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...

Monday, June 6, 2011

Upper limit

In Global Agenda, I'm approaching level 50 -- the upper limit -- with one of my four toons, my medic.  The support role was one that I enjoyed in EVE, too; anywhere from a third to half the time in fleets, I would fly Scimis and Guardians.  So it's not much of a surprise that class appealed to me in GA.  I am surprised at how quickly I'm reaching that upper limit, though, given that I've only been playing this game a few weeks.  But there's no particular magic about level 50.  As far as I can tell, you hit the top of the skill tree at level 30, and you only pick up access to a few additional items and weapons between there and level 45 (rather than additional skill points).  And between levels 46 and 50, the only things you seem to unlock are the more garish appearance "dyes" that allow you to customize your armor.

Of course, there's still quite a lot of ground to cover before I reach the upper echelon in terms of armor, weapons, and items even in just the medic class.  Some of the top end weapons and items cost 30,000 "tokens" each, a unit of currency you gain in the game at only a few hundred per PvP or PvE mission.  And there's still lots of tactics I want to master for this class.  And after I feel like I've mastered the medic, there's three other classes to play (I've started characters in each).  So there's still quite a lot of game-time ahead of me here, and a good bit to write about, too.

And, as I mentioned before, GA rewards player skill much more than toon skill or gear in any case.  Once you hit level 30, if you're good at FPSes, you're a credible threat to any other player, regardless of other factors.

Still, as I approach GA's upper limit for the medic class, it got me thinking a little about EVE's lack of an upper limit.  A couple of weeks ago, an EVE player that's becoming disillusioned with the game started a thread on Failheap about starting over with a new character to try and rekindle his enthusiasm for the game.  The thread quickly morphed into a thread about "What would you do if CCP reset the universe: 0 SP, 0 ISK, 0 territory for everyone?"  A surprising number of people -- approaching a couple of dozen -- responded in horror that they'd stop playing EVE entirely due to the need to re-climb the skill tree!  "No way in hell I'm gonna grind through all the core skills again. Just about starting to feel comfortable at 50 mil SP," was a typical response.

The response made me laugh, though, because I only recently passed 50 million SP with Ripard... right before I canceled my subscription.  I spent the vast majority of my EVE play time with far fewer SP than this.  But here's a bunch of veteran EVE players, at the very top of the game, who are saying that if they "only" had as many SP as you or I do... they wouldn't want to play EVE!

Says interesting things about the game, don't you think?

It got me thinking that EVE really differs from just about every other MMO in this regard.  In any other MMO, after some months, or a year at most, you'll find yourself at the upper limit, theoretically equal with those who have been playing the game for its full lifetime.  Granted, they'll have somewhat better gear than you will, probably for quite a while yet.  But there's nothing really missing from your experience relative to theirs.  You have access to the same items, content, and play-styles.  The difference between a one year player and a seven year player is just a matter of degree.

Meanwhile, I poured myself into EVE for more than three years, and never even got close to the upper echelon players.  And more than that, I never would have, even if I'd played for another five years.  Or ten.  The nature of EVE specifies that they'd always have more SP than me, more ISK, more ships, more access, more game-play choices than I would have.  Always.  Forever.  And those players don't hesitate to let you know it.  ;-)  Having played EVE since beta is a badge of honor among that set.

And of course, EVE also differs from most MMOs in that you can very easily be killed in EVE by someone with ten times your SP, in a ship costing one hundred times more ISK than yours does.  This can happen without you even having the slightest chance of killing or even inconveniencing your foe.  And it can happen regardless of your relative skills in EVE.  If I have a Titan and you have a battleship... I win.  It doesn't matter how good at this game you are.

Like I said, it's very different in GA.

It even seems to generate a different sensibility in the game's players.  EVE players are famously extremely hostile -- even nasty -- to one another.  And that hostility comes out at the drop of a hat.  I was exposed to a ton of it during my CSM run, for instance.  Hell, "You fail at this game.  End yourself," should practically be written on the log-in screen.  ;-)  And I start to wonder if the relative invincibility of long-term EVE players is the cause of this instant hostility.  Because the player dynamic is very different in GA.  Players -- even enemy players -- are much more helpful, friendly, and respectful to one another in that game.  And I think it has a lot to do with the fact that a good enough short-time GA player is a credible threat to long-time players.

