Monday, May 12, 2014

Useful on Day One

Wilhelm wrote an account of an Eve Online battle where a new player/account (only one-day old) contributed to a battle by "tackling" (preventing movement) of an enemy ship. Syncaine promptly seized on this as an example of why Eve is so amazing and all the theme parks suck.

I'd like to examine how Eve mechanics make this--a new player being useful to endgame players-- possible. There some obvious reasons, but also some subtle mechanics in play. I don't play Eve Online currently, so if I make a mistake with mechanics, please correct me in the comments.

1. No Maximum Group Size

The obvious mechanic is that Eve does not cap group size. You can take as many people as you want in your fleet. Thus taking a new player does not mean benching an experienced player. So you can take pretty much everyone to a battle.

2. Bounded Accuracy

In most theme parks, your chance to hit decreases as the level difference increases. Usually at a certain point, a low level character simply cannot hit the high level, and so is pretty much useless. In contrast, Eve pilots can always at least hit the enemy target most of the time. A new pilot might not do much damage, or be restricted to holding the enemy in place, but at least her abilities can connect.

3. Opposition Does Not Scale

The opposition in Eve does not scale. So bringing an extra player does not make the fight more difficult. It always makes it easier. If the opposition scaled, there would be a point below which bring lower level people would be a hindrance, would make the fight more difficult.

4. No Area-Of-Effect Attacks

This is the subtle mechanic, but in some ways it might be the key one. Eve is a single-target game with very few area attacks. I believe the few area attack weapons damage both friend and foe. The usual targeting mechanism is select a specific ship, lock on, and fire guns. 

If you think about it in terms of global cooldowns, killing an enemy requires at least a GCD. That's one GCD not spent on attacking a different player. In PvP games, the priority targets are a function of the ones with the weakest defenses and highest damage. New pilots have very weak defenses, but very low damage. Most of the time, it is simply not worth the GCD to target a new pilot.

This allows new pilots to have pretty decent survivability, even in fights with much larger ships duking it out.

On the other hand, if ships had a decent AoE attack, a single AoE pulse might wipe out all the small enemy ships. Spending a GCD to kill several small ships at once might very well be a worthwhile tactic. If this was the case, there wouldn't be much point to bringing new pilots, as they would get AoE'd off the battlefield within the first few seconds of the fight.


Those are the four mechanics that I think allows Eve Online to have its new players be (theoretically) helpful in high level combat. In my mind, the first three are fairly obvious and could be implemented in theme parks in a straightforward manner if desired. The last one, though, is subtle, and has many ramifications. AoE is surprisingly important to Trinity gameplay.

Of course, I should note that just because Eve Online mechanics allow day-old pilots to participate in combat, that doesn't mean that most newbie pilots will ever see such a thing. From my experiences in Eve Online a while back, most corporations are so scared of getting scammed that they won't invite new pilots unless there is an existing out-of-game relationship to verify them.

It’s great that the mechanics allow this gameplay. Too bad the politics will make it inaccessible for most.


  1. It's been a while since I played Eve, but I thought they had an AOE in the form of Smartbombs.

    I'm sure I've read about these being used to wipe out waves of drones.

  2. @John: I presume that SBs are the limited AOE he's talking about. You could probably toss Titan Doomsday Devices into that bucket as well, assuming they're still functioning in that regard; it's been a while since I've played.

    Rohan, one thing I feel you've overlooked is precisely how bounded accuracy works in EVE; it's actually in reverse of how one might expect it to. Frigates are much harder targets for Battleships and up to hit, however, Frigs have no issues shooting at big, bulky ships even if they're doing a pittance of damage to those targets.

    The other thing to bring up is that while NPC opposition doesn't scale, for PVP purposes there's definitely getting to be a minimum point for most gang roaming. Solo PVP is still very much a thing, and has a high skill ceiling, but on the whole, to say that it doesn't scale seems to be a denial of escalating battles like Asakai and B5R.

  3. Smartbombs exist but they have 3 strong limitations.

    1: They hit your own ships, your drones, your allies. If you try and smart-bomb enemy tackle off you you'll have killed your own tackle and your own drones as well.

