It’s the Mechanics, Stupid

2021-03-09

Header art by AnuranonthecoucH

Author’s Note: Just for clarity, the title is a play on James Carville’s famous quip: “It’s the economy, stupid!”and NOT a dig at CCP, nor CCP Rattati. My impression of CCP Rattati is that he is extremely intelligent and working very diligently to make decisions that are in keeping with what is most healthy for EVE Online, even if some of those decisions are unpopular.

Let’s be honest; the past two years or more have been rough for CCP and the player base. While the numbers may seem to tell a different story, I think we’ve all seen a high level of stress and animosity between the players and CCP. It’s true, some of this is just par for the course in the relationship between a developer and the game’s players, but I think if we’re being honest, we all know actual engagement has dropped off in recent years, despite the spikes from the ongoing war in the south.

Watching CCP Rattati’s recent interview over on the Oz_Eve Twitch, I came away with a combination of immense hope for the future, as well as existential dread. CCP Rattati is no doubt an extremely intelligent and passionate person, who cares deeply about the health of the game we all love. He also came across as being under a good deal of stress, seemingly as a result of the tension between CCP and the community. No doubt the stress was exacerbated by Rattati’s talking “off the cuff” to an EVE streamer about the future plans of CCP and the direction of EVE Online, while negotiating the various NDA requirements, trying hard not to give away details, or accidentally make promises that couldn’t be kept.

One thought kept popping into my mind as I watched the stream: “It’s the mechanics, Stupid!” It was refreshing to hear CCP Rattati speak of EVE Online as a kind of “terrarium,” or “ecosystem.” Rattati is absolutely correct in the analogy: EVE is an ecosystem and we have to be careful about what we introduce, and balance predation and growth. I’ve written about these concepts at length before.

Mechanics Drive Behavior

No amount of tweaking variables, a little here or there, is going to encourage the type of healthy engagement that EVE Online needs to survive and thrive into the next decade. Moving minerals around from one place to another, or giving a 150% bonus to bounties in one system and a 50% nerf in another, won’t drive engagement. The mechanics themselves are what drive players to do what they do, mixed with a bit of player interaction.

If a player can make massive ISK per hour in highsec, with minimal risk of loss (or “interaction” to use the ingame term), then that is exactly what they will do. What Rattati said about getting players into lowsec being a matter of incentive is absolutely true. But if there are strong motivations not to take the risk, a lot of players will make the obvious choice not to head there. Of course, EVE Online should support players being able to engage with content they enjoy, and not everyone wants to engage with other people constantly. This fact is as true for highsec players as it should be for people who like to multi-box Rorquals. But if everyone can make their money in complete safety, then that is exactly what everyone will do.

Money making isn’t the only area where EVE mechanics allow people to easily avoid predation. Citadels likewise provide tether, for very little money relative to their power, even after the recent changes. Interdiction nullification interceptors allow for almost worry free travel between systems; bridging and jump mechanics allow supply runs to move instantly from one perfectly safe position to another, making embargoes and sieges practically pointless. Further, the near pointless nature of camping trivializes geography in all but the most extreme circumstances of a few regions and systems.

EVE Mechanics Actively Discourage Engagement

I recently discovered an awesome EVE Youtuber named Amelia Duskspace. Amelia seems to regularly get those types of “good fights” that remind me of days gone by. It’s refreshing to see, because as a member of a large alliance, I think many of us get into the rut of waiting on someone else to call us to action. This is as much my own fault as anyone else’s, I admit, but we need to take note of the fact that the mechanics often discourage this type of player interaction. In all of the fights I watched of Amelia’s, all of them took place against people who were perfectly willing to be participating in them, and none of them I witnessed were ganks.

