The moon is a harsh mistress

Player-versus-Player (PvP) games mean winners and losers.  Player-versus-Environment (PvE) games means you might whack trolls and no-one else is for the poorer.  PvP means you whack a troll and some other player is playing that troll.  PvP can also be subtle, e.g. economic competition:  you are trying to out-market someone else.  Etc.

In many ways, I think, how a game world handles the losers says more about it and its participants than how it handles the winners.  If a game system can tolerate more losers (not scare them off) it can more richly reward the winners.  Yet, to have winners a PvP game must be able to recycle its losers.  If the losers feel like they are only serving as the redshirts to the fantasy of a few yellow-shirts (fn1) they will leave.

With most online arena games the price of failure is minimal.  Often, it seems that the hint of the possibility of winning on the next go and perhaps a bit of smack-talk is all that is required to keep players coming back.  In starker PvP games like Eve-Online, where losses can be horrific (e.g. player months of time investment can be lost easily in a single battle), the problem is compounded.  Consider just one weekend campaign involving a thousand ships, say 500 winners and 500 losers.  Ignoring that winners lose gear - try telling 500 participants in any other casual social organization that their efforts over the last N weeks or months has just evaporated.

Eve-Online seems to not only have been able to recycle its losers, it has built an ecosystem to nurture them for another day.  In its own way I think this speaks some to the ways social systems under stress can be resilient.

I believe Eve-Online has developed an in-game culture that helps retain losers. 

First it has to a large extent (I reckon) redefined winning from the perspective of the individual away from simple metrics.   Winning to some players is belonging to an "leet" (elite) corporation or alliance.  To others it means reveling in (e.g.) "pirate" /trader /miner /mercenary /miner etc. subcultures.  Pirates may be poor, without a permanent home and with bad breath.  But what counts to them is a code of conduct that seems to bind them, for example.

Corporations and alliances seem more easily graded by territory, ISKs (money) and killboards (fn2).  Individuals seem more willing to be graded by their tribal affiliations.

Second, the Eve-Online game culture has also developed, I think, a number of narratives that allow players to more easily detach themselves from their losses:

1.) conspiracy theories and the shadow-world stories (subterfuge) distance blame
2.) the scale of the alliance struggle dwarfs individual losses
3.) the "intel" / information superiority game introduces a helpful fiction (not bested, but undone!)

Beyond cultural considerations, I think there are at least two structural elements that help recycle losers:

A.) There is an interconnected social/economic/security ecosystem that spans the three distinctive types of "terrain" in Eve-Online:  "0.0" space (alliances), "low-security", and "Empire Space".

B.) There exists a high degree of organizational fluidity that can exploit the ecosystem of (A.)

The combination of (A.) and (B.) above seems to faciliate the ability of players and player organizations to adapt to changing circumstances.

For a hypothetical example based on the terms and examples introduced in "My friend's keeper" - defeated alliances may fragment with some of its corporations retreating into Empire Space to lick wounds.  From there, the players within a corporation may fragment along cowmen and farmer lines.  The cowmen may recuperate in "low-security" hired out as mercenaries, and the farmers may concentrate  in "carebear" activities in the safety of Empire Space.  After a period of time they may reform - flush with new resources, and move back into 0.0 under the old or a new alliance.   Just one scenario that illustrates the number of ways the security, social, and economic terrain of the Eve-Online system may be exploited to regenerate the health of a tribe that once lost.

I have  jotted some additional thoughts on this in "Anecdotal research".   Yet, I'd like to close here with a longer introduction to Empire Space.  Consider it a misunderstood friend with an important role to play in this running tale.

Empire Space.

