If you’re like me and you’ve been living under a rock, or you are over the age of forty, there has been a new trend taking place in the world today. A trend where a segment of the population watches another segment of the population play games.
Yes, you heard me. Instead of watching network television or cable television, instead of watching Vimeo or YouTube, there are people who are streaming their game-play or online existence in real time, to potential audiences who will pay for the privilege of watching these people play games, talk about their love lives, streaming E-sports, distributing music, or creating podcasts on underwater basket-weaving. Depending on the person, they are making lots of money with tens of thousands of fan followers who donate freely, subscribe to Twitch and able to woo hundreds of willing advertisers. The most well known of these live streaming companies is called Twitch.tv, which is a subsidiary of Amazon.
But one fairly unique game, an MMORPG which has been around for over fifteen years, with thousands of real-time players participating in a single online instance of the game, has not managed to produce the same fervor watching its grand space battles which can often feature thousands of ships – battles which manage to gain newsprint every few years when two or three factions, destroy millions of real dollars worth of their in-game equipment on gigantic space battles of epic proportions. The game is called EVE Online.
EVE Online is a space-themed, persistent world (means they never turn it off, except for updates and maintenance, it’s always running and someone’s always in it doing something) MMORPG published by an Icelandic video game company CCP Games. The game offers a host of activities and professions including industrial pursuits, mining, manufacturing trade, exploration, space combat and even piracy by other players.
It supports Player vs Environment (PvE) gameplay in the form of missions, exploration of hidden space resources, and Player vs Player (PVP) combat in regions of hostile space where there are no rules except survival. EVE Online offers an economic model which replicates a real world stock exchange and marketing engine, allowing players to affect the economy of the game world in positive and negative ways. The game boasts 7800 game systems and thousands of hidden game resources and game spaces available to be played in. At last count there were at least 500,000 active players.
With the craze of Epic Games’ Fortnite Battle Royale exploding on the scene with over 125 million players in less than a year, the game has become a streaming online paradise along with other visually stimulating games being enjoyed on Twitch.tv and other similar services.
It would seem this would be the perfect storm for a game such as EVE Online which has massive multi-player potential, visually incredible and cinematic battles, and a universe so vast it might take years to traverse. What has kept EVE Online, arguable one of the longest running and most successful games of its type, from getting a piece of this streaming bounty?
The Answer Is … complicated. But let’s see if I can break it down for you:
Running a character in EVE Online is just like running a corporate research and development office, coupled with a military defense strategy. Everything you do in EVE is designed to keep secrets, from the way you make your money, the resources you gather, and the ships you are building, to the technology you plan on bringing to your next battle.
All of these things are secret, need to remain secret and make the difference between winning and losing those battles. All of these things are best done without the eyes of an audience staring at them during the operation of your corporate actions.
The day to day life of an EVE operation are dreadfully boring. Training skills, building and outfitting ships, gathering resources, dodging pirates (okay, that part is interesting but annoying as hell) and preparing for battles is not extremely interesting. The lifestyle of some of EVE’s pilots are simply not screen-worthy. Resource gatherers, ship-builders, transport fleets are all frankly not very exciting, aside from the occasional skirmish or brush with pirates.
EVE is a long-term kind of experience. It takes quite some time for a corporation to reach a size where they are doing anything worth screening and even the setup for those things can take months of planning and SECRECY to be successful.
Here is the thing you need to remember most about EVE: When you die, everything you are carrying with you is lost. Your ship, its fittings, your enhancements all of which may cost billions of in-game credits, will disappear when you die.
Unlike other games where you respawn not too worse for the wear, in EVE, whatever was on your ship when you are killed is lost to you, some of it is destroyed and what isn’t is claimed by the people who destroyed you.
EVE is not a friendly, die and respawn game. It’s a game of attrition where you have to figure out how to win more often than you lose and to maintain a positive income rather than losing money on every action.
EVE is like real life. Everything costs money. Every action has consequences. Stupid actions can have terrible consequences. Even a moment of inattention in a dangerous place can mean your obliteration.
EVE’s Online’s game play revolves around your ship.
All operations in EVE revolve around the creation and deployment of starships. In EVE, your ships are usually the product of a number of things. You either build your own ships, like I do, or you pay someone to do it for you. If you do it yourself, you have to have skills, time, significant resources and the training necessary to complete this. For early ship designs, this isn’t too demanding, but for more complex and powerful ships, building ships is an investment in time and energy to have the right skills available as needed.
While it is interesting to learn how to do this, most people would rather be doing it than watching it. There is a great deal of complexity involved in setting up your operations if you plan to do anything other than basic Player vs. player combat in the unsecured sections of the map. If a person were filming the how-to’s of establishing a new corporation, that might be a worthy filming event. Everyone wants to know how to do it but most people have to learn from tutorials or other members of the corporation you trust.
In EVE, trust is a commodity more precious than diamonds. Once you form a corporation, it is possible for a person who isn’t trustworthy to steal everything the corporation owns if security settings aren’t placed properly on the company’s equipment. Such exploits are the stuff of legend, but can leave players broken and demoralized.
If you opt to buy rather than build, you spend the bulk of your time training your combat skills, buying equipment and preparing for your lifestyle.
Are you a raider/pirate, getting a group of villains together to attack players in the low-security or no-security areas of EVE? Then filming you might be worthwhile. There is little setup and lots of action. But like everything in EVE, timing is everything.
You could spend hours configuring your ship, then go out to your designated area and not find suitable prey for hours. Or could find yourself the subject of attack by superior pirates and your session cut short as you are returned home, to lament the loss of your equipment and retool for another outing. Deep pockets are necessary for this lifestyle.
