An EVEning in space

Oh boy. Yesterday i decided to split the evening in two- first, i wanted to take a look at EVE- for more reasons than the simple fact that there’s a war brewing and i have 10 days of subscription time for free. After that, i wanted to log into Elder Scrolls Online and get the anniversary cake for my two characters. But it never came to that; i lost myself in New Eden.

Why EVE?

As strange as it may sound, the main culprit here is Black Desert Online. While i haven’t played much of the game, there are others out there thoroughly enjoying it. For good reasons, i might add. But with the short time i had, there was one thing i couldn’t shake down: with player-to-player interaction being basically limited to pvp, BDO is a game that seems to be very much playing alone together. This isn’t a problem at all, in many aspects. Exploration, for instance, is doing just fine, as is fighting mobs, fishing and other stuff. There is, of course, also the option to band together and go fishing by boat or something like that. BDO is exceptionally beautiful and it is a fantasy world- for me, that is much more interesting to explore and see than empty space.

2016.04.04.19.15.20

The thing nagging me a bit? Economy and crafting. Trading is done with NPCs mostly, and while other players influence prices, in the end, you’re doing it alone and everything you trade goes into the void where it came from (which is good, mind you). I don’t know if there’s money to be had in crafting and trading in the market place. I’m not done with BDO by far, i’m very interested in seeing how the game develops and maybe, possibly i’m wrong in my assessment. But that doesn’t change the feelings i was having when playing the game.

In EVE, almost nothing is materialized from thin air- and everything breaks or gets used up, eventually. There’s a vast galaxy with 5000 star systems, if i remember correctly, and everywhere, on each and every station, there’s player trade. With regionally differing prices. And it’s this part that always makes me look at EVE and its players with a lot of envy. It’s this feature i’d like to see in Fantasy MMORPGs.

So with World War Bee going on, CCP did the smart thing and offered 10 days of subscription to lapsed accounts. The offer lasted until 04/03, and that was the day when i “reserved” it for me. To maybe take a look, again. I’ve been there countless of times:

2010: april
2011: may to november
2012: february to april
2015: april

A Jumpgate
A Jumpgate

Each of these times, especially when i went for a multi-month subscription, it was a waste. But i actually don’t really think it’s the game’s fault- yes, it seems to be quite “boring”, coming from MMOs where you interact more directly with your surroundings- EVE seems a bit like an MMORTS, it’s strategic, involves planning and a learning curve that really is not a joke. If you enjoy learning and mastering games, EVE is the place to go. Really.

What’s the problem?

I need to figure out what i want to do. That’s actually the hardest part- i’ll tell you the story of yesterday a bit later as it shows how things go for me with EVE. There’s a lot i’d like to do, and that’s even with consideration of my interest in mining, crafting and trading mentioned above. Even that is a too wide scope to concentrate on when being a noob, and can be expanded with things like planetary interaction. What i usually don’t like as much is doing quests- it’s not EVE’s strongest side, at least not for me, although there’s not much difference to many themepark MMOs.

Another problem i face is that i’ve never given the game much of a chance, really. I was annoyed that it would have me do tutorials- and many of them that take quite a lot of time and at the same time, i need those tutorials- if you skip them, you’re on your own with learning things in EVE. And also, there’s lots of free stuff from doing tutorials and missions. It felt linear, even if you could just take a break, do what you want and return later. So i’ve never played the game for longer stretches of time which lead to me having to relearn everything the next time i tried the game, putting me back into square one, facing the same problems again, leave, return, rinse&repeat. I even deleted characters!

Then, there’s a hesitation to join a player corp- while i feel they could teach me a lot and would provide the game with hooks, i also feel it might be jumping into the deeper end of the sea. Also, if i were to join someone, i’d need them to be nice people to be around and not space grumpies.

So as with Elder Scrolls Online, i feel like what’s really needed here is some dedication on my part. I’m not sure if i want to take a shot at that this time, but i do feel it might be worth it.

Returning to EVE

Oh look, shooting asteroids in a small fregate!
Oh look, shooting asteroids in a small fregate!

