Wednesday, February 19, 2014

5 Common Misconceptions About EVE Online

EVE has seen quite a bit of extra press, both in and out of gaming journalism, over the last few years.  The unique player-generated stories of intrigue, espionage, and mass-destruction have helped to generate a steady increase in subscribers during the game's lifespan.  More and more people are coming into the game and sticking with it.  But despite this, EVE still maintains its infamous reputation of impossibly difficult or mind-numbingly boring (depending on who you talk to) gameplay.

I'd like to take some time to help dispel some of these myths that have persisted over the years.  I will preface this by saying that some of these misconceptions are not entirely wrong, but they tend to paint a particularly inaccurate picture of the game.  If you already play EVE then this will be nothing new to you.  If you have considered playing EVE but are weary due to its reputation, read on...

5. "Spreadsheets in space"

Before we go any further, I'd like to point out that plenty of people make spreadsheets for other games.  I've known people who have built spreadsheets for World of Warcraft, SWTOR, and even Viva Pinata for god's sake.  Spreadsheets are just a tool that really can help maximize your efficiency in any game.  But nobody has ever referred to WoW as "Spreadsheets in Azeroth".  

A basic understanding of data manipulation will definitely make you more effective in EVE.  Spreadsheets are just one of many ways to manipulate that data.  Unfortunately this is not really something that translates well to a tutorial in a video game.  But by no means are spreadsheets a requirement for play.  Personally, I've put together one spreadsheet in the many years that I've been playing EVE.  Just one.  And I've never used it.  This spreadsheet gives me an estimated ISK output value of a production chain of planetary resources.  It's a very simple series of calculations that helps me see how much ISK I could be making each week.  I built this spreadsheet out of boredom, then never looked at it again.  Because that's not how I choose to play the game.

That being said, EVE is largely a numbers game, as evidenced by plenty of dev blogs.  I think you need to have some appreciation for statistics and metrics in order to truly appreciate EVE.  That's part of what makes it such a niche title.  The data behind the gameplay is often mind-boggling, but it can be quite beautiful in the abstract.

The real beauty of EVE is that it is what you make of it.  It can be spreadsheets in space if that's what you enjoy.  But it doesn't need to be spreadsheets in space, and you really won't suffer from not using them.

EDIT: In light of a comment below, I may have misinterpreted what people mean when they refer to "spreadsheets in space".  The phrase is most often intended as a jab at the game's user-interface which, I admit, can resemble a jumble of spreadsheets.  I'll quote a portion of my response to that comment here:
The UI/UX is a definitely a point of contention for a lot of people, including EVE players. But as I explained, EVE is largely a game about numbers and data. And as such, it makes sense to display that data in a way that is most familiar, which just so happens to be tabular. 
Granted the UI could always use some improving, and CCP's art team has their work cut out for them. Ideally we would have a UI that displays all vital information in a way that is pleasing to look at. But this can be difficult when there's just so much information to sift through. 

4. "The community is just a bunch of trolls and griefers"

To address this, I'll start by quoting a thread that recently appeared on the EVE subreddit:
"I've been playing for a week now and everyone I've come across has been obnoxiously helpful. Even those who gank me spend 30 minutes telling me how to avoid that situation again. I come from WoW where noobs are pond scum and it almost makes me feel uneasy. What do you guys get from being so helpful?"
The top response is perfectly simple:
"We play a sandbox game, where everybody matters. In WoW nobody matters outside of if they can help you raid or not."
I've heard similar sentiments from a few of my friends who have played WoW for many years.  In WoW, unless you are already ingratiated into a pre-existing circle of friends, you are a waste of space until you are geared up for the end-game.  And I would argue that this is actually worse than a community full of trolls and griefers.  Because at least trolls and griefers want to interact with you regardless of your skill level.

The EVE community does contain its fair share of basement-dwelling, non-contributing sociopaths.  But you'll find these kinds of people in every other MMO on the market.  They're not unique to EVE, and they're definitely not the majority.  On the whole, the EVE community is one of the best I've ever been part of.  People are genuinely eager to mentor those who are willing to ask for help.  Everybody in the game matters because the players are the content.  Anything of consequence that happens is the result of people being there.  More people coming into the game means an increase in content, and people won't come into the game if they don't feel welcome.  Being rude and intentionally driving people away from the game is counter-productive to the sandbox model, and the EVE community, for the most part, recognizes this fact.

3. "A new player can never compete against a veteran player"

This gripe is almost always attributed to EVE's progression mechanic of real-time skill training.  The thinking being that a three year old player is inherently more powerful than a new player simply because they've been training skills for much longer.  And if you ever hear anyone say this, you can rest assured that they have never played the game.  

While it's true that the three year old player will be more experienced in the game than a brand new player, this doesn't make them more powerful by default.  Because even though skills do train in real time a pilot is only as effective as the ship they are currently flying.  A hundred-million skill points aren't going to do you much good if you're flying a shuttle through nullsec.  New Eden is filled with stories of new players taking advantage of veterans who found themselves stricken with a bad case of hubris.

