Monday, April 25, 2016

BB74: The big thing at Fanfest

Welcome to the continuing monthly EVE Blog Banters and our 74th edition! For more details about what the blog banters are, please visit the Blog Banter page.
So when this Blog Banter goes live, Fanfest will be over. Hungover geeks from around the world will be departing Reykjavik after a five-day binge of important internet spaceships and partying. Whether you were there in person, watched the streams or read the dev blogs on your mobile hidden under your work desk there was probably something in there that gave you a “nerd-boner”. What for you personally was the most important thing to come out of Fanfest 2016?
Not being able to go to Iceland and partake of the festivities myself, my Fanfest experience was much like the rest of the player base as I crowded around either my work computer or phone in order to keep up with the steady stream of information while constantly checking over my shoulder to make sure that I wasn't caught paying more attention to internet spaceships than whatever it is I do for real world money. I couldn't really help it though, because the stream of information was a good one and really easy to get wrapped up in. This didn't feel like the past two times I had kept up with Fanfest, where everything felt like more promise than probability. The content of this year's Fanfest just seemed so much more tangible than I had experienced before. The update to Valkyrie, Projects Arena and Nova, all the new content coming in Citadel, planned changes coming beyond that, and a host of other things on display just seemed to really nail home the idea that CCP is alive and kicking and ready to kick some ass.

Which is good to see. The company has had some major set backs in the last few years. The failure of World of Darkness, the coming death of Dust 514, and the general stagnation of Eve itself have just made it feel like CCP is struggling to find itself in the current landscape of digital existence. Add in the fact that the company has taken some pretty big risks with its flagship product over the past year, with things like jump fatigue and skill point trading, and its safe to say that the foundation was looking shaky at best. But, the gamble on virtual reality seems to be paying off with Gunjack and Valkyrie being legitimate hits for the new technology. Eve itself is getting a massive update this week, complete with a killer new Permaband song, and coupled with the hype surrounding the current war, enthusiasm for the game is at a significant high point. 

While it's good to see CCP growing as a company and Eve growing as a game, the biggest point I took away from Fanfest is the need for the player base to be growing as a whole. CCP Ghost's presentation on the new player experience presented one jaw dropping stat that I think everyone needs to take to heart: in the past year, 1.5 million new people tried Eve and most of them didn't even last a few hours. Imagine that for a few seconds. Eve with one and a half million extra people flying in space. I know we're pretty married to the idea of "the learning cliff" and take pride in the fact that we play THE hard game, but that's just stunning to me. I've heard many stories of people starting and giving up on the game multiple times (sometimes something as simple as "I gave up with the character editor") and I can't help but wonder what the game would be like if more people who started it stuck with it. It should be said that there's no way that entire 1.5 million would stay, and we wouldn't want them to anyway. Eve exists as it is because its played by people who "get" the game, whiners aside. Not everyone who tries it is going to get it, but if we can get to a point where even a tenth of that number is able to get through the new player struggle and latch on to the game, per year, then we would wind up with a vastly different experience in our day to day gaming lives.

As a part of Signal Cartel, I encounter plenty of people new to the game. Exploration is considered to be a fairly newbie friendly career to pick up, and we've worked hard to be the name people think of when it comes to that career path. And I've found it interesting that as people move on from being "Signaleers" they still retain a certain kind of enthusiasm for the game at large. I think a major aspect of enjoying this game is finding a group to enjoy it with, and Signal has done a lot to grow this sensibility in our ranks. And I think that is a sentiment that can carry over to CCP's growing arsenal of titles. Think of it, four individual games united under one universe (five if Arena gets an Eve tie in). There is massive potential there, but only if we can make the flagship as accessible as possible. We don't need to do away with the learning cliff, we just need to give more people grappling hooks to scale it.

The potential growth of the Eve universe, and growth that is being missed, is the biggest thing I took away from Fanfest 2016. Much as it was a celebration of where New Eden stands today, it was also a glimpse at where it could be even a year from now. There's work to be done in making that happen, sure, but there was an incredible amount of work involved in getting to where we are now. At the end of the day, I'm more optimistic about the game now than I have ever been, and its fun to play in the only universe where this kind of thing would even be possible. But those possibilities are tied to numbers, and not just warm bodies. There's clear evidence that Eve can draw outsiders in. We just need to find better ways of keeping them in without losing the identity of what makes Eve EVE. This includes bringing in folks who check out Eve because they tried one of the other titles in the universe, such as Valkyrie or Gunjack. I don't have the answer on how to do that, but I'm confident it can be done and CCP Ghost has made me hopeful that he's the guy to do it.

