Tag Archives: New Player Experience

Quote of the Day – The Button Label is Bad

Alright then, I think to myself. I’ll just repurchase another Ibis. They appear to be cheap, and I had made a whole big chunk of ISK from tutorials…

-Massively OP, Choose My Adventure Column

Chris at Massively OP headed into EVE Online for the latest round of Choose My Adventure and, unsurprisingly, it has been a tough time.  Welcome to New Eden, same as it ever was.  The new player experience remains… challenging.

But what struck me out of post of familiar woes was the line quoted above, because there is literally a button in the station/structure UI that will give you a brand new rookie ship… or “corvette” as they are now styled… on demand.  It isn’t even hidden away, being located right under the undock button.

The button and the hover help

Back in the day the game used to just give you a rookie ship if you docked up in a capsule.  It was changed to a button a while back.  I am going to guess they did that because somebody did a database query on “Ibis” and found there were more sitting in stations than there were total user accounts ever created.  I went on a cleaning up campaign a few years back to destroy all the ones I had cluttering up my hangars and when I searched today I have 26 still hanging around on my main.

Ibis results…

I was going to show the whole list, but I thought that one in 6RCQ, which I repackaged for some reason, like I was going to move it somewhere, was more amusing.  It isn’t like I couldn’t get one where ever I went.

Anyway, looking at that button I realized that the label on it isn’t as helpful as one might think.  *I* know what it means, but I know because I read the patch notes at some past date about the change.

But is it descriptive enough to somebody who wasn’t there when this change went into effect?  To somebody new to the game?  You know, the people who might actually need a new Ibis or other rookie ship?

The button says, “Board my Corvette,” which sounds a lot like simply “get in my ship.”

And the tool tip/hover help text is an example of the classic mistake for that medium, as it just adds three unhelpful words to what the button already told you, which fails to clarify anything if you didn’t understand what the button meant in the first place.  This is the equivalent of finding out that somebody is deaf and then just speaking louder.

The tool tip ought to say “Get a replacement starter ship for free!” or something else more instructive.

I am reminded of CCP Burger’s priority list from the first CSM14 summit minutes:

1. Stop the bleeding
2. Fix the stupid
3. Excite and teach
4. Incentivize return

-CCP Burger on CCP’s focus, CSM summit minutes page 6

I think we may still be in the “Fix the stupid” stage.

EVE Online Gets a Very Small November Update

With Team Talos working to its own every other week plan, as brought up during EVE Vegas, an expansion likely on the way for December, and other projects being more long term, the November update for EVE Online is about as small as any update for the game I have ever seen.

Velator rookie ships as the patch theme

I will copy and paste the patch notes in their entirety.

Patch Notes For November 2019 – 2019-11-05

Released On Tuesday, November 5th 2019

New Player Experience:

  • A portion of new capsuleers will start experiencing a preliminary version of a login campaign, complete with minor rewards.

More updates to come as the month rolls on.

That is it.

This update covers something that was brought up in Vegas about CCP’s plans for the tutorial and new player experience.  The goal is to throttle new player attrition, as exemplified by this chart, which was shown at EVE North in Toronto back in June.

How many new players log back in as time passes

At Vegas the presentation about new player retention showed some of the things the had already done to make the tutorial better… and there were some serious “fix the stupid” intems fixed… as well as some of their upcoming plans.  One item on the list was a special login reward campaign for new players.  This campaign is set to offer rewards to encourage new players to log in again the next day.  I do not know what the rewards are, and the tentative nature of the patch note entry leads me to believe that the company is going to tinker with those rewards as time go on, but CCP said they would be useful for new players.

So that is apparently what today’s update brings.

And it seems simple enough that it might work.  I mean, if the game and its UI piss off a new player… which I am sure it does often… it won’t help.  But if somebody is on the fence, the promise of something new might get them to log back in, which gives the game another chance to get the new player engaged.

It remains to be seen if that sort of thing can get a new player out to the 30, 60, or 90 day mark, but if might boost the numbers at the 1 to 7 day end of the scale.

CSM14 and a Sense of the Summit

1. Stop the bleeding
2. Fix the stupid
3. Excite and teach
4. Incentivize return

-CCP Burger on CCP’s focus, CSM summit minutes page 6

In my ideal world the CSM summit minutes would be skippable.  In this dream world CCP would communicate anything important via Dev blogs or news updates on the main web site or even via dev posts in the forums.  As much as I loathe companies hiding things in the forums, that would be something at least.

But, as these things go, CCP does no such thing.  If you want to stay informed you pretty much have to read through the CSM summit minutes or you might miss things that otherwise go unmentioned anywhere else.  I recall that the fansite program was declared dead in a past set of summit minutes, but we’ve yet to hear anything about that via any other official source.

So if you want to know what it up you had best dive into nearly 70 pages of minutes as you cannot even trust summaries, as much of what was said lacks some of the context in which it happened so interpretations are all over the map.  Of course, your own interpretations are suspect too, as are my own.  Welcome to the CSM minutes.

The focus of the team into winter is split into 80% early retention and 20% veteran stagnation.

-CCP Burger, first paragraph of the actual minutes, top of page 5

That is the lens through which I believe we should be looking at CCP’s statements and actions.  They put that up front, the very first point, and I suspect most everything about their near future plans flow from that.

For example, it clarifies that list I quoted at the top of the post.  “Bleeding” could be a number of things, like the fall off in online players during the blackout.  But CCP is focused on new player retention, and the bleeding to be stopped is what happens with new players in the first week.

