New Year's Resolution: Quit Worrying About Timers

I am tempted to put off writing this blog entry to go play some League of Legends. Part of it is because it's a fun game, but part of it is also a nagging reminder that my reward for First Win of the Day is available: "You should go do that before it gets too late and throws off the timer for tomorrow." I grit my teeth and keep writing about my resolution not to fall prey to those schedules anymore.

Games often exploit obsessive-compulsive behavior. Massive amounts of collectibles is just one way of doing so; a more recent, more insidious method is time-based rewards. I first saw them in World of Warcraft's Daily Quests and Daily Dungeons, and many online games have adopted similar mechanics. LoL and Smite both give you extra points for your First Win every day, while numerous online games (such as Terra Battle, an iOS game Drew showed off earlier this year) reward you simply for logging on each day for 7 days in a row. It reduces player drop-off by giving you a reason to open the game aside from "I want to play the game", but it can make the game more work than fun for the player. I've trudged through dozens of LoL matches not because I wanted to play more of it, but because I wanted to win the damn Daily Reward before I moved on to other things.

Many free-to-play games take it a step further with special events and deals where you're encouraged to clear some goal in X days to get a very nifty reward. Technically World of Warcraft has been doing it ever since it started doing holiday events, but it feels much more insidious when you only have a day to get enough gems to take advantage of a special offer, or you have to play 2-3 hours every day for a week straight to get the best prize. A lot of my playtime recently has been less about enjoying the game and more about keeping up with the Joneses and squeezing every last ounce of loot I can from these special offers.

Don't even get me started on free-to-play Stamina Bars and how they encourage you to check the game every 2-3 hours to maximize how much you can do.

By New Year's Eve, I was checking & playing 5 games daily, not because I wanted to play them, but because I wanted to keep the daily reward train going. It got monotonous and I was getting sick of it. When I thought about it, it seemed absurd I was treating games more like work than entertainment. So I decided to ignore the temptations that made it work.

Amongst my New Year's resolutions, I've vowed to only play a game if I want to play it, not because I feel compelled to win some time-based reward.

I might blog later about how well it's going, but I'm already being tempted to log into each game "for just a bit" to keep the rewards flowing. These reward-hooks dug in deeper to me than I thought; who knows how many hours I've lost to playing games just because I wanted rewards rather than because they were fun? It'll be interesting to see how my gaming habits change as a result of purposely avoiding that.

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Driven Away by LoL's Players

For the 4th time in a month, I have just finished a League of Legends match and wondered why I keep playing it. It's not because the game's gotten boring after 3 years; they've just released the new season's changes and shaken things up enough to keep my interest. The players have finally gotten under my skin.

None of them have reached the depths of that one player who decided that a bad match on my part justified telling me to get cancer and die, but the constant childish behavior of the gold- and platinum-rank players I get paired with. Dealing with it in a majority of the matches I play has just ground me down to the point I play EVE to unwind from LoL. I can accept poor play- everyone has their off-game- but players insulting each other, pausing to insult each other, constantly whining about how bad a lane's going, or just ragequitting entirely have turned even the victories into a grueling test of endurance.

And then there's the players who refuse to Surrender and end the game early no matter what, which is simultaneously understandable and frustrating. If all that's happening is we're losing badly, I can tolerate it, but when it's combined with a team of players volleying insults back & forth and laughing when their teammates die, I think it's less about refusing to give up and more about making everyone else suffer as long as possible.

In short, the game has quit being fun, not because of the game itself but because of its players. And I'm not some newbie; I started playing before half the current champions were released. The community didn't drive me off, it wore me down. No wonder Riot and Valve are eager to improve their players' behavior: it's either that or lose customers, even long-time veterans.

Yet it reminds me of a larger issue with gaming. I occasionally visit one of my old teachers to chat, and a common topic is the effect of games on kids. While he worries about the violence in them, I've argued the real threat is the other people playing them, the toxic trashtalk of Xbox Live and harassment in voice chat. Multiplayer games have evolved into a society where sportsmanship is nearly nonexistant, and it's spilled over to the gaming community to the point it is actively driving out not just players, but developers and journalists as well. We have become our own worst enemies, and unless we actively try to encourage sportsmanship and courtesy, it'll only get worse.

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Titan #2 Down: Tackled at HED-GP

Well, I expected that stratop to last 60, maybe 90 minutes tops.

That was 6 hours ago.

Now as we withdraw from the field and I try to unwind from what is possibly the most intense fight I've had in EVE yet, it's time to go over what happened as best I can so soon after the battle.

After we won the defensive timer for HED-GP (one of our major trade systems) as detailed in my last post about a Titan kill, Pandemic Legion hit the system again. Tonight was our first defensive timer for the system's Infrastructure Hub; not an urgent priority (there's 3 more defensive timers the attackers need to win after that to get the system), but it's one we wanted to win, so BRAVE called all hands on deck for this. PL was confident they had this, so they fielded a moderately-sized fleet of Apocalypse Navy Issue battleships (one step short of actual Titans on the lethality scale) supported by 1-2 dozen carriers and supercarriers. It looked like an even fight at first...

And then 2-3 waves of bombs hit PL's battleships in rapid succession. The BRAVE fleet took the opportunity to start melting the Apocs. Suddenly the PL capitals found themselves alone on the field against 800 BRAVE ships.

The destruction of PL's Blockade Unit was an afterthought. The brawl proper had begun. Warp disruption bubbles popped up everywhere around PL's carriers as Cyno Jammers went up in system to keep them from jumping out of system. They were trapped, and their fighters & drones were being obliterated by the massive BRAVE force on field. However, they had enough remote repair beams to keep each other from dying to our assault. We needed some help.

We called up Black Legion again and told them we had a whole slew of PL carriers and supercarriers trapped and ripe for the taking. They just needed to provide the firepower. They agreed, but they couldn't take their own supercapitals through a wormhole like they did for the last Titan kill; they had to take the long way in.

It would be 2-3 hours before they arrived. We needed to keep the PL carriers trapped until then.

Ragepings went out over our alert systems: we needed every pilot that could drop a warp disruption bubble to log in and get to HED-GP. Warp bubbles (and the ships that could deploy them) sold out rapidly; more were shipped in via Jump Freighter. The carriers were trapped, and although they managed to shoot down 100 or more ships, BRAVE just kept bringing more of them in. Their fighter stocks dried up, so they resorted to deploying regular drones. Word was spreading of the giant fight; other parties were slowly streaming into system.

The Kadeshi were the first ones in with their own capital fleet. Then BRAVE brought in their own capital fleet. Finally, the Cyno Inhibitors were dropped so BL could jump in their supers and capitals. PL took the opportunity to jump in their own group of titans, trapping them along with their previous capitals in the hopes they'd have enough repairs to survive the assault. Things had escalated royally, with a few hundred Titans, carriers, and dreadnoughts and over 1500 ships total in system. Time dilation (slowdown) dropped to 10% as the servers "caught on fire" from the massive load of people in system.

