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.

21 thoughts on “Can Better PvE Save New Eden?

  1. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    I didn’t even get into how PvE doesn’t prepare you for PvP, one of my usual favorite criticisms of PvE. Also, in the grand tradition of headlines that are questions, the answer is “No.” The answer is always “No.” If the answer was “Yes,” there wouldn’t be anything to argue with and ramble about.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Gripper

    I will be honest – I love Eve, played it on and off for many many years, but the problem that always hits me is the huge investment in time for the game. I am always jealous of how you are able to just spend a few minutes and bam you are in a fleet doing “something”. I am an avid anti goon as I just dislike the culture, but they do have the best infrastructure that allows easy play. Most other alliances are more disjointed and not as easy to find a fleet and or FC.

    So for me the time investment is the killer – much easier to jump on Wow and D3 and do a few quests, dink around in a BG or whatever, and or run an easy dungeon etc. Easy to fit in a moving lifestyle!

    Just my 0.02, its not the game – just the way a sandbox is designed to be?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Gripper – The ease of contribution… I am pretty much a fleet op tourist… has certainly kept me going, and that is due to a bunch of other people putting in a lot of work so they can fill out fleets and get numbers with people like me.

    I have thought about dropping out of null sec and trying something else new, but after nearly 10 years of playing the game, I am not sure I am up to the commitment that such a change would make. So I carry on as I have. Some day I will retire to Signal Cartel and throw snowballs at people.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. bhagpuss

    “We like the journey once, we want the reward every day.” If I did Quote of the Day posts that would be one for sure. That said, there is an awful lot that can be done to make the journey itself more palatable for regular commuters.

    I think what a majority of people genuinely want in all MMOs that have PvE is PvE that doesn’t bore them to desperation. All the calls for smarter AI or more challenging content are code for “please do something to entertain me”.

    In the context of providing PvE that aids retention and increases activity in an MMO my feeling is that the best a developer can do is make the process as satisfying as it can be. If the animations are fluid and convincing, the controls intuitive and comfortable, the sounds and visuals eye-catching and pleasing to the ear and the rhythms of combat natural and satisfying then players will be willing, even eager, to spend a long, long time doing basically the same thing over and over. If that can be incentivized with rewards that feel materially worthwhile so much the better.

    Easier to say than do, though.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Obil Que (@STRXP)

    Perhaps EVE PvE hasn’t fundamentally changed because no matter how you change it, you just move the goalposts a little and equilibrium is reached again where every possibility is accounted for so that PvE can be done without losses. Change the spawns, add random effects, add new missions, whatever the case may be, it is only a matter of time (and usually a very short amount of it) before they equation is solved and the min/max’ers provide the best fit for the job.

    Even PvE that exists to influence the game world such as faction warfare is gamed. Alts farm sites for ISK while avoiding any semblance of interest in the effects of their mechanics. If the ISK/hr calculation holds, people will run the content however necessary to minimize or avoid losses. This is true for all levels of space where intel channels, collapsing wormholes, and HS incursion fleets all offer players the means to collect ISK while losing as little as possible.

    I do, however, believe that PvE is a tremendously important component for bringing and keeping players in EVE. Sustainable ISK generation is a mountain that can seem insurmountable to players starting the game where the starting ISK is a pittance compared to what they see people fly, lose and use in the game around them.

    If there was one thing that I wish EVE did better was to highlight to players what the possible rewards for a given activity were. How many players start the game not knowing that a simple anomaly that they see in high-sec such as a Sansha Refuge can escalation into a Command Relay which can drop items worth hundreds of millions of ISK all capable of being run in a simple cruiser? The “here’s a Rubik’s Cube, go fuck yourself” mentality does not help new players. I know we all want the sanctity of the sandbox upheld, but PvE is a place where I think the more in game information, the better because it is often the very first place players go because they need ISK and should be the place with the most information available to them without having to dig through out of game, player generated resources.

