The biggest shake-up in the history of Frontier’s “Elite Dangerous” was the introduction of engineering with the Horizons update. This system allowed players to take materials, which were collected via various game activities but were unavailable from markets, and spend them to roll for modifications on individual ship modules. These changes would dramatically alter the modules used, introducing personal variability to modules, giving users a sense of individuality for their ships, and introducing unpredictability into the game. Now, CCP seems committed to introducing the same elements with “mutaplasmids.”
In a FanFest presentation on “Ships and Modules” on April 13, CCP Rise explained some of the mechanics that had been mentioned in the Fanfest keynote. Unfortunately, it seems like these may have been the danger Aryth warned us about earlier this year.
The basic mechanic is a familiar one: players enter “abyssal deadspace” instances, shoot the things inside, and get special loot related to to Triglavian Collective. This loot includes “mutaplasmids,” which come in three different grades, and which can be combined with regular modules. When combined, the modules are permanently altered with random percentage benefits and detriments, ranging from 10% to 40%. Only certain modules can be modified in this way, excluding resist modules, damage modules, and turrets and missiles. Modules that explicitly can be so modified include propulsion modules, tackle, EWAR, and local repair and booster modules.
The Road to Hell
The intentions are good. CCP Rise explained that the goals they intended to achieve with these introductions were to introduce variations in rewards, to have a major impact on how the game is played, to have a lateral effect that means the changes apply to everyone, to and to give players a greater sense of individual responsibility. All of these are noble goals. Greater variation means more sophistication, consistent with the goal mentioned in the keynote of adding depth to the sandbox. Major impacts and lateral effects mean that the changes, and so CCP’s development efforts, are not catering to a specific, small group of players, but rather will affect all players, even if indirectly through the introduction of a new aspect of the economy. And in a game where the economy is real and players are involved in every element of play, there are few places where a player can feel like their own efforts alone resulted in something. “I built this” is a sentiment that does not apply easily to Eve, so the ability to create new, potentially very powerful modules on one’s own, without the need for vertical supply chains and robust economic manipulations, is very enticing.
But good intentions do not always result in good decisions. During the presentation, CCP Rise used a particular word that underlines all of the problems we saw in Elite Dangerous’ engineering: unpredictability.
The Problem of Unpredictability
In Rules of Play, Salen and Zimmerman define a game as “ a system in which players engage in an artificial conflict, defined by rules, that results in a quantifiable outcome.” The issue of introducing unpredictability is that it makes it difficult to determine what the rules are, and it makes it difficult to quantify the outcome.
Eve is a game with a sophisticated sandbox, where players can gain an advantage through having a deep understanding of the mechanics. Unpredictability undermines this. But we don’t have to rely on academic theory to make this case: we know where this exercise ends up. Elite Dangerous recently revamped the entire engineering system to ensure that players could always continue to upgrade modules until they had the top-tier results. Why? Because a purely random, continuous range of benefits means that when players all perform the exact same behavior, a few players – through no predictable activity or behavior – will simply have better things, the vast majority of players will have strictly average outcomes, and a few players, again through no fault or mistake of their own, will have objectively bad outcomes. In a competitive game, this means that the hand of fate, not the skill of the players, will determine the outcome.
Building a Skinner Pod
Game developers want people to play the game. The longer time people spend in the game, the more likely they are to spend actual money on playing it. We, as players, should also want more players to play Eve. In the opening ceremony, CCP Guard expressed a desire to keep Eve running for another 15 years at least. If we want that to happen then we have to accept that CCP must continue to make money. That means bringing in new players and getting existing players to spend money. All of this is simply a fact of game development and design, there’s no evil here.
But gambling and fostering addiction is a cheap way to go about it. All game design is, in a sense, behavior modification. It’s the common element in vogue, sure. Get players to perform a behavior, use a random outcome to introduce a variable reinforcement schedule. Fixed reinforcement schedules train players to perform a behavior the exact number of times it takes to get the reward. Variable schedules, weighted properly, instead get players to keep performing the behavior. It’s not hard to see why so many games are falling back on it. Perform the loop, in this case, running the Abyssal Deadspace instance. Get the mutaplasmid, apply it to the module. Sometimes get something good. Sometimes get something bad. If the good outweighs the bad more often than note, we’ll perform the behavior again, and again, and again.
