Monday, June 13, 2016

This Is How You Succeed

On my latest post, a reader made a comment about the difficulty in applying the "lose 100 ships" theory to learning PvP:
Most players (most PEOPLE) have a low tolerance for failure. Add in the shame of a killboard and comments, as well as smacktalk in local, or taunting by alliance members, and you'll have people backing off from PVP entirely. You raise that threshhold and not give a crap what people think (including yourself!) then and ONLY then will you see results. Oh, yeah, expect to lose a billion or more before your first solo kill, most likely. Mainly because you wont find a solo player, just gank groups...and THEN you find that single pilot, he has to fight back and not run. THEN you have to WIN. Losing gains you experience but not knowledge; losing ships doesnt teach you what to do. It teaches you other people can beat you a lot.
I hear this argument a lot, and I wanted to decompress it a bit. I provided a quick response, but quickly realized I could put together a whole post in and of itself. There are a few things going on here:

  1. Players have a low tolerance for failure.
  2. Players don't want to be publicly shamed.
  3. Getting meaningful fights is difficult.
  4. Losing doesn't gain you knowledge, only that it's easy for you to lose.
At its heart, these four points speak to a very specific mentality that fulfills itself, one that is quite common these days. At its heart, it speaks to the fact that our society doesn't teach us how to either overcome adversity or how to learn.

Oh, sure, we're taught that you need to overcome adversity, and that it's important to learn, but does anyone ever sit down and explain to you how to do that? Very rarely. In part, that's because the people admonishing us to learn don't know how to do it themselves. They're caught in a mentality of the "finished novel". Allow me to explain.

As readers, we consume published novels, where all the plot points are settled, all the themes are fully fleshed out, and the characterization moves us to pathos. What we don't realize - and you can't realize unless you go through the effort of writing a novel - is that the published novel is probably the 10th draft of the thing. No one sits down and esoterically writes a novel from beginning to end, then publishes it as-is.

When I write a novel, I start by doing character sheets - quick descriptions of the personalities, appearances, and behavior of the key characters. They might each be 8-10 pages long, and very little of it ends up in the final version of the book I'm writing. At this point, there is no book, just some interesting characters. Then, I write out a quick outline of the major plot points, the key events I need to get my characters to and the major character development that accompanies them. Then I go back and fill in all the point sin between, getting them physically and emotionally from point A to point Z. That's my first "draft", if you will.

After that, I have to spec out additional support characters and take a hard look at my plot. Do I need to do any major adjustments to pieces that just aren't working? Each of these cuts is a little failure of a sort and they hurt, but you need to push through it because the changes are typically needed. You need to be able to be absolutely brutal to your own writing.

After several iterations, you finally have a draft to submit to a publisher, who is going to shit all over it. And generally, that publisher is pointing out legitimate flaws in your story. So you revise again. Then the publisher actually buys the book, and has more edits. Another draft. Sometimes, these edits at this point are for size, or other arbitrary reasons that you may disagree with, but you make them anyways. Then, and only then, it's published.

Suffice it to say, the first draft of a novel rarely looks anything like the "finished novel", which is a result of a lot of self-reflection, hard work, and painful lessons. And it's hardly the only circumstance; virtually everything in life is the result of hard work and improving on failed attempts.

Now, I don't doubt one bit that the vast majority of players - not just "a majority of players" - begin playing Eve with the low tolerance for failure and fear of being publicly shamed that this reader described.

Why? Because in modern society, we spend more time consuming finished products and stories of success than we do studying the way people got to that success. In nearly every movie, the process of acquiring expertise is either inborn or the result of a training montage that makes light of the difficulty and time needed to achieve true excellence in any task. Rocky is the equal of Apollo Creed (and thus far beneath the skill of Ivan Drago), so he trains for a couple weeks in Siberia and becomes strong enough to defeat him. Very little screen time is dedicated to that training. In Wanted, Jumper, or Star Wars, the characters very quickly acquire impressive skills because of inborn ability.

We are, quite simply, conditioned by an assault of media and cultural experience to expect expertise to come immediately, despite the reality being that no one has natural ability that would let them reach the top of their fields without practice. Why is Sidney Crosby the best player in the NHL? Because he's the first on the ice, the last off, and works hard at it every day.