    Shadow of the Serpent and other events are simple variations on a mechanic that has existed in EVE for a very long time. Cosmic anomalies with random rewards. Only now with the Scope network are we getting a game mechanic that notifies players of the event, directs them to sites, and cumulatively rewards them for running them. I would love to see this structure reworked and expanded to include all level of anomalies and DED sites. Give players cumulative rewards for running them, highlight their possible rewards and escalations to players so they know there is a reason to do them, and overall give new players a push towards sustainable ISK generation that they so desperately need.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Asher

    Getting rid of AFK carrier ratting was the nail in the coffin for me on PvE. It was the most fun way to rat, you could have content at anytime, which made it exciting, but you also didn’t have to sit and pay 100% attention to Eve which is, generally, a boring task. They had the perfect system. At anytime a gang could come through a WH or bridge in and you were fighting with all your friends. Now it’s just back to paying a lot of attention to a terrible experience.

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  7. SynCaine

    I think separating “PvE for ISK” and “PvE for fun/new players” would be a good first step, because no matter how ‘fun’ you make PvE, someone who has been playing EVE for 5 years straight likely isn’t going to be as thrilled with it, and will do it (if they do it at all) just for the ISK, not the experience. A new player or a casual who IS looking for ‘fun’ over the best ROI from PvE is more interested in the experience than the ISK/hr generated (they still need to be rewarded of course).

    So CCP should leave the ISK/hr PvE alone, because it mostly does its job now (get people ISK, sometimes lead to PvP via drops). They SHOULD work on tying better/new PvE into the NPE, and then keep it going to give people a 30min or 1hr option to do something ‘fun’ for PvE. Don’t ask me what that content would look like (though similar to Sleeper PvE wouldn’t be a terrible start), but that should be the focus.

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  8. chaosrook

    I am faily new to EVE so I may have differing views…so remember I’m a Newb!

    I was watching my son the other day play Star Trek Online and it got me thinking that If Eve could adapt its missions to being more line with the docked mission mechanics of STO then they could add their own EVE flair to it.

    The only reason my father wont play eve is because he cant walk around in station like a STO or a SWTOR. …I know that’s how Eve is different but that’s what the competition has.

    They have the failed program /game dusk for example they could use some code from it. Think about all the corps out there with security missions for base assaults for one. It doesn’t have to be its own game just incorporate elements of it into new mission types.

    I know for one that distro missions would be more fun for me if I had to go into the stations and found the agents in the cantina. The other thing that needs to be done is shaping the missions so that they make more sense. I am tired of doing Roden Shipyard missions where I am saving the local population in Alenia from Amarrian Viruses. They need to shape the missions for the different corps and by god they need to increase the number of quests/missions. How many quests does World of Warcraft have? Make specific ones for each corporation and agent type. Some agents are going to have lower levels in different mission types for example.

    You said yourself that you spent a lot of time at Quafe warehouse in null sec. Im sure the deliverymen there have interesting time stocking the local establishments and getting resupplied. make the missions reflecting to its location and so forth.

    If they revamp the mission system, add a few new types (assaults and so forth), make it first person like SWTOR or STO for missioning and that will go along way to improving immersion and making some of those RPish people happy.

    Because lets be honest. If you are into fleet ops and PVP then you arn’t doing missions right? But if you add in there some base assaults and FPS security missions you might do a few more…

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  9. Jesse Low

    Gripper nailed it. The time commitment needed in Eve is a massive burden. Way easier to hope into an Overwatch or Heroes of the Storm game for 20-30 mins and then leave when you are done.

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  10. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Jesse Low – I think you might be over stressing the time commitment. I do not think EVE necessarily requires any more time to play than other MMORPGs. In fact, to play where I am, big fleet sovereignty warfare, which is the analogue of end-game raiding, I spend a lot less time in-game and preparing than I would if I were doing heroic raids in WoW.

    Part of that is because of EVE’s design. Not everybody in a null sec fleet has to be in a bling ship fitted with purples. We let scrubs like SynCaine join up in their little Vigil frigates to do support roles, like painting targets to allow better damage application.

