eve evolved

EVE Evolved is an EVE Online column by Brendan Drain. [Follow this column’s RSS feed]

EVE Evolved: Does EVE Online need more conflict-drivers?

Of all the terminology associated with EVE Online, the one thing that’s always made me a bit uncomfortable is to hear players describe PvP as “generating content.” It’s an oddly sterile euphemism that seemed to surface years ago during the era of the blue donut when large alliances organised faux wars for the entertainment of their restless troops, and it doesn’t sit right with me. PvP in EVE is supposed to be about real conflict for solid reasons, not generating content for its own sake. It’s about smashing a gang of battleships into a pirate blockade to get revenge, suicide ganking an idiot for transporting PLEX in a frigate, or forcibly dismantling another alliance’s station because you just hate them so much.

EVE PvP can be visceral and highly personal, not just something fun to do or a game of strategy but a way to settle old grudges and punish people for whatever the hell you want. World War Bee was a brutal mix of Machiavellian politics and massive fleets of highly motivated players coming together, not just for some fun gameplay but to try and completely annihilate the goons. So what the hell happened? Why are so many people sitting in nullsec fortresses and farming ISK, building huge capital fleets and complaining about the “lack of content” in PvP today? Does EVE‘s conflict engine need a tune-up?

In this edition of EVE Evolved, I look at some of the factors limiting real conflict in EVE today and suggest three possibly controversial changes that would drive further conflict in New Eden.

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EVE Evolved: How much trust is too much in EVE Online?

Of all the headlines to come out of EVE Online over the years, the biggest and most far-reaching have been the stories of massive thefts and underhanded scams. The MMO community has grown up hearing these tales, from the embezzlement of EVE‘s first public bank in 2009 and the estimated $45,000 US Titans4U scam in 2011 to the trillion ISK Phaser Inc scandal and beyond. EVE has been embedded with this narrative of mistrust and betrayal for most of its life, the most famous example still being the Guiding Hand Social Club heist from all the way back in 2005.

Yet when a player recently stole three extremely rare ships using social engineering, the victims expressed only disappointment that they had lost a friendship they valued. The question for players and the wider MMO community today is simple: How much trust is too much to give someone in an MMO? To what degree should the game mechanics automatically protect your assets and privacy, and how much of that protection should you be able or expected to give up in order to make progress or join a group?

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EVE Evolved: The controversy over EVE Online’s capital ship nerfs

EVE Online players have been up in arms this week over sweeping nerfs that are about to hit to high-end farming gameplay styles in the player-owned nullsec territories. It started when CCP Games announced that the Excavator drones used by Rorqual capital industrial ships would be getting a sizeable mining yield reduction and that a respawn delay would be added to ore sites in nullsec. As players were still reeling from that unexpected news, developers then announced a surprise general nerf to fighter damage with the goal of making carriers and supercarriers less effective in PvE and PvP. This significant balance change was just announced on Friday 9th June and goes live on Tuesday 13th, prompting outcry from the community over the lack of feedback-gathering on such a significant change to capital ship balance.

These nerfs both seem to be reactions to the latest few Monthly Economic Reports, which showed that the total money supply in the game economy is over a quadrillion ISK and rising rapidly. The detailed breakdowns of economic activity in the reports tell a more complex story, with ISK supply from bounty prizes roughly doubling over the past year and mining in the Delve region shooting off the scale in the past few months. It seems that a large number of nullsec players are spending more time farming and building up resources, and it’s the scale and efficiency of the top-tier farming setups that has CCP worried.

In this edition of EVE Evolved, I discuss the upcoming Rorqual and fighter nerfs, look at the economics of farming, and explain why this trend could be a more serious indicator than CCP realises.

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EVE Evolved: War declarations need revamped for the citadel era

It’s a universally accepted fact in EVE Online that you’re never truly safe from attack. Low-security space is littered with pirates looking for an easy kill, nullsec alliances respond to invasion of their territory with overwhelming force, and cloaked ships could lurk around every wormhole. Even in the friendliest parts of high-security space, you can still be blown up by a squad of suicide gankers or find yourself the target of a highsec war declaration. Wardecs are intended to allow player-run corporations to fight with each other in highsec without interference from the police, but over EVE‘s entire lifetime they’ve been almost exclusively used to grief and harass small corporations.

Some wardec alliances log literally thousands of wars per year, with almost all of them being against small industrial and social corporations whose members have no intention of fighting back. The aggressors typically just camp trade hub such as Jita 4-4 and declare war on any corp caught hauling valuables through the system, turning a potential sandbox content-generator into a boring pay-to-grief mechanic. With the landscape of EVE being transformed by player-owned citadels and a dynamic PvE revolution on the horizon, I think the time is right to revamp war declarations for the new citadel era. The current wardec system isn’t fit for purpose, and we deserve something more engaging.

