I Came Here to be Podkilled: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Battle Edition

While trying to fly with one of the many fleets involved in taking over the station (and sov) in AF0-V5, I got separated from my fleet, and stumbled into the EVE equivalent of a dark alley. Well, no.

Since I was killed warping in to AF0-V5 itself, it was more like I charged the enemy guns with no backup.

In the tradition of documenting my foolishness in the most exquisite detail, it ent like this: We bridged into somewhere close, I think it was ZBP-TP. We jumped to the next system, DY-P7Q on command but once our fleet and two more were in system we had very serious time dilation maybe down to 26 percent.

The FC said “jump to the next system”. But I didn’t know what the next system was. As you can see from the map, there are systems that you can jump to. So I had to watch other people and see where they were going. How did they know? I got to the pos for the fleet about a minute before it bridged, so maybe there had been instructions, I don’t know. But watching other people in the fleet, they were warping to XVV. So I followed. Someone had linked the target system in fleet chat, so I set my destination.

The FC kept saying “jump to the next system” and we were strung out, so I kept going, thinking “Oh crap, I’m behind”. About the time I was in B-S347, the FC started saying “don’t jump “. I’m not really sure what system name he said, I think he said NS2L-4, one system behind me. I’m quite sure though, that he didn’t say AF0-V5, though. So I jumped. As soon as it finished, I realized that there was a problem. There were bubbles everywhere, and lots of reds on the overview.

So after a delicious few seconds holding my cloak, I started burning for the gate. My pod was starting the jump animation when it blew up.

I guess I should have taken that left at Albuquerque.

And Then There Were Bears

I count myself as one of the “online family” JaquelynHeat describes here. I’m quite gratified by the turnaround she engineered online.

I don’t have to wait long for the opening I want, however. Less than a minute later, the same guy calls BigCountry a “homo”. I’ve got a shot. I’m taking it.

(The following is paraphrased from memory)

EVE RADIO IN-GAME TEXT CHAT:

Jexit > Why are we accusing BC of being a homo like it’s a bad thing? BC would be an awesome homo if he were one.
PlayerX > BEAR!
PlayerY > Good point!
PlayerZ > He’d totally be a bear!

ON THE AIR:

“Listener Jexit in the in-game chat makes a good point here. She says, ‘Why are we accusing BC of being a homo like it’s a bad thing? BC would be an awesome homo..’”
“If I were one!”
“‘…if he were one.’”
“I totally would be!”
“BC would be a great homo!”
“Listeners are saying you’d be a bear, BC.”
“I’d be such a bear!”
“Total bear!”
“I couldn’t deep throat, though. I have a terrible gag reflex.”

I’m hearing a lot fewer, though not none, uses of “faggot” in corp chat and voice than I did during my previous stint serving on the Gulag, as Meclin calls it. Many of the EVE players have been playing for a long time, and are now perhaps older and wiser. That’s good news.

They Came Here to be Podkilled, too

Most of the players that stick with EVE are attracted by one aspect of it that’s quite unusual in the MMO world – it’s possible to lose something into which you have invested a substantial amount of effort.

Usually, after the loss you realize that you were being kind of reckless. Sometimes, like Kidabeybe Ahmed in his vid series about his first 30 days in EVE Online, you have the excuse that you are just a noob. CCP’s Community Spotlight post about him and his series says this:

Though he describes that as a “somewhat upsetting experience” and a “blunder”, it made him realize one of the great things EVE offers; the constant fear of loss. Other games don’t really penalize you for deaths or failures, at least not to the extent EVE does. It is a game where you can really lose a lot of your hard earned money, assets, time, and pride simply because you chose a bad strategy, made a mistake, were incompetent, or (like Kudabeybe) became complacent.
But it is also one of the biggest draws EVE has, and Kudabeybe finds it no different. There are so many little adventures, lessons, and headaches that he’s gone through that he cannot just summarize it simply.

Ayup. (I’m from the down-east region of Norrath, did you know that? They are known for their fabulous crimson locks there. Really.)

