Friday, October 16, 2015

Death to the Skill System

I have more than enough skill points on all my accounts to do practically everything I want to do in game. I rarely need to scramble to train something, skill training is always more of an afterthought, as in "the queue is getting low, what should I throw on there this time?". I am, for all intents and purposes, beyond the reach of the limitation the skill system imposes on players. So understand me that I have no horse in the race of which I am about to speak on.

I have come to despise the skill training system.

In the past I have argued that the skill training system is great for EVE as it allows progression without having to invest in copious amounts of time to play the game to gain "experience points" to unlock new things. I also loved that it was more a breadth progression system instead a depth progression system so that veteran players would have advantages in options as they cross trained ship types and weapon types, but younger players could catch up in a specific skill set fairly quickly.

Compared to a typical level based MMORPG, this system is far superior and I prefer it.

But I still hate it.

I now believe that the skill training system is one of the big roadblocks preventing new player retention.

Last summer I wrote a post called Unnecessary Limitations in which I said:
Support skills are a penalty to new players for being new. And this contributes directly to the horrible retention rate of new players in EVE online.
Go back and read that post, its one of my good ones.

Now recently CCP came to some of their senses and decided to start new players off with 400,000 points worth of skills:
All new characters will now start with approximately 400,000 skillpoints rather than 50,000.
While this is a small improvement, its still a pittance. At the time I said I wish new players started with 4 million skill points.

Then yesterday CCP Rise on behalf of Team Size Matters posted this wild and wolly dev blog titled "Exploring the Character Bazaar and Skill Trading":
High level:
- There will be a new item type called ‘Transneural Skill Packet’ that can be consumed to give any character unallocated skillpoints
- A Transneural Skill Packet is created by extracting some of your trained skills and combining them with a ‘Transneural Skill Extractor’ which can be purchased in the New Eden Store for Aurum (The Transneural Skill Extractor is analogous to the PLEX service fee in the character bazaar).Both Transneural Skill Extractors and Transneural Skill Packets can be freely traded on the market for ISK 
Zooming in:
- Creating a Transneural Skill Packet requires approximately 500,000 skillpoints (we will fiddle with this number a bit to make it most practical considering common skill level denominations)
- Characters with less than 5 million skillpoints may not use Skill Extractors, they can still use Skill Packets
- Trial characters may not consume Skill Packets
- Extractors are consumed on creating Packets and Packets are consumed on use
- Characters consuming a Transneural Skill Packet will receive the following amounts of unallocated skillpoints, based on the total skillpoints trained before consumption:
0 – 5 million skillpoints = 500,000 unallocated skillpoints added
5 – 50 million skillpoints = 400,000 unallocated skillpoints added
50 – 80 million skillpoints = 200,000 unallocated skillpoints added
> 80 million skillpoints = 50,000 unallocated skillpoints added 
As you can see, this design favors skill transfers for younger characters and makes them very inefficient for older characters. We’ve designed it this way so that we protect the prestige associated with long commitment to a single character.
What a convoluted way to admit that the skill system punishes new players inordinately! OK, seriously, I realize that this proposal is a way to diminish the need for the character bazaar by allowing the movement of skill points from characters that players don't want or need anymore to players that want to pay to advance (often times in real money by buying plex to afford the ISK cost), but for me all it does is highlight the problem: new characters are needlessly penalized via skill points and once again veterans can leverage there accumulated wealth to buy their way out, or new players willing to spend their real money to quickly advance can do so as well. The average new player is left in the dust.

To be fair, the current system is just as unfair and the new system has some very attractive qualities, but for me it only continues to highlight the systematic problem with the design: skill points continues to be an unnecessary limitation, as I pointed out last year:
Question: What is required to effectively own and pilot a ship?
Answer: There are three things you need. 
First, you must have the skill points to be allowed to not only sit in the ship itself and not only to fit the appropriate modules but also the core skills that affect a ship's properties for fitting, tanking, offensiveness, and movement. 
Second, you need enough ISK to afford the ship and its modules and its charges as well as enough ISK to cover its loss. I don't subscribe to the school of thought that you should have enough ISK to replace every loss but you should be comfortable enough losing a ship to not be crippled by it. I made that mistake once. 
Finally, to be effective in a ship you need experience in flying it (or a ship very similar) and using its modules which usually involves some losses and missteps (more for some than others) until you become proficient.
The first requirement is killing new players in the crib and I think its time to get rid of it.

"So what, Bill, you think a day old player should be able to sit in a titan and use it?"

Well that's plain old reductio ad absurdum but I'll play along: yes. Let's be realistic, new players are massively constrained already by ISK and actual piloting experience, compounded by and interface that requires you to grow new neurons to grok, that if a newish player managed to find the "Board Ship" button by themselves I'd be impressed. And that's assuming they could figure out how to leave the current rookie ship in the first place.

Let's be clear. A player with perfect skills but no PvP experience against another player with perfect skills and lots of PvP experience, and implants, and boosters, and linking, in the same fitted ships, is still completely outclassed. The veteran will always have the advantages regardless of skill levels.

What prevents progression? Why do we even need to prevent progression!?!?! EVE is a sci-fi simulation, not some crass theme park MMO. And ISK and experience limit progression sufficiently enough in my opinion.

But new players will buy themselves into big ships they are not ready for using PLEX. They already can using the character bazaar, have you not been paying attention? Right now we only are punishing the players who don't have deep wallets.

