I wish to revisit the idea of opportunities. I do not believe they should be reserved to new players. I wish to see them as a new, less structured aspect of the environment.
As I was writing this, Jester kindly put up a post along the lines that I have been exploring. It is worth reading.
There are some things which I believe are overlooked in the assumed hard separation between “social” and “solo” players. I invite anyone who disagrees to explore lower-class wormholes for a few days. I have seen the dead sticks of no fewer than five dead corporations all in the same beautifully painted C3, each corporation described in the most hopeful terms by some would-be CEO. There are many things which can kill a corporation in wormhole space, but the deadliest is that there is no-one else on and nothing to do. Wormholes are a caricature of the EVE experience generally. They are hostile to new players, and they do not so much reward group participation as require it from all but the most determined lone wolves (\o Penny). Sometimes there is only work to do. Sometimes there is nothing to do. I mention wormholes because they are a microcosm of EVE, and also because their failed corporations leave evidence of their failure behind.
Even when you have friends, you still need something to do alone. In fact, the reward structures of much of EVE’s moneymaking activities actively encourage solo play (not to mention, botting). Where they do not, the disproportionate risk involved in trusting other players does. And if you have no friends, then solo play is your easiest option. As I detailed previously, EVE does not make it easy to make friends in game.
Jester seems to equate “solo play” with “theme park content,” which seems to me to be insufficiently imaginative. Solo players need some sort of purpose, and they need pretexts under which to engage with other players when they choose to (and for other players to engage with them when they choose to, if the current model is to be preserved). Imagine the goal of blowing up a Guristas ship because an Amarr partisan wants some of their drone tech to gain an advantage over the Gallente. In EVE currently, this would spawn a deadspace mission, a Guristas ship cleverly disguised as a red cross would burn toward you gun blazing, and you would kill it and loot it and bring the loot back. Maybe in the future this would create opportunities which could be satisfied by any Guristas ship. You could find a Guristas NPC in a deadspace pocket, and if you killed it then the sought-for technology would drop in its wreck. You could shoot another player piloting a Guristas ship, and if you killed it the sought-for technology would drop in their wreck. You could even build a ship from a BPC, or purchase it on the market, and have some way to salvage the technology. This would ruin the ship, but the point is to offer every kind of player some means by which to satisfy the goal. Perhaps such technology could be salvage or build parts which drop sometimes, and the player salvaging or looting is contacted when they enter an agent’s system with the item in cargo. This is admittedly a silly example. The broader point is that there is no reason for opportunities offered by the game to only lead to PVE, nor any reason that opportunities offered by other players should not to satisfy agents which are part of the game. That you got a piece of technology from the wreck of a Guristas ship should be more important than where the ship was or who (if anyone) was piloting it. It should be a sub-goal that some of the ways to answer these opportunities put you in contact with other players in various ways. Perhaps the agent could even be another player! That would help manufacturers who require rare parts, or faction warriors who want mercenary help.
Such opportunities should be freely sprinkled around, not only in Empire, so that there is always something to do. Everyone is alone sometimes, not always by choice. With a more flexible and broadly defined opportunity system, you can always find something without necessarily resorting to missions. Missions should be far more interesting than they are, while we are talking about retaining players, and they should encourage social behavior cooperation much more than they do without always requiring it. Should you want, say, to satisfy a mining agent by going to a belt where there are other people, you should be able to. Once there, the game should make it easy to talk to the other people there. Then, the people who are not solo by choice have the best chance of finding people to fly with. Then, they do not leave so quickly.