Eve Online's Difficulty - Is CCP making Eve easier?
In the comments of Poetic Stanziel's recent blog post, Reddit user RotoSequence argued that CCP was making Eve Online a much easier, gentler game to play. He raises a completely valid point that every Eve player should be concerned about: where do we draw the line between making game mechanics less cumbersome and making the game itself easier?
For example, let's take the recent changes to probe scanning included in the Odyssey expansion. Ask any wormhole-dweller or explorer how much time they spent scanning down signatures pre-Odyssey as opposed to post-Odyssey, and you'll be hard-pressed to find somebody who says they spend more time after the expansion than they did before. There's no doubt that CCP made probe scanning easier because they thought it was too difficult for new players to enter the scene with any level of competence and because they thought it was a cumbersome means to an end. Was this making the game easier, or was it allowing players to spend less time doing dismal activities and more time doing fun things?
Another prime example would be the introduction of the Crimewatch system with the Retribution expansion earlier this year, specifically the implementation of a weapons safety system for all pilots. With this feature, pilots in highsec can no longer be easily baited into accidentally firing upon another pilot, usually ending in the victim's destruction by either CONCORD or the baiting pilot. Again, we must ask the same question: was CCP making the game easier, or were they catering to the ignorance of a specific demographic of their playerbase?
Before answering these questions, we must first remember exactly what Eve Online is; Eve is a sandbox. A sandbox, by definition, allows players to create content for themselves by manipulating tools given to them by the developer. A major portion of the game is not only utilizing these tools to create content, but learning the nuances of each individual tool and mastering them. The game itself does not teach the players how to use these tools; the players must experiment with the tools repeatedly in order to learn their limitations and how they can be used.
To tie this into the topic at hand, both probe scanning and the Crimewatch system could be considered tools in the sandbox of Eve. In my humble opinion, the changes CCP pushed for probe scanning did not make the game easier, nor did it clash with the overall philosophy of the game; for lack of a better explanation, CCP was simply making a tool of the game less difficult and boring to use. Crimewatch and its accompanying weapon safety systems, however, is a feature that hand-holds the player and teaches them the CONCORD mechanics without forcing them to experience the mechanics first-hand. It's akin to telling a small child that the stove is hot, instead of letting him touch it and experience the heat (and its consequences) for himself.
In conclusion, making existing features less cumbersome and easier to manage isn't making the game any less sandbox-y or any less fun. The worst fallout surrounding Odyssey's probe scanning changes is the sheer volume of new players that will be forced to listen to bittervets tell the same old story about how "back in my day, we had to scan uphill in the snow to scan down a signature." However, creating tools that hand-hold new players instead of forcing them to learn about the game by interacting with the sandbox directly harms the philosophy that the playerbase is responsible for creating content. It's a fine line that needs to be drawn, and it's up to the playerbase to prevent CCP from implementing additional safety nets into the game.