Player versus Ennui

It is safe to say that PVE in EVE is infamously dull and repetitive. It is also the most neglected feature of the whole game. Sure, a new AI was crafted when Apocrypha brought us Sleepers, and it was refined somewhat when we got Incursions, but that is now five and four years ago respectively. In the meantime we have seen a few tweaks here or there, but nothing fundamental. There are even some aspects of PVE which were introduced and left broken, like the COSMOS agents. Fighting against NPCs is so trivial these days that it is almost considered embarrassing to do so. Mining is seen as even worse in the eyes of many EVE players. There are whole groups – like the people behind minerbumping – who have declared miners and mission runners their sworn enemies because they see them as antithesis to the “true spirit” of the game. PVE players in highsec are publicly decried as risk averse “carebears” while those who rat in nullsec are treated with the same respect. Their activities earn them titles like “nullbear” or racist slurs which I will not repeat here. PVE, is basically written off as meaningless, and this negative attitude makes it highly unpopular for CCP to commit any development effort to improve it. I dare to say that an announcement to rebuild the whole PVE experience would result in threats to unsubscribe and cries of different player groups that their pet peeve issues should be fixed first. Yet, eventually we all engage in PVE one way or another. We do it for ISK, standings, security status, system upgrades, loyalty points, special loot, warzone control or simply diversion. Who of us can really say that they never shoot red crosses? PVE is a fundamental part of the game’s first stages, and to malign it is not constructive. I propose that development effort dedicated to PVE is not a waste. Instead, it could result in a change to the game that benefits many parties and creates new content generating opportunities for players. I will elaborate on what I mean by that.

Enhanced PVE

A better PVE experience should not simply mean that the ISK faucet of mission-running, siterunning or Incursions becomes more bountiful. To be really meaningful for the game, PVE should fulfill a number of criteria. I am taking a number of cues there from single-player sandbox games but also current developments in MMO design.
  • Immersive To begin with, a good PVE design should make the player feel like part of the world. The lore of the game plays a major role there, but in a game like EVE it also means exposing the player to the living environment other players participate in. Thus PVE content should encourage and reward cooperation or competition. Both are main aspects of EVE.
  • Progressive Ideally a PVE experience should not repeat itself too much. EVE’s perpetually distressed damsel is the subject of many sarcastic in-jokes. PVE content is best when it offers a path of development. New aspects of the game should open up for the player over time.
  • Educational Good PVE content introduces the new player to the mechanics of the game and challenges that acquired skill in later stages, further expanding the horizon of the player. During progress, a player should learn and experience more of the world around them.
  • Emergent To understand what I mean by that, watch this short presentation about Everquest Next. In short, it is about NPCs reacting to player behaviour over time.
  • Consequential Again I will refer you to an Everquest Next presentation. This also ties in with the immersive aspect. Different PVE actions by different players will work together to change the world around them.

Putting It All Together

I am not usually the type for playing “Armchair Game Designer” but I will make an exception for this topic to illustrate how I would imagine a PVE gameplay for EVE that fulfills the criteria I listed.

Encounters Not Missions

Taking cues from the presentation on Emergent AI, imagine pirates becoming attracted by rich PVE targets. Why would only players commit ganks at gates and in belts? The Serpentis or Guristas don’t even have to fear CONCORD retaliation because obviously they can currently shoot people at will. I guess they just have a permawar on everyone. Gates with a lot of freighter jumps, belts with large mining fleets, those places would attract increasing numbers of NPC pirates in successively more powerful ships. A lone player flying a Venture in a belt would maybe draw in a few frigates. A fleet of barges with Orca support might get the attention of whole squadrons including tacklers, ewar and battlecruisers. The drones of a few mining barges would not be enough to fend them off. Large scale miners would have to recruit others who provide fire support or multibox some defense ships themselves. Botting a major mining fleet would be virtually impossible except if you combine that with a bot for killing large amounts of NPCs. Freighters and haulers would be waylaid by NPC gatecamps on busy routes, so someone needs to escort them too. If that sounds like it would help player gankers a lot, think again. What would pirates do first? Eliminate competition of course. They would target and shoot all combat ships at belts or gates to begin with, maybe even trying to steal loot. Ganking would become much more of a dynamic challenge between players and NPCs. In the end, there wouldn’t have to be missions like “go there, shoot that”. This type of entry level PVE can be provided by players for players. They could also band together in an effort to pacify infested belts or camped gates.

Building A Better World

There would still be a role for agents, but it would look differently. Their job would be to recruit players for the achievement of broader goals in an effort to change the system parameters themselves. Kill X amount of pirates and bring back their tags for additional bounty and LP. Anchor a POS and do X amount of jobs there. The reward would be sunk costs and again something extra plus LP. CCP wants to make all things destructible? Well, why not do it like in X3 – Terran Conflict and have NPCs attack stations and players defend them? If a station gets incapacitated, there could be missions to deliver or manufacture certain goods and bring them there for rebuilding. Such large endeavours would be announced system-wide by agents and people can sign up to participate. Once the task is complete, everyone gets paid according to the share of their contribution, similar to the way Incursions are paid out now. Players could then compete or cooperate in large “system development missions”. Their collective actions could change the security status and other parameters in the region over time. Taxes, production costs or offered station services could change in a system depending on how players act. Vicious and criminal acts could also have a negative impact. Too many pirates running unchecked? Too many successful suicide ganks? Such things could lower the security status, for example, or lead to stations shutting down services. The mechanics for system influence based on player actions already exists in Faction Warfare and Incursions. That could be applied to highsec in general. There should probably be reasonable limits however. Systems like Jita, Amarr, Dodixie or other major centres of empire power would remain stable throughout. Possibly even those places could be subject to change, but the effort would have to be staggering. 05m4VrF

Incursion? What Kind Of Incursion?

