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.

Featured Columnist

Broken paramedic and coffee-drinking Englishman whose favourite dumb animal is an oxymoron. After over a decade of humping and dumping the fat and the dead, my lower spine did things normally reserved for Rubik's cubes, bringing my career as a medical clinician to an unexpectedly early end. Fortunately, my real passion is in writing and given that I'm now highly qualified in the art of sitting down, I have the time to pursue it. Having blogged about video games (well, mostly EVE Online) for years, I hope to channel my enjoyment of wordcraft and my hobby of gaming into one handy new career that doesn't involve other people's vomit.

Published Jan. 22nd 2014
  • Xuixien
    Sorry for the double post.
  • Xuixien
    I've played EVE Online for almost five years and it has never disappointed me as a game. There were disappointing moments, disappointing losses, sure, but overall my experience has been overwhelmingly positive and fun. The losses are what make this game thrilling - the risk brings constant excitement.

    This game is amazing, and I highly recommend to everyone to give it a try for a least a couple of weeks. If you want to check this game out, follow the link below for a 21 day trial.

  • Mat Westhorpe
    Featured Columnist
    Yeah, that's the real strength of EVE, it's the contrast between the highs and lows. Hard-hitting losses and hard-fought victories make the impact much stronger and genuinely make other MMO experiences more like simple distractions.

    EVE needs commitment but it is a unique experience, but the point of this article was that the particular experience the marketing is capitalising on at the moment is not very good. It makes great news stories, but is no fun at the time.

    A far more colourful showcase of EVE and the combat mechanics is the Alliance Tournament which we're covering extensively on GameSkinny. It's still only a glimpse of a section of EVE (and it's in an 'artificial' environment which doesn't exist in EVE proper) but it's more fun to watch.


    Also, for those interested in trying EVE out, there's a 30-day free trial being promoted throughout the Alliance Tournament:

  • Stephen Johnston
    The event that turned me from a player of Eve to a huge fan of Eve was the Alliance Tournament. Large scale fleet battles are awesome, but they are not "digestible" by a noob. They are awesome for their political impact, the amount of organizatin involved, the repercussions. In other words they are awesome because of all of the things that come *before*, and come *after* the huge fleet battle.

    The smaller group stuff like what happens in the Alliance tournament are far more understandable and fun to watch.

    I definitely understand what you are saying. Watching the stream of this fight was boring. I knew what was happening so I understood the importance of it.... but it wasn't visually appealing in the least. CCP is much better of marketing to the 5-10 ship fleet size style stuff..... but when these huge things happen in Eve it is a ton of fun too!
  • Kazz in space
    Featured Contributor
    A big part of Eve, because of the sand-box and player lead content, is that you have to go out there and find the content you want - or, perhaps more importantly, create the content you want. It doesn't just fall into your lap and it isn't available at the click of a mission terminal or battle-ground queue. The best activity in terms of PvP comes from being proactive, or at least by attaching yourself to other players that are. "Epic battles" happen every day in New Eden, albeit not all on the scale of this one.
  • Mat Westhorpe
    Featured Columnist
    Oh yeah, even the ever-present threat of combat adds an edge to the experience. I love a bit of low-sec brinkmanship, often with a flimsy frigate full of blueprints. In Assah. Twice.
  • Kuan Yida
    I loath null-sec fleet combat. Watching paint dry is more exciting. I'd rather mine... egads.

    Low-sec small gang PvP is a totally different matter, filled with adrenaline rushes and requiring real piloting skill and stratagem. It's why I've remained in Faction War since its inception.
  • Mat Westhorpe
    Featured Columnist
    I agree, the combat in EVE can be an intricate and adrenaline-inducing experience. There's no other game I've experienced that gives you 'the shakes' like EVE does. The laborious nature of structure grinds and laggy fleet fights really doesn't do EVE justice in my opinion.

    But then thousands participate in the big conflicts, so they must get something out of it. One man's torture is another man's pleasure I suppose.

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