Whether by design or by accident, EVE has progressed into a state where “mono-consensual” PvP has been almost completely wiped out. Any player who is paying attention and has a pulse can pretty well avoid dealing with any other player, while still carrying on with their business practically unabated. There are exceptions of course – carrier ratting, Rorqual mining, suicide ganking in HighSec – however at least the first two of those activities have been viciously stamped out recently. Maybe another way to put it is that other, safer activities have taken priority and been allowed to compensate for the dangerous choices. This is not something that will be fixed by tweaking some values here or there. CCP needs to look at the way the game actually works, and make sure the choices available to players make sense for the type of game EVE should be.

Avenues for players to disrupt these activities are also not what I would consider great – cloaky camping, black ops dropping, titan bridging, etc. Those avenues encourage players to stay home and let others do the work of finding content for them to engage in, and put prey in what I would consider an unhealthy predicament – join a big group. Is it any surprise that this is exactly what large portions of the game have elected to do? Previous attempts to mitigate this have also been unnecessarily harsh – the blackout and the weird drifter “invasion.” The blackout I think was an absolute disaster, and this is coming from someone who was able to enjoy portions of it.

Fix the Right Things

EVE Online was at its best when people were out in space. Back in the day, you could actually get fights in lowsec beyond bumping into large bands of pirates or flying around solo in a blinged out battleship begging someone to come at you. Ravens and Dominix roamed the asteroid belts shooting rats in just about every system in the game. Supply runs involved moving things through gates rather than just right clicking the capacitor. I’m not saying require every freaking thing to move via freighter, but at least some portion should.

It should be valuable for alliances to actually patrol and control their own space, rather than just putting a sign up. Defense and offense should consist of more than simply standing around waiting to drop on anything dumb enough to actually try and play the game. EVE’s problem isn’t that super capitals have proliferated into the thousands; it’s that none of them ever die outside of very rare and particular sets of circumstances, simply because the game allows them to be used very conservatively. 

Scarcity Ending, But Then What

CCP Rattati has stated that soon the scarcity phase will be over, and that’s great, but I hope that the changes coming down the pipe actually address root causes and won’t simply need to be repeated in a few years when we’re back to where we started. The scarcity phase, I believe, has come across as almost vindictive. Maybe this was driven by the attitudes on Reddit or the forums, but the impression I’ve gotten is that many believe that large space holding alliances needed to be punished and brought to heel. 

I don’t disagree that the situation needed to be gotten under control, but I’m of the opposite opinion that allowing people to build up stockpiles is great, so long as the game encourages you to go out and burn them. CCP should look to address why players cower on citadels and wait to drop through cynos, and why gate travel is almost non-existent in certain regions. If you want a healthy EVE that lives into the next decade and beyond, get players out in space moving around. I don’t believe you do this by taking away their income, or turning Rorquals back into boosting ships, or removing local chat. You do it by making sure the juice is located in the right places and under the right circumstances.

Get the players out in space where they can interact; then players will take care of the rest. They’ll also bring their old friends, and pull in new ones.

P.S.

I hope the readers took away more from this than “Wah muh Rorquals!” and “Big Alliance Propaganda #34598.” Those are examples I tend to use because I’ve seen first hand people pull back from EVE because activities they enjoyed engaging with became punishing. People that actually PvPed and had longer goals they were working toward. I’m advocating positive reinforcement of activities that encourage player engagement. Think about what I’m saying here, because I can’t even argue with you people that think that.

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Comments

  • Bumpy Dog

    A PS to say “Think about what I’m saying here, because I can’t even argue with you people that think that.” I was married to someone like you.

    March 9, 2021 at 7:15 AM
    • Rayford Carpathia Bumpy Dog

      That sentence hurts my brain. I still don’t understand what was meant by that.

      March 11, 2021 at 4:37 PM
  • Doughlas MacAlister

    Preach Brother ! But I have a feeling that I have read this article a hundred times in last few years ( Ever since the citadels became a thing, and even before). My point is, nothing ever changes. CCP will anounce the next bag of new features making game even safer, more risk averse and boring.
    People rat in belts, spred out in 100 systems ? Make ratting anomalies so numerous, that now only 5 systems can take in that amount of people?
    People cannot haul due to gatecamps ? Move everything via jump freighters or ceptors.
    People are camping stations ? In come the teathers.
    Game has too many supers ? Make them able to dock safely and move without risk, so we can have more of them.
    And the list just goes on. I struggle to think about a single thing introduced in recent years that actually made the game more dangerous.

