Wednesday 6 February 2013

Eve: BB44 Local - a marxist perspective

Somewhat late I've decided to weigh in on Blog Banter 44, so ably organised by Seismic Stan, which is about the use of the Local chat channel as a source of intel in Eve.

For anyone not familiar with Eve pvp the chat channel is an important method of seeing who is in the system as it displays all present (except in wormhole space where the rules are different). So even if somebody slips in cloaked or emerges from a hidden wormhole everyone in the system gains instant omniscient awareness of their presence. It's counter-immersive and seen by many players as an unfair way for people to escape incoming enemies.

I'm going to talk about it from a marxist perspective but first I'll explain the term marxist for the non-academics out there. Marx's economic theories revolutionised the study of history by explaining events as consequences of economies rather than decisions made by people in power. So for example where before Marx historians believed that Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries because he fell out with the pope, after Marx historians saw that he dissolved them because of sheep. Changes in agriculture saw enclosed pastures filled with grazing sheep become the most profitable method. That's a very land-hungry method of farming though so the Crown needed land and the land-rich tax-exempt monasteries were inevitable targets.

In Britain it's always about the sheep.

So the term marxist, as used by academics is simply the same concept as the phrase "follow the money" used by journalists. This leads to no end of confusion when academics use the term and non-academics jump to the conclusion that we are thereby a bunch of pinko unamerican commie leftos. It's just a technique, a slant for examining problems.

It is a particularly useful way of examining the problem of Local chat functionality in Eve Online.

The Eve game design trades players isk for inattention. Inattention is good in a pvp game because killer players like to blow other people up and its much harder to blow people up who are paying attention. All sorts of economic activities are repetitive, offer little feedback to the player, require very few clicks per minute and best of all have the player sitting in a fragile tin box that can't fit effective weapons or tank. The Eve economy creates an ecosystem where many players act as wildebeest in order to earn cash. That's great for the Eve lions.

It also makes the losses much easier to bear for the wildebeest. My miner got blown up in the wormhole - well it's ok I wasn't paying attention (I woulda totally kicked his arse had I not been watching the footy). My afk autopiloting Badger full of implants got blown up at Jita - never mind the other 99 trips got through and I only paid 1 isk each for those implants on my regional buy order. My ratting ship got blown up while I was alt tabbed watching a movie - grr mumble mumble, must do more ratting to replace it.

The design for inattention mitigates the pain of losing ships because we can buy new ones with cash we earn by playing semi-afk watching a movie. It's not like we sweated for those ships.

Design for inattention doesn't decrease the gloating superiority of the gankers because we (yes. I'm a ganker too!) always fondly imagine it's our skill and cleverness that is ruining the other guy's day and because no matter how he sugar coats it "didn't want that ship anyway" never really rings true.

Take away Local and you kill that.

Now not only are you killing the pvp fun but more importantly (to us marxist game designers) you're killng the economy. People won't rat or mine if they expect to get blown up if there's any kind of reasonable alternative. (And there is - high sec).

But wait hang on, you say, people rat and mine in wormholes!

Wormholes are pretty empty, far less crowded than any other space. You can gain a good picture as a wormhole inhabitant of how exposed you are by checking the sigs - in my old hole if I hadn't popped the static and there wasn't a wormhole other than the static I was 100% safe to fly around in haulers or mining ships. In 8 months this only failed once and that's when a K162 opened while I was watching footy while afk mining. Also wormhole pilots are that minority of Eve who do pay attention while doing their carebearing (except when the footy's on) and mash D scan. Mashing D scan is pretty horrible and most people won't want to do it for hours.

So this is what will happen if you take away Local.

- virtually all botting will stop except in high sec. While this is a good thing this will have a big effect on the Eve economy because demand will be more or less unchanged while supply is significantly curtailed.

- all lazymode movie-watching farming will stop except in high sec. Ratting mining in dangerous space will be done by attentive careful players - the careless ones will lose more isk than they make.

- prices of ships and modules will skyrocket. Moon goo market will collapse as mercoxit becomes the chokepoint for ship and module production, not Tech.

- ordinary players will have to spend a lot more time mining and ratting and a lot less time pvping. After all pvp means ship loss and the ore those ships are made of has to come from somewhere. If the movie-watching carebears are now watching their movies without simultaneously playing Eve someone else will have to do the mining instead.

