Tag Archives: New Player Experience

Friday Bullet Points Once Again from Space

It is Friday and there are a few EVE Online items I want to bring up but that don’t quite merit a full post at this time.  Not included in this is the September Monthly Economic Report, which I’ll get to on Monday.  That I can string out into 1,500 words easy.  Meanwhile, CCP it trying to outdo me with their own Community Beat post today.

  • Introducing Quasar

CCP posted a dev blog this week titled Introducing Quasar, which is a look at the changes CCP has made, and further changes that they are contemplating, to improve server performance of EVE Online by getting around Python’s Global Interpreter Lock that keeps the game running on a single thread.  Basically, if you take some housekeeping items off of the server’s to-do list, like skill plans, there is more bandwidth to track ships in space.  As put in the post the goals are to “dodge the GIL and clear the table for moar lasers.”

There is some additional insight into this over at TNG.

  • Totality Day Celebration

Come October 13th it will have been a year since the Triglavian Collective took the 27 systems they had conquered from the four empires and disconnected them from the previous gate network to for the new region of Pochven.  (Which, among other things changed the shape of travel in empire space with the removal of Niarja.)

So… time for an anniversary celebration I guess?  CCP thinks so and has some events planned according to this dev blog.

The Triglavians are still behind the other empires of New Eden as they don’t seem ready to offer login rewards for their event.  Maybe contact with the other empires will lead them to this technology at a later date.

  • Faction Warfare Report

Faction Warfare is often mentioned as one of the neglected aspects of low sec space in New Eden.  You don’t hear much about it unless somebody is complaining that it is broken… or noting CCP’s neglect.  But a group of Gallente pilots have started up a podcast, the Federation Frontline Report, to give some insight into that aspect of EVE Online.  They also have a guest post up on INN about their efforts and what Faction Warfare is.

  • SSO Endpoint Deprecation

For those who use the CCP APIs for various things, they are deprecating the old security authorization token interface, so if you are connecting to the using ESI or using the EVE SSO for user authentication, you need to update to the v2 versions of the API by November 1st.  Details are available in a third party developer blog post.

  • Mega Skill Point Packages

There was a post over in r/eve this week from a player with an account that had been dormant since 2010 who received an offer from CCP to buy 50 million skill points for the low low price of $999.99.  Another user reported an offer for 12.9 million skill points for 229.99 GBP.

I didn’t get an offer, but I dug around in an account that was last Omega maybe three years ago and found I had a special offer for 8.1 million skill points for $199.

Skill Point Offer

I am sure we could find a few other data points and figure out how many skill points you get offered based on how long your account has been dormant.

  • Monocle Offer

It has been a little over a decade since the Incarna expansion, which got the player base to explode over a variety of issues.  Often referred to as the “summer of rage,” the name that stuck for a lot of people outside of the game was “monocle-gate.”  I covered the anniversary in a post earlier this year, including the fallout, resolution, and how things went forward from there.  But monocles became the symbol due to a pricey eye piece that was added to the in-game store with the expansion.

While the monocle stuck around long after things simmered down, it remained a trigger for some, which is why it was a bit of a surprise to find CCP offering special monocles again in the in-store ten years down the road.

Monocular times are here again

I can’t tell if this is CCP just looking for some new cosmetic item to sell or if they’re just trolling us a decade after their first monocle.  And the monocles are only available until downtime on October 14th, so they’re trying to push the FOMO button as well… if anybody has any actual fear of missing out on a monocle I guess.

  • New Player Experience Explored

Shintar sent this video to me, so credit to her.  CCP apparently went out looking for streamers who had never played EVE Online to go through the recently revamped new player experience and give their response.  They were supposed to go in without reading up or getting external help and just let the game guide them.  Preach Gaming took on the challenge and put together a video about the experience.

It is kind of fun to watch as somebody who knows the answers.  There are a few places where I don’t know how he ended up with a particular idea, but otherwise it seemed to go pretty well.  Something that will come as a surprised to exactly nobody is that the problems began when he hit the now very out of date career agents, but I remain impressed that he figured out how to use probes and scan something down in under two hours with no external help.

Anyway, that is what was on my list.

EVE Online Gets Another New Player Experience and Skill Training Updates as a New Quadrant Arrives

The summer vacations are over and CCP is back with a new Quadrant.  The Foundation Quadrant is over and the Gateway Quadrant has arrived.

Didn’t we all get stuck out here after that gateway closed?

And with that CCP is focused again on its favorite obsession of the last few years, the new player experience.  This time the NPE has been rebuilt around a new NPC faction, the Association for Interdisciplinary Research which will introduce new players to EVE Online.   The highlights from the dev blog are:

  • More immersive experiences and faster iteration
  • More dynamic visuals
  • Gradual UI reveal
  • Improved UI highlighting
  • An integrated intro video
  • Beautiful visuals

To the cynic in me that works out to “pretty,” “pretty,” “working with the UI we already have,” “working with the UI we already have,” “pretty,” and “pretty.”

