Tuesday, 17 May 2016

An Eve for everyone: #1 the New Player Experience

In my last blog post I voiced a strongly worded objection to Neville Smit's influential Occupy New Eden post.

Let me be clear: I disagree with the method, not the goals. The Monoclegate player riots of 2011 saw CCP lay off 150 staff, saw alarmist articles about the company's over-extended financial position and a threat from The Mittani to take his people to a different game. Eve could have closed. Player rebellion is a nuclear option and one that once started is impossible to control.

But Neville's goals?

Broadly they're based, I think, on the feeling that CCP  has experienced some kind of "regulatory capture" where the influence and political shrewdness of the nullsec alliances has placed their concerns front and centre, to the detriment of the 85% of us who inhabit other parts of the sandbox.

I'm going to write a short series of articles exploring how we can make an Eve for everyone, no playstyle left behind.

Today: the New Player Experience.

So I started a new character and responded to what I saw on screen. I clicked through the opportunities until I got stuck. I got stuck at the opportunity that wants me to fit a low slot module. I didn't have a low slot module. I had been given no information about where I could get one. I couldn't progress to the next set of opportunities until I solved this one.

I decided to try killing a couple of rats to see if they dropped a module then realised I had no information about where the rats actually live. In games like Wow you walk out of town and the rats are just there. In Eve you undock and it's just you and a couple of other newbies there.

I "cheated" and used prior knowledge to warp to a combat anomaly where I killed several rats without getting a low slot module. So I "cheated" again and bought an armour repper off the market.

This is concerning.This is a clickout point, a point where an internet user loses interest, gives up and clicks away or alt tabs and does something else. Giving new people a task that appears to be essential but which is not solvable is disastrous.

With the opportunities chain unfinished I next went off to do Career Agents. In fact I'd forgotten how to find them and was told by helpful people in Rookie Help Chat to press F12.

These are clickout points 2 &3.

You can't finish the initial opportunities chain without going off  to do something else. I think a lot of people will want to finish what appears to be the tutorial before going off to do a completely different quest chain in a different area of space but in practice you have to. You can't, for example, complete the Fit a scan probe launcher to your ship opportunity when you're in a rookie ship in Duripant with no money. So broken quest chain is one clickout point.

The other is that you need to talk to people. In most other games the chat is where you call people names after you lose, or spam macros or generally crap in. Many people on starting a new game will minimise chat and never look at it again. For the game to require that you proactively ask the right question and then get helped by someone knowledgable is asking a hell of a lot and for many people this will be their clickout point.

On to the Career Agents. I actually think the agents are pretty good as quest chains, my concern is what they teach. After doing all 5 the only clearly viable way to make money appeared to be mining, Eve's dullest profession. Sure there's scanning down sites but most of those will be too tough for a newbie in an Atron, plus scanning is horrible with newbie skills even if you know how to do it. Those sites where with perfect probe positioning and lowest AU but it still won't get better than 99%: more clickout points. There's missions but the Career Agents don't point you to one nor show you how to use the Agent Finder. Plus the pay from missions is awful. I can go afk in the Venture with a day old character and come back to 1 million isk of minerals in the ore hold, why would I do some horrible level 1 mission for 20k? You're also set up with blueprints but so poor you need to do My time is free style mining to use them. One of the saddest things I saw in Rookie Help Chat was "where do I mine Kernite or Jaspet - I need some Nocxium for my  Career Agent quest." Props for the newbie for figuring out so much, and get it together Eve Online that you're giving people missions without the information needed to succeed.

I'll repeat: it's very bad game design if the new player experience game can't be solved without help from other people. Would it hurt to give the nearest systems with those ores in the mission briefing while reminding pilots to consider buying directly from the market? Maybe you could even give limited duration but unlimited "Civilian Ventures" so rookies could go mine in low sec,but get a new ship if they die.

Then I tried pvp. I went into a Novice plex, I got blobbed and killed, rip my poor frigate. The people who killed me convoed me and offered a corp invite so that was pretty nice.

I tried again but got killed 2 jumps in on the gate by a battlecruiser. As a newbie you're easy to tackle even in a frigate because it aligns a little slow.

This is my next clickout point. Although Eve is meant to be a pvp game there's no New Player pvp. Yes I'm aware Suitonia can beat people with 20  day characters but that's a very good pvper with a focused  skill plan. So for most new players the only option here is to join a corp you can't pvp without submitting to a whole host of rules and obligations that goes with joining a player corp. Even FW doesn't solve this - you're still going to be a free kill until someone helps you.

So I searched the recruitment page in the corp window and found a list. My search criteria were fw, new player friendly and low sec. Joined their public channel, asked about joining and they said no because I was too new. Another clickout point.

So then: an Eve for everyone.

