EVE Evolved: What pushes EVE Online players to breaking point?

How many times have you read the comments on an EVE Online article and found someone talking about an experience they had that turned them off the game? They were suicide ganked and lost a month’s worth of progress in 30 seconds, scammed out of all their ISK, or their corporation fell apart after a war declaration. Even former players who look back fondly on their time in EVE Online will relate some event or trend that ultimately pushed them away from the game, whether it’s a gameplay change that ruined the way they liked to play, their alliance suddenly losing all of its territory, a valued friend quitting the game, or a social structure they relied on breaking down.

These natural breaking points happen to all players eventually, and some will invariably take the opportunity to quit the game when they occur. EVE is more of a long-term hobby than a game, so it’s only natural that some players will leave the game if something catastrophically upsets the way they’ve learned to enjoy that hobby. Lately I’ve been thinking about these moments in which a player can lose something they’ve invested heavily into, and wondering whether there’s something more that could be done to minimise these failure states. Should CCP provide safety nets for players against catastrophic failure, or is this just part of the player-directed nature of the sandbox?

In this edition of EVE Evolved, I consider some of the things that can push a player to breaking point, and whether additional safety nets would make a difference.

The pure meritocracy

As player Jin’taan recently remarked in an article for EVE fansite Crossing Zebras, EVE Online is a pure meritocracy at its core — As Jin’taan puts it, “EVE doesn’t care about what you say. It cares about what you do.” A big part of EVE‘s battle-hardened culture is that you’re personally responsible for your success  in everything from PvP to market trading, and that your failures are the results of mistakes you made. Even in the case of suicide ganks or scams, players will always point out that there’s something that the player could have done to avoid their fate.

This idea is burned into EVE‘s core identity, but it’s not exactly a universal truth. There are still plenty of ways that a player can suffer a critical loss or failure through no real fault of their own. You could be part of a small roaming PvP gang that gets hotdropped by a dozen bored titan pilots, or you could be one of the freighter pilots regularly suicide ganked in Jita with nothing valuable in their cargo hold. You could even be one of thousands of players who put their trust in an alliance’s leadership and are then unexpectedly betrayed, as happened with Circle of Two’s spectacular betrayal last year. Unless you play EVE solo and in the most hyper-paranoid way possible, you will inevitably need to trust other players and expose yourself to risk.

Catastrophic failure states

The vast majority of losses and failures an EVE pilot will make throughout their career are minor, it’s all part of the sandbox experience and the possibility of failure keeps us on our toes. Practically everyone has been suicide ganked at one point, run head-first into a pirate gatecamp, or had some scheme fall apart unexpectedly, and we take those losses in our stride. The problem is those rare times when things go so catastrophically wrong that you can lose everything that keeps you interested in the game.

It’s the miner who grinds for months to buy his first Rorqual and loses it to pirates the next day, or the industrialist who loses all of his original blueprints in a gank or heist. It’s the corp leader who sees his organisation fall apart because they can’t handle a war declaration, or the alliance grunt who has just been evicted from the home he’s spent months building. There are moments when people can completely lose the thing that keeps them interested in the game, so should CCP should be striving to eliminate as many of those catastrophic failure possibilities as possible?

Safety nets and community collapse

As much as we like to think of EVE as a cold and harsh universe where you could lose everything in one attack and a single player could topple an empire, the truth is that EVE has always had safety nets to protect against catastrophic failures. Ship insurance reduces the financial cost of losing a ship, skill points are no longer lost on death, and blueprints can be locked down in a station to prevent theft. Reinforcement timers on structures give you time to evacuate assets if your home comes under attack, and the asset safety system now makes it impossible to lose items stored in a citadel even if it’s blown up.

So could any additional safety nets help prevent other cases where players are driven to breaking point? Certainly the war declaration system that has driven countless small highsec corps from the game is in dire need of an overhaul, and a clearer corporation role system would help prevent players accidentally exposing their corps to theft. But in cases of social breakdowns such as alliances collapsing and corps falling apart, the best safety net will probably always be the EVE community and the corps that actively recruit players and help give them a place in the game.

Every new player learns the golden rule of “never fly anything you can’t afford to lose,” but what about the greater risks we can’t choose for ourselves? EVE may be a pure meritocracy on the scale of everyday gameplay, but there are still plenty of ways that a competent player can lose the thing that keeps them interested in the game through no fault of their own. To quote a certain wise old starship captain, “It is possible to commit no mistakes and still lose. That is not a weakness. That is life.”

Every EVE player will inevitably experience an event that could push him to breaking point, whether it’s losing months of progress to an unexpected gank or losing your corporation to an untimely war declaration. Is there anything CCP or players can do to make these events less catastrophic for players, any safety net that would prevent players from quitting when the worst occurs? Perhaps we as a community must simply learn to embrace these events as the engines of change that they are, as opportunities to try something new in EVE Online rather than giving up.

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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