Explaining Eve

I’ve been playing (and talking about) mmorpgs for a long time. I’ve played PvE games, PvP games, fantasy and sci-fi games. I’ve been a crafter, a fighter, a pilot and a member of gaming communities.  EQ, DAOC, SWG, and WoW have all captured long hours of my life, and I’ve tried lots of other massive games.

I’m back in Eve Online, after spending a couple months playing at the end of 2006 and beginning of this year. I’ve spent a lot of time talking about Eve to my friends in the Games conference on The Well, where we’ve discussed all the games I’ve mentioned and more. Eve takes a lot of explaining because it’s so different from the other mmorpgs I’ve played, and Eve’s appeal to me is somewhat difficult to pin down.

I was lucky enough to find the Crazykinux Eve blog from alaph’s One Tired Eve Pilot blog, and Crazykinux has a great blog entry to an article about Eve by Jim Rossignol. I love the internet. Link to a link from a link…

Rossignol has experienced what I’ve only sensed or inferred about Eve. I’m not out in 0.0 yet, but his stories match other stories I’ve read about adventures in 0.0. There’s nothing else like Eve in the mmorpg genre right now. I suspect if you took a lot of the Eve Online design decisions to other mmorpg developers, they’d tell you how insane you were.

Everyone playing on the same shard, up to 30,000+ players? Insane. A huge percentage of the game world exists as lawless PvP enabled space? Insane. There are no NPC’s to buy things from? Insane (unless you’re SWG, and they’re insane for other reasons). No traditional quests? No avatar that exists in the game world? No linear progression? People mine for fun? Insane.

Yet, there’s something compelling about Eve that doesn’t exist for me any more in more traditional PvE mmorpgs. Parts of what Eve is doing right existed in other games for me, like the crafting and player-controlled cities and economy of SWG, or DAOC’s RvR model. The sheer scope of Eve dwarfs those accomplishments, though, or at least pushes a game model further in one direction than any other mmorpg has dared.

Don’t get me wrong, the other mmorpgs I’ve mentioned were good games, and fun games. At the end of my time playing them, though, none of them had the sense of possibility that Eve presents, and that’s what has me excited about logging in each night. I’m hopeful that Warhammer will be similarly compelling next year, but for now I’ll be pushing for 0.0 and making my own stories. Thanks to Jim Rossignol for a great article and Crazykinux for finding it.


I feel smarter

I was talking to one of my old DAOC guildmates in Eve last night, one of two who are ensconced in 0.0 space. As we were both running missions, he was asking me what I was training, how I was making money, and offering advice.

To make a long story short, he clued me in to better implants available through the Loyalty Points store that went in last patch. I was wearing +1’s and hadn’t though about upgrading because I didn’t have jump clones yet and didn’t want to lose anything valuable when my corp goes to war.

Well, since the +3’s were affordable, I went ahead and picked them up, plugged them in and set about getting my jump clone set up. My corp has an Empire station we can install a clone in, so I finally did my reading and followed all the steps necessary to create a clone. I flew back to HQ, then jumped back to my clone. After the 24 hours is up, I’ll be able to jump back to my new +3’s, and that should help cut my training times. And now I can go to war or travel in 0.0 without worrying about losing anything too valuable. I’m tryin’ not to fly something I can’t afford to replace 🙂

As we were chatting last night, my old guildmate said he enjoys Eve because there’s no grinding. He and I spent many an hour grinding xp in DAOC together, and I really appreciate the way you progress in Eve without feeling like you’re just whittling away at the next level all the time. I can log into Eve and pretty much do whatever seems fun for that evening, and I’m always making progress.

I was struck by the contrasting opinion I got from a friend on The Well, where I do a lot of blabbing about Eve. He tried the 14 day trial and didn’t subscribe afterwards because he said it was “too much like work”. Now, I’m not going to say he’s wrong, because I can kind of see why someone would say that, but after spending some time subscribed, I’m starting to feel exactly the opposite, that there’s much more freedom in Eve than there is in an mmorpg in the EQ/EQ2/WoW model.

What do you folks think? Is Eve too much like work? Or is grinding levels in EQ and WoW more like work? Is this simply a difference between skill-based and level-based games, or is there another dynamic at work? Eve’s skills advancing even when you’re offline frees you to do a lot of other things…does that freedom leave people feeling adrift? Or are the choices in Eve just not as much fun as running quests in a very linear game like WoW?

With friends like these…

I found out over the weekend that a couple of friends from my old DAOC guild have been playing Eve for about a year. They’re out in 0.0 space and issued a standing invitation to come join them. Suddenly, the game looks quite different.

