Newly Free EVE Online Aims To Prevent Exploits And Harassment

Today's a big day for the ever-churning vat of intergalactic intrigue that is EVE Online. It just went free-to-play, which means a big influx of players to disrupt the universe's precarious balance of power. I spoke with the game's executive producer, Andie Nordgren, about how corporations are already using that to jostle for power, potential exploits that emerge when people can make as many accounts as they want, the looming specter of harassment, and CCP's role as a developer in a universe that's not entirely theirs.

Nathan Grayson: EVE is going F2P, and that means a potential influx of new players. What are existing corporations doing to prepare? I'm sure they're anticipating shifts in power, or at least opportunities to gain an upper hand. Have there been recruitment efforts? Propaganda?

Andie Nordgren: Several of the old-school groups have set up new corporations in their alliance. They're gonna be their recruiting corporations. They have set up one at each starter point. They're looking for new ways to reach people. Like, "Hey, we're the mercenary coalition, so if you want to be a badass space mercenary who fights war for pay, then come and join us!" Brave Newbies, a group formed after a massive battle in 2014, are still around, and they're preparing for a big recruitment drive. All the big groups now have a newbie school that they're trying to get people into.

Grayson: Post-F2P, what is your plan to keep EVE and the community around it healthy? While F2P will doubtless bring in new players, you never know what those players are gonna do or how existing players are gonna react. F2P also opens up new holes for possible exploits, given that people can easily open up tons of accounts now.

Nordgren: That was part of the reason we went very early to our community and talked about this change rather than - BOOM - announcing it with a big trailer and springing it on people. We knew there were possible exploits. The design itself covers it quite well.

Part of the alpha clone state, which is what you play for free, is a specific set of skills for specific levels. Because skills control what you're able to do in the game, as part of the free offering, we've been able to restrict some of the resource gathering skills, for example. You can't create tons of accounts and go and mine all the ore from the game.

One major restriction that's covering this is, you can only ever have one free account online at the same time. So you can't just create 100 free accounts and have them login and do stuff. But part of EVE Online is that people can have multiple accounts, and they do, even with subscriptions. It's fine. If one person wants to run eight accounts and have a big mining fleet, that's fine. He's also paying for those accounts. There is that kind of resistance in the system.

So we very much collaborated with the community to shore all of that up. I think that's part of why the community is excited. Because they don't think this is gonna be a big problem, so they don't have to be like, "CCP! Why are you doing this? You have to fix these obvious things!" Someone will still come on and say something crazy, because that's what people do, but we've worked hard to minimise it.

Grayson: Which is very cool. But there's also a possible darker side to it all: when people can make tons of accounts -- even if they can't use them at the same time -- they're much more capable of harassing people. If one account gets blocked, they can just hop on with another.

I'm sure you saw it, but recently an EVE player faked their own suicide IRL, citing harassment, and ultimately scammed people, seemingly as a means of getting revenge. What are you doing to protect against that?

Nordgren: We're on high alert to monitor all those things, and we have a couple follow-on things we know we can do. For instance, right now we don't want to restrict players shooting other players in high security space, because we think it's going to be OK.

But if it turns out it's a complete menace, we can then lock the ability for free players to shoot others in high security space. So they will be able to do that in low and null security space, but not in high security. So we have a couple tactics where we're taking a wait and see approach at first, but if there are problems, we can pretty quickly stop them.

Grayson: So you have big red buttons. Running a game as potentially chaotic as EVE, is that a standard practice? Do you have a bunch of "just in case" failsafes in place, waiting to be deployed?

Nordgren: Not necessarily. That would be problematic for us as developers to deploy interventions like that. Part of the game, the uniqueness of it, is that we offer this world with a bunch of systems in it, and it's about the emergent gameplay of how players decide to play against each other that comes out of that.

We see ourselves as janitors and caretakers of that world. If the world is unbalanced so that people aren't having fun, we fix it. But usually we take a long view toward that, because if we step in the middle of some conflict that's going on, then we're taking sides. Unless we have some really good external reasons to step into something, we become biased as caretakers of the universe. It's really quite a delicate and complicated position we have as developers. We don't own the game. The players kind of do, together, with us.

Grayson: Yeah, it's a precarious line to walk. I can't really think of another developer that has to examine each case so rigorously, given how completely player-run EVE's universe is.

It's also uniquely a game about, well, fucking each other over. Backstabbing, scamming, sabotage, and things that might be frowned upon in other games (and real life) are just the way of EVE's universe. But that's part of the fantasy and the culture. Players usually do those things with knowing smiles. Where do you draw the line, though? What's too mean, even for EVE?

