Recently in Design Category

So, Ripard Teg's recent blog post "Ganking Isn't PvP and Never Was" has been getting a lot of attention from the #tweetfleet and the Eve blogging community today. Unfortunately, a lot of the discussion has been focused on ill-advised hyperbole on his part (rape and slavery metaphors are always winners) and on whether this is a shameless ploy to grab the carebear vote for the upcoming CSM elections, obscuring the some of the larger point he's making.

The Opening Barrage

First off, let's get it out of the way. Yes, the rape and slavery metaphors were probably not going to be that conducive to a constructive debate. However, the moral outrage from people who use rape metaphors for just about everything else in the game (including, by the way, a good many of the same people complaining) strikes me as ridiculous. There's a proverb about motes and beams in eyes that seems appropriate here.

The bigger controversy swirling around this post though is that Ripard is asking whether or not the current largely unrestricted wardec and ganking environment in highsec is healthy for the game. The reaction was probably about what you'd expect; a great number of players who make highsec wardecs, ganking, and PvP in general their way of life gave a great hue and cry about how Ripard was trying to turn Eve into Hello Kitty Online and how newbies who quit because they can't handle a wardec or a gank or two aren't cut out for Eve anyway. Then you had the other side of the coin, where some people are calling those PvPers the thing that will destroy Eve by driving everyone except themselves out of the game. There's plenty of people somewhere in the middle, but in what is normal for most Eve veterans, I think the general opinion is that everyone is very wary of calls to reduce the sandbox, open PvP nature of Eve in order to try to get more subscribers. After the events of 2011, they probably have some right to be a little concerned, especially when someone running for CSM seems to be pushing that line of reasoning.

For my part, I don't think Ripard has become some sort of kumbahyah carebear (though I wouldn't put it past him to pose as one in order to get votes), and I don't think he wants to gut the sandbox as much as some people think (though I think the suggestions he has here aren't on the right track). I do think he makes a valid point, however -- that if new players are thrown into the deep end without understanding what that entails or how to defend themselves from, for lack of a better term, organized crime, they are not likely to be long-term subscribers and learn the lessons that most of us Eve veterans have figured out by now.

What we have here is a failure to communicate

It's that not understanding part that is the key here. For a lot of new players, they'll form a new corporation just so they can play with friends and share a hangar -- for most other MMOs, that's all creating your own guild gets you, a communal resource. When they get wardecced, they don't really understand what their options are at that point, so they either end up dying to a much more experienced, well-funded enemy, hiding and hoping their enemy goes away, or they quit. Not all, of course; I count myself among those who went from someone initially frustrated by highsec wardecs to someone who is firmly in the "it's a learning experience" camp. Unfortunately, Eve does not do a very good job of presenting those options to new players or making more options available.

If Eve is going to grow as a game, it will need to increase its player base, and frankly a lot of those new players are probably going to have to be on what I'll call the "noncombatant" side of the fence; miners, industrialists, mission runners, etc. There's two big reasons for this. One, CCP needs these players to support their business because the niche of people who are already super-hardcore PvP gamers is not a large one and is probably getting close to tapped out. Two, in order to sustain the Eve ecosystem, the hardcore PvP types need all those noncombatants to build their ships and to be juicy targets. If the proportion of pirates to potential victims gets too out of whack, you're going to see noncombatants simply get devoured out of existence.

Instead of artificially protecting those players with more of what I'd call "gamey" mechanics -- mechanics which have no basis in the world of Eve and are there to create arbitrary barriers between players -- I think the best course of action is to give those noncombatants more ways to prepare themselves and more incentives for other corporations to help them do so. Right now, there's a lot of incentive for going after those newbies (easy, cheap kills for your killboard, if nothing else), but there's not much in the way of incentives for people to come to the defense of noncombatants with little in the way of experience or resources. They can't afford to pay mercenaries, and when presented with significant resistance, a lot of their former enemies simply give up and move on, which means that a friendly corp guarding them ends up doing a whole lot of nothing, which is not really most people's idea of fun. And the minute that friendly corp moves on...well, the cycle ends up repeating itself. I think the fundamental problem is that highsec isn't really profitable enough to support a full-time military presence (especially when you're paying them to be bored out of their minds, which isn't conducive to them being a particularly good military presence), but if you make mining or missions more profitable than they already are, it would get ridiculous.

Fix it, but don't break the sandbox

There is an alternative: instead of making noncombatants safer in highsec, make the risk to those who prey on them higher.

