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.
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.