Just gathering intel

This post is part of the EVE Blog Banter, a monthly EVE Online blogging extravaganza created by CrazyKinux. Any questions about the EVE Blog Banter should be directed to him. The second topic comes from Brinelan: What drew us into EVE, what keeps us playing the game and what brought us back if we've ever left?

What drew me into EVE
A long, long time ago, in a world called Azeroth, lived a benevolent night elf druidess called Orlantha. This sexy and wise champion of freedom, along with her supporting cast, threw herself in epic battles and defeated monsters such as Ragnaros, Vaelastrasz, Nefarian, the Twin Emperors, Kael'Thas, Archimonde and, finally, the demonic Illidan. When he fell, the Traitor uttered these words:
Illidan: You have won... Orlantha. But the huntress... is nothing without the hunt. You... are nothing... without me.
Orlantha: He's right. I feel nothing. ...
And then, everything had been said, and she felt a little bit tired. Days, weeks and months had been devoted to the pursuit of justice, the eradication of evildoers and the massacre of Silithus cultists. It was time to take the shape of a simple bear and to enter hibernation in a secret cave. So it happened that this proud warrioress began to withdraw more and more into the mists of legend (until the next episod).

Azeroth is the name of the world in World of Warcraft. When I stopped playing this game after Illidan's demise, in the beginning of 2008, I did not plan to dedicate myself specifically to any other one. Age of Conan, on the horizon, seemed to be a strong game but my computer would not be up to the task. The same applied for Vanguard: Saga of Heroes, and Warhammer: Age of Reckoning was still far from release at the time. First thing to consider: the aforementioned fantasy games demanded a lot from my hard drive (up to 30 Go or so), while the "Classic graphics" version of the Eve client's installation file did - and to this day still does - weigh less than 1 Go. It will certainly get much heavier in the future with the appearance of 3D avatars. But, for the time being, Eve is a handy little app that you can carry around in an USB stick.

I also knew I would not commit as much time to the game and that I would sometimes spend weeks without playing. Grinding, that is, repeatedly playing the same content over and over in order to earn advantages ingame and prove competitive in multiplayer gameplay, was not something I was looking forward to do. Two factors make Eve very friendly to casual, on-and-off, players. The first one is the mostly passive skill development system, which allows the players to improve the abilities of their characters even when they are not logged in game. The second one is the non-consensual and unfair nature of the player-versus-player battles that take place in space: even a pilot with modest skills and a very cheap frigate (the smallest combat ship) can prove useful to a gang or a fleet. There is no way to insulate oneself from the rest of the playerbase (no "instances") and experienced solo players are actually regularly overwhelmed by small gangs of young pilots. In this game, you can always make a difference.

Then there was the setting. Medieval-fantasy games are the norm. But science-fiction is my prime passion, thanks to Isaac Asimov and, after him, dozens of other authors. At first, I did not believe there was much background information to be found about the setting. A cursory glance at the chronicles on the official website proved me wrong. I was happy to discover that, from my perspective, while it is not the most interesting hard science setting I have ever read about, neither is it the worst. It is a robust one, with some gems and a wealth of lore available if you are looking for it.

I remembered being disappointed, in 2005, when I realised that I could actually not interact in World of Warcraft with people from around the world and that my actions had no permanent consequence over the setting. I could not even drop an item on the floor. Eve Online features a single shard with a sandbox approach, which means that all characters live in the same world and that the game is designed around the concept of freedom for the players to choose or invent the way they spend their time ingame. This toylike approach feels to me much more real and exciting than the entertainment park-like directed experience provided by the other games and their fractured player communities. The single shard is actually very appropriate for a science-fiction setting, inherently less individual-centered than fantasy ones. If we share the same world, we cannot all be the heroic saviours. But we can get in touch with those who make the headlines.

