This entry has been written from an ‘out of character’ perspective to discuss the state of gameplay (defined loosely) in EVE and how it relates to player activity.
Alternative title and tl:dr – “Shake us out of our collective ruts that we have settled into over the years.”
Welcome back to Part 2 of the ‘You, me & EVE’ series in which I attempt to unload the contents of my head and explore the current health of EVE-Online, its playerbase and whatever else I think is relevant. We have established that EVE’s players are not logging in as much as they used to, and that activity (along with subscriptions as best we can tell) is currently in decline. I feel very close to this subject as my own activity has been suffering for some time. Why is that?
Once upon a time, I lived out in null sec and fought in sov wars and small gang skirmishing. I spent a great deal of time logged in and interacting with other players doing *stuff*. I spent a huge amount of time doing things around the game filling in leadership roles for my corp (of 50-100 members) and my alliance (peaking at 1,500 members). I took part in everything from large scale sov warfare to sub-ten man roaming gangs. Sometimes I would create and run roleplaying events of varying size and complexity in response to storyline events, alliance activities or to mark special occasions.
In time however, my RP-based motivations in null played their course and I became burned out on null sec as the alliance found itself with ever fewer ways to act on its heritage and increasingly on the wrong side of the fickle winds of null sec politics. I stuck with it for longer than I really enjoyed it and stepped down as CEO of my corp a few months before finally deciding to make my break entirely and leave null behind in favour of a return to low sec just prior to Inferno’s Factional Warfare overhaul. As things turned out, what was left of my then-crumbling alliance decided to do the same thing. So Inferno was pretty well timed for Ushra’Khan! At the same time however, I had to say good bye to a corp I had run for about two years and part ways with those who decided to remain in null, which wasn’t easy. Sometimes I think my social ties to EVE haven’t been as strong since, even though I am still in occasional contact with some of them.
I think my story is not uncommon, and I attribute this to what I’m going to call the ossification of null sec. I think the term ‘stagnation’ is over-used. 😉 I was a null sec pilot and resident for many years, I’d say at least half of my decade as an EVE player has been spent living either in sov null, NPC null or out of a low sec station from which I would launch raids into null. The problem I, and my roleplay-founded alliance Ushra’Khan, often had was finding both an objective that scratched our RP itch and the means to pursue it. And by ‘means’, I pretty much mean mean allies.
Our null sec adventure started around 2006 in a time when both alliances were smaller and coalitions were not really so much of a thing. They were beginning to form and it wasn’t uncommon to work with your neighbours in the next constellation or whatever, but it was still possible to take a few hundred people into null sec and stake your claim to a few systems without swearing a contractual blood oath to some other alliance living on the far side of the map. Skip ahead to the time I quit null (May 2012) and it was all but impossible for a small to mid-sized alliance to setup anywhere without becoming the subordinate of another alliance who were themselves a member of a much larger coalition running a huge multi-region chunk of the map. Whatever goals you might have of your own will almost certainly take a back seat to the expectations of your overlord.
The situation has only become more focused on fewer and ever larger coalitions since. We are now at the point where new alliances seldom rise to any sort of prominence and the most powerful are increasingly entrenched in their positions of dominance. I find this unrewarding to be apart of and a far less interesting a climate to play within. The barrier to entry is so high now that the only real way to get into null sec is to join an existing coalition and implement the role it hands down to you, in the space allotted. I honestly don’t think this appeals to many players, it certainly doesn’t to me. The falling interest in null sec and drop in general player activity reflects this in my opinion.
It was with a great deal of interest then that I read The Mittani’s piece on this barrier to entry and the role of Supercaps. If one man could claim to be king of null sec, it would be Mittens and he himself seems quite ready to admit to the flaws in the system that have put he, Goonswarm and the CFC where they are atop the heap. And he places the blame squarely upon Super capitals as the factor that drives players towards ever larger coalitions and that increasingly centralised control which I find so dissatisfying.