I mean, there is room in there for real improvements, and maybe it is a better NPE, but CCP has chosen to emphasize the superficial and that the UI is too much for new players in its own description.  What is that supposed to tell me?

The new NPE is also said to be story driven, but so was the NPE two iterations ago, which was going to be a big new thing until they quietly ditched it, because everything PvE had to go into The Agency…. and probably also because once you got done with the story the actual game is nothing like that, bait and switch not being a great idea for player retention.  I hope CCP learned something since last time and aren’t just jumping back on the same idea they previously axed.

Though the NPE has been through the wringer more than a few times, CCP has been especially adamant about new player retention being an issue since EVE North back in 2019 when they gave us this chart.

How many new players log back in as time passes

As I noted at the time, that seems pretty dismal without any context.  But the one publicly available study on the topic I found seemed to indicate that those retention numbers are pretty close to the industry average for MMORPGs with a free to play option.  Given EVE Online’s legendary difficulty, obtuse UI, and open world PvP, that CCP does so well is probably an achievement.

So while I get that CCP likes to keep reminding us that new players are the lifeblood of the game… and I hope this next revision of the NPE helps on that front… farming the installed player base, the lapsed veterans and such, is how games like EverQuest and World of Warcraft have revitalized their bottom lines.  Here is hoping that another investment in another new NPE pays off.

The NPE is also emphasized in the trailer for the new quadrant.

I feel like I saw that launch sequence in the EVE Valkyrie opening… but I guess all tube launches feel kind of the same.  I’ll have to find some time to give it a try.

So that is the first thing on the list.

Next on the update front is skill training with the introduction of skill plans and a revamp of the training system UI.  This feels like a feature that benefits both new and old players alike.  Players will be able to create plans for specific goals, with milestones to mark improvements for specific configurations, and even certified skill plans aimed at new players to help them decide what to train.

There is also a revamp of the skill training UI.  Being an old fart that has finally gotten used to the current setup, I immediately wondered how badly could they screw it up? This morning already saw calls for the old UI on r/eve, but they hate everything there.  But here is the new UI on day one.

The New Skill Window – The red arrow thing is not part of the UI

For openers, skills now have their own window, no doubt because the game UI doesn’t have enough independent windows floating around, and it defaults to the new training plan UI, which I won’t even delve into right now, but it feels too big and not all that helpful.

For those of us who just want to see our current skills and queue together, the second tab has that, with all the skill groups now in alphabetical order finally.  I know, there is outrage that Spaceship Command isn’t in the upper left, but whatever, and my brain wants to read left to right along rows first, then down columns, and the sorting is by columns, but I’ll get used to all of that.

The window seems bigger than it needs to be.  It defaults to full screen, which is obnoxiously large on my 34″ monitor, but even when I make it a window it remains too wide for my taste largely due to the black dead zone between skills and queue (marked with the red arrow in the screen show above) that cannot be sized down by itself. (The gap between skill names and their states seems pretty wide as well.)

Anyway, there is always EVE Mon still if I need a more compact view.  Oh, and your character sheet is different now, lacking all those skills… and I hope you remembered to put pants on your avatar.

A fuller body view now

All of this comes with a couple of big changes to skills queues:

  • The current limit of 50 skill entries in the queue will be increased to 150 for both Alpha and Omega clones.
  • The current restriction of the Alpha clone training queue allowing only the skills that would start training within the next 24h will also be removed.

As somebody who came from the “one skill at a time and make sure you start a long skill the night before the next patch update” era, these seem huge.  150 skills in the queue will let you build up a might skill plan… I’ve bumped into the 50 skill limit a few times since it became a thing… and the removal of the 24 hour queue limit will be huge for new players.

And old players.  I can even now see people rolling up a new alpha, sending it the ISK for skills, setting up the desired queue, then letting it run for however long it takes until that suicide gank character or whatever is on the shelf and ready to use.  There is no improvement that EVE players will fail to exploit.

There are a few other items with today’s update.  A new skill points for sale pack is in the store.  EVE Online will be available in the Epic Store come September 23rd.  And, in a nod to the promise to relax the economic starvation plan (now planned for November), there was this tidbit slipped in at the bottom of the announcement:

More ice has been brought back into New Eden with its availability having doubled, and the availability of Mercoxit has also increased.

I wonder if the ice availability got boosted due to the jump drive fuel crisis that hit the game when World War Bee ended and PAPI had to move home?  Anyway, there is alleged to be more ice now.

So that is the what has come with the launch of the new quadrant.  Here are the related dev posts for today’s update:

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.