    March 9, 2021 at 9:11 AM
  • Guilford Australis

    CCP has been on a five-year nerf train, and it’s unsustainable. They’ve nerfed practically everything – severely and repeatedly – and wonder why players are unhappy all the time. Their only development concept seems to be this obsessive navel-gazing about “the health of the ecosystem.” They have no understanding that when players see their assets and activities get nerfed into the dirt, they’re not thinking, “Oh well, all that time and ISK just went down the toilet, but it’s okay because it was for the health of the ecosystem. Rattati said so.”

    You spent billions training into (and purchasing) Rorquals because you like to mine and build big things? Bye bye. You spent billions training into (and purchasing) titans and supercarriers for those big nullsec battles that even CCP admits are a major driver in recruiting new players? Nope. We’re going to arbitrarily reduce their EHP by 40% and make them impossible to replace. You like living in highsec? Enjoy those Raznaborg Damaviks and Triglavian systems right in the middle of everything.

    Nullsec is farked, wormholes are farked, highsec is farked, and lowsec never mattered to CCP. THAT is the current “health of the ecosystem.”

    March 9, 2021 at 11:35 AM
  • Caleb Ayrania

    The irony here is you say the small changes are not meaningful. They are exactly the points of pressure to focus on, so the fixing of EVE does not feel like CCP bringing a big nerf bat and smacking things left right and center. The Rorq and ORca designs are so flawed they need to go back to original purpose. There is no reason to use risky “cows and sheep” on the field if you can just use a super tanked orca/rorq. The important thing is the spreading out and the skin in the game designs. You nailed a lot of those topics in the article. Especially in the stupid easy teleporting of materials around space, the freighter being able to suddenly scoop from space like an industrial ship, the jumpfreighter insta skip all risky chokepoints etc. You are 100% correct that its the mechanics stupid, and that CCP needs to make tough decisions. THey do however have a lot of small not so visible knobs to turn instead of jumping straight to the hot and controversial ones. Another thing that is extremely important but still not really addressed is things like the Loot fairy mechanics, and the npc drop tables. Old and flat designs that need a more dynamic and incentive building design. This could motivate to more pvp and make pvp a more viable lifestyle, and fixing npe to be less brute forceable. Many small things like that would completely change the behavior of EVE players. The solution is def in the details and not in the flashy visable things.

    March 9, 2021 at 12:12 PM
    • Guilford Australis Caleb Ayrania

      One counterpoint to your view of the Rorqual and mining nerfs is that Rorquals and the supercapitals they allowed people to build with relative ease were HUGE content drivers. Not anymore.

      Back in the heady days of Bombers Bar, I could come home after two hours of hunting having killed four Rorquals, two ratting supercarriers, and a couple carriers or FAX from a response fleet. Those times are over.

      Now, the NPSI communities and wormhole hunters post giddy stories about spending an entire day tracking down and killing a Thanatos that was worth less then their own Black Ops battleship.

      CCP is obsessed with tweaking resources and the economy. Fine. But everything in life is a trade-off in one way or another, and they sacrificed a ton of high-risk, high-value, engaging PVP for their economic fiddling.

      March 9, 2021 at 12:32 PM
      • And I enjoyed the suspense and paranoia of undocking said Rorqual and praying BB or others didn’t show up before I could pull the mining drones in. It was risky and rewarding as it should have been. I think the issue came more from the scaling issue that plagues every corner of Eve. The scaling by players isn’t controlled so they nerf the entire genre of play.

