EVE Online's Secret Sauce: Players as Content
Part of the solution for CCP Games to encourage long-term player engagement was by making the players centre-stage. Unlike the predictable and safe environments which dominated most MMOs, newcomers to EVE Online would often find the gameplay brutal and unforgiving, with real loss meted out by a hostile environment and even more hostile players.
This harshness was something of a double-edged sword - the initial culture shock experienced by players who'd spent years in more forgiving massively multiplayer environments undoubtedly led to more than a few “ragequits” (I speak from personal experience here). There's little joy to be found in the loss of in-game assets earned through weeks of hard work.
However, it is this challenging environment that encourages that bit of human spirit that led to the birth of civilisation. Suddenly collaboration and community become the solution – safety in numbers and a kind of gameplay which taps into basic human needs becomes the hook. Immediately, a player's level of investment stops being driven by the acquisition of meaningless game items or currency and becomes more personal. The genuine feel good factor of assisting an ally or exacting revenge on an enemy becomes the central theme which keeps the player coming back for more.
Irrespective of what aspect of the EVE Online sandbox brings the new player into the experience, it is the benefits of a persistent community culture which keeps them in. It's a simulated loyalty to friends – an esprit de corps – which makes them want to stick around.
CCP has identified and embraced this. Manufactured “theme park” content may be easier to produce and market, but it is far less efficient to maintain. Finding ways to empower players to produce their own content – and to become the content – is the masterstroke which gives CCP the development agility to build around the concept.
You can't quit now – there are people relying on you.