Redistribution Throws Bad Money After Bad

2020-10-02

Art by Quendan Comari.

(Editor’s Note: This article is the first in a multi-part series that describes the true problems with EVE’s gameplay loop and disputes the notion that forced-scarcity is a viable solution. Part one explains why nerfing resource distribution runs counter to CCP’s intended goals, while part two will offer solutions to the true problem that has plagued EVE Online for years – the lack of high-end predation.)

CCP’s recent announcement of another round of mineral redistribution and scarcity, apparently without the knowledge of the CSM, fails to address the root causes of what ails EVE Online. The real problem in EVE is that players tend to stack up at what could be called the “end game,” i.e. supercapital ownership, large amounts of disposable income, and centralization in power blocs. This problem with EVE’s gameplay loop has been present for more than a decade, but has been ignorable until recent years, when a confluence of five factors turned the slow march toward stagnation into an outright sprint. The five factors at issue are: Rorqual mining, citadels, farms and fields, capital EHP, and skill injection/extraction. CCP’s latest attempt to stem the tide is a bad strategy for three reasons: 1) it does nothing to reduce the number of capitals in the game; 2) it is a punishing change that will frustrate and alienate the player base, making things more difficult for the have-nots; and 3) it will likely result in lost subscriptions.

EVE Online’s current situation is analogous to an algae bloom. When the conditions are such that food is plentiful (minerals/extraction capacity, skill trading) and predation is minimal (citadel mechanics, overly-large capital hit point pools, server realities), populations explode. Worse, game mechanics and server realities converge to actively prevent predation on the scale necessary to make meaningful change possible. Pending some “hail mary” server technology, predation is likely to remain mostly unchanged, leaving the “have-nots” with no way up and preventing the “haves” from meaningful competition at a scale necessary to reduce supercapital populations.

The genie has long since been out of the bottle on capital proliferation. CCP’s customers have grown accustomed to the idea that if they put in the effort and cooperate with others, they will acquire the biggest toys. Punishing paying customers for design errors is the exact opposite of what CCP should do. Instead, CCP should focus on creating an environment where the cycle of life is complete, thus bringing the system into equilibrium.

First Factor: Rorquals

The favorite punching bag of many a Reddit commentator, Rorquals, taken alone, have not caused the issues with EVE. On the contrary, Rorquals have accomplished many of CCP’s long-standing objectives and answered the desires of the player base. Rorqual mining created new gameplay opportunities for medium-sized hunters, made mining a highly involved activity, provided meaningful reasons for home defense fleets, and brought many more people into the industrial sectors of the game. Most importantly for CCP, Rorquals drive additional subscriptions.

Virtually all players with the desire and commitment can save up enough ISK to purchase a Rorqual. If that Rorqual can survive long enough, the player can save for a second, third, fourth, or sixteenth Rorq. Players can roll new characters, buy injectors, purchase more Rorquals and keep expanding. As long as they keep those excavators mining (and don’t die), they can have a super and/or titan, FAXes, a few dreads, and some blinged-out PvP ships as well. Players can expand this way right up to the edge of their ability to multitask. Taken alone, this expansion is not a bad thing: it drives a huge amount of engagement with the game. Using a Rorqual creates a very busy player. Players have complained for years about how dull mining was, and Rorqual gameplay IS the solution!

Rorquals also provide food for mid-sized PvP groups. In peace, Rorqual mining creates tons of opportunity for content; PvP fleets attack them and defense fleets protect them. In wartime, raiding the enemy’s home territories can severely hamper the war effort and lead to player attrition. There is a significant segment of the EVE player base who do not like the large TiDi slugfests. These people can never understand why randoms are allowed to roam the home territory unopposed. Typically, it would drive these small/mid-gang players nuts until they left, disillusioned, for greener pastures (or another game). 

In SOV systems of the past, there was no purpose to home defense in a war (unless you were the one having your stations ground down). On the attack, it was better to ignore randoms in your space because they really couldn’t do anything of consequence. Thankfully, in today’s EVE, home defense and medium-sized attacks play an important role in warfare. Raiders deserve fun too.

The problem isn’t that Rorquals generate too much money or allow too much production; it’s that things don’t exit the game again at the high end due to all the rest of the mechanical factors. The circle is broken and the birth/life/death cycle does not complete.

Second Factor: Capitals and Citadels

CCP’s second major gaffe concerns the lack of predation at the high end of EVE gameplay – the true culprits are citadels and capital EHP (especially supercapitals). A full discussion on what exactly needs to change will be discussed in Part 2. But for now, we note that capital EHP is far out of line with the progression of the lower ships in the game, and citadel mechanics further perpetuate conservative game play. It is important to note that both asset classes must remain worth using; however, these are the areas that need the most change in order to ensure a healthy lifecycle in EVE.

Sit There in Your Wrongness and Be Wrong

CCP’s recent announcement about redistribution and scarcity changes is the most wrong-headed thing to come out of the company in a long time, and that’s saying something.

