The following is the first of a two-part proposal for improving EVE Online. It brings up an old topic that has been often discussed, but hopefully, offers a fresh perspective.
Thirty years ago, I enjoyed "play by mail" games (PBM). Like "hair bands" and disco, PBM games were popular in the 1980's, but rapidly faded away as video games became more sophisticated (and more fun). Some good PBM games, like Starweb, still run today. There was one PBM game that I particularly enjoyed called Empyrean Challenge (EC), which also still runs today, in a modified version.
In EC, you start with a single planet to manage - industry, research, population, resources, etc. You develop starships, then expand into nearby systems, building an empire. Eventually, you meet other players doing the same thing. Chaos and war ensues, until one victor (or alliance) triumphs.
While EC players can research and develop increasing levels of technology, the most important resource is people. Without a growing population, you cannot mine resources, manage industry, colonize new worlds, or develop armies and navies to defend and expand your empire.
Way back when I played the original version of EC, I built some impressive spreadsheets to help manage my population base. I had to balance growth against employment, health and education levels. If I did it poorly, I ended up with population dying off or rising up in rebellion. It was a tricky problem, but fun to solve.
I haven't played EC in a long time, but I still remember it fondly. It was a beautifully constructed game - well balanced, and fun to play, albeit very slowly.
Today, I play EVE Online. As I fly my starships past temperate planets, I see the twinkling lights of cities on their surface. I think about the populations I once managed in EC, and I wonder: what are all the people in New Eden doing tonight?
Where is everybody?
According to official lore, our ships have crews - human beings who do stuff on board. What, exactly, they do, is somewhat unclear - but they are there, and at least some of them die whenever a ship explodes.
Many EVE Online players resist the idea that there are other souls aboard our ships - they would prefer that they were piloted only by our capsuleer alter egos. Some say that crews are just irrelevant, and that in the far future setting of New Eden, it makes more sense that ships would be completely automated.
It's also clear that CCP would prefer to ignore ship crews as a possible game mechanic, too. Although the CSM, players, bloggers, and even the now discontinued EON magazine made serious proposals to incorporate crews into ship management and fittings, CCP has simply ignored these ideas.
However, I think that CCP is missing a great opportunity, not just to add an interesting ship feature, but to embrace a broader and more important theme in EVE Online - the introduction of population in New Eden as the most valuable resource in the game.
At its core, EVE Online has always been about control of resources. OTEC (Organization of Technetium Exporting Corporations), for example, effectively controlled the supply of Technetium, earning billions of profits for the participating alliances. The recent CFC-TEST war was driven by the desire to capture new resource-producing moons. The recently announced Caldari ice interdiction is another example of market manipulation through resource reduction. Everywhere in New Eden, corps and players mine, conduct planetary interaction, salvage and reprocess to collect resources to sell and build things.
And yet, EVE Online completely ignores human resources, with the sole exception being capsuleer pilots. We are told that the populations of the empire factions are vast (other than the Jove, who very well may be dead), yet we never interact with them beyond dialogues with agents in stations. In my mind, this is a wasted opportunity, and the EVE Online universe would be far richer and more rewarding if we, as capsuleers, recognized the value of people, and could employ them to realize our aspirations and goals, as a pervasive mechanic throughout the game's design.
Assemble the crew!
So, how could crews work in EVE Online?
I propose that every ship (with the possible exception of shuttles) includes a new button on their fitting window: for crew management.
This button would bring up the crew management window.
Notice that I've suggested five slots for crew, each providing bonuses for different ship systems. I'm using the same system designations as those used for subsystems on Tech III strategic cruisers, because it makes sense to keep that symmetry.
I think players should be allowed to ignore crewing their ships entirely, if they wish. Unfilled slots would be considered automated. Automated crews would provide no bonuses. Ships with an all-automated crew would fly exactly as they do now.
To crew ships, players would drop "crew modules" into the appropriate crew management slot, just like they drop modules on the ship fitting window today. Each crew module would be categorized by racial faction and crew system. So, there would be Gallente, Caldari, Amarr and Minmatar crew modules for each crewed system: defensive, electronics, engineering, offensive and propulsion. (So, there's be a Minmatar Propulsion crew module, for example.) The crew modules would also be designated by Training level - from I to V - in the upper right corner (like Tech II modules are shown today).