The BL Titans focus-fired their Doomsdays, blowing a PL Ragnarok titan to smithereens. (I will link the Ragnarok killmail later; apparently the aftermath of HED-GP blew up zKillboard.) PL responded with their own Doomsdays, blowing up several BL dreadnoughts. It looked like we were getting ready to kill more PL supers...

Then Northern Coalition jumped their own supers in right on top of PL's supers and began remote-repairing them. There was no way we could outdamage their repairs now. Our forces began withdrawing off the field, letting PL escape, although they got a bloodied nose in the process.

However, NC jumping to PL's aid against the Kadeshi and BL could lead to some interesting diplomatic repercussions. While NC and Pandemic Legion are old allies, NC and Black Legion have been fighting a two-front war against Goonswarm and the CFC up north, while PL has been busy using their fleet of supers to harass BRAVE/HERO and help the Russians (who are allies of the CFC) conquer the Wicked Creek region. NC taking the field to help their old allies against their current allies could have serious consequences in the war against CFC and PL's skirmishes with BRAVE. Will tension build between NC and BL over NC siding with PL over them? Will NC demand that PL help them more against CFC in exchange for saving their fleet here, causing them to abandon their assaults on BRAVE space? We'll have to see what diplomatic fallout results from this in the coming weeks, but for now HED-GP is safe and we've caused one of the biggest fights this year on EVE.

A BRAVE rookie ship amidst PL's Titan cluster trapped within the warp bubbles.

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HERO Kills a Titan

Last night on EVE, some week-old newbies got in on the 2nd-most expensive kill in the game. It single-handedly flipped us from losing the attrition war in an ongoing conflict to winning it, boosted morale, and caused a whole lot of drama in our opponents we're still sorting out. In short, it's the type of story you occasionally hear out of EVE.

But let me offer some background on it first.

KiteCo (the local GiantBomb EVE corporation) is part of the HERO coalition, a newbie-friendly coalition that holds territory in the Catch region of EVE. Pandemic Legion (the same alliance featured in Patrick's story on the B-R5RB brawl) has been harassing us for the past 2 months, interfering with our other fights and occasionally attacking our systems to provoke a reaction. HERO has had a rough time fighting back against the veteran coalition, which tends to field 100 of the most advanced ships in the game supported by a few dozen supercarriers and titans, which are the most powerful ships in the game. HERO's fought bravely, but has been slowly pushed back and losing the ISK war against the superior ships. In the process, PL grew cocky that HERO couldn't do much to stop them; even when HERO fielded a huge force of its own capital ships in the battle for F4R2-, they couldn't break a single PL super, and the threat of an opposing supercapital fleet dropping on them had diminished to almost nothing since the last EVE patch heavily nerfed capital jump drives to reduce their range.

That all changed in the course of 3 hours last night.

PL laid siege to HED-GP, an important system on our primary trade route, that morning. People were frustrated. That afternoon, one of our explorers also found a temporary wormhole in one of our systems that connected us to Black Legion's space halfway across the galaxy. Black Legion was known in-game as super-killers, the type of group that would leap at a chance to kill a titan. One of our Fleet Commanders, who was an old friend of the Black Legion brass, offered them a deal: we'd deliver a PL titan right into their lap if they'd provide the firepower to kill it. They agreed.

That night, 2 HERO capital dreadnoughts began killing a PL outpost in that system by themselves. (Dreadnoughts are expensive ships designed for sieging outposts. They're cheap for capitals, but they still cost 2 billion ISK apiece.) PL was alerted and sent a fleet of a dozen Machariel battleships to investigate. As they netted the dreads and began whittling them, one of PL's Titan pilots, named Hurley, asked them to light a cyno beacon he could jump to to get in on the kills. Hurley had become infamous for jumping his Titan in on expensive, vulnerable targets and instantly Doomsday-ing them to dust. The Fleet Commander of the Machariels advised him against it, saying they could handle it themselves and it'd be too risky, but Hurley insisted. Eventually, one of the Machariels lit a cyno beacon for him, he jumped his Titan in, and unleashed its Doomsday Weapon on the dreadnought.

It survived.

The dreadnought pilot expected Hurley to jump in and Doomsday them and outfitted his dreadnought specifically to tank it; Hurley had grown too predictable. Then a HERO fleet of interdictors designed specifically to trap a Titan warped right on top of it just as Black Legion burst through the wormhole, warping across half the galaxy in an instant.

And then all hell broke loose.

Every single HERO pilot was called into action: grab whatever you can and kill the Titan. PL sounded high alert, scrambling every ship they could to save the Titan. PL's Machariel fleet got vaporized by Black Legion, who promptly began working on the Titan as a cyno jammer came online in the system. Unable to get a cyno beacon up, PL's super fleet had to take the long way through the jumpgates, which was made even longer by the numerous warp disruption bubbles HERO set up in their path. The Titan melted within a minute, and then the hunt was on for stragglers as PL withdrew from the fight. A supercarrier was caught in the chaos and destroyed as well, along with several carriers.

In the space of 3 hours, PL lost over 200 billion ISK worth of assets. That was more than HERO had lost in the entire war. HERO's morale was boosted immediately: a Titan had been destroyed, the relentless juggernaut had been wounded. PL's leadership refused to reimburse Hurley's Titan; he had ignored the fleet's warnings and fallen into a trap sprung just for him. A day later, Hurley put up his Titan pilot for sale on the EVE forums. This evening, on the first timer to defend HED-GP from PL's siege, HERO formed up 900 pilots; PL showed up in a small subcap fleet (sans supercapitals), took a couple potshots at HERO, then left as HERO reclaimed the system.

The best part of all this is that several newbies that had just joined the game (and HERO) in the past week due to the newest EVE trailer. And now, in their words, "My first kill ever is a fucking Titan!"

EVE can be annoying sometimes. But times like this make it worth it.

Titan confirmed down.
Swarming around a trapped Supercarrier.

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"Knuckles" Dan

Sonic Boom has successfully made me long for the days of less characterization. Knuckles' characterization as a dumb oaf had me cringing; there's no positive side to it, the dumb jokes aren't funny, and I'm wondering how he's survived this long.

Contrast this to Dan Ryckert, who has raised stupidity to an art form. Dan's "how has he survived this long" idiocy (egg "whites" are not shells) is accompanied by sheer chutzpah in pulling off crazy things just by making offers (like driving with George Clinton, or making a commercial with Game Informer, or the monkey photo which I am still confounded by). I don't know if you could split the two apart, he's nailed what makes an idiotic character interesting. Pity the new Knuckles can't take a page from Dan's playbook and pull off amazing stuff just because he doesn't know better.

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Lessons from Eve: Levels Kill MMOs

It has been 3 months since I started Eve and I have gotten into the groove of NullSec activity: avoiding roams, killing stuff on roams myself, playing the market, fighting in wars, navigating the waves caused by Drama, and so forth. Recently, some members of KiteCo (including myself) have felt burnt out on Eve and begun playing weird MMOs on the side as a diversion. Last week, it was the Korean fishing MMO; this week, it's a French strategic MMO (think World of Warcraft with Final Fantasy Tactics' mechanics). Yet playing these different MMOs after a quarter of a year on Eve has just made the things Eve does right stand out more. To me, Eve is the MMO-iest MMO out there. But why?

