Ascending: the Future of EVE Online

The Rubicon expansion will be released tomorrow, and it looks to be a good one, with something for just about every kind of play style in EVE Online. The changes in warp mechanics alone will revolutionize PvP and shake up assumptions about combat best practices.

SoE Stratios cruiser

SoE Stratios cruiser

As for me, I'm most looking forward to trying out the Marauder changes in Level 4 missions, and to flying the new Sisters of EVE ships, especially the Stratios cruiser. I've set a long skill to train, and can't wait to download the patch tomorrow.

CCP Games has billed Rubicon as the next step in a multi-expansion journey towards increased player control and colonization of new space. That sounds like a great vision, but for me, those have been merely interesting words uttered by CCP Seagull and a few other devs. How exactly that future might unfold and how long it might take to get there were still open questions.

Until today, that is. Now we are finally starting to get some clearer glimpses of what the future of EVE Online might really look like.

Spilling the Beans

CCP Pokethulhu (chief marketing officer David Reid) described how the colonization theme would evolve, in a couple of fascinating interviews. In a discussion with VG24/7, he said:

Rubicon begins a multi-expansion arc that will allow players to begin harvesting, amassing the resources, blueprints, the implants and things that it will take to construct the first Star Gates and then go forth and colonize new galaxies. ... There’s going to be a race to build the first Star Gate, and the corporation that do that are going to be the first to plant their ‘flag’ on the hills of new systems if you will.

And where will the components of a Star Gate come from?

Reid confirmed that supplies necessary to build the coveted device will be found at ‘Ghost Sites’, which are vaults secured by pirate factions. These encounters will take many forms and add new urgency to engagement as players battle for those precious loot drops.

And what else will be required to use a Star Gate, once it is constructed?

...you’ll also need to liberate and use sufficient implants to adapt your Capsuleer to the gate’s new warp speed, vital ship upgrades and more.

And how long before we see capsuleers embark from New Eden to the New World?

So how long might it take a corporation to assemble a Star Gate, augment their Capsuleer and ship enough to make the jump and break through to this shrouded new area of space? Reid suggested that it would take a while, given the contested nature of the gate components and the eventual conflicts that will rise out of Rubicon’s space-race. The process will run over the next few expansions as it’ll take time for the Ghost Sites to be found, and for people to figure out how all of the special items fit together.

CCP Seagull provided a tacit confirmation of David Reid's comments, with this tweet:

CSM Vice-Chairman Ripard Teg also gave some hints about the developmental direction of EVE Online in a recent post on his blog:

If you buy into CCP Seagull's vision of space exploration and capsuleer ownership of space that she laid out at Fanfest and consistently since then, then I think you have good reason to be very excited about developments over the next few years. Think about a movie or TV show or book that you like that had a long slow gradual build-up, laying groundwork as it went for several MAJOR pay-offs at the end -- Babylon 5, say, or Raiders of the Lost Ark. If you buy into the space colonization vision, then I can safely say that you have several HOLY SHIT moments ahead of you.

So, what does this all mean?

First, Ghost Sites are clearly going to be more important than anyone has yet anticipated. They are going to be more than just another cool new form of PvE activity. It appears that they will be the conduit through which CCP will seed required components of the new Star Gates to players. But finding the right components in these sites will be rare and difficult, and will require some additional experimentation to figure out how the various pieces fit together.

Second, the new Ascendancy implants (or perhaps similar implants, yet to be released), also gathered at Ghost Sites, are probably going to be a requirement for using the new Star Gate and reaching the New World.

Finally, as implied by these revelations, this is going to take a long time - years, in fact - and will be unveiled slowly over numerous expansions. This is likely going to be a three- or four-year journey - maybe even as long as five. That's another six, eight or ten expansions before we may see completion of the first Star Gate.

The New Space Race

Who will be first to claim dominion in the New World? The large nullsec alliance power blocs clearly have an advantage, as they have more pilots who can access more Ghost Sites. They will also likely keep any secrets learned to themselves, in order to maintain any possible advantage over rival Star Gate developers.

