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Eve Online’s community erupts over mysterious NPC attacks and new ‘pay-to-win’ DLC

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NPC launches major attack while developer apologizes for perceived pay-to-win content

A Drifter fleet, captured in-game by a player in Eve Online.
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The Eve Online community is up in arms this week for two distinctly different reasons.

An unprecedented military campaign by a non-player faction has disrupted the game world, while developers at CCP Games are apologizing for a botched bit of downloadable content that many in the community felt introduced new “pay-to-win” booster packs.

The Drifters

As reported by PC Gamer, the Drifter faction launched a surprise attack against players throughout the Eve galaxy this week. Massive flotillas of AI-controlled ships have ventured into the contested space known as the “nulsec” region. Usually the venue for small player-versus-player skirmishes and more massive regional wars, nulsec is mostly free from major NPC interference.

All that changed starting Wednesday, when multiple Drifter fleets showed up at locations all across the galaxy of New Eden. The Imperium, one of the game’s largest player-led factions, was forced to call off an ongoing offensive involving tens of thousands of players to defend its own turf.

The Imperium’s leader, Alex “The Mittani” Gianturco, sounded the alarm yesterday. His official message to the fleet? “Pack your shit and prepare to withdraw.”

In a statement on Twitter, Gianturco seems unhappy about the situation.

“We are annoyed that we have had to stop our player-vs-player warfare and grind through what amounts to World of Warcraft-style raid content,” Gianturco said, “but we have already broken down how the Drifter AI works and have successfully defended all of our structures thus far — I look forward to going back to real player vs player content, which is why I quit WoW for Eve in the first place.”

While The Imperium seems to have been able to shore up its defenses, other factions aren’t having as much luck. Several notable kills have been tallied by Drifter fleets, including one truly expensive supercarrier. Multiple keepstars — expensive, player-built fortifications — are also under siege.

No one knows what the Drifters’ plans are. CCP itself is being coy about the situation. Reached for comment, they told Polygon that they were unable to contact the alien faction for more information.

“Their movements are as inscrutable to me as they are to you right now,” said George Kelion, senior communications manager, also known as CCP Grendel to the Eve community. “We did intercept this image from them, although we don’t believe it to be of Drifter origin. We think they’ve been passing it around among each other… kind of like a meme, I suppose? When it comes to the Drifters, it’s honestly hard to ascribe a discernible motivation to their actions.”

The DLC

While unable to speak to the alien’s motivations, Kelion was able to comment on an ongoing controversy involving a new batch of downloadable content.

Eve online has long suffered from a, shall we say, challenging learning curve. Part of the issue is the community, whose cutthroat attitude is often seen as a feature, not a bug. But the larger hurdle is in the game’s mechanics themselves, which involve spending a lot of time sort of waiting around for your character to get better at their skills.

It should come as no surprise, then, that CCP is interested in speeding up that process and getting its hooks deeper into new players. That’s especially true after the game shifted to a free-to-play model a few years back. CCP recently began offering a new starter pack for $4.99 that includes, among other things, one million “Skill Points.”

Trouble is, that pack isn’t just available to new players. It’s available to everyone, so players felt obligated to pick the pack up just to keep pace with their in-game adversaries. CCP has now apologized for the change in how skill points can be earned or purchased.

“We’re very aware of the community’s concerns regarding ‘pay to win’ mentality and microtransactions that would take Eve in that direction,” said senior community manager Paul Elsy, also known as CCP Grendel. “Let me be abundantly clear that this is not the intention.”

Elsy says the starter pack will be sticking around, but in the future it will only be available to new players. The goal, he explained, is to improve on the 4.09 percent of new players who actually stuck with the game after 30 days in the first quarter of 2019.

“We’re working on moving this pack to be part of our contextual offers that are sent to those who create new accounts and are classified as new players,” Grendel said. “This means that soon the pack won’t be available to the wider community [...] This will remove the option to buy the pack unless it’s presented to you as you go through [your introduction to the game].”

Curious, though, that CCP appears to have started an in-game war around the same time that its player base was grousing about the starter pack. Could this be a case of the tail wagging the dog? Did the Icelandic company simply gin up a war as a distraction?

“The Drifter activity and the issue with that DLC item are entirely separate and organized by different teams,” senior communications manager Kelion told Polygon. “With that pack, we wanted to experiment with our incentives for new players, but in our eagerness to get it out quickly we didn’t do a good enough job of checking with our stakeholders in the community like the [player-elected advisory board known as the] CSM. Hopefully that blog by CCP Falcon clears up some of the background behind this misstep.”

We’ll continue to follow the situation with the Drifters as it develops. For now, you can also check out CCP’s own in-fiction news broadcast describing the situation.