Daily Archives: December 1, 2016

BB78 – Can The Slate Ever Be Made Clean Again?

After something of a vacation, it is time for another EVE Online Blog Banter entry.  This is number 78 in the series and it asks the following question:

Just for a moment engage your “willing suspension of disbelief”. Imagine that CCP, at downtime today, reset everything in Eve Online. Everything! When you logged in you were in a starter system with your character… but now with less than a million skill points, a mere 5000 ISK and a noob ship (now with civilian afterburner!). Markets are pretty empty other than a few seeded items. All Sov is gone. All player structures are gone. All PI infrastructure is gone. No corps or alliances exist. Nothing remains. New Eden is suddenly a completely level playing field and the next great gold-rush is on? Or is it? What happens now?

The great player wipe question.  I went directly there only a few months into the life of the blog, trying to split the difference between death and rebirth.  And I have been back there many times since.  It is a thorny question and not one easily dismissed, for each tired “obvious” response has its own set of counter arguments that you have to ignore in order to believe there is but one true path.

The pro-player wipe, or pwipe, side of things draws on a desire to relive the past.  Nostalgia is a more powerful force of nature… at least human nature… than people often believe.  Quoting Thomas Wolfe and declaring the very idea of being able to relive the past an impossibility ignores the flexibility of the human brain and memories.

I say this as one who has been on successful trips into the past.

TorilMUD, the Forgotten Realms based MUD I played for many years went through three distinct periods with pwipes in between and probably the best time I ever had in the game was after the third pwipe.  That was in early 2002 if I recall right, nearly a decade after I made my first character, so the game was not new to me.  There were no more feelings of first discovery to be had, no sense of wonder and anxiety in exploring the low level areas of the game.

But there was a huge rush of fun as everybody started out again at level one.  Many old players returned and there were lots of familiar names as we set out with our basic newbie equipment to slay orcs and kobolds and those buffalo outside of Waterdeep.  TorilMUD is very much a game that requires grouping and having ample low level groups to join is something that only happens at pwipe.  After enough time passes the usual thing happens and the regulars are all at the top of the level curve and those few lowbies you see online are often alts, twinked with good gear so they can solo.  If you start new then, low level zones tend to be dead and groups difficult to find.

The game had changed quite a bit since I started playing just after the 1993 pwipe.  But the mechanics do not matter as much as you might imagine.  There is a lot of fun/nostalgia to be had just being on a fresh server where everybody is starting over again.

As a follow on to that, I will point to the progression servers in EverQuest.  Back in the Fippy Darkpaw server era, Skronk and I had a great time running through old Norrath.  Granted, it helped that we started in Qeynos, the side of the world long in disfavor with SOE and so which still has old school graphics.  But even our runs to redone Freeport and The Commonlands were not spoiled by revamped visuals.

Bandit fight in West Karana

Bandit fight in West Karana

And we were not bothered by the how much the mechanics of the game had changed over the years.  A few people were nit picking about how such and such a thing wasn’t like that back in 1999, but on the whole players seemed happy to just jump onto a fresh server with new players and old content in order pretend we were all young(er) again.

In the case of EverQuest, this is born out by the fact that of the three most popular servers running, two of them are nostalgia/progression servers, with the third being a community heavy role play server.

Not so many servers as the old days

Not so many servers as the old days

And, yes, the call of nostalgia is an emotional one, not a logical one.  But we are not logical beings.  I think the past election is proof of that.  I’ve certainly seen enough in life to support the assertion that people general make their decisions immediately and then find and weight facts to support that decision after the fact.  And I know I do it too.

So I can see the emotional appeal of just wiping that database and restarting Tranquility afresh.  Imagine New Eden with 40K rookie ships… erm, corvettes now… undocking.  A New Eden with now loyalty points yet banked, no faction yet earned, no huge piles of ISK socked away in wallets, no markets piled high with equipment, no sovereignty claimed, and not a tech II module or BPO to be found anywhere.  Everybody equal; the same starting equipment, the same amount of ISK, the same number of skill points.  A bright new universe of choices and second chances.  Alliances to be rebuilt, empires to be forged anew, fortunes to be sought once again.

It doesn’t have to be technically 2003 again… or 2006 for me… to feel at least some excitement at the prospect of a pwipe.

Cormorant Docking - Trails On

Cormorant docking back in the day

Of course, there is the flip side to all of that, wherein a pwipe would be very, very bad for CCP.

As human beings, we often get very attached to our “stuff,” and the distinction between real and virtual stuff is no distinction at all for some, regardless of what the EULA might say.  In fact, one of the draws of MMORPGs, the thing that keeps them going for beyond a decade, is often tied into our virtual inventories and accomplishments.

Stuff… be it bank tabs full of cosmetic gear and outdated crafting supplies or hangars full of ships and modules… is part of the link the tethers us to these games.  The sunk cost fallacy is alive and well as people will continue to play a game, even after it goes stale for them, simply because they have accumulated so much stuff.  And levels, experience, or skill points further cement that bond.

I don’t play EVE Online merely because I have 160 million skill points, but all those skill points and what they enable within the game do make me much more likely to log in.

And somewhere in between… at a different spot for everybody… is a balance, a spot where loss of stuff would break the tie between them and the game.  A good portion of people don’t want to start over again, and I am sure that some who do would find that wish challenged in the face of a rookie ship reality.

Of course, CCP knows this.  Every decent MMORPG company knows this.  This is the reason they don’t clean out the character database regularly, why you should worry too much about what it says in the EULA about when they CAN delete your account, because when they actually WILL delete it is a different story.

For CCP to do a pwipe, especially one as described, would be insanity given the current state of the game.  It would be throwing out a known situation in hopes that an unknown situation might be “better,” for whatever definition of the word you wish to choose.  “Let’s roll the dice and see what happens!” is not a viable business plan.

So it ain’t gonna happen in New Eden.  Or not any time soon.

And neither is a fresh server.  Leaving aside the cost of setting up and maintaining another live server, one of the lessons from the EverQuest and EverQuest II is that, while some people will come back for a fresh/retro/nostalgia server, a large part of those who will play them are already subscribers.  One of the forum complaints about the Stormhold server in EQII was that it stole enough players from live servers as to make forming groups for raids a much more difficult task.

Opening a fresh server would steal more players from Tranquility than it would bring in new players, and then we would end up with two servers with less players than the current one.

For a game that thrives on having a certain critical mass of players… any why else would you bring in Alpha clones than to try to keep the game above that level… a second live server (outside of China, which doesn’t count) looks like a non-starter as well.

So we shall plow on through space as before, all of us together aboard the SS Tranquility, for the foreseeable future.

Still, though, it is fun to imagine what we all might do if after some future downtime the whole thing came up fresh.  The reactions would range between sheer joy and utter rage I am sure.  I’d give it a shot.

Alternate titles I considered for this post:

  • You can sort of go home again
  • Playing with your old toys as an adult
  • Roll on rose colored glasses
  • Nostalgia is a can of worms
  • The clean slate
  • How to kill New Eden
  • Nostalgia is a wreath of pretty flowers which smell bad

Meanwhile, other bloggers tackling this month’s topic include: