EVE Online is one of the longest-running and most unique MMOs in existence, and is on a path that aims to keep it that way even if it's also one of the most impenetrable gaming experiences for outside players.
Thousands of new players sign up and join New Eden every week, but only a small percentage stick around as Capsuleers. EVE Online is a notoriously complicated game, both in its systems and the community itself - a giant shared universe that's virtually all controlled by the players, from market prices and corporations to politics and wars.
EVE Online added a free-to-play option as part of its Ascension expansion in 2016, allowing players to join as Alpha Clones (paying subscribers are called Omega Clones) to try the game out. For many years however, the tutorials, the starting gameplay, and the uncertainty of venturing out into space has been a tough sell for casual players or newcomers. If you're not in, it's challenging to get in, and developer CCP Games has been aware of this and working on it for a long time.
At EVEsterdam 2019, the first stop on CCP's world tour of events, we sat down with several members from the dev team as well as a representative of the player community to ask about the current status of the new player experience in EVE Online.
EVE Online's New Player Experience Has Never Been Better, But Still Needs Work
Joshua "CCP Fozzie" Bayer, Senior Game Designer, talks about some of the quality of life improvements that help all players and teases that there's much more coming:
“I think it’s the best it’s ever been and we’re always working on getting it better. There are really two paths going in parallel for improving the new player experience, both improving the tutorials themselves, so the very initial experience, and we’re always working on evolving that. There’s some really exciting stuff we’re not quite ready to talk about that’s in the pipe in that direction that we’ll probably be talking about these in some of the future EVE Invasion Tour locations. But also, just making changes that make the game simpler, easier, and better to understand for everyone.
The Skills on Demand system is one that just does that. It makes it easier for everyone and if you make it easier for everyone than you’re also making it easier for new players.”
Sveinn Jóhannesson Kjarval, Senior Community Development Lead who's endearingly known as CCP Guard and who - after a 16-year career as the face of CCP to many players (and a literal rockstar!) - is leaving the company, agrees:
“It’s good. I think it’s in the best shape it’s been in a really long time and I think with the changes we talked about like the new Ninja team that we formed to untangle some UI elements and menu complexity I think EVE is going to be more accessible in the next six months.”
Bergur "CCP Burger" Finnbogason is the Creative Director and one of the leads of EVE Online, and I asked him about how the community's representatives - known as the Council of Stellar Management (or "CSM") - can adequately help new players if they are veterans themselves, elected by established communities in-game. Do they really have the necessary perspective to help newcomers?
“In the CSM we oftentimes have someone that runs a new player corporation and a lot of the big alliances or big corporations have their own active onboarding recruitment sort of thing. So we have a lot of input from those guys. Even if the CSM might not represent those specifically we have people who are focused on early engagement. This is one of the fantastic things about player events like [EVEsterdam] - Our developers meet the players firsthand and they start to form relationships. I have a group of people that I like to interact with, I have a phonebook of numbers, and if there’s a very specific issue or thing I can usually reach out to the CSM and ask them if they can put me in touch with a player group that does a specific thing. The CSM isn’t the edge of the island, they are liaisons. They have put together amazing strike groups and focus groups for the most specific things and issues and oftentimes when you have strange bugs and issues and we need to spin up something almost like a think tank of players for like “hey I don’t know enough about this very specific type of wormhole thing that you do.” It’s like “holy hell I didn’t even know this existed” so it’s really good to be able to reach out and have help with the CSM to reach out to these groups and for conversation groups, Slack channels, or Discord channels on those subjects.
It's Up to the Community to Help New EVE Online Players Too
We'll talk more in the future about how EVE Online's community, and CCP's relationship with players, is unique to this game and how it's worth exploring from academic and business perspectives, but the CSM - which meets several times at year at CCP Games HQ in Reykjavik, Iceland, to address issues in the game, also serves as liaisons. Devs, across the board, frequently get in touch with different elements of the community, giving them access and transparency back and forth between the devs and the ultimate think tank of experience and ideas. In the end, Killah Bee - a member of the current, 13th Council of Stellar Management - reiterates, everyone in the game loves the game and wants it to succeed.
“There are people in the CSM, for example, Merkelchen, he is very experienced when it comes to new player stuff because he runs one of the biggest new player corporations in game which is KarmaFleet – they’re part of Goonswarm. They’re huge and he knows a lot about what players care about and what things new players get confused about. It’s always a big factor for us because obviously we understand that without new players the game can’t live on and the game needs to live because we all want to play the game. We love it. Some people, they base their lives around it.”
There may be devs and players coming at EVE Online from very different perspectives, and among the community, massive rival factions - but everyone's in it together in growing the game and bringing in fresh blood, whether to recruit more Capsuleers, or for more nefarious reasons...