Over at Poetic Discourse there have been a series of good posts about how someone who has played a “themepark” game should approach playing EVE Online. I’d probably place a different emphasis on a few things, but overall I would have no hesitation to directing someone interested in EVE Online to go and read them.
I think one of the biggest differences between EVE and other MMOs I don’t think has been mentioned (as yet) anyway, and that is travelling. It takes time. The EVE universe is big, and there are no swift travel options.
I know someone who gave EVE a try, and what stopped him from playing wasn’t the pvp nature of the game, it was the size of the gameworld. Basically, he got lost. Several times. He didn’t like that it took time to travel from one part of the universe to others. My own MMO experience isn’t all that broad, but the more I thought about it the more I realised that this is one very critical difference between the EVE and non-EVE experience.
Take Lord of the Rings Online. There are swift travel routes between all sorts of primary and mission hubs. In addition to that every character has (at least) one milestone skill – more can be purchased. Also some classes (Hunters and Wardens) have class travel skills. Further travel skills can be unlocked after a reputation grind and each race also has a travel skill that can be equipped if the relevant deed has been completed.
In EVE there is one option for swift travel, and it is not so easy – Jump Clones. You leave your current clone in your current station, and jump into an already prepared clone in a different station – and cannot do so again for 24 hours. Of course, this being EVE your stuff does not travel with you, implants likewise. To actually get anywhere in a ship takes time – especially if you are moving large bulky cargo (memories of 5 freighter trips from Jarizza to Balle a few years ago still haunt me).
This lack of effective swift travel has two wonderful effects. Firstly, it makes the universe seem big. Middle-Earth and Azeroth, by comparison, usually feel small. I think it is no accident that my favourite region in LOTRO is Forochel, a region that is simply huge where it frequently takes time to get from one place to another (though swift travel does creep in).
Secondly, and more importantly, it allows different regions to create their own communities. To be sure, the time travelling from one region to another is not the only cause of this, but it is integral. Most people tend not to move far from their “base” unless they have good reason. Oh, they might make a trip to Jita to pick something up, or go on a roam, or join a fleet action, but most people tend to centre themselves, even in nullsec, around a system or constellation, or other small area.
When one logs in frequently to the same system or systems in hisec, over an extended period of time, you get to have a sense of who the usual residents are. The same is broadly true for most other areas of space. In LOTRO, or WoW when I played that, I never had that same sense.
I suppose what I am saying that, in EVE, the time it takes to travel is one of the things that helps to give a certain system or area the designation of “home”, in a way I have yet to find in any other game I have played.