However, a coalition of pilots willing to share information openly might be able to compete effectively as a force for unraveling the secrets of the new Star Gates. An "open source" project for supporters of Star Gate technology could be as productive as any group trying to keep their knowledge proprietary. At the very least, it might help keep the playing field even, and encourage near simultaneous development of multiple gates to the New World by a larger number of corporations and alliances.

This gives me an idea. But that will be the subject of another post. First, I have a little homework to do.

Meanwhile, enjoy Rubicon!

Fly safe! o7

UPDATE: EVE University announces Project Ascension

EVE Rubicon.png

Will Rubicon succeed?

Last May, I speculated about whether the Odyssey expansion would succeed. As it turned out, my prediction of a moderate success was wrong. In retrospect, it now appears that the general reaction of the EVE Online player base to Odyssey was a resounding: "Meh."

Will the Rubicon expansion, to be released on November 19, suffer the same fate? 

What is a successful expansion?

From CCP Games' standpoint, in order of priority, a successful expansion is one that:

  • Draws more new subscribers into EVE Online, and retains them
  • Encourages current subscribers to continue participation in the game, and pay ongoing subscription fees to do so
  • Brings old players back to EVE, reactivating accounts and subscribing once again
  • Encourages subscribers to open additional accounts, so that they can do more things in game with multiple characters

Therefore, a key metric of success is the average number of logged-in players per day. More log-ins means more player participation and more active subscribers, in general.

What is Rubicon?

For those unfamiliar with history, the title for this expansion refers to a point of no return. Apparently, once this expansion is released, "the die is cast" and we will all be marching inexorably towards CCP Seagull's grand vision of colonization in space, which she described in the video announcement in September:

Since my optimistic prediction for Odyssey's success turned out to be wrong, the smart bittervet move would be to predict that Rubicon will likewise fail to increase player interest in EVE Online. But as I look over all the elements now included in this expansion, I can't bring myself to do it.

Instead, I find that I have hope.

The Emerging Storyline: More Player Control

Rubicon is the next step towards increased capsuleer control of elements in New Eden. The conversion of high-sec planetary customs offices from non-player corporations to player-owned status will provide something new to fight over in empire space. In general, I think this is a good thing.

New high-sec targets: POCOs! 

New high-sec targets: POCOs! 

Other EVE bloggers have speculated that introducing Player-Owned Customs Offices (POCOs) in high-sec will result in null-sec power blocs swooping into empire space, taking over large numbers of customs offices, and then driving the cost of planetary interaction so high as to make it unprofitable. I doubt very much that will happen. I do expect to see Goons establish a few POCOs in systems near Jita, Amarr and other trade hubs, but the vast majority of empire-based POCOs will fall into the hands of locally based corporations. In wormhole and low-sec space, this is exactly what has happened, because local corps can maintain a persistent presence and defend their assets more effectively than distant interlopers.

One useful aspect of high-sec POCOs is that they should make wars in empire space more interesting. I am all for anything that helps make high-sec wars more than griefdecs by self-aggrandizing "elite PvPers" who only pop lone industrial ships in trade hubs. If nothing else, defending and attacking POCOs will provide a more interesting way to keep score.

Will high-sec POCOs increase average daily log-in counts? After the initial flurry of activity by corps to establish their own customs offices, I suspect POCOs won't do much to increase player activity, except during wartime. They affect new players hardly at all. That doesn't mean it's not a good idea - it only means it won't be a major draw for new log-ins.

How many people will see ghosts?

By far, the most interesting thing about Rubicon is the introduction of Ghost Sites. These were not part of the initial video announcement, curiously, but I'm very happy that they have been added. I wrote about my enthusiasm for this new form of PvE in a previous post, which I will not repeat here.

GhostSitePic.png

Suffice it to say that Rubicon was looking very bereft of any meaty content until the Ghost Sites addition.

I think these will be quite popular, and players will want to try them and figure them out. They might provide the same kind of log-in increasing effect that Incursions had when they were first introduced. My only concern is that CCP says these sites will appear "rarely" - and if they aren't available to play very much, they won't have very much of an effect on drawing players in to try them.

