Sifting through the rubble

Well, we’ve certainly got a lot of mileage out of Richard Bartle’s interview in the Guardian the other day. Oh, wait, most of us haven’t talked about the whole long interview, we’re just responding to one throwaway question at the end of it and using that to discredit the man who’s probably forgotten more about virtual worlds than most of us put together. Bartle clarifies the question and answer here, and I think it’s pretty clear that this is a thought experiment, and not an actual prescription for the state of the mmorpg industry. It’s tough to argue with people who are just grabbing on to that one line out of the whole interview, though, so I’m kind of done trying to explain what I think Bartle meant. He’s fully capable of defending himself if needed. And I certainly don’t think his statement needs defending in this case, not if you understand the context and the purpose of his statement.

There’s a good discussion on Broken Toys about Bartle’s interview. Some people get where Bartle’s coming from, Brian Green in particular.

What’s got my interest tonight, instead of deconstructing what Richard really meant, is the conversation about what those 8 million players would do if WoW was suddenly not there any more. I’ve seen statements that say something along the lines of “Most of those players didn’t play MMO’s before, and they’ll just go back to their non-mmorpg games”. The more I think about this, the more I question that logic.

Stay with me here. When we want to claim that a majority of WoW players would return to non-mmorpg games, are we sure we’re crunching numbers correctly? According to this report from last August, there were 5 million Asian WoW subscribers and about a million each from the US and Europe. Add the US and Europe together for 2 million gamers, and suddenly I don’t have as much trouble seeing them move to other mmorpg’s instead of vanishing into the “I’ll never play another mmorpg again” rabbit hole. EQ had what, 450k, 500k subscribers at its peak? Dark Age of Camelot had 250k? Star Wars Galaxies had 300k? There’s overlap in some of those games so you can’t just add up the numbers and say there were a million US and European mmorpg players before WoW, but to grow from, say 600k unique gamers to 2 million unique gamers isn’t the stretch going from 600k to 8 million would be, especially when there are three years of growth between 600k and 2 million.

In Asia, it’s a similar phenomenon. There were millions of players in Lineage and Lineage 2, and there are a multitude of other successful mmorpgs available. Sure, there are 5 million people playing WoW, but there were millions of people playing other mmorpg’s before WoW. They’re going to want to continue playing mmorpg’s.

Blizzard’s huge success wasn’t just bringing mmorpg gaming to an hugely expanded audience. Their amazing subscriber numbers reflect the fact that they’re the first developer to be simultaneously successful in both the US/Euro and the Asian market. I think, if WoW somehow disappeared, those gamers would still want mmorpg experiences. I don’t buy the “it’s WoW or nothing” for millions upon millions of mmorpg players. Are there some players who will only play WoW? Sure, but the pre-WoW numbers in Asia and US/Europe make me think that there’s still plenty of gamers who would want more mmorpg gaming in a post-WoW world. Blizzard definitely helped expand the reach of the mmorpg industry, but it’s not like they grew the industry from only 500k Everquest subscribers to 8 million WoW subscribers worldwide. Let’s keep the size of the market pre-WoW in perspective, especially in the Asian market where more than 50% of WoW’s numbers originate.

The Drums of War

So my corporation is abuzz with rumors of war. I can’t speak authoritatively about the subject because I wasn’t directly involved in any of this, but here’s what I surmise so far.

Eve University is primarily a corporation for new players to learn about the game. Classes are offered, we mine, we PvP a bit, we ask a lot of questions and we’re lucky enough to have experienced and dedicated pilots who enjoy helping everyone out. We’re avowedly neutral in our diplomatic dealings…until you mess with us.

Someone had come into high sec space, to our headquarters in Korsiki, and was stealing ore from some of our miners. It happens a lot…bait and switch with cargo containers, stealing ore, all trying to provoke a fight with (hopefully) toothless newbies. Ya know, the same kind of lame PvP bone doods and plate doods that have been around since UO…before UO, I had ‘em in the MUD’s I played back in the early 90’s. The same kids that would steal your hat at recess and tease you, and then cry to the teacher when you knocked ‘em down and took the hat back.

So, some of the veteran pilots decided that if these folks were messing with us, we’d take the fight to them. A battle or battles occurred, a battleship was lost, and suddenly we had a corporation threatening to declare war.

