PvP Lifestyle—Making a Living by the Sword

Bill McDonough 2018-11-26

Art by Empanada

New Eden thrives on two things. The stability of instability, and the importance of players’ actions and choices. The first one means that some level of instability and upheaval is always present, while the second relies on players being free to choose what it is they want to do in EVE from the widest of possible palettes and broadest array of viable lifestyles.

Right now, EVE has problems with both of those. A rising tide of industrial power threatens to ensure lasting hegemony. At the same time, PvP in EVE Online is not a valid lifestyle choice. Not really. One or two particular variations work, but mostly, it’s a dead end. And as EVE moves into the back half of its second decade, those two problems could derail the game’s future. But solving the latter just might go a long way toward solving the first.

Overdue Homework

Before we begin, I feel like I should apologize. This article’s actually about three months late, from my perspective. Rhivre and I began talking about this piece back in August, but it turns out, it’s not an easy thing to write. The subject deserves—demands, really—a level of care and thoughtfulness that takes time. And Life…is life.

Still, I’ve had this percolating for a while. So when Aryth mentioned something similar on a recent Meta Show, it was a reminder. Then Jurius wrote about “The Two EVEs”, and just that phrase prodded me again about this. So here we are. All of which mostly serves to say: go get a cup of coffee, this one’s gonna be long. Even for me.

What is EVE?

EVE Online is a lot of things. First, it’s an MMO. It’s the subject of doctoral theses. And it’s a video game that gets onto the front page of the BBC and Fox News. It’s even the thing that gets certain professionally divine legends onto Canadian financial TV news and the front page of reddit. It is, to quote myself from years past, a “libertarian social simulation that would give Ron Paul priapism.” And it’s a sandbox game with a lot of PvP.

I mean, a lot of it.

PvP is what gets EVE its headlines. Nobody hits the front page of reddit and finds Aryth manipulating the reactions markets. TV news doesn’t cover the it when 200,000,000+ cubic meters of ore gets devoured in three hours. Not even the BBC! And David Attenborough isn’t getting on the phone to the Arataka Research Consortium about a new documentary series entitled ‘Drifters: Have the Sleepers Awoken?’

Hell, we don’t cover most of that, most of the time, and we’re focused on EVE!

PvP is EVE’s marketing and its hook. It gets the game noticed in its scale, in its callousness, in the lengths of grudges and deeply-entrenched tribalism it creates. The sandbox is soaked in blood. But all that blood isn’t fertilizing the sand. It just gets everyone wet.

So why isn’t PvP really viable as your main activity, your ‘EVE lifestyle’, and what can be done about that? The first part comes down to where EVE is now, and where it’s headed. The second… to where it could go.

Where EVE Is…

EVE has come to an interesting place. Over the last four years, beginning in many ways with July 2014’s Crius expansion, nullsec has changed. Where once alliances used passive moon-mining arrays to fund their armadas, players actively mine them. Vast tracts of mostly-empty space provided not only income, but security, in the form of buffer zones. Now, securing your space means stuffing as many people as you can into it. What buffer regions exist aren’t the ‘farms and fields’ of old, surrounding the feudal keep. They’re no-man’s land between entrenched enemies bristling with the products of the military-industrial complex.

That, in turn, has follow-on effects. Strong, capable organizations effectively become nation-states, which reduce conflict. Or at least, they dampen it until it breaks out on a much bigger scale. Violent clashes between neighboring families in a decentralized setting leads to a long-standing feud. When both sides have hierarchies to complain to, it becomes an international incident, and can potentially lead to war—the conflict is suppressed and delayed, but when it comes, it’s much, much larger.

Reality Good, Game Bad

In the real world, we want exactly this sort of thing to happen. Feudal powers or the armies of marauding warlords eventually settle down and become reputable power brokers, or get eradicated. Nobody wants to live where a violent band of thugs could sweep through, burn everything you own, steal the local food supplies, and leave death and misery in their wake. And while the risk for larger conflict exists between nations, there are mechanisms—like diplomacy— to lessen that risk and provide other ways to bleed off the pressure.

In a game, though, it’s not so clear cut. Conflict—in the controlled, channeled varieties it’s supposed to be in—is good. Obviously, nobody wants it spilling out of the game, or making us really hate and be willing to do violence on other human beings. But within the context of the game, conflict is what keeps things happening. And in a game like EVE, with so much PvP, the best conflict comes from other players. Suppression of conflict due to the rise of industrial powers may lead to bigger wars, but it also means that nobody goes all-in on a war. Not for real. The war will end, and when it does, you need to be able to get ready for the next war.

Worse, it means that if you want to compete in that next war, really, you have to be an industrial power, too. The notion of 300 Spartans standing against the Persian hordes falls apart when it’s Hoplites vs ICBMs. And that’s where we are, or at least, where we’re getting to be. As Aryth said on his recent Meta Show appearance, the Imperium is years ahead of its competition in the current arms race. The breakdown is simple, and inescapable, and it starts with ‘doing the work’.

The Cycle of Civilization

Smaller high-sec economic centers are being surpassedFirst, you need people willing to do the work that makes money: Mining, ratting, PI. As people make money, their corporations and alliances tax them on the money they’re making. For ratting, this is in ratting taxes. For PI, it’s import/export fees. And for mining (and PI), it’s broker fees and taxes on sales. The economies of scale kick in, and the tiny little percentages being taken from absolutely astronomical amounts of money become the primary funding for alliances.

The alliance then uses those funds to build infrastructure. Refineries, engineering complexes, citadels, and now gates and beacons all provide essential services that improve the quality of life. The facilities get used, including local production of ships, right up to titans and supercarriers for local pilots who want to use them.