I'm writing these quick blog entries over the course of a few weeks to figure that out. First, we need to answer a particular question:

What is the defining trait of an MMO?

Interacting with hundreds of other players. The one advantage MMOs have over every other gametype out there is sheer numbers, with all of the drama, complexity, and conflict that ensues. Anything that hampers a player's interactions with the broiling masses is undercutting the main selling point of MMOs.

And levels, that holdover from single-player RPGs, are the prime culprit.

Levels Segregate, Levels Kill

While levels were originally used as an indication of how powerful a character was, in MMOs they have also turned into a gatekeeper for content, a sign reading "You Must Be This Powerful to Enter This Dungeon". Low-level players are only allowed to access the weak dungeons (and weak rewards), unable to get to the hard dungeons/loot until they grind their way past a particular experience level. High-level characters don't want to run low-level dungeons because their loot's bad, and low-level characters can't run high-level dungeons with their high-level friends because the game tells them they're too weak to.

If a new player wants to play with his high-level friends, he needs to put in overtime grinding up to their level. Or have his friends escort him through a few low-level dungeons out of pity. Or have them start new alts and level up alongside him. But these are workarounds for a problem that shouldn't even be there. In Eve, I was flying frigates alongside the big boys, helping them tackle and blow up enemy ships, just days after starting.

And it's not just because there's no artificial level requirement. It's because the power curve is gradual compared to the steep increases found in games with levels. A novice in Eve is 50-80% as effective as a years-old veteran. Meanwhile, a Lvl. 10 player in WoW is just a speed bump to a Lvl. 90 player; the veteran could probably kill him in one shot by sneezing. The mere existence of a numerical power gauge starting at 1 and increasing to some arbitrary number encourages the exponential increases in power that make novices worthless in comparison to veterans. Don't believe me? Then read this:

"A Lvl. 1 player is 75% as powerful as a Lvl. 40 player."

Did your mind instinctively think "that doesn't make sense" when you read that? We have been conditioned to assume high-level players can wipe the floor with enemies that would utterly crush low-level players; that causes a level system to encourage a steep power curve merely by existing. The resulting steep power curve makes novices nearly useless in a veteran group, to the point they're more hindrance than help. This encourages the developers to lock away dungeons, equipment, and even entire zones until players reach a certain level, which hinders their ability to group up with other players, which is the entire point of an MMO.

In short, level systems segregate players. Level systems actively kill MMOs by working against their defining trait, like a cancer killing its host. The sooner MMOs excise the level system and start experimenting with other methods of progression, the better.

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4 Weeks in Eve: Taswell vs the Russians

1 Week in EVE: Don't Fly What You Can't Lose

2 Weeks in EVE: Economic PvP

3 Weeks in EVE: The Long Haul

Right after writing my last article, I suggested my own roam: "Why don't I outfit a mining barge to bait enemies into attacking it, then grab attackers while the rest of the fleet jumps in to kill them?" Debate and suggestions broke out amongst Kite Co. about the best way to proceed while we slowly got about 10 ships into the fleet. Just before we were ready to roll out, a 10-man enemy fleet jumped into our system, intent on attacking BOVRIL mining space further in.

Us: "Oh, hey, someone brought content to us."

Them: "...Wait, you're all undocked?"

*pregnant pause*

*hell breaks loose*

The original intent of the roam was quickly forgotten as we chased them all the way to BOVRIL, back to CZK, and straight through BPA space into the waiting jaws of a SOUND defense fleet.

That's a pretty good analogy for how the last week has gone in Catch.

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I had a plan for this last weekly EVE update: now that I had cut my teeth on survival in NullSec and small fleet skirmishes, I would learn about commanding fleets and end my 1st month in EVE by leading my own small fleet on a roam.

EVE quickly overturned those plans. CFC (Goonswarm & Co) began deploying in Delve; N3 (Northern Coalition and Co) deployed there in response. The common N3 raids into our region of space slowed to a trickle... only to be replaced by a torrent of Russians.

The Russian alliance of AAA were the former owners of Catch. N3, being no friends of the Russians, had helped our HERO coalition drive them out of Catch. Now that N3 was deployed elsewhere in preparation for the brewing annual Summer War with CFC, AAA saw a chance to pay HERO back for taking their space. They were pissed, and they brought friends.

Things have been hot ever since. Every day brings a new timer on a starbase we need to defend or a blockade unit we need to take down. Fleets of 100+ go out daily to protect our new homeland. The previous N3 raids were a warmup compared to this; the Russians had a bone to pick with us, and CFC was eager to hop in on the glory.

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The first strategic-operation was 6 AM EST on a Sunday morning; the Russians had hit one of our starbases in an allied system hard, dropping it into Reinforce mode, and we needed to defend it once it came out of Reinforcement. Reinforcement is EVE's way of ensuring alliances don't lose starbases and systems before they can react: once a starbase or hub's shields are dropped to 25%, it becomes invulnerable until a set time the next day. Normally this time is set for the defender's busiest hours, so it can field a robust defense fleet. However, Reinforcement consumes Strontium fuel; if you don't have enough Strontium stored in the starbase, it drops out of Reinforcement early. And since this was a remote starbase, it was barely fueled... thus it only had enough Strontium to stay Reinforced until our wee morning hours, which was late night for the Russians. We would have to defend that starbase at one of our weakest hours (and one of the Russians' strongest).

Although we matched the Russians for numbers (100 vs 100), they were an older alliance and could field more advanced ships than most of us. After a half-hour of skirmishing, our fleet commander called for a withdrawal; we couldn't stop them from destroying the starbase with the forces we had. Morale was low on the trek back.

Standoff at the Starbase

"...Is this how we lose Catch?"

"Maybe we need to call N3 on the batphone."

"No, we can do this by ourselves. We can afford to lose this starbase. Save the batphone for an emergency."

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The Russian invasions alongside their CFC allies have forced me (and a lot of other HERO newbros) to reevaluate our relationship with N3. When I started a month ago, they were the annoying neighbors constantly roaming into Catch, hotdropping on miners, and blowing up any HERO ships they came across. But they didn't want our territory. The Russians wanted our territory badly, and they had CFC support. The only coalition that could fight on even terms with CFC was N3. Old grudges were put aside and N3 became a frenemy. Even INK, an N3-alliance who had tried to capture one of our systems weeks ago (see Week 2), threw their hat into the ring alongside us.

But why did N3 help a future enemy capture territory? Why did CFC, for the most part, step back and let their Russian allies get conquered? Content.

Alliances have to generate two things for their members: money and Content. Money is self-explanatory, but Content requires good enemies to fight on a daily basis. CFC and N3, the two biggest coalitions, have both signed treaties limiting how much they can interfere with each other, and attacks against each other carry the risk of escalating into humongous battles that wipe out spaceships worth billions of ISK. Neither side has such restrictions against HERO, and most members of HERO welcome the excitement.

