Tuesday, October 27, 2015

New Player Acceleration

There's been a lot of stink about a particular dev blog. Before Vegas there was a lot of words written about it.  At Vegas there were eye rolls and groans from the crowd when it was brought up by CCP.

I had written the backbone of this post before going to Vegas, but got caught up with real life schtuff before I could finalize it.  Now that I'm back and have crashed on the couch after our return trip, I'll see if I can get an answer assembled.

Bottom line up front:  For the record, I don't like the idea of trading skill points.  Philosophically, I dislike things inserted into the game that devalue my time investment.  We talk about the economy having low inflation as being a good thing; I don't know why adding a feature that is effectively "skillpoint devaluation" could be argued as positive.  

Said another way:  I don't like the notion of giving the maximum benefit to the last guy to show up to the party.  

Moreover, I'm fearful that its a thought experiment gone wrong, that it won't actually solve the root cause to the retention problem.

Best I can tell, the logic goes like this: new player tries eve. New player trains a bit, skills complete fast, and things are fine.  Then, new player sees the (long) skill queue required to fly the "perfect skills" meta fit of the week, new player leaves in frustration.  Therefore long skill queues are bad and we should accelerate new players into competitive endgame capability.

It's that last logic leap that I take issue with.  That we should take a new player and accelerate them to catch everyone else.  So, I put forward two ideas:
  1. Character progression and empire building is a core foundation of EVE; short circuiting that process is too high a price to pay.
  2. There are other means to achieve the same retention goals.
To be fair, the word 'retention' doesn't actually appear in the Dev Blog in question.  That's me (and I guess the community) reading between the lines.  

But what to do with newer players as an MMO title ages is not a problem unique to EVE.  WoW has suffered from it, and sometimes dealt with it less than gracefully.  GW2 took great strides in its content to try to eliminate the gaps between maxlvl and lowlvl players where it could in its basic design.  Yes, comparing these games to EVE is apples and oranges in many respects, but the core problem is the same.

The approach I prefer is NOT to accelerate everyone to towards endgame.  Let character progression happen as intended.  Instead, I'd rather see attempts be made to pull endgame (however you define it) content to the left rather than pushing noobs to the right.  

This is kind of a subtle thing, so bear with me.  I want characters to grow and gain capability in the same way that they do today - but I also want the game to be more engaging and unfold in ways that newer players can tangibly participate and compete in.  Said another way:  give players ways to tackle content without pushing them to run missions and "level up and get ready" for whatever endgame they'd prefer to be playing.  See previous post about dynamic content and automatic difficulty scaling (and hopefully soon a Dev Blog regarding the same kind of content coming to an EVE near you) for examples of the type of Content the game could and should have.

Secondly, I'd rather see CCP spending some time looking at the social structures of the game and finding ways to support them.  Why do corps fail?  Why do people run content solo?  EVE has some amazingly engaged and active corps, but the successful few are the exception.  When I ran my own poll here, over half of responders said they are effectively in a 1-man corp.  In a massively-multi-player game.  Think about that.

If this change goes through, is it the end of the game?  No, probably not.  It's probably another feature I'll ignore and go about my normal business.  Some will take advantage of the feature, many will not. Maybe it'll be something I'll yammer at Dire about during breaks at EVE Vegas 2025 ... "remember before you could buy skill points??"  

And maybe that's ok.  But if that comes to pass, it might mean that CCP didn't actually solve anything, and introduced another feature (i.e. invested money) on the scrapheap of things that were supposed to ensure player retention, but didn't.  And until we can talk about "the Content problem" in past tense, I don't think we can talk about "the retention problem" either.  First things first.


  1. Abavus,

    I pretty much agree with your breakdown but come to the exact opposite conclusion about skill point trading. Very possibly because I run through a different thought experiment when thinking about the situation.

    The Thought Experiment (and keep in mind this is a thought experiment only):
    In ‘optimal’ Eve, youngish player wealth acquisition and skill point progression would match up: the amount of time it takes to progress into a shiny new class of boats would closely match how long it takes to acquire the ISK for that boat. But of course nobody plays optimal Eve. Some youngish players’ wealth acquisition far outstrips their skill point progression while other youngish players’ skill point progression far outstrips their wealth. What skill point trading does is allows youngish individual players to balance out their particular game. If they are ISK heavy they can buy skills enabling them to put their ISK towards mitigating ‘I’m too young” limitations. If they are skill heavy they can sell off those skills for needed ISK thereby putting those “I’m too poor to use” skills to work. How delightfully sandboxy.

    On Retention:
    I remain cautious about claims concerning how this affects new player retention. Without doubt, some impatient young players will look at a long training queue, real money plex hop forward a few months only to die in a fire and leave in a “I wasted a bunch of cash” huff. At the same time, we already have players who patiently undergo months of training only to jump into a boat (or career), find they don’t like it and leave in a “I wasted multiple months of subscription fees” huff. I can’t say which is better or worse for retention. What I can say is that when I was reading the dev blog I saw lots of room to develop a new niche that players may partake in or avoid as they see fit. That’s a type of new content. Not one that greatly appeals to me and most likely doesn’t appeal to you but will appeal to some and that seems worthwhile to me.

    (Just now setting up a Google Account so I'm not sure how this post will look)

    1. Post looks fine to me. Welcome to the dark side. :)

      Your logic is reasonable. I'd be more on board with it if there wasn't a penalty for the skillpoints earned by the 80M+ crowd. Take away the notion of "accelerating noobs" and instead sell it as "skill point flexibility" and I might switch sides in the debate.*

      Tbh, most of my reservation is actually about actively accelerating one part of the playerbase into the other. Take that away, and I can shrug off the retention side of it, given everything else that's being worked on (caps, citadels, pve).

      *There are ramifications I'm probably omitting. But this is a coment, so I'm keeping it short.

  2. Since forever new players have had less skills than old players. We've trotted out the story about how skillpoints aren't what defines a players level. Skillpoints just give flexibility. It's knowledge and experience, it's player skills (not character skills) that determines at what level you will play.

    Now that they thinking about giving new players a way to close reduce some of the skillpoint gap, now suddenly the veterans are saying that giving skillpoints to new players is accelerating them. Surely it's just giving them "more flexibility"? It's not like they suddenly going to acquire experience and knowledge.


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