CZ Minutes: Narrative

“Narrative” – a word that frequently gets bandied around the EVE Online community. It’s one of those buzzwords that has developed its own implied meaning amongst players, and often takes center stage when the overall health of the game is discussed. In basis, narrative in EVE is ostensibly the same as ‘motivation’. Player created narratives have given birth to the most powerful entities in New Eden, while arbitrary ones created by CCP, such as Factional Warfare, continue to drive conflict with great success. Some organisations, RvB for instance, shun any form of traditional narrative, essentially in favor of the conflict itself, while others, such as the CFC, actively work to find viable motivation able to move the masses under their command. Unironically, what is the Goonswarm Federation today, was born out of one of the great narratives in EVEs history. Essentially the motivating narrative lies in the hands of the players today, and does so by design, with FW as an interesting deviation. The question is, is the community able, with desired regularity and depth, to provide the narrative we have been tasked with, or are we stalling in that regard? If so, what tools or imposed narratives should CCP provide to motivate the players into action?
“The larger a group gets, the stronger the need for a narrative becomes.”
Tarek: In a social game like EVE Online, every group that wants to function in a unified way will develop a narrative of one kind or other. It is often said, that corporations which announce that they do everything from mining to nullsec roams are not particularly attractive for potential candidates because there is nothing which distinguishes them significantly from any other group without clear direction. It is therefore instrumental for any such group to develop some sort of narrative. The larger a group gets, the stronger the need for a narrative becomes. It is not trivial to get hundreds or even thousands of players to work together in service of the same interests. The fact that player groups are free to develop their own narratives is one of the great aspects of EVE. I do think, though, that it is also desirable to have some “stock narratives” like Faction Warfare to choose from. It helps players to find an entry point into the social fabric of the game, and since that tends to be difficult for newer players, efforts to make it easier can only be beneficial. Niden: In the case of Factional Warfare I have found it to be an excellent scaffolding. Essentially the fundamental basis of the narrative is provided, but FW is filled with player-created narrative within that construct, resulting in a stable and functioning system. The main drawback is of course that while there is plenty of content and interesting storylines to go around, it’s never really 100% ‘ours’. However, it has proven to be more than ample motivation, a simple thing such as identifying with an arbitrary ‘team’ ties very much into base human behaviour and works well in the outside world just as it does in EVE. Experts in the area often reference Dunbar’s number, being the ideal team or tribe, anything beyond that point tends to feel somewhat fabricated. Let’s take the CFC as an example. Within the organisation there is plenty of potential narrative that could drive ‘civil war’, but it is stillborn without the tools to facilitate it. Besides sov mechanics, a horse we’ve certainly beaten to death and something that CCP has on its road map anyway, what tools (outside of FW) would be useful to empower and help drive narrative? “Stock narratives” as Tarek puts it, is a viable idea, but how would that work? I think it’s naïve to think that everything will just ‘sort itself out’ once sov is revamped. How do we help foster identification and unity within a ‘tribe’, while pouring gasoline on potential conflict and providing the matches? Cilvius: I think EVE should maintain a combination of things which have a more forced narrative (like FW) and things that allow players to create the narrative they want. Currently sov nullsec, the thing that can arguably create the largest amount of narrative, is in a really bad state so the narrative there has stagnated. The thing I personally love about EVE is how much freedom we have as players to do things how we want to do them. I definitely wouldn’t want CCP to force too much narrative into all areas of space as that could negatively impact the different types of gameplay. For example, what if CCP suddenly created a big storyline with NPC factions doing various things that impacted sov in different regions? While it could be exciting and new you would have a lot of upset players who are suddenly losing grip on their sov due to a new CCP-driven narrative in an area of space that has always been player-driven. While I think CCP could do more to add narrative to the game in certain areas I wouldn’t want to see them force it upon players everywhere. Apoth: Personally, I can’t really get too engrossed in a narrative. It’s really fun to chat around the proverbial watercooler and gives a bunch of people a reason to log in for me to shoot at, but I like EVE for other reasons. I think it’s a dangerous way to base your member base’s interest in a game upon, as during peacetime (see: now) your alliance/corp has the potential to haemorrhage members because the narrative is weak. You can then lose critical mass to do the cool stuff you usually do, leading to less fleets, which means even more inactivity and the threat of a failscade. I much prefer to chat about new doctrines or fitting variations, or organise a roam than to gossip about who insulted whose girlfriend or at Fanfest or whatever. In general, page me when all that’s done and there are people in space. d6TtGeN
