EVE – Learning Curve

Wilhelm posted an entry on EVE and the Learning Curve; check it out! But then if you’re reading my blog you are undoubtedly already reading his so you’ve seen it. 😉

First of all, 50% retention split between 40% short term and 10% long term doesn’t seem that bad to me. These days we’re all familiar with the drop off after the initial month, and how many bloggers refer to a game as a “3 monther”? CCP is the only company publicly discussing their numbers so they might be average. Undoubtedly CCP would rather be above average and nudge their numbers up… but how?

Well, it seems to me the answer is in the chart. If that 10% long term subscribers are having a group/diverse experience, then figure out how to get more players into a group/diverse situation.

To encourage that, there needs to be less risk to a newbie player joining a corp, less risk to a corporation for accepting a newbie, better tools to match players to corporations, and maybe some other pixie dust sprinkled on top.

Corporations

I’ve never been on the management side of an EVE corporation, but maybe more controls would help. Ways to throttle how much damage someone can cause, even one granted higher access. Maybe some kind of two-factor agreement for major changes – someone with permission to destroy a hangar can’t actually do that without a second round of approval, or some way to spread out responsibility around. That way your board of directors or whatever can’t go bananas and sell everything or lock it away and delete the key (didn’t this actually happen?). Think of how nuclear missile launches are handled: supposedly two people need to agree the order is valid and both have to get their key and turn it at the same time, etc. Well at least that’s how the movies show it!

Corporations can already limit directors and create divisions and request API keys and whatever else, yes that’s good but more, unless the claim is the existing systems are already sufficient and cannot be further improved. In which case there isn’t a retention problem at all now is there – it’s merely a task of matching newbies to corporations?

Newbies

As for the newbie side, one tricky thing is figuring out who is actually a newbie player. Since that scamming and griefing is legal, and so is spying and theft, there is a balance to strike of risk to a corporation admitting a new player, who could very well be an alt of some experienced überspy intent on destroying said corporation, and the new player, who might very well follow instructions “just load up all your stuff and fly to XYZ system; we’ll meet you there and escort you the rest of the way” only to find a bunch of griefers that derive their fun from blowing up new players in the middle of nowhere, recording it, then posting the video to youtube for laughs.

About the only way I can think of to discourage ganking newbies is to make harsher penalties in-game. That’s if this is a major problem in the first place, but CCP would know that. If it is a major issue, many newbie players quit due to ganking – then their future revenue stream is being put at risk for someone else’s “enjoyment” and CCP should respond in very harsh ways. Things like massive drops in security status for ganking someone under a certain number of skill points, fees or outright denial of stargates for problematic players. Imagine that, having to fork over X million ISK per jump because you’re a ganker, or eventually being denied the use of gates? That’ll put the brakes on bad behavior – and the dedicated ganker can still play the way the want (go sandbox and all), it’ll just cost them a lot of ISK to travel or they’ll need to handle their own cyno/jump mechanics. Or maybe gankers can’t buy insurance for ships anymore, the NPC insurance company just refuses. That doesn’t prevent anyone from playing the way they want, it just makes losses a bit more painful.

Instead of warning for criminal flagged players (ones that get that status from ganking newbies), how about CONCORD sponsored gate-camps for them? The gate knows who you are and that you are warping to hisec, let’s say it calls ahead and you’re just destroyed when you arrive. Perhaps not a guaranteed destruction, the game can be sporting and give you a chance against some ugly odds, but by and large it can be arranged for you to have an extremely tough time moving around if you become a criminal by ganking newbie players.

CCP could even do something like crank up taxes/fees for basic services in all stations to those players, to reflect poor status/reputation. Maybe this already happens. Again, a wealthy ganker can work around that and at a certain point this kind of gameplay is allowed/encouraged, so CCP can’t be too unfair with the penalties.

However, if scamming/ganking newbies is really a major retention problem, then CCP needs to respond, not by disallowing it, but by adding lots and lots of pain or making the penalties hurt more and more until the problem gets under control. The right amount of flamethrower to the nuts will cause the desired behavior change, and CCP can keep adding heat.

