IBT TRASHES EVE: A RESPONSE

2016-04-16

On April 15, the International Business Times published a piece on EVE Online. Written by David Gilbert, it carries the clunky, awkward title ‘Eve Online’: The Battle For Control Of The Most Boring Video Game In The World. The piece ostensibly covers The Mittani and the current war engulfing New Eden. There is a strong undercurrent to the piece, though, that is generally hostile to CCP, EVE Online, and those of us who play the game. As a member of that last group, I take exception to that. I object to both the article’s approach, and the sloppy, inaccurate representation it gives.

That the writer takes issue with The Mittani is completely understandable. First, consider all the normal narrative within the various sections of the EVE community. The writer would be remiss to ignore those things. Then, logs from Goonswarm’s directorate channel leaked that included a damning statement from Mittens. That statement claimed the media is “eager to print whatever I’ll tell them.” To anyone experienced in the propaganda games of nullsec, this is internal bravado.  What’s more, it is easy to recognize as such. To an outside observer, though, that’s going to be incendiary. What’s less understandable is the way the writer pivots. When he does, it’s to throw shade on CCP and on the players. He tries to be subtle about it, but to some of it, it comes across as snide, and lazy.

THE MOST BORING VIDEO GAME IN THE WORLD?

This is the term Gilbert uses in the title of the piece. That’s how he’s trying to get people interested in his publication: by saying they should not even try EVE Online. Boredom is a theme he’ll touch on more than once. IBT has since edited the article multiple times after publication. One of these edits removed the header image and replaced it with a trailer for Valkyrie. What was so bad about the image that it needed to be replaced with a trailer for a different game? Maybe it was the caption. It indicated that EVE players spend our time roaming from system to system, hoping to find a rock to mine. Maybe, on rare occasion, we might see someone else – and they’ll try to kill us.

There may be a reason for that, but we’ll circle back around to it.

At one point, Gilbert makes a direct comparison to World of Warcraft’s subscription numbers. While there is a comparison to be made there, context is important. No other MMO has ever managed the subscription numbers that WoW has enjoyed. Instead, let’s talk about more typical numbers. Runescape topped out at roughly 1 million subscribers. SW: The Old Republic managed around 2.5 million. Lineage II peaked at nearly 2 million – and these are all mass-appeal ‘theme park’ linear MMOs. EVE Online isn’t a mass-appeal ‘theme park’ game. EVE is a sandbox game. Sandbox games have a narrower appeal. It’s ironic, but it’s true. The more a game presents a wide open canvas to the players, the narrower its immediately appeal to new players. The more structured the gameplay, the easier it is for new players to grasp the all important ‘what do I do now?’ Sandbox games are also more reliant on the players to be social. Social bonds allow players to have an immediate investment in the game: one another. Solo players tend to become invested in an MMO via the story the MMO presents them. In contrast, sandbox games, and EVE especially, don’t always present a story. That’s part of what makesthem different: the important story is yours.

That painting of EVE as a small, underperforming game isn’t isolated to that instance. A few paragraphs earlier, Gilbert writes: ‘While “Eve Online” is nominally a massively multiplayer online (MMO) game’. Nominally? The game that holds the top two slots for the largest battles in internet gaming history is nominally an MMO? Gilbert then makes the unfavorable comparison to WoW about player count. This ignores a few things, though. How many people are ever on a single WoW server at the same time? 10k? How many can fight in the same battle before the system performance suffers? Like many readers, I fought in the open-world PvP in Tarren Mill. You’re not getting into mid-three-digit figures. Even with the later back-end improvements in the WoW servers and engine, you might see 200 players, tops. We crashed the Silver Hand server by attacking Orgrimmar (the Horde capital city) with less than 120 players.

That’s one fleet in EVE; and it’s not even a full fleet.

The article does discuss CCP’s efforts to improve the new player experience, with the following quote from CCP Seagull: “We are taking some small steps to provide more guidance, to help people find their way into the universe and discover all the possibilities that are out there — but this doesn’t change our overall design philosophy for the game”. So that’s a plus. Or it would be, if Gilbert didn’t follow up with a statement from TMC’s EVE Bureau Chief, Matterall: “The older people, who have now grown up, got married and have kids, that need more gaps in time, those guys are being alienated somewhat.” The problem with this contrast? There’s nothing in Matterall’s statement that indicates he was talking about EVE Online’s New Player Experience. In fact, the indications in the article suggest that he was not. If anything, it seems Matterall was discussing the concerns of long-term players. Concerns like game design in EVE not keeping up with their changing discretionary time. That’s a completely separate matter. To conflate the two is irresponsible and misleading. It’s like saying that the United States attempting to address college tuition costs will create family leave issues in the labor force. It’s nonsense. Worse, it’s nonsense spun in such a way as to deceive the reader. Keep in mind, you and I aren’t the target audience here.

After this, Gilbert now includes the content his editor previously removed from the header:

Playing “Eve Online” is notoriously boring. Players (initially at least) must scour the universe for minerals to mine, then mine the minerals, transport the minerals, refine the minerals and sell the minerals. Every now and then you might get to fight another space pirate, but for the most part you are on your own.

And therein lies the problem.

Gilbert has clearly been around the game. In this same article, the last image is a photo from FanFest 2014 of an EVE player getting a tattoo. That photo is credited to… David Gilbert. So any claims that these statements are the result of ignorance seem, well… thin.

