Why is there not a Fantasy EVE?

This morning, I was listening to Van Hemlock and Jon work out the details necessary for a 'fantasy EVE' game. Yesterday, I was reading Syncaine's diatribe on WoW Tourists in Darkfall (and noting, as an aside, that they're a bit like the tourist complaining of all the curry served in Indian restaurants).

I've worked out the parameters for an 'ideal MMO' for myself, and they're not too far off the Fantasy EVE notion. However, in today's crowded MMO market, there has to be a reason why this game isn't already in development or even in play.

The first reason is that there isn't as big an MMO market as it appears. There's a huge World of Warcraft market, but many of those players will never transition to another game - many, in this case, being as much as 80% of the player base. This comes down to inertia. Looking at my own guild, I think we have about 40 members, each with lots of alts. We exist in a happy alliance with two other guilds, one with about a dozen active people, another with maybe 60. This means there's a pool of about a hundred people there that I more-or-less recognise when I log in, who I can call on for help, who can call on me for crafting, and who I can talk to while having some common ground.

This is not the case in any other game, and will not be the case in any new game. The leaders and active players of the three guilds, particularly those involved in raiding, have far too much invested in WoW to have more than a peripheral interest in a different game. Many of the more casual players haven't time for another game, and aren't attracted to one where they don't know people. That leaves about 10-20% of us who are willing to give other games a go. So, on the occasions where we can all settle on one game we want to try, we get not a hundred-strong pool of people, but ten or twenty. This means that when you log on, you see, not twenty to forty people that you know online right then, but more like two. This is discouraging, at best, in a social game, and sooner or later, we end up drifting back into WoW.

EVE has its own dedicated user base, but it has built it up slowly and steadily, and importantly, in parallel with WoW. Any new game has to either build up a base of new players in the same way EVE did - which is very hard, or steal players from WoW, which is even harder.

That's problem number one, and it affects every new game out there, no matter how good it is. I'm firmly of the opinion that WAR, for instance, is fundamentally a better game than WoW - but logging in to an empty guild in a quiet alliance proved too much, and I'm now playing WoW again.

There's a second problem, though, that will plague the fantasy EVE. That is: it's not going to be an easy game, just as EVE is not an easy game. EVE, as a sandbox game, doesn't give the player much guidance. I don't mean a game manual or the like (although EVE doesn't really have much of that, either), but simply that there's no basic aim of 'get to level 80', and no 'end-game' activity that you can carry out having reached that level. The player needs to set their own aims, and follow them up themselves, opposed largely by other players rather than the game environment. This is disconcerting for anyone who's used to other games - not even other MMOs, but single player CRPGs, RTS or even turn-based strategy games. All of those provide an aim and an immediate conflict to get into, which just isn't present in the sandbox game.

The third problem facing a fantasy EVE is that the game will have to have a craft-focused economy, not a loot-based one as in WoW, and something approaching 'full-contact' PvP. You can't have the sandbox without player-produced goods, and you can't have it without the territorial control that essentially stems from open PvP. Both of these aspects are offputting for the average game player - or at least, the conduct of players in other games, where tradeskills and PvP are optional extras, seems to indicate that this is the case.

So, three reasons why there isn't a fantasy EVE: Inertia, Sandbox Entry Barrier, and Unpopular Gameplay. But the concept keeps coming up, so despite the problems, I do expect to see someone making a go of this in the next couple of years - assuming that Darkfall doesn't actually turn out to be such a game, and possibly even if it does. I'd guess, though, that the developer will be a small company in the style of CCP or Aventurine, and that the game will restrict entry at launch, even if only to avoid the tourism effect - which I reckon would be even more debilitating for a sandbox MMO than for a 'themepark' game.

If such a game appears, I'll be making an effort to play it, and in order to circumvent the WoW-inertia, I'll be looking to join a guild, clan, or company that's established in that game, rather than trying to bring in my own group.

Posted by Drew Shiel at April 3, 2009 9:59 PM

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