Thursday, November 29, 2007

IN SPACE, NO ONE CAN HEAR YOU GEEK OUT: Even though it appears in the "Television" section (Because what respectable news paper has a "Massively Multiplayer On-Line Gaming" section? Or "Nerdstyles", maybe. "Dorky Living"...) I can't help loving the chummy marketing-as-journalism article that the New York Times website ran yesterday on my own current favorite video game, EVE Online.

The Times' article conveys much of the platform's appeal, describing the player politics and diplomacy, the integrated teamwork necessary to build stations and control space, and the richness of the overall game universe and paths to take through it. However, it neglects any treatment of the deft balance the developers have struck between safe zones for newer (or conflict averse) players and free-for-all areas for the more advanced gamers who enjoy taking each other on directly. As far as mass appeal and deep playability, this balance is one of EVE's biggest victories. Another is that EVE characters gain skill -- and even game wealth, if you you are deft with market orders, auctions, loans, and contracts -- while their players are at work, or at the gym, or spending time with family. Play smart, and the time-suck is gone from the MMO experience. Best of all, the EVE team seems unwilling to "cheat" any aspect of the world they're creating, and set out in every direction to see just how smart they can make it. Quoth the Paper of Record:
After all, what other game has a Ph.D. economist on the staff who publishes a quarterly newsletter about the game’s virtual economy? What other game recently announced plans for an elected player council with ideas drawn from philosophers from Aristotle to John Rawls?
Blah blah, Rawls, blah blah Ph.D. More simply put, no MMO has ever put as much thought into balancing so many aspects of such a complex game world and lasted long enough to make dollar one. No game has ever had a steeper learning curve or (relatedly) a lower percentage population of vulgar, angry morons. That's not to say it isn't a video game, complete with explosions and mayhem. It is. Explode another player completely, and you get to take home their frozen corpse.

E.T.A.: Here's the Wikipedia link. Which gives a quick taste of EVE's complexity.

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