Blog Banter #77 - The EVE Crisis of Confidence

Welcome to the continuing monthly EVE Blog Banters and our 77th edition! For more details about what the blog banters are please visit the Blog Banter page.

Is there a malaise affecting EVE currently? Blogs and podcasts are going dark and space just feels that little bit emptier. One suggestion is that there may be a general problem with the vets, especially those pre-Incarna and older, leaving and being replaced by newer players who are not as invested in the game. The colonists versus immigrants? Is this a problem? Are there others? Or is everything just fine and it's just another bout of summer "ZOMG EVE IZ DYING!"


Last September, I perceived a growing restlessness in the EVE Online player community. I wrote about this in an article on Crossing Zebras called "Overcoming EVE Malaise":

It happens to many of us. We play EVE Online for months or years with enthusiasm, but then, mysteriously, some of us begin feeling less entranced with the game. Our interest in internet spaceships flags. When this happens, some players drop out for a while, put their character in mothballs, and then rejoin months later to a significantly different game, their interest rekindled by some new feature or development. Others, however, never return to active play – they are lost forever to EVE ennui.
I’ve been playing EVE Online since 2009, and I’m familiar with the symptoms of “EVE malaise”. It is a common affliction of veteran players, especially after they’ve settled into a particular playstyle, becoming so good at it that the game becomes routine. Those vets who fall victim to this disease suddenly lose their motivation to sustain their success. They wonder, “Why am I no longer excited about something that used to make me so passionate?”

I myself have been struggling with EVE malaise ever since Fanfest in April. I had high hopes - perhaps excessively so - that I would see some exciting new developments announced at that event that would once again reinvigorate my interest in the game. But I was disappointed. In fact, I even got a little angry about it. My involvement with EVE Online dropped to the lowest level in five years. Only recently, with the Shadow of the Serpent PvE event, did I log some significant time in the game, but even then, it has been only a relatively slight increase. And once that event is over in the next month, I am sadly confident that my time in game will return to its previous somnambulant state.

Is my experience typical? I am not entirely certain, but I see a lot of signs of a creeping sluggishness in the EVE Online community - especially in the EVE media. I see an increasing number of once vibrant EVE-related blogs posting less frequently, or others shutting down altogether. EVE Radio had to threaten imminent shutdown, in order to collect enough contributions to keep afloat - until September, anyway. Some of my favorite EVE-related podcasts, which used to be prolific fonts of new content, seem to be on informal hiatus.

These trends do not paint a healthy picture of the EVE Online community, full of energy and enthusiasm. Not at all. Rather, it shows an increasing amount of listlessness. EVE Online seems to be somewhat adrift in the doldrums, for the moment.

The End is Nigh?

Does this mean that "EVE is dying" - a phrase so oft repeated that it has now become a meme in our community? I've been hearing this ever since I joined the game in 2009, and yet, EVE keeps chugging along, getting incrementally better with each update, year after year.

More than two years ago, the rumors of CCP Games' imminent implosion were so sonorous, they were impossible to ignore. I took a close look at the data, and came to the conclusion that there was little to worry about - I wrote a post about it, and my conclusions have been borne out by history. In general, EVE players are a cynical bunch, and we tend to exaggerate bits of bad news, while failing to give CCP and EVE Online due credit for being far more resilient than we think.

After World War Bee wound down to a surprisingly swift anticlimax in the spring, there has been little news in New Eden, except for the introduction of Citadels. Some ownership of space has traded hands, as usual, and CCP's summer PvE event has generated some player engagement, but for the most part, not much is really happening right now. For many otherwise ardent capsuleers, there simply isn't much reason to log in regularly at the moment.

In addition, it is summertime - at least, for those of us who reside in the northern hemisphere - and people are enjoying holidays and family and other interests in that strange world known as "outside", which we tend to ignore in the blustery days of autumn and winter. This is when CCP developers go on extended holiday, like most of Europe. Not much happens in EVE Online during June, July and August. We bittervets know it's been that way for ages, and probably always will be.

From EVE-Offline.net: I started playing EVE in 2009, and there has been a temporary decrease in average player counts online each summer, every year. Of more concern is the generally lower daily log-in counts, which dropped in mid-2014 and again in mid-2015. This level of traffic seems to be the "new normal" for activity in EVE Online - at least for now.

