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Wednesday, June 11, 2014

EVE Online: What Sort of MMO is It?

[caption id="attachment_2674" align="alignleft" width="520"]Motivations - Yee Motivations - Yee[/caption]

I think by now most of my readers understand that I am a fan of Doctor Nick Yee's Daedalus Project. I've posted his table on MMO player motivations several times on this blog. Today I'm going to outline how I think EVE Online fits into his table. Here is his table once more as a reminder.

As I've said before, it is my belief that all MMOs must have a base in the Social column of the table. Without that social element, it just would not be an MMO. It does not need to have all the elements, but it should have enough of them to glue elements of the other two columns together.

For the purposes of this post though, I am going to progress from left to right and top to bottom through the columns. I will list each element and discuss how I think EVE Online does or does not appeal to that specific motivation. This could get long. Hopefully it will be interesting.

I will be assigning a number between one and three to each element. The number is a rating: weak (1,) healthy (2,) or strong (3.) That is my judgement on how well EVE Online manifests that element. At the bottom of the post I will total up the numbers. That will tell us what sort of game EVE Online is. I'll provide more details after the analysis. So without further comment, let's dive into it!

  • Achievement - I'll just come right out and say this is what EVE Online is all about. From kill boards to forums, EVE Online is built around the achievement column.

    • Advancement - this is the personal side of EVE Online. Whether you aspire to be the best 1v1 pilot in New Eden, or the best FC, the four elements of this category are all about you as the capsuleer.

      • Progress - (3) the very heart of EVE Online personal development is the skill system. It is the measure of a capsuleer, and every capsuleer must meet certain minimum requirements to even get in on some of the game play in EVE Online. Many PvP corporations won't even consider your application unless you have 25 million skill points invested in combat skills. Don't ever bother to ask if you can fly logistics if all your logistics skills are not level IV at a minimum. If you play EVE Online, you know what I'm saying.

      • Power - (2) two words: The Mittani. Need I say more? And there are others. The attainment of power is the dream of all EVE Online players, whether they'll admit it or not. The only problem with it in the game is that so few can actually attain it. That's why I give it a rating of healthy but not strong.

      • Accumulation (3) - two more words: Gevlon Goblin. The accumulation of wealth and rare ships in EVE Online is not restricted to just Gevlon though. We all know about the Veldnaught. We all know, or at least can find out, who owns those special Paladins sprinkled into the game oh so many years ago. And look at the shit storm created when CCP gave our Scorpions to the crew of SOMER Blink. Oh, the unfairness of it all! Everyone is trying to accumulate more. The very nature of the economic model in EVE Online requires it. Total destructibility of hard-earned wealth is a strong motivator.

      • Status - (3) this is so important in EVE Online there are entire web sites devoted to it. Just checkout EVE Kill if you doubt it. How many bloggers have you read mark their status with kill stats? Go read Rixx Javix's PvP labeled posts to see how important it is too many. When I was a member of Surely You're Joking, the alliance kill board stats were a major concern of alliance leadership. If you lost an expensive ship in Jita, your corporation was in danger of getting kicked from the alliance. Even if you didn't get kicked, you were certainly ridiculed for the loss. And the insults made when people were not on comms could have resulted in defamation lawsuits. Alliance status was THAT important to alliance leadership and many of the long time alliance members.

    • Mechanics - this is the foundation of all achievement in EVE Online. It is not the "goal" so to speak, but without the mechanics there would be no method for achieving anything else listed in this column.

      • Numbers (2) - EVE Online is not known as spreadsheets in space for no reason. The only thing going against this element in EVE Online is that a player has to use 3rd party programs to do it well. If EVE Online had more of this functionality built-in, or allowed for external programs to change things in-game, it would get a higher rating from me.

      • Optimization (3) -  I know it really isn't so, but it seems like there are an infinite number of ways a player can optimize their ship to take on certain tasks. Take for example the role of fleet tackle. Will that be a long tackle or a short tackle? Those who play know what I mean. Will there be DPS with that tackle or just tank. That really depends on whether it is a fleet fit or a solo fit now doesn't it. And no doubt you'll fit the same ship differently to take it into a wormhole. Optimization is the way to win in EVE Online, and everyone has their opinion of what optimal is. The good news is, when the guns go silent we all know who was right.

