An Icy Reception
I can already hear the bleating…
“Nullbear!” “Carebear!” “Adapt or die!” “When you quit, can I have your stuff?”
So, before I step into the ring and criticise CCP’s proposed cyno changes—their latest foray in their ongoing, erratic, increasingly absurd war on the civilized population of nullsec—let me be clear about where I’m coming from.
My name is Ganthrithor. I’ve been playing EVE Online since 2006, and I am only sometimes a carebear. Like many nullsec players, I’m not above the occasional indulgence in PvE activities. In fact, the very first thing I can remember doing in nullsec all those years ago when I first arrived in 28Y9-P in Scalding Pass was teaming up with a real-life friend to fight the Angel menace in a tag-team effort featuring shit-fit, light-missile Caracals. Since then I’ve ratted Sansha, Blood Raider, Gurista, and even (briefly) Serpentis space. I’ve done this in everything from a humble, meta-fit, afterburning Vexor to battleships, T3 cruisers, carriers, and even a Nyx. I’ve mined in cruisers, in Rokhs, in barges, and most recently in a pair of Rorquals which have dutifully printed me several tens of billions of ISK. I’ve dabbled in industry, indulged in ice mining, excelled at exploration, and Rokhed the rocks. I am not a complete stranger to the world of PvE.
In spite of my more remunerative engagements, however, I would not exactly consider myself a carebear. For every hour I’ve spent shooting rocks or NPCs, I reckon I’ve probably spent 10 or more hours doing what I enjoy most – hunting players. My first PvP experience in EVE came when the aforementioned shit-fit ratting Caracal was blown out from underneath me in my first week of nullsec residency. Curiosity piqued, this unfavorable encounter with a Vagabond led me to take up roaming as a hobby, with a healthy dose of fleet combat as my primary engagement with the game. Subsequent frustration with the crushing lag and constant node deaths of those primordial fleet fights led me to join a succession of small-gang related special-interest groups within Goonswarm: Specops, Topgoon, and, for many years now, Goonswarm Blackops.
Since joining Blackops years ago, I’ve engaged in my fair share of “elite PvP” nonsense. In 2011 (on the fourth of July, no less), I took delivery of my very own Nyx, which (in addition to occasionally shooting Guristas in Deklein) found its way onto carrier and jump freighter kills ranging from Cobalt Edge in the north to Period Basis in the south (the fruits of various small-gang and solo-hunting efforts). I was solo-dropping nano-fit Panthers around Cobalt Edge probably before most of the people reading this article started playing EVE. And I’ve spent god-knows how many hours flying those staples of ganking and small gang warfare interdictors and various nasty cruisers.
So, when I say that I think CCP’s recent crop of game design decisions are insane, understand that this does not come from a lack of understanding of PvP mechanics, carebear mentality, or an inability to appreciate others’ bloodlust. I’ve spent days on end stalking individual players in order to kill their precious ratting ships. I’ve mind-gamed people, I’ve AFK cloaked, I’ve login-trapped, and I’ve bubble-camped. I’ve dropped everything from stealth bombers to supercapitals on shiny things I’ve wanted dead and I’ve enjoyed murder-zoning people immensely. If anybody should be eagerly anticipating CCP’s chaos changes like a child on Christmas morning, it should be me.
CCP’s Chaos Changes are Garbage
I’ve been thinking a lot about the future of EVE since CCP announced the local blackout and the onset of Hilmar’s ‘Age of Chaos’. Specifically, I’ve been wondering what’s wrong with me—why can’t I get excited about a bunch of changes that should be making it easier for me to kill people, which is my favorite thing to do in EVE Online? Why can’t I feel any form of emotional attachment to the EVE universe anymore? If these changes aren’t able to excite me, are there any changes that would get me excited about EVE again? Is there any messaging that I would respond to?
I think the answers to these questions have been illuminating for me, insofar as they’ve helped to clarify a lot of my issues with EVE’s current implementation. Fundamentally, I don’t feel CCP are simply wrong when they say things like, “nullsec is too remunerative and involves too little risk,” or, “EVE’s nullsec world should be cruel, but fair.” Taken at face value, I find it difficult to disagree. But, as always, the devil is in the details.
