Friday, 3 October 2014

Ye Olde Fashioned EVE

A point was made by Manfred Sidious on netgameradio last night that (install rose coloured glasses) back in the day, EVE didn't have teleportation (a 5th level spell in D&D but essentially a cantrip in EVE). Back then, conflicts were localised, region-based or constelllation-based and involved months of low-level subcap brawls, small gang actions, etcetera.

Certainly, if you look at the aspirational PVP ideals put about on the recruitment forums by shiftless vagrants, around one third of toons looking for PVP corps put in "small gang" as a requirement. A bit more than a third say large nulllsec (read: blob warfare) and the remainder are broken down into a hodge podge of wannabee wormholers, starry-eyed noobs, FW linkwhores and general pretense-faggots who think that having been in a blobby nullsec fleet a few times and having a 90% K:D ratio gained from 5-10 individual batttles qualifies them as super-awesome. But we can tell.

Small gang and solo PVP are the pinnacles of a lot of people's ideas about what EVE PVP is, in the world's best PVP MMO (as voted by some people).

So, looking at the jump changes for nullsec, and taking into account the yearning for small gang content, and the misty-eyed reminiscences of the elites who cut their teeth and built their pyramids of wealth five or more years ago, these changes are sensible, and may help grow the game onto a seam in the pants-leg of history it's gone down which is closer to the other pants leg of history which is 2006-8.

Another point which was made was that, since subscriber numbers are struggling to pick up and stably grow, CCP has to make some drastic changes to the game to grow the customer base. A reimagining of nullsec based on fond and often completely false reminiscences of Ye Olde EVE is as good a choice as any.

Make no mistake, the game needs some changes. I support these changges even though they don't affect me or my vested interests and I really can't care less either way what effects they wreak, except if it does end up killing EVE due to everyone unsubbing. A risk worth taking.

However, i think there are other changes EVE needs to make. Let me list them.

Putting customers first.
This is just plain and simple the most important thing out there. it's elementary business practise,  especially for a subscription service that - rightly - avoids pay-to-win overtly.

What I mean is illustrated by the abysmal treatment of the wormhole changes on the forums, and the lack of care and attention given to the whole area. For example, the whole of w-space has apparently been deployed for 5 years with broken code. The neuts used to never affect players until 2011 when they were turned on one day with minimal warning. The sleeper RR was turned on, apparently again not properly coded since deployment, with absolutely zero clear warning. True, it may have been missed if it was put in a sticky thread on the forums but a bulleting in This Week In EVE would be a minimum.

This is symptomatic of a culture at CCP where people like Fozzie just seem not to consider that they are changing the experience of their customers, and it is simply courteous to let them know that they better not try soloing some of the C5 sites as of Oceanus dropping, sorry for the inconvenience. There is clearly more of a focus on banging out 6 week mini-expansions than having a structured deployment process.

The deployment process must include a checklist which includes - 1) Have all changes been documented? 2) Are all changes advertised in the patch notes? 3) Is this legible in English and available in the other languages, in such a way people cannot feel gypped by the changes?

Managing Change properly is Key
If you have to change the rules to save the game, and it's not a 6 week till bankruptcy choice, then change management is key. Change management in large organisations is a cult in and of itself with consultants and wonks and twinks charging an arm and a leg. But in the end all CCP Seagull needs to do is devote 1 day to flipping through Machiavelli's The Prince, and she will see that Machiavelli devoted a fair chunk of his book to how the prince could deal with change and command-driven leadership. EVE is not a democracy, so this is apposite advice; but likewise Machiavelli's reader wasn't expected to be ruling over paying customers. There's no point, as he says, in changing so much so soon that the change that cmes about is your own downfall.

Focus on the Mid-Term Player Experience
CCP focused on the New Player Experience through 2011-12, and grew the customer base moderately. The NPE is key to getting new customers to convert the trial account to a paying account. Part of this strategy resulted in Tiercide and the throwing open of useless ships to newer players to usefully fly about the joint, being useful.

However, since Incursions and the (relatively) subdued MUDflation has set in, the problem is not so much one of making people pay the play after a week or two. The problem is keeping people engaged in a PVP game where frigates and cruisers begin costing a bunch of hours work. I mean, if you look on an Incursion as a base rate of affording a ship, then a battle cruiser is about 1 hour's work. Back in the rosy old past when a Cyclone hull was 15M and you could make 80M in nullsec or wormholes, you could bang 3 Cyclones out in a night's play. If you lost one a week, you could make headway against clone costs, insurance, skills, etc.

