Monday, February 17, 2014

Is EVE Online A Bad Influence On Sandbox MMORPGs?

"A while back I opined that SOE was the ideal company to carry the MMO sandbox banner. For the most part, I still believe that, given what I've seen of Landmark thus far and what I know of the company's design history. That said, some of CEO John Smedley's recent comments give me pause, as does his long-term involvement in EVE Online's community."


On Friday I ran across an article written by Massively's Managing Editor, Jef Rehard, wondering if the next couple of years will truly see a revival of sandbox MMORPGs.  A fair concern given the wild optimism that fans of various games have exhibited over the years for unpublished games.  I have to remind myself not to get too hopeful for EverQuest Next and even though I'm not into building games like Minecraft, I do want to try Landmark as soon as the beta is over. But then came the attack upon Sony Online Entertainment's CEO, John Smedley, and his choice of games.


From following both The Mittani and Smedley on Twitter, I know that Smedley was once in EVE University and then wound up in the CFC for awhile.  Since he left the CFC about the same time TEST Alliance Please Ignore did, I've always assumed that at one time he was in TEST.  I guess since Smedley was in the same group as The Mittani, that makes him tainted somehow.  Grr Goons!

I was intrigued by what disturbed Rehard about Smedley's recent comments about sandbox games since he didn't provide a link.  I can only assume he's a bit upset about a post on Smedley's new blog.
"In my opinion the solution is focusing a lot more on letting players make and be content for each other. Battlegrounds are an excellent example of an Evergreen style of content where it’s the players themselves that actually create the content. Auction houses are another example. So are things like storytelling tools in SWG.. or the brilliant music system in LOTRO. Building systems into the games that let the players interact with each other in new and unique ways gives us the ability to watch as the players do stuff we never anticipated. We’ll see a lot more creativity in action if the players are at the center of it. Imagine an MMORPG of a massive city.. and the Rogue’s guild is entirely run by players. Where the city has an entire political system that is populated by players who were elected by the playerbase.

"There’s a great example of this today with Eve Online. It’s a brilliantly executed system where the players are pretty much in charge of the entire game. Sure there is a lot of content for players to do, but anything that’s important in the game is done by the players. This is a shining example of how this kind of system can thrive."
I'm not sure if the favorable mention of EVE is what caused Rehard's ire or if he doesn't believe in giving people a great deal of autonomy in our virtual worlds.  The quote that opens this blog post threw red flags for me about the entire post.  While I know very little about upcoming games like Pathfinder Online, I do know a fair bit about EVE.  Since EVE was the first game he chose to discuss, I thought I'd parse through the other 4 paragraphs about EVE.
"I'll probably catch some (more) flak from EVE die-hards here, but it's worth repeating the fact that EVE is not the quintessential sandbox. This is because it features no actual consequences for bad behavior -- actually it encourages and celebrates asshattery more than any other MMO -- and thus it's little more than a sci-fi Lord of the Flies in spite of some terrific game mechanics and technical innovations."
I'll admit that I wasn't sure what "quintessential" meant, so I went to Merriam-Webster Online and looked up the term:
quintessential (adjective) - constituting, serving as, or worthy of being a pattern to be imitated quintessential
beauty of the ancient world>For some reason that didn't seem to fit the context, so I went to the Oxford Dictionary site and found this definition that seems to fit better:
quintessential (adjective) - representing the most perfect or typical example of a quality or class: "he was the quintessential tough guy—strong, silent, and self-contained"
Okay, so Rehard doesn't want EVE influencing the direction of the sandbox genre.  But the next sentence left me scratching my head.  I don't think anyone can deny that asshattery is celebrated in EVE Online perhaps more than any other game, but stating that the game features no actual consequences for bad behavior?  I guess that depends on the definitions of "actual consequences" and "bad behavior" mean, as he left those undefined.

First, what was meant by "actual consequences"?  I get the feeling that Rehard doesn't consider social ostracism, declarations of war, or any other punishments that players administer within the client as an actual consequence.  I believe that Rehard defines "actual consequences" as sanction against the offending player by the game developer/publisher.  If so, then I do not see Rehard's problem with CCP, as the Icelandic game company doesn't, contrary to popular opinion, just let players do anything they wish in the game.