Of more concern is the generally lower level of player engagement, as measured by daily player log-in counts, relative to EVE's heyday in 2011-2013. According to statistics from EVE-Offline.net, EVE Online saw a general drop in player log-ins in mid-2014, and again in mid-2015. World War Bee and Citadels helped spark a higher level of activity through the spring of this year, but it has now returned to the previous lower activity norm.

We Need New Toys

This hardly means that "EVE is dying", of course. It simply means that little of interest is going on at the moment. The Shadow of the Serpent PvE event has been an entertaining diversion, but it hardly qualifies as a major game development.

In my own experience, I am simply bored. After six years, there isn't much left to try in the game that sounds especially appealing. Plus, with my busy lifestyle, it's more difficult to reserve hours for marathon online gaming sessions, like I once enjoyed. For my currently casual, and mostly solo, play style preference, there just isn't much for me to do - or at least it feels that way.

This isn't unusual for EVE Online. Something new is introduced, and we dive in with gusto to master the new mechanic or capability. Then we figure it out, and the once entrancing new toy becomes familiar. I remember learning to solve a Rubik's Cube - I practiced over and over until I could solve the puzzle effortlessly, and then I put it on the shelf, and forgot about it. It's still there, forty years later, untouched for decades. I remember how much I enjoyed playing with it, long ago, but I'm unmotivated to pick it up again.

I'm waiting for some new toys in EVE Online. I'm hoping that industrial platforms prove to be an interesting alternative to POSes, and a tool for successful and profitable invention and manufacturing in high sec. But we don't have enough details yet to know for certain. So, I'm just sitting here, waiting. Meanwhile, my log-in activity averages less than 15 minutes a day, mostly to conduct a routine checklist of maintenance tasks in a perfunctory manner. It's not much fun.

We need some big and exciting new toys to rekindle interest in EVE Online, and we need them badly. We need to see the full realization of the entire vision for new structures, as soon as humanly possible. We need massive revamps and enhancements to wardec mechanics, mission-running, mining, and exploration. We need formal support of non-corporation societies within the game client. We need new space to discover - and compelling reasons to go there. We need to restore a sense of wonder about the potential of flying our ships in New Eden - the feeling that anything is possible.

For me, that sense of wonder has been missing from EVE Online for more than a few months now. 

A Crisis of Confidence

In 1979, US President Jimmy Carter gave his "crisis of confidence" speech, addressing the nation on the effects of the energy shortages at the time. While many criticized Carter for the speech, he made an important point:

The threat is nearly invisible in ordinary ways. It is a crisis of confidence. It is a crisis that strikes at the very heart and soul and spirit of our ... will. We can see this crisis in the growing doubt about the meaning of our own lives and in the loss of a unity of purpose...

There's a lesson to be learned here: when people start to give up hope that things will get better, they start to disengage, and then that disengagement becomes increasingly pervasive and endemic. Thus begins a downward spiral, which is difficult to overcome.

Is EVE Online having a similar crisis of confidence? I submit we are collectively on the brink of one - a crisis created out of a growing perception that not much new is happening, and that the prospects for significant innovations appearing soon are dim, or so far in the future that they are irrelevant.

Jimmy Carter was criticized for describing the problem, but not articulating a vision of a solution. It's well past the time for CCP Seagull to update her vision for the future of EVE Online - not as vague generalizations of intended direction, but with more specificity, starting from today and moving forward. Of all the things I saw at Fanfest in April, her lack of precision in defining the current state of her developmental roadmap was the most disappointing - it was mentioned only in passing during her keynote presentation. I had assumed that as CCP was progressing through the phases of that grand vision, the picture would become ever clearer, as we got closer to the end goals. 

I'm attending EVE Vegas in October. My principal reason for making the trip is to give CCP the opportunity to once again sell me on the future of EVE Online. It is my sincere hope that I will see and hear a fully revised development roadmap - one that takes us from the new structures all the way to stargates and the path to new space, with some general timeframes for when we might see new deliverables.