Those pilots then use their ships to provide security for the local area. Threats to the miners/ratters/planetary producers find themselves met with defensive fleets. The numbers of PvE ships lost to PvP declines. And in the safer environment, miners/ratters/etc spend less time docking up and more time making money.

And it snowballs. Once you have that security, it becomes an incentive of its own. People who want to make a lot of money look at your space as a place to do it. Numbers swell, from the ore fields to the accounting sheets to the supercap fleets.

This is the landscape in Delve right now, and it’s the landscape that needs to emerge in other areas. Otherwise, under the current mechanics, EVE is headed toward a mono-polar environment. Already one superpower has a strong lead. Worse, the nature of that lead means it will continue to get stronger, faster than other groups can pivot to catch up.

No Country For Old Warlords

Increasingly, this cycle of security makes things harder for the older ‘Elite PvP’ crowd. These are players who don’t want to PvE, who want to live a PvP lifestyle and maintain that as their primary activity. In a sandbox game, there should be room for them too, especially in as wide and varied a game as EVE Online. The EVE Apocrypha introduction dared us to be bold, to forge our own paths to greatness. It’s unthinkable that in EVE Online, of all MMOs, the one path to greatness we cannot forge is that of ruthlessness, violence, and bloodshed, unfettered by concerns about making ends meet.

Genghis and Atilla, Blackbeard and Jesse James—they may have had to worry about how to keep their men paid, but they’re not legends because of their skill with a plough.

Where It’s Heading

Right now, the game is heading toward stagnation. The threat comes from a different kind of stagnation than that feared from the old ‘Blue Donut’, though. Those conjured images of oppressive gestalt overseen by two all-powerful superpowers ruling their spheres of influence and warring at the edges. Now, the stagnation that looms ahead is one of unending dominance by a single group, with the rest of the game relegated to table scraps. Most of the other blocs show no signs of adapting to the ascendancy of the industrialist. As a result, their numbers are dropping. Mercenary Coalition is said to be shutting down. Pandemic Legion is down over a thousand pilots in the last four months—and would be lower if not for Body Count Inc., formerly of MC, joining on Nov 14.

Meanwhile, the industrialists continue to accelerate. Goonswarm Federation, TEST, and Brave Collective are all growing. And more numbers means more money, and more security. The snowball rolls on.

The Dangers of Overcompensation

This sort of situation creates a tendency to react, often in ways that amount to ‘nerf the living hell out of it’. The problem is: you really can’t. A simple nerf to the mechanisms that provide the lead doesn’t erase that lead. Take away Rorquals, and the Imperium doesn’t become destitute, it becomes a bunch of people with the same money, infrastructure, and supercapitals they had before. No Rorquals, but now, nobody else can have Rorquals, either. They can’t even begin to catch up.

The problem with attempting to nerf successful organizations in EVE now is the same as its been in the past. Their success is not due to game mechanics, but the nature of those organizations. Larger groups of people have more manpower to throw at problems. When one of those problems is ‘what is the best way to organize our manpower?’, they often find robust, flexible ways to organize that provide resilience and adaptability. The groups that don’t make that effort and invest at least reflexively in some level of administrative review and evaluation may thrive briefly under their original leadership, but die when either the leadership changes, or the game changes in ways leadership cannot adapt to.

This doesn’t mean large organizations are unstoppable, of course, but the key element in the downfall of a large org is usually an internal one: they put the wrong people in charge, or they didn’t have a system in place to hold leadership accountable beyond ‘vote with your feet’.

These two factors, the inability to simply remove the cause of the lead, and the fundamental strength of well-organized groups, makes it difficult to try to use punitive or restrictive measures to level the playing field. But even if the playing field could be leveled, would it help?

Islands in a Sea of Stars

If somehow, suddenly, the playing field were leveled—if CCP found a way to even the balance of power out among however-many groups they decide need a seat at the table—what would it achieve? Would it bring a rebirth of constant conflict, where alliances fight wars tooth and nail? Or would each alliance or coalition secure their own space, then wait for conflict to come to them?

EVE’s history suggests the answer lies in between. Leveling the playing field would simply return the game to the ‘Blue Donut’ phase of 2013-2015. The nullsec blocs with enough power to secure their space would do so, and then seek to establish spheres of influence. In these spheres, the threat of the bloc’s powerful navies would essentially ensure that the only people capable of holding space would be renters.

Each bloc would then send out harassment campaigns in disposable ships, similar to NCdot’s deployments to attack Pure Blind in 2014-2015, or Imperium Special Interest Group deployments. These campaigns would target renters in order to impair the rival bloc’s income, or—if there were signs of enough weakness in the rival’s response—the rival bloc’s ratters and miners in their home space. But large wars would become rarer again. The strategic assets, like titans, that large warfare puts at risk would be harder to replace, making them once again into tools not to be used casually.

Breakdown, Go Ahead, Give It to Me

Breaking up the big blocs isn’t really possible, either. Not by an external force. The largest blocs—The Imperium, Legacy Coalition, and PanFam—use out-of-game tools to coordinate and run their organizations. Breaking them up with game mechanics just reinforces the reliance on third-party tools. More, it pushes them to greater cohesion as they can view the attempt to split people from their friends as a force to oppose. Long-time friends may fight and squabble with one another, but someone else who comes along and blatantly tries to drive a wedge between them will, in most cases, only end up facing a unified front.