Group activities revolve around the lowest common denominators. In World of Warcraft, you would not find many players to engage in group roleplaying, for example, as the game was not designed with roleplaying in mind. Some players are in for the warm feeling of being at home in a guild where everybody knows your name. Some of them want to explore the content. Some of them just want the epic items. The same applies to Eve, except that many groups such as roleplayers can attract a numerically meaningful following, thanks to the single shard. A few days after I created a character, while I was still trying to grasp the most basic features of the game, I received, through the ingame mailing system, a letter from an experienced player who proposed me to join his corporation (group of players). This corporation was all about roleplaying defenders of the democratic Federation, accepted casual players in its midst and was, obviously, open to players new to the game. What is the percentage of players of the game, of any computer game, who really enjoy roleplaying? Low. And among them, how many different chapels? Many. How many would want to roleplay Federation stalwarts, in this instance? Very few. If Eve did not use its single shard, such a corporation would typically never have grown past a tiny handful of players. In space, the long tail of minorities can flourish: you can find game partners that fit very specific expectations (language, rules of behaviour, choice of activities) far more easily than in Azeroth or elsewhere.

What keeps me playing the game
In my case, reading about Eve Online is easily half the fun the game can provide. In a sandbox game, the players themselves provide a big part of the content to be experienced. The single shard allows many niche communities to thrive. In turn, these communities market themselves and produce content that make for some very fun reads. Here is a selection of the stories I had a great time reading:
- The classics. The first Eve-related story I ever read, some years ago, told the story of a con man and his spaceship: The great scam. Once I began playing Eve, I looked for the characters mentioned in the story. Some were still around, with warnings about the falsehood of the scam story in their ingame character bio. It served as an early warning about the high subjectivity of these tales. Another famous Eve story is the Guiding Hand Social Club heist, as related in PC Gamer UK. Then comes the 0.0 Experiment: the picaresque tale of a unexperienced solo player in the dark recesses of "null sec space", where the common laws are irrelevant and rule is decided by the bigger guns. The world described herein does not exist anymore, since the political landscape has changed so much. For an entirely different take on the 0.0 conflict, the thorough and anonymous war analysis is a must-read.
- The pirates. Lately, and for quite a few months, I have been reading pirates's blogs. It might look paradoxical since my ingame persona is an anti-pirate captain who will not hesitate to rabidly lose ships to any "blinky" (criminal) daring to engage him. But low-sec piracy (low-sec being this area of the world at the fringe of both mostly-safe space and player-ruled space) is a source of very entertaining stories and I can always masquerade my guilty reading pleasures by pretending to gather useful intel about known outlaws. The first blog I really read and began to follow was the one written by flashfresh, who appears to have pioneered the genre. Using the links, I explored a series of blogs unraveling many different aspects of the game (a good non-pirate blog is Ombeve's). Since I began playing, many newcomers like Spectre3353 and Mynxee began recording their tales about piracy in blogs both entertaining and shock full of tips.

What would make me leave the game
To sum up, I welcomed Eve Online as a refreshing science-fiction sandbox game with a world so huge and interesting that I would certainly have kept reading about it even if I had unsubscribed at some point. Regularly seeing in game players who have created their character in 2003 hints at fun on the long term. For Torfi Frans Olafsson, senior producer at CCP, there is "no end in sight" for Eve. But can any game last forever? As a matter of fact, successful roleplaying games have long life expectancies. People keep playing Dungeons & Dragons more than three decades after it was first released (1974). I do not live in the fear that factors ingame would make me quit playing, though the possibility does exist. Wisdespread cheating comes to mind. And there are, of course, many possible out of game reasons which would induce me to stop playing.
There is another question I can try to answer: what can I do to keep enjoying the game? First, I am in no hurry. I do not burn from the need to experience everything at once. I will take my time and better enjoy the trip this way. As a corollary, I have no second account and no intention to create one. My playtime is limited and I do not wish to manage alt characters. At the end of the day, Eve Online is just a game, albeit a great one. If it ever begins to become a chore, I will not hesitate to take holidays, my character abusing the prestige from his station as a battleship captain to fetch himself some dream job as a janitor in a female-only university on Gallente Prime.

Check other Eve Blog Banter articles on the same topic: