Zen PvP, or How to Learn to Love Risk

Let’s talk about risk aversion. First, go read Azual Skoll’s interesting thoughts in The Altruist: Risk.

Here’s the core issue from that post:

Most eve PVPers are naturally quite risk averse, myself included. Nobody likes to lose, and when we’re offered the choice between taking a risk and making a relatively small change which would eliminate that risk, it’s only natural that most people choose the latter. …We rationalise it as common sense – why would we risk losing when we could win? Fighting fair is, after all, not what eve is about.

However in my experience, some of the best fights come when we put ourselves in a high risk situation and come out ahead. By avoiding fights where there is a risk of losing, are we in fact cheating ourselves out of our own enjoyment?

I love this. This is something I’ve thought a lot about since I first started playing this game and consuming its player-made lore. Which shouldn’t surprise anyone who read my “Ten Keys to Breaking into Your Killboard’s Top 10″. As a reminder, here was key number four:

4) Die. A Lot.

My attitude is that every ship I dock up is an unexpected gift. When you undock a ship, count it as lost but on loan. Make losing ships a goal. In addition to regularly being in the top twenty or so killers, I am also a regular member of the top losers club. But I mostly lose rifters on solo roams, so my ISK ratio is nearly always between 90 and 95%. Go find the stats portion of your alliance or corp’s killboard now. If you have serious PvPers in your group, you will likely see some folks in the top ten losers group who are also top ten killers. Kills cost losses. Learning costs losses. Rewards follow risks. Want to get good? Go lose some ships. In bonsai (Japanese art of training trees into miniature works of art) they say you have not begun to know what you are doing until you have killed 100 trees. And Malcolm Gladwell says in Outliers that it takes about ten thousand hours of doing something to become an expert at it. Start your ten-thousand-hour journey to PvP mastery by buying cheap PvP ships ten at time and get going. You have a lot of ships to lose.

So here’s my from-the-mouth-of-noobs wisdom for you today: risk is arbitrarily determined by your attitude, so you can become more powerful by an act of sheer will.

What do I mean? Just decide to not care. This is Zen PvP. Let go of your desire to not lose your ship, and you will increase your power over your opponents. This is especially true on the fleet/corp/alliance level, but also works on the individual level.

Some say market economics are essentially driven by two emotions: greed and fear. Ruthlessly purge yourself of these emotions and you can have an advantage over those who are still driven by them. Arbitrarily decide that you want to lose your ship, rather than preserve it. Set a goal for number of hulls lost this month and do your best to hit it. Embrace death with laughter.

There are two parts to this. First, you have to defeat your animal instinct to not want to die. You are, after all, immortal. Who cares if you “die”? You know this intellectually, but you have root level responses built into the “lizard brain” that sits at the heart of your nervous system, and it fights this notion. Yes, even in a game.

It’s more than just a fear of death thing. Through extension, it’s also all about fear of shame, fear of defeat, fear of loss of face, and a desire to be high in the pecking order. The ape that gets bested by the other ape has a lower chance of mating and reproducing, so your animal instincts don’t want to “lose”, no matter what the activity.

Let go of that.

The second part is more complex, because it operates at a slightly higher part of your mind. Your rational mind says, “Yeah, I’m immortal, but my ISK isn’t infinite.” In Eve, everyone says, death has consequences.

Eve is, essentially, a game of consequences. What you do matters. The fights big alliances get into have long-term consequences on the map. Becuase this game is not sharded, we are all participating in the writing of a single (albeit complex), permanent history. The Goons beat Bob. That happened. Not just to a few people on a single server. It happened to our universe. We all know about it, and future players will too. Even the smallest industrialist is contributing in a meaningful way to the overall economy, warfare and history of New Eden with every unit of ammunition that rolls off their manufacturing line. Every ship that is lost comes from the aggregate economic efforts of numerous players. And on a personal level, when you go boom, the personal cost of that loss is calculable in terms of minutes and hours of ratting, mining, trading, salvaging, scamming and grinding, or else in terms of real world currency converted to PLEX. Loss is meaningful, and that makes the game enjoyable. If losses don’t mean anything, then neither do victories. It’s why I don’t play any other MMO.

So how do you let go of that?

Well, here’s the thing: your brain is (probably) wired to overestimate the cost of risky behavior. I say probably, because there is a minority of the human race that seems predisposed to more risky behavior. Daredevils, Darwin Award candidates, fools. Also, entrepreneurs, pioneers, trailblazers, and doers of great things.