In "NBSI and the grey problem", "Scarcely rare", as well as "My friend's keeper" the focus has been on the security, economic, and political stress-points of the alliance game in Eve-Online.  This early focus could be misleading to outsider observers - Devin pointed this out in comment:

"(i)t's pretty significant to the understanding of... EVE has large areas of "high-security" space wherein only special, legally-sanctioned and paid for wars are in effect (and few 0.0 alliances seek to engage in those wars) as well as much "low-security" but (NPC) Empire-claimed space where rules of engagement are typically relaxed in a friendly direction (Some corps in my alliance prohibit killing neutrals in lowsec. Mine doesn't, but we generally only go after them if we're on the hunt, and we usually have better things to do than hunt in lowsec). To put this in perspective, imagine that there are cities, and no one shoots strangers there. There are large areas of wilderness, and it's dangerous but rarely fully interdicted. And then there are clan strongholds, and a few of those ...are open to strangers, but most alliances, if they catch you on their land (or rather, in their space) will shoot you."

For a graphical depiction, consider the latest Eve-Online political map (fn3).  The colored regions are spaces controlled by the largest alliances.  There is a swath in the middle labeled "Empire Space."  That is where most players, I reckon inhabit.  It is too where most of the commerce occurs.  Empire Space is as Devin wrote, the "big city."

The fringe around Empire Space that is called "low-security" space. Low-security space is an estuarial place where Empire corporations and alliance interests meet-up.  It too has wealth (minerals) and pirates.  Alliance areas are everywhere else beyond the "low-security" areas.

It is misleading to think of "0.0" or alliance regions as lawless.  As I've tried to depict in my earlier posts in this series, these are surprisingly lawful places.  It is just that all the law-abiding parties may be at war with each other.  "Low-security" is in my opinion where chaos reigns.  It is a buffer of chaos that lies between a lawful empire and an at-war alliance system. 

It strikes me as simplistic to look at the relationship between all the different areas I've described and their niche subcultures and tribes in static terms.  Instead they appear to me dynamic in their organization and relationships and quite agile.  As such they are exploited by players adapting to changing and often times harsh in-game circumstances.  I think one of the greatest functions of this ecosystem is to be able to recycle the players who have lost. 

It would seem to me, indeed, the moon is a most harsh mistress  (fr Robert Heinlein).

----------------------------------------------------------------

fn1.

From Wikipedia:   A redshirt is a stock character, used frequently in science fiction but also in other genres, whose purpose is to die soon after being introduced, thus indicating the dangerous circumstances faced by the main characters. The term comes from the science fiction television series Star Trek, in which security officers wear red shirts and are often killed on missions under the aforementioned circumstances.

fn2.

Killboards are in Eve-Online are third-party websites where players post their losses (ships) and other ships they have destroyed.   Corporations / alliances usually require their members to perform this book-keeping, e.g. requiring it for loss reimbursement etc.   In addition to "keeping score" they are analyzed for "intel" value:  what are other alliances fielding against them, composition, deployment, etc.

fn3.

Verite's influence map is perhaps more  detail (a more accurate depiction for its level-of-detail).

Resources:

Kotaku cites this post (10/14/2007, "What about the losers?..."); additional interesting comment over there.


Comments on The moon is a harsh mistress:

Tom H. says:

One of the foremost rules of Eve Online is "Don't fly what you can't afford to lose." Most of those 500 players will have lost a ship (or several ships), but only a few will have lost capital ships.

In my first couple of months of newbie play inside the Empire, mostly solo running missions, I'd put together 100 million in capital above and beyond my costs, plus had one battlecruiser (for use in running missions, fitted value about 80M) and a scattering of small ships. That excess money is enough to fit and fly ten cruisers or fifty frigates in medium-intensity combat (with good but not top-of-the-line gear), without endangering my working capital (the battlecruiser).

Experienced, specialized miners in alliance space can earn 100 million in *one hour*. If lower-skilled players get involved in an alliance, the price of keeping them supplied with medium-grade ships is peanuts until they've been in long enough to have social commitment to the game.

If I recall correctly, I could expect to earn multiple millions per hour in my battlecruiser, too, so building up a warchest wasn't much of a problem if my corporation wasn't continuously fighting.

Posted Oct 12, 2007 1:17:50 AM | link

Dave Rickey says:

One of the biggest factors in why losers can rebuild: The scale of the world. If the tides of war and/or politics drive you out of your space, assuming you can retain a critical mass of people under a coherent identity, you can find somewhere else on the map, far away, where things are finely balanced. Your entry can tip the scales, and give you the opportunity to start serious rebuilding. Or you can become a "renter", a vassal that pays for the priviledge of using space somebody else "owns".

