Tuesday, December 2, 2014

It’s Awful Lonely In Here…

I recently posted an article about what new players should know before starting their life in New Eden.  It generated a lot of responses from the community, a lot of which were extremely positive.  I can’t call it universal acclaim because of my warning that newbies shouldn’t try to play Eve solo when starting out.

A lot of solo players took umbrage at that.  The most complete reaction came from Eve Hermit, who wrote a counterpoint about the virtue of solo play.  It’s a quick read and makes several defenses of solo play, all of which support the general idea that it’s quite possible to play the game solo and be very happy with it.

And this is all absolutely valid, and completely true.  Solo play is a great thing in Eve (it’s also the best form of PvP).

Yet… diving into Eve with an intention of playing solo from the start is not an optimal way to approach the game for the first time.

As humans, our preconceptions heavily influence the experiences we have.  Our minds perceive collections of atoms as separate objects (a chair vs. the floor, for instance).  Our expectations influence the way we approach the world.  That’s why we always drive faster down a familiar road than a road we’ve never been on before.  Perception creates our reality.

And the goal of my article was to tune new players’ preconceptions so they are more compatible with the reality of Eve.  If someone pitches Eve as a co-op game with clear progression tracks (ie. you unlock the super-powerful ability that makes your role viable at level 40), you’re going to be frustrated at the lack of structure once you start playing.

If we can tell people the reality of Eve in a way that makes them feel encourages and interested, we can increase that 10% retention rate to something along the lines of 30, 40, or 50%.  I personally think CCP needs to market Eve based on the differences between it and other MMOs more.  “No waiting to have an influence (ie. scamming, awoxing, scouting for fleets, all of which can be done with new characters).  “There are no GMs to save you… or the other guy.”  “Pirates in space: all the matters is what a player can do and what he cannot; there is no ‘should’.”  “Own and influence the world around you.”  But that’s another post…

Solo play is certainly viable, but solo play is not a starting point that tends to lead to long-term engagement.  The driving force that instills passion in Eve players is – universally if you look at the stories they tell and the events raise their Irish – the interaction with other players.  People hate Goonswarm because of the interactions they’ve had (Burn Jita, hulkageddon, scamming and awoxing, market manipulations).  And that hate drives them to join communities to do something about it.  To quote the sith, hate makes them stronger.

Oh, and it keeps them subscribing, logging in, and providing someone to shoot.

Passion, emotion, and investment of their time and their soul is what makes Eve compelling.  That’s why we have bittervets… in any other game, they’d simply unsubscribe.  But they enjoy their corpmates – in fact, their friends – and continue playing because of the people around them.  You don’t get bittervet solo mission runners… they just unsubscribe.

And retention rests heavily upon new players making those connections.  Once they’re made, there’s nothing preventing you from going solo and doing all sorts of things on your own.  There are a lot of people in Repercussus who don’t join the large fleets, but are hanging out on comms chatting while they solo-hunt in wormholes, or look for fights in FW.

If players start out doing things on their own, they set a pattern of being unconnected with the rest of the community.  Yes, they may read the Eve guides and find out what’s happening via the forums, but that’s just information.  Information provides knowledge, but there are a lot of games I know a lot about that I simply don’t play anymore.  Knowledge and familiarity doesn’t lead to long-term engagement and subscription… passion and connections do.  That’s the power of the sandbox… the grains get under your skin.

For a real-world example, look at your family.  You know a lot about them.  So much, in fact, that a purely rational conclusion is to never speak to them again.  But the memories, history, and emotion you feel drives you to try to keep a good relationship with them even when your brain is telling you they’re nuts.  You’re level of engagement and connection is very high with your family, and you stick around because of that.

Solo play is certainly viable, but it’s an end-stage after you’ve already been drawn in.  To encourage new players to immediately follow a path of solo-play is counter-productive.  If you do that, a great many will never make the connections they need to feel connected to the game, and their player lifespan will be much shorter as a result.

But if they do the reverse… have solo-play tendencies and first join a community of players… they’ll be making emotional and personal connections with other players as they acquire base game knowledge.  If they later decide to move to solo play, their roots are already deep in the soil of Eve, and the likelihood of them remaining is much greater.  We play for the emotion.

And finding ways to quickly engage new player’s emotions should be the point of a new player’s experience.  Nothing does that even half as effectively as bonding with other players.

Great post though, Eve Hermit, and a great defense of solo play.  I agree completely!


  1. I think you stray from Eve Hermits point and note so simply show the difference in approach and enjoyment when you state: "Yet… diving into Eve with an intention of playing solo from the start is not an optimal way to approach the game for the first time."

    As someone who had never enjoyed.optimal game play I find that line a fascinating window into personal taste.

    1. I'm hardly a "win at Eve" player looking for optimal actions to take, but I do think there are certain mindsets that make us more or less receptive to accepting and appreciating what Eve is about.

      It's the difference between dictating that all discourse share an identical opinion and dictating that all discourse needs to be done in one of the existing languages in the world (everyone can even pick which, ie. what parts of Eve they participate in).

    2. I did not accuse you of being a win at Eve player. I don't think that was your intent in your use of optimal.

      I pointed out, and you then agreed, that you see that there are particular method to understanding Eve. I disagree. :)

    3. Fair enough! Thanks for reading and commenting.

  2. It’s funny I think...

    I have 3 other gamers here at my new job... (I am starting to think my boss, a gamer, is intentionally favoring gamers over non-gamers in our applicants... huh, non-gamer discrimination... whoda thunk it?) Out of our staff of 8, 4 are gamers and 4 aren't, but the gamers are ALL the newer techs like me. Plus, of course, our Glorious Leader... =]

    Anyhoo... The Boss & Bob are WoW (and GW2, EQ, Skyrim, etc., etc.) players and I am the lone EVE guy... until today. Our newest new bro in the shop is an EVE & WoW player and The Boss has stated that as soon as some RL>Gaming settles down in his RL he is gonna DL the EVE client and finally take the plunge... He has dipped his toes in the EVE pool twice, but both times he felt that he simply did not have the time to invest that a game of the depth and complexity of EVE needs in order to be played well, and he hates doing anything, much less gaming, half way.

