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:
- A new player gets attracted to the game by a friend or a grand story that made the press.
- 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?).
- The new player finds himself running starter missions, some real missions and gets comfortable
- The new player is either ganked, robbed or loses interest after realizing that missions are the endgame of EVE.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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.