Here’s the video of the loss.

If you’ve played EVE at all, you’re going to start cringing at some point while watching that. You know, the “You’re doing WHAT?” reaction.

My noob loss of this nature came about 2-3 weeks in, when I did a haul through lowsec in an Iteron 2, I think. I put it on AP. It was late at night, I was half-asleep at the keyboard. I’d done similar hauls before and had seen no pirates. I told my corpmates that EVE just didn’t seem dangerous enough. I didn’t really need to be taught that lesson twice.

For the longest time, I had some anger toward the guy that ganked me. I didn’t understand why anyone would do that. At this point I realize that it’s for the loot. And the killmail. EVE is about asymmetric combat. You can be a herbivore, and work on ways to not be lunch. Or you can be a carnivore, and try to figure out more ways to have lunch. You can even be a sort of omnivore, spicing up your stable diet of industrialism with bits of tasty pvp now and again. Highsec industrial players are often called carebears, but that’s ignoring the fact that bears are actually kind of scary.

But it isn’t just noobs that do dumb things and lose stuff they didn’t want to lose. This morning The Mittani announced that the Goons had lost a jump freighter with a station egg inside. They lit a cyno with a neut in system. Back when I was a rookie cyno lighter, my elders (well, in EVE experience, anyway) told me never, never, NEVER do this.

Things are different if you own half of Nullsec, I guess. To his credit, Mittens (The Mittani) said no. They did it anyway. The mind boggles.

A station egg is a thingy that you can haul around which eventually assembles itself into a new station. I can’t give you a solid valuation for one, but my wild-assed guess is that it runs about 10 billion ISK. The JF was 4 billion. Maybe it was 20 billion ISK. But the ISK isn’t the only problem, it’s also the opportunity cost. There isn’t exactly a large, accessible market in station eggs. This could set back strategic plans by several weeks, opportunities may be lost entirely because, well, let’s just say that operational security is dead.

Early MMOs had a fairly serious death penalty. I can remember epic corpse runs in Everquest. I remember losing a couple more trying to get the first one back. All that stuff made it that much sweeter when I managed to sneak into the deepest parts of Neriak on some quest. But MMOs have been trending away from this, with death penalties getting smaller and smaller. Anyone wishing to appeal to the mass market probably has to do that, because who volunteers, no, strike that, who pays money to feel like an idiot some of the time. Somehow, though it’s different when it’s other players doing it.

I Came Here To Be Podkilled, and All I Got Was This Lousy Suicide Gank

My highsec mining alt got suicide ganked the other day. I wasn’t even AFK, but I was a bit zoned out. I heard the lock alarm and thought it was another rat until I looked at the overview and saw a blinking skull and crossbones.

“Oh crap” I thought, “It’s a suicide ganker”. I was a bit frozen, but there was no chance to get away. I blew up in about 8 seconds. In my pod, I looked about, wondering where Concord was. The ganker’s ship blew up in about 4 more seconds. And now, I wondered, how does he scoop my loot, and my half-load of ore?

But there was an orca with a tractor beam already reeling it in. The ganker had a -10 security rating. His accomplice must bring ships in the orca, which he takes out just when he spies a target.

The insurance payout on my Retriever was pitiful, covering maybe 10 percent of the replacement cost. The highest level of insurance available on a Retriever (what I was flying) isn’t much better.

In contrast, the Catalyst the ganker was flying was probably completely covered by insurance. This is pretty clearly a deliberate choice made by CCP to make the game interesting. At one level, it’s unfair. And at another level, EVE wouldn’t work as a game if it were fair. EVE Online is a PVP game, even in highsec.

As a case in point, I had an interesting time (after all the swearing) figuring out how to improve my chances. I’ve thought of a few things, but I have to say, Retrievers have no tank, and will never have any tank. In that way, they suck.

Speaking of insurance, these guys, a hedge fund/bank/evil wizard/suicide CDS ganker would be completely at home in EVE.

