When all you have is a screwdriver, then every feature gets screwed.
-Me, somewhere further down in this post
Who remembers back during EVE Fanfest 2016 when CCP Ghost got up in front of everybody and talked about how CCP was going to change the New Player Experience? He went on about how they were going to make the NPE an epic, engaging, bigger than life, you matter in the fight sort of experience that would try to do something about the somewhat dismal new player retention issues that EVE Online has traditionally had?
Yes, there were a few other little things going on around then that might have drawn attention from that particular bullet point, like the Citadel expansion, the fall of Deklein during the Casino War, and Xenuria being elected to CSM11. But I did get around to bringing it up in a post later, though that post points to the video of the presentation that has since been removed. The internet never fails to disappoint.
I got around to it because an improved NPE seemed like a solid choice, what with the free to play plans that CCP announced later on for the Ascension expansion. Alpha clones were to become a thing, and with them would the new starting experience.
So it sounded like a good idea, getting players invested with some story up front. I mean sure, EVE Online is a sandbox, so making new players think there was actually going to be something like a coherent story to follow in the game was a bit of a lie right up front. But it couldn’t be any worse that past variations on the NPE theme, which tended to bounce between the clarity of the instructions that came with our “Made in China” garden awning and the excitement of the Ben Stein history class scene in Ferris Beuller’s Day Off.
The literal tipping point to get me to start this blog back in 2006 was the tutorial. It was such a mess. After trying to figure that out I felt a burning need to write about it. It’s your fault we’re here CCP!
Anyway, I did try the new epic tutorial that came in with Ascension, with its voiced instructions and running events that would eventually blow you up, only to revive you and show you how an immortal space capsuleer shrugs off death and keeps on fighting.
Bits of it were admittedly recycled from the previous tutorial, but it was still pretty cool I guess. There were action sequences where you got into a fight with allies and saw other ships, even capital ships, something a lot of capsuleers never end up seeing.
There was even a giant wheel in space to blow up and all. It was of epic proportions and I remember the art team speaking about it at EVE Vegas and the work they had to do in order to get it to blow up just right.
After that I don’t recall CCP talking much more about the NPE, save for a couple of minor updates, so I had guessed they had nailed it… or that it was at least working out marginally better than the previous NPE.
So I was more than a bit surprised to learn that they THREW ALL OF THAT AWAY with the August update. Not only that, but I remain surprised at how low key that tossing away of the old NPE went. The entry in the Patch Notes reads:
Updated NPE with beginner tutorial sites and combat challenges available through The Agency.
That is about all there was. The Updates page said a little bit more, but I tend to lean on the Patch Notes more. And, generally speaking, this sort of change generally had a Dev Blog associated with it and some forum discussion, but either that didn’t happen or I totally missed it because this new NPE was pretty much a shock to me. I wouldn’t have even noticed it had there not been a new Alpha Clone doctrine announced for the Imperium which got me to roll up an new Alpha Clone of my own on a lark.
Gone is the dynamic story, the jumping into combat with NPC allies, the capital ships, and the destruction of your ship during the process… at least the intentional destruction of it.
Replacing it are a series of “go shoot the barely resisting NPC” missions stacked up in The Agency interface that have about as much connection between each other as consecutive articles in an encyclopedia.
It isn’t dramatically worse than some of the older NPE experiences, and its actually much better than what I experienced back in 2006. But it isn’t as good as the dynamic one, so I am curious as to why CCP decided to toss all of that work, especially after they built it up and were so proud of it.
One guess is that it wasn’t working or that it was doing worse than previous NPE iterations. I liked it, the dynamic story aspect of it was much more engaging to me than the mission running interface of the previous version. I wonder if blowing up the player’s ship was too much.
Probably the most important lesson that any player needs to learn about EVE Online is that ships are transitory, less like your epic armor in WoW and more like ammunition to be expended. And it can be a very tough one to learn. And even when you do get it, losing a ship won’t be a happy experience, but it isn’t anywhere akin losing irreplaceable gear that you spent months raiding to get. If you’re rage-quitting over a ship loss you have not grokked the game.
But putting that right up front and center in the NPE might be too much to ask. So it is possible they were seeing players quit the game right then at that point in the tutorial and decided that it needed to be fixed.
Still, it seems like something you could fix more easily by not throwing away all that work.
My worry is that the change was actually driven by the need to force all PvE activities into the interface of The Agency. That does seem to be an overriding goal of somebody at CCP, and when your tool is a hammer then every problem looks like a nail.
Though, to modify that phrase to get the right point of view I might restate it as, “When all you have is a screwdriver, then every feature gets screwed.” And The Agency is the great big PvE screwdriver.
And I say that because they have traded an engaging and dynamic tutorial for one that is tepid and dry and not very engaging at all. And in addition to being dull, it has way too many steps. You can see from my screen shot above that I did the core step for each stage thinking that perhaps that would be enough. Maybe the subsidiary steps were just there to reinforce concepts for people who didn’t really get it the first time. But no, you have to do all 16 to get credit for finishing the full tutorial.
I guess it does have its own ring thing at one of the stages.
The new ring would barely be visible stood next to the ring from the epic NPE. Also, it doesn’t blow up.
I am also wary of a tutorial that sets up Circadian Seekers of various flavors that are a push over for an Ibis.
Those look just like the ones that you see in the wild… the ones that would blap your Ibis in one salvo and which call for backup if you’re tough enough to tank them. Granted, the epic tutorial did that as well, but if they were going to toss the epic aspect they might have tossed the Sleepers as well.
Also, in one of the later steps the give you a new ship, a Merlin for the Caldari, and 100 rounds of ammo, but that 100 rounds is completely inadequate to finish all of the missions from there forward. Completing the missions doesn’t get you any more, which seems like the logical thing, and the tutorial doesn’t tell you to check the market but if you do you’ll likely not be able to afford the ammo with what is in your newbie wallet. Granted, you can finish off the rest of the missions in your Ibis, but then why give you the Merlin? The Merlin was only there to show you how to fit modules, which they could have done with the Ibis.
At least the career path agents are still there and looming in The Agency interface as well. You can get another Merlin and a useful supply of ammo from the combat training missions.
And, CCP being CCP, they felt they needed to flip the switch for everybody so that every character in New Eden. So not only does every new character have to see this and go into The Agency, but every character that logs in, young or old, has to be alerted to the presence of this new tutorial.
I am sure that somewhere at CCP HQ in a conference late in the afternoon when everybody was tired that all of this made enough sense for somebody to sign off on it and clear it for some dev to implement. I just have trouble believing that nobody woke up the next day after sleeping on it and felt that there might be a flaw.
Oh well, if there is one thing I have learned is that if you’re forced to sit in a conference room going over a design for hours on end eventually anything will seem like a good idea. The Cardassians didn’t have to torture Picard to get him to see five lights, they just had to put him in a conference room and just keep drawing diagrams on a whiteboard and making bad sports analogies for eight or nine hours and he would have signed off on the five light design even if it only had one damn light.