HERO grabbed a foothold in Catch because it promised Content to the larger coalitions. Now with the Summer War gearing up, the Russians want revenge and CFC might want Catch as a staging grounds into N3 space. It remains to be seen whether CFC values Catch more as a foothold or a content-generator, but N3 prefers our content & would rather not let CFC get such a foothold, so they remain on our side for now. HERO survives just as much off our diplomacy & providing Content for the other coalitions as it does off our military prowess.

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Hours later, I returned to the former starbase's location to see what had happened. I expected to see a Russian starbase up; instead, I saw a Black Pearl Alliance starbase there. I messaged my contact within the BPA and asked what happened.

"After the Russians began constructing their starbase, we called in N3 backup, blew it up, and set our own starbase in its place. Did you think we'd let an enemy starbase get constructed in our backyard?"

When I relayed this news to Kite Co, they began howling with laughter.

"They set up a starbase and forgot to place the Strontium Tank first! Oh, this is too rich!"

Apparently the starbase should have gone into Reinforcement, giving the Russians a chance to defend it, but since they hadn't put any Strontium into it, it got blown up immediately. The Russians had made a bone-headed mistake just like we did. You may recall the Battle of B-R5RB (aka the costliest EVE battle to date) started because of an unpaid bill. Taking & holding territory in EVE reminds me of startup procedure in a flight simulator: if you don't do everything on the checklist, things fail spectacularly.

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Two days later, another strat-op launched out of our homebase of V-3 to destroy a Russian starbase being set up in a neighboring system. This was my first true large-scale battle; what started as a 100 vs 25 fight in our favor turned into 1 fleet vs 2 fleets, and then an INK fleet came to help us, and then- well honestly, things got confusing once there were more than 300 ships in the system. All of the fleets were jockeying for position in space, escaping to regroup and catch their breath, setting up stealth bomber runs, and past a certain point I just began focusing on my short-term goals of "shield-boost allies so they don't get killed". Naturally, being one of the fleet's "healers" made me a prime target; I lost 2 ships in that fight. The first time, I warped back to V-3, grabbed a spare fully-outfitted ship I had "just in case", and warped back into the fight. The second time, I called it a night.

"Incoming content."

Although I... think it was a loss for us (I'm not sure if we accomplished our goal of blowing up the starbase amidst all the carnage), it was my first big fleet brawl and I managed to save a few ships from premature destruction. The basic combat of EVE is quite simple compared to WoW: each ship usually has just one set of guns, some drones, a group of defensive or electronic warfare modules, and propulsion to turn on or off. Using those basic functions in a hectic fleet battle where you have to listen to target calls, lock onto multiple ships, keep track of distances to them, and watch for enemy ships targeting you, warp bubbles preventing you from escaping, and the occasional bombing run is much more complex. And then there's the preparation, planning, and spying that goes on around the battle itself...

"They used those ship types because they knew it was a good counter to our ship doctrine," a fellow KiteCo member explained. (Ship doctrines are standardized fleet makeups that work well together.) "You can be sure they have a spy or two in the fleet as well, relaying our primary targets to their support commander so they can start shield-boosting our targets before we fire. It makes it much harder to win these fights." 'Everyone's a spy' is a common joke in EVE, but it's often true.

"These fights would be so much easier if we practiced decent OpSex..."

"Wait, you mean OpSec?"

"Er..."

"First rule of OpSex: never tell your lover your name."

"Har har, very funny. But no, just figure there's always someone listening in for the enemy side, and don't tell people anything they don't need to know. Loose lips sink ships."

Any thoughts he might be a tad too paranoid were dismissed the next day, when I read a piece by Mittani (the de facto leader of CFC) detailing how his spies utterly frustrated an enemy's war against them by putting minor errors in their shared intel spreadsheet.

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The next day, an urgent call-to-arms hit our mailbox. "AAA is on the verge of destroying an ally's hub within the next day. We will not let that happen. If you can be there, be there. Do not run personal fleets during this strat-op or Military Command will rip you to shreds."

I joined early in another support ship and waited for the fleet to launch. So many people joined we had to split it into two fleets, and we were going to meet two other fleets there. By the time we were set up in the target system, there were over 500 allied ships in the system. We waited for the enemy to arrive...

...And nobody came. We saw 1-2 scouts which quickly hightailed it out; apparently the Russians decided they didn't like those odds and didn't even show up to the battle. We spent 2 hours destroying the Russians' blockade units and restoring the hub's armor & shields, suffering the occasional bombing run by a half-dozen Russian stealth bombers that destroyed a lot of drones but barely damaged us. In the end, the strat-op was declared a success.

"The best battle is the one you don't have to fight. Good turn-out, folks, we're proud of you. Don't worry if you didn't see any action today; I'm sure we've got plenty of fights left with the Russians in the future."

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Later, I learned a string of hit-and-run skirmishes had broken out between one of our larger roaming fleets and the Russians. An INK fleet arrived at the scene as reinforcements, scaring the Russians off except for a few scouts. The 2 fleet commanders agreed to lure out the Russians by having both fleets fire on each other. The Russians believed we were resuming hostilities and jumped back into system to take advantage of it. As soon as they revealed themselves, both fleets turned their firepower on them. We lost 4 billion ISK worth of ships, they lost 22 billion ISK worth, including a Carrier. Just from a random fight and a dirty trick.

I didn't participate in that, but man, I wish I had!

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With that, we come to today. My plans to lead a fleet of my own have been delayed by the Russians, but in the meantime I've learned about (and participated in) large-scale battles and defending territory. I am on the verge of learning the skills necessary to upgrade my support ship by a tier. I have 20+ combat-ready ships stored at 3 different stations. And I've just learned that Kite Co. has set up a new homebase dedicated to the late, great Ryan Davis. I'll probably spend the weekend moving my stuff from Pancake House to Point Taswell, in between helping with the defensive strat-ops, and once that's done it's back to mining ice for profit and fuel blocks. I'm not sure how long it'll be before something else rocks the boat, though; there's already rumors of Drama, and who knows what the Russians do next.

For now, though, I'll just take a moment to enjoy a view of the new station...

Point Taswell

With that, I wrap up my first month's impression of EVE. I've jumped from miner to missile gunship to trader to support ship to combat-ready miner. I've made contacts in 3 different alliances, had a fleet commander compliment me personally, and talked resources and economics with over a half-dozen people. I've lost 43 ships in combat, actually died 15 times in combat, and participated in several dozen skirmishes. And I have no idea what'll happen next.

EVE is a strangely fascinating MMO with long bouts of grinding punctuated by debates on economics, politics, espionage, counter-espionage, tactics, and the occasional explosion(s). The deeper you dive into it, the more you get out of it. And you can dive deep quickly. I don't know when I'll come back out, but until then, I'm going into OPSEC and REDACTING all my info.

See you around Catch. 7o

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3 Weeks in EVE: The Long Haul

1 Week in EVE: Don't Fly What You Can't Lose

2 Weeks in EVE: Economic PvP

It was a quiet Sunday morning. The Intel channel was barely alive, just a few isolated sightings of lone ships. I had spent the last hour going back and forth between the station and a nearby asteroid belt, slowly delivering giant payloads of ore. At the hour mark, I calculated the price for my ore, created a contract for it, and watched it disappear into the market. I leaned back in my chair a moment and realized something: I was utterly bored and wanted to play something else.

