Kids These Days

Relative to the general EVE Online playing population, I'm a old man, and therefore admittedly prone to being somewhat curmudgeonly. With disturbingly increasing frequency, I find myself complaining to my fellow corpmates in chat, and saying things like, "Back when I first started playing EVE Online, things were a lot more complicated, and we liked it that way. These kids today have no idea how good they have it now." I imagine I sound like a cranky not-quite-sexagenarian, shaking my cane testily from my rocking chair. The younger players in chat (and they are all younger, apparently) just laugh at me, of course.

This is not me. But I feel like this sometimes when I'm talking with new EVE Online players...

This is not me. But I feel like this sometimes when I'm talking with new EVE Online players...

Nevertheless, my observation is not without some merit. Things are indeed easier today for new players, compared to when I started playing in 2009. In some ways, they are a lot easier. This is generally a good thing. CCP's progressive expunging of needless complexity, and their selective simplification of complicated mechanics, has made EVE Online more accessible over time, and a more pleasant experience in play.

My growing concern - one shared with many other veteran players - is that CCP may be going too far in simplifying EVE Online's features. As I said at the end of an article I wrote for Crossing Zebras, "...'bittervets' like me, who had to master a more complex [EVE Online], may complain that youngsters in New Eden have it all too easy compared to what we had to endure..." We worry that CCP sometimes confuses "simpler" with "better", and in their zeal to make the game more appealing to a wider audience, dilutes or destroys some of the interesting aspects of EVE Online.

Regarding clones

Recently, CCP Falcon announced that the long-established requirement for 8.0 or higher standings with an NPC corporation in order to acquire a jump clone would no longer apply. Apparently, this was not a long-debated and well-considered feature change, with input from the CSM, but rather, the serendipitous result of sloppy programming. In his bulletin, CCP Falcon said, "This was an unintended change that was a side effect of the [Aegis update], however, after watching the reaction this change received from the community, we have decided that it will remain in place. This means that pilots will be able to continue to benefit from having no standings restriction on jump clone creation."

Previous to this change, there was value in grinding missions all the way up to 8.0+ standings with properly equipped NPC corporations, in order to get direct access to jump clone facilities, or to share those standings with others in a player corp, so that they could have access to the same facilities. Some independent corps, such as Estel Arador Corp Services, specialized in doing exactly this - they allowed players to join, secure jump clones and leave, as a service to capsuleers everywhere.

I myself ground out hundreds of Level 4 missions with Brutor Tribe and the Federation Navy, in order to get direct access to jump clone facilities in their respective NPC stations. At the time, I really did not need to do this, but it was a worthy goal to strive for, and it turned out to be very useful afterwards.

All my extra effort means nothing now. With this change, brand spanking new pilots can now get jump clones just about anywhere in high-sec, anytime, without any prerequisites or planning. How nice for them.

I enjoyed CCP Falcon's semi-apology at the end of his bulletin: "While we are aware that there are a number of specialist corporations who provide jump clone creation services that may be affected by this change, and we give them our most sincere thanks for the years of tireless service, we feel that the removal of the restriction has wide reaching benefits for pilots across the cluster."

Let me translate this from CCP-speak into plain English: We screwed up. We don't want to fix it, so we now declare a bug to be a feature. To those who expended enormous effort to get the standings required, too bad for you. Have a nice day.

Let's also not forget the preceding changes to medical clones wrought by the Rhea release, which eliminated clone grades and costs, and thus did away with any danger of losing skill points if you were podded. Having experienced such an admittedly stupid loss myself, I was happy to see this change. But now I am beginning to wonder: is safer and simpler really better, or is it only easier? And how far should CCP iterate on a feature? Could making a game mechanic simple and easy cause it to become meaningless?

Kids these days have no idea how good they've got it. Back in my day, you had to make some effort to earn your jump clones, and do a little thinking to ensure your clones were useful. Not any more, no sirree! (shakes cane disgustedly)

Back in the good old days...

There have been many changes to EVE Online over the last few years that have a similar emphasis on simplification. In aggregate, the game is much easier to play, without a doubt - but I am beginning to wonder about what has been lost in the process.

The feeling of accomplishment that I feel when first mastering a complex mechanic in EVE Online is coming only at ever-longer intervals now. And in retrospect, if I was starting EVE Online today for the first time, many of the joys I felt previously would no longer be available. Many of the opportunities for discovering how to manage a challenging feature have been smoothed over by easier user interfaces or reductions in nuance.

