Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Away From Keyboard Gameplay

One of the thoughts to come out of the discussions about Faction Warfare plex farmers and  warp core stabilizers discussions that I want to explore further is Away from Keyboard (aka AFK) gameplay.

EVE Online is chock full of passive activities or partially passive activities that require limited player involvement, from mining to manufacturing to plex running. Some of it can be considered true AFK gameplay, others simply passive gameplay.

For the purposes of this post, AFK gameplay is defined as an activity where the pilot is required to be in game and engaged in the activity but the player is only partially engaged and could be doing other activities either on the computer but in different applications, or away from the computer entirely and only checking in occasionally.

This definition embraces activity as varied as autopilot movement through high sec (set destination, hit autopilot, come back hours later), asteroid / ice mining (checking in every few minutes to move ore / ice to hauler), mission running / ratting where a pilot warps in and launches drones, sitting cloaked in a system, etc. And of course, it includes faction warfare defensive plexers who only half pay attention to their ship orbiting the button.

In all these examples, the in game pilot is required to do something (even if its sit there and keep the ship running in the case of an afk cloaker) but the player is free to do anything else out of game. In some cases the player could stay at the keyboard and make the task run more efficiently (e.g. warping gate to gate and not relying on autopilot, or actively running a mission instead of letting drones do the work) but there is common property that runs through AFK gameplay: often the task is repetitive and boring and the player would happily do something else out of game rather than be stuck in game. In some cases, like afk cloaking, there is virtually nothing to be done.

So we need to ask a few questions: is this gameplay beneficial or at least non-harmful to EVE? And secondly, what can be done about it?

Is AFK Gameplay Harmful?

To be blunt, yes. In every single instance, you want players when they are logged in and doing an activity to be engaged in what they are doing and invested in paying attention. Having gameplay boring enough that players would rather do something else, in some cases sacrificing reward, is bad design.

Is There Anything CCP Can Do About It?

This is where things get more convoluted. In some cases it makes sense to change mechanics to make the gameplay engaging and requiring the player to WANT to be involved in it, but at the same time you don't want to make the gameplay frustrating or needlessly repetitive which may drive players away. If you go too far the other way, make it less boring by taking less time, you possibly skew the entire balance of the mechanic. For example, market differences drive a portion of the economy and if mass transportation of goods is allowed to discourage people from afk autopilot hauling, you could destroy a market trader career.

Other things could be easily addressed with a mechanics addition or change and not disrupt any vital economic or balance issues, like AFK cloaking, but beg the question if addressing the gameplay is worth the backlash of the players who utilize it.

A more current events example is faction warfare plexing (ignoring the whole warp core stab thing) where a defensive plexer is potentially faced with 10-20 minutes of button orbiting that may or may not get interupted by a hostile that the player then runs from. If we make the effort more intensive than simply orbit, e.g. require shooting at a rat or using an entosis link or some hacking minigame, than the fallout of that could be players stop defensive plexing and move on to other non-addressed AFK gameplay, perhaps depleting faction warfare of some pilots, and thus possibly fewer pilots in space. Depending on your point of view, this might be a GOOD thing (fewer pilots in low sec that avoid fights means less time hunting runners and more time finding fighters) or it might be a bad thing (less deplexing means home systems more vulnerable to attack means possibly less stability and investment in militia low sec HQ systems which possibly means less fighting pilots living in low sec). ALTERNATIVELY, you could make deplexing less time consuming thus being less attractive to going AFK while doing it, but then you run the chance of the risk-vs-reward dynamic becoming to tilted to reward and flooding the market and destroying the LP conversion rates... and so on and so forth.

In other words, since many things are interconnected, sometimes quite strongly, CCP can't simply go from one AFK gameplay mechanic to another and change them to make them less attractive to AFK gameplay, even in some cases where we strongly would like to remove boring gameplay (and let me tell you, orbiting a button is boring).

This is all not to say that CCP should never try and fix things. Don't be ludicrous! All I'm saying is that addressing them needs to be done carefully and with an eye to the knock on effects.

For now, we're faced with a number of AFK gameplay mechanics.


  1. To be fair, orbiting the button as a mechanic has never been that compelling... and not really very good in terms of narrative:

    Cower before the mighty Amarr crusader as they fly in circles around a defenseless space station! Beware the cunning and devious Minmatar freedom fighter as they fly in circles around a defenseless space station. Take part in the bitter Gallente/Caldari blood feud, as they fly in circles around each others' defenseless space stations!

    To be honest, I'd be in favour of taking out the whole plexing mechanic and making the missions better. In terms of world building it makes more logical sense, and there would be more variety of gameplay each time you undocked. And it would give an actual, contestable objective, beyond blow up the other guy so you can fly in circles the longest.

  2. I think the core issue with FW plexes still is that it's ultimately a PvE activity. You get the cookie for circling the dot filling the grey bar. You don't get the cookie for directly interacting with other players, so why should/would you?
    To make a comparison, mining is actually quite similar to FW plexes you get a cookie (only ore not lp) for sitting in a place watching a circle on your harvester fill while being near an asteroid.
    You can do both semi-afk and there is very little motivation (as you point out) to not be semi-afk reading a book or something.

    The only real difference is perception when you see a miner in lowsec and you warp to his belt you expect him/her to warp off, you never really get your hopes up for a fight. It's not called asteroid warfare after all... But when people warp to an FW plex apparently they do expect a fight. And to me that's where the crunch is, the person filling the grey bar by circling the dot gets nothing from fighting, no more then the miner from before does, so why should he/she?

    That it can be done semi-AFK is nothing more then a nice bonus, if you couldn't do it semi-AFK or with stabs, people still would not suddenly fight. If we want people to fight we need to make sure we give them the cookie for fighting not for filling the grey bar by circling the dot.

  3. There is a solution for AFK gameplay: offline gameplay. Its best example is PI, you set up the factory, you leave it running and you get materials when you are back.

    Mining or defensive plexing could be done by similar mechnics, you deploy little structure that mines for you or defensive plexing for you until you return and scoop or until hostile player destroys it. This way the formerly AFK player turns into an offline player without losing interest in the game (he will return to the deployed structure), while online players will see an NPC instead of a player, so won't be disappointed when they try to interact and find no player.