Hello y'all… my name is Largely Irrelevant, and I am a pet-lover.
Phew… that sure feels good.
Ever since my early days in MU* and P&P RPGs, and through my time in CRPGs and MMO*, I've kept a fond spot for the critters.
Pets make for for cool player-toys and handy roleplay props, while GMs and writers can use them as crafty devices to steer back players on course in much less anvilicious ways than the insufferable NPC-in-party would allow.
[Featured articles linked at the end of this post]
Pets rock !
The appeal of semi-autonomous tools/toys/weapons/sidekicks is both obvious and subtle: pets extend the player's character reach, enable to probe and explore otherwise inaccessible or overly dangerous areas, and often are the ace up one's sleeve in combat, but just as importantly — if done right — they connect player characters to the environment and gameverse.
Pets are half-player, half-NPC by nature, and as such they can convey information and immersive clues a PC hardly could — without robbing the players from control over their in-game self, at least in part.
A pet can sense danger and refuse to advance further down a path way before players can spot the enemy, or rush for a waterhole after a long hike through desert terrain, leading you to feel your own character parched lips for a second… the list is endless.
They can also go horribly wrong in the blink of an eye if not kept on a short leash…
See what I did here ?
In computer games, and especially MMO*, pets have fantastic potential, but also open a huge can of worms, the kind that makes balancing PvP between ranged and melee characters look like a 'tie your shoes with your eyes open' sort of dare.
How pets are gained, lost, raised, healed, developed over time, their philosophical nature and the mathematical minutiae of their handling, all are nightmare fuel for designers and coders.
Make the pets too good, and their master player character soon vanishes behind its limited role as a remote-control interface for a CritterOfDoom™. Make the pet suck, and you'll see no end to the whine of people whose class is otherwise gimped to balance for a useless feat.
In short, pets in computer games, MMO especially, tend to file under awesome but impractical, and thus are often relegated to the vanity trinkets category, much like an epic mount that couldn't run and is afraid of crossing shallow creeks.
In EVE, believable pets are an exclusive of major 0.0 alliances, and mostly played in the metagame space. The closest to familiar critters we get would be with drones, the no-name, brain-damaged, cannon-fodder-lag-generating scourge of EVE.
Because I'm such a pet-lover, I still like drones quite a bit. In fact, my oldest EVE toon is/was a drone specialist, thanks to a happy coincidence of me rolling the toon based on the comical racial description for Intaki, and ending up with ridiculously high memory. Being a roleplayer and all, I figured it was a sign, and made my way to lvl 5 on every drone skill available over the years.
Even though they're about the simplest form of pet one can imagine, EVE drones share many of the qualities and liabilities of their kind: mainly, they clog the server pipes while failing repeatedly to do what they're supposed to.
Meanwhile, they steal player jobs by filling roles suited for light ships, and easily eat enough processor cycles and bandwidth to support another session or two, but to the difference of a player multi-boxing, they don't bring another subscription revenue in the coffers to make up for it.
Why CCP bothers with them at all would be a mystery, if not for the aforementioned fact that pets (and thus drones) are inherently desirable and cool — end of story.
Making a niche for droonies.
For all their misfortunes, drones are a long standing feature of the EVE arsenal, and they even are a defining element for one of the 4 main racial playstyles. Entire classes of ships, not just Gallente, and ranging from frigates to SuperCarriers™ are built around the purpose of carrying and deploying drones.
Although the entire drone interface and control scheme is in dire need of a serious makeover, the worst issues with drones are found on the side of capital and supercapital ships built as drone-boats, namely Carriers and SuperCarriers.
Defining the exact role of those ships and balancing them has always been problematic: being drone-centric, they are automatically gimped or overpowered in direct proportion to the drones they pack, and the most obvious ways to make drones useful overlap with roles that coulda-oughta-shoulda been filled by player pilots.
In the posts linked below, you'll find proposals to make a niche for droonies and drone boats (of capital and regular size), and to improve both the gameplay and relevance of drone-shepherds in ways that don't put frigates and cruisers pilots out of employment.
Everything Droonies: all the articles tagged as Droonies-related, to date.