This entry has been written from an ‘out of character’ perspective to discuss how we pick our Agent Missions in EVE.
In the CSM9 Summer Minutes there is a section (from page 128) where CCP & the CSM discuss the mission agent system. Rather than discussing the content of a mission, the discussion was on the process of selecting missions, their rewards and how players interact with them. CCP are looking at four key areas; Cherry Picking, Clustering, Dynamic Payments and Immersion.
Is it a problem that players attempt to avoid certain missions like the plague to the point that content goes unused? Is it a problem if mission runners cluster together in the same systems? Should mission payouts be dynamically adjusted based on activity? And finally, to what extent should the game’s NPC factions hold a grudge against you for running their enemies missions, should a Minnie FW player be forever barred from Amarrian high sec?
These are excellent questions, and an idea began to form in my head while reading this discussion. One of the things CCP are least happy with is the way that players are offered one mission which they either accept or decline, then another, and if you don’t want to run that one either then you pretty much have to wait a few hours to decline it or face a standings hit. The reason why players will want to decline missions so often is because some are simply deemed to be too much work for limited reward which is where ‘cherry picking’ behaviour comes in and certain missions are relegated to unused content status. One idea then is to give the less-run missions an increased pay-out to make them more desirable, and to have automatically adjust based on how often they are run.
At this point, I started thinking about Elite Dangerous. Or, more specifically, its Bulletin Board mechanic which frankly I think CCP might find a good source of ‘inspiration’ here. 😉 When you dock in one of ED’s stations, you can go look at the Bulletin Board which lists all of the jobs on offer (including those not available to you personally) such as item requests, courier missions and combat missions. You can pick from the pool on offer and find the work that most appeals to you.
How about we do that for EVE? Rather than be offered one job at a time, have every agent in the station post all of their current jobs to one screen for you to peruse and pick from. If each local agent offered a selection of missions from their pool you would then be introduced to a varied and lively selection of jobs which you could accept or ignore with much greater flexibility. As an added bonus, if all of the station’s agents are posting their missions then you would no longer be tied to one category of mission. Maybe, if presented with the option, you might suddenly feel like taking a break from shooting stuff to go do a quick delivery run instead? Who knows, but I do think that seeing the options could add to the immersion and create a greater sense of a living universe.
I think that the bulletin board concept could be taken several steps further. What if the pool of missions you are shown was the same pool that everyone else sees? What if each agent posted several jobs at once that any player could pick up? Once accepted the job is removed from the pool and a new mission is drawn. I think this could add a bit of competition to proceedings as players compete a little for work and those most desirable of offers.
As I picture it, you see an Angel Extravaganza pop up and race to grab it first. Being the first to select it reserves the job offer for a few minutes giving you time to read the briefing and decide if you want it. If you decide against it then the job returns to the public pool, while if you accept it is removed and a new mission is randomly selected from the Agent’s roster in its place.
There is of course an issue here, and that is where unpopular missions will begin to stack up and the most popular may become difficult to obtain as other players snatch them away. This is where I see dynamic payment stepping in. What if the rewards for a given mission increased the longer it sits in the mission pool? At any time any player can take the job, and at some point even the least lucrative of missions will become worthwhile. There could be a mechanic that if a mission is not taken after a certain amount of time that it expires, but I feel this is a bit of a cop-out. Obviously we don’t want to see a situation where players are forced into running content they don’t want to do like with certain exploration or combat sites clogging up systems so that nothing better can spawn, so there is a balance to strike here.
This system would I think lead to a couple of interesting behaviours arising among mission runners. For one thing, if you opt to run missions in a very busy system then you will be competing with everyone else to grab the choice missions. On the other hand, moving some place quieter would reduce the competition and potentially result in higher rewards as missions will be sitting on the board for longer periods of time. If more difficult missions no-one wants to run alone begin to clog-up the board we may see players grouping up to take them on together and clearing the board from time to time which would result in increased player interactions.
Finally, if CCP did decide to remove faction standings as a barrier to which level agents you can work for then we might see groups of newer players banding together to take on tougher jobs. I am struggling to see a downside to that notion. For clarity, the discussion in the minutes suggests changing standings from being a barrier to entry over to a different benefit such as giving increased rewards. Your standings are not going to become worthless. 😉
So maybe there is a way to design the mission running market to be more interesting and community orientated than it currently is, without explicitly forcing players into group play.