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Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Sandbox - Asset or Liability?

I have a Google Alert setup to find mentions of Eve Online. It notified me of an interesting start to an Eve Online thread over on Democraticunderground.com (a site I didn't even know existed before - go Google Alerts.) You can read the post here. The tl;dr gist of the post is this fellow tried Eve because he'd read about the MMO/FPS project (known to us as Dust 514.) This intrigued him and brought him into Eve Online.

His initial impression of the game though wasn't what I'd have expected. He didn't discuss the awesomeness of social game play and how great it was to have so many other people with whom to interact. Quite the contrary actually. He said,
"It does have a steep learning curve but I like the fact that this early in the game it is kinda like a single-player RPG -- I don't have to rely on other people to make progress." (Emphasis mine.)
Now, to be fair he gave no indication that he wouldn't eventually jump on the social engine bandwagon CCP wants us so desperately to embrace (see his subsequent post.) However, at the start, in his Catalyst Destroyer, he would rather go it alone.

He sites two other Sci-Fi games, Elite and Freelancer, as qualifiers for Eve being, "right up my alley." I played Elite but not Freelancer. I did play Privateer. These are the litmus that this noob, and many other noobs, compare Eve to - myself included when I started four plus years ago. It's a wildly imperfect measure to be sure.

But if that is the expectation, why on Earth (or off it) does CCP think it's a good thing to push this social engine, war-all-the-time vision even in high-sec? It seems to me that this would be a turn off for new players like EarlG. They are initially in love with interstellar beauty and internet spaceships, not Goonswarm offensives and the meta-game.

The post got even more interesting when Hong Kong Cavalier replied. He claims to have tried Eve three (3) times. He quit playing each time. Here is the reason he gives,
"CCP talks about their sandbox as being EVE's greatest strength. I think it's a bit of an obstacle for them. They have an amazing graphics engine with marvelous effects, and they do boast 400k subscribers as of March 2012. But it's a hurdle that many players why (sic) try EVE (like myself) can't seem to get past."
So as much as we all love the sandbox aspect of this social engine that is Eve Online, is it actually the road block keeping new blood out of the game? I think it just might be.

As an example, I'll hold up my own family members as examples. Both my son and my brother have new characters in Mabrick Mining and Manufacturing [MABMM.] I noticed they weren't logging on very often, certainly not every night or even every couple of nights.

One day I asked my son, "Are you going to be on tonight? We could take on a level 4 together. I'll shoot and you can salvage"

My son replied, "Nah, I'm just gonna train until I can get into a Brutix. I can't do anything in the Thorax that I want to do and, no offense, salvaging is boring. I want to pull my weight."

Not a week later I had this conversation with my brother, "I haven't seen you online at all lately. Is everything okay?"

He answered, "Yeah, everything's fine. I just want to train up until I can actually do something without getting blown up."

Now granted, this was during Goonswarm's war against MABMM. I told both of them they should quit the corporation and go back to the NPC corporation. They declined; said they liked being in "the family business" and could just wait until they could really play the game.

Now that's effed up people. Two new players that I'd talked into spending the money to play again (they'd both tried it about three years ago but ran into financial problems) and neither one of them feel they can really play the game as noobs. This is something that EarlG doesn't contradict.  In fact, he said he tried it on his own at first without the tutorials and without success. He's at least not giving up.

The same goes for my son. He's not giving up but he does want to be able to defend himself. After the war though, he's not sure how long that will take. He's frustrated but he's willing to fight if necessary, though he'd just rather fly his spaceship and make ISK.

My brother, on the other hand, is an outright pacifist compared to me. He only wants to fly cool Internet spaceships, run a business and be safe doing it. That isn't likely to happen in Eve Online now is it? The sandbox style of game play means he won't have the chance. Outside the family, he can't trust anyone. I fear his days playing Eve Online are as limited as when he lost his job.

And EarlG's thread tells me my noob relatives aren't unique. A lot of people just want to fly spaceships and pretend to be in space (that's role-play too BTW.) That's what does it for them. I suspect there are far more people in the world with that mindset than the PvP mindset. If predator to prey ratios are any indication, the non-PvP inclined far outnumber the people who really love to explode things. That's bad news for Eve Online in light of the current CCP push for all war all the time.

