CZ Minutes: The New War

Last week on CZ Minutes, we tried to determine the exact work:fun ratio in the second life that is Eve Online. Rather than the usual team droning on in this latest edition, we decided to mix things up by bringing in a very special guest. Joining us this week, we have none other than actual, proper video game journalist for RockPaperShotgun, Eurogamer, Edge and The Guardian, Rich Stanton. Appearing in a column with HVAC will surely count as a high point in his career.  Rich has been playing Eve for a few months now, PvPing (at least until yesterday) with those adorable Brave Newbies. While the New Player Experience can be difficult for all sorts of players, PvPers seem to find it most difficult and this week, we aim to nail down why.  Niden: Undoubtedly PvP is one of the chief selling points and key characteristics of EVE Online. New players to whom the PvP aspect is the main attraction have seen fast paced small-gang action on streams as well as read stories of the monolithic titans of B-R and the empires that spawned them. They enter EVE with an ambition to be a part of what they have seen, read and been told about. Those who make it past the lackluster tutorial are pointed in the direction of the meatgrinder that is Factional Warfare. Failing to make a social connection early often sees their motivation mercilessly beaten out of them. Others set their sights on null for PvP, but quickly realize they are at the roots of a mountain populated by giants. There has been a lot of talk about the new player experience lately, but how are we receiving those that come to EVE with PvP as their primary motivation? What turns a wide-eyed, naïve noob into an invested PvP-er with healthy ambitions? Xander: We have an actual, proper, non-hack writer here this week so the rest of you better be on your best behaviour please. Especially you HVAC.
It’s the social connection that creates almost all ambition in Eve.
Joran: I think you hit on the very reason in your introduction, Niden. It’s the social connection that creates almost all ambition in Eve. I know its an oft discussed subject, but the skill train is not forgiving, and without a backbone of players that can bring the enabling ships, you’re pretty much stuck for your first six months. And not to burst bubbles, but I doubt many of them are excited to run plexes in slashers hour after hour. I know I grew out of that in about fifteen minutes. So we have eager young faces that either have to find a group of people for which they can be the noob tackle frig, or an extremely long wait. Even knowing how important interceptor pilots are to a fleet, neither option excites me. eve-online-dominion HVAC: I think part of the problem is that a lot of these players who hear about these big events have great ambitions on making a name for themselves, and lose interest once they find out you’re not the hero who saves the day or the focal point of a story. EVE needs to be clear that you’re most likely going to be a product of your environment, not the other way around. You’re a part of something much bigger than yourself, and that’s okay. That, along with the client not gently pushing people into the direction of player-operated corporations makes a lot of people adverse into exploring further into dangerous areas of the game.
My first couple of days I just spent unfucking my overview, installing mumble, checking out corp fits, ordering skillbooks and reading their scattered documentation.
Rich: I think Niden’s hit upon the core of the problem, which is getting new players into the social side of EVE. It was openly admitted at Fanfest that 9 out of 10 players who try EVE simply bounce off it, and even in my short time with the game I’ve seen this in action – basically people see you talking about hunting down a fleet of 60 Caracals, think ‘I want a piece of that,’ and then go in and start running NPC missions. My first few weeks in EVE were spent in a corporation that a mate set up, because we genuinely thought that was the ‘right’ thing to do in order to play together – and of course it was awful. We had no clue what we were doing and would spend our evenings flying out to null in a ‘gang’ of two or three and get blown to bits every time, then scrape together enough ISK to do it again. Urgh! Thankfully something kept me interested, and when my buddy started playing less and less I joined BNI. My first couple of days I just spent unfucking my overview, installing mumble, checking out corp fits, ordering skillbooks and reading their scattered documentation. I think that learning to do things that an EVE vet simply takes for granted is as much part of that social side as playing together in-game. And since then it’s been a tonne of fun; but enough BNI-love. I’m not sure that skill points are a barrier to new players, though I agree that simply sticking people in Atrons and saying ‘fast tackle’ isn’t the best introduction. It’s up to corps to have clever fits that can be flown with minimum training, and enable people to have some fun. One I’ve seen is sticking three warp booster rigs on a Condor then contracting it to a new player so s/he can fly with a Crow fleet and not slow them down. Ultimately though you are always going to get that class of player who sees something like B-R5 – which reached a huge audience – and thinks they want to fly a Titan. They’ll come in, realise something like that is years away, and leave. I think that churn will always be there with EVE, and there’s very little that can (or should) be done about it. Oh – and as for being on best behaviour… I sometimes fleet-up with TEST. Nothing you can say will shock me after that. Xander: Man, it doesn’t take long for someone to get their first ‘run-in with TEST’ story, does it? I think the key thing with getting people into PvP as a new player is get them playing with the right people. A social group of pilots willing to take a new character under their wing in the early stages of their career is vital. When Rich was starting to play, I offered some suggestions of where he should go and high up my list was BNI because they are friendly, active and open to new players whatever they want to do. For me the PvP part of this discussion isn’t actually all that important – whether you want to be an industrialist or a mission runner or a PvPer, it is vital you get with the right group of players quickly. It’s the social ties with physical people that will keep you playing Eve, not the gameplay. I’ve had some fantastic nights circling a gate in a camp without seeing a single red simply because the chatter in comms was so much fun. As for not shocking you Rich, we haven’t really let HVAC out his box near you yet. They wouldn’t let HVAC in TEST if he applied. He is toxic.