Therefore, while I love the idea of new PvE being added to the game, I suspect that Ghost Sites may not have much of an affect on new log-in counts, sadly. I hope that CCP's definition of "rare" is more generous than mine, however. We shall see.

Give me a home...

CSM8 Vice-Chairman Ripard Teg has hinted on his blog that the new mobile player structures to be introduced in Rubicon are not the beginning of a new Player-Owned Starbase (POS) system, although CCP Fozzie's comments in the initial video announcement certainly gives that impression. Regardless, I think these are going to be quite popular, and I think they will change the dynamics of EVE in unpredictable ways.

I certainly expect to use the mobile depot and tractoring units to establish remote mission-running bases, and to make looting a lot eaiser. As a result of these structures, the time-to-ISK ratio for missions, complexes and combat sites will go down, and that should drive more interest in these activities by players.

The siphon and cyno-jamming structures will also change conflict in null-sec space - that is, they will provide more opportunities for fights. Null-sec pilots always want more things to shoot. More of them will be logging in to shoot at these new mobile structures.

I've always wanted my own, personal home base in New Eden, to defend and develop. I hope that these mobile structures are the first steps towards making that dream a reality.

Meanwhile, however, the introduction of these units will definitely help increase log-in counts, and I suspect they will on a sustainable basis. These should help push the player activity curve upwards.

The space yurt! 

The space yurt! 

Warp Speed!

In Rubicon, frigates and smaller ships will have faster warp acceleration rates, and ships larger than cruisers will accelerate slower. I must admit, my first reaction to this was: "Ugh. My frieghter is already a pig to fly. Why, CCP, do you hate me so?"

But now that I've seen the video demonstrations of the effects of the warp speed differences on the test server, I think this could be a significant driver of new player activity. Frigates - especially interceptors - just became dramatically more useful and powerful for tackling larger and more valuable targets. Tactics for combat will change significantly. We'll see more roaming fleets of smaller, faster ships. Fewer battleships will undock without frigate and cruiser escorts to protect them.

It's such a simple change, but it has huge implications for how pilots fly. I suspect this will increase the number of log-ins as more players try the new warp mechanics - and I suspect that most of them will like what they discover. This is a net plus for Rubicon's potential success.

More Tiercide - yay!

EVE players love their ships. And they love to fly new ships - or ships that fly like they are new. Some may complain that the nerf-hammer was too severe on their favorite beloved vessel, but on the whole, the ship balancing and "tiercide" initiative by CCP has been outstandingly positive. In short, the rebalancing has provided players with a larger choice of viable ships to fly. This is not just a good thing - it is great for the game.

Kronos in bastion mode - pretty! 

Kronos in bastion mode - pretty! 

I, for one, am very curious to try out the new Marauder revamp. My Kronos has been sitting in the hangar for over a year now, but the new shorter micro-jump drive cycle times and "bastion" mode might elevate it to my Level 4 missioning ship of choice. Will it replace my beloved Rattlesnake in this role? I'm not sure yet, but I'm looking forward to finding out.

The big buffs to Electronic Attack Ships (a.k.a., Electronic Attack Frigates or EAFs) are long overdue, and combined with the warp speed changes, I suspect we'll see these emerge as favored tacklers in speedy frigate roaming gangs.

Interceptors are going to be very scary after Rubicon. In addition to being silly, absurdly fast, they will become warp bubble immune. I'm concerned that they will now be unstoppable and overpowered. But more pilots will fly them, especially in null-sec space, that is for certain.

The ship balancing changes in Rubicon are all a net positive for driving player activity. I certainly can't see how they would reduce player interest.

New Missile Launcher - Yawn.

Rubicon will provide a new missile option: the Rapid Heavy Missile Launcher. Initial analysis shows that these will be effective against smaller ships, and will be effective in an anti-support ship role. I suspect we'll see them mounted on specialized vessels to protect battleships against fast frigate interceptions - a nice balance for the new warp speed mechanics.

But will they have any effect on player activity and log-in counts? No, not so much.

Hey, Sister, can you spare a ship?