How many new players log back in as time passes

That chart was presented at EVE North in Toronto back in June and clearly remains the central issue to be solved by CCP.

It was suggested by a former member of the CSM that CCP should put “fix the stupid” ahead of “stop the bleeding” on their list, but after reading and reflection, my sense of the minutes is that “stop the bleeding” is a just a subset of fixing the stupid.  For example, looking at that chart, whatever is keeping half of newly registered users from logging into the game probably ranks very high on the stupid list.

And, rather bluntly, CCP says in the minutes that stupid is everywhere and in all aspects of the game, and they have to start somewhere.  No sense in trying to boil the whole ocean of stupid at once.

With that top priority in mind it isn’t hard to read reality into other things that came up during the summit.

For example, when the Alliance Tournament gets mentioned, CCP Falcon offers up a set of excuses as to why CCP hasn’t kept it going.  And they are probably valid excuses.  But he fails to mention the big one, which is that new player retention… stopping the bleeding… is the top priority and the Alliance Tournament doesn’t do anything to help that.  So suggesting, for example, that paying CCP in cash rather than PLEX would change anything seems to completely miss where CCP is focused.  It is a re-arranging the deck chairs solution that doesn’t address the real issue.  Dev resources are simply not going to be applied there.

And so it goes.

I am interested to see what CCP’s plan for new player retention really is.  I said it was one of the top stories I was waiting for in 2019 a month back.  So far they have only mentioned continuing to refine the initial tutorial, which is what they have been doing off and on since the Cold War expansion nearly a decade and a half ago.  But that doesn’t take 80% of the team’s focus, so there has to be something else coming.  Or there had better be something else coming.

So that is my sense of the summit, the big picture take away.

There were some other side notes of interest in the minutes that did not necessarily relate to that though.  For example, I enjoyed the discussion of how CCP tracks players to assign where in space they live.  That ended up with several null sec people in the summit being flagged as high sec players.

In response CCP Larrikin put up this chart on Reddit which revised the long repeated “85%” statement made years ago.

Population of EVE – June 2019

  • Most Time : The player spent the majority of their non-afk time in that area of space, across all their characters and accounts.

  • Any Time : Players that spent any time at all in that area of space, across all of their characters and accounts.

Null sec almost doubled its count in that version, up to nearly 30%.  There is still a question of how well that aligns with reality, but I guess we have a new benchmark that people will use as a bludgeon on /r/eve.

A lot of other stuff got hashed out, but there were no big revelations.  CCP said they were still evaluating data from the blackout.  The Triglavian invasion will carry on for a while.  Some odd/naive questions came up about what can be botted.  We learned what huge krabs wormhole players are.  And there was a session with Hilmar (which did little to reassure me on his new found interest in New Eden) which included a couple of charts whose labels give a pretty grim view of the reality of EVE Online.

Do you prefer apathy or boredom?  Are anxiety and doubt that different?

Also, there was a pulled pork recipe that looked pretty good.

Others have more detailed views on the minutes, some of which I linked below.  But you really have to dig through it yourself to discover it all.

Is New Player Retention Fixable in EVE Online

At EVE North CCP dropped some tidbits of information on us.  They’re going to rework the Vexor Navy Issue.  Pirate faction implant changes are coming.  And the new UI pointer feature has reached meme status with the undock button.

[Addendum: Nosy Gamer has a better summary of things CCP brought up at EVE North]

Things you see in local in Tribute a lot

I think it is great that how to use the new UI pointer feature was the second most created UI pointer, but this is also a good tool for helping people new to the game.

There was also a slide about new player retention that looked pretty grim.

How many new players log back in as time passes

Hilmar previously assured us that EVE Online was still getting plenty of new players… or new accounts created in any case…  seeing about 10K such every week in the game.  They just don’t stick around.

This is not a particularly new bit of information.  We saw a similar chart back at EVE Fanfest in 2014, a little over five years back, which laid out what happens with new players.

New Player Trajectory – May 2014

That chart actually looks better, but ignores a big chunk of new players as it only counts those who opted to pay the then mandatory subscription fee.  Of those who stepped up to that level, half left after their first subscription period ran out, 40% ran down the solo mission path and left once they had essentially leveled up their Ravens to do level 4 missions, and 10% found a home and stuck with the game.  When those who didn’t bother to subscribe were included, these three groups were a much smaller percentage of the pie.

Of course, when this sort of information comes up people immediately assail CCP for having a bad new player experience, an unintuitive UI, and a horrible and unhelpful player base that abuses newbies.  Somebody will eventually claim that Goons are ganking new players on the undock of the tutorial or some similar fantasy.

And CCP has tried to address this retention issue pretty much constantly throughout my tenure in New Eden.  The horrible tutorial that I went through in 2006, which was a motivator to start this blog, has been revamped half a dozen times since then, but things haven’t really changed.

The EVE North chart starts off with half the people who register not even logging into the game.  I guess you cannot blame the NPE or the UI or Goons for that.  Probably bots doing that I guess.

Of the 10K that make it into the game, by the 30 day mark less than 500 are still logging in.  That is just about 4.4% given the numbers on the chart.  That seems like a horrible retention rate.  How can that seem to be anything else?  At least to you and I and any other outsider.

But knocking around in the back of my head for some time has been the question of context.  I dislike numbers and statistics without context.  4.4% seems bad, but without being able to compare it to other MMORPGs it is difficult to say whether it really is bad.

Unfortunately, most game developers are not as forthcoming as CCP.  Almost nobody gets out in front of the players and gives us as much information as CCP does.  Can you imagine Blizzard or EA or NCsoft doing this?  So CCP tells us something and we assume the information for the rest of the industry, guessing that it must be better than this.

