The topic of “player interactions” comes up quite a bit on this blog and in the game as whole. Most people agree that Eve is about fostering player interactions, but no one – myself included – takes the time to sit down and define the term we throw about so often. The definition we use is all the more important following Fozzie's comment that CCP wants to "put players in contact with each other," in the devblog announcing the revised changes to null-sec sovereignty.
But before we can do that, we need to understand the necessary components of a good definition. The purpose of a definition is to bundle up a set of ideas into a single “thing” that people can easily conceive of and apply in future thinking. The definition of a “meeting”, for instance, is necessary because it sets certain expectations about how the “thing” you’re about to attend is supposed to go, and sets some baselines for the standards of behavior. Specific instances have different applications of the expectations incorporated within the definition “meeting”, but the essential nature of it is the same.
So, definitions have to be vague enough to account for some variation in specific instances. But they cannot be so vague that they cease to have meaning. This is particularly noticeable in the trend over the past fifty years. In the desire to be inclusive of all things, words are becoming less precise. Consider the fact that people will make many claims about what “freedom”, “right”, and “truth” mean, to the point that it seems they can mean anything. This is intentional, and its purpose is to undercut the value of those terms in argument. Yet, the fact that most of us can feel a sense of awkwardness when people invoke one of those terms for something that we know, in our hearts, it clearly does not mean.
So, definitions cannot be inclusive of every fringe case, but they must not be so precise that they provide no value to us on a daily basis.
That said, what is the definition of a “player interaction” in Eve? (Ed. Note: tl;dr at the bottom.)
So let’s go one deeper. What are the essential elements of a player interaction? Now we’re getting somewhere.
First and foremost, player interactions require players to be in direct contact with each other. In terms of a sentence, you should be able to make a “subject-verb-object” relationship between them. “I scrammed you,” is a player interaction. One player is taking an action that directly influences the activity and state of another. But that’s an easy one.
Is it essential that the player have a “direct” effect on another? What about indirect actions? The challenge with this adjustment to the definition is a question of scope. Where do you stop? If you open the definition to actions that are one step removed (Player A sells an item on the market, market allocates item to highest-priced buyer Player B), then you need to open them to actions that are fifteen steps removed (Player A mines in system A, Player B shoots Player C twenty five jumps away). And that reduces the relationship to the point of absurdity.
Plus, we already have a definition for that, called “effect”. We have to be careful not to conflate our terms. Direct interaction seems important for our definition to have any meaning at all. Otherwise, why are we defining it and using it in the first place?
Many people argue that a solo miner interacts with players who build ships because one sells to the market and the other buys from it. Or that mission runners plugging away blinging out their ship are interacting with people who sell faction and deadspace materials. Are those mission runners seeking out modules, haggling on a price with the sellers, and directly contracting? In most cases, they aren’t. Instead, they buy from a pool (the market) that they view as a source of modules. Their intention is not to interact, but to simply acquire. They have no connection to the seller, and the entire process is done through an intermediary, the market. A player has no option to sell a module to the 2nd highest buyer… it is always the top buyer. This is a process, not an interaction, and processes could be replaced with a random calculator (the old text-based game Federation had a tremendous market that was governed by fluctuating buy/sell prices which could also be influenced by player actions).
Player interactions in Eve in particular also seems to require intentional agency. I say this is specific to Eve because you cannot inflict an effect on another player without a keystroke or mouse click. The natural state of Eve is inactivity. If you don’t enter commands, your ship will do nothing, affect a change on nothing. In fact, it won’t undock, won’t be fitted, won’t be unpackaged, indeed, won’t exist. We players must first enter commands to take actions.
Sometimes, those commands are accidents. When they directly affect others, these are still interactions, albeit mistaken actions. Just as you can accidentally hit someone with a baseball bat without intending to do so, you can accidentally hit F1 instead of F2 when you’re in your Scimi and activate your whore gun, killing the friendly you meant to repair. The effect wasn’t intentional, but the action was.
So, so far, we have, “Player interactions require one player to take an action that has a direct impact on another.” Is that enough, or is there more involved in the process?
What about recognition; does an action need to be observed and recognized as a player interaction to be considered such? Conversely, what if a player isn’t noticed; is it still a player interaction? For instance, let’s consider two scenarios.
Scenario A: Player A finds Player B mining in an asteroid belt. Player A immediately points and targets Player B and begins to shoot, but didn’t realize he was in high-sec and is CONCORDed quickly. Throughout this exchange, Player B was eating dinner with his family. By the time Player B returns, CONCORD has left and his shields have completely regenerated from Player B’s attack. Because he’s mining, Player A doesn’t even see the wreck on his overview, finished mining, and leaves.
Does this scenario result in a player interaction? Player A had no idea that player B was trying to interact with him, and experienced no effects from the interaction. Yet, an interaction definitely took place. But, was it a player interaction?
Though Player B took an action he might have taken against a red cross, the fact that Player B was logged in, mining just at that spot created a unique set of effects that Player B experienced. Player A’s decision to mine, his decision to fit his ship the way he did, his decision to be stationary instead of orbiting something… these all potentially affected the result. Regardless of Player A’s awareness of the interaction, Player A’s presence affected player B’s actions in a very real way, through a direct effect applied by one player on another. The fact that Player A didn’t realize it had happened changed nothing. A player interaction clearly took place.
And let’s look at Scenario B: Player C is traveling cloaked through a wormhole and finds two Vexors working a sleeper site. He is patient and waits for the chance to catch one of them alone. However, they’re smart and remain aligned the whole time, warp in and out together, and remain in range to defend each other. Player C decides to move on without attacking.
Here, you could argue that no interaction occurred. After all, Player C moved on without engaging the two Vexors, no modules were activated against them, and the Vexors in fact never even knew he was present. No player interaction took place, right?
Or did it? The Vexors offered no opportunity for Player C to slide in and kill one of them, which meant that they coordinated their actions in a way to mutually support each other. Their decision to stay aligned, to stay together, and to huddle all resulted in them surviving. Player C performed a risk/benefit analysis and decided not to engage, but he still did complete that analysis, incorporating the decisions those two Vexors were making into his calculations. In this case, I’d argue that a player interaction did exist; each side took actions, and those actions directly impacted the decision-making process of at least one player. This was definitely an interaction, albeit one with a negative result – the lack of a thing, instead of the presence of a thing.
TL;DR: And now we have a definition we can be proud of. “Player interactions require one player to take an action that has a direct effect on another’s actions, state, or decision-making, regardless of whether both sides are aware of this effect.”
So, when CCP states that their goal is to “enable player interactions”, I interpret it as CCP wanting to encourage activities that put players in situations where they have to make choices, take actions, and use their judgments to respond to the direct activities of other players. Tossing people into the soup to see how the mix tastes, if you will.
Because yielding on these points results in “player interaction” and “effect” having virtually the same meaning, which they clearly do not. Player interactions result in effects, but not all effects are player interactions. A solo miner or mission runner clearly affects other players, but he is not interacting with other players when he mines solo.
Nor, would I argue, do market traders; they’re interacting with a market. The actions of other players are only one step removed from their own actions, but they are still “removed” by the mechanism of the market. And this will be true unless Eve shuts down the market and converts to a barter and trade-exclusive system. As an interesting result, you can have a form of PvP (market PvP) which requires no player interactions at all (players can respond to market conditions in a removed way, without ever interacting with buyers or sellers directly). And even more interestingly, market PvP can instigate real player interactions (“Stop 0.01 isking my orders!”).