No Surrender

There have been a number of low-key discussions on the web related to Eve-Online and its world-y nature.  They dovetail with our recent discussion on the nature of virtual worlds ("My space or yours").  Are world-y worlds (vs. game-y ones, e.g. this discussion) better correlated with virtual worldness?  Casual thoughts follow...

Richard in an interview with Matt Mihaly cites Eve-Online's design favorably - Richard architects the argument in this way:

“I like the way it’s engineered, and I like the way it holds true to its philosophy and makes no concessions to anything for convenience.”... “Yes, and the worldier the better.”

...“The thing about being worldly is that if you have a rich enough world then you automatically get a gamey worlds too, if you don’t stand in the way of it.” ... “So paradoxically, if you want a virtual world that’s a good game, you should aim to make it first and foremost a good world.”

Adam MacDonald on an interview of Magnus Bergsson emphasizes a recurring claim made: Eve-Online is like real life.  Exaggeration?  After all, the world of Eve-Online is a very harsh mistress and most who play there likely don't think they live like that (or would want to).

However, hard-nosed simulationist interpretations here seem poorly aimed.  I think the hooks that make worlds, world-y ones and perhaps even the best virtual ones, are with more barb and are abstract.  In my case, I once wrote of Eve-Online:

...how can a place such as Eve-Online be construed as a playful place were it to be strictly judged by the color of one's actions?  It is a dark space of vast distances and abstract avatars in a kabuki punctuated by moments of pounding brutality and intricate economic subtext. Very little seems at first like P*L*A*Y.

... [while so much of the genre] reeks of fun and playfulness on the surface, but once ensnared, players are led into a deception that spells W*O*R*K.   Eve-Online on the other hand is Icelandic with Calvinist overtones... opportunity to find one's own way towards a demeanor of play.  One represents a fall into an abyss, the other, a rise from one to redemption...

In the end, I'm left to contemplate Richard's cryptic  "no concessions to anything for convenience."    Aye, "No Surrender."  What is rock'n your world-y ideal then?


Comments on No Surrender:

magicback (Frank) says:

Nate,

I don't think it's "no surrender" but rather "no concessions for the sake of convenience" or in other words "short cuts". One has to be true to one's source.

In the example of SWG, would you judge it to be true to the source? There is a very slippery slope towards the darkside.

In the example of WoW, would you judge it to be true to the source? How about Eve-online?

Beyond fidelity, there is the aspect of multidimensionality. Eve-online and Grand Theft Auto could both be said to have high level of fidelity, but which one has high level of multidimensionality?

Then there is the aspect of fun. Which of these games have the fun factor? If Eve-online looks more like Work than Play for some people, what can be added to provide more Play?

In the manner of fidelity, multidimensionality, and fun, I agree with Richard when he says "So paradoxically, if you want a virtual world that’s a good game, you should aim to make it first and foremost a good world."

So it's no surrender to short cuts :)

Frank

Posted Sep 27, 2006 9:02:08 AM | link

Dave Rickey says:

I don't think you can say they don't make concessions to convenience. There's an ongoing (and controversial both inside CCP and out) case: Insta-Warp Bookmarks. In the game as designed, you cannot warp to closer than 15km short of your destination point. This means you have to cover 15km of every system the hard way, under normal space drives, which can take anywhere from a few seconds (for a really small ship rigged for maximum speed) to several minutes. This is the period of maximum exposure in any journey, where you can be targetted, warp scrambled, webbed, and your ship destroyed.

But.... You warp to exactly 15km short of your destination point, and that can be an arbitrary point set manually for 15km beyond your real destination. So you can "insta-warp" directly to the stargate for your next system by manually warping to a bookmark set specifically for the two points you are moving between. This can make a battleship as hard to pin down as a frigate.

This is controversial for a variety of reasons, it is a classic case of "not playing as intended" vs. "ingenious use of gameplay mechanics". In most games, never mind a "simulationist" environment, it would have been patched out long ago. But in spite of the fact that the process of copying these bookmarks can cause severe loads on the servers, CCP has stopped short of eliminating the underlying loophole.

So we have a literal case of CCP allowing "short cuts" in a way that other games often have not, but that in itself may be a matter of staying "true to the source" and not arbitrarily mucking with the virtual laws of physics for their own convenience.