Mining

Yesterday evening was a prime example how things can go in that game. I logged in, put something in my learning queue and saw that i had the mining skill maxed. Nice, i thought, and went out to look for an asteroid field. They’re not difficult to find, so i was there in no time, shooting mining lasers at an asteroid from my tiny ship. Meanwhile, three lumps away, i saw how it could be done. See, in EVE, even mining can be a group activity. There were three miners and an industrial ship (i think, and maybe a fighter?)- the miners collected ore and when their cargo was filled, they’d transfer it to the industrial ship. My guess is that, at some point, they would return to some station and call their reprocessing guy. That’s mining and reprocessing for 6 players, mind you.

Destination station
Destination station

Reprocessing

Reprocessing ore can be more profitable than selling it raw, but of course you can’t simply do it because you’ll lose some reprocessed ore. First, depending on your skill and how much the station charges you. Furthermore it’s based on the standing you enjoy with that particular NPC corp owning the station where you’d like to reprocess. So when i returned to the station, i saw that my yield was about 50% of what’s possible – for 1 concentrated Veldspar i could get 2 whatevers (instead of 4 with loss-free processing). The price was roughly at 33% – 1 Veldspar ore went for 18 ISK, 1 Whatever for 7.

My home station
My home station

Trade

As reprocessing would leave me with losses, i decided to simply sell the noob ore i mined- so i checked market prices from around the block. Four jumps away, the price was highest- in fact almost as high as it gets in Jita, the trading hub. So i went there. On my way, i did the math- selling everything would yield 50k ISK. That’s a laughably small amount of money. Still, i sold the ore and decided that, probably, i’ll need another ship for mining.

Out-of-game research

That’s the point in time when i published that Travel log yesterday and went into the depths of the internet to research some possibilities and most of all ships i could use for mining. So i found out that, actually, my ship isn’t that bad in terms of mining (i’m flying a Bantam) and that right now, because of skill, or lack thereof, i couldn’t fly anything that was better at doing this. Also, mining guides suggested to get at it in a group/fleet. So i researched solo mining and found the suggestion of trading instead of mining yourself. Nice, i thought, trading’s good, let’s take a look if i have some skills in this direction already. And went back into the game.
eve_airkio

Missions

I wanted to assemble and jump into my industrial ship – it’s unbelievable how many ships this game throws at you in this early stage- i have 10 million ISK now but 6 ships already- fighters, mining vessels, industrials- but, again, lacked the skill. Then i looked into buying that skill but in the end i thought that, probably, some players would take advantage of newbies and sell skills for a ridiculous amount of money that can be gained through missions.

So, off to talk to agents. Only, in my current station, i already did everything the industrial and trade agents had for me. I remembered the agent finder then and looked for other agents nearby, went to their stations and completed three missions- one industrial, two trade.

These missions are basically guided versions of what one could do in that game anyway. For the industrial mission, i had to mine some Veldspar- so off i go, finding and shooting at asteroids. Then back, to complete the mission. The trading agent wanted me to deliver an item in the first mission, thereby training me in the art of moving things from item hangar to ship cargo and flying around. The second mission took me to salvage the black box from a ship that was attacked by space pirates. For this, you’ll need another type of “laser”- then, you’ll fly out to find the ship (it took me embarrassingly long to remember that you have to use the warp gate to get to your mission instance), kill a pirate ship (yay, i had a fight!) and then salvage the ruined ship.

Taking back the black box, what did the agent provide me with? Yes, that’s right- with a better mining ship that can take 20 times the ore than my current. Only, i can’t fly it yet.

30 days incoming

Now, that was just one night- a bit more than two hours, of gameplay in fact. I started with an idea and it led me in circles. I researched and learned. I had much fun doing all that (as is evident in the word count here). CCP follows these ten days up with the offer of 30 days for 10€ – and i’m so taking that.

 

 

Are EVE online players bad people?

It’s always the same. Some EVE story breaks and three things happen:

  1. reading about EVE is great
  2. i think about diving in again
  3. commenters call eve players bad people

Case in point: Massively Overpowered’s really great post about the current war in EVE.

