This entry is written from an ‘out of character’ perspective to discuss Blog Banter 48, the topic of which is Lore in EVE.
New custodian of the Blog Banters, Kirith Kodachi, has set the latest topic on behalf of CCP Sisyphus:
How important is “fluff” in Eve online? Would eve online be the same if it were purely numbers and mechanics, or are the fictional elements important to the enjoyment of the game? Would a pure text, no reference to sci-fi or fancy names still be an engaging game? Should CCP put more or less emphasis on immersion?
Other submissions can be found here.
Many people will take a pragmatic view of this, one that I share to a point. Many players enjoy reading EVE’s fiction and like the setting of New Eden, but on a day to day game play level the existence of EVE’s lore and backstory is largely irrelevant. It does not matter if you know the difference between the Guristas and Sansha’s Nation, you can dock in their NPC sov stations all the same. What will probably matter to you the most if which damage types the local rats deal out and are most vulnerable towards, rather than why CONCORD considers them pirates and places a bounty on their ships.
I could at this point begin to set out the argument that although we the players distil this all down to the root mechanics in order to best maximise our ISK/hour ratting efficiency, it would be a much less interesting world if the Guristas were simply labelled “NPC Pirate Cruiser Type 1-A” and the equivalent Sansha “NPC Pirate Cruiser Type 2-A”. Wow! I so want to immerse myself in this rich and vibrant world!
Oh wait. I have already read similar thoughts elsewhere. I agree with them wholeheartedly of course, the use of lore to flesh out a game world can quickly create a sense of identity and atmosphere to a game where none would otherwise exist, and often mechanically decent games fall by the wayside for not being all that memorable. But there is more to this discussion than just that.
It has been argued that the lore and backstory of a ‘theme park’ MMO will always take a back-seat to EVE’s core appeal – the stories created by its players and the machinations of corps and alliances vying for power in EVE’s grand sandbox. I don’t disagree, but I have a story that blurs the lines significantly. For some of us, the divide between the story that CCP tells and the stories that the players create is not so great as you may think.
EVE’s roleplaying community is an oft overlooked facet of the game, seldom gaining the attention of the big news sites other than around CCP’s largest live events such as the recent Battle for Caldari Prime. RP’ers are typically dismissed as a niche group and pretty much irrelevant. But it is a sub-community that continues to exist regardless and does at times cause expanding ripples in the sand of our shared box universe.
A few years back now, the Dominion expansion went live and made major changes to null sec sovereignty mechanics. At this time CVA were lords and masters of the Providence region at the head of a sizeable coalition of alliances, its size estimated at something like 10,000 pilots or more with various hangers on, all living in that one region. The Ushra’Khan on the other hand were at the peak of our powers numbering 1,500 pilots on the books. We were holding a couple of constellations deep within Catch, at the time Against All Authorities were at the top of their game and undoubtedly one of the very strongest alliances in EVE. They presided over a powerful coalition of which the Ushra’Khan was a part.
Ushra’Khan and CVA were both founded by roleplayers and built upon RP-based goals drawn from EVE’s lore. U’K are Minmatar based, focused upon liberating the many still-enslaved Minmatar that the back story tells us are out there in their millions (but you don’t see physically represented in the game much), while CVA long ago dedicated themselves to bringing Imperial Amarrian rule to Providence, again based upon a claim the Amarr hold within the backstory. These are player set goals that saw both alliances move into the region somewhere around 2005 as I recall. CVA went to spread Imperialism, U’K went to oppose it.
Our alliances then spent the next six years or so fighting over the region. Providence was always considered to be one of the poorest regions of null sec on the map, but the lore gave two rival alliances all of the reasons we needed to move in and begin generating a solid half-decade of conflict. As we grew and made allies (or alienated them) the region developed and so did our connections beyond it.
By the time of Dominion, Ushra’Khan had been kicked out of Provi and moved around a few times in pursuit of continuing the war and realising our RP-based objective to bring down CVA’s ‘Amarrian Providence’. In the process we encountered, befriended and moved in alongside Against All Authorities. -A- were happy for us to go do our thing against CVA and were very keen on the way that our shenanigans would often generate fights that they could get in on. It was at this point that one of CVA’s ‘Holder’ alliances, LFA, moved in on a piece of Catch that -A- had dropped sov in to cut costs post-Dominion (many alliances were doing this around then) but still considered their own.
The politics got interesting. CVA’s ‘Provi-bloc’ (as I like to call it) was not overly keen on Ushra’Khan basing in Catch, building strength and raiding into Provi with increasing numbers. They thought it would be fun (and good RP) to invade and kick us out. -A- on the other hand was keen on using Providence for ‘good fights’ but really not keen on the idea of their formerly placid targets turning thought towards an invasion of Catch. They demanded that LFA withdraw.
LFA refused. And CVA backed them, declaring their holy intent to purge Ushra’Khan from Catch. -A- decided to force LFA out, and things rapidly escalated. As memory serves -A- had been engaged fighting Goonswarm at the Catch/Querious border and now found themselves unexpectedly fighting on two fronts, with the Provi-bloc providing stiffer resistance than I think -A- expected. It turned into a small but fairly intense war for a bit before CVA/LFA were knocked back, which was an event that that made -A- reconsider their attitude towards CVA and their, until now, slumbering power bloc. The conclusion reached was that Providence must be neutered.
What came next was full scale sov war which quickly peaked at the battle for D-GTMI. This saw a massive confrontation in which the Providence Capital fleet was engaged, trapped and obliterated. CCP reported that this fight was the largest to date in which the server survived, there was something like 1,200 participants. It was a historic show down that people I talk to at EVE meets still vividly remember. Following it came months of sov grind and skirmishing that saw the Provi-bloc dismantled and purged, giving way to another year or so of turbulence and carnage over what was to come in CVA’s wake before their eventual return to the region.
There was a whole lot of explosions, politics and skulduggery that surrounds this abbreviated tale, and it all happened because some players decided to act out a bit storyline fluff that CCP used to dress up their universe of sci-fi themed pixels.
So yes. Lore does have a place in EVE and yeah, it can become a driver of player-driven emergent gameplay. It sure kept me interested in EVE over the years.