Saturday, September 12, 2009

Random Shots: The Problem of EVE Online

  • This post is a sequel to my prior article, WoW and The Next Game. You all have Ardwulf to blame for me writing this. So if the last thing you wanted was even more half-baked thoughts about the future of MMOs, let him know in the comment section. The problem is: he's right. The topic of "What the next big MMO will be?" invariably converts to "How do you beat World of Warcraft?" Much like I did in my article, there is some pointing at EVE Online, a lot of nodding, then the game is dismissed. But no one really talks about it.

  • I briefly touched on RPG philosophy before. But to give EVE its full due, I have to bring out the big guns. In this case, I'm referring to Ron Edwards' GNS Theory. This is just my perspective on the theory, so read that article if you want more info. Since I'm going to butcher this badly, I prefer if nobody mentioned this to Ron, okay?

  • GNS Theory describes three axes of player behavior in role-playing games. The acronym refers to the axes of Gamism, Simulationism, and Narrativism. I personally refer to them as axes as games rarely adhere strictly to just one behavior. Although this is primarily a theory of pen-and-paper role-playing games, I find it has bearing on where MMOs came from and where they are going. And it also relates to why EVE gets left out of a lot of conversations.

  • Computer games, by their nature, lend themselves to the gamist and simulationist axes. There is no negotiation with a computer with regards to story and theme that allows for more than the most cursory of narrativist considerations. Thus computer games tend toward two extremes: creating a challenging experience or a compelling simulation. Computer RPGs, thinly veiled implementations of the Dungeons & Dragons rules, took bits and pieces of gamism and simulationism as its inspiration did. Then when CRPGs go online, the potential for human interaction allows these axes to be more fully explored. That's where we are today.

  • On the gamist end, we have MMOs like Free Realms, Warhammer Online, and, of course, World of Warcraft. These are games that rely on overcoming challenges. Almost all video games lean toward this paradigm currently because the electronic medium is very conducive to that style. On the simulationist end, we have virtual world games like Ultima Online, Darkfall (to an extent), and EVE Online. Triumph in these games arises from fidelity to the world vision. Computer games are also excellent at enforcing simulation, but time has proven that simulation is a hard sell to the game buying public. Even The Sims has tended toward the gamist axis with each new version.

  • EVE Online is a triumph of the simulationist paradigm. CCP has created a virtual world (or virtual galaxy, more specifically) that allows players to live the capsuleer's life under very specific rule conditions. Within the terms of the simulation, you can do anything you want. You can create any story you want.

  • This is the problem for EVE in these conversations. Gamist MMOs and Simulationist MMOs will have very different audiences because they are designed to meet different gaming needs. EVE and EVE-like games are not the answer to question of the next WoW because it's not talking to the same people.

  • So when I pose the question "What comes after WoW?" the MMO community has fractured to such a degree that the answer must be a Gamist one. EVE Online can't be the answer because gamist players aren't looking for a simulationist game. In the same way, one would not suggest that a dissatisfied EVE player pick up WoW as an alternative.

  • When it comes down to it, the problem of EVE Online is not that they aren't invited to the conversation, it is that they are speaking a different language.

© 2009 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.


  1. Wooo, I'm impressed that you invoked Ron's Big Model; this is a phenomenal post, a tour de force to have brought in a highly complex piece of RPG theory, explained it so clearly and related it to MMOs, without once using the diluted term "sandbox" that gets thrown around so much in these parts. And hit the nail right on the head.

  2. Holy crap, that's the best blog post I've read in about a month. Never looked at EVE that way, but now that I see that viewpoint I'm damn near certain it is correct. "Tour de force" indeed.

  3. @ Ardwulf - If I'm offering for everyone to blame you, I should offer you the credit as well. Maybe you should suggest more blog posts. :)

    @ Yeebo - Thanks for the compliment. I hope that, if anything, I've been able to throw a little light on why MMO players have so much trouble discussing these games.

  4. I've never heard of GNS theory before, it's good to see someone bring some science into the discussion.

    As both and Eve and a LoTRO player, I definitely think that the games scratch almost completely separate itches.

  5. @ Blue Kae - After writing this, I've been wondering if I oversold the division between gamers. Both you and Ardwulf are perfect examples of people who enjoy multiple playstyles. Different games stratching different itches is am excellent summation.

  6. @ Anjin - I wouldn't say you oversold the division. Sometimes I'm looking to experience content and I'll get into Champions or LoTRO, and other times I'm looking to generate the experience myself and I play Eve.