Like a lot of people playing Eve, I’m an Empire person. I’ve never been to 0.0, and I’ve only occassionally dipped into low-sec. I just started playing again this month after taking a couple months off, and I just passed the 4 million skill point mark. I’m a serious newcomer, although I’ve got plenty of mmorpg experience.

Assuming they’re still out there in a couple months, I’ll be headed their way. I want to train my skills up enough that I can survive ratting and mining out there. I’m kind of a loner at times in-game (I talk much more on blogs and message boards than I do in-game), and I don’t want to have to depend on the kindness of strangers. If I’m going to join them, I want to be helpful.

They’re in an interesting place, kinda between BoB land to the south and the re-organized north that used to be D2 and Razor territory until they were kicked out by the Mercenary Coalition and others. I’m not sure it’s very safe, but hell, it’s just virtual stuff getting blown up anyway, right? Why not go where the fun is? I enjoy the PvE of Empire, but I know there’s a lot more that’s good about Eve that I’ll never experience in .5 and above.

If anyone’s got advice about making the move, feel free to post in the comments. I’m sure I’ll need all the help I can get 🙂

Call me Sybil

If you couldn’t tell by my stock WordPress theme and lack of personalization on the blog, I’m way new to blogging. I’m noticing some weird things, like my blog name is different than my username is different from my nickname. I’m going to try and consolidate that somehow, so my blogs and comments have some sort of recognizable continuity to the rest of y’all.

I’ve been posting as Rick M, unless it’s WordPress or Blogger. Then, I might be posting as Sithload, unless I wasn’t logged in to iGoogle (Blogger) or WordPress when I posted. And my trackbacks show the blog name, slashrandom.

I halfway considered going with the blog name as my nickname. Slash Random sounds like some kind of mmorpg porn star name 🙂 It’s a little too goofy for a nickname, though, so I’m gonna try stick with Rick. That’s my plan, at least. Let’s see how many places a different name loads by default and I have to figure out how to fix it.

And yeah, I’m hoping to actually get a little color on the blog. White on white pretty much describes my dancing ability. I don’t want it to dominate my blog too.

R versus R!

Darren at the Common Sense Gamer posted some thoughts about wanting meaningful PvP in his mmorpg, and he asked for feedback. In my usual style, I started to respond in the Comments on his blog, but then realized I was writing another novel and decided to pull the long post back here.

As you can tell by my previous couple of posts, I’m a big fan of the realm versus realm combat in Mythic Entertainment’s Dark Age of Camelot. I think that endgame PvP is an opportunity for broader cooperation than you’ll ever see in a loot-based PvE game like WoW or EQ. As stated by Darren, it certainly seems like Eve Online creates the need for broader cooperation in 0.0 space, but that’s beyond my Eve experience thus far.

From Darren’s post: “Apparently their RvR implementation was very fun to play as well as rewarding for players who participated (..former DAoC players, please chime in on this one…)”

You asked for it! Things Mythic did right with RvR:

  1. Three realms. If one realm was very powerful, as was the case on my sever for a long time, the other two realms combined were usually enough to offer a bit of balance and distraction.
  2. Allowed a separation of PvE and PvP by offering a segregated PvE experience. I believe Mythic has a better solution for WAR, but we’ll have to wait and see how it’s implemented. For it’s time, though, DAOC was somewhat revolutionary in offering an opportunity to choose between PvP and PvE.
  3. Offered rewards based on territory controlled in the RvR-enabled zones. Each realm had keeps and relics that were attackable at any time by other realms. If your realm held the most keeps on the server, you had access to a dungeon that offered nice drops and seals(loot that could be collected and turned in for nice equipment).
  4. Offered benefits based on relic control. Each realm had two relics. If your realm captured relics from other realms, you got bonuses to melee and spell damage (assuming you were also in possession of your own relics).
  5. Offered benefits for claiming a keep. Each DAOC guild gained guild points for RvR participation. With those points, your guild could claim a keep when it was captured. When your guild had a keep claimed, you enjoyed greater experience and loot when fighting in a radius around that keep.
  6. Offered skill bonuses based on individual RvR points earned. As your character gained ranks in RvR, additional abilities became available to you.

For those that have played DAOC, excuse me if I’m not precise on the details. It’s been a couple of years since I played regularly.

Here’s a quote from the Warhammer site about integrating PvE and PvP somewhat. Sounds good in concept, I like PvE efforts contributing to the war effort somehow, but we certainly need to see things in action before we know how well the design is implemented.

” For the first time, WAR‘s RvR system integrates both Player vs. Player (PvP) combat and Player vs. Environment (PvE) quests on the same map. Every aspect of the game, including PvE missions, is geared towards the greater war in some important way. However, players are not required to participate in PvP combat, and may aid in the RvR war effort and enjoy the game in its entirety via PvE content.”

