The Quest for the Heart and Soul of EVE

So a rather interesting debate exploded over at J3w3l’s last month which quickly began to turn into finger wagging and passionate claims and denials of the very existence of other players. The whole PvP/PvE debate is unusually touchy these days it seems. More than I remember it being in the past. In this case, I engaged a couple of fellow gamers on the question of what makes PvE and PvP so different. Specifically, there were several claims made that PvP is more “dynamic” than PvE which lead me to think about the PvE of EVE Online.

Now staunch PvPers will never want to be in a conversation where they admit PvP has anything in common with PvE. So usually they’ll try to frame the discussion as a duel between having a “dynamic” (defined as intelligent people to play with) game or having one where you only interact with AI (defined as PvE). I think their definitions are a bit off and the comparison too extreme. It strips each feature of it’s nuance and importance. PvE, generally should be understood as cooperative play when players use the term to describe their preference. They’re almost always trying to explain that they prefer not to compete in combat with other players. PvE players play with the same dynamic people as PvPer’s, so that’s not a defining difference between the two. PvP on the other hand is typically used as a euphemism for “player combat”. Players usually use it to reference this specifically. When PvP’ers come to the conversation with this term their number one argument is that “players are more dynamic” which means this is the subject when the term is brought up.

So here I am pondering just what it is about EVE Online that me and thousands of other players like me – nay, the majority of EVE players – love about it. I pretty much only engage in PvE in EVE these days. It’s just vastly more interesting to me. I interact with other players. We have politics, we have rivalry, and of course the economy. We’re every bit as active with other players as PvPers. It’s just the nature of that interaction tends to be non-violent. I’ll balance that by saying I know capsuleers who find the same amount of joy in combat against other players. They also have politics, rivalry and economic interests. These are equally valid and fun ways to engage the game. The differences between the two come down to how players prefer to approach one another. PvE’ers tend to prefer cooperation, and PvPer’s the opposite. Of course, none of us can ignore all the players in between, such as the bounty hunters, good-guy militias who fight pirates, pirates who fight evil pirates, industrial companies who hire bounty hunters, freight runners who hire security and so much more. This is why defining PvP and PvE based on combat/AI gets us nowhere. Both features employ combat, but the approach is different. The defining difference is how each player prefers to approach other players.The gameplay is otherwise, not very different.

If we were to say that there was a heart in EVE, a core that gave the game all of it’s strength and power to influence gameplay, what would that thing be?

My first hunch is always to say it’s the economy. It drives all interaction, both peaceful and warlike. Maybe that’s why so much of what I enjoy about PvE other players enjoy about PvP. How else could these difference be bridged? They’re two approaches to the same game with the one major intersection being the economy. All the same, it’s true that every feature of the game is interconnected such that no one piece is as good without the other. You can’t subtract the economy from EVE in any way and still have the game we know. Each piece, including the PvE/P pieces, makes up the whole. None can be removed without changing the game dramatically.

They’re just features, and while players may have a preference for one or the other, the things they signify usually are only tangentially related to what they actually mean. So PvE is no more strictly about playing with AI than PvP is about strictly fighting with other players.

EVE is a fascinating game, totally unique in its offerings. It’s got flaws, but it’s also got something no other MMO I’ve ever lived in has. It’s got politics and economics are gameplay systems. I’d say these are the heart and soul of the game. PvP and PvE are just additional features.

12 thoughts on “The Quest for the Heart and Soul of EVE

  1. I think you’re right in the sense that the relationship between PvP and PvE is symbiotic. As a simple example, if ships don’t get made they can’t get blown up. If ships don’t get blown up, they don’t need to be made. Neither PvP or PvE can survive without the other.

    As is often the case in these sort of discussions, I think we’re slightly hamstrung by the looseness of the terms involved. It could be said that a great many interactions with other players are competitive in their nature, be they direct or indirect interactions. Whether that involves a market transaction, fighting over the last veldspar in the system, or salvaging another persons wrecks. Should this be defined as PvP?

    Interesting post!

    • That’s precisely the question! And this is why I always assume the players in question are implying “player combat” when they use it, which they definitely are 99% of the time. Someone says PvP and right afterward they describe combat. So while you’re correct that PvP could be described as “competitive gameplay between players”, this makes it much harder to define “PvE”. I like to refer to the former as “player combat” and the latter as “player cooperation”. This seems to me what most people mean when they use the term. But great point, thats exactly the dilemma in these discussions.

