Flying With A NewbieTarek Raimo
There is regular discussion about the way new players experience EVE and which problems they face, what makes them stay or leave, and which path they could or should be taking in the game. Most of the contributions to that discussion come from players who are anything but new. The views they have on the New Player Experience (NPE) are heavily influenced by hindsight. I myself restarted my EVE life from the ground up roughly three years ago, and my progress back then was much different from how I developed when I entered the game as a truly new player in 2008. With the knowledge I had, it was practically impossible for me to see the game in the same way as I did all those years ago, and so nothing really prepared me for the experience I had when I began helping a friend who had just started taking her first steps in the game.
Where To Begin?
To begin with, there is a major difference in approach between her and myself. When I started playing, I was attracted to the game by stories about the great space empires and their conflicts. As a sociologist I was fascinated by the idea that players in a game would develop organisational structures and even ideologies that existed entirely within the gaming environment. It was the ultimate social experiment and I wanted to see from up-close how it worked.
My friend comes from a very different background. She is an IT professional and great fan of sci-fi, anime, RPGs and geek culture in general. One of her first questions about EVE was “What language is it written in, and is there a way to submit patches to the developers?”. Apart from that technical interest, she approached EVE as a world full of stories, lore and adventures.
As a researcher of EVE lore myself, I told her much about the background stories of New Eden, but at the same time talked about the many ways how players have been instrumental in shaping the game world. In doing so, I realised how much lore and player actions are connected. Arek’Jalaan, Caroline’s Star, the Sansha Incursions, Tibus Heth’s demise, the Amarr Succession Trials, the conquest of Providence, the collapse of Karin Midular’s government and many more events in the fictional history of New Eden have been influenced by players or at least prompted them to “act out” different scenarios that were connected to those storyline events.
Parallel to that are of course the many ways how players act that are not directly involved with anything in the EVE lore, and that has been my main subject of interest for many years. Confronted with a new player who is completely unfamiliar with the manifold dynamics of EVE gameplay, I often had to think hard to find answers for such questions as “Why do people issue war declarations against peaceful miners and mission runners?”, “What is the point of suicide ganking?”, “How is it possible that there are alliances and coalitions of hundreds if not thousands of players who stick together even if they don’t have to?”, “Why does this random guy want to duel with me?”, “Should I join a player corporation and what do I gain from it?”, “Why is your security status so low if you are not one of the bad guys who intentionally preys on the weak?” and many more.
For the most part I had forgotten how complex EVE player interactions appear when you have never been confronted with them before. For me the answers to all those questions seemed intuitively obvious, or in other cases I had not considered them for a long time. Inevitably, I was reminded of how things felt when I was just a few weeks old as player, when I also tried to figure out the answers to similar questions. Of course, as a social scientist I had a reference frame of behavioural studies, sociological theories and social experiments that gave me pointers in the right direction, but if one lacks that knowledge to fall back on, player behaviour in EVE can appear absurd or even insane. It was an interestingly refreshing experience to be reminded of how much I had become accustomed to a state of normality that can appear crazy to any outsider.
Tools Of The Trade
At the same time I realised how much I had forgotten about how hard this game is in terms of mechanics and gameplay.
“…hardly anybody actually teaches players.”
Of course, we often get rather new players in Factional Warfare, and even in nullsec there have long been organisations who would fast-track newbies directly out of trial into major fleet operations. Today there are of course still such groups, possibly more than ever, but with the exception of EVE University, hardly anybody actually teaches players. They rather train them to fulfil specific roles, provide them with skill plans, ships, modules and fits and tell them exactly how to play and what to do in order to become “successful”. I was never a particular fan of this approach, and so I also decided to not interfere too much in my friend’s development. Of course, I helped her out by explaining things that are difficult to understand for anyone who has just started.
She decided to play a Minmatar character, and so I described how the different bonuses on ships made them more or less suitable for specific jobs; why the Probe is not naturally a combat ship, how the Slasher works better in a fleet role and what the difference is between a PvE and a PvP fit. I gave her a Rifter fit for mission running and another one fit for PvP and then had her try and explain to me how those two are different and why. We went out to duel and I gave her the assignment to catch my ship with a web and scram to learn how tackling works. We went exploring and retrieved the loot from data and relic sites, and I took her on missions above the level her minimal standings would allow her.
In all of this it became clear to me again how many challenges a new player faces. How do you find out who is shooting at you? How do you maneuver your ship to minimise incoming damage while maximising your own damage output. When do you use your prop mod and your active tank, and when do you turn them off? How do standings, agents and loyalty points work?
