Sid Meier’s EVE Online—Learning Lessons from Civilization


Header art by Redline XIII

Civilization is a series that has been in existence for nearly 30 years. There’s a very good chance that everyone reading this article will have at least heard of it, and an equal chance that almost everyone will have played one of the 6 Civilization games, Alpha Centauri or its lesser reimagining, Beyond Earth. Each incarnation of the game is similar enough to what came before with just enough tweaks to be new and exciting. Alpha Centauri received PC Gamer’s highest score ever, tied with Half Life 2 and Crysis. In short, these games are fun and people love them.

As a long time null sec player, I have come to look at the Civilization model for null sec as the one that suits the gameplay and style of sovereign null the best, both in what sov null is now, and what it could and should be at it’s best. As players in an alliance we’re colonizing space, making it livable, upgrading it with infrastructure, creating our culture and rivalries. Our Athanors are mines; our I-Hubs are farms; Ansiblex are our roads. The mighty Keepstar towers rise like the skyscrapers on planets below. The goal of a null alliance is similar to a civilization in Civilization: prosperity.

Of course, the analogy breaks down a bit when one considers that Civilization is a finite game and EVE Online is infinite. Not enough people pay attention to the goal of an infinite game, which is to perpetuate the game itself. A whole article could be written on that, and I hope someone does that better understands game theory than me. It is possible to win a game of Civilization. It is not possible to win EVE, except, as the saying goes, by quitting.

Wars in Civilization

Wars in Civilization always happen. At some point in the game, there will always be tension over something and war will break out. If a civilization loses a war to the point they have no cities left, they lose the game. There are ways to win without being the last civilization left on the map, but that’s a pretty solid victory. Boxing matches can be decided on points, but nothing settles the matter like a knockout.

There are many things that can lead to a war in Civilization: resources, two sides wanting to expand to the same terrain, Gandhi going nuts, diplomatic insults, and greed.

Let’s explore the last one first. It’s the most fun. Usually, when I play a game of Civilization, I want to find my neighbor and conquer them as early as possible. There are a few reasons for this. The first major reason is that it’s easy expansion. If I take an enemy city, it’s mine. That short-cuts a lot of effort. The second reason is gold, baby. Knocking over a city pays out. Pillaging also gets me gold. A short victorious war is a profitable venture. I know that in the Year of Our Lord 2019 the idea of conquering for profit has mostly gone out the window, but up until recently, that stuff happened all the time.

In the 9th century, the Vikings would raid England to take the gold and the pretty girls. It’s a shame that a games company in Iceland has somehow forgotten this.

Warfare in EVE

Wars in EVE are never profitable. The Imperium deployment to Tribute was actually a significant hit on the alliance wallet. Sure, we didn’t lose all that much, but we didn’t make anything. Maybe someone looted some wrecks, but I can assure you that value came nowhere close to what was spent on the war in just jump fuel alone.

If wars are not profitable, then they will be avoided if possible.

Wars in EVE used to happen over space and moons. When Goons fought Test for Fountain way back when, there were two reasons: moons and because Montolio was a bad neighbor. Before the addition of jump fatigue and Aegis Sov, it was possible for an alliance to hold a lot of space. Moons would bring in income directly to the alliance. So, taking a region might not be immediately profitable, but in the long run it could be. Stations also switched hands, so it was easier to move in.

Maybe there’s something to be said for making it easier for smaller groups to hold sov, but in the process, CCP made it so that the necessity of wars decrease.

Wars are a Good Thing

Wars in EVE are some of the best content this game sees. Numbers go up as people log in to fight for their side; huge battles make the gaming media, increasing the visibility of the game. No one is generally bored. In fact, long wars risk burning out alliance leadership, specifically fleet commanders. Without wars, EVE Online would be a generally shitty game.

I’ve said before that EVE is not a PVP game. That remains true. It can’t ever be a PVP game, not in the same sense that World of Warships or similar is. If PVP becomes a self-sustaining activity, EVE players will find a way to game the system, like they do everything else. Goons already shoot each other for fun sometimes, if it became possible for that to generate wealth, we would be shooting each other all the time. Alliance chat would be full of “I kill you, then you kill me” arrangements. Remember insurance scams?

