Monday, May 26, 2014

Career Agents for PVP - A step-by-step guide

The tl;dr is
-There should be a career agent for PVP which walks players though building a simple pvp frigate (like a brawling frig) similar to the current military agent but...
-It should involve real pvp experience via the duel system
-New players should be directed in the career agents--somehow--to the eve recruitment page and the community spotlight organizations where they might find, e.g., pvp corps who help newbies.
-They should also be notified about faction warfare, and FW should potentially be opened to players and perhaps should involve boosted insurance payments for ships lost (so as to reward PVP but not exclusively winning at PVP in FW)


One thing I have learned from recent reports about new players entering EVE—such as the new player experience presentation at fanfest—is that, statistically, the vast majority of new players enter EVE 1) after hearing about some highly publicized PVP event, such as a major fight in null, and 2) join EVE hoping to at least see about taking part in similar content.

Some of my current friends in EVE joined right after B-R, and that was explicitly why the gave EVE a try. Their goals were framed around taking part in such content. Few of those new players I met (who've also stayed with EVE) still have "be in major null sec fights" as their goal (though some of them do—e.g., one just joined one of the major null sec blocs after beginning training in their fleet doctrines starting as early in his first month of playing), but it is clear that taking part in PVP is a primary reason for trying out EVE.

Here's another example. Today, the new player systems were unusually populated. This likely has to do with the combination of it being a holiday for some players, the end of school for others, and from EVE being featured on the humble bundle right before. I was restocking items I sell in some new player stations and found a group of new players dueling and chatting about it in local. Other new players in system got interested, and a conversation ensued about fittings, tactics, and how to go about dueling, etc. One day old player had built his Atron largely out of parts he acquired from the players he destroyed, which was cute. Sadly he lost the ship eventually, but seemed to have a fun time doing so. This was pretty encouraging to see, and I wished at the time that this experience they were having could be more than a mere accident.

As the statistics of new player paths in EVE presented at fanfest suggest, these anecdotes about new player goals are the norm, and the people who enter EVE for the “PVE” are few and far between. After all, monumental “PVE” accomplishments of EVE have never been featured in main stream media, and I doubt anyone has ever started EVE by saying either that they heard it has a great mining system or that they are enticed by the possibility of running the same handful of PVE missions for the next few years and learning how to do so afk while playing DOTA. (I happen to think the PVE in EVE is far better, for some player types, than its terrible reputation deserves, but that's another topic.)

As is also pretty well recognized though, new players do not have great systems in place for even starting the path to making those goals a reality. The players who stumble on the duel system—and without getting baited by an older player—are few and far between, as are those who manage to piece together tactics for successful PVP. In the first days of playing, they are presented with a set of career agents which suggest that 1) their goals will be provided for them by NPCs—that EVE is not as much of a sandbox as they may have heard, and 2) that the available “career” paths in EVE actually involving fighting NPCs in highly structured, scripted environments, much like every other MMO on the market.

These career agents—even the “combat” ones—do not necessarily teach skills relevant for PVP, nor do they even usually teach skills necessary for PVE in EVE. Something needs to be added in the new player system to better help this vast majority of new players both learn the basics of PVP and learn how to get involved in PVP after the tutorials.

Of course, we can day dream and imagine some pretty amazing ways of having a new player PVP tutorial, but they would very likely take up a massive amount of developer time if seriously implemented. And, as a result, they probably won't be implemented.

So our goals are to come up with a new player PVP tutorial which fits into the current career agent system, consisting of a set of training missions which both teach the player the basic elements of PVP and rewards them with the basic ships, skill books, and modules needed for PVP. The tutorial should:

  1. Teach the basic elements of fitting a ship (most likely, a frigate) for PVP.
  2. Teach the basic methods of PVPing in such ships.
  3. Actually involve some type of PVP, so not just involve fighting rats.
  4. Direct the new player, upon completion, to different PVP organizations and systems within EVE.
  5. And finally, the tutorial should take up as little dev time to create as possible. So nothing fancy, and ideally nothing that would require the programming of an entirely new system in the game.

The importance of goal 5 should not be underestimated and it structures every one of my suggestions to follow.

Teaching Skills

We can model much of the PVP tutorial on the existing career agent tutorials (particularly the military career agent) which are not ideal but they'll have to do unless massive dev time is going to be spent. The majority of the missions will be straight forward, step by step instructions on how to fit a ship for PVP. To keep it simple, the tutorial should focus on brawling (kiting is probably a harder skill to teach a new player still getting used to the game's controls and environment). That includes 1) orbiting within the optimal range of the relevant type of guns/missiles and using an afterburner, 2) the importance of using a scram and/or web to pin the target, and 3) tanking a ship to its strength, rather fitting a random assortment of tanking modules. It can build on the foundation already present in the military career agent missions, perhaps with more explicit recommendations for using those skills in PVP rather than in PVE.

