Alpha Clones – A Week After Vegas


EVE Vegas this year brought a significant, but not unexpected, development with Alpha clones. Alpha clones, CCP’s free-to-play EVE Online model, are like an extended trial period. CCP really doesn’t want to hear that, but let’s face it: any model of play that doesn’t have a monetary side of things to build up your Sunk Cost Fallacy Investment™ is a trial. It’s why you can play months of some terrible browser game and then walk away from it. It’s also why CCP’s efforts to improve gameplay matter so much; player retention needs to be more than just ‘I paid for a one-year subscription’.

Still, extending the trial is definitely a way to get some of those free-to-play players to stick around longer. It can help them develop relationships and experiences that will draw them in. That, in turn, is more likely to keep them around than ‘I paid my money’ does in the long term.

So What Are The Changes?

That’s the immediate question everyone seems to expect should be addressed, right? It’s been a week, after all. That has to have been enough time to write an article about what the changes are, right? Well, it doesn’t matter. Twenty minutes would have been enough, if that’s all we were going to do. CCP’s Twitch page has the VOD of the Keynote if you want the full-length ramble, but the basics are that Alpha clones will:

  • No longer be limited to racial ships/weapons
  • Be able to train T2 small and medium weapons
  • Be able to train racial battlecruiser and battleship skills
  • Only train to 5 million SP, and be able to inject to 20 million SP. Any Alpha clone skills trained under subscription (Omega status) that go beyond 20 million SP will continue to work just fine.

That’s basically it. It’s not a massive list of changes, but there’s been a lot of speculation about What This All Means™. There’s also been some outcry and alarm about it. Overall, reaction’s been mixed. The last week has been time for some folks to think, and some folks to freak.  So now that we’ve had that time to think, and the freak-out has had time to die down, is the freaking out justified? What’s likely to actually happen as a result of these changes?

Initial Implications

The first thing to keep in mind in all of this is that alpha clones are currently able to freely train all of the skills they can use. If they max out what they can currently get, that takes just short of the 5 million skill point threshold. This means that under the new system, alpha clones will only train about the same as their current skill capabilities before the training stops.  Just getting the 5th level of a single medium weapon skill in order to unlock the Tech II weapons adds over 600,000 SP.  Level 4 of one racial battlecruiser and battleship combination is another half-million. So in order to get Alphas to where they can use battleships with any real facility will probably push them to or a little beyond their training limit.

The result of this is that in order to get at the breadth of new ship options, Alpha pilots are going to need to either purchase Omega time, or use Skill Injectors. It’s likely that the first avenue Alphas will take is training the support hulls of other races.

As an example, the total SP for a Minmatar Alpha’s skill options as initially released was 4,756,817 SP.  Removing the non-combat (and missile) skills, the Minmatar Alpha winds up at just over 3,000,000 SP, and has EWAR, remote assistance, and tackle skills. As a result, the quickest and easiest way to increase flexibility in combat situations is to train the other three racial Frigate, Destroyer, and Cruiser skills. This brings the Alpha’s skill total to 4,270,000 SP. Training Minmatar and Caldari Battlecruiser skills to 4 (where CCP seems to be capping Alpha ship command skills) and Medium Hybrid Turrets to 4 (to match Medium Projectile Turrets) brings the Alpha to 4,994,219 SP—within the 5,000,000 SP threshold.

There’s also the issue of the tank on these ships. Keep in mind, all of your Armor and Shield Compensation skills (I chose Minmatar for my example because they already get both.) stop at 1, so your tank isn’t going to be amazing, either. There’s the option of going to Faction modules, of course, but while that gets more results in many cases it only produces T2 results for the armor hardeners. Considering the skills being used, it won’t even be as effective as a T2 module.

Getting There

Ok, so how fast can you get to this incredible Alpha Clone who can use two races’ battlecruisers with T1 guns and a T1 tank? The answer’s pretty straightforward. Alphas train 900SP/hr without implants, and you need 5,000,000 SP. So as an Alpha, it’ll take you 5,549.132 hours to get the full skill package (and be 5.7k short of 5M). That’s 231 days, or just short of eight months. If you want to speed that up, you can (at the time of this writing) use PLEX, of course. Omega time doubles skill training speed, so for the trifling price of 6.3B ISK, you only need to wait four months. If you need more speed, of course, there’s Skill Injectors. Why wait for pesky queues? Shoot ISK right into your veins to learn! Using injectors, you’re looking at about 8.3B ISK. Per clone.

