Standings as the Gate to Mission Content

Missions are still the core of EVE Online‘s PvE offering.

A bunch of other PvE options have been added over the years, The Agency will even give you a hint about their existence.

The Agency giving you some options

But missions have remained a cornerstone of the game since I started.  Back in 2006 the tutorial of the time wrapped up and sent you off to your first mission agent, and when I ran the tutorial back over the summer, I was sent in the same direction.  CCP has since revised the tutorial again, simplifying it a bit further, but nothing about the direction in which it sends you has changed.

Just a few short steps now

If anything, the tutorial is far grown even more focused on teaching you how to run missions.  The combination of that and some key UI changes have tried to take the edge off of running missions.  You no longer have to fumble for the journal to bring up the mission to check details.  Little blue buttons now show up on your screen that let you undock, set destination, warp to sites, and make sure you know when the objective is complete.  Then the buttons let you set destination back to the agent, dock up, and even open the conversation with the agent so you can complete the mission.

Seriously

I get it.  Missions are easy and fit the whole quest model that so many MMORPGs follow.  It is probably one of the more comprehensible aspects of New Eden to an outsider.  In a game where long term commitment requires finding your own goals and motivation, missions are a way to give players a short term objective.

But in some ways missions are still stuck back in 2006.  I am not just talking about the fact that the same missions I ran back then are still in circulation today.  One of the somewhat archaic aspects of missions is the whole standings aspect.

In 2006 that also made a lot of sense in the more limited scope of options we had back then.  Standings were used as a way to gate content, but also as a way to hold players back from jumping into the deep end of the mission pool too soon.  So you would run your level one missions with a given faction, building up reputation with your agent and their corporation.  You’d get a story line mission every 16 runs that would give you a bigger boost.

Then you would break into level 2 missions.  You needed to find a new agent and upgrade your ship for that.  Things were a bit tougher, you learned some more, you got your story line missions, you collected your rewards, and your standings slowly went up.

And standings going up had some benefits.  Higher standings would lower your costs for things like broker’s fees and ore processing and if you hung out long enough you could work your standings up high enough to install a jump clone in one of the NPC stations.

But that is all pretty much in the past.  You can buy and refine at player owned Upwell structures for lower costs and CCP simply remove the standings requirement for placing a jump clone years back.

So standings are mostly just a barrier to content and something of a slog to get past.

And slog it can be.  Back during the summer of skill points with the daily NPC kill reward I decided to take one alt and run a mission with him every day.  I had already dumped some skill points on him, so trained up to Connections III, which got him into level 2 missions pretty quickly.  But getting past level 2… well, it hasn’t happened yet.

Not even to level 3 missions yet

And while one a day doesn’t seem like a very diligent pace, missions quickly become tiresome so binging might lead to burnout. (There was, admittedly, a bit of back sliding when I let the account, which was one I used for cyno alts, lapse into Alpha state, pushing me back a step on Connections.)

Of course, I might not be the best test case.  I actually remember many of the missions from a decade or more back when I was running them for the first time for real.  And my fitting knowledge, while nothing to brag about, at least extends to getting a level 2 mission ship together that doesn’t have much to worry about.  So I was able to field a Dragoon with some drones that has been able to handle anything thrown at it so far, including that mission where you’re supposed to warp off in the face of long odds.

Dragoon in a mission space

The thing is, you cannot buy your way past missions.

I guess, as a long time player who ground up standings and skill points the old fashioned way, I should applaud that.  But if I were starting out and found that I could invest in a bit of PLEX for skill injectors, skill into a Myrmidon, join a null sec alliance, and turn my 200K ISK ticks into 12 million ISK ticks, I might very well be so inclined.

Not only is the pay better, but I would argue that running anomalies, dull though that might be, is no more dull than running missions.  Yes, you miss out on the thin veneer of story that a mission provide.  But nobody is actively hunting you if you’re stuck running level 2 missions either.  Having to keep an eye on local and the intel channel and occasionally having to run or fight when somebody lands on you… or holding out just long enough to get somebody in the standing fleet to show up and rescue you… that is a lot more exciting than any mission I’ve ever run.  But, like all PvP, it requires somebody else to show up, which means you can’t schedule it on demand or make it happen if you only have time to run a single anom or such.