Hilmar isn’t wrong. Nullsec is too safe and too profitable. But CCP’s approach to dealing with these very real problems is wrong, and it’s wrong on so many levels and to such a degree that it’s borderline rage-inducing for someone like myself who’s invested over a decade of my time and god knows how many thousands of dollars in this spaceship game. To make matters worse, there is apparently a very vocal contingent of players who see nothing wrong with CCP’s approach. Just the other evening we got an example in the form of an INN editorial in defense of CCP’s proposed cyno changes. Various wormholers and nullsec elite-PvP contingents are very excited indeed at the promises of the Chaos Era, but I think it’s time we cut these voices down to size.
The core argument claimed by most of the elite PvP crowd goes something like this: nullsec is too safe and with too many rewards, therefore the chaos changes will make nullsec carebears less-safe, ergo these changes are a good idea and represent balanced gameplay. The truth, they’ll argue, is that most of EVE’s nullsec population are entitled carebears/krabs/fill-in-the-pejoratives who are incredibly risk-averse and feel it’s their god-given right to sit in their Rorquals and supercarriers making infinite ISK for the rest of ever, and that if you do anything to the game that renders them vulnerable to attack, they’ll whine and cry and threaten to leave the game.
They’re not entirely wrong. It’s true that a significant portion of nullsec residents spend a lot of their time making money. It’s true that when these activities are interrupted, some krabbers get irritated. It’s true that PvE players do complain on forums when their PvE setups are nerfed. Nullsec can, or could, be very safe. But the elite PvP factions of New Eden are also utterly hypocritical in their criticisms, and CCP bear a lot of responsibility for this risk-averse behavior.
Building a Fortress
First of all, the elite PvP crowd are quick to dismiss or sweep under the rug any actual understanding of how or why nullsec has ended up so “safe.” They act as if safety just grows on trees, that it’s some static fixture of nullsec space that’s guaranteed to anyone who chooses to krab there. But the fact is this: the safety nets of “civilized” regions like Delve are not an accident or an environmental feature. They are the product of a lot of planning, coordination, cooperation between players, and investment of time and resources. These regions aren’t safe, they’ve been pacified. It’s an important distinction to make. Delve isn’t a safe place: Goonswarm is. It’s safe and incredibly productive because we have deliberately and collectively labored for years to make it that way. If elite PvPers get mad because they can’t come to Delve and gun down eight Rorquals a night using bomber gangs and some token gank Naglfars, it’s a poor reflection on their cognitive abilities more than it’s an indictment of the behavior of nullsec’s civilizing elements.
Hard Truths Cut Both Ways
Second, let’s take a moment to discuss people’s attitudes towards risk, reward, and non-consensual PvP. The Elite PvP crowd love to crow about “nullbears” and their penchant for entitled attitudes and risk-avoidance, but can you imagine anything more hypocritical than a bunch of entitled, green-killboard obsessed, whiny Reddit posters circlejerking each other’s posts about how carebears have no right to safety in nullsec because space is supposed to be dangerous, HTFU? Say what you will about the carebears themselves, but it strikes me as the height of entitlement to assume that a small group of players wielding ships that represent a trivial investment in skillpoints and ISK feel it’s their right to be able to consistently victimize other players whose efforts are backed by hundreds or even thousands of comrades fielding billions of ISK-worth of capital ships for every counter-drop, to say nothing of the accumulated, less-sexy costs of sov-holding, building and maintaining the infrastructure that enables an alliance to accumulate capital fleets, etc.
It’s not “impossible” to kill people’s PvE capitals because of an “oppressive capital-ship meta” perpetuated by the availability of cheap cynos. “Oppressive” to what? Capital ships and cynos are “oppressive” because they allow large groups of people working together using endgame tools to invalidate the efforts of a handful of attackers fielding frigate gangs? How can this possibly be considered a contentious outcome?
It’s eminently possible to kill rorqs and carriers, but to do so sometimes requires an attacker to field a marauding fleet of similar caliber to those of the defenders. But as we’ve seen, for all their boisterous forum chatter, New Eden’s elite PvP contingents seem hesitant to commit significant numbers of capitals or supercapitals even to defend their own space against existential threats, much less for the pleasure of ganking carebears.