Players would recruit their crews by "paying a recruiting fee" (i.e., buying them) in markets in stations, just as you'd acquire any other item. Stations located over more temperate/habitable planets might offer crew at lower fees, while markets in stations located over unpopulated planets would offer only a few crew to recruit. And perhaps the amounts of different crews by faction could vary by sovereignty of the system or station - you'd find more Caldari crew in Caldari space or on a Cardari station, for example. Only Level I trained crew modules would be seeded in the markets.
You would not be able to assign a crew module to a ship of a different faction. For example, you could not put an Amarr Propulsion crew module on a Hurricane. For pirate ships, you could put either type of crew faction on that ship. For example, on a Rattlesnake, you could assign either Caldari or Gallente crew modules.
Training crews to higher levels, and therefore to get higher bonuses, would work similar to how invention operates today. Stations would provide "training academy" slots, which would operate similarly to manufacturing, invention or copying. In fact, it would make sense if academies were restricted to the NPC school corps in the game, such as Pator Tech School or the School of Applied Knowledge - perhaps even restricting different crew factions to their particular schools. Players would have to train a skill, "Crew Training", to be able to use training academy slots.
To train a crew module from Level I to Level II, it would require committing a crew module to be trained, plus a set of relevant skillbooks. There would be a chance of failure (like the invention process), dependent on the level of Crew Training skill. The skillbooks would be consumed regardless of success or failure. The Crew Training skill would also determine the level to which that player could train crew, and the level of crew that they could assign on ships. For example, Crew Training V would be required to assign a level V trained crew module on a ship.
Players could earn recruiting fees by offering their trained crews in the market, on or contracts.
Crew modules would provide modest incremental bonuses to different ship functions, dependent on their level. An Amarr Propulsion crew module, might provide +2% speed per crew level trained, up to a maximum bonus of +10%, on an Amarr ship.
Crew would be paid a set schedule of ISK per day, depending on their level. Each Level I crew might be paid 100 ISK per day, where Level V might be paid 1,000 ISK per day. If a crew goes unpaid, they might resign (you lose that unit), or they might lose their level of skill training.
This crew system would establish a whole new set of ISK sinks in EVE Online (crew recruiting fees, skillbooks, training fees, crew payroll), and also create a new industry: advanced crew training and brokering.
There could be special crew modules with extra bonuses discovered in complexes or exploration sites, or for earning recruiting fees from other players in the market.
If a crewed ship is destroyed, the crew would be lost - unless there was an escape pod system installed on that ship, perhaps as a rig or a low slot module, or an option for both. That would force players who use crews to think about how they might preserve their investment, but at the expense of some ship performance.
Heave to and prepare to be boarded!
Beyond training and assigning crew to ships, I envision using human resources in another way to give ship-to-ship combat a whole new dimension.
What if CCP introduced a new ship module? One that would allow players to use marines to penetrate and board enemy ships. This is also not a new idea, but as part of a broader theme of the value of people in EVE Online, it's worth another look.
Players could recruit marines from the market, just like crew. They could also be trained at higher levels of effectiveness, using the academy training mechanic described above. Each level would represent higher firepower.
To board a ship, the attacker would maneuver within 500 meters of the target, and then engage a boarding module - a high slot module that could be fitted only on certain types of ships. That would release the marines from the cargo bay. Each marine would have a chance to penetrate the target ship, and seize control of that vessel. if successful, the enemy capsuleer's pod would be ejected from that ship, and the target would go inert, ready to be boarded by a friendly pilot.
Perhaps such a boarding module could be restricted to a new type of ship - a specialized destroyer or cruiser with a designated marine boarding bay. That would keep this tactic limited to specialized boarding craft - and the defender would know that those ships are a different kind of threat.
How would ships defend against such a threat? By carrying their own trained marines in their cargo holds to fight off any penetrating enemies. Or perhaps they could fit a special anti-boarding module to kill off the marines before they could penetrate the hull? The possibilities are interesting to contemplate.