Factional Warfare – Vive la revolution

How to make a sandbox accessible to the large public, take notes.

Well, at least this is the potential behind one of the ideas that will be developed for Kali, the Eve-Online content patch that should arrive this June (but it will slip, you’ll see).

I received yesterday the second issue of E-On, and there’s a preview about the “Factional Warfare” that is starting to sound much better than what I expected, to the point that it could truly have the potential to revolutionize the whole game.

I wrote about this feature extrapolating some details from an interview with the game’s producer. Now I have something more concrete and looking even more exciting, even if we still have to see how all these ideas will translate practically. The potential is HUGE.

The most interesting goal is the one I already hinted. The possibility to make the game more accessible for everyone, linking together the “hardcore” level of the specialized player corporations with the casual players that have no clue about how to access that level of greater complexity that makes this game truly interesting. As already discussed this is a crucial point for Eve. The MOST important one. The ideas behind the factional warfare could achieve a real utopia: heal the fracture between casual players and hardcore, and create a truly dynamic environment that is accessible and involves everyone directly. Together.

How? The idea isn’t so far from those I imagined. The sandbox will remain open-ended, but linear paths will be introduced to lead the players for a more “directed experience”. This without disrupting or removing the complexity of the game, but instead adding to it, offering more dynamical elements and the possibility for everyone, even a lonely player, to join the war and get involved directly, without having to “break through” the accessibility barriers represented by the players’ corporations and the emergent level that is only visible if you truly dedicate yourself to the game.

Roughly, the four NPC factions (Amarr, Caldari, Gallente and Minmatar) won’t be anymore fixed entities being there just as a backdrop while the game waits for you to move out the secure empire space to get involved in the PvP activity. Instead these factions will become an active part of the world and the context of the war. The players, as whole corporations or individuals, will have the possibility to join one faction and contribute to a dynamic war. Think of a full campaign that evolves depending on a series of objectives. The empire space won’t be there anymore in its immobility, but it will become an active element of the game that has the potential to directly involve everyone in a “more directed” war.

There is the potential to create in the game new careers for the players and even easily accessible “battlegrounds” as in WoW, with the difference that in this case the war is REAL and the results will affect the state of the world. Sn element much stronger if you consider that there is one persistent world shared by everyone, so involving everyone. Think for example to military careers that could give you quick access to PvP battlegrounds, with ships and equipment supplied directly by the NPC corporation, based on your rank. Think about the possibility of adding ranks and points that you could spend to buy upgrades and other perks. This has the potential of becoming a whole new game within the game. Directly accessible for everyone and with the possibility to involve both a single player, as a whole corporation or alliance.

These being my speculations. Here some excerpts from what I read. Let me start from the end:

Noah insists the scale of the up-coming war will be like nothing Eve has seen before. “It’ll be OMGWTFBIG!!” He laughs. “We’re talking life-changing, like the first time you masturbated or when Yoda died.” – “It will be multifaceted in that if you want to interact on a political, idealistic, capitalistic or moralistic standpoint there will be there something for you.”

How is this for the hype? Let’s continue:

Imagine you’re docked at your home station, deep in empire territory. Most of your corp-mates are offline and, apart from the few souls continuously probing the alliance chat channels, most seem to be away from their keyboards, entrenched in domestic matters, far from the world of Eve. But it’s too early to turn in just yet. You could strap on a couple of miners and head out into the asteroid belts, but you know you’d need a good couple of hours to make the endeavor worthwhile. In any case, there are no haulers about and the thought to having to break rocks and shift the debris to safety registers as only marginally more appealing than polishing spoons. You could take on a couple of agent missions, but after a two-week marathon of ferrying data sheets and garbage, you figure time would be much more enjoyably spent arranging aforementioned spoons into the letters of the alphabet. So, what to do?

Well, as if by magic (we’re imagining, remember), a new icon appears on your screen. You hover the mouse pointer over it and a tool tip appears: ‘Contracts’. In your haste to explore further, you fail to notice the other options that emerge from the 3D haze. Immediatly you are drawn to a new icon that alludes to something called “Tour of Duty”. Intrigued, you click the button. ‘The federation needs good people’, it says. ‘Unless we hold down these key installations’, it says, ‘there’s a very real chance that the Federation Navy Auxiliary Force will have to relinquish the Jolevier border system to its enemies in the Cladari Navy Expeditionary Legion.’ Yo see, in this imaginary version of Eve, not only are the major powers at war (if not overtly then certainly covertly) but upon your actions, or lack of them, rest very significant consequences.

