CZ Minutes: The Alpha Menace

 

When CCP Rise announced the massive upgrades to free-to-play Alpha accounts the reception from the attendant nerds seemed positive, albeit with a growing air of nervous hesitation as he unveiled the possibilities Alphas would enjoy, one by one.

Battlecruisers and battleships, T2 small and medium guns, removal of race-lock and a 20 million SP alpha-accessible skill tree (half-train rate to 5M SP, injector/Omega/booster ’till 20M sp) is what awaits Alphas in the December release… basically Machariel fleets for the unwashed plebs. Alphas would be able to use skill injectors or Omega time to reach the 20 million SP cap and it was suggested that new boosters might be introduced to the shop by which Alphas could train at Omega speed, for smaller periods of time than one month, to pass beyond the 5M mark although these plans are not yet finalised.

What was your reaction to these changes? Have you changed your opinion now that you have had some time to think about it? How do you think will affect EVE at large? Who does it benefit and is that a good thing?

(The following are the unfiltered, unedited thoughts from our staff.)

 

Hopeful Turtle: My first reaction to the broad generalities of the change is actually quite positive, perhaps in contrast to my colleagues. I think that expanding Alpha clone access up to battleships, faction ships etc ties in very well with CCP advertising. For example, a lot of marketing surrounds the idea of huge fleet battles – it’s a good strategy, because those are really cool. In fact, that’s why I got into EVE. However, at present, if you play EVE to dip your toes into this sort of thing, you might end up flying around in a tiny EWar frigate (or perhaps a logistics cruiser if you have a large, organised group to play in) – this is a fairly underwhelming experience. Giving new players the possibility to actually become part of the mainline fleets and feel like they’re participating doesn’t strike me as an inherently stupid idea.

 

Niden: When you let the plebs put their dirty little uncivilized hands on a Machariel is when I say:

 

Hopeful Turtle: One thing which I think might be quite interesting as a consequence of this change is how it affects the ‘weaponised newbie’ alliances/corps like BRAVE, Karmafleet, Pandemic Horde etc. Right now, they serve as fairly useful adjuncts to the coalition’s they’re part of, able to bring large numbers of relatively cheap ships like T1 logi and EWAR to the field – giving Alpha clones the potential to use battleships might tilt the balance of power quite considerably. Of course, whether or not that’s a good thing is a matter of opinion; I happen to quite like large nullsec states, so it’s not too much of a problem – but I suspect that more experienced players might not be so happy with the idea.

it felt like they were introduced purely to throw out the ‘Upgrade to Omega’ advertising

Ashley Traynor: Hot damn. Eve is dying, microtransactions are rampant and the sky has fallen. Seriously though, this might be a good thing for the community, even if the plebs get their paws on Niden’s Machariel. Since Alpha Clones were released they really haven’t been too great at anything to be honest; it felt like they were introduced purely to throw out the ‘Upgrade to Omega’ advertising.

With Alpha accounts soon able to fly mainline in ‘serious’ fleets it should open a whole new world for them. Now they’ll be able to do incursions, level 4 missions, wormhole PvE, all those things that you start out with when new to the game and trying new things. The nullsec scrubs will even be able to field a standard arty mach fleet composed entirely of plebs. Ideally we’ll see this play out well for CCP, with the big boy content bringing in extra subs.

Of course, we do still have the worry that free to play mmo’s are almost always shite. But let’s just let that slide for now; I can’t imagine anyone is going to convince our overlords to remove it. Bask in what’s left of the original Eve before we go full retard and start opening loot crates. Oh wait…

 

skillpoints and ISK don’t make you a better player, they make you a better target

DireNecessity: If I may butcher a piece of agony-unleashed.com swag handed to me at 2017’s EVE Vegas, “Omega status, like skillpoints and ISK don’t make you a better player, they make you a better target.” Spending big money for elite Omega Status just to get your ass kicked sounds awful EVEish to me.

Look kids, there’s really only three important questions here. 1) Will Enhanced Alphas mean more players? Probably. This is a good thing. 2) Will Enhanced Alphas make CCP money? Probably. This is a good thing. 3) Will you now play as an Alpha, Enhanced Alpha or an Omega? Depends, but it’s nice to have the options. This is a good thing.

