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Feb 18, 2006



I'd like to try and reply but first I need a working definition of what a(re) niche(s) is. What niche does Eve fill and what is their competition for this niche if any?

In general, I agree with the classification of Eve as a niche game but I disagree with how you are classifying it. Further, I disagree with the premise of this question:

"Beyond a dash of iconoclasm and exotica - are niches only interesting because of their limitations, their circumscription by the waters of a broader mainstream current?"

You seem to imply that all niche games are defined by their limitations and I am not sure that is the case, especially so in Eve's case. On the contrary, I would argue the opposite at least in Eve’s case.



I think I see what you're driving at. I'm not prepared to go long on the ecosystem analogy now (feel free if you wish). Instead, let me boldface the following specific claims about Eve-Online:

1.) for a variety of reasons Eve is not going to appeal to everyone. One can also argue that MMOGs are "niche" - given the relatively small share of online participants who engage 'em. Different subject.

2.) Eve-Online, say, doesn't have to to a WoW, say, to be successful in its space of interest

3.) Even if Eve-Online doesn't (can't) become the next WoW does that not mean that there is something for the next WoW to learn from?

I disagree with how you are classifying it

I'm not sure I am classifying it beyond saying that it is in a niche, in the sense above.

You seem to imply that all niche games are defined by their limitations and I am not sure that is the case, especially so in Eve's case. On the contrary, I would argue the opposite at least in Eve’s case.

I think we can say that narrowly focused game worlds (if that is what we agree Eve to represent) tends to appeal to specialized interests to differentiate themselves. Consider the alternative viewpoint (not true): every niche game is just a WoW wannabe.

Thus to the extent small niches are carved out by being different from the bigger ones, what can they say to the larger niches in terms of game design, play...


For a variety of reasons any game of any kind is not going to appeal to everyone. I agree that success is, generally, measured differently. Did the game move the genre forward? Does the game generate more in revenue then it costs to produce? Does the game have a low turnover in players? All these are different marks of success depending on how you want to look at each game. I agree with you on the third point also, although in this final respect is where you will see the future WoW and the future Eve differ.

The future WoW has an interest in pleasing as many people as possible. The future Eve (whether this be the Atitd T3, or a larger Eve like game) has very little interest in pleasing as many people as possible they only seek to please those within their target audience. Here though, is where Eve differs from other “niche” games.

Eve does not have some little niche in which it fills it’s roll explicitly. While, Ryzom is certainly an RPers game, Atitd is a builders game, and Puzzle Pirates is a traders game it is not clear where Eve fits into this.

What has made Eve successful is their meticulous attention to the economy. The economy runs more or less like an economy might run if Henry George had his way. Everyone contributes to this economy from the day 1 player to the 3 year player. In game currency is not meaninglessly pumped into the economy by selling some moss snake parts to an NPC in Freeport. Players in Eve organize to control scarce resources.

In this respect, Eve is not a narrowly focused game world at all. I haven’t played every MMOG on the market, though of the half dozen or so I have played and beta tested Eve has the broadest approach to the gaming world of any game I have encountered.

“Thus to the extent small niches are carved out by being different from the bigger ones, what can they say to the larger niches in terms of game design, play...”

I’m not sure niches are carved out to be different. In many cases (most) they are carved out to put emphasis on something, like EQ2 was originally going to put emphasis on the small group format while EQ would put emphasis on the large scale raiding content. Ryzom take many of the elements found in the original EQ and puts emphasis on the story and in game events.

Aside from the above however, a good deal.


"does not have some little niche in which it fills it’s roll explicitly"

I think you are mapping 'niches' to established genre taxonomy (e.g. named ones you provide). I agree this shorthand categorization is flawed and its not meant here.

I’m not sure niches are carved out to be different. In many cases (most) they are carved out to put emphasis on something

emphasis = difference. For example, arguably, WoW is a slick hodge-podge of successful ideas (dikuMUD PvE, PvP, Auction House...), none of it very deep, but well integrated. Eve-Online, as a contrasting e.g., focuses on a narrower range of elements (PvP, Economy) and runs with it. Differences in emphasis leads to differnces in types of players that are attracted.


