Friday, June 1, 2012

Diversity Online

I have read some of the discussions about the all-new permanent Goon-sponsored Hulkageddon, and it made me think of Edward Castronova's book Synthetic Worlds, published in 2006.

In this book, Castronova described four types of inhabitants of virtual worlds: explorers, socializers, achievers and controllers. Most players show elements of all four types, but usually one of them is dominant. I’ve given a short description and a translation into Eve Online professions earlier in this blog post: A different mindset. It’s not too long but still relevant! The crude TL:DR version, applicable to the subject at hand: achievers (who just want to create wealth, the peaceful way) are totally different from controllers, who want to dominate, compete and prevail, using violence if needed.

Eve Online seems to be tailored to the tastes of the controllers, with its’ strong emphasis on player versus player combat and the lack of basic safety that permeates all of New Eden. Yet, to keep its’ economy going, New Eden also needs a measure of achievers: the guys who create and build the stuff that we all use. Eve Online really does have something to offer for those achievers, with its’ evolved economy and in game industry, not to mention its’ beautiful space vistas and the positive social interactions that can be had in corp or alliance.

For years, a tenuous balance has existed between achievers and controllers. Every achiever miner - at least every one who can be bothered to read up on the game they’re playing - knows mining is never safe, not even in highsec. Yet the number of highsec miner ganks is usually low, and while disturbing to them, it doesn’t really impact the average miner all that much. Yes, there’s the yearly Hulkageddon (a controller type of event if there ever was one), so during that time the miner takes it easy for a while, perhaps goes play something else for a bit, until Hulkageddon is over again. Occassional newbie miners will be ganked and some of them will unsub, but enough survive to keep the game going. And so, an uneasy balance between achievers and controllers has existed for years.

But now that Hulkageddon is becoming a permanent part of Eve Online, one has to wonder what will happen to this balance. If achievers are denied enough space and time to achieve their goals, what will they do? If Eve Online fails to satisfy their gaming urges, why would they stick around? It’s not unlikely that these kind of players will move on to greener pastures. That has nothing to do with rage quitting or lack of 'htfu', it's just that Eve Online may be developing in a direction where more and more achievers find that it does no longer fulfill their gaming requirements.
These achievers might be able to adapt, or become more like a controller, but they simply don't want to; it doesn't fit their personality. As Jester keeps pointing out, we are buying entertainment for our dollars or euros: if a game ceases to be fun, the player ceases to pay.

If the new permanent Hulkageddon is successful enough to upset the balance between achievers and controllers, I see a real risk for user retention. If that happens, there won't be a 'summer of rage' - the achiever isn't that kind of player, I think - but a slow and steady leak of this player type might occur.

The question is: can Eve Online survive without a sizeable contigent of achievers? My guess is, that the New Eden economy can. Mining is a typical starter occupation, so there usually are a lot of newbie miners around. Also, controller minded pilots may fill the void left by the achievers, as mining becomes more profitable once again. Yet it remains to be seen whether a smaller group of miners can produce enough raw materials to feed the New Eden war machine.

And, over time, we will probably be left with a less diverse and hence less interesting population in New Eden. I consider that a shame, and a loss for all of us. It is also a long term risk for CCP: a monoculture is more vulnerable to external threats than something more diversified.

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