EVE Evolved: Is it too late to start playing EVE Online?


Sci-fi MMO EVE Online reached a special milestone this year with its 20th anniversary, and for many people, it raises an interesting question: Is it now too late to start playing? People have asked this same question as far back as I can remember, in fact I’m certain I asked it myself when I started in 2004. All of us 2000-era space-boomers have had a 20-year head start in hoarding wealth and building power, but does it make a difference?

My answer to that question always hinges on the idea that EVE isn’t so much a game as it is a social network with spaceships. Individual wealth and skill are both vastly outpaced in EVE by just bringing a few extra friends, so it’s the strength of numbers that really rules New Eden. The real challenge is to get new players into group activities quickly, and that’s where the magic of public fleets, newbie training corps, and the NPSI community come in.

In this edition of EVE Evolved, I find out the single biggest factor in getting new players to stick with EVE Online today and interview new player champion Kshal Aideron on the world of public fleets.

Your best first step is to join public fleets

The EVE New Player Experience team under CCP Ghost coined the term “Friendship Machine” years ago to describe the effect that EVE has in generating long-term friendships and associations between players, and today the devs have got it down to a science. At EVE Fanfest 2023, Ghost showed the concept of “The Super Fleet Formula,” a kind of step-by-step pipeline for bringing new players on organised fleet activities leading to them sticking with EVE in the long term. This idea has been validated by CCP using its own internal data on player activity.

The super fleet formula comes as no surprise to those of us who have run or participated in player-run public fleets – including new player advocate and rookie fleet leader Kshal Aideron. Having previously bounced off the game twice before, Kshal happened to join a public fleet on their third attempt in 2020 and was immediately hooked. They streamed their efforts and built a niche as someone who helps new players, starting EVERookies.com and running their own public fleets for anyone to join.

Today Kshal is an elected member of the Council of Stellar Management and represents the interests of rookies everywhere directly to the game’s developers. I caught up with them at EVE Fanfest 2023 to find out more about public fleets.

Brendan: Thanks for meeting me! I read up a little bit on you about how it took you three times to stick to EVE. That is such a common story; almost everyone that I’ve talked to here (even the mega fans) didn’t stick with EVE their first time. What made it stick for you the third time?

Kshal Aideron: I don’t know. I really don’t know. The first time I couldn’t get undocked, and from what I remember, there was literally nothing saying “click this here,” and I don’t know how the big undock button didn’t click, but it didn’t. So I ragequit and uninstalled. The second time, I think there was a little bit of a tutorial I managed to get undocked, but there wasn’t anything saying “press this to go there” or anything like that. There was some sort of mission but no direction. I think the third time they had made the new player tutorial a little bit better, so there was a little bit of a storyline, you woke up out in space, and Aura was there to kind of guide you along.

Brendan: And that was enough to get over that initial hump?

Kshal Aideron: I don’t think the storyline really mattered; it was more [the fact that] Aura was like, “Okay, now you need to click this, you need to go here, this is how you warp.” It was just little clues, and it was enough to get me to the career missions. From there, it was like, “OK, now I know what to do with this stuff.” I think it was having a little bit more of a tutorial. I came from EverQuest back in the day where there was no hand holding, and you lost your stuff [in PvP], so even coming from another hardcore game to this, it still wasn’t enough.

Brendan: EVE is definitely so different that there’s very little frame of reference. Do you think that getting involved in PvP relatively early helped you stick?

Kshal Aideron: I don’t think it was the PvP itself; it was the community. I’m a PvPer – I PvPed in Elder Scrolls and EverQuest and stuff like that – so coming into EVE, that interested me. I was out in Tama in like my first week, losing ships, recording my bouts to see where I can improve, and stuff like that. But I think it was falling into the NPSI community in that first month I was playing that really made it stick, because I was determined to be a solo player.

Brendan: Yeah, so just just to clarify the NPSI, that’s public fleets that people run and anyone can join. Who ran those fleets?

Kshal Aideron: The very first one was Greygal with Redemption Road; she did the newbro fleets once a month, and then she had a couple other FCS that would do every Sunday. I enjoyed it so much I started going out every Sunday, and then a month and a half in I was in an interceptor. This is just because I was gonna go do the Guristas epic arc, and everything that I read said you want to go out there in an interceptor, so I skilled into an interceptor, and I found out it was fast.

