EVE Evolved: Exploring EVE’s ‘new opportunities’

This week saw the first concrete reveal of EVE Online‘s potentially revolutionary new Opportunities system, which promises to replace the current tutorial with a more sandbox-oriented alternative. Rather than leading players by the hand through a series of steps, the new system will give players looser goals to complete and let them explore the game at their own pace. It doesn’t sound like a huge change, but the opportunities system will completely change the way new players interact with the game. If it works as intended, this feature has the potential to solve EVE‘s notorious learning curve problem once and for all.

At the same time, I find myself excited for new opportunities outside the game as Massively relaunches as an independent site. Just a few weeks after we were informed that Massively was being shut down and we were all being let go, everyone on the team has pulled together and volunteered his or her time for free to create Massively Overpowered. It’s really good to be back, and I hope I can continue delivering your regular dose of EVE Online for years to come! Ultimately, though, the long-term viability of this column and all the other coverage at MassivelyOP depends on the success of our Kickstarter campaign and future funding through Patreon and advertising.

In this first edition of the reborn EVE Evolved, I discuss EVE‘s upcoming Opportunities feature and the effect it might have on the new player experience.

opportunities-1bThe new player experience

When I first logged into EVE in February 2004, I was quite literally dropped in at the deep end. Adrift in deep space in a rookie ship with a basic mining laser and a civilian blaster that couldn’t open a can of baked beans, I began following Aura’s instructions as she guided me through a basic tutorial. In a story that’s all too familiar for many of those trying EVE for the first time, at some point I did something wrong and couldn’t continue with the tutorial. After a brief and thoroughly unproductive battle with a security billboard, I soon found myself shipless and confused in an unknown star system. If not for the fact that I generally love figuring things out for myself in games (and had already paid for 30 days of game time), that may well have been my first and final experience with EVE Online.

Though the tutorial has been overhauled several times since 2004, the same problems still exist in EVE today. To learn just the basics of how to play EVE, new players have to commit to several hours of step-by-step tutorials covering everything from combat to manufacturing. Failing to follow all of the instructions precisely could leave you stuck and unable to progress, with very few ways to get help. The key innovation of the Opportunities system is that it’s impossible to get permanently stuck because it doesn’t give you explicit instructions to follow. Instead, it displays a bullet point list of tasks to accomplish and it’s up to you to find out how to do each of them by exploring the user interface, asking questions in chat, googling for online resources, or just through trial and error. If you don’t know how to do a task, it’s a non-terminal problem that can be solved through research or socialising rather than a show-stopper that could cause you to give up.

opportunities-1Funnelling people into the community

At this point, it’s a universally accepted fact that the biggest factor in getting new players to stay in EVE isn’t so much clicking with the gameplay as clicking with the community. Players who join corporations straight out the door are far more likely to stay after a free trial, and the average subscription length of players who join corps is notably higher than those who don’t. That’s probably because EVE is more of a social network with spaceships than a game, and the key promise of a single-shard sandbox is the kind of emergent gameplay that can only happen when you interact with other players. But if the goal is to get new players chatting and playing together, why does the tutorial separate them from everyone else for several hours of what is essentially solo mission-running?

The problem with EVE‘s initial learning curve isn’t that the game and UI are too complex or that the tutorial is terrible at explaining things; it’s that the tutorial is nothing like the actual game the rest of us are playing. It teaches players to simply follow instructions and railroads them into mission-running gameplay that is hardly EVE‘s finest feature. Opportunities are different in that they can be completed anywhere in EVE and take place organically in the actual game environment. Instead of clicking through a combat tutorial that spawns a special mission to teach you about combat in a controlled environment, for example, you could just find some NPCS in an asteroid belt or cosmic anomaly and fight them to check that opportunity off your list. The fact that tasks take place in the normal game universe rather than your own little private missions maximises the potential for social interaction and emergent gameplay, which is ultimately what EVE is all about.

opportunities-3Can you make a tutorial for emergent gameplay?