That said, wars can be a zero-sum affair that can be profitable. Since there’s nothing new under the sun, there is absolutely nothing wrong with looking for inspiration from Civilization on how to make wars rewarding, which will make them happen more.

All We are Saying is Give War a Chance

The first change that needs to happen is to make wars profitable for the victor. However, it cannot generate ISK, so it must be zero sum. Everything one side gains has to be at the loss of the other side.

There are a lot of ways to do this. One of the easiest ways would be to make it so that when someone puts down an Upwell structure, they have to pay an anchoring fee, or something. 100 million ISK for a medium, 1 billion ISK for a large, and 5 billion ISK for an extra-large structure. The numbers don’t matter much. However, upon destruction, that fee would be paid out to the attacking force like bounties are, or the corp that did the most damage gets the money directly in their wallet. Instantly, EVE has a way to incentivize destruction. And since Upwell structures do not have any insurance, this would not hugely imbalance the economy.

A bit of back of the napkin math, based on some of my estimates, actually shows that all the structures Goons destroyed in Tribute still would not pay for jump fuel used in the war. This is a start, though.

An alliance makes use of its space like a civilization does the land. The Encounter Surveillance System (ESS) was a really good idea poorly executed. It can be improved for our null civilizations. CCP should make the I-Hub act like an ESS. The I-Hub should take 15% of every bounty and hold it for 90 days before paying out 20%. Call it a Pend Insurance Investment Programme. So, over 90 days, the I-Hub accounts will start to increase greatly, before paying out. When an I-Hub is attacked, which requires entosising (a form of hacking), the winning alliance gets all the money in the pot, without the additional percentage. This is still zero sum, but really makes it so that knocking over an I-Hub is worth it. Additionally, it gives defenders a reason to fight, because every day they hold on to an I-Hub is a day it pays out.

In the same way CCP can add a similar concept to refineries. Right now, there is only one way to refine minerals. However, CCP could add in three refining lines. The first line would be a quick pass, getting up to 75% yield and be instant like now. From there, the ore would automatically be sent to the second refining line that would go over the ore even more, getting it to 90% yield. This would take longer, maybe a day. The final line would take 30 days and get to 99% yield after 30 days. Though, really the fact that refining cannot get to 100% seems stupid. If a refinery gets destroyed, all those rocks fall out into space. Sure, it’s not as great as the ESS, but it’s still a nice bonus for blowing things up. I also giggle like a schoolgirl at the idea of miners deploying Rorquals to suck up these rocks.

The general idea is that there is value in the structures in space that can be taken by an attacking force. Zero sum: nothing is created; everything is taken.

Wonders of the World

CCP had a great idea with the Palatine Keepstar. There were two problems. Firstly, it remains a vanity project. Secondly, it is impossibly expensive. If those two were fixed, it would be a fantastic version of Civilization’s Wonders.

A Wonder of the World is a unique building a city can produce that provides some bonus to the city, or the civilization. In every case, a civilization wants every wonder it can get. However, there can only be one of them, so if a civilization isn’t the first to build it, they have to take it if they want that advantage.

The Palatine Keepstar can be EVE’s first Wonder. If it was only double the price of a regular keepstar, then people would build it. If it provided a benefit, people would really want it. The benefit could be something like 10% decrease in citadel anchoring fees in the constellation, if we use the ideas written earlier. Or the benefit could be that all point defense systems in system have a 20% greater range. There are a tonne of possibilities.

If Goons anchor the Palatine Keepstar, then no one else can have one. If PanFam decides that they want to anchor their own, they have to go blow the current one up. War!

Every Upwell structure can have a Wonder version. A refinery Wonder could make every moon frack in the system critical. An engineering Wonder could reduce material costs by 3% instead of 1% for the constellation. The Ansiblex Wonder could allow three bridges in the system, or reduce the ozone costs for the region some amount. There are lots of choices for Wonders.

