EvE Online Launches New Graphics Engine; Game Still Not As Good In Practice As In Theory

November 29, 2007

I hope that title doesn’t sound too harsh, because I really do love EvE Online for everything that it is supposed to be, and I’m happy that it’s received a fair amount of good press recently.

In theory, EvE is incredible. It is a delicately designed vision of anarcho-capitalism gone beautifully haywire. Where some MMOs put you on a rigorous treadmill to “victory,” the EvE universe simply exists as a playground in which to pursue your dreams of militaristic world domination. Possibly your dreams of economic domination. Or maybe just your dreams of ruining everyone else’s dreams. Any path you choose, if you’re smart and careful and just a touch lucky then you will no doubt rise to the top.

The basic elements of gameplay are implemented by the developers: shoot, fly, mine, etc. But the much larger games of political maneuvering, power leveraging, and corporate espionage are all creations of the 200,000-some players themselves. The galaxy created by CCP might be a cold and harsh environment by design, but its inhabitants have certainly done nothing to warm it up. Put more succinctly, EvE is “Icelandic with Calvinist overtones.”

So if everything about the design and execution of the EvE Online universe is so perfect, why do I not like playing it? Because of my sophomore year political science class, War, Peace & Strategy.

Our professor introduced the “tooth-to-tail ratio” for militaries, which is the ratio of combat troops to support personnel. And in their dogged pursuit of absolute realism, CCP (EvE’s developers) has recreated roughly the same tooth-to-tail ratio of the US military, somewhere between 1:5 and 1:10.

In the military this works fairly well because the division of labor results, for the most part, in 1 combat soldier working regular job hours alongside between 7 or 8 support soldiers working the same hours. In EvE, however, the division of labor, while present, is not nearly as clearcut. There are no 7 or 8 players providing materiel for every 1 ship flying in combat. Instead, every player engaged in 1 hour of combat will fly several times that number of hours mining ore, transporting weapons and ammunition, and attending to all of the other myriad little tasks that war entails.

More complex corporations will effect a more organized infrastructure to streamline production and transportation operations, and the two corps I flew with in the short time I played EvE did pay attention to those necessities. In a quick reflection on my time, however, I found that far too much was spent in preparation for play and not in play itself.

I’m employed for around 60 hours a week right now; I don’t need another job that occupies an additional 5 hours of my time for every hour I want to entertain myself. I certainly don’t knock anyone who does play EvE, but I’d be hard pressed to recommend it to anyone who didn’t harbor a perversely strong desire to feel a sense of dominion over a population the size of Samoa or Vanuatu without actually killing anyone.