Saturday, July 4, 2015

Reworking Core Skills

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.

Core Skills: Declassified

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
     Navigation 5
     Acceleration Control 4
     Afterburner 5
     Target Management 5
     Long Range Targeting 5
     Signature Analysis 5
     Mechanics 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
     Drones 5
     Drone Avionics 5
     Drone Durability 4
     Drone Interfacing 5
     Drone Navigation 5
     Drone Sharpshooting 5
     Weapon Upgrades 5
     Gunnery 5
     Controlled Bursts 5
     Motion Prediction 5
     Rapid Firing 5
     Sharpshooter 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.

“Tickets, Please.”

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.


  1. Great idea! I support this 100%, and not just because Tal is a bum I fly with occasionally, either... :)

  2. I disagree heavily on some of these. For instance you included almost all important drone skills. The base things that make your ship better yes, the more focused one's like drones armor/shield/sensor comp and gunnery/missile skills no.

    1. There's a lot of room to negotiate on those "second tier" requirements, like the drone, gunnery, and missile skills. That first tier, though, is just silly.

  3. I read up to the point you said you cant do anything useful or good the first year and I stopped because thats 100% false.

    You can do anything in the EvE flowchart for activities within a week or so of beginning play. You dont need level 5 skills to do stuff. You can be good and useful as a new player with level 2 or 3 in nearly everything. You dont need level 5s in every core skill as a new player.

    As a newbie, you should be just that: a newbie. You shouldnt be reaching top tier within seconds of being created. A newbie should suck at things. They should have to train and learn and have something to aspire to.

    Level 2 or 3s in all core skills is acceptable for a new player who can then train the longer, multi day (instead of multi hour) skills. Just because it takes a year to train core skills to max level doesnt mean a new player should take that path.

    Its boring, its not fun. And people should stop suggesting thats the only path a newbie takes.

    1. Hyperbole, yes. But the fact is that if you go out in solo or small gang, you're at a tremendous disadvantage for the first two or so years versus everyone else, in all situations.

      Expecting players to be "newbies" for up to two years is ridiculous if a game wants to make money and draw people in. Yes, Eve is harsh, yes it's brutal. And we love it for that. But let's first reel people in before smacking them across the face.

    2. Meh. I can fairly reliably kill things in FW with 3 month old toons and specialized training. Obviously I have a lot of knowledge about waht to train and what ships are effective with lows SP + years of experience flying frigs, but it can totally be done.

    3. 3 month my friend. A new player will get farmed during the 3 month it takes to get ok a FW. He will leave before the end of these 3 months of farming.

    4. Tal your reply smacks of the adage that "new players should be on an equal playing field right out the gate". This is a concept which is patently false.. why should new players be on equal footing for solo and small gang PVP? There is a reason why this game-style (particularly in small hulls) is the most difficult one in game to master (even for high sp pilots). Skills (or lack thereof) should aid in that difficulty.

    5. Not an equal footing. But we do need to put them on a fair enough footing that they don't get disgusted and turned off to Eve before they get hooked. Everyone has to train these core skills (especially capacitor, cpu, powergrid, etc.). And as a result it serves as a "skill tax" on new players. That's utterly ridiculous.

      I can see a strong argument defending the need to train the shield, drone, gunnery, missile, and armor skills. But the fitting skills are nothing more than a delaying tactic at a time when players most desperately need to be included and their path made easier.

      An Eve with a flat 300,000 subscribers will see only entropy as life changes draw down that number, and is an Eve that is doomed.

      I'd rather draw people in early, then allow the escalating skill costs and skill ranks slow them down AFTER they're hooked.

  4. The best idea I've seen put forth so far - a good balance between not screwing the vets and helping out the new guys. Nicely done.

  5. An idea with which i wholeheartedly disagree. Skill training is like any other activity in this game, one which requires persistence and careful study to excel at. It's ludicrous to just establish a new baseline cause it advances some notion of player retention. News flash, not everyone should be gifted all core skills by virtue of having a pulse. Learn 2 play!

