It is like New Eden editorial week here at TAGN.
With Wednesday’s rambling rant I foolishly used EVE Online as an example of focus. It was foolish because any mention of EVE Online will seem like an invite for somebody to come and hijack the comment thread and to complain that the game is dying because CCP is neglecting their little corner of space.
My first EVE Online expansion
“EVE is Dying” is a favorite topic in the community, and the reason is usually, as noted above, because CCP is neglecting some corner of the current user base. But it is a long running MMORPG and one of the ways to keep an MMO from dying is to attract new players. CCP has launched into that with Alpha clones and a revamped new player experience. But there are still things standing in the way of new players joining the game.
It sounds like a porn site, or maybe something to promote feminine hygiene products. What it doesn’t sound like is an internet spaceship MMORPG.
Yes, you and I know it is a biblical reference and that is used to include “the second genesis” in the title just to make that clear. But absent that insight, if you were looking at a list of MMORPGs and wanted to play something in outer space, which are you going to look at first, something named after a popular science fiction franchise (SWTOR or STO maybe) or something that shares a name with one of the co-defendants in Apple-gate?
That was the year that EVE Online launched. Consoles of the time were the PlayStation 2, the original XBox, the GameCube, and the GameBoy Advance. That was back when the first Call of Duty was launched, when Toontown Online kicked off, when EverQuest only have five expansions, and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic was a big deal.
That make EVE Online pretty old in gaming years. And while it has been pretty much constantly updated over its life, the years still weigh on the game. An outsider may dismiss it because of its age. Some players like the game but simply wear out over time. Bitter vets hang on, looking for one more high point, another good fight or memorable event that will make a story. The rich get richer in ISK and skill points and new players can feel daunted entering a universe with a hierarchy often dictated by age/time with the game, where corps and alliances can easily have a decade of history under their belt.
Oh That Reputation
Where to even start on this? Be the villain?
EVE Online is a PvP MMORPG. There is no flagging, no care bear server, no safety once you undock your ship. PvP games have a reputation for attracting the worst people to start with. The joke back in early EverQuest was that SOE rolled out PvP servers to concentrate all the assholes in their own corner and away from the rest of the player base.
Of course, CCP didn’t stop at simply making their game PvP They allow things that would get you banned in WoW, all in furtherance of the sandbox. They push that ideal so far that they can seem unsure as to whether or not you can cross a line, as we saw with the bonus room scandal or, more recently, anti-Semitic symbolism in the alliance tournament.
So the game has a reputation built on some bad events and enhanced by a legion of people who hate the game… or who hate the idea of the game, because they’ve clearly never logged in… and who clog up comment threads on gaming sites whenever a story about the game runs.
I was in a Facebook group for old Air Warrior players and at one point somebody put up a post asking what games everybody was playing currently. I put EVE Online on my response, and another guy in the group just lost his head about it being a horrible game where people swat you to steal your stuff. Now, granted, this guy was a Star Citizen fan boy who was dedicated destroying all other space sims to further the cause of his God, Chris Roberts (he eventually killed the group by spamming it with Star Citizen posts), but he wasn’t going on about how horrible Elite: Dangerous players were, just that it was a shadow of what Star Citizen would eventually be. But he knew that hitting EVE with its reputation was an easy shot, something that would scare people away from this threat to his precious.
There are a lot of people out there eager to say bad things about New Eden, and a number of them are people paying to play the game.
The User Interface
The EVE Online store features a T-shirt that says, “How do I warp to something?” that would be very funny were it not so true.
I will grant that CCP had a serious problem in trying to represent three dimensional space travel on a 2D screen where there can be dozens to hundreds to thousands of things in space and around you. The camera, brackets, the tactical overlay, and the overview work together to try and get you what you need to know. And sometimes it is just the right balance and it works.
And then you hit bracket overflow and it is killing your performance so you have to turn them off, which makes the camera just a source of pretty pictures. Meanwhile the overview has 50 pages of information in it so you sort by distance, but the FC wants you to sort by name and target somebody with a name close to yours alphabetically, only your name starts with “W” so you’re trying to find that and then another hostile fleet warps in range and now you aren’t sure who to target then the FC, realizing this, tells everybody to go to a destroyer only overview, but you scroll down the long list of overviews and find you don’t have one, but you have a frigate overview which includes destroyers so you select that and the enemy completely disappears because it is an old overview and doesn’t have T3 or command destroyers selected because when CCP adds new stuff it is off by default in overviews so you’re digging in the settings trying to find the right boxes to check and the FC tells the fleet to align but you’re almost there and you check them and suddenly the overview is populated by hostiles yellow boxing you and then the FC warps you off but you’re not aligned yet and are dead before you get off grid and the FC wants to know what they hell you were doing and you say, “Sorry, phone rang” and slink off because the real story is too much to say over coms and finally somebody pods you so you can log off.
