Welcome to Jester's Trek.
I'm your host, Jester. I've been an EVE Online player for about six years. One of my four mains is Ripard Teg, pictured at left. Sadly, I've succumbed to "bittervet" disease, but I'm wandering the New Eden landscape (and from time to time, the MMO landscape) in search of a cure.
You can follow along, if you want...

Friday, January 3, 2014

Alts in EVE, a thesis

It's been a really long while since I tossed a grenade into the world of EVE Online... you know, one of those series of posts that really get me yelled at. It's definitely time.

I keep a list of topics that I want to write about on this blog. The length of that list goes up or down as I think of things that I want to write or take care of those posts. Like the lonely Schoolhouse Rock bill that never becomes a law, though, some of those topics just never make the transition to actual blog posts. I'll take a swing at them, not get anywhere, then toss it back into the ideas pile. The oldest thing on the ideas pile, by far?
"Multiple accounts or one account"
I've been thinking about this topic, on and off, for more than two years now... almost since the beginning of the blog. And after a few months of really thinking about it, outlining, throwing out outlines, rewriting new ones... now I think I have something worth saying on this subject: a lot of things worth saying, actually. This will be a series of at least three posts exploring this topic: why do some people insist on paying for an army of alts? And in the process of these posts -- just maybe -- I'll edge close to a fundamental truth of EVE.

More likely, I'll just get yelled at. But it'll be fun either way.

In this first post, though, I want to lay down a theme statement, which is something else that I do sometimes. All of these posts will be launched from this singular theme:
Alts in EVE exist because of the fundamental nature of the game and will never not be a part of EVE Online.
Now, in the process of these posts, I'll have something to say about both the rightness of that theme and its correctness. Put another way: is that theme statement true? And if it is true, is this how EVE Online should be? What is the basic nature of alts in the game?

Let's undock. This discussion is going to start from a new way of looking at EVE characters:

OK, that's a pretty complicated little cross between a flower of doom and a Venn Diagram. Here goes: it's my theory that every character in EVE -- at their heart -- focuses (or at least, starts by focusing) on one of four key areas in the game:
  • Sub-capital ships, whether used for PvP or PvE;
  • Capital ships, again whether used for PvP or PvE;
  • Science and Trade, which includes manufacturing and inventing; and,
  • Resource and Logistics, which includes mining, processing, and transporting goods and services.
Divide the skill list in EVE and you'll find that each of these four categories takes about 50 million SP to master, more or less, depending on the exact focus areas you intend to put that character's mind to. So, it's my theory that every character in EVE starts in one of those four categories and how that character's skills expand defines the character. To those four major categories, there are five sub-categories. These are not key areas in and of themselves, but are optional extras that each character may choose to involve themselves in. These five sub-categories are:
  • What I call "Core skills" -- I'll get to those in a minute;
  • Leadership skills -- the ability to act as a fleet booster;
  • Specialized manufacturing -- the ability to build T3 ships, drugs, or capital ships;
  • Doomsdays, Projected ECM, and the various skills that are specific to super-capital ships; and,
  • Drone skills, not counting fighters or fighter-bombers.
For each of these sub-categories, I've listed SP values for them as well. Core skills at 25 million, Specialized manufacturing and Leadership at 15 million each, and Drones and super-capital skills at about 7.5 million each.

Now, recognize that these SP values are not exact... nowhere near exact! But they are good basic values to work from.

What does this mean? Short version: if you want to have a single character that is well-rounded to every aspect of EVE Online, you are going to need about 270 million skill points. It's certainly possible to have more! But that's what you're going to need to be comfortable in every single category.

At 2500 SP/hour of training, that is going to take you some 4500 days, or about twelve-and-a-half years. And that is where CCP's bread is buttered. But we've got characters that are edging pretty close to that number now, which is why (I believe) we're seeing a marked increase in additional skills added to the game. CCP recognizes that a character can be well-rounded in everything in 12 years, and the game has been running ten.

Pay attention to this next bit, because it's important (even if somewhat obvious): alts in EVE exist because some players want to speed this process up. If you have a main and three alts, each of them can be strong in their core skills and their specialty with 75 to 85 million SP, or about 3.5 years of training. Players that leave the game after three to four years of playing EVE? Yeah. It's a good bet they're slamming right into this wall: they either have a single character that is good at one of the four specialties, play with it for a while, then get bored. Or they have sufficient alts trained in everything they want to know, play with them for a while, then get bored.

