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Why I Play: EVE Online

Jef Reahard

I can't for the life of me convince my friends to sign up for EVE Online. In their defense, the game can feel like a job at first. There are no skinner box particle effects or angelic choirs signifying your latest achievement, nor does anyone shower you with virtual confetti as you graduate from the newbie island.

For these reasons and others like them, CCP seems to have topped out somewhere around half a million active subs at the game's high point. EVE is seen as unfriendly in some ways, but in actuality it's the friendliest MMO around if you're an imaginative sort with the desire to direct your own in-game destiny.

Could the tutorials be better? Sure. Could PvE missions be more engaging? Absolutely. Does either of these failings, or numerous others, detract from what is the genre's premier emergent experience?


EVE Online - Caldari space station approach
World vs. game

How come, you ask? Because EVE, unlike the vast majority of its new-school MMO contemporaries, is truly a world. Technically, yes, it is a game, but it's also a love note to an era when MMORPGs were made for people who actually wanted to play them. EVE is a game that rewards patience, that demands -- dare I say it -- study and research, and it's the only MMO I know of where real-world truths like "you get out what you put in" actually apply.

EVE Online - Minmatar capsuleer boarding his rifterAnd I absolutely adore that about New Eden.

The thing that frustrates me the most about my inability to convince friends to join up is that I know they would enjoy it. Like me, they are largely fed up with the casualification of gaming in general and with MMOs in particular. They don't subscribe to the asinine less-is-more theory (oh no, there are so many options! That's bad design!).

They're mostly roleplayers, and they hop from game to game searching in vain for a title where their actions matter and where they can build something that affects the game world. I have one friend, for example, who is obsessed with forming some sort of smuggling guild. She loves playing the rogue, loves trading, and loves making contacts both in and out of game.

She would die to have actual in-game trade routes governed by the laws of supply and demand, and she seeks this functionality out in every new MMO. When I tell her that EVE is the only game where she can actually smuggle (or run and develop actual trade routes), though, she frowns and says yeah that's great but I don't want to be a spaceship. Never mind that she's a 20-year roleplayer who excels at the imagination required by tabletop and text MUDs.

And that, in a nutshell, is EVE.

It has the most engaging gameplay in the genre -- if you're willing to put up with the concessions to popular convention necessary to provide that gameplay on a large scale. And if you're willing (or able) to make that gameplay for yourself.

Brendan Drain, Massively's resident EVE columnist, summed up the game better than I can in a recent edition of our weekly WRUP column. EVE is simply a set of tools, he said, and it is designed to provide players with many different ways to make their own fun.

That, above all else, is why I play EVE. In my estimation, there are too few toolsets like it, but toolsets like it are what MMORPGs do best.

EVE Online - Minmatar rifter in PvE complex
Some misconceptions

One of the major misconceptions about EVE is that you have to be a richardhead to play it. Sure, the richardheads get all the gaming press because scams, scandals, and flamebaiting arrogance gets more page hits than anything else. New Eden has plenty of well-adjusted, helpful folk, though. In fact, I'm willing to bet that proportionally it has more of these types than does your average themepark. The harsh nature of the world demands cooperation, and people instinctively band together to both survive and figure things out. Spend some time in the English help channel if you don't believe me (or check out the EVE University and Red vs. Blue corps).

EVE Online - Caldari capsuleer tweaking his OspreyAnother misconception is that EVE is 100% PvP. Sure, PvP is a part of it, and even things like trading and manufacturing are basically more polite (or at least, more impersonal) forms of player competition. But you can go months without PvP if you wish, and no, I'm not just talking about grinding missions. My main has trained up all his astrometric skills to five, and he's got a spiffy covert ops boat that he uses to cruise around low- and null-sec, dodging red-equals-dead dingbats and uncovering dungeons stuffed with hackable containers, challenging NPC enemies, and the occasional rare blueprint.

The exploration gameplay highlighted in 2009's Apocrypha expansion opened up plenty of new solo-player opportunities, with the caveat of a tricky scanning system that takes a bit of trial-and-error and plenty of google-fu to fully grok.

This complexity turns people off, but in my opinion it's the price you pay for a more meaningful gameplay experience. Yeah, I spent a couple of weeks going in circles as I tried to teach myself how to scan down both player ships and some of the game's rarer complexes. But frankly that two weeks was orders of magnitude more enjoyable to me than spending a similar amount of time grinding faction for a "rare" armor piece in some other MMO.

Most of EVE's critics namecheck this complexity, and other supposed faults, when going through their list of things "wrong" with the game. The UI is horrible, they say. Is it really, though? Seeing as how absolutely everything on it has a highly detailed context menu, and 95% of its functionality can be accessed by a simple right-click, I wonder whether short attention spans are the culprit instead of subpar design. The UI is busy, I'll grant you that, (and font resizing would be swell), but tens of thousands of players make it work on a daily basis.

If it's difficult to review -- let alone fully experience -- a standard MMO in a few weeks' time, it's absolutely impossible to grasp most of EVE's gameplay in the same amount of time, which is why I don't put much stock in the opinions of people who label the game "spreadsheets in space" after a fortnight trial period (or even a six-month trial period, for that matter).

EVE Online - driveby bombing
The CCP factor

Finally, no Why I Play EVE article would be complete without a mention of CCP itself. The company is most definitely a boy's club, and it's made plenty of questionable PR and game design moves over the years. That said, it is one of the very few MMO outfits that is not afraid to experiment, and in my estimation, any sandbox fan who doesn't give EVE a few months' time is doing himself a great disservice.

You may not like aspects of EVE, but you have to admire what CCP is doing with both DUST 514 and its upcoming EVE-centric foray into the cloud and mobile spaces. Whereas most MMO devs are looking for ways to wring recurring revenue out of single-player game mechanics, CCP is looking to expand its already massive virtual world across multiple platforms. Yeah, the orbital bombardment from EVE to DUST at last week's Fanfest was underwhelming, but at least CCP has the cojones to give it a go. Would any other MMO firm have the guts to even attempt something like that, let alone pull it off?

I could go on, but I'm sure you get the idea by now. EVE, moreso than any other MMORPG, is truly what you make of it. If you go in expecting it to be this unwieldy mathematical monstrosity populated entirely by virginal griefers, then that's what it will be. If you approach it as a world of nearly endless possibility, and you can make friends easily (or bring some with you), you will likely have the time of your MMO life.

New Eden is like anything else worth having. It's not handed to you, and it demands a certain amount of effort that is unheard of in current-gen MMORPGs. It's all in there, though, and at this point, the only thing the game lacks is you.

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.

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