Eve, Embedded Jim & Human Interaction

By Jim Rossignol on January 13th, 2009 at 10:30 am.


With the news that Eve Online is to be re-released by Atari as a retail box, along with a major new expansion named Apocrypha, I thought it might be timely to point out some of the extra-curricula Eve Online writing I’ve been doing. Then I go on after that to rant about Eve’s principles of human interaction.

The Eve words are mostly for Eurogamer’s MMO channel, where I’ve written a series of vague guides to aspects of Eve Online, including industry, politics, combat and the meaning of the big alliance endgame. I’ve tried to author these bits of writing for people who have little familiarity with Eve, in the hope that it’ll give a bit of clearer picture of what goes on within this most forbidding of MMOs. Most recently I conjured up a nu-writerist type battle report from one of our most recent exploits in space combat.

The whole embedded reporter thing is something of an experiment for Eurogamer, and it’ll be interesting to see whether they continue with this tact in 2009. Whether they do or not, I’ve certainly enjoyed being able to write a few things that otherwise wouldn’t find they way our of our own blogging corner of the internet. Even if I ignore the recent cash benefits of being one of EG’s MMO reporters I can safely say that I’ve got more out of Eve Online than I have any other game in my life. I’ve played it on and off for something like five years now, and the possibilities it offers remain the most interesting and entertaining of any game out there. The reason for this is simple: it offers more range for human interaction than any other MMO.

It doesn’t matter one fucking jot whether the game is slow, difficult, or whether you think mining is all there is to it, the cold truth is that only CCP have been able to use the technology and the architecture behind the MMO idea to anything like its full potential. Human behaviour, thanks to the open, money-led structure of the game, is given a wide canvas for expression. CCP have done that by putting player vs player, in industry, politics, and combat, at the heart of their game. That’s the real achievement, and the one aspect of the game I am desperate to underline throughout all my writing about it. After a year of failure and awfulness in MMO, I really, really want developers and publishers to start focusing on this idea and understanding what it means, and why CCP have been a success. Even the great PvP successes, such as WAR, give us only a single mode of interaction that is derivative from their man-vs-level ladder structure. No-one dares put the person-to-person transaction at the heart. Until some other MMOs start to use the same tricks as Eve, I’m going to find it very difficult to give them my time.

Paradoxically, perhaps, I also cannot recommend anyone play Eve Online. If a magazine asks me to re-review it, as they occasionally do, I make it very clear that the game is a great achievement, a deep, brilliant game, and almost certainly not for you. The reason for this, as I’ve outlined in intricate depth elsewhere, is that Eve requires massive personal investment if you intend to reap its rewards. What is unique about this investment, however, is that the investment is not simply in time or energy – things that all kinds of games demand in droves – but in interaction with other people. Eve is, I would argue, the only MMO that has set its foundations on the interaction of its players, rather than the interaction of the player with the game.

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65 Comments »

  1. mpk says:

    One of the things I like about EVE is that you can be passing through a random system looking for random things and someone will convo you just to say hi: it’ll turn out to be someone you’ve never deliberalely spoken to before, but who was in the same alliance as you for a month two years previously, and he’s just wanting to chat about old times.

    Even back when MMOs where MMORPGs I never thought EVE was a role playing game (although that side does exist in some corners of the universe). It’s always been a game where you are yourself, but in space. It’s a magnifying glass on certain parts of your personality, it’s people.

  2. Azhrarn says:

    Couldn’t agree more, the points you mention also make it very hard to explain the game to a non-gamer. The interaction with other people is the main thing that keeps the game going, the game itself is just a backdrop in a sense.

  3. Dizet Sma says:

    “The interaction with other people is the main thing that keeps the game going, the game itself is just a backdrop in a sense.”

    Sounds like Facebook for the MMO crowd.

  4. Jim Rossignol says:

    I think it was CCP who first observed that Facebook pretty much was an MMO.

    But that’s the wrong emphasis, really. The point is that all the significant gamey stuff – battles, trade, etc – are all human interaction too, and often depend on the Facebooky relationship stuff to make sure you have the allies required to “win”.

  5. Acosta says:

    The idea is great, but I wonder if it´s really possible to translate it to a game which target is one million of players. There are some specific conditions for EVE to be fascinating and one of those is its one only server policy which makes everyone aware they are sharing the same space.

    Then I wonder how EVE would be with one million of users. Seeing the behavior and the incredible drama generated in heavily controlled and limited MMOs as WoW, I don’t dare to imagine how it would be with a game like this.

