22 May 2014

EVEn on holiday

As I live in Scotland it is always nice to get away somewhere sunny and warm. It's nice to leave work behind and all the little niggling jobs around the house that I never get around to doing. On holiday you can sit around and relax guilt-free. Of course, to get on holiday there are many things which need taken care of: Pets need someone to look after them; Getting someone to stay at your house while you're away is also great (ignoring that it could be their house getting broken into instead); Wrapping up or handing over all your projects at work can be pretty exhausting. Once that's all taken care of, though, relaxation is key.

For all us EVE players there is one final detail which needs tended to - the skill queue. A unique selling point of EVE is the absence of level-grinding compared to other MMOs. In combination with the assertion that a new player can compete quickly with a veteran this seems a very compelling feature. Pretty much from the start most players realise that this offline progression means any time with an empty queue is 'levelling time' squandered. Thus they acquire 'skill queue anxiety'.

Thankfully for me it was rather easy to find skills for my three accounts to train. Orea got Large Hybrids V and Geo got Heavy Drones V. Dhal got Takmahl Technology V which is probably useless but will take him down to two skills left before he can build everything in the game. All of these skills started with well over two weeks of training so cover my break wonderfully. Before I had so many skills points I remember having to add skills to my queue almost every day. I can only assume I never went on any holidays when my characters were young as it would have almost certainly been impossible to find a 14 day skill back then. I also don't remember deliberately letting a skill queue run out so I guess I was just lucky.
The only thing which would improve this picture is a clean screen which is visible in the sun

One additional consideration I have when going on holiday is my role as both the alliance leader and as the admin of all the alliance IT services. Unfortunately I am way too controlling and paranoid to give anyone else admin access to our server or to have anyone other than myself in control of the alliance executor corp. This means I always feel compelled to take my laptop with me on holidays. This is strictly for emergencies only I tell my wife. I in no way, shape, or form did PI today before going to the beach. I was definitely not online two nights ago chatting with folk and seeking a route back to our home system for Orea.

So, dear reader, what actions and precautions do you take before going on holiday? Do you set any long skill regardless to whether you need that skill or not? Do you take a computer with you to maintain your normal training plan? Or do you simply forget about EVE and skill points and just finish your holidays to an empty queue?

16 May 2014

Pee Vee EVE

I'm typing this post from a much warmer location than normal. Right now I am on vacation with my family, but as they sleep (and I take a break from Hearthstone) my mind turns to EVE. Before I left the UK there was an ongoing topic thread regarding the state of PvE in EVE. At first I paid little heed to the topic expecting the usual "this is a PvP game so PvE-ers are in the wrong place" hyperbole. When I saw my good friend, splatus, over at A journey through the mind had written a post on the topic I decided there was no point to even weigh in on the subject as he'd almost certainly be wrong1 so I put it to the back of my mind. Then that very same splatus showed me an actual response from CCP Seagull to an open question from TurAmarth ElRandir and I started thinking again. So, here I am with beer, peace and quiet. Let's see where my mind runs with this...

The more vocal EVE players, and also CCP, are decidedly proud that EVE is a PvP game first and foremost. Sure there is crafting and PvE, and yeah the market is probably the most developed in any computer game around just now, but PvP is the most important aspect of the game and it should stay that way. One of the often bandied about problems with EVE is that the logged in player numbers are stagnant. This has been the case for as long as I can remember. From time to time we see Jester posting stats on this and the graphs mostly tell the same story of periodic growth and decline of player numbers as controlled by the season or expansion release. The average of this statistic is essentially a flat line going back several years. The question which most commonly follows is "How come games like World of Warcraft manager to have millions of subscribers when we have only half a million?".

Let's just think about that for a bit. Why does a PvE rich game like WoW manage to attract several million paying customers but a game where PvE is considered a disease which must be eradicated struggles to get past half a million? Hmm, boss, I dunno... In case you missed it, that was sarcasm. I came to EVE from WoW. In fact I played both at the same time. The first twice I came to EVE (2005 and 2007) I didn't last past my trial mainly due to the dire state of PvE in the game. I came from PvE and I wanted to PvE. It wasn't until 2009 when I was largely bored of WoW when I finally dug a niche out in EVE and enjoyed it. I was still just missioning but I was fairly happy. CCP got me as a customer due to my persistence and boredom with their competition. Now I'm not a businessman but from what I know about salesmen it is meant to be their persistence which wins the sale to a reluctant customer. I was far from reluctant but it still took three bites of the cherry before I was able to stick around.

From December 2009 until July 2011 I almost exclusively ran level 3 and level 4 combat missions. I had very little interaction with anyone other than market sales and my interaction with corporations mostly showed me that joining them was a bad idea as I suddenly became vulnerable to wardecs which meant I couldn't play for a week or more. At this point you should jump in and say "wait Orea, this is exactly the game and your corp should have fought in the wardec". Even to this day I would say to you that there is little to no point fighting a hisec wardec. The people who engage in them do so in far safer conditions than most hisec miners expose themselves to. Even so, back then I didn't know that so well and tried to get my fellow corp-mates to join me in a fleet to attack the opposite party yet nobody would. At least one corp I was in totally folded due to a wardec issued for no reason other than lolz.

The entire nature of EVE is such that casual players are driven away. People who come from other online games are driven away almost instantly by the dire state of missions. People who don't necessarily want to interact with others are ridiculed out of the game for not knowing that (e.g.) Jita Burns is on2. People who quietly mine in hisec making bugger all ISK for their time suddenly find themselves without a ship as "mining is bad m'kay". Even those who do join a corp discover their monthly payment to CCP doesn't really guarantee they can play as hisec wardecs generally render that unfeasible.

