EVE Evolved: Learning to let go

Bombarded by the epic stories emerging from EVE Online's colossal social sandbox, thousands of MMO addicts per month give in to temptation and pick up a free trial. Most drop the trial for one reason or another, but those who continue on to a full game subscription often fall into a common trap. Some enjoy the concept of the game enough to subscribe for a month, and a portion of those get invested enough in skill plans and the mission grind to stick about for two or three months. It's rare for a new or trial player to actually get into PvP or start creating the same epic sandbox stories that drew them to the game in the first place, but this is exactly what they should be doing right from day one.

New players often spend their entire trial or first month of gameplay attempting to grapple with the enormity of EVE, absorbing as much information as they can in order to make informed decisions for themselves. It's easy to fall into the trap of thinking months of training skills and learning the basics of the game through reading or PvE will be required before you can PvP competitively or begin crafting your own epic story. I firmly believe that the real learning curve of EVE is in learning to let go of these ideas and to accept the loss of ships or items as part of the game. I believe new players need to discard their pre-conceived notions of death penalty, what skill points represent, and the idea of preparing for endgame.

In this week's EVE Evolved, I look at how EVE is actually very forgiving for new players getting into PvP immediately, I challenge the learning curve myth, and I encourage new pilots to drop themselves into EVE at the deep end.

The learning curve myth

EVE Online has a reputation as a difficult game, with a learning curve so steep that it's often referred to as "the learning cliff." Over the years, I've met people who have tried EVE and found this cliff unscalable, but still others who found it practically non-existent. This disparity suggests that EVE doesn't have an inherently steep learning curve, but that there is something fundamental that a lot of new players have difficulty overcoming. The tutorials now introduce us to the mechanics of basic gameplay very well, and so the real learning curve is likely now in finding out how to succeed in the sandbox. This is unfortunately something a tutorial can't teach.

I consider the steepness of EVE's learning curve to be a myth -- an artificial road-block people put in front of themselves that says they should avoid the game. When someone finally gives in and tries the game, that roadblock tells them that it will be years before they're ready to really delve into EVE and successfully play it on a high level. Anyone who's been playing the game for several years will tell you that's not true, but it's a difficult notion to get rid of.

Most MMOs seem to have a period of mandatory preparation ahead of endgame that's usually expressed as a requirement in levels, gear or skills. In a sense, EVE is 100% endgame; a player defines that endgame on his own terms and the only way to really learn to be successful is through a system of trial and error to gain first-hand experience. Perhaps the reason we're so anxious to put those roadblocks ahead of ourselves is that we expect them to be defined by the game itself and they aren't.

Just one more skill

New players are usually taught to be afraid of low security space and nullsec, and advised to live in highsec while they train the skills that will put them on a competitive level with other players. This can be a big mistake, as it's tempting to train up just one more skill to help put together a better PvP ship for your first time heading out into combat. There's a fundamental flaw in this way of thinking since you can never train enough skills to PvP on a competitive level, simply because skills are not the primary competitive advantage in EVE. The primary advantages are real combat experience and the number of pilots on your side, and the people you'll face in PvP will have a healthy supply of both.

Waiting until you complete a certain skill plan before engaging in PvP is a terrible idea, as the death penalty you'll face increases with increasing ship cost and skill points. A new player can lose as little as 50 - 100k ISK when he loses a fully fit frigate and will get most of that back due to insurance. Even upgrading to cruisers only increases net losses per death to somewhere in the realm of one to two million ISK. Training for months to get into something bigger like a battleship or a tech 2 ship, or even just training to use certain tech 2 modules, will only increase the cost of death further. In the likely event of your escape pod being destroyed, your clone costs are also increased by the number of skill points you have. The earlier you start PvP, the lower the cost of learning to survive will be.

Learning to let go

Mechanically, EVE is actually very forgiving to new players dropping themselves into the deep end, with cheap ships presenting both negligible death penalties and a disproportionately high power-to-value ratio. A small coordinated fleet of frigates in the hands of complete newbies can easily take down older players in much bigger ships. My advice for people hoping to get into PvP in EVE is to get into it from day one. Dive right in the deep end, because you've got literally nothing to lose. Find a corporation willing to give you free frigates or beg for 500k in chat if you have to, and bring a few friends along for the ride. You won't regret it.

Once you learn to let go of your preconceptions of EVE's death penalty and skill points as a measure of ability, you'll find yourself losing cheap ships like crazy but really enjoying the experience. Remember that PvP in EVE is almost never a solo affair, it's a group effort based more on your fleet's ability to co-ordinate actions and stay aware of enemy movements than the individual skills of each pilot involved. There is no more intoxicating feeling than when you and a handful of friends hop into cheap frigates and manage to kill a multi-year veteran's battleship. That rush will be with you for a long time, and it's things like that which keep me in the game.

Rules to live by

A lot of people sit back and play the game by someone else's rules, be they the mechanics inherent in developed content like missions or the standards other players have created for their corporations and alliances. Remember that instead you can create your own rules, and play the game whatever way you want.

If I had to give people trying EVE for the first time one piece of advice, it would be to set yourself goals and claw your way to them by any means necessary. If you find an existing corporation that will help you reach those goals, join it. If there's something you need to know to further your plans, investigate it or ask other players for help. Gather people with similar interests, and never take your eye off your ultimate goals.

Remember that your ability to achieve anything you want in EVE is limited only by your ambition, intelligence and the effort you put into the game. Do you think the people who made the hugely successful gambling website SOMER.Blink sat back and played the game the way it's currently built? Did the leaders of nullsec alliances, or the founders of the EOH poker league accept the gameplay put in front of them? No, they all set their own targets and rallied the help of like-minded players to forcibly meet those goals. To me, that is what EVE is all about.

Players often tell me that EVE is more fun to read about than play, but after a short chat it invariably becomes clear that they're playing a different game than I am. The EVE Online that's had so many of us hooked for years is the game we've made inside CCP's universe -- not the gameplay that developers build or the stories they create but those that we forge for ourselves. It's the political machinations of nullsec, the heists, and the stories of everyday players doing extraordinary things that keep us hooked. Perhaps the hardest thing to communicate to a new player is that they can begin to forge their own extraordinary story right from day one.

The temptation to train more skills before heading into PvP is strong, but that preparation will never end; After over seven years in the game, I still haven't absorbed the enormity of this ever-growing game. In-game skills will open new avenues of gameplay or ships to use, but they cannot replace ambition, experience or organization. Much like in real life, an EVE player's ability to succeed in the world is limited mainly by his competitive drive, willingness to work with others, and his ability to learn from mistakes.

It's with these lessons in mind that I advise new players to let go of preconceptions about the harshness of EVE's death penalty and the requirement to train skills in preparation for PvP. Discard all notions that the limited gameplay presented during the tutorials is really EVE, or that you can't achieve the same things that you've read about in stories. Instead, I urge you to charge head-first into the unknown with an unreasonable determination and impossible plans to make the universe your own. Because I guarantee you it works.

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.