Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Eve Online: The Tyranny of Skill Training

Eve's innovative real time skill training frees a player from the XP grind that accompanies most mmorpgs. At first glance this appears to be casual friendly but at the moment I find that EVE's skill training system is forcing me to schedule my life around the game.

If the first commandment of EVE is to "Never fly what you cannot afford to lose" then the second is "Always have a skill in training". The real time nature of skill training means there is no way to catch up on lost hours in which your character is not learning something. This creates significant pressure to log on and pop a new skill on every time one finishes.

It is not possible to queue skills and there are no out of game tools that will start skill training for you. You must launch the full game browser every time you wish to start a new skill. If a skill finishes at 3:00am then you have to get out of bed and log on to start a new one or else miss out on several hours of valuable training time. It can be particularly tricky to juggle EVE training with a regular work schedule.

Skills vary in training time from minutes all the way up to weeks and I am using the excellent EVEMon tool to try and juggle EVE training with real life commitments but it is still more intrusive than I am comfortable with.

I have seen several forum posters requesting the implementation of a training queue or similar approach to eliminate the need to log on but the fact that this hasn't been implemented in five years to date makes me think that it probably never will be. One of the counter arguments is the worry about AFK character farming: People training up characters with little or no user input just to sell them later.

I believe it gets better. Once I have a good base of short skills then I should be left with mainly long training time skills. If a skill takes six weeks to train I am not going to lose sleep over an hour or two turn around time.

EDIT: It has come to my attention that someone is selling a third party automated skill queueing tool for EVE. It looks like a legitimate commercial product but I could find no mention of it on the official EVE forums, not even a condemnation. There is a security worry about giving your password to a third party program and it probably contravenes the EULA. I won't link to it but if anyone has used a program like that I would be interested in hearing about your experiences.

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34 comments:

CrazyKinux said...

The reason you stated are exactly why CCP is reluctant to automate in any way, shape or form the current skill training process.

Once you've got a few skills trained to level 3 or 4, you'll be able to switch between them in order that they complete when you'll be in game.

After 3 years of training the same character, it isn't the problem it was at first.

CrazyKinux

mbp said...

Hi CK definitely looking forward to a time when I don't have to log on several times a day to start skills.

I notice that the CSM have put the skill queue issues back on the agenda and CCP have promised to "look into it".

Sara Pickell said...

I think even beyond people just queuing up a character for character sales, there is also the early lesson to be had. EVE does not reward bad planning. Ever.

Now it isn't going to actively punish you for missing that hour. But you lose time you'll never get back, just like in the real world. When you are playing EVE, it tends to be a valuable lesson. You will loose more through poor planning and use of time than you do from any form of PVP, at least early on.

mbp said...

Hi Sara, good point. Learning from your mistakes seems to be a big feature of EVE. I have to say that I personally don't see much virtue in learning through hardship. I've learned the lesson already, now just let me get on with my life. If ccp in its wisdom does decide to introduce a skill queuing mechanism I will cheer. Can't see it happening though, not after five years of resistance.

Robert said...

I ran into the same exact problem with work getting in the way.

My solution?

Install Eve at work and log in whenever I need to to change skills.

Seems to work great :)

mbp said...

Indeed Robert.

Of course I can think of two small obstacles:

1. How to convince my co-workers that EVE is actually a sophisticated business analysis package and not a video game.

2. How to avoid the temptation to play the game for "just a few minutes while no one is looking" when I log in at work to change a skill.

James Egan said...

I remember hating having to do this, the constant shepherding of my skill training. But like CrazyKinux and others have said, it certainly becomes less of an issue as you gain more skillpoints and progress to higher levels, higher ranked skills.

Pretty much there's always a long skill I can set now. Cruiser 5's always nice.

By the way, there are widgets that can remind you of when to change skills- not sure if that's of any use to you. The downside is that they may give a loud audio alert in Aura's voice "Skill training completed!" which would be difficult to explain to your boss.

mbp said...

Hi James, Coincidentally I have just kicked off my longest skill to date: Gunnery V. I can now relax from the grind of skill training for four whole days. Bliss.

syncaine said...

Don't just let Gunnery V run all the time. While you are at home, train the shorter stuff, and then put it back to Gunnery when you go to bed/work.

