Sunday, February 10, 2008

EVE Online As the MMO PvP Paradigm

I have to admit that, other then a couple of open betas and a brief affair with Tabula Rasa, I have spent the last two years in relative isolation from MMOs not named EVE: Online. Recently, however, the various Virgin Worlds Podcast Collective shows have me taking a broader look at the MMO community in general. What I quickly noticed is that, at least for this particular group of podcasters and bloggers, EVE seems to have set the paradigm for the “hardcore PvP” game to contrast to the WoW model of PvE, raiding, etc.

My first reaction was to try to respond to what I saw as an attack on EVE, but further thought made me realize that any attempt to refute the point, namely EVE’s actual player-driven economy, actually reinforces the claim that EVE is all about the PvP. As was mentioned on Shut Up, We’re Talking #19, even EVE’s carebear activities (mining, trading, missioning, etc) are only really viable due to market demand and risk created by the pervasive PvP atmosphere. Also, the near total player control of the market makes market orders a form of conflict that gets every bit as heated as, and sometimes results in, ship to ship combat.

This, along with the skill-based, gradual progression system for EVE makes it, not the antithesis to WoW, but rather the other end of the spectrum, really creating another paradigm for MMOs. To say that EVE created the PvP-centric MMO does injustice to games like Ultima Online, where PvP was a constant motivator and factor on the gameplay of everyone, not just the hardcore PKers. All the same, that PVP focus, combined with a non-grinding skill progression makes it the polar opposite to games like WoW and LOTRO in many ways.

Finally, EVE’s single server nature makes it unique amongst the “major” MMOs. The consequence of this is a much more contentious, but simultaneously more tightly-knit community of players. In many blogs and the only current EVE podcast, in-game news takes up more coverage than dev blogs the majority of the time. I won’t say that EVE is a more immersive roleplaying environment than WoW, because it frankly isn’t, but it is a much more immersive community experience as opposed to a game based around the smaller group of friends/guildmates who gamers play multi-sharded games with.

The significance of this distinction in MMO “archetypes” became very clear in the SUWT discussion of the prospects of Warhammer Online. The debate very quickly became about who would be happier with WAR, EVE players or WoW players? The result of the debate is unimportant, in my view. What is important is that we seem to have two real mindsets that govern the thinking of a lot of MMO players out there. In his 101st show, Brent also describes aspects of The Agency as being EVE-like, particularly in the time-based character progression. Given that we have these two very distinct paradigms to work with, I think it really adds another dynamic to the discussions about the future of MMOs that is at least as important as the concept of free play, micro-payments, or a monthly subscription.

We already think in terms of whether a game will be EVE-like or WoW-like, but to what level are developers aware of this distinction. To what level are we aware of it, for that matter? I have noticed a personal tendency to prefer sci-fi games, despite their relative lack of success. I was more willing to give Tabula Rasa a try than I am EQ2. The reason is that TR is sci-fi, and so is EVE. I love EVE, not necessarily due to sub-genre, but because it is EVE, and the hardcore PvP aspect appeals to me. Thus, these two games not only represent the opposites of one another in terms of character development, but also in the sense of PvE vs. PvP. This PvE vs. PvP link is the one that seems more readily apparent to most, but I don’t think too many people realize the true pervasiveness of EVE’s PvP nature, and how

So what is the significance of all this for the future? After considering the existence of the difference in why people prefer, EVE and WoW are likely to be the two benchmarking points for MMO methodological extremes. As such, I think it is really worth people who are interested in the future of the MMO genre being familiar with both games. WoW has a head start of a few million, which EVE will never reach, due to its steep learning curve and low instant gratification factor, but in my totally biased opinion, it is all but required playing for the serious MMO journalist, at least for long enough to get a feel for what the game is in relation to WoW. Also of interest to me is when a new game will step in and deliver a third paradigm. Guild Wars offers it to a certain extent, but I always considered Guild Wars to handle more like a game of Halo than like WoW or EVE. Perhaps a twitch MMO will emerge in the near future to set up another group that appeals to the CounterStrikers of the world who find both EVE and WoW distasteful. Then again, I am still largely blind to the true nature of many other MMOs due to two long years in my EVE cave. Shared thoughts from people with other games is very welcome, due to my ignorance of a lot of the MMO offerings out there aside from the two I see as paradigm-markers.

4 comments:

  1. Planetside, Jumpgate.

    That's the 'third pole', the other paradigm.

    Persistent universe with only a small portion of your ability in game based on your character's attributes. Twitch gameplay.

    If you didn't try either during their prime, you missed out. Unfortunately neither are healthy any more.

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  2. The problem with games like Planetside is that they don't break enough with the normal twich games. When it boils down to it Battlefield 2142 is just one large Twitch-MMORPG spread out over thousands of shards. It has player progression, weapon unloads, guilds/clans and a buddy system and does its twich gameplay very well.

    I don't have the reference to hand (it was mentioned in UK PCGamer a couple of months back) but a compnay is developing a massively multiplayer game generator "thing". They havnt said whether it was going to be pay one or subscription but it seems to be aimed at a toolkit where you can develop your own game, whether it is Sims or Star Wars and then it runs on their servers.

    You also have Second Life where there is no "end game" per se but more a virtual existence with a $-L$ exchange rate and the ability to script or 3d model anything you want. Its an interesting area to look into as people have created their own "worlds" on land they have bought ($) and have strict RP dress and behaviour codes. But you can visit Victorian britain, steampunk, FPS areas, vampires. All sorts.

    The question is, when does it stop becoming a game?

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  3. Imperius BlackheartFebruary 11, 2008 at 7:36 AM

    Now that sir was a awesome read. I've noticed some of the same inclinations as you have in my taste for MMO's, I find it interesting how people from one side of a fence view the other or indeed the fence itself.

    I'm personally interested in how Jumpgate Evolution will turn out, many years ago I betatested the original, and is a twitch based Sci-Fi MMO.

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  4. Hey,

    no idea if you read old comments, but just in case:

    I played WoW on top level for 2 years (top 10 raiding guild in the world), and must say it is a very different game, but hardcore just as much. It is difficult on other levels then EVE is, but the main problem with it was that pve-content (the raiding game) was NOT fun to repeat after the first dungeon successful dungeon clear.
    This is where Eve wins, as PvP is just better as it is always dynamic, in a way that PvE never can be.

    WoW somewhat got a foot into PvP by introducing arenas, but while fun for a while, at some point you do hit a wall. In Eve this just does not happen, as you can SWITCH from one type of ship into another (granted you got decent skills for it), and the gameplay will change again.

    For WoW, this would mean relevelling a character from scratch, forcing you to play the same content again that you already did (and is hence boring => unchallenging), as respeccing is for most classes is either not viable or to little variation.

    This is in my opinion the big advantage Eve has over WoW. Now with Ambulation plans, Eve does have a chance to get casuals into the game, casuals that might have turned the game away in the past when they heard all they have is spaceship. Of course this will not really be much something a pvper would want initially, but as we all know, more people => more money => more ressources => CCP prospering => Good for pvpers again.

    Just my 2 cents ;=)

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