There’s no evil in that, this is simply a reality of life. But there are better ways to go about it that don’t rely on unpredictability. Rather than using continuous random chances, so that each module is unique, a schedule of tiered results can be used to create discrete, achievable, equal outcomes. If the range is from between 10% and 40% improvement, make those groups that are pre-balanced with detriments – a 10% benefit to statistic A always comes with a balanced detriment to statistic B, for example – or known ranges: 10%, 20%, 30%, 40%, with nothing in between.
Why? There are a few reasons. The first is that predictability can drive an economy: different tiers of outcomes adds a meta-level that is predictable. This is going to happen organically anyhow as players start identifying the rarity of modifications to stats in ranges. If a “35% or better” improvement becomes the rarest improvement, it will happen naturally. But there is little benefit to introducing unique continuous ranges. We have to remember that if things are unpredictable, the chances of a unique and wonderful outcome are real – but the risk of a uniquely trash outcome are also real.
The real problem is that of valuing our time. Purely random, continuous ranges – unpredictable outcomes – encourage repeated play. The new abyssal deadspace instances introduce a nice closed gameplay loop that players can engage in for rewards, but by making the outcome unpredictable, we do not know that we will actually get rewarded more than punished, and that’s the key to getting players to repeat the behavior. If my goal is a 40% improvement, and I have absolutely no idea how likely it is I will get that, then I may just end up giving up. If on the other hand I know exactly what I’m working for, and I know it’s possible to get it, and in fact I know exactly how likely it is to get it, then (and only then) can I make a decision about whether it is worth my time. There is no way for me to make a decision regarding lost opportunity costs when an outcome is truly unpredictable, and that’s a bad look for a game that can hook addicted whales at the cost of players who don’t have the time to roll the dice on their opportunity costs. Respect for the player is important, and unpredictable outcomes do not respect the player’s time or effort.
A Game of Chance, or a Game of Skill?
Eve Online is absolutely a unique experience. The sandbox is deep and vast, and in many cases CCP itself acknowledges that it has created a virtual reality, a complicated virtual world, where the players drive the action. It is a struggle, then, because introducing gamification into this virtual world threatens its function. Players are able to engage with the sandbox and in some cases bend and break the rules exactly because they know the rules. CCP Hilmar has said many times how he is regularly amazed by Eve’s players’ ability to discover how things work and find ways to gain an advantage. This is not unlike the real world, where scientific discovery or military intelligence both serve as only two examples of the many ways in which understanding something better means having a competitive edge.
The introduction of unpredictability defeats this. When a system is unpredictable, players cannot use it to gain an edge tactically or strategically. They cannot use it to develop doctrines, they cannot rely on it for an advantage in a fight. In the real world, things may not always be known, but they are always knowable.
Eve isn’t Elite. Perhaps the most noteworthy difference is that Eve’s markets allows for trade and an economy. The destroyable nature of things means that no module is going to persist forever to break the game. This is probably not a catastrophic end to the game. But it is certainly a risk. A little gambling isn’t a problem on its own, unpredictability has a place – we don’t know if every shot we take will hit. Some fights are won or loss based on a random missed shot. On its own, unpredictability is not terrible because it can be accounted for. But looking to introduce that unpredictability in a way that has a “major impact” and a “lateral effect” is a dangerous trend towards gamification for the sake of gamification.
I don’t think that mutaplasmid modifications are going to become The Cancer That Is Killing Eve™. It’s not likely simply because the unpredictability means they can’t be used to change the meta. The danger here isn’t from the modules themselves, but from the trajectory they represent. If the efforts that CCP undertakes are meant to have major impacts, to affect every player, then this is good – that is development time well spent. But CCP should look carefully at these things before introducing them. The likely result of introducing unpredictability isn’t unpredictable.
