The one thing almost the entire player base of EVE online can agree on is that PVE is generally a boring stale grind. I started playing EVE in 2010 and have tried many things for various lengths of time; missions, mining, wormholes, PI, moon farming, industry, trading, etc. I never tried exploration until very recently. Most of my EVE history involved piracy, null and sov warfare, along with a stint of espionage, F1 pushing, and anom ratting. In 2017 I completely burned out and “won” EVE for the next 3 years. Recently, I came back to EVE and wanted to find a totally new career that I hadn’t tried before.
In exploration I found a nearly perfect mix of PvE and PvP. Not quite as nail- biting and surprise-sex inducing as WH raiding, but still just enough tension that at any moment while you’re sneaking around hacking cans, if you’re not paying attention, you might find yourself being hunted. And on the flip side, you can also play the hunter should the opportunity arise. When I started exploration I lost A LOT. Mistakes are a great teacher, and because I was a ret-vet and had more ISK than sense, some of my early losses are downright embarrassing.
“Some of them want to abuse you . . .”
Even now, although I haven’t had a loss in a little while, I still have close calls regularly. Recently, I was almost caught on a gate by a Sabre. He saw me warp off another gate and followed me to the gate I had warped toward. I was bouncing off a nearby celestial and d-scanning the out-gate first. He jumped through it before I hit scan, so I didn’t see him. Thinking the coast was clear, I jumped through the gate. As soon as I did he popped his bubble. I did the MWD+Cloak move to get out. In turn, he tried to ram me and popped a second bubble, trapping me further. He got within 1000 meters from decloaking me – and he would have, but I had already aligned in a different direction toward a nearby belt. Finally, I got out of his bubble and warped away. That sort of encounter is what makes EVE Online so great. I very well might have lost my ship. Or he might have been surprised when I fought back, downed my drugs, overheated everything and killed him instead (unlikely, but hey, I can dream, can’t I?). More likely he would have had 10 friends jump in to get on the killmail! The point is, this kind of encounter makes the game exciting. It’s why we play EVE.
“Some of them want to be abused . . .”
A few days earlier I had the opportunity to be the hunter. I jumped into a system along my route and saw two other players in local and on d-scan – a Heron and some Sisters Core Scan Probes. I launched my scan probes and warped to a celestial. I could see that one of the pilots was in Fraternity (red to me), while the other belonged to the local sov-holding alliance. As I scanned down the first signature, I checked zkill to see how my potential prey might be fit. The first sig was a Level 1 Relic. There were several more to scan but I warped cloaked to the relic site just in case. And low and behold there he was; a Fraternity Heron, hacking cans. It would take too long to slow-boat to him, so I saved the location of an object relatively near him, warped off and warped back. My hands were shaking. How many times had I done this, only to have my prey warp off before I could lock him? Maybe three out of every four attempts, my prey would escape before my decloak timer would allow me to get a lock, and more often than that they would abandon the system as soon as they saw me probing. But this time was different. I was 14km away from him and closing, cloaked. He was busily hacking a can. He’d had every chance. A new red in local, my probes on d-scan. Yet here he still was. At 7km I decloaked and started spamming ctrl-click to lock him, pre-activating scram and web as soon as I started locking on. Got him! I launched my drones and watched him melt.
I’ve heard people (including myself in the midst of frustration) complain that the rewards are not good enough in relation to the dangers (probably after getting ganked), or, on the other hand, that the rewards are too good and it’s too safe (probably after failing a gank). My suggestions have nothing to do with difficulty level. I think the dangers and rewards seem balanced enough. I am here to talk about some ideas I’ve had to make exploration even more engaging, interactive, and addictive. Some of these ideas might be harder to implement than others. I’m not a programmer and I don’t play one on the internet, so take them for what they are worth.
