Player-versus-Player (PvP) games do not have to be balanced. By "balanced" I narrowly speak to the perspective and interaction of a small number of individuals or groups of players. If they are not balanced they can instead provide venues to allow players to engage indirectly and level the playing field. In stone-paper-scissors stone bests scissors but paper sneaks up, so scissors says to paper "Dude - let's be allies?"
Another misconception might be this. If *multiplayer* PvP games require more skill than PvE (Player-versus-Environment) games, then it must follow it is about twitch (eye-hand coordination). This might be more true for arena games (though not entirely - as teamwork can count). It is less true for MMOGs where large numbers of players and their apparent need for outcomes to be independent of network latency has meant that when two parties hit the "WHACK YOU" button, all things being equal, the outcome is designed to be largely out of your control.
Choices that come before and after hitting the "WHACK YOU" button provide whatever skill differentiator there is.
Eve-Online is a complicated place. The previous posts in this series sugggest this (NBSI and the grey problem, Scarcely rare, My friend’s keeper, The moon is a harsh mistress). However, what may not be apparent to most readers is that with Eve-Online's complexity comes opportunity for asymmetric exploits that can convert unbalanced relationships into more balanced ones. And it seems to me that such are critical in making the game world seem fair.
As one example, in Rapacious marketeering player "market manipulators" were mentioned as one tool used by alliances to undermine the economic efficiency of competing alliances: can't attack your miners directly, I'll attack your markets. Keep in mind that Eve-Online is fundamentally - to my view - a game about economics and its constraint on power. Market manipulators are players who imbibe a motivational cocktail blending personal profit and serving one's master (rendering an opponent alliance’s market less efficient). Such a player's dual-hat missions seems vaguely reminiscent of privateers in an earlier century. Recall that privateers rarely choose to engage other ships in a "fair" game of cricket, their handicap came from elsewhere.
Eve-Online is a large place and there is plenty of asymmetry amongst the player groups. How player organizations of different specializations and strengths fend for themselves in this world I find fascinating. With this in mind, I'll start with how I view the information game in Eve-Online. I view this as one of the asymmetries separating some player groups in Eve-Online: some are better at it than others.
In The propaganda war I capitalized on an excellent Eve-Online tale told by Endie. Storytelling with an agenda - or "propaganda" - was suggested as one tool used by Eve-Online alliances to assist players with the big picture:
One has to love it when an astute observer of the Eve-Online alliance game likens a maneuver conducted over the last couple of months (with thousands of players) to the Schlieffen Plan... Which brings me to this interesting question: if you were a player how would you ever know were it not for such... propagandists?
More to the point:
How would the foot soldiers in a large-scale information-complex distributed game spanning the real world globe and twenty-four time zones have any clue how their system-by-system struggle fits into the big picture, were it not for, well, something like an Eve-Online alliance propaganda network?
Another factor, I think, has to do with the single interconnected world that is Eve-Online. Unlike most other mainstream MMORPGs where players are segregated on individual "shards", Eve-Online's 200K subscribers (from Dr.EyjoG's An overview of the mineral market in EVE Online) are all plugged into the same world. However, as Dave Rickey might have implied, the scale of this world is such that few will ever bump into each other.
It also seems to me that PvP games are more information intensive than their PvE brethren if for no other reason than for their competitive dynamic. I casually suggest the information demands of a PvP multiplayer game using these categories:
1.) Know your environment
2.) Know your collaborators
3.) Know your enemies
4.) Sustain your collaborators
5.) Undermine your enemies
Unsurprisingly, PvE (MMOGs) simplify the enemy-related information demands (e.g. behind NPCs). As I suggested above, the propaganda game seems to be a good example of how activities can work cross-purposes, e.g. sustain collaborators AND undermine enemies.
The rest of this post is dedicated to laying the roadmap for future discussions. Offer your own ideas. I propose the below working categorization of the "information space" of Eve-Online:
A.) A fast-moving tactical board.
B.) The Diplomatic game.
C.) Internal political constraints.
D.) Tactical "intel" game.
E.) Strategic "intel" game.
Conspicuously absent from this list are the Eve-Online markets - a separate topic onto itself. I would include for here perverse cases such as the earlier "market manipulator" example.