Here are a few such features that new players no longer have to work so hard to master:

  • Elimination of standings for high-sec POSes - Back when I first decided to become a high-sec industrialist, I had to grind standings with NPC corps in order to increase my faction standing, and thus earn the right to establish a POS in an empire-controlled system. I worked hard to increase my standings with Minmatar corps, so that I could establish a POS in a 0.6 system. After Crius, this requirement simply vanished. Once again, the value of developing a high standing with an NPC entity was wiped away.
  • Finding cosmic anomalies - Before the Odyssey release, the results of your on-board system scanner were displayed only when requested, as part of your directional scanner interface. You had to fly around to various planets in a system to find anomalies, or use probes to locate them. After Odyssey, anomalies simply appeared in space as part of your initial system scan, making them much more accessible. I think I miss the old days, when you had to expend a little effort to discover those sites.
  • Simplified probing - Using probes was once a complex and challenging skill, and highly prized by fleet commanders. An experienced combat prober was worth their weight in morphite, so to speak. But over the years, probing has become easier and easier. This has made exploration more accessible as a career option to more pilots, but it has diminished the value of well-developed probing specialists. In my opinion, probing has become a little too quick, easy and accurate, without a lot of skill training or practice required.
  • The safety button - With the introduction of the revamped Crimewatch system, a "safety button" was added, which made it impossible for new pilots to accidentally become a valid target for CONCORD or other pilots in high-sec space. In general, I think this has been a good addition, especially for new players, though I must admit I now miss the slight tension I felt when making decisions in flight, even in high-sec. Back then, I knew the criminal flagging mechanics very well, because one had to know them to avoid making a fatal mistake. Today, few new pilots know anything about how Crimewatch really works, because they don't have to - they just make sure their safety is set to green and blithely traverse the high-sec spacelanes with nary a care.
  • Learning Skills elimination - One of the first things I did when I got serious about developing my character was to set up a two-year long skill training program in EVEMon, optimized for the maximum skill points in the shortest time. This meant spending a few months dedicated to developing "learning skills", which basically increased your attributes and made you learn skills faster. It was a rite of passage that all serious capsuleers needed to complete, if they were dedicated to long-term development. CCP eliminated learning skills, giving everyone who took them a credit in skill points back, so technically nothing was lost. But I think the game discarded an important initiation rite - one that every player groaned about, but which provided a common experience that we all endured. It was kind of sad to see them go, especially since new players today have no idea what that shared tradition was like.
  • Warping to zero at gates - Not too long before I joined EVE Online, CCP introduced the "warp to 0" option when traveling to gates. Before then, pilots would end up about 15 km off a gate, every time they warped to one. Many pilots developed and kept their own library of "warp to 0" bookmarks, which they either developed themselves over time, or guardedly shared with corpmates. Today, new pilots not only can warp to zero, but can also automatically jump through on arrival, if they so desire. They have no idea how much easier travel between gates is now. Can you imagine what ganking would be like today, if new players could not warp on top of the next gate and jump straight through? I'm surprised that CODE or Marmite haven't demanded regressing to this previous state, declaring such a move the "salvation of high sec" or something equally grandiose.
  • Countless "little thing" interface improvements - God bless CCP Karkur, CCP Punkturis and all the other devs who toil steadfastly to find ways to make our lives a bit easier. Thanks to them, we now have multisell, useful icons, a cleaner UI, a better map, the ISIS ship guide, revamped certificates, and a gazillion other incremental improvements all designed to make the game easier to play. I remember actually cheering when I first used the "Loot all" button. New players seriously have no clue how much better their experience is now. I envy them a bit.

While I applaud most of the improvements that CCP has made to EVE Online, I urge them to take care not to go too far - oversimplifying and making things too easy will simply make the game dull. For example, CCP Rise and other devs have said they'd like to eliminate attributes, suggesting they - and remapping them - are needlessly complex. As they are now, I have to agree that attributes add little to the game.

But what if they did?  What if CCP enhanced their role and enabled attributes to affect ship systems and other bonuses in gameplay, and did more than just determine the rate of new skill completion? What if attributes added more complexity - and more player choices in how they could specialize their character?

CCP dropped Teams as a feature, citing their low rate of use. I never thought the problem with Teams was their difficulty in application, but rather, that they were not a fully realized feature - just as attributes are today. Sometimes, the best course might be not to lop off unfulfilled features entirely, but to invest in their development as a completely new game mechanic - one that provides new choices and opportunities for player interaction and competition. Often, complex systems produce more meaningful content. Chess is a far more interesting game than checkers.

Fly safe! o7