Shrinking on the Vine | CCP Tests the Starvation Economy

2020-02-21

Header art by Redline XIII

CCP has started what they allude to as a ‘shortage phase’ in a recent dev blog aimed at “endeavoring towards a healthier mineral distribution through New Eden”—though it is, in a very real way, the beginning of a planned and intentional starvation economy.

To be clear, for those who haven’t been keeping up with the news of New Eden, this is only one of a series of changes in CCP’s self-declared Chaos Era—a new approach from the development teams characterized by abrupt and significant changes to the landscape or core elements of EVE. This has, so far, included new A.I. attacks on players and selective blackout of the local chat service through null security space to name two of the larger strokes. The latest manifestation is an aggressive, forced redistribution of ores and minerals in New Eden, including those found within moons.

Please also note that this falls very firmly into the category of an opinion piece, though I have done my best to declare my voice where I find it relevant and to otherwise strive for objectivity. I’ve rewritten this article three five times trying to make this as complete and objective an article as I can, and in this spirit I’ve broken the article into three subheadings covering:

  • The changes themselves
  • CCP’s stated and potential objectives
  • Likely outcome(s)

If you don’t care about the numbers because you’re not a miner or an economist, please feel free to skip to whatever heading most piques your interest.

Starving the Care Bears

I’ll jump straight into the numbers and the major talking points. Since December 17th New Eden has seen the following changes to ore distributions, in sum:

  • The complete removal of Veldspar and Spodumain from null sec asteroid belts
  • A massive thinning of the ore spawns in null sec ore anomalies
  • Re-spawn timers for null sec ore anomalies have been increased:
    • 1 hour for small asteroid clusters (was 20 minutes)
    • 2 hours for medium asteroid clusters (was 1 hour)
    • 3 hours for large asteroid clusters (was 2 hours)
  • Ore distribution changes in asteroid belts in all regions:
    • Null sec will see more Bistot, but less of nearly everything else
    • Low sec will see less of nearly every asteroid ore
    • High sec will see less Pyroxeres, Omber, and Kernite

The above represent a depletion of ores in areas of sovereign null sec of up to 90%, with pre- to post-change ore quantities sloping downwards harder than the 2020 Oscars television ratings.

Prior to the changes a large asteroid cluster spawned in sov null would have an expected total output of between 4.9 and 5.4 billion ISK gross sell value, sometimes higher; often much more after reprocessing. As of the change, the median value of the lot has fallen to an average just above 1.1 billion ISK sell value, and that’s being conservative.

Here are three recent scans of a small, medium, and large asteroid cluster taken in Delve (left-to-right, click to enlarge):

small ore anomaly medium asteroid cluster large asteroid cluster

With the gross reductions in the ore quantities for large, enormous, and colossal asteroid clusters and the longer re-spawn windows, in many cases it actually may very well be more lucrative for alliances to focus on hitting the colossals as a joint effort when they spawn and playing the re-spawn timers to effect while flipping back and forth between medium and large spawns to keep the median value of extracted ore at ~1 billion ISK per system per hour approximate constant output.

(The only way to raise this output being to have enough miners going at once that you clear the whole system in sweeps and hold timed fleets to run the next sweep.)

NB: These are extremely conservative estimations, and your observed results may vary greatly depending on where you are, what resources you have at hand, and the support you receive.

With the depletion and relative size left largely unchanged for these anomalies it means that Rorqual pilots have much more pre-planning and aligning to do to stay mobile, which may actually drive demand for pilots who can readily furbish Orcas and squads of Covetors to keep the sunk cost low and production humming with perhaps one on-grid Rorqual acting strictly as boosts and compression. This would also help to keep losses down in the event of a drop.

In regions where the capital umbrella is secure enough, and swift enough, to provide a modicum of safety for Rorquals to mine in relative peace the challenge will be the increased speed at which they clear anomalies. The time spent re-positioning and re-planning means that there may be a significant need for increased switching between which Rorquals are actively providing boosts and compression, while the barge & exhumers moving between them as they re position. The net effect being that pilots will spend as much time re-positioning as they do mining, which is no doubt part of the intended effects.

Selling the goods at major market also see adjustment when contemplated in review of last summer’s taxation and brokerage fee changes and many less-seasoned characters may find themselves facing a severe drought of diminishing returns. While for many experienced players, who will have trained the requisite skills to mitigate much of the tax change’s effects, the effects will be negligible. It is evident, though, that when dealing in the volume of ores which were previously coming out of null security space that to a coalition even a half of a percent in increase can mean a reduction in profits in the tens or hundreds of billions of ISK per month per member corporation. To say nothing of the effect on individual or small-scale players who are not supported by a behemoth logistical infrastructure such as that found in Delve.

Jin’taan points out in his video covering the changes in ore distribution that the changes have been overdue, and that the bottleneck in production wasn’t specifically the availability of rarer minerals existent only in null sec, but rather the inequitable distribution of available Mexallon in New Eden.

