Mike Azariah, member of CSM 8, 9 and 10, elder statesman of highsec, and veteran helper of newbies, considers the state of the new player experience in EVE: how far have we come, and what remains to be done?
Eve is famous for its new player experience – but not in a good way. From the cartoon of the learning curve, to CCP Soundwave’s famous comment “Welcome to EVE Online – here’s a Rubik’s cube, go fuck yourself” this has never been a game for the faint of heart or those who cannot learn without their hands held. You went out into an environment where loss was real, and tried to figure it out. Complain about it, and people might link you the devs singing HTFU.
Slowly, over the years, Aura started telling us things; then there were agents who might point you in the right direction. Player corps stepped up to the plate and tried. The most successful ones prospered, others withered and died on the vine. Eve University is still going strong, but others?
The in-game “Rookie Help chat” channel is still a going concern, and the ISD teams are always about. The best resource in the game is STILL other players. But the coded New Player Experience has changed recently, and for the better.
Before we get down to evaluation there has to be some stick to measure it by. What are the goals of a player tutorial? How do you measure those goals and know whether or not they are a success? I suggest that there are two goals in the NPE. The first is to ‘hook’ the players into the game; show them what can be done in the near term, and what may be achieved some day. The second is to give them the tools and the guidance to get started down the path to their goals – I’ll come back to that. Tools include the basics of move, shoot, repair, fit, social, market, and the other basic mechanics of the game.
But back to the Hook. If the lessons are too dry or boring then few will do them, instead trying to ‘figure it out for themselves’. This is fine in a normal MMO, but not so much in a game like Eve. The complexity overwhelms and we lose another player. Some try to jump ahead and run level 1 missions in a rookie ship with the original fit, and then get angry when they swiftly explode.
So what does the new recruit see? This is a sample. There are Opportunities that try to walk the player through some of the basics. If you follow the order of the map (a vast improvement over the wide open Opportunities that preceded this iteration) you will learn to look, then move, then shoot, then loot – all before you ever need to enter warp. Then it shows how to warp to a station and dock. By this point the player should have a few civilian modules to fit, and about 240 000 isk. Then comes fitting some of the modules to their ship, heading back out, and trying mining, selling and buying, and finally they are sent to the Career Agents for some more specific lessons in Industry, Business, Military (x2), and Exploration.
What then? Well, there are other parts of the opportunities map, but they feel like achievements in some other game rather than a tutorial. The thing is, some of them need a bit more of a push. The first path covers some of the basics I mentioned above, but there are holes. Repair is taught for repairing others, fitting is just ‘put something in a low slot’ and market does not really cover a lot of the intricacies including scams and taxes. That can come, with time.
The Social side
There are a few missing things that can make or break the game: the social aspect and setting of goals. Posting “o7” in local is actually one of the opportunities, as is starting a private conversation with someone. That is it, so you see quiet little o7’s and then a ‘mind if I convo you for a second’ in Rookie help. No conversation ensues, just an open and close to tick off that box. By the time the pilot has completed the Career agents, the only opportunities he might not have done are being podded and going through a wormhole – which for some will happen in one go, with one leading to the other.
There is still information and knowledge missing. Social interaction and mechanics both are lacking decent coverage. It does tell you to join a corp, but nothing of how to find one that suits you. There is a LOT that needs to be said on this, and the forums even have a really good post on how to find the corp that is right for you, but it is not linked. Again, there is the key: bring player resources in and the process is enhanced tenfold. Vet them, or have a new branch of the ISD monitor the connections and correctness, just as some of the ISD monitored the Evewiki (may it rest in peace).
Crime and PvP
The common question that comes up again and again in Rookie chat is about what is allowed where. “Where is hisec, where is low, what is a wormhole?” Or “Why did they shoot me when I was just mining?” – usually in a low-sec system, and shocked that they CAN be shot at all. “What are wardecs, and how can you tell if you are in one?” There is no PvP training, not even a mention, in any of the NPE – no wonder players are shocked when they get ganked in a duel: “yes newbro, you did lose the ship, no it is not coming back.” HOW we can teach them about PvP without pushing them into a meatgrinder is another story and not one for this article. All the little details may not be suitable for a tutorial, but we have to show them where they can find out more. The best thing to teach someone is to teach them how to learn and help themselves.
Try to explain the joke about how to win Eve, to somebody who does not play. Then, try to help someone accustomed to a railroad of an MMO where you go here, do that area for levels 5-10, get the blue or purples before you go in X cave. This is not that sort of game, and the best summary of that concept I have seen and stolen was to counter the question of how to win at Eve by asking, “how does one win at lego?” Most seem to get that. But we have to show them all the possibilities, or at least more than just the PvE side of the game as the tutorial currently does.
Where do we stand?
Is the New Player Experience better? Yes: I am seeing a change in the tone of questions in Rookie Help Chat, with less exasperation, and more curiosity. Can CCP rest on their laurels? No, there is still a long way to go before they can step away from this task. Set goals, and define learning outcomes. Do NOT just follow metrics, but talk to the people on the front line. There is a core group of experienced players who spend a lot of time in Rookie chat, including but not limited to the ISD volunteers, and we know where a lot of the pain points are.
It is good, now make it better – or is it the other way around?
Our undying gratitude goes out to all the experienced players who, like Mike, devote their time in EVE to helping new players. We’d be awfully lonely without you!