Steep Learning Curve? We Meant to do That!

We were going to talk about this as part of SUWT #64, but it quickly got trumped by the Lord of the Rings Online going free to play news.  However, I still want to get my two cents in on it, so here it goes.

CCP, in an interview over at Worlds in Motion, spoke about the steep learning curve of EVE Online, calling it a necessary evil.

And I am not in general disagreement with their feeling that a big part of the game’s attraction is that it is more hard core than, say, World of Warcraft, and that they need to maintain that feel.  Making the game easier would not necessarily make it better.

My problem with the whole hard core mentality is that a number of things that make for the legendary “vertical learning curve” shouldn’t be there.

Certainly things like learning to fit and fight your ship effectively should be a long journey with no absolute right answer for every situation.  Being able to effectively make ISK on the market is something that one could spend ages perfecting.  And the meta game, the politics of EVE Online and its corporations and alliances, is something that deserves advance study.

But the steep learning curve kicks in the moment you start playing the game.

Think of the guy in the Ibis

There is a tutorial, and it is has improved greatly over time, but it still does not really prepare you for the game, nor do I think it can ever prepare you due to some poor design decisions that have been around forever.

I will start with one of my favorites, one of my early points of confusion, which is figuring out what a module does and how you should compare one module with another.  And I’ll point specifically to missile launchers, which should be easy to understand.

There are two basic parameters to missile launchers:  How many missiles do they hold and how fast do they spit them out.  That should be easy to figure out.  I should be able to look at the information about any two given missile launchers and know those answers in a snap.

And while I cannot deny the data is there, figuring things out in a snap is not so easy.

Standard Missile Launcher Grid

In my mind, in my ideal world, capacity should be listed as the number of missiles the launcher can hold while rate of fire should be how many missiles launched over a given period of time.

I mean, that is how we do things in the real world.

But in EVE Online you get capacity as a measure of magazine volume and rate of fire as a unit that I think is the time between launches, but I’m still not sure about that. (By the way, the fact that you can get this information displayed as a grid is a huge improvement over the past method of looking at each module information screen individually.)

It would be like listing out the data on an M-16 by giving you the volume of a standard STANAG magazine and telling you that when you pull the trigger, a bullet leaves the barrel every .009 seconds.  Sure, you could figure out the volume of the actual ammunition and get its capacity, or more likely just stuff rounds in it until you figured out that somewhere between 20 and 30 fit, but those just are not the best units of measure to express what the weapon does.

And I might even buy into the capacity expressed as volume if missiles for a given launcher came in different sizes.  But looking through standard missiles, as an example, shows that they are all the same size.

So, ideally, that chart should show the number of missiles a given launcher holds and how many missiles it can launch over the course of a minute.  Those would be numbers people could see, comprehend, and make decisions with.

This applies to all weapon modules.

And, yes, somebody will say, “EVE Fitting Tool” like it is some magic incantation.  The EVE Fitting Tool is awesome, but it shouldn’t be needed for such basic information.  I should be playing with the EFT to hone optimum fittings and ammunition loads for given circumstances.  It is a tool for refinement, not first cases.

And then there is my other favorite question in EVE Online.  It is the topic of the second most popular post on this site of all time.  It is, “How do I find an agent in EVE Online?

I wrote that post almost three years ago and not only is it the second most popular post here of all time, it is in the top ten most viewed posts on this site every single day.

And, the worst part is, three years later, there still isn’t a better way to find an agent.

Yes, this is care bear stuff, and the Hulkageddon heroes will eschew it as worthless.  But it is apparently something people want to know.

EVE Online has the most awe inspiring map in any game I have ever played.  If you want to get somebody who likes outer space interested in the game, just open up that map.  The map is a selling point.

And the map has just gotten better and better over time.  I love all the information it provides.

Every System I Have Visited

But it won’t tell me where the nearest level 4 Amarr Navy agent is.  And it certainly won’t tell me what agents are available to me.

I can find what agents are available, then find the system, then see how many jumps I have to travel, until I have mapped out enough agents to decide which one is really the closest one that fits my needs.  But this is a trial and error approach with me trying to collate game data in my head or on a scratch pad.

And the reason that this burns me is that it is all data the game has and presenting it in usable form is totally in keeping with the spirit of the game.

In my opinion, WoW telling me the DPS on a weapon is completely immersion breaking. (Hell, two swords having such widely different damages as a level 1 and a level 85 sword should be a total immersion breaker.)  But EVE Online takes place in the future, in a time when the information age has had a chance to advance and mature.  Are you trying to tell me that data presentation is going to get worse in the future?  Is Google Maps the pinnacle of the art and it is all going to get worse as time goes on?

So these are my two poster children for reasonably smoothing out some of the unnecessary bumps in the learning curve in EVE Online.  Truly, the only excuses I can think for not addressing these two are:

  • Nobody cares (a lie)
  • Current players are used to the way things are (elitism)
  • CCP has more important things to work on (maybe, but you’d have a new guy or an intern do some of this sort of thing in my experience)

And yes, these are fiddly little detail items, but they are things that new players run into, things that, if they could grasp easily, they might feel more secure moving deeper into the game while not changing the hard core nature that EVE has.

