There are over 250,000 active subscriptions to the sci-fi massively multiplayer online game EVE Online, but have you ever wondered how many players that figure actually represents? The exact number of people that comprise the game's playerbase is unclear due to the common practice of playing with multiple accounts. While the end result is likely the same to CCP Games in a financial sense -- all of those active subs add up to a steady flow of income month to month -- the fact remains that the game doesn't necessarily have 250,000 different people logging into New Eden from month to month. At least, not yet, although the number of subscribers is growing. (EVE set a peak concurrent user record last Sunday of 48,065 players.)
Unlike some massively multiplayer online games, EVE is based on real-time skill training rather than using the system of leveling up central to other titles. Each EVE account has three character slots, but skill training can only be active on one character at a time. And as with most MMOs, a player can only be logged into one character per account at a time -- even if multi-boxing. If a player needs to skill up specialized alts, he or she must either sacrifice valuable skill training time on their main, or run a second (or third) account to really advance. A recent EVE-Mag article by Silene Derbhan, "Alternates: Are We Schizophrenics!?", looks closely at how alt play impacts the game. Derbhan states, "I would like to delve deeper into the game mechanics, to see why players are compelled not only to play different characters, as in any other MMO, but also to pay for every one of these added characters."
The piece is less a practical look at how to use alts, and more of an observation of the ways many gamers choose to play EVE Online. Notable is that Derbhan looks at some of the negative social aspects of balancing multiple characters in EVE. The fact that one character, without years of skill training, won't be effective at all aspects of the game. Thus, there's greater reliance upon one another in a player corporation or alliance where each individual can fill a given role and cooperate to achieve goals beyond the reach of an individual.
Derbhan writes, "The alt system tends to break this social circle by allowing you to be self-dependent... In this regard, allowing (and encouraging at that) the creation of alternate characters breaks the game's social mechanics, or at least undermines the role of social exchange in the general dynamic of the game." If you're interested in how the widespread use of alts in EVE Online affects the gameplay experience, you'll want to take a look at Silene Derbhan's "Alternates: Are We Schizophrenics!?."