Again, just a case of planning ahead, something that a queue would trivialize.

Also, if you ever run out of useful stuff to train (not likely), remember that maxing out all the Learning skills is always recommended. The rank 3 Learning skills will keep you busy for a while if you put them up to lvl 4, and give you a good long while if you go all the way to lvl 5.

Relmstein said...

Would it be possible to just build a time cap into a skill queue? That way players can arrange something like 10 hours worth of training ahead of time. If they are learning longer skills then they'll only be able to queue one or two at a time.

I'm not an EVE Online player so I don't know the durations of most skills. The 10 hour number can be replaced with anything. The idea is just to allow players to queue up short skills in succession without having to constantly log back in.

mbp said...

Sound advice Syncaine, mind you I am using EVEMon to plan my skills and most of the shorter ones are done at this stage. Yup on the learning skills also - handy places to sink unplanned time. I am already up to level 3 on the rank 3 skills, rank 4 seems to be a point of diminishing returns according to EVEMon anyway.

Relmstein I am sure there are ways that EVE could implement simple limits like you suggest to eliminate skill queue abuse. For example an often quoted worry is the fact that people could let their subscription lapse and the skill queue would keep them training. A simple check on subscription status before starting the next skill in the queue would solve that.

Candy said...

so how much of a market would there be for a script capable of doing this for players? more importantly, would you guys pay say 5 dollars a copy?

AviInDub said...

re: changing skills at work

i use a laptop, and whenever i need to hop on to change a skill, i just make sure i am positioned so that nobody can look over my shoulder. no explanations to co-workers needed.

i generally have a lot going on at work, so the temptation to actually play at work is not really there for me.

its just that it destroys my concentration when i know i am losing training time, so being able to change skills at work actually increases my productivity!

PS: did you know this blog post was syndicated on massively.com?

mbp said...

Candy: There already is someone offering a tool for sale that does this. They are charging $20. I don't know how many copies they have sold but speaking personally I wouldn't buy an unofficial third party tool. In the first place it almost certainly contravenes the EULA and could get you banned. In the second place I wouldn't feel comfortable giving my account details and password to an unauthorised source.

Lol Aviindub - I am picturing you hiding in a corner at work laptop trying to log in to EVE discretely.

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Iiridayn said...

The easy solution is to just train skills part way, and pick them by duration. For instance, I have a number of skills at slightly over 8 hours available, as well as both longer and shorter ones - when at work or sleeping, I switch over to one of those shortly beforehand, and when I get back, I can switch to shorter ones. Similarly, I can keep some longer skills partially trained, so if I'm only away for 3-4 hours, and I have a skill that fits nicely, I can just pick that one instead of a longer one. Result is many partially trained skills - and no time wasted :).

mbp said...

Hello Iiridain, Sound like an excellent policy. I amn't playing EVE at the moment but I did notice that once I had been playing for a while and had a choice of long and short skills to train things became a lot easier.

Anonymous said...

== Proposed formula for the upcoming skill training queue ==

ISK_fee = skill_size * 10 + queued * 1000000

* "ISK_fee" is, obviously, the amount subtracted from the pilot's wallet for having a specific level of a skill appended to the skill training queue.

* "skill_size" is the skill points of the level to be trained.

* "queued" is the number of queued skills to be trained when you add the new one.


=== Some examples ===

* Spaceship Command is a rank 1 skill. Level 1 is 250 skill points (SP).
** As first skill in the queue: 1,002,500.00 ISK = 250 * 10 + 1 * 1000000

* Mining is a rank 1 skill. Level 3 is 8000 SP.
** As second skill in the queue: 2,080,000.00 ISK = 8000 * 10 + 2 * 1000000

* Anchoring is a rank 3 skill. Level 4 is 90510 SP.
** As third skill in the queue: 3,901,500.00 ISK = 90150 * 10 + 3 * 1000000

* Minmatar Battleship is a rank 8 skill. Level 5 is 2048000 SP.
** As forth skill in the queue: 24,480,000.00 ISK = 2048000 * 10 + 4 * 1000000


One complexity I perceive here is what happens to the original ISK_fee if a queued skill is then removed from the skill training queue before training of it was started. The seemingly most obvious solution is to have a memory of each item's ISK_fee, and refunding it if the skill is removed before training is started.

