Tobold's Blog
Monday, April 26, 2010
 
How would Blizzard make a game like EVE?

EVE Online and World of Warcraft are obviously very different MMORPGs. But they are both MMORPGs, belong to the same genre of games, and share quite a lot of features. From the various people speculating how Blizzard's next MMORPG is going to look like, several proposed some sort of space game, because Blizzard said they wanted to make something different. So what if Mike Morhaime is secretly playing EVE Online and decided he wants to make a Blizzard version of it? How would an EVE-like game look if Blizzard would make it? I mean, copy and refine is the usual Blizzard style, so why not copy and refine EVE? I'm not saying that this is extremely likely, but it is an interesting thought experiment.

Obviously if Blizzard made an EVE-like game, they would want it to have far more players, preferably several million of them. Which means the game has to be more accessible than the CCP version. On the other hand they can't just make some sort of "WoW in space", because that would clash with their idea of making something very different to not canibalize WoW subscription numbers. So our task here is to look which are the core features of EVE which should be kept, and which other features need work to make the game a multi-million player hit.

The core of EVE gameplay would remain, with minor variations. Blizzard's version of EVE would still be a sandbox game, that means no levels and no reward structure leading players down a linear path to max level. There would still be a lawless part of space with free-for-all PvP and the ability for guilds and alliances to conquer the stars. But players would start in the very inner part of the galaxy, where life would be even safer than it is in EVE's high security space, with absolutely no PvP, stealing, or ganking possible. Instead of a 1.0 to 0.0 security level, there would just be 4 steps, from safest to least safe, with the second being about equivalent to current high sec, the third to low sec, and the fourth to null sec. New players would get a warning before entering a less safe sector. Blizzard's EVE would have trading, mining, scanning, exploration of wormholes, and all the other various features of the current EVE.

The first thing to improve would definitely be the user interface. But apart from the easy to say and hard to do "make a better standard user interface", Blizzard's EVE should have a LUA-based user interface with the ability of players to modify it with addons. WoW's original user interface was okay, but it was by letting players modify it, and then adopting the most popular modifications, that WoW's user interface got to where it is now. The continuous improvement to the user interface through player-created addons is something that the Blizzard EVE would need.

The next thing to tackle would be EVE's famous vertical difficulty curve. "Difficulty" in EVE has nothing to do with lets say the difficulty of raiding ICC on heroic, fast reflexes are very little in demand. The vertical nature of the EVE difficulty curve comes from the game doing a lousy job of teaching you how to play it. The game is very complex, which is good, but often the player is left alone with that complexity, which is bad. To make matters even less user friendly, sometimes there are layers of unnecessary fluff which only confuse, e.g. there are 13 different mining lasers, many of which are just minor variations. Thus in the Blizzard version of EVE, there would be somewhat less items, but better structured, and it would be easier to follow the relations between stats, skills, and items. It should be easy to find *in game* what skills you could learn or what modules you could install if you want to increase lets say your CPU value.

A big part of the better accessibility would be the mission (quest) system. As we want to remain true to the basic sandbox design, in which players don't run after rewards all the time, Blizzard's EVE would have a very different basic gameplay from WoW. To quote one of my favorite characters from WoW, the troll Drakkuru, "For your efforts, you be gettin' da greatest of rewards.... Revelation!": Besides making a little money, and improving your faction standing, missions would mainly be there to teach you the game. Instead of just having relatively few career missions and lots of random missions, basically all of the low level missions would be teaching players about the many aspects of the game. Every sort of gameplay the game offers would be covered by several quests, which from basic to advanced explain everything there is to know. And once done, these explanations would remain in a sort of tome of knowledge for future reference.

What probably needs some minor adjustment is the skill system. The "learning" skills, which only speed up the other skills' learning would have to go. Instead there could be learning speed bonuses for people who did all the missions related to a particular skill, including a system to enable people to find those missions easily. So the advantages of the EVE skill system could be kept, while making the system somewhat more encouraging for players to actually play the game.

I'll leave it to the guys from Blizzard to improve mining, there must be a way to make it more interesting, but I'm not quite sure how. Turn it into an interactive mini-game? There must be something that can be done to make the most basic economic activity somewhat more interesting. I'm also not quite sure whether to leave the legal RMT in. At least legal RMT somewhat limits the illicit version, and it might be more acceptable in a game where you can lose whatever you bought. The system where only one character per account can skill up can also remain, it seems to be the most acceptable of the business models which makes people who play more pay more.

