EVE Evolved: Adapt or die

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When EVE Online was first released in 2003, it sold mostly based on its future potential. Everyone I played with in those early years got into EVE in order to be on the ground floor of an awesome space game that was getting more awesome by the month. Features were undergoing continual revision, and new content was released regularly, making EVE a radically different game every six months. Players met this design strategy of continual iteration head on with an "adapt or die" attitude, and it kept the game interesting for years on end.

Fast-forward to 2011 and the story looked very different. The Dominion, Tyrannis and Incursion expansions introduced new gameplay but didn't heavily iterate on any other features. By the time Incarna released, most of EVE's gameplay and content had been the same for two years and players had nothing new to adapt to. For the Crucible and Inferno expansions, CCP finally iterated on hundreds of small features and even introduced new modules to reboot EVE's "adapt or die" PvP ship design metagame. With a lot of the small things now covered, I think some of the game's big features are due for iteration.

In this week's EVE Evolved opinion piece, I look at how EVE players adapt to new challenges and explore several areas of stale gameplay that are in dire need of iteration.

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Continuing live events

When Sansha's Nation began invading high security space through controlled wormholes back in May 2010, all hell broke loose in EVE Online. Players rallied against the invading NPCs in an escalating series of live action events, fighting a losing battle as the story unfolded for several months. We heard the story of the Ducia Foundry wormhole expedition team abducted and converted into mindless Nation drones, and fought to stop millions being abducted from their home worlds. It wasn't long before players discovered that Sansha's Nation had found the secret to controlling wormholes and used it to invade the highly advanced Jove Empire.

These live events were a fantastic way to introduce the Incursion expansion, drumming up massive anticipation for upcoming features in both the game and the media. The Sansha events told people that something big was about to arrive, and they would need to prepare for a new challenge. Some players reactivated expired accounts to take part, and new corporations formed to tackle Sansha menace. The promise of a challenge is an exciting and enticing message to send players, and I think this should be repeated for every big feature that's introduced because it clearly works. While Crucible and Inferno didn't really lend themselves to a live event format, I'd love to see something to lay the foundations for DUST or to continue old storylines.

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Iterate on incursions

Incursions were initially meant to be a temporary addition to the game, but it looks like CCP has decided to make them permanent. The feature has been around for over a year now, and players have figured out the optimum way to farm it for ridiculous amounts of ISK. Incursion coalitions even formed to intentionally delay killing the mothership at the end of every highsec incursion so that people can farm it for longer. Organised players are now pulling in more farmable income from highsec incursions than you can make anywhere in nullsec.

When incursions first appeared, players were unprepared for the level of difficulty and charged in to be slaughtered in their thousands. They soon adapted to the new gameplay, and a year down the line, the challenge is now largely gone. Perhaps the feature should be replaced with a new challenge to overcome and a new set of game mechanics to figure out. In the 2011 EVE Fanfest talk on incursions, developers discussed the possibility of using the Incursion toolset to build new group PvE based on other factions. I think that's something we need, and it should replace the current incursions. NPCs could invade each other's space, or lowsec pirates could invade neighbouring highsec systems.

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Adapting to wormholes

When news of EVE Online's Apocrypha expansion first appeared in January 2009, EVE saw a huge rise in subscriptions and daily concurrent users. In my own alliance, I saw people who had quit years before log in to prepare for the challenges of wormhole space. With no idea what to expect, the first tentative wormhole expeditions were extremely dangerous, and thousands of ships were lost in just a few months. Today, all of wormhole space has been explored, and the wormhole formation mechanics are well-known.

Wormholes grabbed players' imaginations and presented the tempting challenge of exploring the unknown, but that challenge is gone, and it's no longer unknown. It took about a year for players to fully plumb the depths of wormhole space, and now, two years later, the feature is almost completely unchanged. Players worked out how to efficiently farm wormholes within a year, and after two years, it started to get a little old. To recreate that magic and revitalise wormhole gameplay, CCP needs to provide us new challenges to overcome and new unknowns to figure out and adapt to.

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Wormhole iteration

Obvious additions to wormhole space include adding new combat sites and NPCs to the existing systems, but to really refresh the feature, we'd need new unknowns to figure out. New solar systems with unique properties and challenges would be the holy grail of wormhole exploration. We could get new systems where the static wormhole opens intermittently, and old systems could even be essentially removed from the game for periods of time. We could find deadlier core systems with Sleeper structures at every moon to prevent starbases being deployed and Sleeper NPCs guarding the wormholes themselves.

We could find systems with intact wormhole generators that we can use to connect two systems together more regularly or invade normal space. We might even run into systems garrisoned by Sansha's forces that disappear once dismantled like a Sansha incursion. Eventually we could even find our way into ancient Takmahl, Talocan, or Yan Jung systems, full of new resources required to build tech 3 frigates, or asteroids full of moon goo. There's a lot that can be done to build on wormholes and help recreate the magic of Apocrypha, but even the smallest new challenge would help stop the system from getting stale.

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For the first few months following any new feature, players who can quickly adapt to the new gameplay and figure out the new mechanics are always greatly rewarded. Getting an advantage by virtue of being adaptable is what EVE's all about, but once a feature has been thoroughly explored and documented, it needs to be iterated on in some way to keep it challenging.

A lack of iteration on incursions has let people reap huge rewards for gameplay that has become trivial in difficulty. Similarly, a lack of iteration on wormholes has made a lot of players bored of the feature. I firmly believe that EVE should be kept fresh and challenging for everyone, and that means letting no major feature go unchanged for years at a time. With CCP's recent focus on iteration, hopefully we get some new gameplay in wormholes and a new form of incursions.

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