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.
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.
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