Let me tell you, there were a hundred screaming newbies in frigates ready to fly to a blazing bloody death in corp chat the last couple days. Still are :) Nothing has happened yet, but it’s a very cool feeling to be threatened and see this kind of mobilization. We’ve got nothing to lose. We get frigates so cheap that the insurance we get upon death is usually more than the ship cost in the first place. We’re learning how to fight, we expect to get blown out of the sky at times….but you’re going to have to work to get all of us. And mixed in with the noob swarm are some seriously deadly pilots.

If you’re a 0.0 corp that maybe has your own problems with seriously experienced predators around your own system, you probably don’t want the inconvenience of the noob swarm. We might be annoying, we might not be able to take out people in straight up fights…but as someone said about Eve, if you’re getting in fair fights, you’re doing it wrong.

Eve can progress at a pretty sedate pace. But it’s times like this, when the future is unpredictable, possibly violent and full of the best and worst of human qualities, that the universe seems more alive than any game I’ve played since DAOC. If you’re playing solo and not even on the periphery of trouble in Eve, you’re missing the heart of the game.

That said, not everyone enjoys the PvP experience. Some of you might be saying that it doesn’t sound like fun, that you want to play without interference from other players. I get that. I felt that way for a long time. It’s changed for me, though, maybe because I’ve found another place where PvP doesn’t mean mindless ganking. PvP matters here. It’s Serious Business. It’s a rush, and I’ve missed this feeling from my days in Hibernia, fending off the evil Albion and Midgard realms. I don’t particularly enjoy solo PvP, but to be in the midst of a community all united to defend our interests…it’s a blast :)

Is a good body important?

When I was in the Eve beta years ago, I didn’t enjoy the lack of a body, and I wasn’t a fan of being ship-bound forever. For those gamers who may be unaware of it, the only physical representation of your body is your character portrait, a headshot. I remember missing a body and feeling restrained by my inability to run around. I didn’t stick with Eve back then, and I think the head-only portrait was part of the reason. I think I went went back to DAOC, or to SWG, somewhere I could have a whole body and run around.

Kanthalos mentioned feeling this way in a comment he left here the other day. I can relate, but I realized I haven’t felt restricted by the lack of a body this time around. I’m looking forward to the day CCP gives us the chance to create a body and run around on stations, but I’m still enjoying the game and the community without it.

Bekka Jae was talking about her experiences with the Eve community. Four paragraphs down in that link, she’s talking about Eve having a “coziness”. Beyond the fact that I agree with her (perhaps because we’re in the same corporation, but perhaps it’s a larger Eve phenomenon), I thought it was interesting that a game where you only have a head might seem cozier than a game where you can see a whole person and interact with a physical body.

How much does that interaction matter to people? Do you need a physical body to feel a part of a world, or can chat alone satisfy that sense of community for you? Does flying ships together, fighting or mining or hauling good, constitute enough interaction to satisfy social urges?

This time around in Eve, I find that my corporation provides an outstanding sense of community, and maybe that’s what allowed me to move past my intial dislike of the head-only avatar. I do wish that I could save, or at least waggle my wings, when I fly past a fellow corp member, but beyond that I haven’t felt limited by my lack of body.

I’d be curious if other Eve players missed a physical avatar when they started playing and what allowed you to move past that and grow attached to their head, so to speak. When did you feel like your ship…was you? What contributed to your sense of identity in Eve?

Ratting in a Rifter

Following up on my Downsizing post from a couple days ago where I went ratting in a Minmatar Slasher, I grabbed one of my tackling frigates and fitted it out for ratting. I haven’t flown a Rifter in quite a while, except when I’m out doing fleet ops with my corporation.

Like the Slasher, I don’t know if it’s more experience piloting or more skills and skill points that make the difference, but I don’t remember feeling this powerful in a Rifter in the past. I definitely think I got chased out of .5 and .6 belts back in the day, but not any more! I lucked onto a Dread Gurista spawn, and even that didn’t make me break a sweat.

Confidence usually gets me into trouble, and I decided to drop into lowsec. Sometimes my ratting takes me into a system with a lowsec stargate, and I’ve poked my nose in there a few times in the past. Early this morning, about an hour before the servers came down for a patch, I jumped in for a look.

