Tuesday, May 27, 2008
An SL resident tries Eve online
Earlier I wrote about my decision to try out Eve online, a scifi themed virtual universe, where mining, manufacturing and trade thrive, where corporations negotiate and alliances rule, where peaceful explorers and arrogant pirates engage in fierce battle. At almost any time, some 25.000 to 30.000 players can be found online, usually engaged in one of these activities. And for the past ten days, I've been amongst them! So, what does a Second Life resident (or a Twinity citizen) think of Eve Online?
In his book "Synthetic Worlds", Edward Castronova describes several types of players in Virtual Worlds. One of those is: the explorer. Someone interested in beautiful vistas, finding out new stuff, discovering and learning. I recognized quite a lot of myself in Castronova's description, and as such I am drawn to a universe full of stars, planets, asteroids, nebulas, stations and ships. I think you can spend days travelling from region to region, stargate to stargate, without seeing the same station twice. This quality thorougly appeals to me!
And Eve Online makes it possible to be an explorer, too. Eve online and Second Life share (at least) one thing: they both don't have a defined story line. There are no predefined goals, levels, no grind, no endgame. As a commenter in one of the Eve online forums said: play *your* Eve! It's you, a couple of flying machines and a galaxy to explore. Now go and have fun! Choose your profession, and if you don't like it - just switch. Sell the mining barge, buy a destroyer and go shoot bad guys, if that's what you like.
Mining or gathering berries - what's the difference?
But make no mistake: most players in Eve are there with a goal in mind, as Eve seems to revolve around power and money - how surprising :) Gathering as much ISK (the local currency) and wielding influence through corporations and alliances is, for many, key to the game. You could say that the whole space thing is just a facade, a setting for a large political and economical game. In Eve, capitalism rules without restrictions, with a touch of violence added for good measure. The game could just as well have been set in a rainforest: early humans gathering berries or nuts, and hunting animals or enemy tribes instead of future mankind doing mining, manufacturing and space battle. It would have lacked the scifi and tech appeal, but the game could have been, essentially, the same. Come to think of it, CCP could even have used the same name!
To be human, or not to be..
As a Second Life resident, I am used to being a human shaped avatar. I have a body, which I can shape to my liking; I can keep it natural or, as Cory Linden did, go for the extreme. You can't be in Second Life without having a visible, physical body of some sort! But after ten days in Eve Online, I haven't seen my avatar yet. There's a mugshot of someone supposed to be me on my Eve login page, but I have no connection with it. My SL avatar is, at times, me; this picture in Eve Online doesn't have that appeal. "I" am a space ship, my avatar is supposed to be in there somewhere - but I don't know how it looks. This makes Eve a less immersive environment than Second Life or Twinity.
In itself this doesn't have a real impact on the game, but after a day of hard mining work, I would have liked to step out of the ship, go to Quarks' bar, and have a Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster with other miners and space cowboys. This is not currently possible in Eve Online as far as I know.
Does this mean there is no social interaction in Eve? On the contrary. I haven't got much experience with it yet, but interactions certainly do happen. Players unite in corporations and alliances; they mine, trade and fight together. In the Eve Online trinity client, the Local, regional and corporate chat window is open at all times, meaning you can chat with every other pilot in the neighbourhood as well as your peers in corporations and such. There's an in game mail system, and apparently people use voip applications to be able to use voice during complicated operations. And because the community is still rather small (compared to Second Life), it's still a community where many experienced players know their peers. The forums buzz with activity!
The funny thing is: in these forums, many of the complaints often hurled at Linden Labs can be heard here too. This time, obviously, aimed at CCP, the creators of Eve Online!
One big difference between Second Life and Eve, is the price. I have used the Second Life free basic subscription, to my satisfaction, for quite some time; only when I wanted to buy land, I switched to a 75 dollar a year premium account. This means that SL currently costs me less than 50 euro per year. Eve online, on the other hand, is bought in days: 30, 60 or 90 day time slots can be bought at several reliable sources, be it CCP or external companies. Thirty days sets you back 15 US dollars; 90 days goes for 38.85 at the time of writing. This means that I can buy 6 months of Eve game time for the price of an annual premium SL subscription - which most players don't even need. At the bare minimum, Eve costs you twice the money the most expensive SL account costs. Eve knows no such thing as a free or basic account with limited rights; it's all or nothing.
This is quite a barrier for a casual player. The trial subscription is fourteen days; in these days (in which I also have to work, do other things, attend to my family..) I have to decide whether to spend money on this game or not. Fourteen days is way to short to get a real feel of Eve, which is much more of a long term thing than SL. SL can be rewarding quite instantly (ok, after you get off introduction island that is), where Eve requires more effort on behalf of the player to become rewarding. You need time to build up a suitable capital, something to work with, to buy the right ships and stuff. In the forums, there's talk of weeks, even months before you might get to this point! After a couple of days, I have come to the conclusion that, perhaps, CCP isn't really interested in casual users; CCP apparently goes for the dedicated, committed player.
Finally, if you decide to buy, you might not get online. Yesterday, I couldn't login because "the server was full". After a minute I got on all right, but still.
Verdict: enticing environment, I like it, but not sure whether to buy or not.