I'm not surprised but I am pleased by the attention EVE Online is getting lately.

I can think of several possible reasons why EVE has done well, and is doing even better now:

* deliberately limited design (doesn't try to do too much; does specific important things well)
* generally bug-free
* strong PvP game
* PvP actually limited in practice to those who enjoy it
* numerous ship types with a vast number of weapons, defenses, and other devices
* plenty of quests from interesting system of factional NPCs
* strong economic game, with resource mining, item production, researching of new products, and cargo speculating
* real-time-based skill training eliminates grinding for advancement
* player groups ("corps") can affect game world by conquering and defending frontier territories
* good server response with minimal downtime
* patches and updates small enough not to exclude modem users
* strong fictional setting supports some roleplaying
* game looks good visually
* low-key and methodical approach to subscriber expansion
* EVE attracted many "refugees" from SWG

And some possible reasons why EVE isn't doing even better:

* space-based only -- no ground game
* asteroid mining is boring (not interactive enough)
* solo characters are not powerful
* not set in traditional fantasy genre
* possibility of being forced into PvP (even though limited in practice) scares off some potential players
* very limited advertising
* WoW sucking up subscribers

CCP have taken the "slow build-up" approach with EVE. It will be interesting to see whether this gradual approach can be sustained, especially if the glut of new MMOGS (DDO, Vanguard, LotRO, Hero's Journey, etc.) projected to launch in 2006 actually do so.

(Speaking just for myself, I like EVE. It's not a perfect game for me as I'm not terribly social, and I wish mining were more interesting, but even so I'm in awe of how well all the pieces fit together. Every time I ask myself "How would I implement [feature X]?", I find that CCP have already come up with an answer that's both logical and entertaining.)



The population of Iceland itself is only 300,000 or so. EVE is therefore a third as populous as the country in which it was developed.



Now that (above) is impressive!
But seriously, Eve is a game that takes a bit of effort to get into. There are many words bandied around about how the "learning curve" is more of a cliff.

Personally i think the slow steady growth is a good thing. In fact, after 2 years Eve has been experiencing its fastest growth ever! (the CEO says words to that effect in a video from their fanfest in 2005)


Other games that have been successful using a slow-build strategy:

Yohoho! Puzzle Pirates
Second Life

It might be enough to represent a new business model. The growth trend with the typical big-release format exhibits decling marginal additions, up to a cap. With these slow-build forms, growth is exponential in form. There's no apparent cap in sight.


It might be enough to represent a new business model. The growth trend with the typical big-release format exhibits decling marginal additions, up to a cap. With these slow-build forms, growth is exponential in form. There's no apparent cap in sight.

Doesn't this model also imply that the projects are longer to positive NPV, thereby increasing the risk proposition? Even assuming equivalent cost of capital, the slow growth model removes some of the real-options associated with the big-release model, which may be the reason it has such strong appeal to management.


The big release models may actually slow down the genre in the near term as development costs skyrocket and return on investment is not guaranteed. Is spending 40-50 million on the next elf/ork copy going to be attractive when/if games like LOTR and D&D don't hit their markets as expected? On the other hand, you can start small and tailor your game to a specific audience, using their input to make a niche success, and slowly build your market over time ala EVE.

Granted, I can't picture any of the big companies looking at solid but low profit markets when they all see the $$$ from WOW.


Randolfe>Doesn't this model also imply that the projects are longer to positive NPV, thereby increasing the risk proposition? Even assuming equivalent cost of capital, the slow growth model removes some of the real-options associated with the big-release model, which may be the reason it has such strong appeal to management.<

One common feature of Puzzle Pirates, Runescape, Second Life and Eve is that they have all been carefully designed to work well with relatively low end graphics. I think part of Eve’s success is that it doesn’t have a ground component. Animating a spaceship model against a starry background is much less of a graphics challenge than animating a knight on horseback in a forest. Yet, by the nature of the environment, Eve still looks good.