Let me explain a bit where I'm coming from. Early on in CAIN's history, we tried to do a lot of what I'd call "citizen policing." Even though I'd say most of us still had a lot more sheer persistence than skill or resources, we wanted to roleplay a Caldari security unit, so we wanted to seek out industrial corporations in Caldari space and protect them from highsec wardecs or other forms of harassment. Our first real big knock-down, drag-out fight, the Mito Conflict, basically arose because we were trying to safeguard an area of Caldari space. In the end, it put us on the path from being roleplayers trying to PvP to, in my not so humble opinion, probably one of the best pound-for-pound combat corps around, at least in our particular niche.

However, our initial goal kind of fizzled out because the logistics of trying to be the police was, quite frankly, too difficult and simply not worth the time. You can't afford to wardec every penny-ante corp of pirates, extortionists, and general troublemakers, and even if you did, eventually you'd be so overstretched, militarily and financially, that you'd be ineffective. Plus, you can only be pro bono bodyguards for local carebears for so long before you simply run out of cash.

The new Crimewatch system and the revamp of bounty hunting that went in with Retribution was a good first step on the road toward making "white hats" more profitable, however. I think iterating on that, possibly also linking it in with faction warfare, might be one way to make those highsec wardecs a little less lopsided, while avoiding solutions that give them complete safety and threaten to ruin the sandbox of Eve.

A Possible Solution

Here's my first pass at an idea -- keep in mind this is just what I've come up with a few hours of spitballing and it's hardly ready for prime time, but I think it at least illustrates the type of solution we should be looking for.

PvP corps already have the option to throw their lot in with one of the four major factions in the game through the factional warfare mechanic; what if we added an option for noncombatant corps to do so as well? Add an option for player corporations that allows them to incorporate as a Caldari corporation, for instance, in return for paying some amount of tax. I'd suggest that it should be at least 5-10%, possibly more -- it might even be dynamic, based on the size of that faction's territory and/or how many players were flying under its banner. I would posit that a lot of people who form player corporations don't necessarily care about the tax so much as the other cooperative benefits you get from forming a corporation, so I don't think this tax is going to be as big a deal breaker as you might think.

In return for incorporating under the banner of the Caldari State, your corporation gets a degree of protection from the Caldari. Not direct protection -- the Caldari Navy isn't going to jump in and blow up anyone who declares a war on you; they're busy protecting the interests of the megacorps and the planetside populations. However, corporations that declare war on a corporation incorporated with the State get flagged as suspects to Caldari factional warfare corporations. There's nothing stopping them from plundering the rich hulls of highsec miners, but at least now they're exposing themselves to white hats that want to put their PvP skills to good use. Factional warfare corps get something new to add to their sandbox, being a Caldari corporation (or whichever faction) actually has a real meaning, and it gives the empire factions a little bit of extra life instead of making them simply background noise for most people. Better yet, it gives those noncombatants some extra opportunities for protection (and possibly an impetus to communicate with friendly FacWar corps) without giving them some sort of arbitrary immunity.

You could unify the current FacWar system with this system and the only difference between these noncombatants and today's factional warfare privateers becomes their focus as a corporation. I admit I've always thought it's silly that you can declare on one corporation in factional warfare and their fellows can't shoot you for it. This would mean that all those noncombatants would also be open to attacks by hostile FacWar corps, so maybe you'd want to set the tax significantly lower (especially since you'd be charging it to all FacWar corps, and you don't want to disincentivize factional warfare).

Those are the kinds of solutions I'd like to see to give newbies and noncombatants more of an even footing against the people who want to prey on them. Things that add more interesting gameplay opportunities and meaningful choices, and make the game world feel more like a living, breathing place rather than like more of a game, and hopefully foster more conflict and community, which I think most of us veterans can agree are the two most interesting parts of this game.
CrazyKinux's latest Eve Blog Banter is on a topic of some interest to me, as one of the relatively small percentage of Eve players that happens to be female.  Admittedly, I'm not necessarily the typical female player of Eve (or the typical female in general, as anyone who knows me well or reads this blog regularly is already aware of), but I would like to think I'm not completely bizarre in my Eve tastes -- I seem to get along well with the other ladies of Eve I meet at FanFest, anyway.  So, as an armchair game designer and someone that would like to see Eve broaden its appeal to women, I've decided to take a crack at that this week.

This topic is a difficult one for me.  I've thought about it in regard to gaming in general, and generally I'm of the opinion that far too many people at least in the game-playing community, if not the game-making community, think that women will only be attracted to games which are stereotypically "girly."  Things like the Sims, Barbie games, or Bella Sera.  It's not a very helpful angle from which to come at the question of "how can an existing game increase its appeal to female gamers?"  Maybe Eve Online would get more female players if it was focused around who can dress their avatar up prettier, but that wouldn't really be anything like the current game.