There are three rules for Wonders. Firstly, Wonders must be unique and limited to sov null. If every alliance has one, that’s not a Wonder or a conflict driver. Secondly, Wonders have to be worth it. If an alliance looks at a Wonder that speeds up ship building time by a minute, they are going to decide it’s not worth it. There is a fine line between awesome and overpowering, and it’s a line I am not sure CCP knows how to walk down. However, hope springs eternal that they will use the experts on the CSM to help design the benefits of a Wonder. Thirdly, Wonders need to be realistically buildable. A Palatine Keepstar is not realistically buildable. Once the price tag starts going over a trillion ISK, things start to get stupid. If only one group can build a Wonder, then it will not drive conflict. If no one can build a Wonder, then it’s failed as a game mechanic, kind of like the Palatine Keepstar has.

Sov Null is for Civilizations

Coalitions in EVE are living, breathing civilizations. Each one has a unique character to it, qualities and culture that make it different from others. Rather that CCP trying to shoehorn players into a vision they have, that probably runs counter to human nature regardless, they should understand that people and civilizations will act in accordance with their values and in their best interest. An unforgiving hellscape will not drive conflict or increase destruction. Giving people reasons to go to war, making it profitable to achieve victory will.

Since CCP Hilmar admitted he has no real idea of what to do, hence the Age of Chaos, maybe he could take some ideas of one of the most successful video game franchises ever.

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  • Aderoth Anstian

    Paticipated in bashing a low power astrahaus, in j space, on its hull timer last night. We looted upwards of 20 bil in assets from the cans after it blew up. No asset safety makes structures zero sum targets.

    September 10, 2019 at 1:52 PM
    • Guilford Australis Aderoth Anstian

      Incremental asset safety loss for nullsec has been kicked around on Talking in Stations and Reddit. And Reddit seems to have a way of funneling ideas straight into CCP’s brain, so… I’m expecting a year tops before the asset safety system is ‘fixed.’ Chaos, baby.

      September 10, 2019 at 8:24 PM
      • Garreth Vlox Guilford Australis

        try more like a few weeks or maybe a month, Hilmar’s already been heard parroting the reddit opinion on asset safety several times in his recent interviews. If he doesn’t do it by Christmas i’ll be shocked.

        September 10, 2019 at 9:32 PM
        • Aderoth Anstian Garreth Vlox

          I’d think most NS alliances would be willing to lose full asset recovery for local to be restored. Tie local to a full power citadel in system. Structures become strategic to local continuity and provide loot.

          September 11, 2019 at 12:54 AM
          • Arrendis Aderoth Anstian

            I dunno about most NS groups, but we’d love asset safety getting removed. Our biggest worry will be cleaning up the salivating. >.>

            September 11, 2019 at 5:18 AM
          • Garreth Vlox Aderoth Anstian

            I think the larger ones that can actually defend their stations would love it, and the rest would be given reasons to hate it by those same larger groups within days as the big boys rolled through nullsec hitting every confirmed staging station they can find for any of the groups they know they can push around just to see what drops.

            September 11, 2019 at 6:27 PM
  • Garreth Vlox

    “Gandhi going nuts,”
    Whenever he’s in a game I play its nuke or be nuked when it comes to ghandi’s civ.

    September 10, 2019 at 9:31 PM
  • Guilford Australis

    Interesting perspective on the value of war to long-term goals. War is indeed inevitable and crucial to progress in the Civ games I’ve played. Even when I’m going for a non-military victory condition, such as a cultural victory, I still end up having to manage my competitors and hamstring their progress through war. I also need to expand my territory for production, trade, and other benefits, which almost always requires war.

    I struggle to imagine how a long-running game like EVE could create the same conditions as a Civ game, since the major powers (in nullsec, at least) are so entrenched and no longer have to fight their neighbors to make progress. But I think it could be done. I’m just not sure CCP can be trusted to figure out how to do it without screwing all the players along the way.

    September 10, 2019 at 10:44 PM
    • Romulus Loches Guilford Australis

      I like the comparison to Civ games, a lot more than World of Warships. Not everyone playing Eve may be interested in the Civ style gameplay, but it is definitely something that is, or should be, baked into null-sec.Your point about how you need to build up a military even if you are going for a non-military victory is spot on. There is always conflict, even if that isn’t your goal.

