EVE Advancement and Why It Matters Less Than You Think

Massively is reporting that CCP will be offering a new EVE boxed retail package on October 19 in North America, the “Commissioned Officer Edition.” Bundled along with this will come a new in-game implant that will ‘significantly accelerate’ skill point acquisition for the initial play period.

It’ll be nice to to see EVE with a presence on retail shelves. New players will no doubt find the skill acceleration reassuring, but unless the increase is genuinely spectacular, it really doesn’t amount to much. The implant essentially offers +3 to all attributes, along with a +20% damage from turrets and +20% rate of fire for missiles, up to a maximum pilot age of 35 days. I think this is non-problematic for a couple of reasons, but I’ll get to that.

For those who don’t know, EVE has no ‘levels’ in the traditional way. Instead there are a whole bunch of individual skills. (How many, you ask? I have no idea, offhand. But they number in the hundreds.) Each skill can be raised as high as rank 5, and each either allows you to do various things (fit and use ship modules, generally,) or gives you a bonus to a specific activity (or both.) This is broadly similar to the way advancement works in Ultima Online and Darkfall and, I’m told, Star Wars Galaxies before the NGE ruined it for everybody. (I’m quoting, here – I don’t have a horse in that particular race.)

The difference in EVE is that skills do not advance merely by using them. Instead, they must be trained. This process is automated once you have opened (or “injected” the skill) and happens in real time. When you buy a new skill book and inject the skill, it’s listed in your character sheet at rank 0. To train it, you right-click it on that list and select ‘train skill.’ How long it will take to train depends on the level of the skill, the rank being learned, and your character’s scores in whatever attributes are relevant to that type of skill. The higher the attribute, the faster it trains.

Training times scale up dramatically as you work up to higher ranks. Rank 1 often takes only 10 or 20 minutes, perhaps less. Rank 2 takes from 40 minutes to about two hours. Rank 3 can take a whole day. And this is for skills of level 1 or 2 – the really high-level skills can take weeks or months to train.

Again, this happens in real time, and it happens whether you are logged in or not. This means that your character continues to improve even when you’re not actually playing, which has all sorts of ramifications that I won’t go into here. It’s one of EVE’s distinguishing features.

New EVE characters start with about 150k skill points, with a temporary buff (the ‘Rookie Skill Training Bonus’,) which grants a 100% increase to skill learning time that lasts until the character reaches 1.6 million skill points. If you choose to play through all of the tutorials, you also get a bunch of skill books for free that you’d ordinarily have to pay for (a couple of which have costs in the millions of ISK.)

Because of the scope of the skill selection, there’s not really a hard place in the progression where you’re considered generally competent. However, many corps require new members to have a minimum of anywhere from 5-10 million skill points. Super-Veteran characters might have as many as 100 million skill points, or even more.

At first glance, this seems an insurmountable barrier to the new player. Even once you’ve gotten up to that 10 million skill point level, the vets will have gained more skill points as well – with the added benefit of top-quality implants to boost their attribute scores, the price of which puts them out of reach for anything like a newbie. The gap’s really not going to get much smaller.

However, this is deceptive in a couple of important ways. Firstly, advancement is very much set up on a scale of diminishing returns. Improvement tends to be incremental. So the guy with 20 million skill points isn’t going to be twice as good as the guy with 10 million, depending of course on the specifics of the skill build. And adding ships and modules to the equation introduces a lot of additional variables. The 10 million point character with a well-fitted ship is going to hand the 20 million point guy flying a junkheap with cheap modules his ass.

Second, warfare in EVE tends to be asymmetric. Generally, nobody goes looking for a one-on-one fight… and with numbers on your side and in the right ships, it typically doesn’t matter how many more skill points the other guy has. Witness the wealthy and powerful CEO of Quantanamo Corporation getting ganked by a small group of no-names to the tune of a 50 billion ISK loss (which he laughed off in a classy way.)

Thirdly, a skill point total in the many millions of skill points necessarily indicates a lot of skills in a lot of different areas. You can be competent, even remarkably so, with a lot less than that – and there’s a reason that 5-10 million skill points is generally considered where you want to be. You can be comfortably capable in a couple of different areas even a bit under the 5 million skill point mark. Granted, there’s a lot of room to improve from there, but 5 million skill points will give you access to many of the game’s avenues of activity.

So big skill point disadvantages aren’t really all that big a deal. However, getting to that point of initial competence of 3-5 million skill points can take what seems like a long time to the rank newbie, especially so if they don’t figure out what skills they want and how to set up their skill training queue efficiently pretty quickly. It can take anywhere from a couple of weeks to a couple of months at the extreme end of this – and because EVE skill improvement happens in real time, you can’t rush the process simply by playing a lot.

To that end, I think that anything that helps news players get into that 5 million skill point range is something to be encouraged. Tying it to a retail box is an even better idea, since that limits the number of existing players who will take advantage of the new implant to create alts on new accounts for the purpose of mischief. So while there is, predictably, some whining over it, CCP seems to me to have demonstrated again that they actually know what they’re doing.

Obligatory Notice: If you’ve never tried EVE Online, you can click the banners at the top right of this page, or in the page footer, to get a free 14-day trial. If you find yourself signing up for a subscription, I get a little something from CCP, so you’d be supporting Ardwulf’s Lair as well. EVE is one of the best MMOs out there and I encourage readers to try it out if they haven’t already.

2 responses to “EVE Advancement and Why It Matters Less Than You Think

  1. So true. If you specialize, you can be maxxed out in just a months or 2 in whatever that specialty is — assuming you’re not looking at capital ships, anyway. Those definitely take a while.

    Still, I’ve only obliquely trained for industry and research and am actually fairly competent at both now, with what I feel has been a very minimal investment of training time in it. And in looking at what it would take to finish out to “perfect skills” for those areas, I could be there in about a month. This area of the game has been surprisingly rewarding as well.

    That said, I’m still extremely combat focused. I’m to the point I could be in capitals in less than 2 months now, but I’m still focused on the cruiser-sized ships.