The EVE Online player community is suffering from a growing feeling of malaise. We need big, shiny new toys to play with in New Eden. And we need a clear, refreshed vision of where we are going and when those new toys will be available. Otherwise, we will fall into a genuine crisis of confidence - and a potentially inescapable death spiral for the game we all enjoy.

Personally, I'm hoping for the best.

Fly safe! o7

 

Horseshoes and Hand Grenades

Early in my career, when I was in the software development business, I worked with a former US Marine who was fond of saying, "This is a horseshoes and hand grenades situation." In other words, we didn't have to be exactly on target with a perfect solution - something that was "close enough" would suffice.

While engaging in the "Shadow of the Serpent" event in EVE Online over the weekend, that catchphrase from my former colleague resonated in my mind. There are aspects of this new style of player-vs-environment (PvE) focused event that I like, but some parts of its structure and execution feel like a near miss. While interacting with the various mission challenges, I keep saying to myself, "This is almost, but not quite, there."

And yet, I'm having fun, regardless - so mission accomplished, CCP Games. In short, "Shadow of the Serpent", as an entertaining PvE diversion, is good enough.

But that hasn't stopped me from thinking of a few suggestions that might help to make the next PvE event - assuming that CCP uses a similar format - even better.

Leverage Lore with Interactive Context

First of all, kudos to CCP Affinity, CCP Falcon and the rest of the lore and community development team for setting up an interesting backstory that explains why this PvE event is happening. Since early May, a series of in-game news reports established the plot line around the Serpentis pirates, which culminates in the current event. If you've been paying attention to the lore, you've known that something has been brewing for a couple months now. (For those not so much into the lore, a dev blog described the event in practical detail.) They also set up a dedicated website promotion

CCP Games did a nice job setting the stage for this PvE event, starting with this dedicated website promotion.

CCP Games did a nice job setting the stage for this PvE event, starting with this dedicated website promotion.

CCP continues to produce interesting and high quality Scope news service videos, illustrating these in-game lore developments.

Alton Haveri reports on the latest developments between the CONCORD Assembly and the Upwell Consortium as a deal is struck for the handover of Serpentis assets seized by mercenary corporations contracted by Upwell.

But a good story, by itself, is not enough to create a feeling of immersion in an event like "Shadow of the Serpent". It's an excellent start, to be sure, but it doesn't help players make sense of the sudden appearance of a new window of event information on their character log-in screen, if they aren't already in tune with the in-game story developments, or if they can't easily access the appropriate lore assets through this window, so they can get proper context.

Putting the event information on the character log-in screen makes it impossible to miss, which is a good thing, as it should help to increase player participation. Increasing visibility in this way was a key objective, as CCP Affinity said in her dev blog:

We received a lot of positive feedback about the past year's events at Fanfest 2016 and at the CSM Summit, but this was tempered by concerns about event visibility. We've been relying on social media, web pages, emails, SCOPE videos, and word of mouth for the events so far, but that has still left some pilots frustrated by missing the call to arms. We want to fix that for Shadow of the Serpent!

The Shadow of the Serpent PvE event challenges appear on the character log-in screen, which make them impossible to ignore - or to miss. Too bad you can't do anything with this window of information, interactively - this is a missed opportunity.

The problem is in how players interact with this new thing on the character screen - I'm not even sure what to call it. It's not really a menu, or a list of select-able options, as there isn't any way to interact with any of the information it displays. If you click on the Scope Network band at the top, nothing happens. If you click on the news ticker just below that, nothing happens. If you click on the event banner picture, nothing happens. Click on any of the listed challenges, nothing happens. If you hover over the status line at the bottom of each challenge listing, floating text descriptions appear, but these are exceedingly brief and perfunctory, and provide little context.

Imagine being a relatively new player, ignorant of the ever-evolving lore, and being suddenly confronted by this unresponsive window of mysterious information. What does it mean? Where did this come from? What am I supposed to do with it? When I click on it, why doesn't anything happen? What am I doing wrong? Why does EVE Online hate me? I think I'll log off, curl up in a dark corner of my room, and have a long cry. This is what a bad user interface experience does to people - or so I've heard.