That's certainly not the case in EVE!

Believe it or not, EVE was my first MMO.  Before I started playing, I'd always been a little dubious of the genre.  But as I look for a new MMO to be my permanent home going forward, I can't help but think this lack of an upper limit in EVE and the impact that it has on the player relationship dynamic is going to color my perceptions of other games that I try.


  1. EVE was my fourth MMO. I started with Guild Wars, WoW and Warhammer Online. Overall I've found other MMO players are helpful and nice, for the most part.
    Each game did have it's collection of annoying players. Play WoW for any amount of time and you will develop a strong dislike for noob-hunters who roll on every piece of gear.
    My favourite thing about EVE is that I can actually "kill" other players. I will never catch up to the older players. But the rush that comes from killing a bigger ship with crappy T1 frigates keeps me playing the game. The rage from people who get their BS blown up by a Rifter is priceless.

  2. I`ve been lurking on your blog for quite some time now Jester and I have to say I enjoy a lot your posts about Eve :)

    The fact that Eve was your first MMO tho will impair your judgement on others MMOs. Don't ban me yet, let me explain.

    My first MMO was World of Warcraft (*hides). The fact that in WoW you can become equal or even superior to people that have been playing it for like 10 times the duration you invested or even more can be appealing. Like the fact that it has orcs, humans and /droolelvesfemalez.

    The big problem is that if you are level 25 and your opponent is level 85 (the maximum achievable atm in WoW), he can kill you in 1/2 a second.

    The fact is that in Eve you CAN kill an opponent that has 10 times the skillpoints you have, but in some particular cases. He is in a transport ship, you are in a hurricane, he is in a shuttle you are in a dictor, he is in a rookie ship (stuff happens) and you are in anything that can equip something > than a civilian laser and these examples can go on and on.

    In WoW you can NEVER kill you opponent if there is a level gap of more than 5 levels. You miss a lot of the spells and stuff and he will prevail. I didn't play GA to say anything about it, but I did also play Age of Conan and it was the same thing.

    Also I played World of Tanks and this one falls right between the extremes that WoW and Eve represent. You can jump into a tank as soon as you login and you CAN destroy an opponent that played the game for longer than you did BUT only if he doesn't notice you at all :) In Eve there is that painful "omg he has me pointed/scrammed and he is 3 years younger than me and I`m already in structure and ohshi...", and in WoW there is that "ok I`m going to the cemetary now".

    Just don't get too caught up with details by missing the big picture. A good MMO is more than "in Eve you can't do this and in you can do it and more".

    Take a look at Star Wars The Old Republic coming up soon and you'll know what I mean :)


  3. It's an interesting point of view, Jester. The opposite of this problem is exactly why I left WoW for Eve.

    More specifically, the concept that Blizzard seems to have adopted that in order to attract more customers, the game needs to become easier over time. If you were to start a new character today, it would take significantly less playtime to get to max level than it did when I played. To me, this was a slap in the face, as it lowered the value of my time in game. It made me start to feel like there was no point in progressing now, because it will just be easier later.

    I think Eve is a healthy balance of progression. Time-based skill training fixes two ends of the problem: 1) It prevents newer players from devaluing the time put in by older players and 2) it provides zero advantage to power gamers over casual ones for progression.

    To say that a high SP player can easily beat a low SP player is somewhat overstating the issue, since a low SP player is more likely to live in the safety of High-sec space. Flying in low-sec or null-sec has its risks, to all players... sure a Titan beats a battleship, but that Titan pilot is has much more to loose as well. That low SP battleship he is about to DD might be bait for a larger trap.

    One mistake I see people make when they compare MMOs is that they always compare and review games based on a single player or solo experience. If you want a balanced solo experience, then you shouldn't be playing MMOs.

