October 18, 2015

The Perception of Skill Cost

Obviously the EVE Blogosphere is buzzing about the Exploring the Character Bazaar & Skill Trading dev blog that was released on October 15. It could, after all, result in a major mental culture shift. Like all changes in EVE, there are those who are support and those who are in dissent.  I fall into the latter, just barely, because of one simple reason: I don't think this change will help those it was intended for.

The Target

Who, exactly, is this change intended for? For that, we can pick up a few clues from the dev blog itself. CCP Rise writes, ". . .I made that jump from 15mil SP to 33mil SP. . .". He's writing about some of the downsides to the current character trading system when he says that, meaning that while he got the extra skill points and skill point allocation he wanted, he had to deal with things like names and corporation history that he didn't want. 

Let's have a look at the mechanics too:

Creating a Transneural Skill Packet requires approximately 500,000 skillpoints (we will fiddle with this number a bit to make it most practical considering common skill level denominations)

And in regards to diminishing returns:

0 – 5 million skillpoints = 500,000 unallocated skillpoints added
5 – 50 million skillpoints = 400,000 unallocated skillpoints added
50 – 80 million skillpoints = 200,000 unallocated skillpoints added
> 80 million skillpoints = 50,000 unallocated skillpoints added

He goes on to say, ". . this design favors skill transfers for younger characters and makes them very inefficient for older characters."

So it's obvious that this is aimed at new players, players within the first few months to couple of years under their belts. These are the players that, commonly, believe that they aren't competitive with older players, players who have retained the "level up" mentality from other MMOs they may have played. They don't understand or appreciate specializing because they don't realize the advantages, and they want to sit in new ships. And hey, let's be honest, that feeling is completely understandable to a certain degree. We all love our new ships, we just don't think that having a newer, bigger ship makes us better at the game.

The Mentality

I fear that this mechanic will cause a cultural shift in and out of EVE, one where new players aren't worth their weight in warp scramblers anymore. For a long time, it wasn't fun being a new player. Years ago, new players were told to spend weeks and weeks training "leaning skills" which just made them learn other skills faster. CCP eventually got rid of the design because it created an artificial hurdle for new players to feel useful and it just plain wasn't fun.

Over the last few years EVE has enjoyed a culture of supporting new players, thanks in large part to so many successful newbie-oriented corporations and alliances and likely the frigate rebalances. A new player was (not scornfully) told they'd be able to get into the action in just a couple of days at most, and to have a lot of fun doing it.

Even so, the mentality of those outside looking in hasn't enjoyed that type of shift. People constantly wonder if they'll even be able to compete, if it's worth getting into EVE at this point since everyone has a "head start". We all know the answer to that question by now: no, it's not too late. No, you won't be useless or behind, but you will need to specialize. 

All the skill points in the game don't matter when you undock. Skill points just mean you have more choices in the hangar. A young pilot who has mastered his ship is more deadly than a "veteran" who spent the last decade playing Skill Queue Online. This type of lesson is valuable, and likely will be lost.

Furthermore, when those questions are asked from an interested outsider, the answer will change. People will now say, "No, it doesn't because you can buy all the skill points you want. Sure, it may be a little expensive later on, but you can do it." And I fear the response will be one of severe disinterest.

People already equate skill points to levels, and levels to power. The issue we'll face is one of perception, not one of mechanical balance. And for a game that wants to bring in new players so badly, we're not giving them a good view of reality.