Oddly enough, you almost never see the patch day outcry over balance changes in Eve that you do in other games. The rare occasions you do, it's because they changed the "laws of physics", such as when the nature of warp physics changed and "Warp Scramblers" started affecting "Micro-Warp Drives". Might be a lesson there....

--Dave

Posted Sep 27, 2006 11:06:44 AM | link

Richard Bartle says:

Frank>I don't think it's "no surrender" but rather "no concessions for the sake of convenience" or in other words "short cuts". One has to be true to one's source.

Yes, that's what I meant. They don't have knee-jerk reactions, they don't rush things out; they look at everything within the context of the virtual world as a whole. As a result, it's remained consistent and coherent since being launched, and I expect it to remain so for some time.

By the way, the thing about getting better gameplay through designing better worlds I go into in more depth in a chapter I wrote for the upcoming Wardrup-Fruin & Harrigan "Third Person" book.

Richard

Posted Sep 27, 2006 1:36:11 PM | link

nate combs says:

Dave>

Oddly enough, you almost never see the patch day outcry over balance changes in Eve that you do in other games. The rare occasions you do, it's because they changed the "laws of physics", such as when the nature of warp physics changed and "Warp Scramblers" started affecting "Micro-Warp Drives". Might be a lesson there....

It is an interesting point. To the extent this is true I'd guess it has a lot to do with "flatness" of the in-game skill differences between players. This won't address the loss of value of nerfed goods. However, given the size of the market, I wouldn't be surprised that the pain of deprecated goods can be obfuscated by the devs in ways not easily apparent to players.

What are you suggesting?

Posted Sep 27, 2006 10:33:44 PM | link

Dave Rickey says:

The Eve market makes any depreciation immediately apparent, in ways that are very clear, presented to you in the form of historical graphs. And people do find themselves on the losing end of these changes, for example if they spend billions for a T2 ship BPO, only to have that ship nerfed and subsequently demand (and therefore prices) falls precipitously (I actually know someone in game that exactly that happened to).

Part of it is that there's a confidence and trust by the players of CCP that rarely lasts long in other games. People genuinely believe that CCP is doing the right things to make the game better. Not a small, vocal, "fanboi" minority, but the overwhelming majority. So even when their own ox gets gored, they mostly shrug, suck it up, and figure out how to move on.

Some of it, I suspect, is the impersonalness from the lack of a real avatar. Even though only one character per account is really played (because of the way the skill training system works, it is ineffective to try and actively play more), people don't have the same sense of identification with their character. When a ship or skill is nerfed, the players don't feel like *they* personally have been injured, it's only a set of attributes on a playing piece.

And the open nature of the skills is another big part of it. When the capabilities of many of the Minmatar ships was improved almost a year ago, the reaction wasn't "why did Minmatar get buffed when nobody else did?", people simply started recalculating the relative effectiveness of Minmatar ships and changed their training plans accordingly. That people who had initially trained Minmatar ship skills had gained a relative advantage in some situations didn't seem to bother anyone.

There's just an overall sense that changes to the game are challenges to be met, not forces to be opposed. The Red Moon Rising patch last year *completely* changed the nature of 0.0 warfare in ways that are still playing out, leading directly and indirectly to the demise of many alliances, yet nobody blames RMR for their misfortunes or CCP for releasing it. Contrast that to the reaction of most game populations to fundamental changes and the associated turmoil coming from expansions.

By the same token, "Kali" is shortly going to be released, with many even more fundamental changes. Yet everyone is simply looking to see what is in it and anticipating the challenges it will bring (several major wars have been and are being fought over positioning relative to the new regions). *Nobody* is suggesting that Kali or any significant portion of it should be protested.

I'm not sure *where* this difference stems from, to be honest, even though I experience it directly. But it is very real, and very significant.

--Dave

Posted Sep 28, 2006 4:14:23 AM | link

Cael says:

Dave,

I think the difference stems from the (relatively) huge amount of penalty-play in the game. Got podded? Lost your ship, your cargo, all the equipment on your ship, some time and possibly some skills. And this is not a "corpse run" where you can go get them back. Somebody else got those (except for the skills).

