Search form

Published February 28, 2013

Theme Park vs. Sandbox

The nature of EVE, compared to other MMOs, lends itself to epic story arcs and the possibility that players can persistently shape the world around them. Other MMOs have different servers for their players. World of Warcraft (WoW) is a good example. There are dozens of servers for North America alone. What happens on one server has no effect on other servers. A dungeon unlocked on Boulderfist (a WoW server) may not be unlocked until months later on Malfurion (another WoW server). There are also instanced raid dungeons. Each player will have a chance to do the same raid as another player. It’s the nature of a theme park. Just because someone rode Space Mountain before another person doesn’t mean the ride is closed. Because of these factors, the story usually progresses with certain heroes accomplishing key events, aided by adventurers—the players. Illidan, an end-game boss and key element of the storyline, was killed not by my guild, but by NPCs Akama and Maive Shadowsong—we just helped.

EVE is not a theme park; it is a sandbox. One of the beautiful things about EVE is that when things happen, they don’t ever quite happen the same way again. The Asakai fight will never happen again. There may be future battles in Asakai, but the ships, tactics, and parties involved will not be the same. That makes the game fun. When I logged into WoW, I knew that a raid starting at 1715 would last to 2200; we would do the same dungeon we had done last week and we would kill the exact same bosses. When a player logs into EVE, they don’t know what is going to happen that day. They might have a general idea of what to expect, but they never know. The Butterfly Effect and Causality trailers are great examples of this.

Another great feature of EVE, one that CCP advertises a lot, is that players shape the universe. Each player can affect the world around them. In null security, regions change hands, and giant wars are fought. The map changes. The destruction of the enemy and their assets has real consequences. The death penalty in EVE is whatever ship one is in at the time. In a theme park MMO, sometimes there is not even a PvP death penalty—there is not one in WoW—and the PvE death penalty is very light. In low-sec, pirates and faction warriors can also affect the world around them. Rancer has the reputation it does because of pirates. An industrialist in high-sec can produce the ships that keep the war machine going, selling on the open market to both sides of the conflict for maximum profits.

A Chequered Past

That’s a lot of words to explain the sandbox. Most readers will understand that it’s the sandbox that drives people to EVE and keeps them here. If CCP had interfered in the CFC’s war against the Dot Bros, in any way, there would have been a giant uproar. It’s already happened once. The T20 scandal fundamentally changed CCP. They added the Council of Stellar Management and the Internal Affairs department. Contrast that to a certain time in my WoW days where a Blizzard executive (not a developer, but someone higher up in the company) caused a boss to drop a legendary piece of gear. There was no outrage. There were no legendary threads on the WoW forums. Why? One reason was because the guild managed to keep it quiet. Not only that, but that one legendary item dropping did not imbalance the game, unlike one alliance having several original tech two blueprints did EVE.

Sadly, the T20 affair is not the only time where CCP has rigged, or tried to, the outcome of events in the sandbox. CCP Nebulai, an EVE developer and Band of Brothers (BoB) member (the same alliance that T20 was in), was the lead of the ISD Aurora program, a group of CCP devs and player volunteers. Aurora started in 2002 before the game was even launched. They ran live events where ships were handed out to players as prizes for winning the event. As it would turn out, these events were rigged horribly. Insider knowledge was given to Lotka Volterra, a BoB-allied alliance, allowing them to complete a certain event that netted them a Hel-class supercarrier. The Aurora program was shut down when Mirial, the executor of the Aegis Militia (AM) alliance, gained access to the internal ISD website and found that the events were rigged. Graelyn, a former ISD member and member of AM, explained what happened. His story was included in an open letter to CCP. Aurora was ended amid furor by the community in 2007.

Learning from Past Mistakes

Fast forward to late 2012 where Verone, a long time roleplayer and executor of Veto Alliance, is hired by CCP. Now named CCP Falcon, he, along with a few others, works in a group known as the EVE Illuminati. This group is tasked with organizing and running live events in EVE. This is complicated by them not actually being able to determine the EVE storyline. That falls to CCP Abraxas and CCP Gnauton. CCP Falcon's group started in September of 2012  and built up slowly.