    I’m agree MMO develoeprs should look more to EVE and UO instead of being obsessed about WoW in order to get ideas. But some games are like they are because they have a limited audience and they are better for that.

  6. Jim Rossignol says:

    But some games are like they are because they have a limited audience and they are better for that.

    Ex-fucking-actly.

    Aim for just 100k players, don’t ape WoW: success will come of it.

  7. Andrew Doull says:

    Heh. I projected what Eve would be like with 1 million plus players in Prince Charming. The results are… different.

    (It’s also another bit of Eve Online writing, if you haven’t sated yourself already).

  8. Ben Abraham says:

    That sounds awesome. I’ve always held Eve in high esteem, even if two free trials weren’t able to convince me that *I’d* enjoy the game…

    Also I’ll hungrily lap up any writing either somewhat Nu-writerly or gonzo style.

  9. Premium User Badge phuzz says:

    I hear there’s going to be more single players based missions in Apocrypha, which might be enough to tempt me back into my frigate. As Jim says, Eve is bloody amazing, but that doesn’t mean you’d want to play it.
    At the end of the day, MMOs are really for people who can at least put up with other people (I’d rather not).

  10. Acosta says:

    Yes, but I can’t imagine the big publishers targeting 100.000 users to get a benefit, they want to have WoW, they all want to be big, even bigger of what they can realistically manage.

    Seeing the next wave of MMOs (DC Online, Stars Wars, Star Trek…) I don’t expect a change of mentality in this regard. At best, tools and new engines will allow more small studios to enter this genre without risking their complete business, so we will see more games with Eve’s philosophy, but I’m not holding my breath.

  11. Bidermaier says:

    Actually i think that non gamers understand eve better than most gamers. When I was explaining the game to a friend (btw it takes like 30 minutes to explain the game) he said, ok, so its like “The Matrix” but in space.

  12. Jim Rossignol says:

    Yes, I think I’ve only ever met one or two developers outside of CCP who have played Eve to any more than the superficial Yahtzee-review stage.

    A while back I met some MMO developers who had not even heard of it, although I suspect that has changed in the past couple of years. Eve’s press coverage has exploded in the past eighteen months.

  13. Nuyan says:

    It’s also the only current MMO that I’d see still being around and successful in 2020. I mean, it’s almost 6 years old, it’s been having concurrent users online records the last couple of weekends and is going to be re-released in retail in March…

    Darkfall Online supposedly comes out the 22nd of January, like EVE it’s also much more unrestricted and not just the newest iteration of EverQuest (or DIKU). Don’t know what to think of it though, as the developer is handling the PR side rather amateurish. It’s still worth to look into it a bit I guess.

    “Actually i think that non gamers understand eve better than most gamers. When I was explaining the game to a friend (btw it takes like 30 minutes to explain the game) he said, ok, so its like “The Matrix” but in space.”

    Agreed. It’s probably easier to explain EVE than the appeal of having to be online 3 times a week with 20-40 others to raid some dungeon for items..

  14. TooNu says:

    Nicely stated and something that gets missunderstood by the general new player in EvE. It is vital that players interact and get along purely because the corp. fundamentals exist within these parameters. Put simply, trust, the ability to get along and organisational skills are everything.
    Something like Teamspeak, Ventrilo or EvE voice are really really important in bringing a corp. together and issuing what is needed quickly and without confusion. This doesn’t mean you have to be a robot, like I said, having regular social skills like you would at your job or out with your friends is jsut as important as being able to FC and maintain control.

    People are EVERYTHING in this game. Just a shame really, because I want a great space MMO without the need to feel like a twat executive just so somebody does something that is not real in the first place…If you joke around alot, people do not take you seriously and things fall apart OR even worse, the ones that do not want to make mistakes to learn the hard way (the better way in my opinion) will give up when that mistake is made. These people need to play something else.

  15. Smurfy says:

    I downloaded the EVE demo a while back. Spent about ten minutes trying to figure out what a single button on the interface does, then quit.

  16. cliffski says:

    I used to play eve extensively. I was seriously into it back when I was at Lionhead, a bunch of us would play and had some great times. One of the guys even left his ship mining on one monitor while he worked on another one. Bit cheeky that :D
    I think a lot of devs could learn a lot from eve.

    I wish I could do an MMO, because the thought of constantly tweaking, improving and expanding a single game over many years to get it perfect really appeals to me.

  17. Jim Rossignol says:

    I would have thought a small scale MMO, say 2k-3k subs, would be ideal for an indie like you?

  18. Premium User Badge AndrewC says:

    “It doesn’t matter one fucking jot whether the game is slow, difficult, or whether you think mining is all there is to it”

    Ouch, this speaks to years of patient defending of this game from others.