"Man, is this all there is?" I frowned. The initial rush of learning about the game was fading, and I knew enough to make money at a steady, but boring, pace. I don't play games to make money in them, though.

I shut off EVE for the time being; I needed to recharge my batteries. "Maybe it's time to try other ways of making money here."

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A day later, a fellow Kite Co. member asked if I was busy. "I'm doing an Incursion here, and I'm leaving behind a hundred wrecks. You want to salvage them?"

"Sure." I outfitted a Probe with Salvagers and Cargo Hold Expanders and jumped to the system they were in, where I spent the next hour trailing in their wake, looting every single wreck they left behind. At the end of it, I had 20 million ISK worth of salvage; not a bad haul, especially compared to my mining. It was just as boring, though, and required more attention: each wreck had to be manually targeted for salvage, so I couldn't spend much time reading other things. I decided I liked mining better, although I'd probably salvage whenever the situation came up again.

Exploration was more exciting, and sometimes more profitable, but it got old quickly too. I quickly fell into a routine of scouting the system for Relic or Data Sites, warping there, and playing the hacking minigame over & over again so I could loot them. It was something to do, but it wasn't much fun. It was enough of a change of pace, though, that I installed survey probes onto my Mining Venture ship and kept an Explorer ship nearby to visit any sites I found while mining. It was a decent source of profit, and was diverse enough to keep me semi-interested, but I was still hungry for entertainment...

-----

"When do you get into the endgame content of Eve?"

My fellow KiteCo members pondered that question a moment.

"Good question. Some people never reach it. There's plenty of players content to just do PvE in HighSec systems to outfit their ships in rare modules, but I don't think that's endgame content."

"I think you reach it once you enter NullSec," another corp member chimed in. "You got into it within days of starting."

Someone else had been silently pondering it and finally decided to speak: "I think the endgame content starts when you realize you can do anything you want. Find your niche, stake your claim, and go do something crazy. That's when you get into the endgame."

-----

"Mining Barge Level 1 learned."

I grinned when that notification popped up. After 2 weeks of flying around in Frigate-level ships, I was ready for something bigger & new. The mining barges enticed me with high-profit yields, mining a few million ISK worth of resources in a few minutes. It didn't hurt they were big and cool-looking, too.

I quickly bought the most durable Mining Barge I could find, the Procurer, and spent an hour mulling over how to outfit it. Once it was outfitted, I waited until the system was clear of hostiles and carefully navigated it to a nearby Ice Belt. I turned on the Ice Miner and waited. Fifteen minutes later, I returned to station with a haul worth 6 million ISK, nearly 6 times what I would make in the same time with my Venture. Soon I would be rolling in the dough!

After the first day or two, though, the ice belts were depleted of the expensive ices. I had deployed the Procurer in BOVRIL space, and since BOVRIL specialized in mining... there was often 3 other Procurers mining ice alongside me. I was also a half-dozen systems away from KiteCo's station, too far away to join them for roaming or defending the region. With a frown, I put my Procurer away and got on a Shuttle back to KiteCo's Pancake House to join the defense fleet there and shoot invaders while I pondered what to do about mining...

-----

"...Wait, there's a station here?!"

I blinked and looked again at my Overview. Sure enough, there was another station in the system right next to us. We had chased a few fleeing invaders out of our home system of CZK into the neighboring CNC system to blow them up, and in the aftermath I noticed the station icon in the Overview.

"I'm going to check it out quick."

I warped to the station and checked its info. It was owned by the Spaceship Samurai, allies of ours. Could I dock? I could dock. I checked the Station Services available. It had a refinery; I could process ore into minerals here. After the rest of KiteCo withdrew back to homebase, I was the only one left in the system. And a quick probe revealed... two ice belts. I had only seen one per system before. They were filled with rare, expensive ices. And I was the only one in system.

The only problem was it sat right next door to FAT system, which was where NC gathered for most of their raids against us. Although the system was usually empty, occasionally an enemy ship would come through looking for a kill. Sometimes, there would be 10, 20, even 80 of them warping through system. A lone mining ship would be tempting for them. Was it worth the risk?

A hostile ship warped into the CNC system. I quickly alerted the rest of KiteCo in chat. They gathered up around the CNC gate in CZK and obliterated him when he jumped through it.

Yeah, I thought, this is worth the risk.

-----

I moved my new Procurer out there once I found a scout for the trip (I didn't want to fly my brand new 40mil ISK ship there blind) and set up shop. My week spent mining alongside BOVRIL served me well; as soon as I saw a hostile or neut in local, I aligned towards a warp point and powered up my engines. The moment they popped up on Local Overview, I hit Warp. I was gone before they could react.

Scouting for KiteCo became a crash-course in quick use of my DScan. I found an asteroid belt within 14 AU of the gate to FAT system and kept an eye on Local. The moment I saw hostiles appear, I mashed the DScan button. It was a race to scan the enemy ships & type out the intel to KiteCo before I warped out of range. Then it was up to them to prepare an ambush at the jumpgate, or dock at the station before they were vaporized by overwhelming force. I listened to voice chat and smiled as enemy fleets were obliterated the moment they stepped foot in our system. I wasn't mining as fast as I was in safer systems, but this was much more satisfying...

In the downtime, I grew my list of contacts out of necessity. Our allies occasionally contacted me about my intel. I sent Emails to Spaceship Samurai's diplomat when I was barred from the station one day. I brokered a deal to sell my ice & ore to Catch's Switzerland equivalent, the Black Pearl Alliance. I started correspondence with one of the veteran Fleet Commanders in BRAVE. I didn't just interact with Kite Co; I interacted with our Alliance, our alliance of Alliances, friendly enemies, and abrasive allies. The myriad deals & relationships surrounding the game were more interesting than the game itself.

-----

"I used to play World of Warcraft," I mentioned to KiteCo while skimming through ship modules, "and it was much more fun than EVE. But I have more stories from less than a month of playing EVE than I did from 5 years of playing WoW."

One of my corpmates agreed. "I used to be in a top-tier WoW raiding guild, one of the guilds people on other servers knew about. But every week it was the same thing, we'd farm and grind and do the same raids everyone else did, time and again. We did it faster than anyone else, but we were still doing the same thing as everyone else.

"But this... we invaded & captured Catch. We've fought off enough fleets to make a planet-sized scrapheap in V-3. We're holing up and preparing to keep it. And we did it differently than the previous owners of Catch did, and we did it differently than whoever takes over Catch in the future will. Our story here is unique. Much more memorable than killing the same bosses for the 10th time in a row."

-----

It began as rumors that someone had managed to flip V-3's sovereignty back to neutral. Hours later, I finally learned the truth: the UnthINKables found a vulnerable Catch system and were busy flipping it to their control. An emergency defense fleet were already fighting in the system, but a reinforcement fleet would soon get underway. I pod-expressed to V-3 and prepared to ship out; by this point, I had gained enough skill points I needed to pay ISK to keep all my skills after dying, but it was worth it to join the battle.