What other items in EVE do you feel are similarly unnecessarily obscure?

Or must everything in EVE Online be difficult to understand in order to keep the feel of the game?

17 thoughts on “Steep Learning Curve? We Meant to do That!

  1. Nelson Minar

    The core problem is whoever runs Eve design has a very poor idea of user interface. It shows in everything from the default font to the keybindings to the lack of high level information like you describe. It is what the game is at this point, I don’t think it will ever change. Contrast to WoW or something like Farmville where it’s much easier to understand how to play the game. I don’t mean Eve should be dumbed down, but good UI is orthogonal to good game design. You can have both.

    I love Eve. I keep trying to get friends interested and they’re all turned off by the UI and the difficulty of finding fun things to do. It’s successful enough, but it’s too bad it’s not more accessible.


  2. WTM

    This is something I’ve often thought… and agreed it’s not exactly new player friendly.

    Missle launchers are poorly descibed imho, actually I’d advise any new player to avoid them simply because of that confusion level, much easier to go with guns.


  3. Nelson Minar

    Guns are worse! You have to explain range, and tracking, and radial velocity, and ammo types. The combat mechanics are interesting and I’d hate to see Eve simplify it but it sure isn’t easy to understand.


  4. underbond

    Speaking of data presentation annoyances, I never understood why an arbitrary region boundary should prevent me accessing Jita market data one jump away in Sobaseki. (Or did they change that in the two years or so since I last played?)


  5. Wilhelm2451 Post author

    @WTM – Yeah, I’d have to agree with Nelson that guns are worse for a noob. They have similar description issues for ammo capacity and rate of fire, plus have that tracking parameter which, like everything else, needs better context. And then there is the ammo question.

    @Underbond – The regions are… odd at times. But I must admit I have made a ton of ISK buying things cheap in Amarr and moving one system over, to Kor-Azor Prime, and selling for a serious markup. The fact that I have managed to exploit it does not make it a good thing of course.


  6. Orkanen

    You left out one other thing that’s hard to find out about missiles: Range. So you know when you’re close enough to shoot. Without EFT, you really can’t get missile range without fitting a launcher and loading missiles, and you still have to multiply velocity by flight time. Would it kill them to tell me range in the pop-up? Or show it on the tactical display?


  7. Wilhelm2451 Post author

    @Orkanen – True enough, you have to figure out range by multiplying burn duration times velocity, both items on the list of figures on the information screen about the missile itself rather than the launch.

    And I did not even get into the fact that skills affect most of these attributes, but you cannot see that information reflected anywhere without going to something like EFT.


  8. Beowolf Schaefer

    I could be wrong but I think the reason that missile information is given that way is that all launchers can be fitted with defender missiles which have a much smaller volume(0.015m3) than heavies (0.03m3) and larger missiles.

    For me personally the best part of EvE is the player base and community. While I certainly don’t think that it was intentionally done this way by CCP I believe that the lack of easy information in some cases forces players to rely on each other and for me personally has often forced me into situations where I have had to work with others and often even developed friendships due to that need. I think early on this developed as a result of CCP being rather small and having limited resources. Over time even as thy have grown they have become reliant on the player base to solve or at least band aid some of the minor issues in the game. EFT, and many other player made tools and sites are great examples of this. Personally I would rather have CCP concentrate on the big stuff (wormholes, FW etc) and let the player base cover the minor issues but thats just my taste.


  9. Letrange

    Side note: there was a point in time where minmatar ammo had different volume for the same gun depending on the ammo type. Hence presenting the data in the way it is was simply because your way would be prone to exceptions, whereas simply presenting the magazine volume would always be correct for all weapons.

    Incidentally, this is still the model of clarity and ease of comprehension compared to the CEO/Alliance Leader interface. Trust me on this.


  10. Centuri

    Shopping for faction loot in the contracts, made worse by having multiple different named faction items with the same exact stats.

    There are many aspects of the game that can be simplified without being dumbed down.

    EFT and EVEMON both need to exist in the actual game and not as a third party app.


  11. Wilhelm2451 Post author

    @Soliloquy – Yes, I have seen that web site. I have even referenced it in a number of posts. It is very useful and makes finding an agent somewhat easier. But it still doesn’t answer the question about the nearest agent of a given faction and level to my current position and it is unlikely to be already bookmarked by a new player.


  12. Westen

    How did you get the grid view of the mods? Is that new? I have played since 2003 and never noticed that before


  13. Wilhelm2451 Post author

    If you go to a module info screen, the tab that shows other similar modules now has a button at the bottom that says “Compare.” Click that and you get the grid.

    That came in a couple of expansions ago and is proof that things are getting better.


  14. Westen

    Guess I was already fitting all T2 or knew the names of all the best T1 by that point. Thanks for the info, will make sure some of the newer players in my corp know about it.


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