Eve’s hallmark quality — that which that separates it from nearly every other MMO — is that the game is designed to include a competitive aspect in nearly every element. Market traders constantly adjust order prices, miners compete for limited amounts of ores and ice, industrialists research blueprints and shift their production lines around in space, PI producers move their collectors around on planets, and pretty much every form of spaceships shooting each other (whether consensual or non-consensual) — they all have this common thread. Competition, both friendly and hostile, is a constant in Eve.
In comparison, most other MMOs have a design goal of minimizing competition between players. Themepark content tends to be instanced and isolated, and where it is not, it respawns rapidly to prevent players from monopolizing it. Most MMOs have achievement systems, which are essentially participation ribbons — they’re a symbol that you were present at a place and time, and that you didn’t soil yourself in the process. There’s rarely an achievement for doing things first; where there are such achievements, drama almost always emerges.
As an example, World of Warcraft often contains two achievements for every piece of endgame content in the game — one for completing the content at any time, and one for being the first group on the server to complete the content. (The latter usually has some reward attached to it, such as a rare mount or a unique player title.) These achievements are a perpetual source of complaints to Blizzard — and they are the cause of some strange player behavior, such as players transferring their characters whenever a new server opens, in the hopes of collecting that achievement on the new server.
What does that mean?
Some players simply don’t enjoy competitive games at all; Eve, as it exists today, will never appeal to those players. Other players are okay with competition, as long as they feel that it’s a level playing field (or that they can opt in/out depending on mood); they may be drawn to Eve, but they usually end up dissatisfied with it. Why? Because the bar is always rising, and ultimately they reach a point where they’re no longer willing to do what’s needed to keep up with the rest of the player base. (Or they decide that they were never able to effectively compete in the first place.)
On top of this, much of Eve’s game design provides incentives for hyper-competitive behavior — more often than not, the winner takes all. There’s no benefit to being a small fry; no prize for second place. It shows up in many places:
- Multiboxing miners
- 0.01-isking on market sale orders
- Market manipulation, especially on T2 components
- Spying and intelligence-gathering
- Large-scale fleets (i.e. 2000+ man fleets, and pushes towards supercap dominance)
- Betrayals (Haargothing, corp theft, and awoxing/safaris)
Over time, Eve tends to drive out everyone who isn’t hyper-competitive in some aspect. And for the players who are willing to compete and stick around, the line between “competitive play” and “anti-social behavior” gets blurry as the ceiling grows higher. This is CCP’s Gordian Knot — in fact, it’s an entire web of interconnected Gordian Knots.
But, instead of arbitrarily declaring degrees of competition to be socially acceptable or unacceptable, consider this: What if CCP changed some parts of Eve’s design to put upper bounds on competition?
- What if 0.01-isking wasn’t the optimal way to ensure steady sale volume?
- What if multiboxing wasn’t the best way to clear out a belt? (Or if the multiboxers competed in a different type of belt?)
- What if there were diminishing returns on cramming thousands of players into a fleet, or flying large ships?
- What if there was a meaningful bounty hunting system that provided long-term disincentives for awoxing / corp theft, while still leaving it open as an option for the dedicated?
- What if Alliance Tournaments had meaningful prizes for more than just first and second place?
It’s entirely possible for Eve to be competitive without becoming a cesspool. Not every commons needs to be a tragedy — especially when you’re in control of both the commons and the cattle.
I guarantee that CCP will almost certainly be looking at ways to cut some of these Gordian Knots, if they want to see Eve survive to a third decade — and players need to be ready for that. I don’t expect CCP to try to stop players from fighting; however, they might be able to create the right incentives for players to keep the fight clean, and maybe even pull their punches on occasion.