Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Eve: BB46 Player Driven Story

The excellent Mat Westhorpe has this for the latest blog banter:

With the return of Live Events such as the Battle for Caldari Prime, clearly the prime fiction of EVE is back in favour as part of this new thematic approach to expansions. However, EVE's story is very much a tale of two playstyles, with an entirely player-driven narrative unfolding daily in parallel to the reinvigorated backstory. Often, they do not mix well. How can these two disparate elements be united or at least comfortably co-exist in a single sandbox universe?

So here's my take:


Eve is a science fiction game I'll grant you but the spaceships, odd-looking people, monstrous space drones are simply dressing for what is at heart a competition between players. Eve could be set in a World War 2 environment, as a football game, as a fantasy game or in Ancient Rome and would have the same basic character and story type. The Goons screw over BoB, the HBC ground down -A- in a long defensive dull war of attrition, the Guiding Hand Social Club social engineers its way into positions of trust then robs people. What is needed for this is an extremely hands off approach by the game developers and a flexible game where mechanics and complicated and open-ended enough to allow people to devise unexpected ways of using them.

Just about no one cares about the backstory, cares that 10 Caldari scientists got kidnapped by Gallente agents. The only reason people read that stuff is to glean hints about future mechanics changes or to figure out what to shoot to complete their mission.

In games like WoW and EQ2 we saw very clearly that players don't want to read quests They skim until they spot the important part - eg, kill ten rats - then race off to do it. They don't want to stop and read about the history of the war between the rats and the gnomes or whatever. Player app developers made an addon called questhelper that allowed you to skip even skimming the quest and it proved one of the most popular addons in WoW's history, later being subsumed into the standard game mechanics because it was so popular.

Same with Eve's missions - it doesn't matter what the story of The Anomaly is, you just need to know collect the dude, drop the quality street thing off in the box, deliver the dude into one of the floating drop boxes. Who cares about professor this and drones that?  Just about no one doing the mission.

The thing with games is that once we gamers put our game-faces on we're in a different psychological state to the state we're in when we passively absorb entertainment like TV or novels. We're antsy, our trigger fingers itchy, poised to interact. We don't want to be read to, we're too hyped up for that.

And that's why backstories about Caldari Prime etc leave most of us cold. Want to know the stories players got excited about? Who scooped the loot.


  1. Wow... "Just about no one cares about the backstory..." And you obviously have no idea why people read much of what they read. I have never ever in 2 plus years talked to ANYONE in EvE who read the Lore to "... glean hints about future mechanics..." etc.

    They, like I, read it because they are SciFi buffs and we live IN a SciFi Virtual World in New Eden... and the Lore is our history.

    Sorry bro, I like your blog a lot man, but you are dead as shit wrong on this one and I'm serious. There are a shit ton of people who are very very into the Lore of EvE.

    Just because "you" are not does not negate their interest or lessen it's impact on them and others. EvE is a story... it's just the story of us, and the backstory is the groundwork, the foundation EvE is built on.

    And no, EvE could not be set in any other environment because the environment is so much an integral part OF EvE...

    And yes, the new stories, the emergent stories we create are exciting and make for great reading whether it's in a news article style or in an RP style... But they are also Lore. They are all now a part of the history of EvE.

    I have written up my experiences in both styles and have received some of my most gratifying comments on the posts written from an RP perspective...

    Please, do not whitewash everyone with the brush of your discontent man... You may not like or be interested in the Lore... but one helluva lot of the rest of us are.

    1. "There are a shit ton of people who are very very into the Lore of EvE."

      I'd be very interested in some kind of measure of this. If you're talking about bloggers, then sure, there's a lot. If you're talking about people who go to real life meets again there's a lot, I meet new roleplayers every Eve meet.

      But try going to Jita and asking in Local who Tibus Heth is. I'd be surprised if 10 people know. And not knowing who he is is like not knowing who James Bond is in that particular lore.

    2. I know I'm just another voice, but personally I don't care about the lore. I went through the sisters of eve missions with the sole purpose of getting a standing boost with my race. I literally accepted the mission without reading it, undocked, set destination and started warping. On my way to the mission I'd read the details about what I had to kill or deliver or whatever.

      I'm not saying I do or don't represent any % of eve, but I'll speak for myself and say I don't care. I play eve for the camaraderie of my fellow corp mates, not the storyline of some rogue drone or whatever.

  2. I'll add this too... You equate EvE to WoW... How in the world can you do that? I do not wonder that no one cares about he backstory in WoW but that because IMHO (<- my opinion, ok?) WoW Sux. If, "IF", I wanted to be a fairy, or an Elf, I'd play LOTR and I don't... ever.

    Plus when I reread your post you seem to be referring to the mission stories only... "...collect the dude, drop the quality street thing off in the box, deliver the dude into one of the floating drop boxes..."

    That is not the Lore, or the backstory, that's just a mission... and while missions suc and need work yes, Lore they are not.

    I don't know if you read SciFi but if you do, have you ever read any of the Chronicles?


    and the published novels about EvE? (scroll to the bottom)

    This is the Lore of EvE.

    1. Again, how many players have read the novels? I honestly don't know, I do think CCP should find out.

  3. I like pee vee pees. I like completing missions as quickly as possible.

    I also read the missions. I read the quests in WoW. I've read a fair portion of the lore of Eve. The only thing that brings me back to WoW every expansion is questing through the new story. So I have to disagree with you to some extent. Every game has players that rush towards money or items. But every game also has players that love the setting, and want to engage with it.

    Writing off the lore of Eve as a waste of time ignores the potential for great storytelling that exists. Single player games seem to very well on the story front. I'd love to see Eve provide the same experience by drawing players into the story. If there was ever a game that could create an interactive story, Eve is it.

