • A better alternative to awful right-click menus.
  • Windows that are fit for purpose.
  • Audio-dialogue driven missions/events.
  • Refined tools to replace the overview.
  • Intelligent and customisable camera options from cinematic to tactical.
  • Context-sensitive HUD overlays.
  • Picture-in-Picture Target Monitoring.
  • Race/Ship/Module specific HUD elements.
Until the User Interface is brought into the modern era to be elegant, effective and intuitive, it will always deter potential subscribers.

The Waiting Game

If they make it as far as the first tutorial mission, there is at least a chance new players have forgiven EVE some of the negative points previously mentioned and have found enough to keep their interest. It is then that EVE's second great deficiency rears its head to frighten off more potential subscribers.

Having previously worked in the building industry, one of the entertainingly cruel things that would be inflicted on the young apprentice was being sent to the storesman with requests for fictional items like a “skirting-board ladder”, a “box of sparks” or, more relevantly, a “long weight”. The clued-in storesman will then depart, having instructed the rookie victim to wait for him to return with his requested “long weight”. The storesman will then go to lunch or find some other equally lengthy task to do, leaving the apprentice to unwittingly endure his Long Wait. Whilst highly amusing for the undoubtedly sniggering pranksters, it is far less so for the victim.

In EVE, the Long Wait is a game mechanic, but I'm not sure who is doing the sniggering.

I'm not referring to the skill training mechanic, which is an innovative alternative to the level-grinding process prevalent in so many other MMOs, but to the countless other instances where you are “playing” EVE Online. Except, by “playing” I mean “watching”. You watch as your ship aligns and warps (repeatedly over long journeys), you watch as your mining laser/salvager/tractor beam hums about its business often repeatedly cycling, you even just watch as your ship orbits and repeatedly fires its weapon. In some respects, EVE's gameplay is not far removed from that of Don Bluth's 1983 laserdisc video game Dragon's Lair, which saw players watching segments of footage and occasionally making a decision, prompting more footage.

Now I'm not saying that this mechanic is always bad. The sedate input:event ratio of much of EVE's gameplay is in some respects a strength. Being able to multi-task or AFK play is an integral part of EVE's gameplay culture (just ask the suicide gankers). Also, some people I'm sure enjoy the passive gameplay mechanic EVE offers. But for the new player who is looking to be entertained it is dull. Relying on their admiration of the pretty visuals will only wash for so long. A way should be found to preserve the existing charms whilst offering something more engaging for those who seek it.

Active/Passive Gameplay

A possible solution could be the introduction of mini-games to enhance the performance of routine passive activities. These could serve to provide some stimulus for those new players fond of a twitch-based mechanic whilst allowing existing passive preferences to remain unchanged. Here are some mini-game examples that could work.

Audiosurf (2008)
WarpingA simple Audiosurf/Wipeout minigame allowing the active pilot to shave a few seconds off his warp time by riding warp-pulses and avoiding counter-flows. This could provide interesting ramifications in the PvP environment, possibly giving an interceptor pilot a fraction longer to tackle an evading enemy or aiding a hunted pilot in getting away.  It might even spawn a warp-racing culture. If nothing else it would give the new player something entertaining and rewarding to do whilst flying from place to place.

Pipemania (1989)
Mining – A simple timed puzzle whose completion before the end of a given mining laser cycle would result in a slight increase in yield. This puzzle could vary from ore-type to ore-type and the speed in which each mini-game round is completed could be directly relative to the yield bonus (eg. if a mining cycle is 10 seconds, completing the puzzle with 2 seconds to go would give a 2% yield bonus). Completing a number of puzzles successively could provide an additional Streak bonus. Not only could this make mining more interesting, especially to the new player, it would give human miners an advantage over botters (or at least give the bot-programmers an interesting new challenge).

Paradroid (1985)
Salvaging/Hacking/Archeology – Successful completion of a minigame for any of the mini-professions could benefit either the cycle time or the chance of success. As with mining, each attempt at success should be confined to the duration of the module cycle time, putting the operator under pressure. The mini-game should vary according to the profession.



I would suggest similar mechanics for aligning and aspects of combat (active effort to increase capacitor/shield recharge anyone?), but this would affect the delicate balance of PvP and would undoubtedly result in foaming at the mouth and freshly-sharpened pitchforks from the “don't change my game” brigade. However, other, more sedate interactive puzzles could be applied to process like manufacturing and research in order to boost success or reduce time. The process already exists in principle with research agents offering a mission to boost output. Ultimately, my purpose here is simply to suggest small ways in which to give the somewhat sedate and under-stimulating aspects of the new player experience some additional spice.

Use Your Rails

The final new player deterrent that EVE is guilty of is perversely also the jewel in its crown. The open-ended sandbox nature of New Eden can be incredibly daunting for a player groomed on more on-rails experiences. There needs to be more attention given to easing a player from their likely theme-park roots into EVE Online's vastly more free-form environment.

Whilst some vague prejudices and motivations are hinted at early on in the character creation process, the remaining tutorial is so careful to leave the player to make his own decisions that it may just leave him lost. Granted, there are endless boxes of mission text he could trawl through in order to get a better idea, but if he really wanted to read that much text, he'd probably have bought a book rather than a computer game.

The tutorial combat missions, whilst fulfilling their purpose, are lacklustre. Again, this is as much a failure of the UI as anything, the quality of the writing is great in general, but I wonder how many players actually read it. Not many I bet. There are more and better ways to draw the player into the story. He needs to feel emotionally invested and part of the grand narrative. He should be swept along and led to new play-styles if that is how he prefers it.

Why not have a "theme-park" nursery slope tutorial mission arc that betrays him and spits him out into hostile low-sec, or a storyline mission that sees hordes of rookies converging on a single structure to repair/defend/attack it (you know that won't end well)? Sooner or later he will come of age and learn of other ways to play the game, in the meantime, why not give him what he wants, but at the same time provoke an emotional reaction. EVE style.

In Conclusion

I would hope that by addressing the key elements of UI repulsion, passive-gameplay-induced boredom, lack of direction and emotional investment, new player retention could be improved. Of course I may be misinterpreting things and these issues could in fact be “working as intended” to filter out the kind of subscribers we don't want. But somehow, I doubt it.

Ultimately, the strategy should be to ensure that the initial game experience is good enough to keep trialists involved until they become emotionally invested in their character, the storyline and/or the community. In order to target resources at the right demographic and cast the right net, it would be good to know who CCP's intended target audience is. Is there room in EVE for people who also like Call of Duty? World of Tanks? Everquest? Hello Kitty?

EVE is a sandbox, right? There's room for everyone.

[This was a Blog Banter entry, other entrants can be found here.]