NOTE: What follows is a thought experiment in trying to find a way to introduce a PLEX for skill points system in EVE. I thought that a system of this nature may help to remedy the much-debated flat subscriber count by enticing and retaining new players without royally screwing EVE veterans in the process. Ultimately, I failed to come up with something has a solid chance of success. But perhaps my ideas can serve as a jumping-off point for someone else that can come up with a way to use this system to help grow and improve EVE.
We’ve all been there: a multi-week level 5 skill standing between you and your goal. Maybe it’s a shiny new hull or a new tier of advanced skills, and if you’re like me you save the longest skills for last. It’s not exactly a great feeling to see your training queue read “24 days”. Implants and remaps can help but even with those maxed out there’s still the unavoidable “long haul” of watching that damn blue bar creep across your character’s Neocom portrait.
The allure of spending a little real world cash to instantly shave some time off those pesky level 5s would likely be too much for me to withstand. For a lot of other players I’d be willing to be the guilty pleasure of injecting a few thousand SP would be too great to resist as well. But in typical guilty pleasure fashion, the repercussions of putting SP up for sale are further reaching than the thrill of scratching Jump Drive Calibration V off your skill plan.
After spending some time thinking about what it would really be like to be able to purchase SP I’m fairly convinced that it’s not a good idea. But only a quick look at my killboard will assure you that I am not an EVE genius and I’m willing to concede that what I’ve concluded may be invalidated by some other points of view. Only a healthy flame war in the comments sections can settle this for sure!
Pros and Cons
I started my analysis with some Pros and Cons:
- Newer players have the opportunity to catch up faster. (Though I’ll admit even this is a weak argument, new players could just as easily piss the points away on mining only to find they want to do PVP the next week.)
- Generates revenue for CCP which can be reinvested into the game. I know, I know… that’s not a guarantee but hypothetically more money for CCP through some transitive property means more money for EVE development.
- Interestingly, an infusion of SP may benefit intermediate players the most. Pilots who have 10 million or more skill points and know the ropes could intelligently invest their SP so they can fly with more advanced fleets. If you’ve taken a liking to logi but you can’t fly a Guardian or Oneiros you could get left out of fleets. If you’re willing to accept the additional risk, it may be prudent to jumpstart that training plan so you can roll with the big boys on an expedited timeframe. The same could be said for experienced but not advanced pilots who want to try out wormhole exploration. There’s a specific subset of skills needed to succeed there, intelligent players could focus their SP and open another area of content without the drudgery of training up for it.
- Older players get screwed – if you’ve been playing for 5 years this con is probably enough to scuttle the whole idea. You earned the right to fly Dreads and Caps, why should some punk with 6 months on his clone get to stand with you in capital fights?
- Newer players up the ante in their level of failure. I’m sure it wouldn’t be long before some misguided noob exclaims that they spent X obscene amount of dollars on PLEX to fly a Marauder only to lose it to a fleet of derptrons. That’s a guaranteed ragequit.
- The game is cheapened on a number of levels:
- Along the same lines as the first con, the sense of accomplishment from getting to fly a Tengu and training everything up makes you want to chase that feeling. This is cheapened when SP is for sale.
- Selling SP also encourages a “pay to win” model which cheapens a game for me considerably. If SP is sold wholesale and irresponsibly it will become a requirement to remain competitive in already brutal and unforgiving arenas like PVP.
- Eliminates the need to triage your skills – Given the amount of SP required to be elite in any one area of EVE (industry, PVP, etc.) you really need to have a character dedicated only to that. This encourages the use of alts. If you want to do industry and nullsec sov war, you really can’t do that on one account. If you can buy SP it reduces that need by allowing players to devise multi-role characters.
- Maintaining your skill queue isn’t a time sink – If you’re a busy adult with limited time to play EVE, I completely understand the rationale behind purchasing PLEX. You want to PVP and you don’t want to spend any of your limited gaming time generating income. You’ve got some cash so you trade money for time and get to focus on what you love about EVE. Perfectly reasonable. Given the very small amount of effort it takes to click and drag a skill to your queue that argument doesn’t really hold up as well with a PLEX for SP system. Yes, it takes time to train skills but it’s not active playing time. Your SP is generated passively and thus by PLEXing for SP you are trading money for time, but it’s not gameplay time.
