Header art by AnuranonthecoucH
Author’s Note: Just for clarity, the title is a play on James Carville’s famous quip: “It’s the economy, stupid!”and NOT a dig at CCP, nor CCP Rattati. My impression of CCP Rattati is that he is extremely intelligent and working very diligently to make decisions that are in keeping with what is most healthy for EVE Online, even if some of those decisions are unpopular.
Let’s be honest; the past two years or more have been rough for CCP and the player base. While the numbers may seem to tell a different story, I think we’ve all seen a high level of stress and animosity between the players and CCP. It’s true, some of this is just par for the course in the relationship between a developer and the game’s players, but I think if we’re being honest, we all know actual engagement has dropped off in recent years, despite the spikes from the ongoing war in the south.
Watching CCP Rattati’s recent interview over on the Oz_Eve Twitch, I came away with a combination of immense hope for the future, as well as existential dread. CCP Rattati is no doubt an extremely intelligent and passionate person, who cares deeply about the health of the game we all love. He also came across as being under a good deal of stress, seemingly as a result of the tension between CCP and the community. No doubt the stress was exacerbated by Rattati’s talking “off the cuff” to an EVE streamer about the future plans of CCP and the direction of EVE Online, while negotiating the various NDA requirements, trying hard not to give away details, or accidentally make promises that couldn’t be kept.
One thought kept popping into my mind as I watched the stream: “It’s the mechanics, Stupid!” It was refreshing to hear CCP Rattati speak of EVE Online as a kind of “terrarium,” or “ecosystem.” Rattati is absolutely correct in the analogy: EVE is an ecosystem and we have to be careful about what we introduce, and balance predation and growth. I’ve written about these concepts at length before.
Mechanics Drive Behavior
No amount of tweaking variables, a little here or there, is going to encourage the type of healthy engagement that EVE Online needs to survive and thrive into the next decade. Moving minerals around from one place to another, or giving a 150% bonus to bounties in one system and a 50% nerf in another, won’t drive engagement. The mechanics themselves are what drive players to do what they do, mixed with a bit of player interaction.
If a player can make massive ISK per hour in highsec, with minimal risk of loss (or “interaction” to use the ingame term), then that is exactly what they will do. What Rattati said about getting players into lowsec being a matter of incentive is absolutely true. But if there are strong motivations not to take the risk, a lot of players will make the obvious choice not to head there. Of course, EVE Online should support players being able to engage with content they enjoy, and not everyone wants to engage with other people constantly. This fact is as true for highsec players as it should be for people who like to multi-box Rorquals. But if everyone can make their money in complete safety, then that is exactly what everyone will do.
Money making isn’t the only area where EVE mechanics allow people to easily avoid predation. Citadels likewise provide tether, for very little money relative to their power, even after the recent changes. Interdiction nullification interceptors allow for almost worry free travel between systems; bridging and jump mechanics allow supply runs to move instantly from one perfectly safe position to another, making embargoes and sieges practically pointless. Further, the near pointless nature of camping trivializes geography in all but the most extreme circumstances of a few regions and systems.
EVE Mechanics Actively Discourage Engagement
I recently discovered an awesome EVE Youtuber named Amelia Duskspace. Amelia seems to regularly get those types of “good fights” that remind me of days gone by. It’s refreshing to see, because as a member of a large alliance, I think many of us get into the rut of waiting on someone else to call us to action. This is as much my own fault as anyone else’s, I admit, but we need to take note of the fact that the mechanics often discourage this type of player interaction. In all of the fights I watched of Amelia’s, all of them took place against people who were perfectly willing to be participating in them, and none of them I witnessed were ganks.
Whether by design or by accident, EVE has progressed into a state where “mono-consensual” PvP has been almost completely wiped out. Any player who is paying attention and has a pulse can pretty well avoid dealing with any other player, while still carrying on with their business practically unabated. There are exceptions of course – carrier ratting, Rorqual mining, suicide ganking in HighSec – however at least the first two of those activities have been viciously stamped out recently. Maybe another way to put it is that other, safer activities have taken priority and been allowed to compensate for the dangerous choices. This is not something that will be fixed by tweaking some values here or there. CCP needs to look at the way the game actually works, and make sure the choices available to players make sense for the type of game EVE should be.
Avenues for players to disrupt these activities are also not what I would consider great – cloaky camping, black ops dropping, titan bridging, etc. Those avenues encourage players to stay home and let others do the work of finding content for them to engage in, and put prey in what I would consider an unhealthy predicament – join a big group. Is it any surprise that this is exactly what large portions of the game have elected to do? Previous attempts to mitigate this have also been unnecessarily harsh – the blackout and the weird drifter “invasion.” The blackout I think was an absolute disaster, and this is coming from someone who was able to enjoy portions of it.
Fix the Right Things
EVE Online was at its best when people were out in space. Back in the day, you could actually get fights in lowsec beyond bumping into large bands of pirates or flying around solo in a blinged out battleship begging someone to come at you. Ravens and Dominix roamed the asteroid belts shooting rats in just about every system in the game. Supply runs involved moving things through gates rather than just right clicking the capacitor. I’m not saying require every freaking thing to move via freighter, but at least some portion should.
It should be valuable for alliances to actually patrol and control their own space, rather than just putting a sign up. Defense and offense should consist of more than simply standing around waiting to drop on anything dumb enough to actually try and play the game. EVE’s problem isn’t that super capitals have proliferated into the thousands; it’s that none of them ever die outside of very rare and particular sets of circumstances, simply because the game allows them to be used very conservatively.
Scarcity Ending, But Then What
CCP Rattati has stated that soon the scarcity phase will be over, and that’s great, but I hope that the changes coming down the pipe actually address root causes and won’t simply need to be repeated in a few years when we’re back to where we started. The scarcity phase, I believe, has come across as almost vindictive. Maybe this was driven by the attitudes on Reddit or the forums, but the impression I’ve gotten is that many believe that large space holding alliances needed to be punished and brought to heel.
I don’t disagree that the situation needed to be gotten under control, but I’m of the opposite opinion that allowing people to build up stockpiles is great, so long as the game encourages you to go out and burn them. CCP should look to address why players cower on citadels and wait to drop through cynos, and why gate travel is almost non-existent in certain regions. If you want a healthy EVE that lives into the next decade and beyond, get players out in space moving around. I don’t believe you do this by taking away their income, or turning Rorquals back into boosting ships, or removing local chat. You do it by making sure the juice is located in the right places and under the right circumstances.
Get the players out in space where they can interact; then players will take care of the rest. They’ll also bring their old friends, and pull in new ones.
I hope the readers took away more from this than “Wah muh Rorquals!” and “Big Alliance Propaganda #34598.” Those are examples I tend to use because I’ve seen first hand people pull back from EVE because activities they enjoyed engaging with became punishing. People that actually PvPed and had longer goals they were working toward. I’m advocating positive reinforcement of activities that encourage player engagement. Think about what I’m saying here, because I can’t even argue with you people that think that.