To the “elite PvPers” of New Eden, all I can offer is this: you’re not wrong in pointing out that there’s very little in the way of targets for small gangs in nullsec right now, but demanding that the developers repeatedly change game mechanics until you’re able to farm capital killmails on a whim is not the correct way to go about making the game livelier. And, as an aside, covert-drop-based PvP is quite possibly the least skill intensive form of PvP gameplay in the game, with completely binary outcomes, little interesting fighting, and practically zero investment required on the attacker’s part. Bomber PvP lacks any romantic, charismatic, intellectual, or aesthetic appeal, and while it may lend your killboard stats a verdant hue, right-clicking bridge to, pressing F1, and reducing a carrier to scrap metal over the course of 40 seconds does not make you good at PvP. I know this because I’ve done it for years, and I find it so goddamn boring that at this point I can’t even bring myself to participate in those ops anymore despite the fact that we consistently sink several capitals each time we form up.
So please, just stop trying to impress upon us how important it is that bomber ganks continue to be a thing and stop getting forum-mad when you can’t break through Theta’s FAX reps. If you should be thankful for anything, be thankful CCP have allowed your broken-ass game mechanics to persist as long as they have. I suspect the only reason that covert bridges haven’t fallen onto the chopping block yet is that CCP feel they need these gangs for the moment to thin out capital ratting and mining fleets to rescue the EVE economy. Once they’ve served this purpose, I hope bridgeable bombers are committed to the same scrapheap of historical injustices as remote-doomsdays and tracking titans.
So if bomber PvP is boring garbage and arguing in its defense requires engaging in all manner of deranged hypocrisy, why are New Eden’s elite PvPers so invested in defending the Chaos Era? Let’s talk about some areas where the Elite PvP Reddit warriors (and presumably by the transitive property Hilmar) do make some valid points.
It must be said that over the last 10 years, nullsec has been transformed into a bit of a wasteland with regard to small-gang PvP. This transformation has been the result of changes in several avenues including ships and structures. Both the ship meta and structure mechanics have been significantly altered in order to enable and incentivize casual play: exactly the kind of thing Hilmar is presumably talking about when he rants about making EVE “easier for new players and harder for veterans.” CCP may believe that these sorts of changes make nullsec more appealing for an imagined audience of short-attention-span, minimally-invested PvP players, but the changes have also had the effect of gutting the game’s small-scale PvP ecosystem.
New Eden for Casuals
The Great Dumbing-Down began with the introduction of tech three cruisers and interceptors featuring interdiction nullification, allowing players to casually circumvent gatecamps and travel around nullsec in complete safety, eliminating a classic source of nonconsensual PvP encounters. Another contributing factor? CCP’s ship rebalancing itinerary and the introduction of numerous powerful, small ship classes resulting in a ship meta that skews ship selection heavily towards both ends of the ship size spectrum. I suspect this shift was the result of a well-intentioned but misguided effort to lower barriers to entry for nullsec PvP for new players. Frigate and destroyer hulls (even their T2 and T3 variants) are very affordable and thus getting into them or losing them isn’t a significant obstacle to new players. But it also introduces a host of issues for solo- and small-gang, non-consensual PvP.
THE TINY SHIP META: KILLING SMALL-GANG PVP ONE INSTA-WARP AT A TIME
In 2019 it feels as though the vast majority of nullsec sorties occur in very small ships – interceptors, assault frigates, and advanced destroyer hulls. With the possible exception of VNIs and strategic ships of the line (which usually move about in large groups and can’t really be engaged without a fleet of your own), it’s extremely rare to see players moving around space in anything that’s easily caught.
Presently, nullsec residents with no PvP aspirations, who are simply attempting to travel from A to B, are able to do so in almost complete safety. Gone are the days of intercepting PvEers, industrialists, or space-truckers on gates. Today’s EVE players either flit about in nullified, instant-align interceptors, if all they need to do is move themselves, or exploit jump drives when they need to move PvE hardware or goods. By cynoing their carriers, Rorquals, and jump freighters from undock to undock, players are able to avoid unfavorable engagements entirely, thus nullsec’s travel risks have been largely eliminated. With the elimination of these smaller risks, gatecamping (a major well of low-level PvP content in nullsec) has more or less dried up.
For those nullsec residents with less peaceful intentions, solo and roaming PvP, regional defense gangs, and pretty much any other form of intentional, non-strategic PvP is accomplished in groups of tiny, highly-mobile hulls. These ships are difficult for an attacker to pin down and kill when the attacker has an advantage, and terribly difficult to disengage from when the attacker finds themselves in a losing position. This creates serious difficulties for would-be elite PvPers.
