Art by Empanada.
With the announcement of the outright purchase of CCP by Pearl Abyss, there’s significant panic among the players, myself included. The mood is reminiscent of a little village in Gaul whose chief, Vitalstatistix says “The sky may fall on your head tomorrow, but tomorrow never comes.” After many false alarms, has tomorrow finally come for CCP, Eve, and us – the players on-stage? Will Andrew Groen get to write a third volume of the Empires of Eve? The future is uncertain, and so we look for clues to divine what our fate might hold. Pearl Abyss’s current mainstream MMO Black Desert Online (BDO) is where the soothsayers look, and it’s very different than Eve. I want to tell you what the soothsayers see when they cut BDO open to peer inside.
I am not going to compare the two games from the point of which “best.” That would be a fool’s errand, and despite being fully qualified, I want instead to introduce you to BDO to help you understand what Pearl Abyss (PA) and Kakao Games (KG) have done in their own online world. I am going to concentrate on game mechanics, not graphics or sound, because I feel this is the best content upon which to Judge PA’s and KG’s intent and understanding of game worlds. It is unlikely KG would work on Eve, but PA surely must have significant input on KG’s work on BDO.
I’m a filthy casual player in many games. To my credit, I am wise enough to have a valid mining permit so I’m not a complete goofus. Just like Eve, BDO has some quite complex systems. I only interact with some of these systems, get happy, and occasionally slowly osmose into other game systems. I cannot see the full picture of either Eve or BDO; as such you should treat my comparison as being limited and not full. I enjoy playing both games for different reasons. I invite you to please point out my omissions and errors in the comments so that others have the fullest information by which to understand PA and BDO.
Pay to Win
Let us begin our journey with what Eve and BDO would recognize in each other, and in a moment of rashness we will start at a contentions subject, Pay to Win (P2W). P2W is a major concern for MMO players, and I see many reactions to the PA news focus on P2W. The truth is that the topic of P2W is not as clear cut as it once was, and if we are going to talk about it we should explore some of the complexities of P2W. That P2W is complex is assuredly deliberate on the part of those people who want our money – all of it, not just some of it, all the money! It’s easy to get up in arms about an obviously exploitative P2W system like loot boxes in Star Wars Battlefront, but as publishers become more underhanded in their avaricious monetization, things become more blurred. Let’s take Eve as an example. PLEX might help a new player get into a ship they want quicker, but new players who can afford lots of PLEX, and who think that path is going to end in glory, are destined for a rude awakening and ignominious fame on the killboards. Eve’s scofflaws enthusiastically welcome clueless, PLEXed loot piñatas with the full warmth of overheated weapon systems. But give those same PLEX to an experienced vet who knows what they are doing and it’s a different story. Is Eve P2W? If a player was considering playing Eve for the very first time, and they came to you and asked “Is Eve P2W?” What would you say? I know what the goons would say “Buy some ships and let us transport them to goon space for you. We need 500 mil up front too.” In my opinion there’s no cut and dried answer to the question is Eve P2W? It’s murky.
So is BDO P2W? Yes sort of, but in the “sort of” way that Eve is. Possibly more. They have a subscription-type object called a value pack which adds bag spaces to all of your characters, and all of the town storage vaults, among other benefits. There are occasionally special items sold that give a definite advantage. For a while a package was sold in the real money shop that included a hedgehog pet. This pet has a 40% chance of doubling your resource collection every time you spend energy to harvest resources. The hedgehog pack was only for sale for a limited period of time, and is now unobtainable. This is probably the worst form of P2W that I have seen, and yes I bought one.
While I spent a bit of real money in BDO at the start, I’ve not spent anything for over a year now, and pretty much ignore the cash shop. I don’t buy value packs any more, and lost all the extra inventory space they gave me when they were active. However, every day you log, in you get some loyalty points for free. These loyalty points can be used to permanently purchase the same inventory space. Using loyalty points, I now have tons of inventory space. It’s permanent, but it took a long time to collect enough loyalty points to get this space. A new player would probably want to spend some money at the start, but over time you can ditch that if you want. That I ignore the cash shop now means I may be unaware of recent, more blatant P2W stuff in the shop. I keep seeing loot boxes being mentioned, but I can’t find them in the shop. Correct me on this, please.