In addition to the usual prohibitions against hacks,bots, exploits and engaging in illicit RMT, CCP has stated these prohibitions on activities that can result in account suspensions and bans:
3. HARASSMENT

An immediate permanent ban of an account may result if a player:

    a. Organizes or participates in a corporation or group that is based on or advocates any anti-ethnic, anti-gay, anti-religious, racist, sexist or other hate-mongering philosophies.

Severe offences may result in an immediate ban without warning; however, warnings may be given for first time offenses, followed by account suspensions of varying degree and ultimately a permanent ban if a player:

    a. Is abusive, obscene, offensive, sexually explicit, ethnically or racially offensive, or threatening to another player or an official EVE Online representative.
    b. Uses role-playing as an excuse for violating the guidelines regarding fair play with others.
    c. Sends excessive e-mails, EVE-mails or support tickets, files support tickets with false information or repeatedly under the wrong category in an effort to circumvent the customer support queue.
And yes, that includes putting links to pornographic material in a chat channel.

6. SCAMMING

Severe offenses may result in an immediate ban without warning; however, warnings may be given for first time offenses, followed by account suspensions of varying degree and ultimately a permanent ban if a player:

    a. Illegally obtains items from another through use of an exploit or cheat method.
    b. Intentionally creates contracts that cannot be completed through normal game mechanics or abilities.
    c. Has been told by a GM to discontinue a scam ploy and disregards the instruction.
Wait, this is EVE.  Scamming is forbidden?  In some cases, players are banned for scamming.  Goonswarm director Andski posted a short summary of what will get players in trouble with CCP on the forums earlier this month.
"The do-nots in scamming are basically don't impersonate CCP, don't impersonate other players, don't engage in scams involving character trades, don't scam for actual time codes and don't encourage a mark to actually buy PLEX with RL cash."
One other thing that will draw CCP's ire is to scam in the newbie help channel.  CCP really, really looks down upon that.  In fact, CCP has set up a set of rookie systems in which new players receive some additional protection.  The below warning was taken from the Evelopedia:
Warning: Attempting to abuse a new player’s lack of knowledge of the game and its mechanic for your personal gain or simply for their harm is prohibited in these solar systems. This includes, but is not limited to; tricking new players into situations where you or others may open fire on them freely or scamming ISK or assets from them. Disregarding warnings to cease such behavior from authorized CCP personnel is considered to be in violation of section 6 of the EVE Online Terms of Service.

Pilots found to pursue activities against new players in other areas may be subject to further restrictions as deemed necessary by CCP Games Customer Support Team.
The last part of the paragraph's second sentence invokes a comparison to the novel, Lord of the Flies.  I believe the reference was intended as an insult.  Having never read the novel or seen the movie, I visited Wikipedia to find out exactly what I had missed.  According to Wikipedia, Lord of the Flies...
"At an allegorical level, the central theme is the conflicting human impulses toward civilization—living by rules, peacefully and in harmony—and toward the will to power. Themes include the tension between groupthink and individuality, between rational and emotional reactions, and between morality and immorality. How these play out, and how different people feel the influences of these, form a major subtext of Lord of the Flies."
I can see this interaction play out in EVE, especially from my spot in low sec looking into null.  Is a game company wrong for attempting to set up complex social situations and forces in a virtual world?  The social forces at work in EVE are a lot more interesting that what we see in the traditional theme park MMORPG.  While not for everyone, wouldn't we as consumers of games prefer an interesting world with complex interplay as opposed to just two factions that the game developer tells us are supposed to hate each other?

