CCP’s announcement of its Expert Systems pay-to-play option has already been met with strong opposition over adding another payment option, especially one targeted specifically at new players. EVE media is awash with complaints at this latest move, in particular the effort to capitalize on a new player’s lack of knowledge of game mechanics.
With 1.3 million players starting the game during 2020, CCP is aiming to give them a taste of what EVE can offer. But temporarily giving them a fairly limited set of skills in exchange for real world money is not the best way. The skill plans revolve around racial bonuses to pilot T1 exploration frigates with scanning skills, a Mining Barge option, a “grand prix” interceptor option giving them access to all racial ‘ceptors, and the Magic 14 Alpha skills.
The latter is a real blow to some former CSM members, with Dunk Dinkle stating, “[I] spent a lot of my time on the CSM trying to get CCP to make the Magic 14 less of a hurdle and possibly a reward for completing tutorials to allow players to do more, faster. To see it become an EVE Store purchase is disheartening.”
If Not Expert Systems, Then What?
What does the New Player Experience (NPE) require for EVE in 2021? The game must be one of, if not the most daunting games to learn. The depth of knowledge required to reach a stage of even basic understanding requires weeks, months in some cases. This is where most games lose their player base – if it’s too complex they simply stop playing. The tutorial is brief and works fine to understand the simple mechanics and then it’s on to the Career Agent Missions.
Give them a guide
The role of an in-game advisor is not uncommon – a constant partner to steer new players through the galaxy. Career Agents were supposed to fill this role, but although they have been improved there is not enough education, missions are short, unprofitable and in some cases throwaway. The game needs to be teaching players as they progress through their EVE life, not showing them shortcuts and pointing them to EVE University to learn more.
Give them rewards
Why not give new players something to focus on? Complete the Industry Career missions and you receive Industry IV. Complete the combat ones and the game rewards you with your racial preferred turret skill. Mix these with small ships and modules and we will see new players come out of the career agent missions with better skills and, if educated properly, understanding what they mean.
Give them a goal
When the starter missions are complete, we move on to the next step in learning. The Sisters of Eve Epic Arc. This series of 52 missions is a grind. Many of the missions are very basic and whilst they reinforce the muscle memory established within the Career Agents they don’t build on the experience. This first epic arc needs to be a tour of the galaxy. Guided by an in-game advisor to let new players experience all that EVE has to offer. Take them to Jita and tell them why this is a trade hub, then instruct them to buy something cheap and bring it to Rens. Whilst you are there, introduce them to the Minmitar struggles against the Amarrian Empire. But as we take these new players on a journey, the game must tell them why they need this skill, or this module, or this damage type. Every step must be an education, not only in lore but also game mechanics.
Give them a taste
The new Expert Systems has merit in its intent, but not its application. It should not be a pay-to-fly-a-heron system. Instead, using the mechanics of the SOE Epic Arc or even a follow-up racial epic arc give the new player a mission where they must pilot a battleship. Temporarily give them the skills, give them a fully fitted ship that is designed so it cannot be sold or stripped and only allow that specific player in that loaned ship to enter that mission.
The player gets to fly an enormous battleship early on in their career and gets a taste for what they could be flying. It would be simple to create a mission that actually tests new players skills, calling them to move to different ranges, using different ammo, give them a small fleet of NPCs to logi, give them immersion. Once this mission is complete, they return to the station, receive appropriate rewards, and the skills and ship are returned. Post mission they can access information on what skills are required to fly a T1 Battleship and how to reach Level 4 Missions.
Give them choice
Our new player has now completed the Career Agents missions, they have done the SOE Epic Arc and flown the galaxy. They have bookmarks for all the Trade Hubs, they know why the Caldari and Gallente are at war. This is the time to select your race and culture. Enjoyed the struggle of the Minmitar peoples against Amarr? Sign up. Fell in love with the Tristan, then join the Gallente!
They have made an educated choice rather than a random one during character creation – then reward this progress by giving them access to an equally rewarding Empire Epic Arc. This is also the time to offer them character re-sculpting, with a reminder that they will not be allowed to change further into the game.
Give them safety
New player areas are also essential to the growth of a player base, and many people in other games meet their first in-game companions in those areas. Those areas are also rightfully protected. New Eden is a brutal environment, but if CCP wants to maintain its player base it can’t have them encounter a CODE Catalyst the first time they try to mine in a Procurer.
The new player systems should be moved and redesigned as a separate part of space. This should include a PvP area where they are encouraged to fight each other in bespoke Faction Warfare style pockets, and also given an introduction to wormholes and their mechanics. Once new players have completed their starting experience and/or reach a certain number of skill points, they leave and can get a free contract to move their items.
Give to receive
You will notice the continual theme of giving throughout these suggestions. Imposing a pay wall on new players to try a different profession will only cause them to leave. How many times have we all tried a new mobile game only to realise it’s a Pay-To-Win game and quit? We must get our new players invested, and if cashflow is a consideration for CCP then surely an established player who subscribes and occasionally buys PLEX is better than a lost opportunity when a newbie doesn’t return to the game.