Let’s just agree up front that I’m not going to be able to scratch the surface of a rough outline of a summary of this game. I’ve been playing for about a week, so writing about EVE at this point is like a guy from Azerbaijan deciding that since he spent 24 hours in Anchorage he’s qualified to write about AMERICA. The subject is too big for anything as ambitious as an overview. So if you’re an EVE veteran, try not to rage out about overlooked details or errors in this write-up. EVE is huge and there’s no way I could get it all down in the week I’ve been playing.
I’ve rolled a few characters, bought some ships, joined a corporation, and smashed about a million asteroids. The game isn’t so much “fun” as it is “engrossing”. I’m in it for a month, but I’m not sure I’ll extend my account beyond that. We’ll see. I’ll talk more about this in the podcast later this week.
A corporation is a player-run group. In other games they’re called guilds. The corp I joined is Starfield Enterprises. I joined Starfield because:
- They’re not so massive that I’d be lost, so I could ask my newbie questions without feeling like I was shouting into the storm.
- They focus on industry and mining, which is what interests me.
- Their name isn’t stupid. Far too many corps think that members would want to fly under the flag of “xXMurdar EliteXx” or “Surprise Buttsects”. And too often they are right. Sigh. Still, I feel compelled to note that when it comes to players choosing lore-friendly names, EVE is actually one of the best. It’s second only to LOTRO for non-stupid character names.
- They seem like a nice bunch of reasonable, low-key players who enjoy the game.
|Space is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly hugely… etc.|
EVE plays nothing like a traditional MMO. You don’t “grind mobs” for XP, nor do you kill them for random drops. There are quests, but they’re mostly tutorials and not the meat of the game. The actual game – the thing that drives the action – is entirely created by the players. Once you graduate from the newbie zone you’ll likely be flying a ship built by players using a factory built by players from raw materials harvested by players. It’ll be outfitted with player-built weapons and player-built systems and no matter what you do with it, you’ll probably be selling your efforts to players. (Unless you make your living as a pirate, by killing players.)
As a way of explaining how deep, technical, unusual, and emergent the game is, let’s talk about PLEX. There’s a cool story behind this, but like anything to do with EVE it’s incomprehensible without a couple minutes of instruction to provide context.
|I tried to make an old man. I wanted to play as a kind of space-Dumbledore, but the character editor wasn’t quite robust enough for that. (There are good reasons for this, in-universe.) So I made a woman. If I wanted to play as a young dude I would just play ANY OTHER GAME EVER.|
PLEX is Pilot License EXtention. It’s game time. Go to the website and buy a PLEX and you can play for another month. But you can also sell the PLEX to another player. You can even trade PLEX like stocks. Right now, a PLEX is worth about $650 million of in-game money. (Which is called ISK, for reasons I’m sure a non-newbie could explain.) Lowbie that I am, I can make about 4 million ISK an hour. For me it’s probably not worth playing for 150 hours just to pay my subscription fee, but it’s really interesting that the option even exists. Some of the other guys in my corp can pull in 100 million ISK an hour, so they don’t need to pay for the game if they don’t want to. They just need to sink about six hours of playtime into paying for a PLEX and they’re all good.
While it seems odd that you can play the game without paying for it, this isn’t like a FtP game where it will harass you to buy things. Everyone’s license is paid for by someone. It’s just that if you trade ISK for a PLEX, it means someone else has put real-world money into the game to pay for your time. Essentially they paid you to earn ISK for them, thus making you a goldfarmer who works for game time instead of cash. It also means that – as of this writing – the going exchange rate between dollars and ISK is roughly $20 for 650 million ISK. This way to empirically measure the cost of in-game items with real-world dollars is why people are able to say that the recent Battle of B-R5RB destroyed $300,000 worth of ships.
The point is: While traditional “goldfarmers” exist in EVE, they are not nearly as healthy or viable as they are in other games because there’s a safe legal alternative. I’ve never seen a single blip of goldfarm advertising, and I’ve been watching for it.
