The second decade of EVE Online is something everyone appears excited about. At Fanfest, the dev team was ecstatic to reveal their direction for the next few expansions and the player audience responded with thunderous applause at the concept of player built jump gates.
Everyone except me.
You see, I have been to a few Fanfests now, and have had the privilege of getting to know many of the CCP team over the years. Some of them I stay in touch with throughout each year and others still I keep in touch with after they’ve left CCP.
I’m not name dropping or showing off here. I’m building a foundation of credibility for the points ahead.
A KINGDOM DIVIDED
There are two camps in CCP. This isn’t a recent development as it’s something I’ve been made privy to since my first trip to Fanfest in 2008. There are some developers that believe the focus of EVE should be PvP, or player vs player. Every interaction should be as a direct result of player action whether it’s market, industry, mining, combat, etc.
EVE is a single shard universe and has always prided itself as such and the fact that your fame, or infamy, is known to everyone in that type of environment. Therefore, every player action has a consequence. We’ve seen this is the Butterfly Effect trailer, the Future Vision trailer and it has been repeated again and again over the years most recently with the EVE/DUST tie-in. Magazines write about how EVE is like no other game because of what players can do. It is what separates EVE from those other games that have pre-defined content that players consume as quickly as it’s put out.
EVE is real.
Make no mistake. I really and truly enjoy all these aspects of EVE Online tremendously. The community of EVE is what makes the game so great. The fact that we can essentially do anything within EVE Online is astounding … until you look under the shiny at least.
The other camp believes EVE is a MMO, or massively multiplayer online game. There is a belief in the lore of EVE, the backstory, the PvE, or player versus environment content, the underlying backbone of the universe that compels us as players to be involved. Why do I play a Minmatar? What does that mean? What event has transpired that makes me want to login? How is content generated? How solid are the ingame systems in place? What bugs exist that infuriate me on a daily basis? How are they being resolved? Is the environment believable? Do I feel immersed into this rich science fiction universe?
As I’ve spoken with the various members of CCP on this subject, it becomes very clear very quickly who believes what, and each and every person is passionately defensive of their stance. I respect that to a degree even though I believe it to be short-sighted and will be discussing with you right now why that is.
As it stands, EVE Online is a PvP game that pretends to be a MMO. Plain and simple. There is lip service internally and externally that says the lore is important, the story is important. In fact, there is a lore book coming out soon, a definitive guide written by former EON editor Richie Shoemaker. See? Lore. Important. Heck, CCP Falcon and the ISD teams are alive and well, continually adding more stories to the forums. Lore. Still important. Except it isn’t because none of it is reflected in the game.
Remember Sansha Kuvakei? You know, that meglomaniac trying to enslave the universe? Right. That had no lasting impact. The universe didn’t change. Factional Warfare? Yeah. Sigh. To date, there have been only two events that have led to lasting change:
- The discovery of wormholes which opened up a whole new area of New Eden
- The Battle for Caldari Prime which permanently affected the planet graphic
Both of these were scripted CCP events to coincide with a marketing initiative. They were never about lore.
Now CCP is talking about player built jump gates. There is speculation provided on how this will permanently change the universe. Maybe it will, but I’m doubtful given CCP’s track record to date.
There is a term used in the development industry called Technical Debt. Essentially, it is the continued accumulation of bad code as a project moves forward. There are always reasons for technical debt: reduced budgets, shortened deadlines, scope creep. They are an inevitable part of the industry. At this year’s Fanfest, the 10th anniversary of EVE Online, CCP gave us a sincere look into their Technical Debt. At every roundtable, a developer would mention how sorry they are for their technical debt. Everyone has been so very transparent about it at CCP that it almost makes you feel sorry for ever doubting them. Except for the fact that they’ve never actually told us their plans for how to deal with technical debt and actually dodged that question when I asked it repeatedly during various round tables.
As it stands, the easiest way for CCP to deal with technical debt is to completely avoid it. Shiny to shiny, keep building on an unstable base, sticking together bandaid solutions so the entire thing doesn’t collapse.
