Archive for November, 2010

Vanity Fair

Posted in EVE Online on November 24, 2010 by cailais

CCP Zulu has published his latest dev blog on the controversial topic of micro-transactions within EVE online.  Of course MTs (micro-transactions) are nothing new and are fast becoming the finance model of choice across not just the MMO industry but gaming as a whole.

Even in the physical world games such as CCGs (Magic the Gathering) have proven that players are prepared to splash out cash in small increments in pursuit of what they want so it should come as little surprise that MTs are a sirens song to game developers.  EVE Online’s player base however is generally considered to be slightly older and (if we honest with ourselves) slightly more ‘elitist’ in its outlook meaning that the rising bile and fury amongst the community at the suggestion  of MTs in EVE was fully predictable.

Judging from the latest Dev Blog CCP appear to have stepped back from the brink and acquiesced to CSM demands that the MT contagion be, if not stopped, at least restricted.  CCP Zulupark comments that;

“Virtual goods sales in EVE Online will evolve through sales of vanity items, first in Incarna but later in-space features. The scope will be (and there‘s no design be done around this, we‘re just talking strategy now) that anything that doesn‘t affect gameplay directly can be, potentially, sold for PLEX or other means. Ideas that have come up include Incarna clothing and furniture, logos on spaceships and swapping out portraits. This is by no means a comprehensive list, nor is it a commitment that said items will be available for sale, I mention these as an example for what type of items we‘re thinking about”.

Of course as many of you will rightly note PLEX are already a form of defacto MTs in that you can exchange them for ISK and subsequently purchase what ever your heart desires and your wallet allows.  So is there any real reason to object to MTs?

Overall I would say no, but then it very much depends upon the nature of the ‘e-items’ you could buy themselves.  First off can these ‘e-items be only brought by a RL £/$ exchange? .  Secondly can these ‘e-items’ be openly traded with other players for ISK?

For example, let us assume that a Corp Logo emblazoned on your ship cost £/$ and cannot be traded or purchased using ISK in any way.  Clearly this is a “vanity item” available only to those who are ‘real world wealthy’ (or at least are prepared to spend their real world wealth in this way). This would create a division amongst the community into ‘rich’ and ‘poor’ because at no point could any claim they ‘grinded for this isk’ to buy their ‘e-item’: and I think that CCP are unlikely to follow this path.  Much better to maintain the illusion of equality of opportunity.

CCP’s argument is that ‘vanity items’ will offer no ‘in game advantage’ and here in lies the real core of the issue; allow me to explain a little of my thinking here –

Why do we play MMOs? Well partly it is to acquire ‘things’ in the game world and then show them off.  It’s a visible mark of our ‘success’ in the game, and a demonstration that we are ‘winning EVE’.  Even when we purchase ships for pvp in order to defeat our adversaries we strive for some sort of recognition be that KB stats or a little coloured dot on the universe map to say we ‘own’ system XYZ.

My question is this – aren’t these things themselves ‘vanity items’? Indeed aren’t all MMOs just essentially exercises in vanity at some level or other?

I think we can only come to that conclusion in the end, although of course we shouldn’t discount the fun and enjoyment we get by playing the game in order to achieve that end.  In fact many players will deliberately avoid looking the unpalatable truth in the eye – we buy a bigger better ship in order to get the next bigger and better ship in order to defeat our opponents and… off about it.

Vanity. –noun

excessive pride in one’s appearance, qualities, abilities,achievements, etc.
So when CCP say will restrict MT to ‘vanity items’ they aren’t really giving really very much ground at all – at least with respect to the end state of protracted game play. You may have to had fought for that high end moon, in order to finance buying that shineh waist coat for your Incarna Avatar – but now if you’re RL rich you can just jump ahead and buy it.
Of course none of this actually makes any real difference because of the existence of the PLEX itself.  The small victory won by the CSM in preventing PLEX remaps is equally negated by the ability to simply buy a new character off the character bazaar with real world money.
Which, in conclusion, leads us to a final inescapable fact about the whole drama.  With the continued ability for a player to ‘leap frog’ the grind of others buy using RL £/$ to purchase a PLEX the whole argument is mute and the mutual back slapping by the CSM and CCP for averting disaster nothing other than
Vanity. – noun
lack of real value; hollowness; worthlessness

Suddenly Sansha!

