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Value, Resources, And Emergent Gameplay Or Why Crowfall Isn't Much Like Eve (Yet)

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Value, Resources, and Emergent Gameplay OR Why Crowfall Isn't Much Like Eve (Yet)



Hey all, the Doctor here, and I wanted to give a little theory I’ve come up with about Emergent Gameplay, particularly as it relates to Eve and Crowfall.  This will be a long one, but I will try to break it up into the most logical sections and organization possible, so bear with me!


First, let’s define our term.  Emergent Gameplay (or henceforth, emergence) is a concept in game design that involves complex situations arising from relatively simple mechanics.  It applies to a lot of situations: the formation of Teams/Guilds in a FFA game like DayZ; open-ended methods to solving a problem, such as in Scribblenaughts; glitch-mechanics becoming strategies, such as strafe-jumping in Quake or dolphin-diving in Battlefield.


However, in this context I want to talk about Eve’s form of emergence, for which it is the undisputed king, which is social emergence, also referred to as Player Driven Content (henceforth, PDC).  If you know nothing about this, I highly suggest doing your own research, as it’s far too complex for me to outline here, but Eve’s entire history is driven purely by player action, and in many ways is far deeper than any pre-crafted MMO story.  There have been alliances, partnerships, diplomacy, betrayal, war, the rise and fall of what could arguably be virtual civilizations, and none of them were enforced, created, or driven by some developer contrived, in-game mechanic.  All of these stories emerge from the base mechanics of the game.


Why does Eve have such complex Player Driven Content?  Why don’t other games have this?


Ok, first of all, I’m sure there are a number of people who think the game they play has this kind of emergence and PDC; their Guild and Guild Rivalries in WoW/GW2/OtherMMO; their tournaments/ladders in LoL/Starcraft/CS:GO; their alliances and dealings in any of the old nationsims (the concept overall being a lot less popular than it used to be).  You’d be right—these things are technically in the same category as Eve’s crazy society.  But I don’t think there’s any argument that Eve’s PDC is of a scale, depth, and complexity that really allows no comparison.


And it’s not just depth and complexity.  Eve has a level of what I would call emotional engagement that other games rarely even touch on.  It evokes real feelings of fear, loyalty, hatred, suspicion, anger—the list can go on pretty long.  And these are different emotions than the rage that comes from frustration in League of Legends or DotA, or the adrenaline of an intense fight, or even the euphoria of a successful battle; that frustration, adrenaline, and euphoria are all tied to standard responses to reward mechanics: we get excited when presented with a possible reward, and angry if something takes it away.  No, the emotions in Eve are human and social emotions.


Think about this: when was the last time you played an MMO or an RPG and you feared dying? Like, feared it so you would’ve made a deal in return for your life?


Wait, Doc, you’ve gotten off topic.  Go back to why Eve is different.


Sorry, there’s just so much to talk about!  But yes, let’s talk about what makes Eve different, because if you truly don’t believe that it is different, then my entire point is moot anyways, so I’ll have to trust that you’ve followed me on this.  So let me give you another set of scenarios.  I promise this time it makes a point. 


I want you to think for a moment about real human experience, because this is the kind of emotional engagement that we are trying to mimic.  Real life is full of social interaction, challenges, and goals, all through the base mechanics of life.  In some sense, human life is one of the ultimate examples of emergent behavior (which is just emergent gameplay, but not in a game).  Now, stay with me here, because I’m going to get really cheesy followed by really dark, but then I’ll get to the big answer.


When you make friends and cliques at work, or at school, it’s because you have common interests and often because you want to succeed.  Not necessarily at some specific task, sometimes just an abstract measure of success.  We come together, make civilizations, organizations, to push forward the abstract health of society, of a species, or a culture, or a region.  All of this beautiful interaction, and not because the universe invented a mechanic called “Guilds” that had a fixed form or function, but because the core mechanics of life cause the need for these interactions to emerge.  These are things that we see superficially in games.


The world’s also a lot uglier than that, and it’s the uglier side that gets less and less represented by most games.  We lie, cheat, and betray to get what we want/need (we all do). We spread rumors, we commit crimes, we start wars (slightly less universal than lying, I suppose).  We can also be bribed, threatened, coerced.  People convince us to do things we don’t want to do because they have power over something.  The further into this paragraph I got, the less I could think of examples in games.  However, a lot of these things can be found in the history of Eve.


