Ask Massively: Newsletters, EVE Online, and the value of alpha previews

EVE Online
Welcome back to a grab-bag edition of Ask Massively. First up is reader Roy, who asked,
Do you have any kind of newsletter or weekly email on this site?
Nope, no newsletter or email blasts! But there are lots of easy ways to follow our work. If you want the whole shebang, you can follow us through your RSS reader of choice as well as several social media avenues, all outlined in an Ask Massively from last year. If you want just a summary of our best stuff, you could follow just our Week in Review column, which runs every Sunday evening and might just serve your desire for a weekly summary of cool posts. We also publish weekly roundups of MMO in beta testing, crowdfunded MMOs, and pseudo-MMOs, including coverage of some games we don't traditionally cover separately.

What else have we got this week? How about an internet spaceships question from Gabe.
I have been very interested in all the comings and goings of EVE Online and feel like I missed out on a great game when it launched 10 years ago. Now that the game is old, I feel a bit apprehensive to dive into such an established game. What does the game offer to entice a player with no experience in that world?
At first I didn't want to answer this question because I am not a fan of EVE Online to begin with. I like sandboxes, I like sci-fi, and I like PvP, but EVE's specific blend just doesn't do it for me. But the more I thought about your question, the more I realized it is a universal one. A lot of gamers are afraid of "old" games: We're afraid they're devoid of players, badly optimized for modern tech, neglected by the studios, full of bugs, supplanted by other titles, dominated by a few remaining elites, suffering an inflated economy, ravaged by bloated design or powercreep, and shambling toward sunset. And we're not crazy for thinking any of those things. If you've been participating in this genre long enough, you've watched games decay into just such a state.

But old games have huge advantages over new games too. They have utterly loyal players, smaller playerbases with better feedback for smaller dev teams, dedicated forums, stockpiles of encyclopedic knowledge tucked away on websites, years of patches and content, guilds dedicated to scooping up and keeping newbies around, revamped tutorials, updated UIs, unobtrusive business models, and mature economies that can sometimes give newbs a leg up. Many ancient titles have learned from their mistakes and improved over time. And perhaps most importantly, some of them offer gameplay mechanics and features you just can't get in more modern games with less dev time under their belts.

EVE is no exception. No one's going to lie to you and tell you that an open-PvP title like EVE Online is going to be a rosy experience for a solo newbie. The economy is stacked against you, and the griefers will see you coming a mile away. But the game still gets major updates twice yearly; it's huge, it's beautiful, and it's tech-savvy for its age. It appears to be in no danger of closing down, in spite of CCP's recent troubles, and in recent years, both the studio and the players have made concerted efforts to getting newbies to play and stay (see EVE University for one laudable example). And it's dirt cheap: You can often pick up the entire game and a month of play for a few bucks on Steam.

As with most old games, you really don't have a lot to lose by trying it just to see whether there's any magic for you. Most of my favorite games are those I returned to after years away only to fall in love once I'd seen how the game had matured in my absence. If we were all just a bit more willing to try games that are just a bit out of date, we might actually be happier than we are jumping between brand-new, incomplete, $60 titles.

Our last comment comes from Eric, who many months ago wrote us to complain about an alpha preview and interview we'd done with the developer of a game (names withheld to protect the guilty!) before the game was publicly playable and before the developer fell into disrepute.
You need to warn me about games that are scams, unfinished, etc. I'm pretty pissed, to say the least, that your article almost led me into buying this game with a "live" feature list that wasn't even half complete.
When we haven't even seen a game beyond its alpha demo and we're asking questions of a developer about his plans for the game, that by definition means the game is unfinished, even when we don't say so (although in this case, we did). I'd never recommend that anyone buy anything based on anyone's preview of an alpha, including ours; it's the nature of the industry that games change over time, even before they launch, and sometimes what looks good in alpha and sounds good on paper doesn't actually translate into something good come download day. Obviously, if a game actually looks like a full-on scam, we won't be giving it any coverage at all, but if we stopped testing and asking about and writing about unfinished games, we'd never write anything at all. MMOs are never finished; they only start and end.

What should you play? Where is the MMO industry headed? How does Massively operate? Has Lord British lost his marbles? Why is the edit button on a timer? Should "monoclegate" be hyphenated? Editor-in-Chief Bree Royce submits to your interrogations right here in Ask Massively every other Friday. Drop your questions in the comments below or ping us at ask@massively.com. Just ask!

This article was originally published on Massively.