Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Killers vs achievers: why EVE Online is the only successful Impact PvP MMO?

PvP games are suffering from the fact that the worst players are losing constantly and leaving, making the second worst bunch the losers. Most PvP games, like World of Tanks and League of Legends handles this by removing impact. The matchmaking system places you to a 50% winnable scenario, so your performance has no impact on your long-term winrate, and the losses of the losers are smaller than the gains of the winner. You simply can't be so bad in WoT to be unable to buy your next tank, if you play long enough with low or gold tanks. Similarly, even the worst League of Legends player can grind out new champions. Also, these games aren't MMOs. They are round-based games and the round acts as a reset. Next game you'll start with a lvl1 champion or a repaired-restocked tank, regardless if you finished the last game as a farmed noob or the biggest killer. In PvP MMOs your current losses make you unable to fight next time.

Almost 3 years ago, I designed an MMO scheme Killers vs Achievers. Back then I didn't know that it's already existing, it's EVE Online. In this design, you can achieve in-game goals without killing people, despite being killed. This removes the "You won!" and "You have lost!" from the PvP encounters, without removing the encounter or its impact.

This is best explained with the miner vs ganker scheme. The miners are the achievers. Their goal is to make a fat wallet. They might farm for a ship, or just for some self-decided ISK amount. They are not at all interested in killing other pilots. The gankers are the killers. Their goal is just to kill other players. They are not interested in any kind of measurable achievement. When they clash, the outcome is clear: the miner dies and the ganker scores a kill. But - unlike in other PvP MMO designs - it does not mean that the miner officially lost and the ganker won. At the end of the day - unless he made some stupid mistake - the miner is closer to his goal than he was at the start. His mining earned him more ISK than he lost on that insured Retriever. On the other hand his killer barely earned the price of his lost ship from the loot. So in his eye (and the eyes of any achievers) the miner won the day and the ganker is just a sorry kid with nothing but a few T1 destroyers in his hangar. Of course the ganker is happily organizing the hate-mail and watches his killboard, in his eye (agreed by all other killers) he pwned the "dumb carebear".

EVE is an impact PvP game, neither part can ignore the other. The miner indeed lost his ship and despite it didn't break him, he isn't happy about it. He'd prefer being left alone. The ganker - despite he hates "carebearing" - has to log to a missioning alt to farm for the next batch of ships, or buy a PLEX for a hated carebear to do it for him. He'd prefer being free from the game economy. Neither of them gets what he really wants, the achievers must participate (and lose) PvP, while the killers must participate (and suck) in the economy.

The trick is that according to his own metric both of them is a winner. Even the worst possible PvP-er can easily score kills, he just have to camp some spot that PvE players need to pass. Jita undock and the nearby gate is full of tornadoes waiting for overstuffed T1 haulers. Lowsec-nullsec entry gates are often camped by gankers, looking for random travellers. Cloaking gankers haunt WH space and AFK-cloakers cyno in gankers to anomalies. The outcome of these actions mostly ends in the ganker scoring a kill. The only other outcome happens if the target was a bait of an even larger PvP-er fleet.

When I went to be a "PvP-er", I could get kills in the magnitude of the largest corporations. Why? Am I having 100-1000 times more "skillz" than the average player? No, the game was designed this way. Those who want to be a killer simply cannot fail in becoming one. The reason why I outperformed "PvP-ers" by magnitudes is that I didn't try to upkeep the image of doing something challenging. Most gankers go long way to kill ships that looks like being able to fight back and act like they prevailed in combat, instead of just blowing up someone who had no chance to win. EVE is therefore a magnet for all killers: a game where everyone is an angel of death, an unstoppable "pwnzor", a "skilled hunter" and whatever names they want to place on themselves. In other games, only a small elite can be above the average, in EVE every killer is above average, since the average is pulled down by the zero-kill "carebears".