Internal stresses, not external ones, break up large groups. CO2 left the Imperium during a war, but it was the long history of friction between their leadership, and their coalition allies, that made that possible. Similarly, FCON and Razor had long-standing cultural differences with many of the other CFC/Imperium alliances before they split off. TNT’s alliance goals and attitudes, on the other hand, align closely with GSF’s, and have since long before the TCF (including TNT) let Goonswarm Federation crash on their Deklein couch, way back when.

CCP’s looked at limiting alliance size before, as well as other methods to use in-game mechanics to break up the blocs. The largest alliances simply made plans to split into multiple linked alliances, sharing standings and an out-of-game command infrastructure. With Upwell structures using ACLs for their permissions, rather than standings, this kind of interconnection and interaction only becomes easier.

Where It Could Go

Long-term, the game can’t stay like this. If it does, it’s going to be trouble. But nerfs and coming down like a ton of bricks won’t really do much to make it better. So how does CCP get things moving back toward a nice, healthy oscillating imbalance? And what does that have to do with the PvP lifestyle? Seriously, where the hell did this thing even go?

The answers, of course, are ‘stuff’, ‘a lot’ and ‘lemme ‘splain’. And it begins with CCP’s approach, the one they need is the one they’ve taken. It’s the one that’s guided EVE since the days of Hilmar’s Jetcan Story.

PvP Lifestyle - Hilmar's jetcan story illustrates how CCP can use player-driven solutions.

Empowerment, Enabling, and Emergent Gameplay

Right from the start, CCP’s taken the view that players can come up with amazing ways to use the systems they’ve been given. Most of those ways will be completely unforeseen and unintended. Sometimes, they even turn the game on its head and make things possible that never would have been otherwise. However, no proposal should ever attempt to include pitches of what form the emergent gameplay of the future will take. That sort of speculation hurts more than it helps. It sets up expectations, and someone, inevitably, falls short. So let’s table the emergent aspects of this idea, in order to not inadvertently build in artificial goals.

Instead, consider what leads to that emergent gameplay: CCP’s history of enabling it, as Hilmar’s story illustrates. Instead of removing the tool with unexpected behavior, CCP embraced it. They happily looked to see what else we could come up with. Living in wormholes is just one of the many other examples. And that speaks to one of the persistent strengths of CCP, and EVE Online: empowering and enabling players. Through EVE’s history, CCP has given us the tools to, as the Apocrypha intro dared, boldly forge our own paths. And that offers a way to disrupt the coming stagnation, with more PvP.

Which brings us to the point, and the pitch.

The PvP Lifestyle

Right now, more or less the only way to make a living through PvP is freighter ganking. When I started doing the background for this piece, I took some time to talk to the single-most knowledgeable expert on freighter ganking I could think of: Warr Akini.

Warr is the founder of Goonswarm’s Ministry of Love—Miniluv. For those living under a rock the last half-decade-plus, MiniLuv is the Imperium SIG that puts on the annual(-ish) Burn Jita events. They not only fund their own activities through freighter ganking, but that’s where the money for the Burns comes, too. So it’s pretty obvious they’re able to make a living at it.

But that success doesn’t come without investment, and effort. When I asked him about whether ganking could support a player’s regular PvP account, he had this to say:

“It can, but that well dries up fast. For individuals, industrial ganking is pretty common, but people get very territorial about that. And the more committed you get in putting down multiple accounts to gank the more locked in you are to the system. The more you commit, the more you’re committed. It’s very hard to draw down accounts when, for example, demand has decreasd or when you have other commitments in life. So you feel obligated to gank more and more. And sometimes that just isn’t as possible.”

So clearly, there’s a limit to it. If you want to be good at it, you need to commit. And once you’re committed, you may not have the time to be able to focus on other things, like being a marauding warlord. But it’s a start, and ganking is the perfect place to build from—by increasing the haul.

Yo-Ho-Ho and a Bottle of Rum

What do you call someone who hauls a ship to a stop, commits violence against the occupants, and gets rich doing it? Johnny De- eh, you get it. But pirates don’t just take cargo. Historical pirates, modern pirates, fictional pirates, they all take ships. Now, there’s no way CCP is going to give anyone a tool that forces a pilot to eject, but we can come close—with salvage.

Imagine it: instead of a cleverly-named cargo container, wrecks could be actual hulks. Newbies could continue to use Salvage Drones and Salvager Is & IIs on them, generating salvage just like normal. But other possibilities open up. Right now two Industrial Command Ships exist. Both of them, unlike normal Command Ships, are T1 hulls. What if a T2 Industrial Command Ship existed that could use a Large (or Capital) Tractor beam to pull a wreck along into warp, or through a gate? What if a T2 Noctis hull existed with that same capability for ‘small’ wrecks?

Recycle and Re-Use

Bring a wreck back to station, get better salvage, or reprocess it. Even repair and sell it. That shouldn’t be cheap, but it should cost less than the material cost of building a new one. CCP could move repairing hulks into the Industry system. The hulk itself could serve as a BPC, reducing material requirements. Take a page from mutaplasmids. Those introduce a random element to the performance of modules. Hulks could have a quasi-random element: how much damage did they take?

Frigates kill a Megathron. The actual damage taken only slightly exceeds the ship’s HP. It’s enough to render the hull inoperative, but the majority of the ship is intact. Two-hundred Maelstroms volley another Megathron off the field in a single shot. That ship took nearly 10x the damage needed to kill it. It’s swiss cheese; most of the physical matter of the ship simply doesn’t exist anymore.

