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Is Eve Online buckling under the weight of its massive set-piece battles? (update)

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Some are expressing anger, seasoned veterans are shrugging it off

Players clustered over the keepstar-class citadel at 9-4R.
CCP Games/Twitter

More players showed up to a fight in Eve Online than ever before earlier this week, making the siege at 9-4R the biggest battle in the game’s nearly 15-year history. But the game’s sub-par performance during the engagement has rubbed some in the Eve community the wrong way. Players are voicing their concerns, and asking that changes be made.

More than 6,000 capsuleers, as they’re called in the game’s fiction, showed up to do battle over a massive player-owned structure called a keepstar. As it normally does in these situations, CCP slowed down time to a snail’s pace in order to stabilize the game and make things easier on fleet commanders giving orders to their in-game factions.

But as the attacking force, led by Alex “The Mittani” Gianturco’s Imperium, began its attack, the game stopped responding as expected.

“Our entire strategy for the fight revolved around preparing to send wave after wave of carrier-based fighters — thousands of them — against the keepstar,” Gianturco told Polygon. “Days before the fight, we moved thousands of spare fighters into [position].”

Eve operates on a timer system, which makes certain parts of the gameworld eligible for attack only during narrow windows of time. As the keepstar’s timer rolled over, thousands of players were on hand waiting for the attacker’s next move. But over the next few hours, the game itself began to behave strangely.

“Due to the unpredictable server lag,” Gianturco said, “none of our carriers could launch new fighters after their first wave; the first wave of fighters went towards the keepstar, and in fact took almost three hours in real-time to arrive at the destination. We engaged the hostile fighter swarm as planned, but where we expected to eventually win a war of attrition, because we brought more fighters and carriers than the enemy, this plan failed as our first wave of fighters became our only wave of fighters.

“Needless to say the Imperium is disappointed by the outcome; no one wants to win or lose a battle because of the servers rather than honest (or dishonest!) warfare with a committed enemy.”

Other leaders shared similar experiences of the battle with Polygon.

“About 3,000 people feel like they ‘lost’ the fight due to the game mechanics not allowing them to perform every action flawlessly,” said a player who goes by the handle Elise Randolph, the leader of an in-game faction known as Pandemic Legion.

“While it is very frustrating, it does affect both parties and it is something that we fully expect. One of the biggest issues is that the meta for these fights (launching fighters, using [area-of-effect] damage and electronic counter measures) creates a ton of lag by itself. Over a thousand of the players were launching 10 times the regular number of controllable units — so you’re talking about a ton of physical objects on the actual grid. Eve gives you the ability to turn off the models for these things so the players’ computers don’t completely seize up, but when they take damage or are issued a command by the player the server has to work those as well.”

Capital ships clustered around a contested keepstar-class citadel at 9-4R. The Imperium said that server lag prevented thousands of fighters from being committed to the battle.
Nick ‘Weasel’ Frymet/Twitter

Some commenters on Reddit are sounding the alarm, making shrill demands and asserting that CCP should take action to shore up the game’s performance.

“Focus on your foundation,” wrote a Redditor who goes by the handle Wulkans. “I get that this is hard to do, but it is not an insurmountable task. We are a very loyal player base and we want to share this game with others. We can bring in more players, but they need to know the game is going to work to enjoy these fights. This was a really bad showing for the over 10,000 people [watching] on Twitch curious about Eve, who saw a game play experience that was far less than optimal. It’s not that TIDI [time dilation system] shouldn’t be a thing, it’s that when TIDI is engaged, we need the game to still actually work.”

But leaders, like those in the Imperium and Pandemic Legion, are taking a more measured approach. To hear them tell it, this is just par for the course.

“If a player was two or three years into the game and this was his first super-massive fight in Eve,” said Pandemic Legion’s Randolph, “it would probably rank as the worst experience in Eve for that player. For those of us who have played for over 10 years, it wouldn’t even crack top 10.

“I was chatting with The Mittani ... after the fight and he likened this to a fight that happened three years ago where his side suffered heavy losses in a scenario where they didn’t anticipate server load affecting their strategy. I reminded him that a week after that his side took the single biggest victory in Eve Online’s storied history: B-R5.

Eve Online is a game full of surprises.”

Polygon has reached out to CCP for comment.

The company recently revamped the system it uses to respond to large, player-led engagements. Called the “fleet fight notification tool,” it allows players to anonymously alert CCP to the time and place of massive battles so that the company can be on hand to intervene.

“We would like to remind pilots filing requests that more warning is better,” it said, “but this change should take a lot of the pain out of filing short notice notifications.”

This week’s contested structure is vulnerable again on Monday, Jan. 29. The Imperium has made no indication that they plan to assault it again. In fact, Gianturco says they’re pulling out.

“Our thousands of spare fighters will now be shipped back to our home region,” he said, “to reinforce our own keepstars.”

Update: CCP responded to Polygon, stating that it is committed to making improvements to Eve Online that will support massive, set-piece battles.