EVE Evolved: Corporate benefits and new players

In a recent article, I explored the effect that power players have on EVE Online's subscription retention. In particular, I suggested that CCP has stopped developing features with EVE's power players in mind and that this could be the cause of a worrying downward trend in new player retention. It's the responsibility of corp leaders and organisers to give players a place in EVE, to provide them with something to do and to instill them with the ambition to continue playing in the long term. I believe that CCP has let those organisers and leaders down by failing to provide the updated tools necessary to give players a purposeful place in the universe or give them a good start to the game.

A similar issue I've touched on before is the importance of corporate goals in EVE. I've always been amazed at the willingness of EVE players to donate their time and effort to achieve a collective goal rather than a personal one. People are far more likely to join a corporate mining op, for example, if the proceeds will be donated to the corp funds or the minerals will be used in a corp production scheme. Similarly, I've found players to be much more enthusiastic about a mission night or wormhole op if the intent is to fund the production of a corp capital ship or the purchase of starbase fuel.

With CCP's summer focus aimed at helping new players get into good corporations, this week's opinion-filled EVE Evolved examines some of the developments necessary to make that goal possible.

The cost of leadership

At the moment, most of the benefits of being in a corporation are political, social or organisational in nature. As a sandbox game, EVE allows corp leaders to create their own benefits to offer players; they're not inherent to the corporation but rather something that someone sets up and maintains. A corp in a nullsec alliance, for example, can offer its members access to that alliance's space and PvP opportunities with its fleets. Corps like EVE University take it one step further, offering services like specialist training, organised events and replacement ships.

Unfortunately, all of these things come at the cost of significant effort on the part of corp leadership. If a corp needs to safely offer free ships to members, for example, someone has to be in charge of processing requests and distributing the ships. Those players willing to sacrifice their time to organise and lead are few, and every effort must be made to ensure they don't burn out on those activities and quit. This is where CCP should have been stepping in, turning those player-mediated corp maintenance activities into largely automated game mechanics.

Corp-level ownership

If CCP wants more players to join good corps, it needs to make it easier for corps to offer solid benefits beyond a low rate of tax. World of Warcraft achieves something similar through a linear series of unlockable "guild perks." Linear progression doesn't fit EVE, but the core idea of allowing corps to acquire inherent benefits for all members could work wonders for the game.

Imagine if corporations could earn access to exclusive resources for all members, possibly unlocking improved mission agents or reserved factory slots that all members of the corp can use. Corp-level ownership of things like blueprints, factories and research labs could also be transformed into global benefits for all corp members rather than complicated roles assigned to only trusted individuals.

Granting someone access to a corp blueprint for manufacturing or research currently requires that he be trusted with corp hangar access and be given the roles necessary to build on behalf of the corp. This inadvertently gives him the ability to cancel other players' corporate build jobs or steal their final products. Obviously that isn't a responsibility you'd want a new player or someone you don't already trust to have. While earning trust is a big part of EVE's social metagame, the fact that a corp can't give safe access to things like blueprints makes it impractical to ever offer new players access to those kinds of benefits.

Streamlining benefits

Early ship and financial losses can really scare new players away from EVE, and to help combat that, many corps provide free frigates, cruisers and skillbooks to members. Unfortunately, the systems in place for managing such programmes are inadequate and severely outdated. Either trusted and active players must undertake the task of giving out ships or an entire hangar full of ships must be opened to the possibility of theft. I've always been a big supporter of the theft and trust metagame in EVE, but not when exposure to theft is the only viable alternative to spending several hours per day playing virtual secretary.

It should be possible for corps to give members replacement ships, blueprint access, factory access and other corp benefits in a safe and largely automated way. Corps should be able to keep a stock of ships from which members can draw a limited number per day. For more expensive ships like a shared freighter, we could even have a collateral system in which the collateral is paid back in full when the ship is either returned to the hangar safely or destroyed for corp-insurance.

Other things we desperately need are ways to let corp members use corp blueprints for personal jobs as if they were in their own hangars and a skillbook repository from which members can train skills they don't have. These services can't currently be offered without exposing assets to theft or committing to a significant managerial time sink, and that's just not good enough.

Corporate goals

As a social sandbox tool, EVE is definitely at its best when players work together toward common goals. It's the basis of a lot of EVE's more compelling gameplay, from PvP and territorial warfare to group PvE with exploration complexes, high-level missions or incursions. Members of a corp routinely work toward goals like the purchase of a research starbase, a blueprint or some shared ship for corp use. What I'd love to see is the formalisation of these goals so that corp members can immediately see the current corp goal and can see that they're making progress toward it.

For example, a new corp might decide that its goal is to buy an original thorax blueprint for corp use. Instead of just anonymously collecting corp tax into the guild piggy bank until the CEO decides to buy the blueprint, we could set up a formal corp fund for it to act as a highly visible corp goal. While the blueprint is the corp focus, all taxes would be funneled into that fund and corp members would be able to donate to it. Once the fund reaches its goal, the blueprint could be automatically purchased and locked down in a hangar for corp use.

Final thoughts

As someone who has spent months trapped under the weight of corporate management in the past, I'm forced to conclude that the current corporation tools in EVE are woefully inadequate. There's currently far too much manual effort required to offer players the kinds of benefits they need to get a good start in EVE. Many of the things we want to offer new players, like access to skillbooks and blueprints they can't afford themselves, are difficult and impractical to provide.

Why can't we have a repository of skillbooks for corp members without opening a hangar to theft? Why can't we give out free cruisers without a trusted officer being online to do all the leg-work? If CCP is to meet its goal of getting new players to join solid corps that can give them a good start, corporation tools and the way in which we access corp assets are going to need a serious overhaul.

Brendan "Nyphur" Drain is an early veteran of EVE Online and writer of the weekly EVE Evolved column here at Massively. The column covers anything and everything relating to EVE Online, from in-depth guides to speculative opinion pieces. If you have an idea for a column or guide, or you just want to message him, send an email to brendan@massively.com.
This article was originally published on Massively.