Unite casuals with the hardcore, don’t separate them.

Listening to the latest Drone Bay podcast, a thought came to me while listening to the ‘mail time’ section. A new player basically asked what he can do about older players having tons of money, and an inflated economy making it difficult to purchase better gear at reasonable prices. The response, which I agree with, was that in EVE inflation is not really an issue for most items, especially the early game stuff like frigates and cruisers. They also mentioned that EVE has multiple money sinks keeping the economy in check, chief among these being that ships blow up and are destroyed permanently, which happens very frequently in PvP.

This led me to thinking that generally PvP pilots tend to be the most hardcore overall players, the ‘raiding elite’ of most other MMOs. As EVE statistics have shown, the majority of players stay in Empire space and tend to do the PvE elements of the game, mission running or high-sec mining. The key to EVE’s amazing balance is that those Empire players (lets call them casuals) are not hurt by the ‘raiding elite’ PvP players, but in fact benefit from them. Ships and fittings need to be replaced; creating a demand for the goods casuals can produce either from mining or mission running. The PvP players benefit from the lower prices caused by constant supply from Empire players. A slowdown in either section would actually hurt the other, which is somewhat unique in the MMO space.

The almost direct opposite is the current balance in WoW, especially as that game attempts to shift towards PvP. The hardcore raiders are upset whenever Blizzard drops the difficulty to raid, or whenever new welfare items are introduced (like the new 70 blue set). The casuals are constantly upset that the game is tuned to the hardcore raiders, asking for easier access to raiding instances and complaining that PvP is unfair when they have to face characters in full high level epic gear. Whenever Blizzard helps one side, be it the hardcore or the casual, they seemingly hurt the other. Add a casual 5 man instance, the raiders will call it useless content. Add another raiding instance, the casuals demand content. More powerful PvP gear is introduced, the raiders get pissed. Useful PvP items found in PvE, PvP players get pissed. In some respects, no matter what Blizzard does, a large portion of their player base is going to feel slighted, more so than in most MMOs.

It’s a good lesson in MMO design however, that in order to really please both sides (casual and hardcore), its not about giving both sides equal development time, but rather making both side benefit whenever one gets a boost. Somehow a new top end raiding instance needs to benefit the casual crowd, and somehow new casual content needs to impact the hardcore crowd in a positive way as well. A game that provides such a base, like EVE, is going to have far less issue with its hardcore/casual divide.

10 Responses to Unite casuals with the hardcore, don’t separate them.

  1. sid67 says:

    Eve Online also has a Phd Economist. I wonder how much impact the Alan Greenspan of Eve plays in striking the economic balance you describe? My first reaction to it was that it seemed excessive, but in light of your description… maybe not.

  2. Graktar says:

    Agreed. That’s one thing I hope Warhammer Online is able to do better. There are hints of it already in that participation in even low level pve has an impact on the final tier pvp results, but I haven’t heard anything to rectify the whole ‘haves vs have-nots’ issue. I’ve never played EVE, but it sounds like it has an elegant balance. I’m not sure how a similar feat could be accomplished in character based fantasy game though.

  3. Neef says:

    Possibly, EvE’s elegant dynamic balance is because EvE is a big flow. Things come into the system, are processed/refined/destroyed by players, then they leave the system. You can tune the system by restricting, increasing, or redirecting flows and the game will eventually respond.

    Mainstream MMOs, on the other hand, are simply about accumulation. Because everyone is constantly accumulating, the scale of the underlying mechanics gets thrown out of whack. You get mudflation, haves who are increasingly outdistancing the have-nots. Or you get welfare, where the have-nots are getting a steady stream of freebies. The only thing they can really do is tune how FAST things get out of hand.

  4. syncaine says:

    You seem to separate EVE from mainstream games, but other than WoW, EVE is around the same size as all other games. If anything, EVE should suffer from greater mudflation since it is one giant server and not 100s of shards. The number of players impacting the economy of EVE each day is far and beyond any single WoW (or any other MMO for that matter) server.

    And I fully believe a fantasy MMO could establish a similar system of economic control that EVE has. The fact that EVE is a Sci-Fi game is not the reason it has a stable economy, but rather the underlying design principals put in by CCP.

