Blog Banter 77 – The MalaiseIs there a malaise affecting Eve currently? Blogs and podcasts are going dark and space just feels that little bit emptier. One suggestion is that there may be a general problem with the vets, especially those pre-Incarna and older, leaving and being replaced by newer players who are not as invested in the game. The colonists versus immigrants? Is this a problem? Are there others? Or is everything just fine and it’s just another bout of summer “ZOMG EVE IZ DYING!”
Both of my readers may be right to wonder why I am returning from a long absence to reply to this blog banter. You may expect pessimism. But I am full of surprises!
Lastly, there is CCP’s big problem of talking about their vision without falling into the Incarna trap again. Seagull fixed many issues in the game and allowed a complete overhaul of Sovereignty, Capitals, wormholes and industry to happen in – by CCP standards – record time. Whats next? The next big thing? Sion asks and he asks rightly. CCP tells us the next big thing is… VR (virtual reality). With “Arena” and “Valkyrie”. Great. /slowclap. Whats in store for us? Is there anything in store for us?
Splatus: stop whining. ^^’ The answer is right in front of you. EVE is a universe. It was always intended to be immersive, huge, “forever”–better than your real life, Hilmar once claimed. The universe is not the MMO and the MMO is not the universe. If that were true, The EVE universe itself would be, as Wilhelm puts it, “middle aged.” But only EVE Online is showing its age.
Everything is changing. There are tablets available right now with the computational power of $1000 Intel laptops at 2/3 the price, which means that it is only a question of a year or less before phones have that level of power at less than half the price. Augmented reality just went from a curiosity to the obsession of millions of people overnight. There is no Pokémon GO for virtual reality right now, but everyone, including CCP, is trying to write one, and there is already a serious candidate: Minecraft, which sells ten console and phone/tablet installations for every PC version despite the fact that the non-PC versions are not feature complete and have not even reached version 1.0. But what does this have to do with EVE? Everything!
CCP has always wanted EVE to be a fully immersive universe. What better medium exists to express that than virtual reality? EVE is not necessarily to be experienced in a hot, ugly room on an ugly desktop, crammed into a flickering screen. That was merely the medium available at launch. But the computers of the present are increasingly looking more like the oft-imagined computers of the future, and less like iterations on designs codifIed in the 1980s and early 1990s. Microsoft is no longer dominant everywhere. Increasingly, watches are computers.
Gunjack is EVE. Valkyrie is EVE. DUST was EVE, and its successor will be EVE as well. Gunjack and Valkyrie are also test platforms for the teams to learn how to do virtual reality, because the rules in the new medium are completely different and somewhat undiscovered even now. The new games’ simplicity fits their near-term role, it does not represent a new design direction for CCP. As CCP learns the rules of the new medium, expect them to broaden and deepen their offerings. It is already happening with Valkyrie. And CCP already knows how to connect games, so they will not be forever isolated.
And what of EVE Online? It will change, too. As maddeningly vague as CCP Seagull’s “roadmap” is, it points clearly to a “new space”–effectively, a new game. Certain parties have claimed that CCP made the bold choice to go with large alliances fielding large fleets, but in fact their game engine, which was essentially a number of design anti-patterns whorled into a Gordian knot, required them to make that choice. They have done heroic work rebuilding it to become flexible and capable, but when you are reworking fundamental code you can’t help but ask, what features you want the new code to enable? And once you ask that, you can take all of the design tradeoffs that you made for the sake of the old engine and put them under lights. This is how the game is, but is it what we want the game to be? You can believe that CCP has been asking these questions, because the eventual answers will add up to “new space.” But while they are rummaging around in the guts of the game, what else might they decide to change? Perhaps not soon, perhaps not at all if this push for virtual reality fails to take hold as hoped. But it is coming.
I am not only concerned with virtual reality. I will stick my neck out and say that in many ways, the game’s poor new player experience is made worse by the game’s encouragement of large, disciplined player groups. These groups have their own ways of supporting new players, which they guard jealously for the competitive advantage they offer (meaning, of course, that the game’s own tutorial would present an unfair advantage to “weaker” alliances, if it was any good). Some are so comprehensive that there are a shocking number of EVE Online players who have never been exposed to parts of the game that have always been routine for me, such as buying a bare hull, working out a fitting for it, and then flying around to pick up the parts for sale around various nearby systems. So much is given to them, and so much is reimbursed. I am not convinced that it is good for EVE that so many of its players are isolated from its nature. And while a steady number of new players will join large alliances such as Goonswarm and Pandemic Horde, anyone who does not want to is faced with scaling the learning cliff starting from the bottom–or walking away, which the overwhelming majority do. CCP has cut itself–painfully–down to a lean fighting weight. It has recapitalized. It is preparing for a renewed push as quickly as it can, which of course will not be quickly enough for us or for CCP. And we know that there is a new emphasis on the new player experience. What else will change to accommodate it? Whatever has to.
I will flit in and out, as I do. I have never seen myself as part of the core player base of the game, always as an outlier and dilettante. But whether I am there to witness it or not, adaptation is the only way to ensure the survival of the EVE universe.