So, as I kicked off my daily mission routine with the return of daily skill point rewards, I have been wondering if standings are necessarily a good gate for advancing mission levels.

Part of me thinks I had to do it back in the day, so why let the new players off the hook?  A more condescending part of my mind feels that this slow pace will keep new players from getting in over their head too quickly, while the true cynic in me feels that at least the slow standings grind keeps those solo mission runners subscribed to the game a bit longer before they max out their Raven skills and quit.  Maybe make the grind longer for that last case?

But the other part of me… the bigger part of me… sees the mission path for the dead end it is.  Why make it worse with grind?  And doubly so since some of the key rewards one got for grinding up standings have been removed or made somewhat obsolete.

I suppose the best thing to do would be to create a tutorial that didn’t simply train you to do missions and then point you towards them without much else in between.  But how to get there is an even bigger mess.  The open secret in the industry is that players mostly hate tutorials, and doubly so if they appear to be standing in the way of actually playing the game, so any tutorial has to be short and sweet and send players on their way in the minimum amount of time possible.  (This, by the way, is why the epic tutorial went away.  It was too long.)

How do you explain EVE Online if you have 30 minutes tops to do it?  You can’t even honestly sum up the game in 30 minutes without omitting critical details.  So CCP goes with the one thing they know they can get away with in that time and then hopes for the best.

And if that is where things are going to go, then I question whether or not standings have outlived their usefulness as a content gate.

3 thoughts on “Standings as the Gate to Mission Content

  1. anypo8

    Great point. This is how you screw game balance up. Back when everything was time-gated or standings gated or otherwise grind-gated, mission standings made a kind of sense. Now that everything else is easy-mode or pay-to-win, not so much.

    One possibility would be to provide agents that accepted ISK or PLEX for standings upgrades :-). A less drastic plan would be to gate your reputation not just on the number of missions run but on the success of those missions. If someone has run 10 successful L2 missions in a row, they’re probably ready for L3.

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  2. Vigo Grimborne

    How do you explain a game like EVE online in 30 minutes tops?

    I think, in this case, that the answer is ‘you don’t.’ It’s just not possible. I’d compare this issue to Dwarf Fortress; the game is simply too deep, complex, and nuanced to give a tutorial that actually covers all the bases AND holds player attention.

    In Dwarf Fortress’s case, the only tutorial is more of a ‘here’s what the keys do, get at it’. But it’s a layered, context-sensitive one. If you hit the tutorial button (I think it’s the ? key) while in a menu (of which there are many), it will at least attempt to give you an overview of what that particular menu is for, and what it can do.

    Anything beyond that little information is discovered either by painful amounts of experimentation, or going to the wiki / subreddit / forums. It’s not a good system, but it works… a little.

    From what little I know of EVE online, I don’t think such a thing would work there to any extent. That game doesn’t have a pause function, and thus has no time to dig through menus.

    Perhaps, though, one could make the tutorials more thorough by making them specific? Aside from the absolute basics, could the game perhaps offer more specific sets of tutorials that are in no way mandatory, for specific activities other than missions?

    So instead of ‘explain the game in 30 minutes tops’ you could have ‘give the absolute basics in 30 minutes,’ and then have other, more specific tutorials waiting in the wings if the player finds themselves confused.

    Of course, I don’t know enough about EVE to offer anything more than that painfully uninformed spark of an idea. For all I know, the game already does the equivalent. But it’s an interesting sort of problem, so I couldn’t resist looking at it for a while.

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  3. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Vigo Grimborne – The problem is, in the face of an impossible task CCP has consistently chosen to emphasize mission running, which you can get the basics of in 30 minutes now that the UI makes every step very clear with a big blue button. (The button fails to update under some circumstances. I have seen a few cases where you complete the mission objective and the blue button doesn’t tell you what to do next. But it mostly works, and much better than no blue button at all.)

    But CCP has also said that missions are a dead end. Most players end up on that track, get to level 4 missions, bling out their ship, then stop playing.

    CCP does have career agents, which have you run missions that teach you how to do other things. Well, PvE things. Nothing in the game ever tells you how to go shoot other players. But those missions are all a decade old now. They were bad back then and have not aged well. If you might learn how to scan or mine, but you’ll end up with a comically poorly fit ship.

    Such is life in the sandbox.

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