Would “suicide bankers” be a good name for folks like Blackstone?

Tolly Goes To War

Friday afternoon (ish) an announcement came across Jabber from The Mittani. It was pretty heavy with Goonspeak, or maybe it’s SA-speak, since Goons and Something Awful are tightly connected. Anyway, it said something about deploying in Curse and meddling in wars there that involved NCDOT and other major players in the South.

There was nothing from our alliance leadership about this, so I asked Dear Leader Meclin about it on Saturday when I logged in. He said he was waiting for something more definitive. This appeared to me to be the green light to ignore it for the time being and rat my little heart out. Which is what I did on Friday night, teaming up my new Ishtar with Bob TheExcavators’ Tengu to very good effect.

In the meantime, my alliance, TNT (for Tactical Narcotics Team), demonstrated that a few of its members had difficulty with the concept “chain of command”. There were some scolding-ish posts on the TNT forums about how we should get our butts down to G-0 and support our brothers. They were not from Alliance people with titles, however. Not as far as I know. I’m not going to call anyone out, but this was a head-scratcher.

We are not defending our turf, or the turf or our allies in Curse. We are not even the aggressors – we stand to gain no territory from this fight. Why are we even there? The story is more or less that this is payback for people who interfered with the CFC’s long fight in Fountain as “honorable third parties”. So we are there as Honorable Third Parties bent on making things as difficult as possible for everyone else. In short, payback.

Don’t get me wrong, if my corpmates are going, then I’m going. I’ll get in fleets, get myself blown up, and probably get mocked for not having the right skills for something better. I might even get a few kills on my killboard, who knows?

However, I don’t think of the Goons as my brothers. I do not think that every fight that they start is my fight. That privilege is reserved for the people of my corp, Black Sheep Squadron. And if the Alliance leadership says go, I will go. That’s the price of living in null with sov. It’s all very feudal, your rent is paid both in coin and in bodies to fight. However, I do hope that they would respect us enough to give us clear orders from people in command positions.

Anyway, by Sunday it was clear. We were going. So I jumped to my pvp clone, the one with no implants. Then I moved his respawn point to a station nearby G-0, undocked and started the self-destruct sequence. (This is new by the way, isn’t it? I could swear that I could self-destruct instantaneously before.) Two minutes later I woke up in a station with nobody else in local.

That can’t be right, I thought. So I checked the region. I’m in Pure Blind. I picked the wrong station to JC to. Well dang. Fortunately, this one has a medical station, so I buy a new clone (so I won’t lose skills when I die) for 3.5 million and do it again, confirming on TeamSpeak that it’s the right one.

It is the right one. It’s getting pretty late now, into EVE’s quiet time, where it’s prime time only if you live in Hawaii. Bob scouts ahead for me, and I pilot my Velator the two jumps over to G-0. I manage to buy a new clone, and get into the staging station, ready for action.

Of course, I have no ships. I am told they will be up on contract. I’m fully qualified to fly a Harpy, and almost fully qualified for a Baltec Megathron. (I don’t have the skills for the ECM drones that are part of the fit.) I can fly the Dominix, but I can’t use the Tech 2 Garde’s yet. I’m not sure whether I would be welcome in a Domi fleet or not. In fact, I have Gallente Battleship V (which applies to both of those ships). I can also fly a Talos, I don’t know whether that will be needed.

As every soldier does, I have worries on the brink of battle, but my worries are a little different. I wonder if I will actually get a fleet. It’s difficult on the West Coast, and doubly difficult since I often don’t get online until 9pm or so my time. So there will be few fleets posted, and some of them will require ships that I can’t fly, or maybe won’t be available. We shall see.

Another Reason I Like EVE Online

Last night I was talking with another member of the corp. We chatted about recent movies – he had seen Elysium, and wanted to know if I’d seen it. I hadn’t but I had seen Gravity, had he seen that?