That doesn’t sound smart, does it.
A BETTER SANDBOX
Do you know why the content system has never been re-addressed? Partly because of that first camp I told you about that believe EVE Online is solely a PvP game. The other reason is that the PvE content code in EVE Online is so archaic and poorly architected as to be almost uneditable. It would literally be less manpower to scrap it and start over which would still not be a small task by any means. And why bother? Content is static and boring. Content is too easy to consume and too costly to create. It’s easier to simply not change it and push players into believing EVE is that PvP game. Let them create their own content. Let them pay us to do so. Nothing to see here. Move along. Move along.
It’s almost like walking down a Hollywood backlot, seeing the buildings on either side, being in awe of it all, until you take a closer peek around the corner and see they are just cardboard cutouts. It’s all an illusion you’re not supposed to question.
EVE is real?
LONG TERM THINKING
I’ve never written a post like this before. I’m truly a CCP and EVE fanboi. I have huge respect and admiration for Hilmar. I enjoy the game immensely. I’ve run for CSM. I’ve transformed my physical self to better match my virtual self. I’m a roleplayer to the extreme.
Why write such an inflammatory post then? Because I want to play this beloved game of ours until I’m too old to use a computer or whatever we’re using by that time. I want to be immersed in a universe that excites me because like our real lives it’s constantly evolving.
We’re partly there. I mean, we do have players that influence a lot of things and are always creating interesting news headlines.
Why stop there?
A while back I posted about an idea called Dynamic Landscapes. I agree that producing static content is costly and ultimately pointless as players will always consume it faster than it can be produced. So why not build a dynamic system for this? Why not have a database of objectives for the system to choose from? Why not have it tier structured base on previous completion and overall faction points acquired? Why not have it based on historic location data already available from within the game?
This type of system would allow content writers to update the database behind the scenes without any fanfare or hard public deadline. This type of system would allow players an interesting new way of consuming and generating content all at the same time.
Imagine the Angel Cartel setting up shop in a nullsec region. Tier 1 is gathering resources. This could be noticed on the market or randomly on system scans. You like the Angels and happen to find out what they’re doing. You decide to help them. Butterfly effect. Or you don’t like the Angels and try to stop them. Butterfly effect. Of course, they may have already gathered all the resources needed for Tier 1 completion and have moved on to Tier 2, ship production. You want to stop them but they have a defensive fleet in place that is far too much for you to take on alone, so you tell your corporation. Meanwhile, an Angel friendly Alliance has decided to defend them and their operation so things have escalated. Tier 3 could be a station. Tier 4 could be regional control or jump highways to highsec.
Additionally, each tier generates from a pool of agents. Each agent has a pool of player missions. Each mission has interesting risks and rewards. Each tier escalates in difficulty.
How does it play out? Do the Angels get destroyed? If so, they go back into the content pool and this could possibly never happen again. Or it could, but with a different faction and in a different location, with different tier goals. This creates nearly infinite content.
Or do they succeed? Now they are fighting player alliances for territory. That’s going to force some interesting content, don’t you think?
That’s simply one idea.
PLAYER VERSUS ?
Another idea is to improve the AI across the board. The roleplayer in me hates when an FC tells me to loadup for ratting. It tells me clearly that I will not be engaging players so fit accordingly. As a capsuleer within New Eden, there should be no advanced way of knowing. I shouldn’t know the difference between a player and a non-player. They should be the same.
Why not have the AI learn as it survives? Why not have them earn ranks much like in factional warfare the longer they survive? Why not have them receive small bonuses as they do survive, and watch their bounties go up? Why not have them change loadouts just like we do? Change tactics? Instead of suiciding us to the last ship, imagine if two warped away before dying, you scan them down, and come across the earlier Angel Cartel content at Tier 3? Well, that’s a PvE mission gone sideways. Fun!
