I really have to give it to the creators of EVE Online—they developed a rich, engaging universe in which players can play, with interwoven story-lines, histories, and mythology spanning a number of empires past and present. The idea of near-immortal space pilots flying around the galaxy, employees of massive interstellar corporations, truly drives the imagination and both provides enough detail to inform a deep sense of world-building and leaves enough unsaid that players can have or make their own path.
What I think is important to note, however, is that while I genuinely enjoy EVE Online, I don’t particularly like the game of EVE Online.
What I mean by that curious phrase is that I find the atmosphere, the setting, and the characters therein to be compelling and worthy of investigation and exploration. I think the environment is rich with story on both the grandest scales and in the small, interpersonal conversations that could take place between pilots and station crew. Unfortunately, I find the mechanics of actually playing EVE Online incredibly mind-numbing, and while I have been at times tempted to reinstall the game, especially now that it’s possible to do so free-to-play, diving deeper into the memories of the game and the long, lengthy hours doing little but clicking on space rocks pulls that desire up short.
While CCP is consistently creating new content, and I think they have done a very good job in balancing supply, demand, and the logistics of extrasolar supply chain management, I never found flying by my own to be particularly rewarding; even if in the attempt to generate story ideas, the gameplay was far too grindy for my tastes. It was far cheaper to buy materials off the market than it was to mine, craft, or invent them myself, which meant the only way to feel like I was getting ahead was to have a sugar daddy or other means of supporting myself.
When I flew with a large in-game corporation of more than 40,000 individual pilots, they recognized the struggle to improve and advance was very real for new players. In order to help push them toward exciting or fun content, there were almost constant fleet operations or missions, congratulations and recompense if your ship was blown up during a skirmish, and even late-night “suicide fleets” where the purpose was to fly out in the smallest ships possible and see how long we could last as a swarm before being exploded. All in all, the corporation leaders understood what made the game interesting, and allowed pilots to explore and enjoy themselves with those elements. For those who were interested in logistics or materials production, keeping the war effort going, there were plenty of jobs for them too, but these weren’t the main draws for most players right out of the gate.
Eve Online, from the ground up, is a non-stop arena of player-versus-player combat. That isn’t to say that every star system is a grand melee, but rather that almost everything in-game is shaped by supply and demand. Very little in the open markets is produced or supplied by the game itself; almost every market is self-sustaining with player buy and sell orders in nearly every outpost across the galaxy. There are even specific skills a character can learn to reduce trade fees and management costs, so as to eke out just a bit more profit when transferring goods between locations. Market capitalism is a foundational part of the experience, so much so that the game has the nickname “a CFO’s Screensaver” because someone could spend all of their game time analyzing markets and finding the right time to buy or sell.
Again, I’m deeply impressed with the rich lore, history, and development of the in-game universe, and am constantly impressed with the art that players have created as means of exploring it. Here are two examples of what I consider to be some of the best storytelling that players, not CCP, were able to put together using in-game assets. The first is a small snippet of in-game lore put to video, while the second is a three-part character-driven story about the life and times of a pilot in EVE Online.
If I didn’t need to work for a living, I believe I could afford the time to spend hours in the world of EVE Online, curating and developing character-driven stories set within the expansive universe CCP has created. There’s a real sense of community when grouped up with a formal corporation or alliance of other players, in a way that I simply haven’t experienced in other games. Perhaps it was the organization and size of the powerful force with which I flew, but perhaps it was also the systems and mechanics put in place to encourage such playstyle.
When EVE is good, it’s the best game ever made. When it’s not, it’s the worst game ever made.
Back when I played I often described the game thusly. In those heart-pounding moments where you’re lying in wait to spring an ambush, or trying to nurse your critically-damaged craft back home through light years of enemy territory, or erecting your very first space station, the game has provided more adrenaline and satisfaction than almost any other game I’ve played. Unfortunately, those moments are not very common for most players, leading to hours of tedium interspersed with moments of excitement.
While the former is certainly fun to reminisce on and remember, I have to remind myself that the latter is the far more common experience. Still though, I find myself with some frequency considering reinstalling the game, perhaps in hope to relive some of the fantastic times I had at the helm of a tiny ship in a big, big world.
Header image from promotional material provided by CCP, creators of EVE Online