If you scan as ship that has corrupted modules, will you see the full details/stats of the corrupted modules?April 17, 2018 at 7:50 AM
Le Dépositaire chimpy
Chances are it’s not the case. A ship scanner only tells you which modules the ship is equipped with, in instance, you can’t see if they are damaged by overheat, so you probably won’t see what module is “buffed”.April 17, 2018 at 9:31 AM
Dirk Stetille Le Dépositaire
These rolled modules will be called specific things, tied to the tier of mutaplasmid you use, so it will be pretty easy to see if they have a modified module on their ship.April 18, 2018 at 2:27 AM
No. You will see the standard stats unless they change how the modules work with dogmaApril 17, 2018 at 10:38 AM
This shit is retarded. I can’t believe it made it past the post-it note stage of development, let alone that it’s gonna get pushed to TQ.April 21, 2018 at 5:50 AM
its just player crafted items, if you feel you have to be that elite to have them over someone else so you can beat them in pvp that fine you go that path, for me and l’m guessing most pp with will be something to hunt, and see what mods you can make and sell .
what you am and others are afraid of is “crafting” there has been no player crafted items in this game, unlike others were it is part of the game from the start, l would rather see CCP give use more options like this for me as a new player, they am trying to update a 15yr old game to bring in more players which is a good thing change is never bad its siting still and not innovating which will slowly kill the game.
Now l’m not saying it will be perfect out the door, there will be problems and as a player base we should encourage CCP to do more things like this and help them though feed back not just letting CSM do all the player feed back, get on the forums, theory-craft, get on twitter talk to devs…. l will say it again change is never bad fear of change is so please embrace the new features within this great game.April 17, 2018 at 9:46 AM
Elite Dangerous Engineering actually become far less “random” recently due to player feedback. I am not sure CCP understands this, or why.April 17, 2018 at 10:00 AM
I would wait and see how this is perceived in a few months.April 17, 2018 at 10:23 AM
This reminds me of the Destiny 2 vs 1 random perks rolls change, which is now generally considered bad by the PvE/PvP community. So it will make a comeback later this year. The main complain seems, that without the random aspect there are no goals to aim for once you have progressed through the predictable system.
LP Bisbey Andy22
yet POE random crafting is one of the strongest in the game industry, you can make items that no other player will ever make and sell them and get very rich, and they don’t need to go on the market, contract is enough each one is going to be unique it will mess up the market if theirs thousands of them on thereApril 17, 2018 at 10:40 AM
Andy22 LP Bisbey
POE = Path of Exile?
If so yes the same point i was trying to make, random “unpredictable” PvE progression systems seem to add a long-term progression goals for many games/PvE players. So while those are often criticized of being too “grindy/random”, once you make them predictable they may become obsolete quickly (see Destiny 2).
Given EvE’s unique nature i’m also skeptical that a random PvE progression mechanic, will “revitalize” the PvE community or add positive effects to PvP. I guess we will have to wait and see.April 17, 2018 at 10:48 AM
Interesting, i just started playing Elite after the Engee changes and i was kinda happy to not have to-do this random grind, yet after just 2 weeks i had my fully maxed and pimped out engee ship. So now most PvE became trivial and PvP was not my thing in Elite, also unfortunately the mission/powerplay system is just bad, so for me as a progression PvE player Elite had not much left to-do, so i just left for now.
Similar things happened in Destiny 2 vs Destiny 1, namely the change to not have random perks/stats on weapons anymore, so the hunt for the “god roll” weapon in Destiny 1 isn’t in Destiny 2. Yet again i liked the idea to not have to rely on luck/grind to get my favorite armor/weapons and did so in just 3 weeks vs months in D1. The community that’s left seem to agree on favoring the old random rolls, which will make a comeback later this year.
The next example i can think of is Warframe, where a highly random “power” element was added via “riven mods”, which seem to be exactly what CCP is trying here. Those mods are gained/rerolled via grindy PvE gameplay, you can repeat forever. Similar to D1 there are also so called “God rivens”, which are variants with max stat rolls in highly sought after combinations (crit damage, crit chance), while having negative stats in areas the weapon does not actually suffer much from.
So from a pure PvE progression aspect, it seems to me that having a highly randomized power progression aspect might keep more PvE players active, since as shown in Elite once you predictably progressed through the system, it becomes useless to you.April 17, 2018 at 10:02 AM
Pew Pew Andy22
Likewise in a casino, no one would play a machine where you put in a dollar and it gave you back 98c every time.April 18, 2018 at 4:30 PM
Firstly how does trading these modules work? Does each module have a separate listing on the market or do they have to be sold in contracts?