We'll see what happens over the year though. The Citadel expansion is another big gamble by CCP, Valkyrie and Gunjack are still riding high on "novelty" aspects, and Nova and Arena may very well go the way of WoD. But after this weekend, I see no reason to not be hopeful about the game itself, and as such I see no reason to not be hopeful about the appeal to new players. A good game will simply draw people in.

Also, faction capitals look cool as shit.

Friday, April 22, 2016

When Eve gets too real

With all the hype around Fanfest and the upcoming Citadel expansion, the Eve player base is riding pretty high at the moment. But, there are a few things that have happened today that I'd like to touch on.

The first is the harassment of  Eve streamer Crass Kitty. Recently, her grandfather passed away, something that she shared with her stream viewers. About two weeks ago, her stream was flooded with a string of new followers who all had various names making fun of the fact that her grandfather died, along with a few generic misogynistic phrases thrown in for good measure. It got to the point that Crass ended her stream early rather than continue to deal with the problem. As has been revealed today, the effort was orchestrated by members of Goonswarm who apparently don't like Crass because she does a lot of interviews with members of the Money Badger Coalition. Beyond littering her stream with references to her dead relative, it seems that they've also tracked down her real life social media accounts (as in, the ones not associated in any way with her gaming life) and tried to harass her there as well. With the unveiling of the Goons being responsible for this, there has been the expected dramatic outcry and gnashing of teeth, along with a fresh discussion of where the battle lines are drawn in the course of internet shit posting. By and large, its gotten pretty ugly out there.

Secondly, notable Eve personality Yolo Swagtron posted a genuinely heartfelt message to his corp's forums about why he has quit the game and all game related media immediately. This is most noteworthy because at the time of quitting, Yolo was actually in Iceland at Fanfest in the depths of all the Eve he could handle. Long story short, he came to the realization that the game had almost completely overtaken his life and he no longer felt as if he was in control of his personal life because he was dedicating too much time to his Eve life. He stopped what he was doing, got on a plane back home, and disconnected from the game as much as he could the moment he touched down. Essentially, he quit as cold turkey as possible and isn't looking back.

Both of these are examples of the game infringing on a player's real life in ways that are simply unhealthy. In the case of Crass Kitty, a group of players have taken in game events and used them as a reason to harass and terrorize a person out of game. With Yolo, the game is taking the form of an addiction that is slowly but surely squeezing out the rest of a person's life. In both cases, its very important to remember that this is just a game. Its a great game, enthralling in its scope and forever evolving environment and its easy to get completely overwhelmed by it, but it is still just a game. It is not a reason to attack someone personally, and it is not something worth sacrificing the rest of your life for.

Personally, I'm pretty closed off in real life these days. I have a small group of friends I talk to on a regular basis, I spend time with family pretty regularly, and I have a fantastic wife whom I love spending time with. Outside of that, my only real socializing is done online. Be it a forum for my favorite football team, various electronic music communities, social media, or games, the vast majority of people I talk to are avatars that represent people whom I will never physically shake hands with. This works fine for me as I'm pretty awkward and silent in person. Even when I was in bands playing multiple shows a week, I would generally find some dark corner to hide in and just keep to myself. What can I say, I'm just better with text. Hell, I barely ever log into Signal Cartel comms for this reason. Eve absolutely takes up a massive portion of my attention, and as a result most of the people I talk to now are in game. So I can definitely see how being so invested in the game could spiral out of control until the game has simply taken over your life.

On the other side of the "Too Real" coin, I do try to keep in mind that there is an actual person on the other side of that avatar. Someone slogging through a day job who is looking to spend their spare time doing something they enjoy and trying to have a good time before they die. And while I can gleefully roll around in the offensive without batting an eye, there is simply no reason to focus in and try to hurt the actual person behind the avatar, internet anonymity be damned.

So I'd like to wish Tony well in his endeavors in the land of reality and say that I can fully respect the feeling that the game has gotten "larger than life". I genuinely hope you can find some happiness out there and can spend your time the way you want, and if you ever do come back to New Eden we'll be happy to have you back. For Crass, I just want to say that even though the depths of internet depravity get explored by Eve players, I hope it doesn't cause you to shy away from the game because you are benefit to the Eve streaming community. Also, you seem to like exploration and Asteros...join Signal Cartel now!

To everyone else, I just want to say: we're all going to die one day. Till then, can we just have some fun and not be dicks about it? Cause that would be great. TIA.

Friday, April 8, 2016

The New Eden Daily

CCP are introducing the concept of "dailies" to Eve Online. If you don't know what is ment by "daily", its an incentive to log into the game at least once a day to do some simple task for an extra reward. In the case of the current plan for Eve, the reward is an extra 10,000 skill points for killing an NPC once every 22 hours. Put down the gun.

