Daily Archives: August 8, 2016

Can Better PvE Save New Eden?

The search for the reason behind the declining PCU in EVE Online continues.

So far it has been blamed on the New Player Experience, summer, the age of the game, Goons (specifically for not behaving as demanded during the war, as opposed to the perennial “Goons are bad for the game” complaints) , and CCP investing in VR.  Now we have the latest champion in the PCU blame game, PvE, which you can see filtering out through the various EVE Online sites.

And, certainly, PvE in New Eden is pretty bad.

I do want to say up front that when I am speaking about PvE, I am referring to players shooting NPCs.  I do not mean mining, hauling, industry, or the market place, which I have seen people trying to lump under the PvE banner.  Those are all crafting, to use the standard MMORPG term.  Doing something to change them won’t make shooting NPCs any more fun.  PvE is, to my mind, undocking in your spaceship in order to shoot NPCs controlled by the game.

I have shot a lot of game controlled NPCs over the last decade.  I have run many a mission, shot up many an anomaly, and delivered many a package at the behest of NPC agents.  Go look at my NPC standings.  Those are not numbers you get from running a couple of missions or shooting a few NPCs.  That represents an investment of many hours playing PvE in New Eden.

Guns Blazing!

Me shooting NPCs circa 2007

So when somebody says that PvE in New Eden is “teh suck,” I can only agree.  Earlier this year, during the brief time frame of the 10,000 skill point daily, I started playing a new alt just to see how things were at the far end of the EVE Online experience.  I was not impressed.  The opportunities system struck me as much less engaging that past starter tutorials… it not being really much of a tutorial at all.  And after a couple of events you’re pushed off towards an agent where I managed to draw the mission To Avenge a Fallen Comrade, which I have surely run more than a hundred times over my career in New Eden.  I was not happy.

Shooting things in my wee frigate

Orbit and shoot, same as it ever was

So put me on the list of people who agree that we need better PvE.  I endorse that fully.

But will better PvE solve the PCU crisis?  I have trouble with that one.

To start with, in order to sell me on that, somebody has to account for the fact that EVE Online’s greatest period of growth, the time of the highest PCU counts, occurred when PvE was even worse than it is today.  Because that is an absolute fact; the game had growth and higher PCU counts with much worse PvE.

Seriously, I look at all of the improvements to PvE over my time in the game.  When I started you had belt ratting and level 1 through 4 missions.  Now the list includes:

  • Level 5 missions
  • Mining Missions
  • Incursions
  • Hacking
  • Anomalies
  • Escalations
  • Epic Story Arcs
  • Burner Missions
  • Sleepers
  • PvE Events (e.g. Operation Frostline)
  • Whatever people do in wormholes, including the new shattered versions

I’ve probably missed a few, or grouped some up.  But suffice to say, PvE has expanded over the years.

Smashing a Brutix during Operation Frostline

Smashing a Brutix during Operation Frostline

Plus, along the way, a some of these options got easier to find.  For several years, one of the most popular posts on the site was How to Find An Agent in EVE Online, because actually finding an agent was a non-obvious process.  That finally got fixed with Incarna, so at least I have something good to say about that expansion.

So you can argue “better PvE game would be better,” and I will agree.  But if you want to claim, “better PvE game will raise PCU” then you have to explain how subjectively worse, and objectively less rich, PvE coincided with growth and higher PCU counts.

And maybe somebody has a sound argument for that, but I have yet to see it.  Claims that it would attract new players seem unsupported, especially with the state of the NPE, which drives away more new players than anything else.

The second hurdle for me is what does “better” PvE look like?

Do not think, even for a moment, that this problem is somehow unique to EVE Online.

The assertion that PvE sucks, that quests/missions are boring, that killing ten rats over and over is horrible, and so on… that discussion is going on in every MMORPG that has PvE as a feature.  It has been for the life of the genre and I see no end in sight.

So I have seen people over the years ask for more engaging events, more challenging NPCs, smarter AI, better risk/reward balance, increased integration into a story line, and so on.

But I also know that the moment anything gets a little more difficult, people lose their heads and come out of the woodwork to complain.  One of the oft repeated responses from devs is that they could make NPCs much more intelligent, but nobody wants a boss mob that goes straight for the healer and ignores the tank.

So any improvement has to make things better, for the manifold definitions of “better,” while not making anything more difficult or less convenient.  And, as far as I can tell, this is to be achieved by people throwing words like “engaging” at CCP and demanding they make things better.

There was a panel in the web comic Concerned (which you should totally read) that sort of sums this state of affairs which, as I have noted, is not at all unique to EVE Online.

Every video game forum ever

Every video game forum ever

Yet the group making those demands are people already invested in the current system.  And catering to them would likely make them happier.  It would make me happier.  At least in the short term.  But PvE content also has something of an expiration date.  Things that players might find fun and challenging on the first pass are quickly optimized for, as efficiency rules the day.  We like the journey once, we want the reward every day.

Which, again, isn’t to say that CCP shouldn’t improve PvE in New Eden.  I am totally for that.  I even have a suggestion for them:  Do something about the complete randomization of missions when you speak to an agent.  I am tired of that.  I don’t want to have to fiddle with rejecting missions because I yet again drew Avenge a Fallen Comrade.  On the other hand, I am not sure that letting players pick the mission would be the right solution, as we’d all likely end up just picking the best ISK per hour mission after a bit of experimentation.

So, to sum up, I am very much for making PvE better in New Eden.  But is the current state of PvE the big problem with the PCU?  Will “fixing” PvE, for whatever value of you choose to assign to the term, going to revive growth?  You’ll have to try harder to convince me.

We go on about how different EVE Online is from competing MMORPGs, but it has many of the same issues as its MMORPG brethren.