In this edition of EVE Evolved, I give some thoughts on the wardec problem, a suggestion on how they could be revamped to fit the new citadel era, and an idea for how they could even provide a more immersive PvE experience.

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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.

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EVE Evolved: Low-security space has lost its identity, but it can be fixed!

When I first discovered EVE Online back in 2004, it had been out in the wild for just under a year and was a much simpler and friendlier beast. There were fewer than 50,000 players in total and most of them were flying around in tech 1 frigates and cruisers, either mining, grinding their way up top level 3 mission agents, or PvPing. Most corporations lived in the relative safety of high-security space and warred with each other for all sorts of reasons, and some power-hungry corps tamed the lawless nullsec regions to hunt battleship NPCs and mine ores containing valuable Zydrine and Megacyte.

Low-security space offered a tempting middle-ground for players back then, a place you could go to reap better rewards than highsec but at the cost of a proportional increase in risk. Pirates faced much lower consequences for attacking another ship unprovoked there than in highsec, and the areas around stargates and stations were kept safer by automated sentry turrets. The delicate balance between risk and reward in low-security space began to fall apart as the sizes of player groups in EVE increased and ships got better at tanking the damage from sentries. Nearly a decade later and with very little done to revamp the area, today’s lowsec still suffers from this legacy and has lost much of its identity. But how can this problem be solved? Hints may come from recent rumblings at EVE Fanfest 2017 on the future direction of PvE.

In this edition of EVE Evolved, I look at the reasons I believe low-security space has lost its identity and a few of the ways CCP could inject some much-needed personality and speciality into this neglected area of the game.

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EVE Evolved: Video highlights from EVE Fanfest 2017

For a few days each year, hundreds of EVE Online players from across the world flock to a frozen volcanic rock at the top of the world for the annual EVE Fanfest. I was on the ground at EVE Fanfest 2017 last week in sunny Reykjavik to get the latest on what’s ahead for EVE and CCP’s other titles, and it was a thoroughly enlightening experience. We learned all about CCP’s amazing plans to roll out adaptive AI-driven PvE across the game world, talked to players and developers, and heard about the next stage of Project Discovery that will let players search for real exoplanets in space.

We also got hands-on with CCP’s immersive VR sport game Sparc, looked at Valkyrie‘s new Groundrush game mode that has players fighting inside huge structures on a planet’s surface, and confirmed that DUST 514 successor Project Nova is still in development. There were talks at Fanfest that we just didn’t get a chance to go to, and others that really have to be seen first-hand. Thankfully, CCP has recorded most of the event and has begun uploading talks to the EVE Online YouTube channel.

In this edition of EVE Evolved, I’ll be running down some of the highlights of the official videos from EVE Fanfest 2017 for those who missed the event.

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EVE Evolved: EVE Online’s moon mining overhaul and the future of conflict

Just under four years ago at EVE Fanfest 2013EVE Online‘s Executive Producer Andie Nordgren took the stage and delivered an epic long-term vision for the game’s future in which players will one day explore deep space and colonise previously undiscovered star systems. Developers have been tackling this enormous vision one step at a time ever since, and today we have a versatile set of player-built Citadels and Engineering Complexes for corporations and alliances of all sizes. As we approach the four year mark, we’re now about to hit another major milestone in Nordgren’s plan with the release of Upwell Refinery structures and a total overhaul of EVE‘s resource-gathering gameplay.

CCP released a devblog last week revealing details of the new Upwell Refinery structures and a whole new gameplay system for moon mining that sounds pretty damn impressive. Rather than simply deploying a static structure that provides a permanent stream of moon minerals, new moon mining structures will physically rip a huge chunk of the moon’s surface away and drag it through space to a refinery for players to mine. The new mechanic will transform moon mining from a relatively secure source of passive income into entirely active gameplay, with far-reaching consequences for alliance warfare. This forms one part of the promised resource-gathering revolution, which we’re sure to hear more about at EVE Fanfest 2017 this week.

In this edition of EVE Evolved, I drill down into the details of the new Upwell Refineries and moon mining mechanics, and ask what effect this will have on the rest of the game.

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EVE Evolved: What’s the deal with EVE’s PLEX changes?

This week CCP Games announced that some big changes are on the way for PLEX in EVE Online. The PLEX or “30-day Pilot’s License EXtension” is a virtual item that represents 30 days of subscription time and can be bought for cash and then sold to other players for in-game ISK. This simple mechanic has proven to be one of the most important innovations in the subscription MMO business model over the years, allowing players with lots of in-game wealth to effectively play for free while permitting cash-rich players to buy in-game currency without funding dodgy farming operations that can disrupt the game world. Dozens of games now support some kind of player-mediated currency roughly like PLEX.

