I’ve come to the conclusion over the last few years that EVE Online is a bad game. It has stunning and excellent graphics but is so focused on PVP and pandering to the hardcore players that every other element of the game is lacking. It is expensive to play and does not provide any real entertainment for your money.
EVE garners much positive press and several awards as well, but reading between the lines one seems to find that the ‘journalists’ who write these reviews are themselves either long term players, special guests, or have only spent a minimal amount of time in the user friendly tutorial section.
At the core of the problem is the skill system – due to its design there is no way that a new player can catch up with an older player. In other MMOs players can dedicate themselves to catching up with the top level players and, with enough perseverance, can, within a month or three, make it to a point where they are on even ground.
In EVE getting to a mythical even ground is simply not possible. Any player who plays averagely and doesn’t make basic mistakes will never be able to catch up with a similar player who started the year before; and that doesn’t figure in the terrible steep learning curve. For myself it took me 4 months before I realised that the Weapon Upgrades skill was an absolute must have!
Without the support tools for EVE planning your own career is tantamount to throwing yourself off a cliff. EVEMon is de rigueur for character planning and EFT or Shipfit are a must have to work out what you’ll be able to fly in six months time.
Deriving from that issue is the PVP problem – no amount of skill or perseverance will make a difference in one on one ship combat – it is simply impossible to defeat a better ship that is played safely. There is no even ground and thus most ‘combat’ actually consists of ganking, and that invariably of players who started earlier ganking players who started later.
There are many experienced EVE players who claim, on forums and in comments, that it is not the ship or the skills but the pilot that matters, and frankly, they are talking complete and utter bullshit. They are so far removed from the lower end of the scale that they simply cannot see how it works out for anyone who has played for less than a year and isn’t using all the specialized setup optimization tools that are available. They, of course, want to believe that it is not the massive advantage of millions of skill points that makes the difference, and that it is their own skills that make it, but they are sadly mistaken.
However PVP in gangs is possible for the newer player provided they are the sort of player who enjoys the ‘wolf pack’ mentality and can get along with other similarly minded players. For many, myself included, putting up with the sort of people who enjoy wolf pack gaming is simply not an option. We lone wolves cannot tolerate the pack mentality in any way.
So if, like me, you can see that PVP is not going to be an option for your EVE entertainment what other game elements can be used to provide entertainment? This is going to be difficult because the overwhelming focus on PVP has left the rest of the game quite shallow. Let’s look at mining first.
Mining is one of the ways to make ISK in EVE, it’s fairly slow and very, very dull. Find an asteroid, move close, switch in mining lasers, and wait, and wait, and wait, when you cargo hold is full fly back to the station, empty your haul and start again. If you’re very lucky you might get attacked by some NPC pirates and can watch your drones blow them to kingdom come. If you’re unlucky you’ll be ganked with extreme prejudice by some desperate pirate player lacking the social skills to join a ‘real’ PVP outfit.
It’s no wonder that there are so many mining macros and programs out there, mining in EVE is singularly the most dull and predictable experience in any MMO ever, it barely qualifies as grinding, it’s more like holding down a dead man switch to get ISK.
So if mining isn’t any fun what about running PVE missions? Well yes, there are lots of agents who can supply you with missions so you can earn goods, bounties, and reputation. However there is one problem with that: there’s only one mission, and you get to play it over and over again with different dressing each time. Once you’ve done that mission enough times that you’ve built up your standing to a good enough point your agents will be able to give you the same mission, only much harder.
This goes on for a very, very long time, as it takes hundreds of repetitions of the same mission to improve your standing, and improving your standing just means you get access to the same mission but with better rewards and heavily increased risk.
The mission itself is very simple – build a really good tank that can withstand dozens of NPCs and then slowly work your way through them with whatever guns you manage to squeeze in. If you don’t have the skills or money for a really good tank then go back to mining until you do. And whatever you do, don’t fail a mission! Failing a mission puts you back such a huge step that you will have to do dozens more missions just to get back where you were. And heaven help you if you fail an important/storyline mission, you’ll pretty much have to forget about working for that whole sector of space. Not fun.
Or you could do the courier ‘mission’ a task that requires you to ship a crate of cargo from one place to another for a tiny reward. Do a few thousand of those and you’ll be slightly wealthy and very bored.
So if PVP, mining, and PVE aren’t any fun what is left? Well according to all the pundits and publicity EVE is a sandbox game in which you can do anything you like and go in any direction you like. Except of course that there’s only three or so things to do, and anywhere on the edges of the map is inhabited by slavering loons intent on defending their territory at all costs… So the sandbox seems to be rather more of a sand bucket, not exactly fulfilling promises of fun on that regard.
This lack of genuine scope seems to be a deliberate design decision to encourage you to PVP, the missions are so bad, and the mining is so dull, that being ganked in PVP should be a pleasure in comparison. It’s similar to the misconception that having an abusive partner is better than no partner at all.