Of course that is only one example of how such a game could look. But what I hope to have made clear is that with some minor changes any MMORPG can be made more accessible. Throw enough money and design skill at the project, and you can get an accessible and polished game out of any core gameplay. I don't really think Blizzard is planning a version of EVE, but I wouldn't be surprised if their next game was a bit more open world, sandbox type of game, to attract a different kind of player than World of Warcraft does.
Comments:
So our task here is to look which are the core features of EVE which should be kept, and which other features need work to make the game a multi-million player hit.

I can't help but think that the 500,000 subscribers who play EVE will find that comment offensive.

It presumes that EVE as-is is less than whatever version that Blizzard could create.

True perhaps, but still offensive.
 
Narrowing the materials would help, particularly the different grades of ore.
The economy would need a better interface; the information was confusing and overwhelming.

But the biggest thing would be working on the fittings and skills required, so make it a bit more tolerant of impatience; it's not fun to wait, and only be able to wait, for days, or even weeks. At the least I'd add some quests which accelerate the learning, even if only slightly, a 10% perhaps, so the player feels that they have some influence.
 
It presumes that EVE as-is is less than whatever version that Blizzard could create.

Only less accessible, less mass market, less popular. Most fans of less mass market, more niche games get over that by spouting the old "if it's popular it must be bad". And of course they hate all popular games. You can't even mention WoW in EVE chat without being verbally aggressed.
 
From the various people speculating how Blizzard's next MMORPG is going to look like, several proposed some sort of space game, because Blizzard said they wanted to make something different.

I'm not prepared to assume this will be as different as you think it will. Would you call Warcraft 3 completely different than Starcraft? I wouldn't. Same game, with a new graphical theme and heroes added.

So when Blizzard says they're going to do something "different," I don't at all put it past them just to make WoW in space (especially, a game which most EVE players would consider WoW in space). We shall see though.
 
I'm first going to suggest a couple of definitions.

Eve Online is essentially a 4X game in the spirit of Masters of Orion and even Civilization.

Blizzard's stable of games has dark sci fi, light fantasy and dark fantasy. The obvious gap is light sci fi.

OK, so we are looking at a light sci fi (eg Star Trek, Star Wars type) 4X game. WIth polish. Somewhat tongue in cheek. With pop culture references.

I think WoW has taught Blizzard the value of avatars. Most gamers, particularly I think female gamers, want to play a second virtual life as a person not a thing. A hero/heroine not a ship.

I also think most space VWs aim eventually for a dual system - space fights and ground fights. This is mirrored in most of the films and TV series that inspire the games - Star Wars and Star Trek for instance.

So the key changes from the Eve model are
- lighter theme (think Kirk wrestling with a lizardman rather than your cold frozen body floating in space)
- still 4X
- tongue in cheek
- pop culture references
- avatar based
- will include ground combat, walking in stations.
 
Star Trek Online, although wallowing in mediocrity a bit; seems a bit more along the lines of how Blizz would do EVE.
 
I can't help but think that the 500,000 subscribers who play EVE will find that comment offensive.
That's an understatement ;) But it's irrelevant at the same time. As the average gamer would say "QQ more".

It presumes that EVE as-is is less than whatever version that Blizzard could create.
If Blizzard would copy this game, add a decent GUI and a stable/fast Mac client (which they both definitely can), I'd switch to their game immediately.

I also like the other suggestions Tobold makes, they seem very reasonable.
 
Blizzard's game would have a plethora of larger-than-life 'hero/villain' NPCs.

Space mining doesn't sound like something that a mass market would sign up for.

There would have to be a frame of 'the battle of good vs evil' for this to be a Blizzard production...
 
I've mentioned often that it woud make perfect sense for Blizzard to produce EVE 2.0.

It's an incredible base product that needs a hell of a lot of polishing. The fact that EVE has been successful even without that polishing demonstrates the potential.

To add to your list of things to improve:
In addition to the slow, almost turn based combat of EVE, a lot of players could be attracted if you could fly x-wing-style fighters.
 
"I can't help but think that the 500,000 subscribers who play EVE will find that comment offensive."

I'm sure that they realise the game has flaws, like being really really hard to learn. And an unfriendly UI. And some of those flaws could be fixed without ruining the parts they like.

I also suspect that mining isn't particularly more dull than spending hours gathering ore in WoW.

The question is whether a game like EVE could ever be popular enough for Blizzard to do it. I'd like to see them try a more sandbox game, but I don't know if they might.
 
Interesting question Tobold. Your points about better user interface, better tutorial, safer zones and better quests are the first that came to mind for me too.