I’m hopeful, but I’ve been around long enough to know that I shouldn’t believe anything a developer says until I try it myself. And not just because of Brad McQuaid, but because it’s damn difficult to design and balance these games.

More later if I have time, I actually have to work for a bit. The nerve of them 🙂

Shout out to Ryan and Gary at MOG Army…I can’t read or type the acronym PvP without “P versus P!” ringing through my head. Thanks for the kickass pocasts. I’d link to their site, but it seems like their web server got ganked. Maybe they’ll get a rez and it’ll work for you. Ain’t no suprise the best mmorpg podcast on the internets comes from a couple of Jersey boys 🙂 Find them on iTunes, give ’em a listen and give ’em a review.

Ain’t talking ’bout love

Raph Koster made some notes on a talk given by Clay Shirky at the Supernova conference, and one of the sentences jumped out at me. The context of Raph’s notes were talking about open source software solutions, but I’m going to steal a sentence and transition to mmorpg’s.

“You will make more accurate predictions about software and services, if you ask not what is the business model, but whether the people who like it take care of each other.”

I can’t make this post without hyperlinks to other conversations, so buckle up and stick with me here. Kendricke’s had enough of the eternal debate over endgame raiding because it’s possible that game design cannot present a solution. Kendricke says:

“Ironically enough, the argument itself can’t die because the source of it’s angst is rooted in the very problem it complains loudest about – that most basic of human natures: competition.”

Raph’s talking about cooperation bringing people together on projets. Kendricke’s saying the eternal endgame loot debate is about competition. Is there a middle ground here? Is it possible that an endgame properly designed to encourage server-wide cooperation (or team-wide or realm-wide cooperation) would provide a more satisfying endgame experience?

If you read my post yesterday, you can probably guess my answer. At the end of the day, WoW seemed primarily a selfish pursuit, and a pursuit that by nature is designed to leave you unsatisfied. Sure, you might get a great set piece after hours of dungeon raiding, but there are always more set pieces, always more upgrades. Chasing the dragon is certainly exciting but eventually that constant pursuit of loot starts to feel empty. There’s got to be something else going on at the end of an mmorpg for people to continue to feel connected.

Before comments start coming in saying that WoW (or EQ or EQ2) certainly do depend on a large amount of cooperation for successful raids, I’ll concede that point. There’s no way you can succeed at any of those endgames without talented players working in tandem to solve complex dungeons. That said, the need for cooperation doesn’t extend much past getting good loot for yourself, or for your guild. There’s no larger sense of the effect those raids have on the entire community. Little persists beyond those raids except what you equip.

DAOC RvR and Eve Online in 0.0 space provide the need for broader cooperation. The effects of RvR or 0.0 wars do in fact persist and affect the community in a variety of ways. DAOC had Darkness Falls open for the realm that controlled the most territory. You got increased loot and experience for fighting near a keep that your guild controlled, and there were power bonuses if your realm controlled a majority of relics. Eve corporations in charge of 0.0 systems get access to deadspace complexes, rich mining opportunities and control key travel choke points. Your success or failure while fighting with your realmmates or corpmates has an effect that transcends just loot.

For me, I gained more satisfaction fighting for territory in DAOC than I did raiding in EQ or WoW. The rush of a realm succeeding was just so much greater than an individual raid succeeding. It seemed to matter more. That’s where Raph’s notes spoke to me. Don’t ask what model the endgame uses. Ask if the endgame model encourages the players, all the players in a realm or an alliance, to take care of each other. That doesn’t mean you can’t fight, can’t compete, can’t raid…but if there’s a larger goal, I think the raiding, fighting and competing maintains more significance then WoW manages. I think that cooperation and the broader significance of your actions builds more community and perhaps keeps people invested longer.

Let’s not get crazy, though. Ain’t talking ’bout love, or singing Kumbaya together over Teamspeak. I just want my raids or endgame efforts to have a broader effect then my next set piece.

Raid Thrash

Some of the blogs I read regularly have been arguing about endgame raiding and the massive amounts of time it can take to gear up from those encounters. Anyone who’s mucked around with PVE endgames in WoW, EQ or EQ2 can certainly relate to the highly skewed ratio of time spent vs. loot rewards.

Darren over at Common Sense Gamer shares my frustration with endgame raiding. I personally don’t enjoy spending endless hours in dungeons with 25 to 40 other people working on the precision necessary to execute a successful raid. And even if I did enjoy it, I don’t have that much time to dedicate to that type of playing. Plenty of other people do apparently enjoy it and have time for it, though. Darren isn’t one of those people, however. He admits to some bitterness because he’s “never getting those hours back”. I sympathize, but his solutions for that feeling of wasted time doesn’t work for me.

“There must exist more than a possibility that you’ll receive something out of raid…and I mean every player, not just those who happened to have the most DKP”.