Mostly, though, I think that's a load of crap.  Yes, there's some things that women like more than guys and vice versa, but I think a large part of why women don't like certain games has little to do with the gameplay or the number of pink horses in them -- it has to do with how these games are made and marketed, and I think that's partly because of the fact that game development is still such a male-dominated field.

In my experience, one of the ways games can expand their appeal among women gamers is by focusing on "soft" game design issues -- specifically, increasing the strength of story and social elements in gaming, two things that Eve has a good head start on, but still has problems with.

Making the Emotional Connection

Why is storyline important?  Because it adds emotional depth to your reasons for playing the game.  This is something that I think all gamers appreciate on some level, but with women I think it can be a major draw to the game.  I have a friend who does not really enjoy playing a lot of "hardcore" games for the most part, but who loves to watch her husband play pretty much every kind of game out there and go through the narrative of the game.  The games outside the casual model that she enjoys playing tend to be those with interesting stories (especially adventure games) and those she can play cooperatively with her husband (like Civilization, for instance).

Eve already has a story which, when it comes to games, is fairly decent (and I think getting better most of the time).  However, currently the storyline is rather detached from what the players actually do -- characters can't really interact with the storyline in very many ways, and generally just have to sit back and watch things unfold.  Then the question becomes, what do I get from playing the game as opposed to watching the game?  If CCP wants to attract people (including women) into playing the game with the story, they need to make that story part of your experience as a player.

The old AURORA events were one way this sort of connection could be made, but I don't think something like that is necessarily needed.  The recent appearance of Ishukone and Mordu's Legion ships in Intaki, for instance, is one way to show this, although optimally, you want it to allow active participation, not just passive.  Making the economy fluctuate in regions based on storyline activity, incorporating current events into missions...making the world feel more alive and increasing the verisimilitude, basically.  I think this is a good thing for games in general (as I'm sure anyone who's read my articles on storyline and metaplot before is aware), but I think it's definitely something that women tend to find more interesting than the visceral thrill of blowing someone up.  They want the emotional context that the story can provide, in order to pull them through the gameplay they might not enjoy at first glance.
 
The Booby Trap

However, Eve's specific storyline does have its weaknesses when it comes to women.  Those of you who have read my review of The Empyrean Age can already guess where I'm going -- and to be fair, this is hardly a problem that Eve alone falls victim to.  I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of strong female characters in the Eve storyline.  Newsflash, gentlemen.  Most women do not want to play tarted-up sexpots that need a big, strong man to save them all the time.  What does Eve have?

  • Jamyl Sarum, gets half a page devoted to her in the novel talking about how sexy she is and then at the end her suppressed "real" self begs for help from Falek Grange, a man she is hinted at having a sexual relationship with in the past.  Her "strong" self is evidently an alternate personality or some sort of possession.
  • Haatakan Oiritsuu, CEO of the largest Caldari megacorporation, gives up her position to Tibus Heth without a fight and can't seem to find bodyguards who are loyal enough to protect her.  Since then, she's been co-opted by the same man that forced her out of her position (which, to be fair, could be an improvement).
  • Karin Midular throws a tantrum in a government meeting and nearly gets raped by (yet another) poorly-chosen bodyguard, only to be saved by Shakor.
  • Mila Gariushi (aka Kinachi Hepimeki) runs off after her brother is killed and lets the man that stands for everything her brother hated push Ishukone (and the State) around with nary a peep, despite being his heir apparent.
Add to that a Gallente pilot who evidently will sleep with a subordinate at the drop of a hat and another woman who sticks with the captain of her ship despite the fact that he's an abusive asshole that blows all their money on ale and whores, and there's not a lot of female characters who come off very appealing in that novel.  Unfortunately, since then, there haven't been a lot of well-developed female characters who've emerged either, which is somewhat disappointing (though Catiz Tash-Murkon has potential).  I don't write this to beat up on Tony Gonzales again -- however, women want to play games where they can feel empowered too, and making the Eve universe seem like one that is hostile to women is not helpful.

I am not saying that you can't have strippers or prostitutes or sex or whatever in Eve -- for the most part, we're all adults here and we can handle adult subjects.  But for once, I would like to see a female character get the upper hand in a big way and behave like a strong woman.  Recently, I finished watching the Rome TV series.  That's a show that takes place in a time where women were legally subordinate to men in almost every way, which was rife with nudity and sex, and yet I still thought that nearly all the main female characters were strong, well-developed people who did not exist simply as things for the men to have sex with or collapse into tears whenever things didn't go their way.  They had as much of a role in the events that unfolded as the male characters, even if they did it in different ways.  That's the sort of thing that will open up the appeal to women.