This low tolerance for failure is a failing in ourselves, one we need to overcome if we want to improve ourselves and become better. Society puts on us a false expectation that we're all special snowflakes, can be anything we want, and have nothing but green fields ahead of us. It neglects to remind us that all accomplishment requires hard work, sacrifice, and strife. Changing that base belief requires conscious choice.

Consider: if you succeed at something, you learn nothing new, nothing you didn't previously know. So, what then becomes the point in victory, success, or achievement? It's the payoff, pure and simple, the dopamine rush that makes us feel good about all our efforts. But, when you fail, analyzing your failure can point out ways for you to improve, so you perform better the next time. Sometimes, you make a mistake, change the wrong thing, and diminish your performance the second time. But this really just a chance to learn yet another new thing. Until we learn why something works, we really haven't mastered it.

All of the other points my reader raised diminish in importance once you pivot your perspective to view failure as a gift, not a sign of deficiency. Public shame suddenly stops being something that makes you feel less capable or diminishes your eagerness to improve. Rather, it serves as a goad to reinforce the mistakes we made in our memory so we remember not to do them again; a beacon about knowledge gained, an indelible mark on your memory.

Plus, if you truly adopt a critical attitude towards learning from everything, you may find that the types of people who try to shame you and the ways they shame you actually reveal insights about their mentalities, which can take even more of the emotional sting out of it. When you know that the person mocking your PvP loss is doing it because he has his own feelings of inferiority, it's much easier to consider the advice within the mocking while discarding the ridicule.

Within Eve, when you pivot your perspective on failure, you'll notice that each loss really does have a lesson for you. You fell for a blob? Check local more carefully (if it's full) or conclude that need to think more about your engagement strategy (either adding an exit plan or plan to gank very quickly). You die to gatecamps? Learn the mwd-cloak trick for travel. You failed to kill an Algos with your Incursus? Refine your fight selection until you improve your skills more. Every loss has a lesson, if you can see past the fact of your loss to understand the facts of the engagement.

And when you start to look beyond the loss itself, you'll find that you start applying the lessons you learn, which helps you avoid more situations that would have previously gotten you killed. I've escaped from fights with the slingshot maneuver to escape point range. I've escaped gatecamps by burning back through the gate and splitting the enemy force on either side. I've evaded whalers by staying aligned when people enter local. All of them have come as a result of practical experience dying and assessing what I could have done.

There is no situation in Eve that cannot be improved with knowledge. Even hotdrops can be avoided by recognizing the home region of your target and the typical kinds of ships that serve as hotdrop bait (tip: don't engage seemingly foolish Brutix Navy Issues, Dominixes, or Proteuses). Experience teaches you the subtle indications of what's about to happen. Enough experience allows you to "feel" the flow of a fight as it unfolds and predict what the other person is going to do.

If you feel some fights have no lessons, you're not looking at them deeply enough. If you feel you're being dropped by blobs all the time, in most cases you're not watching your environment or flying the wrong kind of ship (I mean, taking a cruiser solo through the Nourvu-Tamo gate... come on...). Check zkill and learn about the groups in your area. You can avoid most problems with a little research.

And if you fear public shame because of something foolish you did, stop caring so much about you. No one really cares what you do in space. Even the people who comment don't really care. What they do care about is if you make the same colossal mistake repeatedly (ex: mission runners who get ganked in a deadspace-fit, then go back through the same system again in another deadspace fit ship, repeat offenders of the plex shuttle mistake). No corporation worth its salt will criticize players for losing a single ship in nearly any circumstance.

The failure to learn from your mistakes, however, will and should make you feel bad. It represents a flaw in your perspective and mentality to learn from your mistakes. It means you couldn't see past the disappointment, anger, or embarrassment of a mistake to learn how to prevent that mistake. It represents a failure to use a critical thought process to improve yourself.

And that's far worse, and not just as it relates to Eve. It represents a problem you'll face in the real world as well. It's a tragedy in the classical sense, for it's something you've done to yourself.


  1. Good post, for me personally I don’t care about the publically shaming thing, it has not actually happened to me yet, but if it did I would just ignore it and not rise to it, yes solo fights (ie 1 other person controlling 1 other ship) is hard to find, but here is my thing.

    Win or lose all I know is I won or I lost, sure I can sometimes work out why (attacking that omen in an atron probably wasn’t wise ) but because each fight is different it is difficult to analyse the best or worst bits and translate that to the next fight which may have you and the opponent in different ships to that last fight.

