The Problem with EVE

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.

Skills

 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.

PVP

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

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.

Missions

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.

Sandbox

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.

Scams

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.

Teh Hardcore

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.

The Cost

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.

Multiboxing

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.

Numbers

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.

Goldselling

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.

Lone Wolf Gamers in MMOs

I am what I think of as a lone wolf gamer in MMOs, I am much older than the majority of players and I play exclusively versus the game environment (AKA PVE), on my own, almost all of the time.

I find that 99% of the time parties, guilds, and other player organizations are either a terrible waste of time or full of awful people. Even though I may spend many hours playing the game each week I think of myself as a casual player, simply because I do not take it as seriously as many players.

So what is there in the current crop of MMOs to appeal to players like me? Well, not a lot most of the time; as far as I can tell most MMOs seem to be designed with the idea that teaming up with other players is mandatory for many aspects of the game. Many MMOs make it very difficult to progress beyond certain points or achieve significant goals if you are a lone wolf.

Why MMOs?

It would seem that MMOs are the wrong choice of game for the solitary player as many excellent single player games exist, such as Grand Theft Auto, Call of Duty, Half Life, etc, etc. So why would someone who has played all those games decide to try out MMOs? Most importantly, why would they pay a monthly fee to play?

I’m speaking from my mindset here and I play MMOs because they provide a challenge that does not exist in single player games, no matter how good they are. Having other players to compete against is much more exhilarating and exciting than playing against a computer program, regardless of how well made it is.

There are facets of MMOs that are drawing: exploration of a new world, collection of rare and exotic items, a non-linear plot, and completion of the game (where possible) are all satisfying for the solitary player in an MMO.

Even if all you do is measure yourself against other players to see how well you are doing or what is capable you are still benefiting from the multiplayer aspect of MMOs. If you decide to dig deeper then PVP in all its aspects is a great game within a game. In addition you have a whole world to explore, I would imagine that many ‘lone wolves’ are keen to see all the sights of the online worlds or collect all the exotic goodies that are available. Lastly, the chance of possibly making a friend, even if it is remote, is still a driving factor. Lone wolves are still people and people are keen to socialize, regardless of the limiting factors.

Lastly there is the influence of story; most fiction that inspires MMOs and their players consists of lone heroes defeating incredible odds to come through at the last minute. This theme is then projected by the player onto the game experience, making the appeal of a lone wolf play style much more in line with the game play than would otherwise be deduced by a review of the game features.

Thus I think that there are many good reasons why a solitary player would want to play an MMO.

World of Warcraft (WoW)

World of Warcraft is actually very good for lone wolves most of the time, you can get all the way to level 70 (the highest level) without joining in with other players. You will have had to miss out certain quests and areas that are designed for group play, but those are not essential to get to the end. Even PVP battlegrounds in WoW can be fun as they are fast and furious without being forced into working with other players.

However the top end of the game is not lone wolf territory, you will rapidly accumulate a large number of quests and dungeons that can only be done in groups. In order to get decent kit you will need to be running the dungeons regularly and without a guild or regular group of players that will be impossible. It is just about possible to get a fair amount of decent kit but it will take you a very great length of time, much longer than getting it by any other means.

EVE Online                                                        

EVE Online on the other hand looks like a game that is ideal for the lone wolf at first glance. You can venture off into deep space to do your thing and it has a reputation as a ‘sandbox’ game that supports different playing styles. Sadly this is a misconception, EVE is heavily focused on PVP and group PVP is the only way to progress for the less than veteran player. The solo play is mind numbingly tedious, you can either grind the mission (there is only one, it just comes in various disguises) or sit in an asteroid belt waiting for your mining lasers to fill your cargo hold.

City of Heroes (CoH)

City of Heroes (and it’s dark half, City of Villains) is good for lone wolf play, like WoW you can run all the way to the end just doing missions on your own. However the missions do get a bit samey after a while, once you’ve beaten your way through the tenth warehouse full of goons in a row you may get a bit bored, but nothing like as tedious as EVE. CoH has added PVP aspects, badge collecting, and new mission types in the several years it has been in existence.

Design Aspects

The lone wolf player is drawn to certain elements of the games as mentioned before. The design of the game can either support or discourage those elements of play. As these elements are important to both lone wolves and regular team players we should have a look at them in closer detail.

Quests or missions are a large aspect of most MMOs with the better games using the quests to drive the player forward and even follow a story. Other games treat the missions as reusable components that can be supplied to players who have nothing else to do.

Satisfaction for the lone wolf can be found in the sort of missions that tell a story or are set within a context. On the other hand missions that seem to be randomly generated from a limited template are highly unsatisfactory for the lone wolf as they are likely to be spending a great deal of time on missions in order to ‘complete’ the game.

The three games discussed above give good examples of the different mission styles, all three have quests available from start to finish, and all three can be played by just doing missions and ignoring almost all other aspects of the game.

WoW is a game with a multitude of quests, each one tailored to the area and the quest giver, admittedly many quests are derived from the basic templates (kill monsters, fetch materials, or take stuff somewhere) but somehow they seem to fit well within the milieu of the game. Many of the quests on WoW are distinct and scripted with internal events and multiple steps in a storyline. Suffice it to say that the questing in WoW is both highly satisfying and highly rewarding, although it can be overwhelming in the sheer number of quests available at any time.