This new information window operates in the same way in the client, and its equal lack of interactivity there is as frustrating as it is on the character log-in screen.

So, high marks for lore development to CCP for this event, and an "A" for effort towards increasing its visibility - but a failing grade for an unresponsive and potentially very confusing UI experience.

There are several simple things that CCP can do to fix this:

  • Continue to display special PvE event information on the character log-in screen, please. That succeeds in elevating visibility and making the event much more prominent.
  • But please make elements on the PvE event information window interactive. A link from the Scope Network banner and news ticker to a CCP YouTube page of Scope videos, or to the in-game news reports page, would be very informative. A link from the current event banner to the dedicated website, with background information explaining what the event is about, would make it much easier for neophytes (and for the otherwise lore challenged) to understand what the event is all about. An instruction in this window imploring players to click on the new Scope Network icon on the neocom interface in game, in order to receive more details on the event, would be helpful.

A little guidance to click on the new Scope Network icon, on the neocom in the game client, for more event information would help give novice players a nudge in the right direction.

CCP is missing an opportunity to improve the feeling of immersion in this style of PvE event by not making it easier for players to get to those resources, and to find clearer directions about how to get involved. It's so close to being great, but it's not quite there.

Hunting for Guards

One of the first event challenges I decided to pursue was finding and killing a group of Angel Guards. These can be found lurking around stargates, though the challenge gives you no clue about that - a little direction there would have been nice. I figured it out when I saw numerous Angel Guard wrecks on my overview when jumping through several gates. Bingo - they must hang out around gates, I brilliantly concluded. And so, thus began my patrol for Angel Guard targets.

The biggest issue with the Angel Guards challenges isn't killing them, it's finding live ones to kill.

After jumping around through 14 systems in Metropolis, and spending nearly an hour searching for living Angel Guards, and finding only their wrecks, I was about ready to give up the quest. On the way back to my home base, I finally found a group of five Guards on a gate, and dispatched them quickly, before some other enterprising young capsuleer snatched my quarry away from me.

Note to CCP Games: jumping around in high sec for an hour, in search of an assigned PvE objective, does not a happy capsuleer make. Not at all. Here are a couple more suggestions:

  • Spawn assigned targets more frequently, so people can actually finish this kind of low-level, simple quest quickly.
  • Provide more information on the challenge description, to help players know were to look for the assigned target. You could at least say, "They tend to hang out at stargates and harass pilots there - go jump through several systems to find them!" 

The Same Sameness of More of the Same

I do like that players have a variety of challenge types and levels of complexity to choose from in this event. "Shadow of the Serpent" provides a multitude of special assignments, at every level of game experience and proficiency: mining tasks, frigate-focused combat, Incursion missions, Drifter assassinations, and special mission sites at various levels of difficulty, among other possible options. There's something for everyone.

One would not know that from the client interface, however. It currently only displays one challenge on the main screen, with no instructions about how to find the other challenge options. I figured it out only by experimentally clicking the new little TV set icon at the bottom of my neocom - another example of bad UI which assumes prior knowledge to use properly.

Only one event challenge appears on the main client screen. Unless you already know to click on the Scope Network icon on the neocom (the little TV set icon), you'd never know you had multiple challenges to choose from.

Only one event challenge appears on the main client screen. Unless you already know to click on the Scope Network icon on the neocom (the little TV set icon), you'd never know you had multiple challenges to choose from.

Once you find the multiple challenge options in the client, you then discover that many of the mission sites are just like plain old static mission-running dungeon rooms, and once you figure out how to crack one, you simply grind through the formula for each site of the same type. And further, many of the challenges require five of the same type of sites, so you must slog through the same PvE combat experience again and again.

Fortunately, it does not matter if you finish off the site personally, in order to get credit for it. You need only engage at some level with the rats there. As long as someone kills all the targets and picks up the contents of the spawned research container, thus finishing the mission, you will get credit for it. And since the sites are visible on everyone's overview, I rarely found one that didn't already have several players banging away at red icons there. I collected credit for completing Serpentis R&D sites by simply flying in, killing a single rat, and then flying off to the next one, leaving the container and the rest of the targets to others already working that site. If you're not interested in snatching the goodies in the containers, and are focusing only on completing the assigned challenge, that strategy is the most efficient, though one gives up the commensurate bounty rewards - it minimizes the sameness of the experience, at least.

