Friday, 26 November 2010

Learning Skills and the Progress Quest Problem

I've ended up with a fairly mixed feeling over the Learning Skills removal, so I thought I'd blog about it.

On the plus side:
It's not entirely clear to me what function learning skills were supposed to have. It looks like they were designed to promote specialisation, which is something that EvE does in a variety of ways. The fundamental problem with that is that a) they didn't do that very well and b) they did it early in a character's life, rather than late.

On (a) - rather than promoting specialisation, they were just a requirement that the majority of people trained up, as early as they could bear to. Most EveMon plans I came up with had an extensive period of learning skill training to optimize them. I trained some, played hookey on others, because I wanted the useful stuff earlier.

(b) is poor game design, and this is the same reason that CCP introduced attribute remaps and changed character creation. It's not as easy in EVE to start over with a new character as it is in some other games. Penalising a character forever for their early choices is a poor idea - you want people to try it, get into it and /then/ specialise once they understand the choices they're making. Now, learning skills could always be trained up, so you could de-specialise in one direction and move in another. But that's the opposite of the way you actually want it to be - if they did anything at all, they created a bubble of specialisation that started early then went away.

Now the minus side:
Players want to progress. In other MMO's, this has largely become the sole purpose. Actually playing and enjoying the game seems to be a foreign concept - if it's not maximising your XP per hour, or getting you a cool item, it's not worth doing. EVE has slightly less of this, but the desire to progress is still an important driver.

It's a driver that eats games, though. Because players are always going to want to progress faster. Everything that impedes progress is an obstacle that ideally will be removed. It's important that the owners of the game resist this. Yes, remove things that are unintentional blocks, but don't remove things that you want characters to have to do. Everquest made a horrible error when they introduced "The Planes of Power" (and to a lesser extent, "The Shadows of Luclin" - suddenly, the world went from being a big and dangerous place where travelling was an often exciting and significant prospect, to it being an easy pop across two continents to pick up lunch. That was the point that the game became less interesting to me. The desire of players to progress quicker is an insatiable monster, and it eats games and spits them out as pale shadows of what they once were.

Particularly pernicious is the desire of new players to be super-duper powerful. They will always couch it as "being able to compete", but it's a sham. EVE is already a game in which it's possible to be useful to and active in a corp remarkably quickly. Here's a frigate, there's a warp disruptor, go tackle. Or whatever. Be the little guy for a while. Because, actually, being the little guy is fun. Don't try to win the game in the first week of playing it - you won't be able to, and if you were, you'd hate the game and be done with it in weeks.

Looking at the Learning Skills change, the big improvement is from 1.6 million skillpoints up to about 4 million, which I roughly calculate to be about week 4 of a character's arrival to week 12 or so. I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing. But I don't think it should go much further than that. Leave the rest alone.

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