    And, I would argue that even when it comes to Overwatch or Heroes of the Storm, if you want to be any good, you need to invest a lot more time in them than 20-30 minutes sessions when you have a bit of spare time. Again, EVE does allow fresh new players to show up in the end game. I’ve been there for day one noobs in basic frigates on fleet ops. You won’t be playing that sort of content in many other games as quickly.

    It comes down to what you want out of a game. You could easily setup a ship in a quest hub and run a couple missions, go mine out a couple rocks in a belt, or play the market a bit with a 20-30 minute time budget.

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  11. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @chaosrook – Having played both, I have trouble seeing either SWTOR or STO as direct competitors to EVE. SWTOR is WoW with a Knights of the Old Republic theme and some incidental space travel, and STO is too PvE and, when I played it, felt like it was trying to do too much in having both space combat and ground missions, which meant that neither ended up being very good. Neither scratches the same itch as EVE in my opinion.

    I don’t want to get mired into the usual walking in stations arguments, and believe me, getting out of the ship has been a lively topic for the last decade at least. I will stay with the fact that EVE is now a 13 year old game that is good at certain things and has a core audience that plays for those things.

    Investing development resources in something that does not involve the things EVE is good at already always strikes me as an attempt to attract a different audience, something that is generally a mistake. (Has any MMORPG successfully dumped their current audience for a new one? That just reminds me of UO Trammel and the NGE in SWG.)

    At its age, I believe CCP needs to focus on what EVE is good at and not be tempted by distractions that would not enhance its core features/audience, because when you talk about having to get out of a ship and find an agent, I cringe. That is something that would be fun once, but is essentially making the current mission completion functionality more cumbersome without any real benefit.

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  12. chaosrook

    I can see your point on most, what do you think about overhauling the mission system to add a much larger number of missions, more specific to the corp type and perhaps more longer chain missions as well.

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  13. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @chaosrook – Heh, I think I said I don’t know what better PvE really looks like for EVE, so anything I suggest is dubious at best.

    Short term, I would want to see some better way of picking missions. There isn’t anything essentially wrong with Avenge a Fallen Comrade if you want a quick mission, but at this point if I want to run a mission, I want something more interesting. I want Worlds Collide or Angel’s Extravaganza or something like that, with lots going on and where I could lose a ship, as opposed to a burner mission where I am going to lose several almost guaranteed. If I want to lose ships, I can go PvP.

    As I have seen any number of MMO devs state, players don’t want challenges, they want just enough resistance to their efforts to feel gratified when they succeed on the first try.

    Longer term, I want to say better, more interesting missions or maybe agents that specialize in quick versus long missions or some such. Maybe some missions that take you around space and involve whatever the empires are up to, something more immersive than blowing up a pirate leader? I am not sure what would really work.

    And PvE is always a chore. Some designer has to build up a set piece battle that is geared just right, which is interesting and challenging the first time somebody sees it, but then it ends up on a list of missions on a site with a detailed guide as to how to defeat it. Then people follow the guide, run the mission, and call it boring because it was so easy and they were not immersed because they didn’t even read the mission text.

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  14. Catalina de Erauso

    “Investing development resources in something that does not involve the things EVE is good at already always strikes me as an attempt to attract a different audience, something that is generally a mistake.”

    But, how about a middle ground? Something the current players like too or tolerate it and yet can bring people who otherwise will never play EVE? Wasn’t that the intent of Incarna?

    It’s not whether PvE can save the EVE, EVE is a game and all games die sooner or later. But meanwhile better PvE would bring more people than just adding better PvP. CCP has been adding better PvP since Incarna, and in return population has gone down, down, down…

    If EVE is an old game, if her old PvP tricks don’t work, then maybe she shall learn a few new tricks?

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  15. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Catalina de Erauso – Let’s not be too free and loose with what happened. CCP’s reported EVE subscription numbers went down in 2011, when Incarna was released, then went up again in 2012 and peaked in 2013. Also CCP fixed a lot of stuff and added a lot of features that were not just PvP since Incarna.

    So pushing a summary that post-Incarna has been all downhill because it has been all PvP focused seems more than a bit off base.

    As for a feature that core players will like but which would attract new players… sure, why wouldn’t somebody like that? Got any ideas? Because I got nothing.

