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

 

EVE is (Not Only) a PvP Game

The EVE Online players' reaction to CCP Games' announcement of free-to-play (F2P) Alpha clones coming in November has been generally positive, though some have expressed concern about potential abuses. Specifically, players worry about swarms of Alpha pilots creating havoc for mining, and for ganking in high-sec space. CCP wrote a follow-up dev blog acknowledging these issues, and I also wrote a post examining what to do about the Alpha ganking issue.

I have been reading the comments about Team Size Matters' and CCP Seagull's announcement with interest. Most worrying are some justifications for allowing Alpha clones to have unrestricted ability to participate in high-sec ganking, which inevitably boil down to one common rationalization:

"EVE is a PvP game."

There are several themes and variations of this assertion in the comment thread, but the gist of the argument goes something like this:

  • Unrestricted non-consensual player-versus-player combat in every type of space is a core design principle of EVE Online.
  • Ganking is an allowable form of non-consensual PvP.
  • Therefore, CCP must allow ganking without restrictions to every type of player, including F2P Alpha clones.

I don't disagree with the general direction of this argument. EVE Online was indeed designed to support PvP activities - with or without mutual consent - in every type of space. Ganking is a legitimate form of PvP, and should be allowed and preserved in high-sec space.

But the argument ignores another and much more significant reality of EVE Online: PvP is only one part of the system that makes EVE Online work. EVE is a network of interlocking game mechanics which support a balanced cycle of gathering, building and destroying. PvP contributes only to one part of this vital cycle, and is completely interdependent with the other two parts.

To say that "EVE is a PvP game" is like declaring "a human body is a heart". The heart is a critical organ, to be sure, and without it, the body dies. But the heart would not last long without all of the other organs that sustain and support it. The entirety of bodily systems, running in continuous balance, is necessary to keep a human being alive and functioning. Similarly, to declare that "EVE is a PvP game, and therefore you must allow X", conveniently ignores all of the other interdependent mechanics that must also operate in balance to keep the entire game running.

The Inconvenient Depth of EVE

To illustrate the point that EVE is far more than just a PvP game, let's examine the relative number of different player activity options in EVE Online (thanks to Altrue for compiling this chart):

No matter how you look at it, PvP is a part of a much, much larger tapestry of interwoven mechanics in EVE Online. PvP is certainly a vitally important part of the game, and to say that "EVE Online is a PvP game" isn't untrue - it just doesn't tell the whole story.

Including the Bigger Picture

The larger tapestry of EVE Online, and the interdependent nature of its systems and mechanics, means that the "EVE is a PvP game" argument doesn't always make sense. Overemphasizing one aspect disrupts other systems, and causes an imbalance. Even though it is set in space, nothing truly lives in a vacuum in EVE Online.

So, whenever EVE Online changes in some way - such as introducing F2P Alpha clones, for example - CCP must be very cautious about what they allow as a result of that change. While giving Alpha clones unfettered access to every option in EVE Online may sound like a nice ideal, we have to recognize that it would also be highly disruptive to multiple systems and mechanics in the game. This is why Alphas are restricted to a set number of skills and skill points, and limited to certain types of ships and modules, by design.

I'm all for more options for anyone who plays EVE, up to the point that it creates an unworkable or unsustainable imbalance in the game's cycle of gathering, building and destroying. Then we have to pause and consider the implications, and impose reasonable limits.

Given the number of available player options in EVE Online, I could argue that "EVE is a PvE game", and thereby rationalize that mission-runners should be protected from outside interference by other pilots. But I know that is a silly argument, because it removes too much risk from missions and upsets the current balance in game mechanics.

I don't think that PvE'ers should be a special, privileged class in EVE Online.

This is why I get frustrated with the "EVE is a PvP game, and therefore X" arguments. In many cases, I fear that what is really being said is: "I think PvP is more important that the other parts of EVE, and therefore, let's ignore them." Or, even worse, it sometimes means: "I only like PvP in EVE Online, and don't care about the other parts of the game, so let me do whatever I want."

I don't think that PvP'ers should be a special, privileged class in EVE Online.

Such an argument, whether uttered by passionate PvP'ers or PvE'ers, is more than just poorly reasoned - it is pure selfishness, thinly disguised. I think we can all do better than that, and consider that our personal preferences aren't the only ones that might have merit.

EVE is much larger than just a PvP game - it is an intricate simulation of gathering, building and destruction, and no one part is more important than the others. Let's all try to bear that in mind, please.

Fly safe! o7

Semi-Active

I'm in a strange place regarding EVE Online these days. I log into my industry alt characters a couple times a week, to restart planetary interaction runs or to adjust orders in the markets, but that's about it. It's not that my interest in EVE has waned - I just don't have any clear goals at the moment.

I keep searching for something new to grab my attention and stir my enthusiasm. I eagerly scan the #tweetfleet thread on Twitter a couple times a day. I regularly check Total EVE for new postings. I read my favorite EVE-related blogs. I check out the latest dev posts on the forums. I watch the newest EVE videos on YouTube. I download EVE podcasts and binge-listen during my business travels. So far, all this effort has produced nothing but a persistent feeling of ennui. It's disappointing, and frustrating.

Sadly, this summarizes my feelings about EVE Online lately.

Sadly, this summarizes my feelings about EVE Online lately.

I became acutely aware of my recent lack of active involvement in game when Mynxee, CEO of my current corp, the Signal Cartel, sent me a message asking if I was still playing EVE. Until she mentioned it, I did not realize that I haven't signed on as Neville in over three months. What little time I've spent in game has been entirely on my alt characters. "Wow - has it really been that long?", I asked myself, incredulous.

