Why Do We Play EVE?
It feels like the only way I can ever describe my EVE gameplay uses the word stress at least twice. Then again, I don’t exactly play this game most days and somehow I’m never really disconnected from it. Like many corp leaders, New Eden has come to represent more of a project management simulation than a space sandbox. There are always structures to fuel, disputes to resolve, and jobs to be done. It’s a stressful universe; and yet I keep playing.
Naturally, the next question most people ask is ‘why?’ Do all EVE players love spreadsheets that much, or is there something more to it? It certainly seems to be the former at surface level, especially when we see so many corporations utilising real-world project management tools like Trello, setting up virtual business meetings to discuss matters, and recruiting more thoroughly than your average small business these days. Before the advent of Discord, many corps would also leverage the communication platform, Slack, often with their own set of rigid on and offboarding procedures for members.
Going back to the aforementioned recruitment practices, this has also historically been part of the unique allure of EVE Online. Many corporations won’t simply accept any Tom, Dick, or Harry into their ranks, employing sophisticated, player-built solutions like SeAT to investigate the potential recruit’s credentials and employment history. Combined with lengthy interviews and occasional entrance tests it can often seem a bit much. Then again, you wouldn’t want a spy joining, would you?
It may come as no surprise that one of the biggest reasons people still play EVE is purely for the community. When you spend hours each night with the same people, bonds are obviously going to form. As was mentioned by (I think!) CCP Convict back at EVE London, meetups such as that one slowly turn into some sort of family reunion. At first, you may only know a handful of other players, but by the second, third, and tenth visits to the halls of Harpa or bars of London things start to take on a different atmosphere.
London last weekend was only my second ever EVE meet and I can already place it up there as one of the best events in my past quarter-century on this planet. Together, my small corp managed to bring ten nerds from England, Switzerland, and Isreal together as if they had been lifelong friends. I love these guys and I doubt that I could have met such a group in many other games. This isn’t even counting the dozens more of whom I had a chance to meet again. Including Jin’tann, Jezza, Nihilaus Vause, Joseph Barnacle, Big Hilmar, Little Hilmar (you know who you are), and so many more.
Another reason commonly touted for playing EVE at all is because of the stress. There’s this phenomenon that, for years, has been referred to only as “the shakes”. It’s that feeling you get before a fight. The pure adrenaline-fueled anxiety when there’s something at stake, a challenge lies before you, and your hands shake as if you’ve drunk twelve cups of coffee. It’s not unlike the stories you hear told by adrenaline junkies with their life on the line. Everything goes a bit cloudy, you call targets, and escape with your ship burning and what the hell just happened?
It’s times like these that I can place in my top moments of EVE Online. Namely, my tenure captaining an Alliance Tournament team. I remember my very first match with an experimental Machariel Moa setup like it was yesterday. Up until a minute remained it was just like practice, but with more nerve-calming wine. The timer ticked down to 10 seconds and it hit me. My eyes were scanning the screen. Did I make a mistake? I know I’m too close to the Vindis. There’s no way that my ships can beat out that damage. What if I don’t catch their logi? I knew the commentators felt the same way based on their laughing at my fleet composition.
Five, four, three, two, one, GO. And it was real. I gave my standard order “props on, let’s go” “damage on SirRalph and Veil; Machariels keep burning away”. There was a lot on the line and I had this distinct thought in slow motion while burning to catch the first Deacon. This is real, I’m in the Alliance Tournament right now. How did I end up here? 350 seconds later and I was celebrating with my team loudly over Teamspeak, music bot and all.
Having played this game for so long, it’s times like this that become more and more difficult to come by. Experience and knowing that I’m always going to lose in a 5 vs 500 nullsec blob situation mutes the feeling a bit. It’s still a bit like chasing the dragon, though. It’s also part of the reason that I’m glad I had another opportunity to fly alongside my tournament buddy Nihilaus Vause in London.
A Whole Wide World
Or should I say galaxy? Another reason I usually hear mentioned as the key motivation for playing EVE is because of how big it is and how much you can do. EVE Online is a massive place with nearly 8,000 solar systems to visit and explore. These aren’t just filler, either. Being around for over 16 years means that, while I have no way to prove it, every system seems to have some sort of history. You might come across the current staging system of Pandemic Horde, a historic battlefield of years gone by, or maybe just the high-security home system of some small corporation.
Deeper than just physical space, though, you find the people themselves. It’s often said that ‘EVE is more fun to read about than to actually play’ and that seems to always stem from these crazy stories by (almost) crazy people. Taking Steven Messner’s list, for example, we have tales of con artists, a scouting and pilot-rescue service, and legions of players being swayed by one person’s propaganda. Almost any kind of real-world espionage has a duplicate. Google “EVE Online Ponzi Scheme” and you’ll see.
But life in New Eden doesn’t always have to be so grandiose. It’s about the little things, too. Meeting an old friend in one of those ~8,000 systems and having a chat before parting ways; joining forces with an Australian fellow you found for several hours because “why not?” These are some of the things that make it feel like a living, breathing, universe (if it weren’t for the bots, but that’s another conversation). And that feeling only multiplies when you visit these highly trafficked areas to find thousands of other pilots milling about, each with their own livelihood.
If the population of EVE were to disappear tomorrow, leaving the servers online, then there would be no reason to play. These players form the living, beating heart of the galaxy and make it feel real; they make it feel worth something. Not too different from going about your everyday tasks if you ask me. Things would feel a bit off if nobody worked in your local Tesco and the streets were empty.
In the end, it really is an individual thing for why we play this game. From the flowchart above, it’s clear that players have many different objectives, just as the average Joe on the street does. I like to think, though, that everyone has just a little bit of what I’ve mentioned in my main three headers here. The industrialist might not be a fan of PvP, but escaping a gank by the skin of their teeth may be their most thrilling thing that week. The players living in the middle of nowhere may not appreciate scale, but without the existence of others, their little pocket of space wouldn’t exist at all.
And for the people who may not have a community? I pity them. To me, having a solid group is what it’s all about. I’ve ran a rag-tag bunch of players through thick and thin and a hell of a lot of stress. We’ve split and reformed several times over the last few years, causing me no end of admin work with recruitment and day-to-day running. I’ve spent many a night logged in for the sake of making sure others are happy at the expense of my own time. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.