True story. And I had been playing the game for about 8 years when that happened so I was able to tell what was wrong and try to fix it on the fly. To paraphrase Yahtzee Croshaw “The overview is like the working class, if you cannot control it, it will seek to destroy you.”
And the overview is just one part of a UI that is often very unhelpful about telling you what you need to know to do what you want to do. And not being able to do what you want to do because the UI isn’t helping can be hugely frustrating.
Ship and Module Complexity
I would love CCP to give us a count of how many people have that damage table about what damage type to use against which NPCs as their biography. That so many people feel the need to put that there to remember what sort of ammo to load is a pretty clear sign of something.
As with the UI, CCP has a problem in that equipment in the game doesn’t map to most other entries in the MMORPG space. Medieval fantasy is so popular in part because the gear is easy. A helmet protects your head. Some number shows you how well, and you can compare that to other helmets to see which one to wear. A sword does damage. Another number tells you how much and you can compare your sword against new ones.
Spaceships and the equipment for them though… a little more complex.
I consider myself lucky in that I started as Caldari back in 2006. Missiles were a weapons option and missiles are easy. I tinkered with rail guns, the other Caldari weapon system, but went back to missiles. There are only four basic flavors of missiles, one for each damage type, heat, explosive, kinetic, and electro-magnetic.
Missiles have flight time, so they do not apply damage immediately like the other options, but they don’t miss due to transverse movement. No tracking worries, just get something in range, have the right flavor loaded, and shoot.
Of course, a new player picking ammo still have a slew of choices if they look up light missiles on the market.
Not shown, defender light missiles
Then there are rockets, which are the shorter ranger but higher damage alternative to light missiles which have their own parallel ammo selection. And then there are the various flavors of launchers, modules which can enhance missile damage, hulls with bonuses to missiles, and even implants to improve missile performance.
Such variety exists for all the basic weapon systems for each empire, and that is just offense. There is also defense, how to beef up your ships defenses or keep them repaired as well as mobility and targeting and stealth and scanning and probing and fleet boosts and probably a few more things I am forgetting. The idea of giving Alpha clones access only to their own empire’s ships makes more sense when you look at all of this. At least your Gallente pilot is just going to have to learn about drones and hybrid weapons, since lasers and projectiles won’t be an option.
Now, such complexity isn’t a bad thing from one angle. There is enough rock-paper-scissors going on that there isn’t one absolute winning doctrine we all fly. Theory crafting fits is a viable pastime in New Eden. But for the new player… or the player that just wants to undock and shoot something without learning the fine craft of fitting… it is a serious issue.
Bonus Item: Terminology
POS, station, starbase, outpost, citadel, complex, depot, welp, gate, jump, cyno, beacon, bridge, bomb, smart bomb, hictor, dictor, tank, alpha, Alpha, point, web, scram, tackle, bubble, drag bubble, camp, gank, FC, anchor, logi, perch, scan, probe, and so on and so on and so on.
When EVE Online players speak or write about the game, we often drop into the jargon of the game, made more dense by our own shorthand for in-game concepts, that makes understanding what is going difficult for the outsider.
And sometimes it is difficult for the insider as well. Earlier this week CCP announced that after next week’s patch players would no longer be able to deploy outposts. I was pretty sure that meant the deployment of what we generally call “stations” in null sec, but I went and read it carefully to be sure. But that didn’t stop people in the forums from jumping on this announcement thinking that CCP meant Player Owned Starbases, those structures built around a tower that have been, among other things, the only way to mine moons and build capital ships up until now.
Problems versus Problems
Having removed the barrier to entry that was the subscription (sort of) and assuming that the updated new player experience is no longer going to drive people away, those are what I see as the top five problems with EVE Online because they are barriers to getting new people to try the game and to help replace the attrition that any MMORPG faces over time. To me that trumps most bitter vet complaints that are generally balance and mechanics issues.
Some of my list can’t be fixed. The game will always be from 2003, and changing the name would cause more problems than it would solve at this point. Other items on my list are double edge swords. The reputation does bring some people to the game, as a challenge if nothing else, while the complexity of ship fitting gives the game depth and does lead to interesting choices. As for the UI… well, that has been a work in progress for 13 years. It is better now that it was when I showed up in 2006.
But the fact that you can’t fix a problem, or can’t fix it easily, or can’t fix it today, doesn’t mean it isn’t a problem.
Anyway, those are my picks. I am sure you have your own ideas about what is wrong with EVE Online. I won’t even argue with you in the comments.
Addendum: Or maybe some new masters will change some of these points.
Addendum: Po Huit takes this list and runs with it.