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I focus almost exclusively on PvP, whether solo, small gang, or large bloc warfare. In the past, I've been a miner, mission runner, and faction warfare jockey. I'm particularly interested in helping high-sec players get into 0.0 combat.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

We Don’t Want You Here

I haven’t posted much in the past couple days because of a really big RL opportunity I’m handling.  I’m not ready to say what it is yet, but if things go the way they’re heading, I’ll be losing my EU TZ play time, and that’s a very good thing.

But in the interim, let me talk a little about Eve’s long-term future.  There’s a great article that just posted to TMC by Tubrug1 talking about this very problem.  He tends to focus on mechanic changes, but I’m going to go off on a slightly different tangent.  His is worth a definite read, though.  It’s truly insightful.

In order to survive long-term, Eve must maintain a certain number of players to keep its bills paid.  I don’t much care whether these players pay with PLEX or subscription fees, though others do, because both mean revenue for CCP.  And ultimately, revenue is all that matters to CCP.  Every decision is tempered by whether it will generate additional revenue or not.

Eve players should very much desire CCP to make extra revenue, because it allows additional developers to be hired to improve the game.  Perhaps that means new content, but it could also mean more developers to improve existing buggy content (POS management, I’m looking at you).  New content is flashier, and is more likely to bring new players to the game.

I don’t buy the theory that CCP has already reached and marketed to the entire potential player base.  There are a lot of areas of Eve that CCP can market.  I was drawn to the game by the market.  I had played a game called Federation years ago, and loved the robust, dynamic market trading system it had established.  Some players really enjoy industry.  PvP may be the end-result of all efforts in Eve, but that doesn’t mean all players have to participate in that end-result.  Some gain a lot of enjoyment from other areas, too.

I’ve yet to see any marketing thrusts focused on the industry aspect of Eve, even though a sizeable chunk of characters are involved with industry in some fashion.  Where are the “pay for your account with PLEX” marketing campaigns?  The point is, Eve offers a lot of differentiated experiences, and CCP hasn’t marketed some of these aspects nearly as much as the PvP and pirate paths.

And future features we aren’t even privy to may open Eve up to entirely new players with additional “gateways” to Eve.  Who knows what additional features Eve could introduce.  Something will be the next faction warfare or wormhole space, which drew in players with a distinctly different play experience.

But while these features all influence the player faucet, improvement of existing features is what affects the corresponding player sink.  Eve has a number of systems that drive players away, and these issues are perhaps more important than bringing new customers in.  New customers will be reliant on new features, which are time-intensive and offer uncertain payoff.  Perhaps the next new feature will be another WiS, which utterly fails and simply wastes development time.

But improving features will help retain players who have already bought into the Eve value proposition; they’ve already tried the game.  These players are the “low-hanging fruit” so often referenced in marketing business cases.  Your easiest revenue comes from maximizing existing customer spend.  Let’s get those customers to play for 6 months instead of 3 months.  It’s much more likely that, once they get to six months, they’ll subscribe long-term.

Once players leave, it’s much harder to get them to come back, so the focus needs to be on hooking players with the promise of long-term entertainment.  The long skill training times in Eve mean players must see value to training and nurturing a character for two years to do what they want.  In the mean time, they need to be entertained.

Eve is an activity we do for satisfaction, after all.  So let’s hook them with a variety of activities.

Let’s face it, Eve PvE is mundane and repetitive.  I can only rescue the damsel so many times before I decide, “Screw it, she deserves what’s coming to her.”  For example, we should have at least some PvE that is so random you can’t write a wiki about it.

An improvement to PvE could also bridge the gap between PvE and PvP.  Why not make it so rats try to warp off when they take too much damage?  Force PvE players to fit a warp disruptor.  Bridge the gap between the competencies needed for PvE and PvP.  If you’re fighting the Guristas or Angel Cartel – who shoot missiles and projectile weapons respectively – why wouldn’t they change damage types?  Force players to omni-tank.  Fits would fall into line more like PvP setups, and you might even find that PvErs aren’t the easy marks gankers thought they were.  Now, the skills these players practice in private can become the basis for PvP interest.  That same player now has an avenue to another play style.  Engagement increases, as do the chances of a long-term subscription.

There have been players and corporations who have been turned off to WH space because of POS mechanics.  FW “button-orbiting” has turned off many PvPers.  For that matter, sov mechanics have created stagnation and huge empires, and this has turned even more people off.  In each case, improvements here can pay huge dividends.  Again, the easiest customer to convince to pay for your game is one who’s already logged in.

