Eve, meet Jon Shafer

The following is written from an ‘out of character’ perspective to discuss EVE’s development.

I just read an article written by Jon Shafer, lead designer of Civilisation 5.  Said article can be found here.

This is an article about game design choices and discusses how placing limitations on players can be a good thing, despite the usual assumption that more options makes for a better game.  What strikes me, is that large chunks of the article can be directly applied to EVE’s new player experience.  Or to put it another way, the reason why so many people try EVE but don’t stick with it.  Consider;

The obvious lesson is that contrary to what you’d expect, presenting someone with a huge number of options does not give them more ‘freedom’ –  in fact all it does is overwhelm them. This has long been a tenet of good interface design. There’s a bit of a ‘rule’ which states that a user’s attention should be split between no more than seven items. The human brain is equipped to weigh only a handful of possibilities simultaneously. I’m sure at some point all of you have opened up some random website that had waaaaytoo much going on. And you probably weren’t thinking, “oh boy, I can’t wait to dig into all of this, where should I start!” Once someone passes that invisible threshold the end result is nearly always frustration.

That having been said, there are definitely a few individuals who do love being ‘overwhelmed’. The reason why open-world RPGs have become so popular is because they offer players so many things to do. It is possible to provide an immense amount of depth without catering to only the hardcore – the key is proper pacing. Throwing a list of 40 possible quests at a new player within the first minute of gameplay is bad. Starting them with three quests, which then branch into nine, which then branch into 27 and so on is much more inviting.

Welcome to the EVE sandbox.  You create an account, log in, create a character.  You do the tutorials and then everything else is up to you.  You might go mine in a frigate, you might find a mission agent, you may even wander into low sec and get blown up straight away.  I remember one time as I was logged on with an alt in an NPC corp hauling something, I spotted a newbie asking what he was meant to be doing next after the tutorials.  I helpfully(?) responded with something like “what do you want to do next?”.  I meant to point out that EVE is filled with possibilities and that what you do is largely down to your personal interests, but I think the poor guy was busy staring into the void and feeling a wee bit intimidated…

EVE is huge, vast and leaves its newbies feeling cast adrift in shark infested waters.  It could really do with directing new players a little more than it does towards the content.

Unrelated to the new player aspect, is a random thought about this part of the article:

I’m a big fan of nudging the player towards and away from strategies with the map. When there’s a web of trade-offs to consider, limits of this sort help crystallize what the player’s options are. Let’s say you’re playing a 4X game and want to specialize a city for the production of money. If this can be done equally well in any city then there’s really no special considerations to make – after all, if every city is just as viable you might as well just flip some coins to decide. Which, for the record, isn’t terribly interesting or fun.

For some reason I immediately think of the supposed progression from high sec, to low, and into null.  Mostly, I think of station services.  I wonder if high sec in particular provides too much support in the way of station services.  Lab slots are in high demand as it is, ok, but in my experience its so easy to find spare manufacturing slots whenever you want them.  And there is reprocessing services all over the place.

Wouldn’t empire (high and low sec) be geographically more interesting if there was a greater restriction on access to services?  Might an increased scarcity nudge more players towards lower security space or operating POS? (CCP are now working on a full POS revamp, so this is a less sadistic suggestion than it might appear!)

Although choice and freedom are cornerstones of the great sandbox, in some ways EVE could probably benefit from a little selective restriction.

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