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Tunneling under the mainstream radar, EVE Online has grown to become one of the most successful MMOs of the last decade. It’s been called the “smart person’s” MMO, “spreadsheets online”, and “where economists go to wind down”. But its status is one of conjecture amongst gamers – almost everyone has heard a story about EVE. Its sheer scope, range and possibility appeal to many, until they find themselves inside the universe and completely flustered.

EVE is unique within its genre in that the game is not run by the developer, but by the player. Its developers, CCP, simply set the stage and provide the tools. From there, a limited amount of NPC elements provide new players with some guidance and intermediate players with some challenge. But the real game lies deep within the central space of the universe where there are few rules, no guards and one of the most unforgiving, challenging and intense environments that gaming has ever seen.

I’ll start by noting that this feature has been written with the non-player in mind. This is purely an insight into a universe that is rarely uncovered for the uninitiated. Veterans may find nothing that they do not already know, and thus, this is no wiki and this is no report on the current events. You have been warned.

In essence, EVE is the MMO that gamers always claimed that we wanted. A world with limited restrictions, where the player is the master of his own destiny, where working hard and genuine skill, rather then simply time or attrition, are the keys to ultimate success. Many other games have promised, and failed, an offering a similar opportunity. Whether due to problems regarding balance, wild aspirations, or a failure to face a simple truth – in most cases, people like the idea of freedom, but actually prefer playing in a bubble – has not been delivered well.

Within EVE, the bubble is effectively non-existent. Many players who have grown up on the relatively linear adventures found in Everquest, Asherons Call, or World of Warcraft find themselves drifting through the dark, cold, and eerily silent current of space, with very little to go on. There are no bright flashing quest icons, no clear dirt pathways or obvious story and class transitions to follow. As a friend of mine noted after a few hours of tutorial play, “This game doesn’t seem to have a point.”

Prior experience necessary.

He was wrong, but his frustration isn’t unwarranted. While EVE does have a reasonably cohesive storyline that can eventually set you up with a tidy wad of starting cash and some skills to grow on, it fails to take you under its wing and nurture your ambitions. But the clever among the recruited will quickly realize the truth; there is no spoon. The initial missions are not setting you up to level to 80, because there are no levels. Your starting wad of cash will not eventually buy you a mount, because you’re already sitting on one.

As a result, new players are forced to shed any previous conceptions of how they should play, and are pushed to think a little more laterally. Do you want to be a hero? How about a mercenary? What about a trader, miner, pirate, smuggler, manufacturer, leader or fleet commander? Since EVE is a single universe, the entire player pool of over 300,000 people (around 40,000 online at any given time) are pushed onto a single, contestable plane. There are no more instances and no death without penalty. Nothing is free and trust only extends as far as your ability to bluff.

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EVE throws away a number of RPG stalwart conventions that many players are used to. As previously mentioned, there are no levels. Outside of the advantage of sheer time and money, players fight on an almost completely level playing field from the get go. Within a month, a new player could be piloting one of the best ships in the game, and their success only limited to their own ability to excel. Skillbooks are purchased from NPCs and take real world time to “learn”. As a result, one does not need to grind or even be logged into the game to earn the “right” to do something. The skills are simply the vessel that enable you to actually play.

For example, if I wanted to pilot a battlecruiser, I would need to purchase a series of skillbooks and then schedule my learning. As a result, it may take three real world weeks before I was able to even sit in the pilot’s seat. But at the same time, I still need to earn the money to purchase the books, ship, missile systems and so forth – so I would need to start small and work my way up.

Be exactly who you want to be.

By now, I’ve probably already got some readers wondering “why?”. Well, just like it would take a few months to get to level 80 in WoW, it takes time to reach some of the more advanced ships in EVE. But even before I get to this point, it would only take a week or two to get my hands on something just as fun to pilot, so I could undertake missions via NPCs or within a corporation to earn some cash.