Which brings us to…
|Space is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly hugely… etc.|
All of this leads us to the story of SirLordex, a Russian billionaire who got hooked on EVE. He had big goals (he wanted to go toe-to-toe with some of the most formidable groups in the game) and he didn’t want to spend years building up his corporation. So he did what he would do if he was launching an enterprise in the real world and bankrolled it with an infusion of his own cash. He bought a massive amount of PLEX, so much that he single-handedly caused a 16% drop in the PLEX market, pushing the price of PLEX down to around 550 million ISK. He was basically paying the subscription fees for thousands of players.
Think about that. We’ve got a game where people with lots of money end up funding the participation of people that have less to spend on it, and it accomplishes this without the usual stonewalling and harassment that typical FTP games employ. On the other hand, if you do pay for the game (and at the start you have to, since it’ll be a while before you can make that 650 million ISK in a reasonable amount of time) it’s a shocking $20 a month. In an industry where $15, $10, or zero are the norm, that’s a lot to ask. Given the steep into cost, the long time it takes to get rolling, and the massive learning curve, I’m surprised new people join the game at all. (Says the guy who just joined the game.)
|EVE is probably the biggest sausage fest this side of stuff like Scarlet Blade. Which is interesting, since I don’t see anything inherently “dudebro” about it. I can’t speak for women, obviously, but as a guy I don’t see any of the stuff I normally associate with deliberate male pandering or the exclusion of women. They just don’t play. And I would not dare guess why without a gun to my head.|
In most other games, PvP action is most likely based around some sort of arena concept. The two sides enter a closed space and murder each other for points and loot. Maybe you capture the flag or defend the control point, but it’s all an artificial construct, like a sport. Later today the Seattle Seahawks will face the Denver Broncos in Superbowl XLVIII. This isn’t because the people of Seattle hate Denver, or because the Broncos need crucial Seattle resources needed to keep their home city going. It’s because this match was ordained by the rules. And that’s fine. It’s certainly better than the alternative.
But in EVE, most large-scale conflict is driven by factions fighting over specific resources. Maybe your faction wants to control this star system because it’s rich in ultra-rare minerals. Or maybe it’s a valuable crossroads, allowing you to control and monitor the flow of traffic and forcing rival merchants to take long routes around you. Or maybe you just need it as a buffer between the rest of the galaxy and your home system where your corporation has erected the massive multi-billion ISK space station that allows you to operate in deep space without needing to run back to civilization to sell your goods.
|Here is a tiny slice of the galaxy map. There are a LOT of star systems. The bright ones are the part of the gameworld where police patrol and enforce some semblance of justice. The dark red ones are nullsec – the wild west where anything goes. That’s where the good stuff is, and that’s where player corporations try to establish a claim and build bases.|
To explain how it works: Player characters are clones. If you die, the most recent backup copy of your brain is dumped into a new clone, they pull your new meatsack out of the tank, towel you off, and you’re good to go. Good as new. This means the player is effectively immortal. However, if your starship gets all blowed up, then it stays that way. Since a lot of your wealth is tied up in your ship and different ships are designed for different purposes, this means everyone isn’t flying around using the one uber-ship, even if they’re fabulously wealthy. Powerful players will often fly around in completely mundane ships, just to restrict their losses if something goes wrong.
While there are plenty of cases where wealthy players blow up each other’s ships for the lulz, the vast majority of conflict in EVE takes the form of warfare over resources and territory. Reports of wars in EVE sound less like someone reciting the box scores and much more like news intercepts from a spacefaring civilization. The events of the fight persist long after the fight has ended and are remembered for even longer.
Now that I’ve worn you down with 1,600 words of preamble, let me tell you another story…
Battle of Asakai
You can hear this story all over the place, but most reports are jargon-heavy, dense with politics, and impenetrable to outsiders. If you’ve seen a couple of episodes of Star Trek or Babylon 5 at some point in your life, then you should be able to follow my version even if you’ve never heard of the game before.
There were a couple of large forces in the game who were having a pissing match of small-scale skimmishes in the star system named Asakai. On one side was the Clusterfuck Coalition (CFC), and on the other was the Pandemic Legion (PL). They were supposedly allies and their alliance was a really good arrangement in an economic sense. The two sides (and many, many allies that I won’t get into here) had conspired to lock down the supply of a certain rare resource in deep space, effectively turning themselves into a cartel. It made them rich. The wealth led to them building massive fleets. Vast fleets and great wealth led to boredom, restlessness, and a lack of discipline. Students of history might find this sounds a little familiar.
