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

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

 

 

BB #69: Because of Space-Magic

Welcome to the continuing monthly EVE Blog Banters and our 69th edition! For more details about what the blog banters are, please visit the Blog Banter page.

CCP sometimes get stuck between a veldspar 'roid and a hard place when they try to blend realism with sensible game mechanics in our sci-fi simulator. Sometimes they create a scientific answer such as 4th dimensional drag to explain our 'submarines in space'. Other times, not so much. When a null-sec Citadel is destroyed, players 'stuffz' is to be magicked to another station. Why should a citadel be different to a titan? Should CCP ensure that 'space magic' always has a plausible explanation or do we need just to say "Well, its only a game!" and engage the willing suspension of disbelief? How should it work when a citadel goes boom, how do we balance risk with reward, and how should any "space-magic" be explained?

magic-wand.png

I have to give CCP Games fairly high marks for not relying solely on incomprehensible techno-babble to explain game mechanics in EVE Online, and for maintaining continuity within the explanations they have established. It's a science-fiction game, and so, everything that happens is based at least somewhat on fictionalized physics. It would be easy to dismiss these physics as beyond our understanding, but this happens infrequently, surprisingly.

Inconsistencies do happen, however. For example, the ability to clone jump into Thera bothers me. Do fluid routers work between known space and w-space, allowing clone information to be transmitted? I always thought you needed a stargate to establish an interstellar network connection between systems, but Thera disproves that. It's in these kinds of situations within the game world that we have to shrug our shoulders, attribute the mechanics to some kind of "space magic", and leave the underlying explanations to the die-hard lore experts to speculate upon.

I suspect that most players smooth over these kinds of incongruities within their own "mind canons", if they worry about them at all. For example, I rationalize that my alt characters all exchange money with each other by telling myself they were all once part of the same foster family, and have therefore developed a secret support network. I understand that this kind of rationalization is totally unnecessary, but it saves me from obsessing over why these kinds of things happen in New Eden, so I can get on with simply enjoying the game.

I have found that researching why things work the ways they do in New Eden to be an enjoyable pastime, on occasion. While I'm not a lore expert by any means, I find that dipping into the Evelopedia and the chronicles to gain insight about how different mechanics are explained to be yet another way to appreciate the depth of EVE Online.

But practically speaking, we do not need to know the details of how things work in order to enjoy doing them. I honestly have only a rough idea how my internal combustion engine on my car actually operates, but that doesn't mean I can't enjoy driving somewhere. To me, much of what happens under the hood is "car magic", and that's OK with me, as long as it works as expected. I suspect that few EVE Online players think about the details of in-game mechanics as they fly their ships. For most players, as long as the ship moves as expected, and the weapons fire when commanded, everything is hunky-dory. Sometimes, overthinking things just gets in the way of having fun.

On the Matter of Citadels

Still, there seems to be more debate than expected about the proposed mechanic for transporting player-owned stuff instantly away from destroyed Citadels. The principal argument is that it sounds dumb to magically transport goods, albeit with some losses, with no rational in-game explanation.

As for me, I simply explain the proposed mechanics with more "head canon" - a built-in safety mechanism in Citadels, where cargo hangers are jettisoned as large escape pods, which warp away instantly and automatically to the nearest starbase, whenever destruction is imminent. The losses of items are a result of some pods not surviving in the explosion. In fact, it might be interesting for CCP to actually create an animation of cargo pods emerging and warping off as part of a Citadel explosion.

But as someone wise once told me, "If you want to get to the real truth, always follow the money." And I suspect that most of the supposed concerns about inconsistencies in the proposed Citadel mechanics are just a smokescreen for the real motivation: people just want all the loot because it will make blowing up a Citadel more profitable.

Perhaps I'm being excessively cynical, but when a plausible explanation for the proposed behavior of Citadel mechanics is so easily created, the argument that they are based on "space magic" dissipates quickly as a dissembling facade. It is far more honest, and more productive, to argue about the merits of a higher amount of player items dropping as loot, as some more straightforward dissenters are doing.

Nevertheless, I understand why CCP has suggested the item dispersal mechanic. Without it, then it becomes very risky for anyone to store anything in a Citadel, and this could discourage their adoption and use. CCP clearly wants Citadels to be installed widely throughout all of New Eden.

Rather than resist the proposed transport mechanic, dissenting players would be on firmer footing if they pointed out the potential missed opportunity for CCP to develop this more fully, as a better system for balancing risk and reward. Specifically, what if jettisoned cargo escape pods were paid for by players who use a Citadel, as an exponentially increasing expense? A small investment would provide a low degree of asset protection, but a large payment would provide more comprehensive safety. This payment could be a monthly recurring charge, which would not be available if a Citadel fell under attack. You could even limit the number of cargo escape pods available in a Citadel, with their use allocated to the highest bidders. Those players who want to protect almost all of their assets could do so, but only with a commensurate expenditure of ISK. Those players who are willing to assume more risk, in order to maximize their profits from Citadel-based operations, would do so with the specter of a potentially devastating loss hanging over them.

Don't Sweat the Small Stuff

One of the beautiful things about EVE Online is that it operates with a fairly high degree of internal consistency. And where inconsistencies do appear, most players either gloss over them, or CCP eventually fills the gap with a plausible explanation or a refined game mechanic. Regardless, most players rightly ignore the minor incongruities, and simply enjoy playing the game.

As for me, whenever I find something that feels like "space magic", I see it as an opportunity to learn more, to be a little creative, or to suggest possible improvements to CCP developers. EVE Online is an evolving story. If we see something that doesn't fit within the narrative, we have the opportunity to help the authors make adjustments, or to contribute our own suggestions for improvement. To me, "space magic" offers chances for more engagement in the ongoing development of EVE Online.

Fly safe! o7