EVE Evolved: EVE Online's top selling points

EVE Evolved title image
At E3 this year, EVE Online developer CCP Games said it wants the game to still be running decades from now, continuing its usual trend of steady growth. EVE has barely grown in subscriptions over the past year, and average concurrent logins have flatlined since 2010, but the Crucible and Inferno expansions helped start turning things around. Developers hope to get growth back on track and attract new people to the world of New Eden, but I have to wonder whether they're selling EVE to new people in the right way.

EVE has always spread through word of mouth, with people being brought in by friends or starting fresh after hearing an epic story of in-game events or seeing an awesome video. More recently, existing online communities have been drawn to set up shop in the game and bring hundreds or thousands of members with them. People brought in by friends and people who join organisations in-game are more likely to stay in the game long-term, and it's this angle that I think CCP really needs to push. With its single-shard universe, awesome community, and massive scale PvP, EVE has some pretty huge selling points that no other MMO can match.

In this week's EVE Evolved, I look at a few of EVE's biggest selling points and how CCP could use them to attract new players.

EVE Evolved side imageMassive fleet battles

Although EVE Online doesn't strictly have an endgame, nullsec territorial warfare is as close as you'll get to one. It's here that massive fleets of thousands of players from constantly shifting political conglomerations smash into each other in the biggest tactical PvP battles in the world. In October 2010, 3,110 pilots clashed in LXQ2-T as the Russian power block from the drone regions took on the Northern Coalition, and the gaming world took notice. The story spread across the internet, hitting the front page of Reddit and news sites that normally didn't cover EVE or any other MMOs. It was a landmark battle, and yet massive fights happen every week without the media taking notice.

What was so special about that 3,000-man fight? It was surely the largest PvP battle in an MMO to that date, and that's a strong hook that only EVE Online can currently use, but what really made the story a hit was that some people put up live feeds of the action. While the server strained under the weight of missiles flying everywhere and the fight wasn't terribly exciting to watch, there's a powerful allure in the idea that there's something massive going on and that you can watch it live. In contrast, most fleet battles are largely invisible even to the general EVE playerbase despite the great work of EVE News 24 in covering political goings-on in EVE and the YouTube videos that inevitably pop up after big events.

EVE Evolved side imageTelevising battles

CCP pushed EVE's massive scale PvP as a selling point in its Dominion and I was There trailers, both of which showed plausible battles that could have happened within the EVE universe. While these had wide appeal, it's not the same as showing off what is actually happening in the world's biggest sandbox. CCP is showing off sandcastles and toy soldiers while players are digging trenches and melting the sand into shards of glass to stick in each other's eyes. I want to see what's really going on at the front lines of EVE, and for the first time in the game's history, it might be feasible.

Thanks to Time Dilation, battles that would previously have ended in lag and node deaths now proceed in an orderly manner but at a slowed pace. CCP could place live or delayed cameras in a system to observe a fight, but this might compromise an alliance's security. Alternatively, real battles on reinforced nodes could be recorded and played back at normal speeds, then cut together into a film sequence. If warring alliances were to donate recordings of their voice comms to be spliced in at key points in the battle, they could create the greatest EVE Online advertisements ever made by showing people the real massive-scale gameplay that doesn't currently happen in any other game.

EVE Evolved side imageThe EVE community

Despite the occasional batch of evidence to the contrary, EVE Online has one of the best player communities in the MMO world. The fact that so many players are thrown together in one shard forces you to interact with other people and makes it so that you can't avoid conflict. The game's biggest goals aren't things an individual can reasonably do on his own; they're huge projects like putting together a titan or holding territory. This makes people naturally group together, and when faced with shared conflict or experiences, people bond and make friendships that make them less likely to quit the game.

It's been shown that people are highly motivated by being part of something bigger than themselves, and with over 350,000 players in one shard, EVE Online offers that more than most other MMOs. CCP should take advantage of that competitive advantage by making it easier for people to work together toward huge common goals. I've seen hundreds PvPers who hate mining strap mining lasers on their battleships to help produce an alliance ship stockpile, while dozens of people haul minerals across the map for free to help build a new alliance outpost. It's this ability to turn working together for a goal into a social experience that makes EVE special, and it's this that I think CCP should build on.

EVE Evolved side imageGoal-oriented gameplay

CCP made a big deal out of this goal-oriented perspective in its Tyrannis trailer, which showed players starting their careers in newbie frigates just like everyone else but working their way up to leading massive fleets to protect an empire they created. What I think we need now is a way for corps and alliances to explicitly set goals and targets. A goal might be as big as raising enough ISK for a titan or as small as mining the minerals to build a battleship for every corp member. Other goals could be to kill 10 war targets by the end of the week or deal a billion ISK's worth of damage in PvP.

These goals could be freeform, but it would be much more effective if they were tracked automatically and progress were shown on a meter for all corp members. Financial goals could track a particular corp wallet and provide a quick way for people to deposit ISK into that wallet. Item goals like producing a certain number of ships or putting together the fuel for a starbase could track the contents of a particular ship hanger or starbase structure. PvP goals could track progress using the new war system that estimates financial damage done by a kill. This would just be a sandbox tool to make corp goals more visible and accessible, and it would work well when paired with the event-planning calendar and the medal system that lets corps design and give out their own awards.

EVE Evolved side imagePlaying for free

One of the things that turns people off playing EVE is the subscription fee, but it's actually possible to play the game for free. Players who want to buy ISK without resorting to illicit RMT are able to sell game time codes in-game for ISK in the form of 30-day Pilot's License EXtensions (PLEX). If a player can make enough ISK each month to buy one, he can basically play the game for free. As it turns out, getting to the point at which you can do this requires one to two months of skill training and learning the game first. That initial investment is a hump that prospective players can't see over, and giving them a hand over it would make EVE a lot more attractive as a free-to-play proposition.

It would certainly help to give new players some hard numbers and plans for how to get to the point at which they can earn a PLEX in 30 days without a lot of effort, but players are often helped over that first-month hump with a PLEX donation from whichever friend invited them to the game. If players could be incentivised to do this more often, EVE would retain a lot more of the new players it gets. What if you could use a PLEX to extend a friend's trial into a real account, and in exchange, get benefits like reduced clone costs for 30 days or a cosmetic item like a free ship paint job? To help new players make enough ISK for a PLEX, older players could also be incentivised to bring new players along on ISK-producing activities like level 4 missions and incursions.

EVE Evolved title image
EVE has some pretty big selling points that no other MMO can match. It has the biggest tactical PvP battles in the world, and its single-shard server structure creates some of the closest-knit player communities I've ever had the privilege of being a part of. I think it's these selling points that CCP should be pushing in its marketing and development efforts because while other MMOs could come out with similar gameplay, none match EVE in sheer scope.

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.