So I decided to poke around to see if I could find any information about this, prodded by a comment on Twitter than linked to something akin to what I was looking for.  However, that wasn’t the meat I wanted.

Fortunately, somebody has done some work on this front.  As it turns out SuperData Research did a study titled Understanding Free-to-Play MMO Retention.  This seemed quite relevant, since there is no subscription barrier to playing EVE Online any more.

The study looks into player retention and compares players who jump on the game at launch versus those who come in after the game has been established.  People who join as soon as it goes live have higher retention rate.  Those who come in later don’t stay, though after some time goes by that gets a bit better because new players after the two year mark tend to come more by word-of-mouth, and thus likely have friends that play, a significant factor in retention.

Of those who show up late to the party… and given its recent Sweet 16 birthday party, anybody showing up to EVE Online now has missed quite a few parties… only 2% of those who register and log into the game will still be around 30 days later.

While EVE Online‘s retention after the first day is much lower than what SuperData reported… 40% of the word of mouth crowed logs in after the first day while only 28% of CCP’s sample did… but with 4.4% retention at the 30 day mark EVE Online is doing pretty well compared to the study where post-launch players peaked at 3% and settled down to 2% even with word of mouth.

Which is not to say that EVE Online doesn’t have problems and couldn’t do better.  The game has some pretty big factors working against it.  But the angry player insults about CCP being exceptionally bad/stupid/ignorant/greedy seem to be, at best, off base.  And anybody who shouts “marketing” needs to just shut up.  The company seems to be in the same boat as other MMOs, and revamping the new player experience yet again probably isn’t going to change that in a drastic way.

Short of teaching people how to form social bonds in their game, a key factor in retention (I don’t think a How to Find Friends video quite cuts it, but nice try I guess), I am not sure there is any easy answer to getting people to stick with the game, mostly because people don’t seem to stick around with most MMOs they try.

Raph Koster wrote a piece earlier this year about various methods that can be applied to user retention.  There are probably a few suggestions in that worth pursing, though CCP is already on to some of them.

EVE NPE Trades the Epic Experience Idea for More of The Agency

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.

My Punisher in the NPE with an Apostle

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.

The ring… it is precious to me

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.

Here we are in The Agency

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.

Any ring in a storm

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.

This is easy!

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.

CCP and the Elephant in the Room

I’m feeling a bit wrung out on the video game front this week, and it is only Thursday.  We had Daybreak slip in a great subscription deal I had to seriously consider.  There has been the World of Warcraft Legion expansion launch and all the attendant excitement and new things.  And then there has been CCP, which has seemed determined this week to occupy every last free neuron in my brain with its announcements.

First CCP hit us with the dev blog about how fleet boost would be changing with the coming November release.  The boring, old “park your boosting alt in a safe” method is being replaced with an area effect method that will put boosters on grid and in harms way.  This made a lot of people very angry, and you could certainly tell who was invested in the status quo.

Then, yesterday, CCP announced that EVE Online was going free to play.  Sort of.  Certainly, free to play made the headlines, though the plan itself is a lot closer to WoW’s unlimited trial than, say, Rift’s up-until-now, you’re not in Azeroth, everything is free method.  (Trion decided they needed to charge for expansions, which sounds fine for me.)

The free accounts announcement, the Alpha and Omega clone system, seemed to get a favorable response.  The implications of this proposal on the game are huge, and most people seemed to accept that CCP’s first problem was going to be containing the current player base to keep it from abusing the system for their own ends without locking Alpha clones down so much that nobody would want to play them.  It is going to be a balancing act, and only the naive think it will be easy.

This Alpha clone plan will have two big bonuses right away.  First, it will attract lapsed players back to the game, and lapsed players with friends and such in game are likely to resubscribe from time to time if they are allowed constant access.  Second, unless PCU remains stagnent or drops even further, it will have been effectively removed as the favored “EVE is dying” metric… for a while at least.  I expect that the PCU will go up significantly for months after Alpha clones become a thing.

But the real goal of the plan has to be to bring new players, fresh blood and/or meat, to New Eden.  And, on the surface, this seems very likely.  Free is the best price point at which to get people to try your product, and we have seen spikes in the PCU when CCP has free weekends on Steam. (See the weekends of May 6 and August 19 on the EVE Offline new character creation chart.)

Unfortunately, here is what you do not see after those free weekends: Any significant change in the PCU.

This is the elephant in the room,  the long time problem for the game, the failure to convert trial players into paying customers.   Some of you likely remember this chart from the New Player Experience panel at Fanfest 2014. (video here, chart comes up at about the 16 minute mark.)

New Player Trajectory

New Player Trajectory

That chart is actually more grim than it seems.  Half of the players who get through the new player experience and subscribe, cancel and leave the game before their first subscription cycle is up.  40% solo mission for a bit, then leave.  And maybe 10%… that seemed to be the optimum number… found some experience they really liked in the game and stuck around to become a bitter vet.

The thing is, that chart, as noted in the presentation, only talks about people who made it through the trial and the new player experience and decided to subscribe.  I would have to imagine that, were the chart to run from the start of a trial account, the percentages at the end would dwindle to insignificance.

During the previous Steam free weekend, approximately 20,000 new characters were created in the game.  Did the PCU shift by much?  The next weekend was a little better.  It broke the 30K mark, which is back to being the benchmark for a “good” day, literally the same situation the game was in back when I started in 2006.  But there wasn’t anything dramatic after the free weekend, neither in August nor in May.