      • Templating (2) - the variety of methods for fitting ships, and with those fitting constructing fleet doctrines, is one of the coolest mechanics in EVE Online. This isn't really that easy with the in-game UI, but the fantastic API built into the game allows for excellent 3rd party tool development. I've spent hours just checking out different fits in 3rd party tools. I think every player has at some point or another.

      • Analysis (2) - This is another strong point of the game because of the fantastic API. The things I've seen done with spreadsheets alone has blown me away. However, it would be better if it could all be done without needing the API, or if the API allowed for actual in-game manipulation of data.

    • Competition - the very essence of PvP, would you not agree?

      • Challenging Others (1) - There are lots of challenges issued every minute in EVE Online. Not all challenges are accepted though. The total destruction nature of the New Eden economy may motivate accumulation, but it stifles challenges. They still happen, but I've only really seen them done off high-sec stations - and that's very annoying to everyone else. EVE tournaments are a good challenge arena, but they only happen a few times a year. This element needs work.

      • Provocation (3) - from can flipping to miner bumping to "free ammo" cans, EVE Online is awash in provocation. It is a major play style. It can be done anywhere, at any time. No place is safe.

      • Domination (2) - without domination, Goonswarm would not be so reviled by no-goons. In fact, no one would give a damn. But when one group can dominate like Goonswarm has, you know it's a major feature of the game. The only negative is when one group so dominates the game it actually stifles game play. If you think this is not happening now you need to get a clue. If it weren't for that issue, I'd give this element the highest rating.

  • Social - these things are the glue that bind an MMO together.

    • Socializing - just hanging our can be its own form of game play.

      • Casual Chat (3) - regardless of what wormholers think, local is really an excellent chat client. It's easily the equal of any other game's chat system.

      • Helping Others (1) - It is true help happens in New Eden, but it only happens by dent of a person's will to make it happen. In many other MMOs, I am not penalized for throwing a heal spell onto someone engaged in a fight. In EVE Online, I can be labeled a criminal it I act this way. The game can actively punish do-gooders who don't understand the laws of the empires. This does not mean the criminal justice system in New Eden is flawed, just that it isn't conducive to randomly helping others. Hell, you even get charged a tax if you just want to private convo someone.

      • Making Friends (2) - You can make friends in EVE Online. I've made a few damn good ones! Who knew? However, there is always that question in the back of your mind about whether they're an awoxer or not. At higher levels of game play, that actually becomes a barrier to making friends. That leads to the question about which I've always wondered. Is The Mittani the loneliest capsuleer ever? He must be plagued with doubts about whether anyone he doesn't personally know is out to get him or not. The point is, the nature of the game makes people inherently suspicious of everyone else's motives. If it were otherwise, I'd never have to give out an API code before joining any corporation.

    • Relationships - it is not the friendship sort of relationship this category means. Making friends is covered under Socializing.

      • Personal (1) - I suppose if you go to Fanfest and hook-up with one of the two single women playing EVE Online you'll have a relationship moment in this game, but I rather doubt it. It's been shown in posts I'm not going to bother finding that, by far, the average EVE Online player is a thirty something year old father. They're already committed to someone else besides the game. Personal relationships really isn't what this game's about.

      • Self-Disclosure (1) - Yeah, just go ahead and disclose all you want. You too could have your special drunken abuse moment. Really, if you think that's a good idea in this testosterone controlled game

      • Find and Give Support (2) - As much as any other MMO I've played. The issue is whether the other guy thinks you're trying to scam him or not.

    • Teamwork - this is the bedrock of EVE Online's social foundation. It more than makes up for the weak performance of the Socializing and Relationships portions of the social column.

      • Collaboration (3) - it is damn near impossible to achieve one's goals in EVE Online without collaboration with other players either done formally through the corporation/alliance mechanics or informally through other channels. That is why CCP pushed new players to find corporations to play in. That is why those who don't are the 90% who quite before one year.