Expanding the Social Sphere

This is something that Eve already does well, I think, but maybe doesn't promote as much as it could.  I think women gamers tend to be more attracted to "social games," where the game is as much about interacting with other people, often in a cooperative way, as anything else.  A lot of the marketing for Eve in the past has focused on the shiny ships, big fleet battles, and its wide-open, often cutthroat nature; for sure, these are things that are definitely strengths of the game, but not necessarily the most appealing to women.  However, one of Eve's other big strengths can be the extent to which it encourages cooperative effort; CCP has highlighted this somewhat with their "Butterfly Effect" ad, and it's part of this Goonswarm recruitment poster too, but I'm still not sure it really gets played up as much as it could be.

Incarna may help with this, but it's not going to be the secret key to opening the floodgates to women.  Adding some dress-up minigames and social spaces is not going to keep female players, although it may be a good way to get them to dip their toes in the water.  In order to retain those gamers they are going to need something more than what they can get from free games or games geared towards that kind of thing more specifically (like Second Life, for instance).  Retaining those players will require making those social spaces meaningful within the context of the rest of the game -- something I'm not sure is possible with any sort of game mechanic, but which will only happen if Incarna is seen by the majority of the player base as a valued addition to the game rather than something tacked on or seen a separate game in and of itself.

I also think that Eve's marketing needs to promote stories of cooperative, constructive social play in Eve over the kinds of stories that seem to make Eve's big press -- the GHSC heist, the EIB scandal, and the collapse of BoB and GoonSwarm, for instance.  While there's no doubt that those are possibilities that are unique to Eve's single-server universe and they are extremely impressive (and interesting) in their own right, women seem to be much more drawn to constructive, rather than destructive, social events.  Things like the ongoing mission of Eve University or the Providence effort (prior to its recent collapse) might be good examples of that.  Certainly, to some extent, CCP can't do anything about what outside news organizations choose to cover, but they can at least try to counterbalance it.


The Learning Cliff and Fumbling in the Dark

I think by now everyone has probably seen the Eve "learning cliff" graph.  Certainly, Eve has suffered in the past by perhaps not being the most accessible game out there, but they've recently made big strides in revamping the tutorials -- if you haven't seen CCP Eris' presentation from FanFest 2009 about that, it's worth seeing.  However, I think Eve is still very intimidating for new players to just be dropped into -- and CCP knows this, which is why when I see them at various gaming conventions they are always trying to get people to start playing with a friend.  This is an impediment for getting new players of all stripes, but especially women.

A lot of the material I've read on game design indicates that men and women tend to want different ways to learn new tasks -- men tend to like fumbling around in the dark, so to speak, until they figure them out by doing.  Women (including me) tend to like reading the manual, getting coached through things, and then doing them.  Eve has come a long way from where it was, but it is still, to some extent, a game where you learn by fumbling around in the dark.  The new tutorials and the Evelopedia have done a great job providing documentation for new characters, but the high-level game of Eve is far different from the high-level game of other MMOs.  I have never seen the kind of basically scientific research used to determine the boundaries of game mechanics and out-of-the-box thinking for other games that I have seen with Eve; the example that sticks in my mind is the Goonswarm grid manipulation guide.

To some extent, this is never going to really be presented in an easy to learn form (at least, until it is already in wide use).  That's something I don't think is likely to change with Eve, especially as CCP often goes back and revises game mechanics fairly often.  Personally, I actually see that as a good thing, but this is going to be an impediment as long as things like that exist.  Promoting corporations like Eve University is probably the best antidote to this sort of problem, but then CCP gets in the trap of showing favoritism to one alliance.  That's a trap they are understandably wary of falling into. 

Note that I'm not saying women can't figure this stuff out too -- but I think they tend to be a little more intimidated than the guys, especially when you take into account the culture of the player base, which brings me to my next point....

This Place Smells Like A Locker Room

Possibly, at the highest level, the biggest obstacle to getting more women to play Eve is simply that there aren't that many women playing Eve right now, and the culture is a bit on the intimidating side.  When you join a Ventrilo server and three guys tell you "pics or stfu," you kinda just want to reach through the internet and punch them in the face, not hop through seventy jumps to blow up the opposing alliance with them.  To be fair, a lot of the women I've known in Eve can give as good as they get, but I think that's because we're a self-selected group.  I work with a bunch of guys at work and am used to the same sort of attitude (though to be fair, the folks in CAIN have never treated me -- or any of the other women in the corp -- with any less respect than the guys, for which I'm thankful).