A week and a half ago, it was announced via in-universe news that some Minmatar tribal representatives would be traveling from certain systems to Pator in “heavily tanked” ships. I had good reason to believe that the aforementioned ships would be Tempest Tribal Issues (TTI), a ship so rare that it might as well be unique. Since they were going to be traveling through high-sec, I contacted the only people I knew that had a chance to pull off a kill: the Ministry of Love (MiniLuv). MiniLuv is a group of GoonSwarm and allied pilots specializing in high-sec terror. They’ve gained quite a reputation for killing freighters loaded with expensive goods. After figuring out who to talk to, I spoke with Powers Sa, a MiniLuv leader. I gave him the relevant intelligence and explained the TTI angle. He presented it to the other leaders of MiniLuv, and it was decided that a gank would be attempted. Powers Sa and I specifically discussed what the "heavily tanked" remark likely meant, determining that a tech two armor tank with slave implants was likely. This gave the TTI an excellent tank for a subcapital and did not make it a loot piñata.

As it turned out, we were wrong. The TTIs were fitted with QA Large Shield Extenders, adding one million shield hit points per module. The MiniLuv gank team never had a chance. The ghost of Aurora, it seemed, had possessed the new Live Events Team. A group of players had gotten together to kick over a sandcastle only to find that it was made of rebar concrete. The outcome of the event was never in doubt. While knowledge that the winning side was not lavishly rewarded with ships did assuage some of the outrage, there was still a considerable number of upset players. Players discussed the issue on the Live Events section of the forums. The Live Events Team, however, listened to the arguments made. CCP Falcon posted in the thread: “It's the first time we've used them, and as far as I'm concerned it'll be the last. I can and will promise outright that they won't be used again, and will not be factored into the future schedule given the reaction that we've seen from last night's event.” I consider this to be one of the best posts ever made by a CCP employee.

Interview with Elise Randolph

I had the pleasure of talking with CSM Representative Elise Randolph about the Live Events Team's presentation at the CSM Summit. The whole interview is too long to be printed in this article, but it can be found in its entirety here. Here are the notable parts:

Now, did anyone on the CSM bring up Aurora in regards to this new team? Were there any concerns? Or did CCP address that in their presentation?

When the live events thing started, CCP were very, very deliberate in their RoE [rules of engagement] and who can be involved and what can be done, et cetera. Most of the CSM argued that they were a bit too strict in what they could (or rather, could not) engage.

When they were talking about lore, how much did they talk about players being able to affect the story or the outcome?

… [S]o that was a big thing that both the CSM and CCP brought up. Seleene remembered an event "back in the day" where they players did something completely unexpected—it had to do with escorting a Titan that the Serpentis had stolen—at least I think that's what it was—but everyone on the Live Events Team were completely for the players having a say in what happens.

Going Forward. How to Give Agency to Roleplayers

"What I can tell you … is that the people who coordinate the Dev and Lore events are incredibly passionate and excited over what they do. If there was one thing I could take away from the meeting, it was just the pure passion and joy from not only doing the events, but witnessing the community's reaction." — Elise Randolph

Now that we understand the past, we can look to the future. The key issue with EVE roleplay, and not just live events, is one of agency. How does a player affect the world around her and control her destiny? This is easy to do in space, as she is able to blow things up, join different corps and alliances, build things, rat for money, etc. On a metagame level, she can make alts, join other corps, spy, post on forums, be a diplomat, etc. In terms of the EVE story, there is not a lot that she can do. Some of this is due to game design. For example, an alliance wishing to declare war and fight Sansha’s Nation will find they cannot really accomplish anything concrete. It is not possible to take stations in Stain and there are no real strategic objectives. A Blood Raider roleplayer reads a news article of a Sani Sabik cult being held by the Imperial Inquisition and wants to use their resources as a capsuleer to liberate their brothers and sisters in faith from the Amarr, but they're helpless. There are plenty more examples that could be listed.

In the sandbox, players should make the story. Obviously, there are certain story points that need to be made for game design reasons or an expansion's storyline. Beyond that, however, players should be given free reign. Rather than sit in the smoke-filled back rooms of CCP headquarters discussing what is going to be happening, the Live Events Team should be on the forums, in the Live Events chat channel, and on Twitter gathering ideas from players, working on making those stories happen. Everything in EVE should be an interactive sequence with endless possibilities, not just a cutscene. Svetlana Scarlet will continue examining the future of better live events in part two.

Alizabeth
On hiatus. On Twitter @AlizabethVea