eve evolved

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

EVE Evolved: Free-to-play PvP cruiser fitting guide

EVE Online's new free-to-play account option will be going live as part of an upcoming expansion this November, allowing new players to delve into the game and its community for free without the time limit of a standard free trial. Free players will be restricted to a subset of the game's skills to limit the types of ships they can fly, and they should max out those skills within about four months. I imagine that most new players will take the alpha clone limitations as a challenge to work within, and many will attempt to collect enough ISK within those first months to begin buying PLEX and effectively subscribing for free.

I discussed the free account limitations and their implications for gameplay in my previous EVE Evolved column two weeks ago, which sparked off some interesting discussion on exactly how powerful free players would be. What kinds of ships will they be able to fly, and how will they fare against subscribers? Is there a useful place for hordes of new players in EVE, or will they just be cannon fodder for the wealthy and established elite? I've been investigating various alpha-clone-ready ship setups this week in an attempt to answer these important questions, and my conclusion is that free players may be a lot deadlier in PvP than many people think.

In this edition of EVE Evolved, I look at four cheap but effective PvP ship setups that free players will be able to use.

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EVE Evolved: The consequences of a free-to-play EVE

This week we heard the unexpected news that EVE Online will be going partially free-to-play when the next expansion lands in November. Like many games that have added free-to-play options over the years, EVE will be using a hybrid model that provides a limited free option in addition to its regular subscription. The game won't change at all for subscribers and will continue to offer cosmetic microtransactions, while free players will be able to log in and play under a new set of restrictions. Free players will have access to only a handful of skills and will be able to fly tech 1 cruisers and below, and any subscribed players whose subscriptions lapse will be temporarily lowered to free player status.

The announcement of the impending business model change has seen a mixed but largely positive response online, with renewed interest from those who have been put off by the subscription. Existing players are looking forward to an influx of fresh players and getting free access to their old characters again but have warned of potential abuse cases if free users can be used for suicide ganking or farming. CCP has been engaging with the community to investigate these potential issues ahead of the expansion, and many prospective players have been asking exactly how much a free player can actually do.

In this edition of EVE Evolved, I delve into EVE Online's hybrid free-to-play model, look at the kinds of gameplay a free user can get involved in, and highlight a few potential abuse cases CCP will have to address before November's update.

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EVE Evolved: No Man's Sky vs EVE Online

Like many EVE Online fans, I've spent the past week fully immersed in the procedurally generated universe of No Man's Sky and wondering what its mechanics and critical reception could mean for EVE Online. The two games are practically polar opposites in terms of gameplay and scope, and yet I can't help but compare and contrast their different approaches to space simulation. Both games feature universes generated by algorithms, with EVE's thousands of stars being generated once and stored in a database while No Man's Sky's universe is generated as needed on the player's computer.

The biggest difference is that No Man's Sky is an almost isolating singleplayer experience while EVE thrives on grand social gameplay. EVE's core design philosophy is to put thousands of players in a small box with limited resources and see what happens, but No Man's Sky has a box of practically infinite size and no real resource scarcity or multiplayer interaction. Despite these huge differences, there are definite lessons that each game can learn from the other: No Man's Sky could learn from EVE's hardcore difficulty and security rating system, and No Man's Sky can teach EVE about the potential of untethered deep space exploration.

In this edition of EVE Evolved, I compare the procedural generation used in EVE Online and No Man's Sky and look at some of the game design lessons each game can learn from its counterpart.

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EVE Evolved: The single-shard sandbox economy

The debate about what makes a good sandbox game is as old as the term itself, and everyone seems to have a different view on where the gameplay priorities should lie. Some insist that a proper sandbox must have open-world PvP everywhere and even that a brutal scheme of item loss on death is essential. Others point to games that prioritise world-building and environment-shaping tools that put the focus on collaboration over conflict, or that focus on exploration of environmental content. I would argue that the specific gameplay is less important than how actively a game encourages emergent gameplay, and in that regard I believe the most important feature is a complex player-run economic system.

