Header art by Quendan Comari.
Wormholes offer some of the most dynamic, exciting, intriguing, and captivating areas of game play in EVE. There is no denying that, especially with the tumult in wormholes as of late.
A lot of players perceive wormholes as something of a paradox. They are the place where people get opulently, hilariously, Amarrian-esque wealthy. But they’re also a place where the efforts to make that kind of wealth render lives nasty, brutish, and short. For a long time, Hard Knocks represented the paragon of the wormhole lifestyle and appeal. They had the ability to grow so big as to not be unseated from a princely kingdom, safe from the machinations of null. Others see wormholes as the place small, independent corporations go to die when they can’t make it in null. Still others view wormhole corps as ‘weirdos’, while many more don’t give them that much thought, instead perennially ‘passing through’ on their way to somewhere else.
Walking the Holy Land
CCP loves wormholes, though. Can’t you tell? Between @EVEOnline and @CCPGames Twitter accounts there were no fewer than thirteen separate tweets about wormholes, wormhole events, and wormhole lifestyle in just two weeks of February 2020. References to the emergence of wormholes in Apocrypha, notes on the Guardian’s Gala wormhole event, From Wormholes with Love, and the Fight or Flight update.
The February 11 patch notes appear to have a strong focus on raising the appeal of wormholes. We see a temporary buff from the loot fairy, with nearly 90% loot drop rates from PVP in wormholes. A tiered wormhole PVE event which rewards players who engage the VIP tier with implants which are only available in wormholes. The number of connections between wormholes, and from wormholes to other regions of space, is increased dramatically—especially for C5 and C6 holes—with the interesting note that Needlejack filaments work from wormhole space.
All hail the Holy Land, Anoikis. CCP Hellmar, wormholer BTW.
The question begs to be asked: Who was this content for? Was it for the experienced, the aware, the curious oldbros looking for something to re-excite their interest in the game, or was it for the newbros? I can’t see by their marketing or their language that the target demographic will be new players, but nonetheless it comprises a big part of the media new players are exposed to (of late). Inevitably, new players will want to try out wormholes as a viable place to live.
If we’re going to talk about wormholes we would be remiss to talk about them without talking also about new players. For this, we’re going to start with a little wander down memory lane—don’t worry, we’re not going too far. Nine months should do. Specifically, let’s go back to June 2019 in Toronto. Let’s talk about EVE North.
Talking about our Problems
The keynote presentations at EVE North talked about the many great efforts being poured into addressing a monumental hurdle: keeping new players engaged and playing this game for longer than one week. EVE’s actual and projected retention numbers for new players seem less like the strategic forecasting of a successful game publisher and more like a bad rewrite of Koji Suzuki’s The Ring. I’m not sure which is more likely; CCP being able to hold up their claims from EVE North, or a water-logged Samara climbing out of my television set.
Seven days isn’t just something creepily whispered over the phone, it’s also how long 90% of new player registrations last. By any count, EVE Online boasts a higher kill rate than the undying waif could lay claim to. The message from EVE North was overwhelmingly that CCP understands this trend—that they are working proactively to improve support, that they are conducting exit interviews with players who cancel, engaging in proactive rookie support, and that fresh dialogue was being had between game masters and developers about how to stem the tide of departures.
Amazingly, in the same video linked above, CCP acknowledges that one of the strongest indicators of a new player’s success and likelihood of subscribing rests with their participation in a corporation which provides a support network within which to learn—citing examples of Brave, Karma Fleet, and EVE University, among others. I say this is amazing, because no further mention is made of this in the same keynote and CCP doesn’t go on to elaborate how they will build on the success of these player-led organizations.
CCP Burger, in a separate conversation, describes the problem presented in the graph above—a 90% loss after seven days. CCP Burger goes on to joke that the NPE won’t solve anything, without being an obscenely long tutorial. He describes a renewed focus on UI and UX smoothing, more concise and available content, and new options in starter packs. While all good, none of these amplify or build on the successes forged by capsuleers and mentors already in the game. They might make it easier, and the UI Pointer Tool is a big leap in the right direction, but it’s not enough.
When Burger is interviewed by Reload, he mentions code cleanup, and bug fixes, and changes made within the structure of the game. Burger calls up The Agency specifically, saying:
“… and where we’re going deeper, like, interconnecting things. Using every opportunity to teach you about new things, and, y’know, teach you about features because EVE Online is, like, endless options and often times it is so hard to take the initial steps.”
I have a problem with the statement ‘using every opportunity’ because they (the they that is CCP Games) clearly aren’t using every opportunity. It’s as though they’ve said, “we recognize that the best way to get running is crutches, physical therapy, and new ergonomic running shoes, but hey! Look! We’re going to make a bunch of refinements on this wheelchair and eventually you’ll get there” where the hands-on assistance offered by training corporations is the former.
Going back to the conversation this article started with—wormholes—I repeat: Who is this content really for?
The Problems with Newbros and Wormholes
EVE University has a wormhole campus that is reserved for their ‘Graduates’; students who’ve shown promise, learning, participation, and have been around long enough to be at least moderately trustworthy. However, you can’t join the wormhole campus straight in the door. Why? Because there’s a lot you need to understand before living in a wormhole is practically and pragmatically sustainable.