This is all beside the fact that war in EVE easily extends beyond two ships firing on each other.  War can be waged on the market, or from within the corporation structure.  You can conquer entire organizations without firing a single shot.

Just remember that a little ingenuity and proper planning are more powerful than any weapon in the game.

2. "The PLEX system is pay-to-win"

Again, this is one that is often heard coming from people who have never played EVE.  And in my experience, nobody can seem to agree on what "pay-to-win" exactly means.  For the sake of argument, I'll be defining it as such:
The ability to purchase, via real-world currency, a distinct in-game advantage of power over other players that would be otherwise unavailable through in-game means.
Now that we've defined pay-to-win, let's look at PLEX.  PLEX is an in-game item that you can purchase directly from CCP.  Activating a PLEX in the game adds 30 days of game time to your account, or you can sell the PLEX on the in-game market for ISK.  The average ISK price of a PLEX tends to hover between 500 and 600 million ISK, based on supply and demand.  Quite a nice chunk of change, especially for a new player.  For a mere $40 you could become an ISK billionaire overnight.

Certainly, a fat wallet can take you far in EVE.  But it is in no way a pay-to-win system as I've described above.  You can still become an ISK billionaire without ever buying a PLEX.  But at some point in your EVE career, that ISK is going to vanish.  You have to spend it on things to be successful.  Ships, modules, implants, ammo, clones, insurance, etc.  The ISK must flow.  It does no good to you just sitting in your wallet.

ISK on its own does not give anyone an inherent advantage of power over anyone else.  It's what you do with your ISK that determines your status as a capsuleer.  You can buy and sell PLEX every day for a year, but all that ISK is definitely not going to make you harder-better-faster-stronger.

PLEX most certainly is not pay-to-win.

1. "It's just too difficult to get into"

There's a joke among the MMO community, and within the EVE community as well, that EVE does not have a learning curve.  It has a learning cliff.  There's even a handy graph to illustrate the concept.

I'm not going to say that EVE is an easy game to play.  And it's not really something you can just pick up and drop when you have an hour to kill.  I would only argue that EVE isn't so much difficult as it is challenging.  Which is something too few MMOs are these days.  The majority of them follow more or less the same template, which I've boiled down to 5 simple steps:
  1. Create your character and slay a few pigs or giant cockroaches in the starter area 
  2. Run from quest hub to quest hub and gear up for the end-game
  3. Engage in the end-game 
  4. Gear up for more end-game 
  5. Return to step #3 
You're put on a leash and handed a checklist of things to do.  The setting is usually the same.  Some variation of fantasy or high-fantasy.  About the only things that differ from game to game are the art styles and the names of the abilities.  These games aren't difficult, and they certainly aren't very challenging.  The phrase "A mile wide and an inch deep" seems to apply here.

EVE challenges the player to determine their own measure of progression and success.  The leash comes off, and the checklist is shredded.  The game steps out of your way and says "There's the entire universe.  Go have fun."  It can be pretty overwhelming to look at the star map and see over 5,000 solar systems to play in.  And as weird as it sounds, figuring out how to have fun can be a bit of a challenge.  I guess the question then becomes "Should fun be implied in a video game?".  I'll leave that to a future article.

EVE is challenging, and embracing that challenge can make for a lot of fun, but it is not difficult.  It just takes time, and you have plenty of that.  So take it slow.  Meet people and let them be your guide to wealth and prosperity.  Learn to appreciate the journey.  Constantly speeding towards the destination will leave you wanting.  Because there is no one destination in EVE.  There is no stage in the game where you can look around and say, "This is it.  I've done all there is to do."  There are many destinations, and they all maintain their relevance at every step along the way.

All it takes is, as I said earlier, a little ingenuity and proper planning.  If you think you can handle that, then kid, you've got it made.

9 comments:

  1. I think your idea of Spreadsheets in space is a misconception. It's not the fact that people make a lot of spreadsheets for EVE that is a problem. Its the fact that so much of the UI contains spreadsheets. EG the wallet tab, market tab, Overview...

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    1. I can see your point. The UI/UX is a definitely a point of contention for a lot of people, including EVE players. But as I explained, EVE is largely a game about numbers and data. And as such, it makes sense to display that data in a way that is most familiar, which just so happens to be tabular.

      Granted the UI could always use some improving, and CCP's art team has their work cut out for them. Ideally we would have a UI that displays all vital information in a way that is pleasing to look at. But this can be difficult when there's just so much information to sift through.

      This is actually the first topic I go for when reading through CSM minutes, or browsing Fanfest presentations. I'm very interested to see how CCP plans to tackle this issue.

