A Tribute to Bad Design


I was called here by humans who wish to pay me tribute.” – Dracula, Symphony of the Night

Recently it was quietly announced that a new daily reward system would be introduced into EVE Online. Within a day the thread has blown up to over thirty three pages, which probably qualifies it for a threadnaught, an impressive feat given the current glut of news and things to talk about in EVE. Obviously, people are very passionate about this topic, and it seems that most people are either opposed to the idea of dailies completely, or strongly criticizing the implementation.

One of the things that is confusing about this is the dramatic change from the proposal from when it was first discussed at EVE Vegas. This shift to a more simpler implementation is of course easier to create, and iterate on, but many feel the feature as it is presented is too thin. In reality, the issues of the feature are a combination of changing expectations, poor design, and even poorer implementation.

What Once Was

The feature was originally described thusly: CONCORD is losing their grasp, and have now been forced/opted to reward players for assisting in “policing” the universe. To do so they have unveiled the Tribute system. The system itself is designed to reward the first bit of content a person performs on any given day. The reward would be tied to the “dungeon completion” trigger, meaning closing any site would grant the reward (the only exception mentioned was COSMOS, so this would include Missions, Anoms, Exploration Site, Faction Warfare Sites, etc.) The reward would be tiered so a level one wouldn’t reward as much as a level four, however you could perform increasing reward tiers to get the remainder of the Tribute available. While the exact details of the rewards were not specified, they were stated to be roughly the equivalent of double the reward for the first site.

Obviously what we are getting is a far cry different than that.


A Tribute To Compromise

Before diving into the new system, it must be noted that we only have the most preliminary version of this new design. It has been said that this is a very simple implementation, and that they do plan on iterating on this aggressively to offer more choices for engagement, however what is done now will set the trajectory of future development of the feature.

“Assuming that you do your daily task you will gain 300,000 SP in a month. This is 18% of the SP gained on average, 21% of the lower bound, and 15% of the maximum normally attainable SP given full implants, and optimized attributes.”

In the new system as proposed by CCP Rise, once every 22 hours the first rat you destroy will provide you 10,000 SP on top of any other bounties that rat would give you. Quick research determines that on average a player will earn around 1.6 million SP per month, with a lower end of 1.4 million, and an upper bound of around 2 million. Assuming that you do your daily task you will gain 300,000 SP in a month. This is 18% of the SP gained on average, 21% of the lower bound, and 15% of the maximum normally attainable SP given full implants, and optimized attributes. By contrast, the difference between the lower bound and the upper bound is 600,000 SP. In other words, this daily task will net you half of the SP difference between a maximally optimized skilling character. Never mind what that will do to SP farmers for injectors. I could go on explaining how unbalanced this is vesus other previous methods, but suffice it to say, the impact of this is significant.

A Case For Attributes

As seen above, the best comparison for this gain is implants and attributes, seeing as they were previously the only way for a player to actually increase the SP gained over time. Attributes seem to have no love within the EVE community, however the system itself is still significantly better than the system being presented.

Well designed features reward behavior that is engaging and provide an elegant connection between the action and the reward. Attributes, at their core, are a reward for long term thinking. To maximize the value of attributes requires one to plan their life out for as long as possible. This idea is reinforced by the fact that attributes can only be remapped once a year. If you could remap freely, then it would just simply be a matter of rewarding those who pay attention. By planting the “one year plan” as a prerequisite for properly maximizing your attributes, it encourages players to think about EVE in a long term way, which one could argue is an extremely important process for new players acclimating to the strange world of New Eden. Attributes are clunky, and painful to be sure, and stand for improvements (I would recommend the ability to always reset your attributes to default without consuming a remap, to reduce ‘remap remorse’), however this mechanism uses SP as an extremely strong incentive to an otherwise very painful process.

“…the simple task of ‘undock and shoot one rat’ simultaneously fails to create engagement while ensuring that many people will be feeling as if they are being unfairly punished for not being able to perform this task daily.”

In contrast, the new feature trivializes this effort, by supplanting it with a simple daily login reward. However, not all logins are created equal; the simple task of “undock and shoot one rat” simultaneously fails to create engagement while ensuring that many people will be feeling as if they are being unfairly punished for not being able to perform this task daily. While the latter is one of the principal design challenges of creating a good daily reward system, both problems are solvable.