What about those core skills? That represents the basics: Engineering, Navigation, Rigging, Targeting, Armor, Shield, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. You probably haven't noticed, but it adds up fast. For instance to be solid in Engineering -- just Engineering! -- you need about six million SP, or about a hundred days of training for that alone. The full 25 million SP you'll need takes you about a year, and that's after CCP has been carving at and attacking the Core skills for the last couple of years. Remember the Learning skills? Those were core.

But now they've started throwing things back in: new Scanning skills, new Neural Enhancement skills, new Armor and Navigation skills...

So that's the launching point for my thesis. In the next couple of parts of this series, I'll start digging under the surface, show off some specific examples of this model in operation, and explain what that gold text at the left and bottom mean. And as I said, in the process I just might touch the edges of What It All Means(tm). Hang on... this one's gonna be bumpy!


  1. Can't wait to see that "annoying WXYZ meme" post. I'd also like to see a more detailed breakdown of your Skills Spectrum with more attention the actual in-game categories and specific skills - I assume all the 'Social' PvE skills (~5M SP to train all to V, although that'd be a rare player choice) fall under Resource Logistics, as LP is a resource? Or have they been excluded from this analysis due to their overall lower importance?

    1. that would obviously be under core skills since not only does PVE, science/trade, but also resource/logistics all benefit directly from standings with NPC corporations.

      It's an odd duck

  2. In other words, CCP needs to keep adding core skills to keep veterans playing and at the same time cut existing core skills to not overwhelm new players.

    Alternatively add new key areas to the game. Didn't someone from CCP tell us to imagine if eve and dust characters where the same?

    1. Aye! New areas were supposed to be introduced to the game a few years ago. Ring Mining, Planetary Interaction (producing goods for Mercs e.g.), Incarna, DUST514 (orbital arrays, war barges).
      All of them could have brought enough new skills to the game in order to enrich the game for both, veterans and new players alike. Would have loved to see these things coming.

      Now that CCP Seagull is in charge and the whole colonization thing is under way I really hope that this can add up to the area of skills too. I would really like to see a revamp of the skill system where specialization really makes a difference over generalization.

  3. I decided early on that as a more "casual" player I would never have more than one account. So far, I think the only thing I'm really missing on is being able to have a cyno alt.

  4. Interesting coincidence: two to three years is the age where, in my experience, most EVE players leave the game, once they mastered something and nothing else interests them.

  5. Having played for nine years - and currently having three accounts - I don't have alts because I want to get skills more quickly.

    I have alts because they make things easier. Easier to make money, easier to be multiple places at once, easier to harass alliance members... You get the picture.

    I've never felt the need for a specific alt for a specific task, beyond some smaller alts (<10M SP) obviously being somewhat specialized, whether that be for hauling or PI or whatever.

  6. There are three ways that things exist: the way we perceive them, the way we want them to be, and the way they actually are. I like that you're tackling this issue, no matter whether I end up agreeing with you or not. Ultimately, the way things actually are is what's important, and IMO it's very unfortunate that only CCP has the hard numbers on how many different people (as opposed to active accounts) subscribe to this game. Whenever a salesman is trying to sell you something the thing to notice is what he's NOT telling you. In CCP's case, they like to tout their active subscription numbers. What they're not telling is the actual number of unique PLAYERS who give them money to play. That makes it very hard to tease out any really useful information about the health of the game, both short term and long term.

    It really disturbs me that a marketing guy is the current Executive Producer of EVE. CCP can spin that any way they like, but in terms of watching what they do and not what they say, THEY PUT A MARKETING GUY IN CHARGE OF EVE.

    How many alts does he have?

  7. aside from "speed this process up" the other reason for alts are game mechanics that try to artificially force people to work together.

    my first use of alts was in diablo2. why? first because of that small chest for your loot. you always had to move stuff to your mule alts and ifthere are no trustworthy friends online you needed a second account to mule in a save way.
    later the shout barb/enchantment sorc for buffs were a nice addition.

    after that i played daoc. after like 5 years almost every pvp focused player had 2 accounts. mostly because buffs were so strong and completly passive and your main healer who was in some case the main buff char too had to decide, do i skill for best heals or best buffs or not so good in everything. so people played max heal healer and max buff healer as second account.
    also speed alts or crowdcontrol alts were used often. crowd control was incredible strong in daoc. you could set group of 100 people to sleep for a minute with 1 button on one char and then kill people one by one with the other char.
    that is like sabre + falcon gatecamp in eve, just have the falcon with ae ecm+scram+web and instead of the sabre have a ship with the damage compareable to a sieged moros).
    in eve you need cyno alts, freighter alts, capital alts, scout alts and so one because otherwise you would need a player for each job.
    did you ever notice that many fc have always everything ready for their fleet? there is a titan waiting, a bonus loki is in fleet, he is reading enemy fleetchat and watching his scout alts. would suck if the fc would be depending on others to to this. fleets would stand down of no titan is available or no intel or no fleetbonus.

