Will Media Coverage of EVE Online's 'Epic' Fleet Fights Lead to New Player Disappointment?

The space emperor isn't wearing any clothes, but in EVE Online nudity is okay.

As we face yet another superlative-filled cascade of EVE Online press coverage whilst the mainstream media try to grapple with the concept of EVE Online, it is worth advising caution to those being taken in by the marketing hype.

The day's stories will be filled with hyperbolic claims of "the largest video game space battles ever seen" (BBC News) and the "largest space battle in history" (The Verge) and of course the marketing department of EVE Online developers, CCP Games, will be scrambling to take full advantage of this.

The coverage of the 4,000+ player battle, which took place in the single 6VDT-H system of EVE's 7,500 system star cluster, will no doubt seem like an exciting and ground-breaking MMO experience. In many ways, it is.

Aside from one vital fact that is invariably avoided in the marketing and - as a result - omitted from the less informed news coverage:

The pictures may be pretty and the stories told post-battle may be interesting, but the actual gameplay experienced by those involved in such epic battles is unsellable.

What is covered by the mainstream press is a single event which is portrayed as "epic" and "explosive," yet actual participants report it takes "an hour and a half into the 6VDT fight and I've managed to get 6 shots off" in a glacially slow experience comparable to something in between a turn-based strategy and a play-by-mail game.

This will undoubtedly leave many misinformed EVE newcomers bitterly disappointed.

Time to Die

The problem lies with the vast resource demands of thousands of players all crammed into one game environment. As technically impressive as it is for the EVE Universe to be a single-sharded game space with hundreds of thousands of occupants, even a state-of-the-art super-computer like EVE Online's Tranquility cluster has its limits, and the nature of EVE's sovereignty warfare means that those limits will always be exceeded.

EVE is a victim of its own success.

The introduction of the Time Dilation mechanic in 2011 actually improved on the previous unplayable lag-fest which would occur in high-load events. "TiDi" uses a more ordered form of lag (see Asayanami's YouTube video for an example) to create a gameplay experience technically playable if you have the patience of a saint nothing else to do all day.

Those new players who go seeking these much-touted massive fleet fights may find the experience a lot less exciting than the one they will have been sold in the mainstream coverage.

The real question is, knowing that these battles will inevitably result in a turgid flickbook experience, why do EVE players continue to participate in them?

Massive Player Investment

These kinds of massive battles aren't always the result of a misclick like the Battle of Asakai, but are the culmination of months of planning and building, weeks of positioning, and thousands of player-hours.

The likelihood of an EVE player talking positively about these huge fleet flights is directly related to how much they have invested in the engagement. In any of the involved player organisations, the higher up the chain of command an individual is (or wants to be), the more important it is that they deliver the kind of propaganda required to inspire their minions to spend their time waiting all night for their next weapon-click to register.

This passionate, rabble-rousing oratory was succinctly exemplified on Twitter by senior EVE player mynnna, who is a leading figure in the Goonswarm Federation, a member of the ClusterFuck Coalition (CFC). 

Mynnna and his CFC peers are understandably jubilant in their victory. The need to create a sense of value and worth in the time invested by their subordinates is further evidenced by the opening paragraphs of a battle report written by Vily, a Goonswarm Federation Fleet Commander:

"Today, ladies and gentlemen, we saw the largest engagement in the history of video games.

I say that because a battle of over 4000 pilots is now over, with the embers of our enemies wrecks still smoldering (even though they technically can't) in the cold dark of the space of 6VDT-H in Fountain." - 6VDT: The CFC Battle Report, TheMittani.com

Pyramid Sales

The enjoyment gained from these giant fleet battles isn't in the actual participation, which is widely agreed to be a slow and frustrating experience, but from the value attached to the victory and the boasting rights of having taken part. An acquired taste to be sure, but that is the rewarding gameplay for many.

The higher the numbers and the bigger the event, the more prestige is involved. In essence, the media itself plays a part in evangelising these poor gameplay experiences, effectively making the experience more worthwhile.

There are many aspects to the EVE Universe which are more positive and more accessible, but to be lured into EVE Online by misguided marketing and misinformed journalism which gives the impression that it's all about the giant fleet fights is to fall victim to your first EVE scam.

Welcome to the metagame of EVE, now even the BBC is playing.

Published Jul. 29th 2013
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