Thursday, September 8, 2011

New Player Wrap Up

Dirk turned on the car wipers, which grumbled because they didn't have quite enough rain to wipe away, so he turned them off again. Rain quickly speckled the windscreen. He turned on the wipers again, but they still refused to feel that the exercise was worthwhile, and scraped and squeaked in protest.
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We're finally here folks.  It took me all of a single day to play through what has taken three weeks of posting for you to get caught up on.  You're tired of it.  I'm tired of it.  This is a generally bitter and angry post which I'll apologize for upfront.  It's also filled with some extremely constructive criticism and hopefully someone from CCP is out there listening.

Getting Some Perspective

First thing's first, I want you the reader to understand some of what's been going on when I wrote all this.  The entirety of the posts you've  been reading for the past month or so were written over the course of a single day while I ran through the NPE.  Once that was all out of the way, I got a bit distracted by Pew Pewing in Lowsec and so I didn't write this post until three weeks later.  This gave me some time to reflect on what I had experienced, what I had written, and what that all meant.

One thing that came up that I wasn't expecting was Marc over at Wanderlust would be doing almost this exact same thing.  It was interesting to read someone else's thoughts on the whole process, and while I didn't have any bias from reading his opinions when I wrote those earlier posts, the same can't be said of this one.  Getting a second opinion on some things that I considered wrong with the NPE also confirmed a lot of those thoughts.  None of that is necessarily a bad thing, but it's worth noting.

The other thing I've had time to experience is the Rookie Help channel in all it's glory.  Three weeks of seeing the same questions come up over and over again has led me to two conclusions.  The first is that I'm far too easy on CCP anytime I threw out qualifiers like, "I can see how this might be confusing" etc.  Every single minor nitpick that I almost felt bad for bringing up over those posts is absolutely confusing genuinely new players.  The other thing this has made me realize is that CCP can't possibly have spent time gathering feedback from new players on what needs to be improved.  It's like they came up with the entire process in a vacuum.  If they did gather feedback, I guarantee it came from players that made it through the process with little trouble because the ones that got hung up on something and never made it past their first day probably responded with "Fuck you, CCP!  Your game is terrible."  With that out of the way, on to my thoughts.

Do You Play Your Own Game?

That's a question that I've seen asked plenty of times.  I've never been more serious than when I pose it again here.  I've pointed out dozens of extremely minor changes that could be made to the NPE to improve it in these posts.  Any competent game designer could have reached the same conclusions by simply playing through it as it's intended, and yet they've remained unchanged for over a year.  As the entire Career Agent chain can be run through in only a few hours to identify these problems, this becomes the very definition of Low Hanging Fruit.  

You know that graph of EVE's Learning Cliff?  You know the one I'm talking about.  I'm not even going to bother posting it as the joke has worn thin to me during my time in EVE.  The reason for that being that the graph isn't accurate at all.  EVE is not complicated.  Most of the processes in the game are straightforward.  Once you understand them.  The problem with learning something new in EVE is that it's not presented anywhere in the game.

I just take it for granted that if I want to know how to do something in the game, I search Google for a guide. There are two problems with that approach to game design.  The first being that it's completely unintuitive.  You assume that you can figure out how to play the game from inside the game, and you end up completely behind the power curve.  Can anyone here honestly say they could have sorted out R&D, or Planetary Interactions, or Invention, a POS, or any of a dozen other game systems for themselves from inside the game?  A game that can't be played by playing the game isn't complex, it's just obtuse.

The second problem, and one I've only really recently begun to realize/become irritated with, is the sheer volume of incorrect information out there about EVE.  I touched on that briefly in my post about gate-camps, which was written purely as a reaction to someone spreading false information and labeling it a guide.  The biggest source of help for new players in EVE is the Rookie Help channel in game.  For those of you unfamiliar with it, the channel is available only to accounts less than 35 days old, GMs, and the volunteer ISD Star team.  In case you haven't yet figured out what the problem is with this, let me give you a hint and tell you that the vast majority of the time there are no GMs or ISDs in this channel providing help.  The rest of the time, it's the blind leading the blind.  The sheer volume of blatantly incorrect information that's being passed on to new players in this channel is truly astounding and all it takes to realize that's what's going in there is to spend a little time in it.

