Recently, I was trolling Reddit/r/Eve. I noticed that Ripard Teg is gradually coming back into the writing game. I saw a lot of commentary about the logged-in user count. But, most interestingly, I saw a post about the sp hurdles of core skills that aligned nicely with some thoughts floating around my head.
Core skills present a significant problem in my mind. Just look at my challenges when starting an alt; for a 70-mil character, it cost me 28 bil. To PLEX an account for the length of time needed to train that character, it’d cost 43.166 bil and 46 months. Four years!
Now, granted, I could do somethings with that character during the interim, but pretty much the whole first year is wasted, being unable to fly anything well until I finish training those core skills. But after that year, my ship, weapon, and defensive skills all come into play, as do my personal abilities. After that first year, as long as I stick to ships I’ve mastered, I’m on parity with anyone else flying that ship. So it really is a non-scaling barrier to entry.
So, let’s first define a couple tiers of “core” skills, then go into some suggestions to rework them to allow players to get into the action much faster, while still retaining long-term training goals.
When talking about “core” skills, players aren’t just talking about one type, but rather several. The first are, as the reddit poster Ohh_Yeah clarifies, those skills that apply just by sitting in any ship before any modules are fitted. These are the most traditional “core” skills, and provide universal bonuses. Training them allows you to make the most of all of your ships, and for that reason everyone trains them.
CPU Management 5
Electronics Upgrades 5
Energy Grid Upgrades 5
Power Grid Management 5
Capacitor Management 5
Capacitor Systems Operation 5
Evasive Maneuvering 5
Fuel Conservation 5
High Speed Maneuvering 4
Warp Drive Operation 5
Acceleration Control 4
Target Management 5
Long Range Targeting 5
Signature Analysis 5
Hull Upgrades 5
Tactical Shield Manipulation 4
Shield Operation 5
Shield Management 5
Shield Compensation 5
Training all of these skills without implants takes 190 days and represents 8.3 million sp.
The next group contains skills that are effectively necessary due to the bonuses they provide. Their use is more limited, but they still affect huge swaths of ships and serve as necessary prerequisites. You really need to get them to IV or V.
Electronic Warfare 4
Advanced Target Management 4
Gravimetric Sensor Compensation 3
Ladar Sensor Compensation 3
Magnetometric Sensor Compensation 3
Radar Sensor Compensation 3
Armor Resistance Phasing 4
EM Armor Compensation 4
Explosive Armor Compensation 4
Kinetic Armor Compensation 4
Thermic Armor Compensation 4
Armor Layering 4
Shield Upgrades 5
Kinetic Shield Compensation 4
Explosive Shield Compensation 4
Thermic Shield Compensation 4
EM Shield Compensation 4
Advanced Drone Avionics 4
Drone Avionics 5
Drone Durability 4
Drone Interfacing 5
Drone Navigation 5
Drone Sharpshooting 5
Weapon Upgrades 5
Controlled Bursts 5
Motion Prediction 5
Rapid Firing 5
Surgical Strike 4
Trajectory Analysis 4
Missile Launcher Operation 5
Guided Missile Precision 4
Missile Bombardment 5
Missile Projection 4
Rapid Launch 5
Target Navigation Prediction 5
Warhead Upgrades 4
Advanced Weapon Upgrades 5
All told, completing just these basic skills to provide you with a strong PvP foundation requires an additional 13 million sp over 300 more days (assuming you’ve already completed the first tier).
That's a total of 18 months in, and you're finally at the starting gate.And you can’t even sit in any ships or fire any weapons yet.
At this point, a lot of folks may raise the point, “You don’t really need to train all of these to V… IV works fine enough.” And a lot of players use characters that only have those skills trained to IV. But if I have an extra 5% of shield than you off the top, and we fly the same ships with the same fits in the same way, I will win every time, purely because I have been playing the game longer. How many times do we need to do this before you decide you don’t want to play anymore? Based on our retention rates, the answer is, “Often.”
These core skills create a barrier to entry for PvP. To do it well and gain enjoyment out of it, you need to wait for many, many months.