Similarities between Eve and BDO
Both games are very time intensive. BDO’s structure and reward system are geared towards keeping you logged into the game, even if the game is minimized to your tray. I will often leave BDO minimized at work, or at home whilst playing other games. It is an AFKer’s paradise. Think AFK mining, but without the danger. Perhaps there is an opportunity for CODE to start selling fishing permits in BDO?
There is less PvP than Eve. Gatherable resources nodes dotted around the world can be conquered in PvP node wars. This does not secure the resources exclusively for the victors. What it does instead is generate a tax income for the victors from all players’ NPC gathering from that node. PvP scale in BDO in much smaller than Eve, but Eve leads the entire industry by orders of magnitude in how many PvPers can square off against each other in a single fight.
Both games feature extensive crafting. BDO crafting mainly results in consumables. If you wish to craft an item of high level, you do this by crafting many of the base item, and then smashing them together on the gear progression linear accelerator. To get a +3 garment you may make several dozen, if not several hundred, +0 garments and try to combine them against the will of the random number generator up the chain to +3. In this sense, although you end up with an item, you have consumed many base crafting materials, and many of the items you crafted themselves got consumed trying to make a better one. Note that a consumable item-driven economy fits perfectly to cash shops.
Both games thrive on group activities. In BDO these include sea monsters and alcohol, boats disappearing beneath your feet, and rescue missions. I don’t think BDO can reach the intensity of Eve at its height, but you sure can have some fun together.
What BDO Does Differently
BDO does some very interesting things that I’ve not seen an MMO before, and I’ve played most of the western ones since Asheron’s Call. Like some other MMOs, it has energy that accumulates on a character faster when that character is online, or builds more slowly while offline. BDO also has contribution points that you get as some quest rewards instead of experience points. These contribution points are used to open resource nodes around the world which can be farmed by NPCs you employ to harvest their resources. These resources are using in crafting. Contribution points can also be spent in towns to purchase rooms with functions. e.g. more storage space, crafting tables, residence space for more NPC workers. Building up a huge network of automatic resource gathering and crafting using contribution points is quite a fun part of the game.
All the characters on your account share all your resources. Want to make changes to your contribution point setup? You can do it from any character. Some knowledge you gain is shared across all characters. There are quests to learn about monsters by fighting them. Once you have that knowledge on one character, you have it on all. You accept the quest and turn it straight in. Increase your energy pool maximum, and it’s increased for all your characters.
There are very few restrictions on gear in the form of level requirements. My level 15 alt has much better gear, and consequently better stats, than my level 57 main. There are class restrictions on gear, but that aside, you appear to be able to use anything.
The leveling curve is downright weird. Levels 1-56 are considered to be a tutorial, and could be breezed through in a day or two by a geared alt. At 56, you get an awakening quest, which changes the game significantly. Then levels become a real grind. You might hit 60, but level progress after 60 is apparently agonizing.
BDO gives you a great deal of stuff for free, just for logging in. This is deliberate, putting a strain on your inventory space so you use cash to buy more. Currently, once a day I have to log on and go through the following “collecting free stuff” routine. Just logging in, up to 3 different loyalty rewards off 3 different loyalty tracks are automatically dropped into my inventory if there is space. In the in-game mail I am sent some free silver in-game currency. This amount goes up depending on the quests competed across all of my characters. I then play the black spirit adventure mini board game, roll a dice, move forwards some squares, and get the object in the square I land on. After 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5 hours of being logged on, more free gifts are provided. I usually get these hours by fishing AFK on my laptop while in work, which itself generates more free stuff. During all this time, my NPC workers are gathering resources for me as long as I keep them properly beered up, something the Mittani and his goons should feel right at home with. It can be almost a full-time job managing the free stuff you are given. One important consideration is that while a lot of these items can be low value items, quite a few – say 2-3 per month, per loyalty track running – can be quite high-value items, around 80-100 million on the marketplace. It’s definitely not all junk.
