Powergaming (or power gaming) is a style of interacting with games or game-like systems with the aim of maximising progress towards a specific goal, to the exclusion of other considerations such as (in video games, boardgames, and roleplaying games) storytelling, atmosphere and camaraderie.”

Since the good ship CCP steered away from the oncoming iceberg of customer dissatisfaction last Summer, it has become clear that a new course has been plotted. EVE Online has enjoyed a far more comfortable journey in recent months, with the recent re-focusing onto improving creaky systems and giving the decks a much needed polish. It is understood that the intention is to continue with this embellishment.

However, the new course plotted is now unclear. However fanciful, the previous destination of “ultimate sci-fi simulator” at least gave everyone involved something to look forward to/speculate on/bitch about (delete as applicable). Although the destination may still ultimately be the same, the route is certain to have changed now. Especially since the tiny waypoint destination of Incarna was found to be populated by a hostile native tribe of agoraphobic graphics-card eaters. The ship’s Captain and his command crew are understandably going to be far more cautious about sharing travel plans with their passengers for fear of building up too much expectation (again).

My concern is that after reaching for the stars and tripping over their own avatar, CCP may now become risk-averse, being content to simply follow the safe path of least resistance. With reduced resources after the 20% layoffs, is CCP’s primary means and method of reading “what the player wants” through the CSM, as discussed in The Squeaky Wheel of Player Power?

This is not entirely a bad thing, with the strong null-sec alliance representation there, CCP can get great feedback from individuals in-tune with tens of thousands of players. The problem is, all those players are from the same corner of the sandbox. Will this influence affect the focus and direction of EVE’s future development? If so, is it right that it should?

Some of the People, All of the Time

With much of the low-hanging fruit addressed, one of CCP’s stated development targets is to focus on Faction Warfare. In Crucible 1.1, the ability to introduce entire alliances into Faction Warfare was implemented. I’d be interested to hear from long-time Faction Warfare participants as to whether this is considered to be a good thing or not. My concern is that it may be indicative of a nullsec-lite trend.

Is the future of EVE one where every aspect of the sandbox is to be optimised for the use of null-sec alliances or equivalent sized meta-groups? Is the diversity of EVE’s player base to be abandoned in favour of a homogeneous environment that can only be enjoyed to its fullest extent by powergamers? If this is to be the case – and there are signs – I’d certainly like to know.

With this concern in mind, I attempted to get something out of “Ship’s Captain” CCP CEO Hilmar Pétursson on Twitter today:

Hilmar Veigar: Any highlights from the weekend #tweetfleet?

Freebooted: @HilmarVeigar We’ve been discussing the future development of EVE and the influence players may have. How would you describe the road ahead?

Hilmar Veigar: @Freebooted the road ahead is exciting and along the lines we have talked about publicly, fanfest is the moment to talk about it in details.

Freebooted: @HilmarVeigar Would you say the “exciting road ahead” is the safe road or the brave road? I look forward to hearing the details at Fanfest.

Given his artfully empty answer to my first question, I was not surprised that he did not answer my second. Maybe he was just busy.

Are You a Content Seeker?

Firstly, I would like to clarify my definition of “content seeker”. These are not necessarily just players who can be labelled and dismissed as “roleplayers” or “carebears” (although I’m sure the skim-readers will still assume that to be the case). There are many null- and low-sec combat pilots with an appreciation for the lore of EVE and the layers of immersion beyond the performance-obsessed powergamers.

From the perspective of a casual player or an outsider there is a beguiling darkness and a sense of wonder in simply moving through New Eden and being overwhelmed by the detail. Roleplayers certainly tap into that and build beyond it, but that is a niche within a niche. At the opposite end of the spectrum are the min/maxers for whom the enjoyment is in the DPS and the kill:death ratios. They don’t give a rat’s arse about the backstory.

The wider, middle area in this player spectrum is the new and/or casual players who have the overwhelming sense of “so much going on” because they are not yet judging and dismissing aspects of the game as we more established players are inclined to. They still have that sense of awe and wonder. To them, the fact that there are cadres of RPers out there somewhere pushing the storyline forward whilst conversely in the far-reaches there are thousands of null-sec soldiers participating in an endless grand bloodbath IS part of the immersion.

My point is that with the right marketing, both ends of the spectrum could be equally powerful motivators for people to get involved in EVE Online. However, presently only one end is being properly identified and exploited.

The Strangled Soul

Are there currently enough content-seekers to justify some more development resources to be thrown that way? Who knows? CCP Diagoras perhaps? However, I would say that if there is not, that would be down to CCP’s failure to adequately invest in that aspect of EVE Online. They have endlessly marketed their grand fleet battles, their “player-driven narrative” and the news-baiting grand cybercrimes. Meanwhile, they’ve sacked their IP manager, weakened the content and writing teams and are operating with a reduced-strength community team.

I appreciate that running an MMO is all about the subscriber numbers. It may be that the number of players who enjoy the less hardcore military aspects of EVE are too few too carry any real weight and it has to be accepted that imagination-bereft powergaming min/maxers are the future of EVE.

At what point does letting players generate their own content just mean lazy development strategy? Is EVE Online on its way to becoming a soulless World of Fleet Fights?

If EVE’s development were synonymous with the BSG story arc, we’re midway through Series 4 – Earth has been discovered, but it’s a desolate shithole and Adama needs to find a new long-term inspiration for the human race. Are you listening Hilmar?

[A Clarification for Null-Sec Players: Before you entirely miss my point and interpret this as a rant against large fleet fights, I would like to clarify that I understand sov-war has its own brand of story and excitement and is a jewel in EVE’s crown. My point is that I wouldn’t want EVE’s development to lose sight of the fact that there are other aspects to EVE that should not remain under-developed. I fear development is veering too far toward the appeasement of powergamers as a reaction to the Incarna rejection. I am not saying that nullsec concerns should not be addressed, simply that there should be a balanced approach.]

Further Reading

Aside from the comments beneath this article, the following responses and forum discussions have sprung forth from this blogpost.

  • Marc Scaurus responded intelligently with “The Arbiters of the Loudest Voices” on his blog, Malefactor (by Hugo Boss). 😉
  • Riverini syndicated the article on EVE News 24 (without the appended explanation for nullsec players) with should provide some entertaining comments.
  • Tikhon Fedorov bravely linked the EN24 version on the EVE-O forums and wrote his response there. Shitposting undoubtedly will ensue.
  • A surprisingly urbane and considered response came from the Reddit community. Mostly.
  • Also, encouragingly, CCP Affinity spoke up on Twitter:

Freebooted: Power Gamers vs. Content Seekers. Is EVE Online destined to become a soulless World of Fleet Fights? bit.ly/zVxo4U #tweetfleet
CCP_Affinity: @Freebooted I can assure you – no 🙂 Part of my team are content developers and they have a plan! #watchthisspace
Freebooted: @CCP_Affinity That’s great to hear, but those folks should speak up. I don’t care about DPS on the new triaged milk-float, I want immersion!
CCP_Affinity: @Freebooted we’ve only just had release planning – give things time to settle in 🙂 we will make dev blogs soon.