Nowadays you not only have woefully unbalanced T2 and pirate ships (Deimos, Ishtar, Orthrus, to name a few) depriving 2-12 month old toons of ships with impunity, your cruiser hulls are creeping past 12-15M a pop. They just got slightly more expensive to make in highsec too with the industrial rebalance. Any new surge in supercap production vacuuming New Eden of all materials to supply a second round of super alts as a response to the jump cooldown will drive prices up. Highsec ganking is out of control and wormhole mining is suicidal (see previous post).

My point said before, if the only rational response to making sufficient way in game is to ISBox mining, PVE activities then how is the game going to keep the maturing player interested? You know, the guy who plays a few nights a week and runs one account and has half of a life? Its getting harder for these people to break out of an incessant grind for cash, harder to progress in a game of massed alts and uncounterable unfun fleet concepts.

EVE needs to convert these players into addicts, versus trying to get hordes of people into the game to convert a few off their trials.

Make Changes That Enhance, Not Nerf
While changes like those foisted off unwanted on the wormhole community is a two way street (those who adapt and those who don't) and proposed to be dumped on nullsec, the reality is that there has to be a reason and it has to result in a more playable game.

This was the biggest criticism of CCP Fozzie's assault on w-space. Yes, you can roll holes. It won't be a rageroll, it'll be a dullroll because it takes longer. Great, you made an already tedious and time consuming activity even more time consuming. Manfred Sidious made a point that the idea of the jump cooldown and fatigue was to make it faster via gates than jump in 90% of situations or more. That's fine, but it basically results in a slower transit, full stop. This may be the idea in nullsec, to force granularity and break up the blue donut into more regional blocs and regional biffo. However, in w-space it has simply resulted in too much bullshit.

However, Fireflynine raised a point: maybe the rose coloured glasses are being worn by CCP Fozzie and he is simply trying to force wormholes back into their original  vision by CCP; somewhere to visit briefly but nowhere to bother living.

That's a valid question, and a reasonable assumption, but if true it is also incredibly stupid and has galling amounts of hubris and blinkered vision. I mean, OK, you had an idea, we took it and ran away with it. Deal with the reality of now (pissy sleeper RR, people building de-facto empires in wormholes, dread-blapping and elitist T3-only bullshit doctrines), and work on the NPE and MPE, don't just make life less worthwhile and less frustrating for everyone. People are quitting the game over this, and trimming numbers of accounts.

Have a Structured Progression 
One of the mysteries of EVE as it stands, taking into account the NPE and MPE (as above) and PVE as it currently exists, is the nebulous idea put about by CCP that there's a 'progression' of risk/reward. Even if not true, certainly it's a concept the customer base wants to see. Highsec has low rewards due to increased safety, or so the theory goes, and wormholes top the ISK/hr tree. Well, aside from printing Barghests because you live in the Mordus station and got a fucking giant freebie. Or the rare level 5 missions, and a few exceptions. True or not, this is the theory.

The reality is that Incursions topthe list, followed by C5's, nullsec (due to safety) even with the competition for Sanctum and Hub running, you can still turn over 18M ticks. Thereafter, level 4's in Lowsec for a few key corps on some LP items is worthwhile. Lowsec radar and mag sites top 100M/hr on average. C2's you get 40M/hr. And below this is various other stuff. None of this fits any real structure.

Ideally as you progress from noob through level 4 running, then Incursions, you should gain more ISK, simply to pay for your more expensive ships. This progression breaks down somewhere in the middle, right in the midst of the MPE, i feel. You aren't skilled enough to realistically do the high-end PVE, nullsec sees you compete with carriers and AFKtars for Sanctums and Hubs, and middling toons doing C3-4-5 PVE is problematic.

If CCp can sort this out, and sort out the Storyline items and missions and LP store revisits, sorting out the pirate tags and the faction tags to cheapen up and provide a reasonable supply of all items in LP stores, then there will be a more enriching variety of ways to skin the same cat, in and out of highsec.

CCP also needs to address MUDflation. Cyclones costing nearly 60M ISK for the hulls is crap. Adjust ore yields, adjust build costs, adjust something or, again, the MPE will be shit. How many hours of humping level 3 missions will you need to do to afford your first BS to run a Level 4? Far, far too many is the answer.

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