The type of player which can accept this as a challenge instead of a hugely unfair setback is less likely to whine, and is also being trained to accept changes in the "world" and further, not to regard anything as something they have a right to.

Usually, nerf-cries and whining are down to a sense of entitlement - "wah, x is stronger than but Y has to work just as hard", "wah, Z isn't strong enough to compensate for the fact that you have to spend a brazillion hours grinding it".

Partly the skills model helps as you mentioned - got the wrong skills? Choose some different ones and there's no grind, just a wait - but mostly it's the harsh if not actively cruel nature of EVE.

Players of EVE learn the mantra very fast.

"Shit happens. Deal with it or move back to WoW."

Posted Sep 28, 2006 4:56:48 AM | link

tide says:

yeah it's difficult to argue against Eve, since it really has some of the most innovative MMO game play out there right now. Thing is, it was design partly engineered over 3 years by CCP and the rest by the players. I didn't say it, but the repetition of "just like real life" felt to me liked the guy was reaching. That's why I highlighted it. It is like real life if you Skinner Box people in a certain direction towards certain behaviors that favor the group-PvP-sandbox of Eve. Otherwise if you don't, and follow different play styles, like exploring or solo gameplay, you miss out and have serious difficulties. It's real life, but it's a particular "vision" of how life is lived. Personally, I'm a little uncomfortable with it at times, but I'm not hardcore enough to play regularly to get into a corp/alliance to get a lot of the positive gameplay.

In Eve it feels to me like the designers, whoever they are/were, had a particular view of life that they let shape and grow the game. Luckily, that intuition of user and community created content was perfectly in step with the Web 2.0 world and now they're cruising. But if they hadn't catered to that community building PvP crowd they'd probably be stuck, which I think was one of Bartle's points in his recent interview with Matt Mihaly. Sticking to your vision works if the design itself has traction with the players.

Posted Sep 28, 2006 3:43:49 PM | link

nate combs says:

I like the bravery of sticking to the "vision" and "no surrender." But what does it mean? Excepting the egregious: e.g. components of the game world which don't aesthetically work together (though I think a hearty discussion could be had exactly what that means).

But I believe there is a paradox which undermines this: isn't a worldly vision to be large and encompassing? What is the vision of the real world, for example?

No concessions. No surrender. To what then?

Posted Sep 28, 2006 9:49:20 PM | link

Paul Schwanz says:

nate> "I like the bravery of sticking to the "vision" and "no surrender." But what does it mean?"

It seems to me that, even when changes are made, and even when they are made based on some player feedback, there is a slight difference in the motivation behind it.

Based on player feedback, our world is not working the way we envisioned it working.

vs.

Based on player feedback, our world is not working the way the players think it should work.

The thing is, players are not designers. There are certain things about design that are counter-intuitive. Moreover, the very nature of games often involve making it difficult for players to do what they want to do -- what the game tells them they need to do.

Salen and Zimmerman discuss this in Rules of Play. A game IS its rules. And one of the characteristics of game rules is that they introduce inefficiencies. In golf, for instance, the goal is to get the ball into the hole. In fact, the game itself tells you that this is the goal. And then the game introduces all sorts of rules to make reaching this goal more difficult. Obviously, the most efficient way to accomplish the goal is to pick the ball up, carry it to the hole, and drop it in. But if you allow this, you no longer have a game, because it is the inefficient rules that make up the game.

This is the point that IGE's Steve Salyer does not understand when he claims that RMT is obviously what players want. (Of course, he probably has millions of reasons to not understand.) If RMT changes the inefficiences, then it changes the rules and it removes some of the game. (I've actually wondered how this perspective affects the legal considerations, since, even IF players can be said to own the product of their labor in a game, doesn't the company still own the game itself? And if the game is the rules and rules are about inefficiencies and IGE is affecting the inefficiences, then are they not changing the game?) Players want RMT like they want to get the golf ball into the hole, but they often do not understand that each concession to efficiency pulls a little bit of the game out from under them. If you introduced armor of invulnerability into an MMO, players would snarf it up immediately as the coolest thing ever, only to then complain about the sudden lack of things to do.

