The Endless Nerf Cycle

EVE Online is like most MMOs, in that it’s perpetually being tweaked, patched, expanded, and adjusted.  Most gamers who are new to this genre of gaming are usually surprised when a game is launched in a seemingly buggy, incomplete state.  EVE’s history is not so different than most others in this way, but it’s been around for a very long time and has reached a decent level of stability (ignoring the lag argument altogether here).

Over the course of EVE’s history there’s been may new things added to the game, and as is typical of MMO players they will learn the ins and outs of every item, feature, and system to a level of detail which must easily rival that of the average EVE developer.  I’m continually amazed by the knowledge I see myself in others in this game.

However occasionally something happens…  someone begins to excel at a specific thing in a way which ends up making it popular, because others want to be good at the game too.  Inevitably this thing, whatever it may be, draws the attention of the fiery lidless eye of the developer, and the inevitable response is to reduce the functionality of said thing in a way which brings it more in line with the rest of the system.  Translation: it gets nerfed.

EVE’s past is a sordid one with regards to nerfs, because of the way EVE is designed.  Even the tiniest change to a particular mechanic can have repercussions.  Entire fleets might have to adjust tactics, a whole segment of a market might now bottom out, and since EVE’s a single shard game (one universe for all of us) we’re all affected by these changes.

There was one boost, as opposed to a nerf, which was to bring Amarr as a race back in line with the other three. Ironically enough a huge part of this boost was a general nerf to base resistance values of ships so that Amarr weapons across the board would have more punch.

Right now EVE’s developers are playing with the speed “system” to look at how nano ships can be made to be less impossible to shoot.  Whole gangs of people fly around right now in nano-fitted ships because of the massive speed advantage that players have learned to use.  Most sane people in the game wouldn’t argue the merits of this particular change.  There’s some sweeping changes coming with regards to security which directly affects those involved in high-security system suicide combat.  Again another change which has massive effect for a specific group, but most probably can see the postive nature of it.

Now the community’s looking at level 4 agent missions, because it’s apparently too easy for people to get massive sums of isk for little risk.  Personally I’m not sure I see the point of this, other than the PVP-oriented types wanting to force folks who play more casually to have to risk everything in order to make some cash.

Don’t get me wrong, I love EVE’s PVP.  Occasionally I’m known to hit some high security systems to run some level 4 missions for some cash, but it’s not like it’s an ATM machine spewing out coins.  You have to grind lower level agents for a long time to even get up in faction standing to use lower quality level 4 agents, and the highest quality ones aren’t always in high security areas.  The best rewards are still found in low security or 0.0 agents, and by comparison high sec agents just don’t even come close to the bounties, loot, and loyalty point rewards you get there.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of EVE nerfs is how more often than not, they’re not always as bad as most people think.   In the end a lot of the results of tweaking ends up with a rewarding experience for those who specialize in training and fitting to fit a particular role.  That reward shouldn’t be immortality in combat of course, but should allow you to exploit a weakness in the enemy.  Historically that’s what we ended up with in EVE.

One of the biggest examples of this was when the tracking of turret-based weapons really hit home.  There was a time when a battleship was king, and could easily track and hit cruisers and frigates.  They were beasts.  FUN beasts, unless you weren’t flying in one.  Then suddenly signature radius and tracking were all important to whether your guns could hit something.  Two things happened:

1. Battleship pilots bitched up a storm.  Their uber pwnmobiles were now only solidly effective against other battleships or smaller ships if their pilots weren’t smart, or the battleship pilot was fitted to handle them.

2. Practically every other smaller combat ship became a viable component of a balanced fleet.

In the end, it was a huge benefit to the game, as newer players who could use smaller ships were welcome in fleets, and fleet fights became a much much much more dynamic beast.  Combat became more interesting.  I’m sure the industry side of EVE twitched considerably as well.

To conclude, yeah, EVE’s most definitely not through with its adjustments, and as more features get added that just means more plates CCP has to keep spinning to keep the game viable.  However that sense of a dynamic experience is one of those things which keeps people playing MMOs.

7 thoughts on “The Endless Nerf Cycle”

  1. A very nice piece on the tricky art of balancing an ever growing, ever expending game. MMOs are a pain to balance as they keep changing over time. New features, new goodies are constantly introduced, which means that the developer is always in a precarious situation, game-play-wise. Not the easiest of situation.

    For the last 5 years CCP has done a pretty good job, and I think the game has only become better over time. Like a good wine!

  2. Great piece, WB. I’m still a very young character so I haven’t really had chance to get into the nano craze. The changes seem sensible, though, and like you said most of the historic changes have resulted in more balanced gameplay. I guess people who invest a lot of their time specialising in the latest trend are always going to be put out when its rebalanced but I suppose that’s the price you pay for being so specialised. Real life combat is a dynamic shift in power and technology so Eve should be too. Flexibility is the key.

  3. Nice write-up on gameplay changes. I suppose EVE players in particular hate changes because everything comes across as an insulting nerf – just look at the threadnaughts with the nano nerf, the amarr boost, even the development of trinity and ambulation. I think in the end it should all just be viewed as what it is, and players should adapt to the new changes in order to survive rather than whine so much about it.

  4. TLDR. Reading sucks. Where’s your podcast ffs. :)

    But seriously… good read. All MMO players have to learn to adapt with the nerf stick every once in a while. Fact is.. a certain style of play (in this case nanofaggitry) is used by the majority of players because it is seen as hard to counter. So all players join in that style of play. Eventually it gets nerfed (there’s a lot of whining!!) and something else takes it place. Question is… what will it be? :)

    Did I mention I’m still waiting for #41 WDA?

    Kil.

  5. Some good perspective from a longer-term view. I think nerfing is a sign that EVE is alive and well… it preserves dynamic flow.

    The community searches for even the slightest advantage to get the edge on opponents – as it should be. Watchful developers balance things out, and the cycle begins again. Without nerfing EVE would evolve to a status quo, not the rock-paper-scissors (rokh-pilgrim-slasher?) contest it’s supposed to be.

  6. CCP has generally done well in its nerfs and balances. For example the torpedo changes described as a nerf by most but turned out to be a great boost for the Raven.

    Unfortunately the changes to nanos and Concorde are excessive. A lot of ships need to stop doing ridiculous speeds and insurance definitely needs to be removed from suicide ganking. However I am concerned that the game will now be too easy. Where a big fight just involves ships sitting still hoping that their Tank will outlast the enemy. ie boring :(

    Also what happened to all of the eve podcasts? I really liked WDA and dam you, you got me addicted when is the next one coming?

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