What Do You BeliEVE?

Once again, expert EVE Online conversationalist Dirk MacGirk invited me back to the Open Comms show, this time to chat about the latest developments on Alpha clones and PvE (player vs. environment) content. I enjoy being a guest on this show, though I am invariably exhausted afterwards. The regular panelists all bring very passionate perspectives on the game, and this always produces very animated discussions that can feel like verbal jujitsu, as everyone wrestles to include their points of view.

We discussed the recent PvE "town hall", which was hosted by CSM representative Jin'Taan on EVE University's Mumble server last week. Dirk and I were both a little disappointed in that event, as it was mostly a qualitative review of different types of existing PvE experiences in the game - missions, complexes, exploration, incursions, anomalies, etc. Not a bad discussion to have, by any means, but not exactly the format to elicit any new and groundbreaking ideas.

CCP is definitely working on PvE content. CCP Seagull teased some "exciting new developments in PvE" at the beginning of the most recent o7 Show. The question is: are these developments simply incremental iterations of existing PvE options, or will they be something truly novel? I suspect we will have to wait for EVE Vegas at the end of October to find out.

EVE Content Religions

I'm always surprised at the intensity and diversity of responses that the subject of PvE in EVE Online provokes. It's like stating a religious opinion - sure to generate a strong reaction, and in sometimes unpredictable ways. Simply mention PvE in EVE Online to a fellow player, and you'll immediately know the brand of content religion to which they hold allegiance.

There are the fanatic PvP extremists who intone their mantra, "EVE is a PvP game" with fervor, as if it was a declaration of divinely delivered truth. These players believe that any investment in PvE is a blasphemy against the "real EVE", and diminishes their dearly-held sacred dogma that nothing truly matters except players' ships killing other players' ships. Suggest any kind of equivalency of importance of PvE with PvP, and the extremists all go into apoplectic spasms of violent rage and utter disgust. To the PvP fanatics, PvE is a sin, and all who choose it over PvP must be ridiculed and expunged vigorously, in tribute to the god of the almighty F1 key.

There are the money counters, who belong to several different orders, but all are devoted to the idea that "EVE is ISK" and nothing matters but money. They want PvE to be invariable, predictable and lucrative, so they can generate as much in-game cash for as little effort as possible. Their principal tenet is the holy credo of "ISK per hour", which is the only true measure of goodness. Suggest that PvE could be made more dynamic, and money counters go berserk with revulsion and shock, as such sacrilege threatens the essence of their ideal - a state of infinite ISK inflow with nil effort or time.

There are the technicians, who study various forms of PvE to levels of depth that would alarm even the most fastidious scientist. They see PvE as a puzzle to be solved, and they believe that EVE enlightenment comes from a deep and intimate understanding of the mechanics of their chosen specialization. Here you will find masters of minimization and maximization, who fret about discovering how to complete the exploration mini-game in one less click, or how to precisely place ships in an Incursion mission room for optimum effect, or how to identify the perfect fitting for clearing a Sleeper site most efficiently. They earn ISK from PvE, to be sure, but their primary motivation is the joy they feel from attaining absolute mastery.

There are the lore seekers, who see PvE as the means by which New Eden's backstory is revealed. They believe that EVE enlightenment arises from discovering tidbits of information in PvE that illuminate the previously unknown, and provide clues to the mysteries of the ancient races of New Eden. Any suggestion that EVE Online would be better with less emphasis on the mythos and legends of New Eden wounds lore seekers deeply. Lore seekers demand a constant stream of new PvE content - it is the lifeblood in which they revel and thrive in the game.

There are the dirty casuals, who fly lower-level missions and simple system anomalies only for the pleasure of seeing little red icons go boom. They are not interested in earning wealth, or solving deep mysteries, or becoming experts, and they do not have time to find other pilots to fight. They simply want to log into the game for a while, and have a bit of quick and easy fun. They are not interested in enlightenment, or in playing EVE with any kind of depth or intensity. All of the other more dedicated sects of EVE content religions regard the casuals with distaste, and hold them in low esteem. Soon, with the introduction of Alpha clones, the dirty casuals will find themselves in a lower caste of EVE Online playerdom - and they will embrace this with joy.