Achievers also get what they wanted. In normal "achiever" games, only a small elite has the best rewards, while the average guy only has average gear. In EVE, every single PvE player is above average. The infamous CFC Tech moon monopoly - that was deemed to be impossible to defeat and warranted a nerf - was providing only 50M/month/member, a figure that a veldspar miner (the lowest of carebears) would laugh off. If you want to get a rare ship, or rare fittings or simply more ISK in your wallet than most players ever seen in his life, you can. I earned half trillion ISK - again - not because I'm awesome, but because the game was designed that way. The average wealth is pushed so down by the "friglolling punks" that anyone who bothers to undock a mining or missioning ship is above average.

So CCP built the game which other MMO designers were only dreaming of: a game where every player is happy to be one of the best, everyone is above average, everyone is looking down on "the scrubs". Considering this, the question is why not EVE online the #1 MMO with 10M subscribers? I see three reasons for that:
  • Horrible newbie experience. The newbie is the only one who is neither rich, nor an angel of death. Nor he will be until he learns the game, but the game itself gives little help to do so. Being thrown into a pool with sharks to learn to swim isn't the best thing to do. One way or another, CCP needs to protect the newbies and teach them.
  • No achiever marketing. EVE Online is simply not marketed to achievers, despite it's the best game for them. In no other game you can build a permanent station, create a market hub, or a service (like Red Frog) that everyone uses. The press is always about battles, while most EVE players never take part in PvP willingly. CCP simply needs to put in more visible achievements and market them. Maybe the stargate-building will be something like that. Or more PLEX charity drives, this time with toplists to show off your achievement in the game.
  • Corp thefts and awoxes. One of the main feature of MMOs is socializing. In every game you are encouraged to join a clan or guild to be with "friends". Of course these aren't real friendships, but in the World where one has 999999 friends on Facebook, such "friends" will do. In EVE if you join a random corp, you just have been robbed and podded. For this reason, joining a somewhat functional, non-awoxer corp in EVE needs an application process that only exists in top clans in other MMOs. CCP simply needs to give much more corporate security features to prevent thefts and make awoxing much harder. This looks an abomination to a loud but extremely tiny minority. Before you'd comment, just ask yourself "how many blues did I shoot in the last month?" If the answer is zero (and it will be for 99.9%) you won't be hurt. Simply face it that spy stories are exactly what's wrong with EVE: more fun to read about than taking part of.
The above problems - while severe - are not related to the basic game design: achievers vs killers, a game where everyone is above average, where every single player rightfully believes that he is better than most - in his chosen metric. Remember how EVE players consider themselves the best gamers of the World and how they look down on other games. Coincidence, or ingenious design?


Raphael said...

Your PvP spree was certainly impressive, but it was an achiever-style feat, not a killer-style one. Taking a number (total ISK value destroyed) and pushing it as high as possible as quickly as possible is a classic achiever goal, and that's essentially what you did.

From Richard Bartle's original article:
"Achievers regard points-gathering ... as their main goal, and all is ultimately subserviant to this." "Killing is only necessary ... to gain vast amounts of points (if points are awarded for killing other players)."

"Killers get their kicks from imposing themselves on others." "Normal points-scoring is usually required so as to become powerful enough to begin causing havoc in earnest ... [but] only in the knowledge that a real person, somewhere, is very upset by what you've just done, yet can themselves do nothing about it, is there any true adrenalin-shooting, juicy fun."

Setting up a game where the killers don't drive away players is very difficult, because the ability to make other people unhappy* is one of the main things that attracts the killers in the first place. Your first and third problems aren't unrelated to the killer-vs-achiever design: they're key components of the killers' gameplay.

*Technically, this is slightly simplistic; a killer plays to impose himself on other players, but this doesn't strictly have to be negative. Non-griefer-killers are rarer than the griefers at the best of times, though, and I defy anyone to claim that EVE attracts fewer griefers than average.

Woody said...

Raphael said: "Setting up a game where the killers don't drive away players is very difficult, because the ability to make other people unhappy* is one of the main things that attracts the killers in the first place. Your first and third problems aren't unrelated to the killer-vs-achiever design: they're key components of the killers' gameplay."

