Brendan 'Nyphur' Drain

Reporter

A long-time MMO-addict, northern-irish lad Brendan "Nyphur" Drain is Massively Overpowered's resident EVE Online expert and writer of the long-running EVE Evolved column, published Sunday evenings. The column covers everything from guides and opinion pieces to commentary on game design and hints on preparing for upcoming expansions.

In addition to the column, Brendan covers EVE Online news, community events, general interest stories, and other posts. When he finds the time in his hectic schedule, he can sometimes be found writing features on game design topics or other MMOs he's playing.

He is hard at work on his first video game, the indie space 4X game Predestination.

Twitter: @nyphur

EVE Evolved: Solving EVE Online’s botting problem

Practically every MMO on the market today has had to contend with botting and the range of issues that come with it, and EVE Online has always been a favoured target for bots. EVE‘s slow pace of gameplay and predictable PvE activities make it ideal for automation, and the nature of a persistent sandbox is that more time spent farming resources and currency will always be better. The issue seems to have escalated in recent months since the free-to-play upgrades expanded the range of ships and modules available to free users, and the community has been pushing CCP heavily for progress.

A team of bot-hunting players made the news last month when they took down eight ridiculously expensive supercarriers being controlled by bots, exposing just how big the scale of the problem is. The EVE security team responded with a ban wave hitting over 1,800 bot accounts in January and promises that they are “coming for the bots,” but one expert admitted in a recent interview that the war on bots may never be won. So just how difficult is it to tackle botting in EVE Online, and what could CCP do to improve things?

In this edition of EVE Evolved, I look at the difficulties in detecting and shutting down botters, how extensive botting may be in nullsec, and some things developers might have to do in order to solve the problem.

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EVE Evolved: A matter of balance in EVE Online

Throughout its almost 15-year lifetime, EVE Online has walked a fine line between developing new features and iterating on existing gameplay. Development has to push forward on new features to keep the game fresh and attract new players, but balance issues can emerge in existing gameplay that equally make the game stale or less enjoyable. CCP Games hasn’t always responded to these issues in a timely manner, at times leaving known balance issues in the game for months or even years because development resources weren’t available to tackle those specific issues.

This strategy has been challenged recently by Council of Stellar Management member Jin’taan in his article “Balance is not optional,” in which he argues that CCP shouldn’t even be making balance changes compete for development time with other features. Player Capri Sun KraftFoods followed up with a look at EVE‘s modular item attribute system, arguing that almost any balance change can be implemented quickly and easily just by tweaking the right attributes. Could it be that easy to iterate on EVE‘s frequent balance issues, or does the nature of the game necessitate caution?

In this edition of EVE Evolved, I break down the case for quicker iterative updates on balance issues, look at some of the challenges with balancing a game like EVE, and look at CCP’s new balance team.

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EVE Evolved: The Citadel conundrum

The hot topic on everyone’s lips in EVE Online right now is Citadel proliferation: The galaxy is rapidly filling up with an uncountable number of citadels and other Upwell structures that are cheap to build, difficult to destroy, and powerful force multipliers in combat. There have been some amazing battles over the structures in nullsec since they were first introduced, but some star systems are now littered with them and a number of serious gameplay issues have bubbled to the surface.

CCP announced plans for a total structure warfare overhaul to an excited crowd back at EVE Vegas 2017, and this week we got the final details of what’s coming in February 13th’s extensive Upwell 2.0 update. The patch will introduce moon mining in highsec and wormhole space, rebalances structure combat, and aims to resolve many of the most pressing structure problems with a set of sweeping changes to the vulnerability and reinforcement mechanics. It all sounds great in theory, but some players have expressed serious concerns with several parts of CCP’s plan.

In this edition of EVE Evolved, I delve into some of the problems with structure warfare in EVE today, how Upwell 2.0 plans to pull things back from the brink, and some of the changes that players are speaking out against.

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EVE Online’s biggest battle ever is about to happen, but both sides may be afraid to fight

If there’s one constant in the political sandbox of EVE Online, it’s that everyone is secretly plotting revenge on someone. Alliances can hold grudges for years, and one of those grudges may be about to explode into the largest war in EVE‘s almost 15-year history. It all started back in 2016 during the famous conflict that came to be known as World War Bee or The Casino War, when military coalition The Imperium (self-anointed villains of the EVE universe) found itself outnumbered for the first time by a loose coalition of its collective enemies known as the Moneybadger Coalition.

We covered World War Bee heavily at the time, following its political twists and decisive battles as The Imperium was forcibly evicted from its home regions in the north. The coalition vowed revenge, annexed space in the south of the map, and began farming hard to rebuild its supercapital fleets in preparation for the day when they would take the fight back to the enemy. That day may have finally arrived, but are both sides afraid to commit?

