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We will however never be a mainstream game and we have never intended to be so. We have a brutal and harsh universe and embrace PVP, and consciously live with the drawbacks of that decision as a cost of doing business. Your experience of being a miner attacked by a pirate a stellar example of such cost. Nevertheless, would EVE be so unique and growing if it didn't have such an extensive PVP system? I seriously doubt it
However, I can't agree with your estimation of the skill training system, time required to train to be proficient and the gap between experienced players. I'll go in to some basic details first so everyone reading is on the same page;
In EVE, a skill is trained off-line, each skill involving 5 levels, each level giving an additional cumulated benefit. Since we are talking about combat proficiency, lets take the Small Projectile Turret skill. It allows the Operation of small projectile turrets and gives a 5% Bonus to small projectile turret damage for each level trained, resulting in 25% bonus to damage at level 5.
The key here is to look at levels 1-4 and compare them to training from 4-5. Training from level 1-4 to get an accumulated bonus of 20% takes a day. Training from level 4-5 to get an accumulated bonus of 25% takes a bit more than 6 days. If I have a decent amount of learning skills trained and implants, these numbers would change to 3/4 of a day and 4 days respectively. I can shave more off with better learning skills, better implants and a character in a combat bloodline. I should also mention that advanced learning skills and implants were released considerably after launch, so older players are at a disadvantage, having spent more time achieving the level they are at today compared to the possible speed of a new player.
Therefore, the skill system inherently has a built in favoritism towards new players even though off-line skill training would seem to contradict that simply because you spend relatively more time achieving those extra percentages. Surely, a 2 year player will be better off in general than a 6 month player, but if you train wisely, fit for the occasion and position yourself well, you can have him running too.
Remember, you only need to train for about 5 months to get everything to level 4 which a 2 year character all has to level 5. If you want to advance to higher tech levels however, you start getting training prerequisites of level 5 in certain skills, which again requires you to start selecting what you want to specialize in.
I assume you the 3 years you mention are to train all those skills to level 5 and you are right, if you want to max out the skills, you will need something in that ballpark. But that also means you can use almost any ship and any module from any race in the game and be pretty damn good at it. Currently, nobody has that ability, EVE is only 30 months old.
I'd also like to point out a new feature coming up, which is called "Eye for an Eye" which I believe might help your situation. If someone kills you illegitemately, like you describe, you get an "Eye for an Eye" contract on him which allows you to shoot him down whenever you see him - once. I don't know if that is the kind of retribution you are looking for, but it might be.
Thanks for voicing your concerns, although I don't agree with some of them - but I hope I addressed them to some extent.
Nathan "Oveur" Richardsson
Senior Producer - EVE Online