The first Megathron gets the maximum discount. The second needs almost as much in material inputs as a new ship. Maybe it doesn’t leave a wreck at all. Nothing to salvage or loot. It was obliterated. That makes blobbing less profitable than a surgical strike, providing a disincentive for N+1. It’s not a lot, not enough to overwhelm strategic concerns during a war, but it’s something.

And it means the better you are at PvP, the more money there is to be made doing it. You can go out hunting, and use the results to build your own fleet. That doesn’t have to be limited to subcapitals. Multiple tractor ships could bring home targets bigger than themselves. Kill a ratting supercapital, then bring in four Orca-sized ‘tugs’ to drag it home. A few days or weeks later, the industry job completes a ‘new’ supercarrier.

And it doesn’t have to start in PvP.

PvE as a Gateway Drug

CCP’s new NPC AI is a pretty impressive thing. Not just because of the way it runs NPC behaviors, but because of when it starts running those behaviors. The new AI starts working before the NPCs ever undock—and they do undock. They undock from structures just like we do. They modify their ship choices and tactics, just like we do. But most importantly for our purposes, they fly real ships, with real fits. That happens in the NPC engineering complexes, and it happens in the Forward Operating Bases.

It could happen more often, too. It could happen with a new set of missions, allowing PvErs a stepping stone from current mining and salvage, into full-on production. Just include the new AI with the new ‘fitted ships’ for NPCs, and from there, it uses the same system as PvP Salvage & Recovery.  Heck, CCP could add an entire S&R career path, paying pilots to fly either Logistics or Recovery vessels into NPC-on-NPC combat sites and work to keep one side alive, or extract a valuable hull and bring it back to station to turn in. Once players get used to doing that in PvE, they may take the plunge into PvP if it means they get to keep that haul instead of just a finder’s fee.

But Salvage & Recovery isn’t the only way to make PvP pay. It’s not even the most bountiful.

Pay-For-Play

Ok, that joke sucked. But the Bounty system needs an overhaul. It should provide a profit margin for PvP. A robust bounty system gives people reason and means to play as another PvP lifestyle: the bounty-hunter. And it’s due, really. CCP’s admitted that Crimewatch needs an overhaul—they’re even turning it off in really big fights now. So roll all that together into a single revamp, and let’s get something that encourages shooting someone else for money.

The current framework separates bounties from criminal activity. The ‘bounty’ system isn’t a system to incentivize justice, it’s a scattershot approach to anonymous contract-killing. Players find someone they want shot, and stick money in the pot for killing that person. It’s enough of a joke that people put bounties on their friends, even on their own corporations and alliances. And that started the day the current system went in.

A Better Mousetrap

So what does a better bounty system look like? That’s not an easy question. Left unprofitable, nothing changes. Make it profitable, and pirates will use alts to cash in on their own bounties.  Still, some general guidelines can serve as a starting point.

First, CCP needs to decide what the goal of the bounty system is. If it’s to be an ISK sink, then making it work will be hard. On the other hand, if CCP wants the bounty system to spark PvP, then it may need more than just player money involved. In fact, let’s start there: Separate the ‘bounty hunter’ angle from the ‘contract killer’ one.

Dawg… in… Spaaaaaaaaaaace

Conceptually, bounty hunting itself (especially in highsec) needs some kind of involvement from ‘the authorities’. Maybe acts that lower your security status get a bounty automatically dropped on your head. Gank a freighter in highsec? Bounty. Pod someone in high/low? Bounty. It doesn’t have to be a huge amount per offense—it’ll add up over time.

Then it comes back to how you pay it out. The timing on payouts should be a regular thing. NPC bounties pay out every 20 minutes. Bounties on capsuleers don’t take nearly that long. But why not? Treat them all the same. We don’t need to be spammed with a bounty payment in our scrolling combat text. We just need it in the wallet. Separate it like that, and maybe then it can be run in the cloud, reducing server load on situations where a hundred guys with smartbombs get on ten bounties from interceptors in a 10% tidi fight.

Heck, make collecting bounties something you can only do if you have a positive security status, and no bounty yourself. Maybe CCP could put redeeming bounties into the Agency. You have a bounty and you want it gone? Pay it up. Like a bail bond, the bounty really just represents a 10% finder’s fee on the punishment for your crimes. It wouldn’t undo the sec status hit, but it would get rid of your wanted poster. Conversely, using tags (or ratting) might raise your sec status again, but it wouldn’t reduce the bounty. Community service doesn’t work if you’re evading capture. Heck, it’s tempting to suggest that if you want the bounty, you should need to pod the target… but catching a pod without a bubble is a tricky thing. Why build in a speedbump?

Good Writers Borrow From Other Writers…

EVE is not the only MMO to use a bounty system. It’s certainly not the MMO that’s widely acknowledged to have done the best job with Bounty Hunting. That honor goes to Star Wars Galaxies. SWG’s bounty hunters, unlike SW:TOR’s, actually hunted bounties, and the system worked. It worked well. EVE could use elements similar to SWG’s to try to achieve similar results.

First off, bounty hunters do the bounty hunting. Sure, everyone gets bounties paid out on NPCs. But if you want someone to pay you to hunt a capsuleer, you should make that the thing that you do. It shouldn’t be a thing that just happens when you get into a fight. That doesn’t mean you can’t do other things, but being a bounty hunter should really involve at least some level of commitment to it.

Great Writers Steal Outright

Next, take SWG’s method for making sure there isn’t an easy way to game the system: assign bounties randomly. You want to be a Bounty Hunter, talk to your agent, or hit the ‘Gimme a Bounty’ thing in the Agency, or what have you. However it happens, you don’t pick the target, the game picks it for you. Sure, maybe you’ll get a job to kill a blue, and you can work out a little collusion there. But you can’t rely on that, and even if you could, splitting the money means pocketing less yourself.