The first thing I checked was the local channel. Empty, yay. Well, I guess the first thing I was really happy about was no gate camp. I haven’t encountered one. Yet.  I’m sure my time is coming. With no one in Local, I headed for a belt.

I’m not sure what class ships I encountered, but they were too tough for the Rifter. They tore through my shields pretty quickly and my armor rep wasn’t keeping up with their damage, so I decided to warp out instead of trying to fit out a new ship in the time I had left before the server came down. I was doing some damage, though, so it makes me pretty confident I could handle them in a cruiser. I might buy a cheap cruiser and fit it with modules looted from rats so I don’t have much of a financial stake in it and use it for getting in trouble in lowsec.

Of course, what I’d really like to do is figure out how to take ‘em out in the Rifter. I think they were two cruisers (bounties around 75k, I think?), so it might not be possible. Or maybe in a couple months, after I get more experience and some more skills and skill points…who knows?

I’d like a little more challenge than the rats in the .5 belts offer. Maybe I’ll have to investigate complexes and see how I do in those. It’s been a while since I poked my nose into a complex, and I seem to remember thinking I couldn’t survive in a 2/10 using a Rifter and had to use a destroyer. Maybe things would be different now in a Rifter? I think I know what I’m doing next time I log on.

Google “Eve Online” +intimidating

Kanthalos left a comment on my blog yesterday saying “EVE sounds like an amazing game, but I’m way too intimidated to try it, lol.” I’ve read Kanthalos’s blog and enjoyed it. He’s an experienced mmorpg player and a thoughtful commentator on the industry, and I was a little surprised he feels that way about Eve. I was wondering how many other mmorpg players feel the same way about Eve and pass it by because it sounds too cutthroat. So, while I was over at the community pool with my daughter this afternoon, I was mulling over Eve’s intimidation factor.

A year ago, before I played Eve for the first time since beta, I think I might have agreed with Kanthalos. From the outside looking in, we hear a lot about piracy, open PvP, corporate espionage, and massive fleet battles. Those are certainly intimidating gameplay conditions, especially for new players. After 6 months of playing, though, I think there are a couple of gameplay elements that make Eve’s intimidation factor more manageable.

I googled “Eve Online” +intimidation, and I found a couple of interesting links. First, from a corporate perspective, there’s this interview on Slashdot with Magnus Bergsson from CCP which took place in May of this year. The whole interview is worth reading, but for this post, I found the questions and answers about the new player experience very interesting.

Slashdot: Could you point out a feature that was added recently, or with the last group of features, that you thought was really good for the more casual players?

Magnus: Yeah, the new player experience, which we spent a lot of time and effort on. That was just for the new players, just to make it easier for them. We are still working on adding a lot more to that, we have a team that is just dedicated to that aspect of the game.

Slashdot: Really?

Magnus: Yeah, so we’re always trying to improve that part. Because, when you get thrown into a game like EVE, which is so open-ended, and there’s no hand holding you really need to ahh, help those people. Those people are going to see a lot of new things this year. There’ s a lot of new things were working on helping them getting into the game and understanding it. Of course, you don’t really see it – you get thrown into this world, and if you don’t already have a friend that’s already playing it can be a little tricky.

Slashdot: Yeah, that’s interesting, because a friend of mine was recently trying out some games and she tried out your game, and she was a little offput because EVE has this reputation for being such an intimidating game, but she found the new player experience very intuitive. In fact she said it was more intuitive to her than like an EverQuest 2, which is … well, it’s directed, but in EVE it’s like a step-by-step thing. So this is going to be a focus in the future, is there’s going to be a team that stays on the new player experience?

Magnus: And it’s been on there for a long time, this team. So we are always extremely aware of, and we’re always trying to make it easier. It’s not easy trying to make those first steps real easy without making them real boring. But I think the new player experience is really good, it takes people in the right direction. It shows them a lot about the game, but as with EVE in it’s nature you have to bring something to the table. You have to take some action, you have to take responsibility with what you’re doing, just as in real life. There’s no manual for this side of the screen, so we’ll do our best, there’s a lot of things we’re going to be doing from now on to get people in …

Slashdot: Can you give an example?