Also, there's "NPC 0.0", a few regions where no player organization can take firm control because the stations all belong to NPC's and can't be conquered. Such areas can be good places to run to.

The cultural aspects of this largely follow from the underlying power dynamics, ultimately all power rises from the bottom, both economically and militarily. There's still far more resources available than can be fully exploited (and in truth, CCP has several times acted to increase the "carrying capacity" of 0.0 regions. So more people means more wealth as well as more potential fighters.

The most interesting thing is the 3-tier structure that has grown up for exploiting and protecting chunks of 0.0. At the highest level you have major powers, capable of sustaining the economic and psychological strain of protracted warfare. The next step down are the minor powers, generally aligned with a major power for defense and usually contributing manpower and treasure to the offensives. At the bottom you have the "renters", much weaker militarily and focused almost exclusively on resource extraction.

Much of the renter population is displaced territory holders, now living with in the space of another power, usually as far as possible from their former enemies.

As I'm sure you know, I could go on at some length about the political environment of Eve, it's by far the most complex and nuanced of any MMO, *ever*. Just trying to give the general history of it would be incredibly difficult, because at any given time there are hundreds of parallel tracks of that history occuring, and every player is biased by his viewpoint to assume that the pieces he was involved in were the most important.

The gameplay value of political intrigue is amazing, and the way that you can see historical socio-political patterns replaying at warp speed is incredible.

--Dave

Posted Oct 12, 2007 2:16:01 AM | link

Erillion says:

EVE has one of the harshest death penalties of all the MMORPGs I know. Not quite perma death, but losing weeks and months of effort is not unusual in EVE (e.g. when your home base station is being conquered and you have no way to get to your stash of stuff for the next 2-3 years).

And despite that harsh penalty people DO risk to lose (almost) all in fights .... motivated by an esprit de corps. To achieve the overall goals of your corporation or alliance your individual loss is insignificant. In real life you find this way of thinking typically in asian countries. Its rarer in western countries.

In the past I would have said that a zergling tactic as seen in other games is not possible in EVE. That its not possible to circumvent the harsh death penalty by using waves of cheap units against superior foes. But I have been proven wrong by the (now) largest alliance in the game (Goonswarm) that swamped their enemies with hundreds of small cheap ships. The technical limitations of the server (aka lag) allowed them to circumvent the death penalty ... in a laggy situation were almost no one is able to act, ships are being lost ... the better expensive ships are lost alongside the cheap throwaway frigates as no one can activate modules and only the server controlled drones, fighters and sentry guns (all unaffected by lag) reign supreme and destroy ships without mercy.

I guess the Brits never had problems with lag when they mowed down thousands of Zulus with machine guns *** or insert any other real life historical example for a zergling tactic ***

Posted Oct 12, 2007 4:08:33 AM | link

mike darga says:

reading about eve compared to other mmos, it reminds me of how mars is supposed to be just like earth, only everything is 10x in scale.

the fights and groups are obviously huge, and the retreat into safe space where it's easier to regain resources sounds a bit like the out-of-combat regen increase you see in wow etc. just on a very large and slow scale.

i'm wondering, does the combat duration match this large scale too? i hear about giant wars over days and days, but i don't really have a sense of how fast a ship can be destroyed in a fair fight.

in wow, let's say a fight between two non-healer classes will probably not last longer than 5ish minutes. a 5v5 arena might be 20 minutes if it's really epic. am i right to imagine similar eve fights taking a half hour for a 1v1 and hours for a skirmish, or is it more along the lines of gambling or something, where "i had it all, and lost it just like *snap*?"

Posted Oct 12, 2007 5:28:53 AM | link

mike darga says:

assume we're talking about the craziest star- destroyer-style ships. i realize fights between the crappy ships must be over much faster.

Posted Oct 12, 2007 5:47:02 AM | link

Di Jiensai says:

@mike

This depends on the circumstances.
Battles for starbases/outposts, can easyli take several hours including hundrets of ships on both sides.