Keeping the graphics simple yet effective sure helps on the capital costs. It seems to be a common refrain in the indie MMOG scene that its easy to find programmers who will work for unspecified future reward, but good artists generally want to be paid up front. Maybe the middleware guys will fix this eventually with flexible stock art you can build your MMORPG from. But for now, I think the successful indie “slow growth” will be worlds will be marked by elegant use of simple graphics. While the big boys enter, and perhaps shortly leave, in a blaze of shader animated glory.


Bart Stewart >* real-time-based skill training eliminates grinding for advancement

Indeed, but not for everything else...

Eve is not without grinding. Being mining for a crafter or missions to fund a PvPer. It's still in.

Furthermore, even if real_time skill training is the radical solution for hardcore players blazing thru the game, it's a bit contrived. Part of my magic circle, a trader can't be a battleship commander without seeing a weapon! In Eve, you can with (real) time. Call me naive, a pilot should become a better pilot in the cockpit not by time subscribed.

EVE got a lot of good ideas. As some already said it concentrates on few things, but let others short (research system for example).

The most important is every success of 'niche' games is a way to slow the trend to EQ/WoW clones.

Thanks to the Indies!


I don't play Eve, so I have no opinion on it (other than that I'm glad they're succeeding), but the MMORPG reader's choice awards don't mean much. They are purely about how much energy the game admin cares to spend urging their players to 'vote' for them on the site. It's no different in that regards from dozens of other "top sites" websites in which people 'vote' (often repeatedly) for a game/site.



I think to me, Eve stands out in a few ways, but one important one is that it's a MMOG where an intelligent player can really get ahead.

Interestingly, I don't think that WoW had much of an effect of Eve's subscriber base, and it's been growing at a faster rate since WoW came out (not to imply causality, although there may be migration by people brought into the MMOG genre).

The word 'niche' and the concept of filling them seems ridiculously dangerous though. A few years ago, I remember thinking that there really wasn't much of a way to expand on the dragons and swords and level grinding routine, and then out came WoW. I imagine that games geared more towards immediate fun will stay popular, but I also expect other forms of gameplay to expand as people move on from the games that provide immediate gratification, the sort of way that games developed after arcade games.

While individual characters aren't as powerful in Eve (no ship is intended to be 'better' than all others) as say, a level 60 in WoW, individuals are much more empowered: you can be in control of an alliance of thousands of people, or have enough money or control over resources to bend parts of the economy to your will.

Asteroid mining is really interesting conceptually - I can't think of anything as gameplay I'd enjoy less, as it's almost the most flagrant and boring grind I can think of, but at the same time, the lack of interaction in direct gameplay promotes social behaviour or allows you to do something ingame while you do other stuff around the house. Amazingly, some people quite enjoy it because they can advance themselves without having to concentrate on it.


Asteroid mining IS boring -- although there's real nervousness if you're doing it solo in low-sec space -- which is why corps tend to treasure the folks that like nothing more than to spend a few hours mining 'troids while their buddies gank random pirates -- NPC or otherwise.


Well, I'm not an academic so I feel a bit out of place here. I'm just a player, but some of what some of you suggest about EVE being open ended rings true with me.

I'd say EVE is perhaps one of the few virtual game worlds that allows a person to utterly fail. Even people that love the essence of the concept can still fail if they don't approach it disingenuously enough. I don't think most entertainment development corporations would look at such a thing and not wince. By fail of course, I don't mean get knocked down or robbed or anything so transient. Your real asset is your reputation and most people aren't public idols or individuals with the resources to pull off chicanery. For the commoners, failure comes in the form of losing opportunities to participate that comes with a loss of social currency I suppose.

If EVE has taught me anything, it is that a person can fail and persist for a long time without ever acknowledging it. People can spend a great deal of time thinking about how they might participate in EVE but merely spend their time waiting to do so, or moving on to new ideas about doing so. This is only a small step away from thinking about subscribing.

The people that most often succeed are those that fall into, or seek out, the right company from the very beginning. Hesitate in the beginning and you will likely find yourself missing out forever. It doesn't really matter how much you adore the creation of a world, or the ideal of its demiurge, you may still find yourself transfixed, gazing down on a Piraeus that will probably always be separated from you by more than distance.


