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Eve Online’s miners’ strike signals uncertain times for the space MMO

After more than a year of warfare and COVID-related challenges, Eve Online is moving into a new "age of prosperity" - but there are bumps in the road

A ship locked in battle in Eve Online

World War Bee 2, the biggest and most costly war in the MMORPG’s 18-year history, sputtered to a close earlier this year. As the belligerents have returned to a more ‘normal’ mode of operations, however, they’ve discovered that the massive space game is different now than it was before – and many haven’t liked what they’ve found.

Over the weekend of November 13-14, thousands of players from both sides of the massive conflict descended on the key trading hub of Jita 4-4, firing volleys at the assembly yard that orbits the planet. They had organised a protest over proposed changes coming to Eve Online’s industrial systems outlined in an Eve Online developer blog published earlier in the week.

Even the best MMOs are fairly complex, but Eve Online is notorious for its complexity. In the blog, Eve’s developers proposed changing the way the game handles mining operations. The idea, CCP tells us, was to make the process more interesting than it’s been historically, adding new systems for mineral compression and wastage. According to the plan, miners must compress materials (ore, gas, or ice) as they bring it aboard their ships, and this process involves losing some amount of material as waste based on a number of factors – primarily equipment quality and mining skill.

As it stands now, compressing minerals so that they can be efficiently transported to a refining facility happens instantaneously, but the proposed system would change that: players would have to manually compress raw minerals, and that would only happen at a rate determined by skill and the number of compression modules installed on their mining ship. Additionally, losing materials as waste may prompt corpos to discourage or even bar new players from participating in any valuable mining activity.

Meanwhile, CCP has been rolling out changes to other key systems – notably, the construction costs for capital ships, which now require more resources and supply chains.

All of this, combined with some planned nerfs to popular mining ships (the Rorqual in particular), caused some players to feel as though Eve Online was pulling the rug out from underneath them. Miners worked hard to earn the ISK they needed for their setups, and the combined changes threatened to make it impossible to reach profitability with these ships.

CCP’s promise of an ‘Age of Prosperity’ was sounding pretty hollow for miners. Even with double the amount of resources available in the galaxy, the new mechanics appeared to be wiping out any advantage they might have offered, all while making routine tasks like mining more cumbersome, tedious, and time-consuming.

One of Eve Online's bloodiest conflicts

Worse, in a few players’ view at least, was that the changes appeared to make it impossible for new players to catch up with established players, and thus for new corporations to ever challenge the big institutions that have been around for years.

Kazanir, who heads up the Imperium’s finance team, says that the past few rounds of economic changes played a big role in shaping the outcome of World War Bee 2, which left the Goonswarm still standing after spending many months under siege by PanFam Alliance Please Ignore.

“The industrial changes that happened in the spring really made it probably somewhere between 10 and 20 times as difficult to build any capital class of ship, the endgame ships that you need to deal with structures and conquer space,” Kazanir tells us. “Once they got down to the final constellation that we held, they didn’t have the ability to replace capital ships very easily anymore – you couldn’t build new ones at cost.”

It’s not simply a calculation of how much a ship is worth, Kazanir explains, but also the uncertainty of whether a particular ship is worth building at all. “The cost is sort of a question mark, because no one actually knows how to gather the amount of resources that you need to build a significant fleet of new capital ships. That sounds crazy, but it really is true.”

Some players have spun up conspiracy theories around the changes, postulating that they must be part of some scheme by CCP meant to drive up engagement numbers for its new corporate parent, Pearl Abyss, which bought the Eve Online developer in 2018. Most experienced players dismiss this kind of talk as ‘tinfoil chatter’, but it speaks to a gulf that players feel has widened between them and the developers, many of whom began as players themselves.

“Here’s the problem,” says a frustrated Ranger Gama, a director in the Imperium and another member of its finance team. “They’re not listening to the players, plural. They’re listening to a person. They may find one person and listen to them. Then they’ll have 20 of us say, hey, we don’t know where you got this number, but it’s not right.”

A ship leaving a spaceport in Eve Online

It’s clear that many of Eve’s most experienced players are feeling disconnected from CCP, and are frustrated by the economic uncertainty that’s been introduced by the combination of new mechanics, tweaks to aging economics systems, and the end of a year-long war. Eve’s last two annual fan fest get-togethers, traditionally held in Las Vegas, have been cancelled due to COVID-19. It’s not hard to see why players are feeling alienated from the game they’ve grown to love and feel a sense of ownership over.

CCP, however, says player feedback is vitally important – in fact, the developers say there’s literally nothing that matters to them more.

“I think I can pretty safely say that every one of us involved in this release has read every single post on the forums, and a lot on Reddit,” says Saemundur Hermannsson, brand director at CCP. “We want to take everything from the constructive feedback in, as much as possible. And luckily, Eve players are extremely smart.”

Hermannsson points to a recent blog by the Brave Collective’s Dunk Dinkle, which digs into the dev diary and offers some insights based on Dunk’s time with the patch on the test server. Hermannsson says this post, other blogs like it, and ongoing discussions internally and with Eve’s elected Council of Stellar Management has formed a ‘think tank’ of sorts, which has been invaluable in charting a course forward.

The developers are already making significant changes to the upcoming patch based on the feedback from the dev diary. The compression mechanics that players fretted over are being dropped, for instance.

“I think it sounded better on paper,” says CCP product director Snorri Árnason. “The original timer set on just how long it would take was just set up drastically too long. It unintentionally became both tedious and long, but the plan was simply to create a decision-making point… it was meant to create an interesting choice, but we’ve missed the ball on that. We’re simply pulling all the compression stuff out of this release, wholesale. Compression isn’t a thing in the new proposal.”

Another thing that may help smooth things over is the return of the in-person fan fest event. Community developer Peter Farrell says the team is missing the closeness they’ve been able to foster with fans at these festivals, and that they’re looking forward to the first in-person event since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s currently scheduled for May 5-8 at the Laugardalshöll Sport Center in Reykjavík, Iceland.

“We’re really, really happy to that end with fan fest coming back,” Farrell says, “because we get to see these players, we get to have those conversations in the hallways, in the pubs, just talking about stuff. So that’s something that I’m personally really looking forward to. And it might be minor, but it’s just this little amplification that goes in just on top of everything.” Árnason says that the work CCP has been putting into modernising Eve’s backend is making it easier for the team to respond to player feedback as well.

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“We have been creating our systems to have better controls that are leveraged on our system, to be able to say, ‘Okay, I hear you guys, let’s just raise bounties by 5%.’ And that’s one dial instead of 50 or 100 dials. So yeah, if I could say anything, it’s that we’re absolutely working on the feedback, and we hear you loud and clear.”