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.