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Eve Online And The Big Nerf

I’ve been playing Eve Online on and off for about five years now and I don’t think I’ve ever seen as much controversy as that being generated by the most recently proposed changes. These changes basically concern how fast medium sized spaceships should go, and what the ramifications for the rest of the game will be if they’re made to slow down. The mixture of rage, indignation and constructive feedback that has emerged in response to the proposals has created a sixty-three page thread on the official forums, and countless arguments elsewhere – even between my own Eve Onlining chums. But are the subs-paying players right to be angry when the developer changes the nature of their favourite toy? And who should be calling the shots anyway?

The argument taking place over the nature of speed as a tactic in Eve Online casts CCP in a rather autocratic light. The speedy ships that have evolved over the past eighteen months have appeared organically, as players did what they do best: figure out how to squeeze the most out of their chosen game. CCP have said that they want the tactic removed, and that’s that. Feedback might tweak things, but the changes are needed, say the CCP space-combat boffins.

The people who pilot the speedy ships, and have spent hours grinding for the money (or seconds trading game-time cards for the money), are predictably non-plussed, and have vented according. But do they have any right to their anger? Is it not the case, in fact, that CCP have a responsibility to keep the game evolving, and to keep it changing? Even if speed is a positive force in the game (which is highly debated), doesn’t CCP’s mandate to keep the game alive mean making changes that will ensure it cannot stagnate, even when those changes are radical? Speed is, as CCP point out, the most important factor in combat. So important that it is now the primary consideration in almost any Eve Online PvP situation. So should the balance be necessarily changed for the sake of progress?

Okay, I’m being slightly silly here, but nevertheless I think it’s worth stressing that Eve’s primary strength is its modular, changing nature. It is not finished, and it might never be: and so doesn’t an evolving game experience mean that the mechanics need to shift, as well as content?

In my incredible book about videogames I argue that Eve is basically a ongoing symbiotic process – the developers need the players, and the players need the developers. They both get something out of the deal. But what this also implies is that Eve cannot remain static: both player and developer are involved in making this game change and grow, and perhaps that means the developer has to make some unpopular decisions for the good of the process as a whole. The relationship between player and developer is not one of equals, nor is it always at its best when it is entirely amiable.

Eve Online has never stayed the same for long. When it does stop change – for good or ill – it will be dead.

I, for one, welcome our Nerfing Overlords, and hope that a new landscape of (slightly slower) space tactics awaits our careful exploration.

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Jim Rossignol

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