Wilhelm Arcturus's Top Five Problems With EvE Online

Wilhelm Arcturus's most excellent blog The Ancient Gaming Noob had a nice post today on the Top Five Problems With EvE Online. On the whole, I agreed with his analysis, and I thought he made some points that should be more widely understood.

Of course, being me, I can't leave it there. So this post is a response to that one. Hopefully I'll have something interesting to add.

Let's review Arcturus's five six (including a bonus) issues:

  1. The Name is confusing and unattractive.
  2. The Age is high. Old games have their own special problems.
  3. The Player Reputation is terrible.
  4. The User Interface is bad.
  5. The Ship and Module Complexity is high.
  6. The Jargon Level is off the charts.

I agree with three of the five of these pretty wholeheartedly, and am neutral on one. Let's take them in order of agreement…

  • The User Interface is bad… Not really. It would have to improve a lot to be bad.

    I rediscovered a forgotten piece of lore a few months ago. I found that you could slow down your ship to an arbitrary speed while the Micro Warp Drive is running. The controls don't make it obvious, and it never occurred to me to try it. I'm always making "discoveries" like this. It took me two hours the other day to find the Planetary Interaction tab in the controls (buried in a submenu with a funny name). I used to do PI regularly, so this was pretty discouraging.

    Maybe it's just me? Naw, because when I have told friends and corpmates some of the things, they have professed astonishment as well. Even after a couple of years, for example, I wonder how many capsuleers know that you don't actually need any rigging skills to fit rigs?

    It goes beyond user interface and user experience. The game is just full of Usability issues, and that's how I would describe what we see here. Are these issues fixable? Not without an enormous financial commitment on the part of CCP. In my fantasy universe, CCP starts with Valkyrie as a base and builds a from-scratch EvE client with VR capability. That's probably a $50M project, but honestly it might be worth it going forward.

  • The Name is confusing and unattractive… Yes, and combined with CCP's often strange marketing plans and practices, it means that a lot of folks who would really like the game won't even try it as "free-to-play".

    CCP really needs to take a chill pill on the Cyberpunk Grimdark. There's an Iron Law of Games that says no cyberpunk-themed game will ever go mainstream. EvE doesn't need to be cyberpunk, but damned if CCP isn't determined to keep representing it that way. There's a recurring comical moment seen for example in the most recent SCOPE video: a deadly serious war newsreel pauses while we talk to attacking leader Killahbee and his opponent Progodlegend. To an outsider, that just sounds stupid, and it is stupid. Not because the 'nyms are stupid, but because the grimdark contrast is stupid. People can be lighthearted in space too—especially if they are immortals with no particular needs except fun.

    So yeah, the Theming needs a ton of work. It doesn't require changing much, not even in the lore. Just give in to the pressure to let the players make the game fun. When we are having fun, outsiders want to come have fun too, and we want to stay around. Don't grunge up the Lawn Gnome.

    Oh, and the name is somewhat fixable too. CCP obviously can't change it from "EvE" or "EvE Online" (how 1990s does "Online" sound in a name?), but they could subtitle it. I learned a while back the inspiration for the name "EvE". Calling the game "EvE: Everybody vs Everybody" would at least let people know what is going on in general. Or just go with "Spaceships/EvE" for an expansion name going forward. (The Alpha Clone introduction would have been a perfect place to do this, sadly.)

  • The Player Reputation is terrible… I rank this one so low only because I think it's easy to overestimate how much the general public even is aware of the player reputation these days. As Arcturus noted, I'm not even sure how many folks know it's a spaceship game. Certainly the general press in the last few years has mostly been about giant expensive space battles, which certainly doesn't paint us in too bad a light.

    On the other hand, CCP has struck again with their recent #MyEVEStory series, the first two episodes of which explicitly highlight how awful the player base is. What are the folks in Iceland drinking? A good rule of marketing is to not put one of your biggest weaknesses front-and-center in your campaign.

    How to fix it? Fly more friendships. Camaraderie is a strength of this MMO that makes others pale in comparison. No one cares how terrible those "other" players are if they have friends watching their backs. You're way less likely to get scammed or ganked while in a solid newbie corp because you will get help and advice. If it happens anyway, you'll have the support and sympathy of your buddies to help you get through it. That's half the fun of EvE.