In the end, I have to blame the open ended nature of Eve game play - the sandbox. It's not very appealing to new players that don't know what it's about yet. It causes such a steep learning curve people become frustrated. Then, at the height of their frustration, they get ganked. Maybe they shake it off. Maybe they shake off the second one. But if their frustration doesn't ease, and it continues to happen, they just quit.

And sure, we don't really need them. They didn't grok the nature of Eve. No loss eh mate? CCP will happily keep Tranquility running for the rest of us. But I'll always feel like we were robbed of something. Robbed of a game that could have been so much more but wasn't. Robbed of a chance for Eve Online to be a real social engine. One with a society that is actually like us, all of us. Even those that just want to fly from place to place without risk; never kicking sand in anyone's face.

Fly careful.

21 comments:

  1. Thanks for making this topic, it give me my next topic for my blog, in which I try to answer some questions and give a response to this topic.

    If you allow me I will link it here:

    http://fightingcoineve.blogspot.pt/2012/08/what-really-makes-new-players-quit-this.html

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  2. I have been playing Eve for just over two years, recently (presumably as a punishment for sending my alts to LoSec rather than my mains) I have been reading the forums (all of human and not so are there......) so some shooting from the hip (I know what's coming).

    Elite eh. Let us consider, security rated space ranging from safe 99.5% of the time (cops instantly deploy) to Thargoid space (you're dead 4 out of 5 times even if you are very good - not a chance ganker). The industrials were quite often armed to the teeth (and you had to be good). Really all a lot of us want is Elite with an intelligent target (yarr). You trying to tell me that Eve isn't big enough to be 'more true' to these gameplay ideas than it is now?

    Consider the sandbox in a different way, it allows infinite connection routes (okay between real limits) between players as opposed to it is the excuse for allowing a small minority to dictate the basis on which things will happen everywhere.

    So go back to basics, safe sec to 'so you think your good enough', Police with zero reaction time, NPCs that are difficult to kill (and can spawn anywhere) and industrials with really effective weapons systems.

    From what I've read elsewhere the vocal minority still won't fight because THEY DONT WANT TO LOSE THEIR STUFF EITHER.

    and off topic just how many accounts/characters are effectively F2P (i.e. no RL coin changes hands).

    I could say loads more but I'm sure you're all bored enough as it is.

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  3. If your brother wants to do business, he can do so without trusting anyone, on the marketplace. Also, how can a carebear NOT pay for free? If you mine or mission, you inevitably get at least 0.5M/month.

    About your son salvaging: I think "boring" wasn't the truth. "Servant" or "minion" was probably closer to what he was thinking. Try approaching your son that you need his help completing a L4. He surely can fly a webbing, target painting, sensor boosting frigate that indeed contribute to faster completion of the L4.

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  4. If your son wants to truly fly a brutix and be able to protect himself remind him that flying is not just skill points.

    Some people find salvage to be demeaning. However, being your frig killer in your missions is super helpful and gets him used to piloting. A brutix is a tricky ship to fly being all gank and not really tank plus an in your face brawler.

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  5. The big challenge in a sandbox is to help newbies get their bearings around it. The biggest problem in Eve is the way in: once you've done the tutorials, you know a bit about hi sec and that's it. It doesn't get you onboard the social engine. The idea of being a side kick of people doing L4, or being a little helper in a W-space corp are just ignored. Maybe the restyled tutorials will help a bit.

    Whenever people mention the sandbox, they always forget that CCP are the ones saying where the sandbox ends: stations cannot be destroyed, stargate cannot be locked, ships are working perfectly well until you hit 0 structure, you name it. Part of it is of course technical, but most of it is based on how CCP sees the sandbox. And at moment their vision of the sandbox is getting more and more oxymoronic: buff to "gankers" (Tier 3 BC) then buff to "carebears" (the Skiff v2). They're pulling in both directions, more danger and more safety, with no overall of how all these bits fits together in the overall universe of Eve. Thus leaving the players sitting in the middle wondering what's happening to their favorite game.