  4. @Cosmin: Good points. I'm not very familiar with WoW at all. Does a typical WoW message board get as nasty as the EVE ones do?

    @Jason: Hey. :) And yeah, I was simplifying quite a bit with the one-BS-one-Titan thing. There were quite a few more than one Titan at H-W... something like 50, if the reports I read were accurate. That kind of (increasingly common) scenario with Titans and super-carriers was what I was referring to.

    Still, as I've said in a couple of prior blog posts, if EVE sticks with protecting the skill/time investment of its (very few) long-time players, pretty soon, those long-time players are all there's going to be.

  5. Heh, the typical WoW message board. You don't want to know :)

    "Trouble" with Eve is that it is not aimed at the broader audience. You can't make a 12 year old pay attention to all the subtleties of crafting in Eve (even I can't get my head around them and my profession is not easy to say the least), but you can sure make him pay attention to shiny lights that happen when you mash 1-2-3-4.

    Eve is not like that. Personally I play WoT when I want mindless (but little planned) action, Eve when I feel like entering Picard's skin (with all the thinking involved, maybe there's a Romulan ship decloaking near my alt's Hulk but I`ll decloak my Golem and...) and WoW when I feel like mashing some buttons, with no particular tactics involved.

    Also the feedback from the games is different.

    In WoW you don't lose anything when you die (except a minor fee for repairing your equipment and when I say minor I mean as low as a few gold).

    In WoT, you lose an ammount of money equivalent to the level of your tank when you are destroyed. You have a good tank, you pay more than the guy that just logged in and picked one of the default tanks.

    In Eve, you lose everything you have on you at that particular time you were unfortunate enough to be on the wrong side of the cannons. And you can lose also your clone (+implants, the horror). This can range from almost nothing (rookie ship, implantless clone, wth) to billions of ISK, which can be translated into months of gametime.

    That is why different MMOs are different. I don't want idiots in Eve, seriously. But the fact is that now idiots don't stand a chance in Eve, they'd be blown out of the sky in an instant they do something stupid. So either they wise up or they leave. They usually leave.

    That is one problem with the communities of the games. Eve has a more mature audience, but these people are sometimes too fed up to pass on knowledge or just be decent.

    On the opposite side, there's WoW which has mostly a teen audience and this is quite annoying to be honest at some point. Can't really stand it.

    And there is somewhere in between, WoT. Unfinished game, full of bugs, community was okish until they put all those premium tanks for sale and the community went down in terms of IQ/sqm.

    Basically that is why I play an MMO. The community. Problem is that you can't find a good enough one today. Maybe I`m too old, maybe I`m too young at the same time, fact is that sometimes I`d just want to go and relax on a Carribean shore and forget about the Internets :)

  6. tl;dr:
    - CCP's old-boys club are jackasses, and breeds a fanbase of loud mouth sycophants who take their poor RP too seriously.
    - You can't get into a wormhole in a titan, which can't move around without a cyno buoy, which can easily be flown under 2m SP. Skills are not the problem.


    Long version:

    As much as I like to bitch about EVE's and CCP's inherent broken-ness, I don't believe the absence of a hard-ceiling on SP/skills is much of an issue, nor that it significantly factors in making the vocal fraction of the community as hostile and unfriendly as it is.

    Players are hostile because both the game setting/theme/mythos and the company (CCP) encourage a jock culture where being anything short of a bully is seen as a mark of weakness.
    Also because of the inconsistency in CCP's position on cheating/exploits, the long history of scandals about favoritism/collusion/cheats volunteers/employee/MSN friends of CCP have been tied to, and other niceties like the recent "spit in the community developers' face" monetization move, there is a general culture of distrust and defiance around EVE.
    Some of it is arguably good fun and in tune with the Ayn Rand-ish game setting, but the lines are blurry for many players between where 'RP' ends and where being a jackass starts.