EVE Online's core design philosophy is to put lots of players in a box with limited resources and see what happens, the result being resource-driven conflict, complex economics, and sociopolitical shenanigans that often mirror the real world in shocking detail. Much has been made of EVE's economy over the years in both the online and print media, and it's even been the target of research papers and studies in sociology and economics. EVE isn't the only sandbox game out there, and it certainly isn't the only one with an interesting economy, but its single-shard server structure makes it an intriguing case and has led to some interesting gameplay over the years.

In this edition of EVE Evolved, I look at how EVE Online's single-shard server structure has affected the game's complex economics, politics, and professions.

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EVE Evolved: When was EVE Online's golden age?

In the latest Massively Overthinking article, our Patreon patron Duane got us thinking about whether the golden age of the MMO industry has passed or MMOs are actually in a better position today than they've ever been. Today's MMO market is certainly a lot more crowded than the relatively quiet one that EVE Online first released into back in 2003, lending gamers considerably more options for the types of game they want to play. Some of the older MMOs have collapsed or faded into obscurity in the face that growing competition, while EVE and others like it have constantly reinvented themselves in order to stay relevant.

EVE has lived through around 20 major expansion cycles and 19 smaller expansion-type releases, and many of them have significantly reinvented the game. While major changes definitely inject new life into the game and keep it unpredictable and entertaining, they also often signal the end of an era. Since I started playing EVE in early 2004, there have been plenty of watershed moments when the game has changed forever and the times we enjoyed before them will never quite come again. When we look back at empires that have fallen, PvP styles that are no longer effective, arms races that are long since obsolete, and major features that were best enjoyed immediately after release, EVE has lived through plenty of distinct ages that will never come again. So which one is EVE's golden age?

In this edition of EVE Evolved, I unabashedly don my rose-tinted glasses and look back at two golden ages in EVE Online's past that I'm incredibly glad to have been part of.

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EVE Evolved: What went wrong with the Shadow of the Serpent event?

Last week's EVE Online patch added the massive Shadow of the Serpent event, a game-wide storyline arc that pits players against the Serpentis and Angel Cartel pirate factions. The pirate factions of EVE are engaged in a dangerous arms race as each attempts to design and build its own custom capital ships, and player capsuleers are caught in the middle of it. A new in-game service from The Scope news corporation shows players a variety of different challenges associated with the event, from destroying Angel and Serpentis outposts and looting Angel shipyards to clearing NPC guards from stargates or even just mining ore inside a pirate site.

As with previous PvE events such as the Crimson Harvest and Operation Frostline, event sites are spawning all throughout the game and appear on everyone's overview. Rather than the sites themselves dropping rare loot, the challenges awards points and three special reward containers are unlocked once you hit the 10,000, 25,000, and 50,000 point marks. The idea was to have a game-wide inclusive event that would encourage players to co-operate to complete sites, and in that sense it has been a success. Unfortunately, the event has been hampered by a lack of direct rewards, and its long grind has been condemned by players.

In this edition of EVE Evolved, I look at what went wrong with the Shadow of the Serpent event, how CCP can avoid the same fate for future events, and what can be learned from Guild Wars 2's similar approach to group PvE.

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EVE Evolved: Can EVE be played casually?

We've heard a lot recently about huge territorial wars raging in EVE Online with thousands of pilots taking part, which some consider to be the ultimate endgame of EVE. PvP on that kind of scale and with real consequences and territory on the line is certainly one of the game's primary draws in an MMO space that is getting more crowded every year. The problem is that the kind of time investment and commitment required to be an active member of a large territorial alliance that's under pressure can be excessive. The average PvP operation in EVE lasts several hours, and some players even set alarm clocks to get up for battles in the middle of the night.

The demands placed on fleet commanders, corp organisers and community leaders are even more intense, to the point that they may spend all of their free time engaged in EVE-related matters. Those of you who remember my early EVE days from 2004 to around 2012 will know that I used to play EVE pretty hardcore, doing everything from helping to run a nullsec alliance and managing public corporations to running investment schemes, faction warfare groups, incursion fleets, and lucrative wormhole expeditions. I probably spent over six hours per day playing EVE during that time, but like many players, I've found my available play time each day has decreased over the years. Nowadays I find myself doing something that many people outside of EVE say isn't feasible but that is actually far more common than they think: playing EVE casually and enjoying it.

