The real learning cliff – missions and corporations

The blogging echo chamber of EVE dissects the lack of player growth after every expansion and while much digital ink is spilled, the consensus is as follows:

  1. A new player gets attracted to the game by a friend or a grand story that made the press.
  2. The player is confused by the 1990’s click-fest that is EVE’s UI, the lack of instant-combat and the general game mechanic (why spend 20min to design your character when you will never see him?).
  3. The new player finds himself running starter missions, some real missions and gets comfortable
  4. The new player is either ganked, robbed or loses interest after realizing that missions are the endgame of EVE.
  5. The EVE chorus then squarely assigns blame to CCP to make High Sec and the starter experience “better” and is satisfied with itself.  Rinse and repeat for the next expansion.

But lets look at reality.  Is EVE really hard to get into? I don’t think so, its not harder than other games.  I bought Europa Universalis recently and while I was really looking forward to play it, I gave up after 10 minutes search to understand how the basic gameplay works.  I am sure there is a manual somewhere but generally, if you need a manual for a (software) product, its not well designed.

Other games like Planet Side 2 have a fairly complex mechanic of achieving objectives that is entirely opaque to me.  In PS-2, I join a squad, warp to them and assess the tactical situation, take cover and start healing / rezzing people. Why the squad attacks what it does, I have no clue.  Someone hacks something and things blink on my screen.  If the squad has real leadership, I try to follow the commands, otherwise, I just do my thing, have fun and really don’t care too much.

Compared to games like the ones mentioned (and many more, like DUST), the EVE starting experience is actually quite good.  In-depth tutorials cover most aspect of the games, illustrate ship types, how missions run, how to navigate in space and so on.  Thats what they are supposed to do and – imho – they do it actually very well.  Could they be better?  Sure!   Without data, I’d bet that retention through these missions stays relatively high.

Missions

Running missions gets old as soon as the new player realizes that missions repeat itself on a random rotation.  Comparable to the Dailies” in WoW, they serve a purpose of generating ISK but after a while, all challenges are known and ISK / hour becomes the last remaining frontier.  The randomness of the missions and the wildly different time it requires to complete them adds annoyance.  After breakfast, I may have 15 minutes to knock out a quick mission.  I get given “The Blockade”, a mission with lots of ISK but one that needs more time than  have available.  Rejecting a mission penalizes me, so I log off disappointed with the game.  Should have logged into PS2, I’d have 15 min of fun before driving to work.  This is annoying because nothing in-game is easier to fix than the missions and that should be highest priority for CCP.  Some ideas below

  • Remove the random assignment of missions.  Let me choose one that fits my time and appreciation of risk
  • Eliminate the nonsensical agent types (Security, Mining etc).  Make all agents of one corp have all missions appropriate to the level.  That way, the player can have a hub and choose either to haul, mine or fight.
  • Allow missions to generate standing faster.  The loss of standing with the opposite faction is not really the problem.  If I fly with Gallente and shoot Amarr, I should get in trouble with their Navy eventually.  But the grind back up is brutal and not rewarding.  It means, if I see a faction mission, I have to reject it.  Change that to make normal missions incrementally ratchet up standing, not just every 16th mission.
  • Chain missions.  Like the Sister’s mission arc, these “quest lines” offer a much deeper immersion into the game.  Just how did the Damsel get into the Pleasure Hub?  Drackarn has written a great story on that, why can CCP not put a call out for a backstory and connecting story for all missions?  Throw a plex into it for the best ones and us bloggers would go wild with ideas.
  • Enable a player mission generator.  Ok, this is complicated but bear with me.  Much like level generators in strategy games, CCP could publish a tool allowing the creation of missions.  The building blocks are pretty simple: what rats, where and how many.  What backstory, reason for the missions.  Number of rooms, alignment of gates.  Triggers and wave mechanics.  Rewards and drops.  Players creating missions for the rest of the game would get bragging rights, maybe a medal or a flat fee for each time “their” mission is run.  Make this a competitive table, i.e. only the top 100 missions are selected and players have reason to improve and get better content.
  • Make PvP missions.  This is my bug bear with missions and has been since day 1, there is a real threshold between PvP and PvE content and its entirely unnecessary.  Its easy to conceive a system where a specific mission flags me for combat for the duration of the mission – think duel mechanics.  This is not the same as criminal flag, someone else would have to have an equal (level) and opposite (faction?) mission and therefore be allowed to engage me.  So, I take a mission that has me to fly a small mission item from A to B.  Someone else has a mission to prevent just such transport.  Only we can engage each other or I can team up with other players who have the same mission and collaborate to get everyone through inevitable gate camps.  I am sure many holes are in this system but I believe it has potential.  It would drive the hesitation of carebears down to engage, give PvP a reason and – yes, the dirty word – allow “consensual” PvP within an existing context.

