There’s been a bit of a kerfluffle recently when Tobold finally decided to try out EVE and talks about his dislike for EVE’s skill system. A lot of commenters also chimed in about how the skill training times, which can’t really be affected by anything you do in game, make them feel like they have to play EVE-Offline for 6 months first. Gordon also wrote a great article about this and how he doesn’t feel that there’s a problem with EVE’s skill system. At first I felt pretty indignant about these comments, because as an obviously new EVE player I’m having a great time playing every night without having to wait 6 months first. The skill training system is quite different and it seems to work ok, so I didn’t see what their big problem was.
After some thinking however, I realised that quite a few commenters had mentioned that “they tried EVE some time ago and spent 30-40 hours a week on it and couldn’t get into it” as proof that they tried. And it hit me, that was probably the problem.
Triple progression curves
Almost any MMO, or game for that matter, basically has 3 simultaneous progress curves. Character progression, player progression, and economic progression.
Character progression: This is a reflection of how powerful the character is (duh). It could be in levels, or notching skills, or getting gear.
Player progression: This reflects a player gaining knowledge and experience with the game. Includes knowledge of encounters, tricks and strategies, correct specs/rotations etc.
Economic progression: Almost every game has some form of money/gold which is used to buy skills or gear or mounts.
These three methods of progression occur simultaneously, but at different rates in every game. They each serve as a cap to progress. For example, no matter how skilled a player you are or how much gold you have, you can’t raid Molten Core at level 2. You also can’t top damage meters on an epic geared level 80 despite epic /facerolling skills if you don’t have gold to repair your weapons or buy enchants.
The big problem that I think these players have with EVE is simply that they have too much time to play it. That sounds counter-intuitive in that they are simply too hardcore for EVE, which is known far and wide for being a “hardcore death is everywhere” type of game.
For a player like myself who has limited playtime, the limiting factor on my progression is not character progression, but rather player progression. Economic progression isn’t really a problem because EVE allows me to make mountains of moolah even without much playing time through the myriad passive money-making schemes available such as industry, trading, or research. I simply don’t have the time to spend 10 hours a day playing, so I’m still pretty much a complete noob when it comes to many things since I haven’t even had a chance to try them yet. I don’t see the need to be able to fly tech 2 battleships with all skills maxed at 5, because I’m still only doing level 3 missions due to being able to do at most 2-3 missions a day.
For other players, however, who may be either much more talented at the game or have much more free time, player progression is not the cap. Economic progression can be grinded with mining or mission-running, or simply bypassed by selling PLEX. This leaves character progression, through skillpoints, as the bottleneck. Which, after buying implants and training learning skills, just goes trundling along no matter how often you are able to play. This apparently drives them crazy, and maybe they do have a point. It’s probably part of the reason why I couldn’t really get into EVE back in August 2009 when I first gave it a go as well, since I was in between jobs at the time and had way too much free time.
So is EVE badly designed?
No, I think its simply marketed at a different segment of people. EVE’s skill system works well enough for me. I remember the horrors of notching skills when playing a MUD, when people had to make macros to kneel, springleap target, stand, over and over again to notch it up to 100. Or training weapon skills in WoW when you get a shiny new fist weapon (woohoo unarmed skill at 1…) These aren’t exactly wonderful game features either. The skill training system is just different. It has its good points and its bad points. I’m having great fun in the rest of EVE, so I can accept that I have to wait 4 days to train Scout Drone Operation V (which should have just finished this morning, so I can finally use tech 2 drones… YES!!!). Some people would rather wait offline for 6 months rather than actually play the game. I still think that’s silly because they would obviously make some progress in all three progression curves during this period, even if it’s not at “peak efficiency”. Anything is better than nothing, after all. Compared to someone who spends the same 6 months playing, they’d have the exact same skills but less standings, less ISK, and less combat/market experience.
Part of it is also probably due to the pervasive sense of entitlement that seems to be everywhere among gamers nowadays. A lot of people seem to think “it’s just a game, I shouldn’t have to work at it”. While it’s true that a game is primarily for enjoyment, just like everything else in life nothing is designed perfectly for you. If you want the woot stuff, be prepared to have some meh stuff and some bleh stuff along the way. If the meh and the bleh isn’t worth the woot, then don’t play the game. It doesn’t mean the game is bad, it just means they don’t like it. Feedback like “the skill system sucks and should be removed” is like saying “I want to be able to summon sharks with lasers that cast AoE Finger of Death”.