EVE Evolved: Is EVE Online becoming too safe?

EVE Online is often painted as a harsh universe without rules where you could have your entire net worth destroyed or swiped right from under your nose, a reputation that has been well-earned over the past 14 years. Emerging in an early MMO industry that was rapidly becoming obsessed with keeping players safe and happy, EVE stood out with its harsh death penalty and anything-goes ruleset. Stories of high-profile heists and massive battles are still the main types of news that come out of EVE, a narrative that underpins much of the official marketing of EVE even today. It’s been something of a double-edged sword for the game’s popularity, attracting some players on the promise of emergent PvP-oriented gameplay and dissuading others with the threat of extraordinary loss.

Despite this outward appearance, the past few years have seen an odd shift in EVE‘s development direction with the apparent goal of making the game a lot safer. Small improvements such as the Weapon Safety system and warning popups help prevent players from making fatal mistakes, but it’s the citadel asset safety and reinforcement timer mechanics that have been most striking. Player-built citadels are completely invulnerable for all but a few hours per week, and even attacking them in that short period is a painful experience as you have to defeat it three separate times over the span of a week and none of the station’s contents even drop as loot. Highsec is now littered with hundreds of structures that simply aren’t worth attacking, and I’m forced to ask whether the citadel reinforcement mechanics are overkill.

In this edition of EVE Evolved, I discuss gameplay being designed with loss-aversion in mind and lay out some of the problems with the citadel asset safety and reinforcement mechanics.

Everything in EVE blows up eventually

There’s a saying among EVE players that you should “never fly what you can’t afford to lose,” a golden rule for not only PvP but the game in general as you’re never truly safe anywhere in the game. The way I like to put it is that the purpose of every EVE ship is to get blown up, and the goal is always to maximise what you can achieve with it before that happens. In contrast to most MMOs in which players will use the best gear they can get their hands on, EVE players are encouraged to see ships as disposable tools and select a tool of the appropriate grade based on how much ISK they’re willing to risk on a given activity.

Given that there are very few truly unique or ultra-rare ships and items in EVE, all losses of ships and assets can be seen as strict financial losses in ISK and all risks taken can be quantified. I might use a blingy navy issue battleship filled with faction gear to run missions in the relative safety of high-security space, for example, but you’ll rarely see me taking anything bigger than a cruiser out for PvP in lowsec. This has been an unspoken core principle of EVE since as far back as I can remember, and it’s always been important to EVE that players can select the levels of risk they want to take. Nobody should be able to force you to risk something without you explicitly choosing that level of risk (such as by undocking in a more expensive ship), and that guiding line has been present in EVE throughout its lifetime.

Citadels and the selection of risk

Player-owned starbases extended this principle beyond ships and modules and into the realm of permanent assets deployed in space. Players have always had a choice of how much ISK they are willing to put at risk in a starbase, starting on the low end with a simple small tower safespot costing less than 100 million ISK and reaching up to billions of ISK in faction structures and ships and loot players routinely stored in wormhole starbases. Fast-forward to today and we now have citadels — fully dockable stations that players can open to the general public and store as many ships and items in as they like.

In an unexpected move at the time, CCP added a huge loss-avoidance mechanic to citadels in the form of Asset Safety. If a citadel is destroyed, all of the items and ships stored inside are magically whisked away by NPCs for players to recover later at their leisure. The assets are locked down for a few days and can then be moved to any other citadel or station in the system for free, or you can wait 20 days and pay 15% of the estimated market value of the items to retrieve them to the nearest safe station in another system.

This has been great for the adoption of citadels and has seen the rise of player-run trading hubs, but it feels like an abandonment of that guiding principle of risk selection as now players can choose to stage any assets they like in a citadel without worrying about the consequences. It’s worth noting that this mechanic doesn’t apply in wormhole space, where it’s expected that players know the risk they’re taking and all ships and items in the citadel will drop as loot.

Loss-aversion and reinforcement

While the asset safety system can be thought of as a compromise that’s necessary in order to make players adopt the usage of publicly accessible outposts, the real problem for citadels comes in the form of the reinforcement mechanics that were broadly adapted from starbases. When CCP first introduced starbases in 2004, they decided that it wouldn’t be fair for you to wake up one morning and discover that players in another time zone had knocked down all your sandcastles. They gave starbases a reinforcement mechanic that made the structures invulnerable for about 24 hours after they were first attacked, with a clear timer displayed. This would set the time and date for the final battle over the structure and ensure that both sides would have enough time to marshal their forces if they wanted to.

