Skillpoints… What to Do?

CCP dropped a dev blog.  It’s a bit of a doozy, or nothing all that important.  Since I am writing today, you can safely assume I think it is a bit of a doozy.  At the core, the dev blog proposes that players be allowed, for a fee in Aurum, to take skillpoints out of their characters, and then sell the resulting skillpoints on the market for isk.  I am not a huge fan of this, and said so in the threadnaught.  But I want to explore the reasons behind my opinion.Eve Learning CurveThe image above is a bit of online gaming culture at this point.  The point is that Eve is really hard to learn.  That has not changed much in the last few years.  But that graph isn’t really relevant to the discussion of skillpoints (SP) in Eve.  A more appropriate image would be this:

Sp by year

What this image shows is how many skillpoints a character can attain over a given time frame, at a few different rates of SP per hour.  I’ve given the time scale as 0 to 12 years, with pretty much encompasses the entire history of Eve.  This is relevant to buying SP because your maximum number of SP is largely a function of how long you have played Eve.  In the interest of exposing any bias I have, I’ve been a paying subscriber for about four and half years.  My highest SP character has just over 80 million SP, and I have other characters ranging from 60m SP to much smaller amounts to accomplish specific tasks.

As I see it, there are four main issues with SP.  The first is newer players who feel they need some arbitrary amount of SP to be competitive. The second is any player who feels they wasted training time on SP that is not relevant to their current desires.  The third is the underlying system of SP gating access to many ships and modules in the game.  The forth issue is that SP can provide a hard gate to participation in certain aspects of Eve.

The first issue, requiring an arbitrary amount of SP to be competitive, has some merit.  There are a lot of skills in Eve that simply make your ships better, faster, or stronger.  If I get in any ship I can fly right now, and go fight a character with 10m SP, my performance will be considerably better because I do more damage, hit from father out, can take more damage, and all my support resources allow me to fit more and better modules.  This is a daunting prospect for newer players.  Functionally, this issue has a lot in common with the third issue to the point that I think they are two sides of the same coin.

The second point, “wasted” SP, is a function of choices made in Eve.  I live in wormholes, so I feel my scanning, mining, huffing, and industry SP are all valid uses of training time.  This is because the way I play often includes many non-combat activities.  But there is a saying that many player spend months training mining skills only to find that mining is literally the worst part of Eve.  This is a valid concern as well, since there is no undo button in Eve.

A final consideration in SP is the role time and SP plays in helping players join other groups or even do anything.  This takes many shapes, such as corps requiring you to have X skills to fit into doctrines, or not being able to conduct certain industry tasks until you have invested a certain amount of SP into the requisite skills.  The final big issue is using age and SP to screen characters.  Access is a valid concern, screening and corp gating is more nuanced.

Right now there is one way to get SP faster than your training time allows.  You can buy a character on the Character Bazaar.  You get the character along with the history, skills and the baggage of explaining your purchase to any corp you want to join who figures out you bought a character.

So, why don’t I like the proposed skill packets system?  A few reasons.  First, for those engaging in nefarious aspects of Eve, it eliminates one facet of the persistence of Eve.  Right now if you want to be a spy or try to pull off a corp theft, you need to join a corp, which usually requires getting through the screening process.  Most corps with assets worth stealing probably have some criteria to let people in.  This is usually tied to some combination of character history, reputation, and potentially the skills to partake in activities the corp engages in.  By giving players the ability to inject a bunch of SP, the correlation between time invested in training a character or gaining the funds to buy a character is largely removed.

This decoupling means professional thieves no longer have to plan out buying or maintaining a roster of clean characters to use for infiltration.  It also means existing corps will no longer be able to look at a character and gauge how invested a player is in a given character.  There will also be no disincentive to burning characters through a theft or spying action, as you can instantly take your proceeds and use them to liquidate the skills of a burned character into a brand new character.  This goes directly against the social aspect and investment that Eve has long touted.

To be honest, I think such a change will disproportionally hurt new players, who on paper benefit the most from the proposed system.  If a new player looks at Eve and figures “Hey, I can spend $50 and get 20m SP”, that seems to be a good way to skip the gating mechanics to get to bigger and better things.  But from a corp perspective, existing corps will look at a mismatch in SP and age, and say “Nope, too much chance of this being a spy/thief alt”.  The uncoupling of age and SP undermines a tool to screen players.  There will always be marks who don’t notice, but that will just lead to more burned people getting pissed off at the dark side of Eve.

Another reason I do not like this proposed change is that I think it utterly misses the mark of why and how people want to get or change SP.  I group this into new player issues and old player issues.

The new player issue is that the SP system is remnant of a time when playing a game for years was the goal for both players and companies.  With the changes in MMOs in the last decade, this seems like a very antiquated approach.  The SP system that defined Eve is now a burden to attracting and retaining new players.  Telling someone they have to pay and play for a year to get to that one ship they saw in the trailer is terrible. The SP system is now an anchor around Eve’s neck.

The old player issue is the inability to redistribute SP.  If you have 15m SP in skills you trained years ago, there is no way to shift that training time to what you want to do now.  This means older players feel weighed down by choices they made in a different stage of their Eve life.  This is frustrating, but maybe not a huge issue.

To solve these issues, I have three proposals.  The first is a revamp of the skill system.  The second is allowing reallocation of already trained skills.  The third is to give more SP to newer players faster or remove a lot of the boring skills from Eve.

The revamp would decouple using items from skills.  Allow any player to use any ship or module, and remove any skill restrictions from engaging in various skill gated activities.  Rebalance the skills such that skills only provide bonuses on top of the base rates of a given module or activity.  Heresy, I know.  But old players with lots of SP will not see all that much difference in competitiveness.  We’ll still have our perfect support and weapon and hull skills to give us an edge.  Skilled industrialists will still make more, faster, cheaper.

Allow players to use skill remaps to move skills around.  Allow only up to the character’s max trained SP to be reallocated.  You could even sell, for real money, packs of SP reallocation so players could do this more often that the skill remaps allow.  This would give CCP a new revenue stream, and let players fiddle with SP while keeping the persistence of the character.

Finally, give new players more SP on some sort of timed distribution.  Either increase the effectiveness and duration of skill boosters, or just give extra SP at each payed or plexed month.  This would incentivize players to keep playing and paying, but also bring newer players up to parity faster.  It’s true new players will never catch up with 5 and 10 year vets, but those first 6 to 12 months of support and fitting skills could be consolidated down into a few months of training.  Set up the curve so that making it to 6 months or a year of paid time would give a very large bonus.  Right now a one year old player maxes out around some 20m SP.  Why not give an extra 10m over the first six months and an extra 10m or 20m at the year mark?  This puts a one year character at 40-50m SP, which is a point where with a bit of planning you can hit most any ship in the game.  This would take the insane gating requirements to get to the cool stuff in the trailers down considerably, but still require an investment in the game, and provide time for players to learn the actual game.

As always, I am sure there are holes in these proposals, so they should be seen more as suggestions than “do this now!”.  Preserving the unique and persistent nature of Eve is a big deal.  CCP should find ways to help new player onboarding and help vets get more of what they want out of the game, and pursue ways to generate more income.  I just hope they do so in a way that doesn’t destroy the persistent nature of the game and the choices we make, especially when it comes to issues of character identity.

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