Risk and Conflict in EVE – CSM Member, Thoric Frosthammer

2015-08-03

This is a re-print of the article, “Risk and Conflict in EVE” by CSM X member and Get Off My Lawn <LAWN> Chairman, Thoric Frosthammer, reproduced here with his permission. It is an opinionated piece, and in no way reflects the opinions of TMC or any of its Editors.

A common theme in a lot of blogs, reddit posts and other EVE media at the moment is that “risk aversion” is creating a lack of content. I am now going to spend a lot of ~words~ telling you why I disagree. The problem doesn’t lie with risk aversion, but an out of whack set of play mechanics that produce no good reason to take risks. This applies both to combat in general, and the new sov system in particular.

What drives conflict?

What drives conflict in EVE are situations where both sides in a conflict feel like they can gamble and win, and the reward is worth the gamble. You can see this in a casino every day. There has to be a small chance of winning, and the greater the risk (the smaller the chance of winning), the bigger the reward needs to be to get them to bet. Lotteries have negligible chances of winning, but people will still throw a couple of dollars at it, because the risk is small, to match the small chance of a positive outcome, because the potential reward is great. If people think they have a greater chance of winning, they will risk much more (their belief doesn’t have to be correct, they just have to perceive it to be greater).

The enormous battle of B-R illustrates this point perfectly. Manfred Sideous, the FC for PL, believed that it was a good risk to protect his fallen sov system by deploying their trademark wrecking ball of supers and titans, believing that the Imperium (then the CFC) would flinch from a decisive battle between the super capital fleets. This was a good bet, from a historical perspective. The Imperium had been loath to risk its protective umbrella of supercapitals (sic) in an offensive attack, knowing it would open their holdings to rapid defeat if it was lost. The Imperium on the other hand, looked around and found, for perhaps the first time, that allied with the Rus, they had a super capital numbers advantage in every time zone. Lazarus Telraven bet that this roll of the dice could be the crushing blow that would assure the Imperium a decisive supercapital (sic) advantage for the foreseeable future, as well as a smashing morale victory. Both sides couldn’t be right, but both sides had good reason to believe they were. Battle was joined and the results are enshrined in a monument. That epic battle hinged on the idea of the winnable bet.

None of this works, however, when the chances of winning are zero. There’s no winnable bet. There’s no reason to risk. That is the situation with EVE’s game mechanics at the moment. Battles are frequently, but not always, simple exercises in mathematics. “I don’t have links, he does, can’t win that fight, run.” “He has 50% more numbers, in equivalent strength ships, I can’t win, run” “he has 30,000 pilots, I have a couple of thousand, what’s the point in invading” “His fleet hard counters mine, better flee”. The only time a fight occurs under those circumstances, is when roughly equivalent gangs, in roughly equivalent ships, with links, happen to encounter each other, or when someone gets trapped and has to fight. That’s a difficult thing to arrange. (sic) It’s happening less and less.

What is needed, in my opinion, is a way to increase the window of “winnable bets” and therefore encourage people to gamble. In my opinion there are several things that could be done:

1.  Eliminate supercapitals (sic). Just refund the money or materials, the skill points for fighter bombers, and the cost of the fighter bombers, along with the remote ECM modules. CCP is struggling to find a role for these ships and if I’m honest, its because they were probably a mistake in the first place. They keep good capital fights, which were previously pretty balanced, from ever occurring. Particularly with the Phoebe changes, local super capital superiority is a virtually unbeatable advantage. There are no supercapital batphones anymore. Remove the doomsday from Titans, if you feel the need to keep them for bridging.

2.  Eliminate Links. One of the single biggest factors in reducing the number of fights in eve is links. Many is the time I have seen fc’s pinging for links, knowing their opponent has them, and the fight never happens because they don’t get the right numbers. So-called “solo” or small gang pilots with an alt on links following them have destroyed actual solo and small gang combat. Remove them. Change the skills to leadership, and perhaps a specialist skill, remove the others and reimburse them. individuals with the right fleet command skills and the 2 leadership skills could then simply be slotted into fleet in any ship appropriate for the fleet, giving bonuses from the skills. The skills would be far more widespread, and easier to use. You could use bonuses without requiring extra ships or alts that add nothing to the fun of the game. People would find it easier to simply undock and fight.

3.  Change fleet bonuses to give diminishing returns. Another way to squeeze the window is to create diminishing returns on bonuses for larger fleets. If you reduce the effective difference in power of a 100 man fleet versus a 70 man fleet, or a 200 person fleet against a 250 person fleet, you give the smaller entity hope that, with skill or luck, they might prevail. A no-win scenario potentially becomes a winnable bet. Combat will occur more frequently.