    Can I ask if Apocrypha has some real meaning in-game, or is it another example of ”Ooo that sounds important somehow’ terrible game names?

  19. Kommissar Nicko says:

    EVE is the MMO I’d love to love, if it weren’t from the fact that I am both a) not driven to make friends over the internet and b) not able to convince my flesh-and-blood friends to play. I’ve tried twice, and without people to play with, it’s worse than any other MMO (in all the grindy, dull aspects), but it approaches at an angle I can admire.

  20. Willem says:

    WHY DO YOU KEEP DOING THIS, JIM? WHY?

    Every time you post one of your bloody EVE stories, I get all worked up and just want to play the game. But I can’t. Because I’m a poor student and EVE would drain me dry. Maybe in the distant future, I’ll be able to play it, but then it’ll turn out that I’m rubbish at it and all the waiting will have been for nothing. ;_;

    However, I do love reading the stories. Good job.

  21. fulis says:

    I want to keep playing but it would ruin school + the money really does add up when you’re a poor student :(

    Also, paying just to keep your skills going when you’re not playing much is sort of pathetic. It’s almost like progress quest the mmo

  22. Cooper42 says:

    I loved my time I had with Eve, but eventually dropped out because I just didn’t have the time needed to progress.

    As for an MMO which focuses on player interaction, bar a few small (mostly text-based) games, Eve certainly comes out tops, and was why I enjoyed my time there.

    As always, though, when mention gets made of MMOs and especially player interaction, I have to remind people who knew of it of SeeD. It promised so, so much in terms of player interaction, especially the political systems and all the dirty dealing that comes with it. And it delivered on that, it just released before it was ready and didn’t have the ‘game’ around that properly tied up.

    EVE was the only other MMO of any size I’ve played that has anywhere near the same scope for players to shape the game, and which relies so much upon interaction and – whisper this softly – “proper roleplaying, I mean, like, as if you /are/ that character” – Weird…

    Reading the eulogy on the usually-wordy-but-vacant-but-occasionally-very-good-and-even-sometimes-bordering-on-the-brilliant escapist magazine gets SeeD about right:

    http://www.escapistmagazine.com/articles/view/issues/issue_70/407-Seed-on-the-Road
    “Imagine an MMOG with actual roleplaying, where players determine the direction of the game itself, and where human interaction and scheming are far more important than beating fuzzy animals senseless. From the beginning, Runestone’s Seed was built around human interaction – the game didn’t even have a combat system – and roleplaying was at the forefront, emphasized in an age when roleplay has devolved into “You can play an elf, if you want. Or, you know, an orc.”"

    Anyway, enough reminiscent blabbering I guess.

  23. Tei says:

    I have played EvE before. I like the graphic style, tastefull. I like the community, good people, you can pay EvE just to chat with people. Interesting people. What is impresive, is how it continue to grown and grown and grown.. for a niche market game is kinda strange. Theres really that much people out here that want to play a sci-fi game about space-ships/space motherships? . What is the secret sauce of EVE?

  24. Alctel says:

    I was a Goonswarm director for 2 years and helped oversee the climb from a corporation of 20 people renting 2 belts off of The Five to the largest alliance in the game with swarths of regions under out control. I’ve fought against or with virtually every alliance in the game, and in almost every region, from the Nowhere space of Solitude, to the Northern reaches of Branch, down to Paragon Soul and to the depths of Delve.

    In the end, I just didn’t have the time anymore, and the endless ‘POS ops’ burned me out. Its very easy to fall into Eve in a big way, and then you find you are actually doing more ‘work’ than in your real job!

    When its good however, its very very good, and the moments of drama are far greater than any single player or fixed MMO. The desperate defense of SU as we were starting out, the climatic battle for 1V- when the enemy doomsdayed 200 of our ships at the start of the battle and we still pulled through to blowing up the first piloted titan in eve are all fixed in my gaming memory forever.

  25. Tei says:

    @fulis:
    He!.. you sould add a link so other people know about this other mmo :-)
    http://www.progressquest.com/

  26. Rei Onryou says:

    As much as I disliked EvE for removing the player from the actions (X-Wing vs Tie-Fighter fan I am) and didn’t play for more than 4 days of trial, I hold the game in the highest respect for its achievements. In 5-10 years time, EvE could easily still be going with the same fanbase while WoW will have died out and been replaced with the next big thing. CCP got the formula for what an MMO should be right on the mark.

