EVE Online: The Rabbit Hole

I have had a long time on again, off again relationship with the MMO game EVE Online for nearly as long as the game has existed. The first time I played lasted about three days. I worked my way up to a frigate, went out into a lower security system to hunt NPC pirates and got locked onto by another player in a destroyer. He started shooting my ship and sent me a chat message saying, “4 million ISK and I’ll stop shooting.” (ISK is the in-game currency.) I told him to go fuck himself, and he blew up my ship. The ship cost about 8 million to build. I rage quit on the spot and canceled my account. (At the time there was no free-play option.)

Over the years I have dipped my head back in a few times. I usually lasted about a week before leaving in head-scratching confusion. The game it very pretty, and I love the genre, but I just didn’t quite connect with the game.

A couple of days ago I decided to take a peak again. (They now have a free to play option, which increases the temptation.) This time I decided to peek at some YouTube vids about various aspects of play. Things finally clicked.

The reasons I keep getting drawn back is back have to do with my many years of playing the Traveller table-top RPG. Traveller is a game (and a fan base) that supports many styles of play. You can hunt down bad guys, be bad guys, explore strange new worlds, trade goods between worlds, etc. Over the years, the various publishers who have held rights to Produce Traveller rules and supplements have explored all of these options.

EVE Online is pretty much an open sandbox game. All of the economics are player driven, as it most of the real danger in the game. To me, it feels a lot like Traveller in that way, and that is part of the attraction for me. Another part has to do with the player driven economics. One of the things I liked doing most in Traveller was the trading and shipping of goods. I always enjoyed keep meticulous notes on systems our player group visited and figuring out where the most profit was to be made. EVE is all about that. Players mine raw materials and take them to market. Players take those raw materials and manufacture in-game items which they then take to market. Players haunt the zones where rare materials are to be found in order to ambush other players and take their hard earned loot. For the most part any “law enforcement” is done by the players as well. It’s a lawless frontier of free capitalism and blazing guns.

On YouTube, I came across a set of videos from an EVE convention in 2015. The presenters all looked like the kinds of people I recognized from going to gaming conventions over the past three decades. Not just gamers, but a specific set of gamers. Namely wargamers. That’s when the light went off for me.

One of the old school games that I enjoy is Diplomacy. Diplomacy is a game of global conquest, and there can only be one winner. There is an old adage among gamers, “Diplomacy is a great game for losing friends.” That’s because the most valid way to play is to make deals with other players and at the right time betray them. It’s cooked into the system of the game and is expected behavior. Playing Diplomacy takes a thick skin. I used to go to a convention in the Bay Area every year called Dundracon. One of the regular events was a massive version of Diplomacy. Standard Diplomacy uses a map of the Earth to play on and can support up to 7 players. The Diplomacy played at Dundracon used a map based on the Ringworld from the book of that same name by Larry Niven and could handle up to 32 players. Every year that game would fill up and the players would battle and back stab it out for the entire four-day convention.

EVE Online is not a video game in the typical sense. There are no win conditions, and the players provide most of the content. It’s more like a massive board game played out on computers. That’s the distinction I was missing, and that’s why the game can get so deep.

So, I am back to flying ships around in New Eden, and I’ve set my own win condition. I plan on making enough ISK to get my account up to paid status. After that, the stars are the only limit.

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