Skinning a Cat

One of the most misplaced accusations to be leveled on the new system is that of a “skinner box” also known as an “operant conditioning chamber”. This is not a new accusation for MMOs, and almost every long term online video game (long term in that it expects players to invest extremely high amounts of time into the content) leverages it at their core design. However, this new system isn’t a “skinner box” and actually ignores the very principles of operant conditioning.

At its core, the operant conditioning chamber studies how behavior is driven by reward structures. In the original experiment an animal, usually a rat, is placed in a chamber with a lever and a feeding device, along with an additional stimuli such as a light or a bell. Alternate versions also include a negative reinforcer in the form of electric floors or loud noises. All of this is designed to discover which schedule of reinforcement to use to use rewards to condition behaviors. Several types of schedules have been identified:

  1. Continuous reinforcement involves delivery a reinforcement every time a response occurs. Learning tends to occur relatively quickly, yet the response rate is quite low. Extinction also occurs very quickly once reinforcement is halted.

  2. Fixed-ratio schedules are a type of partial reinforcement. Responses are reinforced only after a specific number of responses have occurred. This typically leads to a fairly steady response rate.

  3. Fixed-interval schedules are another form of partial reinforcement. Reinforcement occurs only after a certain interval of time has elapsed. Response rates remain fairly steady and start to increase as the reinforcement time draws near, but slow immediately after the reinforcement has been delivered.

  4. Variable-ratio schedules are also a type of partial reinforcement that involve reinforcing behavior after a varied number of responses. This leads to both a high response rate and slow extinction rates.

  5. Variable-interval schedules are the final form of partial reinforcement Skinner described. This schedule involves delivering reinforcement after a variable amount of time has elapsed. This also tends to lead to a fast response rate and slow extinction rate.

What we see is CCP building up to a fixed-interval reinforcement style of reward, which has largely been found to be not very good at controlling anything besides the exact behavior to receive the reward. In other words, if you are a designer, you only want to use this reward if the behavior itself is what you want to reinforce. Advocates of the new system say that getting people to undock is good, and shooting one rat will get them to perform other tasks. However, research has shown such rewards to not actually translate to much additional results, and in the case of a reward system like this, human beings do not like to feel relegated to such simple tasks.

What is most odd is that we have seen CCP exercise a much better reward system in the form of the ingame live events. In these the task is easy enough, but the reward is highly chance-based. Many people engaging in those events did so at mere rumors of rewards and riches. Although some burned out, this could merely be seen as a reward system too spread out, and a need for increased frequency of basic rewards (which is what we saw in later iterations, such as Geckos in lowsec site in the Valkyrie pre-event). What we saw was exactly what was expected: a high surge of player interest, combined with a taper-off throughout the event, and a resurgence of interest when shaken up. Signs, and good design study indicate we will not see this same behavior with the new Tribute system.


A System Reborn

“…if the system is too thin, poorly designed, and not well integrated into the nature of EVE itself, it will be rejected by the playerbase.”

The biggest tragedy of this idea is that a system like the originally proposed Tribute system would be great for EVE Online. If you dream big enough, you could easily steal from other powerful ideas currently emerging in the industry. For example, what if CONCORD wasn’t the only one needing things from players. What if every faction, including the pirate, had their own objectives, and by helping them in their own unique way, they would reward you. You could even have these rewards diminish if too many people support one side, and have other factions double down to attempt to catch up. The fundamental idea of daily tasks for players to perform for additional rewards could be fleshed out into a well formed system, and in a lot of ways they are correct, they cannot just build the complete system and hope people like it. However, if the system is too thin, poorly designed, and not well integrated into the nature of EVE itself, it will be rejected by the playerbase. Remember this is a player base that rejects ideas violently.

For now let’s focus on CONCORD. We already established in the ESS that CONCORD has no love for the rising pirate threats, and with the Drifters, the Sleepers also have come under the concerned eyes of CONCORDs DED. So we do have a very good “protagonist” for this reward.

