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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.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Many Gateways

In my last post, I’ve spoken about a hierarchy of interactions, arguing for an Eve worldview that places direct player interactions at the top.  That’s an intentionally provocative stance, and as a direct result, it decreases the priority on other interactions.

After all, while certain marketing campaigns or simplified business objectives may require CCP to single out a highest priority, these concepts don’t generally make it out of the C-suite.  But identifying what matters “most” is a great way to understand ourselves, our priorities, and our objectives.  The harder the question is, the more insightful the answer.

But they certainly don’t encapsulate how players actually engage with Eve Online.  So now I’d like to support what may appear to be a contrary position, but one that deserves attention too.

Eve needs to open as many gateways to player engagement as possible.

Eve is a niche game.  A new player coming in has to be interested in playing Internet Spaceships and have a mind for spreadsheets and calculations.  Our subscription count is somewhere between 350,000 and 500,000, with many fewer actual players.  We have average concurrent user counts of around 20,000 in the USTZ.  Eve doesn’t have the luxury of being exclusive or singularly focused.  Once they do decide to sign up, we need to get players hooked by whatever means are available.  CCP’s only opportunity to cross-sell them on other aspects of the game is between when they start playing and when they tire of whatever single feature appealed to them in the first place.

And we’re seeing that with a simplified new player experience emphasizing rewards and call-outs for a variety of aspects of the game.  Long-term engagement depends on satisfying as many of a player’s urges and interests as possible to overcome the “boredom hurdle”.

Let me share my experience prior to starting Eve.  The first game I ever played online was Federation, a text-based spaceship market trading game that used automated price fluctuations to let you earn profits, but which wasn’t otherwise mathematical.  I then moved on to The Eternal City, a text-based roleplaying game that incorporated a D&D-style combat system, had permadeath, and required you to remain in-character at all times.  It was highly situational and story-driven.  I played it for eight years.

I dabbled in graphical games like Lineage II on a mirror server, but that was pretty much a button masher that lacked long-term goals.  I kept rolling new characters to try different classes, but the game was very much a “get the best gear, smash people with it” situation and wasn’t mathematical, complex, or emergent.

So, when I started playing Eve, I was first drawn to the market.  Oh, and the spaceships.  I knew nothing else about it.  I wanted to trade.  I spent most of my time mining and running high-sec missions.

Eve was fundamentally different than any other game.  I remember panicking because I used up 45% of my capacitor during my warp off and didn’t realize it recharged with time: “I can’t do anything now, I need 45% capacitor to get back!”  I was afraid that my ship would burn up if I landed at the sun.  I succumbed to the “get the biggest ship with the biggest weapons” philosophy and thought the game was a crappy, broken game when a frigate stole jet-canned my mission loot in high sec, I attacked, and I couldn’t hit the thing with my cruise missiles.  “They’re the biggest weapon, why can’t I hit anything?”

When I tried Eve first in 2009, I had no real way of knowing what resources were out there, and the in-game experience was terrible at presenting the options available to me.  I didn’t know what I didn’t know.  I was a typical “bad” Eve player… I didn’t even think to seek out player-created commentary about the game… that had never been part of the games I played in the past, and it didn’t occur to me to do it now.

I quit within two months.

Quite simply, the Eve of 2009 wasn’t suited to draw in players and engage them.  Nor was the Talvorian Dex of 2009 predisposed to naturally fit into the Eve universe.  We were on two sides of a river with no bridge.  I wasn’t the ideal Eve player, and I wasn’t pulled in the direction I needed to go to really enjoy the game.

CCP has made a lot of strides since then to improve the new player experience to present a lot more of the possibilities for players.  And a lot of players are reading about Eve before they start playing.  New player corporations like Brave Newbies and Eve University offer huge advantages.  And bloggers are writing copiously, and enjoying an increased profile towards new players.

All of this helps.  And it’s absolutely critical that there are resources to engage players regardless of where they sit on the spectrum.  Eve is a difficult enough game for players to understand – years in, I’m still learning things – without excluding players who enjoy aspects you don’t personally enjoy.