I think the pros and cons list does a pretty good job of discrediting this idea as valid. But some of the most damning aspects of the cons could be mitigated or even eliminated if the PLEX for SP system was done in a prudent manner. Consider these scenarios:
Scenario 1 – Simple PLEX for SP
This is probably the first scenario that comes to mind when the suggestion of PLEX for SP is made. You buy a PLEX, right click it, and trade it in for X amount of SP. The immediate problem with this is if the value is fixed it will skew towards newer players. 50,000 SP is a huge boost in skills to a 3 month old player; with a 3 year old player, not so much. This may not actually prove to be that troublesome: generally newer players are poor, older players are rich. If you wanted to give yourself a 10% boost to your SP pool it follows that the older players could still do it, it would just cost far more ISK which presumably they have.
Of course the fact that not everyone relies on their in-game prowess to raise their wallet balance means that this scenario is ripe for abuse. It was once famously quipped in the EVE forums that if you let newbies inject 100 million skill points we’d see Titans dying to gate guns for all sorts of stupid reasons. The mere suggestion of this sort of thing amuses me, but also makes me angry. The badge of honor to “earn” the right to fly a certain hull shouldn’t be cheapened so easily. But hang on, steely veteran, there’s more than one way to skin the proverbial cat.
Scenario 2 – PLEX for SP but only for Newbros
Similar to the Cerebral Accelerator concept, this is a muted “pay to win” scenario where capsuleers under 10 million or so SP (arbitrary number) can trade in PLEX for SP as a way to help them jump start whatever sort of career they’re interested in pursuing. This scenario may have a positive impact on new player retention. The more eager newcomers can be a bit more competitive in PVP or industry by buying a few spurts of SP to knock out the basic skills first before diving into a specialization. Further, the advantage given to credit card capsuleers is not so great that it puts the players who like to “earn their SP” at an insurmountable disadvantage.
Scenario 2 probably isn’t impactful enough to EVE to really seriously consider since the Cerebral Accelerator basically does the same thing: generate revenue for CCP and help out new players. But the possibility of a new revenue stream for CCP may make it worth it.
Scenario 3 – PLEX for SP but it Scales
Similar to the vanilla Scenario 1 but in this case the amount of SP you redeem when cashing in a PLEX is proportional to your current SP amount. The advantage of scaling is that it opens up the PLEX for SP system to all levels of experience.
However, this scenario probably would have the greatest impact on the cost of PLEX. If you have the ability to supercharge your skills without any limit and you have the ISK on hand, you’d almost HAVE to empty out your wallet to stay competitive with other serious players. You also have rich brats spending a week with the game and losing Capital Ships and rage quitting. I’d say Scenario 3 is the worst of the pack.
Scenario 4 – One of the Above with a Time Constraint
So if runaway PLEX for SP scenarios alienate everyone and wreak havoc on the markets should we dismiss them and be done with it? Probably, but let’s complicate the scenarios above with a time constraint: only X PLEX can be redeemed for SP in a given period (like a year or so). That way, you don’t have maxed out toons running around with a quadrillion SP but you still have a system where you can jumpstart your training in a few areas and you get that thrill of ticking off a few long term skills in one click.
But what ultimately are we gaining here? Not much. It’s a money sink for players and it’s possibly more revenue for CCP in the form of increased PLEX purchases. It’s likely something like a 10% yearly boost to your skills would quickly be made a corp/alliance requirement in null and anyone independent but with a few billion in their wallet would likely want in on the action as well. At this point you’re controlling the negative effects somewhat but at the expense of devaluing SP and increasing the “pay to win” model.
Thank You… for Telling Me Something I Already Knew
So you read through all this and there’s no “a-ha!” moment at the end where I think claim that I’ve figured it all out. I’m disappointed too, but like I said I prefer to take a closer look before dismissing the matter offhand. Right now, I feel like the SP system is very one-dimensional. You can modify somewhat the rate at which you accumulate SP via implants and remaps but ultimately it’s purely a factor of time. ISK has time as one factor for its generation but time is hardly the only part of that equation. Why can’t skill points be the same? Epic mission arcs that give you SP boosts in certain careers? Super rare NPC loot that can be traded for SP? There have to be responsible ways to incorporate SP into more of the game. Unfortunately, the only thing I can say at this point is that PLEX for SP is not the way to do it.