The State of EVE Online – Summer 2022

The State of EVE is meh.

EVE is not dying, but the game is not in a great state.  I will try to point out the major issues that are factors in the overall malaise.

Despite player calls for minor changes like “fixing the HAC meta” and “citadels are evil”, the overarching issues with EVE are far larger when it comes to getting more players involved with the game. If you think that ship balance is the fix, you can stop reading now.

Even the proposed changes to Faction Warfare seem to be a subtle shift compared to the big issues facing the developers when stepping back and looking at the wider reasons for dissatisfaction.

Here are the big issues that are difficult to solve any way you look at it.

Players have solved the game

After almost 20 years, players have solved EVE Online.  Almost every aspect of the game is min/maxed and players can completely optimize their gameplay.  Burner missions can be tripled boxed while livestreaming. A single player can cloaky camp an entire region. An individual can build any item in the game from the base ores and gases by themselves with minimal interaction with other players needed.

Every mission, anomaly, and event is detailed with recommended tactics in a hyperconnected environment, where any innovation or detail found by a single player will be in the hands of hundreds within a day and tens of thousands within a week.

Dedicated software, connected to a constant steam of ESI data allows players to have unparalleled knowledge of nearly every detail in the game, allow even more optimization around near instant action to events whether in the market, in space, or in org change. 

In a grimdark world of internet spaceships, there are no mysteries. No wild unknowns. No risks that aren’t understood and fully calculated to significant digits of accuracy.

The only variable are the players themselves.  Mistakes versus flashes of brilliance.  Hunches versus hard proof. Rolling the dice against poor odds. The willingness to grind for endless hours.

“If there were no mystery left to explore life would get rather dull, wouldn’t it?” – Sidney Buchman

The game gives players no reason to fight

The game design of EVE does not lead to war.  Currently, wars in the game are driven almost exclusively by player grudges.  Whether it is retaliation for a previous war or “teaching someone a lesson”, war rarely is over resources. 

War is exceedingly expensive and rarely pays for itself in conquered resources. War is unprofitable to everyone except the arms dealers. 

titan blobs
Titan blobs

Space is largely empty, with players only plundering the most optimal moons and anomalies.  Near limitless resources are available, with only a fraction being harvested by players.

Many of the changes introduced during the scarcity era were intended to get players to move into new areas and create conflict.  That did not happen. No large group went to war to control space in low sec to mine exclusive ores.  They just buy whatever they need in Jita and ship it where needed. 

Without an in-game driver to fight, CCP is relying on players to keep the cycle of destruction going.  Large scale conflict and gigantic battles is what gets EVE Online onto the front pages of gaming sites.  There are no articles on Kotaku about two small gangs battling it out in kitey bullshit for 20 minutes. CCP needs war to make headlines, but they are counting on players to generate them.  

Unfortunately, the wars are getting predictable and repetitive with the same basic tactics and interaction between the large groups in the game. The system and region names change, but the wars play out in similar fashion, stopping when one side can’t rally their troops enough and slink away in shame.

And the worse part is that losing these grudge based wars often results in players not wanting to start over or rebuild, preferring to simply walk away from the game while they corporation or alliance slowly deteriorates.

There is little for experienced players to aspire to in the game

As has been discussed before, not just by me, but by Hilmar himself, many players have reached the highest summits of New Eden and have not much else to achieve.

Thousands of titans, tens of thousands of capitals. Keepstar networks. Fleets comprised of entirely command ships or marauders.  Pinnacles of achievement in the past, now commonplace and unremarkable.

Fleet of titans arriving

When a player has flown every ship and tried multiple playstyles, they find themselves struggling to find something new or interesting to login to the game.  New and interesting experiences are hard to come by in EVE over the last few years.  While there have been good work on things like the arena events, filaments, and some live RP events, there has been no new mountain to climb for several years in the game. 

What is a long term core player supposed to aspire to? 