One thorny issue is permanent item loss. Losing stuff hurts and I am not convinced that will ever be acceptable in a mass market game. Yet permanent item loss is absolutely central to EVE. It drives the EVE economy and it also infuses the whole culture of the game. I think we have to leave it in even for those who only play PVE in the safe regions of space.

Here is one (slightly cynical) suggestion of how to make a game with permanent item loss more acceptable to the mass market: Introduce visible symbols of progression that are not based on ships and that are not lost when your ship gets blown up. It could be a hierarchy of titles although titles have become devalued due to overuse. How about ship colour: Regardless of the ship you are flying the colour of the ship is determined by your rank: Beginners start off in grey ships and progress through yellow, blue, purple, orange, pink with blue spots etc.
 
The UI could really use a complete overhaul. Nested dropdown menus punish user errors quite severely (a lesson that Microsoft learnt painfully with pre-Vista Start Menus), and the lack of multithreading makes the UI feel very sluggish at times.

Narrowing the materials would help, particularly the different grades of ore.
Huh? In WoW, 16 ores refine into 24 metals. In Eve, 18 ores refine into 8 minerals.

The economy would need a better interface; the information was confusing and overwhelming.
On this I agree. The market screen should sort by price by default, and should highlight high/lowsec stations according to the user's autopilot settings. In particular, the item group screens should be switched into tables, showing concrete differences between products rather than showing the flavor text. Also, the game could use a tutorial about how buy and sell orders are matched to each other, in the same style as the flash-based tracking and missile damage tutorials.
 
If I wanted to play an unintuitive game with frustrating play mechanics, hours of boring grinding for income, but some long term possibilities if you stick with it, well, EVE is a bit too much like real-life.
 
Most of your bullet points constantly recur on the eve-o forums as frequently requested features.

A programmable UI pretty much tops those requests. It would be difficult to retrofit at this point in the lifecycle, and hard to balance. It would be oh so fun though.

A fairly modest reorganisation of the market hierarchy would help your second point - five of the thirteen mining lasers in your example are civilian models, and really should be in their own subsection. Enabling the market search box to look through the description text of items would help too.

Adding small 2.0sec regions would be interesting. It would be stripped bare, by afk miners harvesting it without risk, so useful mainly for mission runners.

The learning skills are generally loathed, and regarded by CCP as a mistake. It's a pity they've not prioritised their removal.

You suggestion about extending low-level teaching missions is an interesting one. Updating and augmenting the tutorials is something they've been doing quite intensely since Apocrypha and, so ErisD/Soundwave have said, are constantly re-evaluating. I suspect they would rather players go interact with others than stay on a L1 mission learning path, but they're certainly open to considering it.

As to a "tome of knowledge", say hello to the Official EVE Wiki. :) http://wiki.eveonline.com/en/wiki/Your_First_Days_in_Space

Plugging mission-grinding into the skill system would be a major change, and would distort the current game economics. Perhaps a blank slate economic revamp could make it work. Perhaps if skill-grind missions give no other reward? But still, that mandates advancement-through-missions, and is antithetical to the current design ethos - "all activity impacts on others."

An effect might be a substantial proportion of new pilots disappearing into a "Must grind moar for BB!" bubble, burning out and quitting.

Making mining more interesting is something Torfifrans promised soon(tm) at Fanfest09 - there was a "WiiMining" slide shown. :) In the existing game model if it became more interesting, requiring more player engagement, then it should be rewarded more, increasing mineral supply, leading to a price slump. Ie "making mining more interesting" implies "make players work harder for the same rewards", which I think is probably why changes to the profession have mostly focused on peripheral mechanics (the Orca and Rorqual, for example) or rewarding group play (ganglinks, W-space).
 

Regardless of the ship you are flying the colour of the ship is determined by your rank: Beginners start off in grey ships and progress through yellow, blue, purple, orange, pink with blue spots etc.


You're not serious, are you ? :)

On item loss:
I don't think it is inherently impossible for item loss to be acceptable for the masses. It's all in the way you approach a game.
Problem rather is that Blizzard would like to cater to all kinds of people.

1) People who like scripted 'Boss encounters'. This group has basically been created by WoW, but exists now.
2) People who like fair PvP. That's completely different from PvP. Believers of fair PvP think that the only difference between players should be the 'skill'.
3) People who like an immersive world.
4) people who like (insane) power progression.
5) People who like to play the economy.
6) People who hate anything that sounds like economics.
7) People who just like to walka round and collect 'herbs'.
8) People who want to be able to 'jump into the action' for 15 mintues then, leave the game for 2 weeks.
9) People who like to socialize in the game and don't crae about instant action.
10) People who like to play a game strategically.
11)...