      I do think PvPer’s are some times a smidge dishonest about this, because they feel the need to impress us with why PvP is truly unique. And alot of them struggle to explain why. I think it’s not very unique at all, it’s just a matter of gameplay approach.

  2. Let me begin by saying that I am no hardcore PvP player. I don’t go looking for fights or ways to screw people over. I do like the occasional battleground, but I generally need a meaningful reason to engage in conflict. I think the perfect MMO (for me) will have an equal mix of both PvP and PvE activities, to cater to all kinds of playstyles and moods.

    Okay, so. I find your definitions of PvP and PvE to be really warped, Doone, and I think that is where the whole disagreement lies. To me it’s pretty damn simple. PvP is player interaction that involves the possibility of one player or group “winning” and the other(s) “losing”. PvE is right there in the name: player vs environment, i.e. player vs something that is not directly player-controlled or -owned. It is content that is created and provided by the developers for players to consume, either solo or in a group. It is usually finite and self-contained.

    You engage in PvP in EVE all the time. Trading is a PvP activity. Politics is inherently PvP. The PvE activities in EVE are mining, mission-running, exploration sites, pirate-hunting, and sleeper sites, iirc. I guess the actual research/industrial process itself is also PvE, but I’m lumping it in with trading since I would guess very few people (if any) only use what they have personally researched, mined ore for and built themselves, and never sell anything.

    Combat is the most visible and I guess iconic subset of PvP activities, but only because combat is the core system in most MMO’s. I’ve played a couple of browser-based economy games, Remanum (sadly no longer around) and Rail Nation (basically an MMO Rail Tycoon), and although there was no combat – or even (in RN) any way to directly interact with other players apart from chat – they were absolutely PvP games.

    Now, the economy in EVE is certainly the heart of the game as it is, I agree. But there are four reasons for that: one, permanent destruction of items (ships/cargo); two, the PvP ruleset that enables that item destruction on a large enough scale; three, logistics – namely, the lack of instant item transport; and finally, the fact that only a small percentage of items drop from PvE targets (NPCs and exploration sites) – unlike themepark MMO’s like WoW, you can’t go through the game without buying or crafting gear for yourself.
    I believe that you could switch the PvP ruleset to a PvE one while keeping the economy at the heart of the game, but it would be a VERY different experience, a completely different game. You would be relying on the devs, rather than other players, to drive the content. It would need to be relatively easy to lose your ship to the PvE content to keep up the level of demand that the current PvP ruleset entails.

    I’ll finish up for now, but I will leave you with the observation that the reason a lot of people use the term “PvP” as shorthand for “player combat” is that, afaik, EVE is the only MMO out there that was designed from the ground up to have the whole PvP experience. That is, trading and politics, as well as combat. Everything else has been either a player combat game with crafting tacked on, or a PvE game (with very little economy) with player combat tacked on.

    • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Player_versus_player
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Player_versus_environment

      I link these to make a point: even if I grant you that players and developers don’t use PvE to describe activities such as crafting, trading, politics (diplomacy), role-playing, etc …even if I grant you that PvE is strictly player questing (which is basically what you’ve trimmed it down to), PvP is in no game, no community, no dictionary, no language, understood to include crafting, politics, trade or anything similar.There’s not a game in the world in which PvP is not understood to be player combat.

      You’re trying to take the terms on their face value (too literally), without regard for how they’re actually used and understood by players and developers. By your definition roleplaying is also PvP because it involves players competing. Raiding becomes PvP (world firsts, loot farming, discovery). Your term is so broad as to lose meaning.

      It’s much more reasonable for us to say that the economy is neither PvP or PvE (which includes all trade, politics, and crafting), because it’s common to all approaches to the game.

      • “…even if I grant you that PvE is strictly player questing (which is basically what you’ve trimmed it down to)”

        No. In no way, shape, or form did I say or infer that PvE is strictly player questing. I “basically” listed a whole bunch of activities that are covered by the term, plus there are others – you mentioned roleplay, for example. Stop blatantly misrepresenting what I wrote.

        “PvP is in no game, […] understood to include crafting, politics, trade or anything similar.”

        Again, I specifically said that crafting was PvE. It does not require the presence of other players. Politics as a legitimate game activity cannot exist without PvP conflict. It is the manipulation and projection of force. With no force to project, there is no politics. The ultimate multiplayer PvP boardgame – where you can win (though extremely unlikely) without actually attacking anyone – is Diplomacy, for glob’s sake!
        Trade can be PvE – the GW2 trading post is a good example, with absolutely no player interaction at all, completely anonymous – but no immersive, player-driven economy (such as EVE) exists without a PvP ruleset, as far as I am aware. That strongly suggests that a PvP ruleset is very important for a deep economy to succeed.

