Exploring EVE Online #2: The Rookie's Path & EVE University
In last month’s edition of Exploring EVE Online, I pledged to spend the next year reporting on the different communities and play-styles available to the EVE player. My goals were simple; to investigate the many game-play options offered whilst exploring the myriad of communities that make up EVE society.
In the wider gaming world, there is a general pre-conception that the EVE Online experience is brutal, ruthless and cut-throat. Whilst these elements of EVE culture certainly exist, is the EVE player-base made entirely of amoral griefers whose only joy is to ruin your day? Is New Eden truly just a “playground for sociopaths”*? Or is there trust and candour to be found somewhere? Surely such well-developed communities cannot exist without some degree of community spirit? So my mission for the duration of this column will be to get a better measure of the true face of “The Nation of EVE”.
*ADAM ROSSER, BBC RADIO 4 (UP ALL NIGHT, 02/05/12)
Going Back to the Start
I have been playing EVE Online since its release in 2003, so I’ve had the opportunity to see the in-game and meta-game cultures developing along with the ever-expanding game universe. Armed with the knowledge of a veteran player, it made sense to go back to the beginning to walk the path a new player might take today. Having played several, more traditional MMOs over the years, I am keenly aware that some of EVE Online's differences may be a cause of gaming culture shock and thus a deterrent for some potential subscribers. I hope that this article will serve to forewarn future rookies of some of those differences and better enable them to embrace the unique culture of EVE Online.
EVE Online has been providing a unique virtual science fiction experience to online gamers for nearly nine years. As such, I expected things to be a little creaky back in the new player “lobby” – it wouldn’t have been surprising to find the character creation equivalent of an embarrassing disco-dancing Dad. But I needn’t have been concerned, things have changed since my day. I was pleased to find my re-entry into the universe of New Eden was slick and polished, with a suitably atmospheric introduction to the dystopian future of the human race and my character creation choices. The impressive avatar customisation process is as close to photo-realistic as any newly-developed title. It was already clear that frequent engine updates have done much to banish any signs of the game’s decade-old code.
Prior to last year’s introduction of pilot avatars in the Incarna expansion, EVE players would only be represented in-game by the ship they were flying (and a small portrait photograph). I can well imagine that this would have been a jarring and disconnected experience for players coming from more traditional MMOs. Fortunately, that was identified and the new Captain’s Quarters environments and the customisable characters do much to soften the landing and orientate the former Elf Lord. Some sections of the EVE community wait with anticipation for iteration on this aspect of gameplay. Others, not so much.
WALK BEFORE YOU WARP
The tutorial further contributes to the immersion, with the pleasant metallic tones of the disembodied digital assistant Aura guiding you through the initial process of grappling the diabolically complex user interface. It is worth noting that the UI, whilst probably the most tell-tale sign of EVE Online's age, has recently undergone vast improvements. Although still a little archaic, a degree of complexity is unavoidable as it is the player’s complete tool-set for interacting with every aspect of EVE‘s sandbox environment.
Although the avatar controls are standard WASD fare, the ship control tutorial is vital as the initial in-space experience can be disorienting and alien to many rookie capsuleers. In the past I’ve seen several new pilots struggle with the 360-degree third-person “camera drone” concept, but Aura does a good job of explaining things, supported by the (somewhat less engaging) tutorial text window.
Aura leads the rookie through the basics of ship navigation and onto the introduction of “career agents”. These new personalities provide guidance in a variety of specific aspects of gameplay from trading and industry to exploration and combat, although sadly they all seem a little vocally shy and only interact via text.
At this point, the visually breathtaking and bewildering initial experience begins to give way to a sense of isolation. Personally, I quite enjoy this sensation as the sheer sense of scale of the game environment begins to become evident.
But so far, so single player.
Granted, there will have been some evidence of other players – the blinking of various chat windows and an assortment of distant coloured squares on the HUD – but these are easily dismissed or overlooked. Besides, the undercurrent of mistrust and paranoia that has been fuelled by out-of-game mythology would probably have our average rookie pilot in a state of self-imposed neurotic isolation. Yet EVE Online‘s game design is fundamentally built around community. Once the career tutorial mission arcs are complete, the pilot will find himself essentially adrift, being left to find his own way in the universe. It is at this point (if not before) that finding an appropriate player-run corporation (the EVE equivalent of a guild) is imperative for continued long-term enjoyment for all but the most solitary of gamers.
This is a pivotal moment in the fledgling capsuleer’s career. Having learned just enough to be a danger to themselves, the vast universe opening out before them must look enticing. They will have outgrown the most protective of rookie-friendly systems and despite having much, much more to learn, the independently-minded may be inclined to attempt it alone. They are free to do so of course, but engaging the right community will provide a much richer experience. Being a member of a proficient corporation will not prevent the occasional ship loss, but at least there will (hopefully) be someone available to explain why and how it happened and maybe even supply a new ship.
FINDING YOUR GANG COLOURS
Any enquiry about rookie-friendly corporations on the EVE-O forums, in the in-game help channels or indeed anywhere else, will often give rise to the same response – EVE University. Whilst not the only player organisation specifically designed to provide assistance and tutoring to rookie pilots, it is undoubtedly one of the most well-known.