Then give Hunters back the watchlist. Not in an unlimited form, of course, just let them have notifications of ‘your bounty has connected/disconnected’, so they know they should get hunting. While it’s certainly possible that wildly incompatible activity cycles will make it harder to hunt your quarry, that’s what weekends are for. There could be different levels of the tools involved, too. For free, you just get a notification after give minutes. Pay your monthly dues, and you get instant notification. Pay the VIP-level dues, and you get instant notification and remote use of a CONCORD Bounty Agency (or whatever) locator once per (hour? Day? CCP can work out those kinds of details. They’re big boys and girls. I believe in them).

Other tools and perks can be added, as well. Maybe at a certain level of dues, there’s a minimum value to the bounties you get. Who knows? There’s possibilities there, and ways to give people more options.

Remember: No Disintegrations

Sometimes, though, what you really want out of your in-game blood money isn’t some impersonal bounty. Sometimes, you want a contract killing. Right now, the closest the contract system allows is item request contracts for a capsuleer’s corpse. Feh. Imagine being able to put up a contract that says ‘I want [NAME] dead, and I’m willing to pay X ISK for it.’ Then, just leave it up. Have an option for one-time, or a set window, or even just persistent.

Think of it. Someone hits ‘accept’ on this persistent contract, then kills [NAME], they get X ISK. Someone else does it an hour later, they get X ISK, too. Sure, if there’s no way to limit it, it could be abused to bankrupt the person offering the contract. But we’ve already thought of that, so obviously the guys at CCP would, too. Especially since we just told them. And then, when someone makes a mess of it all anyway? Just send in the Wolf.

Going to War

It’s no secret that the wardec mechanics need help, too. In fact, in the meeting minutes for the first CSM Summit of this term, we found out just how badly they need it. CCP identified wardecs as actively driving people out of the game. It’s so bad, they were contemplating just pulling the mechanic completely while they work on it.

They’ve made a few changes already. Those changes—like requiring the target corporation or alliance to have a structure anchored and online in space—are fine as a stopgap measure to staunch the bleeding. They can’t be the basis for a new system of highsec warfare in the future, though. It creates a class of players who cannot be held accountable for their actions.

EVE Has Consequences

Consider the following scenario:

Your mining corp has a refinery set up on a moon in Isaziwa. You’ve got a frack that’s just hit its auto-detonate, because the timing just wasn’t perfect for your activity window. You’ll get your mining fleet there maybe half an hour after. But here comes this guy from another corp, mining your moon goo. He’s in a player corp, but they don’t have structures. Why would they? They’re just playing parasite on yours.

How do you stop him from taking your moon goo? You can’t wardec him—his corp has no structures. You could gank him… but then CONCORD’s gonna blow you up. Mining moon ore isn’t like flipping jetcans. He doesn’t get a suspect timer for mining those rocks. CCP could change that, of course. They could make it so that if you can’t dock at the nearest refinery, mining moon ores gives you a suspect timer. But for now, it doesn’t. So when you try to defend your investment and drive off the mosquito who’s trying to suck you dry?

CONCORDOKKEN.

Congratulations, you have lost a ship. And he’s lost nothing. His crimes have no consequences. And actions without consequences are anathema to EVE Online.

Going High

Players have been suggesting ways to find a long-term fix for high-sec wardecs for a while now. When the Winter Summit minutes came out, fixing wardecs was one of the most-discussed subjects in feedback thread. One of the best solutions presented hinged on the same thing all of EVE’s successful solutions have: giving players choices. Counter-play, not sanctuary, is the essence of EVE.

This particular proposal advocated greater granularity in the wardecs—more options. And from there, objectives and victory conditions. As the author writes…

“The solution most likely lies within getting granularity into the wardec system. Different types of wardecs, to start with. Introduce war goals for the aggressor, which in turn affects the defensive wargoals and the costs involved. This is just very quick and dirty, and blatantly open to abuse, but it’s a start:

Declare War, be given the choice of War Goals: Certain specific structures destroyed/Taken down perhaps? Or just a certain amount of them. A certain amount of kills or isk destroyed. X amount of loot gained from defenders’ ships and structures perhaps. Sliders setting the various goals to X, Y and Z values. This affects a few things: The cost of the war, the length/timeframe of it, and the defenders’ War Goals.

Depending on the variables the attacker set up, the defender gets its own war goals, like War Target Structure not reinforced for two weeks? Victory. X amount of Aggressor Ships destroyed (or isk value, etc etc), victory. Trade for X amount of ISK in two or more tradehubs? Victory (although this one is blatantly unbalanced and needs work). Mine Y amount of Ore in Z amount of days under the wardec? Victory! Etc.

Basically, let the bears have a chance to “win” the war by doing what they do anyway. If they successfully do the things they do anyway, while dodging or destroying aggressors, they can ‘win’ and the war can end for so and so long. They won’t have to ‘fight’ directly, but they do have to be active. Rewards activity as they’re under the dec.

A war goal system with goals for both attackers and defenders, achievable by activity in space (and with a maximum amount of kills etc per side before one side wins) combined with a campaign to promote hardier bears through the NPE preparing them better for it, mentally more than skillwise, is the only thing I can see that could help in this particular regard.”

It’s a short step from there to envisioning ways to make objective-based warfare profitable. Earlier ideas like S&R and contract killings come to mind. Once you get people actually PvPing, systems that make PvP in general a viable option kick in, and help out here, too.

