There is a gaping hole in the options Eve provides to a nullsec player looking to log in and have fun. A brief review of the current state of PvP shows the lack; there are no “micro” content drivers available for anyone not looking to wage a Sov-war. In the past null, and to a considerable degree all of Eve, thrived on enormous “macro” conflicts involving tens of thousands of players fighting over philosophical positions on how the game ought to be played as much as territory or prestige. Rapid movement via pod-jumping and jump drives or bridges, plus the motivation provided by fighting for an idea bigger than goodfights, provided players with enjoyment. It is one thing to ask a player to spend two hours working in order to blow up a Malediction; it is quite another to ask him to spend those two hours working to ensure that the forces of light and justice are not overwhelmed by a horde of malevolent imbeciles.
Today the big existential conflicts seem to have burnt themselves out, and rapid movement to content is no longer reliably available; there is nothing to fill the gap. Broadly speaking, so long as a player does not find ratting, mining, industry, or planetary interaction enjoyable in their own right he can roam for victims or Entosis enemy structures to force a fight. Both of these may turn out to be a complete waste of time.
If he roams he may not find anything to shoot; jump freighters, anomaly ratting, and uncatchable taxiceptors all work to minimize traffic through stargates. Alternately if he fits an Entosis module he is much more likely to get a response from the space owners, but because he represents a threat to everything they own. Unfortunately for an intrepid PvPer who cannot bring a major fleet, this response is likely to be overwhelming and immediately fatal. Even if an intrepid PvPer gets a kill or two the killmail and maybe some modules off the wreck is all he takes home, and then it’s back to making ISK to pay for more ships.
Of course Eve has always been this way, but time marches on and things are not as they were in 2008. Player attention spans are shrinking, and an aging player base with jobs and families has less time to devote to the game. While Eve may not enjoy direct competition from any other MMO, it does face broader competition from other PC games; a player who only has so many hours to play is going to pick something that delivers reliable fun in the time he has available. A player can sit down with many other games and being having fun in five minutes; it may not be the hands-shaking kick that comes from getting in a do-or-die Eve brawl but at least it’s guaranteed to happen.
To be perfectly clear this is not a call to radically change how Eve works. The investment of time and effort is what makes Eve have that kick; trivializing losses to the level seen in most other games would rob Eve of one of the things that makes it truly unique. Yet the fact remains there is room between “petty harassment” and “helldeathwar” for meaningful objectives to be put into the game.
CCP already came tantalizingly close when they introduced the Encounter Surveillance System (ESS) and Mobile Siphon Unit. However these two deployable structures turned out to be too easily gamed and not profitable enough to justify the extra effort for most players. The ESS sees only limited use. The Siphon became a griefing engine as it could be used to deny a moon owner the minerals they had mined. Still, both came very close, so to illustrate how the introduction of even a single microconflict driver might change the game for the better we will use a modified ESS.
Currently the ESS is a voluntary structure that incrementally increases payouts while storing up a payment pool until somebody empties it. In theory an attacker can steal the pool by sitting near the ESS for a short period of time, but a pod can pay the pool out to its owners with the push of a button. By deploying the ESS next to rats, and having a pod sit on it, a smart ratter can almost completely negate the risk of theft. As well, the only way to tell if an ESS is in a system is to fly there and look; even if an attacker sets out with theft as a goal they will have to search for something to actually rob.
For the sake of discussion an ESS reworked to be a microconflict driver might look something like this,
- It would be ubiquitous, a part of the Infrastructure Hub (Ihub) ratting upgrade. Forcing the change down player’s throats might seem a bit harsh, but given the risk averse nature of the average ratter making it involuntary would be required to make it work at all. This would also solve the “rats as guards” issue.
- It would pay out at fixed intervals, maybe once an hour, but with systems staggered so that every system in Eve was not paying at the same time. The payout timer would be publicly visible to everyone via the in game star map and the API.
- A significant portion of bounties earned would be stored, to make the defenders actually care about preventing theft. Simply put, docking up should be penalized. This would also bring ratting more in line with other economic activities like mining, mission running, and exploration all of which require a player to move ore, loot, or faction items purchased with LP an therefore have added risk.
- For a short window right before payout, perhaps five minutes, the ESS could be made to spit out its stored bounties as tokens with an Entosis link. Tokens would work like they do now, and be redeemable in empire space for Isk.
- If nothing happened during the vulnerability window it would pay automatically as direct Isk deposits, just like bounties pay now. This way the space-owners would only have to act if somebody actively bothered them.
The implications for the game would huge. Piracy, deliberately attacking others to steal the product of their hard work on a scale that can pay for the tools needed to do it, is currently only viable in highsec. While hilarious, this is hardly what anyone hearing about the game would expect. If it became possible to rob hundreds of millions from players unwilling or unable to defend themselves piracy could become a real career in “lawless” space.
Of course there are the strategic implications of this to consider as well; right now a weaker entity located next to a stronger one is not much good to anyone. The smaller power’s pilots will seek to avoid fights they would lose, and simply dock up or safe when threatened. The bigger power has no way of bringing them out except to threaten strategic objectives, and will usually end up bringing overwhelming numbers or firepower to do it since there is always the risk of escalation. A vicious circle ensues, and as the recent experience of Brave Newbies in Fountain shows it ends very poorly for the little guy.
Add the “new” ESS into the mix and this calculus changes. The bigger power can form up and go mess with the little guy, but they don’t need to create dozens of timers or set a fleet of supers on standby to do it. Instead intermediate fleet sizes become options, and the smaller group may actually find fighting some of them to be possible. If the attacker wins the fight, or the defender fails to undock at all, the attacker goes home with a pile of money. Regardless, the attacker now has a reason to not exterminate hostile neighbors.
There would be other changes too. The ideal way to rat would no longer be alone in a system with a personal safe tower. Instead a certain population density would be needed to avoid becoming somebody a cash cow. Cloaky camping would stop being the only way to deny ratting money to a power short of burning them out of their space. Even if it was feasible for an attacker to do so, destroying an Ihub would have to be examined in terms of potential robberies lost compared to tears gained.
The final change would be the most far-reaching and long term. There is little left in the game to create the long term conflicts that once shaped Eve. Big powers are that way because they are good at conflict resolution and diplomacy; the game mechanics drive them to smother or assimilate smaller entities while avoiding conflict with one another. When smaller entities do manage to take root somewhere they have little to fight over and no response to overwhelming force but hiding. None of this allows for the sort of grudges to form that drove nullsec politics for years. For an individual player getting burnt out of their space by another major power is in many ways an impersonal event. Fleet fights and sov-war are fun and a great part of the game, but at the end of the day victory or defeat is the product of thousands of players actions combined. On the other hand, some asshole stealing half the ISK you made in the last hour is intensely personal. From such modest seeds a magnificent tree of hatred could grow.
In the final analysis the purpose of ISK to an individual player is to create content. With a very few exceptions an ever-growing wallet balance is not the reason players log into Eve. Instead interaction, conflict, drama, and camaraderie are what keep them coming back. By putting more chances for conflict into the game, and by having those chances be for significant but not apocalyptic stakes, CCP can invigorate null in a way that no quantity of new PvE content could. After all, a sheep can be sheared many times but only skinned once.
Editors Note: This article was written for TheMittani.com by FearlessLittleToaster