CCP Fozzie, on behalf of Team Five-O, recently announced changes coming to excavator drones and nullsec ore anomalies spawned by upgraded infrastructure hubs. Both proposals are aimed at mitigating perceived imbalances in the mineral market, since the introduction of excavator drones, and the proliferation of Rorqual mining throughout nullsec. The reduction in drone speed and mining yield for excavators is yet another nerf to excavators, following the reductions in overall yield passes in January and March. However, the change to the respawn rates for anomalies is a novel approach that is long overdue.
Hammering the Rorqual, Round Three
Although the focus of this article is on the change to nullsec ore cluster anomalies, let’s briefly address the Excavator nerf. Let me be upfront and state that I am biased against the very existence of a capital mining vessel. A capital mining support vessel is fine even one with limited mining capacity (yield = 1 exhumer) since it will be on grid to provide boosts and other support capabilities, but never a capital-class ship, where the primary focus becomes its mining power. Exhumers have provided more than enough supply over the years, and at no time has demand outstripped supply, or become a bottleneck that drove inflation in mineral prices. Even after drone alloys and gun mining were eliminated, and module compression was killed by a reduction in reprocessing yields, manufacturers managed to adequately source materials, and we continued to witness the proliferation of super capitals and capitals. EVE’s economy didn’t require this type of ship. Nullsec self-sufficiency be damned.
“I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.“
As for the Excavator nerfs, the first one was entirely warranted. The mining capability of up to 5 exhumers was obviously overpowered. The second nerf was also acceptable. I’ll suspend my bias for a moment, because the fact is, that they chose to make a super miner. Given the cost of the ship, and more importantly the Excavator drones, a yield of 2 to 2.5 exhumers is reasonable. However, the change to ore anomalies should have also been implemented at this time. Ship nerfs alone are too often the path of least effort, but they do make sense in many situations when there aren’t other levers to pull. In the case of balancing for resources and the impact on the economy, the developers are afforded more options. They could look at the entire supply and demand equation more holistically, but that takes effort. However, it was implemented at that time, and here we are. As a result, the third yield nerf to Excavators, coming on June 13th, seems ill-timed. It may still be necessary, but it would be a more enlightened decision if based on data derived from the change to ore anomaly respawn rates.
The nerf to the speed of Excavators is completely unnecessary. If the yield is the issue, then just go after yield. Speed plays into yield, but in this case, the speed reduction is more aligned with increasing the risk to Excavators. Given the absurd cost of these, now dramatically weakened drones, the hit to speed is unnecessary. Again, the yield is the real issue so go after yield. And rather than tweaking the raw yield number, maybe the option should be to either reduce the number of Excavators from 5 to 4 or perhaps even 5 to 3 and then adjust yield accordingly. At least then the value proposition starts to get a little more reasonable. A Rorqual locked into industrial mode is already at risk, and if it is going to die, then those pricey Excavators are going to die along with it. Dumpstering their capability, while simultaneously putting them at higher risk, is just salt in the wound.
Depletion Isn’t New, Just a Forgotten Tool
For those too young to remember, there was a time before Infrastructure Hubs and Ore Prospecting Array upgrades. Depletion related to asteroid mining existed in EVE since asteroid belts were introduced. Until the Dominion expansion in December 2009, asteroid mining occurred almost exclusively in the same static asteroid belts that exist today throughout k-space (hisec/lowsec/nullsec). While there are also randomly occurring anomalies in lowsec and nullsec, these small one-off deposits are subject to both rarity and depletion. Even in wormhole space, ore mining anomalies have been subject to depletion since wormholes were introduced in the Apocrypha expansion in March 2009. Ice harvesting was an outlier, in that depletion was not a factor, until the Odyssey expansion in June 2013 when static ice belts, with virtually unlimited quantities, were replaced by ice anomalies with limited quantities and subject to a 4-hour respawn timer.
At the end of 2009, the model shifted in nullsec. The Dominion expansion introduced, among other things, the Infrastructure Hub and Ore Prospecting Array upgrades, which allowed for the spawning of new asteroid cluster anomalies. Each of the five upgrades corresponded to five increasingly larger ore anomalies, based on increasing levels of mining activity within the system. The more significant change, that came with the introduction of the ore anomalies, was the abandonment of depletion altogether. In effect, these anomalies are limitless, without regard to the aggregate mining capacity brought to bear.
Mind you, this has been an issue since the ore anomalies were introduced in late 2009. These bottomless anomalies, coupled with an influx of cheap (350m ISK) PLEX-fueled multi-boxing alts, helped create a structural oversupply of high-end minerals like Megacyte and Zydrine, especially Zydrine. As time went on though, the ores found in these anomalies were rebalanced by adding more low-end minerals (2013 & 2015), while generally maintaining the high ends. The reason was to partially bolster the profitability of nullsec ores, which had taken a tremendous beating, but also to create a better distribution of refined minerals, more closely aligned to manufacturing needs. In other words, to help promote more self-sufficiency for nullsec producers. The point here is, that this was all before a capital mining vessel was anything more than a wet dream.
These anomalies were not built with something like the Rorqual in mind. How the limitless nature of nullsec ore anomalies wasn’t considered, when brainstorming the revamped Rorqual, is beyond me. If it was considered, I don’t see how the initial rollout of the Excavators could have ever allowed 5 exhumers of yield, let alone 2.5. It simply makes no sense, but here we are.
