I recently came across a blog post titled “Be the Hero; Not the Villain” by Mabrick. Before reading further, go read his article first.

Here’s a quote:

…people who just want to have fun, not at someone else’s expense, are leaving the ship like rats.

I want to have fun in EVE Online. I do want to be some flavor of hero in New Eden. I want my corporation and my alliance to be something that allows other people to have fun, too. But my definition of fun is not “being a pirate”. It’s definitely not “ruining other people’s gameplay because lulz” (and let me be clear that I acknowledge players can be the villain/pirate/bad guy without also being assholes. Unfortunately, more and more the two seem to go hand-in-hand anyway).

The quote above was the most poignant part of Mabrick’s article for me because it’s true. People who came to EVE out of a love of science fiction, the cool graphics, and (back then) what was the promise of the “sandbox” are now leaving because they’re realizing the “sandbox” is actually a lie.

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Click for source.

CCP once boasted that players could do or be anything in EVE Online. These days? We can still do or be anything in EVE…so long as we are the villain. Come build an empire! Sure…so long as we’re content to be considered pirates, anarchists, corrupt, etc.

Why is this? EVE is unbalanced. I don’t mean ship balancing or NPC AI or power projection or sov mechanics or any of that. The game itself is fundamentally unbalanced and simply doesn’t work as a true sandbox. It pretends to cater to players like me, but it’s actually very difficult—nigh impossible, really—to make any tangible headway as “the hero” (especially in more recent years) because of the game mechanics and CCP’s attitude. Apparently in Valkyrie CCP has decided the player doesn’t have any choice at all: be content to fight for the Guristas (PC Gamer, July 2014), or don’t play. Nice. So anybody who wants to be the hero in Valkyrie can get stuffed I guess…?

It Is Easier To Destroy Than To Create

I’ve been playing EVE Online since March 9, 2008. I don’t consider myself a “veteran” EVE player but six years is still a long time. From 2008 to 2010 I was what others disdainly term a “carebear”: all I did was hisec PVE combat missions. I saved the damsel a zillion times, always hoped for Worlds Collide, and groaned whenever my agents offered me faction missions. I basically never talked to any other player other than the guys in my corp. I was never suicide ganked. The “worst” that happened was dealing a few times with ninja salvagers. I once visited a newbie system to wait for a friend to undock his new character for the first time, and some other newbie randomly decided to shoot my Myrm while I was waiting. It was my first PVP encounter and the only time I’ve ever seen CONCORDOKKEN up close.

For the most part, back then EVE was pretty fun.

It wasn’t until I joined ILF in August of 2010 that I went to lowsec for the first time, tried PVP for the first time, started to get involved with roleplay and the EVE community, and generally actually decided I wanted to make something out of my time in this game. That was when I started writing this website, went to fanfest for the first time, and otherwise really began to care about what I was doing. EVE stopped being a game and turned into a hobby.

(That would be Sakaane on the left.)

(That would be Sakaane on the left.)

But as I became more involved in “the community”, EVE became less fun. There was a player who harassed me both in and out of EVE as part of his wardec strategy. There was another player who berated me about my character, my corp, and my alliance to the point I actually questioned my integrity as a person. Occasionally I get gender-related slurs about my ability to play the game and effectively lead IPI and ILF. There’s often an undercurrent of disgust or disdain aimed at me and my guys: we get called pirates, anarchists, and other things I won’t repeat. There have been countless attempts to “wreck” IPI/ILF and our gameplay in the hope we’ll disband. In almost all cases the grief received actually comes down to this: how I choose to participate in the sandbox, and thus what IPI/ILF exists for. Which is not to be “the villain”.

At times I’ve been called IPI/ILF’s “den mother” and “Sakmommy” and various other things. I am protective of my guys, our RP, and what we’re trying to do in the game. At the same time, I have zero tolerance in my alliance for people acting like douchebags and being anything other than mature adults who know how to act with respect. Do unto others. I’d never thought about quitting EVE until I had to start repeatedly defending myself and my guys against the crap we get. It takes a lot of energy and dedication to keep going and rebuild every time someone comes along to kick down our sandcastle simply because they can. It’s even harder when I see the game developer actively promoting that kind of gameplay without doing much of anything to foster activities on the other side of the coin—the side I want to live on.