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  6. This information is totally new for me.Seems like a good and impressive post.Thanks for this nice post.

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  7. Interesting… read both links… good stuff. I was even moved to reg and post a response as an EVE vet… on the Dem Site… bit weird as I am a dyed in the wool Rep… oh well. =]

    Learning how to play EVE, like any other game is also a user experience skill. Loggin on to only run skills until you’re l33t enough to ‘actually’ play is BS... If they’re gonna do that, why wait? Why not just buy a bunch of PLEX then buy a toon already at 100m SP and then play? I mean you’d be so l33t you would never lose a fight, right?

    I personally wish toons couldn’t be ‘sold’… I consider it ‘cheat’ of all that EVE can be. By the same reasoning I hate the ‘goonborn’ method of joining EVE… I feel they too are cheated out of essential learning experiences that greatly enrich this game for the EVEborn.

    I honestly feel, and my corpmates agree, that HALF of the ‘skills’ you learn in EVE are how to ‘play’ EVE… a total noob inna 100Msp char is gonna get pwned by a 10Msp guy who has been PLAYING and flying and has experience… You ‘can’ even manually fly your ship in EVE, as a matter of fact it is a necessary PvP skill, but there is no BOOK for that… only time and experience can teach the PLAYER that skill, so in essence they are unintentionally skipping half of the ‘skilling’ they need to do.

    I am sitting here with AI, my CEO and son, and he agrees that some of our best and most memorable experiences were in our first few months ingame…

    So they are gonna wait and skill up their toons to finally login to play at what? 5Msp? 10Msp? 20Msp?? I have been constantly skilling for 1 year and 9 months and I have 23.8Msp… how long are they going to wait? And when they do login, how much will they ‘know’ about flying? about fitting? about how various mods work together and affect each other, and CAP, and how to follow FC commands… and what resists to tank for against Gursitas, Sleepers, in PvP… and… and…?

    I fear they will logon, feeling they are ‘ready’ and they will really, really not be… and, my good friend, they will DIE... a LOT... if they dunt have the ‘human’ skills needed... A noob inna 100Msp char is an easy kill for an ‘experienced’ player with far less.

    Yes, the Learning Cliff is difficult. EVE is hard and complex and very not WoW. But the sandbox is only an obstacle for those who are not into the rewards of the long term game… for those of us so inclined, it is our greatest strength. So yes… it does keep some players out.

    If all you are interested in is immediate gratification, EVE is not for you. But by the same token, if you are not interested in dwarves and dark elves and runnin around watchin your own cute fairy ass, or not so cute hairy ass… well, then WoW is not for me. But you dunt see me cryin and wingin that WoW should be moar dark and difficult… do you?

    What is effed up is their desire to ‘win’ (IE as you put if to be able to ‘defend themselves’ or as I read it ‘win’ fights) without putting in the time and effort to learn the player ‘skills’ to be able to. They feel the skill books will give them the ability to ‘win’ in EVE… it won’t. TBH, it sounds like your son and brother are not cut out for EVE… or maybe the better way to put it is, EVE is not ‘for’ them.

    For all those who “…just want to fly spaceships and pretend to be in space…” there are other games out there. EVE is not an escape from real life, it is a lateral into an amazing alternate virtual life… with loss and risk and all that entails… including the rewards that come from overcoming adversity and loss and risk… but ya gotta be willing to do the “work”.

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  8. As a noob myself (3 months) it seems like the sandbox is very focused on war - and not just because of the focus of inferno. Maybe I haven't gotten to the industry side but what are you really building anyway? Punch some buttons over and over and out pops some modules or ships - is that being creative and building?

    Show me a space station and you designed and built, complete with defenses against other players? Show me the impressive space elevator that reaches down to your PI resources on the planet. Show me it's golden spires catching the light of the rising sun. Show me that you've made a facility that other players want to visit.

    I'm training to get to T2 guns to try PvP - it seems pretty pointless until then - you'll be completely outclassed. I want to also see something interesting in the non-combat sandbox, but I don't see it yet.