    As for the skill cap, I believe you're mislead by the numbers. Being the owner of several characters over 120m SP and having started and grown new ones over the years, some as recently as a few months ago, I can attest that the 'coming of age' threshold that you put around lvl30 in GA exists in EVE, too, and hovers somewhere between 10 and 20 million SP, depending on what kind of specialty you're going for.

    Core skills and basic support skills for a pilot will eat about 5-7m SP, and another 5-10m SP will allow you to get more than proficient in a couple ships classes, if you don't cross-train too much.
    Setting aside supercaps (which are a different game because a char never leaves a SC or Titan until it's blown from under him/her), all one gets from growing beyond 30m SP is getting good in a broader diversity of roles, but not better in any one specific role, and you only ever fly a single ship at once.

    If one wants to join EVE only to get into the biggest ships available, yes, they're screwed for the first couple years unless they buy their way into a high-SP character, but you can't really learn the ropes and how to actually play the game at the helm of a titan, in fairness.

    Many MMOs offer only a handful of roles, and each class develops/grows in a fairly linear fashion as you level up, whereas EVE offers a plethora of ships below the battleship classes that are as accessible as they are useful and specialized, as long as one doesn't suffer a completist compulsion to try and max out every skill in the game — that's what you do after you break the 100m SP mark and run out of ideas. :)

  7. Hm. It's an interesting set of ideas you bring up. In particular, the Ayn Rand connection is one that I hadn't thought of.

    I completely disagree with you on the 10-20m SP threshold, though. It's much much closer to 40m, though I'll grant you it's come down a few million with the removal of Learning skills. There isn't a decent PvP corp in EVE any more that will accept a pilot that can only fly one or two types of ships. You're expected to be competent or better in a variety of them.

  8. Fair enough: I'll admit my perspective may be skewed, and it's much easier to overlook the limitations of a 10m SP character when you see it as one among many single-purpose tools.

    On the other hand (and again, this is a matter of personal experience) all but a few of the best corporations I've been involved with at any time between 2004 and now kept/keep a no-minimum-SP recruitment policy — this sample including more than a couple PvP-centric outlets.

    Also, with the chance of sounding like the :bittervet: I definitely am, I'd say you can make a good (and more importantly fun and exciting) PvP career sticking to smaller-than-battleships hulls.
    Some of the advanced cruisers may be demanding in terms of SP to work properly, but they're a fairly natural evolution from their much more accessible frigate-sized counterparts.
    Except for a couple specific lvl5 skills (Racial Cruiser, Medium Guns) everything else you'll have trained (and benefitted from) in the course of your 'natural' development as a frigate pilot.

    In light of this, I'll agree with you about how SP count ties to feeling (un)welcome in the EVE community, albeit in a very restrictive sense: corps (PvP or otherwise) that worry more about your SP count than what you bring to the mix in terms of will, brains and personality will probably not be the greatest ones to be a member of. ;)

  9. Yeah, I can tell you from experience that the EVE environment changes too fast. I had three PvP mains, each with a specialty. Ripard's specialty WAS sub-BS, and he had about 25m SP focused on that, and another 11m in Leadership skills for Command Ships.

    Half the time, it still wasn't enough.

    He could (can) fly anything sub-BS of the Min, Cal, or Gal variety except Logis and T3. And indeed, I had a great time switching him from Cane to Vag to Ranis to Rook to Ferox to Sleipnir. Before the damn eve-kill stats were reset to 2011 only, he had 25 or more kills in about a dozen ship types.

    Then, around early 2010, the environment changed and only battleships and T3s mattered. Everyone was flying Hellcats and Alpha fleet. And I was stuck with a "useless" character. I spent months training him into a Maelstrom that I *HATED* flying, and into unprobeable command Lokis that I really didn't have the ISK to afford.

    So I get what you're saying, I do. But your information is unfortunately out of date.

  10. "So I get what you're saying, I do. But your information is unfortunately out of date."

    That's me in a nutshell. :D

    Can I venture a guess that you might be slightly biased by your nullsec fleet experience, though ?
    I'm not about to defend 0.0 fleet warfare: I wrote plenty enough about why and how territorial wars are soul-crushing abominations for all the the 3% pilots in the truly interesting positions.