I think the NPE is a good example of how the game can go in the  wrong direction if player feedback is collected from the very loud passionate invested communities that attend Fanfest and the other player meets. Ask players at those events about starting Eve and they'll say Eve is awesome , the community is awesome, join a corp. Clearly it isn't awesome, in fact it's deeply flawed for new players and joining a corp is fraught with clickout points - maybe they want intrusive background checks, maybe you have to install software, maybe you have to change playstyle (eg always be on comms and in fleet), maybe someone's rude, maybe someone simply doesn't want to group up. This may be a good case of where "listening to the players" is bad for the game.

CCP Ghost told us about the millions of players who try Eve then immediately leave, my look at the game as new character showed me a bit about why. If you're a blogger and want to add your experience to this discussion roll a new character and tell us about your clickout points. Alternatively for people without blogs just post it on /r/eve or Eve O. Link  it in the comments.

Finally I'd be remiss if I didn't mention our newbie-friendly cousin, Pandemic Horde. To join them click the little speech bubble in the chat window to join a new channel and type Join Horde as the channel name. I don't think  you should have to join a corp to start Eve but should you choose to they're one of the best.


  1. I tried the newbie Eve experience a year or two ago. I'm not sure if anything's changed, but I do remember my clickout point was somewhere between mining and the career agents.

    My train of thought was something like, "Wow, this mining laser is boring. High-sec mining is both boring AND non-lucrative. Maybe I could sneak into a low-sec zone to grab something more lucrative and run away, but wait, I don't know where to go, I don't know what ship to take, I don't have money to risk too many ships blown up, I don't even know what escape options I ought to try if someone starts closing on me threateningly (complete newbie, y'know?), maybe let us not go to Camelot after all, it is a silly place."

    Ditto career agents and mission running. "The lowbie missions payout pathetically. I'd love to try something more complex, but it looks like I'm going to have to grind boringly a long way to get there. Ehh, maybe not."

    I think the idea of a new player experience ought to be to showcase the many things you could do in Eve (a la that glorious flowchart floating around the interweb), explain the unfamiliar things in the UI, and offer small successes that open up further options for that newbie, rather than rewards that feel insignificant in the greater scheme of things.

  2. On of these days I'm going to have to get around to doing the free trial for EVE just so I can talk about it without sounding like a blind man describing an elephant. This is not that day.

    I did, however, do exactly what I would have done at your first click-out point above: I googled EVE low slot module. I make extremely free use of google when playing all MMOs. My days of "enjoying the mystery" for anything much beyond narrative are long behind me.

    I expected I'd get a very quick and straightforward answer along the lines of "go to X, kill Y" but no, nothing of the kind. There were plenty of links telling me what a Low Slot Module is, some of them in eye-watering detail, but nothing immediately explaining how to get one. I had to refine my search terms four times before the verbose and literal "where do I get eve low slot modules " finally got me a link to the official forums where someone had started a thread appropriately called "Opportunities - Fit For Purpose - Help!"

    The answers in the thread were all very helpful but most of them boiled down to "Buy one". That in itself is not a very inspiring option for a first-hour newbie. Finally, the very last reply in the thread offered the comprehensive answer I was looking for:

    "If you really can not afford anything you could try going into a system with some belt rats and killing belt rats until a low slot item drops. You could also run some missions and loot the wrecks until you find a low slot item. To belt rat just go into a 0.8 or 0.7 and warp from belt to belt until you see red crosses then shoot them until they are dead. I would not go much lower than 0.7 until you get a feel for the basics of ship piloting."

    I think that was a lot of effort to get a simple answer to one of the early steps of an MMO tutorial. That said, I'm pretty sure I've seen worse. In fact, I can name one from recent history - Black Desert.

  3. What a great post. And you're absolutely right. Starting out a new character, and trying to see the game through a new players eyes really shows how inaccessible the game is. The learning curve in EVE is a steep one, and EVE players with years behind the wheel still has things to learn about the game - which is nice, if you like games with great depth.

    But the clickout points is a big problem, and the fact that you have to look for information out of the game to proceed is a big no-no. Some might argue that EVE is for the hardcore of gamers - and that might be true, given the nature and consequences of the game.
    - What the game fails at - miserably - is providing the new players with information that can prevent said consequences, and likewise an easier transition from being completely new, and getting into pvp, missioning, industry, and whatnot.

    Not every person wants to use half their free time READING about a game before they can even PLAY the game.

    Making a more easily digested, informative and interactive tutorial is no easy task, I'm sure. But if you (CCP) are losing more than 50% of your players the first weeks of the game...

  4. I recently started a new character and was suprised at the lack of a path to follow. What happened to Aura? And the career agents, like you said, have to be found. Without my prior knowledge I'd be sat in space wondering what on earth to do next. It's no suprise most people that try Eve don't stay for very long.

  5. I agree with almost everything you said, but:

    "In most other games the chat is where you call people names after you lose, or spam macros or generally crap in."

    this shows a very EVE-centric view of chat channels. ;-) Or we're playing vastly different games out of EVE. In most other MMOs I tried, the general channel was between mildly and extremely helpful. In some games (LotRO comes to my mind), many people will go out of their way to help out others.

    EVE is the odd one out in the games I play. It shows again the sad tendency that there's a critical mass of people who'd rather destroy helpful tools than use them.