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Thursday, August 2, 2012

Blog Banter 38: Small improvements make a difference

 "In his recent "That's just the way it is" post on Jester's Trek, blogger Ripard Teg posits that the established EVE player-base has come to accept many of EVE's design idiosyncrasies, rarely questioning their purpose or benefit. Conversely, he also suggests that new players might not be so forgiving of these "quirks". In an interview with Gamasutra, Senior Producer CCP Unifex describes EVE Online's developers as "relatively hands-off janitors of the virtual world", underlining that he has only four content developers but "a lot" of programmers and engineers.

Has a culture developed where CCP has started to take player effort for granted - expecting the "social engine" to fulfil tasks that might otherwise be CCP's responsibility? Or should this culture be embraced as part of "emergent gameplay" with these quirks accepted as the catalyst for interaction?"

This is an interesting question, which is why I've waited a few days to blog about it.  The TL/DR of it is, yes, I believe that CCP does take player generated content for granted.

As we look at this though, it's not as simple as saying CCP needs to start pouring content into the game.  A sandbox, by its very nature, walks a fine line between the developers pushing their agenda and allowing the players to pursue theirs.

Imagine for a moment what would happen if CCP started focusing their development on storyline missions.  I'm sure we would get some great "quests," some great "raids," and everything else that every theme park MMO has to keep its player-base entertained.  Wouldn't it be fun if we could take part in this video:

Honestly, the story lover in me would love that.  We fly our ship and discover something, then we debark and explore it, get something valuable, and all of this within a well written narrative that keeps us engrossed throughout the end.  Honestly, in my opinion, this would be amazingly fun if done properly.

The problem with doing this lies in the amount of resources that CCP would need to put into it.  We wouldn't get PvP balancing nearly as often, probably no new ships (or one per new "raid" every year or so).  We probably wouldn't see mining, POS, and all industrial mechanics iteriated on for a much longer period of time.  CCP isn't EA or Blizzard, they don't have the resources to do it all.

So where is the razors edge in this?  Clearly putting content of that level is out of realistic reach of CCP (if they can even do it all at).

I ask you this question, what is the single most important thing to keeping players in the game?  It sure isn't the tutorial, nor is it the wonderful UI.  It could be the spaceships and the visuals, but honestly that will only take you so far.  I'm willing to bet big money that Eve University (and other noob-friendly corps) is probably the most important part of Eve's growth.  I know for a fact that I wouldn't still be playing this game had I not joined E-Uni when I started playing.

And there in lies the problem.  The single most important thing for Eve's continued success isn't anything CCP is doing at all, it's all with us, the players.  Simple things like convincing new players  to keep playing are completely abandoned by CCP and, in my opinion, that is a very telling sign.

So what should CCP do?  Again, they can't go WoWish with the content, but simple things they can do.  Create more engrossing epic mission arcs, infuse the Eve lore more into the daily game play (for example put more of the lore into ship descriptions, with links to further reading).  Voice acting.  Create a great NPC villain that everyone from day 1 can recognize (Sansha is a pretty poor villain from a game standpoint in all honesty).  Why not let the factions duke it out in highsec?  See faction navies fighting each other, and swapping territory (why can't Jita sometimes be in Gallente space?).  Do live events that span large areas and further the Eve story instead of just putting it in the expansion notes.

There are literally thousands of simple things that CCP can do to provide content on their end without destroying their core game philosophy.  Eve would be better for it.

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