So what’s the minimum to get to say, a battleship like the Maelstrom? (Yeah, we all know where we’re going, but let’s take it step by step, shall we?) Well, it turns out that getting rid of all those pesky 4’s in Spaceship Command and Gunnery skills makes it easier. Stripping out the other racial hull types does, too. To get into a Maelstrom, with Large Projectile Turrets 4 (again, where CCP’s been capping the Gunnery skills), takes 3.2M SP. Only 5 months of alpha time! With ISK, it’s 2.5 months of Omega for 4.6B (because you can’t buy .5 months), or instant with injectors for 5.8B ISK.

But let’s not kid ourselves. We know what the people who’ve been freaking out over this have been saying. So what’s the time/cost to get a fresh new Type II Alpha clone into a Machariel?

It ain’t that much more. Remember, the only additional skills you need are Gallente Frigate/Destroyer/Cruiser/Battlecruiser 3, and then you can push Gallente Battleship 4. Total SP needed: 3,682,292 SP. That’s 5.68 months of Omega time, 2 months, 10 days of Omega time (same 4.6B), or 6.5B of Skill Injectors.

So It’s Going To Be Mach-Alpha-els Online, Isn’t It?

Maybe. But I doubt it. There’s an idea out there that the null blocs are going to conjure up huge fleets of Machariels, pilots by Alpha clones. These fleets will be staged all over lowsec, with Alphas replacing jump clones, and Mach fleets replacing dreadnought caches. There are a couple of problems with worry, though. The first one’s the most obvious: Having one cache like this might be viable. Keeping half a dozen, though, would mean almost 40B in skill injectors per player. Or, of course, waiting six months. But then, in six months, will things be the same?

The second reason, though, is more far-reaching, and more important. Machariels aren’t what makes a Machariel fleet work. What makes a Machfleet work are support ships, from logistics—Guardians, Legions, even triage—to long points and webs to hold enemies in place, boosters, and more. If you can’t force the fight, if you can’t soak up the incoming damage and keep fighting, then all those Machariels are useless.  While there are T1 options for all of those roles (well, Alphas can’t boost), those T1 options aren’t as effective, and they aren’t nearly as durable. That means the support ships get blown up, the fleet loses effectiveness, and all your lovely Alpha clones have just become 6-billion-ISK killmails, even if the ships are all T1 fit.

That means all-Alpha clone Machariel fleets aren’t viable. They’re not really viable for any battleship-based doctrine, but it’s especially true for the pirate battleships. And you’re not going to have caches of Omega clones just sitting around idle, waiting to be support. So whatever caches there are, support ships will need to maintain jump clones. That’s great for one or two caches, but it isn’t exactly the ‘caches of Machariel fleets all over forever’. They won’t be bouncing between clones more than once a day that way, either. The support would be better off using interceptors to get around, but even that gets to be a pain in the ass pretty quick, and costs a lot of valuable form-up time.

So What Will Happen?

What’s going to happen is pretty simple: People will keep playing for free. They’ll probably buy injectors to get the skills they want, using ISK from PLEX sales. And they’ll get themselves into battlecruisers and maybe 1 or 2 battleship types. That Machariel pilot, after all, is already more or less ready to get into Maelstroms and (with a little more training for the guns) Megathrons. With more options for skills, Alpha clones are going to be trying out different races and larger ships That means they’re not going to get all of the non-combat skills they want before they run out of training time.

Then there’s the skill selection. We don’t have the new skill list for Alphas yet. We don’t know what else is being added. But we know they’re going to be adding a fair amount. After all, right now, if a Minmatar Alpha trains everything they can, they don’t quite hit 5 million SP. But Alphas are going to be able to inject to four times that amount. Just adding some racial hulls, large weapons, and T2 small/medium weapons isn’t going to make up the 15,000,000 SP difference.