  8. I'd suggest that CCP needs to do much less in the way of core skills.

    Instead, they need to focus on more specialized mini-professions with unique sets of skills. This gives a new gameplay alternative to new players, veterans, or alts, without adding the the core skill sludge.

  9. Well, the other thing to bear in mind is that alts aren't just for alternative skills. They're also for alternative roles. I.e. blank alts in shipping corps, eyes alts so you don't get ganked, cyno alts for moving expensive stuff around, etc. Some of these can be combined of course, but there are fundamental restrictions in the game that split at the character level, not at the skill-training-bottleneck.

  10. Adding new skills is just a bad idea. It increases the cliff for new players and does really affect older players, who have nothing much else to train otherwise.

    Another 30 days worth of new skills to train? Older player says "no big deal"; newer players says "WTF?"

    The best solution is to simply add level 6 skills, which will require proportionally more time to train for less gain, but will be worth it for the older vets who have run out of anything more relevant to train, and have much less impact on the newer players.

  11. i went for years without scouting my iteron through low sec. got really good at intel. I played on an old computer barely able to even run one account, and finances that couldn't do much else.

    only time i was able to afford plex via isk was during the last days of the great ice rush (before barges were 'fixed')..that was fun, and i had a new computer and was playing around with adding a fourth account.

    times change, but i still fondly remember my starting years as worthwhile and fun, if a little too exciting...haah "do i jump into low sec knowing all those pirates on watchlist have gone to sleep?" hell yes! lol

    i think all the blather above about how alts are so necessary is an ode to risk avoidance. Fear it for it is the mind killer

  12. I am patiently waiting for a post that would convince me that flying capitals is easier to understand than manufacturing.

    1. Uh, Garth just showed up in my office and he wants to laugh in your face. I asked him nicely not to.

  13. Will you also talk about the speed skils are trained? I see that more as an issue in eve.

  14. Your skill point total estimate is blown way out of proportion. Sub-capitals, for example, include four different weapon systems and four different racial ship lines; stick to one and you don't need out of it. Similarly, you certainly don't need to learn how to fly all four different capital lines. Or all four races of haulers for that matter. Same story in refining/manufacturing: With Refining V and Refinery Efficiency V you don't need the ore-specific refining skills higher than I. Ever. Furthermore, remember that skills in EVE offer heavily diminishing returns. 80% of the skill bonus is gained from the first four levels, while the first four levels represent less than 22% of total skill training time from level I to V!

    As for the topic at hand: alts are the bane of EVE Online. It is just too "realistic"(open world PvP, player-driven market, etc.) of a game to allow for such an unrealistic element to exist. If CCP enforced a single character per player rule, that would instantly fix at least half of EVE's problems, not to mention creating an infinitely more rich game.

  15. I suspect that once all the alts are disregarded. The number of actual people playing Eve may be frighteningly low.

  16. Alts are a sticky wicket. Probably the least controversial use of multiple characters is to explore multiple aspects of the game at once.

    The rest come down to the reality of cooperation in general, MMOs in particular, or EVE specifically:

    1) anything that depends on other people depends on scheduling. There are things you can do to mitigate this, such as joining a large group of people in your approximate time zone, or cooperating on largely asynchronous tasks. If you don't get the necessary people, or the necessary number of people, to log in at the right time, nothing happens. This IMHO is what kills a great many wormhole corps.

    There are some tasks which are so mundane that it's almost insulting to ask another person to do them: guarding mining ops; webbing freighters (or for that matter, piloting them); scouting gates or holes; providing off-grid boosts. It's hard enough to keep people paying attention in real-life situations where hours of boredom punctuated by seconds of terror is the rule; in a game, minutes of boredom will get EVE alt-tabbed into the background, with enough of the window visible to switch tasks in case the seconds-of-terror part of the game rears its head.

    You more or less have to run an industrial concern on alts because the devs thought it would be really funny to make it nearly impossible to run one with multiple characters.

    Finally, and tied in with all of this, EVE is a game. It's a game whose current tagline is "be the villain." Everyone has heard the story of the guy who got betrayed by his close friend, or sibling, who'd lit cynos reliably for eight years, and who just decided one day to send his buddy's jump freighter into a trap because LOL. They're great stories, sure, but nobody wants to be That Guy, watching his defenseless multi-billion ISK ship full of strategic assets get blown up because LOL. As long as the most valuable currency in the game of EVE is trust, the jobs that require the most implicit trust will fall to alts.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.