Corporations are what make EVE so alluring. They are the player run “Guilds” that control almost every element of life within the universe. Corporations build the ships you buy, harvest and refine the minerals that build those ships, or provide the protection for the miners that carve out the asteroids. Corporations and alliances of corporations can actively control and police large wafts of “sovereign” space. So if you aren’t careful, you may find yourself wandering into the middle of a turf war.

There are corporations that actively promote and enforce piracy. Others make a habit of smuggling goods through dangerous or out-of-bounds areas of space. Essentially, if there is a market for a particular service, there will be corporations created with the specific aim of providing that service. To make matters even more complicated, corps have intricate internal systems as well, such as offices in space stations to hold their items or recruit new players, and even tax rates to make purchases on behalf of their members.

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So while you *can* play solo in EVE, it’s almost a requirement that you join a corporation. Good ones will teach you the ropes, provide you with seed capital or equipment that you need. Take you out to complete missions or to complete paid work for other corporations. Through time, you will gain more money, abilities, equipment and a much larger understanding of game mechanics. EVE is almost like a true capitalist simulator: the aim is not to save the world, but to make money and gain power.

As a result, EVE features a “true” market based system. Everything from the raw ore ripped out of an asteroid field, to the missile launcher you attach to your fighter, has been mined, crafted or acquisitioned by a player. With the minor exception of a few items (such as NPC mission bonuses and skill books), the market relies almost completely on a system of supply and demand. If a certain mineral, for example, can only be found in a rough area, then its value is matched by its extraordinarily high price.

Commitment to the game is almost compulsory. Just like WoW, most corporations require the same, if not much more, dedication to the cause. While smaller corporations are little more then loose groups of like minded players having fun, some of the larger alliances (groups of corporations) are so sophisticated that they have dedicated groups of people assigned to tasks, like logistics and intelligence. Yes, that’s intelligence involving spies and recon, both within the confines of the game client and out.

Welcome to meta-game.

Nul space, or “nulsec”/”0.0″ security space, is the equivalent of “end game” in other MMOs. There is absolutely no protection. The game, largely, is left up to the players, who provide the tools to conquer the galaxy and control it. Stumbling into nul space is an exercise in futility. It’s likely you will be blown out of the sky without warning. Once you realize the circumstances, the politics and the terms of control, you will be shocked at the sheer depth of the player grown universe.

>Case in point, The downfall of Band of Brothers (BoB). BoB was arguably the most powerful alliance cum megacorp in EVE, controlling a significant amount of nul space along with a significant sum of in-game assets. Locked into a battle with Goonswarm, a similarly massive alliance with both game related and personal issues towards BoB. The two alliances, along with their partners, spent most of their time trying to take each other down.

Organisations as large as these two megacorps, which consist of thousands of players, need almost authoritarian control. As a result, both had developed the most complicated, efficient and secure systems of operation. Multiple levels of command, structured purely by strangers in locked forums and secure in-game channels and other “off-game” communication, were so tight that it was next to impossible to know what was going on within these corporations from the outside.

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As a result, people were recruited to befriend senior leaders, both in and out of game, or join the alliance as a sleeper agent. These “spies” would leak “intel”, whether it be future expansion plans, fleet movements, logistics routes and so forth. It may sound extreme, but this is all part of the game. Like any situation that involves conquest, knowing what your enemies’ next moves are is imperative to victory.

A senior member of BoB, allegedly, became upset with the infighting and decision making within the alliance and decided to pull one of the biggest sweeps in MMO history. Taking with him passwords and command authority, he effectively orchestrated a shutdown of the entire alliance with GoonSwarm (GS), which in turn deactivated the control mechanisms that kept the alliance’s hold over its sovereign space. As a result, billions of in-game money was lost, assets destroyed, while others were transferred to GS.

This isn’t the only game event that could “only” happen within EVE. Another player effectively ripped off billions of in-game credits by exploiting the game’s insurance system, while other players have used their own social phishing skills to dupe players out of assets by exploiting their greed, naivety and honesty. The possibilities for changing the game for all players are endless.