    1. I would absolutely agree with you if Eve was real. If we had no choice but to live and work in this world, struggling to make it as a capsuleer.

      Unfortunately, people can just screw off and do something else. They've been making that decision, and increasingly if you look at the stagnation in logged-in counts.

      If we want to change that, we need to look at some of the reasons why. Having to train months of fitting skills to be on a level playing field is not how we change that.

    2. Please dont take this the wrong way, but eve doesnt need more "catering" or "hand-holding" to keep new players. The game needs more of "the right kind" of player.

      If the game can't hold your attention long enough to make/exceed short term goals (i.e. getting half-way decent in one hull in 2-3 months) then nothing will help them surmount the difficulties of sticking through the long game (i.e. goals with yearly timeframes).

      Stop trying to pander to the masses. Its quality we need, not quantity.

    3. Anon: You're posting like it's just a matter of Eve improving it's "player refining" powers and suddenly we'll find "the right kind" of player over in some place we never looked. This is weak, wishful thinking at best.

  6. Good post, one which highlights some embarrassing holes in my training. Why, though, are shield skills identified as core and not armor? Shouldn't that list include one or the other, or both, depending on what one flies?

    1. There really are few armor skills... Mechanics and Hull Upgrades, whereas Shield has 4 base skills.

    2. Woouldja look at that! A new"er" player, recognizing some skill training oversight??!!

      And acting to correct it without it being handed to them??!!!

      What is this heresy!! People actually thinking and learning for themselves, pfft!


  7. Not sure I agree with this. Weapons skills are a choice, should not be given. I can decide to train all gunnery skills to 5 and have 0 in missiles, or I can choose to have all missiles no guns, or even just train them all to 3. Will I be on par with someone that has those trained to 5? Of course not, however, I shouldn't be expecting to go toe to toe with a veteran player. That's the same expectation as it would be for a new WoW character to think they should be allowed to be on par with those that have raided for years to get the best gear. The REAL barrier to newbie pvp is that newbros (other than a few) do not fight. It's us vets that go and wreck newbie space by going there to get fights, and of course pwning the new kids there. A better solution would be to have some starter combat systems where newbies could go and fight each other without the vets coming to wreck things.

    1. On the weapon skills, I completely agree. I'm coming around to the thinking that really only the core and fitting skills should go... CPU Management, Power Grid Management, Advanced Weapon Upgrades, etc. They add extra time without providing situational value.

  8. To be a little crude, this is a case of newbie blue balls. They get all worked up to pvp and suffer for it. They need to relax and we need to encourage them to have fun with the options they have available to them, not make demands that they'll frustrate themselves trying to fulfill.

    The first year of eve should be of discovery, learning the mechanics that they'll be working with, and setting goals. Not about getting out there to pvp RIGHT NOW SOLDIER!! And certainly not agonizing that you can't compete with people that have been playing the game longer than you.

    The expectations that vets put on new players and that they put on themselves are unrealistic. And that's a problem caused by the culture, not the mechanics.

    -Baljos Arnjak

    1. ^^ Baljos!!!

      Say it loud and from the rooftops brother, this is the exact right attitude, couldnt agree more. +1 billion :)

    2. And yet, we have to deal with the culture we have. We can say, "It shouldn't be so..." all we want, but it's still happening. What actions does CCP take to change that? In the interim, where do the next 100,000 players come from?

  9. If this was WoW would you argue everyone should start max level so everyone could join battlegrounds immediately instead of leveling up?

    Attributes and starting SP need a look but with 2m SP you can get quite far.

    1. But WoW has a ton of game play that makes it fun and engaging to level up. EVE does not.

      And WoW let's you start specializing game play at the character screen. Your playstyle is already different based on your starter skills. You don't have to spend the first 20 levels getting to baseline and then you get to start training warrior skills. Nope, within 15 minutes you already have skills that make the game play much differently than if you had selected a rogue or warlock.