I should also note that CCP went so far as to try to match the rules to the lore in order to make New Eden a more immersive environment.  Kirith Kodachi wrote a nice summary of a capsuleer's place in the world when writing about Ricdic's theft from EVE Bank:
"In the Lore, players represent people who are, for all intents and purposes, above the law of man. They are an immortal elite class of super rich that care very little for the happenings of the billions on the planets below. The faction governments are at best peers and at worst annoyances to be dealt with as the capsuleers see fit. There is no government organization that could run a bank for them and enforce any punishment should the pod pilots steal from them. In the end, the pilots have to provide the service for themselves and police it themselves."
What is true for bank fraud is equally true for corp theft.  I really get the impression that Rehard's problem is that CCP doesn't think the way he thinks.  Rehard has a mindset that some things are right and some things are wrong, and game companies should not allow behavior that is wrong.  If I had to guess, I'd say corp theft is near or at the top of his list.  Of course, his writing is a bit confusing, so I may have inadvertently misrepresented his views.

Speaking of confusing, his next paragraph was a bit confusing as well.
"Think about it. All of the sensational EVE stories that we love to read about -- and that very few of us have actually experienced -- are always the same story. Corporation XYZ screws corporation YYZ, and the result is a gigantic slideshow of a dot-sized spaceship battle that costs however many millions in PLEX damages and theoretical real-world money loss."
I would think that Rehard would like the turn that coverage about EVE has taken.  No longer are journalists writing about immoral behavior like espionage and gigantic scams and heists.  No, they are writing about honest, stand-up fights involving thousands of players.

I did notice one little jab that Rehard threw in, "and that very few of us have actually experienced."  That leads to a philosophical question.  Do all players in any MMORPG, not just a sandbox game, need to experience all the content, or just have the opportunity, no matter how slim the chance, to experience all the content?  Personally, I like the fact that people will do things in my virtual worlds that I will never do.  I don't play a lot as it is; I don't have any time for jealousy of players who can experience everything.  I believed that when I played WoW, EQ2, and now EVE.

The next paragraph, combined with the paragraph above, is very clear:
"Yawn."
Coming from the managing editor, that explains why Massively did not cover the Battle of B-R5RB until CCP announced the Titanomachy monument.  At that point Massively needed to explain why CCP was putting a monument into the game.  When Massively did not immediately publish an article about the battle, I assumed that they were waiting until it had all the facts before publishing.  That's why I did not jump on Massively's coverage (or lack thereof) like Corelin did.  But when the managing editor of Massively comes out and basically says that he thinks EVE's big battles are uninteresting, I guess my idea of Massively's thought process was mistaken.

The last paragraph is interesting.
"You rarely, if ever hear about a player building something; it's all destruction, espionage, metagaming, and people finding newer and more novel ways to backstab one another. That's great if you're into that sort of thing, but not every sandbox fan is, and therefore it's folly for SOE or anyone else to pattern their future sandbox development exclusively after EVE. Player freedom is necessary, sure, and that's the part that CCP gets right. But unchecked player freedom leads to anarchy and ultimately the same sort of repetition, boredom, and burnout that themeparks have perfected over the past decade."
I'll go back to that old press standby, "If it bleeds, it leads."  People like to see things blow up or see spy vs. spy lived out, even if only in a virtual world.  So even though so far in February players have changed the face of their virtual world forever by building a Minmatar station in the 07-SLO system of Wicked Creek and another one in the FGJP-J system of Etherium Reach, those events are not even newsworthy in the specialized EVE Online press.  The construction of a new segment of a jump bridge network (similar to players building and controlling WoW's flight paths) that would lead to hundreds of billions of ISK in commerce likewise would receive little mention in the EVE Online press.  Let's face facts.  Building in EVE is no longer newsworthy.  It's just expected.

I should also add that metagaming is not just confined to sandbox games.  As the popularity of EVE news shows, many people are fascinated with the metagame.  I was reminded of this bit told by Massively columnist Karen Bryan on the now defunct Shut Up, We're Talking podcast back in 2009:
"I’m just going on my EverQuest experience, but the community in our game, it was similar to -- I hear about these stories of competition in EVE -- and there were so many stories of competition on the Prexus server.  And the mind games that guilds would play with each other and the things that they would do.  I hear stories of infiltrating corps -- corporations? -- and it was the same thing in EverQuest. 

