Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Iterating Better Worlds


First, a minor point before I get started.  The dev blog “Building Better Worlds” could have lifted the quote either from the Weiland Yutani Corporation logo from the Alien mythos, or the Operative from Serenity.  In that movie the line is uttered by a character who believes he is helping create better worlds, but then finds out that his whole ideology was based on a na├»ve understanding of what his superiors were actually doing.  I hope that was not what CCP was implying with the title…
title from a few places.

Ok, that out of the way, let’s get into it.  After thinking and reading about the new industry changes that are coming I think there are a few sides to the topic that have not been talked about all that much.  It all boils down to getting new players while holding on to the old ones.  That is, after all, CCP’s business model.

Access

First, we don’t know exactly what the new cost will be for the new slot-less industry design.  We know the range (0%-14%) and we know it is based on the price of the finished good (derived from the rolling average?).  But we do not know the break points, or exactly how it will play out.  I am sure smarter players than I can tell you more about this, but I’m not overly concerned.  The spreadsheet wizards will always find a way to win at Eve, and the casuals will probably have some rude learning experiences.  Nothing new to see here.  But one thing the new slot-less system will do, regardless of pricing, is provide a fast, immediate way in for anyone.

This is really important.  If you cannot remember what being a new player in industry is like, let me tell you.  You learn about Research and Manufacturing, and maybe get a few BPOs to test things out.  You look around High Sec and realize that any stations worth using are either insanely expensive, full for a month, or both.  You start looking at what it takes to get out to Low Sec and the open research slots there.  If you are really smart, you realize you out to be using a tech two ship to move your goods to avoid losing your assets.  You then realize that training for those safer ships, for a new pilot, is not insignificant.  The training will take weeks or months.  So you have two options.  Either wait for weeks to even start your jobs, or wait for weeks to safely engage in Low Sec.  Both of those options are terrible.

If CCP wants people to engage in industry, it needs to be accessible.  There needs to be an obvious, easy way to at least get started.  The new changes provide this. Any newbie will be able to create an account, train Research to I, and get down to getting down.  Sure, it may be a bit more expensive, and sure it may not be the long term way towards industry in Eve, but it is a start.  I can also think of no other part of the game that is as prohibitive from day one as industry right now.  You can run missions, mine, explore, haul, or get into PvP within hours or days of starting an account.  Again, you will not be doing well at these tasks, and you won’t be using the same ships or strategies in a month or a year, but you can start!  This change lets newbies start exploring industry in the same way as in any other part of the game.

Think of a bike with training wheels.  Yeah, the training wheels suck, but many people need them to get started.  Once you get a feel for the bike, you throw the training wheels away.  In a lot of ways Hish Sec space is the training wheel of Eve.

Null Sec is Best Sec?

Second, the argument that this new system will push industry players to null sec decries pushing players into a specific style of Eve.  Sure, that seems like a logical conclusion, but maybe it is not so bad.  Currently the tinfoil prognosticators say that a very small fraction of players actually live in Null.  I’ll go with that.  But take a look at who has stuck around in Eve for the long haul.  The list mostly consists of Null sec players, Low sec pirates, FW players, and Wormhole residents.  There are some high sec players that have been around a while, but I would wager the age of those accounts is a bit lower, and a fair number of those accounts are second or third accounts of people living outside high sec on the main account.  Go take a look at the blogs and Twitter.  The space famous people who both help create content and help create the community.  They tend to live in places that are not Empire Space.  There may be a good reason to push people out into the edges of Eve.  That is where they really start to engage with each other.

CCP has to keep players interested in the game.  High Sec is not the place to keep people.  It gets boring and dull.  About the only exciting way to live in High Sec is to either do industry or play markets.  Neither of these, by themselves, provides a whole lot of excitement.  Other players provide that.  CCP seems to be tweaking the game to push more people out of the middle.  FW got a revamp.  WH space can provide lucrative rewards.  Null has better isk if you know what to do, and it has all those big fights, and all those really big ships.  Gently prodding High Sec players to move out and explore other options helps them learn the game and build the connections that will keep subs coming in, and keep the player driven plotlines going. 