We come closer and closer to AI chatbots that are almost able to win the Turing test. They are almost to the point where we can’t tell if we’re talking to a person or a robot. Once this becomes a reality, imagine being ingame, seeing a ship tracking you, having a conversation with the pilot, and not knowing if they are real or not. It is one more layer of realism that makes the game more believable.
Highsec, lowsec, nullsec. There are people that think this is enough. There is a growing number that believe it isn’t, that’s it too restrictive in some senses, and not restrictive enough in others.
This ties in to Hulkageddon, noob zones, and many other hot issues every CSM campaign. There are always false promises made by CCP and CSM candidates, but nothing has changed since I joined in 2006.
Why not make each point have its own set of properties? This code system already exists and is not in bad shape. Why not leverage it?
1.0 could be completely safe. A perfect place for noobs, at least until they do something that affects their standing in any way. After that, they are warned not to return under penalty of fire.
Each point system could get slightly and progressively more lenient, making every system more interesting.
This could apply to factions as well. I’m a Minmatar war pilot. When I enter Amarr lowsec, I get a warning. The longer I stay there, the worse it gets, unless I jump to a new system at which points it resets. Why do that? Why not have it get worse and worse the longer I am there at all? Why not have a point where eventually if I fly deep enough into Amarr space I’ll have an entire battleship fleet waiting when I jump through the gate that can instalock the second I decloak and incinerate me for being far too ballsy?
Why not apply this to every factional standing in the game and not just factional warfare?
Imagine serving the Minmatar Republic but in the process of trying to become a superstar you actually manage to decrease your standing with them. Imagine it gets to the point where your very public operations become an embarrassment to them and they no longer allow you into your own highsec systems until you clean up your act.
Or imagine just randomly flying through Guristas space with -9.2 Guristas standing when suddenly a pirate fleet drops on you because you are public enemy number one to them. How fun would that be?
CCP is always mentioning how they want to create ISK sinks for the players that growing ever richer ingame.
Why not live event tools? Why not marketing tools?
Imagine being able to setup your own missions with your own rewards provided out of your own pocket? You, directly telling a story within the greater story of EVE. It’s been done in other games successfully. It’s also been abused and exploited horribly. It’s all about finding balance. But why bother if EVE is only a PvP game, right? Right.
Steam has a video creator. Crytek is soon to release theirs. We’ve seen some gorgeous EVE Online trailers. Imagine being given the tools to create those as players. Sure, they exist and they are also a code mess. No surprise there given the technical debt conversation.
But so what? Do we care? Put a disclaimer for use “as is”. Or spend some cycles and clean it up. Take that money from your marketing team because I guarantee you that having 400,000+ players making machinima for you is going to reduce your need for your current marketing budget.
It’s about making the game itself have a meaning instead of being set dressing. It’s about understanding that EVE being an MMO actually helps EVE be a better PvP game. They are not mutually exclusive. In fact, one is built upon the success of the other.
The technical debt continues to rise. When it reaches its critical mass it isn’t going to matter which camp you believe in. They will both fall apart.
I don’t want that. You dont’ want that. CCP doesn’t want that. Why then is nothing being done about it?
You may say that these ideas are stupid. Maybe they are. I’ve already thought of reasons that would make them not work. Then more reasons why they do work. Then more again for not working. That’s how I process.
You may believe CCP is probably doing something about the technical debt and we, as players, simply aren’t privy to that information. Maybe you’re right. Maybe the CSM is in the know. Or maybe not. Either way, one would think this would be a great marketing and public relations point to make, not something to be avoided like a huge conspiracy.
Whatever your thoughts, more than anything, this post was meant to stimulate thought and conversation. I’m still a fanboi. This is but a sampling of the thoughts that run through my head on a daily basis. Mobile? Hello, Capsuleer. Incarna? Whatever happened to our war rooms, games, bars, shops and strippers? Why are we using an engine completely different from WoD at this point? What happened to the CARBON buzzword? EVR? 60 FPS fighters in a 1 FPS game? I hope to share more with you going forward, but that all depends on how much you actually want to discuss my thoughts.
I guess we’ll find out in the comments below.