    When that fight happens, it is over really quick generally, especially in a frigate so being tactically aware is hard. So say I attack a Tristan in another frigate, he maybe neut fit and neuts me out and kills me, so now I know a Tristan can carry neuts, but the next one may not be neut fit but I wont know until I am committed, how do you counter that?

    1. That's where Fraps is a great tool to have. You can reply the fight as many times as necessary to learn from it.

      In your case, you can find out a lot about that Tristan based on where he is when you land, particularly in FW plexes. He's right on the button? Better pull range first thing (overheat mwd and burn away from him). If he's far away, burn towards him if you can catch him or escape if you can't. Or, just fly a dual-medium ASB Merlin, which doesn't need cap to repair, and sip your cap to shoot (ie. choose another ship).

    2. Fly what you fight. As an example if you keep dying to tristans, then start flying tristans to intimately understand its strengths and weaknesses. And if you keep dying while flying a certain ship, then its ok to try something else. Don't feel pressured to fly something because someone told you to or because streamer "Insert Name Here" just won a 20v1 with the same ship you kept dying in.

  2. You learn more from failure than you do success.

  3. I agree with the general idea of your post, but I do think there is a lot of nuance that is often lost when people bring up the 'lose 100 ships' theory.

    I think this is especially evident in the commenter's line; "losing ships doesnt teach you what to do."

    There are a LOT of things in eve that you are very unlikely to learn from failure as a brand new pilot. The game itself doesn't explain many of these things, god knows pve doesn't teach most of the useful pvp lessons. Stuff like nuances of dscan (hell for new players even just the existance of dscan is often a revelation), good use of bookmarks, the overview, how to use in-game and out-of-game maps, hell, even the mwd-cloak trick you mentioned isn't something that someone would magically learn from dying to a bubbled-up gatecamp.

    I think that the "lose 100 ships" advice is often taken to mean do it yourself. It's thrown out to players who know nothing about pvp. I think it should be something more like "lose 100 ships, ask 100 questions". Don't simply do it yourself. Find a newbro friendly group, or a mentor, or even write annoyingly long comments on peoples blogs, and ask questions.

    Your basic point is right. If you don't ever undock you simply wont make the mistake to learn from. You make great arguements about needing to try something and fail first in order to know what you need to learn. But I don't think many people die to a gatecamp and suddenly theorycraft the mwd cloak trick all on their own. I could maybe see someone learning to slingshot without any advice... but I think it would take a while. This is eve, it's not an easy game to learn.

    How do people learn what to do? That to me was the whole point of the commentor's post (once you get past the fear of failure). Losing ships is the starting point, but that only shows you that you have things to learn, and unless you want to figure everything out from first principles yourself, I recommend asking lots and lots of questions.

    1. That's where individual initiative comes in. Read blogs, watch PvP videos, use the CCP tutori... oh, wait...

      We desperately need better, official information-sharing in-game.

  4. People once apprenticed to professionals as a matter of course. Learning hard work and learning from failure are well and good, but learning them with the guidance of an expert is more accessible, and, since we are talking about an MMO, more fun and more social as well. For instance, apparently the Nourvu-Tamo gate is infamous? That is good to know.

    The solo way is the hard way. There are so many variables to track learning PVP solo that someone unfamiliar may become overwhelmed quickly. Choice paralysis is real: is it my ship? my fit? am I not using the incredibly valuable intel tool that the game hasn't told me exists? etc. To research the local threats for hot drops, you first have to understand that jump range is an important variable in the game.

    So while I agree with your post in the large, I believe that it also makes an excellent argument for getting new players into established corporations quickly and consistently.

    1. And for reading Eve blogs and watching PvP training videos. ;)

    2. What are these 'Eve blogs' you speak of? ^^'

      I have found the PVP training videos to be wildly variable in value. If the pilot is too good then it is nearly impossible to follow what they're doing or figure out why it is significant. It's more useful to me to have an expert tell me what I did right and what I did wrong.

      The good ones are good, but I would rather fly with people who know what they're doing and learn that way.

    3. I tend to agree. The value in flying with skilled pilots cannot be overstated.

  5. I've ejected from a ship to avoid KB shame and get my training pod out (was stupid, expensive but affordable), but if I'm there to fight I'm there to die.

  6. I am reminded of the quote that most wannabe writers don't really want to write, they want to be authors and only reap the rewards while skipping the work step.

    1. Incredibly true, and it can be applied to nearly any skill. You have to love the pain to really embrace the calling.