That pretty much secured it there, having a group that were just like ‘Yeah, go do it. It’s fine. What’s the worst it’s gonna happen?’
They were like, “Oh, you’re in an interceptor, you’re gonna be tackle tonight.” What? I’m only a month and a half old; I don’t know what I’m doing. And that pretty much secured it there, having a group that even though you’re so young in the game and had no idea what you’re doing, they were just like, “Yeah, go do it. It’s fine. What’s the worst it’s gonna happen?”

Brendan: A lot of the best solutions to the new player experience do seem to come from players, like the NPSI fleets and newbie corps. If someone’s thinking of starting eve now, how can they find these resources? Because if they just download the game, there’s nothing pointing them officially to them.

Kshal Aideron: Trip over them. Literally. This is one of my huge issues with EVE right now, there’s no way to find groups like this. You have the fleet finder, which is an absolute stinking pile of dung, and then you have the in-game corp finder, which for groups that aren’t even a corporation, you’re never going to know about.

It’s literally going on Reddit and having someone say, “Hey, go to this group,” or tripping over something on Discord or someone’s stream. That’s the only way that new players are actually going to come out and find new player resources. Maybe they put the right keyword on YouTube for a video. So yeah, right now there is no good way.

Brendan: That’s blunt but pretty accurate in my experience. So what things could CCP or the community do to deliberately direct new players to the right place?

Kshal Aideron: This has been an ongoing conversation within the NPSI community, and now EVE Rookies coming into it, for probably a year and a half. We have suggested an in-game calendar. The reason both the NPSI and open groups like EVE Rookies work is that we schedule things ahead of time. We saw yesterday during the opening ceremony that the average age of EVE players is between 30 and 40, so we have busy lives, we have work,  or we have kids. If we know we can schedule two hours at this time, everyone’s gonna leave us alone and we can play.

Doing something with the in-game calendar we already have, allowing us to schedule things on the fleet finder. We’ve thrown out [the idea of] maybe doing a different type of partner programme where it’s not just aimed at the streamers and actual physical content being made but more at the in-game content creators. Some sort of trust factor or something like that.

Brendan: It’s kind of interesting, because other groups have been talking about this since like 2005. Like, this is such a chronic problem. CCP doesn’t want to seem like it’s favouring one organisation, or do you think that’s a solvable problem?

Kshal Aideron: I do think it’s a solvable problem. Because let’s face it, the groups that are gonna be angry about it is gonna be the null groups. I mean, they’re going to be angry about it, but everyone wants new players to come into the game and everyone wants new players to thrive. I think CCP’s just gonna have take a chance on something, try something, and if it doesn’t work try something else.

Brendan: Has the recent addition of corp projects helped much with new players?

Kshal Aideron: I heard it is. I was really excited about it, then when it was released it was only for corporations. Everything that I do is open community, so we have corporations, but it’s all of our alts. So it literally does nothing [for us], but I talked to Jinx over at Brave quite a bit and EVE University and stuff like that, and they’re really happy with it. It’s giving players something to do, so I’m excited about them advancing it.

Brendan: So tell me a bit about EVE Rookies, how did that get started?

Kshal Aideron: Yeah, so I started EVE back in 2020. I started streaming the day that I played because I’ve never played with streaming or anything like that and social media. I quickly realised that while BjornBee had all the vets and stuff like that, all the small beginner players were coming into my stream because I had maybe three or four people so they could ask me a question and it wouldn’t get lost in the chat. So at that point, being a marketing expert, myself, data marketing, I was like, “Oh, there’s opportunity here to set myself apart.” I started focusing on the new players, plus as new player the experience still kind of sucked.

Another streamer 11 months later had found me and he decided that he wanted to do this project with incursions with me. Incursions are very high bar, you have to have very expensive ships, you have to have very expensive implants, so he was like, “There’s the Vanguard’s and we can actually lower the bar quite a bit.” So we decided to go with the Praxis since they’re pretty neutral in skills and you don’t have to have battleship skills, and we stripped it down to nothing. I think we got two fleets out, but the headquarter groups kept ending the focuses prematurely. They were all competing to get the blueprints and stuff that dropped from the mothership. So him being a Bomber’s Bar FC and me being in another NPSI group, and everything revolving around schedules, it was never going to work. So we put it on ice.