Going Low

Faction Warfare is someplace that should be all about PvP. That’s what CCP built it for: an organized way to channel the loyalist groups, and let them find and fight one another. But it turned out very differently. LP farmers flip sides at the drop of a hat, grinding out their Loyalty Points through PvE ‘plexing’. Plexing is more or less the inspiration for Entosis Warfare: activate acceleration gate, and when you land, orbit the button long enough to ‘claim’ the site. Maybe kill some rats. If someone else shows up, there’s a fight… or, you know, one side just runs away.

That’s where the money is in FW: plexing unopposed and running away. Because of that, the people FW attracts are disproportionately LP farmers, not fighters.

FW has other problems, too. One of the big things crippling FW right now is citadels. In the warzones, control of the stations in a system is part of holding the system. If the system belongs to AmarrMil, MinmatarMil can’t dock, and so on. That means controlling the system denies services like repairs or the market for resupply, etc. Except, you know, citadels exist.

Anchoring an Upwell structure doesn’t require control of the system. This means they can be spammed to the point where something is going to get online. Once it’s online, having it offers a significant advantage: forward staging. Worse, it gives all of the perks of any citadel when defending the cit, like tether and repair, reship availability. On top of that, the structure itself makes a fairly decent gun emplacement. It’s a perfect Forward Operating Base, in a system of warfare that wasn’t designed to include such FOBs.

But FOBs are exactly the solution to that problem: Navy FOBs.

Bringing the Pirate Structure AI to the Warzone

Highsec pirate FOBs function in some ways like small versions of the Engineering Complexes that drop BPCs for pirate capital and super-capital ships. FOBs spawn ‘Africanized’ ‘rats, so labelled in reference to the ‘killer bees’ that swept up from the southern hemisphere in the last decades of the 20th century. These ‘rats use the new NPC AI discussed earlier. If you bring a certain fleet comp, they’ll try to counter it. More importantly, though, if you leave them and their home intact for more than a few days, they begin striking out at targets in the system. They hit miners. They hit people loitering on gates. And they also hit structures.

That’s a huge step in keeping FW systems clean from structure spam. All CCP would need to do is set up these NPC bases so the ships they spawn don’t attack members of the militias they’re aligned with. 24th Imperial Crusade rats don’t shoot AmarrMil/CalMil. Tribal Liberation Force rats don’t shoot MinMil/GalMil. And so on. Anyone else puts down a structure in the system, and they’ll hit it, within a reasonable amount of time. Maybe throw in an additional complication that Upwell structures owned by people other than the owning faction are always stuck in low power mode. That might be too much, but who knows?

And Using It In The Current Content

Right now, missions exist in FW space to destroy rival production facilities.  You get a mission in a system your side controls, you go into a hostile-controlled system, warp the location, and blow up the structure. So why not make that work with the FOB idea? The Navy doesn’t need a FOB, it’s got an Azbel. More, it’s got an Azbel players can use. Are you in a Militia that’s friendly with the owners? Land, make repairs, heck, do your industry work.

Build ships. Build capital ships. Just don’t let the Azbel get blown up when those players from the other side come in to hit it. The shipyard can spawn defensive ‘rats, of course, but it’s set to spawn a lower number, maybe only half of the normal amount it would use. Maybe less. Make sure that in order to keep access to their facilities, players have to defend it. Maybe even replace the stations with NPC Upwell structures. Then use mechanics like these to push players back into fighting players.

And then reward that, not orbiting a button, with LP. LP payouts for killing opposing militia pilots in the Warzone. 1/4 size payout for killing a neutral. LP payouts for destroying enemy strictures, again, reduced for destroying neutrals who shouldn’t be there in the first place. LP is where the profits in FW are. Link LP to PvP, not mindless tedium, and not only does it spur more actual PvP in the warzones, it makes that PvP profitable.

To the Victor Go the Spoils

There’s one more suggestion I have to make. This one will make PvP more profitable pretty much everywhere except J-space. It also provides something of an ISK-sink. And it can be controlled by the devs, in sensible ways, to not become an inadvertently punitive measure against people whose RL have just not let them get on for a while.

Get rid of asset safety. Seriously, just do away with it. Stuff gets blown up, it gets blown up. Ships and containers get ejected from a dying structure in k-space same as happens in wormholes. Poof, instant profit. And really, there is no reason to make it impossible for people to lose their possessions. Choosing to live out of an Upwell structure, or in systems that don’t have NPC stations, is still a choice. In EVE, that means it should have consequences. Every choice someone makes in EVE should either effect them, or effect the people around them.

Obviously, though, there would need to be protections. Someone who’s hard RL hardship keep them away from the game shouldn’t be penalized In-Game for that. So if you haven’t logged an account (not character) in for six weeks, at that point your ship hangar and item hangar (but not corp hangars) get an ‘ASSET SAFETY: 1’ flag.  If the structure blows up, your possessions go to a lowsec station. It’s something to protect people whose misfortune comes from sources outside the game, without removing the risks involved in living in space, or the rewards for putting in the time and effort to kill a structure.

Conclusions

Right now in EVE, PvP is what you make money for. You make the money elsewhere, and you blow it on PvP.  And that’s fine. PvP should be a net ISK/asset sink. But there should also be ways to provide enough return for clever, skilled pilots to make a living by the sword. CCP has options. There are ways to make a PvP lifestyle into something that players can choose. A number of different ideas and approaches exist, if CCP has the wisdom to embrace their own lessons, and enable and empower their players.

