The Other Kind of MMO: The Half-Roguelike

By Bob Case Posted Saturday May 30, 2020

Filed under: Video Games 33 comments

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).

If there's an MMO with a more complex and involved in-game economy, I haven't played it yet.
If there's an MMO with a more complex and involved in-game economy, I haven't played it yet.

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.”


Link (YouTube)

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.

The skill queue. Once upon a time, you could only schedule 24 hours in advance. Thankfully, that's no longer the case.
The skill queue. Once upon a time, you could only schedule 24 hours in advance. Thankfully, that's no longer the case.

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.)


Link (YouTube)

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.

 

Footnotes:

[1] 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.

[2] 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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33 thoughts on “The Other Kind of MMO: The Half-Roguelike

  1. Bobbert says:

    Well, I am on the edge of my seat.
    I can’t wait for the next part.

    1. Echo Tango says:

      I super want to see what scams got pulled against other players. :)

  2. Nimrandir says:

    You talked about your fascination with organized crime back when you reviewed The Irishman. I didn’t realize you found a way to experience it vicariously. And in space.

  3. Chad Miller says:

    I suspect you couldn’t find the XKCD strip because that’s not XKCD. There are some similarities but also some differences (for instance, I don’t think Munroe has ever included text in his strips that wasn’t handwritten)

    1. ElementalAlchemist says:

      I saw some suggestion it was a doctored comic about Dwarf Fortress, but I couldn’t find that either (and while I found a link to a thread talking about it, apparently the official forums are down due to a security breach).

      I did find this however. Apparently a German (?) player was salty about EVE’s declining difficulty: https://i.imgur.com/91yRhKC.jpg

      1. Asdasd says:

        I had to google POTBS. Now that’s a throwback.

        1. ElementalAlchemist says:

          I remember hanging out on the POTBS forums when it was being developed (no Kickstarter in those days) and submitting a flag design for use in the game. Eventually I lost interest as it seemed like it was never coming. I didn’t realise that it actually went live at some point and is still running today.

        2. The Puzzler says:

          (Pirates of the Burning Sea, for anyone who doesn’t want to have to Google it themselves…)

          1. Syal says:

            I’m still gonna read it as President of the Butt States.

      2. Philadelphus says:

        Not quite the same, but this comic about Dwarf Fortress immediately came to mind.

        1. Chris says:

          I saw just the left most two panel series years back before they added the dwarf fortress pictures. Its always fun to see how the internet takes stuff and adds to it.

        2. Kylroy says:

          Yeah, I look at that comic and it completely misses me. Not all of us require cognitive dissonance to enjoy ourselves.

  4. Henson says:

    Now THAT’S a teaser.

    1. Mistwraithe says:

      Just wanted to say that I’m really looking forward to the next post in this series…

  5. Zaxares says:

    So… What IS Awoxing? For those of us not in the know. :)

    1. Lino says:

      Yeah, I watched the video, and I didn’t get it.

      1. Paul Spooner says:

        It’s basically betrayal.

    2. Freddo says:

      Awoxing is when you kill people from your own corporation or alliance.

      In EVE high security space player ships are protected by the ingame police CONCORD, but it used to be that you could always attack players from your own corporation. So if you could sneak a character into a player corporation you could kill their supposedly safe mining vessels or blinged-out missions ships. Hence the famously paranoid recruitment in EVE: https://operationvalkyr.files.wordpress.com/2015/11/applying-to-eve-online.png
      There was a change a number of years ago that made it possible for the CEO of a corporation to disallow friendly fire within a corporation. As a result corporations could relax their recruiting standards, making EVE safer and more newbie friendly (and coincidentally: joining a player corporation was one of the biggest measures for player retention).

      The practice of sneaking characters into lowsec/nullsec corportations in order to spy or to serve as a scout for hostile forces remains alive.

    3. Decius says:

      It’s named after Awox, a character who became notorious for joining a corporation in order to immediately betray them.

    4. Agammamon says:

      Create a disposable alt, join a player corp, get into a position of trust, fly out and start shooting at your allies because the local cops won’t intervene in intra-corp fights in high-sec.

  6. Scerro says:

    EVE’s learning curve really isn’t that hard. The hard part is getting alts, multiboxing, and generally putting enough time into the skilling systems for what you want to do.

    Being a tackle interceptor isn’t that hard, only takes ~30 days worth of training to get proficient enough. BUT. That’s a lot of time to wait to just start playing the game, and only having one role.

    High sec exploration back in the day was good money. I think I was up to around 13B, although I’m sure my assets that I had are half the price now. Still, had a fair bit of cash. My main issue with the game was PvP boils down to way too much waiting. It’s all about being in a stalemate unless you know you can CRUSH the other party. Just too boring for me.

  7. Asdasd says:

    It’s interesting that the modern consensus is that we’ve ‘solved’ a lot of bad old game design by removing the penalty for failure. And yet nothing raises the stakes and gets you engaged like the risk of meaningful loss. As far as CRPGs have come, nothing in the Witcher 3 is going to get your heart pounding like the prospect of a TPK in Wizardy I. I’m not saying it’s better, but it’s different.

    1. BlueHorus says:

      If that floats your boat, sure….I’d contest that quite a lot of things in TW3 are more fun than ACTUALLY getting killed and having to go back to the loading screen time and time again…
      Getting through a difficult challenge with a mixture of skill and luck is fun; dying horribly is not. And the more I hear about EVE the less I want to play it…

      And it’s an interesting comparison to bring up – the Witcher games actually have some of the best ‘failures’ I’ve seen in a while. From problems with no simple solution to the ability to simply fail quests (sometimes without realising it until too late), it’s quite harsh, but you can just keep going.
      Now a modern Bioware RPG, with it’s moral choice of a) Win (By Being A Good Guy) or b) Win (By Being A Bad Guy), on the other hand…

      1. Hector says:

        I agree.