Typhoon Haiyan Smashes the Phillipines and Brushes Malaysia

Also, he mentioned that he lived in Malaysia, and that their president had gone on TV to say that Typhoon Haiyan wasn’t a hurricane in Malaysia, though it was one in the Phillipines. He said it did get pretty nuts for a while though.

He also mentioned, to my surprise, that Christmas was sort of a thing in Malaysia, because there are so many European and American expats in retirement there. I did not know that.

In my corp are people from California, New Mexico, Texas, Utah, Kansas, England, Wales and Malaysia. And almost certainly more places than that. My prior corp was full of people from Latvia. There’s a corp full of Danes in the alliance, some of whom come on our Teamspeak to chat sometimes. There is a very strong Russian presence in the game. Oddly, there appear to be very few Japanese or Chinese or Koreans. I wonder if the intensively textual nature of the EVE UI gives them more problems, given how different the written languages are.

When we have an ice-mining corp day, it’s kind of like going fishing. You just sort of hang out in the belt, shooting the breeze. I enjoy listening to all the different voices. Last Sunday, it included a woman’s voice, which was a welcome surprise.

We had this exchange then:

Wilhelm Arcturus: Hey, we have all the Californians on this side of the belt! (This was me and him and Potshot.)

Me: Well, yeah. The sun rises later on this side of the belt. That’s as it should be.

Alex: So where are the Welshmen?

Me: Don’t we have a POS named “sheep farm” or something? [Actually, that's only what I wish I had said. I said something less funny, like "they're on the sheep farm"]

I note that hitherto, Alex had not sounded Welsh to me, just some form of British. Other corp members, though, definitely sounded Welsh to me, but my ear isn’t all that good, as you can see.

In point of fact, my corp, Black Sheep Down, has sort of a sheep theme to it. Our corp ticker is BAAW (I expect BAA was taken). This, I am told, is due to the influence of the Welshmen. Such is EVE.

Anyway, I am sure there are EVE players in the Phillipines as well, but they might not be logging in for a while. Godspeed.

The Effect of TiDi on Man-in-the-Moon Megathrons

Wilhelm Arcturus (now my EVE corpmate) has a great post up recounting his attempt to get into a battle in the far expanses of EVE. (One reason I’m telling you this is because he quotes me! Squee! I made a funny!)

The fight didn’t come to any conclusion because the node died from too much strain. This is after a stretch at 10% time dilation, and then a period where, in spite of time dilation, the game just couldn’t keep up with the 1500-ish people in the system.

In a sense, I kind of love that EVE has this problem. That is, I love that there’s something going on in the game, and that CCP is doing its best (which on this night wasn’t good enough) to allow everyone that wants to be a part of it do exactly that. CCP has a team working on server performance that is very, very good. I’ve read some of their white papers, these people know something. That’s really cool.

And that’s where we get to an unintended consequence of time dilation:

But thanks to the magic of time dilation, while we spent more than 150 minutes getting to the fight, the fight system was running at 10% speed, so a mere 15 minutes of game measured time had gone by for the fight. That is one of the side effects of TiDi. Those in the fight slog along at slow speed while reinforcements are moving ten times as fast.

So in this sense, time dilation makes the problem worse. If the game had been able to proceed at full speed, the fight would most likely be over before all those people got to it.

****

As far as getting into fleets myself, I’m still working on skilling up to doctrine fits. I can fly (and also posess) a doctrine Harpy at this point. I just discovered that I can fly a doctrine Talos (I don’t think the Talos existed when I played before, so I didn’t recognize the name before). However, there are no Talos’ to be had at any price in Deklein.

Until just yesterday, my front-line ratting ship was a Megathron, so I can fly them, but between me and a doctrine Megathron stands Sentry Drones V. I’m currently training Caldari Cruiser V so I can fly a doctrine Eagle, though. Then I will train Sentry Drones V which will give me both Megathrons and Dominixes in CFC doctrine. (I used to fly a Domi as my primary ratter, but I switched to a Mega).