So it would be tough to call that free weekend a rousing success, at least when looking at the longer term.  CCP threw 20,000 new characters onto the ramparts of the current new player experience in August (and 26,000 back in May), and the NPE held them off.  Solid is the bulwark of the NPE, and it will deflect all but the most determined capsuleer.

Basically, on top of the learning cliff that is EVE Online… or maybe it is at the base of the cliff… damn metaphors… there is a new player experience which is indifferent at best.  As I wrote in the past, it is a toss up as to which kills the game harder for new players.  I lean towards the NPE being more critical.  If you could get people engaged and enthusiastic, they might ask in the help channel or go out of game to figure out the more obscure bits.

I am sympathetic to CCP on the NPE front.  It is easy to sit and yell at them that they need a better one.  But actually creating one, a fun and engaging experience that will draw players into the game, but which isn’t too rigid, and which moves at just the right pace… the right pace for everybody… is a very tall order indeed.

And it isn’t as though CCP hasn’t tried.  The NPE has changed drastically a couple of times since I started the game.  My first experience was guided but flawed back in 2006.  That was replaced by a much more closely guided and mission orientated experience.  And lately, we have the much more free form opportunities, which I watched my daughter struggle through, and during which she asked me the magic question, “How do I warp to something?”  NPE fail.

CCP has even tried to hold classes to educate users directly.

As I said, they have been trying.  We’re just not there yet.

However, at Fanfest earlier this year, as part of the keynote, there was a passionate talk by a new member of the team, CCP Ghost, who gave us a vision of a better NPE. (Video here, CCP Seagull introduces him at about the 52 minute mark.)

My hope is that we are not done with announcements about the it-so-needs-a-good-name November release.  My hope is that CCP has at least one more thing to share with us, something about a vision for an engaging NPE that will retain new players better than the attempts that have gone before.

Because without that, I don’t think the Alpha clone idea will make a big enough of a difference.

I know I will be logging in any unsubscribed accounts I have laying around to start training up alts to their five million skill point cap come the November release.  What would be the downside of that?  I fully expect the Imperium to have an Alpha clone doctrine.  I expect that a lot of current players will take advantage of the Alpha clone idea and that, far from any sort of “filthy casual” response to 5 million SP pilots, they will quickly be accepted as part of the ecosystem and the game will adapt to them.

But unless Alpha clones attract new players, players who become invested in the game and end up subscribing, there won’t be a whole lot of upside for CCP as a business.  And to get there, I think we need the NPE vision that CCP Ghost was trying to describe to us.

Addendum: CCP says that the NPE has not been forgotten as part of their summary of concerns.

Is the Learning Cliff EVE’s Biggest Problem These Days?

This picture is pretty much a staple of MMORPG lore now.

Learning Curves

Learning Curves

The objective is to show how insanely hard/deep EVE Online is compared to the standard MMORPGs.  There are many things you can do in EVE, many career paths which you can follow, but the game is quite miserly in doling out information about them.  The learning cliff was the biggest obstacle I faced back when I started playing, which was almost 8 years ago at this point.

At EVE Fanfest this year, CCP had a panel on the new player experience (video here) in which they trotted out some depressing figures, represented by this chart (which is discussed in the video at the 16 minute mark for about two and a half minutes).

New Player Trajectory

New Player Trajectory

Basically, of new players who subscribe… which means that they got past the trial account period and actually paid money… half of them leave by the time their first subscription period runs out.  After putting down money, they decide the game isn’t for them and they are gone.

Another large chunk goes on into mission running or mining and never goes any further.  That is certainly where the current new player experience pushes you.  That is the route I took way back when I started playing EVE, two or three new player experiences ago. (The tutorial was a lot less smooth back then.)  It is basically the closest EVE has to a standard MMORPG progression path.

But as with leveling in games like WoW, there is a limit to it.  You end up the master of level 4 missions or you earn and skill yourself up to mining in a Hulk… or I guess a Mackinaw these days… and there isn’t much more to do other than grind rep with specific factions, make ISK, and do the same thing over and over again.  So those people tend to end up leaving as well.

And then there is the small group, described as 5-10% of players who pay/subscribe, who end up beyond missions and mining.  They engage in more of the wide range of activities that make up EVE Online, get involved in PvP, appear on kill mails, and stay with the game for a long time.

Clearly, if you have a game whose revenue benefits most from retaining subscribers for the long term, this chart represents a problem.

CCP’s response in the video is to try to get the new player experience to push people into areas of the game that have high retention rates.  I might ask if people stay longer because they do those things, or do they do those things because they stay longer, but I’ll allow for the moment that CCP has data that drives their assumption.

There is a not insubstantial number of players out there who look at that chart and say, “Well, duh!  Provide a richer (and safer) PvE experience!”  To make money, give people what they want.

That can lead to a more philosophical discussion.  CCP clearly has a goal and a vision for EVE Online.  Does altering that vision, which appeals to a good number of their long term subscribers, to chase another demographic make sense?  That sort of thing has blown up in developer faces in the past with things like the NGE in Star Wars Galaxies or Trammel in Ultima Online.

And that still leaves the biggest group, the 50% of players who just walk away without even getting into missions or mining, a group that I would guess is actually vastly under represented in that chart.

A reader dropped me a note that, among other things, pointed out that the chart above doesn’t address people who download and play the trial, made it through the tutorial, and then never subscribed.  We don’t have any data on that, but I would guess that if you included those people in the chart, people who invested enough time to get through the tutorial, that 50% number would grow substantially.