On the surface, I like the idea. I do find it hilarious that in the pre-skill trading world the mantra was "SP doesn't matter, player skill matters". Post-skill trading and suddenly the entire fucking game revolves around an SP total. Now, with the mere suggestion that more skill points will be available to everyone each day, not only are skill points the single most life giving important aspect of the game, but everyone will have too many and ,that makes them meaningless.

Its important to point out something I just said a second time: these skill points are available to everyone, much like the 24 hours that make up each day. I've seen it said that this is a bad move because when time is the only factor for gaining skill points, then everyone is equal. Unlike skill injectors, which do have a price of admission that keeps plenty of people from using them, the daily reward is equal in that anyone can access it. Certainly, there will be days that individual players won't be able to log in and collect, but most if not all players will miss days. The only people hurt by this would be anyone not logging in for weeks at a time or anyone who lets their subscription lapse, and I can't be bothered to give a crap how they feel about it. Its nice to see an extra incentive for actually logging in and playing the game, however briefly.

And skill points are the only incentive that make sense. ISK rewards would only lead to extra inflation go against the idea of a purely player driven market. Similarly, in-game assets would also screw things up. And there is no way things that can be bought with actual money are going to be given out on a mass scale, so Plex and Arum are out. CCP wants you to play, not cut into income streams. Beyond all that, the only real way CCP could offer a reward is in skill points.

The only things that rub me wrong here are the limited activities that offer the reward, the set flat amount of SP rewarded, and the fear of "what comes next".

Firstly, the incentive should be tied to every playstyle possible, not just NPC killing. Hacking a can, mining a rock, shooting another player, selling an item, jumping a gate or wormhole, scanning a sig hell, spinning a ship...all things I would open up to receiving the extra SP. It should legitimately be that when a player logs in and does WHATEVER THEY WANT they get the bonus. Limiting it to a few activities forces all players to do those things, and that isn't Eve.

Second, 10,000 skill points at a time anywhere always is just silly. Like any other reward, this should scale with risk and effort. Lets go with the proposed NPC killing reward. It should not be "kill one NPC anywhere and get 10,000 skill points". It should be more like "1 skill point per high sec rat killed, 100 per lowsec rat, 500 per nullsec rat, 1000 per sleeper (in wormhole), up to 10,000 per day". Similar models for different activities. A flat rate is boring, lazy, and does not encourage actual gameplay sessions. It encourages log in, do quick thing, log out. Yawn.

Third, for this to work in the context of Eve, it HAS to remain limited. There needs to be a hard cap on the amount of skill points that can be earned each day through the daily rewards. You can only passively earn so many SP over 24 hours, after all. If we stick with the 10,000 SP amount, that needs to be the limit across ALL activities that can earn the SP reward. It cannot be rat for 10k, the mine for 10k, the market for 10k, then explore for 10k,et cetera. 10k a day, per character, period. No double days, no extra rewards. Keep it simple and keep it limited.

Again, I'm not against the concept here, and I still believe that skill points don't matter. But if this is going to work, it needs to be done right within the context of Eve. Otherwise, its going to be a laughing stock. Tread lightly, devs.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Starting an alt

When I started Eve, I had long heard it referred to as a "game of alts". It is just sort of assumed that any Eve player has multiple accounts in order to do several things at once. For a long time, I went against this idea, deciding that I would play as a single character on a single account forever and ever, amen. Then, war happened.

A while ago, CCP gave every active player 20 free days of "multi character training" (MCT), meaning that a single account could train two characters free of charge. At the time, I had a few PLEX laying around, so I used one for an extra month of MCT and turned one of my character slots into a servicable gank alt. Her name was Sam (short for Samantha), and she once shot a skiff in high sec just because. Right after she finished her training queue, I joined Signal Cartel. As I dove into the Hug Thug life, Sam just sort of fell to the wayside.

Fast forward a bit, and war has engulfed New Eden. I've already tried moving Ned out of Signal Cartel, and that just plain didn't feel right. But, I really want to take part in this next chapter of the history of Eve. While Ned might be the pacifist, Sam has just been laying around biding her time. She'll need some work to be actually useful in a war, but she isn't starting from scratch either. Problem is, so long as she is on the same account as Ned, she can't train unless I spring for more MCT, which isn't as efficient as just starting a second account.

So I pulled the trigger. Sam now resides in her own account and I have officially joined the "alt" crowd. I'll be putting Sam into Pandemic Horde to do what I can in the war as soon as possible. Ned stays at home in Signal Cartel, and everyone is happy.

Three cheers for multiple personalities!