Nordgren: The line is very much as soon as we enter real-world harassment. That's like, "Banhammer. Immediately." I think that there's an interesting aspect, though. We don't disallow scamming other people inside of the game, but we have some rules. You're certainly now allowed to pretend to be a charity when you're not. When it goes into real-world stuff, then the real-world rules apply. As long as you stay inside the game, the magic circle of the game, almost anything is allowed.

Most players take it with a smile. You see this at the player events we do, like the one in Vegas. People are happily having beers together and partying in real life. Then they go back to shooting each other in the game.

With the freedom to be mean to each other also comes the flipside that trust really means something. Because of that, so many times you have this weird dynamic where, someone who just shot you will then invite you to their corporation.

One of our developers, to really explore the design we've made, took a character and artificially gave himself the skill restrictions that free players will have. He played like that for three weeks on the live server, just to see what he could do with this type of character.

Twice, he was killed by someone, and they ended up chatting him up and going, "Hey! Are you new? We can show you how to fit your ship better. Do you want to join our corporation?" It's real in a way similar to the real world: you can have an impact on other people's experience because the game doesn't control so much of it.

Grayson: You guys have cracked down on some things recently, though. Stuff like gambling. I was wondering: did the F2P change spur that? It's not hard to imagine things spiraling out of control the way CSGO did for a little bit if everybody could make free accounts.

Nordgren: Yeah, that's a big part of it. There are some issues that, before F2P, were in the yellow, and a potential large increase of people could turn them red. So we decided to get them out of the way beforehand.

Grayson: Obviously, some players weren't too stoked about that -- like you said, I think they prefer a hands-off approach to what they regard as "their" universe -- but prominent folks like Alex "The Mittani" Gianturco seem to be in favour.

Nordgren: There were some negative effects on the game health overall. We've taken steps to correct that by changing the EULA, and now the playing field should be reset. If you come up against people inside the game, you know you're fighting them inside, not out of it.

Grayson: How much ISK did you remove from the economy? I've seen some people speculating as much as 40 trillion ISK.

Nordgren: We don't comment on how much assets were removed, but some were removed with the accounts that got banned. Those assets go away.

Grayson: Given what we discussed earlier, is that a little heartbreaking for you as developers? This was, after all, a player-created and run enterprise. It was an unexpected development that emerged systemically, by way of players interacting.

Nordgren: Yeah, partially. We pride ourselves on supporting emergent, enterprising behaviour from players. But the fact that this was going on so much outside the game turned it into a balance issue overall. It just goes too much into the real world. And there's a couple of things happening around gambling that's just not very nice. People doing it too much. We don't want to be in the business of making those calls for people.


    I've been eyeing off this game for years, never thought it'd go this route (insomuch as it has, something tells me CCP will further tweak it at some stage).

    Short of going to online resources that talk about ships and factions named after spoilers from books and movies I haven't heard of, what's a good way to get into this game?

      I've always admired from a distance as well but have been put off by the time sink in conjunction with the subscription, now one of those is gone its time to give it a try I think.

      I'm just going to download it and give it a crack.....fully expect to be in way over my head.

      not that this helps answer your question.....ill just show myself out now

      I'd advise you to do all of the starter missions to get acquainted with the basics. They may seem menial right now, but they are invaluable experience later on.

      Then join a friendly newbie corporation that focusses on what you liked the most: Missions, Exploration, Mining, PvP of various kinds. If you need some inspiration:

      I'm in the same boat... I keep hearing these amazing stories of betrayal & intrigue and thinking that I just have to try the game, and then I read about how steep the learning curve is and how much time you have to sink into it and get put off again.

      It sounds like there has never been a better time to join, the influx of new F2P players means there should be alot of newbie-friendly resources around to help you get acquainted. Just download it and have a crack!

      The best way is to simply sign up and in-game apply to EVE University or other corporations which have been set up specifically to help newbies. It really is that simple. And the client's not that large, either.

      Do the basic tutorials that the game offers, then find a general chat channel, use the corp-finder to find EVE University (or any of the corps who set up advertising junk floating around in newbie space), join their chat channel and start asking about training programs. You will be taken care of. EVE's wolves are very welcoming toward any new sheep to prey on.

      The learning curve is famously steep, but there are a tonne of universal resources that many corporations will all have linked for easy reference in their player profiles and corp profiles. Like which damage types work best against which NPCs, where to find ship-fitting calculators, that kind of thing. There are some third-party apps that you'll definitely want to fit to calculate your best skill-training/gear-purchasing plan.

      The thing you have to know is that there's no real 'lone wolf'ing in that game. It's very much dog-eat-dog, and you cannot - will not be able to - fight the packs that roam. If you fight alone you'll just die alone. And economies of scale are real, when it comes to mining and industry.