According to one source, Gilbert has actually tried to play EVE. He started a trial account, and ran around highsec for a week or so. Maybe he was in Caldari space, near Jita. New Caldari, Perimeter, and other systems adjacent to the trade hub almost never have rocks. Large mining fleets often sweep through soon after downtime, and clear them out. Maybe that’s why he says ‘scouring the universe’.  Maybe that’s the source of his dissatisfaction with the game. Maybe he tried it, and just didn’t like it. If so, that’s completely valid. Taking that experience of ‘I didn’t enjoy this’ and letting it distort the lens through which he’s reporting isn’t. Still, some bias is human nature, right? I might buy that if Gilbert was only attacking the game.

FREE TO BE YOU AND ME

The problem is, Gilbert also takes aim at the players. It starts right after he compares subscription numbers with the 800lb Ogre in the room. Gilbert continues with what at first seems to be a compliment: ‘the “Eve Online” community is the most engaged and fanatical group of players of any video game’. Ok, great. Now take a look at how he finishes that sentence: ‘with some players spending more time in the New Eden universe than they do in the real world.’

So he’s highlighting what many consider among the unhealthiest behaviors among MMO players. I don’t think any of us will argue that some folks do exactly that. The way he presents it, though, is as part of the contrast with World of Warcraft. The implication is that no WoW players, or other MMO players, engage in this behavior. Mr. Gilbert, people have allowed their hobbies to take up too much time since we invented the first hobby.

To finish this off, Gilbert gives a list of things players do at FanFest: ‘meet in the real world, talk about the game, meet developers, get tattoos and, in the case of one couple, get married’. He even goes so far as to show the aforementioned picture of the tattoo artist from 2014. Now, most of the people I know will, like me, look at a good tattoo and say ‘hey, nice ink’. However, look at the complete image he’s constructing. He paints EVE players as tattoo’d fanatics who spend more time in the game than on their real lives, and he does this in a publication like the International Business Times. I can’t imagine he’s trying to get the bankers of the world thinking ‘hey, nice ink’.

At no point does Gilbert even touch on the community’s positive aspects. There’s nothing mentioned of the PLEX for Good program, or Broadcast4Reps, or the way the entire community has repeatedly rallied around the families of those of our friends who’ve been hurt, or worse. Nothing. Not a single word. He’s more than happy to include a quote comparing The Mittani to Hitler, though. He even includes one from Elise Randolph, stating that EVE players engage in market manipulation “that would make even the most seasoned Wall Street banker blush”. In this era where even Donald Trump decries Wall Street, I can’t see that intended as praise.

Instead, Gilbert seeks to paint EVE players as dysfunctional sociopaths willing to engage in endless boredom for… what? He never addresses what players get out of the game, why we keep investing time and money, month after month. The one time Gilbert touches on one of the major draws of EVE, the huge battles, he gets it wrong. The original paragraph on the battle of B-R5RB placed the event in 2012, not 2014. He also valued the destruction at 11 million ISK. 11 million. The editors corrected his text, of course, after many commenters pointed out the errors. That it happened at all, though, serves to highlight his sloppy, dismissive attitude toward the game.

I don’t know why he feels this way. Maybe it’s an extension of not liking the game. Maybe people were mean to him at FanFest. Maybe he really is so angry that the Mittani would make a smug remark that he’s taking it out on everything attached to the story. Maybe he just never wanted this story in the first place. I can’t tell you what each little piece of his motivation is, and I really don’t care. All I can tell you is that I don’t like it, and why.

EVE ONLINE: OUR GAME

EVE players often tell one another that EVE is a terrible game. We call it ‘spreadsheets in space’. But it’s our terrible game. And it’s an amazing terrible game. EVE Online has many issues. Some are mechanical. Some are limitations of the hardware or software. Despite everything, EVE Online is an incredible game. For over a decade it has provided what no other MMO has: freedom and relevance. I love many of the storylines in other MMOs. I wouldn’t keep playing LotRO if I didn’t – it is a game that is nothing without the story. Still, everyone in the game is doing the same things I am. They’re all the same role in the same story. EVE is different. We’re all making our own stories. Even when we’re part of the same event, we’re not doing the same thing yet we are all doing something together. And your own experience will be different from mine. We’re not the same role in a pre-scripted story. We’re our own role, in our own story. That’s incredible, and especially at the scale CCP has managed to produce, it’s completely unique.

That’s not ‘The Most Boring Video Game in the World’.

That’s ‘The Biggest Shared History Since the World’. Seriously. The only larger shared single common history in history… is history itself.

Maybe it’s my tribalism kicking in here, but I take exception to someone trying to dismiss this game, and its players. I take exception to someone who is supposed to be a professional not acting like one. I take exception to someone that’s supposed to be writing a piece – even a hit piece – about The Mittani and this war, taking the opportunity to sharpen his knives on the players, on the game we play, and on the company that’s managed to produce this insane, unlikely, unique experience.

CCP deserves better, even when we think they’re screwing up. EVE deserves better; this terrible, terrible game that we all love. And all of you deserve better. We may shoot each other at every opportunity. We may even despise one another outside of the confines of New Eden. But even that happens within the common bonds we all share. So thank you all for being the wonderful, sometimes dysfunctional, people that you are, and sharing the story with me. It wouldn’t be half as much fun without you.

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