In the strictest sense, and with an understanding of psychology, a game can be said to exist whenever there is an interaction between individuals, regardless of overtly stated rules, goals and challenges. According to this definition, virtual worlds can be thought of as games because of the interaction between “players” despite the fact that gaming may exist on a subtle level just as it does in the real world. I know that this is a somewhat controversial stance but bear with me as I use a comparison of the virtual world of Second Life to reveal intriguing aspects and game mechanics of the virtual world game of EVE Online. I believe that the single most defining characteristic of EVE is engagement whereas the single most defining characteristic of SL is immersion. What is “engagement” and “immersion” and what does this mean for you?
Once you have logged on to EVE and created your character, you immediately become engaged with the game through the execution of missions for commanding officers. By contrast, the first experience in Second Life is immersion in a physical environment where the focus is on learning to independently navigate. Personally, in Second Life I was able to quickly bond, first with a partner, based on skills I had acquired in chat rooms and then with a larger sub culture where I found a physical activity –dancing, that I could enjoy alone or with the group. However, everyone’s experience is different and I think if I had not become immediately engaged, I would have felt immersed in an environment that seemed devoid of life. In EVE, you won’t feel directionless or isolated.
In EVE Online there is a strong sense of connection fostered by commanders who issue assignments while you are inducted in training to become a corporate/military employee. You will execute tasks enabling you to achieve specific goals that are initially easy to acquire and later become more challenging. Within a larger context, having initially created your avatar with a specific cultural background, and a uniquely defined and proud heritage, you belong to one of four empires, Amarr, Caldari, Minmatar or Gallente. There is a complex storyline about the history of EVE and how the various different sub cultures came into existence. All of this provides a frame of reference within a structured environment where sophisticated technology in the form of armed spacecraft provide the means for ascension.
The graphics of EVE Online resolve the vastness of space as a dark expanse of pitch black interspersed with brilliantly illuminated stars, gaseous clouds, asteroid belts, planets and other phenomena that appear to erupt from the surroundings with blinding intensity. Ambient music conveys an eerie, haunting and mystical quality provoking a twinge of anxiety and expectation as you enter the altered reality. During my trial subscription I experienced very few processing issues or problems with graphical resolution that effected how I experienced movement and navigation. In Second Life, I have recently gotten involved with racing automobiles and motorcycles and the experience is quite different.
At a time when tiered revenue or freemium models are generally more popular among ecommerce businesses, EVE Online bucks the trend with the implementation of a subscription based revenue model. Since many virtual worlds have struggled with profitability using the tiered model, they have transitioned to subscription/game models or a hybrid model such as IMVU’s that allows for an extended trial period. Expectations of a higher quality gaming experience as the result of subscription purchase are fulfilled with the training and guidance given to new players of EVE Online.
I find EVE’s edgy, dark and mysterious aura compelling. The game’s engagement makes demands of the player that are very different from the challenges presented by classically defined virtual worlds and I find it refreshing and intriguing. Navigation in virtual worlds can slow to a crawl and it’s nice to experience the smooth execution of relative motion that make space maneuvering so pleasurable in EVE. Seasoned players enjoy the emergent game as different cultures, corporations, alliances vie for power and control on a massive scale. The strategic game of warring factions provides a plethora of opportunities for teamwork and leadership in a struggle for dominance.