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Paying to not play

I probably heard it somewhere else before, but one of the most interesting things about EVE Online is that this is a game that as much about not playing as it is playing.

I speak, of course, of the character advancement system that advances the character at the same rate regardless of whether I'm playing or not. Cue up a skill, and the only thing I need to do is remember to log in when that skill's timer is about up to switch to another skill. The only advancement-related reason to play past the character screen is to earn some ISK.

To an extent, this is a good thing. I played EVE Online so hard on Friday and Saturday that I needed a break from the game. My brother, too, reports that he woke up one morning with a startling lack of desire to play. EVE Online's advancement system gives me the freedom to go play another game for awhile and then come back with some new and interesting skills learned to play with. It seems like a genius advancement mechanic.

However, taking a long look forward, it seems no advancement mechanic is perfect. Basically, there's an irreconcilable difference between allowing new players to be competitive while having longstanding players be rewarded. A new player starts with 800,000 skill points (in the old days it was next to nothing) while established players may have tens of millions of skill points. Skill points in EVE are representative of the overall skills trained.

Such a massive difference indicates that I've a long, long way to go to be competitive with an established player. Consequently, it seems like the best thing for me to do is start on those "Learning" category skills, which are dedicated to increasing advancement speed, and max them all out. We're talking months of time spent simply skilling up Learning.

Looks like I'll be piloting a Cruiser for a long, long time. Unfortunately, there's simply not enough gameplay with my skills outside the Learning category to last that long. In other words, no matter how good of a player I am, I'll end up being bored with the skills I have long before I actually learn new ones.

So we've ended up where I begun: EVE Online is a game I subscribed to, yet will spend a lot of time not playing at all. In typical MMORPG fashion, the developers have put a massive time sink between me and the fun. However, in the specific case of EVE Online, there's not a damn thing I can do about it: you can't play harder or smarter to get those skills faster, all you can do is wait. At most, playing allows me to grind ISK, perhaps to to buy some attribute-boosting implants, for whatever good that brings (and assuming I don't lose them to a bored, 20-million-skill-point pirate).

Good thing I've a GameTap subscription. Fresh off my EVE Online binge, I instead spent my Sunday doing the last chapter of Sam & Max Season 2. At the end of the day, I finished Altered Beast (a terribly balanced but artistically interesting classic) and gave Hot Dog King a try.

You know, there's something oddly compelling about Hot Dog King... and I'm not talking about the comely polygons. Once you get past the misogynistic message ("to be competitive in the fast food business you should hire pretty girls and make them wear revealing bikinis as they mind the cash register, mop the floor, and prepare food") and crappy arcade mini-games (we now interrupt your restaurant sim for a terrible rendition of space invaders) there seems to be something resembling a surprisingly high-quality 3D simulated presentation of fast food chain management. I get the feel that the people who made this game liked making games, and am going to mess around with that a bit more when I get a chance.

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