Friday, February 7, 2014

Spreadsheets in Space

In real life I do an excellent impersonation of a responsible adult.

While I don't hide the fact that I play EVE Online, it's not something I wear on my sleeve.  As a (ahem) mature player I am of the 'analog' generations. This is to say, I am old enough recall when vacuum tubes were the primary technology underpinning consumer electronics. 

'Analogs' tend to find MMPORGs (and social media in general) somewhat suspect and off-putting; life sinks that gobble up time and money that could be better spent on worthwhile real-life pursuits and persons.  Real adults, in the minds of many Analogs, don't play in online worlds, particularity adults who wish to be trusted with responsibility. Online amusements involving spaceships, vampires or wizards are 'kid-stuff' and, even in that context, are suspect.

Mrs. Mord takes a fiendish delight in 'outing' me as an online gamer.

This usually occurs at social events during which some combination of economists, lawyers, corporate execs or academics are chatting over drinks, and discussion turns to the role of online worlds in the dissolution of our youth and the overall decline of civilization.  Now, Mrs. Mord's intent in such cases is not to embarrass me, but to challenge the established Analog orthodoxy regarding adults who play MMPORGs.  She, in effect, is presenting me as the exemplar of the responsible grown-up; as mature, accomplished and charming as anyone else in the room.  It's really quite a lavish complement.

That, and she enjoys seeing me squirm.

However, it's usually done in a good cause.  Most recently she outed me in order to engage the two youngest people at a New Year lunch; the sixteen and twenty one year-old son and daughter of a multinational VP.   The mother of these youngsters was lamenting the fact that her children were wasting so much of their lives online when they could be developing 'real' friendships, meeting the right kind of people, planning their futures, and in general shaking the dust of their digital childhoods from their shoes.

There may have been something said about the importance of fresh air and exercise too. I'm not sure. She went on for a bit and I sort of checked out.

The sixteen year-old had drifted into the thousand yard stare as well.  He managed to look attentive and well behaved while he did, which speaks to the rigor of his upbringing.  However he was present in the room only to degree minimally required by the parental rule of law.  His elder sister, being the principle target of her mother's fears, was executing an impressive slow smoulder during the conversation.  Seems being disapproved of in the third person to a room full of boring old people was not a winning argument in favor of the 'real' world.

Suddenly Mrs. Mord found an opening.  "He plays EVE Online," she said, nodding toward me.

The room went suddenly quiet.  Everyone looked a bit confused - most because they had no idea what EVE Online was.  But suddenly the conversation had moved onto to familiar terrain for the kids and they engaged with a will, explaining to the room what EVE Online was, what the 'sandbox' was, and doing a rather good executive summary of how EVE compared and contrasted with other MMPORG offerings.  The sister sat down next to her mother and launched into a fairly sophisticated and well informed explanation of EVE's in game economy.

It lasted thirty minutes. Her mother looked daggers at me the whole time. 

In my responsible adult disguise I'm usually safely invisible to anyone under thirty. However, before they left, the sibs pulled me aside to talk a bit of MMPORGs in general and EVE Online in particular. They had both played it, the sister apparently on and off for a while. So I asked them why they didn't keep with it.

"Spreadsheets in space," said the sister.

"Those guys are assholes," said the brother.

Which brings me to my point. 

The sister is graduating with a natural science degree. Math and stats is in her wheelhouse. The brother is a JV lineman on his high school football team. I'd call him six foot six and two hundred twenty plus pounds of solid muscle, and he faces off against equally big guys for fun.  She's not afraid of running numbers and he's not afraid of conflict. Neither are put off by the game's complexity.

Yet, despite their obvious fascination with EVE Online, despite their being in the sweet spot of the gaming industry's target demographic, they don't want to play CCP's game.

It's nice that EVE Online is seeing a spike in player interest after all the publicity over recent events in nullsec.  However, if past precedent holds, not many will be engaged by the game and most will depart before too long.  CCP knows this occurs, but doesn't seem to know why it occurs. 

CCP knows a lot about the people who self select into the EVE Online community.  However the answer to why players leave will not be found among the the players who stay. CCP needs to go outside the EVE bubble if they're to find out why, beyond a relatively small and self-reinforcing subset of the gaming community, EVE is more interesting to read about than it is to play. 


  1. Ahhh... and we have the crux on one point in why I play and stay in EvE... NO CHILDREN. Now, my dear Mord, yyou met 2 wonderful kids, 21 and 16... and while I grant you the 21y.o may be in the lower edge of EvE demogrpahic the 16y.o. is no where near that leading edge.

    The mid line demographic for EvE is high 20s to high 30s. with a higher percentage of older players above that line than younger players below it. IE EvE is not for kids, it is an adult (non sex based) MMO.

    I am thrilled that this is so... have you played any games where the demogrpahic is teens to 20s? While the more forum-vocal elements of the EvE playerbase may be sophomoric acting young adult aholes, they aren't nearly as bad as actual teens or precocious pre-teens...

    The real base demographic of EvE players are older wiser and more mature adults and I like it that way... a lot.

    And if keeping the 'children' out means an overall smaller playerbase, then by the gods I'm ok with it and I dont see CCP losing money hand over fist over that little fact either.

    I don't ever wanna see EvE as a Mass Market MMO... do YOU honestly want to play WoW-in-Space? I don't... let the spreadsheets and asshats keep them as can't handle it out... I'm personally OK with that... cause MOST kids, 16 to 21, aren't like the ones you described... not nearly.

    1. It isn't an either/or proposition. It's not a choice between miniscule player base or WOW in space. CCP must proceed thoughtfully, but they can increase the player base without undermining the foundation of the game.