“Want to PvP? Sure, that’ll be $246”
One of the endearing parts of Eve is that an 80-mil-SP player may have the same abilities in a given ship as a 30-mil-sp player if the 30-mil SP player specializes. Over time, players can increase the repertoire of ships they can fly well, but they can only ever become so good in each ship.
But a player who hasn’t trained these core skills will be totally wrecked by a player who has, regardless of what else he trains. Everyone trains these core skills because everyone has to train these core skills to compete. They no longer serve as a point of differentiation or a choice players CAN make, but rather an obligation players MUST make. And they serve as a heavy weight on new players specifically, who are at a significant disadvantage until they complete them.
CCP has already removed learning skills from the game, and attribute mapping may be on the way out, too. Both of these efforts stem from a desire to limit unnecessary complexity without affecting valuable complexity that leads to consequences of making choices.
Reinventing the System
Where we draw the line is up for debate, but these core skills need to go. They create an unnecessary barrier that prevents new players from getting into the action, and which is affecting retention. Many players have grumbled about the need to spend years training a character to a competent level. When Eve can lose players to a lot of other games, or even just to general annoyance, we can’t afford this barrier any longer. New players will keep Eve alive.
And yet… the concerns of veteran players need to be taken into account as well. Skill training needs to have value, or no one will train a skill (Strategic Cruiser skills, I’m looking at you…). Plus, generally a character needs to be more useful and effective over time to keep players engaged in training up that character. If new players can be quickly brought to a fighting form, there’s no reason to value them so highly, and this result has all sorts of effects on retention and engagement.
Off the top, we need to remove these skills immediately, and apply the effects they provide by adjusting the stats on all ships to reflect Level V for each. This is going to be work, sure, but not only will it allow players to be more competitive out of the gate, it will also make CCP’s future ship rebalances easier to manage (no more worrying about how stat changes affect players at different core skill levels).
But we don’t want to reduce the value of having an 80-mil-SP character, or the training time needed to get to a certain point of training. To be able to fly all T2 cruisers and below with all guns and missiles at specialization should still require about 60-mil-sp and a similar total train length. And 120 mil sp should still take about the same amount of time to train. So while we’re cutting XX sp out of the skill queue, let’s increase the train times and total SP required for all other skills by 10-15% to compensate and keep players engaged longer. Training rates would remain constant, though, so each skill would take a little longer to train. If a skill previously took 256k sp to get to V, now let’s make it require 280-300k.
This change would make each skill more valuable, and spread out the achievement across a longer range of time to keep players engaged in a meaningful way for longer. Much of the “waiting” that occurs at the beginning of a character’s train time (while they train core skills) would be dispersed more evenly to provide meaningful thresholds (unlocking T2 guns, T2 ships, opening up new ship classes) at a more even pace. The sooner we can open doors for new players, the more likely they are to experience the diversity Eve offers and the better the chance that they’ll stay long-term. We need to better spread out the changes in in-game experience training can enable to help more players reach those thresholds.
Players who have already trained these core skills would receive sp reimbursements at the old values, and be able to apply that at leisure at the new sp values post-change to give them the same training-time equivalent to spend as they wish.
If both of these changes are applied, we’ll see the following effects:
- Young Characters (little-to-no core skill training). Overnight, newbie characters will become much more combat-capable and be better able to compete with veterans in general. They will have a negligible amount of sp to reapply, but that sp will go a long way, since they have many skills not yet trained.
- Mid-level Characters (partially-trained core skills) - Their total SP count will increase slightly and they’ll have some sp to re-apply. They will see their combat ability increase somewhat as the effects of any core skills they haven’t finished are applied.
- Veteran Characters (fully-trained core skills) - Veterans will see massive spikes in their sp counts, but their overall combat ability will not change overnight. They’ll have many skillpoints to reapply, but the value of those sp will be limited, since many of the skills they have yet to train are very time-intensive.
Plus, more importantly, new players won’t need to wait for years to get up to par. Hopefully, we can see the end of, “I wanted to play, but I didn’t think I could compete with the veterans…” posts as players begin to feel that they can, indeed, swing with the veterans. In the final tally, we’ll see more players having more interactions and having more success. And that will improve the skill level of everyone, while helping to build a better player ecosystem.