EVE Evolved title image
EVE Online has always had a reputation as a hardcore sandbox MMO, a game in which the players build the world as they see fit. While developers build the core gameplay systems, it's what players do with that gameplay that makes EVE special. It's the political hijinks of nullsec alliances, the massive heists, and the stories of people forging their own directions that drive people to play EVE. I've often said that EVE is less a game and more a story about what players do when left alone with each other. It's a story of conflict driven by simply having so many players in one universe with limited resources.

Not everyone likes that sandbox angle or plays an MMO primarily for the social interaction; some like to be presented with a fully crafted story that they can play through or be a part of. Most themepark MMOs cater exclusively to this type of player, with stories told in quests that send him across the landscape. In the summer of 2005, EVE Online almost started to cater to that type of player with its COSMOS constellations, areas filled with once-only missions and valuable rare items. The constellations were later practically abandoned to work on other new features, but I think they should make a return -- they could revolutionise EVE Online for themepark fans.

In this week's EVE Evolved, I look back at the ancient COSMOS constellations and consider how they could be brought back to breathe new life into every area of EVE.

EVE Evolved side imageWhat cosmos is all about?

In summer 2005's Exodus: Cold War expansion, CCP revamped two of EVE's constellations from boring old empty space to story-rich COSMOS constellations. The Caldari Okkelen constellation and Minmatar Ani were filled with new public military complexes, agent hubs, and interesting story locations. This was later expanded on with Gallente and Amarr constellations and even agents in selected areas of lowsec and nullsec. COSMOS agents provide mission sequences that you can only complete once but that give better rewards than normal missions.

In a sense, COSMOS missions are more like standard themepark MMO quests than sandbox missions. They send players all around the constellation and immerse them in storylines about the local NPC factions. Some agents remain locked until previous ones are completed, and every mission rewards faction standings that helps unlock further missions. The COSMOS constellations each have several public military complexes and points of interest that get players to work together in addition to dozens of hidden areas and agents that players have to scan down.

EVE Evolved side imageMaking a home for yourself

EVE has this special property that turns solar systems into players' homes, and having a home in-game that you are invested in makes you less likely to quit or log out for months at a time. For lowsec and nullsec players, this investment is usually a military one: An area is your home because you fight to secure it and use it regularly. COSMOS did the same thing for areas of highsec, giving players a way to invest themselves in an area of space by exploring everything, collecting all the passkeys, unlocking all the hidden areas, and completing all the local missions.

What if we refined this idea and propagated it to most of highsec? Instead of having reams of empty solar systems and agents who give out an endless stream of missions, large areas of highsec could be packed full of content and communal farming areas that have to be unlocked through a series of missions. If corporations could unlock local perks and services by completing missions or farming items every week, there would be incentive for them to settle down and invest in the area. If competition for resources got too hot or a corp got bored with the area, its members might opt to move to a fresh area and invest the time to unlock everything that place has to offer.

EVE Evolved side imageDomination of resources

Back when EVE was young, corporations sometimes went to war over the right to use prime asteroid belts, but there was little incentive to stay in a corporation at war. that problem still persists today, and today's highsec corporations don't even have any shared resources worth fighting over. Asteroid belts are worthless, level 4 missions can be spawned endlessly, and the only incentive to stay in a player corp during a war is lower tax rates. COSMOS hinted at a solution in 2006, but it apparently went unnoticed: Move the limited resources to publicly accessible areas and let players compete to dominate them.

The lowsec and nullsec COSMOS constellations were loosely based on the production of illegal combat booster drugs, and it didn't take long for drug barons to stake their claims. EVE lost some of this form of conflict with the removal of publicly accessible static military complexes, and in hindsight, I think that might have been a mistake. Even highsec COSMOS had its own conflict as players got possessive of their farming grounds in the static COSMOS complexes. Groups often declared war on other corps using the hacking and archeology spots, and some even suicide-ganked players in NPC corps to keep them out. If conflict over resources drives the cogs of EVE, surely we should be promoting more of it and not less.

EVE Evolved side imageEasing new players into EVE

If access to farming spots had to be unlocked on a corporation level and perks were granted based on the collection of a limited resource, turf wars would naturally flare up as a consequence. This could even be promoted in interface areas between two nations by letting players from rival factions pick a side and compete for the same limited resource. Collecting items for the Gallente could decrease a communal counter for the Caldari in the same system, limiting the services available to Caldari pilots. As long as everyone involved has to be a player corp, wars will naturally ensue.

For people who don't want to join player corporations, lower quality areas with no corp perks could be made available. The starter areas and tutorials could even be transformed into local story arcs that play out over the newbie constellations, providing a much more familiar feel to players coming from other MMOs. Nearby constellations could be geared toward solo players in frigates, destroyers, and cruisers, with no corporation perks and limited farming potential but a lower danger threshold. Players would eventually gravitate toward tougher and tougher areas in search of higher rewards, and they'd have to join player corps to access the best of them. That would convert themepark players into social sandbox players.

EVE Evolved title image
Most people who want a more themepark-like experience in EVE are told to quit and play a different game, but I don't think that's fair. Some people love the gameplay, graphics and setting of EVE but just want to be led through a story rather than writing their own. I'd like to think the ideas above could merge the two by getting themepark players to take an active part in an ongoing NPC story but use that as a catalyst for the creation of player corporations and wars.

The importance of letting players invest in a home area and play in communal gameplay areas cannot be overstated. Both of these factors foster the kind of social relationships that act as a massive barrier to exit. I've been close to quitting EVE many times in the past, and the only things that draw me back every time are the friends I've made there and the history we've built up in systems across the game. If there's one lesson I'd hope CCP takes away from this article, it's the importance of fostering the creation of those social ties; They are the glue that holds EVE together.

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.
One Shots: The Hutt in the hat