    Of course, as I have noted repeatedly, the EVE Online new player experience being a confusing mess would be the first thing that I would sort out, should somebody put me in charge by mistake. The new player creation tracker at EVE Offline shows that more new characters were created in early May of this year than right after the battle at B-R5RB hit the news. That was the weekend that EVE was free on Steam. And the net result was no real boost in the PCU. Hard to argue with that as an indicator of an issue.

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  16. Catalina de Erauso

    Maybe I worded it poorly but after 5 years since Incarna, PvP is better than ever, PvE is roughly the same and population is down…

    As for what could be the middle ground… i don’t know. Maybe if players made PvE content? The main difference between PvE and PvP is that PvE depends only on what CCP does and PvP depends on CCP but too on what players do…

    As for the new player experience. I think that EVE should have a kind of user manual so players could learn to play it at their own pace, picking lessons as they wished. So they don’t need to learn everything else in the game to start a little industry, just open their book by “Industry 101” and there they have the essentials. If they are wardecced, open “Wardec 101”. If they buy a new ship, open “Fitting a new ship 101”. And so. Empowering the new players with the ability to get their own reliable answers to their 1,000 first questions about EVE would make the game less scary, I think.

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  17. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Catalina de Erauso – The problem with the NPE is summed up in a T-Shirt that CCP was selling at EVE Vegas which said, “How do I warp to something?”

    I watched my daughter run through the opportunities “tutorial” and try to figure things out. She is smart and much better at “getting things” in video games these days than I am, and she asked me that very same question. EVE is already probably unlike any game you’ve already played when it comes to controls and how to move and travel and all that. But the current opportunities intro is a step way, way back from even the horrible tutorial I ran through back in 2006.

    I can see players leaving before fitting a ship or dealing with a war dec is even an issue because the NPE barely explains even the most basic mechanics of the game these days.

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  18. Catalina de Erauso

    Yes, I tried some opportunities and it was strange to be suggested to do things without an explanation how to do them.

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  19. chaosrook

    If I remember that Steam Weekend…it was just that a free weekend. One thing that we all agree on is that the new player experience is such that it is pretty hard for a new player to learn the game in less than a few days* weeks* months*… I know there is the free 14 day trial and it shouldn’t be hard for any of those people to have seen it but the reality is that should someone make a three day trail account during the Steam Free weekend they would then have to either sub at the end of three days or go create another 14 day trial account to continue to try eve out.
    I am just not sure how motivate a new person would be to go through all that effort for a game they just tried for 1-3days.

    They will need to make sure that the next time they come up on the Steam Free Weekend that they make it easy for newbies to have the full 14 days. They are going to also need to revamp the new player experience and its going to have to be like hand holding through tutorial missions for the first 14 days. If anything that may help decrease the number of trail accounts that the eve vets make for throw-away gankers.

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  20. Jack

    More visually interesting PvE would be nice. Most of the time I’m so far away from ships that I don’t even look at them. I’d start with a target focus window that shows the actual in game visual of the ship shooting at me and my weapons impacting the ship. Eve has all these wonderful graphics and yet I’m always too far away to appreciate them.

    I’d also add a distance minimap to replace the overview spread sheet thingy. Anything that makes me feel like I’m in space instead of using a shitty version of excel.

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  21. HarbingerZero

    Can it save it? That’s a tall order. Has a game ever been “saved” by any change that its made?

    Anyway, you ask about why PvE is not better now, since there are so many more options (at least, I think you were asking that). The answer is that all of those options, to be engaging, also require players to open themselves up to more and more deadly PvP elements. The best “crafting” (as you put it, and I think it is well said) is in the most dangerous areas of the game. So is the best PvE. I get the “why” of that, from the standpoint of EVE’s vision for its game. But I think it might be worthwhile to look into making a change around that and unhitching the two.

    It may not (read: probably will not) “save the game” but it might slow the decline, and excite/engage/re-engage a number of players who may not be active right now.

    And, of course, it would make me happy, so they should do it and do it immediately, right?

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