EVE Evolved: Emergence in the sandbox

We often hear about the amazing things players get up to in EVE Online, from full-scale political wars and massive heists to collaborative business ventures and high-profile kills. While we can all enjoy these tales of high-powered exploits from afar, they can be difficult to relate to the actual game experience. Most of us will never be the puppet master pulling the strings of alliance warfare or the mastermind of some great theft, but we don't have to be. Smaller examples of emergent and opportunistic gameplay exist all over EVE in the daily play of thousands of individuals.

I've always thought of EVE less as a game and more as a giant social sandbox with spaceships -- a story about what people do when left alone in each other's company. Players naturally take on roles for which they have a strong aptitude, crafting completely new gameplay styles for themselves in the process. The entrepreneurs among us spy opportunities never imagined by the game's developers, tech-savvy individuals sell web-services, and artists craft propaganda for recruitment or a war on their enemy's morale. Countless players carve their own game out of the EVE universe, and there's no reason you can't be one of them.

In this week's EVE Evolved, I look at some of the unique gameplay experiences players have engineered for themselves over the years and the community that makes EVE what it is.

Supply and demand

Like many EVE players, I was referred to the game by a friend and started out life as part of his corporation. My first real sandbox experience occurred when I left that corp to find my own fortunes as a freelancer. Noticing a severe shortage of available research labs in empire space, I went on a road trip around the underused fringes of empire to find recently vacated labs and snap them up for resale. Since there was no official way to trade labs, trust and reputation became involved; I soon found myself able to sometimes ask for the ISK up front by referring clients to previous buyers.

Almost overnight, I went from being a simple miner to a self-made real-estate broker. It wasn't long before I had my second big sandbox moment: being scammed out of a considerable sum of ISK during a lab trade. The concept of supply and demand is at the core of EVE, and it creates opportunities players can discover and capitalise on. The fact that there are so many people in one world together means that any need can be reasonably filled by someone. If there's demand for lab space, transportation, mineral compression or anything else you can think of, you can guarantee someone will make a career out of meeting it.

Finding a niche

The skills we have in real life can translate remarkably well into EVE, allowing us to play the game to our own personal strengths and find a place in the world that we naturally fit into. Players with video-editing skills often invent themselves as alliance promoters or propagandists. Those with solid public speaking skills will find that they naturally excel in fleet command and leadership roles, or they could be drawn to the world of politics. Alternatively, players might find themselves at home as a DJ on one of EVE's radio channels or as the host of an EVE podcast.

Even programming, web-design and server administration skills find their uses in EVE. Corporations routinely pay for voice servers, killboard hosting, killboard customisations, and the creation of corp websites with ISK. I've personally sold spreadsheets designed to automate tedious market and industrial calculations for over 500 million ISK each, and that's just the start. The programmers behind gambling website SOMER.Blink turned their talents toward creating a business empire that pulls in trillions of ISK per year. Whatever talent you have, there's almost certainly a way to translate it into something the EVE community will find useful.

Artistic expression

As with any MMO community, those with a natural talent for music, art or creative writing will naturally find a place for themselves in the community. In an unusual twist for an MMO, those creative talents can be used to directly make an in-game profit in EVE. Artists form a thriving trade in forum signatures, corp logos, website graphics, corp advertisements and even EVE tattoo designs. Popular fiction, guide, and article writers also routinely sell their work to EON magazine for ISK or contribute to one of the many EVE news sites available.

Perhaps the most impressive thing about the EVE community is its tendency to support creative endeavours. Popular film-makers and fiction writers are often sent ISK donations to encourage their continued creative output. It's not all about ISK, though; most players just enjoy their creative efforts, and celebrity status in the community can be a powerful lure on its own. A great example of an early EVE celebrity who found a new way to play the game is storyteller INNOMINATE NIGHTMARE. As a fresh-faced newbie back in 2006, he launched a trip around the lawless nullsec regions, reporting on his adventures and providing a unique perspective on life in the far reaches of space.

The values of trust and effort

It's an almost immutable law of social dynamics that if you put enough people in one world, someone will steal from someone else. The prevalence of theft in EVE has forced the emergence of anti-theft mechanics from the playerbase itself. Players with strong public reputations now offer to secure expensive transactions for a small fee. Building up a solid reputation opens up a lot of opportunities for players, from running the abovementioned third-party services to launching lotteries or seeking ISK for a public investment scheme.

The simple fact that players value their time and effort has also caused entire industries to spring up over the years. An early example of this was the transport and hauling industry, which is still thriving today. More recently, we've seen the sale of alliance creation services, fully set-up starbase corporations, and even wormhole systems. If something takes time or effort to do, you can bet there's someone out there who values his time highly enough to pay you for the service.

Summary

I'm constantly surprised by the things players do within the confines of the EVE universe. Corps like Red vs Blue and events like the Hulkageddon have used the game's normal war and combat mechanics to create completely new activities. Players like Chribba, Somerset Mahm and DJ FunkyBacon are further proof that you don't have to play EVE to the same rules as everyone else. When you look at the paths players traditionally follow, from miners and mission-runners to pirates and traders, know that you're free to invent your own alternate path. In EVE's colossal social sandbox, you can create your own game and play it your own way.

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.