        Many of the punishments for failure were not “good game design” but the fact that designers just didn’t know how, or lacked the option, of doing otherwise. For most early games, there was not much room between “restart the game” and “no penalty”. Additionally, games today are much longer and much more in-depth, so time-sink penalties are rarely valuable.

        The difficult part is not harshly punishing the player – it’s getting them to invest and care about the game. Relatively mild “gamey” losses can have big emotional weight. Huge losses may completely bounce off the player or they’ll just decide it’s not interesting enough to try again.

        1. Lino says:

          Huge losses may completely bounce off the player or they’ll just decide it’s not interesting enough to try again.

          I think that’s a big part of why designers are hesitant to put big penalties. Faced with so many options, it’s hard enough to get players to even try your game (not to mention seeing it, what with all the new games constantly coming out). Do we really want to exacerbate that problem by adding a high chance of them dropping the game, because of our harsh punishments for failure?

          Back in the day, people didn’t have much choice – it was either RPGs with harsh punishments, or no RPGs at all.

      2. Echo Tango says:

        you can just keep going

        This is key. If you get an equally valid ending, or different story, that’s way better than just showing “you lose, reload last save?” to the player. It gets expensive quickly to have ever-branching plots, but giving the player 5 ways to have a side-kick mained, injured, or traumatized, across 5 different choice-events, would be pretty good. Like, maybe your choices ultimately come down to your side-kick, vs your love-interest, vs the orphan rapscalliwag. They all end up in bad situations, but the order of trade-offs got shuffled around. :)

    2. Chris says:

      I think there is always a demand for difficult games, while at the same time a lot of people do not like the harsh punishment of difficult games. Sometimes it seems the larger gaming community seems to agree that its time for another resurgence of difficult games, and people that cant deal with it have to just not play it. You have difficult games like DMC3 and ninja gaiden around 2004, dark souls and its “git gud”, and hard indie games. I think you can actually slot in battle royale.
      Now battle royale might not be a difficult single player game. But I think the system taps into the same high stakes losses and wins to create tension and release. In a BR you drop into a zone, if you die early its not problem since youre not invested and can just queue up again. If you survive the stakes get higher and higher as there are fewer survivors left, you spent a lot of time getting good gear, some of it hard to get, and your opponents also become stronger. Winning also is a lot harder since per match only one squad or one player of a group can win. So there is more stress whether you can finally get another win in.

  8. Carlos García says:

    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

    So a main point to play the game is you can not play the game. I didn’t know EVE was also the precursor of mobile games.

    most of them were comically obvious and easy to spot. Bill’s, however, wasn’t,

    Yeah, this is the thing with scams: they’re always comically obvious when they affect other people.

    I played a bit of it about a year ago, but then I found FFXIV and now the time I might use to check EVE again I prefer to play FFXIV.

  9. Marc Forrester says:

    I lost a similarly ‘meh’ amount of ISK to what I *assume* was an EVE scammer, except to the best of my knowledge the guy never logged that character into the game again, and he had at least a year’s subscription fees and skill development in hand. Seemed like a hell of an opportunity cost just to pickpocket a week’s worth of not very intensive profits.

  10. Kaspar says:

    How does conquest in null-sec even works? What if the enemy corp is all offline? Can you just fly in and claim the territory?

    1. TMC_Sherpa says:

      You put up a space station that gives you control of the system. If you want it you need to beat the crap out of it until it goes into an indestructible mode then wait out the timer until you can shoot it again. Unless everyone in the corp is gone for a couple days someone will figure out what you’re doing. Oh, and you’ll need a LOT of firepower to pull it off. Bring a fleet.

  11. Alex the Too Old says:

    These clones cost money, and the more SP they “store” the more they cost

    This hasn’t been true in years. Medical and jump clones are a flat fee now, 100,000 ISK I believe.

    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.

    NOOOOOOnononono, please don’t do this. Don’t use autopilot, ever. There are people whose whole thing in the game is to hang out at gates and gank people who are obviously on autopilot (autopilot stops you far away from the gate so you spend a while coasting in). Yes, even in hisec.
    Hauling taught me to be really good at counting seconds in my head. You get a minute of cloaking after you pass through a gate, so you have essentially 70-90 safe seconds between hitting the button to warp to the next gate and jump through it and when you’ll become easy prey, as you can’t be attacked while in a warp either. I got the hang of counting that off in my head when I would get up to grab a drink or start the laundry or something.

    EVE‘s TOS is quite accomodating. The two main things that are strictly prohibited are botting and impersonating a GM/CCP employee.

    And they don’t even enforce the first one. The economy – and especially the value of PLEX – are basically controlled by botters, RMTers and other people who don’t follow the TOS.

    1. thistlehope says:

      Regarding “Autopilot”: Thank you for mentioning and explaining that. AP is a horrible idea, if you are in the hauling business, you have 1) countermeasures to common gank szenarios fitted and 2) NEVER EVER use autopilot. A hauler spends a lot of time in route plotting, fitting and alert flying to transport goods. It is a real and sometimes blood-pumping profession. :)

      Only stupid people or unsuspicious ships without cargo may fly AP. And stupid pilots complain afterwards in the forums – salty tears.

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