It took me three tries to get hooked, and it was primarily due to finding a cool group of people to do cool things with.
Marc: I was that wide eyed, naive newbie bent on interstellar destruction, when I joined EVE. And, like countless before me, I ran into the barrier between marketing and gameplay shortly after. I found myself orbiting an asteroid mining in an Ibis. The soundtrack was very spacey, the game was pretty (yes, even five years ago it was pretty), but there wasn’t much to do. So I quit. It took me three tries to get hooked, and as everyone has suggested by this point, it was primarily due to finding a cool group of people to do cool things with. What’s more interesting to me, anyways, is that ‘something’ that Rich alludes to earlier that keeps people chipping away at EVE until it sticks. For some, like Rich, they just tread water and then something seems to click. For others, like me, they dive into the pool numerous times before finding their way through it. What keeps us all in the water until that switch is flipped and we find a suitable group to play with? Niden: Meet Joe. Joe, being of average intellect and having always enjoyed PvP, reads an article about the greatest battle ever fought in gaming. With piqued interest he Googles “EVE Online pvp” and ends up looking at some videos of a roaming HAC fleet and a couple of solo PvP clips. To Joe it seems EVE has taken PvP to the next level and he decides to give it a shot. EVE_uni Luckily for Joe he’s got some time this weekend so he manages to get through the tutorial, reminding himself of the awesome PvP to come. He finds his way to the help channel, quickly learns that titans are a far away dream, but picks up some good fitting tips and his ship starts dispatching the tutorial rats with ease. In Joe’s mind he’s getting the hang of things and finishes up the tutorial with flying colours. His guide has bombarded him with information, but at this point Joe has read so much text that he’s basically just looking for anything related to PvP. The options seem limitless but he knows what he came to do and finds what he is looking for: Factional Warfare. That’s kind of like a PvP arena, right? After a few days in Factional Warfare Joe has died 17 times. All the ‘fights’ lasting only seconds and he still can’t figure out why his blasters aren’t doing any real damage or how he died when he jumped a gate the other day. He’s managed to finish one plex alive but doesn’t really know what to do with the loyalty points he got. Someone has told him he can buy items and then sell them for ISK, but all the guides seem like a lot of work to even understand. Joe isn’t having a good time of it. He submits his plea to the militia channel but unfortunately no-one is there at that time to guide him to a player corporation or to remind him to about the in-game tool, instead he apparently needs to “HTFU”. Joe has no idea what HTFU means and logs off for the night. The next day Joe thinks of EVE and it troubles him that he doesn’t really know what to do. He realizes that EVE is hard and that it’s going to take quite a bit of work to get into it, but tonight he just wants to have some fun with friends and decides to put it off for another day in favor of a few rounds of LoL. Before he realizes it several days have passed and he still hasn’t logged on to EVE. By all accounts we probably lost Joe in the fourth paragraph. Unlike the majority (if not all?) of us writing in this article, Joe didn’t get into EVE with a friend to get him started and provide social interaction. He didn’t have that social driver to motivate taking the first real steps up the learning cliff, his waning motivation was only his love of PvP and initial interest in EVE. For Joe the crossroads were at that day in the militia channel. Unfortunately he didn’t make a connection with anyone that had the time and interest to guide him down the right path. Potentially Joe could have turned into one of the best pilots Black Rise had ever seen, or ended up as an active FC his null alliance mates knew to come to for good action and content. Instead, he’s playing LoL, and has missed the greatest social gaming experience of his life. I see people like Joe in the militia channel every day. I try to lend a hand when I can, but my time is limited and the lads probably have a fleet about to undock. Sorry Joe. LearningCurve Joran: In response to Marc’s question, for myself it was Eve University. Even then, I pretty much just skill trained for six months, but just putting forth the initial effort to find a group like that was able to keep me hooked. Now that I look back on it though, there was definitely a need to succeed in Eve that existed, and I’m not sure why. I think it was the fact that I knew Eve was hard and I considered myself quite a good gamer, and I wasn’t going to be beaten by this game. My WoW guildies had all left but I plugged away until I found somewhere to exist. Those newbie organizations like BNI and EUNI are important connections between a new player and his eventual career in Eve, because it gives you something to do and somewhere to be until you can carry out your goals. I think it’s quite a good point, too, in that there does have to be some type of desire to put in effort into your gaming experience if you’re going to stick around. Even the casual nullsec sec grunt dudes put in more effort than the average gamer used to bottled, instant fun.