By the time we got there, though, the main fighting was already over. Not only had BRAVE brought over twice as many people to the fight as INK, but INK had made a major tactical mistake by warping their long-range support into point-blank range of our guns. They withdrew from the system, and I sighed at the thought of missing another large battle...

The day wasn't over yet, though. Although INK's territorial control units were destroyed before they could activate, we still needed to get ours online to flip control back to us. That process would take 8 hours. Most of us withdrew back to V-3 and waited; I logged off for a while to play with some friends, keeping an eye on the BRAVE IM alerts for any emergency pings as I read up on the basics of sovereign control. When I logged back in, there was still 2 hours left before the system flipped back to our control.

"Hey," I asked, "who's got eyes on that system?"

"I do, but I should really get some sleep before work tomorrow."

"Hmm, I could watch it instead. Just tell me who to contact if shit happens."

The previous scout gave me the contact info of the Fleet Commander on duty that night, thanked me for taking over, and went to bed. I settled in for 2 hours of sitting around. I read GiantBomb articles in a smaller window, keeping an eye on the Local chat, as I listened to the other KiteCo members dunk fleet after fleet trying to get through CZK.

"They just keep coming!" Matt squealed between bouts of laughter. "Why do they keep coming to die?! Oh God this is hilarious! So much content! I need to pee so bad but I don't want to leave!"

I smiled sadly and sat back; it sounded like they were having a great time, but someone needed to watch the system. I gazed at the nebula beyond, idly going over the tidbits of information I had gathered over the week, plotting what to do next. For 2 hours, I sat in one place in a game. It should've been the most boredom I've ever experienced in a game, but it actually passed quickly. In the last 10 minutes of the countdown, the Fleet Commander warped in with a relief fleet.

"Scout, we'll take it from here. You're relieved of your duty. Thanks, you really did us a favor here." As I warped out of system, the entire fleet saluted via emotes. I realized then why the past 2 hours weren't boring: I had done something unique, I had done something important, and I had chosen to do it. I had helped BRAVE keep the system. I contributed despite playing for less than a month just by being there. And I had enjoyed it.

Still, missing a large battle for the 2nd time annoyed me. Through poor timing and bad luck, I hadn't gotten into a good fleet fight since I started the game, and the lack of combat was grating. I looked down in the various plans and ideas I had scribbled down and thought to myself, "Perhaps it's time to take matters into my own hands..."

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2 Weeks of EVE: Economic PvP

My first exploration run had started so well...

Enticed by rumors of big payoffs, I outfitted a Probe ship with Analyzers and found an untouched Relic Site in a system several jumps away from base. A few successful hacking minigames later, I had 20 million ISK worth of salvage & ancient tech in my cargo bay. That was more than I had made in my first week of mining on EVE. I began heading back towards base.

...And entered a system with 4 hostiles in it.

I panicked and hit the Jump to Gate button immediately in an attempt to get away before they could find me. Halfway there, I realized the system only had 2 gates, and they weren't on the one I came through...

I dropped out of warp right in the midst of them.

"Oh, crap."

I managed to jump through the gate before they could react.

"Oh, whew."

I took a moment to catch my breath. Then I saw red dots pop up on my scanner. They had followed me through.

"Oh, dammit!"

They quickly locked me down and blew me up. I lost a 20mil ISK haul and a 3mil ISK ship on a stupid mistake. I just logged off the game and sat back in my chair for a moment. I was utterly demoralized; I didn't log back in for several hours, and when I did, I immediately moaned about my loss to KiteCo.

"Heh, it happens. Let me link you a death I had."

The Kill Report was a year old; he had lost a freighter in our home sector to a hostile fleet. The total value of the freighter and its contents was in the billions.

"Everyone goes through that moment of truth you just did. They lose hours or days of work to a stupid mistake. And when they do, they have two choices: they can either quit the game in frustration, or they decide they can recover from it and get back to work. If you can't accept losses, don't play EVE."

-----

The most dangerous aspect of EVE is traveling. You jump blind into each system, praying there isn't hostiles gate-camping the other side. There is no scenic griffin ride; every step of the journey is a jump into the unknown. It's bad enough moving yourself... but you need to move your inventory, too. Everything in EVE has to be manually transported from Point A to Point B; the auction house doesn't mail you your stuff, you need to contract a Jump Freighter to haul it in and pray it doesn't get blown up along the way. There can be massive fluctuations in price within just 2 jumps of each other, if those 2 jumps are a warzone. Are you willing to risk your ship for 50%-off Afterburners? And can you get your new stuff back in one piece?

While I was still getting used to the Catch sector, I noticed a great deal on some ship modules: they were 60% lower than the market average just 17 jumps away. I was overjoyed at how cheap I bought them... until I actually tried to retrieve them.

On my first attempt, I ran into a roaming hostile fleet 5 jumps away and lost a ship to them. That ship cost several times more than what I had saved on the modules.

On my second attempt, I took the "Rookie Ship" you get for free whenever you arrive at a station without a ship. It had enough cargo room to store the modules, and I wouldn't lose anything if it got blown up. That ship got blown up 2 jumps in by a Northern Coalition fleet camping a major crossroads in the sector.

For my third attempt, I set my clone respawn to the station the modules were at, then killed myself. I took the free Rookie Ship I received there, then tried to complete the return trip. I ran into a persistent Crow that could warp faster than me and predicted where I was warping to by observing which direction I was facing. I respawned back at the station, smarting from the loss...

Only to realize I still had the modules. Somehow, I completely forgot to place the modules into my cargo bay. They were still stored on the station, waiting for me to take them! I could use another chance to-

"Screw it, this ain't working." I trashed them and reset my clone respawn for home base.

That was an early lesson in how much distance mattered. But it was also an early lesson in how different prices can be in the same sector. And if you could safely move that stuff to a more expensive region, you could make a lot of ISK...

-----

"It's Economic PVP."

"Huh?"

"The second most popular form of EVE PVP next to blowing stuff up. Buying cheap items and marking them up for a hefty increase, moving stuff to where it will sell better, finding ways to undercut the competition... You can make plenty of money playing the market. Of course, you can also lose a ton of money that way."

This quickly turned into a debate about the price of importing everything from HiSec vs locally manufacturing it.

-----

The same probes that cost 20,000ISK here cost 8,000ISK just 7 jumps away. Buying 8 of them would cost nearly 200k ISK here... or I could get them for just 64k ISK there. It would be a 60% discount...

...or a 150% profit.

I pondered that a few moments. Probes took up little space; I could fit thousands of them on a Rookie Ship. Multiply that by 12,000ISK and that's a lot of money. Of course, I would probably need to mark it down more than that- otherwise people would just head to that station like I did- but that would still be a hefty profit. And if I was careful enough, I could probably get them back in one piece...

I decided to risk it. I picked a spare Rookie Ship I kept just for situations like this, plotted a course, and waited for several minutes, just watching the Intel channel while looking at the map. The Intel channel was our way of mitigating the risk of traveling; alliance members posted notices in it if they spotted (or got blown up by) enemies, and everyone else avoided that area for a few minutes unless they wanted a fight. It felt like listening to HAM radio operators discussing the weather: East India Co. was camping the main gate to HiSec, NC had a squad camping the V-3 station dock, and there was an unidentified fleet moving towards Neocortex Station... but the route to the probes sounded clear. I decided to chance it. I undocked and began warping.