 Before those inclined to the politics of envy celebrate the inevitable downfall of “big null blocs,” consider what will actually happen: some portion of players in null and wormhole space will get fed up and quit, the Imperium will roll massive numbers of highsec alts and probably annihilate any non-aligned highsec mining groups. Lowsec will still not be worth living in for the majority of non-aligned players as highly skilled PvP organizations like Snuffed Out will hunt small organizations to extinction. Established entities like Imperium, Test, and PanFam will colonize lowsec or mount expeditions – backed by massive capital response fleets – taking lowsec for all it’s worth. It won’t be fun for lowsec PvPers either, because large establishments, starved for minerals, won’t be playing games with them. Presumably, wormholers will just starve, or will simply import everything.

 Redistribution and scarcity don’t change the equation for large null blocs. They are already far bigger and better organized than most independents or small groups. They will continue to be, but after this change, they will be interested in your stuff rather than their neighbors’ stuff. They aren’t going to starve. You are going to starve, or else feed off the scraps they leave behind. Imagine BurnJita and Hulkageddon. Every. Single. Day.

 None of this needs to happen.

End Game EVE Reborn

A far better way to rectify EVE is a holistic approach to game balance that acknowledges and embraces the fact that the taps have been running wild for years. People don’t react well to starvation mode. EVE is supposed to be fun; therefore, severely restricting people’s ability to generate the resources and income needed to create fun and content is a terrible idea.

 A holistic approach would bring the cycle of life in EVE back into equilibrium. End-game content and apex ships, such as supercapitals, would be reachable by any team players who dedicate the time. With that access, however, should come risk. The system could be designed so that getting to the end game is the easy part, while staying there is the harder part. A system designed in this way brings average players back toward the middle, either through attrition of supercaps, upkeep costs, increased prices for goods, etc. The same applies to null blocs. While the null blocs will hold their territory, maintaining it becomes more risky and costly. If chores are left undone, the rot will set in and make it easier for a fresh invader to take over.

Imagine an EVE where wars are won both on the front lines and at home, an EVE where the level of effort and organization on the part of an alliance is the primary indicator of potential success rather than raw fleet numbers, an EVE where pilots commit to fights rather than snuggle against invulnerable citadels, an EVE where supercaps can be apex predators one minute and then make a mistake and die to a gang of HACs the next, an EVE where citadels work for both huge null blocs and small five-man corporations. I want to play an EVE like this.

 The End or The Beginning

We can talk all day about how EVE never should have been allowed to get to this point. But the fact is: EVE is at this point. The only right course is to encourage more death at the high end. Kicking the ladder down after the null blocs have climbed up doesn’t make the game fairer; it just makes it more punishing for regular people, whether in nullsec or out. CCP should back away from the foolish path they are embarking upon. It doesn’t make the game more fun, and it doesn’t drive engagement. The answer lies not in making progress harder, but in making progress easy (or at least as easy as it has been) and sustainment difficult. CCP should embrace the “easy come, easy go” attitude; it’s a lot more fun for everyone.

In Part Two we will discuss the two major factors contributing to the lack of endgame predation in EVE Online: citadel mechanics and capital ships.

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Comments

  • Cincinnatus

    How about adding a module to capitals and supercapitals that disrupts remote repairs as a AoE affect. Bigger the module, bigger range of effect. This will give a reason for the capitals and supercapitals to be in the frontline and result in increased losses in warfare.

    October 2, 2020 at 8:25 AM
  • Simon Chui

    I’ve been thinking about ccp’s assertion that scarcity drives conflict, and I’m more and more convinced that this isn’t true in game. Unlike the real world, stuff in Eve has infinite free secure imperishable storage, which means there’s no cost to stockpiling.

    Compare a food shortage in the real world with a mineral storage in game. If you don’t eat food you die. If you don’t spend your minerals, nothing happens. If you stockpile your food too long, it rots. Minerals don’t decay. Your food warehouse costs money to build and maintain. Hangers in NPC stations are free. People can try to raid your food warehouse when you aren’t paying attention. Your minerals in game are untouchable.

    Add all this up, and the difference is clear. In a real world food shortage, you have to constantly find more food and fight other people for it. In Eve, you may do nothing, and your minerals stay there forever, you don’t even need to use any of it to keep playing the game. Mineral scarcity in the game doesn’t drive conflict at all.

    October 2, 2020 at 11:44 AM
    • Simon Chui Simon Chui

      Imagine if all capital ships were perishable. Once you unpackaged them, they last for 30 days, then they self destruct.

      October 2, 2020 at 12:10 PM
    • Nate Hunter Simon Chui

      Its like CCP forgets that scarcity only drives conflict if your neighbor either has more than you so it makes you want to move or if there’s a way that you can pillage your neighbor. Well at least in nullsec there is almost no resource king of the hill region so your neighbor can never have a significant better field than you and there is no way to raid style pillage someone else’s resources so its just not going to encourage conflict.

