I must be feeling philosophical today. Brace yourselves.
Other recent blogger posts about their skill paths got me thinking about skill progression in EvE and the paths various pilots take. Now personally I'm more of a jack of all trades (yea I know, master of none). I'm more inclined to like the industrial side of EvE, since one of the things I like about MMOs (it's also a feature of a lot of RPGs and 4X games that I also like to play) is the ability to make your own gear. I realy had no problems adapting to eve's module system, but that's because I've played the game Stars! back in the day. So I'm heading mainly down the industrialist path in EvE.
This is not to say that I don't take the occasional side trip into combat land. For example I'm currently backfilling my gunnery support skills. And I suspect that I'll be on a combat skill kick for the next few months. This got me thinking about EvE, skill plans, wants vs needs, the effectivness of newbies in combat and all things related. Oh yea, running an alliance also realy messes with your plans.
One of the biggest problems EvE faces in recruiting pilots is the "we can never catch up with the older pilots in eve". This is at once true and false. As I pointed out, the current leader in the skill point race - Dr Caymus, is barely capable of flying a ship. If he fit an amarr battleship (which he can fly) he'd only be able to put frigate weaponry on it. This is because he's a research alt. So in that sense any 2 week old newbie can be a better combat pilot than the highest SP player in EvE. But the truth is that if a newbie tries to do the same role in combat as your average older player he will get owned so badly it will make concord look lazy. Therein lies the key to understanding EvE's skill progression system. Role. Unlike your traditional MMORPG, EvE does not lock you into a specific role at any one time. Your capabilities may be limited by your skill points but technicaly your role is not (in the macro sense).
You are able to do just about all things in eve a little bit within 2 weeks. Ok invention may be a bit of a stretch and you can forget about flying cap ships. But if you've got the isk and you get anchoring 1 gal industrial 1 and whatever skill allows you to make corporations, you could theoreticaly grab a small tower, ninja your way out to 0.0 and setup a small tower somewhere. If you manage to do it in an un-occupied system, you might even gain sovereingty 1 and become an EvE landholder. Now before you go out and do that, do try to remember that the odds of pulling even that off are limited but at least they are there. And once your pos establishes soveriegnty the odds of it lasting very long go way way way down.
But the truth is to be effective in a lot of eve roles you need to plan out your skills to get past certain levels and/or aquire certain skills. It is true that any pilot can contribute to an operation even a 1h old newbie. But the roles that the 1h old newbie can be effective at are realy restricted. Basicaly from the contribution point of view it's Scout and Tackle. There's no way you'll be DPS or Sniper or part of a special ops squadron. Being an industrialist realy starts once you get Production Efficiency 5. Being considered a real miner these days starts at the Retriever. This is not to say you don't learn about both professions before you hit those levels, but the truth is, you're still an apprentice industrialist or an apprentice miner before those points.
So in the macro point of view you start of as a scout/tackler/trader, then depending on your skill choices you can gravitate towards other roles slowly but surely. At certain points you can start saying that you are indeed a pilot that can accomplish that role. The thing is that in EvE you never loose your old roles, you can always pick up that old role and do it again (usualy much better than you could do it back in the day). As you aquire each role it simply becomes another tool in your swiss army knife of roles in EvE.
This is very un-like MMOs that try to hardcode the roles in place from level 1 and don't let you vary your role along the way much. Someone who starts in one of the healing classes for example can heal from day 1 and by the time they are 70/75/80 they are still a healing class. In most games you need to start a new character in order to play a different role. In EvE you simply switch skill trees a bit and go down another path, never loosing the capabilities of the previous path. For example although I am a Miner (Hulk) and an Industrialist, when I need a break, I simply break out my Cheetah and go hunting for hidden locations. I've got the scan times down to something acceptable and also I can exploit any site I run across. The thing is that having the explorer "role" unlocked for me also unlocks the "combat cov-ops" pilot role for me. As part of a gang I'd be ale to track down people trying to hide in safe spots. If of course I was flying a cov-ops ship armed with a recon launcher and with the right type of probes in my cargo hold.
This is one of the reasons EvE's mind set is very hard to get into for people coming from other MMOs. They say "we can never be as good as older players". The reality is that eve starts you out as one class and you can only unlock the other classes along the way. You get to choose your way but it'll still take time. This is not to say you can't contribute, but you need to be aware that your contribution will be limited to certain roles until you get some SP under your belt.
My advice to newbies? Choose the first role you want to unlock with care, you'll be with it for a bit before you unlock the next role within EvE on your personal development plan. But stick to your plan until you're effective enough in that role before switching roles.