Free for All: EVE drama due to bolster waning TV soap schedule

Much was said recently about the latest EVE Online "drama." If you've talked and written about MMORPGs as long as I have, you'd be very rich if you were paid a nickel every time you heard the word. Drama, when applied to the world of MMOs, ends up feeling like a funeral for an insect... more than a little dramatic. As someone who has played EVE a bit off and on (I have a six-year-old account, but only a 10,000,000-SP character), I was more than a little surprised at the response -- but not really surprised.

In fact, the recent drama -- hell, any EVE drama -- comes off as rather humorous. The same thing happened when World of Warcraft began selling the infamous sparklepony or when Lord of the Rings Online decided to sell a special skeleton steed in its cash shop (I was lucky enough to get one during the holiday event). Players screamed that they would be canceling, that they would protest in some form or another, and that they would never buy a product from the developer, go anywhere near anyone who shared the same name as any of the developers, or even utter the name of their poor, lost avatars again. Yet, here we are.

Every time something like this happens, it happens for a few distinct reasons. Click past the cut and I'll fill you in.

First of all, as a fan of any type of virtual good, I was shocked to see players who played in one of the most obvious "power" cash shops in the business, the EVE cash shop, complaining about the price of a virtual, useless good. Well, let me tweak that: The monocle would not be useless to someone who valued it. Of course, that doesn't stop players who do not value it from assuming that all players should not value it, but that happens for reasons that are beyond me.

See, for any of those who do not know, players in EVE can buy a time code from CCP. When I bought mine a while ago, I spent probably 45 or so dollars. Then, those players can turn around and sell that time code for in-game cashola -- ISK, it's called. They can then turn around and use that ISK to buy entire fleets and even high-level characters. I used my ISK to buy a Raven and a stealthy ship. I'd quit the game once before and given all of my funds away (it wasn't much in the first place), so it was nice to have a sudden flow of cash. Still, it did feel a little bland afterward, especially being that I had scraped and barely raised enough to get my previous Raven, the one that I lost later after forgetting my insurance (another reason to avoid letting your account lapse).

So essentially, EVE is the biggest free-to-play game that is not labeled as such. Well, let's be truthful here and call it a "freemium" game. An unlimited trial with the potential to turn into a completely free game. Well, a game in which you... oh, nevermind.

So why would EVE players be upset at the thought of a very expensive eye-piece? Of course I had to ask Brendan Drain, our lovely and talented EVE expert, to diffuse some of the angry noise that was pouring into my inbox and the comments section. Essentially he gave me many of the reasons that would only be native to EVE -- the market stuff, the price increases -- you know, stuff that EVE players talk about. Granted, I love that stuff too, but only occasionally and in browser-based MMORTS form. (Call me picky.) But he touched on what I think was the essential reason, at least for those who were legitimately upset about the event. (I figure that the truly upset hovered around four percent of those who even noticed.)

Basically, those upset players were worried that CCP would not only start to sell "gold ammo" but start to sell ships for real-life cash, thus cutting out all of the hard work, virtual sweat, and many hours of mind-numbingly boring mining that EVE can be so well known for. As far as what I saw, as an employee of (I do not visit other sites... I do not visit other sites...), that semi-legitimate-yet-still-paranoid reasoning was not the initial reason.

The initial upset came from the simple price point of the virtual item. Let me make that clear: Those players were upset about the price on a virtual, useless item. Those EVE players. The same playerbase that brings us almost weekly updates about in-game theft, mass-player hijinks and "suicides." Don't get me wrong; all of that makes for fantastic reading (especially thanks to the talents of Brendan), but there is a reason people say that EVE is more fun to read about than play. Remember, this was the same playerbase that openly supported (by paying monthly subs, in some cases several subs -- emphasis on several) a freemium game with a cash shop and items that cost a lot.

The arguments and dramatic speech seemed to evolve over a few days, and then I saw the concerns about the selling of golden ammo, or missiles, or ships or whatever, as long as it cut out the middleman. Again, that was a decent argument, but it was one that came from players who had already bought golden bullets in the form of very skilled avatars and massive ships. Also, it doesn't take a great deal of logic to see how an outsider would look at the situation, cash shop in tow, and wonder, "Huh? You're upset about that?"

Here are three main reasons the "drama" happened, according to me. Feel free to copy, paste, and Tweet them. Or if you have skipped the rest of my column and made a comment already, feel free to ignore them:
  • Boring game + drama = fun!: Essentially, EVE can be a boring, boring game. (Not as in a-trip-to-Wednesday-night-church boring, but a game-of-chess boring. The good kind.) Of course, any game can be dull, but EVE can be especially skilled at avoiding fun. I only say this as a person who has hardly played comparatively, but I think it's safe to say that there are reasons people call EVE "spreadsheets online." When you have players in a game that can potentially be tedious and slow, any type of change or drama spreads like wildfire. Well, wildfire with a #tweetfleet hashtag.
  • Don't sell my dragon mount: As I said before, the same has gone down in other games that started to sell -- or make more accessible -- a special in-game item. A lot of the time, players do not give a flip about other players who are outside of their friends list or guild roster, at least until that other player has something they have without having to "work" for it.
  • Legitimate concern for the game: This group of players makes up about the same percentage of people who think rioting after losing a hockey game is a legitimate form of communication or vehicle for change. Again, paranoia rules the day here. It's not about what is being sold but what might be sold. Cutting out the "middleman" or devaluing goods that a player had previously sold after creating it herself is a concern, but we have to be very clear when we say that. Bear in mind that the "old ways" pass for a reason, and while it does sting to have your shipyard destroyed by an in-game cash-shop that was stocked by the developers themselves, remember that the new generation of players would probably not miss you. That might sound harsh, but they are as legitimate in their concerns as you are in yours. And who says that EVE wouldn't be better off by going literally free-to-play with a cash shop that sold ships directly from CCP? I think it would, but luckily I'm no CCP decision-maker.
Now that I've had some time to look back on it, I'm even more amazed that players reacted the way they did. Not only was their response something that could only happen in a brilliantly designed game like EVE, but they issued that response while their pocketbooks spoke differently. Sure, canceling your sub might seem like a hefty message to send to the evil developer that has just ruined your life, but it's a tactic that only works if you do not resub again. Once more I am only guesstimating here, but I'd wager that perhaps one percent of those who threatened to quit EVE actually would. Trust me, as with the response to the WoW sparklepony, players are just too emotionally attached to their special, special game. There is no game like EVE; it is a niche within a niche, and that's why the players like it.

At this point I would ask that the next virtual-world drama be met without such noise, but I know that's not going to happen. Hell, it makes for good reading, and we don't mind the views. Still, after all is said and done, and after the initial adrenaline burst has worn off, I have to wonder why players needed the drama in the first place. I guess that's beyond my understanding.

In the end, I'm glad that I cover games that generally do not care so much about things like "selling power" or virtual items. Yes, selling power is happening more and more, and it will never taper off. Why? Because the players who care deeply about such things are more and more in the minority. Sometimes, I don't mind plunking down some cash for a cool item, and I don't care what anyone thinks about my purchase.

Strange how some in the EVE community didn't seem to understand that they have been doing the same thing all along.

Each week, Free for All brings you ideas, news, and reviews from the world of free-to-play, indie, and import games -- a world that is often overlooked by gamers. Leave it to Beau Hindman to talk about the games you didn't know you wanted! Have an idea for a subject or a killer new game that no one has heard of? Send it to!
This article was originally published on Massively.