Magnus: Ahh, for instance, just helping people in the tutorial, just pointing things out to them in the email. Ahh, staying in touch with them, that’s a huge thing because right now you might skip something in the tutorial but there’s nothing that really pulls you back, nothing that points ‘you why don’t you check this out?’ So we’re going to be tracking what people are doing and sending them appropriate notifications about, hey you should be trying this out.

Remember the part where Magnus says “if you don’t already have a friend that’s already playing it can be a little tricky.” I’m coming back to the friend idea.

The second link that caught my eye was a hit from Crazykinux’s blog, which in turn references a great post from Jim Rossignol. It caught my eye partly because I talked about it in one of my first blog posts, but also because it’s a great example of how complicated and unaccessible the game can seem to outsiders. Honestly, I’m still intimidated by the 0.0 fleet operations Rossignol is talking about. I’ll be moving to 0.0 space in the not-to-distant future, but I’ll be going to join old friends from my DAOC guild. 0.0 is a hostile place, and the level of gaming going on out there requires knowledge, experience and friends. Rossignol mentions allies and friends more than a couple times, and that’s a key to survival and success in Eve.

And there’s the tipping point of Eve, and the reference back to the the words of Magnus Bergsson. Friends. CCP can and should continue to work on the new player experience, but once you’ve run through the tutorials, what’s next? I wasn’t sure what kind of players I’d find in a game with a reputation for PvP, piracy and intrigue, but I’ve been very pleasantly surprised by the community.

There are two elements of Eve game design that contribute to the genuine sense of community. The first element is indeed the complexity, or at least how it’s very unlike any other mmorpg most people have played. The second element is everyone sharing a single game world. If you play Eve, and you’re confused by Eve, you’re playing alongside every other person who might also be confused by Eve. A unique community has grown out of the complexity and the shared single game world.

My first experience with the Eve community was in the Rookie Channel. Players in Eve are able to chat in a variety of channels, and every new player to Eve has 30 days of access to the Rookie Channel. It is staffed by volunteers vetted by CCP who answer the countless questions of new players. It’s a remarkably helpful environment, and stands in marked contrast to Eve’s reputation as a difficult world to inhabit. For your first month, you have access to friendly and knowledgeable other players who have volunteered to help demystify Eve for new players, and you’re in the channel with every other new player to Eve that month.

During my time in the Rookie Channel, many of the ISD volunteers recommended checking out the Eve University corporation if players were looking for a similar helpful environment when their 30 days were up. This was the recruitment thread posted by the ISD folks, or an earlier variation, and it convinced me to give Eve University a try.

Again, this was not the type of community I had imagined existing in Eve, and I’m not sure I’d be enjoying the game so much if I hadn’t found the E-Uni people. Every night, I have at my fingertips a roster of players who a) understand that new players still have questions six months into the game and b) enjoy answering those questions. They’ve also shown me how a very new player to Eve can play a valuable role in endgame-type activities, which I never would have found out on my own. There are classes offered every week taught by experienced Eve players. There are groups of Eve University students going mining, running missions, flying PvP fleet operations lead by skilled veteran pilots, or asking questions about anything and everything that interests them about Eve.

This type of community has been invaluable for me. I’m not sure that I would have gotten half as much fun out of the game if the Rookie Channel and Eve University didn’t exist. And it fascinates me that this sort of community can grow out a game with such a cutthroat and hardcore reputation. Not only does the single game world give all the new players with questions a chance to find each other, it also gives every player interested in helping or teaching new players a chance to gather. I’d suspect that people who are interested in being helpful or teaching other players exist in other games, but they’re distributed over multiple servers and never have a chance of finding each other and creating something like Eve University. The same is true for new players to other mmorpg’s. They may have kindred spirits in 20 different Goldshires spread over 20 different WoW servers, but they’ll never cross paths.

So, if you’re like Kanthalos and you’re curious about Eve but you fear being overwhelmed, overmatched, or intimidated, there are a lot more resources available than there are in other mmorpg’s. Eve still differs from the WoW and EQ model in many other ways, but don’t be intimidated. Look up Eve University and spend a couple months participating in the classes and fleet operations, and the universe may suddenly seem much less intimidating.