Battles between moving fleets looking for enemys in their territory, can last between 30 seconds and maybe an hour, depending if you count the begining of the fight from the first dhot fired, or from the first sightning of the enemy, including an eventual chase, and manuvering of both sides, to gain an advantage.

small skirmished usualy take 5-10 minutes, with 10 or so ships involved on both sides.

But in subjective time, almost all fights have the duration of about 1 minute :P

Posted Oct 12, 2007 7:59:09 AM | link

Erillion says:

The ship that is being called primary in a fleet battle usually dies within 1 minute max. Even supercapitals have been killed in 5 minutes (although a LOT of preparation has gone into preparing a trap for these HUGE ships).

Typically 1vs1 or gang vs 1 PvP lasts approx 1-3 minutes. Exceptions to the rule are hyper fast dueling interceptors, where both ships are so fast that almost no shot hits the ship. Or extremely hard tanked ships that often cannot escape but take a LOT of killing, often allowing support to arrive to bail them out (or give gang mates time to escape).

A typical fleet engagement situation lasts between 3 and 10 minutes ... then one side gains an advantage and the Fleet commander of the other side orders a withdrawal. Several such engagements follow each other over a period of several hours.

A typical siege engagement lasts between 15 and 30 minutes (lower limit determined by the duration of a siege cycle of a dreadnaught, where the ship cannot move but gets vastly increased dps and tanking ability. Add some time to align, jump/warp in and out). "Siege" here means attacking a player owned moon station (POS) with capital ships.

A typical system siege to conquer a system takes approx a 4-7 days (minimum). Stronghold and Capital systems may take weeks, even months of constant attack to defeat the defenses. Well and highly placed spies can DRASTICALLY reduce this time by offlining defenses.

With the introduction of sovereignty and jump bridges, a well developed area of space is a VERY tough nut to crack, especially when cyno jammers stop the attacker from jumping in capital ship support and the defender is able to relocate his defense fleet VERY quickly using moon based jump bridges. One such jump bridge is becoming infamous these days, as an attacker was able to place a jump bridge into a defenders backyard and out of this "Eye of Terror" now pour countless "barbarian hordes" to overrun a heavily defended constellation (aka "The RIT triangle").

So in summary ... while individual combat in EVE is VERY fast (1-3 minutes), on a strategic level combat takes months or even 1+ years.

Have fun

Posted Oct 12, 2007 7:59:57 AM | link

greglas says:

Great, fascinating thread. I've really got to get past the surface of Eve and see some of this...

Posted Oct 12, 2007 9:53:08 AM | link

Dave Rickey says:

As was pointed out, a typical engagement is measured in minutes, and the life expectancy of a "primary" target in fleet battles is usually seconds. There is also a special weapon on the largest ships (titans, which require literally manyears worth of economic investment) that can destroy an entire fleet in a split second. But there are some built-in brakes on how fast a system can be taken.

It takes 7 days for a newly planted POS (player owned structure, a moon satellite) to count towards control of the system. When one of these is attacked, it goes into "Reinforced" mode for a period determined by the operator (by how much of a special kind of fuel they've placed in it), this can be up to a maximum of 4.5 days. So the *fastest* a system can change hands is 7 days.

Territorial campaigns are usually longer. In a recent round of fighting, even though outnumbered 3 to 1 my alliance held onto a key strategic system for a month before significant allied reinforcements showed up, then another month as enemy reinforcements kept the odds at more than 2 to 1. This was unusual, but not unique. Normally under those conditions the attacker would have taken the system after 2-3 weeks.

The built-in delays definitely moderate the rate at which you can lose. And the world scale reduces the consequences of losing, there's always a way to escape your attackers and rebuild.

--Dave

Posted Oct 12, 2007 2:20:25 PM | link

mike darga says:

wow, i thought people must be exaggerating when they say how fast resources can be lost. it really does sound amazing and terrifying.

i need to give this a try too, thanks for the info and sorry for the tangent.