So what, if anything, should be done about this? Well the "if anything" part is easy to answer. By CCP's own numbers they let 90% of people escape their clutches. Around half of that are people who try the PvE content then realise it is shite and leave. The 10% of us who stick around say "good riddance" but we are wrong. Like me, those 40% may be taking a longer time than some to find their feet and encounter a decent corp to join with. They may still believe that nullsec is a terrifying cacophony of lawlessness and not the carebear haven it truly is.They may even think that all of lowsec is like Rancer with gatecamps behind every jump they make. Who are we to judge them "bad at EVE" for this? They just have to learn. But how do they learn if they don't stick around?

Without adversely changing the nature of EVE there is only one focus CCP have. The quality of PvE content must, must, must be greatly improved. I don't know how many missions there are out there but there can't be that many given how often you have to rescue that damn Damsel from the pleasure hub. This number needs greatly increased. There also needs to be a number of corp-specific missions created. Things you only ever see when doing something for the Caldari Navy, and not just a change to the faction of people you are shooting at. More importantly than this, there should be a massive increase in the Epic Arcs. The way to engage people in the game is to give them a longer storyline to follow. I remember being deeply disappointed when I finished the Sisters of EVE epic arc to discover the other arcs required me to have awesome standings with the relevant empires. At some point along the way I decided these arcs would take me to lowsec at which point I never ever paid them any attention again.

So here is my challenge to CCP and to CCP Seagull in particular who says they "want EVE to have more things to do for small scale groups and solo pilots": Make 20 new Epic arcs in New Eden by the time you release Kronos. They don't have to be called 'Epic Arcs' if that would jar with the existing missions, just make a long storyline which threads through 30-50 missions and actually engages the player. Make these challenging. Encourage players into random lowsec locations in cheap ships to make a rendezvous or a drop-off. Put simply: Engage the casual player to stick around and, like me, become less casual and more addicted engaged.

1 Splatus and I so infrequenly agree it has become something of an in-joke.
2 I am also guilty of doing this.

7 May 2014

API NPC Changes

I rarely venture into the eve-o forums. I find them to be a wasteland of bitterness which sucks the soul and removes my desire to play EVE. The only time I go there is when some other, tougher soul tells me there is something worth reading. Right now the 'something worth reading' is a threadnaught initiated by CCP SoxFoxFour on an intended change to the data available to pull from the EVE API.
"as a heads up as soon as I can find the time I will be removing WH systems map/kills endpoint. This is data that exists in the API but not the client and is incredibly powerful. As with everything I am open to discussing this, but I will admit that you will have a damn hard time convincing me of not doing it."
 The resulting thread which followed this was at 23 pages when I last looked with a fairly even split of people who welcome the change and people who absolutely hate the idea of this information going away. Those in favour cite the reason that wormholes exist is to be mysterious with no way of knowing what is out there, particularly not from external tools pulling from the API. Those against raise the point that it is already hard to find people in wormholes and this information is the only way they can find people to kill in a long, pre-scanned chain.

I see there being two problems here which are not entirely unrelated. Problem one is the existence of this information in the API which shouldn't be there. The people pointing out that wormholes are meant to be mysterious areas with no intel not gathered with your own eyes are 100% correct. We already had wormhole system jumps removed many moons ago for this very reason. The NPC kill data should also have been removed at that point. We should not know anything about wormholes which wasn't learnt from d-scan or other in-game intel gathering means. If my corp scans out a long chain then it is up to us to station scouts in each link to wait for activity, or actually patrol the chain to find someone to shoot. The key concept here is we need to be active to find things.

The mildly related second problem was introduced with the Odyssey expansion. In Odyssey we were lumped with the wonderful new scanner. No more did we have to actively probe systems to see what was out there. No more did we have to proactively scan our own systems during operations to see if any new signatures were present in our home system or where ever we happened to be operating. No more did we have to be surprised when ships appeared from nowhere to gank us when we thought we have all our exits covered. See where I'm going with this? Ostensibly the reason for this change was to bring more people into exploration. While a laudably intention we rarely find anyone else in our chains at all. When we do we have to be really quick to catch them if they are running sites, or they have to be really dumb and not notice the new signature auto-populate in their signature scanner. The balance of risk has shifted too far and the new proposal shifts this even further in favour of carebears. I'm sure this in unintended by CCP...

I agree with both sides but the fix is not to do nothing. I fully support removing this information from the API. Wormholes are big spaces where intel comes at a premium. You should have to work hard to get your kills. The first part is scanning, the second part is keeping the intel current, the final part is the kill. The real problem here happened with Odyssey and should be removed. Get rid of the signature scanner autopopulating. Force people running sites to have probes in the air actively scanning for new sigs. Take us back to pre-Odyssey scanning. If passive intel for the hunter is removed then so too should passive intel for the prey.

Killing is just a means

We have been graced with a new release from CCP's very own band, Permaband. Go have a listen.

What did you think of it? I thought so. Try this next video as an antidote.

Feel better now?

1 May 2014

Fanfest 2014

In not very many minutes Fanfest 2014 begins. Sadly I am not there this year. I have paid for the HD stream from twitch.tv so I can watch as much of the event as possible. Even with PLEX prices as high as they are it was still worth splurging some ISK rather than real cash on this. I am looking forward to seeing whether EVE gets some more love this year than last.

For convenience I have added a page link at the top of my blog for easy access to the live stream. I encourage you to watch to while mentally preparing to save the cash to fly to Iceland for next year.