*Post-edit* While re-reading this, I was reminded of my time spent playing Ryzom. I felt like Ryzom had a similar sense of community. Curiously enough, Ryzom also existed in a single gameworld, and although I didn’t experience it, had PvP elements where you needed to know who your friends were.

Downsizing

Did you ever go back to a place where you played when you were a kid? Maybe a kickball field or Little League baseball field? Remember how you feel so big in comparison, like the amount of fun you remember having couldn’t possibly fit into such a little space?

I had to do a little traveling in Eve today, so I fitted out a Slasher, the smallest of the Minmatar frigates. It’s a fragile little ship, with solar panel wings that make it look like a moth flying through space. It’s been a long time since I flew a Slasher. It was the first ship I ever purchased, and I remember barely escaping with my life through many early level 1 missions. When I moved up to a Rifter, I remember feeling like I was so much safer and more powerful.

3 million skills points or so later, I picked out some inexpensive mods for my trip in the Slasher. I had two 150mm autocannons and a NOS fitted high, an afterburner and a warp disruptor in the mid-slots and an overdrive in the low slot. When I was fitting it, I was thinking I might someday use it in our frigate rampages for tackling, which is why the warp disruptor was there. I wasn’t thinking about ratting. I was just using it for a quick taxi ride.

Since I took the time to fit it though, I thought “Well, maybe I should swing through a couple asteroid fields on the way home, just to see what kind of trouble I can find.” I picked an asteroid belt in the Poinen system and warped in to find three Guristas waiting.

It hasn’t been so long since I remember having to run from three rats in a .6 belt. I took a deep breath, hit the afterburner, targeted the first rat and swung into a tight orbit.

Flying a cruiser myself, I’ve learned that it’s a pain in the ass to hit a little frigate that’s orbiting fast and close. I kept my afterburner running, kept the NOS running so I didn’t have any cap problems, and my 150’s chewed up the rats pretty quick. The only thing they could hit me with was rockets, and they never got me past half shields.

I ran through the rest of the Poinen asteroid belts, ripping through ships that used to make me nervous. It was the Eve equivalent of booming homeruns on the old third grade kickball field.

Eve’s not an easy game. It’s not rocket science, but I’ve learned to be a pilot the hard way on plenty of missions, losing ships or being chased out of deadspace with my ship in flames. It was rewarding to feel like I could suddenly survive or thrive in a ship that I used to think was only good for early level 1 missions. Did you ever go back to the orc camps in East Commonlands in Everquest, levels after they were a challenge, and tear ‘em up just for some revenge? It felt kinda like that, and it felt good.

It also gives me some confidence that I’ll eventually feel that way with cruisers, which I’m just learning to fly now, then on through the rest of the ships in Eve. Eventually, after lots more explosions and burning ships, I might get the hang of it with more than just a little frigate :)

They’re out to get me

I haven’t had the free time to play games very much over the last week. Between the 4th of July holiday, a big hardware/software upgrade at work and a 7 year-old daughter entranced by me reading The Hobbit, gaming has taken a back seat. Tonight, I sat down to play some Eve, only to find out that the server has fallen and can’t get up. The official forums are also down. I wonder if they’re hosted at the same place where the server farm lives, or if they just crashed from 30,000 people trying to find out why they got dumped out of the game, or if someone at CCP saw the crash and screamed “Jesus, shut down the forums before the flames start!”.

Clearly CCP is conspiring against my available gaming time. They were also out to get me on the one night I had time to run some missions. I was given a mission I’ve never had before. I was supposed to fly out to a ruined mining station clinging to an asteroid to pull the mission objective out of a cargo container. As I got close to the objective, too many ships to fight spawned all at once.

I figured I could tank ‘em long enough to get myself to the cargo container, loot it and warp out. And I was right, except I picked a warp point that was on the other side of the mining structure attached to the asteroid. Instead of warping through the structure, my ship tried to bounce its way through, got stuck and blown up. Oy.

Hindsight being what it is, I should have kited the ships far off the mission point and returned with a superfast frigate fitted with an MWD to race to loot the cargo container. Next time I’ll know. I did outfit another cruiser and take out the spawns, but I had to buy the mission cargo on the market since it got blown up with my ship :)

CCP is totally out to get me. It’s obvious, isn’t it?

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