Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Spreadsheets: EVE's Secret To Success?

I'm beginning to wonder if the reason for EVE's uniquely sustained growth is the spreadsheet.  No, not the spreadsheets that make up the UI, but the Excel type of spreadsheet.  I'm coming to that realization due to an experiment I'm running related to Odyssey.  I want to know if the payout for exploration is better or worse after the changes.  So with that in mind I have recorded all of my exploration activities (or at least the drops/bounties) this month.  And since I was recording that, I decided to record everything.  So far I have two weeks' worth of activities in a Google doc spreadsheet.

Ever hear of something called the observer effect?   The observer effect, according to Wikipedia, "is a form of reactivity in which a researcher's cognitive bias causes them to unconsciously influence the participants of an experiment."  In this case I'm both the researcher and the participant of the experiment.  And after two weeks, I can tell that recording my activities has changed my behavior while playing EVE.  I'm actually playing more.

I'm finding that I'm going through a checklist of things to do that I used to only follow subconsciously.  First, I do my exploration, which so far this month has basically meant scanning down and running radar sites.  If I have a lot of time left over I either do a level 3 security mission or a level 4 distribution mission or three.  I try to time the missions so I can end the night filling up my Procurer with an ore bay or two of ore at a local belt, shooting and salvaging rats along the way.

Before the experiment I might run a site, look at the clock and think I need some sleep.  Now, I look at my spreadsheet, think "I haven't mined yet," and run out to a belt for 12 more minutes and get a load of ore.  I signed up with Raptr a couple of months ago and should really check this at the end of the month along with all the other data I'm collecting on my activities.

But this has me thinking.  EVE players, if they stick with the game long enough, always seem to wind up creating spreadsheets for everything.  How much does recording behavior reinforce doing that behavior in the game?  And once the behavior is recorded, how much of an incentive is that to continue to either match or exceed the previously accomplished results?  I know that PvPers have their killboards.  Carebears usually wind up with spreadsheets.

After realizing that, I thought about all the spreadsheets I created for all the other MMORPGs I've played throughout the years.  I've made one.  In EverQuest 2 I had an arrow manufacturing business so I recorded all of my sales plus any purchases I made for raw materials.  I haven't made a single spreadsheet for any other game.  Of course, the game play in those games hasn't required one.  Those games are quite simple.  Find the quest giver, do quest, receive bacon.  Except for EQ2, I haven't played a game in which the economy has required a careful accounting of assets to succeed.

Is it a coincidence that the two games I've played for over a year, EVE (almost 4 years) and EQ2 (3+ years) are the two games I made spreadsheets in?  I think if a game can get players so involved that they are recording their activities someplace that the game has a good chance to have a high retention rate.  Other things like player organizations (i.e. guilds and corporations) are very important too, but anything that gets players to immerse themselves into the virtual world is a good thing from a game developer's perspective.


  1. Its a part of human nature to enjoy consistency as it provides security and reduces the amount of risk due to you being much more aware of the process.

    Its also an element of any successful business is having a process to organize activities as they are often used to maximize efficiency.

    The counter argument would be "is playing like that much fun?" but I guess its really down to what you want from the game. If you find that following your checklist day in and day out increases your profitability and reduces risk then it further re-enforces that activity with the feeling of progression and achievement.

    I think the only real issue with this (knowing EVE) is that consistency is the same as predictability - so if a good pirate was to notice your routine they would be able to use it against you and setup a trap knowing that you'll walk into it.

    I guess that's the power of EVE - so whatever makes you happy but remember that those who live by the spreadsheet may die upon it too ;)

  2. I haven't had time to get this involved with Eve in a while. However when I was playing Halo 2 and 3 muliplayer a lot, I know that the websites that sprung up that let me track my stats realy reinforced my play and I was more active as I tried to improve my K/D ratio.

    The last time I was active enough in Eve to need spread sheets I aslo ended up playing more.

    I think Dust 514 could use some off line web based stats to encourage improved play and analysis.

    So yes I think tracking your play enforces your play.

  3. Spreadsheets are mainly a sign that u cant understand or otherwise get the "wanted" data out of a complex/complicated system. This is also true for EvE, so yes if the ingame UI fails to give u the information u are looking for, u create a spreadsheet, if u are willing to-do so.

    So this means u are either a accountant, who likes to create spreadsheets in your spare time or u really want/need this game data u are looking for via the spreadsheet, which in the later case means u really like this game or u would not put time into creating spreadsheets.

    So yes as long as u "like" this game so much that u put any extra effort into it, u are more likely to continue playing it.

  4. Great find, didn't think of it.

    When I was ganking miners, I had the same spreadsheat. When the month ended I hated it so much that I didn't gank a single thing ever since. But while the experiment was running I couldn't stop ganking them.

    Spreadsheets are evil.

  5. I want to give up my 6hrs/week of PI. With 4 children, it's too much time. My spreadsheet stats of 9 months show that I will surrender 5bn isk / month if I stop.

    Evil Excel.

  6. I do use spreadsheets to both plan and track my t2 reaction, as they are my main ISK source. But other things I do I don't track, simply because I don't want to get too caught up in a treadmill.

    Unsurprisingly I am rather space poor :)

    But I wanted to mention another tool I use: a tablet GTD program to keep track of ideas I have, or of one-off things I need to do in game.