The PVP focus of EVE gives rise to the most awful set of players I have experienced in an MMO. The forums are full of ‘leet’ hardcore players deriding anything raised by ‘carebears’ or ‘newbs’ in the most tedious manner. That attitude is carried over to every aspect of player interaction, including the joy of scams.
In EVE scamming other folks out of ISK is seen as a ‘feature’ of the game and is allowed by the rules. Meaning that if, like most people who play MMOs, you are an inexperienced teenage boy then you will be rapidly parted with your ISK with no comeback. This is not good entertainment and does not enhance player retention. After all, if you’d just spent a month mining in order to build a ship you’d be very upset if someone scammed you out of your hard earned money with a trick, and you’d be quite likely to quit the game in frustration.
The majority of EVE players seem to relish the unpleasant aspects of the game, ganking, scamming, using tricks to kill newbies, theft, etc. I can’t help but wonder what sort of a lesson this teaches those young impressionable players, it must surely be educating them into a ‘fuck you’ approach to life. That unpleasantness is not conducive to a fulfilling game experience.
They are however very loyal to their game and any suggestion that some feature of EVE could perhaps do with some minor improvement is met with a vicious outburst of hate. Hardcore EVE players would like to think of themselves as the elite of PVP, but in reality, thanks to the extremely technical aspects of fitting ships and using skills, they come out as more like hardcore trainspotters. People who spend all their time obsessing on the minutiae of the game without actually having fun; and games should be about fun first and foremost, a game without fun is no longer a game, it is a chore.
Furthermore EVE is an expensive game; thanks to the well acknowledged steep learning curve, it takes several months to gain a foothold of any sort and about a year to make any decent progress. If you’re a new player you’ll be making some terrible mistakes those first few months that will cost you dearly in regards to wasted time. Spending a lot of frustrating time and money on learning to play a game is not fun.
On a minor bright note, with all the right tools and a knowledgeable approach you could probably play the game for free with about a three month setup period. Provided you were willing to mine eight hours a day five days a week that is, or employ an illegal bot/macro program to mine for you.
It seems that many of the player base operate several accounts at once, thanks to the simple mouse driven, fire and forget nature of the game. It is very easy; provided you have a powerful enough machine, to run 2 to 4 EVE games at once, switching between them as required. This does raise the challenge level quite considerably. It is also very easy, as mentioned elsewhere, to run a mining bot to play the game for you, in which case the more accounts you have the more ISK you get.
The reputed number of accounts, according to the EVE website is approximately 220,000 the last time I checked. The number of people playing at any one time varies between 25-35,000. It’s quite possible that those 200,000 accounts represent as few as 70,000 actual players but the nature of EVE and MMOs makes it very difficult to determine genuine figures.
Gaining ISK in the early stages is very difficult, so you may be tempted to buy it, there are of course websites where a simple transaction can get you many millions of ISK (and the potential for a ban) but there is also a legal system for buying ISK on the EVE game forums. The EVE owners do have the gall to tell you that buying ISK from gold sellers harms the game though, even when they effectively sell it themselves…
The amount of trade on the ISK selling forum would suggest that a lot of players are exchanging real world money for in game money. Interestingly enough, despite the fact that EVE employs an economics expert, they haven’t seen fit to spend time or effort looking into this aspect of the game, maybe because the results would be quite shocking.
More Money than Time
It’s also shockingly easy to make a lot of ISK in EVE. Not through the traditional grinding methods but simply by capitalizing on the average players laziness. Station trading is the simple method of setting up buy orders for items and then selling them for a profit. The majority of EVE players are so lazy that they will sell their items at the first offerred price and buy from the closest supplier without checking on whether they are being ripped off or not.
The EVE market isn’t like the real world, it’s possible to check every price in the entire galaxy and easily go for the bargain, but the general population of EVE simply doesn’t bother. Which means that station traders can readily make a profit with very little effort. Some of the richest characters in the game have made the majority of their wealth with station trading. They’re so rich that they can readily disrupt in game markets to screw even more profit out of the system.
The problem lies in that station traders do not generate their ISK, they act as a form of taxation, skimming a percentage off every player in the game and continually inflating the price of every item.
A Bad Game with Potential
So it seems to me that overall EVE is a bad game because it increases bad feeling between people, does not entertain, and is not value for money.
Despite its many bad aspects EVE has the potential to be a great game if only the developers would dedicate some time and effort to the lacking aspects of the game. EVE is a very beautiful game that would attract many players if only it weren’t so bitter and twisted on the inside.
So you should probably wonder, like I do, what the management at EVE and the shareholders think of all this. The game, by its design, seems to be set up to pander to only the most addicted players, admittedly those dedicated players are spending a lot of money each to play the game; but surely, as has been shown by several other games, the big money is in attracting a large and satisfied player base.
If I was a shareholder I’d want to know what the designers are doing to attract, and retain, new players, but everything in the game seems to be designed to repel new players.