There are probably many more groups of people. A new MMO, if you want it to be the WoW successor needs to cater to all these groups. The trick is to see how these groups complement each other and not just how they contradict each other.

e.g. The AH goblin also enables everybody to access glyphs for a cheap price that depends on the supply of raw materials. He also allows farmers to play their game.

It's a win-win-win situation.
 
You can't even mention WoW in EVE chat without being verbally aggressed

Mention "Quests" instead of Missions, same thing. Quite odd if you ask me, but most WoW players do not last long in Eve.

Thats good fo core Eve players, but not good for the game itself. It could use more casual space loving players
 
"You can't even mention WoW in EVE chat without being verbally aggressed."

That applies to every MMO I've played since WoW launched.

As for how Blizzard would make a game like EVE, they wouldn't. If they were going to, wouldn't we already have "World of Starcraft"?

I also find the idea that Blizzard's next MMO would have strong sandbox elements inconceivable. Getting people to make their own entertainment is not going to make money on the scale Blizzard requires.
 
Getting people to make their own entertainment is not going to make money on the scale Blizzard requires.

Actually, this is the future of MMOs. Be it in 10, 50 or 100 years.

The ansatz to design every inch of the game is extremely expensive and not very fail-safe.

Look at the user-refined GUI. Look at user-produced apps for the i-phone.
Pluralism, to allow many people to produce something and then only take the best of the best has been one of the basic reasons why western market economies are so successful.

A MMO just needs to right framework, just like a market economy needs the right framework and just like the i-phone needed the right framework for the apps.
 
"You can't even mention WoW in EVE chat without being verbally aggressed."

There is a valid reason for this. The majority of WoW players that I've come across who migrate to EVE spend their 14 day trial bad-mouthing the game, asking stupid questions which are covered by the tutorials which they haven't done, and generally complaining that EVE is not WoW.

Thats not to say that all WoW players who come to EVE are like that, but that is the general impression that people get. Most of the banter I have with former WoW players who have come over to EVE and stayed is light-hearted and meant in jest.

On the topic at hand though: Blizzard would not make EVE or anything remotely like it. Blizzard's money is in player turnover, not in getting and keeping players. You hit the cap, grind for a while longer for the shineys, get bored and either start again or go elsewhere. It makes mnore sense for them to have a high rate of churn as it negates the need for them to add server after server to keep the game growing.

EVE is in it for the long haul, it wants to keep players and has to spend a metric tonne of cash developing and maintaining their single shard server, which is at the forefront of an awful lot of cutting edge server technologies. This may mean that EVE's margins are slimmer but it also means that we get a single shard world with a player driven economy and a population larger than that of the country the company originates from.

Blizzard will never make an EVE clone, they've tasted the crack that is the mass market and are doomed to repeat their tired fomulae (albeit in highly polished and entertaining ways) ad infinitum, because they know it makes money and don't know how to do anything else.
 
"Most fans of less mass market, more niche games get over that by spouting the old "if it's popular it must be bad"."

Well, when most mass-market games try to equate accessibility with shallowness and easy content, albeit polished and entertaining, you would expect said fan-base to consider them "bad".

How would you think an Eve economy player would define the economic game in WoW? Deep and complex? Compared to what he's use to WoW economy is a "me too" feature developed as an after thought.

Nevertheless many people have huge loads of fun running an add-on while sitting on IF.

Easy is fun and marketable and of course players who like more complexity will label such games, bad. And vice-versa...
 
I have a lot of faith in Blizzard as a development company and I have no doubt they could create a fantastic "EVE clone". We often forget that before WoW there was a whole serious of amazing games and no ever thought of them as being too easy or too accessible or too carebear or whatever. They were just good games.

One thing I do wonder whether or not Blizzard could succeed with is re-creating the freedom of action and behaviour that EVE offers. Blizzard like to create streamlined products that empower the user whereas CCP are happy to let players figure it out themselves or backstab each other and they never intervene. That seems to go against Blizzard's ethos of making their games fun for everyone.
 
I dunno what blizzard of today would do. it seems after activision takeover it will be just another clone producer studio.

Blizzard of old could make a very fun pvp sandbox game (in space or not) if they desired so. They do not target that market though - they target mass market mainly .