Another improvement that can see significant value is with DUST-Eve interconnectivity.  Perhaps corps can hire mercs to, say, destroy PI depots in WH space, disrupting fuel supplies for POSes.  Or perhaps mercs can infiltrate iHubs and destroy upgrades – or perhaps the iHubs themselves.  Maybe they could even stealth-deploy mobile cyno inhibitors, TCUs, or SBUs.  Suddenly, DUST becomes vital to Eve warfare, drawing first-person shooter players into the Eve universe in a meaningful way – through mechanics which demand that Eve players pay attention to them.

If you make your mechanics memorable and enjoyable, players won’t leave, because the very act of playing improves their opinion of your product.  Can we honestly say this is true now?  As Ripard Teg is fond of reminding us, there’s an opinion that talking about Eve is more entertaining than playing Eve.  Ouch, indeed.

Win your low-hanging fruit by improving their experience within the game.  But there’s another factor that goes to retention, and that’s player culture.

I’m not talking about what people do with mechanics.  War decs and ganking may be frustrating, but no one should feel entirely safe, and both mechanics create content and interaction, which is a great thing.  After all, the victim can become - or pay someone else to be - the predator.  I'm talking about interactions between players, not pilots.

Let me give you an example.  I recently posted a comment in the Eve Online forums wondering why 0.4 moons were seeded with valuable minerals which cannot be mined (moon harvesters can only be anchored in 0.3 and below).  This struck me as an unnecessarily confusing mechanic for people who are just breaking into moon mining.  Knowing this fact either comes from online searching or experience.

No game should depend on external online resources for basic information about how modules work.  The module itself says it’s “restricted to security level less than 0.4”.  Given that low-sec space starts at 0.4 space, it’s easy to read this description as meaning it’s usable in all low-sec space, instead of just below 0.4.  It is, to my knowledge, the only mechanic with a limit OTHER than the high-sec, low-sec, null-sec cut-offs.  That’s inconsistent and confusing to a new player.

So a player is left with experience as it’s only teacher.  They buy a POS, put it up, buy all the modules, haul or have it shipped, online POS, and try to anchor the moon harvester.  That’s a lot of time and isk (though perhaps 90% of it can be recovered by selling it).  And it’s a very bad experience.  Bad enough to cause many to eschew POS mining entirely.  Bad experiences are educational when they stem from emergent gameplay.  But when they stem from poorly explained mechanics that can confuse reasonable people… that’s not a good thing.  It’s frustrating, and frustration leads to unsubs.

Now, in my particular case, the person who responded raised a very good point that quiets my complaint: “Perhaps CCP seeded those 0.4 moons as a safety valve; they can always adjust moon mineral dynamics by toggling the harvester to allow 0.4 mining.”  That’s a good response, and it quiets my complaint.

But he gave that response amid ad hominem attacks, assumptions of my intelligence, and an “…and the horse you rode in on!” attitude.  None of that was necessary, and he actually turned my overall impression from, “that’s a great point, you’re absolutely right” to, “Wow, Eve players are dicks”.

When I have that thought, as a three-year veteran highly vested in the game, it’s just an annoyance.  But when a new player has that thought, they unsubscribe and find another game.

So, yes, while I think the declining PCU numbers are partially caused by players who are frustrated by broken mechanics leaving the game, I think culture has a role to play in those unsubs too.  I doubt it’s uncommon for a high-sec player to think, “PvE missions are boring now that I’ve done them all, null-sec players are all dicks, and I get abuse any time I share an opinion or raise a suggestion.  Screw this, I’m gonna play ____ instead.”

And that’s a big problem CCP should find a way to quietly resolve.  I’d argue that they need to address huge problems with their current mechanics as a way to recover older players.  I also think that any new features should be huge new features that provide new play experiences.  Odyssey and Rubicon did neither of those.  They added small things and made small changes, but that doesn’t cut it.  I’ve yet to even see a ghost site spawn, let alone use one.

But CCP also needs to address the poisonous culture of Eve which sends the message to new players that they’re not wanted here.  “Just move along, nothing to see.”  That adds insult to injury, and a player isn’t likely to forget or forgive that impression.  That path leads to the end of Eve through the slow whimper of declining a player base.

