Art by Redline XIII
It was pointed out to me in a few conversations recently that my articles have been predominantly negative, as I’ve looked at aspects of the game that I don’t think have been well handled, from Citadels through Supercapitals to the NPE. Whilst I remain firm in my belief that it’s worth criticising CCP when they either fail to address, or address poorly, the problems in the game, there’s definitely a need to balance it out with a reminder of some of the things in which CCP has succeeded. Often it can be easy to forget the problems that have been addressed, and only focus on the ones that are affecting you right now, and that’s not being ungrateful – it’s just how people work. You don’t notice the absence of a problem nearly as much as the presence of one, especially once the community’s general conversation has moved on.
What I hope this will do is show that I’m not someone who only sees the worst in CCP, and highlight why I think some of these changes were both necessary and positively implemented into EVE Online. I can say with near certainty that there are good changes that will be missing from this piece, as talented “Little Things” devs like Karkur could probably fill up a few thousand words on their own, but I tried to focus on larger ecosystem-level changes to stop this piece from being Arrendis-length. Still, if you think I’ve missed something that’s important to you, feel free to bring them up in the comments below.
EVE was really starting to show it’s age in 2018, being limited to a 32-bit client, and with pretty much every major battle running into crippling server stability issues that helped change the course of fights. As the year wore on, and more of this became understood, people began to change the way they fought fights to work around this. It’s a longstanding maxim within EVE development that “players will expand to fill the lag,” but as you can see from this post, it had become an issue that a wide section of the player base felt was making the game less than fun to play.
CCP listened to this. Through a mix of mechanical changes (removal of Titan explosions), the introduction of a 64-bit client, and closer work with the player base when it came to placing systems on reinforced nodes, a lot of the problems raised were weeded out. Whilst we won’t know how effective these changes will be at the kind of scale seen in 2018, it has at the very least made playing in smaller (1000~) fights a much more pleasant and responsive experience, by allowing EVE to take advantage of the raw power of modern hardware. In addition, DirectX 12 integration will likely open up some cool graphical options in the future.
These technical improvements haven’t been strictly limited to inside the game either, with the relaunched EVE Portal app being more powerful than any previous attempts to create a companion app, with trust protocols which allow skill queue updates. With time, we might even see more features added, and I greatly look forward to the day I can update my buy/sell orders whilst on the toilet.
The Spring Balance Pass
The technical team wasn’t the only arm of CCP that learnt from the wars of 2018, as Game Design was able to (in conjuction with the CSM and player feedback) learn a great deal about how the supercapital versus supercapital meta game had evolved with four years of post B-R5 development, and took steps to mitigate the FAX-based stalemates these fights often turned into. The introduction of diminishing returns to remote repairs in the Spring balance pass was CCP’s answer, and judging by what I expect to be the largest super fight of the year in O1Y, it seems to have been a success. Even in a situation where neither side could use DD volleys to kill the other, Titans from both involved parties ended up dying, as we no longer had the 1:1 parity in importance between incoming reps and DPS.
Whilst this was undeniably the crux of the pass, it also contained an array of other things; Rorqual nerfs, an insurance nerf, the NSA ‘mini-siege’ change, and a wide array of buffs to under-performing sub-capitals. As you can see from the thread at the time, it was met with overwhelming positivity by the player base, especially given the promises of future passes like it in the months to come and the continuation of Tiercide, which sadly ended up not being the case. All of it helped to shake up the meta game, make new ships more viable, and overall just encouraged people to want to try and undock in new weird things and get blown up trying to make them work.
Of all the parts of this article, this was the one that impacted my game play the most, and by god it was reinvigorating. It felt like being handed a new set of toys to go slam into other people’s sandcastles, even though in reality not a great deal had changed. Plus, of course, who could forget their mock up of CCP Falcon as Aura.
Botting has been a constant topic of discussion within the player base for a long time, but frustrations with it bubbled over in 2019, with it being something even I wrote about. Typing “Bot” into the search bar of r/eve will show you just how much vitriol had frothed up around it, leading to it being noted by Steve Messner of PC Gamer in his own piece, but the general consensus was that CCP wasn’t willing to do anything to seriously combat the issue under the cynical assumption that it made them more money to ignore it.
2019, in my opinion, proved just how serious Team Security could get on bots and that they were willing to work with Game Design and other parts of CCP to reach their goals of a bot free EVE. There were a few hiccups, such as the release of a chart showing where people had been banned, which was used to justify a lot of racism against the Chinese community, but the public executions and later the Monthly Security Report (MSR) reassured the community that Team Security was working to deal with the problem.
The VNI and, more importantly, the changes to what skills Alpha clones had available that came later this year also helped to reduce the replace-ability and efficacy of botting characters, as VNIs allowed mass Alpha pilots to be trained in preparation for their eventual bans, making it difficult for Team Security to clamp down on them. It also helped reduce the perception of botting being prevalent, as there was at the end of the day very little difference in play patterns between a botting VNI and a player run VNI, which lead to the general feeling of New Eden being infested with them.
We even saw drastic changes to the way Alphas were able to interact with missions in order to lock them out of being abused to run distribution missions, as was discovered by EVE’s very own true crime reporter in NoizyGamer.
I’m sure bots are still out there making ISK – after all, it’s deeply connected with the RMT market, and therefore probably someone’s literal job – but their job has been made decisively harder in 2019. I’d like to think we can all agree that that’s a good thing.
