Sunday, April 25, 2010

How would Blizzard make a game like EVE?

EVE Online and World of Warcraft are obviously very different MMORPGs. But they are both MMORPGs, belong to the same genre of games, and share quite a lot of features. From the various people speculating how Blizzard's next MMORPG is going to look like, several proposed some sort of space game, because Blizzard said they wanted to make something different. So what if Mike Morhaime is secretly playing EVE Online and decided he wants to make a Blizzard version of it? How would an EVE-like game look if Blizzard would make it? I mean, copy and refine is the usual Blizzard style, so why not copy and refine EVE? I'm not saying that this is extremely likely, but it is an interesting thought experiment.

Obviously if Blizzard made an EVE-like game, they would want it to have far more players, preferably several million of them. Which means the game has to be more accessible than the CCP version. On the other hand they can't just make some sort of "WoW in space", because that would clash with their idea of making something very different to not canibalize WoW subscription numbers. So our task here is to look which are the core features of EVE which should be kept, and which other features need work to make the game a multi-million player hit.

The core of EVE gameplay would remain, with minor variations. Blizzard's version of EVE would still be a sandbox game, that means no levels and no reward structure leading players down a linear path to max level. There would still be a lawless part of space with free-for-all PvP and the ability for guilds and alliances to conquer the stars. But players would start in the very inner part of the galaxy, where life would be even safer than it is in EVE's high security space, with absolutely no PvP, stealing, or ganking possible. Instead of a 1.0 to 0.0 security level, there would just be 4 steps, from safest to least safe, with the second being about equivalent to current high sec, the third to low sec, and the fourth to null sec. New players would get a warning before entering a less safe sector. Blizzard's EVE would have trading, mining, scanning, exploration of wormholes, and all the other various features of the current EVE.

The first thing to improve would definitely be the user interface. But apart from the easy to say and hard to do "make a better standard user interface", Blizzard's EVE should have a LUA-based user interface with the ability of players to modify it with addons. WoW's original user interface was okay, but it was by letting players modify it, and then adopting the most popular modifications, that WoW's user interface got to where it is now. The continuous improvement to the user interface through player-created addons is something that the Blizzard EVE would need.

The next thing to tackle would be EVE's famous vertical difficulty curve. "Difficulty" in EVE has nothing to do with lets say the difficulty of raiding ICC on heroic, fast reflexes are very little in demand. The vertical nature of the EVE difficulty curve comes from the game doing a lousy job of teaching you how to play it. The game is very complex, which is good, but often the player is left alone with that complexity, which is bad. To make matters even less user friendly, sometimes there are layers of unnecessary fluff which only confuse, e.g. there are 13 different mining lasers, many of which are just minor variations. Thus in the Blizzard version of EVE, there would be somewhat less items, but better structured, and it would be easier to follow the relations between stats, skills, and items. It should be easy to find *in game* what skills you could learn or what modules you could install if you want to increase lets say your CPU value.

A big part of the better accessibility would be the mission (quest) system. As we want to remain true to the basic sandbox design, in which players don't run after rewards all the time, Blizzard's EVE would have a very different basic gameplay from WoW. To quote one of my favorite characters from WoW, the troll Drakkuru, "For your efforts, you be gettin' da greatest of rewards.... Revelation!": Besides making a little money, and improving your faction standing, missions would mainly be there to teach you the game. Instead of just having relatively few career missions and lots of random missions, basically all of the low level missions would be teaching players about the many aspects of the game. Every sort of gameplay the game offers would be covered by several quests, which from basic to advanced explain everything there is to know. And once done, these explanations would remain in a sort of tome of knowledge for future reference.

What probably needs some minor adjustment is the skill system. The "learning" skills, which only speed up the other skills' learning would have to go. Instead there could be learning speed bonuses for people who did all the missions related to a particular skill, including a system to enable people to find those missions easily. So the advantages of the EVE skill system could be kept, while making the system somewhat more encouraging for players to actually play the game.

I'll leave it to the guys from Blizzard to improve mining, there must be a way to make it more interesting, but I'm not quite sure how. Turn it into an interactive mini-game? There must be something that can be done to make the most basic economic activity somewhat more interesting. I'm also not quite sure whether to leave the legal RMT in. At least legal RMT somewhat limits the illicit version, and it might be more acceptable in a game where you can lose whatever you bought. The system where only one character per account can skill up can also remain, it seems to be the most acceptable of the business models which makes people who play more pay more.

Of course that is only one example of how such a game could look. But what I hope to have made clear is that with some minor changes any MMORPG can be made more accessible. Throw enough money and design skill at the project, and you can get an accessible and polished game out of any core gameplay. I don't really think Blizzard is planning a version of EVE, but I wouldn't be surprised if their next game was a bit more open world, sandbox type of game, to attract a different kind of player than World of Warcraft does.

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