Established in March 2004, EVE University is an entirely player-run organisation founded on altruistic principles by an individual called Morning Maniac. Since 2009, nearly 10,000 players have passed through EVE University, attending classes, participating in events and earning Alumni status. Presently, under the stewardship of CEO Kelduum Revaan, over 2000 players are members with approximately 100 of those being faculty officers responsible for training and organisation. To give that some context, this is a single player organisation with a membership larger than the entire concurrent population of some MMO servers.
The official blurb on the EVE University wiki states;
“…the University continues to uphold a strong reputation through previous wars, robust management, knowledgeable graduates and instructors, and quality students. The heart of the corporation resides in teamwork through wars, events, and cooperative help in the chat channel.”
So this paints a picture of the principles behind EVE University, but how does this all work in practice? I joined their ranks for a few weeks to find out.
The first lesson EVE University inadvertently taught me was one of patience and diligence. There was a not insignificant amount of administration to work through, with a seven-step application process including a fairly in-depth form and a brief entry exam. As laborious as this felt, I understood that the red-tape was necessary to provide some insulation against an environment rife with spies and moles. I understand from speaking with Kelduum Revaan at a recent player gathering that the application system used to be even more complex. I’m grateful that is no longer the case, however in the formative weeks of a new EVE player’s career, I can imagine that yet more admin in an already overwhelmingly technical game environment might be disheartening. I hoped the effort would be worth it.
My application took a few days to process, I think in part because I’d misunderstood some of the procedure as I was trying to wade my way through it alone. I have since come to understand that there is a mentor programme providing a human contact to guide the new student through the application process and their first days with the University. Despite my stubborn insistence on getting everything wrong on my own, I was soon accepted into the EVE University and given access to the various resources.
A CLASS ACT
I was phenomenally impressed with what I found. My usually empty in-game calendar was filled with daily events and seminars, all organised by EVE University members. I could choose anything from a Basic Combat 101 and a Basic Ship Fitting tutorial to an Advanced Logistics seminar or a Frigate Free-for-all. Looking through the UniWiki I discovered a Class Library of soundfiles detailing various game feature walkthroughs and playstyle discussions, as well as special guest presentations from a number of leading players and even CCP developers. Having listened to a few, I found them to be genuinely informative.
Despite being a “veteran” player I was overwhelmed by the options available to me. Clearly I’d been living under a rock for much of my EVE career – even when I was in a null-sec alliance I’d never seen such activity and organisation. It took a little bit of trial and error to make contact with some actual humans – with so many avenues of communication (the Corp forums, multiple Mumble channels and umpteen in-game channels) it was difficult to determine where I should be asking which question. Again, I would have benefited from the mentor programme – I was paying for my “veteran” arrogance.
Nevertheless, I fumbled through and it wasn’t long before I was identified as an inept rookie (I’m good at roleplaying incompetent, okay?) and started receiving offers of assistance from a number of sources, from other student players to faculty members. It was reassuring to discover that in any circumstance, from issues with connecting to the Mumble server to the location of a particular EVE University occupied star system, someone was on hand to help.
THE TALK FROM THE TRENCHES
My time online interacting with EVE University these past few weeks has been more limited than I had hoped, but I took every opportunity I could to speak with members to gauge how they felt about their community. I visited their main headquarters system in high security space, then onward to the nearby low-security camp where I hoped to find some action. I joined the EVE University standing fleet that operated in the low-sec area and despite flying a humble Tristan frigate, I was soon invited to a PvE engagement by a generous battlecruiser pilot. He allowed me to ineffectively tickle the lumbering Angel Cartel battleships with which he was skirmishing, despite the fact that his swarm of drones was likely doing more damage than I was.
As I encountered various “Unistas”, I took the opportunity to ask a few questions. Stags Leap had emailed me some information about corporation locations and foolishly offered to answer any more questions I may have had. Despite his concerns that he was not an authorised faculty member, he gave some great answers which I think reflect well on the EVE University organisation as a whole.
Freebooted: What is your role in E-UNI?
Stags Leap: I’m a kind of janitor called a Hangar Officer. I clean up the corporate hangars and put stuff away in our headquarters at Aldrat. I also help very new players get things out of the hangars. I’m also just a senior student so I help out when I can. I’m an ILN [Ivy League Navy] Officer, so I encourage PVP activities, I lead squads/wings/small fleets and I have extra duties and expectations in times of war. We are expecting more war to come with the combat-themed Inferno expansion. I consider myself ready. I am teaching a class on Wednesday on how to fly Logistics ships but it’s my first class and I’m not officially faculty.
FB: What kind of player is best suited to E-UNI?
SL: Wow. All of them are, honestly. Even if your friends recruited you in like mine did me. You learn more efficiently and better in E-UNI than elsewhere. If you’re already a redditor, go to Test Alliance, Please Ignore. If you’re already an active member of the SomethingAwful.com community, then go join Goonswarm Alliance. But other than those, E-UNI is probably your best bet for your first three months in the game. After that, you may wish to stay or go.