As a result, the two sides had been taking small-scale potshots at each other over petty disputes or alpha-male posturing. It wasn’t anything serious – just the odd raid or a few blown-up ships. For an organization with holdings in the trillions, nobody is going to want to rock the boat over a couple million in losses.
|Space is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly hugely… etc.|
Rather than putting their Titan someplace where it might get shot, CFC was using theirs to send other ships into battle. See, a Titan is the only ship in the game that can act as a warp bridge. You set the parking brake, light a cigarette, feed 1.21 gigawatts through the warp thing or whatever, and you can send your fleet anywhere you like. The Titan stays behind and just catapults the fleet into enemy space. Defending players can post scouts at the standard warp gates to watch for incoming hostiles, but a Titan-launched fleet won’t come in that way so you won’t see them until they’re blowing your stuff up.
So the CFC plan was something like this:
- Mass their fleet somewhere sneaky and out-of-the way so that PL wouldn’t see it coming.
- Have the Titan fling the fleet into the PL base.
- The CFC fleet destroys a few things as fast as they can and then warps out before PL can organize their defenses. By the time reinforcements get there, a lot of stuff is broken and CFC will be long gone.
This keeps the Titan off the battlefield. The corporations might overlook a little bit of intra-alliance piracy and griefing, but sending a flagship into battle against alleged allies would likely cause a bunch of angry drama and maybe even demands for reparations. That’s no fun.
On the other side of space, PL actually suspected they might face some sort of hit-and-run attack. So they put some interdiction ships in their fleet. These couldn’t prevent the attack, but they could be used to trap invading enemies and prevent them from running off. It would force them to stay and fight, which might make them think twice about attacking in the future.
So what happened? This:
|Image taken from the official site.|
Instead of turning the Titan into a warp gate, the Titan just warped itself into the PL base. Alone. Instead of sending the fleet, the pilot ditched the fleet. The CFC fleet was suddenly floating helplessly many jumps away from their flagship with no way to quickly reach it. The Titan was interdicted when it arrived.
The resulting conflict is known as the Battle of Asakai. The Titan couldn’t leave, because it was trapped by interdiction. The PL wouldn’t leave, because this was their home. In a panic, the PL called their entire fleet in to defend against the Titan. In a panic, the CFC sent their entire fleet (including a number of Titans) in to rescue their stranded flagship.
It was an accidental all-in from both sides.
The Titan has a doomsday beam that will kill pretty much everything in a straight line, but it only fires once every ten minutes and it can’t do that much good when your foes are swarming around you like angry bees. Its purpose is to brush aside capital ships, not shoot down clouds of frigates.
By chance, another faction in the alliance just happened to have a group of fifty players moving a bunch of dreadnoughts from one system to another as part of an unrelated operation, and these ships were flying reasonably close to Asakai. When news of the battle reached them, they diverted course and joined the battle on the side of PL. Lots of other groups dog-piled on the battle, mostly joining PL. It’s impossible to know the reasons for sure, but it’s very likely lots of people were frustrated with the childish sucker-punch shenanigans, and now that the gloves were off they all wanted to punish the troublemakers.
At the end of the day, CFC was crushed. They finally managed to extricate their fleet from Asakai, but only after taking serious and historic losses. The two sides would fight again almost exactly a year later. That battle was last week and is now known as The Bloodbath of B-R5RB. And as before, it was sparked by a simple clerical error.
In another MMO a writer might, on a good day, come up with something that interesting to jam into a bit of expository dialog. In another MMO players would read it. But in EVE the players made it happen.
Joker's Last Laugh
Did you anticipate the big plot twist of Batman: Arkham City? Here's all the ways the game hid that secret from you while also rubbing your nose in it.
The game was a dud, and I'm convinced a big part of that is due to the way the game leaned into its story. Its terrible, cringe-inducing story.
Crysis 2 has basically the same plot as Half-Life 2. So why is one a classic and the other simply obnoxious and tiresome?
The Opportunity Crunch
No, brutal, soul-sucking, marriage-destroying crunch mode in game development isn't a privilege or an opportunity. It's idiocy.
The plot of this game isn't just dumb, it's actively hostile to the player. This game hates you and thinks you are stupid.