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Massively multiplayer games, on the face of it, should be places where we would see many types of asynchronous gameplay. You have players returning to the same world repeatedly and frequently, often with friends, to consume varying difficulties and types of content over a long period of time, after all. But some games work hard to cater to more casual players, or players who play alone, and for other reasons may offer content that keeps a player from having to return to the game frequently to advance. EVE Online stands apart from many MMOs in that it has several gameplay systems that support asynchronous play, systems that make its single-shard online world an interesting place.
Many of EVE Online's gameplay systems also run in real time, including its most important system of character progression. Unlike classical MMOs, characters in EVE don't have levels. There are no classes to speak of in the game. Instead, characters are primarily defined by their skill points which accrue in real time whether the player is logged in or not as long as the character is training a skill. The player's skills determine what they can do in the game, so keeping the character's skill queue full is vital.
There are two ways a character can actually lose ground or regress. The first is if the player is pod-killed while they have more skill points than the maximum point amount of the clone they have most recently purchased to fall back to upon death. The second is if they are flying a special Tier 3 spaceship and that ship is destroyed, which will randomly downgrade them one skill level in one of a set of subsystem skills the ship requires.
The Almighty ISK
The much-vaunted economy of EVE is so complex that the developer, CCP, has an economist on the payroll to analyze market data and information and give quarterly reports on the health and status of the commercial sphere of the game. On a more micro level, the game supports buy orders, sell orders, and contracts of varying types between players and/or player corporations of varying time limits. This allows the round-the-clock game world to see goods and material move quickly and earn money for those bold, fortunate, or lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time with the right goods or services for sale.
A more recent addition to EVE, the Planetary Interaction (PI) system, is heavily asynchronous. Players build their own land-based resource extraction, processing, and transportation systems which run in real time. Goods can be stored or launched on demand for pickup at orbiting customs offices for transport to other planets for further processing or combination with other materials, directly to market, or perhaps to help fuel a corporation's player-owned station or starbase.
Building A Better Tomorrow
Manufacturing and Research & Development also run in real-time and can be performed either at NPC stations or at specialty modules attached to player-owned stations. While a skilled industrialist is out mining or shopping for new materials their manufacturing, blueprint copying, or blueprint improvement operations can continue at any number of space stations simultaneously -- if they have the skills to support those job types.
Invention is another real-time activity that offers the skilled industrialist player a way to create materials or items with special abilities or properties for use by combat or industrial pilots. Research Agents are NPCs which enable this process by generating research points in specific engineering or scientific disciplines in real time that characters can cash in for Datacores to be used in the invention process. While the invention process is similar to manufacturing, the generation of the research points is passive and happens asynchronously, so the player can do other tasks while that happens.
The Player Corporation is the smallest semi-permanent social construct in the game. Fleets are more ephemeral, akin to a party in other games, but the Corp sets a tax rate, may offer shares to its members, and Corps can band together into an Alliance, allowing pilots of different specializations to work together. The single-shard nature of EVE makes corporations, especially large ones, capable of highly asynchronous, around-the-clock operations. While pilots from one continent sleep, those from another could be active in the corporation, driving the goals of the CEO and his trusted officers, and their own as well, forward.
No discussion of the all-important war declaration feature of EVE is complete without knowledge of EVE's security ratings. While the game universe of over 5400 star systems is divided into three areas of space -- high security (highsec), low security (lowsec), and 0.0 (nullsec) -- most players spend their time in highsec. Highsec players will be swiftly avenged by the Concord security forces if fired upon, and the standings penalties for aggression are severe. Lowsec players won't be attacked by Concord, but some standings penalties for attacks still exist. Nullsec players are in truly lawless space -- they can attack anyone they wish with no standings penalty or intervention of Concord whatsoever. All of these areas range across the four empires of Amarr, Caldari, Gallente, and Minmatar, and the rules change when one Corp or Alliance declares war on another.
This Means War
The declaration of war is a form of state-sanctioned aggression where one Corporation or Alliance pays a weekly fee for the ability to freely attack and destroy members and facilities owned by a target Corporation or Alliance. The war goes on as long as the fee is renewed weekly, and runs around the clock day or night, whether members of a target corporation approve or not. Fleeing a war is generally not possible without also leaving your Corp and all of its benefits and assets behind, and war is generally seen as the primary economic driver and money-sink of the game. Ships are destroyed, munitions expended, and player owned stations crushed, and the victors will need to rebuild and replace the losses.
Long Term Potential
While EVE's gameplay systems look to be a recipe for a game that can offer some serious longevity for the same character to shift gears and participate in a variety of activities without having to start over with an "alt", it offers players with varying amounts of time to invest some asynchronous gameplay options so they can remain active and contribute to a Corp or participate in the broader marketplace without needing to stay online all the time and monitor activities in real time.