The Make Depletion Great Again Ore Anomaly Act of YC 119
The idea behind respawn timers is sound. Depletion is a great mechanic, not because it works as an artificial supply constraint, but because it makes sense ecologically and economically. The exploitation of natural resources should result in depletion. Normally, asteroids would be considered a non-renewable resource, but since this is a game we can’t treat them that way. We won’t be developing a Peak Ore Theory anytime soon and see declining output that forces the miners of New Eden, to seek out less economical, unconventional sources of supply. Eh, who knows, maybe we will. But I’m optimistic and believe that technology will emerge, that allows us to do something like fracking barren planets #DrillBabyDrill. Whoa, sorry, I got carried away there.
Respawn timers are also a positive mechanism because they place a limiting factor on the large-scale exploitation of a single source. I fully recognise that nullsec has been pushing towards higher levels of population density and smaller geographic footprints, as part of adapting to Aegis sovereignty. However, the population density needs to make some sense. I would bet, that the population density associated with ratters, in a given system, probably makes reasonable sense, in most areas. Overpopulate, and ratters get testy, and someone eventually gets e-punched in the mouth. When it comes to miners though, especially those with reasonable etiquette or organisation, the density can become excessive, because rinse and repeat spawning allows for who knows how many miners to blob a system.
Based on the math related to the upcoming (June 13) Excavator and anomaly change, of which I think this is a good example, it appears as though 11-15 Rorquals can efficiently operate in a fully upgraded system at any given time. Any nullsec system, because you know, these anomalies are basically generic. I think that is more Rorqual miners than carrier-ratters in a fully upgraded high-end system. Regardless, 11-15 Rorquals is a good number, so far as density is concerned. If you have more than that operating simultaneously, you have choices. Sov holders, big and small, have choices. Make better use of your space, acquire more through content-laden aggression, or don’t. Renters have choices, like uh, rent harder, or don’t. But thinking you can pack miners into a system, like economic refugees into a one-bedroom apartment, isn’t reasonable. Sorry, but CCP Fire Marshall says no.
- Some will try to compare an endless resource faucet, like nullsec ore anomalies, to the rapidly respawning ratting anomalies, that also came with the Dominion expansion. While I am not arguing, that there may be an issue related to ISK faucets in the game, this is a weak comparison. Ratting anomalies do not adapt to a limitless number of participants, as do the current mining anomalies. Running them too quickly becomes self-defeating in terms of ISK efficiency. The more ratters/DPS, either working together or individually within a given system, will eventually outpace the respawn rate of the high-quality sites, in even the highest quality systems. Not so with mining as it stands today. The more miners, the more ore. Rinse and repeat all day, erryday. ISK faucets may indeed be excessive. There may, in fact, be too much ISK flowing into the system and pushing up PLEX prices. Fine, fix those too then. But even if that is the case, it is not a reason, to ignore resource faucets, capable of sustaining an unlimited number of participants.
- I was planning on making the case that yield nerfs and timers were completely unnecessary. “Just let the free market decide.” Let mineral supplies build to unsustainable levels, and drive prices into the space dirt. But I know government intervention is the best option for us all, by way of regulations and administrative dictates. OK kidding. I actually do think that under a different set of circumstances, that developer intervention should be more limited. However, given the changes in 2013 and 2015, that made the nullsec ores more balanced, in the name of “self-sufficiency”, letting Rorquals run wild, in unlimited capacity anomalies, would destroy mining in other parts of space, namely hisec. As much fun as that would have been, I just couldn’t tackle the awful narrative of nullsec self-sufficiency and anti-globalism in the same article.
- One final comment on the combined nerfs to Excavators and changes to anomalies: quit whining about some nefarious CCP cash grab (good dev name by the way), that tricked you into buying up skill injectors, before pulling the rug out. Early adopters always run a risk of buying a product that isn’t fully baked. Early adoption in EVE is always a risky gambit, but in most cases, that risk tends to be offset by reward skewed to the upside. The Rorqual and Excavators fit that bill. Nobody forced anyone to juice up and inject into 1 or 20 Rorqual pilots. You did it because you were smart enough to see an advantage and get in quickly. What differentiates this situation from other forms of reversals by the developer is, that the purchase of skill points and hardware was an investment designed to generate income. Assuming you took advantage of the situation, after plunking down your big investment, you earned your ISK back and then some. That is a far cry from injecting into a non-money making ship, and then having a change make it all worthless to you. Regardless of when you got in, there will still be good income to make even after this change.
Overall, the changes to yield and anomaly respawn timers are reasonable changes, but the timing of the yield nerf should perhaps be delayed, to get good data from the anomaly change. The drone speed nerf is unnecessary and excessive, but more importantly, CCP needs to review the risk and costs associated with Excavators, because 4.5 billion ISK or more for 5 Excavators is completely obscene. Finally, if further changes need to occur because aggregate supply is still beyond acceptable bounds, as the recent devpost indicated might be necessary, hopefully, CCP doesn’t just target the ship, but looks at the bigger picture. There are more levers they can pull, on both the supply and demand side of the equation, that may be even more beneficial to the economy.