Additional detail on the list above.
(A.) In The face of information I characterized the Eve-Online tactical environment (cited post includes excellent comment) as follows.
Consider a not uncommon example: a 250+ person (blue team only) raid that stretches multiple systems, 4+ hours, involving (at least) four squads, 5+ text channels, voice channels, multiple (and staged) sub-goals, and yes consider the gradual (and dramatic) degeneration of communications discipline (as evening drags on) on different channels at different rates.
(B.) Consider the diplomatic scaffolding that underpins the inter-alliance narrative given recently by Endie "Now this is not the end...".
(C.) Many have commented on how they thought the intra-alliance political landscape can be as interesting as the inter-alliance one. Some of this dynamic was discussed in "cowman and farmer" terms in My friend's keeper with additional follow-up in Anecdotal research.
(D.) The tactical intelligence game starts for many with the "intel" channels that a typical alliance player is confronted with each and every time they log in. The sources of that information and how channel protocols (security) are managed are important features of that discussion. For example, an "intel channel" typically means only allowed to post on enemy movements but *not* allied ones - those typically are handled on more closely regulated lists.
Tactical intel is of immediate concern to most players. Few players are involved in deciding the grand strategy of alliances. As tactical intel about the enemy is widely broadcast wthin an alliance most players assume that what they know about the enemy ends up in its hands quickly. Information about allied force deployments is more closely guarded. The accepted trade-off seems to be: we'll risk more to help our members protect themselves and risk less when information may not be of direct concern to most players.
Channel procedures typically include:
- Separated channels and access lists (text and voice)
- Periodic changes to TS etc servers and passwords.
- Proactive monitoring of channels and administration (e.g. dropping unrecognized characters).
(E.) The strategic intel game must include data-mining, e.g. forums and kill-boards. Of critical concern here is gauging economic strength of opponents, their disposition of forces, and clues about their diplomatic inclinations and efforts.
G.) "Covert ops" is a sprawling umbrella that extends from "spies" and espionage (e.g. infiltrating "alts" into enemy corps) to gain informational and situational advantage. My sense is that such craft carries considerable social stigma within the world of Eve-Online, yet, oddly, tremendous energy seems to go into sensationalized story-telling along these lines. The stigma is implied by Andrew (highlight added):
A lot of what happens is perceptions and shadows, a lot of what happens is influenced by deals which never rise into visibility and it's not that uncommon for both sides to consider a particular campaign a strategic win or loss. As someone who's been in corps on both sides of several wars (not at the same time, I'm no spy..), the perspective and history told is completely different.
Interesting contextualization of the "covert ops"/ "intel" dimension of the alliance game by Endie:
We at Goonfleet have an extensive intelligence agency: quite a few of us lead front corporations, sleeper units with which, after a time, we penetrate enemy alliances to gather intel, disrupt logistics and spread discontent. It's hard work, but a nice change of pace from relentless alliance warfare. The result is that we have people leaking information from many of our enemies' forums.
The role of propaganda illustrates the importance in controlling the story in Eve-Online. Alliances can gain by manipulating stories in these ways:
- Intimidating other alliances (scaring up threats)
- Forcing other alliances to divert energy and resources (manipulating perception of one threat over another)
- Contribute to a mythology of "leet" (elite) that helps alliances to recruit the top talent (corporations and players).
Stories have come to form an essential ingredient of the lore and the culture of this game world. They are the colored glasses through which players view the structure of the place. Stories are a great enticement for many, as dmx wrote, "I know people tend to enjoy stories of Eve's politics and power games." The particular story dmx cites involves the murkiest of the murky "intel" games ("EVE Online: Spy Game" - Nick Breckon, shacknews, Aug 23, 2007), used as propaganda suggesting uberness to many players.
To return to the beginning.
In Eve-Online you may have more ships than I. Yet in a competitive environment where I will aggressively seek any advantage that I can using all the tools available to me, that may not matter.
As was discussed in earlier comment, Eve-Online was categorized as a game world that required players to create their own stories. E.g. Grendel’s comment as well as Shava Nerad’s (The moon is a harsh mistress).