        There is a difference between competitive PvE, and PvP. We all know this. Sometimes it’s a subtle difference, but it is there. Being able to use your skill/ability/talent to inhibit others from achieving their goals before you achieve yours, is a defining characteristic of PvP. The 100m sprint is competitive PvE. The 1500m race is PvP. Raiding is clearly competitive PvE.

        As I said last time, we’re simply arguing over definitions. Interestingly, Bartle himself – the main source of the info in the wiki article you linked – defined it the way I have been arguing. “Player(s) Versus Player(s) (PvP). Players are opposed by other players. In a combat situation, this means PCs can fight each other.” [first citation] So my terms are clearly not meaningless, even if most people skip to the second part of that definition. And again, I offered an explanation as to why people skip to it last time..

  3. I’m using PvP in the sense that the rest of the world understands it. PvP is not any player interaction with one another, as you’ve reduced it to exactly that. Again you can’t just erase the common understanding of the term to suit your argument. The term is understood to refer to competitive combat among players. From here on out, this is what I mean when I say PvP.

    “I guess the actual research/industrial process itself is also PvE, but I’m lumping it in with trading since I would guess very few people (if any) only use what they have personally researched, mined ore for and built themselves, and never sell anything.”

    I’m not “blatantly” misrepresenting what you say. This is your own quote. In it, you say that industry could be considered PvP. Industry is, for all intents and purposes, crafting in EVE. You build stuff, like other MMOs but better. So when I say you believe crafting to be PvP, you can substitute industry and then explain your own words here. This isn’t a misrepresentation of what you said. it’s exactly what you typed. Can you explain yourself if that’s not what you meant?

    Don’t think me malicious. You should know I’m not picking on you. Honestly, I didn’t think what I was saying was so difficult to grasp. But in your own words you believe crafting to be a form of PvP since players don’t craft for themselves. Therefore you basically define PvP as any player interaction. Care to explain why this is a poor summary?

    Unless you define PvP as players interacting with one another, politics is not strictly PvP. Vanguard’s diplomacy system comes to mind, which was pure politics and involved no PvP (competitive player combat) whatsoever.

    Your definition leaves no room for PvP to mean anything and reduces PvE to quests and coop dungeons against AI.

    • Alright. I thought the bald statement that industry is PvE was clear enough, but obviously it wasn’t. What I meant by the rest of that sentence was that in EVE, nobody engages in industry without also engaging in trade, and so industry could be brought under the umbrella of trade, which is a PvP activity. Industry itself is pure PvE. From your descriptions of your playstyle, as an industrialist, do you not spend a large part of your time in-game trading and negotiating with other players? In other MMO’s such as WoW or GW2, it is easy to craft all your gear and consumables, or earn them from drops. There is no reason to bring crafting under the umbrella of trade because they are much more loosely linked. Crafting has always been, and probably will always be, a strictly PvE activity.

      The “blatant misrepresentation” was referring to the reduction of PvE to strictly questing, btw, not the crafting thing.

      You keep ignoring what I tell you my definition of PvP is. You keep trying to reduce it to something it is not – or rather, you keep saying that I have reduced it to something that I haven’t. The Bartle quote specifically mentions opposed interaction, not any interaction, and separates player combat out as a subset of the overall definition. I don’t know how the definition provided by wikipedia can be dismissed as erasing the common understanding (isn’t wikipedia the epitome of common understanding?). I further clarified the definition by talking about being able to stop others from achieving their goals before you do (or someone else does). This does not automatically mandate that someone has to lose out, just like two players meeting in EVE nullsec does not mandate that they have to fight it out for it to be a PvP game.

      You even say “So PvE is no more strictly about playing with AI than PvP is about strictly fighting with other players.” Yet you are also saying that PvP IS strictly about combat. What gives?

      I’m not sure what you mean with your Vanguard example. I never played it, so I’m relying on the wiki here, but it looks like a pure PvE system to me. You cannot either use any of the mechanics with or against other players, nor can you affect other players except by giving everyone city-wide buffs. It looks like a really interesting gameplay mechanic, but I’m not sure how it relates to politics in the sense that we have been discussing. Like, you can’t use it to get NPCs to favour or discriminate against one player or group of players. You can’t use it to settle disputes between parties (either NPC/NPC, NPC/PC, or PC/PC). You can’t make other players lose out at all. It just looks like an alternative questing system to me. Politics only exists when there is conflict, where people have competing goals. It might be possible to simulate politics in a single-player game, but for our purposes, MMO’s, I don’t think that PvE politics is possible.