The last two years have seen mechanics changes that enabled the ascendancy of  the industrialist lifestyle. A PvP lifestyle should be just as valid. In a game made by vikings, it’s a bit crazy to think that it’s not.

Let your voice be heard! Submit your own article to Imperium News here!

Would you like to join the Imperium News staff? Find out how!

Comments

  • General Thade

    I like a lot of the ideas in this article. First off I want to say the reading was great, good job!

    I have a few ideas that could help make PVP a more viable way to make isk.

    1.) make ships drop more loot.
    What if you kill a ship that is very blingy. Instead of a random part of the fit dropped, what if you could shoot ships in certain spots, and where ever they take the most damage, the appropriate module gets damaged. The like you said, you can repair that shield booster and sell it back on the market.

    2.) Give predators and prey more options.
    If you have ever have been captured in a non combat ship you might be used to being held hostage for ransom. What if you could buy mercenaries and have them board enemy ships, and them capture loot, or have mercenaries on your mining barge go onto the enemy ship, and disable their tackle from the inside out. Making piracy more strategic for both sides makes it fun. plus, you dont have to board their ship, you can always just blow them up. This also gives more time to make deals when it comes to ransom and stuff.

    3.) Make drugs great again.
    Drug production used to make cartels, mafias, ect in nullsec, lowsec, and wormhole space. If making a bunch of drug money while fighting other cartels does not make PVP a viable isk option, I dont know what will. Now drug production tanked, and the agency provides most of the drugs.

    Those are my ideas.

    November 26, 2018 at 4:29 pm
  • Guilford Australis

    I think many of the suggestions for how CCP can foster PVP are interesting. I certainly agree that some of the current mechanics discourage players (who might already not be inclined to engage in PVP) from fighting.

    Regarding stagnation in nullsec and the consolidation of power around a couple of mega-coalitions, I think eliminating asset safety would go a long way toward limiting the appeal of nullsec for the krabs, nullbears, etc. who are currently responsible for an enormous proportion of the industry, proliferation of supercapitals, and inflation in EVE. The guys with ten Rorqual accounts or botting supercarriers might be less inclined to invest in all that hardware if it can be destroyed along with the station it’s parked in. Of course, considering the number of Rorquals and Carriers/Supercarriers getting bombed where they sit in belts and anomalies each day, I might be underestimating the typical krab’s capacity to endure setbacks and shame for the sake of easy ISK.

    November 26, 2018 at 6:15 pm
    • You are, yeah. Heh.

      November 26, 2018 at 6:34 pm
    • Alaric Faelen Guilford Australis

      Citadel proliferation makes spreading out valuable assets easy though, so no single take down of a citadel need hurt anyone in their home region. People in large alliances find their assets all over the place. For example I do my ratting 10+ jumps (or one jump bridge and a couple gates) from our staging in 1DQ so my ratting/salvage ships are there. Some of my stuff is in a wormhole. At the GSF ‘capital’ Keepstar I mostly just have ships for fleets and some refits, I don’t really ‘live’ there. It’d be hard to hit me so catastrophically that asset safety really matters one way or the other. Plus the sheer number of citadels in space means the law of averages also works in my favor that the structure you spent a hours in soul crushing TiDi blowing up was even one I have stuff in.

      November 27, 2018 at 7:41 pm
  • dnara

    “Increasingly, this cycle of security makes things harder for the older ‘Elite PvP’ crowd. These are players who don’t want to PvE, who want to live a PvP lifestyle and maintain that as their primary activity”- The only thing that changed is now you need both types of players in the same alliances…A pvp player doesnt have to change to pve…. A pvp alliance needs to look to recruit some pve and industrial corps. Imperium didnt get to where it was by ONLY being an industrial power… they just never had the restrictions that other coalitions, alliances, corps had in the past that discouraged industrial corps from joining more war like organizations…There are lots of industrial groups in high sec… and with the right offer Im sure many of them might be willing to venture into null sec under the umbrella of a military based organization. I can agree with most of the other stuff that you mention in this article but I disagree that there should be a choice for powers to be one or the other… you need to be both and that by no means has to lead to pvp centric players becoming industrial players. It just means their organizations need to branch out a little and look for industrial players to join their ranks.

    November 27, 2018 at 3:45 pm
  • Great article, excellent writing! Although my alliance is peaceful in nature, the PvP nature of EVE is really what makes life exciting and interesting for us all in-game. Long may it prosper, and may risk of loss always mean something! That said, I like your idea about the automatic asset safety feature for someone who hasn’t logged in for some weeks. The undercurrent of hopeful enthusiasm for the evolution of EVE in your article is really nice.

    November 27, 2018 at 4:25 pm
  • Alaric Faelen

    Great read and so many good ideas, i think perhaps too many for one article. This should have been broken out as a series with a finale that ties the various parts together. Otherwise, it covers so much good ground.

    For PvE, the game primarily needs a facelift with the new AI. The more like fighting another player PvE is, the more likely players will be emboldened to PvP. Perhaps most importantly, losing ships in PvE needs to be a common occurrence. This is the single biggest difference between PvE and PvP in Eve. It’s incredibly rare to lose a ship to rats outside of the occasional Burner or Incursion loss. This leads to min/max and risk
    averse behavior.

    There needs to be a move away from set spawns with known triggers to random NPC fleet comps that favor fewer but tougher enemies similar to the NPC mining fleet reinforcements. Basically, make Eve-Survival obsolete.
    PvE such as Missions should be seen as a training ground for PvP situations, and should be enlarged to include support roles like Logi or EWAR for NPC on NPC operations. Fleets are made up of ROLES, but most of them go totally unused for PvE. Have low level missions let new players fly tackle and just try to stay alive long enough to turn the tide of an NPC on NPC battle. Tier the rewards for that even ‘losing’ the battle by being destroyed or the friendly NPCs retreating still offers a lower level of reward.

