EVE Evolved: The new player experience

EVE Evolved title image
Ever since a graph showing a downward trend in daily peak concurrent logins started to make the rounds on blogs, players have insisted that EVE Online's recent Incarna expansion has been a complete failure. I mentioned in an earlier article that we should really have expected this as the captain's quarters were primarily designed with new players in mind. Starting the game as an avatar, even one who's been grounded in his space-room by his space-dad, helps people identify with their characters in a way that bridges the gap between EVE and traditional avatar-based MMOs. By introducing a player to his character as a person rather than a ship, the new player experience may also help make the loss of a ship not such a big deal.

It's all fine and well to theorise about Incarna's success or failure, but ultimately it's only new players who can make that determination. If the captain's quarters do their job of flattening that initially jarring part of EVE's learning curve, the expansion's effect on subscriptions would be to convert more free trials into paid accounts -- an effect that wouldn't be immediately noticeable until another exciting and heavily advertised gameplay expansion brings in large numbers of new players. To help figure out if the captain's quarters have been successful in that regard, we have to turn to people who have never played EVE before.

In this week's EVE Evolved, I finally convince my friend Kajatta to try EVE for the first time. I delve into his first experiences with the game to find out what EVE does right and wrong in the new player experience.

side-imageKeeping it neutral

My instructions to Kajatta during his trial period were minimal; I sent him a trial invite and told him to give the game a try while recording his impressions, thoughts, anything he found awesome, and any problems he encountered. I've told my friend countless stories of epic shenanigans in EVE, from the political machinations of nullsec to the epic heists that punctuate the game's living history. It seems odd then that I've never shown him character creation or real gameplay, but it's good that I didn't.

I think most people come to EVE with the same background that my friend had -- they will be MMO players who have read some epic stories about EVE and may have seen some of the community's best videos, but they will have no real idea of how the game plays. Keen to see Kajatta's response to being face-to-face with the sandbox for the first time, I gave him no further information and refused to answer any questions he might have had.

Character Creation title image
Massively: Did you have a sense that you knew what you were choosing during character creation?

Kajatta: Not really because there was no real difference between any of the options other than visual differences. You start by picking a race, but the flags and map don't describe what the race is actually like in-game. The voiceovers were great here; I loved that compared to the wall of text you get in some MMOs. When I got to the next stage, the voiceovers disappeared though. Most of the time it didn't give a description of what difference the choices actually make once you get into the game. I didn't know whether there was a difference in stats, starter areas or other races' attitudes toward me.

What did you think of the character creation tool that lets you manually deform the face and body? Was it intuitive to use, and were you happy with the results?

It's an intuitive tool, but it had an initial learning curve for me because I'm used to sliders. It just shows you the face, and you're not told what to do. It would be nice to have a bit of a voiceover or a bit of text to tell you what's going on, just a short video or popup showing you what areas you can drag and how to do it. Once I got used to it, though, it was really intuitive and fun. Some of the hair choices were ridiculous, and there weren't many customisation options for trousers and glasses. But the characters looked gorgeous, and the tattoos and piercings had a lot of detail.

If you could change any small thing about the character creation process, what would it be?

I would want more details about how my choices in character creation will impact the actual game. Also, character creation starts with picking a race, but you don't get to see what they look like until later in the process. I wanted to play a dark-skinned character, but I chose Gallente and wasn't able to. At the time, I didn't know I had to pick Minmatar for that.

Captain's quarters title image
Did you explore the captain's quarters much? How did you find it?

I liked it; I thought it was really cool. The controls felt a bit strange at the start, but I quickly got used to them. It was absolutely beautiful, &%$*ing visually impressive. I loved the fact that it zoomed over the shoulder because it looked more like third-person games like Resident Evil or Gears of War. I also loved the fact you get to see your ship in a hangar before you go into it, that was really cool, but I didn't like the fact that I couldn't walk all the way up to my ship to get in.

Did starting the game as an avatar feel more natural to you than you expected from EVE?

Definitely. It really does make it feel better. From what I've seen from other people playing the game, it seemed very complicated, but starting as a person lessens the initial learning curve. The game just seemed less harsh than I expected. You actually get a feeling that you're a person in all of this, and not a ship, like I can actually walk around in a station, I'm alive, I'm a person. You can't invest yourself that much in a ship.

Entering space title image
What was your impression of the game once you got into space?

