Why I Play: EVE Online

EVE Online
When I was a child, I was obsessed with space. In elementary school, I'd spend my library time reading books with titles like "The Moon" or "Space for Kids." It wasn't so much that I planned to be an astronaut (poor eyesight and math incompetency quickly blocked this ambition) but that I wanted to know what was out there, among the stars and moons and planets. "It can't," I reasoned as a very precocious second-grader, "be empty."

Unfortunately, I never did make it to space. I haven't walked on the moon, flown a starship, or engaged in a series of humiliating and challenging physical conditioning challenges (oh, The Right Stuff, how I love thee). What I did do, however, was discover EVE Online.

It's sort of the next best thing. And here's why.

Uh, duh, it's in space

I can sum up the entirety of EVE's massively flexible play experience in one sentence: do stuff in space. Sure, space is a familiar setting for us gamers; there's no shortage of sci-fi properties designed with the deep black as a backdrop. But something about the way EVE approaches space makes it unique, more than just set dressing. In EVE Online, space is dangerous, mysterious, and full of possibility.

Why I Play EVE Online
I'm the kind of person who will spend hours doing something incredibly stupid in a video game for my own personal satisfaction. For instance, when I first played World of Warcraft, I ventured deep into Horde territory (I was Alliance at the time; please don't judge me) just to see what it looked like. At level 10. It was a dumb thing to do, and I was awake until the sun came up, but I had a great time dancing at the gates of Orgrimmar.


"EVE Online has over 7,500 star systems. That means there's always something new to see."

EVE Online offers me many opportunities to engage this sense of curiosity and my love for "horizon gaming," which is my term for playing just to see what comes next. Scanning down wormholes, visiting the EVE Gate and venturing from system to system for no reason beyond experiencing the joy of discovery is something that appeals to the primal, space-obsessed humanoid I am underneath the nerdy guy with glasses and cowboy boots.

EVE Online has over 7,500 star systems. That means there's always something new to see.

The community. Yes, that community.

Much has been said and written about EVE Online's community. As one of the largest ongoing experiments in player emergence, EVE is often cited as an example of how to build and maintain a functional sandbox with an engaged fanbase. EVE isn't the biggest MMO in the world by a long shot, but it has one of the most passionate, creative, and involved communities.

EVE Raid
Many of the stories we see from the EVE community are related to some sort of fraud or crime. When a player single-handedly brings down the game's biggest corporation or a group of allied players work together to blockade EVE's main trade hub, these stories seep out of the community and into the mainstream gaming press. It makes sense; those stories are interesting, and we love reading them.

The stories we don't tend to see are the ones about how supportive and kind the EVE community actually is, especially to new players. It's rare that a corporation like EVE University, dedicated in full to helping new players find their footing in a complex title, makes the gaming headlines. Log into EVE and check out the Rookie Help channel sometime for a perfect example of how veteran players of this game take time out of their days to help other people out, then try to imagine what would happen with a similar channel in some of the other games currently online.

EVE Station
I play EVE Online because the community's passion for the title encourages people to be supportive of one another in the hopes of continuing this crazy experiment, and this passion is on display from the moment a new player enters the game. In EVE, for the most part, people act like adults. Even pirates are generally polite; being a professional pirate doesn't mean one has to be a jerk as well.

Real-life morality in a digital world

This idea of polite pirates is actually another incredible thing about EVE Online that keeps me coming back for more. I say it all the time in my livestreams, but in EVE you can be whatever you want to be. Want to mine all day and night? Go for it. Looking to be an elite diplomat? The tools are there. Want to steal stuff and hold other players hostage? Rock on. There are no rules in EVE that dictate what you should or shouldn't be.

EVE Rokh
Of course, safety mechanisms exist to stop the game from turning into a chaotic free-for-all. High-security space is available for those who hope to remain relatively safe while running PvE missions or gathering resources, and criminals incur stiff penalties for, well, acting like criminals. If an EVE player is planning a career of shooting innocent players and blowing up pods, he'd better expect to spend the majority of his game life outside of highsec.

What strikes me about this is that in a world that quite literally gives you the freedom to do what you want to do, most players opt to be respectful to one another and work in collaborative efforts toward common goals. There are very few lone wolf jerk pilots in EVE, partly due to CCP's intelligent game architecture and party due to the way in which EVE players prefer to work in teams. Yes, sometimes one player colossally screws another, but most players in EVE are in a constant state of deliberately not ruining someone else's day. It's sort of amazing when you step back and think about the sheer amount of not being a jerk that is happening in EVE at any given moment.

EVE Map
Participating in and witnessing this constant internal back and forth (Should I blow this guy up? Should I steal his stuff?) is one of the most compelling experiences I've had in any game, even if I don't always make the right decision.

Skill-based characters with real-time progression

I would be remiss if I didn't mention my absolute favorite thing about EVE Online, which is the fact that characters progress in real-time regardless of whether or not you happen to be in the game. This mechanism has its downfalls since training a new character to the highest ranks of a given competency can take months or even years, but the opportunity to see my character grow in intellect, ability, and power even if I don't have 20 hours a week to log grinding direbears or throwing fireballs in the faces of other players is well worth my subscription dollars.

I'm also a huge fan of irrevocable character damage earned through player incompetency. I demand consequences in my games, and while many focus on the value of ships lost or resources stolen in EVE, I think the greatest example of the importance of decision making is the way in which player skills are earned. EVE's skill system allows me to become ultra-specialized in any given area, but every new skill comes with a real-life cost in terms of time.

Why I Play EVE Online
If I train the wrong way, that time is lost forever and there's no going back. Even though I can always add new skills, I'm still out the time it took to train the wrong ones. Nothing is worse than trying out that new ship fit I've been training for only to realize I screwed something up in my training queue and need to wait an additional three days. However, I like the fact that EVE forces me to live with and learn from my mistakes instead of offering me a reset button.

I understand that many new players have trouble with EVE for exactly this reason, but I don't believe a game can be rewarding if there aren't consequences for screwing up. Without consequence, what's the point of anything I do in a game?

EVE Fleet
EVE Online isn't for everyone. It's a complicated, confusing title that punishes new players with piles of new information and not much in terms of direction. It's also a multi-faceted sandbox experience unlike any other in the MMO marketplace. There is a great reward to be had in EVE for anyone willing to try to understand its mysteries, even if only at a very surface level.

I play EVE because it's a constant challenge and rewarding experience, backed with a vibrant community and a real sense of danger. And because space.

There's an MMO born every day, and every game is someone's favorite. Why I Play is a column in which the Massively staff members kick back and reminisce about all their favorite MMOs. Whether it's the new hotness or an old fan favorite loaded with nostalgia, each title we cover here tugs at our heartstrings and keeps us coming back for more.
This article was originally published on Massively.