You're throwing out skill books as an ISK sink. OK, that's a decent argument, but I'm confident we can find some other ISK sink to accomplish the same thing. Perhaps we combine this with the progression concerns and have ships and modules require certification that costs ISK but not training time, therefore you lock progression via an ISK sink but don't punish new players for lacking basica support skills or requiring long wait times.

You'll destroy the feeling of accomplishment for training a new skill. Yeah, congrats on paying your subscription there tiger. I think we can let that one go.

Skill training is an unnecessary limitation that punishes new players inordinately more than veterans. Its time to get rid of it.


  1. I think you may be four or five years in advance of anybody else on that subject. Revolutionary ideas can't be accepted by the majority without going through painful incremental steps first. The current neural packet is likely to be a great evolutionary step in that direction, though.

    A skill based game system with immortal characters must either disappear simply by the nature of everyone acquiring all the skills (as you point out) or continue adding new skills branch and tech levels. I personally favor this second approach, introducing Tech IV technologies with a new set of high caliber skills that older players would be the first to be able to master, as well as a Sixth level for skills. As tech levels progress, new players should easily master lower tech level skills, while older ones should keep the benefit of being the first ones to master the newer technologies. The challenge, of course, is to keep the game balanced, but I would prefer a future in Eve where T2 ships would become the fleet standards, T1 ships being the Ford T models.

    In the Eve Forever model, I do not believe CCP will be able to keep going without chosing one of these two paths at some point.

  2. Hell, if CCP is going to go "full retard", they might as well start letting people harvest SP from pods. Why not, if the actually introduce this idiocy.

    Oh, and I am suggesting that I first coined the phrase "can I have your SP" for the typical phrase directed at players quitting Eve, and there will be many more soon.

  3. "You'll destroy the feeling of accomplishment for training a new skill.

    Yeah, congrats on paying your subscription there tiger."

    LOL But I did a jig when I reached Fighter Bombers 5. It was a tough slog. From 51 days to the mid 30's was OK, but then it seemed liked weeks before I got into the 20's. And staring at EveMon didn't speed it up. All that time, as my character kept studying, mastering the art and science behind how to best tell my little fighter bombers what to do, and do it 5% better, I just knew that one day I'd get that diploma.

  4. "You'll destroy the feeling of accomplishment for training a new skill. Yeah, congrats on paying your subscription there tiger."

    Made me laugh too. Seriously though, how is exchanging a monthly sub fee for a month of no-effort SP any different from exchanging money anywhere else for SP? Along those lines, paying RL cash for your skill queue time is p2w compared to people who take the time and effort to grind the ISK in game and earn their SP from PLEX purely in game.

    I genuinely have not heard any valid technical reason against SP transfers. The key points are the diminishing returns at higher SPs (actually an SP sink), and that, like the way PLEX works for ISK, it is just a mechanism for moving existing SP around -- it doesn't introduce a single new SP out of thin air.

  5. I can see that the current skill point system instills a sense of accomplishment - there is a certain satisfaction in hearing 'Skill Training Completed', especially as a new player. I can also see that a no-skill point system would cheapen the ability fly capital ships.

    But how much of that sentiment is simply a conditioned response, based on the notion that 'games have always been that way'? I honestly can't tell.

    I can see ways how a no-skill point system could be abused. Need another Capital pilot? Create an alt, hand her all the necessary equipment, and off she goes.

    An alternative could be a skill-point system with drastically reduced training times; and preferably the effective elimination of the basic support skills. There would still be an SP hill to climb, but it would be a more approachable endeavor.

  6. Just an observation. Putting aside the whales who will throw money at a problem, what you propose is turning EVE from a time based progression to where the more active you are in a game, the faster you progress, with ISK the means of progression. That's a pretty big change in the game's design.

  7. I be damned, another person that gets it =) Though TBH the system is rather aimed at at least intermediate characters able to generate needed ISK (or well, ones with deep $$ pockets). If I changed anything, then I'd remove the whole "diminishing returns" thing and just add flat 10% penalty across the board - if we turn SP into commodity, then let's do that properly - without any semblance on progression bullshit or equaling SP to commitment (wtf) as they wrote it in the devblog.

    Or make it dependend on some extra in-game skills (that cannot be injected) to control starting ISK/time point, for example (starts at 100% penalty):

    - neurotransport (requires some IV and maybe V skills - biology, science, etc.) rank M; allows use of SP packs; decreases penalty by 4% per level
    - neurotransport synchronization (requires neurotransport V) rank N; lessens penalty by 15% per level
    - neurotransport calibration (requires neurotransport IV) rank L; lessens penalty by 10% per level

    Adjust M, N, L and price of skillbooks as necessary.

  8. Skills allow players can make choices that influence how valuable they will be for different endeavors. This is good. I don't really mind if ccp wants to allow new player to bypass the time to get those skills by paying money. (character bazar or aurum for skill packets) But I don't think they should remove the choices all together. The game would lose allot.

  9. At it's core, I view Eve as a long term optimization game where one has to make choices that will impact them years into the future. I've spent years specializing in perfecting specific skills at the expense of a breath of coverage, because it's what I enjoy and it makes me the best at specific things, even if it's only 5% better than the person next to me. I'd be all for players starting with increased skills or perhaps support skills that are important at 4 (not 5) but I think the resource of skillpoints and the economics involved in deciding what to do with that resource is something you are undervaluing too heavily.