    Outside of territorial warfare, you can live off T2 sub-BS hulls and have a good time with it in 0.0 (NPC nullsec, W-space notably), but the only reason not to fly T3 cruisers - even there - would indeed be lack of skills or ISK, which indicates there's a role definition problem with those boats.

    As for T3 in general, their abilities are arguably not entirely unbalanced relatively to their cost (uninsurable and all), but they do embody the "you can't touch me" issue you raised in your article.
    There is a definite SP/ISK high barrier to entry for T3 cruisers (although SP-wise they're no heavier than a Logistics, that's still a lot).

    I've raised the same issue about clones, implants, and the cost of failure in the past: if you're part of the old-boys club, it's pretty hard to run into any loss that will hurt you seriously because the relative costs don't scale up.

    All of which points not so much to SPs as it does to the economics of EVE, which I believe are seriously screwed up from a "make things fun and interesting" perspective, and it turn brings us back to the proto-Objectivist dogma of EVE.
    ...but that's probably beyond the scope of this discussion.

  11. AcD - in terms of the penalty of death becoming lower over time, I'd suggest that it's not due to older players having some advantage so much as more economically astute players having the advantage.

    Once you have 10M or so SP you will be competent at flying frigates and even cruisers. I have R&D alts who fly assault ships in PvP - out of their 10M SP half is invested in science.

    I agree with you about the murkily defined role of T3 ships. The classic offender is the missile subsystem for Tengus, which gives you three bonuses to missiles which you never see together on any other ship: rate of fire, damage per round, and missile velocity. A T3 with the warfare link subsystem can do better than any command ship when it comes to fleet boosting and DPS (in the same package!)

    I've previously compared EVE Online to 4X games such as Master of Orion or RTS games such as Starcraft. In multiplayer games such as Starcraft, the people who expand fastest and have a nouse for getting build orders right for particular maps have the greatest advantage. There have been times when I've played Starcraft and had enemies running marines through my base before I've managed to get one zealout out. The same applies to EVE - people who know the game and what "build order" or which general strategies work, will have the advantage.

    So aside from SP and ISK advantage, some people simply have the advantage of cunning. Then there are those who have the advantage of leadership nouse.

    Perhaps EVE is an "objectivist" universe, in that there are no soft landings when you fall. There is only the advantage that you make for yourself. The same hold for the fun factor - there is no fun in EVE except that you make for yourself.

  12. @ Mara:
    Problem being, what works nicely in a finite space (such as the extent of a map and time limit for a match in a RTS) becomes a huge problem when applied to a 'never ending' setting such as EVE.
    Left unchecked, first mover advantage plus "rich beget riches" feedback loop make for a nasty fun-killing combo for all but those lucky few to have boarded the win train sometime around [2 years before you joined].

    I wish (I really do), the deciding factor for success of the average player was cunning (and dedication and social skills and whatever else seems relevant), but in fact, there are entire areas of the playing field that newcomers can never hope to enter but as slaves to old blood (or by cheating or buying in hard, but that's another topic).

    EVE is an objectivist universe, indeed, in that's it's choke-full of social-darwinist posturing and self-congratulatory meritocratic pretensions, when in fact the entire economy holds together only by the magic of infinite supply of affordable basic commodities and the never-failing free public services provided by the omnipotent nanny state.
    The disconnect between the discourse and empirical reality is just as spectacular in New Eden as it is in Rand's (and neocon heirs) fantasy philosophicking.

    EVE being space opera, which is to sci-fi what high fantasy is to historical fiction, I'm certainly not about to object to the Objectivist angle on aesthetics grounds (internal consistency and verisimilitude have little currency in the genre), but I can see a problem when the game makers take the leap and apply doublethink and willing suspension of disbelief to their own craft (cf any case of :awesome:).

    Maybe one of the reasons it's so hard for new players to 'get' EVE is because, from CCP to its user base, it is largely operating like a cult, and the whole mess doesn't make any sense until you lvl Operating Thetan VIII. :P


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