EVE is a complex game. There is no doubt in anyone’s mind about that. It’s something those of us who play it are often proud of; it’s something those who don’t play still know well enough for there to be a longstanding meme about it (to illustrate “longstanding”, just how long has it been since the game has been known as “EVE: The Second Genesis” anyway?) Rather predictably, one result of this is a faction that is against anything they perceive as removing that complexity. “It was hard for me, you’re (dumbing the game down)/(nerfing me) by making it easy for other players!”
That’s a dramatic and rather unfortunate misunderstanding of the value of complexity. Granted, one definition of complexity includes “hard” or “difficult”, but it’s not a necessary component and it’s not where it’s value to a game like EVE comes from. “Hard complexity”, by and large, belongs in a theme park. It’s how a game like World of Warcraft achieves some measure of longevity for it’s content. Raid encounters and boss fights are “complex” in the sense that every player in the raid has multiple things to track and do, all at once, and if any one of them fucks up, the fight punches the whole raid in the dick for it. I remember very well regarding some of those fights as “complex”, but nevertheless, they’re closed-ended problems. There is one solution, one way to win, minimal room for variation. Eventually you’ll get to it, trivializing and eventually obsoleting the content in the process.
Such complexity is all well and good in a theme park. Obsolete content is expected as a normal part of running such a game. In a sandbox like EVE, it’s a problem. We, the players, generate the content, and the systems of the game are there as tools with which to do so. Those systems becoming trivialized, solved problems is a problem itself – it’s not much of a sandbox if there’s only one right choice, is there? As a result, the complexity of those systems is better off as “soft complexity”, a system that defines the problem, but leaves it as open ended as possible.
If done well, a complex system like this is best characterize by the first line out of the Wikipedia article – “Complexity is generally used to characterize something with many parts where those parts interact with each other in multiple ways.” With many parts with multiple interactions between each part you have multiple paths to success, multiple choices to make, and plenty of depth. In other words, you have an open ended problem. This also helps to improve replay value, to make each repeated interaction with the system an engaging and even enjoyable problem to solve, rather than rote repetition of a problem long since solved.
That’s the benefit of such a system, the good complexity, if you will. The pitfalls, by contrast, invoke the classic dictionary definition of the word in my mind, something along the lines of “a part of something that is complicated or hard to understand.” There’s that word “hard” again. Lots of parts, lots of choices, sure. But the choices are poorly explained, or their interactions & mechanics badly documented (if at all), or the UI is clumsy. Worse yet, most of the choices could be redundant, either duplicates of one another, or perhaps, despite the attempts to be open ended, there’s only a few good choices after all. Collectively, that’s bad complexity. And, while there isn’t all that much actual “hard complexity” in EVE, the game is chock full of this “bad” complexity.
While there’s not all that much in the way of “hard complexity” in EVE, the game is chock full of “bad” complexity. That, I feel, is a large part of where the reputation comes from of the “learning cliff”, and is in turn part of what drives new players off. A well implemented “soft-complex” system is going to have a learning curve that starts shallow and ramps up into a steeper and much longer slope. Five minutes to learn, a lifetime to master is perhaps a bit overly idealized, but not all that far off either. And still people cling to hard complexity, or bad complexity as some lousy facsimile for difficulty. If that leads them to complain about attempts to fix it, quit because they think it’s dumbing the game down or that newcomers should have to deal with the lousy system just because they did… fuck ’em, they won’t be missed. Retaining more new players is more important than keeping them around.
Besides, no one who blusters in public about quitting actually does it.
This topic deserves an example, and given CCP’s primary focus for the next major release, it seems only fitting that that example be industry. I’ll stick with Tech I industry for now, just to keep the length here under control – Invention is a whole other beast unto itself.
THE INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX
Disclaimer: I did not pick the topic just so I could use that tagline.
The basic mechanics of Tech I industry are pretty straightforward. Take minerals, combine with blueprint, get product. The blueprint itself tells you everything necessary for a job, plus information on improving the blueprint via research.
The good complexity here basically ends at “what do I build”. There’s not all that much in the way of bad complexity, though. Research isn’t really clearly explained, and the UI leaves much to be desired. Most of the problems stem from complexity that should exist not being there. Where you build should matter, but it’s got no effect on labor cost and shipping is so cheap that “as close to the hub as possible” is the usual choice. How it’s built should matter, but all you can do there is to use a bonused facility or research your blueprints, and that’s just a cost or speed factor. There’s no way to experiment or tinker as in the crafting systems of some other games, so no “(Player)’s Modified 425mm Railgun I.”
Happily, much of this will be addressed by Crius. Teams and scaling build fees will give plenty to think about for where you build – they’re your good complexity. The new UI is solid (though still seems to have a few bugs) and the filters do a pretty good job of letting you manage the information that defines your vast array of available choices. Given large blueprint collections (which someone may well keep in multiple locations to optimize production based on teams), hundreds of systems and potentially thousands of available teams, that’s a very good thing. There’s probably some more that could be done in the discoverability area, but even just what’s in Crius is a big step in that regard. Despite all the new choices and resulting complexity, explaining them should be pretty easy:
- Systems with more activity will tend to have a higher cost to install jobs.
- Teams offer bonuses to time or material cost for things you build, but they must be paid, increasing job install cost.
- Special facilities – POS and Outposts – can offer additional benefits.
Am I missing something? Taken at a sufficiently high level, I don’t really think so, and it’s not too hard to drill down to finer detail with just a couple more lines. In other words, if we’re after an open-ended soft-complex system with industry, “objective achieved”, or at the very least a damn good start.
One last factor, something you could consider as a “still missing”. I said earlier that the only real source of choice in Tech I industry was “what to build”. And – credit to Lockefox for making this point – Tech I build times are such that it can be a stretch to call that a choice. The demand in Jita for any given Tech I ship can be satisfied by just 3-4 characters building 24/7. It’s even worse for modules. Once you can use Tech II, there’s no reason to ever fit Tech I again, and even when you can’t use Tech II there’s almost always a Meta module that’s actually cheaper.
Compare that to something like Ishtars. The daily movement in Jita takes at least twenty characters to supply based on build time alone, a number that only climbs when slot-hours for research and invention are factored in. If Tech I build times were lengthened somewhat, the choice of “what to build” – which, even with everything new in Crius, is still the predominant choice in industry – becomes more meaningful. There would certainly be interesting ripple effects, though “no reason to use Tech I once…” remains a problem. Both of those, however, I’ll have to revisit another day, in another topic.
Like the general topic? Let me know – I’ll probably make a series out of it.