Real Experience

The key to this tutorial, though, is that it has to involve some type of PVP where these skills would actually be used. So, I suggest that toward the end of the tutorial, once the player has a sufficiently built PVP ship provided by the tutorial (e.g., an atron with blasters and ammo, afterburner, scram, web, and at least a damage control), the mission instruct the player to take this ship and request a duel from another player and attempt to destroy their ship upon acceptance. In the process, it can explain the difference between types of flags—e.g., the light blue flag indicating a limited engagement with another player where both can freely attack—and it can explain the use of the safety settings.

The player should be warned that if they choose to accept this mission and request to duel another player, they risk losing their ship if the other player wins, but they also face the possibility of 1) destroying the other player's ship and 2) getting to freely loot that player's cargo which happens to drop when they explode. Perhaps the players could also be instructed about the ability to look at the other player's biography and see their character's age, and then be given a recommendation to request to duel newer players like themselves.

The tutorial would be complete when the other player accepts the duel—so win or lose (or run away or dock) the player would get at least a potential experience in PVP. I also suggest that the tutorial give as part of its reward the same ship and all its fittings previously given, so that if a player loses the ship in the process of dueling they have a full replacement ready.

Some players and developers might be worried about new players requesting a duel from older players who will gladly destroy them—perhaps older players waiting for just such an opportunity. I find this a strangely paternalistic attitude in a game which is marketed in the mainstream press as one of the few games ever made where you can destroy (or have destroyed) anything you or anyone else flies. There are rules in place prohibiting players who want to grief new players in starting systems, for one, and these should continue to be enforced, obviously. However, given the fact that so many players start EVE on the basis of hearing about its PVP and wanting to experience something like that, one might—rightly, I think—begin to think that the new player system as it currently exists is a deliberate attempt to direct players into anything butPVP experiences with other players. Not a word of “PVP” is so much as mentioned in the new player experience, so it is no wonder so many go on to mission and mine and leave. Where, indeed, would they even find PVP if they wanted to? Where, furthermore, would they find rewarding PVP? 

Where to Find Rewarding PVP

That leaves one final requirement of the PVP career agent: it needs to direct them to player organizations and game systems which can teach the new player how to PVP. Here, my recommendations are blatantly clear:

There is a long-running debate about how CCP can direct new players to good organizations without “favoring” some organizations or putting themselves at risk should some continue to exploit players.
There is now a concrete solution to this problem: the community spotlight series. In doing a community spotlight, CCP has given public recognition for certain organizations—Brave newbies, RVB, and recently the smaller open university of celestial hardship, for instance—and rightly so, yet they give recognition and important information without explicitly saying new players should join these groups. Thus, the PVP career agent tutorial should direct the player to the series and indicate that many new player organizations are featured there. That gives CCP the ability to externally modify the list and add or remove organizations as needed.

Second, the new player tutorial should direct players, with a link, to the EVE forum recruitment page as a place to find current organizations involved in PVP who recruit new players.

The tutorial agent should then also direct new players to faction warfare. If you think about what it takes for a new player to engage in PVP in EVE, many of them are virtually unavailable due to the existing game systems. Should a new player go to low sec and PVP, they will either only fight much better pirates they can freely engage, or they will lose security status fighting non-pirates. Eventually, the latter bars them from high sec, where they are used to living and making isk. What's worse, almost every PVP system in EVE (open to new players) involves losing isk rather than making it—besides faction warfare.

So, I suggest that new players be directed to faction warfare in the tutorial and be encouraged to find FW corps to join on the forums. This raises a complicated issue. If players on the trial were directed to FW, they would either have to be told that, unfortunately, they could not do it on a trail, or the ban on new players doing FW in a trial would have to be removed. I am not exactly sure what justifies the ban on trials entering FW any longer. It is becoming harder to farm plexes in Kronos. Sure, it would exclude the new player from half of empire space, but they informed about this and consent to entering (and can leave at any time). There's a worry that existing players would repeatedly create trial accounts to farm FW for isk for their main account, but 1) there is still an inability to run a trial account and a regular account at the same time, and 2) there is already a general ban on players exploiting the trial system with possible bans if found, so I don't see this problem as a justification for removing a potentially worthwhile and relatively safe source of game play from new players.

Finally, I think FW should have an automatic type of insurance, where losing a ship to another player ship in FW gives you an automatic “FW insurance” refund for a decent portion (obviously no more than 100%) of the cost of the hull. This would be like an NPC version of a Ship Replacement Program that so many large corps run, and would reward PVP without exclusively rewarding winning as it currently the case.

What's clear, even if my suggestions are not ideal (they probably aren't), is that the current new player system in EVE does not cater to the real reason why many players enter EVE, and it is likely that any changes, even if not ideal, would be for the better.

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