Until Ghost Sites were announced, the new Sisters of EVE faction ships were the most exciting thing about Rubicon. Though the Stratios cruiser has been nerfed a bit since the original announcement, it's still an incredibly useful ship. It's also beautiful. The number of people grinding SoE missions, in order to earn enough Loyalty Points, got so high, CCP had to create two new Level 4 SoE agents to move some of the load out of the Osmon system. Based on that alone, it's clear that the SoE faction ships are going to be super-popular. I know I'm going to get two of both the Astero frigate and the Stratios cruiser, the first time I start up Rubicon on November 19.

Stratios cruiser - me want! 

Stratios cruiser - me want! 

Net predicted effect on log-ins: positive, but not wildly so. The new SoE faction ships won't drive a lot of new player interest, though veterans looking for new experiences will definitely give it a try.

Wormhole Dwellers Rejoice!

Two recent additions to Rubicon are making wormhole-dwellers swoon. First, the ability to change Tech III strategic cruiser subsystems with fitting systems other than stations is going to make using these a lot easier in wormhole space. Players have been asking for this ability for a long time, and thanks to the persistence of the CSM, it is finally happening. Also, restoring the dropping of ships in destroyed SMAs just made POS-popping a lot more fun, and lucrative. Essentially, CCP brought back some nice fat loot pinatas into the game.

Net affect: positive - more players will be looking for POSes with SMAs to go blow up now, especially in wormhole space.

Love for the Noobs

Rubicon includes some nice usability improvements, mostly designed to make the new player experience less intimidating:

  • A revised, cleaner certification system, based on progressive skills and levels of mastery
  • An improved character selection screen, with more information. It looks nice. Certainly easier to use than the present screen
  • A new "Interbus ship identification system" - an easy to use visual hierarchy of ship progression, with indicators of skills required to fly them proficiently
ISIS - the Interbus Ship Identification System

ISIS - the Interbus Ship Identification System

Also, CCP announced integration of twitch.tv video streaming into the EVE Online client. This could be really interesting, and could provide new players with more accessible options for getting training and education. I know that we in EVE University will be experimenting with it.

None of these new features will increase the number of player log-ins, I suspect - but they should help to improve retention of new players, resulting in more conversions of trial accounts into subscriptions. So, in the long run, these should result in a net positive in player activity.

The Final Analysis - and About the Future

So, will Rubicon increase the average number of daily log-ins?

Yes, I think it will. Though it contains nothing that could be considered a dramatic "killer feature", Rubicon looks like a very interesting expansion with something new for every play style, and that should draw more interest in EVE Online, from both existing and new players.

Will it be a huge, resounding success, bringing in a tidal wave of fanatically enthusiastic new players?

Alas, I must say no - there just isn't enough new content. To see a gigantic uptick in player log-ins, I think we need to see an expansion that includes some dramatic features like:

  • A revamped nullsec sovereignty system built on developing and managing system populations, instead of structures with "magical" system influence
  • Ship crew bonuses - and space marines in ship-to-ship combat
  • Expansion of the mobile player structures, allowing individuals to build and develop their own "home" in space
  • A complete re-engineering of PvE missioning using a dynamic, unpredictable mission generator system
  • Tech 3 frigates, cruisers and battleships
  • Playable pirate factions
  • Better DUST/EVE integration - economically and in play mechanics (and put DUST 514 on the PC, CCP!)
  • Truly new space to explore
  • And yes, ultimately, colonization of that new space

And please, CCP, don't be stupid - put Valkyrie on the PC, where it belongs. And if you can find a way to integrate that with EVE Online, sheer awesomeness that would truly be.

And finally - what is CCP Unifex doing these days? What mobile capabilities is he working on? Does anyone really know?

One fact that encourages me is that Rubicon is being released a bit earlier in the year than past winter expansions. This gives CCP a bigger window for the next summer expansion, which I hope will be a major step forward for EVE Online. I know that my expectations for the announcement at Fanfest in May are going to be very high indeed.
 
On November 18, be sure to set a long skill to train!

Fly safe! o7

Believing in Ghosts

CCP Affinity posted a dev blog about Ghost Sites coming in the Rubicon expansion, and my excitement level just jumped up a couple of notches on my EVE-O-meter.