Every gateway that brings players into the game is a good, valuable one because of the instrumental benefit of generating “leads”.  Maybe you stick to one aspect for a while (ex. mining, mission running).  That’s okay.  Just know that the game and your fellow players will try to cross-sell you on other aspects.  We want you to stick around for a long while, and the best way to achieve that goal is to convince you to find multiple parts of the game valuable to overcome “the Boredom Hurdle”.  No one wants you to stop mission running (well, except other mission runners who want THEIR loot to be more valuable!), but we want to help cultivate you into enjoying different touchpoints of the game as well.

The ultimate goal is for you to become one of those players who has two accounts with a mission runner, miner, trader, PvP character, capital pilot, and WH pilot on them, and who can enjoy a range of features for years to come.  Having a hierarchy of desired player habits and behavior doesn’t mean those who don’t conform to it; player engagement isn’t a yes/no dichotomy, but a scale from less-to-more engaged.  Every aspect of the game is valuable to retain, because every aspect can draw players deeper in.

Before I returned to Eve in 2011, I did a lot of reading.  I saw it as a challenge that I hadn’t “gotten” the game, and wanted to understand it.  And when I decided to subscribe, what appealed to me wasn’t the singular value of PvP, but rather the whole range of activities.  There was so much to explore that I thought to myself, “This game will be worth the investment of learning it.”

As many have commented, the variety drew me in again, now that I knew the variety existed.  I stayed for the inter-connectivity between myself and the other players.  I wanted to dive into null-sec – the most dangerous space available at the time – and joined a corp.  They PvPed regularly (and poorly!), and I was pulled into that community.  But the first time I was really engaged and passionate about Eve was when Get Off My Lawn attempted to invade our patch of renter’s space (under Solar Fleet).  I was offended, I was incensed.  I was livid that they would dare try to take our stuff!  And from that moment on, I was hooked.

That engagement depended on so many factors not involving sov warfare, though.  I had to be aware of the game and have enough knowledge of what I could do in it to be interested and willing to spend my time learning it.  I had to have interest in another area of the game beyond my first one: mining.  And I had to feel that the transition from one focus to another was easy enough that I was willing to do it again by moving to null-sec.  So many experiences unrelated to PvP were critical to my discovering and loving PvP.

Finding a love of one kind of direct player interaction depended on a wide range of non-interactive (to my eyes) activities first.  Like a rose, it doesn’t spontaneously generate only from itself; it needs water, soil, sunlight, and nutrients to come into being.  But even a hardcore PvPer should recognize the intrinsic value of all other behaviors and activities in Eve.  What satisfies us today doesn’t satisfy us tomorrow.

We need to capture and engage the player they are as we develop them into the player we want to be: a long-term player who interacts with several touch-points of the game at the same time.

Sell to your audience first, then cultivate your customer’s tastes in a direction that benefits you.


  1. I guess what many of us are expecting... is balance. We want your viewpoint and your stories and your idea's... but we want to feel our game and space are respected too.

    There is a way to discuss any point of view that is not contentious... and then there is, well the other way. The way that says I'm Right and You are Wrong... or, at least comes across that way

    I don't want to piss people off, all you get then is anger and trolling... I do want to stir up discussion, my favorite posts are the ones where lots of people weighed in with idea's and discussion, not accusations and argument. And that... that is up to me, the blogger, the guy who wrote the piece in the first place.

    1. The last several posts (the contentious ones) have all had this thesis: "CCP should absolutely pressure players - subtly or overtly - to engage in the activities which generate long-term engagement with Eve Online and defend against churn and burnout. Player-to-player engagement is a feature that Eve absolutely OWNS in the MMO space, and CCP and players who want to see Eve thrive should engage in and encourage others to engage in activites that demand direct, passionate, player-to-player interactions to create as many "players are the content" experiences as possible. To that end, solo and PvE activity should be discouraged in favor of playing with other people."

      I have not argued "I am right and you are wrong," but rather, "My way gets to a healthier Eve than your way." Those are not saying the same thing. And today's post isn't a reversal of any opinions I've held. CCP needs every activity players can engage in to hook them. But they absolutely must encourage players to interact with the key advantages to Eve Online that other MMOs cannot provide and experience the emotional engagement other games are incapable of providing.

      Eve is unique, and uniquely niche. To survive, it has to leverage every bit of that competitive advantage. And PvE interactions are not either a strong point or a competitive advantage. It can draw people in, but it won't make them stay. Not in the numbers we need.

