With the announcement of “Proving of Kybernauts for Glorification in the Flow Unfolds”, i.e., fully instanced PVP, certain members of the CSM have taken it upon themselves to sell this feature to the playerbase. Their arguments ignore the larger context of PVP and EVE gameplay; they claim that this is ‘just one more feature/try it before you criticize’, etc. The response, that instanced PVP is ‘un-EVElike’ is correct but also lacks context. It is not instanced PVP mechanics in and of themselves that are the problem, but what their introduction as currently envisioned means in the context of the changes to conflict-driving mechanics over the past several years. Simply put, the overall pattern of changes to the game means the gradual segregation of PVP into designated ‘zones’ (nullsec, lowsec, and arenas) while reducing it to near zero in highsec. The effect has been and will be a reduction in meaningful player interaction and overall player numbers.
Over the years, we have seen countless examples of highsec aggression nerfs: the killing off of can flipping via Crimewatch and gigantic ore bays, multiple wardec nrefs that resulted in the end of most small scale wardecs, etc. Each time, we have heard that the nerfs were needed to “protect new players” or “provide consequences for bad behavior”. Greater highsec safety was said to be a way to draw in more players so CCP would have more revenue with which to improve the game. After nearly ten years, what has the result been? Lower player counts, with each drop being heralded by a nerf to highsec aggression. This is the context into which instanced PVP is being released.
Most of the arguments surrounding instanced PVP have centered around whether the new arenas will reduce or increase the overall amount of PVP or the number of players engaging in PVP. More important, however, is not how these changes impact the quantity of PVP, but its quality. What does this mean? Player retention in EVE has historically best been driven by social interaction between players. The more social interactions a player has during a play session, the more likely they are to stick around and continue playing long-term. Recently, the developers have experimented with systems that habituate players into logging in and playing via various mechanisms (the login reward system is an example of this), but these cannot compare with the staying power of unscripted social interaction. As many players have put it, “Friendship is the best ship in EVE”. The mechanics that drive this type of player interaction and retention for new players in EVE are PVP mechanics in highsec , as CCP itself reported at Fanfest some years ago. It is not nullsec fleet battles nor lowsec ‘gudfites’ nor PVE ISK grinding that retain new players, but highsec aggression: ganking, wardeccing, theft, and the like. Why? Because these mechanics limit aggression while also allowing it to be potentially open-ended and unscripted, leading to the open-ended and unscripted social interaction that EVE thrives on. We can say, therefore, that such PVP is high quality in terms of potential for social interaction and player retention.
Instanced PVP is very different. It is closed-ended, having a set time limit; it is scripted, since both players know when and where they will fight and even the number and type of ship they will face. It does not encourage player-retaining social interaction beyond a bare few post-match messages at best. In the context of any other game, in which players are retained via habituation and regular infusions of new content, this would not necessarily be a bad thing. In EVE, however, anything that dilutes social interaction in this way damages the game’s social ecosystem. Considered alongside the many nerfs to highsec aggression, the introduction of instanced PVP is exactly the wrong kind of change. Rather than trying to ‘catch up’ in terms of what other games do well, CCP should be focused on improving and iterating on what EVE does well.