Two jumps away from the station, I encountered 2 hostiles gate-camping. I twitched a moment, then paused. Panicking didn't work the last time... and I still had several moments of cloaking from the gate-jump to concoct a plan. There were 2 other gates in the system, but warping directly to them would tip them off where I was going. There was also 7 planets in the system I could warp to... perhaps I could lose them there. I aligned to one of the planets and began to warp.

I promptly got my warp drive disrupted and blown up. As my capsule ejected, I slammed on the Warp button. It managed to warp before the enemies could lock onto it. The chase was on. We bounced between different planets, the enemy ships appearing on my scanner just as I hit Warp Speed, until I managed to line up 2 planets in the same direction. I chose the closer one and jumped. As I came out of warp, I saw the enemy ships appear on my scanner... and promptly zoom by me at warp speed. They chose the wrong planet. I quickly warped to the next gate before they could recover and made it to the station, shipless but alive. A new Rookie Ship was waiting there for me... as well as my stash of probes.

I sighed and collapsed into my chair. "I'll wait until tomorrow to transport these back."

-----

"It might be safer, and nearly as profitable, to just contract your ore to BOVRIL or Veldspar."

"Huh? How?"

"Check out their buyback program."

While there were plenty of general "do everything" corps in the BRAVE alliance, a few specialized corps stood out. There was a black ops corp, a wormhole-exploration corp... and the mining & industry corps, respectively named BOVRIL bOREers Mining Co-Op and Veldspar Industries. Both corps had notifications about Buyback Programs in the Alliance Message of the Day, but I hadn't paid attention to them yet.

"You see, with buyback, you figure out what they're willing to pay you for it, then you make up a contract to give that stuff to them in exchange for the payment. You make a bit less than you would if you sold it at the local stations yourself... but you don't risk getting blown up transporting it, either."

I liked the idea of not getting blown up while transporting millions of ISK worth of cargo. I clicked the links and brought up... a GoogleDocs spreadsheet. Simply enter the items & quantities you had and it would spit up a price for the contract. I crafted a contract using the items and prices specified and confirmed it.

When they say EVE is Spreadsheets in Space, they don't mention those Spreadsheets are made by the players.

-----

I started the trip back the next morning in the midst of a Kadeshi invasion. I figured it would still be easier than doing it during primetime... at least until I was trapped in a two-way system by 4 gatecampers. Neither escape option looked good, so I found an isolated planet and Safe Logged, causing my ship to disappear from the system after 30 seconds... and waited.

Hour later... still there. Two hours later... still there. I logged off again and did something else. EVE, like Dark Souls, punishes impatience. Four hours later, they had finally left, allowing me to safely complete my run. I put the probes up for sale at a station frequented by newbros for 14k ISK apiece; enough for me to make a profit without draining their coffers. I leaned back in my chair and exhaled.

"...If I do this again, I gotta pick a better time and more cargo."

-----

Mining in NullSec makes you alert. I had an eye on Local Chat and an eye on my Overview the whole time. The moment I saw a hostile in either, I fled. In BOVRIL homespace, it got more complicated; enemy stealth ships liked to camp the system and go AFK, threatening us without actually being there in person. (The only way to find an idle stealth ship is to come within 2 kilometers of them... tough to do when they have an entire solar system to hide in.) Mining there involved staying aligned to the station, keeping a close eye on the Overview for uncloaking ships and the local Fleet chat for attacks, and not mining in something shiny (expensive). Days went by without losing a ship, and I got my first payment for ore contracts: 12mil ISK, enough to outfit 4 mining ships. After draining my coffers for the past 2 weeks, buying replacement ships and backup ships and skill books, I had taken my first steps towards actually making money... and having some to waste on PvP.

-----

"You make money to dump it into PvP. Forget Metal Gear Solid, this is the war economy."

Our pre-roaming fleet discussion about EVE economics was promptly interrupted by a hostile appearing in our home system; he must not have expected such a prompt response, because our home fleet quickly surrounded him, tackled him, and killed him. Someone posted the Kill Report so we could all have a look at what he lost: 50mil ISK worth of ship & modules.

He came back a moment later in a second ship, peeked into the system, and left again. This time, we decided to follow him through the gate. We caught him unaware waiting on the other side of the gate and quickly tackled & killed him again. He lost 70mil ISK worth of ship this time.

A few minutes later, he came back to our system in a 3rd ship with a few friends. We gave him the standard post-fight remark: "gf" for "good fight". (I originally thought it meant something more vulgar.) He replied with a snide remark about us "actually leaving the system for once". His impoliteness in defeat struck a nerve.

"Aww," our Fleet Commander said, "You feeling salty today?" The other fleet members chanted, "Salt! Salt!" in response.

"What sort of idiot still says that? You're stupid," our opponent said as a half-dozen of his friends came through the gate to support him. We had a decent fight on our hands; we retreated back to station to scheme.

A stealth scout reported back: we could probably take them on if we struck fast and focused on one. But which one? Our Fleet Commander pondered this a moment. "Let's go after the salty one. He's a sore loser."

We warped in on top of him. His friends fled in a panic as we swarmed him & blew him up. As we withdrew back to station, we checked out the Kill Report and burst out laughing.

"He lost a 300mil ISK ship! Look at all this junk! He must've been so mad he forgot to clear out his cargo hold before he took it out! And it's a T3 ship, so he lost skill points, too! Oh, I'm so glad we killed that salty bastard!"

In his anger, he had lost over 400mil ISK worth of ships and several days worth of skill training trying to get back at us. Most of it could've been easily avoided.

"Lessons to be learned here: don't take losses personally, be courteous to the enemy, and revenge usually isn't profitable. Now come on, we have a roam to do."

We ran into a fleet twice our size at the end of the roam and lost most of our ships in the process, probably costing our Corp a few billion ISK. No one got salty, at least publicly.

-----

At the end of the week, I checked how my Probes were selling. I grimaced as I checked the market: someone had put 1500 of them for sale at the same station for 9,000 ISK apiece, severely undercutting me. To move them at all now, I had to cut the price myself to 8,800 ISK, reducing my profit margin to a measly 8% after taxes. I sighed and slumped back into my chair. No use getting mad about it, though; wins & losses were all a part of PvP, Economic and Otherwise. The best thing to do would be to get back to work on my next money-making scheme. I checked my Money Transactions...

...and was suprised to find two 50mil ISK donations in it. One of them arrived with a message from a Northern Coalition member: "Nice article on GiantBomb; hope you continue to write them!"

In a day, I had made more ISK from writing about EVE than I had made actually playing it. I shouldn't have been surprised: so much of EVE occurs outside of the actual game that paying people in-game for outside work is expected. You can play EVE without... well, actually playing EVE.

Well, if I didn't have enough incentive to continue my weekly series on EVE before, I sure did now. I sat down and began to type...

