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Interview:  EVE Online , And The 'Necessary Evil' Of A Steep Learning Curve
Interview: EVE Online, And The 'Necessary Evil' Of A Steep Learning Curve
June 1, 2010 | By Jeff Fleming

June 1, 2010 | By Jeff Fleming
More: Console/PC

CCP's space-faring MMORPG EVE Online is known for what some may term mildly as "accessibility issues." But while many game developers are clamoring to attract a wide base of users through better accessibility, CCP is focused more on nurturing an existing hardcore fanbase.

By doing this, Reykjavik, Iceland-based CCP has been able to maintain an EVE subscriber base of around 300,000. MMORPG released in 2003 and has had several expansions to give players a reason to keep subscribing month after month.

The company has taken steps to make the game a bit more appealing to new players, but at its heart, EVE Online is an unabashed hardcore MMORPG in a world where the buzz word is "accessibility."

Here, the CCP senior producer Torfi Olafsson talks about the importance of nurturing that hardcore fanbase, and how the game's "learning curve is a necessary evil if you want to provide the game that delivers such a broad range of experience."

He also comments on CCP's fight against real money trading in EVE -- an operation CCP called "Unholy Rage."

EVE Online' learning curve has been described as "vertical." Was that a debate or concern? Or were you guys saying, "Look. That's just the way it's going to be."

Torfi Olafsson: Well, we always knew that the game would be hardcore. The majority of the players are players that immigrate from other MMOs then say, "Okay. I've reached the level cap. That was great. Now, I want something that's really challenging."

So, we surely want to bring more people to the game, and we have taken great strides in bringing people into the game, improving our new player experience through metrics, through observing behavior, analyzing our players, and building better tutorials, etcetera.

But truth be told, it is impossible for a player to learn all the intricacies of such a deep and wide game -- we are now developing our 13th expansion pack for it. So, it's grown and deepened a lot since the launch in May 2003.

We took strides in trying to improve it, but I think that as well is a necessary evil. The challenge and learning curve is a necessary evil if you want to provide the game that delivers such a broad range of experience.

And you feel that if you made it too accessible, you would lose that.

That's the thing. The crisis... I'm not going to dumb it down and paint it pink. Not on my watch. We are constantly trying to make the outer sphere or the outer layer or outer atmosphere of EVE more accessible.

Nurturing those hardcore players is very important to us, and we maintain a really good relationship with our community through our fanfest, through our forums, through our democratically elected Council of Stellar Management.

A large majority of our game designers are actually previous EVE players that have just a passion for the games and left their family and friends to move to Reykjavik and work on the game that they love. So, catering to the core is highly important to us, but we realize that the core alone won't pay the rent, so to speak. And also, there are a lot of gamers out there that are hardcore players but just don't know it yet. So, we're trying to attract those.

In the end, I would love everybody to be hardcore players. But then again, people's situations perhaps don't allow for it. People don't have the time required to really dig into the game.

So, with the actions against the real money traders, what was that operation called?

Torfi Olafsson: It was called "Unholy Rage."

What a great name. [laughs]

And we took a very strong effort in throwing out real money traders. It's hard to know who was the same person [under different accounts], but we threw out between 10,000 and 20,000 for real money trading.

What effects does real money trading have? What are the negative that you guys were looking at and saying, "We need to cut these people out?" I'm assuming that to them, they were just trying to play the game to whatever edge that they could.

Right. For one, they use macros and hacked clients regularly for speeding up making money. So, they were causing a very large amount of server load. Once we threw them out, we saw our server load drop significantly. Because they were causing server load, they were actually making the player experience for other players worse.

They were essentially slowing down the server, because a classic macro is very often trying to press a button even if it's not there. It's firehosing the server with commands and requests, eating up bandwidth and CPU cycles. So, that's one problem.

Second, we found that very often, real money traders would be operating out of countries that were out of our jurisdiction and hard to reach, and they were using scamming and kind of illegal methods to just get their accounts. So, even if they were listed as paying accounts, very often, they were being paid for using illegal, stolen credit card numbers, etcetera.