As an impartial outsider who quit the game not long after starting, I've always wondered why you can't buy a self destruct module that allows you to INSTANTLY destroy your ship and vaporise ALL cargo or anything of value.

In a game where suicide ganking is explained away as legitimate and realistic in RP terms by the clone system, I don't understand why in the EVE universe such modules aren't available. The technology would exist as would the motivation to use it - it would be the best deterrent to piracy if the universe were real.

Of course there is a distinction between ganking/piracy and griefing. One being rational in RP terms and the other being something that anti-social people or those with borderline psychological issues wish to achieve for non-RP objectives.

I see from forums that any suggestions for such an instant and total self destruct device are met with violent opposition. I am not sure what to make of it. Are the gankers the true carebears? Protected by an unrealistic system that makes their profession viable?

But surely if they want to upset a real person, what does it matter if you don't get credit for a kill or loot any of the cargo? So long as you upset the other person you are happy right?

What really motivates these players?

Provi Miner said...

I like the concept of promoting the achievers, while not an achiever type I wish people got more press for what they do in game, organizing tourny's, being a reliable intermediary, runny supply's to hell and back (black frog), and so on.

Care4Bear said...

This was an excellent read, just like a few of the other posts, including one that inspired me to invest in a reasonably tanked Procurer instead of a Retriever and I never looked back (quite literally). So thank you for a solid advice.

I'm fresh to Eve and absolutely love the crazy learning curve. It is steep but exhilarating. There's so much information out there, it's quite ridiculous.

I have no experience with other MMOs so can't comment on some of the specifics in your post, but will say this: Eve allows me to be a miner, explorer, PvPer and a number of other profession paths - at least 3 at the time. So while I'm mining (to build my financial base), I'm also training an explorer Alt and will then move to a PvP Alt. I may not become the best in any of them, but will enjoy all of them.

And while I'm find ganking and extortion repulsive, I recognize the chaotic value they bring, and I'm looking forward to this cat and mouse game. It'll be fun to try and cheat them out of their prey from time to time.

Smith said...

@woody The reason that you are havering a problem of understanding why motivates 'these people' is that you firstly start with the premise that they are in it to upset a person and then fail to see that different people can do the same thing or share the same behavior for mane and different reasons. There probably are as many different reasons to why as there are players.

It is just such a gross oversimplification to categorize people into Killers and Achievers and then debate in which of these compartments a certain play style or person belongs. The Bartle test thar Raphael mentions talked about four such compartments but never said the player belonged in any one of them. Rather the test graded the degree to which your play style cross referenced into the four categories. So a person might be 26/26/25/23 percentage parts. Also the test is meant as a guideline and should one do it once a month one probably gets a little different results each time. I've done the test many times and over the years my 'score' has varied a lot.

Lyxi said...

I'm an achiever. I also got utterly bored with Eve within the first month.

Although I didn't really lose anything of high value, I was completely put off by the expectation that, soon, the dark and ruthless world of Eve will kill and farm me for tears, I was afraid of spies and to protect myself I should trust no one.

This ended up with a very logical question: "Well, why do I bother? There's nothing in it for me. I like collecting points and achievements. I don't like being farmed, and my best laid plans hosed."

This led me to very nihilistic conclusion that life for me in Eve was, simply put, pointless.

To tell you the truth, I still think it would be pointless, even if I followed Gevlon's blog for all this time.

The big irony is that I think, if Gevlon hadn't the external goals of proving that his ideas work, or was not interested in the meta-social impact of his actions and ideas, then he would have quit a long time ago.

Eve, is simply put, a horrible achiever game. Utterly and completely boring, and, on top, a place where you would have to constantly defend your precious gained points. Rather play a Korean grindfest MMO (boy, does that sound like fun, huh?) than even touch Eve with a 10 foot pole.

Woody said...