It can get tiresome to deal with that kind of crap if you have to put up with it on a regular basis though, and after dealing with guys making dick jokes and remarking on co-eds' boobs all day, I have to say I think I'd rather not deal with it when I'm in my off hours.  That sort of attitude can be hard to avoid sometimes, especially if you deal with the bigger alliances.  One of the reasons I was happy in a smaller corporation or alliance was because there was a much friendlier (and less anonymous) atmosphere.  Guys seem less likely to let out their inner dumbass when they are more familiar with the person whose tits they are demanding to see. :)

However, this is something that's not really anything CCP can control -- aside from doing what they can to encourage women to play in other ways, so that we aren't such a curiosity.  That's something the players are going to have to do if they want to see more women in the game -- which, honestly, I'm not sure a lot of them do.  I think that by and large, most of them would be happier if more women played, but they don't really have any interest in doing anything to actively promote more women players in Eve.

Does It Really Matter?

In the end though, so what?  So Eve's player base is 95% male.  Is that actually a problem?  In the grand scheme of things, I have to admit it's probably not.  Until CCP has 50 million subscribers, there's probably going to be plenty more guys out there to pull into the game that are more likely to enjoy it and stick with it.  It's not like "men 18-34" is a small demographic.  They can probably survive just fine appealing to that market.

On the other hand, for a woman who does like Eve, it matters a great deal to me.  It does get a little lonely out there being the one woman in 20 players.  I'm not going to quit Eve because of it, or throw myself a pity party, but it'd sure be nice to go to FanFest and not have it be a total sausage fest. :)

Edit: In the interest of full disclosure, after reading some of the other blogs on this topic, I have to admit that I originally picked Caldari for Svetlana because Civire appeared to have the best hair.  However, that is not what kept me in the game for 5 years, nor what inspired me to write so much on Caldari society and history.  Cheap tricks to appeal to girls might get them in the door, but it won't keep them here.

Highlights of the Banter so far (according to me):

The Girls Who Fly Spaceships
Space Boobies Are Bad, Mmmkay?
New Eden Doesn't Need To Change For Eve -- Adam Needs To Get Over Himself
Eve Online and Women (sorta)
Think Outside the Spaceship
Don't Change Eve For Me
Where Are The Laydeez of Eve?
Where Are All The Wenches?
Evequality: The Rise of the Female Gamer
Women?  IN MY SPACESHIP?  Is She From Mars As Well?
The Female of the Species
Eve and the X by X Genetic Succession Unit
Sociability V
What Women Want In Eve
Getting In Touch With Our Feminine Side
It's a Woman's World (They Just Don't Know It Yet)
Women In Eve -- Can It Be Done?
You'd Rather Be Playing The Sims, Right?
Women In Eve
EVE: WTB Girls?
All About Eve
Hell Hath No Fury
The Ladies of New Eden: An Analysis Of How Men Are Not From Mars, and Women Are Not From Venus
The Ladies of New Eden
Eve vs Women
Gender Inclusiveness in CCP's Eve Online
"When everything is possible, nothing is interesting."  -- HG Wells

That quote from H.G. Wells is from a review of the last BSG episode, linked from a detailed analysis of said episode by EFF Director Brad Templeton, who says that the series finale was "most disappointing ending ever."  I don't know if I would go that far, but I was extremely disappointed -- I didn't write about it because I didn't end seeing it until about a month or two after it actually aired, and figured it was kind of late for that.

However, the more I read his analysis, the more I realized he was echoing pretty much everything that I thought about the episode (though I admit the bad science didn't bother my as much, partly because my grasp of biology and genetics is not quite as strong as his).  I think the most interesting part of his analysis for me was that it echoed a lot of the same general complaints I had about the plot of The Empyrean Age.  With the second Eve novel on the horizon, and nearly a year passed since that review, I thought I'd try to explain why I feel so strongly about the Eve storyline and why I keep coming back to it time and time again (even though I'm sure some of you are getting real tired of it).

Eve Online is a unique environment in that unlike nearly every other MMO or virtual world out there, there is only one "shard" for the vast majority of players (not counting the Serenity China cluster, which has a much smaller playerbase and I believe is run fairly autonomously).  Not only does this provide some very interesting gameplay dynamics, but it also provides a unique storytelling opportunity.

Part of this is the stories players create -- when BoB, Goonswarm, and the Northern Coalition collide in massive space battles, or hard-fought territorial contests, or daring espionage attempts, their actions have repercussions that everyone in the game can feel.  Unlike with a sharded game, I cannot isolate myself from events by moving to another server.  Even smaller scale events, like empire wars between small corps or simply pirates camping a chokepoint, can have repercussions throughout the game world, or at least in their local area.

However, it also provides an unparallelled storytelling opportunity for the game developers.  The fact that there is only one shard means that the story can be manageably changed based on player feedback (by which I mean gameplay-wise, not simply comments).  On a sharded game, this becomes impossible to manage as the various shards all go in different directions.  If you set up a conflict between two entities, the various permutations of events become harder to keep track of and adjust for, especially as they stack upon one another.  You end up having to keep a storyline group or at least a developer for every shard, something that probably does not get much return on investment, considering that some games have a large number of shards (WoW has over 200 shards for North America alone).

