Thursday, April 22, 2010

What women want (in Eve) - Blog Banter

**DISCLAIMER** I am not a woman, I have no intrinsic knowledge as to what they want or don't want in a game. I am basing this entire article off what my experience with other female gamers has been.

This entry is part of Crazy Kinux's 17th Blog Banter where he asked "What could CCP Games do to attract and maintain a higher percentage of women to the game?" This is a pretty heavy subject, so lets get down to it

With women making up less that 5% of the total Eve player base it is understandable why CCP might want to tap into this under represented market. One thing is clear, the must not sacrifice their current player base to do this. Even if they were able to increase the number of women playing the game by 300% it would be catastrophic if those same changes caused the male player base to drop by even 1/3. So the question shouldn't just be "How can CCP attract, and retain, more female players?" It should be "How can CCP attract and retain more female players while not diminishing it's current player base?"

The easy answer, and one that several people are likely to point to is Incarna. Give women a station to walk around in, an avatar to play with, and they will flock to your game like it is a pint of Ben and Jerry's ice cream. I think this answer is far to simplistic and sells women short. Plenty of women have played games that were Avatarless. When I used to play text line MUDs over 30% of the players were women, several of them good friends of mine. Incarna may be a good vehicle to roll out other changes that could make women want to come, but just the idea of station walking is not enough. In fact, if it is done poorly Incarna could greatly damage the attractiveness of the game to all groups.

So if not station walking, what can bring women to Eve? In discussing gaming with female players what comes up again and again is the idea of character. I think that women don't use games merely as a social mechanism, they use it as a form of social escapism. They love flying the cool ships, they may love the pewpew as much as the guys. When I talk to women about gaming, though, they tell me "My character did this," or, "My character did that." Men typically say, "I did this." So there is some attachment to this character as a person that women seem to have. This is partially while I think so many people think Incarna is the answer. To women it is about developing a sense of character and enjoying the immersion that roleplay can bring.

Because they are more interested in this immersion one could argue that women would be more interested in the diverse game play opportunities the Eve provides. In all of the online advertisements I've seen CCP rarely makes it clear how player driven Eve is. Additionally the game itself does a poor job of making this unique aspect clear during the tutorial phase.

I think that in the end the biggest hurdle keeping women out of Eve is the first 30 days. I've talked multiple times about the learning curve of the game, it is brutal. Men are not more willing to plow through the game, but men are more interested by the easier mechanics of the game. Running missions and blowing things up is simple, anyone can do it with relative ease. But perhaps women want more out of the game than a space fighter simulation.

If CCP is serious about bringing more women into Eve they do not need to change much of the content of the game, they simply need to make the open ended and expansive nature of Eve more obvious and accessible in the beginning of the game. I know they have put a lot of effort into revising and revisiting those opening tutorials, but I think they still haven't honed it enough. It is not about dumbing down the mechanics of the game, it is simply about explaining them in greater detail to new players.

So what should CCP do? 

If they want to bring in more women the first thing must be the tutorial system. Thread the opening tutorials into different sections. Currently the game marches you through a process of learning basic flight skills first, then you learn combat, and then eventually the game gets you into the industrial aspects of the game, many aspect of the game are completely ignored. By the time the get around to teaching about some of the aspects female gamers may enjoy more they have already put the game aside.

Instead, CCP should structure the opening tutorials in more of a "Choose Your Own Adventure" style. This less linear style of tutorial can introduce players to the career paths that interest them the most and allow them to get a glimpse of how to potentially train higher levels of skill in their chosen career path. This would almost combine the tutorial system with the Certificate system. I understand this is a major undertaking, but refining the tutorial system further would help keep players of both genders in the game.

Beyond that, there are a few other options CCP can explore.

Focus on the presence of roleplay in the game. Unless you happen across one of the RP channels or are brought into the RP scene by another player you may never realize it exists. I know I didn't. It would be easy to give it a passing mention in the tutorial. I don't think that CCP needs to give rewards to capsulleers who roleplay, and I don't think they all need Incarna. In fact, Incarna might hurt the roleplay scene since I can currently be mining in Habu while I am in the Last Gate Bar chatting with people. Incarna may force roleplayers to devote large amounts of time to physically being in a roleplay space, and I'm not sure that is a good thing.

Explore the idea of ship customization in terms of skinning. Perhaps ships could have an area where a player designed logo could be affixed. Even if this was just something where players chose from a list of 50 to 100 simple logos and a color scheme it would help. I think even male players could enjoy this feature, if nothing else it would be cool to have my Hulk look different than someone else's, even if it is just a minor (miner) difference.

You could even make entire skill sets that revolve around this element of the game. CCP could create skills that allow players to create these ship decals and they could be sold via the existing market mechanics. I don't imagine the skill sets would have to go that deep like some of the career paths, but it would make an interesting side grab.

Retool character missions and agent interaction. Make agents appear more real and allow characters to form a relationship with them. This would take a major overhaul, but perhaps agents could issue storyline missions that presented in a logical sequence (like a quest chain) where characters felt that they were accomplishing something meaningful rather than pulling a random quest out of a hat. I know I have mentioned this before in other posts and I will probably mention it again in the future. I really feel this is one of the biggest things CCP has failed to do in Eve and it is to the detriment of all players.

In conclusion (finally), I know that a lot of this post reads more as to if the question had been "What can CCP make better?" However, that is what CCP needs to do to attract more women. CCP's biggest problem is that they fail to sell themselves to women. The tutorial, though better, is still painful. Some of the most interesting elements of the game are ones I seem to stumble across after playing for 6 months. CCP has designed Eve like a microwave with a poorly written manual. I may discover after 4 months that I can program it to automatically do my laundry while I'm walking the dog, but damned if the manual was going to tell me about it.

The old joke in programming is "that isn't a bug, it's a feature!" CCP needs to sit down and decide whether the lack of a well structured and exhaustive tutorial system is a feature or a bug. If it is something that they have created intentionally to help convey the "do whatever you want, but man you are screwed if you mess up" feeling Eve has that is fine, but it will cost them subscribers. If they decide that it isn't what they wanted and they don't want to drive new players to either quit or go on exhaustive internet searches to figure out what the hell they should be doing, then they need to buckle down and change the first 30 days of  gameplay. In short, CCP doesn't need to change the game, they just need to do a better job showing their game to new players.

Think my opinion sucks? Well here are some other opinions:
Is Eve a Man's World? by astral dominix
Sorry, No Pink Spaceship Here Please! by Banear
Chicks 'N Ships by Rixx Javix
The Girls who Fly Spaceships by Ztikara
It's not about Fluffy Bloody Kittens by EVE SOB
Tech 2 Stilettos by The Hydrostatic Capsule
Making Eve more Casual by Garhead
Where are all the Wenches? by Eve Chick
You'd Rather be Playing 'The Sims', Right? by a merry life and a short one 
more to come...

1 comment:

  1. Just starting to look into EVE as i game I might try but your ideas made alot of sense.

    Of the current 2 ads I can think of one talks about how your running expensive cargo in dangerous areas and the other(better) one talks about how you can explore and conquer the vast reaches of space.

    Not bad ads but not what Id think would attract a ton of female players.

    Fixing the misson/storyline quests would also help alot as this is one of the things WoW does very well IMO.