I've tried EVE and it's my opinion that the game is already very, very aged. It can definitly benefit from a version 2.0 though, perhaps offering existing customers a free upgrade. I think the space opera "niche" is a LOT bigger than 100K. EVE has suffered from a lack of advertising and publicity at launch and outdated graphics and difficulties with beginning on established servers later on.


"difficulties with beginning on established servers later on"

Eve only has one "server". Everyone plays on it.

There are no real difficulties for beginners, unless you expect to be able to fly a top of the line battleship gimped out in state of the art firepower.

If you are willing to learn the skills, there are a variety of ways to get ahead. As a solo trader you can make millions (if you are really good - billions).

It all depends on how you approach it. You are not spoonfed and treated like a child. It is a game that requires some thought - even if you just want to gate gank poor indie drivers...


Indeed, but Eve by design limits itself to a subset of space opera. It dosn't explore a lot of concepts beloved of space opera - aliens, posthumanism...and it has its own issues, especially with slow customer response and somewhat incoherent forum moderation.


Redwolfe>EVE has suffered from a lack of advertising and publicity at launch and outdated graphics<

I’d say those were both design features EVE benefited from, given its business model. They greatly reduce initial capital outlay. The alternative, of state of the art mesh/shader graphics, and massive public launch would be hugely more expensive. And would that kind of VC capital be available in Iceland? Seems like a successful match of design to resources to me.


Current state of the art shader and mesh graphics couldn't be done on mainstream hardware from 3 / 4 years ago.


I'm not sure if we're talking about Eve. Eve is well known for its graphical intensity and detail. I agree with what Helinar originally said. It is easier to push an object through 3d space rather than having parts of that 3d object move. I dare say, Eve rivals any of the latest gen MMO's out there in terms of graphics and Eve is 3 years old. Once they get their new 64 bit servers (happening today actually) online, that will all change.

With that said, I'm not a programer and just a lowly economist.


and now 64-bit client too!

The current server upgrade to 64-bit blades promises to eliminate fleet-battle lag (considered the end-game by the devs).

It also paves the way for a PvE version of fleet battle in a Factional Warfare expansion (previously passive NPC-Factions start to interact with the world).

That's the hype anyway.
But if they pull it off it'll be a whole new niche.


A few comments in the linked articles above touched on what I have found to be the greatest strength of the game (and yes, I am of the 100K and tend to be of the 20K+ logged on at peak times) --

Eve offers the richest blend of specialization and generalization of character progression I have ever seen. Not only is there a very large range of legitimate full-time game professions (PvPer, safe space NPCer, safe space miner, scary space miner, ship builder, space station operator, trader, manufacturer, scientist, researcher, more), the initial skill requirements for any of these except PvP are a few hours at the most, while to become 'perfect' at any of these is months or more of real time.

What this means is, every time I log on, after only a week or two in the game, I could choose my profession du jour. Eve makes it possible to meaningfully try everything, and then specialize in what is most interesting to you.

The entire skill system is based on exponential diminishing returns, which is brilliant. If I can be a 50th percentile miner in a month, I can be a 70th in two months, an 80th in three, or perfect in 7 (yes, these are made up numbers). One can not master all trades, but one can be a jack of all trades and master of several with no problem.

Finally, the universe size to player size is superb. The complexity of the market as mentioned means a n00b like me (4 months in game, more or less) can corner the market on basic commodities in popular regions, because there are hundreds of commodities and thousands of systems. A player not only has huge choices in Eve, but every player, almost from day one, can *affect* Eve, in ever increasing spheres of influence. A friend of mine has manipulated significant aspects of the open market across an entire region for weeks now, and he has been in game less time than I. That kind of power is addictive.


EVE lets me play the way I want, an dabble at other playstyles with a degree of risk I can control. Like dave said, its easy to get started in an area but hard to master.

But, that doesn't mean it is without learning curve. I think the learning curve is what confuses so many who have reviewed or even casually tried EVE. You *can* start out a character and become a well-off industrialist without mining a single rock. You can start off running PvE hand-held "go here next" missions (aka quests) and progressing through a scenario of incresing PvE rewards and challenges. You can become hated with a player bounty within a month. You probably can't do all of them within three months. You probably can by six months with the same character, or with different ones. You can become an established role-player and restrict your player growth options based on roleplay requirements and still suceed brilliantly at any facet of the game. You can be a social maven in the center of space and drama, or quietly tinker and putter off in some backwater area.