Fundamental Change

By now you're probably thinking that I've spent an awful lot of time complaining.  I know that's what I'm thinking, but I'm also thinking that complaining is the easy part.  So I'm finally going to offer some solutions to the problems I've seen over the last three weeks.  I'm offering this freely, out of some misguided hope that someone from CCP might just pick up on it and run with the ball.

The first thing the NPE needs is a design document.  For someone to sit down and do the extremely boring job of writing down for all future CCP Devs exactly what needs to take place when writing a career agent mission.  I've already mentioned what I consider to be the best system for it in another post, but I'll repeat it here.  

Step 1.  Grant the player a Civilian Module for use within this mission only.

Step 2.  Give the player a tutorial on the use of this module.

Step 3.  Send the player on a mission that uses this module.

Step 4.  Reward the player with the appropriate skillbook to use the non-Civilian version of the module.

Step 5.  Reward the player with a Time Bonus of ISK appropriate to the mission difficulty and time to complete.

This very simple guideline will resolve a number of problems the current implementation has.  The first of those is flow.  Now, when I use that term here what I mean is that these first steps for a player should be uninterrupted.  The reason being that you're trying to convince someone completely new to the game that they are going to enjoy what your game is offering, and the best way to lose that person's attention is to tell them to come back in 27 minutes once they've trained the appropriate skills.  

Don't get me wrong, I absolutely love EVE's real-time skill training, but if you've fired up the game for the first time on a lazy Sunday afternoon the last thing you should be told is to "Go away and come back later."  Because you haven't actually sold them on your product yet, there's no guarantee they will come back.  You can string players along with carrots once you've actually got them hooked, but starting off you need to make sure they're able to do everything you're asking of them.

That brings me to second problem with the current NPE, not providing people the tools to complete it.  I've already mentioned my aggravation with Propulsion Jamming and the Hull Upgrades skill, so I don't think I need to explain those examples explicitly (Seriously.  Sort that shit out CCP.).  What I do want to explain is the need for another explicit rule in those design documents that needs to tell Devs to provide everything a player needs to complete the NPE within the tutorials or missions themselves.  

While it may seem trivial to you or me that you need to purchase the Industry skillbook to go through the Industry tutorials, it's not trivial if you don't have the ISK for it.  EVE is a sandbox after all, and there are a myriad of ways a new player can misstep and end up flat broke on their first day.  Maybe they purchased the only Stasis Webifiers available in their station for 300kisk because a tutorial told them to, maybe they panicked when someone targeted them on a gate and fired after auto-targeting back losing their only ship to CONCORD, the reason doesn't matter.  What does matter is that it is happening, leaving players begging in Rookie Help for 20kisk to purchase some skillbook or module they need to proceed.  When players respond by reminding the new player of the channel's No Begging policy, they're now simply stuck.  Unable to proceed in any way they know how, and abandoning EVE as a game that's just not for them.

Superficial Change

Recommendations for how the NPE should be approached on a fundamental level out of the way, I've also got some suggestions on things that need to be changed within the Careers themselves.  I understand that these things could be argued against, either out of a natural resistance to change or some other reason that hasn't occurred to me, but I still think all the suggestions here are sound.  Take 'em or leave 'em, but at least understand them.

First up is the current Military career.  It feels completely out of place within the rest of the NPE.  The examples of this are many; the Rewards are greater, the difficulty is greater (both in the number of ships and their types as they're the only missions consistently pitting you against non-Rookie NPC Frigates), mission critical information is given in Local instead of through Pop-Up Dialogs and probably more that doesn't immediately spring to mind.  One other thing that makes these missions feel different is the writing.  It's absolutely the most engaging thing in the NPE.  That alone makes it worth saving, and is the reason I don't just recommend pulling it out and redesigning from the ground up.  What it could use is a healthy dose of re-balancing, as the mission difficulty and rewards are often greater than Level 1 missions and yet are likely to be run when a player is only an hour old.

