Eve Online is approaching its 17th anniversary, and this has developer CCP Games examining the game’s longevity. Some of the company’s findings seem obvious. The massively multiplayer online space-exploration game enables people to socialize, and it deeply rewards the acquisition of skills and knowledge. But CCP has also found something surprising: Eve Online forges its fandom through loss. And that is antithetical to the way most other games work.
Human beings hate loss. Think about anytime that a software crash has caused you to lose a day’s worth of writing, coding, or data entry. That rage you feel when you lose work you’ve already done is blinding. And it’s something that designers sometimes wield against players. In a free-to-play mobile game like Puzzle & Dragons, players gain all kinds of exciting loot through a dungeon. But then the dungeon ends with a tough boss, and players will lose everything they’ve earned if they don’t beat that enemy. But, of course, if you do lose, all hope isn’t lost — you can pay $1 to keep everything. And humans have such a deep aversion to loss that many will pay to evade those emotions.
So if loss is such a powerful negative feeling, why is it so important to Eve Online? In a presentation at GamesBeat Summit 2020, CCP chief executive officer Hilmar Pétursson explains.
“It’s often this element of a devastating loss that becomes a turning point for people in Eve Online,” said Pétursson. “By losing your spaceship or making a mistake that costs you everything that you’ve earned so far, if you have the social support to get out of that, that’s really when you start to become an Eve player for real.”
Look for the helpers (in Eve Online)
CCP packs Eve Online with opportunities for devastating loses. Earning anything in this universe requires labor. And that digital sweat has real value to players. But that labor is also one of the reasons that Eve fans build such strong relationships with one another. Your contributions have a material effect on the experiences of your group. As humans are social animals, many drift toward the feeling of supporting their social circle.
The studio has seen this “helper” tendency reflected in its research.
“Eve Online is known, of course, for its combat, competition, and exploration, but the highest proportion of the player base self-identifies as ‘helpers,'” said Pétursson. “They want to help others, and in a game that has so many opportunities for mistakes and loss, that is where helpers thrive. And when we look at the people who identify as helpers, we see they have the highest engagement.”
Loss in Eve isn’t solely a punishment. It’s an opportunity for adversity that a social group can overcome together. And like with any adversity, it can bring people closer together. The kinds of people who thrive on helping likely also crave the tight-knit community that goes along with it. And you can’t get that from a lot of other games.