Holy &%$*, I got confused! The way your ship interacts with space is really strange. I'm used to so many different games: first-person, third-person, RTS. This was really different to all of them; there's no other game out there that controls the same way as EVE, so it took a bloody long time to get used to that. I did get lost at some points trying to find certain things; I spent 35 minutes orbitting a station trying to find an "acceleration gate." I liked that I was able to go back to the tutorial any time. My computer crashed and I was worried I wouldn't be able to pick back up where I left off, but I could.

The space UI is the most overwhelming thing I have ever seen. It's this unfriendly, scary, complicated calculator, and you can't just control your ship. You have to click on something to tell your ship to warp to it, orbit it or interact with it any other way. It'll definitely take me a while to get used to this because no other game is really like it.

What's the biggest selling point of EVE to you right now as a trial holder?

Right now, I'm not in a corporation and not killing people or doing anything interesting, it'd probably be the graphics. The game is visually amazing, and it's just so peaceful. I found the option to turn off the UI and just sat orbiting stuff for hours. If you could get a big scene of just roaming about for hours and put it as your wallpaper, it'd be amazing. The sound design is great too; all the sound effects were beautiful, and the techno that kicks in when you go into an acceleration gate was awesome. Beats + pretty ship = win.

Did you find anything a big turn-off during your first day of play?

The UI is complicated as hell, and I think it's the thing that makes the game hard. Also, unlike other MMOs, there's nothing to fully propel you into the game after the tutorials. There's no storyline to compel you to do anything. Most games have stories to guide you through the game, and sometimes it's good to just switch your brain off and do what the game tells you. In EVE, if players are lazy and don't do anything for a long time, they'd definitely get bored. EVE is the definition of an open-ended RPG because it just dumps you in this big world and lets you do what you want. There's a lot to do, but there's nothing to really push you there because, from what I saw, there were no real organised battles or anything.

The learning curve title image
EVE is famous for its steep learning curve. As a new player, did you find that accurate?

Hell yeah, but the tutorials at the start really help it. You had to go out of the station to find something and then go back in; I really liked that. But after that, there was nothing else really to get you used to the gameplay. The UI and movement both have a steep learning curve, and I had no idea how to get to any content, communicate properly with people, or join a real corp. At least with other games you'll be used to playing them because they're similar enough to previous titles you've played. The tutorial system in EVE needs to be made much bigger, and you could just close it if you don't want to do it the same as you can do now.

Could anything be done to reduce the learning curve for those first few days?

A choice of more ongoing tutorials would help. One thing I think would be a good idea, but it would be a major thing CCP Games would have to do, would be making a novice corp run by the CCP guys themselves. They could organise new players to do real content together and answer questions. They could even get players to volunteer to run it. I was in the starter corp, but I didn't feel like I was really in a corp.

How did you find the EVE community? Did you interact with it much?

I didn't interact with it much because I didn't really find the community. Other than having the tutorial robot talking to me, I was pretty much lost in space. I like communities in games and playing with friends, but EVE didn't really push me to make any friends. Having someone there initially when the game starts who is not a bot would be so welcome. All the new players could be put in a group together to figure out the game together, and something could pop up to encourage you to chat with them and show you other people actually exist. Creating an actual community in a game where you physically can't see the other people yet so far is hard to do, and it's going to put off players who can't see players like in other MMOs.

Final Thoughts title image
Brendan: As a long-time EVE player, I find it interesting to see what new players make of the game. There's a lot about our beloved game that we take completely for granted, like how much of a barrier the control scheme and UI can be. It's clear that my friend found the game much easier to adapt to than expected, and that it's due in large part to the captain's quarters. The conversion rate of trial players to subscribed members may actually have been increased with Incarna, making it more of a success than we give it credit for.

The thing that surprised me most was that there are actually tools in the game to solve a lot of the problems Kajatta had. The tutorial gives way to career agents who introduce you to specialised areas of the game, and the new corp-finder makes getting into the player community easier than it's ever been. What I think CCP can take away from this is that those tools aren't being made visible enough, and their benefits aren't being adequately explained through the initial tutorial.

I'll be continuing this experiment over the coming weeks as Kajatta progresses through his 21-day trial. Within the next few weeks I'll revisit with him to find out how he managed to overcome the problems encountered during his first days of play. If you have a question you'd like to pose to Kajatta as he continues his EVE adventure, or any advice for him, drop it in the comments below and I'll ask him to take a look.

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.