This imaginary Eve might not be so far away.

This seems a lot of fluff but it already suggests a lot, I think. To begin with, it is evident the goal to break the monotony of the day-to-day activities with something directly more involving and that you can join at any time. Think to some sort of “instant action” mode that you can join every time you are bored. All this will happen through a “contract system” (that will be also open for players’ use). The players will be able to join a NPC faction and fight for it, running specific missions and obtaining not only personal rewards, but also concrete “consequences” on the game world. Finally dynamic.

It could happen through a much more elaborated dynamic mission system that has an actual effect on the environment, but still somewhat “passive”, as it could be an occasion to set competitive goals and send the players directly in a sort of PvP battleground whose outcome will influence the progression of the war. “Instant action” PvP activity freely accessible to everyone, maybe with the NPC corps handing out to you the ships and equipment you need to go “toy” there. With even the possibility to create a “career system” working as a linear, directed path through the “sandbox”. Here’s the myth. All players drawn together, all participating and involved in the same situation, albeit on different levels and with different goals. All together for a greater effort defined by the “overall context” of the factional warfare.

Three levels:
– The Factional Warfare – The overall context of the war that unifies and involves everyone.
– The Contract system – A mission system that could work as an “instant action” always accessible for everyone (creating excuses for the action).
– A Career system – The directed experience that many players miss, removing the disorientation after the tutorial is over. The game within the game.

Here the real challenge for CCP is about linking this new part of the game directly with the newbie experience, so that all the players would be brought there directly, instead of drifting there on their own. Or creating another layer of the game that only a small selection of the players can experience and enjoy.

Whether CCP will achieve this or not, the idea is huge. So close to my “dream mmorpg” with its hardcoded factions plus the possibility for the players to create their own, the PvP hotspots, the conquest system and the “automated NPCs” that can be scripted to automate the tasks that will trigger the emergent level of the RTS/wargame. The ingredients are already all there. The utopia of an overall context (a war) that directly involves every single player, making them interact on different levels, but always directing them toward an overall, truly communal goal that motivates everyone. Concrete objectives, both in the long term (the campaign) and in the short term (the specific mission).

The whole point about casual vs hardcore players is NOT about creating tailored content for both and keep them quiet. This idea is utterly stupid and it will never work. The only way to truly solve that problem is about healing the fracture. Creating gameplay occasions so that the casual player plays side by side with the veterans. So that the community of the game can welcome the new players and integrate them quickly.

These games are about the communities and the very first duty of the game is to NOT encourage the established communities to specialize and isolate themselves from the rest, in their inner politics. The key to accomplish this is to make everyone work together, truly cooperating for a greater goal. A shared objective. Something that motivates everyone, that makes you play and willingly to log in because something is going on. And it affects everyone. And it depends on YOU.

Including players, not excluding them and create reasons of hate.

All these premises that I set in my design ideas along the years seem to be present in Eve. And I can only appreciate this.

More stuff:

In many ways, Contracts and Factional Warfare are one and the same; to engage in factional conflict you have to undertake some sort of agreement with one side or another.

The initial idea is that players can elect to take on missions as mercenaries – in which case the reward will be mainly monetary – or as enlisted soldiers, where they will be rewarded with increased standings and discounted ships and equipment. With the contract system in place alongside it, FW can be something individuals or even alliances can sign up to, with contracts for single missions or for the duration of a long-term campaign.

Whether through trade, bounty hunting, resource allocation or even combat, FW is entwined with the very EVEness of Eve itself. It is where the rich background of Eve will come to life.

Whilst they are now reliably dull administrative areas of intransigent safety, post-Kali the four empires and their amalgam of cabals and regional governances may be acting like player-run (dev-run, in actual fact) ass-kicking mega-alliances, able to call upon unheard-of resources in their pursuit of power and hoping that player-run alliances, corporations and even individuals will rally to their banner – if not for king and country, then for fortune, fame or both.

