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Greedy Goblin: The inverse effort/skill vs reward problem

April 3, 2014

This post and the following discussion helped me a lot to understand the “PvP-er” mentality, and also to understand a serious problem with the EVE learning curve, resulting the infamy of the game.

In the post Von Keigai told us his long and finally successful hunt for an Iteron V in wormhole space. I commented “I am completely at loss why did you waste so much time trying to gank an Iteron. If your heart desires Iteron killmails, you can get them by dozens in Uedama.” he replied “my heart does not desire Iteron killmails. It desires killmails where my gankee was trying hard to avoid me, and yet I managed to hunt him down anyway. See, ganking someone who’s defenseless and not trying to avoid you is basically an engineering problem. It’s solved. It may be an interesting challenge to solve that problem, and it may be interesting to optimize the solution. But once solved and optimized, it’s no longer an interesting process to run; it’s just grinding. You should know. Obviously ganking highsec miners is not interesting or you’d still be doing it.”

“See, ganking someone who’s defenseless and not trying to avoid you is basically an engineering problem.”

This is a very good explanation of “try real fights instead of ganks”. I used to dismiss that argument as lie, since vast majority of kills in EVE are ganks where the target has no chance to win. I understand now: while that Iteron had no guns, it still could and did fight back by cloaking. “Fighting back” is defined as “using intelligence, skill and effort to resist the attempt of the attacker”.

So, the goal of the “PvP-er” is to face an opponent that has both skill and effort to resist the attack and defeat him using more skill or effort. Ganking a miner in Wormhole space is a PvP victory because you have to find him without him being alerted to your presence. Ganking a same mining ship in highsec is just a gank because he was AFK in a belt where everyone could see him.

There is a fundamental problem with it. No, not my usual counter-argument that “it can’t be proved”. While it indeed can’t be proved, the PvP-er doesn’t want to prove it. He plays for the moment of victory and can’t care less if I kill 10x more identical ships after I paid their owners to die. The problem is that this creates an inverse effort/skill vs reward curve. What does it mean?

In every single game your results improve with your skill and effort. If you play League of Legends better, you get higher rating. If you play World of Tanks more, you get more XP and credits. If you are a better raider in WoW, you get more epics. “Dumbing down” or “casual friendly” decreases the difference between good and bad players, helps scrubs to continually catch up, but the better one always have more game rewards. On the other hand in EVE playing better can and often does give worse results. Why? Because obviously bad players are ignored by PvP-ers, while not so bad ones are attacked. That Iteron would be still be alive if it was autopiloting in Uedama, because its cargo didn’t warrant an economic suicide gank. He died for only one reason: he was better player than those who autopilot in highsec and went to live in WH space.

There are two results of this behavior: the first is frustration of new (but not very new) players. They learn and learn and get worse results. They don’t understand what happens, why aren’t they improving despite their efforts. The truth is that they are improving, but they are facing much stronger opponents. It’s like a rating system, without rating. It’s obvious that winning a Platinum 1 match in League of Legends is harder than winning a Bronze 5. However it’s expected and the progress was already rewarded by the Platinum badge. The progressing EVE player doesn’t have a badge or rating to know that he is progressing and just lost a “Platinum” fight, which is better than winning “Bronze” fights. The game doesn’t give any clue that he at least attempted something hard. He cannot know – even less prove to others – that he is any better than a 1-day old newbie. I remember how frustrating World of Tanks was until I figured out that the random matches aren’t random and a hidden rating system places me in a position of 50% win rate regardless of skill.

The other outcome is that players who don’t aspire for peer respect, but objective results can get these results unopposed and in stellar amounts. If you optimize simple stuff, you can get awful lot of ISK or awful lot of kills. This is true even in the most extreme form: pilots who are so dumb that they aren’t even human (AFK-ers, bots) can be among the most profitable pilots. For such players EVE is a trivially easy game. I was PLEX-ing my account on the second month and got 10B by the third and look puzzled why everyone is calling EVE hard. When I got enough of “try PvP” comments, I went and got more kills alone than medium-sized alliances. Anyone with my attitude can easily come to the conclusion that most EVE players are awfully bad, even by WoW standards. I mean that a “horrible” WoW player has 1/3 damage of a good one and not 1/100. Actually they aren’t bad, they just play a very different game, where the goal is defeating another, challenging opponent.

Too bad that the game system does not support this kind of play by a visible metric. So I must ask: why do they play EVE? I mean one could try to become the “best duellist in WoW, killing others in duels front of Orgrimmar”, but without any in-game support, that neither can be verified, nor has a wide scope (many good opponents never go there since duelling is stupid). There are lot of games where personal skill is directly translated to ratings and prizes. Why don’t they play Chess or Starcraft instead?

– Gevlon Goblin

If you would like to read more Gevlon Goblin articles, we invite you to visits his Greedy Goblin blog.