Secondly unpredictability is a core part of the game already, sometimes your shots will miss and sometimes they do extra damage. There are plenty of complexes that have variable rewards, exploration for example.
So yes this may slightly reduce the ability to spreadsheet the fun out of everything and reduce the game to a monotonous sequence of button clicks that gets the same result every time.
Thirdly The Cancer That Is Killing Eve™ is definitely the lack of new, good, systems. The abyssal shit is, not to put a too finer point on it, abysmal.April 17, 2018 at 10:21 AM
Rhivre Pew Pew
They are sold on contracts but you cannot see what you get until you fit it due to there not being a unique id for each possible combination.April 17, 2018 at 10:37 AM
I understand the problem with potentially millions of unique ID’s, but this will make it much more difficult to trust a transaction when it’s already hard to trust transparent transactions. The idea isn’t bad, but the implementation of it is lackingApril 17, 2018 at 10:42 AM
The idea I heard at fanfest is either use esi contract endpoint or third party it .April 17, 2018 at 10:45 AM
The third party will of course have to fit it to verify
This is so not new player friendly. I thought CCP wanted new players?April 17, 2018 at 10:52 AM
It is definitely not new player friendly at all. I am hoping they find a way to display the info. The impression most people have is that you can show info on a contract and see info, but this is not the case. So definitely buyer bewareApril 17, 2018 at 10:58 AM
Good point, but i guess the activity itself might be “new players” friendly, even if the trading/selling is not. So new players might be able to engage in a gameplay loop, that has relatively high rewards they can directly use on there ships.April 17, 2018 at 10:59 AM
LP Bisbey Rhivre
someone will come up with a 3rd party website were you can check what the items stats will beApril 17, 2018 at 10:43 AM
Andy22 LP Bisbey
Sounds exactly like the Warframe “Riven Mods” problem and was also kinda solved via third party websites 6 months later.April 17, 2018 at 10:51 AM
LP Bisbey Andy22
yes that is a great compareApril 17, 2018 at 10:54 AM
Once the public endpoint for contracts is in it will be accessible through third party tools. Private contracts will require auth but they will also show the details.April 17, 2018 at 11:18 AM
Contract scams will be very alive and well though as most people won’t check the out of game tools before buying a contract in jita
Pew Pew Rhivre
Well that sounds like a terrible idea.
Imo they could solve it with some kind of score on each module. So 100 means it’s, on average, got the same stats as the base model. If it’s scored 125 or something you know it will be pretty good, even if it’s not what they’re telling you it is.April 17, 2018 at 3:39 PM
Aurel Specker Rhivre
this is BS and is 100% the opposite they said they will do. I mean ye, they could just not do what they said, but then why are we even talking about this?April 17, 2018 at 7:41 PM
Perhaps if they had iterated this as a way to construct dead space/ officer level rare items it would be a bit more palatable. Give them fixed potential outcomes so it’s reasonable to give them type ID’s and market access.
Also, if this stuff is the only rewards available the sites are only going to appeal to people who have isk in the wallet, not new players who can’t wait for contracts to clear for a payday. New players are also most likely to get scammed and pissed off that the newest Eve content screwed them over so easily.April 17, 2018 at 10:50 AM
LP Bisbey CK
new players can explore and find the keys, all they have to do is relic sitesApril 17, 2018 at 10:55 AM
CK LP Bisbey
They can, but they are being sold that they can make super powerful modules worth a fortune. When they find out that it’s not for them to be able to do that they might not stick around to see what Eve is really about.April 17, 2018 at 11:24 AM
Daito Endashi CK
I doubt they’ll be going into the game and one of they first things they want to do is “hey let’s make some super powerful mutated modules!”April 17, 2018 at 12:11 PM
CK Daito Endashi
I’d be interesting to see how many people saw the “This is Eve” trailer and left disappointed in a month because they didn’t know how to get that kind of experience. All I’m saying is that low end sites need to be rewarding small, easy, isk generation if they want to see the feature pursued by new players. They shouldn’t lose a t1 cruiser after a few sites and have to wait a week for a contract to sell before they can replace it.April 17, 2018 at 12:21 PM
There’s going to be other loot, Filiments for deeper tiers, blueprints, they said that the new ships will be built at least partially from stuff attainable in the pockets too.April 18, 2018 at 7:24 AM
You can trade via contracts, and people have the impression you can show info. At present however (and as far as I know, this isnt an easy thing to fix), it does not work with Dogma.April 17, 2018 at 7:00 PM
Author, you had me with much of the article until The Problem of Unpredictability. Your premise is false. People deal with unpredictability in games in common, frequent and profound ways.April 19, 2018 at 12:43 AM
Yes, games with no Unpredictability lend themselves to more than just fun games but opportunities to develop expertise. Chess for example.