Posted Oct 12, 2007 5:56:40 PM | link

dmx says:

"""
It takes 7 days for a newly planted POS (player owned structure, a moon satellite) to count towards control of the system. When one of these is attacked, it goes into "Reinforced" mode for a period determined by the operator (by how much of a special kind of fuel they've placed in it), this can be up to a maximum of 4.5 days. So the *fastest* a system can change hands is 7 days.
"""

In theory you can capture a station in a day if the enemy for some reason hasn't stronted the pos's. You won't gain sovereignty till 7 days later however, but you can claim the station (often leading to station ping-pong, where both sides start shooting the station knocking station sov rapidly back and forwards in ownership).

The fastest I've ever seen sov captured was a year ago, when D2 forgot to claim sovreignty in XZH and the goons accidently captured it (I kid you not. One shot it for a lark, and it took damage, leading to a big round of station shooting) sparking one of the bloodiest single system wars I've heard of, and ultimately leading to the events of the 'great war' thats engulfed the galaxy for the past 6 months to a year.

Posted Oct 13, 2007 8:25:35 AM | link

johnk says:

Wow. These posts make me want to dust off my subscriptions and pull my pilots out of the clone vat. The risk of loss as described above really juices the pvp experience. Rare ship modules offering slight advantages increase in price exponentially over the basic mods. I can fit my battleship for 100M ISK but there is really no upper limit to the price I might pay for ultra rare and slightly more powerful mods. If you spend 250M isk you might gain a 1%-5% advantage all other things being equal.

There really is an esprit de corps factor. It is quite an adrenaline rush when you and 50-100 of your closest alliance brethren are all sitting on the last gate in your expensively fitted ships knowing that the enemy fleet is on the other side of the gate. The fleet commander says 'jump' and everyone does without hesitation even though hesitating would be a good strategy for survival. Excellent, excellent fun. Now if we could just deal with that little lag problem.

RE taking down POS's. The best (at least most amusing) way we found to take them down was to have a turncoat in the enemy alliance disable them. Much easier to blow them up when they aren't shooting back at you. In some cases we were actually able to steal them and deploy them to our own designs.

Posted Oct 14, 2007 11:14:13 AM | link

nate_combs says:

Kotaku has cited this post; additional related comments over there.

Posted Oct 14, 2007 4:03:38 PM | link

mven says:

It amazes me how well EVE does and yet no one seems interested in applying those same ideas to a more "traditional" fantasy style MMORPG. EVE has just never really seemed all that accessible to me. Maybe that in itself is part of what makes it work?

Most other games of this type seem so intent on providing instant gratification and limiting the degree of loss. Could this be why these same games do not inspire the type of community that you find in EVE?

Posted Oct 15, 2007 11:51:24 AM | link

says:

>>>
Could this be why these same games do not inspire the type of community that you find in EVE?
>>>

Yes.

EVE is a thinking mans game.

Deep down EVE is a PvP game, but you have MANY MANY other options besides PvP. And you have many forms of PvP in EVE e.g. market PvP is much more vicious than PvP with ships ;-)

Grinding only helps with cash , not with experience points .. those come from time (online or offline, does not matter). An old pilot character IS a good character and usually better than a new character.

What makes EVE so fascinating that you as a total newb STILL can be the deciding factor in a HUGE battle flying a lowly frigate e.g. by uncloaking a Titan.

Have fun

Posted Oct 15, 2007 3:20:55 PM | link

Grendel says:

"It amazes me how well EVE does and yet no one seems interested in applying those same ideas to a more "traditional" fantasy style MMORPG. EVE has just never really seemed all that accessible to me. Maybe that in itself is part of what makes it work?

Most other games of this type seem so intent on providing instant gratification and limiting the degree of loss. Could this be why these same games do not inspire the type of community that you find in EVE?"

EVE lacks two important aspects that other traditional MMORPGs have.

First is a goal. EVE's strength and weakness is the open ended nature of gameplay. There is no maximum achievable level, except for a specific niche (and even these niches are constantly expanded upon with diferent specialisations). EVE also lacks any character class mechanic, preventing players from simply being a warrior, trader etc. In fact EVE resolutely shies away from pushing a character down any path.