If only these sites were dynamically generated - something I've longed for in EVE Online for years now. But I digress - for the present, PvE sites are static, and we must tolerate their ever enduring consistency.

Work as Its Own Reward

Speaking of challenge rewards, I've read mixed reviews about how lucrative they are. Some people report finding valuable items. Others seem to feel that the ISK value per hour isn't very good.

Personally, I don't care about the rewards themselves. I'm relatively space-rich, so fighting over containers for phat loot isn't something that inspires me. I'm much more interested in completing enough assignments to get the prizes at the 10K, 25K and 50K levels. I think I can get to the first two levels, but I suspect that the 50K level will remain out of my reach before the event ends in a month.

Nevertheless, I've found completing the "Shadow of the Serpent" challenges to be more fun than grinding through level 4 missions. I find myself irresistibly driven to attain the assigned prize levels.

Keep Trying, CCP!

I was in a bit of a funk about EVE Online over the last couple of months, but I have to give credit where credit is due: "Shadow of the Serpent" has rekindled some of my interest in the game, and I am enjoying it quite a lot. This event design has flaws, certainly, but for now, it's certainly good enough.

With a few tweaks to the interface, this new style of PvE event could become a fantastic experience for both novices and bittervets like myself. I hope that CCP continues to iterate and improve on this new model. It's close to great now - with a little more work, it could be right on target.

Fly safe! o7

 

Listlessness

I've felt exceptionally listless about EVE Online over the last couple of months, and have fallen into a standard daily routine. I log in, glance at my mail, review my invention and manufacturing jobs, fuel the POS, collect and store any newly-constructed Tech II items in my hangar, start a new round of industry jobs, update my planetary interaction processes, and log off. As needed, I also log into my trading alt in Jita to buy raw materials and arrange with Red Frog to courier those items to my manufacturing operations.

This is what playing EVE Online feels like to me lately...

This is what playing EVE Online feels like to me lately...

As a result, I've been actively logging into EVE Online for only a paltry 15 minutes per day, more or less.

Even at this low level of engagement, over the last seven weeks, I've amassed nearly 5 billion ISK in inventory of Tech II modules for sale, or so the crude in-game value estimator tells me whenever I peek into that container. Each day, I gaze at that figure for a moment or two, and ponder hauling everything to market, but I never seem to gather enough energy or enthusiasm for actually doing so. And so, my hoard of modules continues to amass, tucked away in a dark station corner.

When the daily reward for killing a solitary NPC was available, I would sometimes undock a Gnosis, fly to a local anomaly, kill a rat, and promptly dock up again. But that soon began to feel like yet another tedious chore, and I gave it up after a while. When CCP Rise announced that daily rewards were being discontinued, because they were not increasing the level of player participation as hoped, I was not surprised, and I didn't really care when they vanished.

This morning, while mechanically performing my now familiar list of in-game tasks, I asked myself: am I really having any fun, doing this same routine in EVE Online, day after day?

Oddly, yes - I must admit that despite the humdrum nature of my current style of play, I am still enjoying myself. There's something comforting and rewarding in doing a job well, even if it is a repetitive one, and in seeing the fruits of one's labors grow. That's why I don't really want to sell my manufactured items in the market. I like seeing their estimated value get a little larger each day.

My inventory of POS fuel is sufficient to keep my medium tower operating for at least another six weeks, so I made a resolution to myself to let things go on as they have been, until my stocks run dry. At that point, I'll be forced to embark on some new project in New Eden - or make more POS fuel to continue my dull routine.

What that new project might be, I have not yet decided. But I've considered several alternatives.

Why not just quit?

The idea of giving up EVE Online altogether and putting my characters in cold storage passed through my mind, but I quickly discarded it. After all, I am still enjoying the game, even though I'm at an all-time low for active engagement in it. I still feel like I'm getting decent value out of my subscription fees.