Smith – I more curious about the deliberately designed-in and totally unrealistic absence of the self-destruct module I described. It says a lot about the psychology of the player base and the developers’ attempts at retaining people with certain psychological characteristics. Especially as such design costs them the custom of a wider market that is many times the size of their current player base.

The violent objections of the player base to such a device also tells me a lot about their motivations and reward systems – although whether those using the forums are representative of the majority of players and attitudes is another matter entirely. I found a number of threads and posters requesting such a device so clearly a number of players do want it. Forums just can't tell us the percentages unfortunately.

I find it amusing when I see trailers for EVE as it is so unrepresentative of the game experience. A futile squandering of the CCP marketing budget as those trailers attract people to a game that doesn’t exist. Indeed a player that is interested in the experience implied in the trailers would not be interested in EVE.

The game isn’t an MMO-RPG as the whole space thing is a pointless fa├žade. If you want to believe you are a space adventure/trader competing against other space adventurers/traders you will fail. This is because the other players don’t behave and don’t want to behave rationally like space adventurers/traders and the game is clearly designed so that they don’t have to. The recent Zombie blog entry highlighted such irrational non-RP behaviour.

Instead it is tailor made to tolerate foibles and non-RP motivations that would not be tolerated and would be countered in real life (and in other games).

The player base behave like people who are absolutely conscious at all times that they are a person sat at a PC in their bedroom competing against others in similar circumstances. One must take decisions on the assumption that competitors actions will reflect the foibles of the kind of people who would be in those circumstances.

The trailers, instead of looking like a CGI Star Wars movie could just as well show two men hammering away on their keyboards in their bedrooms in a kind of keyboard warrior scenario. It is treading over old ground I know, but it comes back to that issue of "playing the player and not the avatar".

Meanwhile I got round to trying out SWTOR and became totally engrossed and immersed in my role as a Sith apprentice. When I finally get my hands on Elite Dangerous, and assuming they designed in controls and systems to prevent “EVE types” from “ruining the game experience” (most games have such protection) I will finally become immersed in the role of a great space trader and adventurer.

Which is surely the whole point? To not believe that I am stuck in my PC room during a long dark winters evening on a work night but to fantasise about being something more exciting instead. That is what these games sell to the public. That is why this game attracts less customers than others – it doesn't sell escapism. World of Keyboard-craft doesn't have wide appeal.

I think there is a difference between space killers/achievers and keyboard killers/achievers. The former accept a certain lack of freedoms to maintain the illusion.

I think we all know that EVE's "killers" want to kill players and aren't that interested in killing avatars. That the game is designed to facilitate this is something I find interesting.

Gevlon said...

@Lyxi: and what is the achievement in WoW? Kill the monster that everyone else is killing in the other instance?

Also, you misunderstand the gankers purpose. They are the hostile mobs in EVE that want to take your wealth. Without them, gathering wealth would be trivial.

I'd suggest to give it another try, this time with a non-trivial, but realistic target like 100B assets in 6 months.

Smith said...

Woody makes some interesting points. But first I'll give my view on the self destruct mod (SDM . Weather such a module is good or not is beyond me. Given the premise that such a module took up a firing slot and actually required a bit of CPU and Powergrid that limited a ships effectiveness I can't see a problem with it. It would, IMO, be insanity to fit such a mod as you would do better without it. Denying the one exploding my ship the loot seems fainthearted to me. I'd like to point out that it says just as much about the player that rather destroys everything than gives the winner some spoils. The loser loses just as much in any case. That too can be viewed as a certain psychological shortcoming.

As for the commercials showing a game that does not exist. Totally agree. I don't even recognize Eve as a game.

"I think we all know that EVE's "killers" want to kill players and aren't that interested in killing avatars. That the game is designed to facilitate this is something I find interesting"
No, just no. There are loads of blogs out there that shows differently. There are lots of Tweets that show differently. I've talked to lots of people that see Eve like me: any other social game that involves beating another opponent. Of course there are such people as you describe, but making such a statement is making it far easier than it is. People are far more complex than I think such a statement give them credit for.

