I recently had the opportunity to interview the developer responsible for the New Player Experience (NPE) in the upcoming Dominion Expansion at CCP Games, none other than CCP Eris Discordia. Below is the result of my interrogation. Please feel free to comment and ask additional questions!
What was the main goal of the changes you brought forth with the NPE?
While the NPE is continuously evolving, the goal of the Dominion changes is to teach skills to new players that should make them valuable to any corporation as talented recruits. Aside from that, we also wanted to gain a better understanding of how the NPE is experienced by new players. To do this we added a lot of data logging in the tutorials and career paths, to identify areas for improvement. These areas are indicated by red flags in data--for example, when thousands of people read one tutorial three times we see that spike and know that the there is an issue with the tutorial. It may simply be confusing or there may be a larger problem. Once we’ve identified an area, the idea is that we then focus on it to make it better.
What are its main features?
One new feature is the addition of new career paths to the new player experience. We give beginner pilots a series of options about how to learn the game.. In each career path there are sequences of missions specifically designed to teach skills for that general career category. For example, we have added a path for PvP combat where people can learn about “tackling” (trapping another ship in space) and they can experience the psychological hurdle of mourning the loss of their first ship. Another new path is all about exploration—how to use probes to find the hidden areas and dangerous wormholes in EVE.
A tackling or probing pilot can be a great addition to any corporation and we hope that EVE’s corps will recruit new players with that knowledge. We also lowered the skill prerequisites for the mini professions so that it won’t take months to train for them, because when you are new to EVE that seems like a very long time and we want new players to be able to be able to sample all of EVE’s different game play areas quickly.
Were you able to reach all the goals you had set for yourselves, and if not, what features/items do you believe still need work?
We believe finding a suitable corporation has to be made much easier. The current corporation advertisements window isn’t easy to browse and you can’t tell if a corporation is newbie friendly or not. We’d also like to add the possibility for players to advertise themselves so that the matchmaking process can go both ways. Another item on our list is the addition of suggested ship fittings for new players and their recently acquired ships.
Looking all the way back to launch day in 2003, what are you most proud of with the NPE as opposed to what was available way back then?
From what we remember there wasn’t much NPE to speak off. You started in space and you had to shoot a drone and that was pretty much it. We have come a long way to where we actually explain what to do, step by step. Space is still cold and deadly, of course—so eventually you will have to set your own goals. That we’ll never change.
A lot of new players find it tedious to go through the NPE, what have you done to alleviate this perception?
Instead of having a very long tutorial, you now have the crash course where people learn the basics of EVE, such as how to move the camera etc. The basic tutorial leads pilots to the career paths, where they can choose to learn more about specific systems. You should no longer feel that the tutorial drags, since the new system is designed to give out different levels of information for the curious pilot or the one that’s ready to just go out and shoot things.
Have you ever considered spreading the tutorials throughout the game, rather than one big learning experience at the start of the game?
Like with everything in EVE, you control when, where and how much you get involved; the career paths can be started, postponed and closed at any time. You can run them all, one after another, or just ignore them and then run one a year later. There are also start pages that will explain the function of something when you click on it, and they can be toggled throughout a pilot’s career.
And on a similar topic, have you ever thought of splitting the NPE by trade and spreading it through the world?
A danger of spreading the career paths across the universe is that new pilots would have to travel through low security space very early on to be able to learn more about EVE before they were really able to understand the possible risks of traveling there. Each race has three or four agents per career path in the high-security starting systems, so they are separated already. Having new pilots lose their ships during an ambush on a star gate on their way to their first agent thanks to an ambush at a star gate would be really bad.
What features have you worked on in this latest iteration of the NPE are you most proud of?
A lot of other NPE changes also contribute to the experience of older players. For instance, for Dominion we removed the requirement to be in the station where a corporation has an office in to apply to that corporation. It’s a change that lowers the barrier to join a corporation for new players and for older players it removes making a 20 jump travel just to press a button.
The skill queue benefitted new players in that they can queue up a bunch of skills as they train much faster than older players until they reach 1.6 million skill points. They could finish an easy skill in 10 minutes, and starting a new skill every 10 minutes can be very annoying. So with the skill queue they just queue up a bunch of skills and then they can focus on the rest of EVE. For older players the queue has the benefit that if they queued wisely, they wouldn’t have to set an alarm to get up in the middle of the night to change a skill, as many of the most devoted pilots would do.
How much leeway does the NPE provide to existing player corporations who want to help out new players (EVE-Uni as an example)?
We don’t think the NPE can ever replace actual people answering questions and guide you through EVE. It’s kind of like the difference between a personal trainer and doing exercises on your own with a manual. You are going to get so much more out of a personal trainer in motivation, personal assistance and on-the-spot help. Corporations that mentor new players will really make a huge difference in the understanding that person has of EVE and how they personally can best enjoy playing it.
EVE is, at its core, a social game. That’s why part of the NPE goals is to make it easier for new players to join a corporation and make new players useful in a player corporation so that they will recruit new players.
So what's next? What will you be looking to improve in the next expansion, that you were not able to do in this one?
We will continue to monitor the data we receive from the tutorials and career paths and improve the sections where we see any red flags. We expect that the new paths might need some revision before we perfect them for the majority of players who use them.