This is all very surprising to me. Three Gallente ships as doctrine fits, and the Ishtar (also known as the Isktar) as a favored ratting ship. When did Gallente ships get cool? When I last played EVE, the favored weapon system was the projectile line, and Minmatar ships. I remember when the Alphafleet doctrine first came out. It was kind of depressing, really, because I couldn’t fly any of the doctrine ships, and I wasn’t even really close.

Apparently, something about hybrid weapon damage was changed.

Anyway, I am still a scrub until I can launch Garde II’s, but that won’t be much longer.

Calm Under the Hell of the AFK Cloaker

When I joined Black Sheep Down [BAAW], I needed to gather up a few skills before clone jumping out to my old stomping grounds in Deklein. Once I got there, the rest of BAAW was deployed in Curse, which is an NPC-sovereign region of nullsec, engaged in basically a training exercise. (I trained to fly a doctrine Harpy, but I didn’t finish before the deployment ended.) So I spent several days puttering about my old stomping grounds, getting myself up and running. Of course, some nights there would be a hostile present in one or more of the systems I went through. They were what’s known as an AFK cloaker.

Often one doesn’t see the hostiles directly. Their ships have an IFF system, and so all in a system know everyone who is there. (This is not the case with W-space, which is entered via wormholes, but it is everywhere else.) So naturally, if you see that someone belonging to a neutral or hostile alliance/corp is in system, you are on your guard. The countering tactic to this is the AFK cloaker. Someone using this tactic will get a ship that cannot be scanned down, due to having a cloak. Then they will leave themselves in a system for hours on end just sitting there present.

They present a constant threat. At any moment they might appear and try to blow you up. Worse, they might “hot drop” on you, gating in a bunch of enemy ships that will tear you apart in seconds. More than one of my corpmates has lost an expensive ship to hotdropping, including a carrier (a capital ship, one of those expensive ones you’ve heard about, though not the most expensive.)

My first night encountering one of these, I simply quit the field. Docked back up, didn’t try to do anything with the threat present. This is one of the intended effects of AFK cloaking – suppression of the economic activity of your enemies, which reduces them in strength in comparison to your allies. Sovereign warfare in nullsec depends on strong finances – ships and ammunition are expensive.

After a couple nights, I got more back in the groove, remembering how to operate and get things done even when there are AFK cloakers about. And I remember, this is why I came to EVE. (That, and the new possibilities for fabulous stylings of my scarlet follicles that EVE presents.)

Let me try to unpack that.

I study martial arts, when I’m not playing EVE or tabletop RPG. My school, Danzanryu jujitsu, was created in the 1920′s in Hawaii by Seishiro “Henry” Okazaki. Okazaki was an American of Japanese descent. He conceived of jujitsu as a “do”, which was a recognized thing in the Buddhist church he belonged to. “Do” in this sense means “way”, the same as the Chinese “Dao” sometime rendered “Tao” as in “Tao te Ching” or “The Tao of Physics” or “The Tao of Pooh”. All of which to say is that he cared more about satori, which we in the modern West would call “personal growth”, than he did about kicking people’s asses.

In a short essay he titled “Esoteric Principles” he wrote

Whatever the trials or dangers, even “Hell under the upraised sword,” remain calm and remember the doctrine imparted to you by your teacher.

“Hell under the upraised sword” is a pretty good description of what it feels like to try to do something in a system where there is an AFK cloaker. It also describes the feeling I got the other night when trying to go to VFK to pick up a skill book and a ship fitting that I’d bought.

I jumped through our jump bridge just as 5 neutrals entered the system. (“Neutral” it turns out, is a mostly-irrelevant distinction made from “hostile”. In our space, if they aren’t allied, they are trying to kill you. And we are trying to kill them.) I reported them in the intel channel, jumped to a random planet and burned toward empty space while turning on my cloak. I thanked my lucky stars that I hadn’t opted for a larger, non-cloaked, transport. This falls under the category of “remember the doctrine imparted to you by your teacher”, since my corpmates on voice coms coached me to do exactly that roughly 5 seconds after I started doing it. Which was gratifying.

