January 5, 2015

Quitting Eve Online


I have stopped playing Eve Online. I started taking a look at this influential game several months ago and kept playing during spare moments. I leave having spent very little in real money (about £10 over 6 months), but having wasted far too much precious time. So have my thoughts on the game changed since the initial impression? Not much.

I played just enough EVE each month to cover the subscription fees with in-game money (buying PLEX for 30 days game time). Although my in-game income increased with experience, the time available to play only decreased (with work on Concealed Intent). It was becoming increasingly hard to reach the PLEX target. In the last month PLEX prices dropped and I took the extra saved to buy in-game items that increased my per-hour earnings. I messed up and bought the wrong ones. At this point came the question “why am I doing this?” Without a good answer I just stopped.

EVE is an uncompromising game. It aims to be completely faithful to the idea of an open-world sandbox and largely succeeds at the cost of being unrepentantly hostile towards new players. This manifests itself in many ways. Players are “new” for a long time, months or sometimes years. This is most obvious when looking at the skill system. My skills were underdeveloped, especially compared to the large number of players with many years experience. EVE has a stupidly long skill list. Since skill improvement is through the passing of time, it entrenches the power of older characters – older players are almost always more skilled. I find that a little disheartening. At the same time it makes advancement very easy – just wait. Part of the reason I kept playing so long was because each day my character was a little bit better than than before. The thought process is something like “if I keep the subscription going then there will be so much more I can do – in just 3 months I could be competitive in player-vs-player (PvP) combat!” This reminds me of my time with Magic: The Gathering – in that game there is a compulsion to collect the cards. In EVE a player collects skill points (and passively too!).

One of the reasons EVE has so many skills is because there are many activities or roles to perform: mining, trading, manufacturing, research, scanning, planetary interaction, hauling, missions, factional warfare, and more. Each has its own set of skills. Sometimes EVE feels like many games tacked onto eachother. These different activities seem to exist to give non-PvP’ers something to do and a way of generating in-game money. I can do the same thing for a a while (a month or so), but after that it can feel like a grind, and that is definitely how EVE began to feel. All the different activities are supposed to make a player feel like there is a galaxy of possibilities, but the activities themselves are just constant repetition of the same thing. I think most players just grind it for the in-game money (ISK).

ISK is really the scoring system of EVE. In other MMO’s the score is your level, but here that is just a function of time. Instead how much money a player has determines what ships they can fly and can even be used to pay for the game itself. One of the things EVE has gotten right is how the in-game money flows around the game. PvP’ing is the end game for experienced players: the non-grindy and high status part of the game. It is also a money sink. PvP requires ISK to replace the inevitable ship losses. There is a saying in EVE that ships are just ammunition; don’t worry about losing them and don’t fly what you can’t afford to replace (they will be replaced often!). So the top players have to spend the most (either individually or as a group – a corporation in EVE). ISK flows into the game from loot and mining. ISK leaves the game from ship losses and PLEX usage. In most games the top players earn the most (from loot) and there isn’t a suitable way for in-game wealth to leave in the same volume it is created. Thus the whole system breaks down. Typically there ends up being too many high quality items that end up being very cheap. New players buy them and become hugely overpowered relative to experience. EVE gets round this by regularly blowing up the high quality items.

I think this economic cycle is the secret to EVE’s long-term success. It means that new players take time to build up their wealth, but there are many activities that help them do this. Older players are constantly in need of new ships and this drives other activities to manufacture them. Which in turn creates content for other players. Many of the big battles heard about in the media have their origins in acquiring control of resources. The whole system is stable enough for real money to be injected into the system in the form of selling PLEX. There are a few problems here and there in the system: inflation, alts and multiboxing are all prevalent. However, in general the system half works, which is still infinitely better than any other MMO I know about.

It is just that the process of building wealth and experience is just not much fun to me. I also didn’t think the endgame of PvP was for me either – lag and crashes plagued my game experience. Other aspects of the game made it hard for me to enjoy. There was very often offensive and racist comments in the game chat. Some players took great joy in attacking other players unexpectently when doing non-combat activities. I was a member of a corporation dedicated to teaching new players. Other people would declare war on this corp just to get easy kills on newbies. So as a result, it was very dangerous for me to even fly around from star to star doing in-game missions (against the computer, not other players). On two occasions I was attacked while doing non-PvP activities. There is no safe place to learn in EVE, and many people willing to “grief” you in order to “harvest your tears”. In fact there are multiple in-game organisations dedicated to attacking non-PvP players. It doesn’t give one much faith in humanity.

Of course some players enjoy this type of gameplay. Although I think there is a very small market for games like EVE, it is a hardcore audience – otherwise the game wouldn’t have existed so long. EVE is probably the most detailed and in-depth game I’ve played. It is also the most unforgiving. In the end the reason to stop playing is that the game just endlessly repeats itself, and I don’t need a second job grinding online.

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