Hang in there buddy.

But let’s be brutally honest. This game is hard. In fact, it’s ridiculously hard. I can’t stress how brutal the insane learning curve is to new players, and while the player base is very intelligent, friendly and helpful, the game usually isn’t. The interface is, at first glance, frustratingly cluttered, and navigating the various elements of space, ship controls, skill trees, marketplaces and universe maps is something that many players are likely to scream and run from, but I digress.

You need to stick it out. Because underneath the charts, maps and stats, there is an absolutely epic gaming universe begging you to become a part of it. The interface takes only a few days to get used to, and a little bit of reading via the in-game help and some amazing off-game wikis will explain the bulk of absolutely anything that confuses you. The play is addictive once you become enthralled, and once you realize that your refined skills are *needed*, you will understand the power of this game.

For once, you truly are an individual. You are an important part of the gamepace. You can be who you want and do almost anything you want. Freedom, dear player, is what EVE ultimately provides. Every minute that you pump into this game actually matters in the long run, but you’ve got to decide whether you want to stick around for the long haul. Just like life itself, EVE is unforgiving, but there are rewards for taking risks.

  1. James, noooooo! You were almost out!

  2. I have always been absolutely fascinated by this game, but in a cautious and distant way. I think trying it out would be a bad idea for me. It’s a game that I love reading about, but one I’m not sure that I’d love playing.

  3. avatar Anonymous

    I’ve done the trial on EVE a couple of times. The second time, I got a clue regarding how the training is structured. I spent several days waiting for the one guy to come online so I could get recruited to a popular organization, only to have my trial end a day later. So I can’t say what the org battles are like, but everything I’ve seen thus far leads me to believe there’s other things I’d rather do in real life.

  4. avatar Bel Amar

    I’ll just add, that the game doesn’t require a commitment. As with many MMO’s, your gameplay will benefit from one, but you can get by just fine as a casual player. Casual play can of course cut off some of your in game options, but every casual play already knows that is just how the world works :)

  5. I played this game for about a week. Honestly, I was bored. It takes so long to do ANYTHING when you’re starting out, that I was dis-enchanted very early on. Blah.

  6. I love the Wild West feeling you describe here — it reminds me a great deal of how Ultima Online felt in the early days, albeit in a fantasy setting. The players were responsible for creating the action and outside of some cheaters, skill ruled the day.

    There are just too many games out there that I want to experience to give this game the kind of love it would need, but it intrigues me nonetheless.

  7. avatar Simon

    The 1 month trial (that obviously coincides with the ‘steep learning curve’) is so traumatic I’m not surprised that many don’t come back. The game isn’t for those who lack concentration or ability to think, it IS a thinking person’s game.
    The roles and options are VAST though, so there’s always a niche for someone to fit into. I’ve been on it for 6 months and while I find some aspects boring (so avoid them) other aspects, such as roaming in a gang looking for a fight, are so edge-of-your-seat-adrenaline-fuelled you are physically sweating from the suspense.

  8. avatar Manipulieren

    Genialer Comment, dies wollte ich selbst auch schon immer mal ausdrücken, wusste aber nicht wie man dies zu Papier bringen konnte :) .

  9. avatar novoline Tricks

    Nun ja, Sachverhalte konnen manchmal wirklich trivial sein! Danke :)

  10. avatar moneten

    Herzlichen Dank, endlich habe ich das wirklich verstanden :-)

  11. avatar novoline spielautomat

    Absolut Genialer Comment, dies wollte ich selbst auch schon mal schreiben, wusste aber niemals wie ich das ausdrücken konnte .

  12. avatar Joisy

    Brian, I must say and I truly mean this, these are some of the most INSPIRING and MOVING images I’ve ever seen. To get this ccanhe is truly a once in a lifetime opportunity. And the shot of Obama in tears, wow beyond words. I got your e-mail, I’ll be in touch with you very shortly!

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