Sunday, June 8, 2014

Proposal: Expert Missions

-EXPERT MISSIONS CONCEPT PAPER-

This is an idea that I've been kicking around for some time.  It originated in comments to a post on Sugar's Blog a long while ago.  Awhile back, I decided to stop daydreaming and nerd out and actually write up a proposal. Intent is to convey an idea and work out some of the kinks, but not to give a final implementation.

I had worked this up awhile back, but am reposting a) to get it on the blog and b) to answer CCP's call for "little things" that could be done for PVE improvement.

This is not a "design document." Just an idea.

Fundamental questions:  What is the smallest ship you could do a lvl4 mission in?  What would it take to complete, say World's Collide in a group of frigate class ships?  Would a system that promoted small gangs in PVE be any fun?


INTRODUCTION & BACKGROUND

So, I've been blitzing SOE lvl3's lately in a Sacrilege. It's not as much isk/hr as lvl4's but I'm having a blast in the nimble ship and the LP is nice.

There's certainly a fair amount of PVE in EVE (some of you are saying "too much pve! damn carebears!"). But one of the odd things is that the current Mission implementation focuses on getting players up through ship size from lvl1s (frigates) to lvl4s (battleships), and the progression stops there.

As CCP put it recently, people "level up" to their Raven and stop there.

As veteran PVE players, we never have a reason to return to smaller ships, unless we're getting our standings up -- and then it's just a mad race back to lvl4s and back into our battleships/tech3.

For many of us, lvl4s are too easy (not challenging) but too convenient to abandon.

Also for many of us, the ascension through the ranks was a relatively short part of our EVE career, and it happened long ago. Meanwhile, CCP has revamped small ships in balance, looks, and flavor ... yet they remain largely unused for PVE tasks. The serious isk/hr is always with your butt parked in a big, slow battleship, or a billion isk tech3. CCP invested a lot of money in all those small ship models, yet we veteran PVE players rarely use them.

So, how could you could tap the dozens of small ships for meaningful endgame PVE?

The idea occurred to me that what if you had a set of agents beyond the current tiers that focused on the same basic missions, but had harsher ship restrictions, it might be a good start. I started calling these Expert Missions.

IT'S ALL IN THE DETAILS

Summary time. Expert missions are:

  1. Small ships (Manifesto Rule #3)
  2. Small group Fleet comp (4-5 players); Diminishing returns on Fleet Size (number of players) vs. Reward (isk/lp).
  3. Same/similar payout (isk/hr and lp/hr per player) to current lvl4s.

More bullet points. Bullet points are cool:

  • Introduce a new tier of Security mission agents: level 2E (expert), 3E, and 4E.
  • Standings required to access Expert missions higher than current lvl4, with 4E being "very high."
  • For the 4E missions, I'd start with the same mission roster (save the damsel, oh dear) as we have today, but the ship restriction list now goes no higher than HACs (no BCs, no tech3).
  • Imagine a few AF+HACs+Logi doing Angel Extravaganza lvl4 and being compensated reasonably for it.
  • Same idea for 2E and 3E, adjusted accordingly.
  • Allowable ship list should be adjusted to make solo'ing nigh impossible, and multi-boxing inconvenient. (And since isk/hr is about the same, they can stay with the current lvl4s and be happy).
  • Ideally would get some churn on the Fleet Comps, ship fits, boosts, and all the meta that goes with Incursions and PVP. (The PVE/Mission meta has been too stable for too long).
  • First pass at a system would reuse most code/scripts/content from existing missions lists. If the dev time could be justified, there are some fun things that could be done. 
Here are a few examples of incremental ways to expand the Expert Mission system:

Mission layout/composition adjustments to favor small ships. One of the most fun things about running lvl2/3 missions is the sensation of actually FLYING in space. (I know, crazy.) The current crop of lvl4's allows a Marauder pilot (Cruise Golems especially) to simply warp from pocket to pocket, drop Bastion upon arrival and sit in turret mode plinking away at targets. Focusing on small, fast, nimble ships would allow the devs to change things up a bit, and offer more pockets, or larger pockets, with more actual flying and uber flying skillz during a mission.

