While the player activity stats might suggest otherwise, the past few years have been a real rennaisance for EVE Online. Developers have gone back and iterated on dozens of old game features that were starting to show their age, and some of them have been pretty huge. The war declaration and criminality overhauls in 2012 were fundamental changes to core gameplay that had been stagnant for almost a decade, and the recent industry and warp acceleration changes were equally fundamental shifts. These were all features we had previously been told were essentially off-limits for iteration because they relied on undocumented legacy code from 2003, and none of the programmers wanted to poke that sleeping beast.
Now it seems that no idea is off-limits, and developers aren't afraid to challenge fundamental parts of EVE's original design that may not make sense today. This week's Phoebe update revisited capital ship force projection for the first time since the ships were added in 2004, for example, and it removed the 24-hour skill queue limit that CCP insisted on adding in Apocrypha. In Thursday's episode of The EVE Online Show, developers announced the next big legacy feature to be put on the chopping block in the game of progress: As part of December's Rhea release, clone upgrades and skill point loss on death will be completely removed from the game.
In this edition of EVE Evolved, I look at the problems caused by the cloning system, why it needs to be removed, and what could possibly replace it.
Skill point loss isn't meaningful gameplay
EVE was originally designed with harsh death penalties bordering on permadeath, but developers quickly put in a lot of safety nets to soften the blow. Flying cheap tech 1 ships directly minimises death penalty, insurance pays back up to 70% of your ship's value when it's destroyed, and clones stop you from losing skill points if your escape pod is destroyed. The threat of skill point loss makes EVE's death penalty seem really punishing, but in reality clones are just an ISK tax on getting your escape pod blown up. The only way you could lose skill points on death is if you didn't buy a clone of the appropriate grade, which realistically should never happen.
The clone costs for new players are negligible, and even after a full year of skill training you'll still be paying under a million ISK per pod death. The problem is that new players don't necessarily know all of the game mechanics, and if they don't figure out the cloning system, then they're in for a nasty surprise one day. Even veteran players sometimes forget to upgrade their clone when they outgrow their current one or forget to re-upgrade their clone after a pod death.
The clone system basically penalises people for forgetting to file their cloning paperwork and has undoubtedly caused its fair share of ragequits over the years. Even just the idea that you can potentially lose skillpoints on death is also enough to put some gamers off trying EVE and discourage newbies from getting into PvP. I definitely won't miss this particular pain-in-the-arse feature when it's removed in December, and I think new players will be happy that it's gone too.
Clone costs are a tax on PvP
Though the actual announcement mentioned only removal of clone tiers and skill point loss on death, it's a pretty safe assumption that the ISK cost for cloning is also being removed. Clone costs have been a problem for years, and CCP has helped by periodically reducing clone prices across the board. Even with those reductions, players with several years under their belts currently pay between 14 million and 63 million ISK every time their escape pod is destroyed. All this does is force older players to use more expensive ships and implants, because there's no point in flying a 15-20 million ISK tech 1 cruiser setup if losing your pod will set you back 31.5 million ISK.
In nullsec or wormhole space where interdictors and warp disruption fields will easily catch your escape pod, clone costs have to be factored into almost every death and essentially become a tax on PvP. Older players lose the ability to set their own level of financial risk in PvP as cheaper ships become prohibitively expensive to lose once you add the clone cost. Lots of players enjoy frigate fleets and tech 1 throwaway ship gangs, but they're just not cost effective in nullsec, where most of your fleet will be paying a high pod tax. Even I now do my wormhole PvP on an alternate character trained to 30 million skillpoints because my main character's clone costs have become prohibitive.
What could replace clone grades?
The most interesting part of the announcement was that removing clone grades is apparently just the first step toward a full clone system overhaul, including changes to how skillpoints and implants work. We don't have any specific details on this yet, but it's the first time CCP has hinted that the skill system in EVE might need to change. Perhaps we'll be able to buy upgrades for our clones that increase their cost but provide a benefit, specialising that clone for industry or PvP. New players could even maybe buy temporary skill imprints of all the skills required to fly certain PvP ships so that they're not left out until they train them all for real.
We could also buy extra implant slots, boosts to NPC standings gains for mission-runners, reduced jump clone time, or boosts to any stats that aren't already covered by implants. An entire industry based around growing and harvesting clones could be built up using planetary interaction, and those clones we steal as trophies after podding an enemy might suddenly be worth something on the open market. It's even possible that the clone changes will tie in with CCP Rise's permadeath character idea by allowing someone to buy an upgrade to a clone that links it to one mortal character and allows the two to share skills until either one dies.
Clone costs are a relic of a decade-old EVE Online that no longer exists, originally intended to stop players from using death as a free fast-travel system. Now that players have jump clones and are limited to remotely moving their clone contract only once per year, the whole system is obsolete. All it does now is cause the occasional ragequit from skillpoint loss, tax players who want to PvP, and prevent older players from using cheaper ships. All of those problems will disappear when December's Rhea update lands, and I honestly can't wait to see what CCP does with clones in the future.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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