Now, why they dropped the game is unknown.  There are a few possible reasons, including the incomprehensible UI.  But the same reader also included what he went through with the new player experience:

I started working my way through the industrial tutorials…and about halfway through you need to gather resources from within the system, but it isn’t your own private patch of asteroids.  This is a basic function, and I’m fine with it.  The problem is, while tooling around the system in which the tutorials are offered, I get harrassed and threatened by no less than 3 different players over the course of two hours, stating I need a permit to mine there…threatening to blow me out of space…demanding an insane amount of ISK from someone who’s spent a total of 3 or 4 hours in game…and finally threatening to report me as a bot if I don’t pay up and get out.

A few people got angry at me the other day because I mentioned that a player (actually two) on his first day in the game was out in a fleet with us and tackling hostiles.  I was accused of putting forth an anecdotal fallacy, ignoring the fact that I wasn’t arguing that their experiences were typical for new players in the game, misunderstanding… perhaps deliberately… the difference between capability and opportunity.  That it is possible speaks well for EVE.  That such opportunities can be difficult to find does not.

The quote above is also an anecdote, yet I will guess that the very same people who cried “fallacy” a few days back won’t do so again.  It fits their narrative about bad people in EVE.  And there are certainly bad people in EVE.  I don’t think CCP changing their ad campaign from “Be the Villain” to “Be the Hero/Villain” will alter that. (Nor do I think the “Be the Villain” campaign changed the game in any noticeable way in any case.)  To use the tale above as evidence of widespread bad behavior would be a fallacy.

But I will go back to capability and opportunity.

You can assert that some new players may not have the opportunity to get their legs and discover good aspects of the game before the harsh realities come and find them.  More concerning is that “bad” people, for lack of a better term, have to capability of going after new players while they are still getting their first impression of the game.  When you get a PvP game where the established players start thinking that going after the new players in the starting zone is good sport, and the devs do nothing about it, the writing is on the wall.

So I want to know more about that 50% on the chart above.  Because if new players can’t make it out of the tutorial without facing that sort of thing, if they think the player base sucks before they have had a chance to discover the game, then the writing is on the wall for EVE and all the “HTFU” in the world won’t bring it back.

You can argue about what CCP should do about it.  I am sure suggestions will range from putting the tutorials in their own instanced space… though you still have to enter the real game at some point… to making high sec space PvP free… a complete departure from CCP’s philosophy and something in the NGE range of options.  But if new players are important to the game… and they are… then CCP needs to look at that 50% who just leave and why they go.

Revelations Tutorial – Part III

I had previously been sent to Ochishi Veilai at Jouvulen III – Science and Trade Institute School for a continuation of the tutorial missions.  When I arrived, Ochishi started me on another 10 part series of missions called “Balancing the Books,” which ran as follows.

Mission #1 was a delivery mission.  Some top secret documents had to be brought to Ichinumi VII, School of Applied Knowlegde, five jumps away.  A task both easy and safe, so off I went.  The reward was a Civilian Salvager and 34,000 ISK.

Mission #2 sent me off with the Civilian Salvager I received from the last mission fitted to my ship. I was tasked to pick up some data from a wrecked ship in the Tsuguwa system.  I ran out there and found one wee pirate guarding the wreckage.  I dispatched him right away, which brought me to one of the items I should have put on my wish list from the other day.  When the pirate died, the mission window, which I had minimized, opened up and announced “Objective Complete!”

The objectives were, quite clearly, not complete.  However, one of the flaws with EVE Online missions is that you get that message any time a single objective from a mission is accomplished.  There is no allowance for multi-objective missions.

Fortunately, I had read the objectives for the mission and did not go jumping back to Jouvulen III right away.  Instead I used the salvager on the wreckage, removed the black box, and then returned to the agent.  For this mission I received the skill Science I and 76,0000 ISK for meeting the bonus reward time limit.

Mission #3 had me take the black box off to a facility that was equipped to deal with it, which was located at Sarekuwa III, Moon 6 – Caldari Steel Warehouse.  The warehouse appears to be a front for Caldari Intelligence.  This was a simple delivery, four jumps and dock.  The quests in this chain, and in the previous chain, all highlight in red letters that you should not forget to load your cargo (or fit the required equipment) before you run off on your mission.  Having done that myself on more than one occasion, I appreciate the tip!

Dropping off the black box got me a civilian code breaker and the skill Survey as a bonus.  Of course, I had to fly all the way back to Jouvulen to pick them up, but I was headed back in any case.

Mission #4, as expected, had me fit the civilian code breaker and run off to the Tunttaras system to defeat a Guristas pirate, go to the data storage device he was guarding, break their code, open the device, and take the data chip stored therein back to the agent.  Four jumps out, a very quick battle, a false “objective complete,” two runs with the code breaker, and four jumps back was all it took, and it netted me a civilian analyzer and 47,000 ISK.

Mission #5 was another delivery.  I thought sure I would have to fit and use the civilian analyzer, but not this time around.  This time I had to take the data chip off to Piekura VIII, Moon 11, to the Wiyrkomi Peace Corps Assembly Plant, another obvious front.  Ochishi hinted at “unpleasantness” along the way, but the trip was without incident.  The reward was a Caldari Heron frigate (wow!) and two Expanded Cargohold I fittings.  The Heron is clearly an upgrade from the Bantam I received on the last set of missions, but it isn’t quite the Merlin I am aspiring to get into.  I will have to keep saving for that.

