EVE Online has always been regarded as one of the harshest MMOs on the market, with solid death penalties and a steep learning curve to its PvP. After five successful years, many players now fear that EVE's development has shifted in the opposite direction. It all started when the minutes of CCP's recent meetings with the Council of Stellar Management (CSM) were published on the official EVE forums. These notes showed CCP's position on the 27 separate issues the CSM brought to their attention. Discussion on the issues, ranging from Black Ops battleships to PvP aggression timers, was opened to the public exactly one month ago and CCP's position on them has been a topic of hot debate ever since.

Controversy:
Among the most controversy-laden issues on the table are two recent devblogs covering important balance changes slated for EVE's near future. The first major announcement was the infamous "nano nerf" that sparked off over 130 pages of highly charged debate. This was followed later by another devblog announcing major nerfs to suicide ganking. Combined with CCP Noah's recent comment suggesting that war declarations amount to griefing, many players are beginning to question the direction EVE's development is headed in.

Is EVE Online starting to go soft? In this article, I ask whether the development direction of EVE has changed and examine what it means for the game's future.

Past design philosophy:
Over the past five years, CCP have continually demonstrated a dedication to certain core design philosophies. These are things that should never change no matter what direction EVE's development takes. My experience of EVE over the past five years has shown the game's strict adherence to the following goals:

  • There should be only one world with no instancing or sharding.
  • EVE should be a sandbox style game.
  • PvP should be the primary activity.
  • Free-form gameplay is encouraged.
  • The world of New Eden should be a harsh, cold place.

Nano nerf:

Many players have complained that removing speed-tactics as a viable PvP strategy violates the sandbox design philosophy. This is a philosophy whereby CCP develops ships, modules and tools and it's up to the players to find out how to best use them. The argument here is that changing ships and equipment in light of players finding the best way use them is moving the goalposts and is counter to the sandbox style. This position is refuted by a lot of the older players, citing examples of much larger balance changes that were ultimately good for gameplay.

Suicide ganking revisited:
Following a recent article investigating the phenomenon of suicide ganking, this was the first of the CSM's issues that CCP have produced a definitive plan of action on. In a controversial move, CCP plans to increase police response time significantly and increase the security rating penalty associated with suicide attacks. Added to the planned removal of insurance for pilots involved in suicide attacks, these changes could mean the end of suicide squads.

While support for the changes is huge, many players complain that this removes yet more of the free-form gameplay elements that characterise a sandbox style game. CCP maintains that the current mechanics are biased in favour of the attacker. The changes are intended not to make suicide attacks impossible but to more appropriately punish those involved.

Wardec changes:
During his meeting with the CSM, CCP developer Noah made the wild claim that "the current wardec system amounts to a pay-to-grief system". CCP's possible plans for moving forward include the implementation of a form of goal or objective for wars and a way for the defenders to cause a war against them to end. EVE being a game that is essentially built around non-consensual PvP, the thought of these massive changes ever coming to light has a lot of players up in arms.

The creation of game-defined goals rather than letting players define their own could mean an end to the current use of wars as a free-form social and political tool. This seems to violate the sandbox design principle by forcing players how to conduct their wars the way CCP dictate. It's also feared that should the viability of wars be reduced, EVE may lose a great deal of its individual character as a harsh corporate world where social darwinism is the rule.

The sky is falling!
One of EVE's core developers once coined a phrase that I've always found to be true. He said that given any piece of information, the players will always assume the worst possible scenario. It's a sad fact that every time a major change is announced, there will be players on the forums who act as if the sky was falling on their heads. I should know, I'm usually one of the people overreacting. In my time in EVE, I've seen my fair share of massive changes to the game and in almost every case, player fears were unfounded.

The most important thing to realise is that EVE itself is an organic entity, attributing its slow and steady growth to the low rate that players leave at rather than a high sign-up rate. To maintain this low turnover rate, a EVE has to keep players interested in the long term. An MMO that doesn't undergo constant re-development is unlikely to keep players interested for more than a few months. Since EVE is constantly evolving and undergoing development, new problems will inevitably arise that will eventually necessitate balance changes.

The suicide ganking changes have been necessitated by the drop in ship prices to their theoretical minimum over the course of the past year and the subsequent proliferation of cheap-and-easy suicide squads. After mass-reducing modules and rigs were added to the game, a set of speed balance changes were required to prevent nano-battleships being as fast and agile as interceptors. Although that round of changes was eventually pushed through, cruiser sized ships escaped the change and are only now being brought in line. Changes to the war system may be interesting but until a devblog on the issue is released, any speculation cannot be taken at face value.

Summary:
In the five years EVE has been going, its design philosophy hasn't changed significantly and CCP is unlikely to change their record-breaking formula any time soon. With the CSM, however, players are now taking a more active role in the game's design and fears over the design direction of EVE may have some validity. It's a well-established rule that given the opportunity to change an existing MMO for the better, 95% of players would completely ruin the game in question.

It's important for every EVE player to remember that what works now may not work a year from now. Learning to adapt your PvP styles after each major patch gives EVE a special character that has kept me interested for over four years. The sooner a player can accept that adapting to changing circumstances is part of EVE, the sooner he can begin to love EVE for what it truly is – a new game every six months.

This article was originally published on Massively.