“Narrative is key and it must, must, must come from the players.”
Xander: For me, narrative is key and it must, must, must come from the players. I think it’s cool that there are people who get into the lore – ostensibly the CCP-generated narrative behind New Eden – but for me, the stories that really count are those generated by players. We have this amazing shared narrative that anyone around the world (China apart) can take part in and feed on. That is the glue that means when we meet random people in far off locations such as Fanfest or Eve Down Under, we can bond. It may be ‘grr Goons’ or B-R or whatever but it is something we all share. As to CCP providing tools to motivate player narrative? No need. We have 11 years of rich deep player generated lore to dip into to and it never stops. There are always new stories and tales in our shared history. As long as CCP gives us the blank paper, we’ll be there writing new stories – it’s a key tenet in what makes Eve Eve. Niden: Certainly, player lore is much more rich, but it is also not all that accessible to the new player. Getting people involved in deep meta takes time, meanwhile players are looking for a reason – any reason – to fight. If ‘stock narratives’ aren’t provided as tools, then there has to be more tools to get people involved in player-generated meta faster and easier.
“The vast majority want some type of flag or cause to rally around.”
Although quite a few people play the game simply for the challenge of conflict and the meta game with all its stories and relations, as Apothne pointed out, the vast majority want some type of flag or cause to rally around. Whether it’s player generated or world lore at its core is nigh on irrelevant when it comes to getting people involved in EVE, all you need is a line in the sand, players will add on lots of interesting drama and personal storylines into it – as we have seen in FW. I agree however, that it’s best if that line is based on player lore, but it shouldn’t take months (or even years) of playing EVE before you find it and can actively choose a ‘team’. Further down the line and deeper into EVE politics / meta, I think it would be beneficial if there were more ways for people to rally around ideas or ways of thinking and form ‘tribes’ with a distinct sense of identity, thereby naturally creating conflict. Oh Takashawa: I’ve always seen narrative as something of a red herring, a straw man, an excuse, to be honest. “Narrative” is the justification we use to do things that aren’t fun. As much as the marketing people would like us to believe otherwise, we play this game because there’s something about it we like. People play the game because the narratives are possible, not because of the narratives themselves. I speak in generalities, of course, but as a general statement, hundreds of people don’t get in a fleet together in their spare time, or stay in tidi until 4am, because they truly believe in the righteousness of their cause. They do it because they’re having some sort of fun with their friends. That fun might seem crazy to some, but having sat through the entirety of B-R earlier this year, on the losing side, it was amazing fun to be there with my bros. And that one fight wasn’t expressly created by some foreverwar narrative bullshit – it was a fight that went bad, plain and simple.
“If what we really wanted was a story, we’d go read a book.”
The narrative doesn’t get people to play, a good quality game does, and people make a story for themselves because humans crave order out of madness, and a story helps us string related instances of madness together. If what we really wanted was a story, we’d go read a book. What we want to do is play a game, however. If you can’t bring yourself to play a game without having some reason for doing it – you can’t just do it because actual you, in the real world, has decided they feel like doing that today – then why the hell are you wasting your spare time on EVE? Go outside, go find fun, go do something else! Sitting around paying for access to a universe that you can’t bring yourself to participate in unless someone else convinces you to, is just hilariously wasteful of both your time and your resources. And I’d like to think you’re better than that, but hey, I’ve been wrong before. So to get to the question of what tools CCP can use to enable narratives? Fix the goddamn game. Don’t tell me how you have an 18 month plan for glory, but you can’t share any details of what glory looks like. Don’t tell me to be patient while you do whatever else you feel like doing. I’ve been patient for years. I’ve forced myself to grind structures for years, because at the end of the day, the stuff that that enables is fun. I want my moments of crazy. I want to have fun with my bros. I’ll make the stories for you, don’t feed me a story of your own, CCP. What I really want to see, narrative-wise, from CCP, is for them to stop trying to shove their narrative down my throat, own up to some mistakes, and move forward to improve this universe we spend so many lifetimes populating for them.
Tags: cz minutes, narrative

About the author


12 year EVE veteran, Snuffed Out scumbag, writer, graphic artist, producer, Editor-in-Chief of Crossing Zebras and the second most influential player in EVE, according to EVE Onion.