    1. Oh sure, I've definitely gone with a one size fit all posting style on this one, there are certainly exceptions. But the premise of the BB is that Eve's story is [implied: for all of us] a mix of game writer lore and emergent gameplay where I'm arguing that for the vast majority of us the story unfolding in Eve stems only from emergent gameplay.

      It's as true to say Eve is not about Eve lore as it is to say Eve is not about gas harvesting. There may be a tiny niche who appreciates that aspect of the vast sandbox but it's not core gameplay.

  4. Like with any MMO, the EVE RP community is small, but it does exist:

    And while live events and backstory and such may not be core gameplay, without it EVE would be poorer. It's the canvas on which the emergent game play unfolds and is made to look richer than it actually is. It can even trigger new emergent game play: in the Incursions live events some players have happily taken the sides of the Sansha.

    A minority of players, yes, but it's an interesting group of players - unlike the tl;dr masses.

    1. This post wasn't meant to put down any niche of players. It's a sandbox it has niches. That's good.

      But the quote Matt used is from the person in charge of the vision for Eve - that Eve is "participatory sci fi." And we've seen strong movements towards Live Events and other narrator-story type content.

      They're doing another monoclegate aren't they? Doing an Eve that most of the current players have no interest in. And when they look at participation in events like Caldari Prime I suspect they're drawing false positives. I don't think all those people went because of the story.

    2. True, most of the people in Caldari Prime couldn't have cared less for the story line; but some did. And from what I've seen, these people are among the more loyal players (which in turn means word-of-mouth propaganda); unlike the 0.0 folks who go off playing Tanks or Planetside while waiting for a Titan bridge.

      CCP could now go and ignore all the RP/lore based players, but that would literally mean ignoring part of their paying player base. The non-RP player base in essence only wants tools to wreak mayhem across the regions (and deserves them), but there are only so many people you can put on creating better tools. But add in live events, and suddenly you have the ear of the RPers as well as the ear of some of the hi-sec-only industrialists who otherwise couldn't care less about anything else.

      In other words: live events are yet another tool for the player base to run with, an addition to the sandbox; and for the most part, they don't even require expensive changes to the code base.

      That is not to say that live events couldn't be handled better: so far they have been too scripted, too narrator driven. Put a proper game master in charge of the live events, and they could net in even the players who otherwise are there just for the loot.

  5. Stabs, it wasn't that they went 'because' of the story... it's that without the story, there would have been no event to go to. I was there... most were there for the same reason EvE players show up for anything... to see and create spaceship assplosions!! Some were there 'for the story', some for something to do, some to fight against 'the story' (Goons), some for the loot & salvage, some for the "I was there" cachet...

    And TBH I still don't get that almost no one seems to realize the 'reason' for the whole damn thing was the DUST+EVE Trailer CCP got out of it... which is why it was a scripted event and not 'emergent'... but whatever... As far as "...strong movements towards Live Events and other narrator-story type content." CCP needs to create event with no set outcome... where they set the stage but there is no script... and let us write the ending ourselves.

    The thing for me is, the story you are so disinterested in, and that you say the vast majority are disinterested in, is the basis for the game. Without the story, without the Lore you have no EvE, no New Eden, No Caldari no Amarr no Matarii no nothing. Everything come from somewhere... all of New Eden is based on the backstory that gives us the races and the ships and everything...

    Even WoW has a backstory, silly (to me) as it is... This is needed to explain the who, what and why of the virtual world you are in and most especially in silly themepark games like WoW it is the basis for all the NPCs you have to go out and kill in order to have anything to do. In EvE "we" are the largest part of the current day-to-day story... but without the Lore we would not have anywhere to come from... No stoopid missions with their stoopid story as to why you need to get VIP "A" from ship "B" to Station "C" to get paid ISK "D"... No Caldari Titan, no wormholes, no Epires.... no EVE.... and then where would we be?

    1. I'm not anti-story, I just disagree with the premise that playing is participating in the development of the (dev-written) story. Pilots can be "claimed" for the story but it's like claiming you farmed quests in WoW in response to Jaina Proudmore's call for aid. It's just not true for most people.

  6. Stabs, I think your viewpoint is probably affected because you're guy who "plays to win", which means you will always look to optimise your gameplay. That's not compatible with spending time exploring the lore - reading the quest text or watching the cutscenes in a game is almost always going to be less optimal than clicking the button or pressing space and GOGOGO for the loot (unless knowing some bit of lore is going to translate into in-game advantage, e.g. a quest where you get quizzed on the lore - and even then it's more optimal to Google the solution than find out the hard way).

    Where I think you're right is that EVE's demographics include a large proportion of Achiever and Killer Bartle types, and those are going to be "play to win" guys for whom the lore is at best an optional extra and at worst a distraction. TurAmarth's comments make it pretty clear there's at least a few Explorer types out there too though :)

    1. In some ways I'm an explorer. I love trying different ship fits and testing different things. I've also tried almost every playstyle from wormholes to piracy to mining.

      So I think it's more than content for explorers, content for achievers. Not all explorers want to read walls of text about Gallente spice smugglers or whatever. Also the shift towards designer-chosen outcomes is a very profound change in Eve's traditionally sandbox player-chosen outcomes philosophy.

  7. Great topic, and great points on both sides. I think in the end I like TurAmarth's point the most that without the story, the events that we enjoy playing in wouldn't exist, or if they did exist, people would be wondering why or what caused this event. Maybe not everyone, but I'm sure some people want to know WHY a titan jumped in to high sec, not just that it did.

    I understand why CCP had a scripted end for that event, but I definitely would love to see some open ended events that the players have more control over the ending.

    I mean, what if that titan jumped into high sec and nobody showed up to shoot it. Would there still be a titan in high sec or would they still have crashed it into the planet?