There’ve been some great posts in the EVE-o-verse in the last few days about what it is people DO in EVE, what kind of game it is (and should be), and where things seem to be going. I’ve been rereading my game design theory books lately, so this has all been percolating along in my brain, too.
Bren Genzan, the head of the Art of War Alliance (aka OUCH), had some really interesting things to say earlier today in his post about the new player experience and just what the EVE community IS, anyway. To paraphrase him (and I’ll try to make sure I’m not mischaracterizing his remarks), he sees a wide variety of playstyles — neighborhoods — a good many of whom don’t understand and/or approve of how others are playing the game. And he’s not sure CCP even knows what kind of playstyles they want to encourage and how to continue to keep people subbed.
I think he’s completely right when he says, “You’re not going to retain players by making them play a game that they do not want to play. They will just play a different game.” Sometimes you can barely get your employees all herded in the same direction, and when it comes to people’s leisure activities, that’s even more the case. People will hang around for unfun for a while — in anticipation of something actually fun coming along, or maybe out of loyalty to friends. But ultimately too much unfun means people just…find other stuff to do instead of logging on.
EVE Hermit posted today that he’d been shuffling some equipment around lately and he can’t imagine how he’d sell that activity to another gamer as something fun to do. But many of us (me included) find it relaxing. I’m not sure I could explain why I’d spend an evening doing that, either. 🙂
And then just a little while ago Mabrick posted an analysis of how EVE stacks up on the Yee MMO motivations matrix. (The whole Daedalus Project is, as far as I’m concerned, required reading and rereading for anyone interested in how MMOs work and why people play them.) By Mabrick’s analysis, EVE’s mechanics and community dynamic are weighted heavily toward achievers, and particularly like-minded achievers who are inclined to cooperate toward a larger goal.
I think the EVE UI — even as dated as it may seem compared to some games — is unusually conducive to a social experience. I don’t know how many of you ever played the original Neverwinter Nights, but before it came out, a number of D&D gamers who played over IRC planned to move their whole campaigns to NWN. But in most cases they all went back to IRC or to virtual tabletops like Fantasy Grounds because the NWN UI was more about animated stuff running around on the screen than people actually talking to each other. Sure, there was a chat client, but it got buried with everything else going on. And it was way too easy for party members to just hare off into all directions, with nobody actually doing stuff together.
In EVE, there are fleets and fleet warps. Ways to keep people working together. There are chat channels just for your fleet, corp, and alliance. Invite-only channels. Public channels. If you wanna talk to somebody, you’ve got places to do that. And the chat window doesn’t get buried with everything else going on.
More than anything else, the social experience is the heart of EVE. Why else would some pseudo-carebear gadfly like me still be around, three years later? For people I like. And for people I may not know well yet but think might be cool. I’ve spent countless hours mining, but not for ISK. When I mine, it’s to hang out on comms with people I know, and I can guarantee you that we talk about pretty much anything else BUT mining. 🙂
It’s not like I hang out with a bunch of purely social folks, either. I’d say 75% or more are Achiever types. But they also get a ton out of the social aspect of the experience.
If I were CCP, I’d consider carefully what leads to greater enjoyment of and engagement with the social experience of the game. Yes, the other aspects are vitally important. I love the work they’re doing with technical upgrades, visual improvements, tweaks to gameplay, and — big one for me — weaving the lore into as many new features as possible. That’s all great stuff. But I’d be asking myself what about the current environment — culturally, mechanically, and technologically — is conducive to more FUN and immersion. Some things really do dissolve the glue of the community and turn people off the game forever, and if I were CCP, I’d be looking at how to bring more people in and keep them coming back.