EVE Online is an MMO with epic scope and famously treacherous metagame. It is one of the most successful MMO games in terms of subscriptions over time, despite having a science fiction setting rather than fantasy.

What Is EVE Online? Hard Science Fiction In Space.

By the immutable decree of the market, science fiction is eternally second fiddle to fantasy. Books, movies, and video games all generally do better if they are based in the fantasy genre. CCP Games' EVE Online has completely bucked that trend. More impressively, EVE has done it without the huge advantage of a successful brand like Star Trek or Star Wars. Instead, EVE Online has a unique world and story that are more reminiscent of hard science fiction blended with transhumanism.

For fans of space opera, the setting can be disappointing. There are no aliens, laser pistols, or psychic powers. Most players, however, will be content with the space battles, cutthroat business dealings, and sprawling space empires. I sure am!

As far as MMO games go, EVE Online possesses a number of traits that make it stand out from the general MMO milieu. Some of these characteristics were made in reaction to the problems that the creators saw in the other games of the day, when EVE was released back in 2003. Others qualities have emerged over time, either as a result of other choices or because of the laissez faire attitude of EVE Online's gamemasters.

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What Is EVE Online? A Sandbox.

EVE Online is a sandbox MMO. This term is frequently bandied about when EVE is discussed, because it is largely absent from the successful MMO games. It means that the content is player-driven rather than predetermined by game-designers.

Rather than following a set path where you spend time in one zone what at a particular level and progress through other zones as you improve, EVE will allow you to go anywhere. But there is more to it than that: rather than being restricted by classes, you can train the skills necessary to do anything, without excluding yourself from areas of the game.

Similarly, PvP is open-ended and not determined by level, instanced, or otherwise controlled based on the players involved. Sure, some places make PvP more difficult, but that is part of a spectrum wherein players of any skill level can self-determine their comfort level.

Nor is PvP constrained to violence. Market-based PvP is arguably more bloody and commonplace than ship-based combat. Another sandbox quality along these lines is that nearly every item of consequence is somehow produced by players, who can then determine their own prices. EVE Online's economy is very active and complex, and to my knowledge blows everything else out of the water. This is largely because of the server situation.

What Is EVE Online? A Single Server MMO.

Unlike every other mainstream success in the MMO market, EVE Online is un-sharded. Put another way, it is a single-server MMO. Aside from a test server and a China-only server, every EVE player exists in the same world. This is by far the most impressive thing about EVE Online. Something like 350,000 players all use the same shared world at once, including forming corporations (the EVE version of guilds), buying and selling on the market, and competing for resources.

The scale of EVE's universe is downright scary. Corporations can gather into mega-corporations called alliances that can more effectively cooperate toward their shared goals. The largest EVE alliance has over eight-thousand people in it. These alliances go to war with each other over territory and valuable resources in a highly competitive environment. Another example that might help drive home the scale: the largest fleet battle to date had well over three-thousand players participating at once. Rather more than the usual PvP raid, no?

What Is EVE Online? A Cold, Hard World.

Part of EVE Online's schtick is the mercenary nature of the players. This means that, short of messing with real life information, accounts, or exploits, gamemasters will not get involved. For example, CCP will not reverse an accidental market purchase, nor one in which the goods sold were misrepresented. Nor will CCP's gamemasters get involved if a player socially engineers your goods away from you. It's all in the game.

The EVE market is very hands-off, with very little oversight on the part of CCP staff. As long as the market is functioning properly and players are not denied access to entire areas of game mechanics, CCP is happy. This allows players to embark on ambitious market manipulation projects that can affect the entire server or humongous scams that affect thousands of players.

EVE Online's PvP is something of a rarity, in the sense that it has relatively high stakes. If your ship explodes, you lose it and most of whatever it is carrying. Any surviving gear will be left in the wreckage and likely looted by whatever villainous pirate killed you. One can buy more ships, but that costs painful amounts of in-game money. This "play for keeps" attitude is not everybody's cup of tea, but it certainly has its devotees.

What Is EVE Online? A Grind-Free Game.

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Unlike the other games available at EVE Online's release date in 2003, EVE does not have an experience point grind. Instead, players accrue skill points automatically, whether they are logged in or not. These skill points allow players to organically develop their progress in whatever area of the game that they find interesting at a give time. This is both good and bad: good, because it means that you don't need to run millions of fetch quests to go up levels, and bad, because new players cannot just grind their way up to parity with older players. Indeed, a common criticism leveled at EVE Online is that new players can never catch up with older players. While true, that is largely irrelevant because it is ISK (the in-game currency) and real life training that make more of a difference than skill points. Plus, a new player that specializes can be almost as good as an older player in their area of focus, fairly quickly (with a few exceptions that mostly deal with capital warfare).

For players that enjoy grinding, there is still running EVE missions for ISK and to get various NPC factions to like you.

Not having to grind for experience is a total relief for many, especially for players that do not have endless amounts of time. The average EVE player age is supposedly twenty-seven, possibly as a result of the freedom that hands-off skill increases allows. Plenty of players out there just log in once a week, and seem to do fine.

What Is EVE Online? A Unique Game.

EVE Online blends many MMO attributes into a single cohesive whole. I can't hope to do it justice in a single guide, but I have tried my best to convey the essence of EVE to readers. Some final things that help make EVE an exceptional game:

  • Player organizations take, control, develop, and defend profitable swaths of territory.
  • Subscriptions can be paid for with in-game items, purchasable with in-game currency. I haven't paid real life money for EVE since 2007.
  • Politics and the metagame are generally more important in competitive gameplay than anything else. If you can lead, organize, or motivate other gamers, EVE is a field where you can test your mettle.
  • EVE Online is a difficult but rewarding game. Once you "get" it, the game is incredibly fun. Even people that stop playing or have never played at all will still follow the politics of the game, or check out the latest big scam.
  • In short, EVE Online is a great game.

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Last Updated: Mar 13, 2016