Exportable killmail for Missions. We love bragging rights; let's bring the killboard mentality to PVE. Ships killed, damage done, elapsed time, etc.. This isn't WoW in space; we don't want an achievement system or omgdpsmeters. But we should be able to track/share our progress in some way. The EVE way to do this is make the data available to the community and let us nerds sort it out.

More risk, and rewarding that risk. Mission runners HATE losing their ships, but I might be inclined to risk a t2 fit assault frigate trying to earn a 2E Killmail by using an AF instead of a HAC.

Scaling Bonuses for using less tonnage/smaller ships in my comp. Ideally, payout would scale inversely with tonnage on the field. Doing AE4 with 3xHAC+2xLogi should pay less than doing it with 3xAF+2Logi. (Note: There's nothing from stopping me from doing lvl3's or 4's now in an AF... with some friends, except the poor rewards).

Q&A

1. EVE is a PVP game! OMG, You want WoW in space! Hisec carebear! etc.
EVE is what we make it. More easily accessed higher tier PVE content will lead to higher player retention, and higher player retention will lead to more PVPers over the long haul.

2. Missions suck! Why Missions?
They suck because they're repetitive and boring, and mostly done solo (or with a multi-box). They've been basically stagnant in terms of mechanics since ~2004. Yet they remain one of the most popular activities (by player-man-hours) in the entire game. It might be time for a refresh.

Two more reasons:
A) Missions are the most readily apparent aspect of PVE. New players will see the content, right there in their station UI or on the agent finder. Part of this is about player retention; want to make the content obvious.
B) It felt like we could get a lot of mileage out of reused code. Sure, it would be cooler with more custom/new missions for the Expert tier, but the cost of entry (dev time) for CCP appears lower than implementing other PVE systems.

3. If you want Endgame PVE, you should go do Incursions.
I have, and I do. The woes of Incursions are many. I believe they deserve their own refinement pass through the design teams. But, Incursions are still big-ship focused, and they're tricky to balance; expanding that content would likely be significant dev time. I'm looking to insert a tier of PVE content between the existing agent missions and Incursions on a shoestring budget.

4. OMG, you won't let BCs/Command/tech3 do Expert 4 missions?!?! I want to run my Drake!
The focus here is small ship combat. Some lvl4's are already solo-able in a Drake, and certainly a Tengu or Nighthawk. Go have fun.

5. CCP shouldn't spend time on this; everybody knows that what they REALLY need to fix is Sov/Force Projection/niche-bittervet-issue-du-jour.
CCP has been chasing Sov balance in nullsec for the better part of a decade. Maybe it's time to ask: how's that going for them? Logins are up? Subscriptions at record levels? How much of their revenue is propped up by multi-accounts surviving on plex? How many unique players are behind those keyboards? How are their new player retention numbers?

I'm not saying that Expert Missions or any system like it will make CCP rival their competitors for millions of unique players, or that PVE should become EVE's focus. What I /am/ saying is that perpetuating EVE as a niche bigsov-pvp-centric game is not good for any of us in the long haul.

The intent here is to breathe some life into a stale game system and wake up the much maligned PVE playerbase a bit. The intent is to also not consume years of dev time to do so (i.e. so there's time to fix all the other stuff too). The approach is minimalistic and would allow reuse of existing code as much as possible.

6. If the rewards are the same as lvl4s, and I can solo lvl4s, then I'll just continue to do lvl4s (forming a group is a pain; I'd rather multibox/solo).
Some will of course choose that. The intent isn't to replace existing lvl4s at all; the two systems should coexist peacefully. Options are good.

Ideally, small ship combat would be more fun/exciting/challenging and some folks would tackle the content for that reason alone. The potential for bonuses based on risk taking (example: bonus for less tonnage on field) would hopefully outweigh the overhead of forming a real Fleet with real Players.

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