Mission #6 was a quickie.  All I had to do was come up with a Tracking Computer I.  They were available in the station for 14,500 ISK, or for under 10,000 ISK just two jumps away.  I went the savings route, bought the cheap one, came back and turned it, for which I received one unit of Civilian Data Interface and 50,000 ISK.  A nice payoff.

Mission #7 required me to fit the civilian analyzer at last.  I had to go out and analyze an ancient ship structure, clearing away any Gurista pirates who might get in the way.  This actually took place in the Jouvulen system, so no jumps were required, just a hop to a warp accelerator, then another hop via that to the area around an ancient acceleration gate.  Two hostiles awaited me there, a Federation Clavis and a Federation Hastile, but they went down quickly enough, though their presence meant Gallente Navy involvement.  After looting them, I activated the gate.

After that hop, I was confronted by two more ships, a Pithi Imputor and a Pithi Arrogator.  Again, 75mm hybrid ammo chewed them up easily enough, which left me alone with the ancient ship structure.  It took a few tries with the analyzer before the structure yielded up its data core, and then I headed back to the station.  The reward was the skill Cybernetics (already have that, but thanks anyway) and 47,000 ISK.

Mission #8 was another delivery mission.  I had to bring some water to Tunttaras IX, Moon 11, the Vithri Storage facility.  The reward was a Limited Social Adaptation chip, a +1 charisma implant, and the training skill Salvaging.

Mission #9, once back in Jouvulen, was another shopping expedition.  This time, two units of 1MN Afterburner I was required to fill our the shopping list.  They were available for a little over 10,000 ISK each at the station with the agent, or for a little over 5,000 ISK each one jump away.  I went the cheap rout again, hoarding my ISK to get a bigger ship.  In return for acquiring these, I was given a single run copy of a Perpetual Motion Blueprint and the skill Cybernetics again.  That blueprint looks familiar.

Mission #10 ended up being the same as mission #5 from the Mountains out of Molehills series of missions.  Take the blueprint and some other items collected along the way, use invention (again not available at the station where the agent is) to create a tech II version of the blueprint, then create the perpetual motion device.  I had to go 3 jumps, to Airkiro VII, Moon 3 and the Lai Dai Corporation Factory to do the invention step.  Be careful if you are still running around in your Ibis when doing this mission.  The device is 100 cubic meters in size when created, so you’ll need some cargo space available to move it back to Jouvulen if you do not make it there.

Making the tech II blueprint via invention took me 5 minutes and, since I did not mention it before, it costs about 10,000 ISK to do the job.  Making the device take 100 tritanium, a little over 1,000 ISK, and 17 minutes.

The net result was a limited memory augmentation, a +1 memory item, and 133,000 ISK, which is a nice tidy sum for a new player.

At that point I tried the second agent in Jouvulen, Ohkanen Katamara.  He gave me a pair of missions identical, except for destinations, to the pair given by Vari Satilela back in Part II of this overview.  They were the same “kill a pirate, get the documents from his wreck” followed by “deliver the documents for me.”

When I had complete that, Ohkanen said he was impressed with my work and was directing me to another agent who would give me some more work.  He said that he was putting the agent in my address book.  When I opened up the People & Places window, I did indeed see that the agents had gone from 5 to 6.  The problem was, none of them looked new to me.  I recognized all of their names.

I had to stop for a second and do some mental back tracking to come up with the answer.  Purkkoken Honuken, the new agent on the list, also happens to be the agent for whom my main character has run the most missions, so he did not seem like a new name at all.  He is just a “regular” agent.  I was headed back to the same old missions now.  And, if I went to Purkkoken, it meant going to to Jita.

Jita.  Crap, I’m still in Jita.


I really enjoyed the 10 mission sets from the tutorial agents.  It was nice both to learn and do things a little different from the standard missions and to have a series of missions that had some connection.  Regular missions tend to feel like I am drawing cards from the “job jar.”  And the jar isn’t exactly overflowing with a wide variety of jobs.

I realized most of the way through this that some of the missions required the use of acceleration gates.  I do not think they were ever covered as part of the tutorial.  They were part of the old tutorial, so I knew how to use them and never thought twice about them at the time, but I wonder is somebody actually new to the game would pick up on what to do with them.

I did notice something new about the acceleration gates.  When it is time for you to use them, they seem to always be 0m away.  I did not have to spend time approaching them.  They were some ways away when I had a pirate to fight, but once that objective was down, the gate moved to 0m distance.

I mentioned the “Objective Complete” issue above.  CCP needs to change their format to allow missions to track multiple objectives.  This might actually allow for some more depth in missions as well.

I was a bit disappointed at being sent to Jita for my first real agent.  Sure, Jita is a popular place, rather like Ironforge in pre-TBC World of Warcraft, but you suffer from than popularity.  The system often takes a long time to load relative to other places, you get plenty of lag, and at peak hours I have had issues logging in to the game if I am parked there (a queue to log into  EVE!) or getting kicked off while docking or undocking within the system or when jumping in from another system.  Pouring noobs into this environment doesn’t seem like the best idea.  There ought to be other locations to which to send them.

And that brings me to the issue of finding new agents.  Suppose I do not want to keep flying in and around downtown Jita?  I know how to find a new agent that is available to me, but it is somewhat convoluted and can get you in trouble.  With my new character I was looking for agents available to me and nearly ended up flying my Bantam into low security space.  That would have been a one way trip no doubt.

So there ought to be a better way to find an agent.  Maybe a “Looking For Agent” interface.  Maybe another option at your current agent that asks for a recommendation.  Something a little easier than the current system would be nice.  And, when that agent is found or recommended, do not just stick it in the People & Places book without a highlight.  I got lost with only six agents in my list.  My main char has over 20.