Posted in EVE Online on November 12, 2010 by cailais

News that a significant proportion of the “Incursion” expansion will no doubt be disappointing for many, but it gives me an opportunity to review what my initial impressions of the current SISI test build safe in the knowledge that some of what we see there right now may well change.

I will admit my first impressions are mixed.  There are some neat little touches, so far unmentioned in the Dev Blogs.  For example you can now open the universe map and view your scan range and quality for PI or where you have colonies located.

You can also view the spread of planet types across the universe, which may be of use in planning your wider PI requirements. At the wide angle view though it doesnt tell us a whole lot other than there are lots of planets out there…

The most interesting elements are, of course related to the Sansha Incursions.  Locating the areas afflicted by the Sansha is relatively easy provided you utilise your journal.  However there doesn’t seem to be a ‘overall’ universe map option.  This may well cause frustration for many looking to plan routes around the Sansha incursions who will need to tab back and forth through the journal view. On the other hand if you do want to make a beeline towards incursion this menu makes the process very easy with a ‘set waypoint’ option for your AP.

What of the incursion sites themselves? Well the Sansha I encountered on gates or at belts didn’t appear to scramble your vessel, and felt slightly easier to actually defeat – although there was no indication as to what reward a player gets for engaging this interlopers if any.  Sansha within the incursion sites are a another story and my lone Abaddon succumbed to warp scrams and ECM within seconds – unable to run and jammed out it detonated under the fire of the dozen or so frigates it faced.  These Sansha are not to be trifled with and it seems likely they will inflict a heavy toll against those who attempt to engage them unprepared.

There are a few glaringly rough spots on the Incursion interface /menu -such as the “player ratio” graph that feels clunky and a real immersion breaker.  Hopefully CCP can buff this interface and make it look a little less like a design mock up.

Having experienced a brief a glimpse of what a Sansha Incursion might involve really reinforces how considerable their impact will be to the local residents of an invaded system. Within Empire space mining will essentially cease without significant escorts and in null sec the occasional ‘easy isk’ of belt rats will be erased.  What’s most apparent though is how much collaboration will be needed to rid a constellation of the Sansha.  It’s incredibly difficult to judge these types of environments but, with the addition of an ‘incursion’ chat channel for a given constellation it’s clear that CCP at least anticipates, if not intends, for otherwise disconnected players to band together to repel a common threat.

In many cases our systems are not so dissimilar to localised communities of individuals that interact, but rarely communicate positively with each other.  Will incursion push or encourage players to co-operate more and thus establish bonds of friendship in an otherwise hostile universe?  Perhaps that could happen.  Certainly it will drive out those who do not want to suffer under the yoke of the Sansha’s system wide effects and those areas where the localised population respond negatively are very likely to disintegrate.  I would say it is not an exaggeration to suggest that some, albeit a tiny minority, could well abandon EVE altogether as a result of their home system being invaded.

No doubt CCP will hear a great deal of player feedback on the Incursion sites – and many will cry that they are unreasonably difficult.  I would argue that’s not the real weakness but that the ‘difficulty’ doesn’t scale particularly well; meaning that the solo pilot or even the small 3 – 4 man gang is constrained as to what they can realistically contribute. Frustration at this may lead to players simply avoiding this content all together as an annoyance rather than an opportunity.


Zombie, zombie Nation

Posted in EVE Online on November 10, 2010 by cailais

Well, the Sansha are coming.  Admittedly their operational security leaves a lot to be desired and they’ve rather lost the element of surprise but double agent CCP Ytterbium leaves no doubt that these new comers will be some tough hombres in his latest dev blog.