Traditionally, elite PvP elements would cope with the fact that they regularly find themselves outnumbered whilst fighting on enemy turf by bringing more powerful, more expensive, more exotic ships. Historically, you saw many attackers fielding ships like HACs or faction cruisers in order to engage residents using more mundane hulls like battlecruisers and battleships, which brought similar firepower to bear but with less mobility than the cruiser hulls. This arrangement allowed for skirmishes: attackers would engage a larger target, sometimes they would kill it, other times the target’s friends would show up. If the target brought friends, the attackers at least stood a decent chance of being able to kite some of the reinforcements away from the larger defending ships and destroy them, or being able to run away.
Compare this late-2000’s interaction to the ship meta of today, which is dominated by tiny, low-value hulls. First of all, people flying tiny ships around make for poor prey: a contemporary tribute to the marauding HAC-gang of yesteryear will find it difficult to initiate an engagement at all, because without fielding an extensive array of highly-specialized ships (Daredevils, RSB alts, interceptors, and a number of high-alpha, fast-locking DPS ships like Svipuls), there’s no way to prevent targets simply burning back to gates or otherwise wandering off. If a HAC gang were to show up to camp a gate in 2019, they’d simply find themselves watching interceptor and covert traffic flow through the gate with impunity until a group of nearby residents got bored enough to hotdrop them.
To make matters worse, even if such a gang were able to tackle things and create engagements, the risk/reward structure of PvP in the current ship meta fails to justify those engagements. When your enemies fly around in gaggles of Cormorants, Jackdaws, and assault-frigates, two truths become apparent: risk is very high due to all your opponents being highly mobile, with most fitting scrams and webs, and the reward of potentially killing a few destroyer hulls is very low. This is not an environment that encourages attackers to risk expensive ships: fancy cruisers are ineffective, easily overwhelmed, and the targets they stand to destroy aren’t worth killing. So vanishes another retreat of the classical Elite PvPer: skirmishing is largely dead.
UPWELL STRUCTURES AND THE DEATH OF PILOT ERROR
Upwell structures are thoroughly deserving of an article of their own, but I want to touch just briefly on the ways these structures contribute to risk-elimination and a lack of targets for small gang PvPers; a discussion of why small gang PvP has deteriorated into almost exclusively bomber- and capital-ship hotdropping would be incomplete without mentioning the contributions of EVE’s newest structures.
Upwell structures are everywhere. Their modest price tags, unbalanced capabilities, and unreasonable longevity make them a cancer upon the nullsec landscape and a key factor in CCP’s ill-advised crusade to make EVE “easy for new players.” Travel used to be a key component of EVE Online’s gameplay. Players were required to travel for everything from hunting NPC bounties, to mining, industrial activities, and PvP. If an alliance’s players were unable to travel, that alliance’s activity ground to a halt.
Today, with the proliferation of Upwell structures and titans, this is no longer the case. The ability to place unlimited Upwell structures within a solar system, with almost no limitations on where they can be anchored relative to each other or celestial objects, renders travel less necessary and, when mandatory, exponentially safer. Where historically players were required to undertake hazardous journeys between systems in order to access a variety of station services (solar systems were previously limited to one outpost each, and each outpost had a specialization—office slots, manufacturing, R&D, refining, etc—which rendered it unsuitable for most other purposes) and to chase scarce resources, today’s nullsec players are often able to subsist within a single system due to the ease of deploying all kinds of specialized structures and sovereignty upgrades within a single system.
Worse, when travel is necessary, that travel can be accomplished with very little risk. During Blackops’ recent deployment to Pandemic Horde space in Geminate, we eventually found ourselves confronted with an almost unassailable fortress region, as PH’s leadership finally figured out that you could simply co-locate citadels, Ansiblex gates, and stargates all onto single grids, making it almost impossible for attackers to catch travelers unaware. As PH implemented this strategy region-wide, it eventually became possible for their members to travel to every strategically-relevant corner of the region without ever needing to warp more than a few thousand kilometers or go off-grid from one of their own Citadels. By ensuring that any intervening hostiles would be readily visible on-grid, CCP have made it basically impossible to interdict players traveling between Upwell structures, or from system to system.