The Incursion mechanic is great, but it should be repurposed. Sansha Kuvakei has been around long enough and other factions might step in. Imagine, for example, that killing many Angel Cartel ships in a highsec system would attract a retaliation force. Everyone in system would be chased by Angel ships like criminals are hunted by the faction navy today – again, a mechanic that already exists. Players in system would have to band together to throw them back in a sort of “boss fight” at the end of an effort to increase the security status of a system. Other forms of emergent Incursions are imaginable. Take Burn Jita. Say the faction navy of the Caldari State could hotdrop into a station system of an offending alliance to punish them, like the Amarr do in the most recent trailer. Incursions could also spawn with a purpose in nullsec. The most abandoned systems might be targeted by the local NPC faction for reclaiming. They would attack sov structures too of course to take away player control. Not enough jumps in and out of the system during the last month? There, you get the Blood Raiders trying to re-occupy it.

The Bridge To PVP

To lead players from pure PVE – competitive as it may be – into fighting each other, agents could also offer PVP assignments, like kill X in ship value of people with suspect timers. or maybe kill a number of players who have such low faction standings that they would be attacked by the navy. Suddenly Faction Warfare pilots would have to be worried about neutrals in enemy highsec too. They should be flagged as having a legal engagement, though, so they can be identified on the overview. PVP assignments could work like a sort of war declaration paid for by an NPC. Podding when subscribed for such a mission could also be allowed. Bringing back the corpses to an agent in station would again contribute to system improvements which yield their rewards later. Of course those corpses can also be stolen by someone through suicide ganking or by risking a suspect timer of their own when they pick up the corpse. Hunting criminals in highsec could become an actual profession that way. Even in lowsec the mechanics of system change could apply and encourage PVP. In systems which are not designated as Faction Warfare space, pilots killing or podding outlaws could increase the security status over time. Pirates would have to actively make sure that their system remains unsafe by blowing up ships themselves. They could also turn Faction Warfare space into unclaimed lowsec by killing enough militia ships. Pirate faction LP could be an additional reward for doing so. At the same time the militia could prepare a system for takeover through outlaw kills. Like in the highsec example, a major final incursion could happen once a system is fully upgraded, with the option of turning it into high security space by beating back the attackers. The possibilities are many. Pirate faction agents could contract suicide ganks. Republic Intelligence might offer rewards for reducing the security status of an Amarrian system and so forth. Certainly the specifics would have to be worked out well to avoid openings for abuse of such mechanics. 9ebi7Zx

A Sort Of Botting

Resource gathering is a tedious profession and there is little that can be done to make it less so. There is potential expansion, though. In one of my favorite scifi sandbox games  – X3 Terran Conflict – a player can assemble a whole fleet of ships and give it commands. I would plead for mining fleets in EVE getting the same possibility. An Orca or a Rorqual could make use of a special command module with the ability to remotely control mining ships. Their number and type would of course depend on a skill. Those ships could then be ordered to mine, align, warp, dock and so forth. This would appear like a legalization of botting but it actually isn’t. A player would still have to direct that mining fleet on grid, and under the conditions of emergent PVE such a fleet would attract a lot of attention from NPC pirates, making actual botting pretty much impossible. In fact it is not any different from miners who multibox whole fleets these days, except that they would not have to use several accounts anymore. Since that effectively means CCP would lose subscriptions, I doubt that such a feature would ever see the light of the day, but I still think it could be very beneficial. Who knows, maybe under the bottom line subscriptions even go up with better PVE prospects.  

In Conclusion

PVE gameplay is the first step every new player takes once they decide to try out the game. It may not be what EVE is all about, but it is the first impression. As such it should be as good as it can be. Like my colleague Hibbie wrote in his last piece: “[every shop] is always carefully arranged to draw both you and your wallet in.” Making the first impression truly captivating should be the goal for PVE design. In addition to better mechanics, it would also be very attractive to include animations and voiceovers to enhance the experience. By creating the necessity for players to work together or compete for influence on their environment, the isolation of solo PVE gameplay can be avoided. Following the ideas of the Everquest Next developers, New Eden could become a dynamic and changing place. Eventually, by opening the door to PVP through assignments given by NPCs, new players can also make their way into the next level of gameplay. It would also offer possibilities to earn ISK through PVP, something quite difficult at the moment. If the suggestions I make were to be implemented, it would probably take all the six-week expansions of a whole year to do so gradually, maybe even longer. At the end of the process EVE Online would be a fundamentally changed game, though. New players could be attracted and old players would find fresh challenges. Today, people have to somehow “get EVE” because the game does not explain itself properly during its first stages. Many who do not see the potential that lies beyond the mediocre introduction leave again. A vastly overhauled PVE experience could be just the thing to solve that problem.  
Tags: incursions, NPE, pve, tarek

About the author

Tarek Raimo

Former nullsec spy (no not under that name of course) and current failure at lowsec solo PVP, Tarek spends his time not logging in to the game as much as he keeps thinking about its social and metagame nature and sharing some of those thoughts with the CZ readers.