The mission system is where players are lost.  It is a relic from ancient CCP days when they were cute and little and the players forgave them as we forgive a puppy that piddles in a corner.  Well, the puppy has grown up, so fix it.

Corporations

The consensus of “EVE Community” tends to be that NPC corps are useless and filled with alts, neutral scouts, gankers on the prowl for newbs or other undesirable people.  Move people quicker into player-owned corps equate a better gaming experience and hence a longer player retention.  

I challenge that assumption but I wish I didn’t have to.  NPC corps can not be wardecced, can not be awoxed and – above all – no expectations.  A player can log in, run a mission, do some PvP and log off without having to defend his fits, his lost ships, selection of location or lack of activity.  Player corps add too much drama and are designed for those of us who treat EVE not as a game but as a hobby.  

Lady Justice

I had a really good chat with Lady Justice yesterday.  He / she rolled the toon right after the game came out and casually plays the game inside NPC corps.  Has 6 mil SP or something, sometimes doesn’t play for months, runs the odd mission, hauls something, has fun in game.  Whats to complain about?  Why would he / she join a player corp and get exposed to all the crap that we see every day?

Player corps need to have a competitive advantage over NPC corps but not by reducing the value that those bring.  The fallacy in these discussions is always that you can improve one playstyle by “nerfing” another.  For example, may low sec better by nerfing high sec.  This will never work, so lets not go there.  NPC corps don’t need to be “nerfed”, corps need to bring more value.

Some ideas

  • Generate missions that can be done only by 2 or 3 players, no more.  This will generate conversations, fleets and – sure – some ganks.  But it will also mean that new players see the value of teaming up and form “blue lists”.
  • Allow players to give each other public standings.  For example, as a newb, if someone helps me, I can give them a +5.  My helping friend then receives a publicly visible positive record.  Sure, there is plenty of space for gaming this system but positively interacting with people should be rewarded.
  • Give corps incentives to recruit and train new bros.  In my wild dream,  imagine top-tier corps to line up and recruit guys straight from the mission hubs.  Not with the silly jet-cans but with real programs, incentives, helpful fleets, chat channels and so on.  EVE Uni is famous for taking on newbs but the red tape they have is staggering.  Brave Newbies is now one of the leading Nullsec alliances for their attitude and skills.  CCP can help with giving tools that allow new players to find better homes.  Corps like Brave Newbies and EVE Uni are the biggest drivers for new player retention. CCP, give them whateve tools they need.
  • Geezus, fix those corp roles.  Starbase config, fuel technician and so on are roles that can create major headache for the directors and are in principle useless.
  • Fix the fleet mechanics and UI.  Fleeting up should be the first collaborative interaction in EVE – well before joining corps.  A fleet of newbs should help each other bring down mission battleships etc but the fleeting UI is not taught in tutorials nor is it required.  Should form based on collaboration but if new players don’t even know how to collaborate, they are jumping ahead.
  • Player corps should offer real advantages over NPC corps when it comes to “daily living” and not just taxes.  I mean, POS are more accessible, manufacturing / research more rewarding (and refining), maybe 2 corp members can collaborate on a research project and generate >2* the output.  ]
  • Improve communications.  EVE has – nobody knows it – a corp-wide bulletin board on the forums.  EVE has even voice which isn’t half bad.  (RvB uses it, it sort of works).  But the mail / notification / calendar system are awful.  CCP, call Google and give every player a google email account, calendar access and communication tool.  Tie it to the subscription.  Job done.

I know this is a pretty weak list but I have been with one corp for so long that I forgot how the process of joining and getting bearings is.  Someone else care to comment?

Bottom line, the famous learning cliff is not in the first few days of Tutorial running or even the first few days of mission running. It is in the next phase, when players understand the game in its mechanics and run either into repetitive grind or terrible corporations when they give up and play some other game.

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7 responses to “The real learning cliff – missions and corporations

  1. You just weren’t interested in EU4 as much as you thought…
    You can learn everything important in the tutorial, everything you need for a decent gaming experience in a hour or two trying out things and after a 380 year game, you know most of the stuff in EU4…
    It is a strategy game, don’t expect to know everything just by starting it up. 😛

    Same as EvE. I have no idea, why are ppl bashing the tutorials so much… I started just before Incursion and the tutorial was already fine. In 2 days I could do anything a new player should be able to do, just by reading those popup windows and thinking a bit. Scanning, manufacture, trading, shooting, ewar… Sure they aren’t giving you in-depth knowledge, but a pretty good foundation to start building on.