I did not end up going back to the tutorial very much.  I did, at one point, access Aura to learn about corporations, but she only told me about how to join a corporation and how to get the recruiting channel up in my UI.  I wanted to experiment with creating a corp, just to get a feel for what goes into that, but Aura did not have any insight there.  I will have to figure that out on my own.

So with the end of the tutorial missions, that is the end of my tutorial overview.

Revelations Tutorial – Part II

I thought I chose the right agent to continue the tutorial, but I am beginning to suspect I chose the wrong one, though a lucky wrong choice it was. Abishi Tian at the School of Applied Knowledge in Todaki VI gave me some decent missions that showed me a few things I had not yet done in EVE.  They were all part of a quest chain called “Mountains out of Molehills.”

Mission #1 had me mine ore and deliver it to Abishi.  The was a bit of a hook here as the mission requires more ore to be delivered that a wee Ibis can carry, so an alert comes up cautioning you against accepting the mission.  Of course, there is nothing in the mission briefing that says you cannot make multiple trips.  That is how I accomplished it.  But that might scare a new player away from the whole quest chain. The payout was a 75mm Gatling cannon, plus one load of ammo for timely delivery

Mission #2 had me mine more ore, process it this time, and deliver it, to the tune of seven thousand units of tritanium.  That was easy enough.  Again, multiple trips were required.  The reward was a 5 use blueprint for a civilian afterburner along with 67,000 ISK for finishing the mission within a given time frame.

In Mission #3 I was asked to make 2 civilian afterburners.  Actually using blueprints to create an item is something that I had never actually done in EVE.  It turned out to be relatively easy, as no doubt it should be for a civilian module.  I had excess tritanium from the previous mission, more than enough for the task, so it was a matter of doing two runs of the blueprints and checking in with Abishi. The reward was a civilian code breaker module and 27,000 ISK for speedy delivery.

Mission #4 followed the pattern of the previous one.  I now had to take the item I had just been given, the civilian code breaker in this case, and use it for the next mission.  This time I had to get a data chip out of some wreckage, which was easy enough.  Upon return I was given a single use perpetual motion blueprint and 20,000 ISK for my timely return.

Mission #5 sent bade me use the data modules obtain along with the blueprint and, via invention, make a level II blueprint.  Unfortunately, Todaki VI has no science and industry stations for invention.  I ended up going to Kakalea VI, Moon 5 and the Lai Dai corporation factory to do invention.  Perhaps being able to find a place to do invention was part of the lesson.  Once done, you then have to take the Perpetual motion II blueprint, make the item, and deliver it.  I would suggest heading back to Todaki VI to make the item, as it end up being 100 cubic meters, which means if you have much of anything else in your little frigate cargo bay, it won’t fit and you’ll have to leave something behind.  The reward for this was a Bantam frigate with two Miner I units for early finish! Score!  A new ship is pretty cool, although it means buying insurance and such.

Mission #6 sent me to kill pirates in Kakalea.  This was the sort of mission I was used to in the past.  The reward was the skill Cybernetics I, needed for implants, which you tend to get from your story line missions, and 50,000 ISK for prompt dispatch of the pirates.

Mission #7 was a package delivery, 15 units of miniature electronics, to the Jouvulen system, 5 jumps away.  A single run Caldari Shuttle blueprint was the reward, along with 18,000 ISK for finishing in the bonus time frame.

Mission #8, as you might guess, required me to make a Caldari Shuttle.  Easy enough again.  It only requires tritanium as a raw material, so I was all set.  The reward for this was a Limited Memory Augmentation, a +1 memory slot 2 implant, and 15,000 ISK as a bonus for quick turn around.

Mission #9 sent me out to pick up and return Abishi’s rogue production assistant, around whom much of the story of these sequence was based.  To do this I had to warp to a specific location and begin mining some special asteroids.  That drew the attention of the pirates, who then attacked and were defeated.  Among the debris was the production assistant.  Now this was an agonizing mission in one way.  The asteroids were all Kernite.  I do not know much about mining, but I seem to recall that the value of an asteroid is related to the position of the first letter of its name in the alphabet.  The closer to A, the more valuable the ore you get, or something like that.  Anyway, I had never seen something mid-alphabet before.  So I bookmarked the location, intending to head on back after the mission was over.  However, it appears that you can only get to these asteroids while on this mission, so I spent some fruitless time searching around for them again.  I did not even get enough Kernite to process it, so I do not know if it measures up the alphabet theory.  The mission reward was a five run copy of Bantam frigate blueprint along with 24,000 ISK.  I bet you can guess what mission #10 is going to have me make!

Mission #10, as expected, required me to make a Bantam frigate.  This actually required a bit of planning, as a Bantam requires more than just tritanium to put together.  You need a lot of a couple of things and a little bit of a few more ingredients.  I began thrashing around online looking for what I would have to mine in order to get my hands on all of the raw materials I would need.  That got me a little down.  Then I realize that, with small quantities, I could probably buy them cheaply enough.  And, sure enough, within a couple of jumps of Todaki, I was able to find all I needed and what appeared to be low prices for the region.  And so I built a Bantam and turned it in.  The rewards were a limited cybernetic subprocessor, a slot 4 +1 intelligence augmentation, plus 92,000 ISK for completion within the bonus timeframe, which was 2 months and 1 day.  I suppose I could have gone out and mined all the raws and made it in time for the bonus.  But now I was done.