But your contention that people/gamers cannot manage, excel or fairly compete in an unpredictable game is untrue. Poker for example.
There is a vast difference between shared unpredictability that occurs within known bounds and is governed by transparent rules (like in the case of Mutaplasmids in EVE) versus an example of a game with unpredictability that occurs within a very broad and poorly defined range and is governed by opaque and poorly described rules (like in the case of Slot Machines).
It is my counter argument that this expansion offers a change in the game that more closely relates to Poker, in terms of unpredictability, than it does to Slot Machines (or Mutaplasmids vs. Elite Dngrs Engineering).
It’s fucking stupid and CCP have no idea what they want the game to be. They say they want to add “depth” and “meaningful choices” while filling the game with nullified ships, gimmick modules, and dumbed-down participation requirements.
POS fuels –> fuel blocks
Stronting –> preset a timer in a window
Choosing between freighter op (insecure, large volume) and carrier importation (small volume, secure) –> jump freighters
Skill-reliance for scouting / moving stuff (run a bubble camp by hand-flying a covert cloaking ship) –> climb into a yacht, inty, or T3 and have no cares
The list just goes on and on. Multiplasmids aren’t a well-thought-out change: they’re just something new for the sake of having something new, something to fill stage time and feature-lists at a Fanfest that was basically content-less.April 19, 2018 at 5:46 AM
Pew Pew Ganthrithor
Yeah I think this is true. They keep saying they believe in the sandbox but they don’t seem to believe in sand.April 19, 2018 at 7:29 AM
I think you have the right idea, but the examples you state are terrible. Some things need to be fixed and made more intuitive.
1. With the retirement of POS, having a generic fuel block makes sense.
2. Stronting was an overly complicated process for roughly the same results.
3. STOP HATING ON LOGISTICS! They make large scale content possible on a regular basis. You still have enough chances to gank them without blindly swinging a nerfbat.
4. The scouting thing I think you are right about, there should be a benefit to being a good scout. If anything, I think it should become more specialized so you have real penalties to things like nullification.
Multiplasmids need some serious thought an balancing, but they do have some potential. They will help push fits to extremes that truly skilled pilots can properly use to their advantage.April 19, 2018 at 4:34 PM
1. You could argue that, but fuel blocks pre-dated POS retirement by years– it was not a change made with POS retirement in mind.
2. Stronting was not overly-complicated whatsoever. It involved a single arithmetic calculation to determine how many hours of reinforced time you wanted, followed by putting that amount of stront into the tower. The “result” may have been similar under ideal conditions, but the mechanics couldn’t be more different: one is a totally automated system that requires zero ongoing player interaction (set the timer in a config screen, ignore structure thereafter) and has no circumvention mechanic. The old system required ongoing player interaction (as stront levels had to be adjusted to compensate for an attacker’s probable timezone, rather than simply selecting a time of day for the structure to become vulnerable regardless of when it’s attacked), required logistical efforts (you actually had to move the stront to the tower location and/or at least be able to physically access the structure to make adjustments), and left open the possibility of circumvention by players (the defender could add an appropriate amount of stront for one particular reinforcement timezone, but if attacking players could maintain system superiority for a long period of time, it was possible to push the reinforcement timer into a timezone of the attacker’s choosing by holding the POS between 25-50% shields for an extended time period, during which the stront levels could no longer be altered but the reinforcement timer was not yet triggered). Kiting was an ~*excellent*~ game mechanic and the fact that CCP chose to do away with it is, frankly, tragic.
