eve evolved

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

EVE Evolved: 2016 EVE Online year in review

It’s been another busy year for sci-fi MMO EVE Online, and an absolute roller coaster ride for both players and developer CCP Games. On the development side, we’ve had two major expansions with Citadel and Ascension and a significant business model change with the introduction of a free-to-play account option. Fan events EVE Fanfest 2016 and EVE Vegas 2016 brought us some fantastic insights into the future development, including a peek at some amazing work on future PvE gameplay and an all-new EVE FPS codenamed Project Nova.

Proving once again that the players in EVE are the most engaging content, this year brought us the political twists and turns of the now-infamous World War Bee, which became the largest PvP war ever to happen in an online game. We also delved into some absolutely crazy sandbox stories, including one player using $28,000 worth of skill injectors to create a max skill character as a publicity stunt, and the controversial banning of the gambling kingpins behind World War Bee.

In this edition of EVE Evolved, I look back over all the biggest EVE stories of the year, from the political shenanigans of World War Bee to the surprise free-to-play option and how expansions have changed the face of the game this year.

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EVE Evolved: The Siege of M-0EE8, the new largest battle in gaming history

In the political sandbox of EVE Online, colossal player-run military coalitions frequently war over territorial conflicts, in revenge for past transgressions or just for fun. Circle of Two alliance recently found itself the target of a massive war not long after it had built a colossal 300 billion ISK Keepstar citadel in the historically contested nullsec system of M-0EE8. Opposing alliances set up their own smaller citadels next to the Keepstar and used them as staging points in an all-out attack on the system. Following two intense battles over the Keepstar in which hundreds of billions of ISK was lost, the explosive final phase of the conflict took place last night in what has come to be known as The Siege of M-0EE8.

I arrived in M-0EE8 in a cloaked covert ops frigate at around 18:30 EVE time to watch the event unfold, and it wasn’t long before a world-record-breaking 5,300 pilots had poured into the star system. A cluster of anchorable warp disruption field generators hung like bright lanterns in space, with great swarms of Scorpions and shoals of Machariels swirling inside. A constant stream of weapons fire flowed from these blinding death bubbles to the Keepstar, whittling down its immense structure like a swarm of insects nipping at a Tyrannosauros Rex.

In this edition of EVE Evolved, I give a brief account of the Siege of M-0EE8, share some screenshots from the event, take a look at how the server coped with the enormous battle, and drill down into the battle stats to see just how record-breaking the siege was.

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EVE Evolved: Getting started with EVE’s free-to-play

Just under two weeks ago, EVE Online launched its new free to play account option with the introduction of clone states. Subscribers are now given the new Omega clone state that allows access to everything the game has to offer just as before, while free players get a new Alpha clone state with a limited set of skills available and reduced skill training speed. The people this helps the most are new players, who previously had to get a 14-day free trial to check the game out but can now just sign up and take their time with it. The Ascension expansion also delivered a brand new fully voiced tutorial that developers hope will retain more players.

Thousands of new players have poured into EVE Online over the past two weeks, so many that last week’s peak concurrent user numbers reached over 51,000 players for the first time since 2014. The Rookie Help channel is now regularly packed with 6,000 to 8,000 players every night, indicating that over 15% of the active playerbase is currently composed new players. I’ve been playing on a new alpha character this week to explore the new tutorial and see what I could do solo within the alpha clone restrictions, and it’s been an extremely interesting experience.

In this edition of EVE Evolved, I look at what new free-to-play players will experience in EVE, give my impressions of the new tutorial and alpha clone limitations, and deliver some important tips that should help all new players make the most of their time in EVE.

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EVE Evolved: Alpha Clone economics, bragging rights, and restrictions

Yesterday at EVE Vegas 2016, developer CCP Rise held us spellbound with tales of his recent misadventures in EVE Online recently when pretending to be a newbie. With free alpha clone accounts on the way, the devs wanted to prove that a well-informed player in an alpha clone could engage in a wide range of activities and even see success in PvP, and CCP Rise naturally rose to the challenge. Starting with only the skills trainable by an alpha clone character and no ISK or assets, he quickly got on his feet and made enough ISK to start engaging in frigate and cruiser PvP and net some very nice solo kills against veterans.

Rise’s success came as no surprise to me, as I’ve done similar experiments with small group PvP and I know just how effective cheap tech 1 cruisers can be. I recently showed how free users could be nearly as effective as well-trained subscribers in the same ships, and yet the myth that they will be simply cannon fodder for the elite pervades the comments sections in articles throughout the web. Developers have said that they intend for free play to be a viable long-term play style, and it should be possible to extend the system in the future. We may even some day get specific challenge clone states for those who want bragging rights or hardcore clones with permadeath.

In this edition of EVE Evolved, I debunk the myth the alpha clone system is an endless trial, examine the potential impact of alphas on both EVE community culture and CCP’s financials, and look at a few ways the clone state system could be expanded on.

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EVE Evolved: Controversy over gambling bans and charities

It’s been a crazy, drama-filled week in EVE Online, starting with a controversial change to the EULA that will ban all gambling sites using in-game currency or assets when the Ascension expansion arrives on November 8th. The move comes alongside the banning of high-profile gambling kingpins Lenny Kravitz2 and IronBank, the two players who famously funded World War Bee using the trillion-ISK profit fountains of a casino empire.

The gambling ban is expected to be a serious blow to player-run events, charitable organisations, and even some blogs, all of which have been funded in part by gambling sites for several years. With its main benefactor now banned, charitable organisation Care 4 Kids has come under renewed pressure from players questioning its profit-making activities and political motives. Over the past year, the group has erected a massive citadel structure, gained territory in nullsec, and even hired farming corps.

In this in-depth edition of EVE Evolved, I look at why the gambling ban was necessary, the impact that ISK from gambling has had on EVE, and the recent drama that’s bubbled up around the Care 4 Kids charity.

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EVE Evolved: What else is coming to EVE Online in November?

Recently I’ve been looking at how EVE Online will be affected by the introduction of free-to-play “alpha clone” accounts in its upcoming November expansion, but there’s a lot more coming in the update than just free accounts. New players will also be met with a completely new story-driven introduction instead of a standard tutorial, and a new ghost fitting system will let players try out ship designs using virtual ships. PvE immersion is also due for a boost as NPCs will begin harvesting ore in asteroid belts and engaging in some industrial operations just like players.

The central feature of the as-yet-unnamed expansion will be the introduction of a new line of player-built citadels for us to build and fight over, this time with a specialised focus on manufacturing and research. Gang and fleet warfare throughout EVE also seems set to change for the better, with a complete redesign of the fleet boost mechanics and the removal of controversial off-grid boosters. Titans will be given new strategic superweapons that provide huge gameplay-bending effects to large areas of the battlefield, and the Rorqual capital mining ship is getting a serious buff.

In this edition of EVE Evolved, I look at a few of the features that have been announced for the November expansion and speculate on how some of them might impact EVE.

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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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