If you buy ships rather than build them, you buy them from one of the major shopping hubs. Then you have to get that ship home. You can pay someone to do it, you can ship it yourself (and risk having to fight to get it home) or outfit it where you are, which can mean suboptimal configurations. If you get it home where you can do your best fitting, the best fittings are incredibly expensive.
Ultimately each ship is a relatively unique thing, requiring training to make, refit, use and support with another group of ships working together to make it a successful part of any strategy. Thus any ship you fit, needs to be part of something greater than itself.
I’m a Lone Wolf. Friends are for the weak.
Yes, there are lone wolves out there, but EVE doesn’t lend itself like so many games to a single player roaming the world destroying everything they touch.
EVE is a game of strategy and timing, location and planning. If you are someplace interesting enough to film like an outpost and you can get a team together to go, it might be cut short by a random interaction with another group. A fight can last for seconds in a good ambush to minutes in a bad one. Fleet operations can last for hours in games of cat and mouse before a climatic battle finishes off one fleet or breaks their morale enough for them to call it a night.
EVE Online is an experience but not one easily shared no matter what your choices are. The game wasn’t designed to be visually experienced by more than the pilot and his team, so the graphics are build to be understood, a powerful head-up display, configurable for the particular pilot on his particular mission. But not so easy for a person watching to understand what’s happening.
The game can be a beautiful experience. Visually, I have watched EVE’s develop its graphic engine over the decade and it has now engineered an experience which has few equals. A space battle which doesn’t overwhelm the servers, can be amazing to watch. If I were to imagine an environment which could make for good streaming, it would require a PvE and small team arrangement where the players, their viewers and their operation were optimized for enjoyment.
I think some aspects of EVE Online could be streamed successfully. Fleet operations where different groups of random players are temporarily gathered to engage fleets from other factions. These are short term excursions which come and go in a moment. While there is some chance the opposite team might learn what you are doing, if its done quickly enough, it might not affect the operational status of the fleet.
Is there no way to stream EVE Online?
I didn’t say that. In fact, there is one way which might make for an interesting stream, at least for a while, until you draw too much attention to yourself.
If someone were to consider streaming their life in EVE, it would be best done as a new player. Experiencing the life of a new player in EVE, talking about what works for them, the understanding necessary to secure resources, the methods of interaction, survival, the building of teams and teamwork, starting with PVE operations and eventually graduating to PVP (because as soon as you become successful, you will attract PVP attention.)
The experience of building a team, perhaps an entire team of people willing to stream their experiences could make for something more unique than even the grandiose space battles which last for days and destroy millions of real dollars worth of EVE equipment.
The real danger of streaming your operations is eventually you will be found out and unless you’re really crafty, it will draw the attention of players who live to grief (hurt other players just because it’s fun for them to do so).
This may be the single overriding problem with sharing your stream with people. Should other players discover what you are doing, they could make your life hell because you have told them where you are going, what you are doing and this could make it much easier for them to find you.
The EVE Universe is very large, but difficult to keep secret. Once people figure out where you are, PVPers and Griefers will come for you.
If you can figure out how to make this interesting to people viewing (and you would have to be amazing players to do so because there are pilots in EVE who are truly masters of the craft) you will spend much of your time filming your team’s destruction. It might be a ratings win for the people smart enough and skilled enough to make it work.
Part of EVE is avoiding difficulties because the investment in ships can be so expensive, few are willing to casually throw away that investment unless they believe they can make something on the deal.
If someone is willing to do this, to bankroll an operation where a new player or group of new players comes into existence together, have no reason to backstab one another, can work together in what is arguably one of the most complex games in Online play, and can be greater than the sum of the threats around them (no mean feat) they could become a ratings hit unlike anything being streamed today.
It would require a tolerant audience, a team of players who could be online across the globe to keep players interested and a means by which players could have some degree of secrecy while they were on active operations, which at the moment I don’t think exists. Maybe a streaming service might want to take this up with the creators of EVE Online. It might be a worthwhile operation for everyone involved.
Disclaimer: I do not work for CCP Games. I just love this game.
I have been an EVE Online player for eleven amazing years. Everything I say is my opinion and it may vary widely from those of other players who take a completely different view of how to play EVE.
I am an industrialist who has mastered a vast range of skills in the game so that I can enjoy any aspect of it. I can fly almost anything with an engine, no matter the faction. I can build all but the most complex ships and harvest almost every resource. I can fly from one end of the galaxy to the other in the fastest ships the game has to offer. I can fight in almost any class of ship but the most insanely expensive super-dreadnoughts.
I have done everything, from mining asteroids and planets, to building and fighting ships with my friends during fleet operations, to plumbing secret and hidden parts of the EVE Universe. Most players specialize to maximize their ability in whatever they are doing in EVE. As the strange person I am, the ability to play across the entire experience makes EVE a game whose incredible complexity satisfies like no other.
If someone does decide to try and stream the NEW TEAM experience, I would be interesting in hearing how it went. Or if we are talking about money, participating from the beginning again.
Good luck, fly safe. (A standard goodbye) Or not. (For the pirate raiders among us).
Thaddeus Howze is an award-winning writer, editor, podcaster and activist creating speculative fiction, scientific, political and cultural commentary from his office in Hayward, California.
Thaddeus’ speculative fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies and literary journals. He has published two books, ‘Hayward’s Reach’ (2011), a collection of short stories and ‘Broken Glass’ (2013) an urban fantasy novella starring his favorite paranormal investigator, Clifford Engram.