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.