I’ve been playing the massive multiplayer online RPG (is it an RPG?) EVE Online in 2006 – I left at some point, having played for several months and gotten to a point where I couldn’t find any excitement in it. CCP (the company that makes an maintains EVE Online) also promised my account, with all its assets, would remain saved, if I would ever want to reactivate it when there had been another upgrade or such. A few weeks ago, the Mac client (which is actually the windows client wrapped in Transgaming’s Cider engine) was released, and I couldn’t fight the temptation to join EVE again and see what it had to offer. A lot has changed for me, personally, which inspired me to write a bit about the curious system that keeps EVE alive as a game, and the parts of EVE that aren’t really a game anymore.
EVE is different from most MMORPGs. It’s different in the sense that you’re not a ‘female’ elf that rubs up against willing high-level gnomes for money, but an ass-kicking ship in an unsharded world of galaxies, and also different in the sense of game dynamics. Where most massive multiplayer games let you redeem your progress by ‘saving’ items you acquire as you grow, EVE offers no such thing; if your space ship gets blown to bits, you will have to live with it; the loss is permanent in every sense(✹).
What attracted me to EVE the first time around, was a ‘real’ universe, where all the 50.000-or so players are all in the same place. Again, most other games have the concepts of ‘servers’; EVE only has Tranquility, the ‘real EVE world’, where everyone plays. This allows for a second unique thing in EVE; a real, player-driven economy. Prices of (for example) ship equipment are regulated by the price of blueprints of the equipment and the minerals and materials that make it up, which are in term regulated by the amount of minerals and materials miners bring in from the asteroid belts. None of these items are ‘seeded’; all the equipment and ships you buy are manufactured by players. Understanding this system was my biggest fascination when I first came to EVE; I found a little nugget that kept me occupied in the dull hours. It isn’t even as much as a game as making genuine money; as with most MMORPGs, you can sell in-game credit for money in real life.
Trading, mining, or manufacturing things is a joy in EVE because it’s like the real world; demand fluctuates, prices are higher and lower in an organic fashion across the constellations and galaxies. I made my fortune shipping large battleship components between two large regions of space; I bought them for a little bit of money, and sold them where demand had driven prices much higher. Mind you, at this stage of the game, I was still so pathetically clinging to my EVE-ly possessions that I wouldn’t even dare risk taking this venture into actually outback space. The space in EVE is separated between high-security, where players cannot kill each other unpunished, and low-security, sometimes uninhabited, uncharted space where players can kill each other and huge factions of players fight for sovereignty. Since I wasn’t taking any risk at all, I wouldn’t even touch these regions of space with a ten-foot cattle prod.
So I made a bunch of money, spent all my time hunting (NPC) pirates in high-security with a few friends while I was not traveling and trading items. At one point, I had gotten as far as having a battleship, and the excitement was really lost for me. I joined an RP corporation (a ‘clan’ of players that play ‘in character’, making actions in EVE that are ‘appropriate’ in regards to the backstory and fictions) for the first time, being a bit disenfranchised with taking no risk at all, and had a lot of fun role-playing a while. It wasn’t really my thing, however, as I had started seeing EVE as that game I played for a few hours, not for large portions of my day. This corporation really demanded that I spent a lot of time with them on fighting the good fight, and helping the corporation grow. I left the corporation, and decided to deactivate my EVE account.
So far for classic history. I rejoined EVE, initially with the premise that I would simply use a month of time to take all my assets and blow them up in a fun fashion. What I had expected was true; I found myself back in the game without the immersion and curiosity I had the first time. However, I found a different world; new ways to travel faster, new ships, and the economy had grown so much, that most of my trading techniques had become deprecated. As you can see in the graph above, the prices of minerals went down, and as such, everything became cheaper. Profit margins were cut, and I chuckled to myself that printing money was harder than ever. I pointed my battleship to low-security space and started a lengthy travel into the heart of EVE; the gate where, according to the fictions, humanity once entered this cluster of galaxies (oh, the irony).
I failed to find any pirates in this low-security region willing to blow up my badly equipped ship. I did manage to find challenging (NPC) enemies in the asteroid belts that I could blow up. The fun began. I blew up some pirates in low-security, and once I ran out of ammunition, I headed back to my home base (which was a long travel away). I found out that the regions that connected me to this space were the same regions I used to trade between. I noted a few prices, bought the most expensive items with the largest perceived margins, studied a few graphs and flew a huge shipment of equipment back home. In a few days, I made over 60 million ingame credits, all the while taking risk and having some fun.
I am now gradually taking more risk, sometimes an hour a day, sometimes a few hours, some days I don’t even play. Yet I advance in the game; money streams in as players buy my items, and I garner skills over time (in contradiction to ‘experience’-based games, where you have to kill enemies to advance, EVE relies only on the time you spend ‘training’ skills, which continues even when you are logged out). To me, EVE has become the ultimate geek’s Solitaire; I can play it in the dull hours, sometimes I even have it open while I run Photoshop and do my design work. It’s no longer a game to me; it’s a hobby, which at times, I turn into a brief game of (genuine) excitement of losing months of work over being thrilled. After all, if a group of pirates were to decide to crash my party, I would lose a lot. I’m not even insured(✹).
I rarely play games lately, because I don’t really have the time and most ‘modern’ games don’t appeal to me (and I have a Mac, which is a good productivity enhancer when it comes to just not having games to play), but EVE has been as flexible as I am and endures my attention span. For serious designers, developers, and geeks with a tendency towards science-fiction, I might just be able to recommend it.
(✹; Although you can buy ‘insurance’ for your ship, so you get a large sum of money when you lose it.)