Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Game Design is Hard

I posed a question to the #tweetfleet (the EVE twitter community) yesterday, about cloaking devices:
Hey #tweetfleet what's wrong with cloaking devices using some sort of fuel? #EveOnline
I was curious how people would respond to a feature change that would significantly alter a security blanket in EVE, and overall, the responses were what I expected. @bel_amar provided a perfect response for this discussion:
Because most complaints about cloaking is really about AFK cloaking. And the real issue with AFK cloaking is suddenly hotdrop
And that's about all I have to say about cloaking devices and fuel. I'm not for or against it as a feature. My question was more about how hard it is to gather feedback about a game feature (or change).

Game design is hard.
CCP relearns this every time they add or change a feature or function in EVE. CCP has some very talented folks on their payroll, but (like the rest of us) they are only human, and make mistakes. The advantage they have (as developers first and players second) is that they aren't trying to design or modify a feature to their benefit. They (hopefully) are making changes to improve the game as a whole. The problem they face is that for any single feature or function in EVE, there are hundreds (or thousands) of people who use it and rely on it, one way or another, and people detest change. Realizing that any change they make will piss someone off, CCP does what any smart developer does, they filter out (or ignore) most comments or discussion once a feature is in development. This is (usually) a good plan, to keep them focused and on target. However, when a feature actually makes it to Sisi, CCP needs to take the earplugs back out.

On any given day, there are 30-40 thousand people logged into Tranquility, and maybe 200 on Singularity. That's a very small group. Those people study the impacts of changes long before they make it to Tranquility, and are in a position to take advantage of any new features. They are also in a position to discover glaring exploits long before they go live. CCP needs to find a way to channel the knowledge of these players, a way to utilize them to minimize the glaring errors that should never see Traquility.

Things like the Technetium bottleneck, Faction War LP manipulation, Planetary Interaction exploits, could all have been avoided if CCP was listening to the players on Sisi, and took into account the fact that a player on Sisi is more invested in EVE and might even know more about a feature than the developers. Let's face it - there are some very smart people playing this game, and some of those smart people are smarter than the people writing the code (side note - I am not one of them). If CCP were to channel the experience and knowledge of the players on Sisi, it might make a better game for all of us.

Back to the question in the beginning. Of the 17 individual replies, one of them addressed the question. There was a good smattering of why AFK cloaking isn't a problem, but no direct response to the question (the one that addressed the problem mentioned that it had been discussed and would be hard to do). I'd be surprised if responses in the official EVE forums were any different. The signal to noise ratio (16:1) suggests that any general discussion with the community at large about a feature will produce very little quality information. By reducing the pool of responses (focusing on Sisi players), one might hope to reduce the noise level, and increase the signal response, to a useful level.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

This Far, No Further...

Welcome to the thirty-seventh edition of the EVE Blog Banter, the community discussion that brings the collective minds of the EVE blogosphere together to chew the cud, exchange opinions or troll the world.

"EVE Online sits on the frontier of social gaming, providing an entertainment environment like no other. The vibrant society of interacting and conflicting communities, both within the EVE client and without, is the driving force behind EVE's success. However, the anonymity of internet culture combined with a competitive gaming environment encourages in-game behaviour to spread beyond the confines of the sandbox. Where is the line?"

Rumors abound in this game. Rumors and urban legends. Buried amongst them may be some facts, but one can never be sure where those rumors blend into facts. EVE is rich in stories, player created events and actions, and the nature of the game promotes this with a single, shared universe across the world. People have always been known to do what they could to win - some more than others - but what is the edge of acceptable? At what point does the metagame go past gaming and into the dangerous realm of crime, and how do those who push the edge justify their actions?

EVE is real. CCP wants this marketing slogan from 2011 to become fact. But with this desire comes good and bad, the nature of humanity is revealed in bold strokes. There are good people in EVE. People who will give ISK, ships, advice, almost anything to others. Usually within a specific context, like TEST or Goonswarm with their new-player friendly attitudes. These alliances shower their home-grown new players with ISK, ships and knowledge, perpetuating a pay-it-forward attitude within those groups. Of course, this isn't for everyone. You have to be part of the culture outside of EVE to get access to the culture inside. Something Awful or REDDIT members who are recruited into this world have a leg up on the random player who read an EVE article on PC Gamer. The Mittani claims that this type of recruiting leads to higher player retention – the guy in the ship next to you isn't some random person who happens to have joined the same alliance as you, he's a goon, just like you, an SA member with a posting history and a cultural similarity. You already have an outside-EVE connection. This type of out-of-game experience is good for EVE.

EVE is real. The dark side of EVE is money. Money drives people to do things that they would never believe themselves possible of. In the Real World, perfectly normal, socially responsible people, will do the stupidest things for money. Stealing from work is a common issue. From boxes of pens to computers, upstanding employees have done stupid things because of money. And this crosses over into a game where you literally pay for everything, in time or money (or both). Money changes everything, starting with the level of commitment and what you are willing to do because you are invested in the experience. Many players (myself included) justify in-game action that would be considered cruel, illegal or just not nice outside of the game, because it's just a game. But if you take that kind of action outside the game, you've crossed the line. Anything goes when you are logged into EVE. Steal 50 billion in ISK and ships from your alliance. Give some new player a billion ISK because they made you smile. Pod some fool in a deadspace-fit Hulk. Wipe an entire alliance off the map because you don't like them. To some extent, actions outside of EVE are even acceptable (or laudable). Did you infiltrate an alliance (in game), and have access to their fleet actions during a battle? Happens all the time, in fact most large bloc alliances expect this kind of activity. Did you provide the public password to their TS server to your alliance, and send them greetings in a most unexpected way? This is closer to the edge, but still acceptable, because you aren't outside the EVE bubble yet. It's a very grey edge, and when you cross it, you often cross the line from it's a game to it's a crime – and you may not even realize you've done it. I try to define this line clearly for myself, and I'm going to offer that definition to you as well.

If the action you perform impacts someone outside the EVE bubble then you are over the line. I don't care if their RL Facebook account is linked to their blog which is linked to their corp forums, and their corp is in an alliance at war with yours. The minute you touch that Facebook page you've crossed the line. If you spam an EVE player on Twitter, that's not over the line. If you follow them, see them post to someone outside of EVE and bring that person into the loop, you've crossed the line. If the alliance/corp you are at war with is using an out-of game communication system like Jabber or Teamspeak, the minute you attack the service (not the group using it) you've crossed the line. The line is crossed when it leaves the game world and enters someone's real world. At that point, it's not a game anymore, and it could be a crime. It takes great situational awareness to keep your actions on the correct side of that line if you play the metagame, or a blatant disregard for others in the real world. Don't be that guy.