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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.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Restocking the Pond

For the past couple years, CCP has done a great job of providing overhauls to pretty much every key PvP mechanic in the game. Stations and POSes are being converted to Citadels, new ships were launched, and null sovereignty was completely redefined. It took a lot of work, and it changed a lot about one of the key selling points of the game: sovereignty by large player groups.

At the same time, we saw a group of bankers take down a coalition of alliances that many considered to be unstoppable. Many people, including myself, argued that the CFC would only fall as a result of internal rot. While that’s certainly true – key corps and players defected as a result of a delayed boredom – the catalyst was one banker stealing from another.

That’s right, a complaint between bankers led to the complete obliteration of an empire that had stood for over five years. What a time to be alive! Granted, the CFC didn’t really fight, as much as it sought to preserve as many of its supercap assets as possible for a future rebuild. There were some good fights, but not nearly as many as you’d expect.

And yet, what was the effect? PvPers absolutely loved it, and a lot of players joined groups like Spectre Fleet to participate in such a historical event, even if they had no reason to particularly hate the CFC. Alliances that had grown fat from years of ratting were ejected, replaced by many more smaller alliances. And, as a result, the CFC – what remains of it – decided to move to Delve, hopefully creating a new PvP hotspot in the process.

That’s all wonderful as far as results go. Yet, the average logged-in users declined yet again. More people are “winning” Eve by quitting. And Citadel clearly hasn’t generated the mass influx of new blood it intended.

Why?

First, let’s deal with the overall “Eve is dying!” cry. No, the servers aren’t shutting down any time soon. Eve is CCP’s only current IP to make any sort of money, and as the 2015 financial statements showed, Eve can make plenty of money for a very, very long time in cruise mode. 2015 saw a vastly reduced overhead, yet higher profitability. That’s the future if CCP decides to just maintain, rather than release new content.

The easy response to this question is, “everything begins dying the moment it’s born,” which is, of course, sophist nonsense. People say that when they want to sound witty, but in reality, it’s just another form of the, “I want to speak, but don’t want to say anything.”

The simple truth is that Eve could continue as-is for several years, if not a decade. But it’s certainly not in a healthy state. Tikktokk touched on a big part of why that’s so in a recent reddit thread. In summary, he – a PvPer, mind you – argues that Eve is losing membership because of a lack of engaging PvE content. To use Tikktokk’s description of Eve as an ecosystem, the small group of PvPers who seek out combat are vastly dwarfed by the players who just want PvE entertainment.

Now, a person could rightly argue that PvP is what Eve is really about; the great vision – and the unique competitive advantage – it has rests not in the PvE experience that players can get from any other MMO, but rather in the sandbox elements, which find themselves most represented by the PvP elements of the game. Whether it’s market trading, direct ship combat, production of capital hulls for your alliance, or running a gambling site to fund the destruction of the largest coalition in the game, Eve shines like the sun when players are frustrating the efforts of other players. In comparison, PvE is a lightbulb.

And yes, you could argue that all activity in Eve is really centered around PvP; it’s the only activity that is – when done correctly and according to its purest nature – net destructive of assets and resources. Everything else in the game creates resources, and thus serves to enable other activity. In old-school Warcraft, you don’t mine gold or cut tress for the fun of it; you want resources to spend on your war machine. It’s not called Woodworking or Mining, after all.

So, let’s for a minute accept that PvP is the apex activity in Eve, with all other in-game actions centered around enabling it. That’s still only an acknowledgement of a “hierarchy of goods”, with the greatest good at the top. It does nothing to deny the importance of the other aspects.

Back before Citadel, jump fatigue, and Aegis sovereignty (ie. FozzieSov), I was one of those people arguing for the need to prioritize these PvP activities for development. And, I think I was right to do so. But the Eve of today is quite different than the Eve of yesterday. We’ve gotten a massive rework of key systems that need to be allowed to play out for a while before CCP goes changing them again. A couple years, maybe, to see all the variations and possibilities.