In this edition of EVE Evolved, I look at the split between the power players of EVE and its not-insignificant casual playerbase, and I discuss a few of the most casual gameplay activities that can fit into very limited play time.

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EVE Evolved: Four PvE improvements EVE needs

EVE Online is typically thought of as being a heavily PvP-oriented game, and for good reason. Players can attack each other anywhere in the EVE universe with varying levels of consequences for their actions, and most of the big stories about the game do seem to revolve around players smashing spaceships together or screwing each other over in some manner. Even playing the market is considered PvP, as traders attempt to corner the market for particular items and force the competition out of business. Despite all of this, stats on the EVE playerbase have always shown that a lot of players engage primarily in PvE activities, and NPC bounties always come top of the ISK faucets lists in EVE's monthly economic reports.

All players have to kill a few NPCs now and then to pad their wallets, but PvE covers more than just shooting NPCs and many aspects of EVE's PvE gameplay are woefully outdated. Mission-running is an archaic system that provides little challenge or variety, mining is a severely unrewarding profession, and the Sansha incursions should have been replaced or heavily expanded on years ago. We found out at EVE Fanfest 2016 that CCP now has several new teams working on PvE, and this week game designer Linzi "CCP Affinity" Campbell released details of an interesting new PvE event called Shadow of the Serpent that will be kicking off at the end of the month. But what would our ideal PvE systems look like, and what more can be done to improve EVE's rapidly antiquating NPC-smashing gameplay?

In this edition of EVE Evolved, I look at what the Shadow of the Serpent event means for the future of PvE and delve into four key PvE improvements that I think would improve EVE Online for all involved.

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EVE Evolved: How are citadels actually being used?

In the build-up to EVE Online's Citadel expansion, there was a great deal of speculation from both players and the EVE developers about how the new player-built citadel structures would be used. Some hoped that a new player-run trade hub would open up near Jita and take over as the main place of trade in the game, many expected that citadels would play key roles in nullsec conflicts, and some predicted that even small corporations would launch their own citadels in high-security space. It's only been a month since the expansion went live and we've already seen all of this and more.

Several fortizar citadels are currently fighting to become the dominant player-run market in the game, offering tax breaks for traders and other benefits. A new Charity Citadel trade hub project was even announced with the goal of donating all profit to in-game charitable causes and CCP's PLEX for Good disaster relief campaigns. Wars have predictably erupted over the deployment of citadels throughout the game, with major clashes over citadels in Saranen even helping to reinvigorate the fighting in World War Bee. Hundreds of citadels have now been deployed all across New Eden, though adoption rates by smaller corporations may have been hampered by an unexpected increase in prices.

In this edition of EVE Evolved, we look at how citadels have been used since the expansion went live and ask why the build costs are still over double the originally announced values.

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EVE Evolved: CCP Games on the future of EVE Online's PvE

It's no secret that EVE Online has always been a primarily PvP-focused game, with thousands of players smashing fleets of ships together on a daily basis. PvE requires a different set of skills and ship setups than PvP and is often seen as little more than a necessary grind to replace lost ships. Even with great PvE additions over the years such as Sleeper NPCs in wormhole space or Sansha incursions, almost all PvE ultimately still boils down to shooting at predictable NPC ships that don't pose a real threat. Players have engineered all of the risks out of PvE, coming up with optimum strategies and ways to predict NPC behaviour.

Things have begun to slowly change over the past year or so with the introduction of dynamic NPCs like the powerful Drifter menace with its advanced AI, Burner missions that in some ways almost mimic PvP, and new high-level capital ship NPCs. We've even had several seasonal events that can be completed in PvP-fit ships, turning the event dungeons into unexpected flashpoints for PvP. At EVE Fanfest 2016 we learned that CCP has begun stepping up these efforts to merge PvE with the rest of the game world and adding some unpredictability and engagement back into the game, and two new PvE dev teams have been formed to get the job done.