      From personal experience, I have seen friends try EVE and then quit within a couple weeks because they didn't want to waste time getting core skills before they could really start specializing.

      Reworking core skills or removing them entirely isn't letting people start at max level. Instead it eliminates "Train Breathing."

      When this game needs several large corporations dedicated to just getting newbs involved, maybe you need to start looking at initial barriers to entry.

    2. I don't play WoW, nor would I. But I can tell you that Eve needs to hook players within the first gameplay session, and sustain some form of hook (it can be different hooks) through each session for the first three or four months to engage players deeply. That's obviously not happening now with a wide variety of players, based on the burnout.

      What the answer is, I don't know. I think it rests on drawing people into entry-level play of every possible play-style, then requiring them to make choices about which areas they want to develop.

      Here's a metaphor. When writing, a novice is not going to know how to create compelling tension, write dialog, and establish 3-dimensional characters (among the thousands of other things). They have to cultivate these skills one at a time, practicing it until they're satisfied with the quality. This is like the weapon skills, shield skills, and spaceship command skills in Eve.

      But they don't start their writing career being able to use only 80% of the alphabet, limited to 10-word sentences, or a maximum word count limit (CPU Management, Powergrid Management, Advanced Weapon Upgrades).

    3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  10. So lets give them all the skills they need to jump straight to a T3 Alliance level ship and ... wait, damn, okay okay, I know the Alliance needs to give them the first ship as a recruitment incentive :) awesome solved the "I don't have any ISK, I need a ship" problem. Cause you know it's just not fair that the Senior people have all spent years establishing ISK income flows and "Damn It" those newbies should get to play at the vet level by day 2 you know. Oh wait, CRAP, wait, wait ... hmm the newbie will need a suitcase carrier to move all their stuff around too.... alright lets have CCP give them all the navigation skills they need and ... wait, wait guess we need to add a carrier of choice and the fittings as well to the recruitment incentive.... OOOPS what about the newbie who thinks it will be "RAD COOL!" if I could just have a TITAN right from the get go .... OMG can you imagine the fun we would all have if that were to happen :) I can hear the PING now "EVERYONE LOG IN AND GET IN FLEET TITAN TACKLED... GO, GO, GO!!!!". In Fleet "OMG what's going on?" "Some newbie on day 2 trying to figure out how to gate jump his TITAN into HIGHSEC and he is tackled on the gate." "LET'S ROCK BOYS!!!"

    Things given and not earned are never respected or honored by the receiver. Your solution to a non existant problem will only create many more problems. Thus the reason system engineers are a 1 in a hundred find and component engineers are a dime a dozen.


    1. I notice all the people who are arguing against Tal's hyperbole with EVEN MORE HYPERBOLE AND CAPITAL LETTERS are Anonymous...

    2. Anonymous, this is called a "reducio ad absurdum" fallacy. Saying that a handful of skills are unnecessary complication is not the same as saying they all are.

      You can debate which skills are unnecessary all you want. Personally, I'm tending towards putting only 8 or so in that category related to fitting.

      But I agree with you that earning something is a necessary component to valuing it.

    3. Anonymous, this is called a "reducio ad absurdum" fallacy. Saying that a handful of skills are unnecessary complication is not the same as saying they all are.

      You can debate which skills are unnecessary all you want. Personally, I'm tending towards putting only 8 or so in that category related to fitting.

      But I agree with you that earning something is a necessary component to valuing it.

  11. I am amused that my main (Jakob here) at 70M skillpoint is the target you mention for your alt. BTW, that took me a little over three years not the four you mention. Exaggerating just undercuts your authority position in the argument, it doesn't make it stronger.