(It’s an excellent video, by the way. Go watch it.)

… To Starve the Tycoons

Definition: In economics the starvation economy is—for the nation states experiencing it—the least desirable place to be and the boon of every opportunistic democracy and dictatorship. It forces a nation into a condition of depleted inputs where their continued maintenance costs (food, infrastructure, health care, etc) far exceed the national ability to self-sustain, and where the only option is to seek aid from wealthier nations or face complete economic collapse. This is the real-world plight of modern-day Argentina, Greece, Venezuela, and Zimbabwe.

Forced austerity is the only real internal countermeasure to a starvation state, economically speaking, short of radical innovation or a hail-Mary discovery of valuable national resources, intellectual property, or process which can be licensed, leveraged, or sold to compensate for the national shortfall. However, in the global sense, any single nation or twenty encroaching on economic collapse wouldn’t represent a tidal shift unless one of those twenty nations were a wealthy nation.

That is, to say, representing in its holdings, trade, or relative position to the whole a significant weighting great enough to initiate effective movement in the capital.

In plain language: If you have fifty people at a table and five are rich, ten are middle-class, and twenty five are poor, any ten or twenty of the poor could die of starvation and it wouldn’t affect the amount of money at the table. But if one of the rich people at the table suddenly dies and takes his capital with him, the shift in the total amount of money at the table is significant.

The problem with the ore and mineral economy in New Eden to date has been that it has been nearly impossible to hit the entire table enough to make the rich guys flinch, to use the above example. The stockpiles held by EVE’s largest coalitions, by New Eden’s trillionaires, by market traders, and by industrial alliances have been large enough that they have been able to weather CCPs earlier attempts to effect change (largely through Rorqual nerfs) and insulate the market against the worst of the effects by sheer fiduciary fortitude.

In essence, the wealthiest financiers in EVE have been inadvertently (or perhaps intentionally) working in much the same fashion as the World Bank: collectively leveraging their wealthy members to insulate markets while taking advantage of the weaker players to generate additional monthly recurring revenue, compounded upon the excess inputs provided by an economy flush with highly manageable and plentiful resources. All the while holding some members (rental empires) in varying states of peaceable indentured servitude. This serves to reduce conflict and to shift the exercise of national force to maintaining the status quo, or changing the distribution of power in petty regional conflicts which are ultimately short-lived, one way or the other.

So how do you unbalance a system which has become inherently self-regulating and self-correcting?

Economic Blindness

I’m sure that this is something which CCP has been struggling with since Eyjolfur Gudmundsson (ex-CCP Dr. E) left staff. Dr E was the lead economist and head of analytics until his departure in mid-2014 to go run a university. Since his departure much of the economic management of EVE’s markets from CCP’s side has appeared to have a very reactionary quality. Nerfs or adjustments made in reaction to the unanticipated effects of new introductions and tangential changes.

The further we have got from 2014, the more haphazard and heavy-handed the adjustments have felt to the player base. This has led to an uncomfortable consensus where a not-insignificant number of players feel that CCP has been playing at a poorly-lit game of whack-a-mole in an effort to get an understanding of where things are breaking down.

Which leads us to the shortage phase of CCP’s new redistribution plan.

Attempting to Force us to Fight over Lunch Money

As stated by CCP, this move is aimed at “endeavoring towards a healthier mineral distribution through New Eden”. This, of course, starts with the assumption that the mineral distribution through New Eden is unhealthy. I would not disagree with this, and like Jin’taan I believe that a change of this magnitude has been warranted and overdue for some time. That said, I’m not entirely convinced that CCP has spent enough time thinking about why it was unhealthy in the first place, and whether or not the forced austerity will have the desired effect(s).

It has choked the production such that the inputs will dwindle and and market (at pace) should deplete itself and prices rise in pace with demand. On the face, this change may—provided it spans a sufficient duration—drain the market and the tycoons of their stockpiles and leech the market of overabundance as the big players try to insulate their interests.

If they try to insulate the market. That’s a mighty big ‘if’. See, the problem with forced austerity is that, short of deleting the actual values from people’s cargo holds, market orders, and wallets, you can’t force New Eden’s oligarchs to divest themselves of their gotten gains. You can’t force someone to sell in this virtual economy, or to keep the Engineering Complexes grinding out capitals if they don’t want to. They can just stop, hold on to what they have, and throw the ball right back in CCP’s court.

While CCP’s stated goals have been to shake up New Eden with the Chaos Era and to encourage conflict and larger wars, the economy feels like the wrong tool. It is less carrot-and-stick as it is trying to club someone with a live venomous snake; you’re just as likely to kill the snake as you are to have it swing back and bite you. We can always choose not to fight.

Whether CCP states it openly or not, it also bears noting that this feels like a sideways-swipe at the sprawl and hegemony of the capital meta, which goes something like: fax, fax, fax, fax, fax, fax, fax, fax, dreads, dreads, carriers, supers, titans.