Even more, ‘additional’ SP they train as an Omega that goes into Alpha skills will still work. If Gallente Battleship 1 starts at 20,000,001 SP, and you train it up as an Omega, you won’t lose it as an Alpha. That wouldn’t be necessary if the total Alpha skill list was under 20 million SP. Look for the new Alpha skills to probably expand their mining abilities, research, reactions… everything.

CCP wants them to get a taste. Of everything. Because getting a taste is the surest way to get people wanting another bite. So they let them get that taste and then turn off the SP faucet. After all, CCP’s looking to get themselves a little taste, too. If you want to make the most of your Alpha clone, you’ll need to inject. You’ll probably need a few months of Omega time after that, too.

The CSM minutes said that every development team was going to have to consider issues of monetization. The direction Alphas are going looks like a result of that. Fortunately, it should be a reasonably painless one, that presents players with more options. Hopefully, this is another sign that CCP is learning. They’re offering player options and activities they can choose to do, and not chores they have to.

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  • Pew Pew

    From my perspective I like the changes. Frigate combat is the only thing I’ve even been better than terrible at and that kind of needs t2 guns so I’m glad alphas are getting those.

    As for the alpha cashes thing it would work with some omegas right? Like say in stash A I keep my omega and you have your alpha and then in stash B you have your omega and I have my alpha.

    That way we only have 1 omega each and we have an omega in each stash. I guess if the fleet was 20% omegas then if each person had an omega somewhere you could have 5 stashes.

    October 16, 2017 at 8:14 AM
    • Arrendis Pew Pew

      Sure, if you want to spend money every month training an account to not use it 90% of the time.

      You gonna spend money on that?

      October 16, 2017 at 7:06 PM
      • Pew Pew Arrendis

        Yeah that’s true.

        October 16, 2017 at 9:17 PM
  • theseconddavid

    Most people off the street aren’t going to care about the new limit. The current program is plenty of time to decide to sub or not. The biggest change will be old players who might give the game a try again. I know a lot who didn’t see the alpha limitations as being worth their time.

    October 16, 2017 at 10:20 AM
    • Alaric Faelen theseconddavid

      I agree. There aren’t people out there on the fence about playing Eve ‘if only I could fly battlecruisers and use T2 small weapons’….those people don’t know what any of that even means.
      This is a grab at people already playing as alpha. It’s a short term money grab. Basically a plex bundle- one to get a month of training beyond 5mil SP, and a couple more for skill injectors to hit the 20mil cap before the month is over.
      By itself these alpha changes do nothing for the game. Just a desperate grab for cash that will at best keep CCP running for another six months while they try to come up with the next way to milk a few bucks from trial players while bleeding long term subs due to poor decisions and bad mechanics.

      October 16, 2017 at 2:31 PM
      • Rhivre Alaric Faelen

        its a fair chunk of PLEX to get the isk for the injectors to go from 5m to 20m SP at 400k SP per injector.

        October 17, 2017 at 4:39 AM
  • Alot

    Small side point to consider is what the default costs of running the servers are with and without alpha clones. If you have idle capability which is being wasted without active players, then it is actually worth hosting people for free – up to a certain point.

    I still see this as a manual way to enact handicapped, roaming AI without going to the trouble of having to program any handicapped, roaming AI -.-

    October 16, 2017 at 2:09 PM
    • Arrendis Alot

      It’s even more worth it if the f2p folks provide more incentive for the subscribers to stay active and keep subs going, or to engage in microtransactions (or the f2pers engage in them, themselves). Get enough microtransactions going, and you can offset a lot of costs.

      Of course, CCP should also consider more types of microtransactions, and expanding the selection of the ones they’ve got. Honestly, would it kill them to hire a modeler who can make decent-looking clothing or hair? Or just a goddamned pair of shorts?

      October 17, 2017 at 5:21 AM
      • Alot Arrendis

        I remember an article by a certain duck on the old Mittani website boldly (and accurately) decrying the tyranny of pants in space. Its discouraging to see INN staff not only shying away from this issue but actively requesting more pants.

        October 17, 2017 at 10:00 AM
        • Arrendis Alot

          All I’m saying is: if they’re going to do a microtransaction model, they should put in more interesting offerings, with more variety. If The-SIG-that-does-not-exist and their jacket policy teaches us anything, it’s that people want to look good, even if just in their tiny little user pics.