That said, I don’t think PvP is the priority anymore; I think Tikktokk is right. After all, for a new player in Eve, PvP is often NOT even in their minds. It took me about two years of off-and-on play before I started getting into PvP. I credit PvP with keeping me subscribed for the past five years, but I wouldn’t have gotten there without the other aspects of the game… aspects which are not, at present, doing anything to retain players.

PvP has had its chance, and while many of the changes have changed the player-vs.-player dynamic, it has done nothing to draw in new players; if anything, it’s caused some unsubs. (While some people credit skill injectors with helping new players, it also allows older players to suck the skills out of unused alts, leaving them empty husks. And empty husks aren’t likely to be compelling reasons to return to the game should they lose interest. Once that character is fully extracted, it’s much more likely to remain unsubbed indefinitely).

PvPers should care deeply about PvE, since that’s where new PvPers come from. Nearly every PvPer first interacted with the game via PvE. I know I didn’t buy a bunch of plex when I started out; I grinded out that first billion through ratting, learning the mechanics, and making mistakes as I went. Today’s PvErs are tomorrow’s PvPers.

And right now, that stock of PvErs aren’t being cultivated and replenished. Eve is widely considered a nearly inscrutable game with players who are relentless and remorseless. While I don’t want to change the latter two – that’s what makes Eve unique – we need to do something to reduce the barrier to entry for new players.

How that can be done… I honestly don’t know. I’m not a game designer and I don’t play other MMOs, which I could have drawn from for inspiration. In any case, it’s likely CCP knows better than I do how to do that. Only, they don’t. The reason? I honestly think they worry about angering the PvP base.

Well, in Tikktokk’s thread, PvP players were calling for an increased emphasis on PvE. Chessur even chimed in. The tide is turning in public opinion. The game of 2016 isn’t the game of 2014 or 2015. We can stand to shift focus off of PvP for a while.

I do know a few things though. First, we need content that can be enjoyed in a fifteen-minute spurt; not everything about this game should require two hours of gametime to payoff. As another reddit post indicated, the Eve players who started ten years ago have families and jobs now. We have other responsibilities that make it impossible for us to dedicate as much time to the game as we used to.

If I’m on a fleet and it’s running late, I’m going to log off and try to make my way back to staging on my own the next day. Sure, I may die, but so it goes; my kids aren’t going to understand that we can’t go to the zoo because I had to wait for the fleet. I may die, but I don’t particularly care. I’m not going to sit on a six-hour fleet hunting enemy titans anymore; I’ll drop mid-battle if I have to, and not feel an ounce of guilt about it.

We shouldn’t destroy those three-hour fleets, of course, and I don’t even think we need to make the quick content that lucrative. Maybe “compelling” is sufficient. New and unique experiences don’t need to be the most profitable; the players who enjoy Eve for some entertainment (and want compelling, quick experiences) aren’t the same ones who play for 6 hours straight min-maxing everything. Let’s make space for all of them, and invite the bubblegum casuals in as well. With some cultivation, they just might develop into the next Chessur or Kelon Darklight.

We all start as something else. That’s the progression path CCP should be focused on – the one that provides space for all levels of engagement, on the hope that players will eventually move one level deeper to join the rest of us in the deepest circle of PvP hell.

4 comments:

  1. Amen, brother - good post. I've been saying that PvE is the future of EVE for a year now (see http://nevillesmit.com/blog/2015/11/2/for-all-the-quiet-ones) - it's how we keep new players engage, and how we keep older players hanging around. Yes, PvP is important and the most exciting part of EVE Online, but for all the reasons you have listed, PvE is far more important. If CCP could make EVE Online's PvE a world-class playing experience, I believe you'd see much more engagement and higher subscription numbers. Why they don't seem to understand this perplexes me to no end.

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  2. EvE pve has no stories or sense of adventure, except escalations/expeditions. Upping the chance of those might help.

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  3. Your completely right. I cant stand ratting anymore, and to make mining remotely engaging i set up 12 accounts. Ironically now i pray they won't make mining more engaging. November has me scared for my rorqual, I've built two extra for "practice" 😉

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    1. I'm curious to see what this PANIC module does...

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