- a plex will buy less because ships will become so expensive. Right now a plex buys you about 10 hours of lazy farmer/bot time. When you're buying active attentive player time you're buying more valuable labour so you'll have to pay more for it.

- we'll also see people who plex many accounts unsub some of them because they can't run 10 accounts at once in the more dangerous universe.

The business case is this:

- no new players will be attracted (I mean come on, try Eve, now with cheating-free chat isn't great publicity).

-people who play eve because it let's them be lazy/watch movies at the same time will unsub some or all of their accounts.

- pvpers who find the ships have become too damn dear for the fun they give will quit.

- more work will be imposed on the emotional volatile and bitter pvp players who will promptly riot. Mittens will lead a goon exodus to the Land of Milk and Tanks.

- less people will buy plex with real money from CCP meaning they get less revenue.

- less people will run numerous alts meaning less revenue.

In the recent Lost in Conversation one of the CSM members (Trebor perhaps) said that the most effective way to sell an idea to CCP was by presenting the business case. Good luck selling them this one!


  1. "- less people will run numerous alts meaning less revenue."

    I think this illustrates how vulnerable a game can be to a small core playerbase, once multiple alts becomes a major thing.

  2. I'd be for no local as an Intel tool which it is now as local. That to me would lead to allot more interesting things happening all over Null Sec as well as more players likely moving into unoccupied systems as no one would likely even know your there. It will lead to more cloak and dagger situations.

    But since the game has had local for so long excluding WH Space, the players who have gotten used to it and ingrained using Local and see no reason for wanting to give it up changing things.

    When I think of Local I think of it this way in RL. If I flew into NY from wherever and I arrive there. Just because I landed in the State don't mean I know all the millions of people that live there all over the state, nor do I know everyone that's present in the Airport. What's more likely is I'm aware of the people around me (On Grid) that are in my immediate area as I walk through the Airport and as I see and pass them as my on Local On Grid Intel visually. But that same local intel don't mean I know everyone outside the station, in the city, or in the reset of the state. You have to do much more work to gather that kind of information.

    That would be the same no matter which airport I fly into anywhere in the world from wherever. As well the same if I crosses the State Line going to Texas, Florida or even driving across the border going to Canada. Just because I entered a new State don't give me the intel right to know everyone that's there immediately just by entering.

    Just because I flew into UK, don't mean I will know where Stabs live assuming he is really there. Or should I have the right to know that intel information every time I go to the UK. Now if I happen to go to a pub where you reside and you happen to be there as well now we are both in Local. We're both now on grid and that intel can be gathered as well as anything else that can be known.

    You can spin that even differently as it pertain to modern Warfare. A Submarine goes out to see and enters the deep depths of the great blue and beyond. Best I know just because that Submarine is out in the great Atlantic or Pacific with all its technology don't mean it knows where all the other Submarine's are in the very same ocean. It might know a certain submarine was reported seen at X location or left Y Port and no longer there. It might know the general vicinity of another friendly Sub in Fleet or Strike Group. But it does not know all the intel to say exactly where that other Submarine is at. Unless they maybe have a spy on board that's giving away Intel somehow for location or detection.

    One Submarine looking for the other or on the hunt will likely resort to Passive or Active Radar to enhance their intelligence gathering to piece all that info along with any and other available Intel. They may eventually end up on grind with each other just drifing by in the ocean slowly. Now with all their intel tools available they can maybe gather just who the other person is. But neither of those 2 Subs know exactly who all the other Submarines are around them unless in Fleet or in the rest of the ocean around. That's unless they give themselves away by acoustic signature sound or some other means of being detected by others.

    Thats kinda the way I think of local and the whole issue in a round about way.

    1. Oh Local definitely loses the immersion argument. No question. It is "cheating".

      But so are sound effects in space, explosions in space, third party sites etc.

      I think it comes down to the difference between a game and a simulator. Eve is like a simulator but it isn't foremost a simulator. And especially its revenues don't come from its simulation but from its playability.

    2. PS if you think Local's bad what about the star map? 17 people podded in some system at the far end of the universe - thanks for letting me know!

      And most people who've talked about getting rid of unimmersive Local so far have it in mind to use the even more omniscient star map as an Intel tool instead.