My initial reaction to the various features of Rubicon, to be released on November 19th, was: "I like it, but it seems light." I subsequently wrote about the lack of any substantial new content, and expressed my concern that Rubicon was going to be yet another disappointing update, resulting in lower average daily log-in counts.

I'm not worried about this now. Rubicon is going to be very popular.

What are Ghost Sites?

These are going to be a new player-vs-environment (PvE) experience. Unlike regular mission sites or exploration sites, ghost sites are going to be an interesting combination of the best parts of each.

According to CCP Affinity's post:

They are pirate faction anomalies that will crop up in all parts of space. If you're lucky enough to come across one, it'll automatically appear on your system scanner. The moment that the first player enters a Ghost Site, an invisible and random timer will start ticking. You will never know how long until the traps laid by the pirates might explode, shredding your bulkheads and leaving you adrift in your pod.
Your objective, if you wish to risk life and limb (well ... your crew's lives and limbs) is to hack your way into the sites 4 research facilities, grab whatever you find, and get out as fast as you can. At the moment, hacking is only found in exploration-style environments, so we decided it would be fun to shake that up and see how it works under pressure-cooker circumstances.  You will only have one chance to hack, if you fail you will set off the containers security and they will explode. While Ghost Sites are not exploration sites, you'll still need to use either a data or relic analyzer to access the vaults. If you're successful in hacking, you'll be given loot (which won't be scattered), but if you take too long, the pirates will be alerted to your presence and will warp in to attack you.  The pirates are there just to protect their loot and will not be carrying any items in their cargo or have a bounty on their heads. As I mentioned, these sites are related to dangerous experiments, and the pirates desperately do not want the capsuleers to steal the fruit of their labors. When they realize that they have an intruder in their midst, they will blow up the research facilities, causing damage to everyone in the vicinity.

I love this idea - it offers higher reward for higher risk. And it will require a combination of skills to complete successfully, with significant consequences for failure.

The fact that these sites will appear everywhere, including wormhole space, is also smart. Adding some higher risk elements to high-sec, if players want to try them, provides more options for play at different levels of risk, without having to go into more dangerous space. This is balanced by improved loot in higher-risk space. Perfect.

The only thing that concerns me is that they are described as "rare" - so, when they do appear, there will probably be a crazy mad rush of every pilot in system. On the other hand, that might not be such a bad thing, since the sites are timed, so having several pilots hacking away at once might be desirable. But if any one of them fail, and the whole thing goes boom... that could get interesting really fast.

GhostSitePic.png

What's this lore stuff?

I admit, I enjoy the backstory of EVE Online, and I'm really pleased to see CCP take the time to integrate these ghost sites into the lore of the game.

If it's done well, it will add another layer of flavor and rationale about why these new sites exist, and how they connect to future events.

Call me crazy if you will, but I like things to make sense in EVE Online. I know there are a lot of players who dismiss the game's lore as fluff, and generally ignore it, but I think they are missing out on a great story.  Kudos to CCP for keeping this aspect in mind.

Cool loot!

I admit I despise the scattering spew mechanic of the Odyssey hacking sites. It does require more interaction, which is good, but it's also highly annoying, especially when you get lousy loot for your troubles.

The fact that this mechanic is being dropped from hacking in ghost sites makes me smile. They sound dangerous enough without having to click on a diaspora of cans anyway.

And the loot is going to make these sites worth the risk, it appears. With the first ever blueprints for implants, as well as for new mobile depots outside of high-sec, ghost sites should give pilots enough incentive to risk destruction. The new Ascendancy implants, with their improvement on warp speeds, are going to be very much in demand, as Rubicon's changes to warp mechanics makes this much more important.

I also find it funny that one of the mobile depots are called "Yurt", because that is exactly what it looks like.

Mobile Player Depot - the "space yurt"

Mobile Player Depot - the "space yurt"

I take full credit for all of this

Clearly, CCP Games reads all of my blog posts and puts great stock in my sage advice. It's the only logical explanation. I'm sure my Ishukone Scorpion will be delivered any moment now, since I'm obviously so prescient and awesome.

Please post your thanks and accolades in the comments. All gifts of gratitude are welcome, of course.

Fly safe! o7