While getting a reaction might not be the goal of every new devblog, CCP Rise certainly has lived up to his name with his most recent devblog causing players from all walks of the universe to speak up for or against these proposed changes. Though most well known for his help alongside CCP Fozzie balancing spaceships in the tiericide movement, CCP Rise has ventured outside that realm to speak on behalf of Team Size Matters to take on the Character Bazaar, and more specifically, skill points. After an extensive review of the current systems of training and character trading, players are getting another way of skilling pilots. In exchange for real-world currency. This has certainly stirred the pot, with many players screaming that Eve has gone full pay to win.
Of course, ‘pay to win’ is a poorly-defined phrase that gets thrown around liberally in internet gaming communities. Strictly speaking, pay to win means exactly that: beneficial items or abilities which give unfair advantage are exclusively available to those willing to pay real money for them. In that respect, with PLEX and AUR available for ISK, to say anything in Eve is pay to win is a definite misnomer. And as we have all seen, all the ISK in the world can’t save you from being bad. But that doesn’t answer the bigger, and more applicable question: is this really any different from what we already have?
WHAT WAS, WHAT IS, WHAT’S TO COME
To gain some perspective, let us take a step or three back. It has been said many times Eve is not as much a game as it is a waiting simulator. You pay CCP $15 a month so you can see a skill point number progressively increase whether you log in or not. Players wanting to fly a ship must first put in the time to sit in the ship, let alone fly it well. While this is far from a comprehensive argument as to why players choose to subscribe to Eve Online, there is something to be said about a system that rewards being an early adopter as much as Eve does. Fittingly, CCP has long offered the character transfer service through the Character Bazaar for players rich enough, and impatient enough, to purchase skilled characters for ISK.
This character trading has been a very important part of Eve for some time now, with thousands of characters being traded every year, if not every month. There are players training characters purely for profit, while others look to trade for the newest craze, and some with more ISK than patience enough to wait for that perfect titan pilot. While the Character Bazaar has filled the needs of many, that isn’t to say there haven’t been downsides.
The purchasing player is buying skill points, yes, but not always exactly as they wanted. Skiff pilots don’t benefit much from Gallente Cruiser V, but often end up paying more for a pilot as a result. Worse still, much like the used Ford Fiesta you bought with the unique chartreuse paint job, you inherit the character’s past. As CCP Rise explains in the blog, this could be as simple as not liking the name to as damning as the corp-thieving history that the name is associated with. The latter is normally dispelled with a link to the sale thread in the Bazaar, but the former can ruin the narrative many pilots try to weave. This may sound trite or only impacting role-players, but being the top damage on the next Revenant kill seems less impactful when your character is GallenteCitizen101020159989 instead of, say, your long time handle DolphinSexMachine.
PERCEIVED PROBLEM, PROPOSED RESOLUTION
Seeing these downsides, CCP decided to try to tackle the problem in the most CCP way possible: adding even more items in the open market by implementing another use for PLEX. Technically, players will purchase these new items with Aurum bought with PLEX, which can then be sold like clothing on the standard market for ISK. This is incredibly important to note, because this means players do not have to spend any more than they are already spending on the game to remain competitive.
The exact mechanics are still being fine-tuned, but the general concept is thus: players will purchase a Transneural Skill Extractor on the Aurum market. They can either sell this immediately for ISK, or if they are above five million skill points, use the Extractor. The Extractor, when used, will remove 500,000 skill points from the skills of the player’s choosing. These 500,000 skill points will become a Transneural Skill Packet, another item that can be sold on the market. Once acquired, the Skill Packet can be applied to a character as unallocated skill points. However the number of bestowed skill points will vary based on the SP of the character, with a heavy bias towards less skilled characters. While CCP Rise only mentions that this is to help maintain a “prestige” around high skill points, this also serves to accelerate training for newer players or alts as well. For a game that struggles with new player retention, a change that allows new players to bypass a lot of the boredom older players had to wade through can only be a good thing.
This new mechanic stands in stark contrast to many other microtransactions in games like Wargaming.net’s “World of” series where they have real-world-currency-only ships. This is not an Aurum-only option. Instead, offering these items up on the market makes this far more like a refined version of the Character Bazaar, allowing players to trade away skills they no longer use for ones they view as more valuable. At the same time, including diminishing returns encourages some amount of restraint and forethought without punishing players trying to get ahead. This will be a very delicate balance CCP will have to strike, but one that could reward everyone.
