What follows is based upon a reply to a post on the EVE Online Jita FB group concerning a story about the B4R in-game player support channel. The story was titled ‘In a Universe of Backstabbers, These EVE Players Offer Support’.
It got me thinking about why EVE seems to have acquired a reputation as a game populated by ‘backstabbers’ - i.e. ruthless, treacherous predators who get their kicks by making other players’ game experience unpleasant, aggravating and frustrating. How did we get into this situation? What harm is it doing to the reputation and popularity of the game? And is there anything that can be done to repair the damage and make the game more appealing to potential players?
I rattled off a fairly lengthy reply to the post, sharing my honest feelings about the game and how I have seen it change, not always for the better (IMO), over the 10 years or so I have been playing, and from the perspective of a player who identifies primarily as an industrialist. (I actually have four omega accounts and 12 active characters.) I reproduce that post here, pretty much in its original form, and welcome comment and discussion on the points it raises. Given its general theme, which is an appeal to CCP to rebalance the game in order to create a more level playing field between industrialists and those who take pleasure in making our lives difficult (i.e. the aforementioned ‘backstabbers’) , I have given it the title…
A MANIFESTO FOR DIVERSITY OF GAMEPLAY
For we industrialists, gankers are of course annoying, and it’s no fun losing mining barges or haulers to those elements of the player community that we generally regard as a tiresome nuisance at best, and as shameless parasites and sadistic predators at worst.
But indies must nevertheless grudgingly admit that, by increasing the risk attached to non-combat activities, and forcing them to devise tactics and strategies to counter those risks, the existence of gankers does make the lives of indies a little more interesting and exciting - even if they also do mission running and even PvP themselves as well.
The problem comes when some gankers get it into their heads (as an alarmingly large number of them seem to have) that it is their right - indeed, even their sacred duty - to dictate how everyone else should play the game; i.e. like they do - just PvP, ganking, piracy and nothing else. There is something intrinsically intolerant, narrow-minded and frankly fascistic about saying “Be like us and live like we do or we’ll eradicate you!” After all, it is that mindset which, when manifested IRL, leads to the persecution of minorities, inter-religious conflict, ethnic cleansing and genocide.
One of the attractive things about EVE is the diversity of gameplay that it offers, which is reflected in the varied professions and career paths that players can choose to specialise in. This is why the game appeals to a wide variety of people. In fact, the player community of EVE is a veritable zoo.
And with actual zoos it is the variety of animals on display that pulls in the visitors. If we can liken indies to docile, peaceful animals like zebras, and gankers to aggressive, predatory animals like lions, then I think we can agree that a zoo full of zebras and nothing else would be quite boring. But a zoo full of lions and nothing else would also be quite boring after a while, too. Having a zoo with both zebras and lions would be more interesting, surely. And why not also have giraffes, monkeys, elephants and all the rest too? Then we’ll have a zoo that people would actually want to visit.
But the gleeful, sadistic zeal with which some gankers target and harass peaceful indies in-game, combined with the sneering, self-righteous condescension and abuse they frequently subject them to on player forums, and their obnoxiously arrogant - and very revealing - declarations of their ‘divine mission’ to drive all indies out of the game suggests that these gankers would like a zoo where the lions are let into all the other animal enclosures to prey upon all the docile, peaceful animals, until only the lions are left. It might liven things up a bit, to be sure, and could even increase the numbers of those types of visitors who are drawn to gore, carnage and ‘Nature red in tooth and claw’. But it would also no doubt discourage large numbers of potential visitors who are repelled by that sort of spectacle, and disgust other such actual visitors so much that they leave the zoo after only five minutes, never to return.
And what happens when all the docile animals have been slaughtered and eaten, leaving only the lions? Yup, things get very boring again. The prospect of the starving lions finally turning on, killing and eating each other might not be enough to draw in even the most bloody-thirsty visitors, and would certainly not appeal to the majority who regard the idea of a stagnating monoculture of vicious predators cannibalising each other as about as far from the ethos of a proper zoo, and the rich diversity of a natural ecosystem, as it is possible to be. The end result is quite inevitable; visitors stop coming and the zoo eventually closes its gates forever.
Many of us who identify primarily as ‘indies’ have suspected for some time that this is what has been happening to EVE, and what will be its ultimate, sad fate. We believe gankers and PvPers have been over-represented in the player community and on the CSM. And they have been very vocal and assertive - true to their natural personality type, perhaps - in trying to influence CCP’s decisions regarding the development of new game features and changes to existing ones.
The result of this is that the game has been gradually - but by now quite significantly - skewed in favour of the lions, to the disadvantage of the zebras. The recent nerfing of mining ships, which rendered mining operations less profitable and more vulnerable to ganking, is a perfect example of this; it is almost as if those changes were made at the specific request of miner-gankers and other anti-industrialist elements of the player community in order to encourage industrialists to abandon mining activities or simply leave the game. Industrialists could be forgiven for concluding that the lions have, in recent times, been running the zoo.
It is true that people have cited statistics seeming to show that player numbers have actually increased following releases that appear to favour PvP and ganking activities at the expense of other more peaceful forms of gameplay. But what if this is just the boost in numbers of the blood-thirsty type of visitors who are drawn to gore and carnage? What about the numbers of potential players who never joined the game because they were put off by this same element? Obviously, there is no way of capturing the statistics of those who decided not to join the game because of its seeming emphasis on aggressive styles of gameplay. But this invisible opportunity-cost may be more significant than some people - including CCP - might want to believe.
And PvPers and gankers are perhaps by nature rather fickle in their interests and easily bored, more motivated by quick thrills than long-term, delayed gratification, and so they might not stay as long in the game as those players - e.g. indies - who find many types of activities interesting and rewarding in the longer term, and regard just blowing stuff up as a very ephemeral and superficial buzz. I know this from personal experience; many of my IRL friends and erstwhile fellow EVErs left the game quite quickly after joining, because they were only interested in PvP and ganking, and so quickly exhausted everything the game had to offer them in terms of constant novelty and new challenges in that particular area.
Are gankers and PvPers, like the lions who took over the hypothetical zoo, going to be the death of EVE?
I present as evidence for this premise the fact that CCP recently opened up the game to free gameplay for alpha clones, no doubt in a (desperate?) bid to boost the number of paying player accounts when those alphas hopefully upgrade to omegas, and even more recently closed two of its offices and laid off 100 staff. Anyone care to join the dots here?
Maybe the lions have had it their own way for long enough, and we now need to foster a more diverse player ecosystem if the game is to survive.