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Click for source.

From where I sit, much of what EVE has become today is not “emergent” or fulfilling gameplay or roleplay. It’s nice people who want to build something for themselves and like-minded peers, tell some stories based on the lore, and have fun in a fair way, yet are constantly getting distracted and hindered in those goals because they must fend off bullies who have CCP’s permission to beat them down. The villains can do it because the game makes it easy to, and the players who want to be the heroes are forced to struggle with both hands tied behind their backs. Ever tried recruiting for a group that wants to be “the hero” rather than “the villain” when more and more CCP’s target audience is becoming the latter, and the former are considered a worthless investment of resources? Recruitment is the longest four letter word I know.

Newton’s Third Law

In real life, we probably have more heroes than villains. In fiction, we hope there are more heroes than villains because we generally want the good guys to win and everyone to live happily ever after when all is said and done.

On the whole, I believe that human beings, even ones with cybernetics implanted in them who are basically just sentient computer processing cores for the ships they fly, tend to want to resist the idea that harming another person on any level or in any fashion is good. Doesn’t matter if that other person is a newbie who has just undocked for the first time or is someone like me who has been around the block more than once.

Don’t get me wrong. I understand CCP’s vision that the cluster is intended to be a gritty, grim, dark, somewhat dystopian place. And sure, in every society without fail you will find more than a handful of people who fall somewhere into the villain category. But come on. With CCP’s attitude lately, and the way the game mechanics are structured, the game seems to be like this:

Villain overload!

Villain overload!

Newton’s Third Law tells us that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction, and I think this applies to more than just physics. So if there are so many villains in EVE, where are all the heroes?

Every player (roleplayer or not) who approaches the game with the idea that they want to position themselves somewhere to the right of the cliff in the above graph is in for a rude surprise. They have their work cut out for them and face a struggle that many will ultimately decide is not “fun” and subsequently quit in favor of something else more rewarding. So the heroes, well, a lot of them aren’t here. They’re playing other games.

In the lore, CCP says that over time capsuleers lose their grasp on humanity as if that’s some kind of justification for anyone being a douchebag, whether in-character or not. Personally, I think it’s just a weak excuse for crummy behavior. Maybe a certain (small) percentage of the capsuleer population would allow themselves to slip without protest into being murderous zombie ship brains that shoot anything that moves. Some human beings are truly despicable and get their kicks from doing some pretty sick things, so becoming a capsuleer would be seventh heaven for them. But the rest of the capsuleers? As a player I have a really hard time accepting my avatar is supposed to become dehumanized “just because that’s what happens”.

If the sandbox is still intended by CCP to be something where any player can play EVE to be anything and do whatever they want, and there are players like me who want to be “the hero” as the logical reaction to players who want to be “the villain”, the game needs to address both of those choices, plus the entire spectrum in between.

Too lean in the middle.

Too lean in the middle.

If EVE was like this, we’d have lots of horrible, despicable, godawful player villains that people would love to hate and pew the shit out of, plus lots of squeaky clean, player white knights in shining armor that people would love to hate and pew the shit out of. And varying amounts of other players in the middle.

In truth, this is probably a bit too Newton-law, Sith vs Jedi for CCP’s “grimdark” vision of New Eden because of all that sparkly rainbow sunshine hero goodness cropping up on the right side of the graph.

Just right?

Just right?

What if EVE Online players could find themselves a home in the game somewhere along a curve that looked something like this? The curve still isn’t quite balanced; there are lots of villains and lots of people occupying the questionable portions of the spectrum, and no true “white knight” capsuleers.

As a wannabe hero, I could probably live with this. I could see myself positioning IPI/ILF somewhere between “Dark Hero” and “Hero”. We see injustice in Intaki and want to fix it, but because New Eden is a violent place, we have to adopt somewhat “unclean” methods that often leave the ships and corpses of the actual bad guys in our wake, but we are still, at the core, heroes saving our people for non-selfish reasons.

Alas, this isn’t possible in EVE today. Players can try to be in that green spectrum somewhere, but the mechanics undermine every effort they make, and they still end up looking like villains.