“I think solo players will have the most to gain from Factional Warfare,” says Noah. “These guys are the ones who might not have that much time to focus on all the interaction needed to be part of a corp. Missions can be fun, but I think fighting for a common goal in a larger group against evenly matched enemies will be a lot more interesting. People are attracted to MMOGs because of the other humans they know will be out there, even if they don’t want to interact with them as corp-buddies. Instead of talking to their agent and getting yet another damsel in distress mission, a solo player will be able to engage in some interesting, unpredictable combat with other humans, where they might need to think, or where the unexpected could happen.”

CCP is aware of Eve’s limitations with regard to players who prefer to play solo; in part, FW aims to provide a more inclusive experience for those who might otherwise have to rely on cookie-cutter agent missions in order to kill a few spare minutes online.

“If players are able to affect the world, then the outcome of battles should affect supply and demand,” says Noah. “We could have trade routes that run through battle areas, or a commodity could be needed in bulk for victory conditions. This is all yet to be designed. It sounds fun though. Picture an agent in deadspace that needs a certain amount of supplies. The traders would need to get their industrials through multiple camp spots. Gnauton (Gauti Fridriksson, CCP’s story coordinator) and I have discussed all sort of archetypes for victory conditions. We want to go with a modular approach and the ‘logistical’ victory conditions could just be modules. We could even tailor the objectives to your skills and ship in the same way agent missions are currently tailored to the ship you are in (did I just give out a secret?)”

“The idea is that the modular approach would allow us to create victory conditions from a mixture of sub-goals,” explains Gnauti. “That way we could create a theoretically unlimited number of different victory conditions, each one tailored to mesh neatly with what’s going on in the story – and, of course, affect what happens next.”

As Kali draws nearer, the 0.0 alliances will surely want to keep an eye on events as they unfold within empire borders. To have access to restricted system is one strategic advantage that can be levied against enemies alliances and there will, of course, be rich rewards for those that pledge to work alongside a nation-state. However, let us not forget that FW will also encompass the goals of pirate NPC corps, so it may end up that many alliances would rather fight against the empires, which is likely to cause all sorts of scenarios to rise up.

Rare items, cold hard cash and faction standing are just some of the more obvious rewards of working for an NPC organization, and this is an aspect of EVE that will be expanded for Kali. NPC factions will bestow medals, commendations and other trinkets that, while not improving your ship or abilities, will certainly confer bragging rights. The formalised ranks and ratings system is an aspect sure to please fans of the old “Elite” games.

CCP annouced its intention to take player organisations up to the next level, with the functionality for alliance leaders to forge player-run empires that could eventually compete with the likes of Amarr. In the long term this remains the goal, but ot’s unlikely that such functionality will make its way into Kali.

Undoubtedly, there will be some players who feel that by placing players in the role of heroes, CCP is betraying the freedom that EVE affords the committed and tenacious player seeking fame and fortune. Some already feel that by going further down the route of having encounters largely scripted by outside forces (devs), CCP is traveling perilously close to the path furrowed bu World of Warcraft. CCP is well aware of such fears and insists the grand vision of EVE remains intact, that of giving the players the ultimate freedom to shape the fortunes of the galaxy.

CCP “just” needs to make things happen. They need to resist the temptation to turn this idea into another elitist mechanic only accessible at the end-game. They need to make this the new heart of the game, adding possibilities and depth to the players’ choices, even if they are occasions to offer a more directed experience for those who need/search that type of game.

The sandbox utopia is not about a game for the hardcore. The utopia is about giving home to different players, with different goals and characters. All interacting together and adding to the experience of each other. Creating a greater complexity but still working restlessly to make all this easily accessible. Available for everyone.

Inclusive, and not exclusive or selective.

See how “big changes are bad” for a game? Tell that to CCP. Tell them how a world simulation cannot work.

There is so much on these plans of the ideas I’ve developed along the years. The only true frustration is that I cannot be there myself, and have to see someone else accomplishing what I dreamt for so long.

Well, think how these ideas would work in a fantasy-themed, truly immersive and skill-based game with a visceral combat system. You could wipe the floor with World of Warcraft.

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