The First Haunting
Last year at EVE Fanfest, CCP introduced the new producer for the New Player Experience: CCP Ghost. As some readers of my material here and listeners of The Mind Clash Podcast might have gleaned by now, I am not a fan of Ghost and I don’t necessarily think he is as amazing as some members of the community believe him to be. That’s not what this article is about, as much as I would like it to be. This is, however, a question of how Ghost and his team, Team Genesis, have come thus far in their quest to improve the NPE and where it is going.
The best way to sell an idea is to plant it in the minds of those you wish to entice and be about as vague as possible. Doing this allows the people to make of the idea what they want, mold it how they choose, and inevitably not feel let down by empty promises and undelivered products. Every presentation delivered to the EVE players from that point regarding what the NPE is and will be has been just that. Very vague and nothing specific enough for us to evaluate later as to whether or not it has achieved its target. While some user input has been collected on the potency and success of the first few iterations of the new tutorial, it’s hard to say (from the player’s perspective) whether or not it has actually created an environment rich with new players. New Player is the key part of the equation of NPE after all.
Spirit of the Project
From the very start of it, all we knew was that CCP Ghost and his team were going to seek out a revamp of the tutorial, something that most veteran players would agree that was clearly lacking from the moment the server came online. This was what had turned me away from the game every time I tried to give it a go after creating my account in 2006; the lack of a decent tutorial system to teach me how to play what is considered to be the most complex video game on the market. When the numbers come out and show that players who try the game first time and quit do so in the first two hours of the game, then Jita 4-4… we have a problem.
So more than 10 years after launch, CCP decided that they needed to do something about the horrible retention rates and gave us Inception. The Inception release gave players access to the NPE which featured an all new introductory storyline, pitting the new capsuleer against a Drifter Hive. Each step of the tutorial gets a player ready to enjoy the game: from navigating and targeting to orbiting and repping. It took a few iterations and feedback to get some of the bugs and kinks worked out, but finally, there was a working tutorial that saw more completion rates and gave a better understanding of basic game mechanics.
There’s still a problem here. After the completion of the tutorials where you in your corvette (rookie ship) single-handedly attempt to take on the Drifters, whom we know as one of the fiercest foes in all of New Eden, everything is business as usual. Seek out an agent, accept the mission, the complete mission for some ISK, rinse and repeat until you are blue in the face. Nothing else has changed with the game after the tutorial and that exciting intro mission is all but irrelevant as nothing else in the game connects with it. All those new players that finally made it past the magic two-hour window, are not sticking around very much longer than two weeks after they realize that they still don’t know how to progress.
Did the NPE actually help improve player retention? Maybe it did, but it’s hard to say considering that the integration of Alphas potentially brought thousands of older players back into the game just to see what was going on. Personally, I’m not convinced that the masses of Alpha clones aren’t actually returning players. They already know how to play, but couldn’t or wouldn’t continue paying a subscription fee. I myself have three separate Alpha only accounts created after Ascension, so it is hardly unreasonable to think that others are doing the same.
Mission One Complete
You could say that I am not a fan of Inception or the way CCP as a company handled Alphas with the Ascension release. I was so unimpressed that I attempted to create a Discord Server and start an initiative to help new players navigate through their first steps in New Eden. Unfortunately my plan never really took too far off the ground. I found it more difficult to give new players free and unbiased assistance than it was to convince them that I could double their ISK. Because of the culture we created in EVE Online—one that CCP and the community warn the influx of new players about—it is hard to make them believe you aren’t trying to scam them. Sad but true.
Based on what was explained to us at both Fanfest and Vegas 2016, the Drifters were supposed to play a vital part as the “Enemy” in the NPE. Yet all they are is a blip on the radar to the new player. Past the tutorial, the casual players will likely never see anything again like they saw in those first few hours of the game. While I wish I could say what is coming next is going to change how the new player becomes magically more involved with the game and the New Player “Environment”, there was nothing presented at Fanfest 2017 that indicated something was heading our way any time soon.
The two major takeaways from Iceland over Fanfest weekend regarding the NPE was that Team Genesis wanted more feedback from the player base and that Total Net Worth is somehow supposed to motivate a player to continue playing the game. This is actually business speak for “We don’t know what to do next, so maybe you could tell us”. From the perspective of the players who want to see this game continue to grow for many more years to come, CCP didn’t give us much to go off for the next phase of the project or really shown what the “Operations Center” may or may not be.
The Second Genesis
There may not be many people who actually know what the next phase is, especially amongst the player population. We can tinfoil all day long about what we think may be coming next, which we do quite a bit anyway, but at the end of the day, it is up to Team Genesis. What we do know is that New Eden has already experienced CCP’s more advanced NPC Artificial Intelligence when they introduced Drifters. Unfortunately, that AI turned out to be a bit too radical and overpowered, and subsequently removed from the game as a major feature. Just a few months ago, the NPC Mining Fleets showed a toned down version that roams through your space.
Next month we’ll be seeing the latest incarnation of that AI when the Blood Raider Shipyards come online to lure in fleets that hope to snag up some new Capital blueprints as loot. This is where CCP and Team Genesis has the real potential to shake things up in the NPE. For the past 13 years, players min/maxed agent missions down to a science, to the point where they do missions just to get ISK, Loyalty Points (LP), or to regain status with a Faction. They have been stale and stagnant, with the only breath of fresh air coming from the recent attempts of “holiday events” like the Crimson Harvest and Shadow of the Serpent.
Imagine the possibilities of a new wave of NPC’s with such emergent behavior that your interaction with them has the potential of shaping the entire cluster. Not just one where your choice of ship and fit would change how the site spawns enemy combatants but will have an effect on how all sites from that faction behave when you warp in. If you have been farming Angel Extravaganza over and over again for the past few weeks, it should stand to reason that the next time you warp in there or into another Angel site, they meet you with a dreadnaught or carrier. Even crazier still is the idea of the Drifters. Certainly, every player was on pins and needles waiting to see this new foe would change the game, yet we have found them for the most part left as a placeholder in a lost chapter of The Empires of New Eden. It’s time that we see a change in EVE Online.
Capsuleers, we deserve better than this. Yes, this is a sandbox game and the narrative is driven by those who play it. Eventually, though, all the kids in the playground are going to grow up and move on. As with any organization, whether it be a physical process or virtual community, growth and integration of new people is the only way it will continue to prosper. At some point, players are going to need more of a reason to log in besides chatting with their friends on comms while mining and playing another game on a second screen, all while hoping that something is going to happen.
If EVE Online is to continue past 2020, then we need new players. The only way to retain new players is for CCP to do the following:
- Better marketing of the game in general.
- A more robust and in-depth tutorial system that brings interactivity to all playstyles, not just focusing on PvP.
- An integrated mentorship program that relies on volunteers to guide new players through their first steps through the game.
- A training simulator to allow players to experience fleet combat without risk of loss.
- Do something more with the Drifters. Or, just let them fade into a forgotten memory.