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    1. Hi John - If you want to see industrial systems built from the ground up, pun intended, you'll need to go to a worm hole (WH for short) or null-sec. In those locations, PI exports to Player Owned Customs Offices (POCO for short) that players anchored themselves. Some other player (or themselves) built those POCOs. They may have even mined all the resources to do so. I know I have in the past for certain goods (not POCOs, Wetware Mainframes actually which go into POCOs.) PI resources are picked up by something like a Viator which is a ship only players can build. It is taken to a Player Owned Station (POS for short, they also use Wetware Mainframes as one of their components) where those resources further refined into usable goods using Assembly Arrays the player anchors at the POS. One thing they do in WH is to manufacture all the components needed for fuel blocks their POS needs, except the ice which cannot be found in WH space. Those fuel blocks power the POS which was anchored by the player. It also has defenses anchored by the player and it can (will?) be attacked by other players sooner or later. In that event, a player with the POS Defense skill can control up to five (5) guns on their POS to fight off the attackers. This really sounds to me like the thing you want to see.

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    2. ... and that is why wormhole space is in my opinion one of the most gratifying areas of EVE. Building things from nothing, making a place your home, the most challanging PVE content outside Incursions and the most dangerous PVP area on top of that. A place where risk and reward is actually balanced - today you can lose your T3 cruiser to someone who you didn't even know was there, and a week or two later you can have enough ISK to buy a new one.

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    3. Thanks Mabrick - I think I see how the network of parts there is interesting as a whole, even if chunking out the pieces isn't as appealing. More about the planning then, which is fine with me.

      I agree that WH life sounds interesting, but it is another thing I'm figuring it out of my league right now. Long term I'd like to try a bit of a lot of things, and that's on the list. But that's long term and Eve seems fine to be a long term game.

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  9. John,
    (1) skill your toon all you want... if YOU don't learn how to fly and fight, YOU will just give experienced PvPers a lot of loot, salvage and tears...

    And as for being outclassed... what, yer the only noob out there? Oh effin please...

    An experienced player once killed three of us, one in a Rohk, me in a Thrasher and athen a Rifter and one in a Exqueror... and he was in a T2 Crusier... skills like that cannot be bought...

    Plus Mab is right... you oughta see our Deth Star, "Serenity Station" in our C3 Wormhole... then you will 'see' the glory your hard work can create.

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    1. I know the flying part is critical, but after a brief stay in RvB (which was cool - props to those guys) I could see that I couldn't even compete enough to learn without T2 guns. From what I saw (and heard from others) I'm just not going to break someone's tank without that.

      As Mabrick says in today's post (Dust in your eye) if there was a player-matching things you could do (particularly in an RvB like setting) that would help. As nice as many vets can be in giving pointers to a newbie, there's only so many times we can throw 1-2MISK of frigate at them with no hope of really winning - particularly when each ship means another 6-8 L2 security missions I need to run. Again, it's a skill thing, since moving up to the L4 missions that everyone assumes you can run apparently require a BC or HAC or such that in turn requires a lot of skill points.

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    2. John, I dut know if you will see this but, I have an alt in RvB, just over 2M sp... she can barely fly an all t1 and badly fitted Rifter... and she is 38/12... 38 kills (1 last blow) and 12 losses.

      Don't run L4 mishes, run L2s, until you can run L3s... run them until you can run em solo, you will find the skills will come with time.

      Keep flying as you skill up your toon, dunt throw away the experience of learning skills yourself too.

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  10. I'd have to say that, yes, the sandbox aspect of EVE is both it's greatest strength and it's greatest weakness.


    I first played EVE in 2008. I'd heard about it in the gaming press, but I'd never been able to bring myself to pay for a game more than once - I'd paid $60 for plenty of games, but an ongoing rate per month? Please. Then I started talking about the game with a buddy at work who'd been playing since 2006 and decided to try the thing.

    So I got my trial account, did the tutorials, and off I went. And then sat there not knowing what to do or how to really play the game. About a week in to my trial, I joined Uni, but they were at war and had what I consider to be really stupid rules about not leaving station, so I sat around some more, not knowing what to do and having a surprisingly hard time getting info out of the Uni.

    So I quit.