We even went into an unidentified wormhole and got killed by Drifters. I guess I should have paid more attention to General Stargazer’s pieces about Drifter site PvE because I was surprised how quickly and at which range they tackled us. Well, at least we previously dumped all the expensive loot we found in the data and relic sites before embarking on that particular trip. In the end it was worth more than the ship she lost. Of course I did not miss the opportunity to point out the old rule of making sure you never fly anything you can’t afford to lose and that everything you put on the line should ideally be replaced already.
That brought us to the next interesting learning opportunity: markets and how they work. Minmatar space is quite interesting in that respect because it has two trade hubs which differ in supply and demand. Of course, when all you want is a T1 frigate and some modules for a basic fit, there isn’t much difference between Rens and Hek, but I was still able to point out a few particulars about how each one of those markets worked and why there are emergent trade hubs to begin with. Finding a good deal and making sure you sell your own gathered loot at the maximum possible price became the subject for a long session of Q&A.
“…I also realised how incredibly starved for ISK new players are.”
In doing so I also realised how incredibly starved for ISK new players are. Low level missions deliver rewards which are laughably low. Even the ridiculously small amounts of ISK you make by hacking one highsec relic site is superior to mission rewards below level 4. I know there is the danger of unmitigated farming if easy missions had too high payouts, but I do find that CCP could revisit the rewards for low-level missions. Prices have changed over the years, but the mission payments remained the same. This is like an economy where prices fluctuate while salaries remain frozen. Not a healthy thing at all.
Still, missions are necessary for the new player despite what everyone says about the terribly repetitive quality of EVE PvE. Many of us older players forget how important some of the base skills are that can be learned while completing agent missions. Ship positioning and movement, ranges, targeting limits and the behaviour of different weapon systems, how to mitigate incoming damage through tanking and maneuvering, not the least of all: how do you even find the solar system and location where you have to be. It has correctly been pointed out that EVE PvE does not prepare a player for PvP, but it allows for the training of a few really basic necessities. Things that most of us have internalised as second nature but which are still a mystery for the beginner.
Before one reaches the stage where missions begin to become repetitive, where it’s all about ISK/h and farming PvE content, there is a time for new players when every new assignment is a fascinating challenge, and if they are interested in backstory and lore, there are even some pieces of that in mission descriptions. I still fondly remember the mission where the Gallente Federal Intelligence gives you the assignment to conduct a false-flag attack against a war memorial and the civilian mourners who congregate there. A nice example of the sinister duplicity which riddles the Federation.
The Path Of Development
It is great to watch how a new player finds her path in this bewildering and complex game world. EVE is in many ways a game about personal growth and achievement. A game of making choices that have meaning, like a trailer of old told us. In that spirit, I want my newbie friend to make up her own mind and learn at her own pace. My influence on that development will be mostly to provide advice and pointers into possible new directions.
As I said before, I do not believe in the paradigm of getting new players into “endgame content” as soon as possible. To begin with, I reject the idea that some specific playstyle is “end game content”. I also strongly believe that one can only become a truly capable EVE player by becoming self-sufficient and learning independently, not by being pampered and groomed into becoming a functional part of an existing organisation. If one listens to or reads the personal biographies of any prominent and successful EVE player, then it becomes obvious how all of them have developed over years until they realised their potential. You don’t often hear something like “I joined Goons during a newbie drive, got 1 billion ISK and all my ships SRPd, and this way I became the major player I am today.” No, I believe the greatness of this game and the potential for personal development within it can only be realised by each player themselves as they live and learn in this virtual environment we all share.
Of course there can be teaching, instruction and advice, but that’s a wholly different thing. By now my friend will be listening to The Learning Cliff which I consider a wonderful resource for new players both as an educational tool and to demonstrate how many great possibilities EVE offers. I have told her about EVE University, and maybe she will enroll with them. Not a bad idea either, despite them being highly regulated. At the moment she isn’t particularly interested in joining a player corporation, but by the time she can fly and fit some more ships and run level 4 missions, the realisation will inevitably come for this new player that it’s time to spread her wings and truly fly. Many get stuck there, and maybe they do need to be told what to do and how to do it by some well organised leadership. I trust that this particular player won’t be one of those though.
She likes exploration and wormholes. I think I’ll tell her about Signal Cartel next.
(The sign artwork for the featured image was stolen from Rixx Javix’s blog Evoganda. -Ed)