  • The Age of EvE is both a weakness and a strength. The problems Arcturus highlights are real, but consider the upside. The 13-year history of the game gives it a richness and depth that is just hard to match in newer titles. There's a huge player-driven history now. The game is full of obsolete and semi-broken gameplay elements that are used only by a small minority of players, but which constitute discoveries available to new players. (COSMOS missions, anyone?) In what other game are whole features of play just not known by most of the playerbase?

    This goes hand-in-hand with the Jargon Level of the game. Much of the EvE jargon is not CCP's fault, but was developed directly by the players. Almost all of it adds richness and depth to the game. A game in which players "speak their own language" can be intimidating to outsiders, but it can also create a sense of community and draw new players in as they start to "crack the code". I was a vocal opponent of the re-iconification of the Damage Control module, for exactly this reason. Many experienced players referred to the module as "the suitcase" because of its distinctive icon (which was obviously a medical briefcase). Losing that little bit of jargon and lore made the game less rich to me.

  • I think the Ship and Module Complexity of EvE is a feature, not a bug. Yes, it is part of the horrible steepness of the huge learning curve, and there are things that CCP could do to help new players manage it better. But, like the jargon, it also makes for a rich experience that encourages learning and community. Three years into the game, I think it's fascinating to still occasionally come across a ship I hadn't heard of or paid attention to. I think it's interesting to look at some of the weird, broken and perhaps rarely-used modules or whole classes of modules and think about what they were supposed to do, whether there's a way to use them for a special purpose after all, look at how other people have been using them. For me this is part of the unique fun of EvE.

I've suggested removing about two items from top six status. It is only proper that I give something back. Here's a couple of my candidates:

  • The actual Outer Space and Ship Modeling is simplistic, unintuitive and kind of painful. We all get used to it, but it never gets good.

    "Space friction" is kind of terribad. Gravity isn't a thing. Planets don't move. There are mysterious points that are the sole viable locations for space structures.

    Steering a spaceship on one-second ticks by clicking out the window is kind of terribad. The whole concept of "orbiting" is not what it says on the tin, and this "circling" should be supported by having your ship's guns be able to face inward while doing it rather than incurring stupid tracking penalties. There should be more automated maneuvers than "circle" and "keep at range": "spiral in" is an obvious starting point.

    Why can I only warp to certain fixed distances from a target? Why in all the world can't the autopilot land my ship on a gate?

    I've watched new players try to deal with all this stuff, and it just ticks them off. After three years, it still ticks me off too. If EvE is going to compete with some hypothetical version of Star Citizen or Elite Dangerous getting popular, it needs to be the definitive space-and-spaceships game. Hard to fix, but worth trying on at least some of it.

  • The weird Player Economic Model is a constant threat to the game. EvE is the only game I've ever seen that can be legitimately described as Pay-not-to-Play. For $15/month, I can guarantee that my character will keep advancing at full rate and the game will be available to me in full whenever I feel like sitting down. My alternative is to spend about 20 hours a month playing to make the ISK to play for free: the game has been called "Second Job" for a reason. That's just strange and counterintuitive to most players, and it encourages a large inactive playerbase that's just paying while they "wait for their skill to train".

    CCP's recent history of PvE-centric events designed to encourage players to regularly log in and do something is promising here. I certainly logged in at least every couple of days last month, to get and use the Blood Raider Cerebral Accelerators that were dramatically speeding my training time. While I was on, I grabbed a couple of hundred million in explo loot while getting ganked once, flew with my cousin and had a PvP match over an Accelerator, and started to rebuild some of my other money sources. It was one of my most active months in a long time—the game needs more of them.

EvE Online is a fantastic and awful game, and I am genuinely afraid of what will happen to it if the rumored CCP sale happens. EvE occupies a unique niche in the gaming ecosystem, and if it were to go it would be sorely missed. Let's hope enough can be fixed that this won't happen. I'm looking forward to flying for another decade or two. Hope to see you there.