SO WHAT’S ALL THE FUSS?
To say the post from CCP Rise and Team Size Matters has gotten a response would be an understatement. There has been enough chatter on the /r/EVE subreddit that threads have been started telling people not to start more threads. Overall, the response has been mixed, but clear trends are emerging. Without getting into specific posts, what becomes clear in short order is that the initial, knee-jerk negative reactions are largely just that: knee-jerk reactions. People are resistant to change, especially abrupt, unexpected change. People also have a distinct tendency to complain the most about the things that, while annoying, are often largely trivial in comparison to the bigger picture. Larger problems, problems that present more concrete obstacles, are usually met with action, rather than uproar.
So what are so many knees jerking about? Again, the biggest factor is likely a resistence to change. For many bittervets, if they had to suffer through something, well, everyone should suffer. It was good enough for them, right? After all, we’re all familiar with the old Learning Curves in MMOs image. For many, to have endured and waded through the oceans of blood, sweat, and tears of frustration that marked the earlier stages of EVE Online is a badge of honor.
For newer players, though, to hear about the often arduous and let’s face it, comparitively ridiculous things a lot of the older players endured is analagous to hearing from your grandfather about walking to school in the snow, uphill, both ways. It’s a testament to EVE’s longevity, yes, but longevity in software comes with one of two things: revision, where the software is constantly being updated and tailored to the new and emerging needs of the environment… or obsolescence.
THE SAVAGE DIGITAL GARDEN
As one of the last survivors of the original, explosive period of MMO development in the first decade of the 21st Century, EVE Online sits in an interesting place. Like all of the games that debuted in the those same years, EVE is built on the subscription model. Most of those games, however, are dead. Almost all of the rest, as well as the majority of younger MMOs, have moved to a free-to-play, microtransaction model. Even the undisputed King of the Hill, Blizzard Entertainment’s World of Warcraft, uses the free-to-play model for early levels in order to get players hooked. In a software landscape of ‘adapt or die’, CCP has been far more adaptive than the ever-present cries of ‘EVE is dying’ give them credit for. PLEX, a means by which not only can players pay for game time with in-game cash, but simultaneously an easy and straightforward measure that lets CCP cut the legs out from under the vast majority of ‘gold farmers’, was one of the earliest steps in this direction by a major MMO.
It’s hard not to see this change as simply continuing and iterating on those adaptive, responsive moves. Increasingly, EVE’s difficulties come from new player retention. In a world where an ever-increasing percentage of games are played in short bursts on a smartphone, the skill model of EVE Online looks more and more outdated. Early on, when the subscription MMO was king, the idea of being able to have your character’s skills advance without actually have to play through a grind to ‘level up’ was innovative, even a relief. But the days of the long grind are farther and farther behind us, and EVE has repeatedly recognized that. The removal of learning skills – skills trained in order to increase the speed at which skills train – was one step in that direction. The increase in the number of starting skill points, another. This is simply another step in that process, and one by which, CCP is allowing older, more established players the chance to not only help newbies when not online, but to profit by doing it.
Obviously, CCP stands to gain as well with even more PLEX sales as they expand the usefulness of PLEX. Accordingly, the increased usefulness will almost certainly lead to an increased consumption. This will lead to greater demand, and either a greater supply upfront, or after the PLEX price reaches equilibrium. Certainly, players with large wallets can gain some advantage with this more easily than before, but this is honestly not new. So long as there are character transfers and PLEX, there will be sanctioned ways to exchange real world currency for some advantage. But if some of the dozensof ALODs we have run over the years were any indication, the advantages provided by funds in Eve are not insurmountable. They are also proof that you cannot buy a fix for stupid, but I digress.
Much like multi-character training, making the game more convenient and engaging to the player base can only be a good thing. This means that the entire player base stands to gain hugely from this. The Character Bazaar will be remain available to the players who wish to start anew or pick up a complete character instead of piecing it together with Transneural Skill Packets. Meanwhile, players who have developed a rapport with their character can get a boost into their next ship for a fraction of the cost of a whole character. Combined with a potential for increased retention and enhanced new player experience, this feature may radically change Eve for the better.