I waited patiently while the neutrals hang out jump back and forth to a neighboring system, and some allies come in and try to kill them. Eventually, they are successful, posting kills in the intel channel. However, another neutral comes into the system. After a long wait, I decide to chance it. He is reported to be in a Caracal, which is very dangerous, but not capable of putting up a warp bubble, which is the main thing I fear, so I warp to the gate and jump through.

He is waiting at the gate. He sees the jump fire, or maybe he sees me decloak briefly just before using the jump gate (this is necessary). I load quickly, grateful that I have the game on an SSD, and start aligning for my warp to the station. This is the most dangerous moment. After jumping, there a cloak applied to you (to give you cover while the new system loads). This cloak must be dropped before my own cloak is applied, and as soon as I start to align, the gate cloak will fade. There is always a few seconds of vulnerability, where you can potentially be targeted (this prevents cloaking) and scrambled so you can’t warp. Then you are killed, in my case, in short order.

But not this night. I start the align, and then apply my cloak. I did it quickly, he might not have loaded yet. My vulnerability is minimal, and I get away and dock safely. Again, this is “remember the doctrine imparted to you by your teacher”, though in some cases, my teacher has been the School of Hard Knocks.

What first interested me in EVE was this kind of experience. I came here to be podkilled, but I also came here to not be podkilled, to look shame and failure in the face, and not blink. It is a very wonderful feeling, in fact, to not be someone’s lunch.

Louis CK Explains Barrens Chat

Actually, he doesn’t. He explains why he thinks that children shouldn’t get smartphones. But it still applies.

The fundamental problem with digital communication is that it eliminates non-verbal feedback. As he describes, when you tell someone, “You’re so fat!” or, as is more often in MMOs, “You’re such a loser! You suck!”, you don’t see their reaction. Their face does nothing at all, nor does their body.

There are two parts to this. First, you can’t tell if anyone is listening. When you speak to a room, there is a palpable sense that the room is listening, or not. If you are speaking, you aren’t analyzing this, you are feeling it. The rustles sound different. Sometimes they get quieter, sometimes noisier. It makes sense emotionally.

But when our avatars, or our mere digital presence, doesn’t reflect our emotional state, that channel of feedback is lost. But that’s not how it feels. It simply feels muted, like no one is listening at all. So the normal human response is to dial your message up. Speak louder, swear more, get in people’s faces more. Above all, get a reaction. Is anyone listening? So this restricted channel encourages escalation.

This principle reminds me of a former guildie who’s drama and escalation in the level 80 channel on Butcherblock made our server somewhat famous – noted on EQFlames.com for one thing. Once I met someone in RL who played EQ2 and when I told him I played on Butcherblock he said he had added BB level 80 chat to his chat feed because it was so entertaining. I think of her escalation as a normal response to the unresponsiveness of the medium.

And also, there is the absence Louis describes. We can’t see the adverse reaction when we say something stupid or hurtful. The feedback loop isn’t closed. We have no clue about what other people might be feeling. We only experience hurt when it become an escalated angry message. And then our impulse is to win.

I don’t quite know how to fix this. Voice chat can be helpful, and it can be obnoxious. It’s a weak channel compared to face-to-face. Of course, SOE now has /soemote which will allow a webcam to track your face and animate your avatar’s face accordingly. This seems valuable, but it doesn’t solve the problem of Barrens chat. (Which, I understand, isn’t really much of a thing any more.)

None of this has much to do with anonymity. In fact, in an MMO, one is pseudonymous, not anonymous. Anonymity can be a factor, but so can the above.

Another complication is how easily we form identities and divisions. We divide up into teams almost automatically, based on the tiniest differences. For example, we might decide that redheads are superior (which is, of course true), and divide the world into two teams – redheads and inferior creatures. Once people divide into tribes, they take actions that will give their team members greater benefits than non-team members, even when the overall benefit to their own team members is smaller as a result. Winning is more important to us than flourishing.

