The Passivity Purge

Dirk MacGirk, the omnipresent impresario of EVE Online media, co-founder of the extremely useful TotalEve news aggregation site, and ever-affable EVE video stream/podcast host invited me to be a guest on the "Open Comms" show last night. For those not familiar with the show, it's a weekly informal discussion of developments in EVE Online. Sometimes it gets exceedingly informal, as the crew likes to imbibe Tito's vodka and other adult beverages during the two-hour conversation. Basically, each episode is a rowdy, fun mini-party for EVE aficionados. I'm a faithful listener, and I recommend it to all EVE Online fans.

Dirk had read my previous blog post, and he asked me to chat about potential developments for mining and PvE - topics near and dear to my preferred industrialist playstyle. The show's regulars are a tightly-knit bunch and very passionate about expressing their points of view, so it's hard to get a word in edgewise sometimes, but I had a lot of fun regardless, and I managed to make a couple of semi-coherent comments.

Tito's Handmade Vodka - the official beverage of the Open Comms show

Tito's Handmade Vodka - the official beverage of the Open Comms show

At one point, BigCountry suggested a few ideas for improving mining, and I congratulated him on his genius, as they closely mirrored some suggestions I had written about in my post. That led to some friendly razzing about the definition of "genius" and who qualified for such an accolade, but I digress. The point is there are some surprisingly good ideas for making mining in EVE more engaging and fun.

EVE financial expert Lockefox, host of the EVE Prosper show, had also joined as a guest, and he made an important but highly controversial suggestion: that potential income from all passive activities, including the current mining mechanics, should be dramatically reduced, across the board. I agree wholeheartedly with Lockefox, provided that such cuts are offset by higher returns from active player engagement.

It appears that the developers at CCP Games are favoring this direction. With rising frequency, they have been incorporating changes that emphasize and reward dynamic participation. For example, the new Citadels require players to operate modules directly - a significant departure from the generally passive defenses of player-owned starbases (POSes). Another example is the pending revamp to fleet boosting, which will require command ships to be on grid with combatants, and not just passively broadcasting system-wide bonuses from remote safe spots, far from the action.

The Rising Value of Activity

If CCP were to apply the dual ideas of penalizing passive mechanics and rewarding active player engagement to resource harvesting in EVE Online, I suspect many who have made fortunes with the current AFK-friendly mechanics would vigorously oppose such changes.

Imagine if mining under the current simple mechanics generated only half of their present yields (or perhaps even less) - and that higher levels of production required more frequent player interactions during the mining process. These interactions could be in the form of some type of optimizing mini-game (an idea that Lockefox dislikes), or other type of "fine tuning" that requires ongoing player input. In other words, miners would have to actually pay attention and issue commands throughout their mining routines, in order to maximize yields and potential income.

Many who mine only as a means to other ends - that is, as a way to generate ISK to pay for PvP ships, ammo and modules, for example - will likely rebel and protest loudly against such changes. Most of these players are not interested in becoming mining experts. They are only concerned about finding the easiest ways to generate sufficient ISK to pursue their desired aims. But the trend is clear - CCP wants players who are actively playing the game, who earn rewards commensurate with the degree of their in-game engagement and interaction, even if this results in a lower number of concurrently logged-in accounts.

In other words, CCP believes that players who are actively interacting in EVE Online are higher quality customers, and more likely to be more loyal subscribers, than those who passively tolerate in-game activities only as means to other, more valued goals.

The Inevitable Moon Mining Revolution

If CCP follows this trend to its logical conclusion, then moon mining, as it exists today, is doomed. Perhaps the most imbalanced mechanic in EVE Online, from a passive rewards standpoint, moon mining generates consistent returns for very little ongoing effort. This is exactly the kind of passive gameplay that CCP is now campaigning against, and it seems inevitable that it will be discarded, in favor of models requiring more active player involvement.

What this new moon mining model looks like is anyone's guess, at this point. During the Open Comms show, Lockefox suggested some kind of depletion mechanic to encourage more care and attention from moon mining managers. Perhaps this could be similar to the model used by planetary interaction today, where resource volume and location changes over time, requiring periodic adjustments in order to maximize results.

Such changes would dramatically interrupt the status quo, and could potentially throw the entire EVE Online economy into disarray, so I'm sure CCP will approach moon mining alterations with extreme caution. But in a New Eden that increasingly rewards more active and frequent engagement, moon goo production is looking more and more like a strange anachronism.

Farewell to Passivity

If the elimination of passive elements of EVE Online is indeed a developmental trend for CCP, then there are aspects other than resource harvesting worthy of scrutiny. A few examples include:

  • R&D Agents - while datacore farming was made less lucrative in 2012, it still remains a mostly passive reward, once the agent relationship is established. The entire process for datacore production could benefit from another development review. I like how they are used as faction warfare rewards, but I'd also like to see them moved from a passive R&D agent activity to a new type of planetary interaction result, which would put datacore production under more direct player control.
  • Planetary Interaction - though it does require periodic tweaking and restarting, PI is still mostly a passive income source. Personally, I think the current flexible design, allowing player choice of the cycle interval, which rewards more frequent interventions, to be about perfect, but I bet most people have their cycles set to more lengthy periods, like a week or more, which may be more passive than CCP would prefer.
  • Missions and Complexes - the current static and predictable nature of most missions enable players to complete them with minimal risk, and often, with minimal involvement. For highly skilled pilots, level 4 missions are often simply a matter of flying a Rattlesnake (or similar drone boat) into a room, micro jump 100 km away, deploy sentries, kill all the red symbols, rinse, repeat. While it does require a modicum of sporadic attention, mission running can quickly become a semi-passive activity, and this needs to change.

EVE Online has had passive options for so long, no matter how or when CCP introduces expected changes, there will be a lot of grousing and complaining from veterans who are used to easy, predictable ISK-generation routines. But if CCP is right about active play producing more long-term subscriber loyalty, then such an emphasis makes good sense - for both the player experience, and for CCP's long-term business.

Fly safe! o7