What BDO Gets Right
BDO has a beautiful world to explore. This world continues to grow slowly as more zones are bolted on around the edges. Updates, both small and large, are fairly regular. New game mechanics get added. Every week there’s a new event with carrots for the player base to chase around the hamster wheel. The design is fairly original. I’m sick to the back teeth of games with elves and orcs. You will find them here, but there is so much more original content too.
An interesting gear upgrade system forms the backbone of game progression, but it’s a double edged sword, and get exponentially more grindy and frustrating the closer you get to the end goal. Given how grindy gear progression gets, I am pleasantly surprised at how little gear creep there is, although if someone ground their way to the end only for better gear to come out and the grind to start again from the beginning, I could see many players quitting.
In terms of scope, BDO keeps expanding the range of things you can do in a way that feels different to Eve. Sure the abyss is interesting, but it’s still just shooting at spaceships. It feels as if BDO has a wider scope of gameplay possibilities, both now and in the future. Eve seems to offer the same experience, just repackaged in different ways.
Users also do not have to log out of the game to get back to the character selection screen, or even to change server instances. . This makes for a lovely quality-of-life improvement.
Crafting and associated life-skill activity gives experience that count towards leveling your character. Combat is not the only option.
What BDO Gets Wrong
Player-to-player asset interaction is diabolical in BDO. Apart from a few minor irrelevant items, it’s impossible to give anything to another player – even a guild mate – including in game currency. The characters across your account share stuff, but for anyone else outside of your account you have to go through the player marketplace, and the marketplace will chew you up and spit out your broken, begging soul. Where shall we begin? How about the fact that you can only ever have one purchase order – called a pre-order – on the marketplace at any given time. I think they originally meant to monetize this by selling more pre-order slots, but forgot to do so. Just to add a slap to the insult, if you have a pre-order up, you get spammy notifications every time someone else buys that item off the marketplace. You can’t turn them off, or if you can, I haven’t found out how. Please, for the love of god, if you know how put it in the comments! More on spam later…
But that’s just for beginners as far as the marketplace goes. Allow me to blow your mind. All the prices are set by the devs, and what the buyer pays, and what the seller gets, are vaguely related at best. The dev set a price range for each item. You can sell most things on the market place, but you must choose a price within the range set by the devs for that item. For big ticket items, that range is set way below what players are prepared to pay. Want to sell a great big sword of twatting? Your maximum listing price will be 100 million, but the buyers competing have pre-orders up over a billion. The highest pre-order will win, and the buyer will pay, say 1.5 billion, for the item. But the seller only gets the 100 mil max listing price. The rest goes *poof* in a big cloud of fork you. BDO could not be more different from Eve in this respect. There is no free player-driven market. The state decides the price of goods and pockets the difference. Oh, and if you don’t have a cash shop value pack running when you go to collect the money from the market, 30% of what you did get is taken off you. No reason apart from “spend in cash shop please.”
The database code for the market is buggered too. If you search for an item without choosing a category first, your PC will explode no matter how powerful it is. Do not try this at home folks!!!
In many places, the BDO user interface is diabolical. To register an item on the marketplace, you have to click the item in your inventory, click accept the default price or change it, click register, then click “ok.” These click boxes appear in different places on your screen. Whenever numbers are needed, a little calculator-like keypad pops up on the screen. You can enter the number manually, but there are about a million little UI choices that gnaw at your soul. The best example of this in Eve is the “repair stuff” button in a station. The ISK amount is usually trivial, but the amount of button clicks in selecting, repairing, and “yes, I confirm I want to spend 1 whole ISK on repairs,” involved is absurd. Technically, these things work. But I always wonder if the person who made them actually plays the game themselves, because they would be the first thing I would fix.
Remember playing a new MMO for the first time? You are full of questions. The number one question of any player loading up BDO for the first time is, “How do I turn all the f***king notifications off?” BDO is probably the most spammy MMO I have ever played. It notifies you about everything, all the time, and it is difficult to figure out where to turn all of it off because it comes from so many different sources. Some, you can’t turn off. Each time you log on, a whole bunch of spam has built up while you were logged off, and BDO can’t wait to shove it in your face. If you bring up the world map in BDO, it knows you can’t see the notifications, and it will just store them all up for you so that when you get back it can notify you of several hundred things that happened. Almost all of it is trivial stuff. For example, if you are auto-crafting a batch of several thousand beer to keep your goons NPC workers happy, BDO will faithfully report on every single auto-craft as if it was big news. These near-constant notifications appear onscreen right where other game mechanics appear. Playing the cow milking game with constant notifications overlaying the minigame adds so much more to the experience. Again the issue is poor user interface, and no one seems to care.