    So as you can imagine we have some very interesting talks around the water cooler as 'twere... And yer right, and as I said before, yer wrong, but in the right way.

    I feel what you ‘mean’ is that it is better, overall, for the game for noobs to be guided, advised, led, or in some manner very strongly pointed at getting out of NPC corps and into player corps due to the current understanding of how and why EVE loses newbies at such a high rate. And I strongly agree... except where I don’t.

    We DO need to make noobs knowledgeable that there is SO much MOAR to the game if you 'can' and do join a player corp... but we also have to fight against the stories of noobs getting scammed and taken advantage of by heinous older players... and it does happen and it will continue to even if CCP makes sweeping changes to Corps & Alliances... because it's EVE and NO ONE is 'safe' anywhere at anytime... which is as intended.

    And there are also those players as simply do not "want" to join a group of strangers or, due to RL jobs, travel, weird scheduling, etc., etc. who simply cannot effectively join a player corp and have the experience be of any real use or benefit to them or the corp. We don't want to lose these players either... as we are all in agreement that solo play in EVE is and should be a thing.

    to be continued...

  3. cont...

    The thing I think we are fighting is that the vast majority if not all of our newbies come from standard MMO Themeparks like WoW. EVE is, IMHO, the only really true sandbox/open PvP game in existence. All others offer some variations on Dev created primary content and allow or can even bonus, to a degree, some forms of solo play. EVE does not, period. The content in EVE is not the Missions or Mining or anything created by CCP… it’s US. And that is a new thing and damn hard to understand for players weaned on the WoW tit.

    The guys I work with agree… very strongly. Bob the WoW player keeps asking me about loss in EVE… and how can we STAND to play such a game? How can it be FUN? When ALL you have (I live inna POS in Anoikis and we who do know the risks there) can be burned, blasted, stolen and your corpse scooped up while video is taken of all of it and posted on Youtube? He cannot IMAGINE enjoying such a horrible experience… and yet… he told me today that over the weekend he and his Guild had basically completed all the major content in the new Fields of Drainage WoW expansion… It was all done. Now he only looks forward to re running the same dungeons (or whatever it is you do in Azeroth)… while they wait on Blizzard once again.

    The other guy, let’s call him John, told me he has been playing EVE about a year… he is in Fac War for the LP… he is in an NPC corp ‘because’ he doesn’t know or trust anyone in game, because he has read the many stories of scamming and ganking and our ebil playerbase, because he is uncomfortable with the idea of trying to fit in with a group who already know each other and all and… he is concerned about taking the risk… plus ALL the other games he has ever player were totally playable solo so why wouldn’t EVE be the same? It’s just another big MMO game… right?

    THIS is what we are fighting… not whether or not you CAN play EVE solo or whether or not you HAVE to join a corp… but that our potential new payers have never played a game anything LIKE it before… because there never has been a game anything like it before… New players believe that the stories of how hard it is and how deep it is are all just hype and advertising. No other game is like EVE, and yet their expectations are set in WoW and EQ and all the other standard MMOs… and when they join EVE those very same expectations lead them to a hard, fast and very unpleasant faceplant right into those very differences.

    It is not about solo vs social… it is that EVE is unique. That is what we are really up against.

    1. Very well said. You've hit the nail on the head about our issue. Eve is a unique bird, and the old assumptions just don't apply. This is, conveniently, what makes it so engrossing for us, though, and promoting the differences is promoting a strength.

      Ultimately, players should do whatever makes them happy, of course. And Eve is special because there's no right answer, and no optimal path to play. But just as there are better and worse ways to "learn to learn", there are better and worse ways to prepare yourself to be a long-term subscriber.

  4. Good post. I have been solo (with my alts) for almost 3 years at this point, with my oldest character being nearly 5 years old. I joined a lowsec pirate outfit within 2 months of starting the game, and played with others (sometimes in a very small corp of only 3-4 people) more or less continuously thereafter until a combination of some friends unsubbing and my RL circumstances nudged me into the solo EvE lifestyle. Even now, as a "solo" player, I interact with others via PVP and in local, occasionally hooking up with some old friends from time to time. Point being that solo EvE is very possible, but without that formative time of learning the game in a corporation with support systems in place I'd most likely not still be playing at all.

  5. Sorry, you sound like a dude giving birthing advice to a pregnant woman --you really don't get it.
    Step 1: read up on differances between introverts and extroverts. Our brains function differently.
    I have played solo for almost two years...even fleeting up for a few hours is exhausting.
    Don't assume your experience, feelings, or passions are valid for others.

    1. Glad to hear you've find an alternative way to play that suits you.

      My opinion isn't based only on my experience, but upon facts released by CCP. Retention of players beyond the trial period shows very clear and very strong correlations with joining player corps and socializing.

      Exclusively playing solo from the beginning without socializing with others is an extreme minority play style. Not wrong, but not THE way I'd recommend new players try first.

  6. I think the primary piece of advice to give new players is exactly that which Hermit gave: come up with goals. Aimlessness is what makes people leave, regardless if they're in a corp or not.

    After that, depending on the player, then steer them towards player corps. Get players to figure out some of what they want to do in the game first, then see if they can be hooked up with groups that share most of those goals.

  7. except aimlessness is freedom. The great strength of EVE is not forcing us.
    A shame if we lose that.