Advertising

As for matching players to corporations, that’s a tough problem. The in-game tools aren’t too helpful – you can search but have no real way to choose from the results, assuming you aren’t merely picking based on a cool name or logo. But other games have this issue, I don’t remember WoW having great in-game tools, or LoTRO, and so on. I researched out of game via blogs I read, but I can see where that won’t work for every new player. How does recruitment in WoW work? The end-game guilds become famous on their server, and draw applicants… but every one of those I’ve seen has an out-of-game website, forum, and presence, an application link on that external website, etc. However, surely not every WoW guild recruits with posts on Elitist Jerks or their own website. Perhaps make better in-game tools. On the other hand I’m sure CCP doesn’t want to get in the business of hosting player websites. The point here is to make it easier for a corporation to advertise how cool they are, since not every corp can or will want to create their own site and host their own content, all to better recruit.

Blind invites may work but can’t have a high success rate. As for me, I delete unsolicited in-game email and ignore unsolicited chat invites, since they are probably scams. 😉 Perhaps the general reputation of EVE players is such that the many with good intentions are drowned out by the few bad actors. Well that isn’t an easy problem to solve either.

I can see why Brave Newbies and Goonswarm get so much traction – they have a massive presence outside the game, on Reddit and Something Awful. I’m not sure about Pandemic Legion or Nulli Secunda and where they get folks, but I’m betting it isn’t straight from the new player stream. The fact I’ve heard of them is half the advertising battle; meanwhile there are lots of small-medium corporations that would be awesome to be in, but they have a tough time getting the word out about themselves.

Pixie Dust

By this I mean outright bribes offered in-game for newbies matched to corporations. I don’t have a good idea of what those might be (actually I have one and will describe that in the next paragraph; it may be ridiculous) but essentially some nice bonus for accepting new players, some way to make corporate/alliance life easier. Ideally something temporary, or based on new players brought in on a rolling basis. Not something combat related since that would cause everyone else to shed many tears.

The bonus that springs to mind comes from reading Reddit about how Brave Newbies moved from Barleguet to Sendaya, and are now moving from Sendaya to V-3 in Catch. It’s painful to move, people are complaining about how tedious it is to setup the logistics of jump freighters and/or shipping in general, everyone hates it. The general advice is often “just leave your stuff and purchase more”. As for a quick way to travel, just pod yourself. I’m all for consistent game mechanics but this borders on WTF territory.

Well right there is something that CCP can literally make better: introduce some absolutely unfair way for a corporation/alliance (with the right makeup of newbies) to relocate systems, especially when the move is towards null sec. That’s the ultimate idea right, move towards null? Well make it easier to do, especially if you are herding a bunch of newbies, like Brave Newbies is. Right now it seems to take 5-8 players plan for 3+ weeks and then spend even more time hauling… no, that sounds very tedious. Somewhere along the way you stop being a UPS/Fedex shipping/logistics simulator and focus on the space gameplay instead.

The move can have some restrictions, but as a reward for whatever metric CCP comes up with, create some one-time or once-every-yearish way to easily move to a lower security system. Easy as in, click a button and all the stuff transfers. On the back-end, some item database gets an updated “current system” field and *poof* the alliance moves over downtime. Undock in new system and start doing whatever, exploring, fighting, claiming sovereignty, blowing up anyone not blue, etc.

There could be other outrageously unfair yet convenient and not horribly game breaking reward as well; this is the only one I can think of.

But it all circles back to the initial premise about subscribing and new players. The bottom line is EVE might not have wide appeal and perhaps those subscription numbers are to be expected from the game design. A large chunk of the game is watching your ship move from system to system. The activities that most people appear to have fun doing, and that is PvP ranging from small gang roaming to fleet battles, are a steady drain on ISK. Maybe retention would improve if the basics of producing goods weren’t so tedious (I know Sugar Kyle has blogged on how absolutely miserable it is to update a large number of market orders, or fit a huge number of ships, or create dozens of identical contracts; unfortunately I can’t seem to find any of those posts) which would go a long way to encouraging more money making activities.

Focusing efforts on getting more of the current 40% soloers/miners/missioners to the current 10% diverse/group might be the best use of resources.

EDIT: more persistence and I found some of the posts I remember from Sugar Kyle. These aren’t necessarily newbie issues and are more enhancements and improvements for the non-combat players. It could be not every newbie wants to pewpew and everybody does need a way to make ISK… enhancements along these lines might assist in retention as well.

Contract Feedback – how tedious dealing with lots of contracts is
logistics – tedium with shipping, fitting 200+ ships

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