CCP's Challenge

The diversity of player opinions about game content, and specifically, about the "best" forms of PvE, presents a real challenge to CCP Games' developers. This wide range of beliefs virtually guarantees that whatever new PvE content that CCP produces will fail to win over everyone. There will always be some segment that will see it as "wrong" for the game, as seen from the perspective of their chosen EVE content religion.

As for me, I have always enjoyed PvE in EVE Online, though I am much less engaged in it as I once was. I became somewhat of a money counter in level 4 mission-running for a while, until I started earning more ISK from Tech II invention and manufacturing. The recent "Shadow of the Serpent" event revived some of my interest in PvE, and I enjoyed running many of those assigned tasks while the event lasted. But those assignments also reminded me of what I hope to see added to EVE's PvE options.

EVE does offer quite a diversity of PvE alternatives, but one thing it does not offer is a form of PvE that bridges more smoothly into PvP activity. Burner missions are the closest that we have to this today, and they can be quite challenging, though they too can be cracked and farmed, once a player unlocks how to fit and fly each of them.

Bridging PvE to PvP

To create this bridge, I long for a new form of PvE based on two qualities: dynamic generation and responsive design.

  • Dynamically generated PvE would be unpredictable. The construction of a mission, and the NPC targets that inhabit it, would be generated spontaneously on selection, and no two missions would look exactly alike. Ideally, the mission design would take into account the level of mastery of the player - perhaps revealed by their certificates - and adjust content accordingly. A player flying into a dynamically generated mission would not know how the mission room would be constructed, or even what kinds of targets they would encounter, except in a very general sense. This would force the player to omnitank and fit their ship as if they were flying into a PvP situation - something that current mission-runners rarely do.
  • Responsively designed PvE would scale up or down depending on what kinds and numbers of ships that players fly into the mission room. Whether they fly a solo frigate or a fleet of battleships, players in a responsive mission would see waves of reinforcements that scale up or down, relative to the strength of the player threat. With a responsive design, mission level designations become meaningless.

In addition, I would love to see mission NPCs act as much as possible like players do in PvP situations. I want to see them use drones, electronic warfare, and flight techniques that a player would see in a typical PvP encounter. CCP has been experimenting with greatly improved AI for NPCs for quite a while now, and we've seen considerable advances in this regard, but more work needs to be done. When a player cannot tell if they are flying against an AI or a real player, then we will have achieved the optimum state for PvE design.

Threatening Belief Systems

When I described my vision of dynamic and responsive PvE design during the Open Comms show, I was surprised at the negative responses it received. Some fanatic PvP extremists dismissed it outright - they want to maintain a clear gap between PvE and PvP, as they believe this will encourage more players to abandon PvE and embrace their preferred playstyle. A couple of apparent money counters disliked the unpredictability, as that poses a threat to their "ISK per hour" efficiency paradigm. An obvious technician had a hard time wrapping his head around the idea of an ever-changing unsolvable puzzle - he decided it was an unreachable ideal, and that CCP could never produce it.

But I remain steadfast in my hope that CCP will one day introduce the style of dynamic and responsive PvE that I desire. I think it would add a whole new richness to the game, and help make it easier for more players to transition into PvP, if they so desired.

I await CCP's upcoming announcements on PvE development with great anticipation. It will be fascinating to see how the player community reacts, and I won't be surprised if it is a mixed bag, no matter how innovative and creative CCP gets with PvE design. If my experience is any indication, some players' beliefs about what kind of content is "good" for the game are too deeply entrenched, and anything that does not align with their idealized values will be summarily rejected.

As for me, I will take what comes, and try to find a way to enjoy it. One should be open to new possibilities, as they arise. I might even switch my own EVE content religion. Inner peace is worth changing my mind from time to time.

I wonder how many EVE players feel the same way?

Fly safe! o7