Seagull Space

Third, there is the future.  Null sec is kind of broken, or at least sov is.  If CCP Seagull’s “new space” is any indication, CCP is more interested in trying something new rather than just burning the whole world down.  Imagine sitting in CCP’s shoes.  You have a core of hardcore long term players that live in the sov of now.  Those players run or play in the player organizations that tend to keep people playing.  You know that sov is spiraling into irrelevance or stagnation for long stretches.  But if you tear down that whole system and replace it on a patch day, you may lose a whole bunch of people who worked really hard to get where they are in the broken system, and who have been paying good money or buying the PLEX that others paid good money for.  Remember, someone paid for every PLEX in the game.  Even if you make enough isk to not pay real money for Eve, someone else is paying that price.

Instead of tearing apart the sov system these players have played in for so long, you could start laying the ground for a new system.  You start trying to implement the little things that will make it work.  At the same time you continue trying to herd players into the regions and player organizations that will adapt to major change and create the community connections that keep online games going.

You do all these little things, and then when the big day comes and you open a new space, you have all the little pieces in place.  You also have the safe haven for the invested players.  You have new opportunities for new and old players.  And you have a live test bed for a long term solution to the old space too.  Let players do as they will for a few months or an expansion cycle.  Then CCP can come back and say “See how well this new thing worked?  Well, we are going to implement that in the old world too.”  Or CCP can say “See how this new thing almost worked, but didn’t?  We’re going to fix it and not touch the old world.”  The process can continue until you get the desired result.

At least, that’s what I hope is going on.  I suppose we shall see soon enough, as the dev blogs and Fanfest approach.  I do wish that CCP would be a bit more open about their plans.  That might provide a light at the end of the tunnel for players who see many of the new changes as an attack on their way of playing Eve.  I wonder how many people would respond favorably to an announcement like this:

“Many parts of New Eden are old.  The players, the game, and CCP have outgrown what currently exists.  This is not a simple problem to fix.  There is entrenched code and there are entrenched interests.  We want to build a better world, but to do so will take time and effort, and there will be growing pains. 

Our plan is to release a new cluster, linked to New Eden, but operating with different rules that govern how players interact with the universe.  In this new cluster we will pioneer that better world while providing a space for new and old players to explore, build, fight and destroy.  We’ll take the opportunity to find solutions that work for all of Eve Online.  By creating new space, we can preserve what players have accomplished in the New Eden Cluster, and provide ample time and space for creating new gameplay mechanics without completely changing the game you know and love overnight.  We invite you to continue flying with us as we continue to expand and refine both New Eden and the universe beyond.”


I would welcome something along those lines.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Greedy Little Pig

As is often the case when learning a new part of Eve, I did many things right the last week and half, but the last thing I did, I did about as wrong as you can.

Wormhole life has been teaching me routines.  Log, scan, bookmark, jump the holes, scan, keep going until I find the exits I want or decide that I have looked far enough.  Check neighbors for towers.  Bookmark them.  Come home.  Use the directional scanner.  Always use the D-scan.

Our rolls have been getting more interesting of late, seemingly escalating up the series of W-Space system classes.  Tonight we rolled a C4, with some company.  The C4 led to a C1.  That C1 had some company too.  It also gave me the high sec opening I was looking for, to bring in a few more ships to use against anyone who came to visit.  So I followed the chain out, fitted up some ships, and started the process of ferrying them in.

I was warping along nicely and jumped into the C1.  Then I landed on the C1 to C4 wormhole and saw a Crow.  Somehow I hit the target button, which was silly.  I immediately jumped, not actually wanting to engage, and landed inside a bubble.  The Crow followed, but I quickly got out and continued on my way.  Then I just sat for a while, figuring I might as well let any polarization timers wear off before grabbing another ship.  For fun I went back to check the bubble, and made some extra warp-ins that would help avoid getting snared.