But I've always thought that reducing the inefficiences and thus removing part of the game (for instance, allowing RMT) would result in a more world-ey MMO. It doesn't seem to me that this is really what CCP is doing. By sticking to a vision and not making concessions, it seems to me that they are keeping the game in EVE very much in place. At the same time, the feel of this does seem more world-ey. I'm not sure why that is true.

--Phin

Posted Sep 29, 2006 9:50:47 AM | link

Andy Havens says:

Paul said: "By sticking to a vision and not making concessions, it seems to me that they are keeping the game in EVE very much in place. At the same time, the feel of this does seem more world-ey. I'm not sure why that is true."

It's true because, at the deepest level, the rules of the world-iest world there is, the real world, are absolute. As they say, gravity isn't just a good idea... it's the law.

The thing that makes many real world challenges the most fun is that there can be NO cheating. Most die-hard golfers I know like to play by themselves as much as with others. Their best score has nothing to do with what anyone else has scored (except in the abstract, as it's a mark to compare against themselves). They are measuring their own "efficiency" as you so elegantly put it.

I suck at golf. Really, really badly. I could, however, as you say, score an 18 by walking the ball to the pin on every hole. And the point would be... naught. I wouldn't be playing golf. I'd be having a nice walk with a wee ball.

It's like the little child who sits in the unmoving car, no key in the ignition, hands on the wheel and says, "Look Daddy! I'm driving!" Well... only by some totally internal definition. By the agreed upon definition... no. You're not. And Andy's not playing golf.

It's when efficiencies are reduced inequitably and opaquely that we have... trouble. In the old days, we simply called this "cheating" and had the buggers horse-whipped and thrown from the club. What-ho!

In real life, you don't get to buy your way out of Newton's Three Laws. You can't pay money to reduce friction. There's no RMT that will make your personality roll any better when you make your move on a girl in a bar. And success in real life is often much, much more satisfying, because it relies on *real* ability. The games we play -- whether related to athletic skill like golf, economic skill in business, or social skill in relationships -- depend on our prowess, not the number of times we've clicked on a pixel.

So... the world-ier a game is, I think, the closer it approximates a situation where "what you deserve is what you get." Them that has (moxie) shall get (levels). Them that's not (deserving) shall lose (loot).

Worldier = gamier. True dat.

Posted Sep 29, 2006 4:06:29 PM | link

Internets says:

"There's no RMT that will make your personality roll any better when you make your move on a girl in a bar."

Its called cocaine.

Posted Sep 30, 2006 12:49:44 AM | link

nate combs says:

"one of the characteristics of game rules is that they introduce inefficiencies. "


It's when efficiencies are reduced inequitably and opaquely that we have... trouble.
-------------

This view of world as a system of fairly (transparent) inefficiencies seems useful. Though this can't be the entire story (inefficiency for its own sake...). It also seems to me that the paradox here is that if world is about making choices and if the objective of those choices (from the player's perspective) usually boils down to players being more efficient in their interactions with the world. Given this view, then the ability for the player community to introduce efficiencies needs to be allowed if not encouraged?

Where to draw the lines viz "world-y making".

Posted Sep 30, 2006 12:52:31 PM | link

Paul Schwanz says:

nate> "Given this view, then the ability for the player community to introduce efficiencies needs to be allowed if not encouraged?"

I'm not quite sure what you are saying, but I think if you can keep player instituted efficiences within the confines of the rules that define the game, then this is exactly what needs to happen. Of course, this is the basic idea behind most games. In other words, a golfer needs to be able to become more efficient at getting the ball into the hole while not contravening the rules that make up the game of golf.

On the other hand, I think if you give the players too much power to introduce efficiencies, you are likely to see them remove or contravene rules to the point that there is no game left. So, I think you are right. Where to draw the lines seems to be the real trick.

I think it is also interesting that you said "player community," because I'd like to see the struggle toward efficiency (overcoming the challenges that make up the game) exist more at a community level and not just at the individual level.

--Phin

Posted Oct 2, 2006 9:12:56 AM | link

Peter Clay says:

"There's no RMT that will make your personality roll any better when you make your move on a girl in a bar."

Perhaps not, but the issue of getting sex through RMT rather than (ahem) grinding is an old controversy...

Posted Oct 3, 2006 7:38:02 AM | link