Now, for those of you who exclusively dwell in nullsec or wormholes, the Invasion either had no impact on you or you had the “excitement” of dealing with the Drifters for a fortnight. Hisec on the other hand, was delivered the full Invasion mechanic, which is similar to how Incursions function – an area is given unique effects and unique sites to complete and requires players to work together in order to beat the sites. This on its own would be great, as social PvE is one of the best ways to make PvE in EVE not become the same monotonous AFK fare that it often becomes without the requirement to work with other people, and encouraging players in Hisec to potentially meet up and join other corporations is likely to increase their chance of sticking with the community.
But what I really want to focus on here is that rather than kicking the feature out and moving onto something else, it seems real focus and care has been put into iterating the Invasion content over time, as well as expanding it. New sites like the Emerging Conduits have been added, and the practice of farming Triglavian ships on gates has been responded to and integrated into the Invasion model rather than taken away, whilst bugs and desync issues that plagued the early versions of the site have been polished (although some do remain).
I haven’t had the chance to take part in this personally, but I have casually watched a few of Ashterothi’s streams as he gets involved in taking on the spooky triangle men, and he and his fleet mates seem to be having a ton of fun dealing with the challenges thrown at them. I hope this experiment proves to be a success by whatever metric CCP is using, as a more reactive and dynamic PvE development process would have a lot of benefits if expanded to the rest of the game, from helping make botters suffer to increasing the diversity of ships used to make ISK.
“Stop the Bleeding”
That phrase comes from the keynote presentation in EVE Berlin, when recapping some of the changes made during 2019 that aimed to help fix the systemic issues that hurt EVE Online’s retention rates with new players, and covered a wide range of ‘little things’ that certainly don’t feel little to those with little knowledge of the game. Whilst I addressed a wide range of other gushing chest wounds on that front, I can’t deny that CCP has identified some key areas of their own, and rushed to address them.
The War Dec changes are undeniably first among them, and whilst there were problems with the initial rollout, the stats CCP released showed just what an impact it had on people being willing to join corporations and get involved in the social side of EVE.
The Skills on Demand system also made acquiring new skills a much easier process that didn’t break up the flow of the game, and the proposed changes to the fitting system should allow new players a better idea of what a good fit looks like, which will hopefully make them less reliant on other players or out of game guides.
Whilst none of this will impact veterans directly, keeping more fresh blood in the game is a critical part of ensuring the community stays healthy, as older players inevitably drift away from the game. The fresh faced recruits of 2019 will be the mainline pilots of 2020, and the leaders of 2025, so making sure the widest possible population sticks with the game up until that point is key, and it’s great to see CCP working to drive real change in that direction.
The New Face of EVE Online – Hilmar
The loss of CCP Seagull in 2018 was a blow to the wider community. Not just due to the role she filled, or any specific development effort she spearheaded as Executive Producer, but because she was widely perceived to be the face of EVE Online’s development team. She stood up at every Fanfest and presented a roadmap to the audience which presented a vision for where the game was going, talked openly and honestly in myriad interviews when frustration bubbled in the community, and her video addresses around everything from updates to the introduction of a free-to-play model were widely circulated and gave a sense that CCP was listening to the community.
Her replacement, CCP Mannbjorn, seemed uninterested in filling this role, lacking a Twitter or other form of direct contact with the community. CCP Burger, for his part, tried his best to take on the responsibility of being the face of EVE Online’s direction as can be seen in earlier EVE Pulse videos. However, this too fell by the wayside, and CCP as a whole morphed back into a company where only the individual developers were in touch with the community at large, which in my opinion contributed to the feeling that CCP was decidedly rudderless as an organisation. Something that only helped deepen the community’s mistrust, and left everyone wondering just what the plan was, and where EVE was headed.
In the last few months, a new (or, perhaps I should say returning) face came to the front in order to present a lifeline of communication between the wider community and CCP, identifying problems and discussing them openly and frankly – CCP Hellmar, also known as Hilmar. Whilst he has yet to lay out a roadmap or vision of what he (and by extension CCP) wants EVE to be in the future, he has reached out on both Twitter and through podcasts and interviews with various outlets in order to talk about those problems, and coined the term “Chaos Era” to describe and explain CCP’s general efforts to shake things up.
All-in-all, whilst you might not agree with the particular changes that Hilmar has driven, having someone clearly and publicly at the helm of EVE’s development has done a great deal to restore confidence that CCP is working towards something. My hope is that either in Vegas, or Fanfest 2020, we get a glimpse at exactly what that something is.
Challenging Fundamental Systems
Finally, putting aside arguments as to whether or not changes like the Blackout or Cyno Changes have had positive impacts on the game, something I noted at the time of the initial announcement of the Blackout was my relief that CCP had “rediscovered their testicular fortitude.” Changing local was, despite something that had been talked about for over a decade, a seeming impossibility due to how little CCP wanted to iterate on the core features of EVE.
Their communication could have been better, as could have been their follow up, but the fact that most people spun out elaborate fantasies about Observatories being introduced or that we’d soon be taking the fight to the Drifters to get local back showed (to me) the sheer amount of interest and excitement that changing something so fundamental can bring. Shaking up the snow globe is great, and people want it to happen. CCP just needs to be careful that they don’t accidentally throw the snow globe at the wall in the process.
Some of the fundamental systems that EVE is based on probably do feed into stagnation, and whilst straight up removing things is both unpopular with those affected and a lazy approach to development, identifying these systems and iterating on or reworking them is a promising route for CCP to be heading down. I hope this isn’t something CCP shies away from, but instead identifies the problems in their current approach, and works to move from a “Chaos Era” to a “Butterfly Era.” As we all know, small changes can cause just as many waves as huge ones.