Why is it that these are missing?  What’s the core piece that’s missing here?  What makes Eve so much closer to life than World of Warcraft?  If you follow from two paragraphs ago, through the fluffy down to the dark, you may find a core human emotion that makes life different than games.  That emotion, in its most general form, is fear.


Why do we agree to societies rules?  Because we fear that without them, everything will fall apart.  Why do we go to school?  Fear of failure.  Why do we make friends?  Fear of loneliness.  Yes, some of these don’t always feel like fear, maybe they feel like desire, or ambition.  But in general, it’s the risk of what is missing that makes the having so great.  You wouldn’t value your money if everyone was rich.


Woops.  Value.  That’s a key word here.  I’m getting ahead of myself.


Let’s go back and make sure you really believe what I’m saying.  In real life, if you were held at gunpoint and told to do something you were against, what would give the gunman power?  Your fear.  The loss of your life is far more frightening than sacrificing your code (in general; of course there are martyrs, and heroes, and whatnot, but I’ll get to that).  If this situation was recreated in mist games, it would have no effect.  Say you are playing World of Warcraft, and you turn a corner and there is a group of enemies that have you surrounded, and they ask for all of your loot, or else.


Or else…what?  Ignore the fact that the mechanics of WoW don’t really lend themselves to the mechanics of turning over loot to enemies, if you could really give all your gold to the enemy, what could they possibly do to coerce you into that?  Force you to respawn and run back to your body?  Who cares?


In WoW you aren’t afraid of anything, because the mechanics don’t allow it.  The game is designed to keep you playing regardless of consequences.  In fact, much of modern game design revolves around giving you the chance to get back into the action quickly and fix your mistakes.  This is a strategy for reducing discrepancies in player skill, and allowing a more “balanced” playing field.


In Eve on the other hand, there is fear.  In Eve, when someone surrounds you, you might find yourself negotiating a surrender.  Because there’s something you value.


Ok, why did you bring up value again?  I thought we were talking about fear?


Well yes, fear is the root of all emergence (it’s not nearly so simple, I know), but what is the root of fear?  Fear doesn’t come from nothing – and we also aren’t talking about the fear of failing to meet an objective, or the fear of a scary environment, because that kind of fear doesn’t create lasting player relationships.


Fear is a human emotion that primarily derives from the threat of losing something we value.  Fear of death is such a powerful motivator primarily because on the whole, all living creatures value their life over much else.  As humans, we have an enhanced capability for emotion and reasoning that does allow for extraordinary individuals to value other things, like morals or honor, over our own life, but in general we apply value to most things based on its correlation to our livelihood.  Even money, which some of you might argue many people value over life, is often just used to add more value to the life we’re living, or increase its duration.


So that was some cold, existential crap, and I’m sure a well-read philosopher would love to poke holes in that, but I’m talking about games, and games are still much simpler than life. The point I’ve hopefully brought you to in the past two sections is that we need a sort of fear to create meaningful player relationships.  And in order to create fear, we have to give people value.  So how does Eve do this?  Well, I’ll get to that, but I think you’ll see how if we go over how games create value at all, ever.


Games aren’t real life.  Well, that’s a silly statement, of course they aren’t.  They are virtual.  They don’t impact us physically, which is good because I think the last thing anyone wants is for Crowfall (oh right, this is still about Crowfall) to make you afraid by threatening to stab you every time your character dies.  They can certainly cause emotional damage, but I think that again fits into the category of “bad overall effect.”


In general, games can only create value in one of two real ways.  These are, not surprisingly, time and money.  Or if time is money, is that just one way?  We did mention earlier that money is really just a way of acquiring things that add value to or increase the amount of the time we have, so maybe so, but that’s getting off topic.  On the whole, games force you to invest either time or money in order to give value to the game.  [ As a brief aside, there is a ton of discussion that can occur on whether time or money is the more fair resource for adding value in games, and there are a lot of very interesting arguments on each side, but I’m not going to go into that discussion, and instead going to ask you to accept the premise for now that time is fair, because that’s what Eve uses, and that’s what Crowfall plans to use. ]


However, we aren’t talking about adding value to the game, we are talking about adding value to what is in the game.  A seemingly slight difference, but the impact is huge.  A copy of Eve isn’t valuable, a month of game time isn’t valuable, a character is.  A ship is.  A corporation.


Now, we have to step back once again and explain a little bit about Eve for those who don’t know.  Eve is a slow game.  Oh god is it slow.  If Eve is the speed of an average human walking, World of Warcraft is the speed of light.  Shooters are a speed beyond relativistic principles.  If Civilization is a tortoise, Eve is a snail.  A snail taking its time.  A snail taking its time that keeps forgetting it’s supposed to be moving.