      • Groups (3) - There are those who will say 1v1 is king of EVE Online. They are wrong. Fleets are king in EVE Online. If you argue otherwise you're deluding yourself. I have nothing for respect for the really good 1v1 pilots out there, because even I, the great care bear, can fly in a fleet and make a difference. EVE Online would be a much smaller game if the fleet mechanics of the game were not so strong. And make no mistake, compared with other MMOs, EVE Fleet mechanics are gold. It's this focus by CCP that makes much of the Mechanics element under Achievement work so well.

      • Group Achievements (3) - This is so important in EVE Online that CCP has made it a major pillar in their marketing campaign. They have created permanent in-game monuments to group achievements.

  • Immersion - the suspension of disbelief is sometimes the hardest thing to accomplish.

    • Discovery - we all yearn to discover hidden treasure. WOOT! after all.

      • Exploration (2) - When you can discover anything and everything about any star system simply be going to DotLAN Maps, you do not have a good exploration system. Still, there are cool things to see in New Eden, and making the trek to see them can often be tremendously challenging. Still, I long for the day when I can enter a system and have no way to know anything at all about it - like it was when wormholes were first discovered.

      • Lore (2) - EVE Online a fantastic lore base. It's one of the best future histories in the gaming industry in my opinion. It's too bad it doesn't have a hell of a lot to do with the actual playing of the game.

      • Finding Hidden Things (2) - I once considered discovery to be a strong point of EVE Online. However, when they removed the need to use scanning  in order to find a gravitational anomalies it really made the whole Finding Hidden Things less appealing. And I've read other comments that some have found the new scanning mechanics to be too simple. When it's challenging to find hidden things is when they are most appreciated. I think EVE Online may recapture some of this in the future, but for now it's going to remain a very healthy element rather than a strong one.

    • Role-playing - this is not about becoming the story, but being able to act out a part in the story. To some degree EVE Online is trying to re-invent this element, but it's a doomed attempt. You can't let players make content and then call it role-play. To make content is an achievement, not something the game provides as an inherent part of its play.

      • Story Line (1) - It was really highlighted for me how weak stories lines are in EVE Online when CCP started soliciting players to provide stories. The game itself doesn't do story line well at all. Perhaps the best one it has is the Sansha Kuvakei story line that manifests itself as incursions. But it hasn't been developed since it was released. Neither has the Sleeper story line. Recently there was the story line about Mordu's Legion. But these story lines serve a master other than Role-playing. They are used to introduce new achievements and not developed as a Role-playing element in and of themselves.

      • Character History (1) - character history is defined by ones achievements. There is not one without the other in EVE Online. Some have created character histories. Roc Wieler and Mike Azariah come to mind, but they've created the history outside actual game play. History has no baring on the game itself.

      • Roles (1) - CCP would have us believe roles are a strong element in EVE Online play, but the whole "I've got an alt for that" culture of EVE Online kills this fantasy.

      • Fantasy (1) - EVE Online is real. How many times have you read that? The fact is, it is so close to real that it cannot be a fantasy.

    • Customization - when your life consists of laying in a pod surrounded by goo, character customization is not a high priority. This is perhaps EVE Online's weakest element.

      • Appearances (2) - the Carbon system is very good at giving us all a different face. That is the one strength in customization EVE Online has. Otherwise, we all look like the clones we are.

      • Accessories (1) - few, expensive and never seen. Accessories were basically non-existent for characters before Incarna, and a major failure afterwards. And unless you include drone selection, there are no visible accessories for ships. Ship accessories are consumed be the Templating element under Achievement/Mechanics.

      • Style (1) - There are some set styles. Everyone gets to pick from those. They are very limited.

      • Color Schemes (1) - Until the recently release ship skins, this was a non-thing. It is still very weak, as all ship skins are the same and color choice does not exist.

    • Escapism - all MMOs, in fact computer games in general, are played for some level of Escapism. Still, some are better at enabling this than others.

      • Relax (1) - The vast majority of people cannot relax when adrenalin is coursing through their brain. It's just not possible. But adrenalin can happen at any moment in EVE Online. It's not very conducive to this element, though some may say adrenalin is relaxing. I would say the post adrenalin reaction is relaxing perhaps, but adrenalin never is. That's why it can save your life.

      • Escape from RL (2) - This happens in all MMOs. It's actually easier to do in EVE Online because it sometimes takes hours of playing time to do anything. That allows for long escapes from reality, and it's always easy enough to extend those escapes.