10 comments:

  1. All valid points. CCP has built up a rep when it comes to finding out there is a problem, then turning a blind eye/pretending it doesn't exist. When you compare it to other MMOs, ones whom are not sandboxes, their lack of ability to address these issues is sad. It can be argued that CCP does pump out 2 expansions a year and they have their hands full. Except these expansions (esp the last two) would barely be considered content updates in other MMOs. Its not like there are heaps of new dungeons to design, VOs to cast, plot to write, ect. No, its a sandbox, they compted out of all of that. So, where is all the extra time and subs going? Ship re balancing, Deployables, and UI improvements? I don't think so.

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  2. I really like your idea of changing PvE rats so they warp out and deal mixed damage. You can have warpouts as an escalation-style mechanic where you need to warp a few systems to chase them down and finish them off, so that not pointing them is a time punishment rather than hard fail.

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    1. The first time a PvE'er in a mission kills a loot thief, they're hooked on PvP.

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  3. Long-time eve players are blissfully ignorant of the impression the "tear collecting" cultural-meme gives to new players. The stupidest part is that it's 99.9% fantasy.

    With very few exceptions, Eve players are not actually sociopaths... but for some dumb reason everyone likes to pretend they are. Suicide gankers gank freighters for profit, not because they enjoy making people miserable. Ice Interdictions are massive market manipulation operations for pure profit. Attempts to demoralize the other side in a nullsec conflict are done for strategic and tactical reasons... the tears are incidental (the "tears" go away if you 'win' and drive your opponants away from defending their timers). There are a few oddballs like James315, who is enjoying his little bout of messianic roleplaying... in another game he'd style himself the "Supreme Lich Empress" and whine on forums incessantly. The vast majority of PvPers are hunting for thrills or killboard stats (fairly analogous to any random FPS player). Instead of just admitting straightforwardly, "We're attacking you because Fountain has moons we want", Eve players prefer to represent themselves as sociopaths en-masse.

    I think it partly comes from the lack of information the game gives you on how good a fight is going to be. When you kill someone who, in retrospect, didn't have a chance, you have a choice between feeling guilty or finding some psychological escape. The "Eve is a cold, hard world... and I enjoy your crying" is an easy one to choose... even if it doesn't make any real sense. Some people do enjoy being a predator, but even there it's the thrill of the hunt that is enjoyed... not the silly reactions afterwards.

    Consider a friend of mine, father of three with a decent paying job.. He's also damn near godlike at two popular first person shooters, and would love to play Eve. It took him all of 3 seconds to connect "collecting tears" with the 2nd grade bully his daughter is dealing with at school. _WHY_ should he put up with this kind of culture... when the alternative is a far more straightforward FPS community?

    Why is the supposedly mature Eve community completely unable to simply say "I shot you because you were in lowsec... and that's what lowsec is for"? The alternative that most eve players have chosen doesn't make Eve "hardcore", it simply makes it childish... and how are you going to appeal to new players when your primary attitude towards them is that of a elementary-school bully?

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  4. Some belt rats do warp off when after having taken a certain amount of damage.

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  5. I don't find tubrug's article to be very insightful if it relies on throwing around partisan jibes like:
    "All so CCP can inflate their subscription numbers with scores of highsec miners who contribute very little to the community."

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    1. Yes he definitely has a slant, but if you filter that out, he has some good points.

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  6. I think a large part of the problem of broken and confusing mechanics is CCP's code base. I read a dev post somewhere saying it would take 10 programmers six months to refactor the code so you didn't have to log off to switch characters. The POS system is in a similar situation. The PVE sucks so bad because CCP's mission creation tools are horrid and old. The majority of the game is written in stackless Python, which is incapable of taking advantage of multiple cores (looking at you TiDi).

    Fixing all of this seems like it would require a near total rewrite. They have been addressing some things over the years, but to get this done properly would require more than CCP seems to be willing to invest in back-end refinement - it isn't sexy enough to spend money on.

    TL;DR: Get used to these issues; many are far too ingrained in the system to work out now.

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    1. Nonetheless, no company ever gained any goodwill from its customers by saying, "It'd be too hard to change." If CCP wants to compete with the space MMOs of the future - even the space games of today - it has no choice but to upgrade its systems and program architecture to position itself effectively for both current features and potential areas of expansion. Otherwise, Eve is like a car after the apocalypse... slowly running out of gas with no hope of refueling.

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  7. I would like to add that it is my belief that a lot of the resources and capital needed to implement a lot of changes of that nature, are instead diverted to side projects.

    Dust being the primary culprit here. Eve is in maintenance mode, they are using us to pay for their "next big thing" attempts. Instead of improving the game itself, they do such things as spend a pile of dev time and resources to make an FPS for a console that expired a year later.

    So, far from being a priority for the company, Eve is on the back burner, and it shows.

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