I cannot stress this enough.  If you haven’t tried Eve, you most likely won’t understand the speed at which it moves, and you also probably won’t agree with anything I’m saying here.  Leveling a character to max is virtually impossible.  Leveling a single skill to max even takes a few months.  Building a titan costs an immense amount of money, tons of people, and 2 years of skilling to pilot one (and they can’t even be sold on the market).  Not only that, but travel takes time—someone suggested that it would take over 200 hours just to fly from end to end.  And on top of that, goods and people have to move in real time.  There’s no universal market for instant transactions, nor is there an in-game mail.


Just looking at travel time, I can illustrate how providing a huge cost creates value which in turn creates emergence.  In case you didn’t know, in Eve, shipping is an actual profession.  Sorry, not profession like Archetype in Crowfall, or crafting profession.  It’s just something people do.  That, if you recall, is kind of a layman’s definition of emergence—stuff people just do, because it seems useful to the game.  And shipping is one of those things in Eve.  Because it takes so long, and there are the dangers of safe travel (oh crap, I’ll have to come back to that!), people are paid to spend their own time, flying their own ships full of cargo to other star systems.  Because other people value the skill, time, and effort it takes to move goods.


What did you say about safe travel?  My instincts say that was relevant…


Alright, you got me.  You’ve been paying attention, and you remember that we can’t just give value to create emergence. Emergence comes from fear, not value.  And to create fear, you can’t just have value, you have to be able to lose it.  If it was as simple as creating value, WoW could just slow down the leveling and make the chances of getting good drops really low, and there you’d have your time investment, which gives value to the content, and then it’d work just like Eve, with societies, and intrigue, and danger.  But that’s not the case.


The key difference from Eve, the one little mechanic that takes that immense time cost, that immense value, and creates fear, is the permanent loss of all of those things through destruction or death.  Titans are destroyed in epic battles, characters lose skills or are seriously set back (unless cloned, but that’s a deeper mechanic and only slightly as important, since maxed skills are still far less valuable than goods in Eve).


When people lie and steal in Eve, it’s not just out of a desire to troll (though that certainly still exists, both in game and in real life).  They are trying to gain those goods and items in game that have so much value, or are preventing themselves from losing all of those incredibly expensive (in terms of time-costs) things in some way or another.  It’s the fear of being back at square one that drives that immense story for all of those players.


In WoW, we invest a lot of time, but there’s no fear that the time becomes wasted (other than the fear of an existential crisis, which looms over us all).  Once we have our gear, it’s ours.  Our characters can’t lose anything, they can only keep growing.  This is why there’s nothing to drive those deep PDC scenarios that Eve is filled with every day.


Back to the shipping example, when expensive materials need to go from point A to point B, say to gather the resources to build a Titan, someone who spent a few months to a year levelling the appropriate skills, drives a huge cargo ship that probably also took a year or two to get the resources for and build, and maps out a course through space that can take up to tens of hours to get there.  And if he wants to save some time, that all-valuable resource, he can risk some lower security systems, where he has a chance of being ambushed, and can lose all of that expensive material.  Expensive material which probably came from a person who took a few months levelling the skills to mine it, and a year to get the money/resources for a ship to mine it with.  And then who is protecting that miner, who can’t afford to lose that expensive ship?  Probably people who have spent 1+ years training on combat, all so they can be body guards, because god knows that miner doesn’t have the time and resources to mine and defend himself.


You see how the value in this scenario adds up to an immense level?  And that at each stage, death/destruction/betrayal/whatever can potentially cost all of those individuals so much time, so much value.  And we didn’t even bring up the possibility of the shipper being bribed into giving the goods to someone else, because the size of the bribe might have even more value.


Alright, so what does this mean for Crowfall?


So.  The Crowfall devs have talked a lot about their story being player driven, the events being based on player interactions, and the persistent value of character progression.  They have in multiple places compared their goals to that of Eve.  And I think they have a great idea, and a great direction.  A lot of players have talked about their goals, the lack of persistence, the purpose, and proposed a lot of solutions.  I think some of them have great ideas as well.


But I don’t think many people realize what it is that makes Eve tick.  What it is that allows Eve to make headlines due to battles of epic scales, while no one really cares who has beat the same old bosses in WoW.