A bit later everything seemed clear, so I went out, and sure enough the bubble was gone.  Home free!  I got the second to last ship in, and realized that if you fly out in a ship, you have to leave it to bring another in.  So I had the, ahem, brilliant idea to just pod out, because the bubbles were gone, so nothing could go wrong.  Right?  I made it to the C1 to High Sec wormhole and landed inside two bubbles.  There was that damn Crow!  You can probably guess how that one ended.  All in all, the new implants and clone cost less than the ship I would have flown back in, so I'll consider it a decent outcome for a stupid idea.

Turns out my clone was a few jumps from Dodixie.  Time to log off in the trade hub and see what the hole rolls tomorrow.  At least I got to see the new death animation for the first time.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Industry Expansions Will Never Happen...

Well, I was going to write something about wormholes, but that can wait.  This happened.  That industry expansion everyone assumed would just never come is coming this summer.  Or at least round one.  I can't wait for the NDA'd minutes to come out and see what level of involvement the CSM had.

There is a lot said in the dev blog linked above, and more to come.  I don't have much to say at this point, because it looks like it will take some time to find out how all of the changes are going to fit together.

Off the top of my head the most exciting parts are:
  • Removing wait times on all manufacturing and research.
  • POSes in HS will no longer require god-awful standings grinds.
  • That interface.
Again, how this all plays out will be interesting to see, but I think the changes to research waiting will really open up the field to players looking to get into industry.  Now you can trade isk for time without building a POS, something that is currently a pretty big advantage for older players with the skills to research outside HS, or set up POSes to research, or who had stacks of BPOs researched to high levels.  Now instead of waiting to build a POS or waiting for queues, players can just get researching as soon as they buy the BPO.  The copy mechanics changes, shortening the time to copy BPOs, will also make positioning of all aspects of the process more interesting.

I am excited to learn more.  Looks like I might have alts doing a fair amount of research this summer...

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Down the Rabbit Hole

After wrapping up affairs in Black Rise, selling off a lot of assets, and moving others, I am ready for my next step in Eve.  I am moving into a wormhole.  Or I should say I have already moved into a wormhole.  I moved in earlier in the week. This is pretty exciting, and I hope a good number of the tricks and skills I learned in FW will come in useful.  At least I know how to use the directional scanner!

About one week in, I am reminded of this quote:
Reports that say there's -- that something hasn't happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things that we know that we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns, the ones we don't know we don't know.
—Donald Rumsfeld, United States Secretary of Defense
You might not like Donald Rumsfeld, but that is not the point of the quote.  The point is that you never realize the third category of unknown unknowns until it decloaks one top of you, points you, and blows you up.  Or you realize that all of your supplies are suddenly unavailable due to corporate mechanics and a mis-click.

Lots of things have changed.  Moving from stations to POS towers, removing local chat, and suddenly having no idea what might be in the next system over, are now my day to day life in Eve.  I have never spent so much time accomplishing nothing but learning so much about how Eve works as I have in the last few days.  My skill queue has found new and interesting nooks and crannies to fill out.  Previously mysterious parts of the interface have become a new home.  And paranoia has hit a whole new level.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Have a Little Faith

Just a super quick post tonight.  There is a lot of serious business in Eve.  Lots of serious topics, in game and out.  We rage about the game, we rage about what people do in game.  We rage about what people do out of game.  We take everything so damn seriously.

Despite all the seriousness, two things have happened recently that I think highlight how positive the Eve community is despite all the negative press.

First, when I came back from about six months or so of complete absence from the game, I was a bit worried about what I would find waiting for me on the first log in.  Much to my relief, I was still in my old corps on both accounts.  When I logged in, instead of bitching about me be gone or having been kicked (a common occurrence of being gone for even a week in some other MMOs I have played), the players simply said hello and welcomed me back.  No drama, no bullshit, just a few "Hey, welcome back!" posts.

Second, in the midst of some evemails with people who don't know me from Adam, and who I have been hounding a little bit, I essentially had to say "Hey, I know I've been bugging you for a week solid about some stuff.  Thanks for getting back to me.  It turns out I am entering wife-birthday week, so I will now disappear after nagging at you."  Great people skills on my end.