The Sansha invasion essentially could emerge almost anywhere and at any time and their arrival will cause wide spread disruption as CCP Ytterbium states:

“……systems invaded by Sanshas will receive certain system wide effects that affect all players inside them:

·         Reduction of all shield/armor resistances

·         Reduction of turret, missile, drone and smartbomb damage

·         Jamming of cynosural fields throughout the system

·         Reduction of 50% on all NPC bounties”

Now those are some significant effects and it’s worthwhile considering how some of these might effect our average EVE player.  High Sec mission runners are a staple and widespread example – with 50% less damage dealt this means completing those level 4’s will take that much longer and with reduced armour/shield be a degree more difficult, and all for less ISK.

Next up “celestial pirate NPCs you would normally encounter at star gates and asteroid belts will be replaced by new ones tied with the incursion, and they will demonstrate updated attributes and Sleeper-like AI” – a potentially major issue for the “AFK miner”.

Just consider those two factors alone – and that’s before we even consider the ramifications for Low Sec gate camps, or the cyno jamming effects in Null Sec.  The question that remains wholly unanswered though is if the typical inhabitants of these regions will rally to remove the invading NPCs.  And rally they will need to do, if reports from the SISI test server of Battleships being melted to slag in a few Sansha volleys are to be believed.  Players who think they’ll be able to solo against these invaders may well be in for a nasty shock.

Clearly we can predict at least some of the possible responses from the ‘local population’.  Many will undoubtedly take up arms to repel the Sansha – most likely in High Sec where the risk of getting a unwelcome visit from nearby pirates is much reduced.  The second response is that players will simply abandon those invaded areas where they cannot muster a coordinated response; this is more likely in underpopulated low sec and high sec systems. And finally some will wail in despair and write letters of complaint – “Yours disgusted from Tunbridge Wells…” to CCP HQ.

Of course one potential out come is that some groups will actively seek out these invasion ‘hot spots’.  Its not immediately clear what the full range of rewards will be, although the example from Ytterbium’s blog suggests something in the 25mil ISK range for a mid range encounter.  Is that worth it? Well that’s harder to judge – we don’t know yet how widespread or common these invasion hot spots will be, or how easily organised groups will find them to complete.  We can say, with reasonable certainty, that at least some players will take the Sansha on if only for novelty value.

Whilst I don’t find the feature immediately appealing myself I do find the potential consequences and ramifications of interest and for that reason I am quite content to see it come to fruition.  Or at least at the moment I am – quite how my perspective will change if and when I become a victim of the Sansha’s influence is yet to be seen, and my gut says that will be the case pretty much across New Eden.

CCP are treading a thin line between a ‘cool feature’ and what might turn into an ‘irritating annoyance’ especially when the ‘invasion’ drags on and on and on.  Will we be excited to see Sansha’s minions arrive in our home systems the first time? What about the umpteenth time?

Without a doubt CCP will have stuck a stick into a hornets nest in some places – especially null sec where the Alliances are fiercely protective of their ‘player generated content’ and independence from the PVE crowd of Empire.  Once Alliance’s own invasion and defensive plans become hampered by the Sansha we could well see sentiment turn against this feature and demands for it to be shoved back into Empire  begin.

Personally I give it until the first Rorqual gets whumped at a belt.


A work of fiction….

Posted in EVE Online on November 8, 2010 by cailais

Eve is a fictional world but, from time to time, that nature seems to almost bleed out into reality as a recent blog from Ga’len exemplifies.  Ga’len appears to be the victim of a version of identity theft, with his avatar’s name being ascribed to a comment on the Eve News24 ( websight.  Ga’len denies posting a comment in response to the ‘TEST Alliance’ so called controversy.  I say ‘so called’ because it seems likely that every attempt has been made to whip up a controversy over the topic, a tactic that by and large seems to have failed.