I don’t agree with Darren on this. It’s addressed by Kendricke and others in the comments, and the problem with raids dropping loot for everyone has to do with scarcity, or rather the lack of scarcity if raid-level stuff starts dropping more often. It’s the old mudflation issue, and it’s a serious design issue. You just absolutely cannot drop more high-level loot into the game at a rapid rate without ruining it. Raph Koster has a nice summary of mudflation on his website, both the symptoms of it and traditional ways of trying to address it.

So, what do you do? Do you abandon the endgame and raiding to the percentage of the population who have the time and inclination to pursue the treadmills? In the case of WoW, yeah, that’s exactly what I’ve done. And that’s ok with me. WoW was perhaps my favorite PvE environment, and I actually enjoy leveling up more than I enjoy the endgame in WoW. There’s just no place for me in the endgame, and it’s time to move on.

I don’t want to end without offering an alternative, but before I even start I have to admit that my alternative caters to my personal taste. I haven’t seen a game yet that offers a solution for everyone…raiders, solo players, casual players, PvP/PvE players, crafters, explorers…so part of my solution to the problem is picking and playing the right game for your tastes. Is it possible that there may be changes to raiding that would suddenly make it more rewarding for Darren? Not if it means equal loot for everyone, no. I don’ t think that can happen without ruining the game.

To be fair, I don’t want this to sound like I’m bashing Darren. He offered up some ideas, and then he asked for reader ideas. I want to grab one more Darren quote from the Raid Be Gone blog post and then offer my suggestions for endgames in mmorpg’s.

“Most MMO offerings today have very predictable character progressions through their worlds. You quest, craft, pvp up to max level and after that, you raid. After you raid, well, you raid some more.”

See, I think that’s out of order. I’d rather see something like “quest, craft, raid (or dungeon crawl with smaller groups), and after that, you PvP”.

To avoid an endgame that ends up like EQ, EQ2 or WoW means eliminating raiding as the only last step on the pyramid. PvP doesn’t have to be the only other option, but it’s the only other one that I can think of that has been successfully implemented in a modern mmorpg. I’m thinking specifically of Eve Online and Dark Age of Camelot. DAOC also had endgame raiding, and great gear clearly helps in PvP situations, but you certainly didn’t have to raid every dungeon and have elite gear to be helpful in RvR. Now, we could get way off track by talking about the Trials of Atlantis and Master Levels, and how that affected the endgame and the need to compete gear-wise, and whether that was a design mistake or not, but I don’t want to lose the point of Darren’s posts.

I’m no Eve Online veteran, but one thing I have realized is that you can have an important role in PvP situations literally just weeks into the game. Fly frigates, train tackling skills and follow your Fleet Commander’s orders, and you can make a contribution to a corporation that’s been flying for years. Both DAOC and Eve allow players fairly new to PvP to make casual yet significant contributions, which isn’t as possible in PvE endgame raiding.

There’s something about the unpredictability of competing against human opponents that’s more satisfying to me than raiding PvE endgame dungeons. Yeah, but WoW had PvP, some of you might be thinking? It wasn’t persistent. Shoving PvP into instances, or having no controllable territory in world PvP, made WoW PvP a mini-game, not a part of the endgame. In my opinion, of course. I’ve got no problems with people who love the fun of WoW PvP, it just didn’t seem…important to me.

So, I think I’m left with massive endgame raiding as one of the options that should be available to players at the endgame of a successful mmorpg. Meaningful PvP is another. I’d like to see gear that perhaps levels up with solo or casual players that could someday equal raid-level gear. Like, your gear earns XP when you’re soloing, or a percentage of that XP if you’re grouped with another player, a smaller percentage if you’re grouped with two players, etc. DAOC had something like this in the Trials of Atlantis, where certain gear would gain stats if you killed enough snakes, bugs, critters and so on. We’re just not going to see that kind of stuff in WoW.

Face it, WoW is basically the Diablo of mmorpg’s, with just endless dungeon running and gear upgrading at the endgame. It’s beautiful and slick and scalable and polished, but the endgame options are just limited. If you don’t enjoy raiding, it’s time to move on. Hopefully other developers will notice this and give us more options at the level caps.

I’m really hoping Mythic manages to make WAR as compelling at the endgame as DAOC was…and also makes leveling more fun then it was in in DAOC. I think a lot of people missed the beauty and balance of DAOC RvR because the level grind was kind of rough. Not EQ rough, but certainly not as easy as WoW. Anyone at Mythic want to process my beta app so I can get in and offer advice? Please? Pretty please? With orc bits on top?

See, this is why I started a blog. Can you imagine me punishing everyone who reads Darren’s blog with a reply this long in the comments? Jesus.