FB: What steps would a player have to take to leave E-UNI with any kind of credit/qualification? What is optimal?
SL: Attend classes in Mumble. If you’re at work, don’t log into the game, but do log onto mumble, put on your headset, and listen in to the class. That counts for attendance as it goes by Mumble, not the game. Participate in activities. Go on at least one PVP fleet. Post on the forums at least three times. And at least once, do something to give back to the university. Talk to people and be sociable. You will go through the process and go from Freshman to Sophomore to Graduate. You do need to click on the little web applications that are forms to apply for each level. In other words, you have to ask a web site to become a Sophomore or a Graduate or to get permission to use the research tower portion of our POS. I think Freshman is automatic after seven days or something. Do this and you should be a Graduate in about 8-10 months.
FB: Is there a system in place to prevent players from becoming bewildered as I did?
SL: Speak up and you get help. If nothing else, apply for the Mentor Program. That gives you a single human to ask questions of and he or she will help you. No charge for anything. Also, don’t ask questions in Chat.E-UNI (too crazy) or the reserved Alliance or Corp channels. Ask in Exploration.E-UNI or Missions.E-UNI or Incursions.E-UNI or Industry.E-UNI or Mess.ILN (PVP) or even just in Class.E-UNI and someone will help you.
FB: What is your opinion of the E-UNI culture compared to other corps/alliances?
SL: E-UNI is more supportive, less “e-peen”, less competitive, and is always willing to take a new person, answer a question, etc. E-UNI doesn’t expect you to know anything or have any resources. Most other corps/alliances expect you to know what you’re doing, figure it out yourself, and carry your own weight. Also, we don’t expect you to stay forever and leaving is not a bad thing. We also keep emotional ties/loyalty ties to a player who leaves unlike many other corporations.
FB: As a graduate who has stayed with the organisation, do you consider this to be your “end-game” or will you ever move on?
SL: If you are using “end-game” as a generic MMO term, all of EVE is end game. There is no levelling. You can participate in end-game from a few hours of training. Some of it, like the politics, you can do immediately. Some just require capital – like station trading, etc. If you’re referring to my end-game, this is my first career – my prep phase. I’m just slower at learning and internalizing all this stuff so I’ve spent most of my first two years of the game in E-UNI. There is that much to learn. I’m still looking forward to classes on scanning down grav/mag/radar/ladar sites and getting better at wormholes, etc. I plan to stay in E-UNI for somewhere between 2-24 more months, then move on to either a large null-sec alliance or a medium-sized wormhole corporation. But my bonds with with my “guild mates” means much more than my specific activities or my specific identity within the game.
On another occasion I spoke with Intana Kreis, a Sophomore who has been with EVE University since the previous Summer.
Freebooted: You’ve been in E-UNI for a while. Any plans to graduate or are you going for eternal student?
Intana Kreis: I’ve applied for my graduate title a while back, will get it and then probably go to 0.0. I contacted a couple of the corps in our work fair, and so will probably go for one of those. One of the options for me would be a corp a few Unistas I fly with have gone to already.
FB: What’s the community like within E-UNI? Do you have regular folk you fly with or do you just mingle?
IK: I guess it depends, some people are lone wolves, but generally people seem to know the other people who do the same thing that they do. I guess its telling that a lot of people tend to leave in groups.
FB: But not necessarily arrive in groups?
IK: Yup – they would have got to know people while in the Uni.
FB: So has it been an experience you’d recommend to new EVE players?
IK: I tried EVE Online about 6 years ago and didn’t really get far but re-entered the game when I read about EVE University. I suppose like lots of things its what you make of it.
From knowledge of my own EVE experiences, Intana’s last words rang very true. In any aspect of a sandbox environment like New Eden, a little effort is required for the player to find their entertainment. Whilst this may feel like unnecessary effort for players used to a more theme-park oriented game experience, EVE University as a community and a service provider is testament to what players can achieve when such effort is used to positive effect. When I initially joined EVE University, I had a pre-conceived idea that I would find a short-term experience designed to help new players to find their feet. I did not expect to find a community that stretched across most aspects of EVE‘s gameplay and catered for players with years of experience as comfortably as it did for rookies.
NO NUTTERS FOUND
One thing was certain, throughout my short time in EVE University, I found the atmosphere to be friendly, accommodating and professional. There are very clear codes of conduct which are adhered to by a community of mature and approachable players. This seemed like a gameplay environment entirely free from the sociopaths and griefers that allegedly make up the majority of the EVE player population.
I am sure that as my journalistic odyssey through the communities of EVE Online continues, I will head into far more murky waters. But at least organisations like EVE University exist to provide a cushioned descent into the supposedly brutal culture of EVE Online and, even if some who learn their trade within E-UNI’s ranks go on to be the “sociopaths”, it seems that even they behave whilst they are a Unista.
To give better context to how EVE University fits into the diaspora of "The Nation of EVE", I will leave you with this colourful quote from former EVE University member, Cazzah;
“EVE Online is a game about groups of bastards competing to be the biggest bastard in a battle for money and power… and we’re running a charity.”
[This article was originally published on 3 May 2012 on the Guild Launch blog.]