Ga’len is obviously less than impressed but perhaps we should not be so surprised to see a ‘partisan press’ appear in EVE; after all they are all too commonplace in the ‘real world’. In many respects the dramas, tensions and political machinations that whirl in eddies around the EVE meta-game are perhaps even more compelling than the fictional back story created by its developers.  As a case in point you can probably name at least one and probably more Alliance leader or personality, naming the leaders of the NPC factions however…?

That said I have always had an enduring interest in the back story and the various fictional works that have spun off from that, such as the EVE Chronicles.  Recently I’ve given some thought to writing some fictional pieces myself although for some reason I have always held back from doing so.  Part of the reluctance to write EVE fiction is that with an existing IP there are always problems with what is ‘canon’ or recognised as such.  Id rather not write a fictional piece than get a ranting email from someone aggrieved that I’ve described a character brushing their teeth with a tooth brush when “chronicle 4, para 5 clearly states that Caldari’s use ‘chewydent’ nanobot teeth cleaner!!!111eleventyone!”.

You can see some of the problems even the ‘pro’s’ face in this respect with the two exisiting EVE Novels, “The Empyrean Age”, and “A Burning Life”.  If I’m resolutely honest I wasn’t wholly satisfied with either novel….oh hold on a second…

*SPOILER ALERT* – do not read further if knowing stuff about either novel before you’ve read them will cause you tears of hot rage…

….not least because they both feel somehow “forced” to the detriment of the plot and the characters.  Take “A Burning Life” for example.  In places it’s nicely written, flavoursome and evocative of the universe of New Eden -and then there is the dawning realisation that our two protagonists will now proceed to take a jaunt through each pirate faction and each race respectively. I could almost feel the heavy hand of “THE MARKETING DEPARTMENT” on the authors shoulder as I was reading.  I appreciate the need to make such a novel accessible to the non-EVE reader but in all honesty it was the equivalent of being spoon fed an EVE Wiki.

There is also a strange predilection amongst the CCP writing staff to write about ‘the common man’, as if sculpting a complex and 3 dimensional Capsuleer is committing some sort of heretical act.  Again I wonder if “THE MARKETING DEPARTMENT” has decreed that the life of the capsuleer is for the players of EVE to determine and, whilst the plebeians on a planets surface are fair game, the pod pilot is most certainly off limits.  Don’t misunderstand me, whilst I do find information about the life of the ordinary citizens of EVE of interest it often seems to be to the detriment of the aloof immortals we exist in game as.

Perhaps with the glacial approach of Incarna we can anticipate another CCP foray into the world of New Eden (it boosts subscription rates no doubt) although I hope that this time the authors are given rather more latitude and less direction to write in support of a new patch.

Will I write that fictional work? Perhaps. But not within this blog (it is a blog after all) and if I do find a decent muse I know I will have a significant challenge making any tale more entrancing than the ones playing out around us in that umbral world of the EVE meta-game.


EVE Commune’ists

Posted in EVE Online on November 4, 2010 by cailais

A relatively new EVE podcast caught my eye (perhaps that should be ears…) and worth a “micro-blog” post here in case you’ve missed it. Eve Commune from Garhead and Chainer Cygnus covers a pretty wide range of EVE news – and player generated news at that.  Perhaps more importantly Garhead and Chainer look to be focusing on making Eve Commune a resource of resources which means its shaping up to be a great one stop shop for all your information needs.

What’s really nice about this pod cast is that is packed with some useful advice in an audio format and delivered well by the guys on the show.  Chainer and Garhead also review quite a good selection of Blogs so if, like me, you’re looking for a select choice of interesting blogs amongst the masses out there its well worth listening too or even to just browse the show notes.

The cast rate seems to be around a pod cast every few days – although if Chainer and Garhead can maintain that pretty fierce rate of pod casts will remain to be seen.  Be sure to check it out.



The Incarna Contradiction

Posted in EVE Online on November 3, 2010 by cailais

The Incarna Contradiction?  Sounds like a Robert Ludlum book title, ah well too late I’ve committed myself now…

Incarna and CCP however do have a problem and its contradictory nature sits at the heart of ‘walking in stations’.  Namely what is Incarna for? There are currently two polar view points on Incarna, on the one hand are the ardent Roleplaying immersion loving players for whom the opportunity to act out the political intrigues with full bodied avatars is mana from heaven and on the other hand there are the interweb spaceship fanatics for whom anything, anything at all, that digresses away from super smooth null sec pvp battle with spaceships is an anathema.