EVE is a game that randomly selects a mission from a fixed set each time you ask an agent for one, moreover all the missions are pretty much either ‘go here, kill this’ or ‘take this to here’ missions. The fact that they are painfully obviously randomly allocated is highly unsatisfying, especially as you have to do an awful lot of them in order to get anywhere. There are a few linked missions and the starter missions are well woven together but other than that they are very routine with seemingly very little actual effort placed into their creation.

CoH falls between the two extremes of WoW and EVE, while it has many missions that are simple ‘go here, defeat bad guys’ they are not randomly allocated as they are in EVE and many build towards a story. CoH also gives the player a choice of random missions to be followed when desired and the ability to pick and choose makes the game more enjoyable.

CoH also has a few mission features not found in other MMOs: in certain missions, if you are defeated, you are sent to a ‘prison’ within the mission from which you will have to escape in order to continue. There are also timed ‘bank job’ missions that allow you to wreak havoc (villains)/foil the bad guys (heroes) within an area in order to extend the available time for the mission.

Grinding

‘I wouldn’t mind taking weeks to get an item as long as the time spent is not doing the same thing over and over again’

MMOs have one feature in common: grinding. The endless repetition of a set task to ultimately gain something of value. Most MMOs feature a lot of grinding and grinding is not fun.  Grinding shows a lack of design in an MMO; it is used as filler for areas of the game that are lacking in original content. The typical MMO player seems to be capable of grinding endlessly but for the lone wolf player this is the antithesis of what is enjoyable.

It is the grinding that leads to all kinds of other problems: because grinding is predictable and boring some people have developed bots to do it for them, effectively cheating at the game.

Grouping

‘I’ve learned that trying to involve random dorks is a hassle that I’m not up for’

‘I’d like to play with people and group up if only it weren’t such an awful chore to deal with the online eejits’

One thing that drives lone wolves to their play style is the problem of other players. The majority of MMO players seem to be young male teenagers with tiny attention spans and limited vocabulary, whereas the lone wolf tends to be more mature and thoughtful. Naturally these two types of players will not get on well and the continual judging and grading of everyone around by the immature player will rapidly drive away the mature player who just wants to meet some people. After all you wouldn’t hang around with someone in other social settings if they continually put people down.

Missing Out

‘Since a lone wolf can’t/won’t complete instances, they will be limited to quest items at maximum, and even then only quests that can be soloed, so they will lose out on the ability to raid and get the T6 type gear’

What do lone wolf gamers miss out on when playing MMOs?  Most obviously things that require a group to complete, in WoW this would be the dungeons that give better rewards than the solo quests. At the high end of WoW the game is full of players dedicated to raiding the big dungeons that require large numbers of skilled and well equipped players.

The Hardcore

What are the characteristics of a person that is willing to sacrifice the hardcore elements of an MMO? Generally they are not at all like the typical hardcore player, they do not enjoy trading boring time for ultimate advancement, they do not enjoy being bossed around by self important raid and guild leaders, and they do not have the long hours to dedicate to a big raid or dungeon.

Role-playing

Lone wolf gamers also miss out on many of the role-playing aspects of MMOs. The lack of social contact will lead lone wolves interested in role playing to internalize their role playing, imagining themselves as lone heroes, or solitary wanderers.

Advantages

What advantages do lone wolf gamers have in MMOs? The most obvious advantage would be one of scheduling, a lone wolf can take smaller bite size portions of a game when convenient, allowing them to play when they have time for themselves without other more important commitments such as family, children, work, etc.

Multiboxing

Multiboxing refers to playing several instances of a game at once, either on multiple PCs, which is where the name derives from, or on a single powerful PC. Multiboxing is well suited to the lone wolf gamer as it allows them to complete parts of the game only open to groups. However, multiboxing does require a large commitment in resources, from paying for multiple accounts, multiple computers, and the time to gain the expertise to get everything working together. Resources that the more mature player is likely to have or be able to afford.

Conclusion

Numerous MMOs exist each with their own balance of missions, group play, and PVP. However finding a good one can be very difficult. Game designers, like politicians, promise much and deliver little, while the fanbois, like party supporters, will say how wonderful their game is and how awful all the other games are while simultaneously claiming to be quite neutral. There is very little reasonable discussion of the merits of games compared to each other. Perhaps much of the trouble is that most game journalism appears to be funded by game companies or written by fanbois.

Suffice it to say that MMOs do not really support lone wolf gamers yet. The better games have decent options for the solo player but many games resort to the eternal grind option and don’t put any real effort into making those missions different, interesting, or involved.

Games with a PVP slant are typically the worst for lone wolf players, MMO PVP tends to consist of 90% ganking and 10% running away, the mythical fair fight being notoriously absent. Oddly enough games where PVP is designed to be fair, like City of Heroes, have almost no PVP players involved. It seems that the majority of PVPers would much rather be grief ganking the newbs than testing their ‘leet’ skills.

The problem may be that there are simply not enough lone wolf gamers out there to make it worthwhile supporting them in MMOs, they are certainly not a vocal group and do not spend their time in game forums whining about problems. Perhaps there is a silent majority out there, slowly grinding away on their own in the MMO cyberspace, if so, we may never know.