Updated Mon, Feb 08, 2010 by Space Junkie
EVE Online has had a heck of a year. Two huge free expansions, a new system for taking and controlling territory, the announcement of DUST 514 to be interlinked first-person shooter in the same shared game world, and ever higher subscription counts. A good year, right?
Unlike a lot of new MMOs, that briefly flare up before users move on to the next game, EVE Online has been growing steadily. This is not especially easy for a spaceship game that doesn't have a huge branding franchise to fall back onto.
This column takes a look at what happened during the past year, what CCP has done to make EVE Online so successful, and then I make some predictions about what to expect during 2010.
Changes To The Game
Some amazing changes came in March, with the Apocrypha expansion, especially for newer players. The most important change for new players was the addition of attribute re-allocation, which means that an informed player can more quickly specialize in advanced game roles like flying sniping battleships or capitals. The skill requirements for tech three strategic cruisers are also fairly low, meaning that if a newer player is financially successful (or sells PLEX cards) he can use the most advanced ships in the game with relative ease. Scanning was also changed to be easier to use, and the wormholes that were added with this patch make the perfect proving ground for a small corporation that doesn't want to compete with null-sec alliances with bottomless budgets.
Older players reaped the benefits of newly improved ship fitting screens, and the faster influx of players into the end-game of EVE. They also thrilled to fight the Sleeper Drones, dangerous NPCs living in wormhole space that made use of a newly polished artificial intelligence system to act more like human PVPers. Of course, many older players cruise wormhole space looking for players taking advantage of the above, and ganking them.
On the first of December, everything changed. The entire sovereignty system, the means by which alliances conquer and control space, was re-structured to be based around TCU structures instead of starbase grinds. Additionally, changes to the ingredients used to make tech two components were modified in such a way as to make the high-end moon materials less valuable. Alliances have been fighting over these moons for years, and the profits from them were so rich that they could easily pay for any capital ship losses suffered during the course of defending those moons. Cynosural jammer structures and titan doomsdays gave an overwhelming advantage to alliances defending their home territory, as well, until they were removed in this patch. All of these changes have combined to throw the end-game of EVE into chaos.
Alliances are still trying to find their feet amidst shrinking space and budgets, and newly valuable Technetium moons. It is this re-valuation of null-sec space, rather than any mechanical change, that will result in changes to alliance politics.
The low time variance on stations coming out of "reinforced mode" gives non-European alliances a certain convenience advantage over others. It is possible that, over time, we will see more US-based alliances taking and controlling space in the almost entirely European and Russian dominated end-game. That would be a welcome development in my opinion, because despite nearly 40% of EVE Online's player base living in the United States, those players are vastly under-represented in null-sec. They are particularly lacking at the leadership level. Some of that may be cultural biases inherent in the game, but more likely it is that European players entered the game sooner and have more inclination to form corporations and alliances around national identity. We'll see.
For older and newer players, the "fleet finder" is a godsend. No more futzing about in intel channels or alliance mails for fleet information. With just a couple clicks, any open fleets are listed, and ready to be joined. This means that there is more on-demand PVP, something that EVE often lacks.
For the end-game players that aren't leading alliances based on high-end moons, the changes are largely good. Lower-level moons are increasing in value, meaning that player labor used to react moon minerals is more valuable, even if the dysprosium mining POS aren't as profitable. Tech two prices are largely trending downwards, as well. Pirate battleships, largely used by elite players, were also rebalanced, largely in their favor.
Finally, though CCP has not financially incentivized running cosmic anomalies (and some CCP staff statements indicate a contradictory understanding about why this is necessary) there have been indications that they will do so in the future, rendering null-sec space more profitable for the individual to defend live in.