      Anyway, I don’t think we’re getting anywhere here. Let me ask something else, then. If you believe that people are only talking about PvP combat when they say “PvP”, then why would you think they are talking about anything other than PvE combat when they say that PvP is more dynamic than PvE? Are you claiming that these people are intentionally comparing apples to oranges? That they are saying that PvP combat is more dynamic than, say, trading?

      And let’s say for a moment that PvP does only mean combat. I think that you are vastly underestimating, if not outright ignoring, the impact that having PvP enabled in a game like EVE (or ArcheAge, since that was where this post was born) has on player experience and behaviour. Let’s say you’re a freightrunner in EVE. Without PvP, you figure out the optimal route, hit autopilot, and afk until your arrival. With PvP, you have to figure out the best route given your current info on hostile activity and likely risk. You’ll likely have to modify your route each time, or even in mid-transit. You can’t afford to afk unless all your systems are in hisec. You might need to negotiate safe transit through certain systems or territory. There is a massive difference in behaviour and gameplay experience, even if you don’t see another player. Avoiding combat becomes a victory instead of a non-consideration. Your whole playstyle is PvE-centric, yet the depth of gameplay comes directly from the PvP environment.

      Okay I may have got carried away there with the word count…

      • Your definition of pvp is competitive gameplay against other players — all of it. I responded that your definition is too broad, to the point that PvP as a term describes almost nothing (consider the number of games which must be PvP games if we go with your definition, including WoW). This implies PvE cannot have competition. While I stated I think PvE is generally understood to be cooperation among players, I also pointed out that there’s plenty of gray areas in which PvE seems competitive. This is all in the article. Please don’t go so far as to think I’m intentionally misunderstanding you, it seems petty and provocative. Of course I’m participating in good faith.

        “Politics only exists when there is conflict, where people have competing goals.” I assure you that people who cooperate can and do engage in politics. Your definition is patently false.

        Since PvE can and does frequently include activities such as trade and politics, those aren’t distinguishing characteristics of PvP. PvP’s distinguishing characteristic is competitive player combat. This doesn’t mean it’s the ONLY characteristic. I’ve never argued otherwise.

    • the thing with interaction is that they are naturally changing due to the inclusion of PvP. The type, style and variety is rather different and changing dramatically depending on the context. That’s why I was saying PvP is the core of the game, that’s not to diminish the other spaces like wormholes, missions and faction running as well as everything about the economy, just that by the inclusion of pvp the nature of these things changes

      • You two sure know how to keep things interesting. Let me try a different approach.

        There are these things we call humans. Among them we further classify them as male or female. These creatures are pretty similar. In fact, they only have a handful of distinguishing characteristics. It’s these characteristics that makes us label them as different. A male isn’t a male without the XY pair and high amounts of testosterone. A woman isn’t a woman without the XX pair and high levels of estrogen (I’m simplifying here, which is all that’s required to make this comparison). These are distinguishing characteristics. Without them both would be considered androgynous. Simply human. No label. If there’s no distinction, then it’s not different.

        The same is true of PvP. It’s distinguishing characteristic is competitive player combat – it’s not it’s only feature, but distinguishing feature. All of the other things which make up PvP gameplay equally make up other aspects of gameplay, such as PvE. One might believe trade is PvP, but it’s irrelevant. That’s especially true if the general audience would not understand that you mean trade when you say PvP. A person could think you were referring to PvE or the general economic aspects of the game when you talk about trade. Trade isn’t a distinguishing characteristic. Trade goes in the areas in between that I described in the article, the area where features which overlap can’t be claimed solely as a PvP or PvE feature. They are their own feature. Politics also falls into area and anything that governs all player interaction (the economy).

        I understand you think PvP is the core of the game, which isn’t surprising since you prefer PvP. But one could equally claim the same of PvE and neither of you would be able to prove conclusively that you’re right. There’s a space in between, there’s much more that defines a game. PvP is just a feature, just like PvE.

        • Oh, I’m definitely aware of the murky grey area in between that it’s neither of these classification. It swings around depending on the circumstance.

          My main point is that no, the definition for PvP it’s necessarily the action itself but the threat of that action occurring. Of course that’s generally not how it’s understood but just more how I view it based on the changes it has.

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