The obnoxious white line is still there. I’m leaving it in, otherwise I’ll never learn. I’ll fix it before next time.
Now that introductions are out of the way, let’s discuss the game’s progression and some of its mechanics.
It’s common for an EVE player to follow a certain progression through the game: start in highsec (the safe section in the center of the galaxy), learn the basics of the game there, accumulate a bit of property, get bored, and move out to lowsec or nullsec (areas on the outside, more friendly to PVP) and live there. That’s more or less what I did. I didn’t venture outside highsec until I’d been playing the game for almost a year, during which time I only occasionally did any PVP.
PVP-focused EVE players sometimes say that the game’s PVE is boring, which in a way is true – but for me, that was kind of the point. Instead of “boring,” someone who genuinely enjoys the game’s PVE aspects would probably call them “relaxing.” EVE is, overall, a slower-paced game than most MMOs. First of all, its combat (which I’ll go into more detail about later) is less twitch-based than your typical hotbar MMO. Second, there are in-game professions that don’t feature combat at all, like hauling, mining, industry, and playing the market (a game unto itself in some ways).
When I started my first character, I unexpectedly found myself spending much of my time hauling. Hauling is not exactly an exciting trade. Basically, you find a ship with the biggest cargohold you can manage, find a commodity that’s cheap in one part of the galaxy and expensive in another, and get your haul on (you can accept hauling jobs from other players through the in-game “contract” system, but in my experience that’s not as profitable). If you do it inside high-security space and exercise a bit of common sense, there’s relatively little risk you’ll be attacked or lose your ship/load.
What makes hauling tolerable as a profession is the game’s autopilot, one of its most vital conveniences. You can simply set a destination, turn on autopilot, and go make a sandwich or something as your ship charts a route and follows it. This meant that hauling is a profession very friendly to alt-tabbing out of the game, or playing it in windowed mode. In fact, I played EVE in windowed mode almost exclusively, and I suspect many others do too. In windowed mode, I could pick up some goods, set my autopilot, and then go goof off on the web or do other work (usually the former). It made for a relaxing experience – the game has space-y, ambient music, and you can listen to the sound of the stars whooshing by until you hear a pleasant computer voice telling you “autopilot disengaged, destination reached.”
Other professions, such as mining and industry, can also be done with little input from the player. The game’s PVPers sometimes express confusion at miners, wondering how they can do something so dull, but for the miners the dullness is often the point. There’s something meditative about seeing mining lasers hit space rocks in the background while you read a book at your desk, or whatever it is you like to do.
The game’s deliberate pace is also present in the character progression mechanics. There are no levels or experience points in EVE; instead, players accumulate “skill points” or SP by… waiting. The player tells their PC what skills to train, and in what order, and skill points gradually accumulate, whether the game is open or not. Some of the highest level skills can take almost a month to train. There are various in-game ways to speed this process up incrementally, but only incrementally. Basically, the person who’s logged off, the person who’s AFK in station, and the person with their nose to the grindstone will all see SP progression at roughly the same rate.
This is both a strength and a weakness. A strength because it’s more feasible to remain competitive without a huge time investment, a weakness because new players have no particular way to “catch up” to older players in terms of SP. Developers CCP have tried various tricks to solve this problem, but there’s no way to truly solve it that I can see. Note, though, that having a SP deficit doesn’t mean you can’t have fun with the game. Even in nullsec PVP, there are ways for newer, low-SP characters to contribute.
If you just read the above never having played it, you might wonder where EVE‘s reputation for punishing gameplay comes from. You may even have seen the famous XKCD comic illustrating the game’s difficulty curve compared to other MMOs (imgur link because I can’t seem to find the original). It’s partly a relic of the time before it had a new player tutorial (it added one fairly soon after release) and partly a macho thing (EVE players like to believe we play the real manly man’s MMO), but more than that it’s based in consequences.
In most modern MMOs, death is an inconvenience and not much more. Here, if your ship gets blown up, it gets blown up, and so does all your cargo – you don’t get any back, and whoever blew you up gets to loot roughly half of it. Not only that, but it has what I consider to be an elegant and clever resurrection system: in the lore of EVE, cloning is commonplace for those who can afford it, so when your character dies, you simply “wake up” in a new clone at whatever station you designate. These clones cost money, and the more SP they “store” the more they cost, so there is a financial penalty to dying even in a cheap ship. In practice, the cost of a clone is usually almost negligible, but it is an interesting mechanic – sort of like a massively multiplayer half-roguelike.
