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?
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.
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.