CAPITAL PUNISHMENT: A SHIP META AND DESIGN PHILOSOPHY THAT’S KILLING EVE
Let’s now consider the other end of the ship meta, and the real reason CCP’s cyno changes are bullshit: capital ships. In 2019, PvE and any form of PvP that can’t be handled by a group of assfrigs or advanced destroyers of various flavors are handled by capital hulls. Running anomalies? Capital ships. Defending against an attacker who was stupid enough to bring ships bigger than destroyers? Capital ships. Losing a small subcap skirmish? Capital ships. Capitals can be used effectively against any player ships cruiser-sized or larger, and basically any NPC ships. They can absorb and deal tremendous amounts of damage, and they’re the best choice for any engagement that doesn’t explicitly require mobility.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, PvPers and PvEers alike have eagerly adopted the powerful new tools CCP have given them. CCP have dumbed-down nullsec, eliminating the low-hanging fruit of small-scale PvP and trying their hardest to kill off gatecamping. In response, gankers have begun stalking targets higher up the food chain, taking up the stealth bomber and the blackops bridge, and beginning a new era of space-terrorism in which a single hostile ship anywhere in your space can spontaneously and instantaneously unleash a torrent of destruction that can turn battleships into slag-piles in a matter of seconds. Unsurprisingly, the krabbing playerbase has responded in turn by fielding larger, tankier ships that can survive the bomber menace long enough to summon reinforcements. Pacify via cyno has become the mantra of every relevant nullsec alliance.
SHOOTING THE MESSENGER
Now CCP looks at their game and decides that “capital ships are oppressive.” They do this after effectively forcing every krab in New Eden to skill and save their way into capital ships (after all, it was the only efficient and survivable way to harvest in-game resources). Now that those dollars have been spent, CCP decides to listen to a bunch of Redditors complaining that it’s too hard for their modest gangs of overpowered frigates to gank carriers and Rorquals, and because CCP’s dev team are a bunch of lazy hacks, their solution to the problem doesn’t involve rebalancing the broken capital ships, or re-designing anomalies to favor different ships, or nerfing the overpowered bomber ganks that forced people into capital ships in the first place. Instead, CCP do the only thing they’re capable of doing: they ignore the structural issues that cause the behavior they don’t approve of and instead shoot the messenger… literally.
CCP’s chaos changes are lazy. They ignore the root causes of undesirable behavior, they’re ill-conceived, poorly thought out, and will have toxic effects on areas of gameplay CCP haven’t taken the time or effort to foresee. More than ever, the local nerf encourages players to stay home under a FAX umbrella and farm in capital ships. So what do CCP do? Take cynos off of capital ships (now they can sell you on creating that recon alt, I guess?) and restrict them to ships that cost ~300m ISK. Does this address the causes of the problem? Nope – bombers are still OP and will continue to render PvE in smaller ships impossible. Capital ships will still be “oppressive” insofar as they’ll continue to be the most effective ships to use when addressing problems that can’t be tackled by frigates and destroyers, meaning, they’ll continue to be used.
Will the cyno changes stop people from using cynos to move capitals around? For the solo player, the small gang, the nomads, the people who try to live in hostile or neutral space? Probably. Will it stop Goonswarm from ratting in capitals or using FAX’s to defend them? Probably not. If anyone’s in a position to set up networks of dedicated recon alts and drop the FAX required to keep those cynos and the capitals alive it’s large, well-manned, well-funded, well-organized groups like Goonswarm.
WHAT GAME DO CCP WANT ME TO PLAY?
This is my final issue with the Chaos changes. Regardless of what you think about whether they’re “fair” or not, what do CCP expect me to do in response? Why do they seem so unconcerned regarding the potential negative effects of their changes? I’m asking because I’m wondering myself: what am I supposed to do in EVE Online right now? CCP had already caused the greatest mass-stagnation in the history of EVE’s geopolitics. When Goonswarm finally got bored enough to do something about that and invaded the North, CCP responded by scripting NPCs to shoot our structures, and then eliminating local chat and stripping cynos off capital ships: changes basically guaranteed to force nullsec’s residents to turtle up in their home regions more aggressively than ever.
So, CCP: you don’t want me gatecamping or skirmishing in hostile space. You don’t want me traveling around on deployments with my suitcase carrier. You don’t want me doing strategic or large-scale PvP, and you don’t want me ratting or mining. What is it that you expect me to do? Because right now, the only viable playstyle I see in nullsec is covert-bridge ganking those few carebears stubborn enough to keep undocking: possibly the most boring playstyle in the history of PvP. Why am I here?