During the Fanfest 2015 keynote address on March 19, EVE Online Executive Producer CCP Seagull said, “We’ve been working on a new approach for how to introduce new players to EVE. It’s a system that we call ‘Opportunities’, that lets you explore what is possible in EVE in a much more free-form and action-based way.” (Watch it here.)
Since February, CCP Games has been testing the Opportunities system with half of all new players trying the game (read the dev blog here). “We’ve replaced 78 Aura tutorial steps and about 6,500 words, with just these seven Opportunities and about 1,000 words,” CCP Seagull explained, “and we now have conclusive data from that test. This [small] set of Opportunities is doing better… at getting people to become subscribers”, compared to those who are not being exposed to the new system.
CCP’s developers are careful not to provide exact figures on the incremental improvement in subscriber rates seen from the initial testing of the Opportunities system, but they do say it is substantial enough to warrant further investment and expansion. Based on CCP Rise’s presentation at Fanfest 2014, half of new players were dropping out after less than a month of play. Even a small increase in new player retention rates represents millions of dollars in additional revenue for CCP Games.
Based on the initial success of early tests, CCP has added new Opportunities to the new player experience—covering the Map & Navigation, the Market, Chat & Corporations and Fittings—although these additions are still limited only to the half of new players being exposed to the Opportunities system. “If we see the same kinds of signals from this test,” CCP Seagull said, “we expect to roll out Opportunities to all new players in the coming months [of 2015].”
The Opportunities system introduces aspects of EVE Online in an unbounded, on-demand manner—rather than “force feeding” lessons in a linear, rewards-focused process of the current tutorial structure. Inspired by games such as “Don’t Starve”, which uses an open-ended motivation system to introduce aspects of that game in the context of the player’s changing situation, the Opportunities system gets players engaged immediately in doing something, rather than first reading extensively about it.
Improving the new player experience is the responsibility of CCP’s Team Pirate Unicorns, and the Opportunities system is just one of the enhancements they have developed to help new players overcome the notoriously steep EVE Online learning curve. They have also revamped pop-up tooltips with context-sensitive help text, incorporated an improved game notifications system, overhauled the star map, added new player landmark sites in starter systems, and made dozens of small changes—such as starting a new player in a ship in space, instead of in a station—all designed to make it easier for new players to understand and enjoy their initial involvement with EVE.
NPE Panel Discussion
At a panel discussion following the keynote address at Fanfest 2015, Team Pirate Unicorns discussed the developing direction of the new player experience. “We hope [that the Opportunities system] will eventually completely replace the current tutorial,” CCP Rise said, but he also cited other options for helping new players. “I think one of the most confusing aspects for new players, for example, is the system info panel,” CCP Rise explained. “There’s a whole bunch of words there that don’t make any sense [to new players]… There are some pieces of the user interface where we probably should introduce that content in stages.”
One of the attendees at the panel discussion was Rashabar Zemayid, a presenter from The Learning Cliff podcast, which has been recording the experiences of a new player trying EVE Online. “Introducing the UI in bits at a time,” Zemayid said, “would be really helpful. We [experienced players] just don’t realize how overwhelming the user interface is for new players.”
Zemayid also emphasized how confusing the current tutorials are for new players, and how they tend to ignore them and then get confused. “This is exactly what we are moving away from [with Opportunities],” CCP Rise replied. “I don’t want to read a book as I start playing the game.”
Team Unicorn’s initial focus for the Opportunities system has been on essential, basic mechanics, but their intention is to continue expanding the system to all types of gameplay choices in EVE. This will greatly reduce the amount of reading required, and encourage players to learn while doing. “Players have described the tutorials as ‘soul crushing’,” CCP Delegate Zero said. The Opportunities system is much more streamlined.
The idea of adjusting the initial EVE Online experience relative to the degree of gaming background and playstyle preferences of each new player has been explored, but this approach has challenges. CCP Rise said, “This is not something we’re doing right now, and I think it would be really powerful if we could, but it would take a lot of work.” CCP Scarpia agreed, “The Opportunity system provides a more flexible way to adapt to different player preferences.”
“I think one nice thing about our [NPE design],” Rise said, “is that we are allowing each player to choose exactly what kind and how much content they want to do from the start. One thing we want to change is making that much more clear—that you’re not obligated to anything, and you can take or leave whatever parts you want. None of the Opportunities have any rewards, and there is no restriction on seeing or doing any of them in any particular order.”
In addition, the Opportunities system provides content to players depending on trigger events in the game. “It doesn’t tell you to go get your ship blown up, “CCP Scarpia said, “but when it happens, it supports you with some information in the context of that event. It tells you that it is not a big deal, you can get a new ship,” and it then directs the player on how to do that.
“One of the biggest open questions, for now, is whether to make Opportunities into some sort of straightforward achievement system,” CCP Rise commented. “We’re leaning against it—we’re trying to make sure the system lets you know about all the game play available, rather than grinding to achieve some arbitrary goal.”
CCP Rubberband agreed, saying, “The Opportunity system is meant to instill a mindset in the player that they are setting their own goals. Eventually, we want them to outgrow the system—to make them confident enough to set their own goals, without the system doing it for them.”
“For people like me, and I know for CCP Scarpia as well,” CCP Rise said, “we never read any warning messages. I’m going to jump into a wormhole and die. What’s rough now, is when that happens, it’s very hard to figure out what went wrong… At that point, I want to be able to find information that tells me what happened. So, whether you are a person who is more cautious, or if you are someone like me who fumbles around and screws things up, the system will provide the information you need to know what happened and why.”
Part of the Retention Formula
The potential of the Opportunity system is far from being fully realized. During the panel discussion, the value of using Opportunities to provide a clear path to other options of game play in EVE, even for veteran players, was discussed. Making it easier to get involved in Factional Warfare, for example, through an Opportunity structure might help more players to try player-versus-player combat.
Enhancing the new player experience is not the exclusive domain of Team Pirate Unicorns—it is something that is also foremost in the minds of other CCP development teams as well. During the keynote address, CCP Seagull described the new download-on-demand feature developed by Team RnB, and the value it provides to new players, by reducing the time they can start playing EVE from more than an hour to less than five minutes. She also pointed out the value of the player community in helping to retain the influx of new players stimulated from the successful “This is EVE” video. The new player experience, while important, is only part of the formula for improving player retention in EVE Online—a result that all of CCP Games is striving to optimize.
Tags: Neville, NPE
Neville Smit, a former director of education for EVE University, is now a non-violent space hippie in the Signal Cartel, living in wormhole space and making a meager living as an explorer. He has been trying to learn how to play EVE Online since 2009. You can read more about his misadventures in New Eden at NevilleSmit.com or on Twitter @NevilleSmit.