A post by Art Hornbie has stirred up a discussion about the way that EVE’s lore attracts players in its depth and richness, then repels them in its irrelevance to the game. This has been met, as it will be, with knowing remarks about the irrelevance of lore to a player sandbox. But true as that is–CCP itself has unfortunately surrendered to this attitude–it does not address the complaint. The root of the complaint relates to the very thing that CSM and CCP are both trying to eradicate: bad complexity.
The point of lore is to explain why things are as they are. Lore, at its best, is a means to understand the game through narrative, which is the oldest form of pedagogy known. It is a just-so story to explain the rules to those disinclined to build spreadsheets and crunch numbers. It is a metaphor for the game. Art’s complaint is that it is a bad metaphor, and this is a problem. Bad complexity is bad because it forces people to learn memorize long lists of special cases. None of the tools used in play, such as induction, pattern matching, or narrative writing, are of much use in a system riddled with bad complexity. That means that Art has identified a significant point of failure in EVE: with rare and precious exceptions, the lore is essentially useless in understanding the game, so any time spent immersed in the lore is at best wasted. In the worst case, it teaches false lessons which must be unlearned. This is perhaps not the most critical new player retention problem, but it is symptomatic of a larger problem: CCP, in its haste to modernize the game, is abandoning the idea of metaphor generally, and this is a grave mistake. A game, or interface, with no governing metaphor will necessarily be riddled with bad complexity.
However quaint the old interface was, the metaphor it borrowed from the once-mighty X terminal was sound: you can context-click on anything, anywhere, and expect a menu with relevant options to appear. The new interface is seemingly designed as a continuous “little things” project, so that it lacks the consistency and reliability of the contextual menus. This means that I continue to use the old menus even with options available that I should prefer, because I always know that they will be available. I have to remember where the radial menu is or is not available, and where drag and drop is or is not available, or whether the shift key unlocks some custom behavior. The list changes seemingly with every patch. That is bad complexity.
CCP Rise’s vision of a reworked NPE has made this into an urgent issue. He wishes to make the game reward attempt and exploration. I commend him! It is an excellent idea. The best way to reward initiative by a new player is to make the lessons learned as broadly useful as possible. New players should be able to swiftly form metaphors that describe EVE accurately, if broadly, which is only possible to the extent that EVE is consistent and self-similar enough to lend itself to metaphor. The gulf between the story of EVE the universe and the fact of EVE the game is something that CCP will have to address if it wants Rise’s initiative to succeed, and there is no good reason to limit the exercise to the tutorial. Even veterans learn new things. The more discoverable the game is, the more consistent its metaphors are, the easier it will be for all players to engage in all the good complexity that sets EVE apart as an MMO.