      Fortunately, the newbie-training corporations are good at establishing contacts with the major alliances and providing pathways for newbies to learn the basics and the advanced skills that make you actually useful to a corp.

      Mining ops and ratting (NPC pirate-hunting) are the probably the most common duties you'll expect up-front until you can learn some of the more useful PVP skills, but under direction from a corp, you may find yourself even tackling early on. (Ships specifically designed to hold other ships in place while the bigger guns come to bear.) So long as you can play on a team, you'll be fine. Just know they will ask you to jump through hoops to prevent you being a spy and to ensure that you're actually useful. They'll insist on using TeamSpeak, may ask for screenshots of your accounts page (for the API key specifically - be careful about anything else), all sorts of other weird things that you'd normally laugh at an MMO guild for asking about.

      And you'll need to be patient. There are some (ridiculously expensive) things you can do to learn new skills faster, but the really important thing to know about EVE's system is that your 'clone' (who you must always, always, ALWAYS keep insured and backed-up) learns skills for everything that you can do. Whether it's fitting engines, shields, armour, the eight billion types of guns/ammo, how fast they track, etc, etc, etc. And they're all woven together in this weird web of dependencies. Skills advance on their own without effort in real-time, even when logged out, but this is a double-edged sword - because it's impossible to jump them ahead to be learned faster. All you can do is increase your primary stats which affect how quickly certain skills advance. (Eg: A high charisma stat will reduce the time it takes to advance in Diplomacy skills.) You will initially be incredibly limited in what you can do and how effectively you'll do it, and not much will help you get where you want to be faster beyond letting time pass.

      Final note: There is a universal rule in EVE: Don't fly it if you can't replace it. You will get blown up. Repeatedly. You will get bullied for no reason other than you were there. Every fight you get in will be dramatically unfair. A 'fair fight' in EVE is a sign that someone has miscalculated. Nowhere is safe. Not even the places that claim to be - suicide-gankers will take you out just to take you out, even if they gain nothing from it. People are so wealthy that they will throw away every few minutes what would take you literally months to obtain, and they'll do it out of boredom and hoping you'll respond to whatever bait they throw. Up to and including racial slurs, etc. Whatever they think might get under your skin, it'll be used against you. It is a brutal, unforgiving game, with many OOC pitfalls to be aware of. You will be treated openly and fairly right up until you drop your guard enough that it is advantageous for you to be lied to and exploited. You will never find a greater concentration of pure cunts in any one space. The word is too kind for what many of them are. Enjoy hanging out with these assholes, and they'll probably take care of you. But they'll be assholes to everyone else and expect you to be, too. And they'll find joy in it. Tears of victims are the most popular currency in EVE. (It's a common practice to pin chat-logs of complaints to your player profile.)

      If it wasn't for the combative nature of every single aspect of the game, I'd love it for its mind-boggling complexity. But it is also proud of its reputation for assholery and works hard to prove that it deserves it, every day, in every corner of space. It laughs at the concept of 'fairness'. Any moments of peace and reflection that you may find in activities like exploration or mining are undertaken with the sure knowledge that there is a lingering threat just over your shoulder. Always and forever.

      If you're up for that, you might really enjoy it.

        (See above, to newbies: @venophaze, @cffndncr.)

          wow, thanks for taking the time to get that info to us......I am intrigued......and yet completely put off at the same time.

          I downloaded the game last night, will be looking at giving it a crack this weekend.

          thanks again.

        EVE's wolves are very welcoming toward any new sheep to prey on.

        Love it

          Heh. It sounds like snark or butt-hurt, but I genuinely believe that it is not actually possible to over-state how insidiously cut-throat EVE Online's player-base is. It's a completely different level to anything else that exists in the industry.

          And that's fine, if you're signing up for it and know what you're signing up for, but I am greatly concerned that a lot of people consider this to be a simple exaggeration, and thus aren't truly prepared. Newbies NEED to understand that the greatest joy of an EVE veteran is to ruin your shit. And it's not the ISK(currency) value of the goods that are destroyed that they derive their satisfaction from, but how many weeks or months of effort it cost you. The greater the loss of your time and effort, the greater their joy in robbing you of it.

          Sure, some of them will cheerfully then compensate you for the lulz, others will try to find ways of publicly humiliating you for it. It really is a nexus of the most sociopathic and psychopathic behaviours that mankind is capable of exhibiting under its constraints.

          I have only the deepest sympathy for any sensitive individual who gets into EVE without knowing just how bad it can get.

            There's no other game I enjoy reading about as much as Eve. It's incredible what comes out of there.

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