Sunday, December 26, 2021

Optimal Experience

It’s somewhere in the 90s, you’re in gorgeous and grim Iceland, you’ve got the sparkle of joy, the glimmer of youth, the very zest for life itself.

You’re in Iceland. I get it, you’re in the most beautiful country on Earth, the women are stone cold gorgeous, the food is divine and the drink almost too strong to be legal. What more could anyone possibly want? How is life not already going to be as good as it’s going to get?

But wait, you have all this and paradise going for you, you’re a bunch of smart guys with too much energy and no way to give it a productive release. It’s a bit of a conundrum.

So you find yourself in an attic somewhere one evening and maybe you’re sharing a drink with the boys. Maybe it was more than one drink, maybe it was a lot of drinks, who knows, I didn’t see anyone keeping tabs. What does it matter anyway?

Out of the din of merriment comes a spark. Between the standard bragging of drinks consumed, sharks devoured and the vigorous tales of the expression of love and the women it was made with, an idea rears its head.

“Wait, wait, I’ve got it.”

“What, atomic farts?” The room erupts in roaring laughter and maniacal giggling. Atomic farts are produced, because that’s what you do then, it totally fits the mood.

“No no, wait, I’m serious. I know what we’re going to do.”

“You’re going to start a restaurant!”

“I’ve got two words for you,” someone says. “Rams testicles.”

“In June?! Were you raised by Grýla?"

The crowd erupts in more laughter, they remember the last time their friend tried to prepare this refined delicacy all too well.

“You’re going to import old cars from Europe, repair them and sell them on!”

“NO! Just no. I’m not driving all the way to Bifröst again to pick him up *pointing at him* and the girl he was shagging. He didn’t even pay for the gas. I’m not touching one of those things ever again.”

The crowd knows the story, raises a glass in toast and downs it in one gulp.

The man with the idea waits until he’s got everyone’s attention. “We’re going to make us an online game where the players run the economy.” He nodded in contentment, completely satisfied with how great of an idea it is.

There’s a bit of a stunned silence. They all want to laugh, but the idea totally came out of left field and they don’t quite have an answer for it.

“That’s the biggest crock of shit I ever heard and I’ve heard some.”

There’s giggling, there’s some muttered comments, shaking of heads, scratching of balls, pouring of more drinks.

“I actually kind of like that. I mean, it’s never going to work but it’s a great idea.”

“Why is it not going to work?”

“Why would I want an economy, run by players, in a game? What game is this anyway?”

“It’s a space game!”

“And what do you do in this space game?”

“You, ah, collect resources, you use them to build space ships and then you have epic battles with those space ships!”

“And what is that supposed to look like?”

“Um... gorgeous?”

“And who is going to make that?”

“We are?”

“How are you even going to set up that infrastructure?”

*shrug* Dunno?

“Who’s going to pay for all that?”

“Good question! That’s a very good question! I don’t know where we’re getting the money from but I like the way you think!”

Because they’ve got nothing better to do the group starts to mull over why this is a terrible idea. In that process something amazing happens. A number of the objections against the idea are addressed an, upon reflection, they are considered ‘hard but doable’. The group starts to warm to the idea. Some kind of triage occurs. What can we do now, what will we need that doesn’t exist yet? What’s impossible and where are we getting the freaking money from?

Near the end of the evening, when minds are not just floating in amniotic fluid but also in a nice marinade of various alcoholic beverages somebody makes the comment. “This whole idea is insane, you’re all insane and why would you even want to try this?”

Someone shrugs, “Kæruleysi?”

The group raises the last glass as a toast to the idea.

And so it comes to pass that this ember of an idea is used as kindling to start a raging fire of enthusiasm where all the problems are solved and all the issues are addressed that pop up when developers in a country that has never made a game, let alone a massively multi-player online game, decide to define the future of MMORPGs based on the harsh and cruel nature of the land they inhabit.