  2. Bummed to hear you couldn’t get in to Europa. It’s massively absorbing once you’ve got the hang of it. There used to be a really good forum for EU3 where you could learn the intricacies. I haven’t checked if EU4 has anything similar. Like EVE, it’s one of those games where you are always learning something new, and I think that’s what makes it fun. My favorite part is the wide range of difficulty. Playing a large country is easy – but try playing one of the Irish provinces. It’s nearly impossible. It’s like playing “sudden death” Europa.

    I actually really like the player-created mission idea. It would allow for constantly changing content instead of the same 10 missions over and over. Players would have to be much more careful about how they fit and fly their ships since with new missions popping up they won’t be able to look them up on EVE survival and go AFK. I image there would be a huge backlash to the idea though, and it’s probably difficult to implement (aside from what type of rats and how many spawn there are other important considerations like their relative position and aggro rules, etc.) Those things make a big difference when you’re running a mission and I’m sure they were carefully designed by CCP to be “balanced”.

  3. The tutorial could get a lift by being visual and some audio would be great. The tutorial as it is…well…It’s pretty much like reading the manual as you play. Some people just don’t have the patience to start a game with friends and just end up 3-4 dudes quietly reading for the first three hours.

    I don’t agree with the mission spawn idea. It would indeed let people choose the easiest two missions and hit those story like missions without earning them. Those are sec. status gold. Not only that, someone could grind Extravaganza’s until they collapse and make safer, more predictable isk on a level with some Incursions, without the drag of having to move anything.

    The high level content is there. An Incursions can be considered the joint effort, as it’s always a team that does them.

    A mission that criminally flags you would be a great idea though, and anyone headed there also will be fair game to every other suspect as they look for whichever item that only those that have the mission active can enter. All those mechanics are currently in place I believe, as in escallations. Just slap them with the suspect flag.

    As far as security status across factions… I think the penalty should be harder. That those that run faction missions should become potential targets for militia pilots. If the npc’s will chase you, maybe I can too! We militia pilots act in the defense of out faction, don’t we?

    • Also, I believe there’s a huge disconnect in the education of highsec dwellers. If the tutorial agents would send you to COSMOS agents instead kicking you out of the nest and into missions/mining, that would be the single biggest improvement in the first impressions of Eve! And mining missions… Oh my Lord, just give the poor bastards REAL ore to mine and turn in. Someone will have to correct me if higher level mining missions give generic ore still. The storylines for those should send you to mine some Jaspet, Hemorphite(?) or Crokite, something in lowsec.

      The story arcs should eventually point you to the Epic Arcs, which are rich in story. What a waste. My first impression of a Sleeper was in the Gallente Epic Arc, sadly, as I had been in wormholes prior to that!

      • I have never run a COSMOS mission. It was my understanding that they end up in lowsec and hence are not worth attempting. Mining missions with normal ore would be too easy, just buy it off the market. But I get your point and I too think that the missions need to be tighter integrated into the normal life in New Eden.

        With respect to incursions. I also have never done one. I have been hanging out in one of their channels (lfg from WoW) and can not get a slot unless you have a very specific and expensive fit (or you are a healer). Gearscore, LFG… Too much WoW for me.

    • I agree, the mission generator idea is half baked. But the mission system MUST get an overhaul or EVE will lose the new crops of players that are attracted by the buzz that the large fights bring. PvE is an essential part of any MMORPG and the arrogance that CCP displays for this segment will eventually bite them in the rear.

      In this line, the security drop to take missions is punitive by being tedious, just like PI. Its not hard to get your sec status back, its just annoying. Annoying is the last thing a game should be and hence it needs to be changed.

      For the longest time, I can not understand how an Amarr citizen with low standing can freely dock in a Gallente station. It just makes no sense to me. I fully agree that low faction standing should 100% allow getting attacked by the opposite faction militia. And – of course – vice versa. So there is another way to become a Faction War pilot – run missions and drop your standing…

      • Lol. That would be one way to make a grudge! But, yes, it would definitely give factions a little more meaning for players if they wander into opposing faction space.

        I get ya though. Incursions leave a lot of people in the dust LFG. I had that same problem in Warhammer Online. All my gear body and exp. there was from the dead bodies of forces of Destruction, destruction by the end of my righteous hammer!

        As for mission blues. ::sigh:: There definitely has to be more story content. The grind for faction epic arcs isnt too bad, hut if you got an Eve mail from the faction leader when you hit that standing, it would almost act as a stepping stone to greater content.

        No one wants to read a book to bring their game world to life, but if CCP wants to be like other dev’s, they could settle for that too. Templar One and Warhammer 40k books (some) are very good, but it won’t help the new experience.

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