Eve has a tremendous advantage here.  With a single shard, they can create immersive plotlines that respond to player influence -- therefore getting more people involved in the plotline (at least emotionally) and increasing its value as a retention tool.  It also allows complex storylines that can be unfolded over the course of months or years, with ripple effects that filter through to everyone in the game, and created shared experienced.  Old Eve players, including myself, will still talk about momentous events in the game they witnessed -- I can still remember seeing the CONCORD battlefleet on its way to break the m0o blockade of Mara and Passari, way back in the months shortly after release, and there's plenty of other examples I could point to.  That event is especially interesting because it was driven by the actions of players.  Whether or not you think m0o was acting within the rules of the game and this was "unfair," or whether you think they were exploiting game mechanics, you cannot deny that they prompted an event in which the NPC world of Eve collided with the PC world.

This continued through AURORA events; as flawed as they may have been, and I can't deny there were problems, they were CCP's best tool for tying the storyline of the game to the world of the players.  Few other games have that kind of strong connection -- by the very nature of their design, most MMOs, if they have a storyline at all, only have a one-way interaction, from NPC world to PC world, if that.  Now that they are gone, I think most of us in the Eve roleplaying community feel like a lot of the immersion and emotional reward of roleplaying has been lost.  Interaction between the game's storyline and the actions of players has been reduced to a few notes in the margins, a few news articles, and a medal for those of us in the Caldari militia.  This is a far cry from when I remember reading how Omerta Syndicate was blown away by an AURORA actor simply acknowledging their own backstory.

CCP has this kind of storytelling power at its disposal, but I feel like they have become too afraid to use it, largely as a result of some scandals that I think may have been somewhat overblown and could have been corrected without such a drastic measure.  Unfortunately, they have also made the choice to go from a very static setting to one that changes overnight based on, in my opinion, some unnecessarily outlandish events.  That is what I thought about when I read that HG Wells quote at the top of this post, specifically comments TonyG made at last year's FanFest about aspects of his book, about how science fiction makes anything possible.

I'm not going to rehash those arguments here -- you can look back and see what I've said before if you want.  What I will say is that the reason I feel so passionately about the Eve storyline, and wanting it to be as strong as possible, is because it is so unique, and because it has the possibility of showing that this kind of a dynamic, player-responsive storyline can actually work on a large scale.  This sort of thing has been done before, on a much smaller scale, with RP-intensive MUDs like Armageddon; they have a far smaller player base however, and are largely run as hobbies, not as businesses, so they don't have as good a chance of proving the argument that a good storyline has business value.

If the Eve storyline fades into irrelevance, if it becomes just a bit of decoration, then it becomes that much harder to make a business case for spending the money to hire good writers for games like this.  As someone who thinks that story is one of the most important parts of any game, and who feels that it is important that gameplay elements be closely tied to that storyline, I don't want to see that happen.  I admit, part of it is for selfish reasons -- someday, I'd really like to work in the industry on projects like that.  The larger issue, though, is that I think that is something of greater value to the art of game design and storytelling, and I don't want to see an opportunity squandered.
It's been over a year since CCP introduced factional warfare to Eve Online, and over a year since my corporation began its participation, and we've seen some sweeping changes to the way the game is played as a result, not all of which seem to have been good for the game, especially the roleplaying community.  While I am still wrankled about the storyline problems over the last year, that's not what this article is going to be about really -- I may address that in another post later.

The Good

  • Factional warfare managed to bring back small-scale skirmish warfare, at least for a time.  In our fighting on the Caldari-Gallente front, we actually saw a lot of small (10 or fewer people on a side) gang fighting.  There were some aberrations -- pushes by FOOM or other big corporations distorted things, when they could make 20+ person fleets alone -- but for the most part on that front, there was a lot of fun fighting with relatively little blobbing (more on this later though).
  • By a similar token, small, cheap ships -- tech 1 frigates, destroyers, and cruisers -- actually got a lot more use on the front lines, since they could get into the more restrictive complexes.  That's good to see, since it makes the game more accessible to the newer players in the game.  Tech 1 cruisers are still some of my favorite ships to fly, so it's good to see them getting a bit more use in the game, instead of being dismissed as "useless" compared to tech 2 ships and battleships.
  • The above two points managed to bring in a lot of new players to PvP, which was one of CCP's goals -- and a fair number of factional warfare participants did leave for 0.0 after spending time in the militia, notably the 22nd Black Rise Defensive Unit, which had been one of the most successful members of the Caldari militia.
  • Plexing introduced a new mechanic that did not necessarily favor giant blobs of the heaviest ships you can find, and allowed single, inexperienced pilots to make a difference, and new tactics to be developed (such as the "budget smartbomb doomsday").  That's good...but they have their own issues (see below).
The Bad