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  2. The PLEX system is pay-to-win. It's just that the advantage of more ISK for no effort is so small that it's often trumped by player skill and better numbers. Most players who earn their ISK in game are okay with granting PLEX sellers their advantage in exchange for playing the game without paying a subscription, and will contort themselves through all kinds of mental gymnastics to describe how the system is not pay-to-win, but at the end of the day there's no getting around the fact that having a certain additional amount of ISK and the knowledge of how to spend it wisely will absolutely make you harder-better-faster-stronger.

    Consider what you can do with large amounts of ISK. Buy better modules, more specialized ships, more ships, higher SP bazaar characters, link alts, bridging alts, mercenary contracts, etc. All of those things give you an edge against others of comparable player skill and numbers but less disposable income, and all of those advantages can be earned or matched through non PLEX means as well, but none of those other means will offer you the same edge for zero in game effort.

    Here's just one good case in point on what a knowledgeable player can accomplish with a ridiculous amount of disposable ISK. Sure, the PLEX flushed newbie with the officer everything battleship will die in a fire against a veteran player's PVP hauler, but throw him into a fight against a similar meta 0 shitfit battleship flown by an equally new to the game pilot, and the first newbie will absolutely have an advantage. Same with the highly skilled solo PVPer who earns just enough ISK to feed his frigate habit, flying against an equally skilled "solo PVPer" who splurged on enough PLEX to buy a max skill link alt and a falcon alt. That first player is going to be at a massive disadvantage. It's not insurmountable, but it is an advantage nonetheless.

    I think the more important question is not so much whether PLEX is pay to win (it is, though the advantage is small and needs player knowledge to put to good use), but whether any amount of pay to win mechanics is necessarily more bad that good for a game.

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    1. You started off by claiming that PLEX is pay-to-win, then in the next sentence made the case for why it isn't. As you said, player skill will trump total ISK more often than not. And the knowledge of how to spend that ISK wisely can only come from experience. Not from the PLEX itself.

      The PLEX system is not pay-to-win as I described it. I'm not talking about the ratio of ISK versus effort. I'm talking about paying money for an advantage that cannot be obtained otherwise. There's nothing about buying and selling PLEX that offers an in-game advantage which cannot be obtained through standard gameplay.

      With PLEX you're essentially exchanging your real money for the time they spent to accrue the pretend-money they are giving you. I don't consider that pay-to-win.

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    2. No, he's saying that it's pay-to-win but that it's OK.

      If you strictly interpret pay-to-win as applying only to "advantages you can't acquire otherwise," then almost no game is p-t-w. You can just grind for a long long time and get those advantages.

      I agree with his point: the better argument is that "winning" both ill-defined and not generally accomplished with more ISK.

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    3. As raylu pointed out, your definition of play-to-win would not apply to any game that lets you acquire premium gear through alternate means of grinding. Want to complete your next town hall upgrade? Either pay twenty bucks or wait out the cooldown timer. Want the Blazing Battleaxe of Kings? Either pay twenty bucks for 600 million silver right now, or grind your daily quests for sellable loot. Want a pirate implant set? Either pay twenty bucks for an item worth 600 million ISK, or mine/mission/update trade orders/run sleeper sites and get your ISK the old fashioned way.

      Does pirate head player A have an advantage over beta learning implants player B in certain PVP situations? Yes he does. It's not an unbeatable advantage, and it's not impossible for player B to also buy a pirate set through gameplay earned ISK. But short of also paying twenty bucks to CCP, player B lacks the ability to click a button and receive an object worth 600m ISK at zero risk and effort.

      There are feats in game that simply cannot be accomplished through ISK alone. There are other feats that can only be accomplished when ISK is combined with some other factor. There are yet other feats that can be accomplished through ISK alone. In any scenario where ISK is a requirement for success, being able to acquire that ISK at arbitrary speeds and quantities is an advantage that simply cannot be matched short of spending real money. If that's not paying to win, then I don't know what is.

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    4. I think the key distinction here is that the Plex dynamic is not, ultimately, paying the game system for an advantage - it's paying another player to play for you. In purchasing it and selling it to another player, you are funding their playtime, which they ultimately have used to earn the isk they give to you. THAT is plex. It is trading effort between players. It in no way removes any level of effort from the game - it is simply a method to shift that effort to other people.

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    5. You're close, CraziFuzzy, but not quite. You're not paying another player to play for you, you paying the game system for a token with guaranteed utility that other players will wish to acquire in exchange for playing the game for you. You can already have others play for you, so long as you can set yourself up as a leader or employer, but that too takes effort. Being at the head of a corporation, alliance, or rental empire allows you to disproportionately skim the gameplay effort of others, but those entities don't just run themselves. And being a mercenary employer can already be done with ISK earned through any means, but only one of those means requires no player effort on the employer's part.

      PLEX, on the other hand, is a token generated without gameplay effort that is guaranteed by the system for one month game time. Its unique mechanical function guarantees others will be willing to play the game for you in exchange for the token, again with no effort on your part. The ability to make this kind of system guaranteed trade as many times as you want so long as your wallet holds out is paying for an advantage, or paying for the tools to win.

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