Or you can fail miserably, and hope you have at least one friend that will loan you enough for a stake to restart.

Its only after playing a while that you realize the game is less "niche" than close to the sandbox they were shooting for. Its not going to hold your hand, while there are a few pointers to a set series of quests (missions) thats nowhere near what you need to know. Many of the choices are choices in who you chose to associate with, and how you chose to interact with them. The tools are there. Are you using them? Its not uncommon for year+ players to respond often with "Oh I didn't know that.". There are a lot of tools, and options. There are references to early dev comments where the intention was to build a sandbox-style game.

I'd say the openended play with minimal built-in safety-net or hand-holding *is* what sets EVE apart as "niche" if you want to use that word. But it gives you the tools to do almost any playstyle you can think of, and build your own safety nets with as anti-social or social an interaction them as you like.

It even manages to allow most players to protect themselves from all of the anti-socal intentional or unintentional mistakes of other players. While still allowing you to expose yourself to that at will based on your risk-tolerance. And, its not limited to PvP in the sense of "I ganked you!". Factional warfare out of conflict, resource-demand, roleplay choice, boredom and sheer psychopathy all exist with potential agressors anywhere from lone wolf to massive highly-organized military-industrial complexes. The agressors and the transgressed are for the most part, all players. I haven't seen that work since text-mud days .. UO was close but did not pull it off like EVE.

Or, you can decide you have no tolerance for PvP in any flavor and live a quiet life in secure, well-policed areas. Logging on to do mundane and safe but enjoyable tasks while socializing at a level you like. The fact the game can fit the ultimate no-risk social carebear in the same game with the massive gank quad juggernaut, is pretty amazing.

But in each case the player must make a lot of individual choices and effort to carve that niche out for themselves. Most MMOs have a niche or a set of niche's. They are paint-by-numbers. Games that are more broad in appeal simply have more pre-numbered canvases you can paint. The let you pick the canvas then hand you some brushes and paint and you did in painting the picture of the game. And possibly earning more colors in predictable ways. EVE hands you a blank canvas with nothing drawn on it, a couple of brushes and some basic paints and gives you a few hints on possible pictures *you* might want to draw in the tutorial. And lets you know there are a lot of colors out there. You can throw all the paints away and go find new ones, and draw whatever you like. You can let other people draw on your drawing too - or not. Oddly, this is very confusing, and clearly not for everyone. You don't have to mine, or PvP, or trade, or use a spreadsheet, or play 40 hours a week ... if you don't want to. But, its up to you to figure out what to do and how to best go about it. You know, that "user generated content" phrase I hear sometimes is what EVE is about. Its as much a toolkit as a game. But not at a GM level, at the players level.

Its different. So, EVE is a niche game in that it lets everyone play as a self-defined character in a self-defined playstyle. Its confusing to call it "niche" when its covering almost all of the "niche"s in gameplay. And I'm struggling to think of a playstyle you couldn't pull off in EVE with enough player creativity, or honestly that isn't already being done by some sub-group in the game somewhere. I think how it does it is whats niche, not what it does. If that makes sense.

Maybe its not an MMORPG or an MMOG its a MMOSS ... massively multiplayer on-line space sandbox. The learning curve is .. it masquerades as a simple PvP oriented MMO. And sometimes I'm not up to driving my own content and other content-driving players are alos having an off day/week/month. Those times are slow times in EVE. Its quite the adjustment after other games where when you log in there is almost always "something you should be doing next". I'm not sure what it has to teach other games. But you really need to devote some time to it to figure out even what it is before you can decide what it might have to offer.


Ive been on eve for nearly a year now, and I've been a lowly miner, a hauler, garbage collector, corporation CEO(A real corp), station manager for several stations and now I've ended up in the strike fleet for a large alliance. My skills are all over the place, but I've been able to do all these things with relatively little training time, and I've certainely been able to keep up with people who are years ahead of me in skills.

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