  • At least in the Caldari faction, there seems to have been a homogenization of the roleplaying groups, which, in combination with the storyline's progression since last May, seems to have drained a lot of enthusiasm out of the roleplaying community.  CAIN really did not want to join factional warfare at first because we have no desire to support anything related to Heth, but in order to defend the State we really had no choice but to join.  Wardeccing individual corporations just didn't work out very well (as the Star Fraction and others are coming to the same conclusion).  This has been a loss for the game, in my opinion -- factional warfare isn't nearly as interesting as our war against the Acheron Federation or other roleplaying enemies was in the past.
  • In an effort to make factional warfare appealing to as many people as possible, it was also made as consequence free as possible.  Players and corporations can come and go from various militias (even opposing ones in turn), Caldari militia forces can base out of Federation militia stations, and changes in occupancy have no real game effect whatsoever -- it's just a scoreboard.  This has caused a disengagement of players from the actual progression of the war and few members of the militias seem to feel any sort of strong attachment to their faction, many of them changing sides overnight when things got boring.
  • Factional warfare isn't really a sustainable activity for most people.  The "rewards" of doing so are limited to titles that mean nothing, and higher factional standing that most of the roleplaying community already had.  Even the titles are not really attainable any way other than plexing, which is a rather boring and unskilled activity at least three-quarters of the time -- note that the Gallente militia has been relatively even with the Caldari in terms of kills, even while they were having systems taken from them left and right.  This is largely because the most active corporations in the Gallente militia were not interested in bothering with plexing, whereas those in the Caldari militia -- the 22nd and PERVS, and to a lesser extent CAIN -- put effort into it.
  • Factional warfare was designed as an introductory/transitional activity, which probably contributes to the above point.  For some people, that's not necessarily a bad thing -- the 22nd, FOOM, and a number of other corporations have left the militia with their new experience to try their hand in 0.0.  But for roleplaying corporations that want to align with the empires in the way that they've been doing informally for the last several years, it leads to more dissatisfaction and frustration.  After "winning" on the Caldari front, there just doesn't seem to be anywhere else to go for us.  This unfortunately feeds back into more dissatisfaction with roleplaying and the storyline in general (there's a lot of that going on, yes).
  • Factional warfare seems half-finished (largely because of the above points).  Despite being promised for years, it seems like the design was extremely simple and something that CCP thought they would come back to and improve later (and, in fact, they are doing that very thing now), but they waited too long.
The Ugly

  • Tama (and, on the Amarr-Minmatar front, Kamela).  A meatgrinder on an epic scale, where people feel compelled to fight and yet accomplish absolutely nothing.  This obviously wasn't something CCP intended, but it arose just the same.  It turned a lot of people off factional warfare as well, because they thought that was all there was to it.  I'm not sure of an easy way to fix that either.
  • Factional warfare seems to have only made the increasing disconnect between the player universe and the NPC universe in Eve more and more obvious.  The party line seems to be that "occupation" is only space superiority, and even that has relatively little effect on the people on the ground.  In my experience, that seems to have only increased dissatisfaction with the game's storyline and factional warfare in general -- many of the roleplayers I know see it as "dumbing down" the game or making roleplaying (and the storyline itself) increasingly pointless.  I can't help but feel some sympathy for this point of view.
  • Tied to the previous point, the whole plexing/bunker mechanic doesn't seem to make a lot of sense in terms of the game world, and it's such a transparent "game" that it hurts immersion, much like the mess that is sovereignty.
  • Pirates in the militias are extraordinarily frustrating, but if they are in yours you can't be proactive about them because of the standing hits.  This doesn't come up that often -- most of the pirates don't stay in the militias for the same reason -- but it's another almost unavoidable ramification of how factional warfare works.
  • Organizing a fleet of militia pilots seems even worse than herding cats.  I think every single militia has one or more "trusted" channels for specific corporations or pilots, and even then it's difficult to organize.  This isn't something easily fixed, but it's a bit disheartening to see 300 people in militia chat and no one actually interested in fighting, or anything more interesting than a giant blob (usually in a major center of fighting, like Tama).  All four militias are essentially the same as a horribly failing alliance, only one where no one trusts anyone else but their own corporation and people can decide for themselves whether to join or not.  Even worse, the militias are riddled with spies, and there's really no easy way for a new player to know which FCs can be trusted to know their stuff, or simply not to be griefers that are going to lead them into some nullsec gatecamp (though the latter certainly happens considerably less these days).
Overall, I have to say that factional warfare has been disappointing for me and the other players I play with.  This was essentially the same sentiment I had when I participated in the factional warfare roundtable at FanFest last year, and there were no substantial changes since then, so perhaps that's unsurprising.  While I am hopeful that it will be improve, the only change announced so far (giving factional warfare participants loyalty points for their activities) seems like a bandaid that really won't solve many of the fundamental problems with the mechanics.  Rather than call it a failure, though, I think I'd call it a false start, and one which has been allowed to linger too long -- only time will tell if it is allowed to fester like the sovereignty problem or if the devs will manage to make it a truly compelling feature of the game.
Recently, I've been Netflixing the DVDs of the James Burke's Connections series.  If you're not familiar with them, the premise of the show is to illustrate how seemingly unrelated historical events and technological innovations create some of the most important things that you find in the modern world.  One episode, for instance, shows how a test for the purity of gold is related to the development of atomic weapons, and another shows how an Arab caliph's sickness in the 8th Century led to modern mass production, and yet another shows how the Little Ice Age led to the development of aircraft.

