This aphoristic statement, as originally formulated by Malcanis, says: "Whenever a mechanics change is proposed on behalf of ‘new players’, that change is always to the overwhelming advantage of richer, older players." It is such a nice and succinct formulation of the problem, which is inherent to the idea of an eternal subscription MMO, that I’m ashamed not to have thought of something like this myself. But then again, I’m so rarely succinct, it’s no wonder.

As stated, it is evidently true, and the reasons why it is so are fairly obvious. But let us pick those reasons apart to discuss possible loopholes…

This statement requires certain assumptions to work:

  1. In cases where the mechanics changes affect all players equally and impartially, mechanics changes are such that people with more resources available, (be that ISK, skillpoints, or social connections) can receive more benefit from the mechanics change. In cases where the mechanics changes explicitly only affect newly created characters, the older players can extract an advantage by creating new characters and using existing resources to bootstrap them.
  2. New players are in direct competition with older players. (Otherwise, the advantage would be meaningless, and the law itself would be pointless.)

In Eve, both these assumptions have historically been true, and I don’t remember any significant counterexamples.

The first assumption is the most well-founded — It is quite nontrivial to find a mechanics change actually beneficial to new players for which it would not be true. Simple mathematics prevents a situation where less resources is better,1 and while directly boosting newly created characters, older and more experienced players inevitably take advantage of the boost anyway.2

The second assumption is not quite so mathematically natural. It is commonly argued that there is a specialist ceiling for every fit, tactic and ship in Eve, where nobody can ever train anything else to improve their performance, and it’s down to player luck and skill3 from then on. This is certainly true, but this is also far less accessible than it appears. The earliest such moment for a PVP fit that I’ve been able to find takes at the very least 60 days or so to train for,4 and a player unaware of all Eve’s intricacies, having not decided on what he wants to do in Eve simply because he doesn’t know if he likes what there is to do, will probably not reach it anywhere that fast. Player retention is decided earlier than that.

Which means that up until a certain point, direct player competition is better off avoided, or at least, readily avoidable, if we want anything to benefit new players. Suggestions of this kind pop up with annoying regularity. Unfortunately, almost all of them advocate one or another kind of new player separation — mechanical, spatial, or as part of policy.

This is a very, very bad idea.

Mechanical separation of new players in the vein of "new players can’t be shot at/can’t shoot at others" or anything similar, really, bumps into the first assumption of Malcanis’ law and falls flat on it’s face, as old players will almost inevitably find a clever way to turn it to great advantage. Policy separation already exists to a certain degree. It’s hard to implement consistently and produces experiences that are not indicative of the rest of Eve life and culture.5 Spatial separation is actually the worst, because it will produce people who are unclear on what’s going on outside their closed new player pocket, are definitely not indoctrinated into the existing player culture, have little to no friends in the game,6 and older players can’t help them even if they wanted to, because they can’t go in.7

But there is another angle to attack that assumption from: We obviously conclude that if players don’t come in contact, they can’t compete.8 But we also assume that whenever they come in contact, they will compete.9 Which is not necessarily true.

That’s where the real loophole to Malcanis’ Law lies: If a mechanic change benefits new players by enabling the old players to cooperate with them, no overwhelming advantage to the old players occurs. Or rather, the old players who can cooperate get the advantage, while those who can’t, miss it. Well, tough luck.

The problem with making use of that loophole is that old players either don’t really need the very new players10 or don’t trust the very new players. The point of usefulness of a new player in a veteran’s game starts later than the trial period ends, no earlier than about 3 million SP mark or thereabout if you specialise from the start, and the decision to stay for good or leave is made soon after the end of the first paid month at the very latest. The most common minimum SP watermark to be included in the big boy’s games is 5 million SP. I distinctly remember metrics being cited, which state that the people who stayed signed up for three months hardly ever leave. That, actually, is exactly 5 million SP — at an average of 2400 SP/hour. Which, I suppose, is no coincidence at all.

Therefore, a measure to improve new player retention that avoids Malcanis’ law has to have the following properties:

  1. It must make a player with about 1 million SP (or better yet, 400k SP) useful in the big boys’s games and essential to provide an advantage over the big boys who don’t do that.
  2. That usefulness must apply to a new player, but not to a freshly created alt. The most obvious way this can be done is to make large groups of new players required to make use of the advantage, numbers impractical to multibox.

But I’m afraid that at that point, I’m mostly out of ideas.11 Any thoughts?

  1. Exceptions that I can think of right now are all structurally equivalent to a progressive tax in some form. This sort of thing is sometimes suggested concerning nullsec sov. Imagine the absolutely epic whine implementing something like this will cause.

  2. Remember Cerebral Accelerator?

  3. And numbers, but let’s set those aside for now.

  4. Less for a noncombat profession, but noncombat professions in Eve are typically quite solitary. With implants and everything, it’s 50 days to get every significant skill affecting a particular frigate PVP fit of mine to 4.

  5. Existing policy is already slightly problematic. Suppose you’re a three day old character, and someone canflips you in a newbie system while you’re trying to mine up some ISK to get a better ship. So you petition them. The petition is answered, so you keep going, thinking it will always be like this… only it won’t. Unpleasant and nasty surprise when it happens again, isn’t it.

  6. In any game where such new player reservations exist, the final quest to leave it is almost always to be completed alone, isn’t it? That goes back all the way to MUDs, which typically never had a population high enough to have more than one player join at the same time.

  7. Something of the sort went on in SL for a while, and it was a major pain in the posterior.

  8. Which, in Eve, is actually wrong, as long as player market exists.

  9. Actually, a random idea: How about a tutorial mission where two newborns have to duel? That’d be so useful. People who have ‘tasted blood’, so to speak, would be considerably more likely to stay. It’d be hard to plug all the possible loopholes, but so worth it.

  10. After the buff to attack frigs, I worked out a very cheap fit that one could fly a few hours after creation and which would be useful — in swarms, as a point for heavier ships. We failed to get that off the ground, because the expense of effort involved in herding cats in suitable numbers to make good use of it looked so insurmountable that we just didn’t have the heart.

  11. Well, I have one, but it’s obviously bad. A specialised anti-capship weapon, that offers a 1% chance of destroying or crippling a capship upon use, destroys the user’s ship upon activation, can only be fitted on frigs and takes most of their CPU/PG. To make effective use of this, huge swarms would be needed, which would preclude multiboxing them all. But the downsides are obvious…