Actually, the only sensible option here is to clear the whole queue - refunding all the ISK_fee's contained in the queue. Otherwise you end up paying for deeper queue positions than needed.

Anonymous said...

== Proposed formula for the upcoming skill training queue ==

Refined a little ... Adding a skill queue to Eve's skill training system introduces one problem for CCP - Pilot farming becomes a lot easier to automate. The result will be more people will engaged in the practise, with the accompaning drop in money value of EBay'd pilots. I suspect this will be deemed unacceptable. There is a simple solution that can counteract this likely problem and at the same time make the use of a skill queue a service that still needs to be worked for.

Charge an ISK fee for each skill that is queued in it (Here's a possible starting rate):

ISK_fee = skill_size * 10 + queued * 1000000

* "ISK_fee" is, obviously, the amount subtracted from the pilot's wallet for having a specific level of a skill appended to the skill training queue.

* "skill_size" is the skill points of the level to be trained.

* "queued" is the number of queued skills to be trained when you add the new one.


=== An example ===

Say we have an existing skill, Minmatar Battleship level 3, in training. The skill training queue is empty, then add the following to the queue for later training:

* Trade is a rank 1 skill. Level 1 is 250 skill points (SP), requires this skill to have been previously started training.
** As first skill in the queue: 1,002,500.00 ISK = 250 * 10 + 1 * 1000000

* Mining is a rank 1 skill. Currently at level 2, level 3 is 8000 SP.
** As second skill in the queue: 2,080,000.00 ISK = 8000 * 10 + 2 * 1000000

* Anchoring is a rank 3 skill. Currently at level 2, level 3 is 24000 SP.
** As third skill in the queue: 3,240,000.00 ISK = 24000 * 10 + 3 * 1000000

* Anchoring will be at level 3, level 4 is 135765 SP.
** As forth skill in the queue: 5,357,650.00 ISK = 135765 * 10 + 4 * 1000000

* Minmatar Battleship is a rank 8 skill. Will be at level 3, level 4 is about 362040 SP.
** As fifth skill in the queue: 8,620,400.00 ISK = 362040 * 10 + 5 * 1000000

* Minmatar Battleship will be at level 4, level 5 is 2048000 SP.
** As sixth skill in the queue: 26,480,000.00 ISK = 2048000 * 10 + 6 * 1000000


There is a complexity in providing the correct skill level to be inserted in the queue depending on what levels are already queued or in training.

Another complexity I perceive here is what happens to the original ISK_fee if a queued skill is then removed from the skill training queue before training of it was started. The seemingly most obvious solution is to have a memory of each item's ISK_fee, and refunding it if the skill is removed before training is started.

Actually, the only sensible option here is to clear the whole queue - refunding all the ISK_fee's contained in the queue. Otherwise you end up paying for deeper queue positions than needed.

mbp said...

Wow you certainly put a lot of thought into that. I like the idea of having to pay to queue skills. That should deter abuse of the system (like afk character farming. I haven't played EVE for a while so I am not up to speed on the latest developments. Do you think something like this will ever be implemented in the game?

Anonymous said...

Yep, the devs have started to whisper about one now. There is a lot more general desire for a queue now that ghost training is dead. The implementation maybe quite close, dunno really.

Going by previous dev opinions and the average spineless comments in the voting threads I'd prolly guess that CCP will just do the single backup skill idea, and live with the farming consequences. That will be enough to quiet the majority. Sad really, given the great opportunity here.

As for my solution. The general idea has been in the forums for a while now. It wasn't an overnight formulation nor was it originally my idea. Further reading - I'm Solbright btw.

Anonymous said...

The reason I ended up here is because 12 months ago CCP locked the forums to non-paying accounts. Since I wasn't paying for it, I put Eve out to pasture.

When I found out about the recent ghost training clobbering, alarm bells rang pretty loud. That had been an obvious itch for CCP and the calls for a skill queue weren't going away. I can see in CCP's mindset that the single backup skill idea fits in nicely as an alternative "gift" to ghost training.

So, I thought it was time to give this idea some more coverage, did a google, and everything pointed here.

