How The Minerals We Mine Became Free

Caleb Ayrania 2019-09-11

Art by Redline XIII

One of the oldest memes in EVE (after the currently popular #EVEisDying) was ‘the minerals I mine are free’. With this opening, I have triggered about 10% or more of the EVE player base, and 100% of the economically literate. The problem is that a major part of EVE still behaves as if they actually believe this, and/or they tend to lobby for it to be true. Recently, Alizabeth wrote a small article about the PvP of EVE and started arguing points that are fundamentally tied to this topic.

Before getting into the details I believe it is important to explain what makes EVE a simulator and not either PvE or a PvP based game. As Ali pointed out, in a PvP-centric game you can self sufficiently support your gaming habit solely by doing PvP. This is facilitated by things like loot and experience points, and rewards, in general, being balanced to your gaming interest. The same is fundamentally true in PvE oriented games, where your goal is usually some variant of affecting personal or environment growth of some kind. So fundamentally you have artificial NPCs supporting your individual game play preference. In EVE this is not the case, or at least the original premise of the game was not. EVE launched with a modicum of NPC training wheels, but ideologically the intention was to build an actual ecosystem sandbox.

What is a sandbox?

Most will have opinions and knowledge regarding this question, but I will add a bit of a definition anyways. In a sandbox, you are granted full, or near full, freedom of range regarding the game play of your preference. What makes the sandbox a simulator is when it attempts to reflect known rules from real life. In the case of EVE it’s intended to simulate war and conquest by adding the most important factors – the economic and ecological systems – into the sandbox. What this means is that everyone in the game has an impact on each other directly through PvP collaboration and indirectly by the circle of life. The circle of life may sound Disneyesque, but basically it means that almost all tools in the game are created by players for themselves or other players. There are hardly any items in EVE that have not been created directly by player interaction with the environment. In most other games the sourcing of items is just simpler than in EVE, there is less focus on interdependence, trade and player-to-player industry. Some might call that unwanted lag and tedium, or even forced “grouping”, and over the last eight-plus years, that sentiment has seemed to be shared a bit by CCP. Currently the players and even the devs talk about the sandbox having been changed into cement.

Many theories exist on what went wrong, and the easiest ones are related to the most recent changes. My argument, and reply to Alizabeth and others, is that it’s a much longer development we are seeing the results of. What Blackout, Taxes, Cynos and CHAOS have caused is the straw that broke the camel’s back. We have been carrying the multitude of minor mistakes since the era of Summer of Rage. In simple terms what happened minus all the details (go read up on the history elsewhere) was that the remaining player base were the ones already rather settled into the game. Most of the players that were staying for the big vision and the many promises packed up and left. I personally suspect a lot of these came back a few times to see if things had changed, as many “rage-break” players of EVE seem to do, and never found enough reasons to stay. We never got back to the growth era from before the Summer of Rage.

What we did get after the Summer of Rage was a lot of discussions on what needed “fixing”. This was highly focused on what is often called FUN. Making the space ship game more fun. The problem with that was that the people and devs defining this fun were in many ways biased towards their own specific interests. The title of this article is strongly related to this problem. If you are playing EVE for a specific role, your interdependencies on other people and other types of “work” is tedium. It’s frustrating that you have to fly to a wreck and salvage it, it’s frustrating that you have to spread your resource-gathering for your alliance over several systems, and it’s annoying that you have to either click-fest through an endless industry UI or outsource and trade with secondary suppliers. All these feelings and arguments are valid from an individual point of view. Just like it was tedious for wolves to hunt as packs with low success rates per hunt 14,000 years ago, it was a lot easier to just sneak up to a human campfire and wait for the scraps. The devs slowly started us down a “Quality of Life Creep” road that had so many consequences that it was difficult to see them along the way, but which have compounded into the current era of what I will call eco-system collapse. 

