Games aren’t quite like they used to be, are they? Or at least that’s the sentiment you’ll get if you ask anyone who has been playing since at least the early 2000s. It feels these days that some of that magic spark is gone. You can put that down to the age of the player, buggy, immersion-breaking titles, or any number of other factors. I’d say that the real culprit, though, is something subtler: Player Knowledge. And yes, this is definitely still an EVE Online post.
This article has some minor spoilers for the game Outer Wilds.
It’s also a bit more scatterbrained than usual ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
So what do I mean by player knowledge? Why would that matter so much? Well, we can take a non-EVE Online example for starters with Mobius Digital’s fantastic Outer Wilds. No, not Outer Worlds. Outer Wilds is a game based entirely on the idea of knowledge and discovery and – in case you’re interested – I can best describe it as Spaceship Camping Groundhog Day with marshmallow roasting. It’s a game wherein the player is presented with a carefully crafted solar system, a rickety space boat, and little else to do but explore. Oh, and the sun explodes every 22 minutes.
The gameplay in Outer Wilds revolves around you, the player, figuring out what is happening. Why is the sun exploding? Why did I wake up again, alive? Who were the Nomai and why did they care about the Eye of the Universe? You’re never given any true direction to solve these mysteries besides a tracker of your discoveries and rumours in your ship computer. It’s up to you to then piece the story together and put your plan into action to “complete” the game based on what you now know.
This is likely a 10-15 hour adventure depending on your puzzle-solving skills and how daring you feel like being during each loop. By the end, though, you can complete the game within 10 minutes if speedrun.com is anything to go by. But it isn’t like this makes the rest of the game any less important. Outer Wilds is a rewarding experience overall and one of my favourite games of all time. Once you’ve learned that knowledge of the game, though? Well, there’s no going back.
So how does all of this tie into EVE? Think back to when you first started playing, whenever that was. (If you’re a newbro to EVE then don’t worry, you have all of this to look forward to.) Think about how it felt to engage in those basic hisec missions. A battleship sure seemed like a big, expensive, and powerful purchase back then. And now in 2020, I find myself looking at ships as simply tools to achieve a goal. That spark of wonder is gone and I have no doubt that many other vets would agree.
I bring this up since it’s the reason that a friend of mine quit the game recently. Panthone Mardi went out in style with a Titan, giving away all of his assets and ISK. Speaking to him after he made this decision, he stated that EVE just seemed solved to him. And I agree. These days there isn’t really much of a challenge to any one particular (combat) situation. I’m not some sort of prescient goddess. It’s just that after playing for so many years you accumulate so much knowledge that decision making feels more like following a flowchart than true problem-solving. This applies to PvP and PvE alike. The optimal PvE option is obvious and the optimal fleet composition for PvP often doesn’t take much thought either.
This leads into what I believe forms the bittervet disease for the most part. EVE is solved by player knowledge of the game. This isn’t strictly true with some of the newer PvE content, but when we consider much of the content developed prior to 2018, the players have boiled it down to ISK per hour and nothing more. Follow the spreadsheet or why bother trying?
That’s not a failing on CCP’s behalf whatsoever. I don’t think EVE would survive if every ship was rebalanced as fundamentally as Blizzard sometimes change a WoW class spec between expansions. There is ISK loss potentially tied into every balance update and even the best updates will upset someone somewhere. This makes for a difficult balancing act (haha) of keeping content and ships fresh while not changing the old content so much that everyone needs to switch strategy for the sake of change.
So what ends up happening after many years of playing EVE is that players accumulate the aforementioned knowledge and often begin to succumb to the bittervet disease. They know what a Muninn can do these days. They know that a Gila will be the best default choice for most PvE content. They know that n+20 means they can’t even fight back so just you should just dock up. There’s so much to do in this game but if you already know the outcome of any action then it can be hard to find the fun. It reminds me of Dune and Paul’s curse of becoming prescient, of knowing everything before it happens. Life becomes terribly boring. What is there to be excited about if you already know what the day will bring and you know exactly what will happen even if you choose to do something else.
We see hints of this fatigue in many of the “I’m quitting” posts by former EVE players. Most of the people who leave after many years are fed up of the same dreary gameplay. They mentally checked out a while ago and are only now making it formal.
So what can we do to cure ourselves of the bittervet disease? For one, we all need to try new things; maybe even start an EVE cooking Youtube channel and call yourself The Buttervet. More seriously, there is always something new to try and succeed at in New Eden. I, for example, have never seriously mined, manufactured ships, or been a part of a nullsec group. I don’t intend on ever doing those things, but it’s nice to know that they exist at least.
One of the main reasons I haven’t fallen so deep into this pit is due to my love of fitting and theorycrafting, something for which I’m quite well known for these days. I have literally thousands of fits in Pyfa and I could gladly sit and theorycraft for hours at a time. The thought is that the “new meta” is ALWAYS waiting to be discovered and it gives me joy to search for that.
I know of some people who have gone back to hisec to do missions in Rookie ships simply because it’s a fun challenge. Same as trying to do all those old missions that gave your Hurricane trouble years ago. Only now you’ve got an assault frigate! Hell, I remember seeing those sorts of videos when I first started and being genuinely amazed at what I was seeing.
It’s just a sandbox, really. If you’ve learned everything there is to know about building sandcastles then maybe try digging holes in the sand instead. Make some propaganda about how much better your sand is.
Afterword: Sorry about the two-week gap in articles! Work has been keeping me so insanely busy and I’ve been chilling out in WoW for my limited downtime. I’m not burnt out, just busy as hell. If you want more like this then I covered something similar in “A Long Time Ago”