“These days, there seems to be nowhere left to explore. Victims of their very success, the explorers now, pretty much, stay home.” – Carl Sagan

New players are at a significant disadvantage in almost every part of the game

Starting out EVE in 2022 is a recipe; start playing with the tutorial, an emotional moment to set the hook, and then joining a corp for support.  At some point the new pilot grasps the possibility of the game and realizes exactly how far they are from some of the goals they might have.

Want to fly a HAC or Logistics? Millions of skillpoints and months of time are between you and your goal.  Want to fly one of those blingy Marauders in a null sec site?  Grinding out the billions needed to fund adventures in expensive ships take orders of magnitude longer for new players thanks to the economy changes over the last two years.  The time/effort of players has been consistently reduced in value.

Compared with old players who grew their wealth in the past, today’s new player simply cannot be competitive in almost any area of the game.  With billions in liquid ISK and even more in assets, older players completely control the economy and dominate the most profitable areas of the game, from manufacturing to high value incursion and escalation runs to market trading.

This continuous grind on new players takes it toll.  They are working far harder than the older corp mates they hear joking in comms about big losses or spendy purchases ever did.  Retaining players for years in this struggling state results in fewer and fewer logins until EVE is forgotten for a game with greater ability to enjoy the fruits of effort.

I could go on about the insanity of the effort required to maintain and manage a large group in EVE or the inevitably of the N+1 paradigms leading to fewer and fewer groups outside the mega-coalitions, but this article getting deep into the tl;dr size.

The following is heresy, it will make you uncomfortable

I am just an old man, shouting at clouds, full of sound and fury, so forgive me a wee bit of heresy. 

There are no simple solutions to slow the wind down of enthusiasm we are seeing in the playerbase.

The ideas we saw at Fanfest earlier this year were not radical.  They felt like candy tossed to hungry children, quieting their complaints for the moment, but not solving the true hunger that exists. 

Radical ideas are needed at some point.

There are two ideas that rattle through my head time occasionally when I think what radical options CCP might consider.

Wipe the server or start a new one – Yes, complete heresy and impossible. 

But look at what has happened in other games when given the opportunity for a new start.

In the ur-MMORPG Ultima Online, a new server called Siege Perilous was opened with a harsh ruleset to slow progression and encourage conflict. Experienced players from all other servers converged on the empty place and reveled in the back to basics situation and new challenges.

Blizzard released World of Warcraft Classic and millions flocked to begin again and experience the progression of not just their characters, but of the markets and literally the map of the world.

Like many, I have done almost everything in EVE. Lost & taken entire regions. Won and lost year long wars. Flown a titan into combat. Build a keepstar from raw ore.  Led an entire alliance.  Losing anything less than a capital is of no consequence and even with capital ships, I have a hanger full of them, gathering dust.

Getting back to the day where losing a cruiser actually hurts might bring some challenge back to the game and make putting in effort feel worthwhile.

Collapse space – Yes, complete heresy and impossible. 

Most null sec and low sec systems in New Eden are empty.

Besides the solo ratters, occasional miners, and the monthly moon pops, most systems in EVE are devoid of activity.  Outside the core areas of the large groups, space is empty.  Roams are not roams, they are fleets heading to specific destinations where others are known to be.  The same core areas are the sites of repeated action, over and over.  The data from the MERs point this out.

The chances of one roaming fleet bumping into another roaming fleet are basically zero. 

Imagine a battle royale scenario ala Fortnite, where systems disappear, and the hegemonic empires are forced closer and closer.  Buffer areas and floodplains cease to exist.  Regions melt into each other forcing conflict.

Tighter and tighter the circle constricts until groups are forced to fight, not over grudges, but for simple survival.  Possibly following this with some kind of growing expansion where groups can leap to newly opened space like some sort of space gold rush.

I don’t expect either of these things to happen. But something big needs to happen.

The risk of this beloved hobby of ours dwindling into oblivion is real.

After 14 years of playing, you don’t find a much more invested player than me, but even I find myself wondering what the world is like without New Eden.

I can’t ignore the downward slopes of graphs. 

I can’t ignore the names that no longer appear in game.

I can’t ignore consistent process of seeing friends publicly “win EVE”.

I can’t ignore that fact the EVE needs a radical change.

Our game is beautiful