Of course, if one were the don their thick tin foil hat and ask “why would The Mittani advocate wrecking his own power base?“, well I would wonder if the removal of all super caps might hurt the CFC’s rivals more than it hurts the CFC. Pandemic Legion for example is a powerful force in null sec outside of the CFC that rely on their supers as a force multiplier to offset their relatively smaller pilot numbers. If super caps were neutered, the numerically superior sub cap armada of Goonswarm/CFC might be less impacted than other powers… Of course I’m hardly an expert on null sec powers these days! 😉
But it is something of a moot point. There is no way that CCP will simply remove all supercaps from the game. A huge portion of their core customer base has invested significant time and ISK into training for these ships and place a very high value on their expensive flagships. Then we also have those industrialists who are hugely invested into constructing them (assuming they don’t all quit over Crius). Simply wiping it all from the game would cause an enormous backlash from those players forced to part with their powerful playstyle even if it did turn out to dramatically improve the flow of the game. Far more likely I think is that CCP may choose to either radically redesign the ships (again) and/or nerf them hard down to a level much closer to Dreads and Carriers, thus closing the power gap. There would still be outrage, but less.
So then, null sec needs a good hard shaking. The eternal structure grind and alarm-clock ops of sov warfare is unappealing and the outcomes of conflict is largely determined by which ever side has super cap superiority. As we have fewer and fewer political entities we increasingly know which side that is going to be before anything actually happens, quite possibly reducing the chance of interesting things happening in the first place. As the system becomes increasingly predictable, it becomes less interesting and players turn their attention elsewhere.
Which is part of the reason why low sec is booming at the moment. While null sec has seen little or no direct attention from CCP in a long time, low sec has been iterated upon repeatedly and now offers more fresh content that is more easily accessible than ever before. I would argue that just about every release since Inferno has lavished attention upon low sec, starting with Factional warfare (and its iteration across multiple releases) and Crimewatch 2.0, moving through low sec only exploration content and ‘Tags for Sec’ rats in belts to Mordus patrols and more known-to-known space wormholes arriving in Kronos. Obviously no-one is going to declare things to be perfect, but CCP’s recent efforts in can be seen to have improved this area of the game.
Player activity in low sec at least is up, albeit perhaps in part tied to null sec’s slow decline. As things get quiet in null some players shift their attention to low sec looking for quick bursts of action. This post by Rixx Javixx I found interesting and may anecdotally back my thinking up. He is seeing a rise in blingy faction ships, boosting alts and heavy gate camping in low sec. Again, I suspect it may in part be due to a draw of new content in low sec and a push of stale null sec bringing bored but wealthy veterans out looking for kill mails and simply stuff to do outside of those infrequent all-or-nothing set piece fleet battles. He finds this shift in the meta unwelcome as it impacts on the more ‘casual lifestyle’ of cheap Tech 1 gangs roaming about freely looking for honourable(?) good fights.
I think that shift will be temporary, to an extent. Long term null sec residents typically don’t enjoy spending extended amounts of time in low sec where they have to contend with things like sec status and gate guns and will likely tire of hunting Mordus spawns and raiding FW plexes looking for T1 frigs to gank and return home. The problem will be, if it isn’t already, that they will be returning to exactly what they left for boring them in the first place.
It has been a long time since we saw a new playstyle emerge in EVE, the last truly new one was Incursion runners. Factional Warfare has been substantially overhauled recently as perhaps the major exception, but otherwise null sec and wormholes are very familiar indeed to their residents. Industry is getting its big shake-up in Crius today but how much of an impact that will have remains to be seen.
If the critics are right then we may see players quitting industry over the inconveniences rather than embracing it as a new challenge or meta. I sincerely hope that isn’t in the case. I think EVE very much needs to present its community with fresh challenges. A revamp might not be as exciting on paper as all-new content but it may be enough to shake us out of our collective ruts that we have settled into over the years.
That being said, EVE does need fresh, novel content as well as foundational shake-up’s. The promise of new and different space beyond the player built starbases of CCP Seagull’s vision is hopeful, but the lack of detail as yet revealed means that players can’t get all that excited about it yet knowing we are still months if not years away from playing it.
It becomes then a question of time and acceptance. Will players embrace the sort of change and challenges presented by Crius’ fundamental reinvention of EVE’s decade-old Industry revamp, and what will more will CCP do to drive EVE forwards?
Next up in this word marathon, we take a few steps back from EVE itself and talk about what is going on beyond the game client. If you managed to get through all of it so far, thanks for reading!