Having EVE Online be your first MMO is probably an unusual occurrence. That’s probably why EVE magically stays off the radar of even dedicated MMO enthusiasts who continue to pine for the very elements it offers. EVE has a culture and community that’s very different and largely segregated from those of other MMOs. I don’t know if there are numbers to back this up, but I would wager that the percentage of current players who have played only their current MMO and nothing else is substantially higher in EVE than it is in, say, EverQuest II. The same is almost certainly true for World of Warcraft as well. What does that say about what the two games have in common? In terms of nuts-and-bolts gameplay, really very little, although there is a certain similarity in broad vision that’s common to pretty much all true MMOs. But they are the two games that least exist in the shared MMO culture that, for example, we bloggers are largely a part of.
There’s little question that the gameplay of WoW is more immediately attractive than that of EVE. As I’ve gone on about in the past, finding the fun in EVE can be challenging, although it tickles the same accomplishment funnybone that all MMOs do. In WoW there’s never any question about what you should be doing or what your goals should be, unless you’re one of those people who, as I did for a while, drop out when you hit the level cap, because you need to make your own goals once you get there. And even now, at least for a first-timer, that can take a while. For a hundred or two hours you’ve been focused on questing and gaining those levels, and then you reach the end… and while there are still quests, the nature of them changes and unless you’re some kind of automaton who’s just going through the motions, you set objectives for yourself in the endgame or lose interest fairly quickly.
And there are indeed some viable goals you can set; getting the best endgame gear, maxing out your crafting, or going for achievements, pets or mounts are common, but they are finite. At some point, they will be accomplished, and you need to move on to the next goal or — again — drop out. At least until the next expansion arrives.
EVE is not structured that way. As I and others have pointed out in the past, in a sense EVE drops you into its endgame almost immediately, at least upon completion of the (now significantly expanded but still ultimately optional) tutorials. You have to be setting goals for yourself right away instead of getting many dozens of hours to explore the game during which some attractive potential accomplishment might present itself. Again, you have choices… and just as in WoW, when you reach one goal you need to set others. But unlike it, in EVE the options are consciously much less limited.
We call this the “sandbox” but I’m increasingly finding that term to be inadequate, at least in application where many like to label some games as themeparks and others as sandboxes, with seemingly no understanding that the two represent a continuum rather than a dichotomy, or of the history of World of Warcraft over which fewer and fewer non-scripted goals remain available. But that’s probably a different post (albeit one I have already written a couple of times.)
So, having failed to find the fun in EVE many times in the past, why am I back now? Why haven’t I thrown up my hands and at least called it one of those games I respect but just don’t like?
Part of it is probably that your first MMO is the one that most awakens you to the possibilities inherent to the form. I’m not talking about nostalgia; I mean the frame of reference that your first MMO gives you. EVE is the only game that’s been around as long as it has to have left those possibilities unbetrayed, and even in some ways enlarged. There are other “sandboxes,” at least a couple of them equally ambitious. But that first game — and EverQuest or Ultima Online veterans will know exactly what I’m talking about — sets your expectations of what MMOs can and should do and be.
Over the last year or so, while I have been absent from EVE, it has been less on my mind than at other times, when dipping in for a little while meant laying out subscription dollars. Now if I get a hankering for some genre or theme or mode of play I can hop in for a while and go to town, a distracting and absolutely poisonous gift for an MMO dilettante like myself. And nowadays the rise of f2p has left me with a realization that remarkably few games are worth that subscription dollar. EVE is, and so, probably, is WoW, but to make it worth it, as was ever the case, you need to pick your game and stick with it.
So how sticky will EVE me for me, this nth time around? Will I consider, again, at the end of my arranged time in the game, that I had fun but elect to not continue? Maybe, and I’ll figure it out by the end. But I know I’m not going back to WoW, because even I, a relatively unaccomplished player, have exhausted its possibilities. I may in principle reach that point with LotRO or EQ2 or Vanguard, because those too, while possessed of aspects lacking in WoW, are ultimately finite environments. But no one is able to claim to have “finished” EVE Online, and where the possibilities of other MMOs contract or remain static, EVE’s frontiers continue to expand.