If (and I do mean If with a capital I) you want to keep them at the same level of Risk v Reward, then the least you can do is warn the player.  The naming convention of Military and Advanced Military Careers are completely out of balance with the reality of the situation.  It might be more appropriate to label the Military Career as the Mission Running Career with the Advanced Military Career serving as an introduction to PvP Mechanics.  That change alone, with a fair warning up front that the Mission Running Career missions are more challenging than the PvP ones, would go a long way towards not making your new players give up in frustration.  One other minor note, the final reward of the Military Career is a Tier 3 Frigate (the ones requiring Racial Frigate III) while Advanced Military gives out a Destroyer.  For a new player pursuing these paths as Mission Running vs PvP, I'd argue the Destroyer is more useful in continuing to run Level 1 Missions while the Frigate would better serve a player wanting to continue to PvP.

The final thing that needs to get some serious overhaul lovin' has got to be the Business Career.  To illustrate, I imagine the Pre-Production meeting for it played out something like this...

Dev 1 - So...shouldn't we have a tutorial for the market somewhere in all this?  I mean, it is pretty complex after all.
Dev 2 - You're right.  OK, we'll create a fifth Career Agent and call it Business.  Sound good?
Dev 1 - Umm...sure.  But what missions does it give you after the one that explains the market?
(Chirping Crickits)
Dev 2 - I guess...some...umm...courier missions or something?

That pretty much sums up what the Business Career currently represents.  It's a little bit of mining, a little bit of combat, a little bit of hacking, a little bit of manufacturing, and finally a couple of token missions to purchase something off the market as an excuse to run the Market Tutorial.  Unlike the Military Career, this did not have the saving grace of compelling story to redeem it and I can't recommend enough that it simply be removed entirely.  "But," you'll say, "We still need somewhere to stick the market tutorial."  I'm on it.

What the New And Improved Business Career™ can be is the introduction to Passive Income in EVE.  Write tutorials and missions for activities like R&D Agents in which the skills required are explained and the player is sent to a nearby system to talk with an agent thus receiving a Civilian Datacore to turn back into their Career Agent.  Grant the player a Command Center and explain to them how to start their first 15 minute extraction cycle with a later mission requiring the extracted products be turned in.  Explain more than simply how to buy something off the market and have missions to set up both a Buy Order and a Sell Order for some token amount of Tritanium, or even some invented Civilian Product and have a Script running every fifteen minutes or even during Downtime to fill those orders automatically.  Explain to the player ahead of time that Passive Incomes aren't get rich quick schemes and that they'll need to wait around a while before they can complete them.  Encourage the player to start these missions first and run others while they wait.  It doesn't matter how you get it done, just get it done.

Businessmen in EVE, the real Businessmen in EVE anyway, are making Billions in Region trading without ever undocking.  There's a massive Gameplay and Story Segregation present in the current Business Career missions.  The story is that you're should join this career if you want "to sit in a leather executive chair, smoking a cigar and counting your billions as the proletariat does the real work," while the gameplay is that you play fetch for an Agent.  I understand that some of the gameplay mechanics and startup capital are a little out of reach for a NPE, but at least give the player a glimpse behind the curtain.  Make the player spin their ship for a while (Oh wait...) to make the ISK, but provide them with some serious rewards for setting buy orders for your made-up Civilian Product for pennies on the dollar of what they can sell it for the following day.  Show them that there exists the possibility to buy modules for a tenth of their cost through aggressive Buy Orders and you at least open their eyes to the possibilities of Business as a career in EVE.  What you have now are just a group of fetch-quests that are completely unrelated to the Business Career as it actually exists in EVE. 

That's All Folks  

I'm so over the NPE at this point that it's not even funny any more.  I feel like I just volunteered my services as an un-payed playtester or something.  Well, hopefully CCP got their money's worth (see what I did there?) out of me on this one.  Hopefully you too, dear reader, got something out of all this.  Even if it was just a new level of resentment for EVE Online.    