The proposed changes are intended to simplify EVE‘s business model by merging PLEX with the microtransaction currency Aurum. Players will also be able to put their PLEX into invulnerable account-wide PLEX Vaults that are accessible at all times rather than having to move the valuable items manually by ship. There’s been significant backlash from the EVE community over the newfound invulnerability of PLEX, plans to delete some microtransaction currency from the game without compensation, and the possibility that someone leaked the announcement to friends early in order to make a profit. So what’s the deal with these PLEX changes, and why are some EVE players going nuts over them?

In this edition of EVE Evolved, I look at the upcoming changes to the safety of PLEX, the opportunities that more granular PLEX could have for EVE, and why players are up in arms over plans to delete Aurum from thousands of accounts.

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EVE Evolved: Hints of EVE Online’s summer update

The EVE Online community was a little surprised this week by what appeared to be the accidental early reveal of the feature list for this summer’s update. Someone noticed that the official EVE Updates page had a new “summer” section filled with details of upcoming features but with placeholder images attached. The page disappeared shortly thereafter, but not before someone snapped a screenshot of it and published it to Reddit. CCP Falcon tweeted that this wasn’t a leak but that “a few cards were published early without images” and they’ll be re-published properly on Monday. This hasn’t stopped the EVE community and bloggers from speculating heavily on the content of the early reveal, and I must admit that I can’t resist doing the same.

The summer update comes ahead of the Drilling Platforms discussed in my previous article, but it looks like part of the impending resource-gathering revolution is coming early in the form of a complete re-design of the mechanics behind asteroid belts. Strategic cruisers will also be getting a significant balance pass across the board, and the recently announced Exoplanet search minigame will be coming to Project Discovery. The update also includes graphical overhauls for several space station types, redesigns of the Vexor and Ishtar drone ships, new explosion graphics, and improvements to the new player experience. Outside the game, we’ll be getting all-new forums boasting new features for sharing and engagement, and a chat system that keeps going even when the server is offline.

In this edition of EVE Evolved, I dig into a few of these early reveals and speculate on what they might mean for EVE. Is a total mining overhaul coming earlier than expected, and could we get EVE chat on our phones?

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EVE Evolved: What do we want from Drilling Platforms?

If you followed our EVE Fanfest coverage last year, you might remember CCP announcing plans to add a whole series of new deployable structures to EVE in the form of Engineering Complexes and Drilling Platforms. The Citadel expansion added new deployable space stations that players can put anywhere in space, with medium-sized Astrahus citadels for small corporations all the way up to the colossal Keepstars designed for massive military alliances. This was expanded on in the second half of 2016 with the release of Engineering Complexes as specialised citadels with bonuses to industry and research, but what ever happened to the Drilling Platforms?

Drilling Platforms were touted as an upcoming revolution in the way we collect resources in EVE Online, but the feature was still firmly in the early design stage when we discussed it with CCP at last year’s Fanfest. There were general ideas floating around about automated mining structures that require different levels of player interaction and disrupting enemy resources by attacking their drills, but nothing concrete at the time. We’ve now been promised a solid development roadmap update at this year’s Fanfest on April 6th and more information on Drilling Platforms in devblogs before then, and it’s got me wondering what EVE‘s upcoming resource-gathering revolution might look like.

In this edition of EVE Evolved, I speculate about what Drilling Platforms might be like, discuss the kinds of gameplay I’d like to see from them, and lay out a few of my dream features.

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EVE Evolved: Would EVE Online make a good survival game?

EVE Online has practically dominated the sci-fi sandbox MMO niche for nearly 14 years, with its harsh PvP-oriented gameplay and massive single-server universe combining to provide something that’s remained compelling in an ever-changing industry. From its humble foundation as a mostly empty sandbox with a smattering of people and limited resources has sprung political intrigue, war, espionage, charity, theft, and economics that often mirrors the real world in startling detail. In over a decade of virtual history, we’ve seen the rise and fall of massive empires, the birth and collapse of industries, the emergence of heroes and villains, and the forging of thousands of real life friendships.

While EVE‘s long-term success can be attributed partly to the absolute persistence of a single-shard universe, I often wonder what would happen if a fresh server opened today. What could players achieve with a level playing field and blank slate for all, and what would the EVE universe even look like without 14 years of accumulated wealth and skillpoints behind it? A tantalising hint of what that gold rush might look like comes from survival sandbox games such as RUST and DayZ, which have hundreds of small servers and very little focus on persistence. It’s got me thinking about what a shorter-term survival sandbox game with EVE‘s core gameplay would be like, and I honestly think it could be amazing.

In this edition of EVE Evolved, I make the argument for an EVE Online survival sandbox game and the massive gameplay opportunities that periodic server wipes can present.

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