"In the high end guilds people were trying to get a toon invited in the guild so they could hear targets or inside strats, or guild information.  I remember one night one of the top guilds on the server just out of the blue was gone (snaps fingers), no tag.  And everybody was like, 'what just happened?'  And as the night went on we slowly saw them start to get the tags back.  And it turns out that the leader had discovered a couple of turncoats in the guild.  So he figured instead of kicking them out, 'I’m going to start from scratch. If you get an invite you know that I trust you.  If you don’t get an invite, then we know who the turncoats were.'  And it was little things like that.

"One guild -- it was the same guild actually -- I don’t know if you remember the old languages you could learn in EverQuest, and when you raided you had to use open channels.  So they decided they would all learn Froglok, because it was impossible to master that one.  And they would speak in Froglok in the open channels so that no one would know what they were doing.  So it was little things like that where guilds were trying to one-up each other. 

"Considering it was a PvE server it was amazing to me how directly we could affect each other’s progression.  So when I read about some of these things in EVE, I nod my head because that’s a lot of what we were doing in EverQuest.  It’s the beauty of MMOs, it really is, and again, I’m really impressed with how well EVE does it.  But I wouldn’t call them the ones who were breaking ground in it."
(20:03 - 22:09)
Ironically, Rehard is worried about the influence of EVE Online corrupting Norrath.  Apparently, Norrath was corrupted well before EVE ever launched.  The metagame is apparently in the DNA of EverQuest.

Now, despite all of the horrible arguments that Rehard made concerning EVE, I do have to agree with some of his conclusions.  I agree that SOE should not "pattern their future sandbox development exclusively after EVE."  But having followed the development of EverQuest Next and Lanmark, that is not the plan.  The plan is to develop a PvE sandbox, which involves different concepts.  I also agree that unchecked player freedom is a bad thing.  EVE doesn't do that and neither should EQN or EQNL.  I would say that players in SOE's upcoming titles would receive more restrictions, if for no other reason than the new Norrathian lore wouldn't support giving characters the same powers as EVE's capsuleer demi-gods.  But I will disagree strenuously with one assertion Rehard made.  The new EverQuest titles will not suffer because of John Smedley's involvement with EVE Online.  That experience will only make the games better.

12 comments:

  1. The amusing bit is that what Karen was talking about when it came to guilds being in contention played out pretty much the same way when SOE ran their EQ progression servers. SOE opened up the base game, then one expansion at a time and the raiding guilds used the same methods to grief each other and, as happened in the past, SOE GMs eventually had to step in and create a server-wide raiding calendar until instanced raids showed up.

    That is one to tuck away for the next time somebody brings up open-world, contested content. Players will go all out, whether it be EVE or EQ.

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  2. I don't think he's ever played Eve. At least not past the, "Holy crap this is complex", stage. Things being torn down may be what hits the news wires, but someone had to build the thing. Usually several someones, possibly thousands of someones. Over the long haul though, more gets built in Eve than gets torn down. Look at Jita, Rens, Amaar, and Hek. Those are massive cooperatively built content engines.

    Jita is all at once the system where more things are built than any other, more things are traded than any other, and more things are destroyed than any other. One star system in Eve, and the player base had to build all of it.

    People who built things like RvB or Eve University. People who built trade hubs to feed Faction Warfare. People who follow incursions, not to do incursions, but to stock systems with goods. Players built all of that and more.

    It is absolutely truly staggering to think how much players in Eve have built over the years. And the vast majority of it has not been blown up, left to wither, but not destroyed. Because the vast majority of the game isn't explosions. It's systems we built to feed the machine that CCP had no part in creating at all other than handing us tools to do it with.

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    1. Honestly, I've never played EVE and reading this article makes question how complex it is. It sounds amazing. But my god, how long does it take to jump in and feel competent?

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    2. Honestly, it depends how good of a guide you have. If someone takes you under their wing, you ought to be having fun in the first week. Maybe you won't be feeling "competent", but that's skill progression and stuff, IMO.