There’s no such thing as a too powerful Alpha. Who cares how some particular player funds getting into a particular ship sporting a particular weapon just so long as they’re out in space flying that boat? I predict over time our Bitter Vet complaints are going to change from “Alpha too stronk!” to “Why you Omega Hostage me? Why you punish my wallet just because I want to fly carrier? #FreeOmega!”

 

Gorski Car: Good changes. Now Amarr pilots can realize their mistake and not be totally fucked. I am not sure it will save the player count though. Sad as it is no amount of bandaged free to play mechanics will help solve the bigger issues with Eve Online. Player count is back to what it was pre-alpha.

 

 

we want as many people in our EVE doing as much as possible, and this helps just that.

Ashterothi: This change clearly signals what CCP wants Alphas to be: functional grunts, pirates, and fighters. With no new utility being added to the Alpha program, there are still plenty of reasons to remain Omega. Any fear of Alphas doing ‘too much’ is easily countered by the fact that we want as many people in our EVE doing as much as possible, and this helps just that.

The major means of production, cloaking, PI, and all T2 ships are still Omega only features, and perhaps this will also create a better separation between T1 and T2 subcapital ships. Overall no one can say having more people out there doing fun things and contributing along side their friends in combat is a bad thing. The one thing to keep an eye on is runaway demand, but even that will just tempt more people to go Omega. We already have people going Omega within a month of getting into the game, simply for the faster train time.

 

Cosmo: I’d like everyone here to step back a bit from their roles of Eve nerds, and yes you all are Eve nerds, as no one in their right minds writes in an editorial column section in a relatively invisible and tiny fan site for an online game, nor read said publication, unless they are nerds.

you would have no ground to stand upon to say that the Alpha changes suck

Now, was that bashing necessary? It was, because if we are to completely take away any concern we might have about CCP’s budget and finances, take away any concern of PCU or retention numbers and take away our deep-seated concern for the very life and pulse of the silly little game we play, all concerns that no other players of other games have nurtured and cared-for for entire years upon years of their lives like we have… take all of those away, and you would have no ground to stand upon to say that the Alpha changes suck.

For one thing, it’s telling that Alphas only get more dakka, more damage potential, not more defense potential. In the grand scheme of Eve becoming entirely too logi-dependant and defender-biased i would love for this wheel to break with more alpha numbers flying doctrines in order to alleviate current woes, as well as it maybe indicating a shift overall to more brawly and balls-out fights on behalf of CCP’s design side.

It’s overly optimistic imho, but at the very least, all newbies will not feel as constrained as they’ve been so far with just cruisers of just their race. Even if it made no practical sense, all of us had that ‘battleship’ that we enjoyed finally getting into and stupidly flying around and throwing it into various levels of ‘dangerous’. And i’m glad that’ll be something that we can give them. Pirate ships are a bonus, but i hope those will be watched with a keener eye since i can already see a dude multiboxing his own Incursions on Alphas.

Moving to guns, given T2 small and medium guns, these changes will also makes the game feel more fair to alphas, to actually close that ‘gap’ that they perceive in terms of “of course i died since i’m an alpha and just fodder flying crap fits”. Those T2 guns also open up some fantastic options in terms of Incursions roles, as well as anti-drifter raids since i’m sure destroyers alternatives can be used to Confessors now that they’ll be able to load T2 ammo.

The only thing i’m somewhat concerned about is how they’ll sell the micro-packets of Omega time and how they’ll explain the entire thing since i got entirely too confused while watching the Vegas stream. It makes perfect sense overall but it’s not the easiest system to wrap your head around. I can definitely imagine a player getting some chunked up ‘Omega time’ without being an Omega and training Cloaking and Battleships and after the time ends he only retains use of Battleships and— you get the point. At that point i’d just buy Omega time to drop that headache. Either way, it’s WIP and i’ll wait on CCP’s official announcement before i yapp off on this.

In any case, will this be abused by Eve players? Yes it will, in some stupid yet semi-predictable way. But let’s not have fear guide decisions. This is neat, and if it’ll be horribly broken we’ll have something to whine about for six months until CCP fixes it; and if it’s not, it’ll be forgotten as just something that works. I’d rather have CCP push forward and be bold and take large strides than push out only safe things.