The original system was tied to “dungeon completion” and while that may seem limiting, when combined with “mission completion” as an alternate trigger, it would include all of the following: Missions (including mining and distribution missions), Data and Relic Sites, Faction Warfare Complexes, Special Event Sites, Combat Sites, Anomalies, and anything else that “closes” when completed. This should allow us to properly reward good consistent behavior. Additionally, unlike “shoot one rat” each of these tasks are both objective based and take at least some time (either in finding, or in completing of the site). This reinforces not only the act of undocking, but undocking for a greater reason. It also shows the players a list of kinds of things they can do in the game, given them a complex set of goals. You could even provide additional rewards for performing different kinds of actions throughout the week, or give bonus rewards for tasks CCP wish to highlight.

“For over a decade, the march towards high SP has been steady, and sacred. We as a culture have not fully conceptualized SP in its new worth.”

Now, let us turn to the reward itself. If the various events since the Crimson Harvest are any indications, the most effective rewards come in the form of skillpoints. However, there are reasons to suspect this drive is artificially high at the moment. For over a decade, the march towards high SP has been steady, and sacred. We as a culture have not fully conceptualized SP in its new worth. This has potentially overinflated SP in the eyes of the players and thus the developers examining the metrics. These sorts of “lies” in the statistics when not accounted for, can lead to disastrous conclusions. The short of it is that banking that SP gains is the best reward for this kind of system is likely a mistake. SP is very rewarding, but it is best when it is elusive.

What I propose is a new LP store for CONCORD focused around this new structure (the old LP store is simply flooded by incursions, so if you end incursions as we know it, this may work). This new LP store could be closer to the Sisters of EVE store for Project Discovery. In that store we have a variety of cosmetic and beneficial rewards, culminating in the SOE Battle Armor.

Finally, we take the best of what we have learned from daily rewards: They always do better when they build up. The nice thing about this is that there is when mixed with the behavior above you create the ability to manipulate the reward system however you want. Each day the reward could build up until the final day. Each day the rewards could either be LP, small prizes from the new store, or a mixture of the two, culminating on the final day with guaranteed SP. In this way people are driven to do tasks that are ‘meaningful’ within the game, and are driven to do them in consistent blocks, which is very healthy for the mentality needed to play a game such as EVE. Additionally, as you expand, different empires could give different rewards, and so each day could be a question of whose daily reward to complete. As you can see, this change in the system already lends itself to expansive thinking, and more universal acceptance.

Moving Forward

Right now is a very important time for the feature. If rolled out poorly, it could be strangled in its crib, and this writer in particular would rather help make the feature successful than write of what may have been. CCP needs to clarify their position on this feature. It is of the utmost importance that the Tribute system doesn’t get to Tranquility in its current iteration, or perhaps the damage will already be done. Convincing the playerbase that a daily reward system is healthy is going to be a challenging task, given the amount of negative feelings other games have brought, as well as the ever looming fear of “Free 2 Play” eroding the core of EVE.

However, if CCP pivots, and commits to this as being a fully fleshed out feature, and not some flimsy attempt to check the “daily rewards” box, they could stand to include this as part of a comprehensive overhaul of the PvE experience, revitalizing EVE Online in a way unseen in years, and potentially once and for all rendering the statement “PvE in EVE is terrible” to the annals of myth.

Tags: Ashterothi, dailies, sp

About the author


Ashterothi has spent the last five years learning and teaching EVE Online. He is a host on the highly successful High Drag and Hydrostatic Podcast.

  • Salinity Now

    I can’t imagine any EVE player thinking this is a good idea.

  • Niko Lorenzio

    If I wanted to be conditioned like a rat in a cage I’d go play one of the other countless MMOs. I’m here because in this sandbox you can do whatever you want and are not forced to do things by devs. This is the reason people would invest years of blood sweat and tears into this game. Because they believed it was different and it’s values were different.

    • Ashterothi

      If you feel that you are not already in a Skinner box in EVE I have some very bad news for you…

      • Niko Lorenzio

        It has been heading in that direction recently, but if you’re implying it has always been that way then you must have been playing a very different game.

        • sayod

          It really depends on your definition of a skinner box. But if you just want a system where you get rewarded for doing certain tasks, then everything can be viewed as a skinner box. You get rewarded with isk, when you pve, mine, trade, do PI,… so isk is the reward and you get trained to do those things instead of for example looking at a planet and watching it for an hour. Of course you could say you wouldn’t want to do that anyway and the isk reward has nothing to do with it.
          But then I can say, that those daily rewards also have nothing to do, with doing certain things, and you would do them anyway.

