I started off yesterday’s post about EVE Online’s fifteenth anniversary with a few points in the back of my brain that I wanted to cover. I got through a few of them before I went sort of “onion on my belt” about things back in the day and warp to zero not being a thing and all.
But I did not get to everything on my mental list. If anybody asks if my posts are planned or accidental I think I can say, “Both!”
Anyway, a key item I wanted to mention was story.
As the years have gone by I have become ever more certain that story is one of the most important parts of an MMORPG. Not necessarily the story on which the game is based however. Sure, the fall of Arthas or the various re-tellings of the events around the Burning Legion make for fine backdrops for a game like World of Warcraft. In fact, in a game where you have as little freedom of action or impact on the world as you do in WoW they may be essential threads from which to weave the tapestry that is the tale of any given character.
But in the end, the essentially piece, the compelling bit, is how you and your friends took part in the story. That Archaedas was slain in Uldaman yet again is far less important to and individual player than the fact that their group did it and how they accomplished the feat. (In the case of our group, it was nearly 3am and I was excited enough that I woke up my wife in the other room.)
Which brings me to EVE Online and the importance of story there.
The game does not lack for lore. It provides a backdrop of dates and events and names in which you can immerse yourself. But that lore is like the props and backdrops of a play. They can set tone, give you a feel for what is going on, even be part of the narrative. But the important bit is what the actors themselves do.
And in New Eden the players are the actors.
Yes, you can make a career of wrestling with the props. You can do what your career agent tells you to do, run missions ad naseum, and chase the epic arcs all by yourself, but statistically CCP says you’ll quit sooner rather than later.
Even opposing the endless efforts of Sansha Kuvakei to occupy space (mocked here on Reddit) will likely lead to boredom if you are looking for the game to give structure to your personal story.
In New Eden, as in a play, it is the story created by the players that is important. They key to longevity in the game is having an ongoing story. And there are many possibilities. Stories are as diverse as the player base and being a part of a story is a compelling reason to stick around.
Story explains my connection with EVE Online, why I have left in the past and why I stick around now. At various points in the first half of my time in the game I grabbed onto and then lost hold of a story that could keep me interested. Often the story in question was a trip to a destination, like achieving mining perfection or succeeding with invention or making a billion ISK.
Moving to null sect in late 2011 changed that. That move put me into a story that just keeps going. It might be the biggest story of the game, the ongoing conflicts and over sized personalities of that part of the game. It is the part of New Eden they write books about what the players are up to rather than the lore.
Being a part of that story, seeing it in person, “being there” is a big part of what keeps me logging into the game. It creates a considerable tolerance in me for the often mundane day to day operations that go on in null sec. You never know when shooting a structure or dropping a citadel is going to be the start of a series of events that leads to a war starting or a coalition abandoning their space. Even yelling at somebody can start a chain of events.
I am also pretty good with the time dilation lag fests that often describe big battles in the game. Sure, it isn’t the game as we would have it in our ideal scenario, but it is the convergence for a short period of time of thousands of player stories into a single event.
Even in defeat there are stories, stories I am happy to have been a part of, like the Imperium’s exodus from the north at the end of the Casino War.
But null sec isn’t the only story. It is just the biggest, shiniest, and easiest to follow, played out on maps that you can follow via DOTLAN or the null sec influence maps. It also suits my play time availability. In a large group you don’t have to show up for every fleet. I’d probably be considered a slacker in a wormhole corp, but am a respectable line member in a null sec coalition.
And so story is everywhere. Every pirate corp, every wormhole group, every gank fleet, every industrial concern, and even those miner bumpers, they all have a their own story that keeps them going, their own narrative that defines who they are and why they log in.
I walk away from World of Warcraft at some point during almost every expansion because my story within the lines they have defined wears thin. But I have remained subscribed and active every month since December 2011 in EVE Online, which has to be some sort of record for me.
Story is where it is at in New Eden. ISK oils the wheels of conflict and enables action, but story is the engine that keeps the game moving forward.
And move forward it does. It seems odd, but EVE Online is the only game I can think of that has a calendar that really seems to measure something. Even TorilMUD had a calendar. If you typed in “time” it would give you the time, day of the week, date, and month. But the game didn’t change.
But in New Eden the year YC120 is different from YC119, which was different from the years before that. The missions didn’t change. That damsel is still in distress, worlds still collide, and you’re still being asked to avenge a fallen comrade. The epic arcs didn’t change. You still have to follow the same steps through them. And Sansha Kuvakei sure didn’t change. He is still launching his incursions time and again.
But the player stories all moved on. Some new ones start, some old ones end, and the rest continue, maybe in a different part of space or facing different foes or competitors. Maybe there are good days, successful ops or being well positioned in the market for a change, sometimes there are bad, but the story carries on so long as you want to be a part of it.