Karma Fleet and Bomber’s Bar will take you through the wormhole superhighway on the way to a whale hunt, or to whore on a fight, or to bash some hapless, neglected wormhole structure in low power mode. However, they don’t immediately say, “Alright, let’s move in.”
Hell, with Needlejack filaments working from within J-space, maybe we’ll see this drive PVP content for wormhole corps and others alike. I’d love to see how Olmeca Gold will use them in his fleets (send vid, Olmeca).
However, a lot of new players are divorced from the assistance of an experienced mentor or corporation, FC or financier. These players will find themselves hard-pressed to find their footing in wormholes. Maybe they’ll somehow manage to live out of a mobile depot until they can afford a bigger structure. Some may join forces with other similarly intrepid individuals. Even then, attempting to do this while learning how to be ISK self-sufficient is a struggle that many players have a hard enough time with in High Sec, much less wormholes.
I help a lot of newbros; in-game, via Twitter DMs, Discord, in-person conversations. I spend a lot of time just answering questions, donating my time and ISK to try and show them that what they want to do is achievable if they can tolerate delayed gratification. It’s one of the best lessons in the game.
It is also not uncommon that a newbro asks me what one of the more lucrative ways to earn ISK is, while they’re starting out. I’ll ask them what they enjoy doing and if they say they’re interested in harvesting or industry three times in five I’ll say, “moon mining and gas huffing.”
One player in particular I was helping today expressed his interest in starting gas huffing and exploring wormhole gas sites. We talked about the particulars and I asked if he had a fitted venture ready to go. I sent him 50 million ISK to buy the skillbook he needed, and made some suggestions, finally sending him a fit which I thought aligned with his goals. I said, “This fit with hull is about 5 million ISK, you should be able to buy 6-7 of them with the money you have left over from the skillbooks.”
That’s when he told me the skillbook was 39 million ISK!
I was gobsmacked. I’ve had the skill for years and couldn’t imagine it.
Do you remember when you first started playing this game? Do you remember how long it took you to make your first 50 million ISK? (If you’re a newbro and reading this, it’s entirely possible you haven’t yet passed this milestone.) I don’t know about you, but to me it felt like it took a really long time, and I was in EVE University at the time receiving full-time classes and support from corpmates.
So why is CCP pushing wormholes so hard while raising the price of entry into one of the easiest, most viable means of generating income in wormholes as a new player? They even require that you be subscribed as an Omega clone to learn the skill and employ it!
CCP, please explain this to me—I’ll even take a private email, you have my address. If you can’t get people to stick around when the game is free to play, how are you going to get them to move into wormholes when you expect them to pay, and save up in-game, just to take advantage of wormhole space’s lowest hanging fruit? I honestly want to know.
If you want a good look at the numbers and the day-to-day of wormholes you can always look at one of ExookiZ’s presentations. That the video I just linked had 475 views at time of publication is quite telling, I think.
Maybe that’s what CCP is attempting to address: the apparent imbalance of perceptions around wormhole space.
Those perceptions aren’t necessarily wrong, though. Even experienced players can struggle to get their heads around wormhole mechanics and even tasks as arbitrarily ‘simple’ as rolling holes. Listen to the February 16 broadcast of Talking in Stations, where CCP Rise appears as a guest to specifically talk about wormholes. He says, and I quote, “it’s such a unique ecosystem, it feels like a whole other world that’s separate in so many ways from the ways ‘normal people’ play EVE. It’s really complicated.”
If it’s complicated, why are we spending so much advertising on it?
Do I like that CCP is giving wormholes some long-overdue dev love? Yes.
Do I believe this was a good time for it? Okay, maybe. I could go that way.
Do I inherently disagree with any of the changes they’ve made? Not at all. All good changes that needed to happen.
What sticks in my craw is that it’s been nine months since the last EVE North and they’re advertising the next EVE North with no real progress to show for the efforts on retention; in fact, CCP has remained surprisingly mum about how the numbers look and what their efforts have been since the keynotes mentioned above. Yet, a lot of high-level engagement events and features are being rolled out for existing players with very little thought given to bringing players up to the level where engaging in wormhole content can be, and will be, rewarding and sustainable in the long term.
Still, for nearly two weeks straight it was “wormholes, wormholes, wormholes”. It felt a little desperate, a little forced, and a little mewling. Over the last nine months in the ‘Chaos Era’ we’ve seen changes introduced with the apparent goal being to make wormhole space more attractive and more appealing; blackouts in null, nerfing ore everywhere but in wormholes, events with special rewards in wormholes, etc.
To me the Chaos Era feels a lot like CCP Hellmar’s biases trickling into dev cycle and the rest of the dev team playing a frantic game of Whack-a-Mole with feature development and releases with no cohesive, unified, structured plan to improve the overall growth, health, and sustainability of the game as a whole—and that’s a problem. They’re putting new gilding on the hospital bed rather than focusing on stemming the bleeding.
Wormholes might be the most forced conversation in objectives I’ve experienced as a new player since the Zelda games introduced, “Hey. Listen.”