    You can tell an MMO has done well when it produces stories and news that easily rival professional writers imaginations, and yet, these will just be anecdotes for those who were involved (thanks Jim for all the EvE articles you’ve written in PCG!). The only other game that came close to this in terms of tales to tell round the fire was Planetside and the 1%. But we all know that Planetside didn’t have the formula to last.

  27. Wallace says:

    I have a similar problem; I love the game, and will quite happily rave about it to anyone that will listen, but I can’t recommend it.

  28. Bobsy says:

    Hrrm. Not sure I’d like Positech to make an MMO. There’s a horrible sludge of free crappy 2D faux-MMOs around in the darker, seedier corners of Los Internets, all trying to ape that Adventure Quest thing. A Positech MMO would quite possibly get lost in that deluge.

  29. Dinger says:

    Actually, the small-scale MMO is really the unknown territory in online games. Take the war stuff: Warbirds is still around, some fourteen years after its inception. Aces High is nearly ten, and run by the same developers. World War Two Online’s first beta blighted hard drives eight years ago.
    And that’s just one lineage (The “Air Warrior” one). None of these games have more than a couple thousand subscriptions, yet they all have an (increasingly diehard) audience, and they all make money for someone. Only WW2OL ever dreamed of being something bigger.

    I guess Planetside is another survivor.

    What other niche MMOs do people know about?

  30. Maxheadroom says:

    I’m not what you might call a ‘twitch’ gamer but I’ve tried and failed several times to get into EvE.
    If it’s being re-released in a commercial box (hopefully with a big-ass printed manual I can plough through and reference when I get stuck) then I might try again.

    I’m not knocking the steep difficulty (anything that retains a more mature player base and helps keep the kidz out gets my vote) I just wish I could get past it myself!

  31. Gap Gen says:

    But that’s the wrong emphasis, really. The point is that all the significant gamey stuff – battles, trade, etc – are all human interaction too, and often depend on the Facebooky relationship stuff to make sure you have the allies required to “win”.

    Reminds me of the people on Facebook who believe that having the biggest friends list constitutes a ‘win’.

    I guess you could build an MMO Facebook app that had gamey aspects, like Planetarion or something.

  32. Nuyan says:

    “What other niche MMOs do people know about?”

    Stories from A tale in the Desert are also rather brilliant.

  33. Kelduum Revaan says:

    I should probably pimp Eve University again for those of you who have/are considering/are trying it out.

    I’ve been playing for what must be two and a half years, and somehow I’ve ended up in charge of the day to day running of the thing, which, while I don’t play the thing as much as I used to, its still a great deal of fun, and remarkably rewarding.

    The Uni has been around for just short of 5 years now, and currently have around 1,000 active members. In short we provide the one-on-one support and helpful learning environment that the tutorials can’t.

    We have things like practical lessons, a mentor program, free skillbooks, modules, ships and ammo, forums full of info and people ready to answer pretty much any question you can come up with.

    We’re on a bit of a publicity drive at the moment, as well as making some adjustments ready for Apocrypha in March, which if previous expansions are anything to go buy, means we are going to be pretty damn busy…

    Look me up in-game (same name) if you just started and have any questions!

  34. Premium User Badge AndrewC says:

    * Kelduum Revaan

    Well then maybe you can tell me whether Apocrypha means anything in-game?

    I am increasingly super tempted by this game. But I also know I will suck and not get past the learning curve. it is good to know yourself.

  35. Jim Rossignol says:

    I believe the naming of expansions is just within a “sounds vaguely Biblical” remit, with not much actual significance.

  36. Tei says:

    *Urge to watch “Farscape” again raaaaaaaaaising*

  37. AbyssUK says:

    Apocrypha means ‘hidden things’ in Greek, so here is hoping its the strange black ships from Babylon 5. I’d pay for that.

  38. Davee says:

    Can’t wait for this expansion – finally to do some real exploring in uncharted space!

    And @ AbyssUK: I bet the crazy icelanders will have some suprises waiting for us on the other side of the wormholes other than very rare ores that can be built into advanced ships (huge fleets of pirate-ish ailien ships anyone?).

  39. Amanda says:

    Random, non-MMO dev here, and I played EVE in the beta back in the mists (then returned a year or so later just to check) and unfortunately I never got into it anywhere nearly as much as my friends. They were setting their alarm clocks to wake them at 2am to change a skill, but the social side of it (which I agree is its strength) never caught hold of me.

    I was also in the SeeD beta, and I had high hopes for that, until I discovered that there really wasn’t enough to do in that from moment to moment, and felt that it could have learned more from Puzzle Pirates. A Tale In The Desert, of course, had the player agency side of things where you could propose changes to the game (and politick about them) whereas Star Wars Galaxies had the city creation and Mayor skill tree.