They say time flies when you're having fun. I guess it also flies when you're not having much fun, too.

I asked Mynxee to keep me in the corp (and I promptly logged in, if only to update the timestamp on her corporate member report). I am not ready to give up on EVE Online yet. I'm simply waiting for the "next big thing" to revive my passion for the game. But I'm not yet sure what that may be - the thing that sparks my interest and gets me back into the game with gusto, once again.

Fiddling About

Certainly, it won't be mining, alas. I read CCP Fozzie's post about upcoming changes to mining ships, and was underwhelmed. The prospective changes to mining craft are insubstantial, and not really consequential.

Generally, it looks like mining fittings will get a little tighter. Some ship production bonuses will get removed, but will then be given back with adjusted module stats. The ultra-hardcore miners are spinning their spreadsheets to see how to milk out maximum tank and/or productivity to the tenth decimal place of precision, of course. But for me, a quick review tells me that CCP is simply fiddling about with slots and stats, only to arrive at about the same levels of potential production.

We'll get some shiny new ship designs for mining barges and exhumers soon, as this excerpt from the recent o7 show indicates.

These adjustments mask the real issue with mining: the essential mechanics remain the same. 'Roid mining is still boring. Gas mining is still boring. Ice mining is still boring. Fly to your belt or anomaly, target something, activate modules, collect resources, rinse, repeat - over and over. Nothing about mining is new - nothing has changed.

Want to get people like me excited about resource harvesting, CCP? Keep the old mechanics for the casual miners, if you wish. But introduce some new team mining mechanics - perhaps in some exotic new locations like planetary rings, or in distant Kuiper belts to harvest comets. Let me earn higher production by introducing a mining optimization mini-game, requiring more of my constant attention. Make asteroid belts enormous, using the now much larger grids. Bring back the harder-to-find but potentially lucrative mining anomalies that require probe scanning to discover. Do something - anything - to shake up the dull routine of mining. Give us more variety - please.

The latest mining ship adjustments won't be enough to stimulate my active involvement in EVE Online, unfortunately. I'll play with fittings a bit in EFT, but that will be as far as it goes. I'll continue to wait until CCP decides to actually do something interesting with this essential aspect of the game.

Hopeful for Industry

I am more enthusiastic about the pending arrival of the new industrial array structures, scheduled for release in the fall. But I am becoming increasingly worried that we still know relatively little about them.

Will they be defensible? Will they be suitable replacements for POS towers? Can I operate them successfully as a solo industrialist in high-sec space? The lack of specifications and stats on their prospective performance concerns me. Autumn is almost here, and it's not even certain what date we will see the new industry structures introduced in game.

I will definitely log in to give the new industry platform a try. My hope is that it will stimulate my interest in manufacturing again. But without any specifics, it is only that for now - a hope.

The Big PvE Tease

At the beginning of the recent o7 show, CCP Seagull said, "We're ... working on some exciting developments when it comes to PvE content in EVE that I hope to share with you soon."

If there is anything that might revitalize my interest in EVE Online immediately, it is the introduction of some meaningful new PvE mechanics and content. I've written often and at great length in this blog about the importance of PvE to the future success of EVE Online, and I won't revisit those arguments here. Suffice it to say that I think changing PvE will do more to improve player engagement and retention than any other possible development investment.

But like the new industry structures, we know little of what CCP is thinking or planning specifically for PvE. I have many questions:

  • Does this include a revamp of standings with non-player character organizations in the game? Will this new PvE make relationships with in-game entities more or less important?
  • Will this new PvE content include linked goal-driven missions and tasks (dare I say "quest" style campaigns) - something more robust than the static epic arc mission threads today?
  • Will this PvE content be dynamically generated, which would forever eliminate the current unchanging predictability of missions?
  • Will this PvE content change how players interact in mining, exploration or anomalies?
  • Will the PvE be connected to EVE's rich in-game lore? Or will it have little impact on the ever emerging storylines in the game?

I enjoyed the "Shadow of the Serpent" event last month, but let's be honest: that was a clever reconfiguration of the current PvE mechanics. I'd love to see entirely new PvE features introduced to the game - things that requires time and effort to learn and master.

I could not be more delighted to hear CCP Seagull mention PvE is getting significant development attention. I am trying hard to control my speculations, but I have high hopes - perhaps unrealistically - for something truly innovative.

Viva, Las Vegas!

Perhaps we will learn more about new structures and PvE at EVE Vegas at the end of October. My experience at Fanfest in April was disappointing, but I hope Vegas will be different. I want to give CCP one more chance to thrill me with some exciting announcements and plans for the future of EVE Online.

So, I hope that my experience in Vegas lives up to my expectations. If it does, then I am sure I will dive back into active play in New Eden with aplomb, in order to pursue new opportunities, or at least to prepare for the new capabilities that are forthcoming. But in order to keep my hopes alive, I need some visibility on what CCP is planning. More than anything else, I hope that we see a revised, updated vision for the future of EVE Online. It doesn't have to be highly detailed, but I hope it will be more specific than the vague timeline we've seen in the past.

I'm looking forward to meeting Mynxee and my fellow Signal Cartel corpmates in Vegas, too. Perhaps this, and some exciting announcements from CCP about new kinds of gameplay in EVE Online, will reinvigorate my interest in the game. Or so I hope.

Fly safe! o7