In this edition of EVE Evolved, I talk to game designer Linzi "CCP Affinity" Campbell and senior creative producer CCP Burger about two new PvE dev teams they're part of, CCP's plans to integrate PvE more closely with the rest of the game, and how the Drifters were developed behind the scenes.

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EVE Evolved: Fixing EVE's New Player Experience (again)

It's become almost a running joke in the comments of articles that EVE Online is a great game to read about but not nearly as fun to actually play. While those of us who have been playing for years can attest to EVE's depth and long-term gripping power, it has always been a difficult game for new players to get into. EVE sees an unmistakable spike in new players every time a story about a massive battle or political event hits the gaming media, but most don't stay in the long term and activity levels always return to normal within a few months. CCP has tried to revamp the new player experience more times than probably any other part of the game to combat this, but EVE's infamous impenetrability remains stubbornly intact.

At EVE Fanfest 2016, we learned that a whopping 1.5 million people signed up to EVE last year, but that 51% of them quit within the first two hours. They're obviously drawn in by something but are then turned off by things like the minute-to-minute gameplay or the complicated user interface. A new developer named CCP Ghost is now tasked with solving this most intractable of problems, armed with a fresh perspective and an investigator's eye. Now it looks as if CCP may be fundamentally changing its approach to new players and is considering some options that few people expected a hardcore sandbox game like EVE would ever embrace.

In this edition of EVE Evolved, I look into the problems with EVE's new player experience, some interesting ideas discussed at Fanfest's New Player Experience roundtable, and my thoughts on what the new game introduction could look like.

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EVE Evolved: What to expect from EVE Fanfest 2016

Ask the average gamer what he knows about EVE Online and after the word "boring" and a spreadsheet joke or two, he'll probably talk about stories of massive scams, colossal space wars and savage politics. Though EVE is well known for its cut-throat in-game universe, the shared struggles of players have created some very close-knit communities and enduring friendships over the years. Those online communities and friendships bleed into the real world for a few special days each year when the Icelandic capital of Reykjavik plays host to the annual EVE Fanfest. In-game rivalries are set aside, mortal enemies buy each other beers, and everyone celebrates their shared love of internet spaceships.

Fanfest is an opportunity for CCP Games to interact directly with the game's most dedicated fans, and is usually packed full of reveals, roundtable discussions, and player-run talks. EVE Fanfest 2016 kicks off in just a few days on Thursday 21st April and runs until Saturday 23rd, and Massively OP will be on the ground again this year to get the latest information on EVE Online, Valkyrie, and even some brand-new projects. The event schedule has been released, and it looks like there are also some fantastic player talks, panels on recent and future changes, and feedback-gathering roundtables. As usual, there will also be plenty of opportunity for interviews and posing questions to CCP and players.

In this edition of EVE Evolved, I dig into the EVE Fanfest 2016 schedule and see what there is to look forward to this year. If you have any questions you'd like to be posed to CCP or even other players, let me know in the comments!

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EVE Evolved: How did World War Bee start and where is it going?

Throughout the almost nine years I've been covering EVE Online in the gaming media, I've been continually amazed at the sheer scale and impact of events that happen in the sandbox. The fact that everything happens in one massive shardless universe lends events in EVE a kind of tangibility that is rarely felt in an MMO, with the effects of huge battles and record-breaking heists rippling throughout the game world and potentially affecting every player. Right now the whole New Eden cluster is ablaze with talk of the largest war ever to kick off in EVE Online or indeed gaming in general, a war that has come to be known as World War Bee.

We've been covering this ongoing war between EVE's largest military coalition (called CFC or The Imperium) and its collective enemies (known as The Allies or the Moneybadger Coalition), and so far it's had some pretty epic twists and fights. But what actually caused World War Bee, what are the events that led to the Moneybadger Coalition coming together, and how does The Imperium plan to fight this war in the long term? With the wider gaming world peering on as EVE alliances smash huge fleets together in deep space over ideals and past grudges, now is a good opportunity to explore those questions.

In this edition of EVE Evolved, I delve into the events that many in the EVE community believe are responsible for World War Bee and get an update on its progress and The Imperium's plans.

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