    In short, there’s been a lot of interesting experiments out there, and thankfully the market isn’t just WoW clones, but EVE has so far managed to outlast them all – probably due to courage, ageless graphics, small costs, and their 100th monkey. I look forward to the next wave of smaller, braver MMO experiments, because the market could stand to support a good few more!

  40. Edgar the Peaceful says:

    I loved EVE and dropped in and out of it 2004-07 as small-time arms & droids dealer. But you can’t play this game if you have a family. In fact, I’d advise against it if you have a wife or girlfriend. If I were a single man, I’d be there like a shot…

  41. Edgar the Peaceful says:

    Of course I mean drones…duh

  42. Rei Onryou says:

    I wonder how the Avatar update will affect things…

  43. Lilliput King says:

    Always loved Eve, so here’s the good news – I now have a job, and enough money to pay for it.

    The bad news is coming up. I logged back on to find my various Alliance and PVP buddies had either gone inactive or worse, carebear. This is something of a problem, and I wonder how many other people starting out, or coming back to old characters have trouble building that strange list of contacts that you need to actually get fun out of the game.

    Apart from the pondering I’d like to be lame and use this space to advertise myself, like some cheap harlot. I’ve joined some pretty lame corporations in the past looking for some PVP and I’d like not to repeat the mistake. Huzzah alliance sounds like a fair amount of fun so if there are any PVP corporations in it looking for a rougly 32 million skillpoint PVP character I’d love to join up…

    Sorry :/

  44. Syneval says:

    Yeah, Eve is definitely not for everyone. In fact, it’s not for me either… but I’ve been subscribed and passively skilling for over three years now.

    Some people give money to Greenpeace, I give it to CCP. The game is of such brilliance that I can’t help but want to support it.

    The other factor is that while the game isn’t for me, I have seen it improve impressively. So one day, I expect my very skilled character will one day actually play the game !

  45. Swift Voyager says:

    Apocrypha (from the Greek word ἀπόκρυφα, meaning “those having been hidden away”[1]) are texts of uncertain authenticity, or writings where the authorship is questioned.

    When used in the specific context of Judeo-Christian theology, the term apocrypha refers to any collection of scriptural texts that falls outside the canon.

    The term could apply to the new “worm holes” being introduced in this expansion. They are both “hidden away” and “outside of cannon”, since they are said to be instanced.

  46. eyemessiah says:

    I’m not really keen on investing myself in games. I want to be entertained, and in that sense I really want the game to be doing all the work – and I certainly don’t want to have to play for hours a day for years before I “really” get into it.

    Except for DF I suppose – but like you I’d never reccomend that game to anyone! I’m not even sure its a game. Its more like some kind of marginal, inaccessible unnamed hobby-thing. I think about Eve a bit like that, although I’d have to concede its a bit less marginal.

    That said, if Eve is really as dynamic and as player driven as you and others maintain then I agree it would be quite a revolution if the makers of more accessible MMO’s were able to learn some of those lessons. As it stands stuff like WOW and WAR don’t even really seem to aspire to having worlds where interesting stuff happens as a result of player actions & choices and IMO this is really what would put the RP back into MMPORG.

  47. Batolemaeus says:

    Other niche stuff?
    Wurm Online probably. Very, very nice in the way it almost requires you to band together to survive, even on non-pvp servers.

    Plus, it’s extremely similar to Eve, from a game design perspective, and in some ways even ahead of Eve.
    (Terraforming in an MMO, baby!)

  48. mpk says:

    I loved EVE and dropped in and out of it 2004-07 as small-time arms & droids dealer. But you can’t play this game if you have a family. In fact, I’d advise against it if you have a wife or girlfriend. If I were a single man, I’d be there like a shot…

    There are five kids between three of my corpmates (including myself). It can be done, believe me :)

  49. bungholio says:

    I’m currently a bit more busy so my EVE time is down to maybe 2 or 3 hrs/week. This is still more than enough to make cash through trade and buy the gametime with ingame money. Quietly keep skilling up for ever leeter toons who will return to tear a**

    But it’s true, being a full alliance member with wars etc can easily take more time than a heavy fulltime job. However, EVE is fully intoxication-compatible while work isnt :)

  50. Nate says:

    Travian’s another free MMOG with the EVE feel– super bloodthirsty and unforgiving. It becomes very political very quickly.

    Seriously, there’s plenty of room for these kind of niche games, and plenty already exist. You’re just not going to see them paired with significant development budgets.