Incarna quite clearly easily surpasses the acceptance test for the roleplaying community whilst it will probably never gain acceptance from the interwebs spaceships fanatics.  The question mark that lies like a shadow over Incarna though is how it is received by the vast majority who sit in neither of these two camps but are wondering what functionality and “game play” Incarna will bring to the table.  Most worryingly for this community is CCPs revelation that to date:

“Nothing had been decided about the actual functionality and it was not possible to commit in any form or fashion to functionalities. CCP turned the question around and asked the CSM what they would be able to do in their quarters? Several things were mentioned; gambling, tactical management, view of the outside of the station (but stations in New Eden don‟t have windows!), access to station services, planetary interaction interface and customization of characters. Realistically this cannot be answered spontaneously so this will remain an open question for the time being.” – CCP

Part of the problem CCP faces is that a vocal portion of the community does not want Incarna to have any influence whatsoever with the ‘in space’ element of the game.  Much of this line of argument makes sense – few of us would want to dock, walk around a station, find an agent, select a mission, walk back to our ship and undock.  Whilst that might have a novelty factor at first over time it is likely to become increasingly wearing (not least if, like me, you forget to accept the mission and only realise that’s the case when you’re 5 jumps away….).

But if there is nothing you can do in Incarna that you cannot do in space – what’s the point in Incarna? Remember we are discounting the general ‘RP’ element here.

Ultimately we are left with very few immediate options – clothing and player housing is one are of course to be exploited.  Plenty of players will be keen to show of their epeen and ISK wealth to acquire rare or expensive clothing options or housing items – we do it with ships and in other MMO titles so that makes some sense here.  There are also the social aspects that may emerge from avatar based interaction – players (especially those with experience of other MMO titles) may find interaction easier and more familiar through avatars and avatar recognition. And finally we have the ‘mini-game’ like poker or drafts that could be accessed exclusively through Incarna.

My difficulty with all this however is that none of it feels particularly substantial.  I ask myself the question – would I subscribe to EVE purely for Incarna? Could a player exist and enjoy the EVE universe through this portal alone?

Our erstwhile representatives on the CSM expressed their view “that Incarna should not be forced on players, and it should not give you a flying in space advantage to use Incarna”.  This rather paints CCP into a corner as to what can be developed in terms of game play and removes the possibility at least of encouraging use of Incarna through rewards or incentives.  Without adding those rewards / incentives as many other features in EVE have demonstrated could shackle the initial release of Incarna and seems a retrograde step.

Of course CCP could turn that statement on its head and apply mechanisms where by in space activities benefit a player within Incarna.  For example resources found in Low Sec might have a high premium for in station activities.

One of the primary areas that I would suggest is ripe for expansion through Incarna is situational awareness of what is occurring across New Eden.  An example of this might be a ‘Command Post’ environment where ‘FC’s’ can command and gain a wide angle overview of ship deployments and engagements across a given area of space.  This “style” of environment could equally apply to other activities and enhance them – perhaps coordinating mining operations, or exploration through active interaction – rather like a ‘gang warfare link’ but on a grander scale.

The second area which offers some tantalising prospects is that of espionage.  Whilst direct ‘pvp’ and combat has been ruled out by CCP for now, the subtle arts of spying and infiltration could be applied within the Incarna environment -tailing enemies, gathering information such as contacts, finances etc from in station portals. Again though we risk running into the constraint of potentially gaining an ‘in space’ advantage through such mechanics.

Incarna has a considerable amount of potential inherent within its general premise – but that potential cannot be realised if we, the players, continue to enforce constraints upon CCP as to how it relates to the current incarnation (see what I did there…?) of EVE as we know it today.