          The skinner box is just a very simplified version of every system that reinforces certain behaviours. It is perfect for modelling those situations and getting data from it.
          And real life is in a sense also a skinner box, where certain things get rewarded and others not or even punished.

          So yes, eve was always a skinner box in that sense.
          You could of course use a more narrow definition to aviod that, but what is the point of that? Given that the author seems to be using a broader definition.

          • Niko Lorenzio

            Well on that scale its not worth mentioning it at all.
            I was referring more to cheap tactics games use to manipulate players into performing certain actions even if that player doesn’t want to do said actions. Like achievements, sales or x3 XP on first win in WOT which kinda forces you to play tanks that you don’t feel like playing at the time just to take advantage of that bonus.

  • Markus

    Got to say, Fantastic(!!!!) article, probably the best I have read on CZ.
    I fully agree with everything you wrote.

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  • Bill Bones

    Your information is outdated. CCP Rise has since stated that:

    a) this IS NOT the Tribute system, but a different project. Tributes are still being worked by a different Team.
    b) this system will be implemented to counter the damage to player activity caused by unlimited skillqueues.

    c) in the latest version, thanks to player feedback, the reward will be earned only by the first character to do the task in each account

    • Ashterothi

      A) This evolved from the Tribute system, unless the Tribute system is announced separately, I will compare it as it fills the same design space.

      B) That is understandable, and a solution needs to be made, but that solution needs to be robust and elegant.

      C) That doesn’t address the central issues, but iteration is important.

      • Bill Bones

        CCP Rise wrote: “First, let me clear up some confusion by saying that this feature has no
        relationship with the ‘Tribute’ system that was described last year at
        EVE Vegas. That feature has actually gone down a path more focused on
        goal setting and long term engagement than daily activity and so the
        daily part was broken off and given to our team separately.”

        As I said, most of your article concerns were explained/clarified yesterday. Personally I think that now the system makes more sense since it intends to replace people-who-logged-in to-set-skills.

        • Ashterothi

          Breaking it off and spinning it into it’s own thing is almost the definition of “related”

  • blackhuey

    I look forward to paying 15-21% less for my sub on days I don’t log in or PVE.

  • Interesting article, especially since I’ve not much against the SP reward and absolutely loathe the idea of LP rewards. The LP reward system you describe gives me the gut wrenching dread of daily login I last experienced in certain theme park games and that time I ground out expansion pack gold in Hearthstone because I have a streak of stubborn stupid.

    How did you feel about the response from CCP Rise?

    Particularly :

    “with before and after data we can see that making it into the client is a
    huge step towards real activity, even if the reason for logging in in
    the first place seems artificial.”

    “designs using item and ISK rewards and it quickly creates a lot of economic imbalances.”

    Without even considering those points, assume that it takes 5 minutes to log on, undock, find a rat, dock up, log off. To get 300K SP that’s 2 and a half hours extra per month. Ok so it’s partitioned into 5 minute intervals. Lets say you do this on 6 characters (two accounts, resulting in 1.8 million SP per month). That’s 15 hours a month. Lets call it 10 hours because you’ll be using two clients and save some time. 10 hours extra a month playing EVE? Sure, it’s “only” twenty minutes a day (and it would be “per day”, you can’t save it up and do it all on the last Sunday of the month while you sit in your pants with a hangover). In light of this “Your average player will earn” becomes “Potentially a player with an extremely low boredom threshold and a repetitive lifestyle COULD earn”

    In the end though it’s only SP as the reward. We learned from extractors and injectors that it doesn’t have the value we all think it does. It doesn’t really matter if you miss out a few days. No one is gaining anything over you really. People already train at different rates and not everyone maxes out attributes and implants for SP/hour. In other words 10K SP per day per character isn’t that much of a boost to a average player. Usefully it is a boost if you are a few days old but I view that as a side effect. Alternatively in-game items as the reward would have to be substantial enough to provoke people to log in for them, they’d be an extra you were missing out on if you didn’t do the dailies.

    Like you I preferred the idea of the Tribute model of task completion over single rat shooting however I don’t think this is the horror of dailies that so many people (who also probably did impressions of Chicken Little over Skill Extractor/Injectors) think it is.

    • Ashterothi

      I have responded in that thread to his post.

  • Ashterothi

    CCP Rise followed up with further explanations:

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