OK, so that came across a little angry.  Allow me to explain a little about where that feeling is coming from.  For me, during the recent outrage over what has been dubbed Monoclegate (I always preferred the Monocle Lewinsky scandal, but it didn't catch on), I often found myself tempering my own anger with the idea that a lot of it was resentment for an expansion that was focused on the New Player Experience, but didn't provide much for the Bitter Vet, just making them more bitter.  

As the author of a blog titled EVE FNG, you can probably understand why I was willing to cut CCP some slack over this design decision.  If they had truly produced something that was going to help new players with their transition into the incredible game that is EVE Online, I was willing to forgive a lot.  What I found when experiencing it for myself was not some wondrous redesign of a player's first days in EVE, but a revamp of the first 45 minutes of gameplay followed by the same poor design over the course of the Career Agents.  So yes, in fact, I am a bit angry.  I can't help but feel like I was lied to.  Sadly, I won't be the one suffering because of the current state of EVE's NPE, it will be all those potential New Subscribers out there and that, ladies and gentlemen, is the real crime that was committed during Incarna.




  1. I'm one of the new players, I only started Eve about 1½ months ago and I can't really count the number of nails you've hit spot on the head in this post. During my first month of Eve I think I've spent at least as much time on forums and eve wikis as in the game, trying to learn how everything works.

    The first time I entered space, I was pretty much lost. In one of the first Aura missions I got my ship blown up somehow (don't recall what stupidity I pulled off) and had no Isk left to buy a weapon. In the end I made a second character, ran through the all missions with that one and played that for nearly 2 weeks before I concluded that I had made a huge mess of his skill training. I ended up sending some Isk to my first character (which had a better name), finished the Aura missions and never completed the introductions.

  2. You are preaching to the quire, FNG. :)

  3. Thanks so much for this article series. Not only is it a great reference for any new player who may be googling for info... but hopefully it servers as a wake-up call for CCP.

    The best way to buff WH space, empire space, low-sec and null-sec at the same time is more new players.

  4. "I just take it for granted that if I want to know how to do something in the game, I search Google for a guide. " I totally agree with this. Maybe I'm a little slow but I've been playing for over two months now and almost every aspect of the game I expose myself too leads me to the internet searching for guides or youtube or when that fails I look for help on the forums.

    I've changed my focus several times looking for ways to avoid doing missions (but that's a whole different complaint) to fund my PvP and every new career I explore leaves me asking myself "Is all the research and trial and error worth it?"

    I guess I believe it is because I'm still playing but it does get discouraging at times being that I've been playing for two months and still just barely have a grasp of the basics.

  5. Couldn't agree with you more on this article.

  6. Good article FNG :) Two thoughts come to mind when I think about the NPE, whenever I've told my friends I play EVE, seen them play - and stop playing - over and over again...

    1, Would I recommend EVE to my friend?
    Yes, absolutely I would.

    2, Would I 'leave them to it' and see if they enjoyed the game?
    No, absolutely not. If I wanted a friend of mine to play EVE long term, I'd get myself on TeamSpeak with them for the first 14/21 days and make sure I'm there to help/explain/tutor whenever they became stuck.

    It took me 4 trial accounts, spread over 2-3 years before EVE really stuck for me and I started to play it properly. It wasn't until a RL friend put me in his corp, offered assistance, explained the ACTUAL game to me.

    This, for me, is where the NPE has always failed. And from reading your past articles, it seems like not much has changed :(

  7. I couldn't agree more. I've encouraged friends to join on a number of occasions, and so far only one of them has stuck it out past the new player experience. Even with me explaining and helping as much as possible, the NPE just isn't seen as fun. It largely ends up being a sort of frustrating reinvention of the MMO wheel for people familiar with other big titles. Eve being unique is undoubtedly to its credit, but that shouldn't justify its being abstruse (almost wilfully so, sometimes)
    I think your mention of the "EvE Learning Curve" as being profoundly unreflective of the core issues is bang on. It might feed the egos of people who want to hold themselves out as having mastered the game, or attractive to people who have something to prove, but as you said, the game ISN'T difficult, it's just inaccessible to the point where people conflate that with difficulty.