CCP Rise said it best after announcing Battlecruisers and Battleships, noticing the crowd’s reaction:

“I can hear the nervousness, it’s AWESOME!”

Anything that gives them incentive to stick around rather than leave in disappointment

 

Lynx: The more the merrier! In Black Shark Cult we’ve seen first a big influx of new Alpha players, just after the release. Not a huge number of those stuck around, though. Since then, I’ve noticed that lots of people who played one, two, even ten years ago are using Alpha clones as a reason to return to the game. Anything that gives them incentive to stick around rather than leave in disappointment once they figure out how restricted they really still are under the old Alpha limitations is a good thing in my book.

Does it lead to more pay to win? Will it break the game?

I don’t think so. The completely broken risk/reward situation in the null blocs is much worse for that. Literally anyone can make a new Omega toon, stick him in Goons, buy PLEX and inject him into a Rorqual and boom, the sky is the limit. From that point on they can inject themselves into whatever ship they feel like.

That, in my opinion, is the real pay to win that is threatening the health and therefore the future of the game – and it has nothing to do with Alphas, but everything with balancing, reward structures and blue donuts in nullsec.

 

 

Nikolai Mazinkov: More power and more players is good for the game, period. Could there be tweaks, balances, etc to the power of alpha’s? Of Course. At the end of the day you still pay for SP beyond the initial 5 Million, and this helps a lot of returning players stuck in the idea of having to pay to get all their old skills back or get into skill farming to keep omega status, which I see often. I was slightly shocked at the battleship addition, but BCs and T2 guns was pretty spot on from my view, and the options obviously increase for more rewarding careers and PvP once you get basic large skills and better medium skills. I hope this makes Alpha’s more meaningful to their owners and to the groups they belong to, and I believe it will.

I agree that other areas of economics and mechanics are more game-breaking than alpha’s with these changes, and so I wouldn’t agree with those who see this as another nail in EvE’s coffin, quite the contrary, I think it pulls nails out in gaining new players, retaining them, and bringing back old ones without feeling the level of strain or commitment that EvE is known for.

 

Danikov: Criticism of CCP always has to be taken with a pinch of salt. The proof lies in the proverbial pudding: 14 years of EVE Online and counting with a respectably sized and, but more importantly, dedicated community is no small feat. On top of that, a bunch of ambitious, but failed projects that didn’t break the company and its core business, plus some that did better and more promise on the horizon. Having the right combination of resilience and room to fail is incredibly important for longevity.

This makes the constant refrain of ‘EVE is dying’ a tiresome

This makes the constant refrain of ‘EVE is dying’ a tiresome one as, clearly, it is not dying at any rate to cause concern. A more legitimate criticism is not that CCP’s conservatism threatens the game as it does hold it back. There is evidence of this in the whole Alpha program which, we must not forget, is a money-making exercise. Developers go free-to-play because they are compelled to be financially profitable. The success of the Alpha program so far has vindicated that decision and, in terms of cementing EVE as a game that will outlast, is a reassuring step forward.

The counterpoint to this, the element of CCP that is most concerning, is one of entrenchment. EVE’s audience is very niche due to the long-burn nature of the game, something which makes new player attraction and retention very difficult. Attention spans are down, grinds are up: you get a new shooter experience at least once a year now (depending on your franchise of choice) and each comes with a broad amount of progression and prestiging for the truly dedicated. By iterating on their titles, developers can refine the core game and experiment with new paradigms.

EVE cannot achieve new paradigms, even with the acceptance of a more iterated development, it struggles iterate in a meaningful, significant way. Changes of substance take years to implement and rarely deviate far from what they replace in order to maintain familiarity and some sense of backwards compatibility. Fanfest after Fanfest, we are promised and hyped features to make it feel like we are getting game changers, but there’s always that roundtable in which developer and community lament the inability to attract and retain new players, and year after year, progress is slow and painful. Maybe EVE is trying to be too much like other games when it clearly isn’t and should never be?

Where the paradigm shifts do need to happen are in the people: CCP seem to dance around the flame of truth like a moth, that the community is all to EVE. Whether from a fuzzies perspective, or the more cynical viewpoint that more unique players = more potential subscribers = economic viability, the community is at the core of EVE. But fostering a community doesn’t respond well to a heavy hand nor exploitation. Instead, CCP need to realise that they’re closer to the community when they’re a part of it. That’s what we get at Fanfest and other events and that’s what we could use more of. Play some PUBG with us or something; those of us who stick around accept EVE as a game that coexists with others and you should find a way to embrace that.