Citadels use a variant of this mechanic in which the structure is invulnerable most of the time and has a short vulnerability window each week, which corporations are supposed to set to their highest activity time of the week so that they will have people online to defend. In reality, most corps just set their timers to the most inconvenient times for their enemies in order to make attacking the structures not challenging but frustrating. The game is becoming littered with time-zone tanked Astrahus citadels that are vulnerable only in a few hours in Australian peak time or when most players are asleep or in work. This kind of conflict avoidance definitely happened with starbases, but citadels have exacerbated it greatly with their second major mechanic change: multiple timers.

Timers are grossly overused

When a citadel is first attacked and its shield is depleted, it enters a reinforced state and becomes invulnerable for 24 hours. The attacker then has to turn up the next day and attack it again, and once the armour is depleted it goes into a second reinforcement period for another 6 days. The final battle ends when the citadel’s structure hits 0% and it explodes, but at this point it’s been a full seven days and three full battles since that initial assault and even that first attack happens on the defender’s terms.

The attacker is forced to go through this week-long rigmarole even if the defender doesn’t turn up, and that’s a lot of effort when the thing doesn’t even drop its contents as loot. This convoluted system makes some degree of sense for large and x-large citadels that cost billions of ISK and have long vulnerability windows, but it’s total overkill for medium structures that are easily affordable by an individual. Players have even reported that there are ways to abuse the reinforcement mechanics to make citadels essentially unkillable in empire space.

What’s even more damning to me is that the tiny Mobile Depot structures that players can build just a few million ISK also use a 48 hour reinforcement mechanic and players can scoop their depots back up at any time in that period. If you’ve seen the massive signs players have built out of hundreds of Mobile Depots that nobody has the time nor the patience to clean up, you know what the end result of those mechanics are. It seems as though new gameplay is now often designed to minimise the possibility of players losing their assets altogether rather than following the age-old scheme of simply allowing players to choose their level of risk, and that’s a real shame.

Ex-community manager CCP Wrangler was famously quoted back in 2007 as saying that “EVE isn’t designed to just look like a cold, dark and harsh world; it’s designed to be a cold, dark and harsh world.” This sentiment is as true today as it was a decade ago, and yet some of the recent gameplay seems to have been designed with extraordinary risk-aversion. CCP describes EVE as a huge asymmetric board game with players placing their pieces on a single massive game board, but it’s becoming increasingly clear that many of those pieces are there only because nobody cares to remove them.

Though citadels have been widely adopted and used as everything from public trade hubs to staging areas in massive wars, the reinforcement mechanics and asset safety systems do render this fact far less impressive than it should be. In implementing catch-all defensive features such as reinforcement timers and asset safety, developers are almost depriving players of some meaningful choices and saying that everyone’s stuff must be made safe because some players would choose not to risk anything. That’s one choice I’d like the player to have to make.

EVE Online expert Brendan ‘Nyphur’ Drain has been playing EVE for over a decade and writing the regular EVE Evolved column since 2008. The column covers everything from in-depth EVE guides and news breakdowns to game design discussions and opinion pieces. If there’s a topic you’d love to see covered, drop him a comment or send mail to brendan@massivelyop.com!
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22 Comments on "EVE Evolved: Is EVE Online becoming too safe?"

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Aelzen
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Aelzen

What really bugs the shit out of me with all this is that the game is coming off as bipolar.

On one hand you have asset safety and tiny vulnerability windows, and on the other, the upcoming t3c rebalance will be keeping skill loss.

So you get the worst punishment possible for losing a fairly cheap ship, and virtually none for losing a whole goddamn space station (if the attacking party can even get past the tiny window of opportunity to blow it up).

I mean shit, Eve, what the hell kind of game are you trying to be with this? You’re sending mixed messages.

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Necromonger

I always wanted to live in a wormhole.
Me and my wife set out to go on this great adventure.

We set up shop in a C4 with a static C3 and after 5 days we got swarmed and evicted.
My wife quited as she lost almost everything ingame and me quited soon after as i just coulnt stand Null sec / low sec or hi sec anymorea after 8 years of playing Eve Online.

If Eve had PvE server i think it will be pulling in a fcton of players as Eve Online has so many things going for it but alot of people just dont like to lose everything over and over :)

I was in 3 of the great wars in Eve Online in a Nullsec alliance and destroyed billions and billions of stuff from others but sometimes you just want to relax without getting forced to dock up or look over your shoulder every second like in Wormholes.