The response was "Enjoy wife week!"

While there are some terrible things that go down in Eve, on the whole it has the most consistently decent people I have ever anonymously encountered.  Considering the stakes of giving out even an iota of trust in Eve are much higher than almost any other game, I think this speaks volumes to the unheard majority of Eve players that just want to have fun, and understand that other people playing the game are people with lives and concerns that go beyond the little corner of a fictional galaxy we choose to spend our free time in.

So thanks, Eve community.  You may get a lot of bad press, but you have an odd way of restoring my faith in the fact that most of you are pretty decent people.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Quick Thoughts: Banished

This is actually a rather large village.
As I noted a few posts back, I wanted to take a look at Banished, a new city building game.  I got a copy and started up.  The game presents itself very pleasantly.  I loaded up the tutorials, spent about 15 minutes playing through them.  A lot of games could learn from the tutorials in Banished.  They are short, to the point, and get you rolling quickly.

After the tutorials I started up my first town.  I decided to go for medium difficulty, as this provides you with a barn already loaded up with your starting supplies, and about 10 or so villagers.  I had read a little about the game, but went in and tried to play trusting my gut.  I built a farm and a whole bunch of houses and other support buildings.  This was not wise.  I lost six people the first winter and decided to start over.

On my second village I only built enough houses for the starting group.  This means one house for each "couple" of male and female adults.  One of the mechanics of the game is that couples will move into an empty house, and procreate.  If you build too many houses all the eligible couples tend to pair off an you get a bunch of kids.  This is a bit of a liability in the first few years when food is at a premium.  I also ignored farming for a few years.  Due to a quirk of the game Gathering Huts seem to be the most efficient method of food production for much of the early game, as long as you put them in the woods.  Pair this with a Forester to plant in all trees and you have a nice food supply going pretty quickly.

Once I had the basics of food and shelter down, I began building out slowly.  I would add a few houses and a profession building or two each year as kids grow into adults who can then work the new structures.  Now I am at the point where I think I can safely deal with populations of at least 120, having gotten there on a few subsequent cities.

I stated before that I hoped this game would solve the GUI issues of Dwarf Fortress while providing a solid game to back up the graphics.  It comes tantalizingly close so far.  By focusing on the core issue of resource management instead of throwing in a whole bunch of features Shining Rock has created a nice, tight little game.

The game rewards you for playing smartly and cautiously balancing expansion with managing the core resources.  These are stone, wood, leather, iron, and many types of food.  Pretty much everything in the game comes from this handful of items.  The fun bit is in having to choose the balance.  Do you sacrifice iron and wood for tools and firewood, or do you build a church for happiness?  Do you use your stone for houses or for a new workshop?  Do you gamble your stockpiles on getting some livestock or new seeds from the trader, or do you spend them on an increased population?

The one downside is that one solid evening of play will show you the entire game.  I have built every building in the game after a few hours.  A fair number of reviews have picked on this a bit unfairly, by my estimation.  While there might not be a whole lot of Banished, what is there is done very well.  The game is not about the destination of building a metropolis, but rather the journey of carefully expanding just a bit more each year.

Right now the game is feature locked, but Shining Rock has stated that mod support is planned.  If that mod support comes out soon, within a few months or half a year, this game may go from being very good to great.  At the moment there isn't much beyond the resource choices presented above.  Don't misunderstand, those choices are very fun to play through and are really well done.   I see myself playing a few more villages, or maybe taking the game in bite sizes once a month.

Modding would really allow the game to open up and give it legs.  Custom buildings, maybe some sort of limited combat, perhaps more resources and goods.  With a few good mods or an expansion of some sort Banished could become a real force in the city building genre.  A very solid offering from a one-man shop.  Do yourself a favor and buy the game.  This sort of game deserves your dollars.  At twenty bucks it is an easy way to show the creator and other developers that doing something simple and well is worth doing.