Feralized Bees

I want to mention a set of specific details that many are currently, directly and indirectly, discussing a lot. The anomalies and Rorquals. Way back in the aforementioned era the discussion was about self-sufficiency. There had been a lot of the proverbial tedium to upkeep running null organisations. So the CSM asked for some QoL changes and a way to occupy less space. This led to the introduction of anomalies, which theoretically increased system yields of minerals by a factor of 5-10. By itself, this might not have been a major problem, and on the vision of farms and fields you could say the design made sense. The problem is that we got to stage one of what I call unassailable vertical farms. In bee lingo, these would become known as “goon holes”. It was when we got the changes to the Rorqual in its “final form” over-poweredness that things started being a problem. Now you had a capital ship that was easy to defend and that could work the equivalent of five-plus Hulks. That was the combine harvester needed to introduce in the vertical farms. Again initially this was not a problem, but when we added skillpoint farming and the ability to inject characters directly into these ships you got infinitely scalable resource gathering. This perfect storm in three stages is the best example of what over these past eight years has gone wrong with CCP design. They forget to see the long perspective and how players will use, not abuse, their design. Blaming the player base for optimizing their play style to the design is utter stupidity. That is their job.

There are many other details over the period mentioned which I don’t want to get into in this article because there are simply too many to cover. To mention one more seemingly small one I will ask people to consider how fleet mining groups used to work back in the old days. You would have a lot of Excavators, Covetors, Hulks etc in the field drilling the roids and mostly jet-canning directly into space. These would be collected by a small fleet of industrial ships that would haul them back to a station. The practice was that when you got new players into a group you would ask them to take on this “intern role” to get started and familiarized with the rest of the group. Social integration and something meaningful to do while learning the ropes. When CCP decided to change the way freighters worked so they could pick up cargo directly from space these jobs and this kind of bottleneck and tedium were completely destroyed. The job of five-plus people would now just be done by one freighter. By reducing the complexity and tedium you ended up losing specialization and roles in the steps of the circle of life.

The premise of EVE is not a PvP game, it is an ecosystem and economic simulator. This was what the original designers set out to build, and many game developers have had dreams of this type crushed and crashed over the years. What began with things like Frontier Elite and Ultima online inspired the crazy Icelanders to make EVE Online. Up to the Summer of Rage, even with all its flaws and bugs, this premise fundamentally worked. It was not pretty or perfect in all its ways, but CCP had found the magic sauce that made a sandbox ecosystem come alive. Yes, it was in many ways a Frankenstein’s monster, but the thing was alive. What I have tried to show is that in trying to fix things or put makeup on this pig, the devs, with the player’s helpful suggestions, have ended up cutting out all the stitches and putting a clown face on the monster. 

In conclusion, many will read this and maybe not agree and claim that none of this is “their game”, but to paraphrase the Goon motto; this article was not about Your Game, it was about The Game. What individuals play in EVE online is, or was supposed to be, as varied as interests, hobbies and jobs in real life. If we want that premise back we need CCP to go back and remember what they made in the first place and what made players love the game. 

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Comments

  • Rammel Kas

    What would happen if they flattened the build system a little?

    September 11, 2019 at 7:37 am
    • Caleb Ayrania Rammel Kas

      Industry needs to go back to something more of what it was in the past. Items needs to be build from materials that have primary, secondary and tertiary sources. So the primary is easy to source locally, the second a bit harder and the third needs to be “forced” imports. Thus the Blueprints need the same assymetry that should be in space. The industry slots need to be either hard limited again or properly increase the cost of fueling on the structure, with rigs and adms to counter this “debuf”. Last I would say ideally just remove ALL industry slots from NPC stations, or make them properly ISK expensive to use, and that price needs to rise fast on high usage. A last thing is that all npc prices for services needs to be like that and in many cases they need to have a 2 priced system like real world “brokerage” a flat initial cost that goes up with supply/demand and a percentage based price that goes down. Example installing a job starts at 500 ISK and a 2% of buildcost fee, with a lot of use, so say Jita, that ends up in the range of 1 million flat fee and 0.05% of buildcost. Same with market orders etc.

      September 11, 2019 at 8:02 am
      • Axhind Caleb Ayrania

        Yea. Because the main thing eve needs is even more tedium.

        September 11, 2019 at 11:36 am
        • Caleb Ayrania Axhind

          One mans tedium is another mans specialization. CCP just started to listen to the generalist and minmaxers at the cost of the specialist and outsourcing requirements.

          September 11, 2019 at 2:12 pm
        • You say that, but every time CCP make shit easier, the game gets dumber. I’d wipe all my accounts clean in an instant to reset to ~2007 era mechanics where things were tedious and difficult. It was a much more interesting time to be alive in EVE.