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EVE Evolved: EVE Online’s case for asymmetric and asynchronous gameplay

If there’s one thing that EVE Online does better than any other MMO on the market today, it’s persistent gameplay on massive scales. The now-famous Bloodbath of B-R5RB in 2014 involved 7,548 players over the course of almost 24 hours, and the Siege of M-OEE8 at the end of 2016 peaked at 5,300 separate players all piled into the same star system at the same time. Hundreds of thousands of players live and fight in the same single-shard universe, and EVE‘s largest corporations have more members than the total population on some other MMOs’ shards.

But what about the smaller end of the scale? MMOs aren’t just populated by monolithic organisations bent on galactic domination, and a growing proportion of today’s gamers play online games solo or in smaller groups. Features such as Upwell structures and the new PvE gameplay have clearly been designed with a wide range of gameplay scales in mind, but EVE has never really got past the problem that bigger groups are almost always better. Could the solution to this problem be found in small-scale asymmetric and asynchronous warfare opportunities?

In this edition of EVE Evolved, I look at why EVE‘s massive scale makes it so compelling, the problem that massive scale introduces, and the case for more asymmetric and asynchronous warfare.

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EVE Evolved: 2017 EVE Online year in review

We’ve reached the end of another year, and it’s certainly been a busy one for EVE Online. This year saw heavy gameplay iteration, with improvements to everything from the UI to ship balance, and the Lifeblood expansion’s total moon mining overhaul. PvE-focused players got a new AI-driven Resource Wars activity in high-security space, and an experimental user interface named The Agency has helped tie seasonal in-game events together. New refinery structures caused a bit of a land grab on moons and gave alliances more to fight over, and CCP Games lifted some of the free to play alpha clone restrictions to help bring in new players.

It’s the players that make EVE Online special, of course, and this year had no shortage of crazy political shenanigans. We followed The Imperium’s war for revenge in the north of EVE that eventually fizzled out, watched as The Judge betrayed his alliance and stole the largest sum of ISK in the game’s history, and sat aghast as the leader of that alliance was banned for threatening to cut off the thief’s hands in real life. CCP Games itself hasn’t exactly made it through the year unscathed, with the company unexpectedly pulling out of the VR market and laying off around 100 staff worldwide.

In this edition of EVE Evolved, I look back at the past year of EVE Online news and summarise the highlights.

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EVE Evolved: Calling time on EVE Online’s five-year vision

When Andie “CCP Seagull” Nordgren walked onto the stage at EVE Fanfest 2013 and delivered her long-term vision for the future of EVE Online, the excitement in the room was palpable. EVE was riding its highest peak concurrent player numbers in the game’s history following the overhauls of the Crucible, Inferno, and Retribution expansions, and players were ready for a new blockbuster feature to fire their imaginations. CCP delivered its ambitious five year vision to hand the reins of EVE‘s living universe over to its players, with player-built stargates and deep space exploration in completely uncharted star systems.

We’re now about four months away from the five-year mark on that vision, and many parts of it have now been completed, but no battle plan ever survives contact with the enemy. We’ve seen some big feature drops such as the release of citadels, the industry overhaul, and the recent moon mining overhaul, but that deep space colonisation gameplay still seems far off. Some players feel as if EVE is currently in a holding pattern, with everyone waiting for the next big feature or overhauls to their favourite part of the game before deciding what to do next. So what does come next?

In this edition of EVE Evolved, I break down the progress toward Nordgren’s 5 year vision so far and talk about the possible next steps I think CCP could take to make it a reality.

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EVE Evolved: Three top tips for staying safe from gankers in EVE Online

EVE Online is renowned for its cold, harsh universe and relatively few rules, and we’ve all heard the horror stories over the years of players losing everything they own to one ill-fated encounter with pirates or suicide gankers. There are whole corporations dedicated to ganking miners minding their own business, and the trade hub station in Jita is a hotbed for suicide attacks. If you’re planning to give EVE a try when the new free-to-play upgrades arrive on December 5th, or if you’ve already signed up to get a head-start on the competition, you might be worried about this happening to you.

The fact is that most players will never experience a suicide gank, and it’s relatively easy to avoid becoming the target of one. Bookmarks can be used creatively to give even the most persistent gankers the slip, for example, and the Weapon Safety system can prevent you from accidentally committing a crime and opening yourself up to attack from ordinary players. Remember, though, that managing risk is a core part of EVE, and with that in mind there are some common sense rules that can help you to minimise the risk of attack or the degree of loss should an attack occur.

In this edition of EVE Evolved, I give three top tips for staying safe in EVE Online that should help even if you’re completely new to the game.

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EVE Evolved: Three tricks to maximize your free-to-play EVE Online account

It’s now been almost one year to the day that EVE Online officially got a limited free-to-play option, and it’s certainly been a boon for the almost 15-year-old MMO. There’s been a significant increase in new players asking for advice on the forums and in-game channels, and activity levels have been bolstered by the increased numbers. Some of the game’s largest corporations have opened their doors to hundreds of newbros this year, and the best is yet to come. Next month CCP will be lifting some of the restrictions free players are currently placed under and allowing them to access to larger ships, helping to close the power gap between free and paid users.