The largest PvP war in gaming history has begun in EVE Online

So that was number 1. Number 2- i actually downloaded the client because i have a 10-day-return-card in my mailbox. I haven’t pulled the trigger yet, but it’s really just a matter of time until i’ll take at least those 10 days. It’s actually the mining/industrial branch that interests me the most and wartimes are good times for that. Whenever i visited EVE, i’ve found it to be hugely relaxing (mainly because i prefer starting on the mining route). And it’s a true sandbox. And there’s something happening in the game right now.

Now onwards to number 3: Are EVE players bad people?

I haven’t met any abuse, pvp action or similar while playing EVE. Questions i had got answered quickly and politely. Now, of course there are bad news we can read about all the time- threats even to real people, scams, people treating other people badly or just griefing other players among many, many other things.

But EVE is also the place of the EVE university– a guild corp dedicated to teaching new players the ins and outs of the game and other really great stuff from a huge blogosphere to dedicated news-sites and so on.

While i hold the impression that different games attract different folks- that much being obvious when looking even at themeparks like Lord of the Rings Online, The Secret World or Final Fantasy XIV having polite and friendly communities in my experience compared to World of Warcraft, Blade&Soul or Archeage (yes, i’m putting that one in the themepark category now), i think that in most cases, there’s a huge range of players- from the friendly to the griefers, from polite to barbarians.

Even in Rocket League’s normal friendly games there were many people cursing and insulting others before the game added a way to report players. I could tell you about my first dungeon finder experience in Wildstar, for instance- that was only the training dungeon but when my friend, being the tank, struggled with the game mechanics, the other people were all over her. In the end, after trying to kick her out of the group (and failing, of course, because i didn’t agree), everybody left.

Looks quite different than the artwork, doesn't it?
Looks quite different than the artwork, doesn’t it?

Coming back to EVE, i think here the impolite, griefing players get put more in the spotlight because the game allows them to do more than just insulting other players. The game makes it possible to gank, rob, extort and even hijack property of a whole account. If it were for game mechanics only, i think EVE would have a very normal playerbase. But unfortunately, CCP goes even further with its hands-off policy. They regard everything fair game that is possible to do via game mechanics. They don’t stop players to do actually, really bad stuff even to real players – i count hijacking all properties on an account as an attack on the human.

In my opinion, that last part is the mistake. I know it’s difficult to draw a line sometimes- is something ok because game mechanics allow this type of action or is it an ad-hominem already? But by refusing all responsibility in regards to these player actions, CCP allows rotten apples of the EVE community to go even further- and there will always be people who test the boundaries. If there are none set, well…let’s just say i think if CCP were to take a different stance on this, i guess EVE would have much more subscribers.

So no, i don’t believe EVE players are inherently better or worse people than the average MMO player- but i think both the game and CCP allow the “evil players” to be at their worst- and that is what’s getting noticed from the outside.

Does it have to be a sandbox?

The MMORPG industry is a slow one. When a trend emerges, it takes time for developers and/or publishers to react and release games incorporating said trends. The heavy years of “WoW clones” were 2007-2010 while for the players, at least those vocal enough to put their thoughts into writing, it was clear since 2009, at the latest, that they wanted something different. Back then, we weren’t all too sure about what we wanted- we wanted “different but familiar enough”, a vague statement. Games like Star Wars: the old Republic, The Secret World, Guild Wars 2 and Wildstar tried to find a comfortable spot. Since 2012, maybe 2013, with the announcement of ArcheAge and Everquest Next (haha), it seemed clear that players want MMOs to return to sandbox design. Slowly, this new batch of MMORPGs arrives: with ArcheAge last year, now Black Desert Online and soon Shroud of the Avatar, Camelot Unchained, Star Citizen, Shards Online, Albion, the Repopulation 2.0 and so on. MMORPGs seem to be going back into a niche and are happy for it, while MMOs are going ever more mainstream (The Division).

With Black Desert Online, there’s this odd discussion whether it truly is a sandbox or just a glorified themepark with a lack of content.

What is a “Sandbox”, anyway?