      I heard an interesting statistic I'm trying to verify... that players who suffered a PvP loss within their first month are 80% likely to subscribe long-term, but those who did not were only 20% likely. I'm not taking it at face value yet - that'd strike me too much as confirmation bias!

    2. "To that end, solo and PvE activity should be discouraged in favor of playing with other people."

      I think, perhaps, 'discouraged' is too strong a word here. CCP doesn't need to discourage anything. It's in their power to completely eliminate the undesirable - just remove it from the game. Expending the effort to design a feature and then actively discourages using that feature doesn't make much sense.

      Designing PvE that encourages engagement, however, now that seems sensible. Along the same line, encouraging solo play that isn’t isolating, that too seems sensible.

  2. Nice post. It’s always a pleasure to hear the backstory of someone I’ve been reading for a while. I think you can ask just about any Eve player when the ‘got it’ and be confident you’re going to get a detailed, enthusiastic narrative in response. It’s a rite of passage we all seem to share.

    One nice thing about this post is its relatively nonjudgmental approach to engagement coupled with an impassioned description of the delights to be found in ship on ship PvP. It entices players towards your particular joys rather than bludgeons them away from their current activities. In the long run I suspect such approach will prove much more effective.

    Shuffling over to a little more investigative vein (‘cause that’s what I do), this post makes heavy use of the term ‘engagement’. CCP does too. It’s a word that ends up doing a lot of work but, at least to me, seems troublingly vague. I’m inclined to believe CCP more or less intends ‘engagement’ to mean ‘players that stick around for a long time without requiring regular doses of new theme-park content.’ The result of such definition is that players always have and will continue to find ways to amuse each other. ‘Direct’, ‘indirect’, ‘immediate’, ‘delayed’ matters not just so long as we keep each other hooked.

    Along this line of thinking, CCP Seagull is a godsend. Her CCP really seems to understand this. I’ve noticed it take root among the player base in interesting ways like, for example, people describing the approaching Drifter menace not as new content, but rather as a vehicle to facilitate game mechanic changes (further weakening of the empires) thereby handing capsuleers (players) even more control. When players see the introduction of a batch of new NPCs and exclaim, “Oh cool! New tool!” I get the warm fuzzies.

  3. Draw them in with every available tool or feature, and then push towards player interaction, the more direct the better. I can get behind that.

    But I think you may be forgetting that player-to-player engagement can be more than PvP or hostile interaction. Running missions or incursions, mining and ratting, all of these things are a LOT more fun when done in a group. Personally I HATE mining with a passion, but I do own a procurer (on my alt) and when 10 friends and corpmates are sitting in a belt mining I'll join them. Not so much because I enjoy the activity, but because I enjoy the company. And who doesn't like making ISK while talking shit for 5 hours?

    Player engagement does not come from the game, does not need to be provided by CCP, it needs to be provided by us, it comes from the people playing already. A newbie jumps into your gatecamp? Talk to him after he dies, maybe even recruit him. Your corp runs level 4s on a regular basis? Great, find like minded players who enjoy the same but usually run by themselves. And while you get them by making what they already enjoy better introduce them to different aspects of the game. Including PvP, of course.

    So I guess my point is: Keep asking yourself, every day, this very simple question: Have I helped out a newbie today? Have I done my part to keep this brilliant game we love so much populated?

  4. Good post. Though you may still be arguing for the supremacy of PVP--a fine opinion--you are acknowledging the need for a universe open in as many ways as possible to player agency.

    Yeah, CCP, may need to emphasize particular avenues, but I think you must see that PVP has never been enough, even at the game's subscriber peak, to engage us all. Some sort of balanced approach would be necessary, in which PVP is made more attractive along with ever other possible career.

    Playstyles evolve, especially among the subscribers who stick around for years. Long-term players will need buddies, yes, but they also need to know that one can build as well as destroy.

    1. Bingo. That's the crux of it. I do believe in one "highest good", but I've never argued that the other delights of the game are worthless. "Most important" isn't everything, but it is a huge thing.

    2. Bingo. That's the crux of it. I do believe in one "highest good", but I've never argued that the other delights of the game are worthless. "Most important" isn't everything, but it is a huge thing.