Their pvp focus is solely on arenas (which are pretty good BTW)

They would probably eliminate boring stuff from eve (like mining) and replace it with different mechanics . Ditch the skill system which servers absolutely no good and replace it with more traditional approach.

They would also make combat more fun
 
One thing Blizzard would have to do would be to pick up the pace of the game.

In Eve, you can spend an entire play session coordinating with your alliance to camp a particular gate, finally getting there, and over the next couple of hours shooting a couple of ships that have the bad luck to pick that route.

Maybe if you're lucky a real battle will develop. And if you're even more lucky, you'll survive more than 10 minutes of that battle.

The P:W (playing:waiting) ratio in Eve is far, far too low for a mainstream game.
 
Tobold -

Your experiments in Eve reignited my interest in Eve. I had always wanted to try it, but never did.

Do you have any plans to gather all the information and resources that your reader base has given you into a post?
 
A bit off-topic as I have nothing worthwhile to contribute to the leading question. You know how every new MMO coming down the pike is labeled a WoW clone? Apparently, Eve Online is now successful enough to warrant its first clone MMO: http://www.perpetuum-online.com/
 
Do you have any plans to gather all the information and resources that your reader base has given you into a post?

Sorry, I'm a writer, not a Wiki administrator. :) I got so much info about EVE, in game and on blog, that I just can't trace all of it back to its origins any more.
 
Oh most EVE players wouldn't take offense to this post at all. Mainly because we've been screaming at CCP to improve the UI... since like forever. Seriously - check out the features wanted forum if you don't believe me...
 
I think the EVE player bashing WoW is darned funny considering EVERYONE in my corp plays WOW and 90% of us are Silver Hand Alliance.

There are so many improvements needed to the UI that people have been betting for it since...beta? (Actually I think in beta I thought the UI wasn't too bad, but that was before WoW was even out.)

It odd that CCP can release two graphics engine upgrades and an in game browser and never upgrade the UI.

Or give us neat features that you think computers could do, like transmit bookmarks over the radio.

I think the resources Blizzard could bring to their EVE clone would be fantastic. I don't know if it would end up feeling as free wheeling as EVE, but there are so many great ideas in EVE whose execution are all over the place, from excellent to ACK! Get me out of here, that $75 or 100 Million (US) would solve nicely.
 
It odd that CCP can release two graphics engine upgrades and an in game browser and never upgrade the UI.

As far as I know they are stuck with a software choice they made at the beginning, which now backfires to them.

The engine is written in C++ and interfaces to the game and UI logic, which is entirely written in Python, a scripting language.

There are better ones, but to write UI code in Python is a pain. To find good UI coders who also can tweak Python is hard, so they are very happy if they get a slightly better interface to run due to the limitations of Python and its code efficiency.
 
I was a bit excited after seeing "EVE" in a bunch of titles of your posts. "Did Tobold convert?!" I wondered. I was a bit disappointed after reading through all of them that your reception of the game seems to be lukewarm at best.

To each his own of course. I do believe that what has drawn me to EVE has as much to do with the uniquiness of my play style as the uniquiness of Eve. That is to say, different strokes for different folks. Though I may want desperately for my friends to play (oh how i've tried to lure them away from wow) or my favorite blogger to play, in the end I understand each gamer has their own unique needs to be met, and certain games fulfill those more than others. I can not convince a minmax achievement junky (my best description of my hardcore raiding friend's play-style) to play a big-strategy design junky's game (my best description of my play-style).

All i can do is bask in the warm glow of the MMOsphere, and know we both have something we love doing that is very cheap and will only get better.
 
that your reception of the game seems to be lukewarm at best

I dont see it this way. If Tobold would be bored with Eve he would stop. But he is still playing so he has fun, but analyzes the game from his standpoint.

I guess instead if Lukewarm he is fascinated but wonders why as the game has its problems and weaknesses
 
"If Tobold would be bored with Eve he would stop"

Now that he is being paid to write, he can't stop.
 
Personally, I think Blizzard's next MMO will be a superhero game, succeeding where Champions failed and making good on CoH's promise. If they were going to do a space game they would leverage Starcraft's popularity, and they already stated they weren't going to do that.

But if they did try to make an Eve-ish game, they would add much more PvE, creating alien races with big cool ships that have to be fought in space, then boarded and captured giving nifty technology upgrades that could be used in your own ship. Pimping out your ship would be the carrot that would drive people onward, though there would still be personal avatars that could walk around stations and fight.

Blizzard could do it well, but the superhero route is a sure thing.
 
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