Aside from being fascinating to watch on their own, this series of documentaries is extremely interesting to me in that it mirrors my thoughts about world building -- that each element of a fictional world should be interconnected to as many other elements of the world as possible, and that those connections should be considered very carefully when you're going through and building that world.  This is something that I tend to argue about a fair bit on the Chatsubo, with regard to Eve Online and its storyline; my latest trouble has been with the given population on Seyllin I, the focus of the latest big patch day downtime news barrage.

Why does this bug me so much?  I don't know.  A deep and complex world has been a big selling point for me on RPGs, books, movies, TV series...pretty much everything.  I think it's largely just personal preference -- some people really like well-developed characters or witty dialogue, I like well-developed settings.  And, ever since I started writing, that's been a focus for my writing, possibly to my detriment, since I tend to focus on that almost above everything else a lot of the time.  I would like to think that there's more to it, though.

In a way, Connections is a world building exercise that works in the opposite way an author usually works; whereas I say "okay, if we have this in the world, how did it come out about and what does that mean for the rest of the world," Burke says "we had this and this and this, and how did all those things come together to create a world in how we have that?"

I really feel like this sort of analytic approach is key, especially for creating a game setting.  In a novel or movie, your viewpoint is generally limited -- for instance, if we look at something like Alien, we don't need to know much really about the state of the world outside the Nostromo, except as it affects the main characters in that movie.  We know there's a corporation, and it hires these spacers to go around and haul this ore, and they can travel faster than light, and so on and so forth -- but we don't need to know what sort of government there is, or how many people live on Earth, or how many colonies they have, or anything like that.  We only need to illuminate as much of that other world as the characters in that story see; if you think of it like a film set, actually, we don't need to construct a full-scale replica of the Nostromo, we only need to build the parts the camera is going to see.  We should make those as detailed and lifelike as possible, but if it's out of the camera shot it's not really going to show in the final product.  Yes, you can do it -- the attention Syd Mead paid to a lot of the elements of Blade Runner is an example -- but it is far less necessary.

In contrast, in a game setting, especially an RPG, where you are going to have people using it in all sorts of different ways, and have characters from all sorts of different backgrounds, and have all sorts of different adventures, the "camera shot" of the universe becomes far wider.  You can't simply ignore a lot of this stuff because at some point, it may very well come into play.  Obviously, you can constrain this somewhat; you don't need a 300 page sourcebook on medical technology if the game is not Space Doctors: The Healening, but you should at least give some mention of the general things that medical science can do if the characters are likely to have to deal with it at some point.  John Ossoway has done something like this for Cthulhu Rising, for instance, in the Rough Guide.

And this is where I think I run into my issues with some of the things in the Eve storyline, especially over the last year or so.  Where is the Rough Guide to Eve Online?  As far as I can tell, there isn't really one; certainly, there's nothing really out there available to the public, which is frustrating for at least some of the players (I know it can't just be me).  One of the things I really liked about Mass Effect is that they actually took the time to think about a lot of that stuff, even though, as a single player game where your "camera shot" is going to be a lot smaller than in a pen-and-paper RPG or MMORPG, most of it is not really necessary.  While you could say this was all just wasted effort, I suspect the primary benefactor of the Codex was not the audience but the writing staff of the game.  By writing down and setting that stuff in stone, now the writers can all work from the same assumptions about the game world and play off each other's ideas without making the setting seem schizophrenic and disjoint -- you don't have one part of the game where you're told everyone has personal rocketships and another part where everyone is living in abject poverty eating gruel three times a day.

I think it's the fact that that's dismissed as a backburner issue by a lot of people in the discussions I have about the Eve storyline is what frustrates me so much.

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