So, there's a heavy amount of fraud, which goes with real money trading. And dealing with fraud is time consuming. It's expensive, and it just takes our focus away from other things that we would like to be doing for players. So, we did see fraud drop significantly as a result [of banning accounts].

What were some of the methods for rooting them out? How were you able to identify who was taking part in real money transactions?

I don't want to go too deeply into it because we don't comment on security. It's a bit like the casinos in Vegas, maintaining their blacklist and figuring out who's cheating.

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Lead UI Engineer


Andre Gagne
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Just a small point from someone who's been playing EVE for over a year now.

Part of what makes EVE online so hardcore is that the UI hasn't been improved since it came out, they've just been adding more to it.

As a result a huge part of the game is playing with the UI rather than the rest of the mechanics.

For example:

A majority of movement within the game has to deal with warping; either to known objects (stargates, planets, stations, etc.) or to player created bookmarks (safespots, outposts, etc.). Bookmarks can only be accessed via two methods:

1) a window that shows every bookmark you have that takes up screen realestate, though you can select and warp to a bookmark in a few clicks

2) The all inclusive drop down menu which lists all of your bookmarks in the current solar system. You have to wait for half a second to get the menu that has the warp option this way.

So, if you're in PvP, are missioning, or mining and you get jumped by someone, you often times have a very short time to react (1-2 seconds); the methods by which getting to your bookmarks are not conducive to quickly doing so and thus you must work around this issue by warping to stations, planets, etc.

I hope this illustrates.

Peter Orca
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I agree the UI has gotten fairly complex, but there's way more to it than that. I've been playing off and on since its release in 2003. And since that time I have tried other MMO's, ie.. FFXI, WOW, DAOC and etc... but I always come back to EVE, and I know it's because of the openendedness (probably not a word, but it is now :P ).

Final Fantasy and WOW and 90% of other MMO's I have tried have the same recipe. Create a character, pick a role, grind till level cap, kill each other. Then also your character creation greatly determines your end game. A priest WILL most likely be a healer. A fighter, most liekly a damage sponge, and that's the way it is. In EVE, your character creation will give you a certain set of skills to build on, but if you create a soldier... then decide fighting's not for you, instead of deleting and re-creating, you can go buy the skill books for whatever profession you want and go for it. I have a friend online that created a soldier, but instead delved into trade. Within several months he was making ISK (in-game currency) in the billions just by trading between stations.

I believe that's the depth Olafsson was speaking of. EVE isn't a game where you can get an account and power level to cap in a weekend. To really make it in the game you have to put the time and effort in to learn how the mechanics of the game works and decide how you want your avatar to progress.

Colm McAndrews
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Is there a way to make EVE more accessible without dumbing it down, without taking away the complexity?

I think not.

So yes, the more casual players, the younger, and the console folks are mistreated.

But they already have EVERY other MMO... must they take this one too? What about hardcore players, must they be ridiculed forever?

Tom Loughead
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Andre pretty much nails it. In all honesty, Eve isn't nearly as complex as it appears (unless you start playing the market, and at that point it goes from "not too bad" to " OH GOD MAKE THE MIGRAINE'S STOP"), it is beyond a shadow of a doubt definitely held back by its UI. It could definitely do with a massive overhaul. To CCP's credit, they did do a kickass job of cleaning up the ship fitting screen, they just need to do the same thing to the rest of the game.

agostino priarolo
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One method they adopted to get rid of money sellers was to allow some kind of legit ingame money selling through the ingame trading of GTCs, game cards, in change of Isks, the game money currency.

That is, you buy out of game some game card numbers, you transform them in Pilot licenses (one month game time each) inside the game, and then you can sell those pilot licenses on the game market, at about 280 million isks each. Other players wil buy them and get months of game play without having to pay any real life money.

I think that it was an intelligent move (even if I don't completely understand the ramifications), but it allows those broke players to buy their ships and components, that you loose a lot if you like to pvp, and their expensive believe me, and keep playing on rainy days.

This game is awesome, deep and rich (even if you can always change and make it better in many aspects and they are doing that) and the steep learning curve is flattened if the new player joins a good corporation (guild) and/or read forums where they will find advice and ready-made fittings for their ships or skill planning.