Imagine a game where 30,000+ players share a single in-game universe.
Where scamming others in-game gets featured in trailers instead of getting you banned. Imagine a game where there are battles between thousands of players for control of vast swathes of in-game territory.
This is Eve Online.
[Edited to add links to the other instalments]
Part 3: Exploding Internet Space Ships
Eve is an MMO based in a science fiction setting that centers largely on flying a wide variety of space ships suited to a multitude of roles in a single shared universe spanning over 5000 solar systems. It is not unusual in Eve to log in and find between twenty and thirty five thousand players online at any given time, all inhabiting the same shared environment.
The central problem in describing Eve Online is that there are so many different play-styles possible in the sandbox that it is impossible to even scratch the surface in a short article. This would be one of the chief reasons that Eve’s learning curve is often described as basically vertical for new players, especially in comparison to theme park style MMOs a-la WoW. In your first few months in the game you are presented with such a bewildering variety of options for play styles involving so many complex mechanics that the game itself is able to provide barely any guidance on how to become competent at any of them.
Another major difference between Eve Online and most MMOs is the skill training system. Unlike in other MMOs where you accumulate XP based on in-game play time, in Eve your skills train 24 hours a day, even when you are not logged in. The greatest advantage in this is that it does not place you at an immense disadvantage against the basement-dwelling-neckbeard set who have 80 hours a week to dedicate to level-grinding. Instead you use in game currency—known as isk—to purchase skill-books that you can then slot into your 24-hour training queue. This means that your character will accumulate skills mostly as a linear function of how long you have been subscribed rather than how frequently you log in, a big advantage if you can only dedicate a few hours a week to playing.
One other fundamental aspect of Eve Online is the security status system. The Eve universe is broadly divided into four types of space: High security space, low security space, NPC null security space and Sovereign null security space.
High Security Space is comprised of the central parts of the game map and is intended as a relatively safe area for new players to learn the game with minimal (but not zero) risk of non-consensual PvP. This central section of the in-game universe is also known as Empire space as it is controlled and policed by the 4 main NPC races (Amarr, Minmatar, Gallente, Caldari). In high security space, attacking any ship—that is not in a declared war against your corporation—results in the NPC super police, called Concord, spawning and blowing you up. It is still possible to destroy a ship you attack before Concord spawns and destroys you (a tactic known as suicide ganking) but this makes non-consensual pvp comparatively rare in this part of the universe.
Low-Security Space exists mostly as a ring of systems that circles high-security space. In low sec you are free to attack anyone you wish, however attacking other players in this area worsens your characters “security status” incrementally and if you do enough of this your character can be branded an outlaw at which point entering and moving around high-security space becomes very difficult.
Null Security Space forms a large outer-ring to the in-game universe where there are no penalties at all for attacking others. It is essentially the Wild West. Null sec is divided between regions that belong to the NPC pirate factions, and Sovereignty space, which are the regions of the game where player corporations can actually claim sovereignty over vast swathes of in-game territory which carries the richest isk making opportunities as well as the pride/ego of having your corporation or alliances name on the map.
I will get into more depth about the different types of space, and especially about null sec in future articles.
While it is true that there are hundreds of possible play styles in Eve Online, they can be broadly divided into a few categories: Mission running and other PvE content; Mining & Planetary interaction; Industrial production, Market trading & scamming; and Player vs Player combat & warfare.
Carebears, Capitalists and Gunslingers
Missions & PvE Content
The first thing that you have to understand about the PvE content in Eve is that for the most part it is deliberatelyeasy and deliberately boring. It was designed as a relatively easy and quick way for players to grind up isk they could use to fund other aspects of their gameplay and not intended as a central gameplay style. From what I’ve been told by people who play other, theme-park style, MMOs, the PvE content in Eve is frankly pretty terrible in comparison.
The PvE content is mostly made up of missions you can run for NPC factions, destroying NPC pirates in various locations, and a few special types that occur in wormholes and in events known as incursions. I will go over these in a bit more detail down the road.
