Saturday, May 26, 2012

Blog Banter #36: The Expansion of EVE

"With the Inferno expansion upon us, new seeds have been planted in the ongoing evolution of EVE Online. With every expansion comes new trials and challenges, game-changing mechanics and fresh ideas. After nine years and seventeen expansions, EVE has grown far more than most other MMOGs can hope for. Which expansions have brought the highs and lows, which have been the best and the worst for EVE Online?"

It was about April of 2009 and I had an MMO itch that needed scratching bad. I had just retired my WoW account in November of the previous year and was contemplating going back. I was kicking this notion around with my best friend, also a WoW ex-pat, who vociferously tried to persuade me against the idea. "Yeah, sure, maybe there's a new expansion out, but you know it's gonna be the same "Go kill 10 rats" bs over and over again. Why don't you try a new game? I've been hearing good things about a game called EVE Online. And they just did some huge expansion so it would be a great time to start. Why don't you check that out?""

He was talking, of course, about Apocrypha; the expansion that completely revamped exploration and made it into a viable profession, introduced wormholes and T3 ships, and lots more all-around bad-assery. So it was within a few days of Apocrypha's release that I became a certified capsuleer and began plumbing the depths of what would be the most engaging and seductive game I've ever played.

I may be bringing a lot of personal bias into this, as Apocrypha was my first interaction with Aura and the capsuleers of New Eden, but I truly believe it stands as the best expansion in terms of content in the history of EVE. I never got to see life before Quantum Rise. I never knew the joy of the Industrial-ites at the release of Red Moon Rising. But I know how much I love exploring. I know how deep an impact wormholes have had on this game, and how truly magnificent flying, fighting and exploring in my Proteus feels. I think Apocrypha brought more to this game, and to the broadest audience IN the game, than any other iteration of EVE before or since. And despite the fan-boy like enthusiasm for its release and subsequent effects, I don't think it will stand as the patch that has brought the highest high OR the lowest low. It will not be counted, on this blog at least, as the expansion that has been the best or the worst for the expansion of the game. No, strangely, only one expansion qualifies for every single category mentioned: Incarna.

By now, nobody is a stranger to the reasons Incarna should be ranked pejoratively. After all, we're talking about the release housing the new feature that was single-handedly responsible for the Summer of Rage and the greatest number of cancelled subscriptions in the shortest amount of time in the history of Eve. It was Incarna that was responsible for the infamous "Watch what they do, not what they say" and 'Fearless' scandals. It fairly directly triggered the emergency CSM summit in Iceland, and quite possibly facilitated a layoff of 20% of CCP's workforce. And despite all of this, Incarna might be the best thing that has happened to EVE in its 9 years of existence.

Before Incarna, EVE had been plagued by a laundry list of game mechanic flaws and other 'to do' items that was expanding seemingly faster than the distance between galaxies. All of them slated to be fixed "SoonTM." But CCP had slowly and steadily begun diverting resources away from EVE online so as to devote more assets to it's upcoming vampire MMO World of Darkness and the EVE tie-in for the PS3, Dust 514. These were and still remain ambitious projects and important to the future of CCP, to be sure, but the hay for the new horses was being stolen from the mouth of the cash cow, and EVE slowly began to starve to death. As content stagnated, so did the player base, which eventually began to shrink, albeit very slowly at first.

CCP's CEO, CCP Hilmar, was unconcerned as to the shrinking player base, and even less so with the why of it. He had a plan. A grand vision of the future of EVE that would simultaneously inject her with new life (and new subs) and propel EVE and CCP far into the future and ahead of the competition, possibly for good.

And this might have worked, if the direction Hilmar intended on going wasn't 180 degrees away from where EVE's subscribers wanted the game to go. So rather than turn around and run with EVE's new direction, the players simply continued walking in the same direction they always had been. Only now that direction was away from the game.

And at that exact moment, something amazing happened. Hilmar realized he was wrong. With the ship careening towards a crash landing he lept behind the controls and pulled up before it was too late. And in so doing, he turned CCP's worst expansion and darkest hour into one of it's most optimistic and brightest; an indefinite shelving of the private vision in favor of a renewed and intense focus on the original one, the vision that had set EVE apart from its competitors all those years ago. After a very heartfelt and public apology for having let things come to this point, Hilmar announced that effective immediately, Flying in Space was CCP's number one priority.