Crowfall has suggested a lot of cool ways to provide value.  The duration of the campaigns, and the speed of leveling suggests that a fair amount of time is necessary.  That’s a good start.  And the scarcity of resources in the campaigns is another great way to provide value. [ Another aside, scarcity is a really amazing way games could provide value, but it’s generally not done, again due to ‘fairness.’  I could talk about the possibilities of scarcity for nearly as large a post, but I won’t, because that’d be getting off topic. ]


However, there’s two issues with this.  For one thing, value in the campaigns is great, but it won’t create value in the Eternal Kingdoms.  This means that while we may have a potential for plot and intrigue within a campaign, you won’t see anything truly amazing or Eve-Scale occur because the PDC only occurs in 3 or less month chunks.


The other big issue, which—if you’ve paid any attention at all—you’re probably mouthing under your breath by now, is the fear.  What am I afraid of losing?  What is given value that I can really lose or risk?  Our characters will respawn.  Our resources can be embargoed for later.  And then ultimately, when a campaign ends, I’m totally safe.  There’s definitely no fear outside of the campaigns.  The eternal kingdoms are purely a social hub.  Even if they allow us to make challenges and tournaments, since they are all totally optional and transient, they won’t actually give me anything to fear.


I must admit, that when I began this essay, I was not optimistic about Crowfall’s chances at instilling fear and value in their game.  However, I do see now that the campaigns have a lot of potential at least on this front, and may be able create some really meaningful experiences.  The Eternal Kingdoms however, are certainly unprepared to create these experiences among players, so in that regard Crowfall will likely miss out on much of that “Eve feel” that they reference.


So what can be done about this?


Oh, it’s not my goal to explain exactly how this should be fixed.  I won’t even suggest that it needs to be fixed.  My goal in writing this was to create an understanding both in the community, and hopefully among the devs, of why Eve works the way it does.


I think we have a great community building here, and a very open, honest, and communicative dev team.  I think as a community, we can help guide this game into something truly amazing.  If there’s a way to build the kind of deep social interactions that emerge from Eve’s design into the core qualities of Crowfall, then I have no doubt that collectively we can come up with one.  But in order to do so, people need to understand why mechanics work the way they do.  If the devs want to create the kind of stories and histories that Eve has, they’ll need to know why Eve succeeds in that.


Ultimately, I don’t know the best solution, or even that there’s a problem.  But an analysis of games, and an attempt to design an Eve in an alternate setting (which ultimately failed when I realized the slow, monotony of Eve was actually what made it tick), have led me to an understanding that I hoped to share.


TL;DR: Deep Player Driven Content comes from the fear of losing something valuable.




PS.  Please note that a game needs to still be fun, and engage the players from moment to moment to have value.  I am not suggesting that for Crowfall to become as deep as Eve, we should eliminate the fun and slow things down.  And of course, if the mechanics don’t feel fun, the game will struggle regardless of the deep player interactions.

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Hopefully campaign maps will be large enough to set up safe havens which will then hopefully lead to no man lands. A place you have to go to get resources, or move resources, etc. Caravans will give hard to reach resources even more value, because there is a risk of losing them and time required to transport.

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Very compelling post, OP. You mentioned the grand scale of Eve and its battles, and how it might not translate as well to Crowfall. Because there will be a large number of campaigns going at once, I don't think there will be a single campaign to follow with baited breath. However, I don't think that's what the Devs are going for. When they compare their Crowfall idea with Eve, I think they mean it more in terms of the freedom, politics, etc in each individual campaign, not the overarching impact, since the campaigns reset every n number of months. That being said, they have discussed possibly trying a campaign that doesn't end with a certain time limit, as long as a specified threshold of players remain interested in it. That type of gamemode  may  generate more of the fear you were discussing, since players might not know when the game they are invested in will end.


Great post. 10/10 would read again. I also recommend ACE hires you. I don't know for what, but something that gives you donuts and cookies daily.


I don't have the patience to read this wall of text; help?


For those of you too lazy, OP kindly put a TL;DR at the end. It's only a sentence long.

Edited by IshotMarvin

"Remember: the greatest fault of a human being is to imagine oneself to be flawless; the next greatest is to imagine that acceptance of one’s faults negates said faults."

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Hey Doctor, is that blue phone box yours? (nice username btw! I love Doctor Who!)


I've played EVE for less than 2 years and I understand perfectly what you are saying.

Point is that EVE is a game with Uncle Bob dynamics (if you have read the FAQ of followed Kickstarter you surely know the Uncle Bob anecdote) and honestly if one of the developers goals is to remove Uncle Bob kind of gameplay/dynamics, we will never have something like EVE here because they are 2 complete different design approaches.