          September 12, 2019 at 7:44 am
  • Guilford Australis

    I think that everyone’s expectations – regardless of their playstyle – have become unreasonable, and that has created a ton of disappointment and conflict within the player community as well as conflict between players and developers. PvE-focused players came to expect easy resources and ISK due to the Rorqual, anomaly spawns, generous fighter application to subcap rats, and so on. Nullsec alliances began to expect that they could create safety within their own territory while also projecting force as needed due to capital and supercapital dominance. Small-gang types and hunters came to expect easy, low-risk, high-value kills every time they undock due to the proliferation of ratting and mining in nullsec. CCP’s response, naturally, has been to nerf every playstyle in the ‘Chaos Era.’

    I certainly agree that the imbalances described in the article accelerated the decline of EVE. I just think it’s too late to go back to the way things were (more on this below). CCP simply can’t introduce game-breaking features into EVE, leave them for players to abuse for years, then nerf them out of existence and expect that the impact they’ve already had won’t persist. There is also the reality that MMOs and gaming in general have changed in ways that make tedium and minimal payoff for massive effort very unattractive to most players. I don’t think taking EVE back to the halcyon days of 2012-2013 would be as appealing now as it was at the time even if it would improve the game.

    The ‘Chaos Era’ will not fix any of this for reasons that should be obvious to CCP (but aren’t). Players have invested their time, money, and enjoyment in the playstyles CCP unbalanced over the years. They’re not going to look at their now-obsolete Rorquals and Rorqual alts (which they probably spent hundreds of actual dollars each skill-injecting) and think, “Well, it’s actually best for the economy of EVE for this stuff to be useless, so I’m okay with it.” Nor will the carrier/supercarrier ratters think, “You know, now that Rise mentions it, the cyno was too powerful, and I accept that my cyno alt now must adapt to draconian new restrictions.” As I said, it’s too late to cancel the effects of CCP’s many mistakes, and simply nuking people’s playstyles now to try to compensate for past mistakes will infuriate them and drive them out of the game – as the login metrics demonstrate with painful clarity.

    September 11, 2019 at 12:49 pm
    • Caleb Ayrania Guilford Australis

      CCP can easily roll back some of these things, but not by hitting the player invested skills and assets, but by changing how things work in space. This would not feel like a reset/nerf to the individuals micro-economics feeling and gameplay, they would be gradual and the effect would be felt slowly and indirectly.

      The best examples of this type of gradual change would be to implement a supply/demand based pricing model and upkeep on services. This was done some years ago to resolve the office rental problem in Jita 4-4 and it worked as planned. Similarly they could implement a system by system discreet buff/debuff variable that would change after each downtime based on calculations of system and local geography activity. They could make such a debuff or buff based directly on ADM levels and thus implement a totally new seesaw/negative feedback ecosystem between “wild life npc” and playerbuild infrastructure, moon fracking and structures in general.

      There are many ways to gradually fix the game that does not bring this current era of chaos and shock to the system. The problem seem to be that CCP forgot how eco-eco (economy and ecosystems) work.

      September 11, 2019 at 2:20 pm
    • I see your point but I raise you WoW Classic: there’s been a literal tidal wave of people who’ve accepted not just a set of nerfs, but the complete obliteration of their entire character legacy in order to play a game that is difficult (relatively speaking, of course) and fosters social interaction.

      That’s it. It’s not a complicated fomula. People are sick of cash shops and pay to win and being handed meaningless “achievements.” People are sick of playing games that force them to choose between endless solo grinds or cash payments. People want a game that challenges them and they want MMOs that feel multiplayer. And if a bunch of WoW players can embrace these notions– you remember: those people EVE players have been ridiculing for years for their delicate nature and themepark preferences– I’d sure as fuck hope that EVE players would.

      Just to round everything out here, I’d like to propose one more argument: frankly, I think CCP’s behavior with their Chaos campaign is the absolute worst way they could possibly have picked to handle this scenario. Indeed, players have invested a lot of time and money into their characters and ship hangars in order to optimize towards CCP’s obviously-imbalanced metas. But I wouldn’t argue that players are unwilling to accept that their playstyle needs to be nerfed in order to create a sustainable game environment. Players might be more than willing to admit that their ships were overpowered and that getting rid of them is better for the health of the game: what they’re NOT willing to accept is giving those things up without any compensation. And WHY SHOULD THEY?

