Eve PvE’s Optimization Problem


Note: As an editorial piece this article reflects the opinions of the author and not TMC as a whole.

Eve player versus environment (PvE) gameplay is, to put it mildly, substantially worse than PvE in other massively multiplayer online games (MMOs). This puts Eve in the position, unique among its peers, of relying almost entirely on its players to make the game enjoyable. While the players have always managed to do so, a huge chunk of the game is still best described as a grind required to get to the fun part.

The grinding nature of of Eve PvE is because the available content is limited enough to be optimized. In this context “optimizing” a PvE site means working out the most efficient possible way to run it in order to maximize profit and minimize risk. An optimized PvE activity has no risks left except those from other players. Every possible threat is accounted for, every possible tricks to maximize profit is used. Optimized content is inherently boring since it lacks any ability to surprise; it is repetition in the most basic sense of the term. It also discourages social play since having more players along can only split the payout available from any site that could be run solo.

There are only two ways a player can “improve” an optimized PvE experience. The first is to increase the efficiency of their PvE so they can spend less time on it and more time on the parts of the game they like. The second is to reduce the level of engagement required as much as possible to mitigate boredom. This second method is why anomalies, a scripted parade of pirate battleships for nullsec players to shoot, are so popular. A properly fit Ishtar can run most of them with almost no human intervention; the Isk per hour may not be great but it can be earned while folding laundry, watching a movie, or writing an article for The Mittani Dot Com.

The vulnerability of Eve PvE to optimization is largely a result of ancient code rather than a lack of developer imagination. Until very recently the tools to create new PvE content were incredibly awkward and labor intensive. Restricted by the number of available developer hours, new content was infrequently released and limited in scope when it did arrive. Since new content was simple, players quickly mastered every facet of it even if it was designed to be challenging. Content that was clearly designed to require cooperation and teamwork became just another repetitive Isk faucet run by professionals in highly specialized equipment, acting out the same script over and over.

This is not how MMOs have to be. World of Warcraft (WoW) is hugely successful based purely on its PvE content. PvP was at best a small part of the game, largely restricted to undead rogues in the Deeprun Tram, for years before PvP battlegrounds were introduced to support it formally. Even with the ability to PvP every minute they are logged in, most players still do a lot of PvE in the form of raids and instances. They do this simply because raids are fun; PvE in WoW is challenging, requires teamwork, and offers clear rewards for groups that succeed.

If the good parts of WoW PvE showcase what makes PvE fun, they would seem to offer a template for improving Eve. Unfortunately the WoW model cannot be directly exported. WoW relies on the developers creating dungeons with arbitrarily harder enemies in order to keep the game fresh. This only works because the capabilities of WoW players are clearly limited by design, with level caps and the best possible equipment being know quantities. Eve has no equivalent limits and player abilities are far less linear. CCP cannot create “level 93 space bosses” and expect them to challenge players capped at level 85 for any length of time. The players would simply specialize, organize, learn, and overpower the content unless an enormous number of arbitrary restrictions shipped with it.

However, the above does not mean that a model for new Eve PvE content which includes the best aspects of WoW is impossible. The solution is to create content that resist optimizations because, inside certain limits, it cannot be predicted. Procedural generation has been around in the world of video games for a very long time. It is the creation of random or semi random content on the fly using software.

CCP should implement a new type of PvE site, modeled on existing Exploration or Anomaly sites, with the threats and rewards randomly generated according to a Normal distribution. These sites should require more ships than can be comfortably multi-boxed by most players. Damage types and ranges should be random, or at least variable. The point when it becomes clear that a danger spawn is taking place should occur after the group is committed to the site.

If the normal distribution model were followed exactly then approximately 68% of sites would be normal, 27% would be hard, 4% would be some kind of extreme difficulty, and .02% would be a wall of hilarious doom. Even inside those parameters each spawn should be somewhat random. For example a danger wave might include scramming frigates, or long range jamming cruisers, or neutralizer towers, or some mix of all of the above, but it would be different for each separate run of the site. Rewards would, to accommodate the risks and requirement for teamwork, have to be higher than current anomaly payouts.

The greater the numbers brought to a site, the greater the ability of the group to deal with a harder than average spawn. On the other hand more people would claim a share of the reward for an average run. The intent is for players to be forced to decide how much risk they were willing to bear instead of just undocking a specific fit guarenteed to work. At the same time a group that worked well together would have an advantage dealing with bad iterations, providing an incentive for cooperative gameplay. By creating PvE that rewards teamwork, social skills, and tactical flexibility rather than solutions from a Wikipedia page CCP would create a new environment for players looking for a more challenging PvE experience. That could only be good for the game as a whole.

This article originally appeared on TheMittani.com, written by FearlessLittleToaster.

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  • Alonso Quijano

    Completely agree. This is probably the most important factor preventing Eve from reaching to a wider audience.

    April 1, 2017 at 11:47 AM