    2: They hit like a 90 year old women. Drones have really, really small health pools compared to even small player ships. A single smartbomb can take medium/small drones down over the course of a minute or so. They'd have only done maybe 1/3 the damage to a frigate.

    3: They have very limited range and incredibly high mana cost. (Ok it's actually capacitor, but basically mana to non-eve players). Players can soft tackle out to 30km, and hard tackle out to 10km. Most smartbombs have an effective range of 5-6km.

    Rohan, the other issue you missed is tradeoffs. In eve you'll always be bringing incredibly low damage ships to do other things. Ships can only do 2-3 tasks well in eve. Cheap ships usually only do 2 things. Move fast, tackle well, deal damage, tank damage is four things. Your fleet needs damage ships, but you'll always need ships that move fast, tackle well and maybe have some tank if they can do 2.5 things. This fitting requirement is very different from most games where CC (aka tackle) tends to be on super high damage or moderate damage but super high tank. The lack of tradeoff really means there is no penalty for only bringing the best.

  4. Well, levels behave the way they do in regular MMOs so that higher level players don't have to fight their way through every single zone.

    That doesn't make it any better or worse, per se, just different. For every "EVE is better because X" thread out there, there's a companion "EVE is worse out there because the community is so toxic" thread.

    Which follows into my larger observation: an MMO is more than just gameplay, it is the summation of gameplay + community.

  5. As far as corporations being paranoid of scamming, I'm sure most are, but there are those perfectly willing to take on new players. The current corp I'm in, Brave Newbies Inc prides itself on taking in new players and their days old characters to help them learn the ropes. We're currently having lots of fun in nullsec space with new and old players alike. RvB and E-Uni are another couple new player friendly corps.

  6. In that battle report my ship was blown up by smart bombs, which are simple missiles that have an area effect 4-12km in diameter and which hit everything, friend or foe, within that diameter. I was blown up by ostensible allies while out playing the tackling role along side the day one player.

    I was in that role because, while it is a role low skill point characters can fulfill, it is also an important role in fleets and some people spent their whole careers tackling in one form or another, graduating to interdictors and heavy interdictors, which are specialized ships that can generator warp disruption bubbles which, when well placed, can trap a whole fleet.

  7. Oh, and technically, there is a maximum fleet size of 254, a number which requires somebody with the Fleet Commander V skill. So it isn't something a day one player can roll up.

    On the flip side, during war time, we have often ended up with way more than 254 players online looking to get into a fleet. So we just make multiple fleets. Since there is no exp for kills, it doesn't really matter so much if you're in the fleet that "gets the kill." If you get a shot in, you will still be on the kill mail.

  8. Justin, I don't really see trade-offs as special to Eve. Even in theme parks, if a fight requires a special role, it is good strategy to give that role to the weakest player who can handle it. That frees up your stronger players to concentrate on damage.

    In my opinion, that's pretty much the same as assigning your new pilots to tackle.

  9. Whilhelm, yes, I should have made it clearer, but it's the size of the raid instance that matters, not the actual group.

    For example, in Mists of Pandaria there was a world boss, Oondasta. Players would regularly take two or three raids along to kill it. Since it was in the world, there was no instance limit, and everyone who hit the boss was eligible for loot.

  10. Weird that I don't get pingbacks from your blog, no idea why.

    The biggest thing to me here is that EVE does all of the things you listed, and while you could work a point or two into a themepark, doing all of them would cause major issues to the core of what a level-based themepark is, to the point that it would likely ruin much of the content/point.

  11. Themeparks used to not have AoE, unfortunately it let to zerging.

    This let to raiders crying about their precious raid gear going to 'less skilled' players and AoEs were added to keep the riff raff out of raid gear.

    Also, smart bombing is a strategy.

  12. The big thing you need in order to be useful from day 1 is membership in a larger organisation that is willing to take on a rank newbie, find something for them to do, and teach them to do it. The blogpost is a bit facile because it glides over this bit. Great, ONE newbie be useful from day 1. But in a popular game, you'll hope to have hundreds or thousands of newbies sign up every month. Can they all be useful?