3. I’m not hating on logistics: I’m hating on lazy people. Logistics used to be an actual specialty in this game: there were people who’s knowledge, skills, and organization / player constructs allowed them to move things when/where other people could not move things. Now all someone has to do to be able to move things is have 12B ISK on hand to buy a jump freighter. Bingo, now they can teleport wherever they want in total security. The fact that people still die in jump freighters is entirely attributable to pilot error: from the standpoint of game mechanics it is entirely possible to move your goods with zero risk of loss using JFs. Not only is it possible, it’s actually trivially easy: all it requires is knowledge of the relevant game mechanics and a non-lazy pilot who resists the urge to take shortcuts.
4. Nullification doesn’t need penalties, it needs to not be a thing. There’s simply no reason the game requires any kind of nullified ships. It existed for a decade without them. Again, all nullified ships represent is a commitment on CCP’s part to lowering the stakes of the game and catering to the lazy and the risk-averse. Interceptors, yachts, and covert/nullified T3s are fucking cancer. I want CCP to release a graph showing number of nullsec gate jumps by ship type dating back to before T3s and Interceptors Online: I think you’d find that the vast majority of nullsec gate traffic now consists of ships that literally cannot be interdicted. It’s fucking ludicrous and absolutely unjustifiable.April 19, 2018 at 10:11 PM
Pew Pew Ganthrithor
100% agree.April 20, 2018 at 7:27 AM
Abyssal deadspace and the “crafting”-system is pretty much a “jesus-feature” to me. It might not cater to big bloc coalitions due to the limited supply of comparable/same mods for fitting entire fleets but it sure as hell will spice up small gang and solo pvp and even PvE. Whats not to like about it? Also it might ( I’m pretty sure it will ) lead to some very interesting fits.
Waht Solo PvE Players got to do? Level 1/2/3/4/5 Missions. Reoccuring missions, switching out fittings in between. But if you ran the missions 3 times you know the drill and getting the 50th damsel out of distress and salvaging the wrecks isnt as interestring anymore at all. It gets tedious. Abyssal Deadspace sounds to me like the testing foundation for a procedural generation of missions. If thats fruitful its enhance the PvE experience leading to an influx of new players. IMO
I’m pleb btwApril 19, 2018 at 6:51 AM
The most amusing aspect to this is that Elite Dangerous moved away from pure rng Engineering to an engineering system where you can continually improve your random upgrades – so expect to see that change to EVE’s mutagens in 2 years time ^^
I personally don’t see this having any effect on large or medium battles. Increased vroom speed may give an edge in solo or small team pvp but besides from that I just see an awesome way to give pve players a meaningful reward to grind for. Are these extreme rng mods healthy? Hell no. Are they better then the zero attention given to pve players for the last 3 years? Unfortunately yes.
I am sad there will be no resist mutagens though. I love resist ^^April 20, 2018 at 7:23 AM
Mutaplasmids, in one easy picture.
https://cdn.discordapp.com/attachments/240459565366247426/437156702291361793/slide_5.pngApril 21, 2018 at 7:45 AM
Good readingApril 22, 2018 at 6:57 AM
Well in order for the Abyssal pockets to have an impact, someone must use them. And I don’t see why would a highsec PvEr bother with them. Higher risk and uncertain reward is a kind of stuff CCP has added to the game time and time again and has been largely dismissed while players favor the press button – get bacon nature of agent missions.
Of course since those misison are an ol collection that’s been around for anything between 7 and 11 years, even the more devoted Skinner box grinders grow bored of performing the same chore over and over again. This is an issue that could be fixed if CCP just added new agent misions, but for reasons unknown, that’s not what CCP does. Instead of adding what works, they keep trying new stuff that fails.
Nullbears of course will abuse the feature to death and beyond so there will be an impact after all, but nowhere near where it would be if it appealed to highsec PvErs.April 22, 2018 at 7:40 AM
I don’t understand the problem… I want my ship to be the best. It will never be the best if every player has the same cookie-cutter items. Even if my ship is only better because it can travel 0.5% faster than another ship with the same fitting and player with the same skills. The game is massively diverse, but it’s been running long enough that you’ll have people who have maxed all the skills and gotten more isk than they can spend… Where can they go next?January 16, 2019 at 9:22 PM
They can “tune” their rides. Make their Cynabal or Vindicator, Rorqual or Noctis truly their own. Nobody else will ever have the same ship, and that’s only possible with a certain amount of random chance. Eve has mastered “structure” now it’s time to add some chaos.