In March 2021, the headquarter groups had come to an agreement to prolong the focuses for as long as possible. I had already put up the website EVE Rookies just to do tutorials and put my videos on and stuff like that so I was like, “Okay, we could do this, we’ll call it EVE Rookies and get it up and going again.” We started out with, I think, eight of us heavily dual boxing to get the fleet up, and no one new came, and then that one brave new person came in, and they told another really brave new person. Pretty soon we were running two fleets, then three fleets.

We’re up to four training fleets a week, and one advanced fleet for people who’ve been in there and don’t need hand holding — kind of gives people something to work towards. We did that for a year, and then someone came to me was like, “I’d really like to work with you guys and do Forward bases.” So now we have forward bases bases once a week. Someone else came to me just at the beginning of this year and said, “I’d really like to do mining,” so now we actually have a mining wing, and I’ve been told that we’re now in a wormhole and we’re starting to run wormhole fleets. And these are all open!

Brendan: So everything that you do is public – anyone could sign up even if they’re day-one rookies with no experience?

Kshal Aideron: Yep, and we do get day-one newbies both for incursion fleets, and I get them in my PvP fleets all the time. At the end of every fleet, we ask people to fill out a feedback form, and based on that people are coming in at an average of about three weeks to three months. So that seems to be like the key denominator there, but one week I’ll see returning vets, and we have just regular bored vets, so it’s really for anybody.

The three things that work for any open community is scheduling, consistency, and the handouts. We have handouts for every single fleet. Of course, for the forward bases and incursions we do have a deposit that they have to put in. If a new person doesn’t have that 250 mil or 300 mil depending on the ship for the handout, then we’ll give them I think a T1 Vexor for the FOBs, and for the Incursions they can scout for us in a venture, and then they get five mil per site that we complete. And then next time chances are with all the tips that they’ll be able to rent a Praxis.

Brendan: The new player experience has always seemed like something that is actually kind of impossible for CCP to fully tackle itself. Is there any one thing that you’d like to see it do, though?

Kshal Aideron: Yeah, and this has also been a big bugbear pretty much from day one; it’s the thing that got me scouting at a month and a half. I had started playing I think in January, and I think we had a February Easter that year, and we had the hunt. It’s the event that has you D-scanning the capsules down, so I figured out how to use D-scan very quickly, and of course D-scan is a very core skill.

I was at Fanfest last year and I cornered a couple of devs and said, “You have this piece of code, why aren’t you putting it in the new player experience? Why aren’t you creating some sort, or adding a mission that involves the scanning? You have this technology already there; copy it and use it in other parts of the game.” Because this will help new players even if they don’t want to hunt or scout. What is it we tell everyone who gets killed in a venture? “Why weren’t you mashing D-Scan?” If I didn’t have that event at the time I did, things probably would’ve turned out much different in my path in EVE.

Brendan: How are you feeling about the CSM? Because I thought it was super important to have some representation for new players in the CSM. And the fact that you got hand picked from the top 20 seems to be helping keep that balance.

Kshal Aideron: Yeah, I’m pretty happy with that because I think being voted in the top 20 means that the player community wanted me there. I definitely got a lot higher than I did last year, so you know there is player interest. This adds some legitimacy to what I’m doing with the open communities and newbros and stuff like this, and it shows that CCP (at least I think) wants someone there from the community because I believe Stitch also is new player [focused], so now you have Mike, myself, and Stitch on there. With open communities and NPSI, everyone forgets that community doesn’t mean that we have to have a corporation and alliance in game to be legitimate.

Brendan: Awesome, so where can people find you in EVE if they want to join in on your public fleets or get in touch?

Kshal Aideron: So of course EVERookies.com; that has all sorts of tutorials and tips and everything, plus it has everything you want to know about any of our fleets, and it has our link to our Discord. On there, you’re actually getting the pings when a fleet goes up. You can find us on NPSI.rocks as well; we’re a partner of LinkNet, so you’ll find all the EVE Rookie stuff under the LinkNet logo.

Most of the stuff is pinged [on the Discord]. I have a few FCs that are very resistant to putting stuff on the calendar for whatever odd reason. I do have a YouTube channel; it’s under GamerGrrls (stupid name that came up, but that’s what it got branded under, so I’m pretty much stuck with it). And of course I just got elected on the CSM, so we’ll see what comes up in the next year!

Brendan: Thanks so much for your time!

EVE Online expert Brendan ‘Nyphur’ Drain has been playing EVE for almost 20 years and writing the 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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