And, like in a roguelike, the excitement comes from suspense. Any kind of conflict typically becomes more dramatic as you ratchet up the stakes, and in terms of player participation and investment EVE has some of the highest stakes around. Fleet fights between rival alliances and coalitions sometimes feature simultaneous player counts numbering in the thousands. Sometimes they’re big enough that they get coverage in games media, like the Battle of Asakai or the so-called “bloodbath” of B-R5RB, in which ships valued at over $300,000 US were destroyed.It’s possible to pay the game’s monthly fee using in-game money through an item called a ‘PLEX’, which is how they calculate figures like that. In these moments, EVE becomes something like a spectator sport to the wider gaming world, and CCP smartly leverages them into free publicity.
In fact they’ve deliberately cultivated the game’s rough-and-tumble reputation. EVE‘s TOS is quite accomodating. The two main things that are strictly prohibited are botting and impersonating a GM/CCP employee. But all sorts of underhanded things, that would be considered griefing in other MMOs, are allowed and even encouraged in EVE. You can scam people, manipulate markets, trap people’s ships and hold them for ransom, engineer elaborate thefts, run protection rackets, or start a ponzi scheme – it’s all fair, or at least “fair,” game.
Things like this – informal gameplay systems that were not directly intended by the developers – used to be called “emergent” gameplay, before the term got overused and fell out of fashion. It’s a useful term, but for the purposes of this series I’m going to use a different term: space crime.
My first contact with EVE‘s space criminal community came after I got tired of hauling and wanted to try more PVP. By this time I had joined and left a couple of PVP-focused corpsIn keeping with the game’s ‘ruthless corporation’ vibe, the basic group of players is called a corporation or ‘corp’ rather than a guild. and was scouring the in-game forums for a group of friendly PVPers that wasn’t run by a flake. I was approached by a player who we’ll call “Bill.” Bill ran a PVP corp that was right up my alley, and informed me that I needed to make a security deposit to join. (Security deposits such as these are ostensibly meant to prevent a practice called “awoxing,” a different type of space crime that I won’t get into at the moment.)
Some of you have probably already seen this coming, but my new friend “Bill” was a scammer. He was running one of the simplest and most common in-game hustles: the recruitment scam. It goes like you just read: offer the chump a chance to join a well-run, maybe even elite, corp, ask for a “security deposit,” and then just keep the money. Sometimes it has an additional angle: they’ll offer you the use of a jump freighter (a type of ship that can transport lots of cargo very quickly) to transport your accumulated possessions out to wherever in the galaxy they “live.” Once they have your stuff in the jump freighter, they just keep it. After doing all this, they follow up with what every scammer is honor-bound to do: claim it’s all above board and ask for even more money.
He didn’t get it. I was dumb enough to fall for one recruitment scam, but not two in a row from the same guy. However, the whole thing caught me off guard. I knew about recruitment scams; they were almost common knowledge. However, most of them were comically obvious and easy to spot. Bill’s, however, wasn’t, and he took me for 60 million ISK (the game’s currency), which was a fair amount to me at that time. Ironically, the high amount was actually what made me think it wasn’t a scam, since they usually targeted newer players and asked for less.
This got me to thinking. Bill had made 60 million ISK in just fifteen minutes or so of “work” – that was the amount of total time it would have taken him to type out the half-dozen messages it took to get my money out of me. Scamming certainly appeared to be much more profitable than hauling. And I also knew that people fell for clumsy, amateurish recruitment scams all the time, so in theory non-clumsy ones should have a good hit rate.
The seed of an idea had been planted in me – not a recruitment scam but something else. It would eventually launch my career as a space criminal, a career which would see me permanently relocate to nullsec, and which I believe is rich in lessons for anyone seeking to iterate on the EVE concept. I’ll continue that particular set of stories next entry.
 It’s possible to pay the game’s monthly fee using in-game money through an item called a ‘PLEX’, which is how they calculate figures like that.
 In keeping with the game’s ‘ruthless corporation’ vibe, the basic group of players is called a corporation or ‘corp’ rather than a guild.
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