      CCP are the ones who released a bunch of obviously-overpowered, high-investment “content” (and they’re still doing it– Trig ships, anyone?) in order to motivate their most dedicated autists to shell out massive amounts of cash for skill injectors and PLEX (since a huge chunk of other “players” aren’t spending cash anymore, since a certain idiotic developer decided to make their game F2P). Now that the company has cashed in, they feign ignorance and claim they couldn’t possibly have foreseen that things like Rorquals and ratting supers might upset the game economy. And now, instead of owning up to their gross errors and doing something fair and effective like simply removing the ships and mechanics in question and refunding the players who invested in them, CCP go behind everyone’s backs and simply nerf everything into oblivion in the most passive-aggressive way possible. “We sold you these Rorqual alts for thousands of dollars, but we don’t like what you’re doing to the economy, so rather than fix Rorquals we’re just going to adjust neighboring game mechanics over and over again until it’s effectively impossible to ~*use*~ your Rorqual, and then we’ll slap ourselves on the back and congratulate ourselves publicly for making our game hardcore again.” It’s honestly fucking disgusting behavior, and that’s exactly why I’ve unsubbed all my accounts. “Free-to-play” kills games.

      September 12, 2019 at 7:35 am
      • Carvj94 Ganthrithor

        WOW Classic really hasn’t been out long enough to show its peak yet. At least I haven’t cared to see if it’s peaked yet. People just couldn’t see how tedious old WOW was designed since they had their rose colored glasses on and their hate of micro transactions as you mentioned. Since blizzard left out all the modern game design QOL and convenience it’s got a short life before people get bored and remember theirs a better designed version of the game available. Not to say it’ll fail within the next year or at all. It’ll just without a doubt have its servers allocation downsized several times in the next year.

        Modern WOW fails because it has far too many “pay to skip” options which takes away from the learning process which leads to a ton of max level players who are dysfunctional idiots. WOW Classic fails because it’s awfully tedious just like it used to be and Blizzard didn’t include in any of the QOL improvements they’ve made over the years compounding the tedium to levels players don’t really accept anymore. Which ironically makes it perfect for EVE Players who tend to enjoy tedium.

        September 17, 2019 at 5:07 am
        • I’m sure their sub numbers will drop over time (it seems to be having quite a moment right now), but apparently quite a sizable chunk of people paid to play on 3rd party servers hosting old builds of the game (or their rough approximations, at any rate) in the recent past, so there’s definitely a market for the product.

          Personally I’ve been enjoying a stint in WoW classic. I’m deliberately playing it in the most casual way possible (rather than attempting to play it “well” / progress quickly). I certainly wouldn’t call the game “hardcore,” but it’s amusing to see some of the EVE arguments with regard to tedium and difficulty mirrored within the WoW community: classic WoW certainly seems more difficult compared to Blizzard’s modern product. And clearly there’s a segment of the gaming population that enjoys a more challenging, less P2W environment.

          Given that EVE’s playerbase have historically been considered the most autistic, hardcore of MMO players it’s always fairly shocking to me when CCP talk about undertaking big efforts to make EVE appeal to a broader audience. Like, I get that they want more money, but EVE kind of by its nature is always going to have a rather niche appeal. Personally I don’t understand why they don’t just aim to flourish within that niche.

          September 17, 2019 at 5:32 am
  • A truly excellent article, Caleb. I don’t think we actually disagree in the slightest, just wrote for two different audiences. There’s a lot of words that can be written on this topic, and yours were a great addition.

    CCP should being the simulation back to the forefront.

    September 11, 2019 at 6:02 pm
    • Caleb Ayrania Alizabeth

      I believe we agree on 99% of the direction needed, its only that each individual playstyle is so focused on their own things, they have problems going all the way down the rabbit hole and see how when ALL is connected, it benefits ALL playstyles. The simulation is also what makes it a challenge to try to figure new stuff out, and as I mentioned in a chat the other night, its what nudges/forces the nerdy personalities EVE players tend to have, to come out of their shells and basements and learn new stuff and god forbid talk to or even meet other people. 🙂

      September 11, 2019 at 7:02 pm
  • Sylphinja the Dark Rose

    Technically speaking, minerals you mine are free only if your time spent mining them is worth nothing.

    September 12, 2019 at 6:30 am
    • In real life terms, time spent in game is at best unpaid (i.e. worth nothing), since we receive nothing of real value for it. Some of us pay to play the game, and for us, time spent in game has negative real value (i.e. worth less than nothing). In those terms, attributing a cost to “minerals mined” is irrational.

      September 12, 2019 at 1:12 pm