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  3. When I was playing Everquest regularly the kind of stories that Karen and Wilhelm remember were part of the zeitgeist. I was never in a big raid guild but I knew and grouped with many who were and talk of this kind of thing was common currency.

    Moreover, even when I moved to EQ2 and played for five years on the Test server, which had a population counted in the hundreds, all of whom were supposedly, and in most cases actually, dedicated to playing with the long-term good of the game in mind, the personality cults, dirty tricks, scams and drama were legendary.

    EVE gets a lot of headlines for this stuff, probably for two reasons:

    1) losses can be quantified in dollars
    2) CCP are at worst neutral and arguably complicit when bad things happen.

    Neither of those things may actually be true but journalists and their audiences believe them to be so things that happen in EVE are news when the same things happening in other MMOs would not be.

    I don't think Smed is planning to let EQN/L's customers harass and scam each other without consequence either. Sony is a multinational with a particular brand image to maintain. Those crazy Icelanders at CCP may benefit commercially from wearing the viking horned helmet of "Who gives a fuck?" but I don't think that's going to fly for anyone working for Sony.

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    1. From listening to David Georgeson talk about EQNext, I agree. In fact, unless the lore in Norrath is drastically going to change, I don't think lore-wise letting players do some of the crazy things they do in EVE would be a good thing.

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  4. What amuses me is the quote "This is because it features no actual consequences for bad behavior". Hello. Sandbox? Surely the mechanics provide the ability for players to be that consequence. In null everyone seems to realise that power projection and sov warfare encourage the rise of unassailable blocs and are campaigning against it. What the holy grail really is is a sandbox ecosystem. Self governing.

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  5. In EVE there are no consequences to actions, because the offending alt can't be linked to the main. You can forever remain an upstanding member of a miner corp while being a miner ganker on an alt.

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  6. Geblon beat me to it - there is no consequence to actions in EVE for two reasons.

    First is alts. You cannot try to create a semi-realistic sandbox game world with player-driven organizations and economy and then let them create alts that allow to walk over all the game-imposed and, perhaps more importantly, society-imposed rules. It just doesn't work. We all know that people will try and walk over the rules if given the opportunity, and alts are the ultimate way of doing that. I'd go as far as saying that as long as EVE - or any other open world PvP MMO - does not enforce single character per player, it is fundamentally broken.

    Second reason is that any sort of punishment in EVE is handled with the player losing ISK. If you gank in a Catalyst you lose the ship and modules(ISK) and standings(Also ISK, thanks to the idiotic idea to let people turn in pirate tags for standings). Let me reiterate that: in a game where ISK can be generated literally out of thin air(or hard vacuum as it were), you try and punish the player by taking his ISK away. In real life, to work off a speeding ticket you might have to work a whole day or two. In EVE, there are activities that generate you money without you even actively playing the game(like PI). An hour of L4 blitzing nets you enough ISK to buy, fit, lose and buy back standings for 20 Catalysts. And trading is quite literally printing ISK. It's laughable.

    Now I don't think Rehard could find his own ass if it was a MMORPG, but he is 100% right in this case - there is no real consequence to your actions in EVE.

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  7. How on Earth did you menage to avoid "Lord of the Flies" ? It's practically obligatory reading.

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  8. You have 10 more replies to your article that jeff got to his.

    (Including this one)


    Why do people care what some schlub at Massively says. Who even goes there any more?

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  9. First, what Gevlon and Anonymous said are correct. But second, I think it's clear that what Rehrard is actually referring to is that anti-social behavior is encouraged by the game. I still play Eve and I think it's an even split -- it's anti-social and social equal parts (a good corporation is the key if you're social). But I think what he's getting at is that there are no consequences for being a prick and it's actually encouraged by the devs and the mechanics. He's right about that :)

    Eve just isn't for everyone. It's unfortunate because it's an amazing game, but ...it's just not for everyone. That's turned out to be a double-edged sword for the game, not that it *should* be for literally everyone, but because it can be hard to get fresh blood into the game for a long period of time.

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