4.  Create new combat scenarios.  Right now most fights are zero sum. You either win the objective or you are destroyed or chased off. There is a need for new things to fight over. Things that aren’t zero sum. I don’t have the perfect answer, but in my mind, I see it as an oasis in an African savannah. Everyone needs the water, but each animal has a different way of obtaining it. The small ones sneak in by night using stealth and speed. The medium animals like jackals pick off the corpses left by the large predators, as well as taking out the smaller animals. The big predators squat on their kills and rip the meat from them, fighting all comers. Each of these animals can use different tactics and strategies to get some of the precious resource. Each has a chance of walking away with some of it. Each has a valid reason to believe it will benefit from entering the mix, and each has a “winnable bet”. Since the objective isn’t simply to fight the larger enemy, but to outwit them and escape with some of the resource, there’s a non-zero sum game here. Every entity can come in, get a fight, and potentially, thought not always, walk away a winner, sometimes at the same time. Somehow we need to work more concepts like this into the game to encourage fighting.

Sov and the “Winnable Bet”

I am advised its probably not entirely fair to blame only Fozzie for the mess that is the new sov system at the moment. I agree with that notion, and I will therefore be referring to it as “Kafkasov” henceforth.

Let us return to the casino analogy for a moment. Let’s say you pull up to Planet Hollywood for EVE Vegas, you check into the hotel to get your room, and you are told the following:

“To claim your room, you will have to sit at a table in the casino for a period of time, with the contents of your wallet sitting on the table in full view. You, and whatever friends you can summon, must defend the items on the table in group combat with anyone else in the casino who wishes to claim them until the time expires. The period of time shall be determined by how much free landscaping work you do for the casino. If you are a good boy and dig lots of holes, we’ll reduce the time to 3 hours. otherwise you could be sitting there for up to 18. But that’s not all. When you finally get to go to your room for the night, we’ve hooked all the lights, the toilet flush, the heater and ac and your television to switches in the lobby. Anyone who walks by can turn them off and on unless you decide to come down and have a fistfight with them.”

Nobody but an insane person would play this game. There’s no way to win. The best you can do is to not lose. Plus just to reduce the chances of losing, you have to spend hours doing exceedingly tedious tasks. This is the situation sov holders find themselves in under Kafkasov. There’s no winnable bet because there’s no reward that is worth the effort.

There are two potential solutions to this. One is to increase the value of sov holding to the point where it makes the game worthwhile. The anomaly buffs were a modest attempt at this. I think, however, that to make this game palatable, you’d have to make sov so ludicrously overvalued as to disrupt the EVE economy. The other solution is to change the game. I can think of several ways to do this:

1.  Entosis links, when active, should no longer make the ship immune to remote reps, but should instead reduce or eliminate movement. Some have suggested simply disabling prop mods. If a ship needs to be defended to finish the job, instead of merely running away at top speed when enemies approach, fights will be more frequent. The attacker will have skin in the game and they will have to actually have grid superiority to hack something. It will give the defender the chance they need to avoid pointless timers the attacker won’t be back for anyway.

2.  Reduce the massive disparity between the effort required by attackers and the effort required by defenders. For every 20 minute hack by an attacker, there is a guaranteed couple of hours required by a defender to fix the timer, even if NOBODY shows up to contest. Right now, even at maximum ADM level, the amount of time it takes to defend is much more than it took to hack in the first place. That should be reversed. Somewhere over 3 ADM there should be a break even point, and by 6, the amount of time should be substantially in favor of the defender. Remember, they spent literally hours getting that ADM up, it should be good for something besides a slightly longer timer. Conversely, you could even increase the disparity at the lowest ADM levels, so that it requires truly stupid amounts of time to defend a very low index system. This would make truly unused space tend to revert to empty easily. Coordinated attacks on firmly held sov should require getting that index down first.

“But Thoric,” you say, “this sounds like you are favoring the Imperium? We’ll never be able to take your sov!” Frankly, no one is taking it now. The people who are getting clobbered are the poor guys who thought they could take 2-3 systems in a quiet backwater, and make themselves a little space empire. They are spending so much time defending it against every troll in the galaxy they barely have time to do anything with it. Most of them are giving up on the idea. Others are watching and deciding its not worth the effort. You’ll never see smaller entities out there unless they can make their sov defensible against trolling and other small entities.

3.  Remove the ability to hack station services outside the vulnerability window. This is just annoying, and adds nothing to gameplay.

4.  Change the way that sovereignty windows are done altogether. I will speak more on this at a later date. I am still formulating my thoughts on this subject. Ideally however, it would give those aforementioned smaller entities the free time they need to work index, maybe leave their systems for a bit of a roam to seek fights, or just take a day off now and then so EVE doesn’t become a job.

If you do these things, sov once again becomes a “winnable bet”. Some of the future promised group pve experiences and other enhancements might even make it truly desirable. One can hope. I might even stop calling it Kafkasov.

 

This article originally appeared on TheMittani.com, written by Kristoff Merkas.

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