The community needs to accept that EVE is not a game that changes quickly, in mechanics or in players. Player retention for EVE occurs around the one year mark, so giving Alpha players over a year of rope is a smart move, while those who don’t stick around haven’t really done much to unbalance the game at all. Of course, Manny’s law dictates that increased Alpha abilities will be better exploited by veterans, but the success of the Alpha program is measured in retention, not balance. These changes are a small step in the right direction for that.

 

Salivan Harddin: So here we are at last. Well, let me correct myself – Not at last, half way through making EVE Online a Pay 2 Win game. I apologize, I meant to write Free 2 Play but somehow confused the two terms. When I heard the news about the Alpha clone power creep I wasn’t surprised, I wasn’t even angry. Instead, I just didn’t care. I saw this coming more than a year ago and sadly was proven right.

I’ll be frank, this change smells of desperation. The player count has dropped to pre-Alpha clone state levels. The rush of new players had dried out early and the trickle is not enough to cover the continued hemorrhaging of older players from the game. EVE Online is an old game and many of the most devoted players have grown up, raised families and moved on. Since 2011 the game had seen a constant decline in membership which was only stymied with the introduction of Alpha clones in 2016.

Desperation is a terrible force and the executives seeing their money well slowly dry out charged the developers to find a fix to boost the player count quickly. This is what they came with: Half baked ideas expanding the skill point ceiling but forcing Alpha clones to either inject or use small infusions of Omega time purchasable via PLEX to reach that ceiling. What was supposed to be an unlimited trial period allowing new players to familiarize themselves with the universe and entice them to subscribe will be turned to a joke with these changes. Invest in skill injectors and small infusions of PLEX to train more skills! You too can fly the fancy battleship with lackluster skills for just a small investment of funds, no monthly subscription needed! There is a name for all these small real money investments in a game, and it’s one that rightfully courts scorn from gamers.

Will this change do anything to revitalize the game? Not at all.

Will this change do anything to revitalize the game? Not at all. Is the change good? On face value it gives faction warfare and null security space more cannon fodder since there already exist tech I doctrines employed by the major sovereignty blocs and militias. In high security space, it will allow Alpha clones to run higher level missions with shinier toys but still bar them from more lucrative content in the form of incursions. Thus the overall effect will be minor. I believe almost no one will feel it, because there won’t be a huge rush of new players to take advantage of it.

I wrote it before but this is a move of desperation. EVE Online is an old game with an aging population. Its features and technical abilities may be impressive, but gameplay wise it’s slow and arduous. This is a game built for a niche market with little mainstream appeal. Sure, the game gets headlines all the time due to monumental thefts and battles but does not attract many players. Its complex, time consuming and let’s be fair, broken in many parts.

I can rave on and on how for example, citadels are a broken mess, but the reality is the main player base is located in high security space. This is where the majority of players live, this is where they start the game and an overwhelming number never leave. High security space had been neglected for such a long time that it really has nothing to cater for new players. CCP Games is finally rectifying the situation but with the Alpha clone changes they once again put the cart before the horse. CCP Games was not ready for the rush of new players at the start and had nothing to keep them interested in the game. The New Player Experience has remained unsatisfactory and expecting the community to pick up the slack is almost insulting.

The Alpha clone power creep is another milestone towards making EVE Online a Free 2 Play game, but it is a meaningless one. Beyond my knee jerk reaction to its utter stupidity in the way it undermines its supposed goal of getting more subscribers, the reality is it’s a failed gambit from the start. This change won’t attract more people, won’t help retain more players because it won’t address the core issues that cause new players to leave the game. All it does is offer a band aid solution to please executives who have mismanaged the company for so long that it’s a wonder EVE Online is still alive.

So yeah, I am looking forward to seeing Alpha clones losing Machariels, because I do need a good laugh.

 

Niden: Holy shit Sal, bitter much? 😉

 

Did you enjoy the salt? Please consider supporting Crossing Zebras!

Tags: Alpha clones, cz minutes, EVE Vegas

About the author

Niden

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.