Editorials

Editorials
Aura is Aura By Any other Name

Steven Croop | 26 May 2009 13:42
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For all the chaff, teasing, and outright hatred that new players have to suffer through, initiates are just as essential an ingredient of any online game's lifeblood as veterans, and their experience as a new player is integral to the continuation of an online game's good health - especially subscription based MMOs. EVE Online's New Player Experience (NPE), the entrance to a world wholly controlled by the elite of well-established alliances, has long been criticized - primarily by new players - for being an inadequate introduction to a harsh world, to which older players respond with invective slandering the new generation and the "sissification" of the game.

Warranted or not, CCP has put great effort into the NPE in the years since I've joined the game, and I have no doubt that a new player's experience now would be entirely alien in comparison to mine. This effort's aim has been to bring neophytes into the fold of EVE's living, breathing world; no easy task, considering that the galaxy's heart races along to the beat of a hummingbird's. Action on the behalf of new players is more likely to open up debate rather than settle it, and now factions wonder ceaselessly whether EVE is being softened, its values compromised in a deal with the bumbling, Ibis-bound devil.

For all the hemming, hawing, and hullabaloo over tutorial and character creation renovations that give new players an edge that veteran players didn't have, it is a disproportionate amount of attention paid to a relatively small fraction of the greater NPE. As there is no cordoned newbie zone in EVE, the NPE gradually fades into learned game-citizenry with the passing of time. The abrupt physical injection into the full game world takes place at the finalization of character creation instead of at the border of a protected environment, meaning that new players - after learning a few basics - acclimate to the reality of the game according to their own pace and capability, instead of being forced to conform to a developer's opinion that players cannot experience the entirety of the game world until a certain point, say, Level 10. This assumption can fail on two fronts; first, that the player isn't ready at Level 9 but is at Level 10, and second that the player is ready at Level 10, instead of Level 11. Such are the problems inherent in drawing a line that everyone must cross at the same time.

The problem that newbie isolation does fix is veteran interference. EVE, by contrast, throws this caution to the winds and allows the full range of player interaction from the start. Each approach is for better or worse. In EVE, new players are sheltered from none of the tricks of the trade and unadulterated maliciousness - can flipping, scams, and misinformation - in an experience that weeds out the weak instead of convincing as many people as possible to stick around to pay the subscription fee. This facet of EVE's NPE has gone unchanged since the beginning, and that is why the game has never been softened for any player no matter how many iterations of tutor-bot Aura's dangerously sedated voice the generations have sat through. The strong are allowed to surge ahead to triumph from the very beginning while the weak realize EVE isn't for them, or settle into a boring hi-sec livelihood and complain about the Privateers.

This is evidenced by the fact that new players generally go through all the same growing pains, no matter the generation of tutorial and character creation they were raised in; Kallion, a friend's character, bought his first cruiser in a two- or three-week timeframe after being created, and proudly piloted it straight into a low-sec doom the next day. Cyberflayer did exactly the same thing two and a half years later, and another friend - Aetherburn - would do the same over a year later. We'd all been told about the dangers of low-sec space, but we had to experience it first-hand. We were similarly awed at each of our first large-scale fleet battles, though they all took place under different auspices - some in null-sec alliance actions, others in Factional Warfare. The subsequent feelings of amazement, curiosity, confusion, resentment, and foolishness that we were not prevented from exploring - regardless of how the superficialities of the NPE had changed - helped us decide we wanted more.

It is the things we're not taught about, what we're not shown in the tutorials that we are compelled to explore. If the EVE world were handed to us piecemeal, if we were comfortably acclimated to each scenario we might face out in the starry sea in an isolated microcosm, the galaxy would hold no wonder for us. We are driven by the hinting, flashing grin of the unknown. The sublime ingenuity of EVE's New Player Experience will be preserved so long as new players are left physically unrestricted, and thrust into mean, brutish reality without any illusions to suspend them. Then they can make sand castles for others to knock down, and the inherent nature of EVE will remain unchanged no matter how the surface world of tutorials, bloodlines, starting skills, and attribute distribution shifts.

Steven Croop plays EVE Online under the moniker Cyberflayer. He has an obsession with character creation for the sake of creation.

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