The scope of EVE is one thing, but even getting your head around that scope takes a few weeks. It’s so big and there’s nothing else comparable to it in gaming, so new players don’t have anything familiar to grab onto.
Rich: I actually avoided EVE for years because I knew that, if it got me, it would really get me. I’m a little bit obsessive about stuff I’m really interested in, and obviously I’m very interested in games anyway, so from the outside EVE seemed like the best / worst thing in the world. I was a bit scared of it taking over my life. So I contented myself with reading the odd article and watching from afar. When I finally got in I think the ‘something’ that kept me going was, first of all, the simple beauty of flying around the solar system. I’ve never seen anything quite like EVE’s approach to scale, where you can be right up in the grill of your ship and then pull out – and out and out, onto backdrops that would make Turner weep. When I’m flying around with a big fleet, even now I zoom in and out during warp. It never gets old. Then there was the fact that I knew there was more to the game than I’d seen. My first few weeks weren’t especially brilliant experience-wise, but I was cute enough to keep my skills training, keep reading, and then there were players like Xander offering advice from the sidelines. It kept the game in my head. Even the Mittani popped up on my twitter feed to say something. The scope of EVE is one thing, but even getting your head around that scope takes a few weeks I think. It’s so big and there’s nothing else comparable to it in gaming, so new players don’t have anything familiar to grab onto. Any other MMOG on the planet takes players through their first 10 levels by the hand and introduces PvP incredibly gently, but in EVE the basic concept is so different that it’s hard to see how – for example – PvP could be ‘introduced.’ I guess what I’m saying is that EVE’s complexity is why it’s so great, but also a reason why I think it will always have this problem. eve_ravens_warp-100057463-orig I don’t want to get too rambly – yet. So one final thing, and apologies to Xander because he’s completely right that this isn’t just a conversation about PvP. I saw a reddit post the other week suggesting that there could be early-ish agent missions that, rather than rewarding new players with ISK or items, would give them skillpoints. So running these PvE tasks would let you, for example, ‘level-up’ your Gallente frigate skill quicker, or perhaps get some core Engineering skills to lvl IV. This would let new players familiarise themselves with the basic battle system, while acquiring some very basic skills off the bat without having to spend days waiting around (and ofc you could perhaps include a few free hulls among the rewards). What do people think of a ‘hard’ reward system like that for new players? Xander: My immediate response to the suggestion is a resounding ‘no’ but the more I think about it, the more I wonder if that’s because, to me at least, skill progression in Eve is intrinsically tied to ‘time’ and I’m not sure if I am comfortable with the concept of circumventing that relationship. As a new player ramping up to ‘Gallente Frigate IV’, you are flying those frigates daily and attuning yourself to fly them properly, working our correct engagement ranges, making small tweaks to your fits based on the extra PG/CPU/cap you have available as you skill up. It’s an interesting concept for sure Rich but I think you have to go through the skills step-by-step to learn the game properly. It’s less relevant at higher skill levels of course where you are simply grinding skills for the sake of it. But as a new player, every little counts so training yourself and working with other people to maximise your potential within the constraints of available SP is a vital learning tool. That said, the New Player Experience, while vastly improved since I started playing in 2009, is still incredibly flawed – and something CSM9 is looking at 😉 And this all takes us full circle back to the point we continue to touch upon. We can’t and shouldn’t ‘force’ players to partake in player-run corps during the tutorial but the best way to teach someone new to the game is to get them from their NPC nursery out to the BNIs, RvBs and E-Unis of New Eden as quickly as possible. How do we do this within the constraints of the sandbox?