    Fast forward to last year. I was playing BSG Online and the core of my guild had gotten bored with it after 2 months and left. Some of them mentioned EVE in comms one night and my interest piqued. We chatted some more and it turned out 2 of my guild had been playing off and on since beta. So about 10-12 of us made the decision to carry on as a guild - er corp - in EVE. We all got accounts, got into corp right after the tutorial and I've been playing EVE and having fun with it ever since.

    If it hadn't been for the fact that I'd come back to EVE with a group of players, I'd likely never have given the game a second look.

    Sandbox is nice, but sometimes too much choice is as bad as too little.

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    1. Spot on Heretic. It's essential to join a player corp no matter what you want do, industry, mining, pvp, fw etc. If new player doesn't do that, there's 90% chance that he will quit. I really hope they implemented SUPER HIGH ADVISORY to join player driven corp in the new tutorials, didn't check them out yet (living in c5 atm).

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  11. I'm a noob too - 50 odd days and counting, I can see how John got to thinking how he did about T2 guns. I've been there a couple of times and dragged myself out of it. The same with Mabricks son feeling he can't compete, though that was the Goons after all. Tur does a good impression of the classic forum bittervet response, which surprisingly never helps at all - sorry Tur ;)

    It does occur. It is more a feeling than a truth and you can get over/around/under it to an extent. Yes there are people with more game skills who have a significant advantage but that isn't the end. Combat isn't everything and dodging it can be as good as being in it. If you really want to be in it then remember that Mr Lone Ganker PVP l33t has probably done the same to other newbie players. Look his kills up on eve-kill. Contact the other victims. Fleet up. Track him down. Swarm him to bits. 1: Revenge 2: Cool sandbox story.

    Mabrick - I've gone and used and abused your post for my own purposes. Sorry! Really enjoyed this one and it got me thinking, musing in fact. I think you found another 'm' word. http://diaries-of-a-space-noob.blogspot.co.uk/2012/08/day-54-sandbox.html

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  12. I think to be honest the sandbox environment either makes or breaks a game and it all really comes down to content.

    You could argue that EVE is an awesome game because you have all these other players waiting to kill you, shoot things with you, steal things from you. You can meta game, infiltrate corps, destroy entire organisations from the inside, particpate in small or large scale wars with friends etc etc.

    But lets think for a moment how that content is created... its all USER content.

    CCP didn't have to write a single line of code for people to do all of those things. They didn't need to tell the player to steal things, or blow a ship up, nor did they tell them what to do or how to do it.

    On the flip side that freedom can seem like a directionless mess; without much help most new EVE players will get easily confused and frustrated with the game mechanics - throw in some asshat other players willing to shoot at anything that moves and you'll get another EVE casulty of the sandbox.

    The alternative is the 'theme park' style where pretty much everything is scripted. Your told what to do, your expected to follow the rules. You can only kill people a certain way, you can only do so much and have a controlled level of freedom to do only what the designer intended for you to be able to do.

    The benifits is that its a clear player experiance; the player never feels lost. The main problem then comes down to content. Eventually even the slowest MMO player will burn through the content, reach the end and get bored.
    Its then a fault of the game to have not provided enough content to keep the player around, where as EVE has potentially endless 'free' content that the players themselves create.

    Personally I left EVE because I was grinding away. I didn't have as much time as I would like and I ran out of achieveable goals. I work alone and even in my corp I would find it hard to get groups or partipate in things because I had limited time. I can't stand PvP and I eventually felt like I had nothing to work towards and quit. Its not to say I don't like the game because I still keep an eye on it, but I just felt like its not a game that works to how I need it to play at the moment.

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  13. "But if that is the expectation, why on Earth (or off it) does CCP think it's a good thing to push this social engine, war-all-the-time vision even in high-sec?"

    that's very troubling...where did you get this from? was it just speculation or have they been explicit what they think "social engine" means to CCP?

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    1. Not complete speculation but there is perhaps some. Have a look at this post from July: http://mabricksmumblings.blogspot.com/2012/07/we-are-cogs-of-social-engine.html. It's straight from the horse's mouth you could say. (And that is a U.S. saying and I do not mean to imply the mouth is connected to a horses ass in any way.)

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  14. This is really informative. Thanks for sharing this information.
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