And if this weren’t enough, it seems that humans (and elves, even if they are 3000 years old) have trouble maintaining a circle of relationships with more than 150 people. But our servers routinely are much bigger. So they will fragment. In some sense, that’s what guilds are for. Perhaps we could have smaller server populations, but that can be risky.

I don’t have solutions. But I think now I have a better idea what the problem is.

Everquest Next is People

Tipa is feeling very, very skeptical about Everquest Next:

I’m trying not to be caught up in the EverQuest Next hype. It’s such a blank slate at this point that people feel free to read anything into the various teases. People in the public chat channels in EverQuest 2 speak with absolute certainty about things that contradict what some other certain person believes. As far me, I haven’t seen any evidence of any gameplay, some thread through the game that keeps people logging in. I fear it’s just going to take the usual sandbox route of being PvP focused — “the players are the content!”.

I … am somewhat more caught up in the hype. But really, I understand the skepticism, and the wariness about PvP. Actually, a person’s experience in PvE can be every bit as obnoxious and painful as it can in PvP. And there’s no way to shoot back. So yeah, pickup (groups, raids, etc.) Consider this story she tells.

I also have this weird hangup about joining random groups. I’m paranoid that people will call me out for being a crappy player. This is because people regularly call me out for being a crappy player. We were working through a raid a couple weeks back and someone said they should start a vote to boot the crappy controller. Me, being the only controller in the raid, agreed, and said we should boot her right away. Nervous laughter — wondering, maybe, if I understood they were talking about me. The vote was taken, I was kicked. I spent the rest of the night flying around cities alone, listening for the hum of exobits and wondering why I just didn’t log off and delete the game. The other guys successfully completed the raid.

Last Sunday, we raided again. I chose the “damage” role that every class can choose so that I wouldn’t be tapped to be a controller. Though I intended to play that role anyway. Entering as “damage” would just ensure there being a real controller along as well. Instead of trying to use crowd control powers, though, I just fed mana continuously the entire raid. Nobody tried to kick me, and we eventually succeeded.

So, what’s “fun” for some is not for others. In fact the best aspect of MMOs is also the worst – there are other people playing. Sometimes you have lunch with other players, and sometimes you are (in my case a fabulously redheaded) lunch. The problem is the expectations of players, or as I’ve said before, the social contract of the game. I’ve played in games, tabletop and face-to-face, where we were trying to smash each other’s face in (metaphorically speaking). But everyone knew that was what the game was, and thus, no problem.

I don’t know how you manage to create a social contract among a player base of a few thousand people. It seems impossible. But SOE appears to know that the can’t do it themselves, and that they need to make EQN attractive to the sort of person that can do it, and make experiences like Tipa’s happen a lot less. The game is supposed to be a social game, which means it’s about the people playing the game.

IGN’s Leif Johnson first echoes some of Tipa’s fears:

In fact, while answering another question a few minutes afterward, Georgeson hinted that such effects may play a significant role in PvP: “I mean, my God, how can we have destructibility without talking about PvP?” If that means what it sounds like, this could be big.

But then a few paragraphs later,

Above all, Michaels stresses that he wants to make sure “seeing other people is never a negative for you”— in fact, he wants us to be happy to see other human beings. “We know that social interaction is the backbone of an MMO,” he said. “Without players, we don’t have a game; without social interaction, players don’t stick around.” Michaels’ language here and elsewhere suggest that he’s planning an intensely more social experience than we find in many contemporary MMOs (especially in the upcoming games WildStar and The Elder Scrolls Online), which place a much greater focus on single-player gameplay.

That’s a tall order, though they seem to be focused on game mechanics. No “group penalty” to experience or loot. This has an effect, but it’s sort of a negative effect. So how do you keep players from eating each other? I’ve long been advocating for scope for prosocial behavior. In Everquest, a druid could stand at the Freeport gate and hand out Spirit of the Wolf. This is a form of “pay it forward” that sets a tone for the game as a whole. It creates a game-design problem when this devolves to “pay for buff or transport” – the game isn’t being played the way you thought it would be. But game designers kind of need to suck it up, and get over their irritation at player creativity.