New Eden is born.

A set of features is implemented, the sandbox takes shape. The developers aspire to be nothing more than the custodians of the sandbox. The players are who shape the fate of this universe and all that goes on within it.

New Eden is a harsh mistress, unforgiving of mistakes, errors, a lack of knowledge or imagination. Those who understand what happens and why, and know how to exploit the opportunities presented are the people who thrive.  Those who do not are left bewildered, frustrated and angry and they leave the scene often bitterly disappointed.

Success in New Eden is broadly defined by how efficient one maximises the harvesting of resources and the application of force resulting from the equipment produced, with the minimal effort required to meet the goals and needs of the organisation to which one belongs.

Over the years the developers have offered new features to engage the player base. New ships are regularly added to the inventory, new systems to engage with the sandbox are introduced and sometimes suggestions by players are added to greater or lesser appeal.

New Eden now runs into an issue: it is by and large ‘solved’ as a problem. The New Eden demographic is the domain of people with great problem solving skills. They use their real world knowledge in the game to maximise their impact on the game (players also report being able to leverage the wide variety of skills they need to be successful in EVE in the real world and also achieve success there).

The current state of New Eden has people kvetching over the numbers governing ships and processes. So and so feature is overpowered; this and that feature doesn’t yield anything valuable. Some people feel ignored or misunderstood.

It tells us that this is not the problem. What we are seeing is the realistic maximum that can be derived from current game features. CCP Fozzie, a genius who cannot be praised highly enough for his myriad insights and contributions to the game, has done a remarkable job of working on the balance of ships in New Eden (please don’t point out what is and is not wrong with the current state of affairs, this discussion is on the level of how many angels can dance on the tip of a needle).

Here is what the sandbox needs: more sandbox.

The original feature set required that raw material was harvested, processed and turned into weapons and products that helped the corporation/alliance fight over systems where more raw material could be harvest, processed and turned into more weapons to fight more wars. As a start this was more than enough.

New Edens min/max is war. There’s nothing wrong with that. But it’s extremely limited and limiting.

New Eden is a star cluster of about 8000 systems and most of what people do is engaging in war. It is this author’s contention that 8000 star systems offer enough space and resources to do very much more than merely waging war over who has the next batch of resources to fight more wars.

In a storied universe with 4 major factions (not counting our elusive Jovian friends and the awful and corrosive Triglavian crowd) there must be room to do more than shoot at things. A near-permanent state of war is a stressful environment and it restricts what can be achieved. 

Capsuleers are the elite social stratum of New Eden. They have no home. They supposedly live in the fluid in the pod and only occasionally walk around in stations (excusez le mot).

The question begs for why the history of the factions does not yield a panoply of opportunities to build new things, to do new things, to explore more and use that production to drive entire new ways to engage with the universe.

Why are the cultures and the customs of the factions not driving factors for why and how things are done in New Eden?

What could Delegate Zero conjure up as a means for us to engage in a more meaningful way to build enduring features, based on the lore of New Eden? To better connect with the universe, to deeper immerse us in the cultures we embrace, to enhance the environment with our inventions and productions.

Hilmar wants to build New Eden as a way for us to have a deeper lived experience of what we do in New Eden.

Why not provide us with the tools to make and see what we make with them? Why not make New Eden our first home among the stars?

The author does not ignore or dismiss technical feasibility, time constraints, available human power to create all what he has in mind, marketing requirements, the cost of developing and implementing new features, corporate goals and shareholder demands. These are the real driving factors behind how and why things happen.

The author also does not ignore the idea that a compelling feature set, that provides agency, delight and fun [remember that one?] to the environment will draw in more players who want to explore the New in New Eden and through their contributions make the gaming universe and even more compelling value proposition. For shareholders, for management, for developers, for the people who go there to find a wider expression of their hopes, dreams and their talents to create a better universe still.

/This text will likely be updated to improve language and ideas.