      October 2, 2020 at 7:04 PM
  • CCP have definitely forced themselves into a corner with regard to forcing the game to rely on good server performance which they can’t deliver: they design all the risk out of small-scale gameplay so that inexperienced players can easily opt out of dying (see: Citadels, tethers, structures co-locating with stargates and jump bridges so there’s nowhere to ambush people, the game being saturated with cloaking, interdiction nullified, or jump-drive equipped / bridgeable ships for almost every task imaginable, etc). This means that the only way to kill people becomes consensual fights. Consensual fights seem to come in two flavors: smaller, low-stakes slapfests that people have out of boredom (eg: cormorant fleets), and big, strategic-level shitstorms over meaningful objectives. The former are boring and inconsequential. The latter crush servers into dust and alienate players on all sides with their random outcomes being determined more often by the peculiar failure modes of the server-side code than the actions of the players involved.

    If CCP want the game to work, they either need to implement systems that allow meaningful consequences and fun gameplay to result from small scale stuff, or they need to make the big fleet fights work. It seems like Fozziesov doesn’t accomplish either of these things, since– as we’ve seen– sov itself doesn’t mean much and can easily flip-flop back and forth across whole regions in short periods of time. As for the latter requirement, there doesn’t seem to be much risk of anybody arguing that Fozziesov is fun.

    October 2, 2020 at 7:04 PM
    • Nate Hunter Ganthrithor

      CCP needs to add more carrot to go punch your neighbor. Maybe make it so wrecks can’t be destroyed for a certain amount of time, maybe drop an object that contains 25% of a ship’s hull minerals upon destruction, Maybe drop 25% of asset safety fees for a citadel to the attackers. Maybe hurry up and implement the Permanent ESS idea across all space. Maybe change combat anomalies to drop a token at the last rat that contains the equivalent in bounties so that players can’t get instant isk for ratting. Maybe add a part of a customs office that can be attacked and steal a portion of the PI products on the planet. Lots of options to potentially make pvp poentially rewarding.

      October 2, 2020 at 7:58 PM
      • I don’t even think it needs to be made more remunerative. It just needs to be more accessible. Right now so much traffic goes by jump drive or uses cloaky T3s or interceptors or yachts. The only time you can fight people is if they want to fight you (meaning you’re massively outnumbered) or you catch them in the act of ratting (nobody mines anymore except in big ADM-boosting fleets).

        October 2, 2020 at 8:05 PM
    • Vals Loeder Ganthrithor

      Consensual… me likey!

      October 12, 2020 at 12:21 PM
  • porky75

    Great article. I do agree with many points made in here. I specially agree with the emphasis on the “fun”; this is a game that needs more of that and less of the BS perfect balance shit. Want to make a few thousand nerds happy, do this crap where you go apeshit over inadequacies between the rich and poor. Want to grow by an order of magnitude; then make it more fun and easier to play. Focus on making killing easier and not making building harder. Make it more fun for the majority and not the spreadsheet nerds that are already playing Eve.

    October 2, 2020 at 11:37 PM
  • Menaiya

    One of the crazier ideas I have and this was after I started playing with Eve Echoes. Why not change the material required to make ships? Start limiting the base materials to subcapitals and require capital parts to be made of whole new material streams that can be measured out.

    October 3, 2020 at 2:38 AM
  • everyone knows what the changes say but no one knows what they’re going to do about them. because the information is incomplete. we have no clue what tools we will use to adjust to the removal of this-and-that.

    there’s a certain je ne sais quoi in knowing how misguided this is, how gun shy it’s made everyone, and knowing you’ll be proven right no matter how much everyone wishes it wasn’t so.

    “we’re removing the brake pedal and accelerator pedal from your car. but we promise it will be worthwhile. in the meantime we’re seeing how drivers react to the removal bit first. oh and keep driving.”

    October 3, 2020 at 11:14 PM
  • Elzon1

    Just remember that CCP intends to the same to mining as they’ve done with isk faucets/sinks. In the final phase CCP will most likely put a system in place that balances minerals harvested with minerals destroyed. Every ship, module, or piece of ammo that gets destroyed/used up will count as minerals destroyed in the system and then those minerals will be made available to be harvested/mined, but no more than that. These minerals to be harvested will be made available proportionately to the entire EVE ecosystem as a whole. Instead of stagnation this will close the loop and overtime create a more balanced mineral pool in EVE.

    If CCP doesn’t think the concentration of minerals in EVE is redistributing fast enough they can both continue their scarcity protocol and potentially introduce the “Heavy bomber” ships either as outright scaled up bombers with anti-capital bombs or perhaps a “Heavy Battleship” class that’s basically a battleship hull with capital size weapons (think like Attack Battlecruisers that have battlecruiser hulls, but battleship size weapons).

    October 5, 2020 at 6:10 AM