I play EVE Online, somewhat. I enjoy EVE Online. And I have no freaking idea why.
By all measures I should hate this game. The interface is clunky, the environments are barren (It’s space, what do you expect?), the writing is terrible, the missions have only a monetary payout (they don’t have plot at all), the leveling system is tedious and confusing, the entire game is hostile towards newbies, most of the industrial works are simply Intro to Economics classes… the list goes on. And yet, it’s so much FUN!
The only reason that I can come up with is this: It does enough things right that other games do wrong to cover up for the glaring flaws in design.
For example, in my “On Loot” piece I mentioned a desire to see exploration rewarded more, whether through items that are always in a place but incredibly hard to get to, or randomly-spawning items inside of every “cave” that at least gives you something for your searches. This is something that EVE does right. You have the ability to launch of sensor probes to find the pockets of space in a solar system that holds pirate bases, rich mining fields, and so on. But these are only the gifts of those who look, which pushes people towards exploration. It has evolved to the point where some people will sell their bookmarks to the hidden pockets. It’s a fascinating thing.
Which brings me to the economy. For those uninitiated, EVE works on a truly capitalistic model; the market is first seeded with new items and the blueprints to make them, then it just goes from there. It’s actually quite amazing to see how the market reacts to patch changes, one example being a patch that made mineral-retrieval easier, which devalued minerals immensely. The market in action is a wondrous thing, and it really does fascinate me to no end. This is different from other games, mind you, in the sense that everything is player-made. There’s no bread vendors sitting on the space sidewalk to sell you the basic commodities, there’s always someone making them, somewhere. It’s amazing.
I’d mention player-run corporations, but I’m not a member of one and those people kind of scare me with their dedication to the game. You think that people get too into WoW? Check out EVE…
Ah, yes, the complexity question. EVE is, without a doubt, the most difficult mainstream MMO to get into. It’s better now that they’ve implemented better tutorials, but I began playing back when it told you how to move, shoot, and dock into a station, then slapped you on the back and told you the Golden Rule (The Rule of EVE: “Don’t fly something that you can’t afford to lose”. It’s a good rule). But is this a bad thing? It can be, it can not be. It’s not all that difficult once you get the hang of it, but that’s not to say that the interface couldn’t use some trimming. For example, I think that a “Dock at the nearest station”, which would be a “Get me the fuck out of here!” button, would be greatly appreciated.
Really, I think that the biggest draw of the game is the famous single-shard world. Everything you do in EVE has an effect on the world, even if the effect is minuscule. However, how many times have we heard of single players knocking over entire corporations and making off with the equivalent of thousands of USD? Stuff like that shows you what you’re dealing with.
Really, it’s a great game, one that I really only stopped playing because I did one of those healthy sit-back-and-look-at-yourselfs and realized that I was simply mining my life away. However, used in the right way, I can see people really enjoying it, at least as much as any other MMO.