There is a regular piety shared widely among Eve players. It says that the big battles and other large-scale player-generated content are the only real content in the game, because it is the only content the press will report on. This is not only an unusual logic, given the well-established bias of the media toward the sensational and the violent, it paints a wildly distorted view both of the game and of what is good for it.
Publisher-authored content is scorned because it is allegedly never newsworthy. Besides being false, this scorn implicitly asks the wrong question. I have no interest in that hoar-headed stalking-horse of every EVE partisan, World of Warcraft. My indifference has allowed me to marvel from a distance as two of its players discover each other and rapidly follow each other into a rabbit hole of shared culture and experience that is entirely opaque to an outsider like me. The real benefit of a richly defined and characterized world is the shared culture that it instills in its players. EVE’s nearest equivalent is the Sisters of EVE Epic Arc, which players generally run by themselves, but there are entire populations of null sec alliance members who can’t even share that.
And then there are the the stories that each alliance, or coalition, tell themselves. You can see fragments of them on the forums. That alliance are useless because they all docked in a station that one time. That alliance are all high sec miners and “care bears” because they don’t agree with our position on null sec mechanics. This leaves alliance players in the unique position of knowing different stories about the same events. It is entirely realistic, but it only marginally contributes to shared experience. It is better than nothing, and so you will see EVE players from different factions bond at real life events, but not in the same way that the players of other MMOs do. It is not a bad thing, but it is interesting. It is a possible avenue for improvement by CCP.
But that is the less important objection. More important is the fallacy of the news-making fight drawing in new players. Yes, the headline battles indisputably draw new players. The news excels at whipping the least detail into a saga, always told with a well-practiced astonishment. But how many of those new players stay? The number of players logged in to EVE began dropping 30 days after the record-shattering battle of B-5RB, and the trend remains downward all these months later. It is now below the local minimum set by the “Summer of Rage” in 2011. 30 days is, of course, a one-month subscription, or roughly a 21 day trial. Why did they leave? Because B-5RB is a story about EVE in the same way that the great earthquake is a story about San Francisco: it is true, it is dramatic, but it tells you nothing about what life is actually like. Even taken in isolation, the battle of B-5RB is not a story. It is the culmination of a story, the fruit of much planning and maneuvering, a large amount of theory-crafting, reports from spies, a great push instigated by veteran players to have the most people in the largest ships, and months, if not years, of meticulously planned and executed logistics that were only brought to bear because an accident broke the détente. As of right now, that is EVE, whether the game’s evangelists wish to admit it or not. It is precisely this reluctance to pitch EVE as a long-term strategy game, rather than a battle simulator, that has hurt it. We are misleading the people we ask to join us. Then we are surprised when they leave. Resource gathering, manufacturing, logistics, diplomacy, leadership, even patience: these are all aspects of EVE whose significance we understate to our peril. It may not seem as thrilling to talk about the game as it truly is, but it is honest, and it better guarantees that those who become interested remain so. While we are being honest, the best tale I have heard of B-5RB is of a titan pilot who went to bed in the middle of the battle, figuring that his giant ship was lost, and woke up the next morning to find it whole, right where he left it. The stories leave out the detail that the battle was fought at one tenth of real time, but that too is something that we should be honest about if we want people to stay.
Lacking much in the way of stories generated by CCP with which to regale potential recruits, we need stories about what the players do. But those stories need to be honest about what players do. We need to see the intrigue and the preparation and the planning and the gathering as being necessary. That is the story; the final battle is only the climax.