Being primarily an MMO gamer for the past decade, I am continually amazed at my ability to be angry when developers release an untested pile of crap and demand you pay for it–which of course a gamer will. However, much as an old faithful geyser, my naiveté and then resulting hatred spring eternal. The latest source of my ire is none other than my mistress Eve’s latest expansion: Dominion.
Eve has continued to capture my attention for a variety of reasons. It remains an incomparable sandbox of player driven activity, a unique novelty amongst the “theme park” style that dominates MMOs today. The fact that it is a single server, one giant, interrelated universe also adds to its charm. And finally, the fact that their expansion packs, as a result of the other two reasons, are always free works to developer’s CCP’s favor.
Each expansion has focused primarily on a particular game element in gory detail. The latest expansion, Dominion, is targeted upon evolving what is known as “0.0” space, a lawless area where players can build their own empires and fight wars at an epic scale. In the past, controlling 0.0 was a process based around spamming Player Owned Starbases (POS for short) in a system to establish control. Taking away control entailed destroying enemy starbases, an arduous and boring process that rarely resulted in PvP combat. Further, because a given star system has a random amount of static resources, alliances would need to claim vast swaths of space in order to support the financial need of its members. The net result was that 0.0 war, a huge focus of Eve, was an exercise in monotony.
One of the greatest innovations of MMO’s in the past decade was that of “instanced” content. Recognizing that resources are limited and always camped by China Farmers, game developers, most notably World of Warcraft, leveraged the concept of instanced dungeons: a playground where a player’s group has exclusive access to their own content. Eve does this to a limited extent: there are NPC encounters called “missions” which are given out by NPC agents. This causes a mini instance to spawn at a random point in a star system. Because this is Eve, you’re not safe in your mini-instance, and can be found (and killed) by other players. However, for various reasons, this content does not exist in true “0.0” space: the space where player empires rise and fall.
Dominion sought to bring an element of instancing by allowing 0.0 space holders to “improve” systems they held, generating resource points full of NPCs to blow up, asteroids to mine, and other activities that generate resources needed by the Eve-universe to build ships of destruction. Accordingly, no longer would alliances need to claim huge amounts of space, instead, they would focus on smaller areas to hold and improve. This would enable player groups to condense into smaller amounts of space, enabling easier generation of in-game money and also making it easier to find a fight–because of course these resource points are accessible by both friend and foe. It is worth noting that this instanced resource system was heavily broken for the first three weeks of Dominion, and remains buggy, although these issues are far eclipsed by others in the Dominion expansion.
In conjunction, the way 0.0 star systems are conquered was changed to a sort of capture the flag system. Each controlled system has a “Territory Control Unit” (TCU) which establishes control over a system. To disrupt this, an attacking force deploys “Sovereignty Blockade Units” (SBU) at the entrance points to a star system. When these SBUs go online, they enable the attacker to attack the TCU. The system works that at any time the SBU is vulnerable, so is the TCU. Conversely, when one is invulnerable, so is the other. This forces combat fleets into confrontation: an attacker needs to destroy any defenders so they can clear the path to destroying the TCU. Defenders need to destroy attacking fleets so they can destroy the offending SBU(s). The actual system is a bit more complicated – there are additional steps depending on the assets a system has, and there are multiple windows of opportunity an attacker must win in order to ultimately succeed. But the goal is to turn warfare into a fleet engagement activity, as opposed to a POS destroying activity–giving players the PvP action they crave.
On the surface, these changes seem great. Unfortunately, both the law of unintended consequences and the law of computer networking have gone out of their way to reduce, if not ruin, the impact of Dominion. First, there is one additional change that adjusted in-game tactics. Titans, the largest ship in the game, have a weapon called the “Doomsday Device” (DD). The DD used to be an area of effect blast of doom, three shots of which would destroy any sub-capital ship in the game. As a result, 3 titans guaranteed that any fleet, no matter how big, would die. This resulted in tactics to avoid said titans and often contributed to a lack of fights: everyone was too busy hiding from enemy titans to engage in a fight. In Dominion, DD devices are now a single shot of death that can kill any low grade capital or smaller. As a result, larger fleets in Dominion are more common, because huge fleets no longer can be decimated by a trio of titan ships.
Because of the TCU/SBU mechanics, fleets now slug out in giant blobs of death: battles have routinely eclipsed 1,000 simultaneous pilots. Unfortunately, for whatever reasons, likely an unfound bug, fleet fights have been incredibly server side lagged in Dominion. CCP has been calling for testers on the test server to help track the problem, but unfortunately most big alliances are too busy fighting to hold their space to bother to pay to test CCP’s game. The lag has caused varying fleets of varying sizes, the most notable being 4 titans, at least $20,000 in real world dollars, dying without ever firing a shot–to be completely destroyed without players ever loading up enemy fleets. The result has been that typically the first fleet on the field wins, because any attacker has to load the combat grid, during which the defender is shooting them and killing them. The net result is that most people now spend Dominion waiting 3 hours in an attempt to out-endurance the enemy, and then dying before ever firing a shot.
But wait! It gets better. On multiple occasions fleet fights have led to node crashes, causing server rollbacks and affecting the strategic outcome of the game. Another major bug which recently occurred over the last weekend resulted in control of a system falling prematurely–there were additional timers that were summarily skipped. A CCP representative indicated this was a bug, but that the company would do nothing to correct the situation, leading to an alliance full of very unhappy players.
It is a bit cliché, but one of the biggest issues with MMOs is that the player base is extremely attached to their characters, and in the case of Eve, their universe. Internet Spaceships are serious business, and given the amount of time and effort required to properly maintain an in-game empire, having bugs sabotage your effort is tantamount (and comparable, when you do the math of conversion due to Eve’s semi liquid in-game currency) to the bank saying “Sorry, we lost $200 of your dollars. It was our fault, but we’re not going to fix it. PS: Screw you.” CCP is not the only gamer developer to treat customers poorly, but MMO gamers are notorious addicts who will put up with just about anything. Some of my Eve colleagues were joking that we need a union–something that has been discussed on this site before–because gamers are such suckers when it comes to giving their money to designers. My suggested, and more feasible, alternative is to send CCP a candy machine that unapologetically dispenses shit instead of candy. Because that would sum up the current state of the Dominion expansion. Perhaps one day the candy machine will be fixed–but don’t expect it to be soon, and of course don’t expect compensation for your troubles.