I say this as an ADD-riddled successful entrepreneur. And by “successful” I mean that those of my crazy ideas that worked were so profitable that they overwhelmingly made up for all of the hairbrained things I thought of that crashed and burned, or that never even got off the launchpad.

The secret to understanding your built-in risk assessment instincts, if you are not already one of those crazy people that is attracted to risk, is to realize that just one, single successful risk-taking action can wipe clean the cost of a long string of failures.

The great Eve PvP stories are the ones that early on involve someone deciding to do something that we all know is stupid. They attack an “obvious” bait ship. They take on a much more powerful ship in their smaller ship. And then they do amazing things.

But the thing is, these stories are not the norm. Most of the time, the people who have these stories to tell also have many, many more stories which start the same, but end in a more expected manner. The ship was a bait ship and its friends jumped through the gate and slaughtered them. Or they got further confirmation that, yes, their smaller ship generally doesn’t do better against the enemy’s larger ship. They welp their fleet.

But if you keep on taking against-the-odds PvP risks, you eventually hit the lottery. Only the odds are much better than an actual lottery. Because the other pilots out there do dumb things all the time. You are not playing against perfectly rational actors with perfect knowledge. There is a ton of assymetry in this game. And you can lose a dozen assault frigs doing stupid things and in the end come out with one badass kill that you will be describing to friends for a year or more.

Also, you are accelerating your learning curve. World Chess Champion Bobby Fisher famously said, “The only thing you learn from playing weakies is how to beat weakies.” In Eve, the main thing you learn by taking on easy fights is how to win easy fights. Play up. Take risks. And every time you lose some ISK (but not pride, because you’ve let go of that illusion, right?) in a fight gone wrong, you have the opportunity to learn and get better. And faster than the person you fought. It’s assymetrical. You are learning more from the transaction than they are. If it helps, think of it as spending isk to increase your real-world skill, which will save you isk in the long run.

Finally, you have to take fun into account. It’s why you play, right? So that fun has economic value. Let me put it this way: how much isk would you pay to have an amazing story to brag about? Or what would you pay for the thrill of taking down a low-odds big-ticket target? Put a number on it. Now subtract that from the isk you are risking losing and call it the price of fun.

At the alliance level, this can become way more powerful. Any corp or alliance that decides to use a different value system than the rest of the groups in the game will have an advantage. Goons did this. Early on they eschewed the all-mighty kill ratio as a valid measure of worth, and it made their noob-piloted hero rifters into a powerful weapon. Because they didn’t care about something that their enemies did, they could gleefully toss it away to achieve more meaningful strategic objectives.

Anyone can do this. It’s just a decision. Most people have a default value system that is drawn from the people and culture around them. But you can just decide to consciously reject it. High kill ratios. ISK efficiency targets. Avoiding LOLfits. Holding sov. Just pick something that everyone just knows is important, and give it the finger. It will make you powerful because you are magically changing the risk side of the risk/reward ratio.

So decide to take risks. Laugh at convention. Test common knowledge. Dare to be something more than average. Rewrite the wisdom of the day. And have fun doing it. In Eve, and in life.

 

 

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8 Comments

  • Butterball says:

    Enjoying the blog Reverend keep it up =)

  • Fuzzysteve says:

    Great article. I’m working up a PvP alt myself, and this was the hurdle I had to get over. Lost ships, haven’t killed anything yet, but I’m having fun :)

    • Reverend Mak says:

      Awesome! Keep at it! You’ll get your first kill soon enough.

      If you aren’t already, then consider finding some more experienced pilots to fly with. To add to what I wrote earlier, in the world of serious competitve chess, one rule of thumb some use is to try to play games against opponents that beat you about 3 out of 4 games. If you are winning more often, you’re not learning much, but if you are winning a lot less often than that, then you are in danger of discouragement that leads to just not playing at all.

      Now, I think in Eve PvP the ratio is different (maybe losing 9 in 10 fights?), but the principle is still the same: find ways to make it enjoyable, not discouraging, while still being very challenging.

      Above all else, though, you say you’re having fun now, so you’re doing it right. :)

  • Arydanika says:

    Excellent post. Very well written for an evil IRC guy.

  • vasta says:

    I think this can be summed up with: “Difficulties are meant to rouse, not discourage. The human spirit is to grow strong by conflict.” by William E. Channing (1780-1842)

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