Even if it is an amazing and well written post, ask yourself: can EVE-like game be compatible with a no-Uncle-Bob game design vision?

I don't think you can have both.


Anyway, kudos on the post, very well written and insightful.


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Dont think of Crowfall as Eve, but more like Eve with training wheels.  


There is a potential to create a better Eve online. One that isn't so slow and passive, a game where alts aren't such a huge advantage. At times Eve online feels like it could come to a natural end. The game is extremely grindy in the wrong places, such as farming for isk, or a particular part for a specific build. Missions are extremely boring, farming rats are only interesting because of the risk from players in lower security areas. There are things that can be reiterated to make more successful and interesting game.


It might seem like Eve lite, but I don't have a problem with that.

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Great post. Read through it all. I played eve for about a month and lost insterest. It was a huge time sink, and when I got a better pespective of how far behind I was on the curve? I realized I was screwed.

The EK is desinged to be a breather between campaigns, the calm before the storm. Yea you lose nothing in ek's but gain nothing either. Eve though is its own beast, and you did well with the comparisons. If not slightly long winded in my opinion.

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could have said Shadowbane and much of the same "emergence" comes forward...


solid thesis in the OP...and the kind of risk/reward instilled Value is something many of us here are indeed looking for


more than that? can't really say until we see/know a lot more of how things are going to Be, eh?


could just be me...


let the Code build the World and it's Laws....let the Players build the rest...

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i highly approve of your ideas,when i registrated here i made a quite similar posts,a wall of text just like this is^^



i also made an approach on how such a sandbox game with player generated content,could prevent uncle bob scenario,without destroying the sandbox character of the game



you may want to take a loo at it

Edited by kampfbock
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Having a feeling of loss or failure makes the victories memorable, creating memories is what MMOs stopped doing when the decline began and we moved from virtual worlds to live in to parks games to play in. A divisions of labor, player crafted economy, hauling system, social hubs, PVP freedom, creative tools, and (if possible) a MASSIVE shared world are what I think is needed to be on the same level as a game like EVE.


As per what EVE does that I think other games should try to mimic. EVE has many great tricks but I think the single best one is the shared universe meaning every player feel and is familiar with all of the major happeneings because they share it. The second best trick is the removal of level chasing. From day one in EVE you come in to do things and make things happen because you cannot control the level grind. 

I role play a wordsmith.


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There is a potential to create a better Eve online. One that isn't so slow and passive, a game where alts aren't such a huge advantage. At times Eve online feels like it could come to a natural end. The game is extremely grindy in the wrong places, such as farming for isk, or a particular part for a specific build. Missions are extremely boring, farming rats are only interesting because of the risk from players in lower security areas. There are things that can be reiterated to make more successful and interesting game.


It might seem like Eve lite, but I don't have a problem with that.


Whatever will keep carebear playing so I can farm carebear is alright in my book.

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  • 4 weeks later...

It was a long reading and I think it really was worth it. I haven't played EVE nor really know anything about this game so I was pleased to learn more about it. I love how you developed on the relation between value, fear and emergent gameplay. I'm optimistic that developers will find ways to integrate those concepts into Crowfall, even if it may be to a lesser extent than in EVE, since the time devoted to achieve one goal should indeed be shorter here.


I really appreciate how you write and structure your text, made me want to read it entirely.

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I went back and read the OP post, it is a good read. Ultimately, I believe the people who want a more EVE-like experience will sick with the 6+ month campaigns. The more persistent the campaign, the higher the stakes. Higher stakes means more fear.

I hope the economy will be as localized as EVE's... I supplied as market hub ain 0.0 ,and used a transport company to run ships and materials out or a major alliance in EVE. I know I won't have the same opportunity on that scale, but it was really fun to do something different.

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This game will have plenty of emergent gameplay, but it will not be on the level of Eve as the ruleset will be larger and more restrictive. No, it won't ne anywhere near a themepark game, but it isn't a true sandbox either. It will fall somewhere between the two with regards to what is possible. Most likely closer to the sandbox side.


Quality post, but not at all as concise as it could have been.

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Fantastic post. I tried to write one with a similar amount of detail and didn't come close. Anyhow, definitely gives me something to think about. Honestly as I write this I am still processing all of that.


I am at a point with games that if playing the game and or interacting with the community is not intrinsically valuable through engagement I do not continue to spend my time. Time is as limited as money if not more so for me, or at least it feels that way.

Edited by Joziah09
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