…technical solutions pale in comparison to social ones.
Niden: Tacking on a new system for new players and then replacing it with the real one is just going to lead to more confusion by my reckoning. I understand the concept, but I don’t think a themepark-esque segway is going work. As Xander indirectly points to; technical solutions pale in comparison to social ones. A strong social connection will lend a lot more thrust to the player’s ability to attain at least a small measure of mastery. I believe that the solution lies in a revamp and expansion of in-game recruitment tools; from both sides. Make it seamless, available, attractive, simple but dynamic and flexible. Allow recruiters to create attractive ingame recruitment pages, maybe even including video. Lift it out of that sub-menu where it currently resides and make it a permanent button of the main menu for all new players that haven’t joined a player corp yet. Then make sure to inform them that it’s there and why it’s so great, several times. Rich: I think CCP are definitely heading down that route. I recently spoke to EVE’s senior producer Andie Nordgren and here’s what she had to say: “For me it’s three things. One is the vision we have for a new player experience around contextual information and tooltips and so on, making the game more dynamically discoverable rather than ‘OK there are a million buttons here what do they do.’ If you encounter something you should be at least able to get the basic info and some context for it. That work will continue, to show you different opportunities, new things you can try, and we give you a bit of a structured journey – but that journey should be able to lead you into all areas of gameplay rather than the agent system which is kind of where we direct you now.” “That’s one part, the other is helping corporations and other players to bring new players on-board,” says Nordgren. “Players do this today but the tools for it are extremely clunky, even for a corporation like EVE University specifically set up to teach new people. They have a long application process – and the reason for it is that the moment you get in the door you have access to all this stuff, and so it’s cumbersome to set up roles etcetera. The tools we have are just bad for that. And maybe these contextual tooltips could be useful if say a corporation could add their own extra information – so you get a tooltip for the corporation hangar which tells you about hangars generally but also the specifics of that corporations hangar, what goes where and so on. Basically that’s enabling people on the inside to better embrace those on the outside.”
CCP are moving towards a much slicker integration of existing players and corps into the new player experience.
The third point she made is included in an upcoming RockPaperShotgun article so I can’t really reproduce it here, sorry. But I think this shows for sure that CCP are moving towards a much slicker integration of existing players and corps into the new player experience. brave-newbies Niden: The core of the problem for the NPE is that it is trying to define and categorize something that is dynamic and fluid. It’s a bit like explaining colours, and the infinite variations they can take, to a blind person. You start by explaining base colours such as red or blue and comparing them to feelings and tactile sensations. In much the same way the NPE of EVE must start ultra-simple (by EVE standards) and use a common language, exposing the player to a proportionally expanding set of options and complexity. Compared to traditional gaming EVE is anarchy, so the new player must be initially shielded using a fabricated structure of sorts, lest they reject freedom and run back to the familiar trammel. From what Rich is saying I have hope that CCP are viewing it this way as well. There’s a catch 22 element to this; on the one hand you have the NPE and the quality of life for younger players, and on the other the mastery of a complicated and liberal system that older players value – CCP must appease both the proverbial Christ and Odin.
Tags: cz minutes, NPE, pvp, rich stanton

About the author

Xander Phoena

The good looking, funny, intelligent member of the team, Xander set up Crossing Zebras with Jeg in April 2012 mainly because he was talking too much about Eve on his other podcast. Playing the game for almost five years, Xander still has absolutely zero clue about how to actually play Eve but somehow still manages to talk a good game.