    Losing ships in PvE works both as an isk sink (and learning tool for improving fits) but also conditions players to not min/max and thus be risk averse. Flying ships that are practical rather than loot pinatas that AFK’s L4’s all day. It’s silly that a ship that can slaughter an armada of NPC’s should run in terror from anyone not blue landing on grid with them.

    There should also be scaling in difficulty for your fleet comp. This can be as simple as something like the capital escalation system used in WH sites. Reward fleeting up over solo whenever possible.

    Eve could use some form of improved ‘group finder’ for fleet level PvE. A big hurdle for many new players is committing to a corp/alliance just to engage in some content. Chat channels like Missions should look like the Incursion channel with people blasting out LFF notices.
    Encouraging players to fleet up without having to commit to joining someone’s cause would go far in socializing high sec- which eerily silent despite being so crowded. Get more than three unaligned people in a null sec system and someone is going to talk smack, it’s just inevitable. But outside of tradehub scam contract spam, high sec is like a crowded library. This is why high sec is so marginalized despite having a majority population, it is just a cluster of individuals rather than a cohesive society.
    But that’s a whole other wall of text.

    November 27, 2018 at 6:09 pm
    • Arrendis Alaric Faelen

      I thought about doing it as a series, but I really didn’t feel like I could expand on each section well enough to devote a separate article to each of them.

      And yeah, PvE missions with actual roles and structure would be really good. And the Agency is set up to be a group finder, if they want to use it that way. It might be vulnerable to awoxing by gankers, but in highsec, the damage should be limited there.

      And yeah, highsec’s the most isolated segment of players in the game. They’re the ones least likely to be paying attention to news sites, to the forums, to anything, really. That disorganization is why they’re never solidly represented on the CSM, beyond Steve, and left relying on things like our CSMs knowing that the game needs to be healthy all across New Eden.

      November 28, 2018 at 1:15 am
  • Alex

    +1 for the author, the considered and creative article – well-done, and much appreciated.

    Game balance is always going to be an impossible mission, but I agree that it’s one that isn’t finished in Eve (needless to say). It is challenging as a Null-sec-but-non-Imperium reader, though (independent group) to feel much sympathy for the problem that “PvP is broken” though.

    We’re an alliance with both a PvP wing, and an Industrial one (multiple Corps in each) and a total membership of 600+ (75 actual players online on average in our peak TZ). As the author notes, we were in the former ‘no mans land’ between Great Bloc buffer-zones (when it still existed), but we recently got summarily nuked by The Imperium because our structures *could* be a potential staging point for an(y) potential enemy, and they “preferred the space empty” (actual quote from Executor).

    No threat from us, no history of it, no evidence, no negotiation/diplomacy worked, and 150+ person fleets suddenly dropped round-the-clock and destroyed hundreds of billions of ISK until we finally had to abandon the systems. That space is now empty of all but unused Goon structures. But anyone going into it now is still driven out.

    Yes, I know that life in Eve is harsh. Yes, I know that one shouldn’t go to Null and expect High-Sec. Yes, I know that owning/flying anything means that it’s already lost. Yes, I know that no one should be able to keep what they can’t defend. Yes, I know that ‘content is king’ and the Imperium owes us nothing. Yes, yes, yes. No, we weren’t willing to pay ‘tribute’ to them, which was our choice, but even if we had, my point would remain the same (and IMHO valid).

    The relevancy to this article is this: whether it mattered or not, we were no threat to The Imperium, but instead were a potential (unrealised) value to them. As with most things, it’s about balance – not just the mechanics OF the game, but also the decisions of the players WITHIN the game.

    We had 40+ people every night spoiling for a fight, on the border of The Imperium’s sphere of influence, with an industrial machine capable of replacing as many ships as they could possibly lose. In fact, our industrial wing would have gladly built ships for Imperium pilots or markets to use against our own PvP wing as well. More ‘splosions = more revenue. Good for everyone.

    In this case, The Imperium and its member corps/alliances/leadership made decisions to prioritise short-term content and “tears” over long-term value (as defined by them, and this author), and drove us and many others like us back to High-Sec. I have mad respect for their effort, organisation, dedication and capability, but to paraphrase the immortal words of Loki, “this ant had a quarrel with that boot”. Absent the Avengers in my Corp, it ended unsurprisingly badly for the ant.

    I don’t know what in-game mechanic will “fix” the problems that the author describes here very eloquently and effectively, and I genuinely believe that for players coming from this perspective, that they are honest-to-goodness real issues. I want everyone to enjoy the game the way they want to, and I want risk that makes me *care* about my assets, interests and those of my friends in-game. This actually isn’t a “Goons – GRRRRR!” reply.

    But part of the solution might be a considered change of strategy *within* the single remaining power in Null-Sec to realise that a single-minded campaign of indomitable conquest at all costs in the name of short-term content will generate an ocean of tears for them to enjoy. Paradoxically, more condensed power-blocs with real, substantive buffers and creative and diverse governance (RIP Providence) mean healthier Null-Sec empires and happier players. I guess I’m arguing that that that short-sighted ocean of tears will also salt the earth for long after we non-Imperium groups are driven out, rendering it unnecessarily empty and dull for the Pyrrhic victors who remain.

    Thanks again for a great article, and all the thought that you clearly put into it. Respect.

    November 28, 2018 at 5:04 pm