Progression in the gear upgrade grind gets absurdly hard towards the end. You can sink untold resources into making that last step, burning far more in the last step or two than the journey so far in the first place. The black spirit mocks you.
When Worlds Collide
Monetization-driven and grind-based game mechanics, along with poor user interface and no desire to fix the obvious problems, are my biggest gripes with BDO. Despite all my whinging, it’s still a good game. The vistas and scenery are amazing. I get a very chill vibe from the game that really relaxes me. There is a good variety of places to explore, and they look gorgeous. The world feels large, with many things to do. The combat is interesting and involved. Constant updates keep the world and activities fresh with things to do, even if they do try their hardest to fill your inventory at every opportunity.
What does this say of Pearl Abyss and Kakao Games as custodians of an online world?
They are monetization-focused and very encouraging of clocked hours in-game. They don’t care if you are active or AFK. As long as the game client is logged in, that is the number one priority for them. This possibly speaks to their stance on botting. I know there are bots in BDO, and very little is done about it. CCP may find that dealing with bots gets put at the bottom of the priority pile, so far down that it probably gets locked away. Regular updates are another tool PA and KG use to try and encourage players to log in, so that’s a positive. I doubt they will let Eve stagnate on the update front. The BDO freebies just for logging in are a time sink in themselves. I expect some of that to head over to Eve.
What might this mean for Eve? Let’s imagine if they tried to BDOify Eve, what might that look like? There are game mechanics in Eve that I don’t believe could be changed because they are so fundamentally ingrained that to attempt to change them would destroy the game PA bought, such as the player driven free market or the infinite storage in stations, though I’m sure CCP database admins would love to try. Everything player-owned is destructible apart from permanent skins. If these mechanics are sacrosanct to Eve, then PA can’t sell premium P2W items that are indestructible. They can only sell items or buffs that are destructible. I wouldn’t be surprised to see PA introduce destructible items/buffs that can only be purchased from NPCs for PLEX, not ISK, maybe comparable to player-crafted items. Having additional PLEX sinks in game would make PA very happy, I think. BDO has a very high, fast throughput of its economy. BDO encourages consumption of resources and pushes free resources in to drive this consumption. We might possibly see that come to Eve, maybe prompting a drop in the cash cost of PLEX, but many in-game drivers encouraging their consumption in much larger volumes. This actually mirrors the CCP change from old PLEX to mini-PLEX, smaller with more sinks to encourage spending. Perhaps a few each day just for logging in, although the number of people with excessive alt accounts in Eve could put a spanner in the works of that plan.
For me, one potentially worrying sign is a quote from Hilmar’s statement here.
“In business terms, CCP Games will continue to operate as a wholly owned independent subsidiary, with studios in Reykjavík, London, and Shanghai, and we’ll integrate our development and publishing expertise into Pearl Abyss’ operations for all current and future projects.” (Emphasis mine.)
That could be read as Pearl Abyss doing the coding for Eve, but it could also just mean the integration of coding teams into the Pearl Abyss corporate structure.
Another point of interest for me is the timing of the Pearl Abyss announcement in the context of previous announcements. Let’s say this acquisition has been several months in the making. You don’t do a $425 million deal without many months of due diligence. I would imagine more than six months and that estimate seems conservative to me.
A host change for Eve’s China server, Serenity, from Tiancity to Netease was announced less than one month ago.
CCP Seagull, Eve’s executive producer and probably one of the most influential people to have shaped Eve for the better over the four years announced her departure at the end of April, roughly four months ago.
Does today’s announcement add additional context to these?
The reality is that we don’t know what the future holds for Eve and CCP under Pearl Abyss, and it’s natural for people to worry what change might bring. Just remember, we play Eve to have fun. Don’t worry too much about the sky falling; tomorrow never comes.
Editor’s Note: As an opinion article, the views expressed are those of the author.