Whilst this is not a problem for self-motivated individuals, goal-orientated players who expect to be provided an objective tend to flounder. As my wife described it, "Too big, too pointless."

The second problem Eve faces, which again can also be perceived as a strength, is complexity. I'm an academic scholar who has worked in IT and played computer games obsessively since I was 4. I've been lead QA on a very successful and fairly complex multiplayer online game. I'm not exactly a noob. However, even I would have to admit to finding the interface of EVE daunting, to be charitable, before you even enter into the complexities of trading, manufacturing and construction.

This provides a fairly high bar to entry and as a consequence, EVE's playerbase is consistently mature and of a more intellectual leaning. The benefits of this is reflected in the maturity and complexity of the game world's social and military-industrial structures.

Of course, this kind of competence hurdle on day one of gameplay prevents EVE from obtaining the mass market appeal of a game like World of Grindcraft, where any retard can smack an orc on the head with a stick and enjoy a sense of progress.

The fact is that the complexity and open-endedness of EVE attracts the sort of players who generate player driven content, the holy grail of the MMORPG designer.

Smart players = smart world

Warcraft and games like it consistently attempt to appeal to the lowest common denominator. This approach is clearly more profitable than constructing a deep and immersive world that requires intellectual investment

So these kind of grind and level games will remain the dominant force, whilst games that break this paradigm to attract smaller niche audiences will remain small.

Posted Oct 16, 2007 8:43:17 AM | link

JiK says:

"how a game world handles the losers"

I thought most games handled this the same way. You know, with a sign up form that allows you to play in the first place.

sorry, obligatory geek joke. :) Carry on with the big-thoughtedness...

Posted Oct 16, 2007 10:16:20 AM | link

Shava Nerad/Shava Suntzu in SL says:

lol! I see, I love goal-less games. Because my two favorite games are Second Life (where the residents smack me regularly for calling it a game) and Eve.

I treat both as economic and community games. In Eve, I focus on merchanting, research, and manufacturing with one account, and exploration, archaology, and mining/refining with another.

I'm not a great fighter (never met a twitch game I liked), so my characters tend to go heavily for drone fighting.

The issue about Eve is that it is as complicated as real business, in the same way you can make Second Life as complicated as real business. You create your own goals and your own community.

This is why typical "gamers" don't like games like SL, Eve, or to some extent the old SWG -- they require strong community bonds and personal planning, and in the case of Eve some good skills in math/econ and strategy, not just tactics. Sometimes even a little diplomacy.

On the other hand, there's a definite place for the person who just likes to blow stuff up.

The Eve community may be small, but I think it's pretty healthy. The company is growing and acquiring other game companies, and opened an office in the states after their acquisition of White Wolf last year. They're advertising on salon.com -- an interesting choice.

Posted Oct 16, 2007 8:22:10 PM | link

dmx says:

One of the ideas in eve, empire , does provide a bit of NPC-ish action for the newer players to get accustomed to. Personally I think its boring as hell, but I was introduced to deep space PVP from day #1 by the Goons (What a rush). None the less, I don't see any reason why, if someone built a single world un-sharded version of WOW, they can't have the 'preset storyline' world at the centre, and surround it by vast expanses of "go nuts and kill/build/conquor/whatever!" world for players who don't enjoy grind to go out and play crazy gnome politics in.

If anything, it'd be the wild narratives of the great frontier that'd make awesome marketing material for it, in the same way it has for EVE.

Posted Oct 17, 2007 4:50:48 AM | link

dmx says:

Also, any EVE player knows that indeed there is a goal to EVE.

World domination :)

Posted Oct 17, 2007 4:51:18 AM | link

Daniel Speed says:

DMX - the funny thing is that I think one of the most popular pre-release video of eve was "The Caldari Outlaw" (see the video section on the eve site), which was essentially a narrative of the choices available in Eve to players, which nowadays could be done with any number of player's histories.

Posted Oct 17, 2007 3:50:43 PM | link