The computer game that's been holding my attention for awhile now is Eve Online, a space MMOG from Icelandic company CCP. It's a fascinating game full of spaceship combat, piracy, economics, and beautiful graphics.
There's a lot to say about Eve Online, but the primary thing that attracts me is that it's unique among MMOGs in relying on emergent gameplay. The scripted content is not very good, but the game mechanics are rich and well balanced. And all 115,000 players are tossed together in the same server to interact with each other. The result is complex politics, nuanced economics, and a lot of fun.

I've recently become a war profiteer. My corporation built a couple of space stations and controls a small territory in lawless 0.0 space. That's a big deal, few corps have done that. We have some guests who use our stations who recently heard a rumour that we were about to be attacked by a dreaded enemy alliance. Rather than risk losing everything our guests have decided to cut and run.

That's when I saw my opportunity to become a cold blooded merchant. Because they're leaving in a hurry, our guests have an urgent need to upgrade their engines and sell what they can't carry. So I've been filling the market need, selling parts to the fleeing pilots for 10x what they cost to make and buying their minerals for 1/10 their value. It's a ruthless sort of opportunism, but I'm the only one willing to take the risk so I set the prices. If I pull this off I'll triple my wealth; if my station gets taken over I'll end up losing about half. I'll know how it works out in a few days.

What's fantastic about this little story is that no one wrote it for us; it's all a natural consequence of the rich and complex game design. Players can build space stations, but they are at risk of being conquered by other players. Players can build wealth by mining minerals, but it's hard to haul minerals around. There's an open market where prices are set by other players. Put this all together and complexity emerges; in this case, my war profiteering.

That's just one small example; Eve is full of stories like this. It's a refreshing change from the entertaining but simplistic scripted gameplay of mainstream MMOGs like World of Warcraft. If you want to try it out, there's a 14 day free trial. It takes awhile to find the fun parts, so if you play for a few days but can't find anything enjoyable email me.

  2006-04-14 15:19 Z