Mining & Planetary Interaction
I won’t say much about mining and planetary interaction except that to note that they are the source of the raw and intermediate materials needed to manufacture ships and modules than can in turn be sold to players. Mining is done by using special mining ships and just going to asteroid belts and using mining lasers on them, while planetary interaction has its own interface that I know virtually nothing about. Since I don’t really do any of this, I basically know very little about it.
As an aside: Those who do nothing but PvE or mine in Eve are derided as carebears by much of the player base. With good reason too, as playing Eve for the PvE content makes absolutely no sense. Eve is a heavily PvP centric MMO with deliberately poor PvE content. It truly begs the question; what is the point in grinding up billions in isk since you have nothing to spend it on because you don’t PvP and therefore virtually never lose ships?! Why aren’t you playing a theme-park MMO if you want a rewarding PvE experience?!
To be honest, the only people who baffle me more in this game are people who choose to spend their in game time mining. I mean, really? You’re going to play an MMO to sit in asteroid belts mining? An activity that could be replicated by just about the least sophisticated macro program written in about two and a half seconds?
At the very least the PvP community in Eve has developed a fun yearly event known as Hulkageddon where for a few weeks each year many PvPers will valiantly sacrifice themselves destroying very expensive mining vessels in high-security space for the entertainment value.
One of the relatively unique things about Eve Online is that scamming other players out of isk is absolutely allowed. There are players who fund there other activities in-game by scamming other players out of isk. To give one simple example, some players will sit in market hub systems claiming to offer two items for sale but if you click the link and read carefully, you’ll see there is actually only one of the item in the contract. It sounds obvious and fairly easy to avoid, but as they say, there’s a sucker born every minute.
Market Trading & Industry
One of the unique aspects of Eve Online is that the majority of the in game modules, ships and other items are created by players, using minerals mined by players (ok, bots mostly, but in theory players), transported by players to stations stocked by players. That is to say that Eve Online’s in game economy, which is so well developed that actual economists have been hired by Eve’s developer (CCP) to study it, track it, and produce news letters about it.
Not only that, but the systems and individual stations in Eve Online that have become the central trading hubs in the game (i.e. Jita, Amarr, Hek, Rens, etc.) became so as a result of player actions, entirely unplanned by the game’s developers.
There is a significant playerbase in Eve Online that focuses on the industrial and market aspects of the game, either as a secondary occupation pursued to make isk, or even for some as their primary gameplay style, with the size of their in game bank balance the measure of their success or failure.
I am not one of those people. While I respect the intelligence and industriousness required to succeed at these aspects of the game, they don’t really interest me personally, though I don’t deride them as I do carebears.
I play this game for one reason only: PvP.
Player vs Player
This, ultimately, is what lies at the core of the Eve Online experience.
The first thing to understand about PvP in Eve Online is that unlike other MMOs where you simply respawn when you are killed, in Eve Online when you lose a ship it is gone. Permanently. You are simply out of pocket for the isk you spent to buy that ship and will have to buy another one to fight another day.
That, and the existence of killboards that create a permanent record of the ships you have destroyed and ships you have lost means that PvP in Eve Online is largely non-consensual and risk averse. Basically people really try to avoid getting into fights unless they think they can win, and so a large part of the tactics of PvP in Eve Online is gaining the element of surprise—either that you are there at all, or concealing the strength of your fleet to trick an enemy fleet into engaging you—and using modules on ships—called warp disruptors, warp scramblers, and in null-sec warp distruption bubbles—to make it impossible for your targets to run away.
Because of this, PvP in Eve is often a cat-and-mouse game involving strategy, tactics and subterfuge to find enemies to fight, to get them to engage, and crucially, to try and make sure you can engage enemies on terms advantages to the strengths of your fleet vs. the weaknesses of opponents.
Of course, this doesn’t even scratch the surface of what PvP in Eve Online involves. I haven’t even had a chance to talk about the kinds of ships that are in the game, or multiple players fly together in coordinated fleets, but that will have to wait until my next article.