      "We're not losing money hand over fist" isn't the sort of claim that gives investors or potential business partners confidence. Growth is the measure of success, running in place is not. EVE will not survive if it continues on with a stagnant player base.

      As I pointed out, the 'kids' have the kind of interest and maturity that would be good for the game. I, for one, would have been pleased if we could have kept them.

    2. As someone who works with children and young adults regularly, I see this reaction quite often. My students are always thrilled when I reveal I play video games, and usually the reveal is when I use a game as context for a lesson.

      Of course, getting my colleagues to understand that games aren't just gimmicks is a struggle. There's a huge amount of teaching samples in EVE alone, and it's a shame that few people can actually see it, let alone use it.

      Extremely frustrating.

      But the last part you write about gives me an idea of why players give up on New Eden. Just to be sure, were their exact words 'spreadsheets in space' and 'assholes', or was that shortening to save time?

    3. You might find it interesting to know that I started playing Eve when I was 12, turning 13. I'm still playing it, some 7 years later, although not on the same character or in the same way. I've done everything from nullsec to FW to wormholes to highsec missioning, and met people from all over the world.

      All of them were surprised with how young I was.

      I honestly think that Eve has been a greatly maturing influence on my life, it's made me very confident in talking to strangers, particularly those older than me, as well as looking after myself in a hostile environment (which Eve most certainly is).

      I see no reason why children, or young teenagers at least, should not be able to play eve. Much of the gameplay is not actually that hard to do (yaay mouse clicks) or understand, and by far the majority of the community is surprisingly supportive of players trying to learn the game.

      In fact, the main reason I can see for :not: having more young gamers in Eve is the behaviour and attitude of those such as TurAmarth ElRandir, who give off a very strong "you are not wanted" vibe.

      So in this case, I would say that the community are far more to blame for the lack of younger players than CCP.

    4. @Behnid Arcani - Those were their initial reactions to my question, word for word. We discussed it a bit further, but I was struck by the lack of hesitation in their answers.

    5. Kalaratiri... I can guarantee you were not...wait, I KNOW for a fact you were not the avg 12y.o.I know and have known MANY of them as I have children from 31 to 10... That's right, Thirtyone to Ten...

      Based on the math you are probably 20 if not 21 by now...may I ask, do you have any kids who have been through puberty? Have you spent time with them and their friends as I have? Been to their schools, talked at length with them especially when they find out you are (or in this case I am, an old fart at) 53 and a gamer??

      More importantly, how many of the kids you went to school with would or could play EvE? How many did? and do today?

      I appreciate greatly those very few children who are mature enough to play EvE... I really do, and I encourage them. I talk about EvE every chance I get, I share my blog and others blogs and all the youtoob vids with anyone who shows any interest at all... especially younger people.

      My 26y.o. son, a Marine, is the founding CEO of our corp and will be CEO again when he gets back from Korea next year.

      Both my youngest kids, son 11 and dottir 10, love to watch me play EvE and ask questions all the time, but neither want to play on their own yet. My youngest son is still very much into FPS's...CoD, Halo, etc. (we don't have a PS3 or he would be a Duster) and Boo is deep into Mindcraft... (she doesn't like the open PvP aspects of EVE).

      I have flown with a 16y.o and was very impressed by his maturity and knowledge, and he was if anything more patient and less of an a-hole than many of the far older players I have known.

      No, I am not against younger players, but most preteen and teens are into immediate gratification and cheat codes and 'god' mode...and EvE has none of these and satisfies no one looking for that kind of gameplay either. My 11y.o. son loves the 'idea' of EvE, but he has said if he has to wait to get 'good' it, it just aint worth his time.... plus, when he found out you actually permanently LOSE your ships and mods... he freaked."No way man, no way!!"

      As for me being to in any way to blame for a lack of younger players, nope. I have never griefed anyone, young or old. And the times when I/we have fought newer players I/we have always opened a convo after and offered advise, ISK and friendship... and there are far more of us who do that than I think people realize. We just aren't as vocal about it as griefers are is all...

  2. The spike in players online (and people who are trying Eve out), will be smoothed out very quickly.

    "Those guys are assholes" always rings true. How many groups do you see in Eve who specialize in being jerks, especially to new players?

    And how many companies actually embrace the concept of one segment of their player base actively trying to grief another segment out of the game?

    CCP does.

    It is one thing for people to knowingly enter into a game where killing your friend or someone else is all in good fun. It is quite another to actively industrialize griefing tactics on a large scale designed to inflict as much anger and pain on another segment.

    Read this post. The goon in question is talking about Dust, but the thought process holds true in Eve. Plus, this sociopath was actively recruited by the failed lawyer.

    Start reading at the section called Life After Planets

    The thought process of these truly evil people encapsulate precisely why CCP can never hold on to new players until they purge groups like this from the game.

  3. My own kids, aged 19/16/13, and nephew (30) tried and didn't like EVE. The biggest problem was feeling horribly handicapped compared to the people they had to deal with. And while everyone starts WoW or other games at level 1 and have to deal with higher level people, they have lots of control over getting better thru actively playing. While you can get more skilled thru practice, ultimately it still takes "forever" to get into a better ship with better weapons and there is no way to appreciably speed up the process. Of course, having adults kicking babies in the nursery for "fun" doesn't help either. But my kids saw the gap to being able to meaningfully kick back to be insufferably long and boring.

    In my own experience, I quit EVE after the trial way back when I found the game so very complicated. Asking questions in rookie chat netted at best no reply, but usually some a-hole response that attempted to make you feel stupid for asking. I fortunately came back to try again and someone in rookie chat pointed me to Eve University.

    The tutorials are much more helpful now, but it's a shame that the new player experience when dealing with the MMO part is still mostly a-holes.