While most MMOs focus on hand-crafted content like quests and missions, the vast majority of the fun in EVE comes from emergent sandbox gameplay. The developers give us tools like ships and modules, but we’re the one who decide to gatecamp HED-GP, run a ninja mining op through a wormhole, or ram a fleet of 100 thoraxes into the Caldari militia. Emergent gameplay is essentially impossible to create tutorials for as it can’t be predicted or artificially induced, but you can create opportunities around it. Nobody knows when they’ll stumble across a wreck full of loot or get his first taste of PvP, but when it happens there should be something there to briefly explain how to take advantage of it.

The hands-off approach opportunities take makes them more like achievements than tutorials, and that means that they can cover things that you wouldn’t ever be able to do in a mission format. We could get opportunities for buying an item from the contracts system, joining a player corporation, getting a PvP kill, or salvaging tech 2 player ship wrecks for valuable components, for example. The lack of step-by-step instructions and the fact that they are completed through normal gameplay should also naturally encourage players to try to figure things out for themselves, ask questions, and maybe join up with a corporation that can show them the ropes.

opportunities-endI don’t think it’s overstating the case to say that the Opportunity system could revolutionise EVE‘s new player experience. When it finally rolls out to the live server, I plan to drag a few friends kicking and screaming into EVE Online to see how they approach the game organically and whether it works out better than a standard tutorial.

Feedback from the playerbase has been pretty positive so far, and some players have even come up with great ideas for extending the system. Completing an opportunity could reward players with a small once-only skill point boost in particular skills, for example, or places where you can pursue an uncompleted opportunity could be highlighted on the screen and system scanner. If you’ve tried EVE before and didn’t like the tutorial, do you think the Opportunity system will make a difference?

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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karmamule
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karmamule

o/

Boardwalker
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Boardwalker

alexjwillis  I second that congrats!

MrFester
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MrFester

Zennie MrFester Yes I have for a few years on and off and with two accounts.

alexjwillis
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alexjwillis

Congrats on the reborn column, Nyphur!

4d3m1RR
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4d3m1RR

Great to have you back! I think the opportunities can be a big thing for EVE, even for vets if done right. I think the idea about awarding small amount of sp in certain skill areas for completing opportunities is great. It can replace the ship spinning feature :)

Zennie
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Zennie

DamnDirtyApe I believe NPSI groups are relatively recent thing and it’s pretty awesome thing.

Zennie
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Zennie

MrFester Have you tried to actually play EVE?

Zennie
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Zennie

karmamule Koshelkin If you like to “idly fantasizing how very cool it would be to live in a technologically advanced far future as it is actually playing the game” and you enjoy your time in EVE while doing it then you, sir, won the EVE! :-D

DamnDirtyApe
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DamnDirtyApe

Just a side note, I think Eve Online is now generally more friendly to
newbies than at any time in the past.  I say this as a tourist and
perpetual newbie who has played Eve on and off again since 2009.  There are new player friendly corporations and organizations now in pretty much every area of Eve (null, low sec, wormhole living, etc).  Even outside of corporations and/or alliances there are a large group of NPSI groups getting together every week (NPSI stands for ‘Not Purple, Shoot It’) to blow things up and have fun.  For money making, there are also now more new player friendly Incursion communities as well (Incursions are large PvE events that takes fleets of people working together to overcome, and are a very good way to make a lot of ISK).

DamnDirtyApe
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DamnDirtyApe

RickMills1 Exploration is very solo friendly, it’s how I made a fair bit of money a few years ago.  In fact, they recently added regular non-combat exploration sites to wormholes, so it’s quite possible to make good money there by yourself.  Sure, there is danger, but it only takes a few successes to pay for a new exploration frigate (or you can just go with a super cheap T1 exploration frigate with no cloak and roll the dice).
As soon as you get a decent cloaking exploration ship (astero is a very quick train) you are pretty much safe if you are careful.  You can also follow a wormhole ‘chain’ to null or low sec space and load up with good stuff there (where local will tell you if anybody else is around).

I still remember my first trip into a wormhole.  It was with a gas harvester fitted Venture with no cloak and I had the attitude of ‘I’m doing this for fun, I don’t care if I get blown up’.  I scanned down some sites, harvested some gas, and buggered out when I saw that sleepers were already spawned at some of the gas sites (meaning somebody else was probably around).  I only made a few million ISK in gas selling, but my heart was going the whole time and I had a lot of fun.