  5. Neef says:

    When I say “mainstream”, I don’t mean to imply size – more that most MMOs are built on the “standard model” (level up, gear up, repeat ad nauseum). WoW, EQ, EQ2, LoTRO, DDO, DAOC – all those have much more in common with each other than they do with EvE.

    “And I fully believe a fantasy MMO could establish a similar system of economic control that EVE has.”

    I’d love to see someone map some of EvE’s concepts to a Fantasy MMO. To be fair, I think PotBS *was* heavily influenced by EvE, but they didn’t get it quite right. I’m also not sure how you’d handle high value assets like Titans (Giants?), or the ability to span the gameworld in 15 min while still being attackable (no teleport), etc.

    I’d play it if someone tried.

  6. Rick says:

    Syncaine, I think you’ve hit on one difference between a game and a world. WoW is a game, and Eve is a world. There aren’t enough options in the WoW game to strike the kind of hardcore/casual balance you’re talking about.

    Not that I’m trying to rip WoW, it’s a wonderful game. Blizzard purposely avoided a lot of the more difficult work of balancing a world, though. Crafting and the economy is rudimentary. It’s not terribly difficult to have characters that have multiple trade skills maxed. In Eve, you only have one character per account, and one character can’t effectively master combat, manufacturing, and trading skills.

    Eve has more depth in that regard. Star Wars: Galaxies had more economic depth. Problem with SW:G was the game portion pretty much sucked compared to WoW, right?
    I think Eve’s game components are better than SW:G, but it’s not nearly as accessible as WoW.

    Someone has to make a fantasy world with economic depth AND engaging gameplay. Please?

    @sid76, Eve’s resident economist is studying the Eve universe. He wasn’t working at CCP when the game was designed, so the balance isn’t due to him. He may have suggestions to tune it, and probably has good tools for studying it, but the underlying concept that works so well for hardcore and casual gamers wasn’t his design.

  7. sandboxgod says:

    One thing though to keep in mind even though some stats show many players are Empire its not accurate. It was done right before downtime I heard, when most pvpers jump clone into empire to train their stats up. I know I keep my most expensive implants on my Empire character and I JC to him before downtime.

    On my pvp character Im sticking to around cheap +2 implants

  8. sandboxgod says:

    Btw agree with this article 100% very well written stuff and so true.

    EVE Online even has RMT via timecodes and its economy is still awesome

  9. Botondus says:

    RMT via timecodes doesn’t impact the economy/inflation at all in EVE, because it doesn’t introduce new money (ISK) into the game. The ISK just gets transferred from one character to another.
    And the underlying principle why the economy works in Eve, is that you can actually lose permanently some of your items/accumulated stuff. Without something similar i don’t see how a healthy economy can be implemented.
    In a game like WoW you will always equip the best items you can afford, and once you get better items you have no use for them anymore. In Eve, you equip your ship knowing that you can lose it (and probably WILL lose it sooner or later), so you won’t spend a large portion of your assets on a single ship (unless your reckless).. so there’s always demand for the whole spectrum of items, not just the better ones.

  10. Swift Voyager says:

    Another reason the destroyable items help to keep Eve balanced between casual and hard-core is because people who have more time will have more stuff, but they will also tend to lose ships more often. The average casual player may not have much money in Eve, but they also don’t get out and lose ships as often as a hardcore player. I know that in my alliance there is an expectation for the players who fly expensive ship types to actually fly them while the newbies are asked to fly whatever they can in support roles. Eve players also have a tendancy to gift replacement items to new players when they lose their ships. When I first started playing Eve I was destroyed by kind pirates twice and then given more ISK than my ship/modules were worth at the time.

    There’s also no such thing as “the best gear” in Eve. A maxed out battleship can (and often is) beaten by a much smaller ship with the right gear to counter the equipment carried on the battleship. Therefore the player who can only afford to fly a cheaper ship can still stand a chance if he flies smarter than the next guy.

    The mechanics of Insurance in Eve are also a huge balancing factor between the weathy hardcore players and the poor newbs. Since insurance payout is based on the tech one version of the hull you’re flying, and loaded modules aren’t covered by insurance, the guy with the expensive stuff will lose more when he goes down, while the newb will likely get near 100% insurance reimbursement.

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