It appears Director of Development David Georgeson and Senior Producer Terry Michaels know this, and they are pinning their hopes on crafters. That’s right, crafters. Everquest Next Landmarks is part of this.

Indeed, much of what we do know about how EverQuest Next will handle social interaction actually springs from EverQuest Next Landmark, the building companion to the upcoming MMO that’s scheduled for launch later this year. That’s partly because Landmark will rely so heavily on crafting. “Crafters are the social glue,” Michaels told me in a private interview. “It’s not because they actually craft,” he said. “It’s because of the personalities that are attracted to crafting. They’re the kinds of people who organize guilds; they set up raids; they solve disputes between players.” In Michaels’ words, they make social interaction “work.”

It remains to be seen whether this will actually work, but I think it’s got a shot. The other piece is that they plan to put lots of things in the game that one person can’t do by themselves. For example, combat. But Leif has worries that I think are justified.

Unfortunately, EverQuest Next’s lack of a trinity bears worrisome of what I call the “faceless” group play of games like Guild Wars 2, in which you play with many people but never have cause to learn their names. “There’s group content out there that requires a group,” we heard during the Q&A panel. “It doesn’t matter how many classes you collect, you’re still only one dude.”

We went through this in the tabletop space when Runequest came out. There were no classes in Runequest. This was in reaction to the very rigid class system of D&D, and a welcome innovation. And it meant that characters didn’t really have any role or niche in a fight. Classes promote teamwork albeit in a very crude way.

But there’s another sort of group collaboration – the building project:

“One of the reasons why you want a lot of people to work with you is because if you want your guild hall have this beautiful mahogany floor,” he said, “you’re going to have to find the Black Forest and harvest all of that.” That forest, he said, might be on the other side of the world, so you’d want to send some guildies to get that and others to search a volcano for obsidian for tiling. I expressed my worry that many players would just start buying all the items off an auction house, but Georgeson seemed nonplussed. “It will definitely be more important than sticking something on the auction house,” he said, and both he and Michaels laughed that there may not even be an auction house.

I feel positive about this because some of the best times we ever had in EQ2 was earning the money to buy, and subsequently decorate our guild hall. However, this kind of focus is tricky. EQ2 tried to promote teamwork/collaboration in crafting and it failed utterly. People made alts to make the subcomponents they needed, because it meant less social interaction. The problem is that playing an MMO isn’t a job. Nobody is under an obligation to show up and do X at any given time, and people are busy with offline things.

So if a project consists of “go out and find X amount of Y” and that’s non-trivial, that’s a very good way to collaborate. And they are thinking that way. They don’t want people to just go and look up where the Black Forest is. I have no idea how they will accomplish that, by the way. Harvesting has its usual nodes with randomized locations, but what they are describing is a whole new level. They think they can cancel out use of trading, too.

The quote is “maybe there won’t be an auction house”. This is coy. There has never been an “auction house” in Everquest, P2P trading isn’t in the form of an auction, but as an “offered for sale” model with the sell limit being less of a listing price (too much sell friction) and more of a “number of slots” thing.

In thinking about the experience Tipa describes, being kicked from a raid, I wonder if this is the work of Achievers or Killers. I’m not sure. But it’s clear that the players they want to be sure to attract are the Socializers and Explorers who also have a streak of Acheiver in them.

Out of respect for Tipa’s allergy for hype I’ll admit that it’s impossible to say if it will work. People can surprise you sometimes. Kids are notorious for liking the box the toy came in more than the toy, for example. But it’s the right thing to be trying to do.

At the moment, I’m playing more Skyrim, my MMO playing is in slow motion. But I want to try to make a push to get the band back together for EQNext. The point of the game is to have people around that are, well, fun to be around, and have something to do that can be done together. Like Soylent Green, Everquest Next is People.