And that, dear pilots, is why Incarna should be recognized as both EVE's worst and her best expansion. Incarna delivered EVE to the brink of ruin. But it also gave CCP the opportunity to shed the undead-weight and to refocus its efforts and energies on creating and iterating on the world we all fell in love with. An opportunity that, without the disaster of Incarna, CCP might never have had again.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Paging Starbase Repair Services

In case you guys were wondering who was repairing your ships while they're docked up...I think I figured it out...

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

EVE and Soylent Green

A few Blog Banters ago (#33 to be exact), the topic of the New Player Experience was introduced and discussions on how to improve it ensued. A good number of EVE's more prominent bloggers weighed in with suggestions on how to improve the tutorials and the introduction of EVE's various game mechanics, but ultimately none of the posts I read seemed to hit the nail exactly on the head. At least not to me. But I never could put my finger on why. I even wanted to participate in that discussion, but being unable to quantify what I saw as the central issue I remained silent and filed the exercise away on the dusty mental shelf.

Still, though, the question nagged at me. I had been through the NPE two or three times, had read lots of forums posts on how to get started, asked some questions in Rookie Chat and so on. But there was something lacking in that experience from Day One, something that none of the Blog Banterers were able to fully encapsulate. Thanks to Helicity Boson, I finally figured out what that secret missing ingredient was.


Everything about your capsuleer training, from ship orientation, skills, fitting, travel, everything; it all happens in a vacuum. As a beginning capsuleer, you are the only person in the universe. The existence of other pilots is hinted at, but none of your training covers anything about your interaction with them. You are given a ship, some modules to put on that ship, and some agents to communicate with to get you started. You see others flying around in the same starting system, but the depth and breadth of the universe that lay beyond that first stargate are completely unknown. For most new players, that first directionless jump off of EVE's legendary learning curve is quite intimidating. Regrettably, the majority of pilots who jump out of that starter system end up jumping out of the game altogether. Most never look back.

Again, numerous posts and forum threads regarding how to improve the NPE and turn trial accounts into long-term subscribers have been written. But by and large, they have been wrong-headed and destined to fail in their stated goal of lifting the fog surrounding the EVE universe. And the reason why most suggestions for how CCP can improve the NPE will fail is because CCP can't improve the NPE. They can create and refine all the tutorials in the world, but ultimately only the people who create the game can better explain to new pilots how to play it. And CCP doesn't make this game. We do.

See, EVE isn't even really a game. It's a toolbox. CCP designs the tools we use, but ultimately it's up to us how to use them and to decide what kind of game we want to create with them. WE create alliances. WE create wars. WE create piracy. WE create PvP. WE create drama and tension. WE create the market. WE create this game. EVE might be a sandbox, but all CCP can do is give us the sand and the shovels. It's up to us to build and destroy the castles. And that's why we're the only ones who can show others how to do it, too.

The other day on Twitter, Helicity Boson referenced an article on EVENEWS24 that described how despite their reputation, the members of TEST rallied around a "newbro" who was taken advantage of by a more experienced one. It was a heart-warming tale of camaraderie and a great example of what EVE's players are capable of in terms of goodwill.  Helicity's next Twitter post read:

 "After that wonderful TEST story on EN24, I have decided that my next event will be the Great New Eden Adopt a Newbie WEEK."

 And that's when it hit me. The single most effective way to improve the New Player Experience was, in fact, by involving more experienced players in the process. That's what had been missing from the NPE all along. Don't get me wrong; in it's current form, the NPE does a pretty good job of teaching you about the tools CCP provides you with (minus a few significant kinks, of course), but as I said before, only the creators of the game can teach you what to do with them. And that stopped being CCP a long time ago.

We make this game, now. We can make the New Player Experience as soul-crushing and off-putting or as engaging and immersive as we want to. But for our game to continue to survive and to thrive, attracting and keeping new players is critical. That's why it's up to us, the pilots of New Eden, to help develop tomorrow's pilots today.