Picking the Right Hill to Die On

Even if their shortage phase and redistribution go to plan and the market stockpiles are depleted, the things which made New Eden’s tycoons the magnates of wealth and power they are don’t deplete with the ores. Even if CCP deleted the wallets of every ISK trillionaire in EVE it wouldn’t have a lasting or significant impact—except possibly to drive players from the game. The people who are rich in New Eden are rich because they’ve gamed the game: they have mastered efficiencies, systematized wealth production, developed multiple streams of income, and mapped processes to make the process repeatable.

It might hinder Goonswarm to see their capital production curtailed by ore and mineral shortages, but redistributing ores to the periphery of the current power structures is only going to redraw the borders of those powers; it won’t destabilize the powers. Doing as has been done with salvage and making some types of salvage only available in specific regions of space would likewise only force a temporary inconvenience until a new equilibrium is set and trade resumes. Sure, there would be wars, but they would be short-lived and goal-oriented in the extreme.

The natural state of EVE and of the primary movers in New Eden is to return to a place of maximum surplus for minimal effort.  That’s capitalism, baby. Op success. Commit economic war and the wealthy stay wealthy. Aryth is dead. Long live Aryth.

I firmly believe there are no truly stupid people playing EVE (no matter what TISHU does to try and convince me otherwise), and that with such an incredibly high concentration of IT professionals playing this game, there’s a heavy, heavy, bent of laziness in the mix. It’s been said to the point of being a cliche that if you want something big, hard, and complicated done give it to a lazy person because they’ll find the laziest and most efficient way of doing it, and no one is lazier than a sysadmin.

Changing the mineral distribution of EVE isn’t likely to force any significant long-term change.

What it is likely to do, however, is to change how production happens and where, and how the capital meta recovers after those uncivilized, nasty, brutish, and short battles that are likely to occur while everything returns to equilibrium. I do believe that this is ultimately CCP’s unstated objective—to try and knock the top off of the ivory tower before the whole thing goes sideways. A thinning of the supercapital herd.

Another likely outcome is that areas which had previously been left fallow or to the hands of rental empires, because of the predilections of Aegis Sov, we are likely to see groups have the ability to attempt to take sovereign control of newly redistributed resources and concentrated pockets of wealth. I say ‘attempt’ specifically because aforementioned prime movers and their capital and supercapital umbrellas can simply steamroll anyone who has something they want.

If CCP is determined to make the economy the hill they want to die on, then I have only one piece of advice to give. It comes from the Melian Dialogue, a dramatization of the Siege of Melos in the Peloponnesian chronicles, c. 416 BC:

“The strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.”

In other words, “Might makes right.”

If you’re going to use a hammer, CCP… use a bigger hammer.

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Comments

  • Squinty McBlindy

    Problem: Capital and Supercapital proliferation.
    Cause: Rorquals being over-buffed to stupidity. Capitals and supers being able to be built in Citadels. No more vulnerable CCSA to defend and look after.
    Solution? Nerf minerals(!)
    CCP need to stop tinkering around the edges and address the actual problem which is Capitals themselves. Since they have been unable to even remotely balance these ship classes over the last decade, they may as well just removed them entirely.

    February 21, 2020 at 3:56 PM
    • Craig Stone Squinty McBlindy

      “Use. A. Bigger. Hammer.”

      February 21, 2020 at 4:36 PM
    • Caps and supers have been solutions looking for a problem ever since CCP decided to make sov warfare revolve around destroyers wielding persuasion-beams instead of nailing up or shooting down structures. If CCP want to keep capitals and/or supercaps around, they need to totally replace Fozziesov with something that involves hardfought assaults on actually-dangerous structures. This bullshit where sov is based on entosis links and even structure shoots can be done while kiting with supercarrier fighters or using invulnerable sniping Titans is just stupid. Back in the day, if you attacked a death-star POS with dreads, you were going to lose some dreads. If you got hotdropped, you might lose all the dreads.

      April 9, 2020 at 9:38 PM
  • General Aleksandr

    Looks like a Korean ideas and leadership wonna make our Eve a full donate game. this is absurd, CCP employees do not playing own game and always trying to realize a shit ideas. First it was a dam fatigue, then they nerfed jump range of all capital class vessels and put laggy Fozzie sov, now nerfed gravi anomalies spawn. CCP, stop or you will play this game alone with your NPC. Online will be dropped to 1000-2000 and with full of bots.
    if they will renove or greatly nefr bounties from NCP at any anomaly at any space except wh, a thousands of people will leave Eve. Not even anyone can pay with real money for the game.
    CCP, stop killing our game, stop eating heavy drugs and stop smoking narcotic grass.

    February 24, 2020 at 7:24 AM
  • Garreth Vlox

    Boy am I glad I quit after the first few months of this failed idiocy they call “Chaos” they just keep driving the game towards a pay real money to get isk or grind for hours for peanuts approach

    March 1, 2020 at 9:18 AM
  • This was a fun read <3

    April 9, 2020 at 9:38 PM