People say Eve is safe, well maybe in Nulllsec, but Wormholes are a totaly diffrent beast altogether as the moment you have that shiney above your head youare being hunted down and evicted.

crowstwo
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crowstwo

I’d wish. I know people will throw rocks but if EvE would have a PVE server it would be the only game I would play.

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Marc Franssen

EVE has been “too safe” ever since Crucible was released.

Greed is Good and Incarna spooked CCP back in 2011. However, instead of going forward with a balanced approach to developing the game, they completely switched gears to “iteration only and only iteration”.

Incarna, however pathetic the actual content was, actually added something *new* to the game. Which expansion (or patch) since then has actually add something *new* to the game, something fresh? Even citadels are just an iteration on starbases and outposts, nothing more, nothing less. Thera? A wormhole system with stations, yippie. What is NEW?

CCP has banked on the stories it can sometimes publish, or get published, from player wars, to try and get new players to try the game. The thing is, those stories are about extremely rare, single moments (months between them) which are usually reserved for a few thousands of the most avid, hardcore players of the game. They’re marketing with material which the average player *never gets to experience*.

I’ve played EVE for a long time. A very long time. It’s been almost 14 years before i threw in the towel permanently, after i realized i was subscribing just out of idealism, out of hope that CCP does *something* to move the game forward.

Instead, we got iteration after iteration on existing systems. Additions and subtractions of existing items and goodies. Patch notes which are only legible if you’ve put in a few years of studying the game’s systems. It’s gotten pathetic.

Where is the integration of Valkyrie into EVE? Where is walking in stations, done properly? Where is Dust, or Legion? Why aren’t all these part of one single, massive scifi experience? Where is the honest-to-god ambition?

Because CCP chickened out in 2011, and hasn’t fixed the *actual* problem. Indecisive management, indecisive developers and project leads, a hyper Icelandic culture of “wait and see” with no real courage to move the game forward, because it now has become the “cash cow” of the business.

I hope CCP manages to turn it around at some point, that they realize that what EVE is currently going through is stagnation. They need to go back to watch their own trailers, and realize why people are staying around – It’s because of hope, hope that the game will, at some point in the future, realize its potential and reach for it.

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Melissa McDonald

Was this written before the $6000 ship was destroyed?

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Scree

LOL. I was totally just going to make fun of this ridiculous story for just that reason. Talk about not coordinating story messages on the SAME day. Could have at least waited 24 hours. Jeeze.

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Stiqman

A good interim step would be to have citadels drop 10-15% of their contents as loot (with perhaps a total value cap per citadel type) like wrecks currently do, however the remaining items are not destroyed but salvaged as per the existing system. This gives the citadel owner some risk and decent asset protection, and the attacker better rewards. The rules could also be different between high, low, and null sec if they want to fine tune the risk in each region.

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Marc Franssen

That’s an incredibly minor tweak, irrelevant for 90% of the game’s population. It’ll do nothing for the game itself.

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Stiqman

Then simply adjust the percentages. If citadels start dropping what’s inside them, people will pop them. Absolutley no doubt about it. The only question is what ISK value does it need to be to start the popping? CPP knows the math.

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Danny Smith

I think its a symptom of a system struggling to gain new blood in significant numbers.

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Erik Heinze-Milne

Pretty much. You can only get so far focused on mechanics designed to encourage trolling and griefing. At some point, if you want more people playing, you have to give them a safe space to get their space legs and THEN tempt them out into lawless space.

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Sorenthaz

Probably because EVE’s reached most of its audience and it’s a niche sandbox with a huge learning curve and a lot of stuff to get used to that isn’t in other MMOs.

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Caleb Ayrania

You are writing this as if you do not think CCP has already considered plans for this “issue”.. The structures feature is pretty “new born” still, and part of a huge overhaul, like getting rid of wand SOV mechanics. Your article looks at a rather narrow part of a BIG picture, and thus becomes a bit of a bitter vet salty rant, or masochistic nostalgia. Let the baby grow up first and wait and see, there are some huge things in the pipe. May I suggest you take a look at this piece from INN, https://imperium.news/eve-fanfest-2017-reveals-ccp-signals-the-end-of-aegis-sov/

Timers will be tweaked, new features and revenue and cost balances fixed, and the rest of the structures pipeline rolled out.

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Marc Franssen

All CCP has shown or even promised are *tweaks* to the game. It’s nothing new, nothing fresh. There is no drive to propel the game forward, no ambition left in CCP to make the game what they originally intended it to be. The 2008 trailer was their vision for the future, and now, almost 10 years later, what did we actually get? *None of it.* Nada. Nothing. Not even the vaguest *hint* of moving towards it.