      • Avoid RL Problems (1) - I've known a few who've gone this route with EVE Online and it's landed almost all of them in a scalding pot of hot water with their loved ones. But this is a true of any MMO to one extent or another. It is not something many would consider EVE Online's string point. It you are stressed in RL, most people will find EVE Online increases their stress. There are a few odd ducks though...

That, in a very long nutshell, is how I see EVE Online when evaluated according to Dr. Yee's table of MMO player motivations. To be sure this is probably not a completely objective evaluation. I too have my motivations, and what scratches my itch in an MMO might not scratch yours. But it's a good evaluation based on my observations over six years. Feel free to provide your own in the comments. ;-)

[caption id="attachment_2804" align="alignleft" width="668"]EVE Online Evaluation by Yee MMO Motives EVE Online Evaluation by Yee MMO Motives[/caption]

So what does this tell us about EVE Online. Well, that's what those numbers in parenthesis are all about. We add them up and see how the columns score. But that would not be a fair comparison between columns. Some columns have more elements than others. So once they are totaled, dividing the total by the number of elements will give a proper score for each column: achievement, social and immersion. Here's a table that does just that.

According to this decision matrix style evaluation, EVE Online would most appeal to achievement oriented MMO players who have a strong herding instinct. :D Really, they just want to belong to a group of people with similar goals and achieve greatness through measurable, discreet accomplishments. There is nothing wrong with that, but if that's not what you're looking for in an MMO you should probably look elsewhere.



  1. Or your the solo small gang guy who wants to achieve greatness by beating the odds with skill.

  2. Overall I agree with most of your rankings. However on discovery and escapism you might be conflating how some people play the game with how all people play the game and how the game works. I would argue two main points.

    First, under discovery, all of the information gathered in dotlan and other sources can be discovered in game, and players motivated by discovery who use those tools are embodying the motivation, it just happens that in Eve the devolopers have given us two ways to access that information. One is flying around to get the info. Even huge blocks like the CFC still use this technique. The other is to explore using API and out of game tools that players have built. Both are methods of engaging discovery, it just happens that Eve lets you do this inside or outside the game environment. Add to that the nature of exploration and WH life, and discovery is a strong part of many players' game.

    Second, for escapism, i think you are conflating negative outcomes of escapism with the act of escapism. Someone have negative outcomes would in my book rank escapism highly, as those players are so immersed that they ignore real life issues.

    Just my two isk.

  3. Correct, but I'm still an achievement motivated MMO player. ;)

  4. It's a good two isk. :) I agree my view of escapism is very tight. From my experience, I see escapism as the biggest danger to playing games. There is psychologically healthy escapism, and unhealthy escapism. I'll compare it to daydreaming, a time honored form of escapism. If you daydream while sitting on the swing of your front porch that's just fine. That's what porch swings are partly for, and no harm is done in the escaping. Most psychologists consider this sort of daydreaming normal and even necessary for good mental health. However, if you go through life constantly daydreaming to the point it distracts you while driving and makes you ignore everyone else, that isn't considered healthy. When I look at MMOs as I did here, I have to judge whether the MMO promotes healthy escapism or unhealthy escapism. It's a tough call. It depends so much on the individual in question what is okay for one player is not okay for another. My experience with escapism in EVE Online has been more negative than positive, and that certainly colors my conclusion. So I gave Escape from RL a healthy rating and I gave Avoid RL Problems a weak rating. But to be honest, I'd probably give all MMOs a 1 on the Avoid RL Problems because that behavior at it's root is unhealthy IMO.

  5. Thanks, and fair points. I really need to go read more of those papers. The motivational category constructs are framed so broadly (from my reading of your explanations :)) that I am having a hard time finding the analytical power. One of my areas of professional expertise is actually behavioral research (in health, not in gaming, and not psychology), and you are really creating an itch that I need to take some time to go scratch. I have a bad habit of not trusting research until I have read too much of it. Side effect of reading too many papers that take shortcuts to publication I suppose.

    Anyway, I like these articles. I have a few responses and inspired drafts, but I keep actually playing games instead of updating my blog... ugh.


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