While the expanded free tier will open up a lot more gameplay to free users, there are some tricks new players should know to maximise the effectiveness of that tier. There’s even a way for returning veteran players who find themselves constrained by the free tier’s limitations to get a full Omega level subscription absolutely free and even to make a profit in the process. Whether you’re on a free Alpha account or an Omega subscription, there are also a few sources of easy ISK that will take relatively little time each week to manage.

In this edition of EVE Evolved, I give a few tips new players can use to squeeze more out of the free tier and look at a way for returning veterans to get Omega subscriptions for free.

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EVE Evolved: EVE Online’s CCP Games is gambling with the livelihoods of employees

Last week we broke the story that EVE Online developer CCP Games is backing out of the virtual reality games market, closing its Altanta office and selling its VR-focused Newcastle studio. The long-held Atlanta office was acquired in the merger with White Wolf in 2006 and has been hit with several rounds of layoffs over the years, with a major hit in 2011 after the Monoclegate disaster and another 2014 when the World of Darkness MMO was cancelled. The Newcastle studio was the development house responsible for CCP’s VR dogfighter EVE: Valkyrie, and both Valkyrie and CCP’s new VR game Sparc will now be maintained by the London office.

Around 100 staff were laid off in the restructuring, roughly 30 of whom worked in CCP’s headquarters in Reykjavik, Iceland. Though we were informed at the time that these changes would not impact the development of EVE Online, it since became apparent that more than a few non-development staff were cut. In addition to the EVE PR staff and others that were stationed in Atlanta, all but two members of the EVE community team in Reykjavik have also been let go. There are reports that several GMs and the localisation manager for EVE have departed too, and the mood on twitter from staff in Reykjavik recently is best described as sombre and a little shaken.

In this extra edition of EVE Evolved, I dig into CCP Games’s history of taking risks with staff’s jobs, look at some of those affected by the layoffs, and ask whether there is more fallout to come.

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CCP Games ceases VR development, closes two studios – no negative impact on EVE Online

Icelandic business website mbl.is has just reported that EVE Online developer CCP Games is planning to close two of its offices and cease all VR game development. The move affects over 100 staff worldwide, with the Atlanta office in the United States being closed and the Newcastle studio being sold off. The Newcastle office was the development house responsible for the VR dogfighter EVE: Valkyrie, which released as a bundled launch title for the Oculus Rift and has since been released on PlayStation VR and as a non-VR PC title.

The move will see CCP pull out of the VR market for the time being, focusing instead on PC and mobile development. The studio secured a $30 million US investment specifically for VR games back in 2015, and CEO Hilmar Pétursson revealed back in March of this year that the company had only recently broken even on that investment. Despite having some success with Valkyrie, Gunjack, and its recently released VR sports title Sparc, CCP acknowledged the limited opportunities and growth it sees in VR as a platform over the next several years.

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EVE Evolved: The Agency could revolutionise casual PvE in EVE Online

Though EVE Online has a reputation as a cut-throat PvP sandbox where anything goes, the fuel that fires its conflict engine has always been PvE. Players collectively pump over 100 trillion ISK into the EVE economy each month by hunting NPCs all across the game, and at the same time they mine around 40 trillion ISK’s worth of ore for ship and module production. Over 90% of NPC bounties predictably come from people farming in the player-owned nullsec regions where some of the largest PvE rewards can be found, but data released earlier this year showed that 7.2% of bounties actually come from high-security space.

It’s unsurprising, then, that CCP chose high-security space as the test-bed for an entirely new casual PvE format with the release of Resource Wars in the recent Lifeblood expansion. The expansion also saw the return of the Crimson Harvest event and the release of a new tool named The Agency that helps players find nearby PvE content. I’ve been getting stuck into all three of these this week and seeing how it all ties together, and I’m now more convinced than ever that we could be heading for a full-scale PvE revolution.

In this edition of EVE Evolved, I discuss Resource Wars as a new model for PvE and consider how The Agency could be expanded to help promote casual pick-up PvE groups in EVE.

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EVE Evolved: EVE Online’s free-to-play upgrades are pretty damn generous

You’ve probably heard by now that EVE Online is giving its free-to-play alpha clone characters a massive boost in power in December about a month after the launch of the Lifeblood expansion. The news has been spreading through the gaming media since it was announced last week at EVE Vegas 2017 and the reception online has been generally positive. Some existing players are worried that the change might even be too generous, with fears that veteran players may let their subscriptions lapse and play for free, or that the new skills might be abused to create an endless army of ganking alts.

There’s no doubt that the changes will help to close the power gap between subscribers and free players and will open up new avenues of gameplay. Free players will finally be able to fly tech 1 battlecruisers and even battleships, and cross-training for multiple races will unlock multi-faction ships such as the Sisters of EVE exploration ships. Alpha clone players will also finally be able to use tech 2 weapons and fly many of the ship setups flown in massive nullsec wars, though the way that the new skill limit is being implemented may actually benefit old and returning players more than new ones.

In this edition of EVE Evolved, I dig into the free-to-play changes, briefly examine the power gap between free and subscribed players, and look at who will benefit most from the change.

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