Unpredictability is one of the things I’ve come to love about exploring. I’m not a cherry-picker, so I usually don’t scan cans (waste of a good mid-slot imo). I love that sometimes the Red-Core can is empty, while the Green-Core can has some good loot. I love that some sites yield very little, just a few million, and the same site in another system might yield much, much more. I love that I can go an hour or more flying from system to system and finding only wormholes and combat sites, and end up nearly empty-handed one day, and the next day I needlejack into a system stacked with relic sites or a nice Sleeper or Ghost site and I take in a big haul in an hour.
However, there are some things that are predictable. Data sites are predictably poor. I avoid level I and II sites completely, and often only do the level III and IV sites if they are Ghost or Sleeper sites. The data sites aren’t any more or less difficult to scan down or hack than the relic sites, so because they are generally poor, people tend to avoid them. I love the Ghost and Sleeper sites, as they range from sometimes relatively poor to very rich indeed (I have had Standard Sleepers that yielded around 20 mil and others yield 250mil!). That unpredictability is what keeps me going. When will I find that next 250mill Sleeper Cache? Or the next High Grade Implant BPC in a ghost site? But Standard Data Sites are predictable–predictably poor. It wouldn’t take much to fix this problem. My suggestion? Increase the variety of and frequency of T2 BPC drops, and provide a small chance for a red can to contain a nice faction-appropriate BPC (anything from faction ammo on the low end up to faction ship or Module BPCs on the high end – increasing in rarity as you go up). That simple change would make these sites worth running and shouldn’t be game breaking as long as the drops are relatively rare.
Another suggestion: Make hackable cans resilient to cargo scanning. I’m not saying immune (although maybe some cans are close to immune or the resilience is variable from 0% to 99% – even more unpredictability!) but rather that when cargo-scanning a can, you can’t be sure if you are seeing the full contents. This will accomplish a few things. First, it will disincentivize cherry picking, but also it will make some sites, notably sleeper and ghost sites, a bit more challenging. I use cargo scanners primarily for sleeper and ghost sites, where I know I can only hack one can with any degree of safety. I need to quickly find the most hack-worthy can. Making these cans somewhat resilient to cargo scanners adds a bit of uncertainty to the mix that I would certainly be welcome.
When it comes to missions, anoms and other PvE, players know exactly what to expect. Their ship fits are precisely tuned to most efficiently take on a specific anomaly. Add just a bit of uncertainty – not enough to kill a pilot who’s paying attention, but just enough to keep things interesting; that will not only make exploring sites more engaging and interesting, but also make botting much harder.
This final suggestion is a bit more involved, but could be an absolute game changer. As a single shard sand-box game with notoriously substandard PvE content, much of the draw of EVE online is due to player-generated content. This final suggestion is for CCP to take player-generated content to the next level, by creating a toolkit for Players to construct PvE sites and even missions and mission arcs. Player generated PvE content could breathe new life into EVE online. This could be done with either an in-game or out-of-client utility that could construct exploration sites or missions within a given set of parameters. Like ships and ship fitting, the parameters are adjusted by CCP to ensure balance in the game; yet it is up to the players to construct the layout, contents, challenges, dangers and narratives of the sites themselves. This gives players another avenue to contribute to the health of the sandbox by supplying the game with an endless stream of fresh content.
Player-crafted sites and missions could expire over time, making room for new ones created by the player-base. This suggestion solves the single largest issue of EVE’s notoriously stale PvE by taking that burden off of CCP, and releasing it to the unlimited creative potential of the EVE player base. This will allow CCP to focus energy on more important things, like quality of life fixes and . . . spaceships. Plenty of players, myself (a former D&D Dungeon Master) would absolutely delight in creating this content voluntarily for other players to enjoy.
I have no idea how hard such a utility would be to create and implement, but it would sure beat Walking in Stations, or centralized coordinated events and “hunts” as these are not what EVE has traditionally been about. EVE has always been a sandbox where the most compelling game play is player generated. PvE in EVE should be no different. Exploration is compelling to me because unlike many other forms of PvE content, it is relatively unpredictable, which keeps it fresh. I think EVE could have a whole new renaissance with the addition of the ability to generate a continuous stream of fresh player-created PvE content. Hopefully, enough players, the CSM, and CCP would also agree.