Solbright

mbp said...

Hello Solbright. I made a blog post about your comment to bump it up to the first page. As far as I know Google and its ilk don't index comments and I thought your suggestion deserved more prominence.

Anonymous said...

Ah, good point, thanks for completing my task. :)

Anonymous said...

Well, CCP announced sooner than I expected.

It's a 24 hour queue with no balance to combat pilot farming. One presumes then that CCP aren't too worried about farming.

- The vast majority of players will be rejoicing.
- Pilot farming will rise. Good for subscriptions I guess.
- No help for long term breaks. Only option still is to quit the game. Bad for subscriptions.

mbp said...

Thanks for alerting me to that - I have made a post on the front page about it. It seems to me the proposed skill queue will benefit more casual players (who have are training short skills) but won't benefit players who are already training long skills at all.

Anonymous said...

Yup, Solbright at the mic again. :)

I'm happy enough with what they've done. It's way better than a single backup skill imho. Even that would have been prone to eating up the longer skills and leaving lots of < 24 hour skills in limbo.

Here's an excellent example of what has been happening even for long term players.

I've actually seen a screen shot of a pilot where the majority of skills were at a partial level, between 50% and 95% depending on rank and level. I didn't try to work out how many were within 24 hours of completion but there was a number of level 5 skills close to 100% completed.

Once this feature is released, the only management for regular players will be planning what will be happening the next night and setting a multi day skill if not going to be available for setting the queue up again the next night.

I can handle that if CCP can handle the extra farming.

Cheers,
Solbright

Anonymous said...

I'll make an observation on your commentary now:

I strongly reject the view, of supposed old-timers complaining that a queue is making gameplay too easy, as erroneous.

For a starters, skilling is not part of gameplay at all. There is no interaction with ingame functions other than logging in itself.

Secondly, we are paying for the skilling time with real money. X amount of dollars gets Y amount of skill training time.

Finally, it's not really old timers as such that are saying this sort of thing. It's the assholes that enjoy seeing others suffer.


Solbright

mbp said...

Hello again Solbright - I guess I shouldn't have tarred all experienced players with the same brush. There does seem to be a bit of an attitude though that "I went through the pain so you should too".

mbp said...

By the way Sol are you still actively playing? What are the reactions in game to the demise of BoB?

Anonymous said...

Nope. Haven't really played for well over two years. It's been less time in that the sub didn't run out till later. I've also been using lots of trials to track performance issues since then.

CCP have recently made another very important improvement. This was the primary reason I quit Eve. I simply couldn't play reliably with the screen freezing all the time. More of these fixes to come I hope as the client is not yet running entirely smoothly.

So, as far as politics go, I've virtually never paid any attention.

As for the "I went through the pain so you should too" attitude. If someone is saying that for real then they're assholes or have been suckered by assholes.

That sort of statement is only valid if it's a valuable lesson to be learned and is of befit to all that it be learnt. Otherwise it's a rather mean thing to say.

I guess there is one more explanation why someone might make up lame excuses for not wanting a skill queue. The Devs had repeatedly over the years said a queue would never happen. These disinterested types might be in a mindset that it's not going to change so just parrot what has been said a hundred times before. Again, suckered.

I'm not all the sympathetic towards these suckers as they have been a very annoying source of dialogue.


Solbright

Anonymous said...

And, btw, this is a huge bonus for farmers. The improved ability to manage many more pilots at the same time every day is scary to say the least. Not to mention more casual farmers can join in without having to work at it.

Anyone that thinks CCP are keeping a cap on pilot farmers with the 24 hour limit are not thinking through the problem very well. I can only presume CCP are happy with a cheapening pilot trade.


Solbright

Anonymous said...

Eve can que 24 hours of skills and simply put after you play the game and skill up your core to like 2 skills you can set a longer to train skill while you are away and simply pause it and place another skill over it while you are there. So hopefully this clears the air.

mbp said...

Hello @Anonymous. This post was written a long time ago (in a galaxy far ...etc) and back then EVE had no skill queue. You literally did have to get up at 3:00am in the morning to changeover skills if you weren't careful. The issue didn't affect veterans so much because they had lots of long skills to pad out their training queue train but it was a nuisance for newbies.