For All the Quiet Ones

At Fanfest last March, CCP Quant presented the findings of an analysis of EVE Online players. It was a fascinating presentation, full of useful insights about the different types of preferred play styles. For those who have not seen it, here is his portion of the keynote address:

There are many interesting findings in CCP Quant's analysis, but one chart caught my attention. When comparing the proportions of the different player types in total to those who attend Fanfest - easily the most passionate group of EVE Online players - it's no surprise that the "Professional" archetype is by far the most prevalent Fanfest attendee. But look at the levels of participation by the "Aggressor" and "Social" player types, relative to their percentages of the total EVE Online population. Both of these groups, while the least numerous in general, are over-represented at Fanfest.

Further, those who play EVE Online like a "Traditional" MMO game are by far the lowest represented group at Fanfest, followed similarly by those who fall into the "Entrepreneur" type.

If Fanfest is a good test of the level of passion and engagement of players in EVE Online (and my experience after attending four of them tells me that it is), then the relative visibility of half of the entire player base is woefully low. In other words, the Professionals, Aggressors and Social players make themselves disproportionately more visible - and heard more loudly - than all of the quiet ones: the Entrepreneurs and Traditional players who represent half of all subscribers in the game.

I do not begrudge those players who are most invested in EVE Online, who want to see their particular interests addressed first by CCP Games. That is why these players attend Fanfest in droves, so they can bond with their corpmates and make their ardent points of view known to CCP's dev team. But I am concerned that the interests of those who play EVE Online in relative quiet are too easily set aside by the devs. In EVE Online, just like everything else in life, the squeaky wheels get the grease.

While we have seen a more frequent release of fixes and updates to EVE Online over the last year, in general, the focus of developer attention has been mostly on "fixing null-sec space". Make no mistake - null-sec is a critically important aspect of EVE Online that had to be addressed, and because EVE Online's game mechanics are so interdependent across different kinds of space, improvements to gameplay in 0.0 should be a good thing for everyone who is a part of New Eden. Once the Citadel update is released next spring, with the introduction of new structures and properly re-balanced roles for capital ships, the bulk of the work for "fixing null-sec" should finally be completed.

The question then becomes: what next? If CCP Seagull's roadmap is any indication, the devs will turn their attention to restructuring corporations and alliances, and building new properties and mechanics, leading eventually to new gameplay options and stargates to as yet unexplored areas of the universe. 

CCP Seagull's developmental roadmap for EVE Online has changed several times over the last two years, but it continues to lead to stargates and new areas to explore, eventually.

CCP Seagull's developmental roadmap for EVE Online has changed several times over the last two years, but it continues to lead to stargates and new areas to explore, eventually.

This is an ambitious plan, and one that every interested EVE Online player should be excited to see realized, but it is vague about what these "new world properties and mechanics" are going to be. My hope is that this refers to gameplay that will attract and retain the interest of the quieter player archetypes - specifically, player vs. environment (PvE) activity, which the Traditional and Entrepreneur player types engage in frequently.

The Future of EVE PvE

At EVE Vegas last month, CCP Affinity spoke about the future direction for PvE development in EVE Online. Sugar Kyle compiled a summary of the conversation on her blog. While short on specifics, this roundtable discussion revealed some clues about where CCP's next major developmental focus may be:

CCP Affinity

CCP Affinity

  • There will be a dev blog published in January about the direction of PvE, and potentially another one in March. There seems to be a two-year plan for PvE enhancement, generally.
  • Non-Player Character (NPC) entities are going to start interacting more frequently in space, and will behave more naturally. Organized fleet patrols of NPCs will appear in space and attack entities with whom they have bad standings - you might see Minmatar NPC ships attacking Angels, for example - and they will defend themselves against players who take aggressive action against them. They may even follow pilots through different systems, or through wormholes. NPC convoys will move things around, and if you have positive standings with them, they could move things for you.
  • The standings system will likely be revamped, requiring more hard choices by players. You probably won't be able to be friends with every NPC entity, as is possible today.
  • Missions will eventually be procedurally generated and dynamic, making them unpredictable and responsive to player interaction. If you bring three friends on a mission, then the NPCs in a mission will respond by bringing in reinforcements.

In short, New Eden is about to feel a lot more realistic, with more NPC actions being simulated according to their own standings and relationships with each other and with players. There are going to be more options for players who just want to interact mostly - or even solely - with NPCs.

Further, there will be more incentives for players to engage in PvE more frequently. This will begin with a new "tribute system", which provides a reason for players to log in each day and complete various levels of PvE activities. This should help to increase average concurrent user log-ins, and raise the population of online players in the game.

Why Better PvE is Good for Everyone

According to CCP Quant's analysis, the quiet majority of players in EVE Online, the Traditionals and the Entrepreneurs, along with the more passionate Professionals, engage more heavily in PvE activity, and mostly in high-sec space. Better PvE means that the quiet players will have more things to do that are compatible with their preferred play style. And that should increase the appeal of EVE Online to those types of players, attracting more new subscribers. Further, the more dynamic and unpredictable nature of improved PvE, as described by CCP Affinity, should hold those players' interest longer, and increase player retention.

Since the Traditionals and Entrepreneurs represent at least half of all players, investing in better PvE means a more significant return from subscriptions and other types of revenue (i.e., buying Transneural Skill Packets, SKINs, etc.). It's a smart financial move for CCP Games.

Further, more players logging in more frequently, and for longer periods of time, in order to take advantage of more PvE benefits, means more targets of opportunity for the Aggressors. In short, PvE attracts more targets to shoot - and therefore, more chances for "content creation", as the euphemism goes.

I have observed a strong prejudice by many Professional or Aggressor types of players against devoting CCP developer resources to cater to those who prefer a more causal or solo play style. But these types of players forget an important truth - there are more players who prefer a Traditional or Entrepreneur play style, and therefore represent a larger market opportunity for CCP Games. The squeaky wheels may get the grease, but money talks louder than words.

A Little Variety Goes a Long Way

Using CCP Quant's categories of player types, I fall squarely into the Entrepreneur group. I mission, mine, explore, build things and haul things around, mostly. I dabble in other aspects of the game on occasion, but when I look at how I actually spend my time online, I am happily grinding away at some kind of PvE activity, for the most part.

I regularly interact with a relatively small group of players, and usually in parallel play instead of in cooperative ventures. I do socialize in EVE Online, but that is not the main driver for my activity there. Mostly, I get the most satisfaction from watching my ISK balance rise, and from mastering various ways to do that.

I became an expert at mission-running long ago, and now find it routine. I've learned how to avoid gankers by flying and fitting smart and remaining aware. I run a level 4 mission once in a while to earn some extra cash, but to be honest, regular missions became stale and dull long ago.

I've enjoyed the Crimson Harvest content that CCP added recently. A little variety in PvE goes a long way.

I've enjoyed the Crimson Harvest content that CCP added recently. A little variety in PvE goes a long way.

Last weekend, I flew around trying out the Blood Raider Gauntlet sites that have popped up everywhere. I found that most of these sites were contested by other players, but at least it was something new and different, and I had a good time competing for them. Even just a little variety makes a big difference to a PvE experience.

I want more PvE options in EVE Online. I would be thrilled to see CCP Games make improved, world-class, dynamic PvE a priority for the next phase of game development. I know that this would make my personal level of engagement rise. Others who would enjoy playing EVE Online more quietly, like I do, would be much more likely to try the game, too.

Please make it happen, CCP - for all of us quiet ones.

Fly safe! o7