Talk Is Cheap

EVE is a PVP game. Even I, when I was a so-called carebear in hisec and had no interest in fighting other players at the time, knew I was in a PVP game and could be killed by anyone at any time. All the most famous stories that have come from the game center around player versus player mechanics to some degree, whether that means thousands of people blowing up thousands of other people, or one player infiltrating another group of players to nick their treasures out from under them. The reality is, if a corp or alliance wants to do or be anything grand in EVE, eventually it has to fight and outwit one or more players rather than just the computer.

In lowsec, outside of a wardec or only targeting players with criminal security status, nobody can PVP without wearing away their sec status. The player who fancies himself a hero gets no reward and is treated no differently for destroying a player pirate compared to the player pirate who destroys the player hero. They both get to scoop loot and have a kill report to show, and they both get their wrists slapped in the form of a sec hit. And that’s it.

Ugh. Why are players unilaterally punished for blowing up other players? That is dumb. For the player who wants to be the villain, sec status below zero is a mark of pride, a way to boast just how badass the player is. But for the hero? Negative security status is a pain.

It isn’t enough to post a character bio that says, “I’m not a pirate”. It isn’t enough to have a website that outlines in detail how you plan to help the people of New Eden. It isn’t enough to write about anything on IGS—or any other forum, for that matter. Talk is cheap, people love to shitpost, and in EVE, “everybody” lies. “Everybody” might be a spy or a pirate, even me! (I’m not!) Everybody is the villain. Why? Because the player hero who PVPs more than they PVE ends up with a sec status below zero. Unless that player grinds back up above zero, that negative sec is basically a megaphone that gets louder and louder as the sec gets lower and lower. Negative sec? No matter what you say, you must be a pirate because you kill other players! You’re a villain!

CONCORD Needs to Math

If negative sec is the hallmark of the PVP pirate, shouldn’t positive sec be the hallmark of the PVP hero? Why doesn’t CONCORD reward pilots for destroying other pilots who are villains?

In my mind, security status should only take a hit in three scenarios:

  • when a player destroys another player with sec status equal to or higher than their own (for example, -4.8 destroys -2.6);
  • when a player with sec status above zero destroys another player with sec status at or above zero (for example, +3.4 destroys +2.2 or +5.0); and
  • when a player gets caught transporting illegal goods past customs NPCs.

The hit for destroying a player should always be larger than the hit for trying to sneak past the NPCs. The size of the penalty should be proportionate to the difference in sec status between the players, meaning that someone at -5.0 destroying someone who is +5.0 should get a bigger hit than someone at -2.0 destroying someone who is only 0.0. The hit should be largest for players with positive sec destroying other players with positive sec.

To balance this out, security status should get a boost in three scenarios:

  • when a player destroys another player with sec status below theirs, provided the opponent’s sec status is not at or above zero (for example, +1.8 destroys -3.5);
  • when a player turns in tags for sec; and
  • when a player destroys bona fide pirate NPCs.

Like above, the boost for destroying a player should be larger than the boost for destroying pirate NPCs (or using tags). The size of the boost should be proportionate to the difference in sec status between the players, meaning that someone at +5.0 destroying someone who is -5.0 will get a bigger boost than someone at -2.0 destroying someone at -5.0.

And since some players get off on ganking newbies, I think all new players should come out of character creation with at least +5.0 sec to start with, so that under this kind of system anyone who ganks them in hisec not only gets COCORDOKKEN but also ends up with a super healthy chunk taken out of their own security status to drive them back into whatever wretched hole they crawled out of. If the new players want to make themselves into the villain right away, all they need to do is attack another positive sec player or two to start themselves down that road.

In such a system I also think the -10.0 sec cap should be removed. Players who really want to be the villain shouldn’t hit -10.0 and then just stay there. Their status should keep going down as a true reflection of their villainy, and because anyone who ends up at -10.0 should still have the opportunity to shoot someone with sec lower than theirs to start grinding back up if they wanted, rather than being forced to use tags or PVE.

I’ve never seen anyone with +10.0 sec before but that shouldn’t be an upper cap either.