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1 Week in EVE: Don't Fly What You Can't Lose

"Yeah, this looks like World of Warcraft and plays like every MMO since... well, World of Warcraft."

My download of EVE Online completed while I was watching the WildStar QuickLook, an interesting coincidence and counter-point to all the MMOs chasing the 600-lb gorilla. EVE Online generates stories of backstabbers & warmongers that bewilder outsiders. However, a Bomber told me about a 14-day free trial on it and invited me to it; I took a deep breath and dived in.

I decided to try a crazy path for this crazy game: mining. I would make my ISK by mining.

My initial two days were spent going through the tutorial missions & figuring out the basics. I was getting plenty of equipment and basic ships from them, but it was also boring. I wanted to get into the crazy parts of EVE. So I contacted KiteCo, the GiantBomb corp on EVE, and requested an invitation. I quickly got accepted and they invited me to their station in NullSec (the Wild West of EVE; bring your own protection).

"So, how do I get my stuff over there?"

"Don't; you're going to be blown up along the way. Just sell it for as much ISK as you can, set your clone respawn for the House of Pancakes, and blow yourself up."

On a whim, I decided to try flying my escape pod there instead, through two dozen low/no-security systems. Somehow, I made it in one piece.

KiteCo's House of Pancakes station is located on the border between our alliance (Brave Newbies) and the Northern Coalition, an EVE superpower who sees us as easy pickings. Hostiles fly through the system constantly and there's fights every other hour. Once I dock at the station, they start hammering home the survival tips:

"Don't fly what you can't lose. You will lose ships. You will lose a lot of ships. Some because you're new, some because of bad luck. Don't blow all your money on one ship. Don't fly what you can't lose. Got it?

"Always keep an eye on Local Chat. If there's a hostile in system, he'll always show up on Local Chat.

"The moment you see a hostile, run back to station and dock before you get blown up.

"Neutrals are hostile."

With that, I got to mining.

-----

There is no minimal level for zones in EVE. You can make a profit in the most dangerous NullSec sectors with a starter ship if you're careful. There's no experience grinding, either. Experience goes up as time passes, whether you're logged in or not. (It also encourages you to keep subscribing; you're still gaining experience from it even if you barely log on.) Money, or ISK, is the largest issue for beginners. Luckily, most of our alliance's members were willing or even eager to toss ISK at newbies for just about anything. "Lost a mining ship? Here, take 2mil and buy a replacement." "Need a logi ship for the assault tomorrow? Here, have 10mil."

I learned later they just had that much cash on them. "Once you get rolling, it's easy to make money in NullSec. It's rough getting started, though. We like to encourage newbies to stick around. Warm bodies are more valuable than ISK here."

-----

I lost my first mining frigate to a supercarrier. I was trying to pass through a warpgate when it warped on top of me and blew me to smithereens. When I posted the kill report to KiteCo, the others burst out laughing.

"Oh, that's amazing! You got killed by a supercarrier!"

"Why's that so funny?!"

"He must be bored. He probably spent more on ammo killing you than your ship was worth."

"I still don't find it very funny."

"Here, have some ISK for a new mining frigate."

"Alright, I can find it a bit funny now."

-----

"So, what's the easiest way to get back to HiSec space?" It had been days since I left the starting area in HiSec space for NullSec, and I wanted to head back to buy some new skill books for training. Unfortunately, that passed through a dozen hostile systems; I hadn't managed to get through them unscathed again.

"Simple: just set your clone respawn for there then blow yourself up. We call it the Pod Express."

A moment later, I left my ship at base, flew to the sun with my capsule / escape pod, and set the Self-Destruct.

I woke up back in HiSec, trained the skills I needed, then set my respawn for the House of Pancakes and blew myself up again. I've died more often fast-traveling than in actual combat. Doctor McCoy would have a fit.

-----

I saw the assault notification just a few hours before it started: KiteCo was blowing up abandoned enemy stations in a nearby sector to solidify Brave Newbies' control of the sector. I asked for a loan from the alliance to quickly put together a support ship for the assault; I got 5x as much ISK as I asked for. I quickly threw together a rough support build and waited for the assault to begin.

Unfortunately, there wasn't much need for support in a fight against abandoned stations. I ended up taking weak potshots at the station while everyone else bombed it. On the other hand, I was still participating in "endgame PvP" with dozens of other players. It didn't matter that I had a weak ship & almost no experience. "The more warm bodies, the better."

I had to leave halfway through it due to work, got ambushed by enemy campers on the other side of the stargate and had my new ship blown to smithereens. "Note to self: don't leave fleets early."

-----

That Sunday, our Alliance leaders held a "fireside chat" in our Mumble chat.about our conquest of the Catch region. The chat was preceded by this announcement:

"Attention all enemy spies! We are about to start an alliance chat in here; please leave before you are bored to death."

The big topic of the chat was our transition from invading & conquering to building up our infrastructure and securing Catch from the enemies constantly invading it to skirmish. Diplomatic relationships with other nearby alliances were discussed, a black ops corp was welcomed into the fold, and they said the minutes to a council meeting would be posted shortly.

Half of the items on the minutes were blacked out.

-----

A week after I joined, a mysterious short-notice assault alert popped up on the calendar. It looked like it would be a short PvP assault, so I signed up for it.

Instead, an hour later I had gathered up with over a hundred Brave Newbies and jumped over a dozen systems away from our home turf. They still hadn't explained exactly what we were going to do when our Fleet Commander spoke up:

"Alright! Before we continue further, please set these alliances to Blue status temporarily! Northern Coalition..."

I typed out in fleet chat to the other members: "Wait, aren't we always fighting them?"

"Yes, but not this time."

"Who do we hate enough to ally with NC against?"

"Guess."

A few minutes later, we leapt into the next system, where a NC titan was waiting to jump us to the next system...

...Where we grouped up with several other alliances, all with the same goal: destroy a Goonswarm-allied Titan under construction. "PREPARE TO MAKE CONTENT!"

I had to log out for the main combat, but when I returned there was a thousand ships running around in the same system, EVE's Time Dilation had dropped us to 75% of real-time to avoid melting the server, and we were wiping out a few disconnected enemies before calling a retreat. I learned I was the only surviving support ship in the fleet, thanks to missing the main battle.

As we warped back, we ran into a Goonswarm mop-up fleet that outnumbered us. A few ships managed to distract them long enough for the rest of us to escape to a nearby neutral station and hunker down, logging off for a half-hour to hope they got bored and left.

When I logged back in, I realized I was a few minutes too late; the rest of the fleet had already left and I was a dozen jumps behind enemy lines. I quickly charted an alternate route back home to avoid the main mop-up fleet and managed to outrun the few loners who tried to tackle me. Somehow, I made it back with my ship intact.

I had only been playing for a week, yet I had already gotten exposed to the politics of EVE and participated in two large assaults, including one that made the headlines of The Mittani. Although it takes months to gain the ISK and skills necessary to pilot the giant capital ships, EVE has the lowest barrier to endgame PvP content I've ever seen. All you need is a warm body and a frigate to participate.

"Just remember: don't fly what you can't afford to lose."

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