Then I noticed the other agent available to me in the station, Vari Satilela, was also a training agent.  She gave me two missions, a pirate hunting task and a delivery, then pointed me to another agent at Jouvulen III, which houses the Science and Trade Institute School.  There an agent named Ochishi Veilai started me down the path of another 10 segment story line called “Balancing the Books.”  Appropriate for somebody in the trade end of things I suppose.  But those missions are for another post.

And, despite the title of this post, I have not actually gone back to Aura and the direct tutorials.  I have just been running the tutorial missions.

Revelations Tutorial – Part I

As part of the Revelations expansion content, CCP has implemented a new in-game tutorial for EVE Online.

Since I wrote about my experiences in the previous EVE Online tutorial back in September 2006, I thought I would give the new version a try.

To do this I created a new, 14 Day trial account.  I did not want to do anything that might mess up the training plan for my main character… my only character, actually, the whole “only one character can be training at a time per account” thing putting the kibosh on my usual alt-itis.  And I was also reading something about effective 2-boxing in EVE Online and well… you know… if I get to that, I’ll let you know.

Anyway, I went Caldari again, choosing the Achura blood line this time with business as my career, Stargazers as my ancestry, and Entrepreneur as a specialization.  The effects of all of thse choices were explained during character creation.  Of course, I promptly forgot the details.  All I know is that if I end up playing this guy, he’ll be Mr. Trade and Industry.

Good News First

The tutorial is now much more straight forward initially.  You start in space, in your Ibis, and in a very short time you are blowing things up.  Aura, the tutorial guide, shows you some very basic ship controls, then tells you to lock onto a target and blow it up.  Booyah!

Gone is the warning that you should set aside three hours to go through the entire tutorial.  And a good thing too.  Instead, the tutorial is broken up into sections, and the initial segment with most of the very basic information can be run through comfortably in 30 minutes or less.

You are also alone in an instanced star system while doing the tutorial.  This solves the dreaded “missing pirates” problem that I experienced the first time around.  It also solves the problem of a couple dozen Ibis frigates flailing around together in Kisigo.  Space is all your own.  You can kill your targets, look through their wrecks, mine your ore, run your first missions, and generally figure out what is going on in peace.

Of course, I’ve played even to… well… at least the advanced noob level, so I wasn’t as likely to get caught up in real issues.  Still, I did learn a few things running through the tutorial, though it is hard to tell which of them were things I forgot over the last six months and which were part of the Revelations upgrade.

I finished up the basic tutorial with a knowledge of basic ship functions, basic navigation operations, and basic station activities.  There were advanced topics to cover in the tutorial, but it happened to be dinner time, so I left the tutorial at the end of the basic step.

All in all, a nice introduction to the game.  There were, however, some small issues.

Lock On!

One of the first things you get to do is shoot up a hostile ship.  And the first thing that Aura tells you to do is “lock on” to the target.


Unfortunately, unless you happened to wander pretty far from your starting point in the direction of your target, you will not be able to “lock on” as you will be well outside of the targeting range of your Ibis frigate.

Now, of course, I knew enough to approach the ship and wait until “lock on” was available, but somebody completely new to the game might not figure out why they do not see the command.

Warp Or Jump Nitpick

As you progress through the tutorial, you get to an agent who sends you to another star system to deliver a package. (Your first FedEx run!)

When you finish your jump to the destination system (Malkalen), you get the following message:


This confused me a little bit.  I thought warping, and the warp drive, was something you used inside a system and that jumping, via the jump gate, was the proper term for travel between systems.  Not a big deal in the scheme of things, but it would be nice to get terminology right for new players.

Echoes of Aura

This one is an annoyance more than anything, but it could lead to confusion if somebody isn’t paying attention.  Every time you make a transition in game that loads you into a new area, such as when you dock with a station, leave a station, or jump to a new star system, Aura repeats the last set of instructions.

Unfortunately, the last set of instructions are always to dock with a station, leave a station, or jump to a new star system, so Aura is always telling you to do what you have just done.  While somebody is unlikely to get confused about being told to dock again, when you have spent the time to warp, maneuver, then jump to a new star system, you might mistake the repeated instruction for a new one and try to jump again.

Next Agent Please

When I finished up the first stage of the tutorial, Aura told me that the current agent, Insen Bara at Amsen IV, Moon 1 – Science and Trade Institute School, would direct me to another agent.  However, when I came back to the game after dinner, Insen Bara told me that I had to finish the tutorial before he would send me to the next agent.

I tried doing the last steps of the basic tutorial, but Insen would not budge.  Then I ran through the rest of the tutorials, albeit at lightning speed, but this did not change Insen’s mind.

In the end, I got fed up.  I could not get Insen to direct me to the next agent.  So I flew off to my first destination in “real” space, the School of Applied Knowledge at Todaki VI, Moon 1.  I wanted to buy a couple of the learning skills.

When I got there, I found two agents available to me there, one of which was Abishi Tian who, it appears, is the agent to whom Insen Bara should have directed me.  Lucky me!

Abishi has a series of 10 introductory missions which I have not yet completed.  Going through those will be the Part II portion of this post.


The new tutorial is, in my opinion, certainly much improved over the previous one.  It managed to avoid the hiccups I encountered previously while only adding a couple of new ones.

I am concerned about the issue of being unable to get Insen Bara to direct me to the next agent.  It is quite likely that I messed up the tutorial somehow and caused the situation, but I do not know how I did it and I could not figure out how to get past it.  Only luck let me end up finding the right agent on my own.