    Your tendency to undercut yourself with hyperbole aside, I think the general proposal you have here is a good contribution to the ongoing discussion about starting skills (and the related one on attributes). I think you may be going for too high a give-away, but I'll give another example. In Aideron Robotics a huge amount of time has been spent making new pilot training plans to match fits suitable for contributing to Faction Warfare. Even with all that work our T1 Atron fit takes 21h, 12m, 8s to train into.

    Anyone who thinks that a new player who just downloaded the game should be told to log off and come back tomorrow to play really should be kept far, far away from game design - much less marketing the game.

    1. Jakob, one issue with my math does not equate to "a tendency to undercut myself with hyberbole". And I stand by that calculation. Here's how I arrived at four years...

      When I train characters, I get an average of 1.5 million sp per month out of them. These are numbers I've seen for the two main characters I own over the course of my time playing. 70 mil divided by 1.5 mil gives me 46.33 months, or roughly four years. You can fault me for adding a 2.7% bump for the convenience of narrative simplification.

      Again, these are numbers when actively using the character, generally having implants in for most of that time, remapping once a year, and training generally what I need at the time. Most players will not "power-train" a main they're using day-in and day-out, particularly if it's their first player.

      The price calculations there were baesd on 1 bil PLEX, which is a little high. At 800 mil, 28 bil equates to 35 months of training time, which is still about 25% less than the cost to train from scratch.

      So, I stand by my calculation, though I admit min/maxing training would shave that time down. I don't think it does for a first character you're actively using and trying to get to fly the ships you need as your alliances changes doctrines, though.

    2. To your general point, though, yeah, probably 75% of these skills should stay in-game. Perhaps as high as 90% even. But there has to be some room to simplify, right?

  12. Tal, I'm not going to say your suggestion is without merit, but I do not think it is Eve's core problem. I still feel (as you have also cited in the past) that the core issue with new player retention is engagement with other players. If we start off a new player with max core skills trained but he still has no idea how to play and doesn't know how to find a noob-friendly corp to play with he has a +90% probability of quitting. Take that same noob and give him max trained PVP skills and let's throw him out into low sec with a single free shiny ship to PVP on his own, what will happen? He is going to lose that ship and probably be podded as well, is what's going to happen. It literally takes months for someone to really figure out all the ins and outs of solo PVP. That player would be much better off joining RVB from day 1 and flying a meta zero fit frigate of his chosen race (which you can fly on day 1) and going out and learning the basics of the game. Yes he will die over and over again, but IMO that is a good test to see if you are suited to the realities of Eve PVP because if you feel like rage quitting over losing a free T1 frigate then you need to be shown the door to the WoW server. If you are cool with learning the game by actually flying and dying then you have a bright future in Eve ahead of you.

    One other thing to think about in your article... Notice how your secondary list of skills is very PVP centric, so taking your logic a step further maybe all players should start with ore processing trained to V (or whatever that skill is called), because if not how will they compete effectively with veteran miners?

    1. Fair point, and I'm completely willing to limit that list of discardables to just *some* of the skills on the first category. I'm not sure what the right answer is, but I'm starting to think the list we can lose is quite limited, yet still necessary to streamline.

      I do think this is maybe a 5% influencer on retention, whereas establishing player contacts is a 90% one... no question. But this seems to be one area CCP can easily affect, and a few of these types of changes rolled together can make meaningful improvements on retention without any real downside.

    2. I don't think Core Skills are the only problem either, but they seem to me be another barrier to entry but also one that could easily be eliminated. You state the main problem is player engagement with other players. How does keeping the 8 or 9 core skills just to get to baseline improve that situation? I don't think this article is stating give newbs max PvP skills but is instead proposing to eliminate the skills needed to just start out. Let people start specializing quicker rather than forcing them to train general, boring skills that in another MMO would be considered "Learn how to walk good."

      Maybe the second set of skills in the article should be kept in but the first set of 8 or 9 skills are bland yet key to any career in EVE besides in station trading.