The 2014 trailer, even more nonsense. Those were supposed to show us where the game was heading.

Instead, we get balance patches. Iterations. Nothing actually *new*. The game is stuck in a rut, trying to tweak this, move that an inch, change the color of this, and CCP thinks that any of those will be the silver bullet. It’s all become too safe.

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Caleb Ayrania

Old horse, but I will bit a little. The ambition levels of CCP to improve EVE and make is pie in the sky amazing, was thwarted by the perfect storm that was the summer of rage. That story has been told A LOT, but conclusion is they became shy/humble and lowered their star aiming goals. Also they lost a lot of money and trimmed down.

They are getting back in the game, and if you compare to the roll out of other brands in the IP, and overall success of CCP, you will get a clearer picture. Coming back from a knockout is not easy, and especially when you run the strangest and most unique game in the world.

Sure there are flaws and things that should be better, but overall things are getting back to the 2008-2009 levels of quality and balls. I suggest looking at the recently acquired brain pool, the latest Dev additions, some interesting and strong voices. Now we just need to get the cure for torfiphobia, and we should be set to go back on track.

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Totakeke

I think it has less to do with keeping things safe and more to counter players who are up around off times. It was a huge problem in Planetside for instance, and that was really only with maybe a 4 hour time difference at most on a server (but don’t even say anything about the Korean players hopping around on peak off times). EVE being a global game with a ton a players all over the place, try to make it balanced around those players by slotting it out that stations can only be attacked at these times narrows it down and actually pin points the fights.

Seriously, no one wants a station to fall because they were sleeping or at work because someone with too much time on their hands, or someone who’s on their off time is able to shoot plasma at their shit.

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Denice J. Cook

If Eve becomes a 2nd job, no one will play it but neckbeards with no families, no jobs and no lives.

Reader
starbuck1771

The safety in the high sec space is an issue created by the trolls in the game. I have been playing EVE off and on for 13 years and have seen it all. Ganking miners using flaws in the system in high sec and everything else. EVE went for some time without being able to keep new blood. These new security systems help keep the new blood flowing into the game and help change the eve veterans reputation of being assholes.

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Robert Mann

Sounds a little too tough with structures. That said, the problem is one of the player bases’ making. The abuse of things like offline raiding has proven there is a need for some sort of ruleset. That doesn’t mean that they have reached a good balance on these, just that the win/loss ratio of games with persistent character advancement (as very few games actually go for persistence beyond that) not taking that into account is fairly obvious. They die and die swiftly.

Frankly, I believe the first game to make it so that player enforced law and order is effective (probably requires some strict death penalties for criminals at a minimum) and feasible will be very interesting. Where many people not currently in the sub-genre of MMOs would likely avoid it, the difference between that game and how other games have largely fallen apart (Eve being a rare success due largely I believe to security space) would be an interesting watch.

I firmly believe that having options is good, but that rules must be something to provide structure to a sandbox game. Otherwise the trolls and jerks intent on flinging sand in everyone else’s eyes have no counter, and very few people are stupid enough to stick around knowing they have no hope of anything but a face full of sand. Thus why I am a big fan of attempts to put limitations in place for any such activity (while still hopefully keeping PvP battles fun when fought.) *Aside from things like believable worlds… because the entire no rules thing just isn’t. Society would quickly form rules, and punish those who didn’t abide by them. If players are expected to do that, it must be realistically beneficial as opposed to just killing and looting (which has never really been achieved.)*

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Schmidt.Capela

It’s the difference between the real world we are forced to live in and a virtual world you can just abandon at your leisure.

People play roles in games not because those roles are required, but because they find enjoyment in playing those roles. Which basically means any role that is needed but not much enjoyable — such as the boring part of law enforcement — will be severely understaffed if left to players. It might be possible to compensate for that, but to do that a dev would need not just to understand player motivation to a degree few developers ever manage to grasp, but also to have a very good understanding of sociology.

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Robert Mann

Agreed, although I think it highly possible given that we have seen roaming bands in a number of games over the last five or so years. As the coding becomes more or less known for how to do those things, NPC law forces could largely fill that role.

Also, I believe a large part of the problem is that it is too hard to do, rather than just boring. There’s no real value in it, at the moment, in the games. The only potential value right now is PvP, and there are simply easier ways to get to PvP.

Of course, I highly expect that those who like playing the ‘evil’ side of things will be upset with any game that does this… but as they so love to say: “Risk and Reward!”

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