I’ve read that a “true sandbox” has to offer its players more freedom in terms of building structures in the world (although we all know that if they’d do that, we’d live in Dong-land).

The discussion about whether or not an MMORPG is a sandbox is quite old and done, really. Everybody who tackles this topic- and me too, will throw the definition of “sandbox” (Wikipedia even redirects to “open world”) out there: it’s about an open world instead of linear level design. Taking this definition verbatim, there are many MMORPGs that are a sandbox- namely all MMORPGs taking place in worlds without artificial barriers and invisible walls. That would be true for Rift or Wildstar, for example. While we all have different views on that, here’s the part of the definition that gets me:

Their main appeal is they provide a simulated reality and allow players to develop their character and its behavior in the direction of their choosing. In these cases, there is often no concrete goal or end to the game.

No concrete goal or end to the game. Let that sink in and think about the reaction something like this would get from MMO players- we’d be telling each others about missing endgame and a pointlessness of the leveling process and we’d be asking where the content is. On the other hand, having no concrete goal or end to the game is also standard operation for MMORPGs- you can play World of Warcraft for battle pets only, or for good-looking armor, or for achievements the auction house and so on. There are as many motivations to play this game as there are players. You could argue, of course, that you beat the game by beating whatever content is the “most difficult” in the game right now- but this still is not a defined ending.

I need to figure that focus-thing out for future screenshots.
I need to figure that focus-thing out for future screenshots.

Now, i do know that when MMO players debate about a game being a sandbox/themepark, they’re not talking about that definition shown above- because that definition doesn’t allow for much discussion in MMO space. I know that when we talk about “Themepark”, we talk about developer-created content taking the front seat. When we’re talking about “Sandboxes”, we think about player-created content and “emergent gameplay”, whatever that means. But even if we’d draw the lines there, things get blurry- is Neverwinter a sandbox, then? Because players can create content there- or are these players simply hobbyist-content-developers?

In the end, if you walk away from that Wikipedia definition of open world, no end, no goal, you will never come to an objective observation whether one game is a sandbox or not, with one exception: when a game gives players almost complete control of their environment (while providing some rules instead of content) like EVE does. But we don’t want EVE- at least the majority doesn’t, not even the majority of the vocal minority, while most of them state they do want a (pve-)sandbox. Giving players freedom also seems to include the ability for players to ruin other players’ enjoyment of a game.

I think the key here is in a small part of the definition cited above: simulated reality.

Simulated reality and options

Sandbox or Themepark doesn’t matter, really. What matters is if an MMORPG is trying to build a simulated reality / virtual world and provides players with options in how to spend time in the game: things like pve, housing, crafting, trade, fishing, pet and mount collection, character looks, character builds and yes, even pvp- they need to be central to the design of an MMORPG, because, MMORPGs are good because they provide all that- they’re basically a gaming genre-mix. When you take this into account, you will find that Everquest 2, an MMORPG of the “Themepark” subgenre, in the end offered more ways to play it than Darkfall or Mortal Online, both “Sandboxes” do.

Is Black Desert Online a Sandbox?

Is BDO a sandbox? For me, it’s too early to tell. Right now, i get the feeling that the best course of action would be to continue questing to finally arrive at a few quests that might teach me BDO’s many systems. A real sandbox would have to offer a significant player economy, as well- at least in MMOs. You’ll have trade as an option in Black Desert Online- trade, that is- as in ArcheAge- about transporting special goods from one place to the other and buying/selling to NPCs.

The furniture merchant in Olvia
The furniture merchant in Olvia

I’m only level 11 and i’m already able to trade, go fishing, collecting, milk cows (a daily quest), go mob grinding or questing or simply explore the world. However, i do feel that i need to reach Heidel City for the game to truly open up. And i think Black Desert is a game where having Alts makes life a lot easier. So these are my plans in that game for now: reaching Heidel City through questing with Nuria, the Witch and then go and create the Valkyrie. Although i feel “on rails” in this part of the game, i’m convinced that by the time i reach level 50 at the latest- and it seems to only take a double-digit number of hours /played- i’ll be free to play the game in the way i want to.