        They had a good concept with the moon mining changes. You had to be engaged enough that multiboxing was at least a little harder. Iterating on that idea could have helped balance out the mineral glut better than making the game unplayable for the content I enjoyed. It’s been around 18 months since I’ve spent time in Eve. I still haven’t seen a change that makes me want to come back.

        March 10, 2021 at 5:31 PM
  • Wow it’s like if I wrote an article while being drunk enough to say nice things about people 😀

    100% agree with basically everything you’ve hinted at here: while I’m currently playing quite a lot of EVE Online due to the the whole ~*situation*~ in the South, this kind of activity is not sustainable. Coalitions don’t fight each other tooth and nail forever, and as soon as this condition lapses we’re going to return to the place of “nothing at all happening in EVE Online.” If I look at my own activity history, the preceding four years or so were abysmal for me in terms of engagement– a couple of kills per month spread over 2-3 month of the year and gaping blank-spaces in between. That’s because– as you detailed effectively– there’s simply few real opportunities for PvP left in EVE nullsec at this point. When mega-coalitions are not at each others throats…

    – Taxiceptors and jump freighters (along with a generous scoop of cloaked + nullified T3Cs and the occasional blockade runner or T1 freighter bridge) handle nullsec logistics and travel needs: these are effectively exempt from PvP (yes, I know you can theoretically smartbomb taxiceptors, but the ISK and time investment to do so is way out of proportion to the reward, the odds of you not being hotdropped within ten minutes during “peacetime” are approximately zero, and any competent players will quickly react by using perch bookmarks or bouncing celestials once your bomb placement is known)

    – The toxic tiny-ship ship meta makes solo / asymmetric small-gang warfare vs large groups extremely difficult (it’s now almost impossible to successfully interdict traffic on gates now, due to a variety of factors inlcluding the general slipperiness of small ships (they’re too fast and agile and take too long to lock, enabling them to easily just warp off or crash back to gates), the ineffectiveness of scrams and webs (by the time you can lock a small ship, it’s back in jump range of a gate or has burned out of your tackle range), and the reality that its almost impossible to disengage from any fight you start due to every nullsec bloc fielding huge numbers of players flying interceptors, Jaguars, and other fast light-tackle that can’t be removed from the field in a timely manner

    – Players’ risk-refusal has led to horrific abuse of logistics ships at a scale that renders PvP borderline impossible for small gangs: the second you show up and start dealing damage to someone, they invariably form up a gang that not only outnumbers your own, but is equipped with so many logis that your gang is simply unable to kill anything at all– not even Sabres or frigates– due to the absurd quantities of remote rep. If you bring a bigger hammer, they respond by fielding things like Cerberii and Scimis, which can’t be fought by basically anything at all except an N+1 larger HAC/logi gang except under special circumstances

    – Any time you figure out workarounds for the aforementioned issues, players from large groups simply respond by dropping caps. Oh, you’re punching waaaay above your weight and dealing with a forty-man Cerb gang effectively? Fuck you, here’s a FAX or Dread for your trouble: now deal with that.

    – Upwell Structures. Where to even begin? Tether is an abomination that should be buried deep in some desert tomb whose doors have been sealed with the most powerful magics. Whoever decided that Upwell structures should be able to be placed on grid with one another and on grid with stargates etc should be fired. Upwell spam has literally ruined solo / small gang PvP by basically eliminating the possibility of ambushing people anywhere: you can undock in 100% safety and observe directly all the other relevant structures in a system as well as the most-used stargates and jump bridges all on the same grid and travel between these structures with zero possibility of being caught off-guard by some sneaky hostile because guess what: if they’re there, or they have a bubble up, you’re literally looking right at it from the moment you undock. You’d have to be actually blind or brain-dead to fall into a trap on one of today’s modern citadel grids. I guess it still happens to people but I mean Jeeeesusss: how?

