Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Eve Online: a review

Just over two months into Eve Online now and I'd like to offer my thoughts. I've tried several MMOs recently with the intention of picking two to subscribe to and Eve has made the cut.

Eve Online is a space combat game of enormous complexity. It's been called a "spreadsheet in space", of its players it's been said "Eve nerds are to normal nerds what nerds are to normal people."

So why play it?

Two reasons: complexity and impact


First the complexity itself is actually pretty absorbing. It's a lot of fun planning out different strategies towards building your character's skills, building your spaceships, prioritising areas of gameplay you wish to specialise in.

In addition to the spreadsheet type stuff Eve offers a hugh layer of social complexity. You can't trust other people, scamming infiltration and espionage are very much an expected part of the gameplay.

For example the Guilding Hand Social Club infiltrated another guild under contract from an enemy of that guild to disrupt them. They manouevred their way into positions of trust then utterly gutted it.

Another fascinating example was the dissolution of one of the top alliances in the game, Band of Brothers, by a disillusioned player who defected to an enemy. This betrayal story was so interesting it was covered by much of the MMO gaming press and used as an example to illustrate how sandbox games work by Professor Richard Bartle.

It led to Goon Spymaster The Mittani becoming a columnist on Ten Ton Hammer and his posts are utterly fascinating as he reveals the Sins of a Solar Spymaster.

The latest big Eve story has reached even the BBC, an embezzlement scandal affecting a large player-run bank.


As well as the complexity the other strong reason for playing Eve is that accomplishments are meaningful. Where many other games are going down the route of "everyone is special" Eve is a brutal jungle that leaves the weak as forlorn corpses floating in the cold of space.

I've already discussed the big stories, to be honest most new players are too minor to be involved with that sort of universe-shaking story. Where the social impact of Eve will affect you is in the way you see other people behave.

Firstly you could be a spy, scammer or thief. People are friendly in Eve but always guarded.

Next people are genuinely cooperative and helpful. People cooperate because their survival is at risk. Danger makes people behave in a way which is very socially strong.

It's wonderful to play in a game world where everything has real meaning.

Money has meaning because the game is heavily run on its currency system. You can buy fabulous ships, kit them out with expensive and powerful modules. Also you can perfectly legally pay for your account with in-game money using their Plex system.

Crafting has meaning because just about everything is player made and destructible. There is a constant demand for industrialists to produce more materials of war and commerce.

Piracy has meaning because you know your victims really don't want to die. They lose their ship and possibly will lose their expensive implants too if you go the whole hog and "pod" them. (Pod means killing their escape pod in Eve, a vicious act of spurious cruelty which is wildly popular).

Territory has meaning because it is hard to win and hard to hold. (Not every Eve player plays in the contestable zones however).

Friendship and corp (guild) ties have meaning because they are your only help in a cruel world.

The down sides of Eve

For many people the scamming, distrust and fear of betrayal will spoil their fun. You can't trust people in Eve. Even blatant scamming of newbies is an admired way to "win" in Eve.

The UI is a massive hurdle. It's very difficult to figure out how to do even quite simple commands and some aspects (eg scanning) are highly complicated.

You will get ganked. Even if you only stay in the safe area. Safe means someone will be killed by the police if they gank you, that can be worth it if a second ship is waiting to hoover up the debris and cargos.

There is a huge learning curve in general. Either you should get under someone's wing by joining a good guild that is newbie friendly and contains veteran players or you should be prepared to do a great deal of background reading and listening. I found the Warp Drive Active show very entertaining and occasionally extremely useful.

Some parts of Eve are rather dull. Ultimately the other players are your content and you need to figure out how you will engage with people. There are multiple paths but all of them pit you against other players in some way. Despite the frequency with which the term is bandied about there are no carebears in Eve. Everyone is trying to figure out some way to get one over on the other guy, whether it's by camping a gate as a pirate or by overcharging for ammo in a warzone.

Not everyone's cup of tea but great entertainment for those of us who do enjoy its unusual brand of MMO play.


  1. Good write up and very accurate. It's a classic "big picture" game were people play for the intergalatic wars, the back stabbing, the money, power and fame. It's not so much about the day-to-day activities like mining or mission running like, say, WoW is.

    If EVE could just make itself a little more friendly and easy to get into, it could even huger than it bigger than it is now. I can't help but wonder how many people have tried the trial and left because the tutorials were too dense, for example.

  2. Apparently they're having another go at the new player experience but reading between the lines they're just adding more starter complexity.

    They're putting an additional Exploration themed quest chain alongside the three existing introductory quest chains (Combat, Industry and Trade).

    I think this is kind of missing the point of a new player revamp. Someone seems to have thought "I know, let's add four-dimensional trigonometry, they'll enjoy that!"

    I'm actually in favour of Eve's huge initial barrier to entry. It's not a game for people who want to mooch along without thinking so a tutorial that pretended it was would just suck people in who would end up hating the game.