Why use sec status this way? As the hero, I’m not in the habit of attacking people with neutral or positive sec status. They are, in the eyes of CONCORD, “good people” or at the very least, “not bad”. These are the people the hero wants to defend: they are probably miners, industrialists, explorers, haulers, traders, and combat pilots with a sense of honor. If I want to play the hero then I do want to make a habit of attacking people who habitually go after the people I want to defend. Those are the villains, the pirates, the scum…and I should be rewarded in the eyes of CONCORD for being picky about my targets. I want my sec status to show how badass I am at killing bad guys.

Faction “Loyalty”

There’s another side to being “the hero” or “the villain” in EVE that isn’t balanced. CCP has designed various groups with various motivations and goals for players to identify with or against. On some level, every EVE player has been touched by a bit of roleplay at some point, even if it went no further than preferring one race, empire, and/or faction over another simply because “this is cooler” or “these ships are better” or whatever.

The empires are, by design, all corrupt and imperfect in some fashion. Fair enough; no country or government on Earth is the picture of utopia either. Even if the empires are not shining beacons of peace and tranquility, they still inspire players to some level of loyalty, and those players may think of themselves as the “good guys” because they are aligned with an empire…or maybe they don’t. It’s a matter of individual perspective, and that’s a good thing for the sandbox.

Lots of non-empire factions are obviously intended to be the villains: Serpentis, Sansha, Angels, Blood Raiders, Guristas, others. These pirate factions also inspire players to some level of loyalty. Those are the players who think it’s fun to be “the dirty pirate, arrrr”. Power to them.

But what about the rest? There are some black sheep factions mixed into the bunch. Sisters. ORE. Mordu’s. CONCORD. Maybe a few others. What happens to them? CCP jams almost all of these into the “pirate faction” category too. The ones that aren’t, like ORE, are just sort of stuck in places where I suppose CCP hopes nobody will notice.

Who is there for the player hero to identify with and be loyal to? Keeping in mind CCP’s “grimdark” vision, if none of the empires appeal, all anyone has left to pick from are the “pirate” factions. When Mordu’s was announced as the faction getting new ships, I know a lot of players (including myself and people in my alliance) were pretty excited. That is, until they had the “pirate” label slapped on them. Mordu’s is a respected mercenary/paramilitary group. Does that make them pirates? No.

Sisters might be a bit unclean, but are they pirates? No. ORE might be owned by the Serpentis now but are they themselves a bunch of dirty pirates? No.

CONCORD? Well…

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Click for source.

They have Angry CONCORD Guy but being an idiot doesn’t make him a pirate.

The player hero who wants to choose one or more of these non-pirate “pirate” factions still has to somehow mitigate the “pirate” association especially when CCP spews crap like “NEWEST PIRATE FACTION IS MORDU’S” all over the playerbase. Apparently using a term like “Independent Faction” or simply “Non-Empire Faction” for these few groups would be really hard. But no! I forgot, CCP wants everyone to be the villain!

Not that being loyal to the chosen faction is in any way meaningful.

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How hilarious is this? Why bother having standings at all if the NPCs don’t actually take them into account? If CCP could do it for Faction Warfare and a few other specific scenarios, why not for every NPC group? Wouldn’t it be nice if having positive Serpentis standings meant their belt or gate rats didn’t attack? This would never apply to me, but I’m sure some player pirates out there would appreciate the visual reminder of the fruits of their PVE labors. I guess there really is no honor among thieves.

And don’t even get me started about the problems with bounty hunting.

Conclusion

Can anyone actually be a hero in EVE? We can try, but the odds are stacked against us right from the start, right from CCP down. Given CCP’s attitude, players in positions like mine either endure, subsisting on the few small achievements and victories we can get as player heroes while hoping for balance to come in the future, or we burn out. Maybe posts like mine and Mabrick’s and others will help affect change, maybe they won’t.

One thing I know for sure: I haven’t quit EVE yet because I am loath to give the villains the satisfaction of having beaten me.


Update: In addition to all the very fantastic comments I’ve received on this article, a few blog posts have been written that add to the conversation about “hero” gameplay in EVE Online:

Sugar Kyle: I want to be neutral
TurAmarth: Crime & Reward…