Perhaps this is because I'm still semi-active in the EVE Online community, even though I may not be pursuing new goals in the game itself at the moment. I check the #tweetfleet posts on Twitter. I examine at the Total EVE listings every day, to see what people are posting. I'm reading the latest dev blogs and forum posts as avidly as ever. I tuned in to watch the latest o7 show, curious to hear what news it may bring. I continue to download and listen to my favorite EVE podcasts during my business travels.

I even bought a ticket to EVE Vegas, and arranged for a nice room at the Cosmopolitan, across the street from Planet Hollywood, the venue for the event. I'm anticipating that by the end of October, my enthusiasm for the game should be revived. Or, at the very least, going to a big EVE community event should reinvigorate my interest once again - or so I hope.

My listlessness stems mostly from a feeling of disillusionment. I was hoping that Fanfest 2016 would reveal some new in-game projects worth pursuing, but instead, there wasn't much news of interest for my preferred industrial-focused and PvE-centric playstyle. For me, Fanfest 2016 felt like realizing your supposed girlfriend is ignoring you, and deciding to tolerate it in hopes that eventually it will all work out. This may be wishful thinking on my part, but for now, I'm content to simply wait, and drift along on inertia, until something interesting happens.

EVE Online and me - at least, it sort of feels like this right now...

EVE Online and me - at least, it sort of feels like this right now...

How about a Citadel?

Someone put up a new Astrahus citadel in my sleepy backwater high-sec system. I flew nearby to take a gander, and enjoyed the beautiful visuals - the new citadels are indeed impressive-looking structures. I tried to dock, but was refused, so I went back to my standard routine.

I've considered replacing my simple POS tower with a shiny new citadel, just to check it out and become more familiar with the operating mechanics, but my initial analysis shows that to run a citadel safely and profitably, one should do so with a team in a dedicated corporation. Citadels aren't especially well-suited for independent, solo players, which is my default playstyle these days.

Besides, I'm much more interested in the forthcoming industrial arrays, which I suspect will be better tuned to my industry focus. I'm hoping that these might be the spark that rekindles a more active interest in EVE Online once again.

What about the Signal Cartel?

I became an official peace-mongering space hippie way back in February, but I have not yet done much with my new corp. This is entirely my own fault, as I've not completely tuned into everything going on, and I'm still not sure how to best get involved.

I did make my way to Thera, and logged off at a nice safe spot, but since then, I've not taken advantage of any of my new corp's resources or activities. I need to get into the corp's subreddit (though I loathe reddit, as a general rule) and poke around. Perhaps my corpmates can give me a few ideas. I certainly want to get more active before I meet our CEO, Mynxee, at EVE Vegas.

How about the Shadow of the Serpent?

As I said, when the "Thrill of the Hunt" recurring "kill-an-NPC-a-day" opportunity got dropped, I didn't really care. But I have been intrigued by the replacement set of opportunities that have appeared, as part of the "Shadow of the Serpent" event. If this represents the direction of how PvE options will be served up to players, I think I like it. I've not yet been motivated enough to start pursuing some of these options, but seeing them listed on the log-in screen has gotten my attention, and I plan to try a few over the weekend.

I like how the Shadow of the Serpent PvE options are served up, right on the character log-in screen. This has potential...

I've long lamented the state of PvE in EVE Online, and have written at length about ways it could be improved in this blog. While this simple listing of PvE options is far from the more comprehensive revamp I hope for, it at least is a firm step in the right direction.

I've seen some players complain about the levels of rewards for doing these special missions, but I don't understand their perspective. Shouldn't the successful completion of the mission be reward enough? After all, this is a game - if the missions aren't sufficiently engaging and interesting to warrant pursuing them, regardless of the potential rewards, then doing them solely for in-game pay is simply a chore. Personally, I'm looking forward to trying them, and seeing if they are a challenge.

Waiting for What's Next

So, I'm in a bit of a holding pattern, at the moment, in EVE Online. I'm not heavily engaged, but I've not given up altogether either. I'm just sort of drifting along, checking off my daily duties, and continuing to generate a modest amount of ISK.

Mostly, I'm waiting for something new in the game to reinvigorate my interest. And that is just fine, for now. Perhaps by EVE Vegas, I'll become more passionate about flying internet spaceships again.

Perhaps.

Fly safe! o7