          October 17, 2017 at 11:34 AM
  • Rolfski

    Going proper f2p is a good direction to get more people entangled into the game. Especially because CCP’s business model was already shifting anyway from oldskool subscriptions towards various services and cosmetics.

    The big question still remains what better options for making ISK alpha’s will get. Because with the current options it doesn’t make that much sense for alpha’s to invest their incredibly hard-earned ISK into skill injectors. They’re simply better off going Omega to increase their ISK making skills.

    October 16, 2017 at 4:09 PM
    • Rhivre Rolfski

      I would think most brand new players won’t spend 32b on injectors, they will more likely plex for the time it takes them to train up the skills.

      October 17, 2017 at 4:37 AM
      • Rolfski Rhivre

        Which is why they should expand ISK making options for alpha’s, 17 market orders is simply not going to cut it to save up for skill injectors and so is a Venture.

        October 18, 2017 at 1:01 AM
  • Lekly

    I think this will enable alpha clones to take part in battles in null sec without being forced into support roles, BCs are a great mainline ship. They are durable enough for full fleet battles in a way cruisers aren’t, and they are still relatively cheap with good insurance.

    I’m a little hesitant about the BS skills though, they are used in the really big battles that tend to become bogged down by intense TiDi. That is not something that I feel will encourage players to sub. Also, by increasing the number of players in a giant battle, it’ll make the TiDi even worse.

    The changes in the SP restrictions create an interesting opportunity. I think they will help sales, even if only by small margins. It also creates the need to be more strategic about what you train. For the alpha clones that are already maxed out though, it would be nice to be able to extract/dump some of the SP in unused skills so they don’t have to make an entirely new clone.

    October 16, 2017 at 4:23 PM
  • Lekly

    The fact that you can’t multibox alphas really means that players can’t abuse the system. They can’t use an army of alphas as scouts/cynos/entosis/etc. This is designed to ensure that alphas are either more casual players or people trying it out. This isn’t a change to alphas so it’s already been covered in depth in the past.

    October 16, 2017 at 6:51 PM
    • I don’t think he’s talking about being unable to run an alpha-clone alt army simultaneously. I think he’s referring to the fact that you can’t log in ~*paid*~ accounts alongside an alpha. This means that alphas (even just one) can’t effectively be used as alts by nullsec players who are reliant on multiboxing.

      It’s also the reason I’ve never bothered trying to play EVE without a sub. Working with a single account is just painful– there’s so little you can do effectively with a single character.

      October 17, 2017 at 3:39 PM
  • Eli

    This does give me an incentive to train an alpha clone for defence fleets back in Delve. Stick them into a tech1 ship and just have it there for home defence when on deployment.

    October 17, 2017 at 5:49 AM
  • The real question is: will anyone care about getting access to BC / BS? People use those ever? I can count the number of times in the last few months that I’ve seen ships bigger than a cruiser roaming around doing things in Delve on one hand…

    October 17, 2017 at 3:44 PM
  • Arrendis

    Sure. And they’re not training on those characters without paying just as much as they would to have a separate Omega account that they could multibox with.

    I don’t know about you, but I haven’t run out of skills to train on my main on each account.

    October 17, 2017 at 5:29 PM
  • Freelancer117

    CCP games can always change skill requirements on ships and stuff to consider issues of moetization.

    October 18, 2017 at 7:27 AM
    • Freelancer117 Freelancer117

      I believe in that past years many casuals unsubbed due to the increased plex prices in game, and the grind got ridiculous especially for multiple alts.
      When ccp made ~5 m f2p alpha’s the returning players saw the clones were so gimped there was no incentive to stick around in a t1 racial cruiser / t1 stuff.

      With this new 20.5 m sp alpha feature ccp throws in the towel they fooked up with keeping plex prices reasonable, after dr Ejyo left they actually thought they could curbe rising plex prices by spawning new plex out of thin air in the agency events.

      With the coming changes to alpha, and artificially increasing demand for plex (omega training time ) and skill injectors to raise +15 m sp per clone, in game plex prices will get…. Messy.

      Regards, a Freelancer

      ps: so far 161.185 plex was spawned out of thin air since the new agency live events started.

      October 18, 2017 at 8:28 AM