    – AFK cloak / blackops bridge gank meta has also ruined nonconsensual PvP by hunting most tackle-able PvE ships to extinction. Even before CCP smashed PvE so hard with the nerf-bat that the result looked like something out of a Tarantino film, hunting ratters was mostly an extinct activity outside of Rorqual hunting due to the fact that the only things left in space were hyper-risk-averse Myrms and VNI fits doing their wide-orbit drone ratting thing. Unless you brought a probing T3D you were never gonna catch those people, and even if you caught them there was the small matter of actually killing them solo while CCP’s ridiculous rat AI primaries you because you used ewar (even though you’re killing the dude who was killing them: makes sense). Have fun trying to fight a battlecruiser in scram range in your assfrig / inty / whatever is actually fast enough to actually catch a ratter while 20 Blood Raiders shoot you too. GG.

    I’d list more dumb things but I’m honestly getting both acute and chronic fatigue writing about these issues. You can say this things as often as you like and despite them being a really obvious set of problems CCP never care to do anything about them. I suppose it’s probably something to do with a perception that a more casual-friendly game will increase revenue for the company via a broader appeal, but fuck: I don’t think CCP understand the fact that this is fundamentally a niche game. They’re better off leaning in to the qualities that made EVE a unique offering in the MMO market than trying to dilute the experience until its palatable to your average elf-player IMO. One thing’s for sure: I’m not gonna pay money (yes I currently pay four subs in USD) to hang around once the action dies down in the south. Who in their right mind would pay to play a PvP game where the devs have nerfed PvP into the ground? If consensual Muninn-on-Muninn violence is what gets you hard, I suppose EVE is the right place to be but it seems like for literally anything else it’s a content wasteland. Thanks for coming to my TED Talk.

    March 9, 2021 at 7:53 PM
  • Alaric Faelen

    Developing a game via nerf is a losing proposition yet it’s CCP’s go to answer for everything. I constantly feel punished for doing exactly what the game mechanics seem to push you towards. Carrier ratting? I avoided capitals for a long time because I play on a single account, no scout or cyno alt. I have an alliance for that, the way it should be– players working together instead of one guy multi-boxing. But shortly after I finally blew almost a year training into carriers, CCP decided to destroy the ‘safe cyno’ that allowed me to even engage in that activity– an activity that the game itself made the premier way to make isk. That’s one less carrier undocked and available as content for players to hunt down. One less thing for a rescue fleet to fight off attackers over. One less thing for me to do in the game.
    Instead, CCP decided that access to capital ships in Eve is basically locked behind a paywall of multiple accounts. Money money money.

    CCP also seems to lack any wider vision than whatever ‘crisis ruining the game’ that is hot on reddit. They look at everything in a bubble and never seem to anticipate the downrange effect on the rest of the game. All their decisions on balance seem to be made solely based on huge null sec fleets. Often ignoring the impact on small gang or solo uses of the ship/module/weapon.
    Eve feels like there is null sec, then everything else. The entire game is utterly stagnate outside of what happens in null sec. When we weren’t at war- the game basically came to a halt. It shouldn’t be on null sec to be the only thing that makes the game interesting. For years I have said FW needs an overhaul and should compete with null sec as premier content. Instead it’s the same farmers flipping sides to manipulate LP markets. Compare that to the fanatical loyalty of null sec players to their chosen alliances. Why is null sec the only thing that creates that sort of dedication? Why are there four races in the game when your choice of one doesn’t matter in the slightest? Eve needs things to ‘care about’.

    I don’t even think the game needs more content or ships. It needs the content it already has to be pulled out of 2009 and iterated on. We don’t need more ships, we need more roles for people to train for and do more than smash F1.

    March 10, 2021 at 5:26 AM
  • Crush Project

    game doesnt seem like its changed much in the the more then a decade since i was there, and it wasnt exactly in the greatest state when i left…

    March 10, 2021 at 6:40 AM
  • EVE Player #27482716

    This article assumes that all Eve players are interested in being interrupted by some PvP clown. The protections are there for a reason. There’s a vast population of players with zero interest in being blown up and wouldn’t play the game if it couldn’t be avoided.

    May 1, 2021 at 12:36 AM