Michael LeBlanc said...

@Woody. EVE is the only subscription based MMO that is currently growing, and has been doing so steadily for 10 years. Aside from WoW, which has shrank considerably, pretty much every other game has gone free to play. So not being like SWTOR is a good thing

As for your specific complaints, they're perfectly valid, but they're exactly why many people play the game. Even though I don't participate in any of the shadier activities, their existence makes it more fun for me. In fact, without it, I probably wouldn't play at all.

Rammstein said...

@woody: "I've always wondered why you can't buy a self destruct module that allows you to INSTANTLY destroy your ship and vaporise ALL cargo or anything of value."

I'd forgotten about that suggestion, it's definitely realistic and should be implemented.

"But surely if they want to upset a real person, what does it matter if you don't get credit for a kill or loot any of the cargo? So long as you upset the other person you are happy right?

What really motivates these players?"

Your problem here is that you're simply focusing on positive motivations. There are also negative motivations, or aversions. These people don't want to grind up ISK, so anything that prevents their chosen profession from being at least ISK-neutral is seen as an attack on their gameplay...which it is, and which their profession deserves. This doesn't make them carebears, it makes them whiny gankers. Whining =/= carebear, whining is just whining.

@smith: "There probably are as many different reasons to why as there are players."

But it is possible to group these reasons into categories, which are good enough descriptors for the purposes we are putting them to. People are very prone to seeing 'simplification' and making the kneejerk criticism of 'oversimplification'. Much of the time, the simplification is not indeed 'over', and this is one of those times. The problem he was having is instead as I described above.

@both: as Gevlon points out, even though this is unrealistic, there are many other unrealistic villains in MMORPGs that people are ok with. Looking at it from the gankers point of view, the "carebear villains" have many unrealistic advantages as well, so perhaps it balances out. Any realistic implementation of the SDM would have to include some reasonable changes to give it some drawbacks, such as a massive nerf to Concord to make Concord more realistic. Perhaps a contractually enforceable ransom system, as well?

wannabepvp said...

I follow your blog for some time now (relatively new Eve player here - oldest character has 5 months), never commented before. I usually don't agree with more than 15% of things you insert in a post. It is because I somewhat suspect that you are intentionally mixing good observations and tips with "mumbo jumbo" designed to stir up discussions (coincidence or ingenious design?). I do apology in advance if I'm completely off on this one.

Anyway, I agree with almost everything said in this post. The thing on which I have a different view is on your (and not only yours) solution to the horrible newbie experience. It is because I see the newbie problem from a completely different perspective.

I think that, with the exception of the five percent of psychopaths, all the others gamers are nerds deep inside them. The Eve is complex and, hence, this is the main reason why most people don’t make it, sounds somewhat insulting to a nerd. I'm not making a case about gamers being the smartest people on Earth. I mean, really smart guys/girls don't usually waste time on games. However, once we leave the dumb people out of this discussion, many new players don't like Eve because they never arrive to see Eve when it really matters: the first two weeks. The new players experience in the first phase is not, in most cases, Eve like.

I have problems understanding( actually it's more close to accepting than to understanding, since I have some ideas on the why part here) CPP's decision of having a PvE oriented set of tutorials in a game that offers you a PvP centric universe.

I wouldn’t expect the tutorials in a massive multiplayer online game to teach players how to play the damn game. However, I would expect an honest introduction to what is the game about. As I see it, Eve tutorial are paradoxically WOW like. It's no wonder that people "fail" at Eve. They play one game with another game set of rules. My opinion is that when they realize that, if they do and most of them do, they feel like CCP made a prank on them.

In these conditions, why should they stay?

Smith, John Smith said...

On paper it sounds good, in trailers Eve is excellent, but when it comes to implementation - sadly, it's just a mediocre game.
I wish Blizzard made Eve and CCP that one MMO with pandas and goblins..

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