EVE Online

We Were Trained to Hate These Changes

Content of the article: "We Were Trained to Hate These Changes"

I wrote this post a while back, and have thought about posting it as change after change rolled by. Now that the discussion is shifting towards looking at these changes more holistically, it seems just the right time.

This essay began with me simply trying to answer the question: why do krabs seem more likely to threaten to quit than those in other playstyles? Here is my answer:

The current discussions about the “scarcity meta” are operating under a fundamental disconnection: what we consciously want, and what we are neurologically led towards. We have been trained to hate these changes, even if we have also been asking for them for years.

Surely, much of this rage is due to the feedback loop that is the EVE subreddit, but much of it is also real feeling that illustrates the fundamental challenge in which CCP has placed themselves over the last decade. In an effort to make EVE more accessible, they have trained their playerbase into a mindset I would call ‘antisocial entitlement,’ reducing attention span and player resiliency just as the videogame market is more competitive than ever; and furthermore reducing the social connections players have in favor of individual advancement. In short, CCP has trained us to accumulate rather than achieve. Now, as they try to rebalance the game, they are faced with a fundamentally opposed player mindset that they themselves installed.

Before I lay out my points, let’s get a few things out of the way.

Firstly, it doesn’t matter whether you think these are good changes or not. What I’m saying is about our reactions to the changes, not the mechanics themselves.

Secondly, I believe CCP’s well-worn platitude that “EVE inspires strong emotions,” while still generally true (why else would I write this post?!) obscures a lot of the damage they have done to their players’ mindsets.

Videogames have a chemical capacity to train us. In the same way that you would use treats with a dog, videogames give us calculated dopamine rewards to keep us playing, keep us progressing, keep us spending money. It used to be that videogames hooked a user by challenging them, triggering a dopamine release in the brain (which can still be addicting, as stated in the first paragraph of that article). Because dopamine is released proportionately to the struggle that is overcome, each level would get harder and harder, and the reward would increase in tandem to keep a player engaged. In contrast, the “modern videogame,” if you will, allows for more or less constant progression and keeps the player hooked with visually flashy rewards (damage markers, like in World of Warships, for example) or by increasing the amount of the reward itself, not so much the struggle to get it. So, while older videogames increased reward by increasing difficulty, new ones just increase the reward directly, making them more infinitely grindable for less development time, and ultimately more addicting. This is the fundamental difference between playing for achievement and playing for accumulation. It is a shift happening across the entire industry, and CCP is not exempt.

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Over the past several years, CCP has systematically increased iskflow from most major sources, while reducing the barrier for entry with skill injectors, citadels, and sov reworks, among others. Part of this is increasing the actual faucet—anom respawn mechanics, rorquals mining versus hulks—but another part is increasing the functional iskflow, largely by increasing safety drastically. We must be aware, while turning the dials on ratting ticks, they are also turning dials in our brains. Increasing iskflow is their way of following the above trend in gaming, providing more reward with less challenge, making the game more addicting in a shallow way, and less engaging in those deep and meaningful ways that make EVE players feel like they have a secret over the rest of the gaming world.

Perhaps the most direct result of this has been that player progression is now a measure of wealth and assets, not knowledge and exploits. While there are always exceptions—Katia Sae, for example—the general culture and the discourse used by EVE players has swung to evaluating progression based on assets, not achievements—a trend reflected in the countless comments I’ve seen over the past few days about “little alliances catching up,” as if what they own is the only measure of their ability to succeed or compete in game. (There are plenty of wormhole corps who have success without any supers at all, but they don’t subscribe to the simple measurement of wealth as success.) Perhaps then we shouldn’t think about pvpers and krabs but about achievers and accumulators, however they do what they do. (Yes, I do think pvp gatecampers count as accumulators too.) This leads us to the actual answer to my question: Why do accumulators seem more likely to threaten to quit than those in other playstyles?

If player success is measured in what we do with our assets, and those assets are threatened, we will find another way to do what we do. Our success has been made harder—we have been pushed to the next level, in oldschool terms—but it hasn’t been fundamentally removed.

If player success is measured by assets alone and those assets are threatened, we will feel as though someone has reset our progress; our gameplay will be fundamentally threatened, our achievements literally removed, and we will be rightfully angry.

This difference is perfectly encapsulated in the famous blackout meme, in which the hunter’s gameplay is based on actions, the krab’s on assets. The hunter’s gameplay is made harder but not fundamentally threatened, so they try to find a way around. The krab’s assets are threatened, and it is a fundamental threat to their existence as an EVE player, not just to their playstyle.

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That’s not a critique of the accumulator, however. My whole point is that they were lured into that mindset by bad game design. That’s not to praise the achiever either—they’re just struggling and inventing the way we all used to, and we have seen too many of them get burned out and quit after enough punishing changes. Another way to look at this dilemma is that EVE historically creates a different kind of gamer than other games, one who buys in for massive struggle for massive reward. The krab, in this meme, has been turned into the kind of player other games have, who seeks in EVE what they can get elsewhere. The hunter is a quintessential EVE player, who, no matter how hard their playstyle gets, still can’t get that feeling anywhere else. Neurologically, one can quit and one can’t.

Of course, either player can still quit. But Blackout, while a total design failure, still does illustrate how it took a decade to shrink the achiever mindset down substantially, and a month to shrink the accumulator.

Despite CCP’s rhetoric that “EVE is cruel but fair” and “Everything in EVE dies at some point,” and on and on, they have trained us over the past years, using isk and assets to trigger our brains’ reward systems more cheaply and fleetingly than real achievement, into a mindset of entitlement. Entitlement for safety, entitlement for the status quo. Entitlement to our sovereignty, so that invaders make us angry rather than excited. The list goes on and on. This has been like the Halo series trying to be COD (Reach, 4…) and losing its identity in the process. In this case, EVE’s problem is not a loss of identity, nor a loss of playerbase—it is the metamorphosis of its playerbase into one trained not to accept the changes that are needed for the game’s long-term health. How else could this sub have spent half a decade crying for these exact changes, and then turn around and screech bloody murder? What we consciously want and the way it subconsciously feels have been led into complete disconnection by years of irresponsible game design.

That’s my analysis. What’s my opinion? Two things can be true at once, try to hold both in your head, or at least flip between them very quickly, like an

CCP did this. They didn’t just break their game, they broke their playerbase. They broke our mindset and mentality, and rewrote the fundaments of why we log in. Fuck them forever for that–for exploiting the landmark achievement that is EVE, for nearly killing the game in the process, and most of all, for abusing our trust and endangering our most vulnerable community members.

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But also, we need to grow the fuck up. Look, you like this game or you don’t. But it should be about liking the game, not your stack of isk or minerals. You could get that feeling anywhere. The really unique thing EVE has to offer is that just finding a way to be in this world can be its own reward. So get your shit together, undock, go see some sights or make a bookmark pack or roleplay, try something new, and if you can’t handle that, you were going to unsub at some point anyway. o/

Source: reddit.com

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