      September 12, 2019 at 4:59 PM
  • I’m gonna write my own sov pitch, but a few things I’d be keen on:

    Kill the entosis sov system, kill asset safety, kill auto-healing, and add capture mechanics to Upwell structures.

    Make it so that when an Upwell structure enters its final hitpoint layer, when it hits 25% remaining, it goes invulnerable for a moderate time– definitely 30 minutes or less. During that time, members of the attacking force can cycle a module on the structure, perhaps with a five-minute cycle time. At the conclusion of the module cycle– if the activating player has a specific structure capture role– the attacking force can choose to assimilate the structure gaining full control of it and its contents. Alternatively, after the capture period, the structure can be destroyed.

    This provides some motivation to pursue strategic conflicts (and for the defender to show up). If you win, you can either burn the enemy’s shit to the ground out of spite (and capture some of their wealth as dropped loot in the process) or you can capture their stuff (mostly) intact. From the defender’s perspective, if you lose, you ~*lose*~: all your stuff you weren’t able to evac during the reinforcement timers goes away.

    IMHO this is what “cruel, but fair” should actually look like. Or perhaps we might say, consequential, but fair? If you have stuff, you’d better defend the stuff. If you lose a fight, you lose your stuff. If an attacker successfully pushes your shit in, they can take your stuff. Simple, easy to grasp, no excessively-convoluted mechanics, just good old-fashioned hard-power stuff.

    September 11, 2019 at 2:19 AM
    • Then how about the structures having armaments that can 1 shot a super carrier or 2 shot a titan? That would make the larger forces think twice about willy nilly attacking smaller alliances.

      September 11, 2019 at 11:14 PM
      • “Smaller” alliances don’t deserve to live. If you want to compete, get friends. If you can’t get friends, go to lowsec or NPC null. Sorry, but we can’t all be astronauts when we grow up.

        Also, killing supercaps won’t be that relevant in my new nullsec, because they won’t be the currency of strategic campaigns anymore. So there’s that.

        September 12, 2019 at 7:53 AM
  • RothLord

    Since cynos have a more complicated “layer” to them now they should remove cyno jammer structures. This means more capital fights which means more destruction which means more push pull in wars. Secondly, introduce a small amount of “crop rotation” mechanics to nullsec resource allocation. Not enough to have us all wanting to move every 3 months but enough to spice up the space in a way some alliances may feel content where there are now but maybe 6 months from now they want that other region that’s currently experiencing an increase in Xenotime or Mercoxit or maybe even 1% higher bounty on rats. This might also bring back to “caravan” type groups that don’t fix themselves in any one area and tend to occupy or deploy to the current hot zone. But naturally for anything in regards to wars over territory an adjustment would need to be made to the ADM system.

    September 12, 2019 at 12:57 AM
  • Punky260

    One of the best articles I’ve ever read regarding this topic. I like the comparison to a game that continuesly gets me to stay up far longer than I should. Especially because it makes a lot of sense. The idea of “wonders”, or something alike is really nice to drive conflict AND put the “culture” of a group into actually space.

    I personally would also like to put more of the political meta-gaming into the client itself. More options to display certain things regarding diplomacy for example. There is so much to do to make fights and owning space more fun and more “valuable”…

    PS: Please continue to write more =)

    September 12, 2019 at 11:41 AM
  • Romulus Loches

    So I like the idea that going to war should be a zero-sum activity, or have some kind of incentive beyond player narrative. To that end, anchoring fees/bounty sounds like a pretty cool idea. At the very least it give people a reason to bash some of the citadel spam.

    The refinery thing I can’t agree with though. Having a higher rate of refining for taking more time is interesting, but it favors the mega-alliances too much as they are less likely to lose their structures and therefore always get a higher refine where as smaller groups can’t risk it. Ultimately, the big just get bigger.

    The iHub is kind of in the same boat as the refinery idea. It could then be profitable to go blow up people’s iHubs, but it’s a lot easier to just make agreements not to and get the stable bonus. Sure you’ll burn your enemies a bit more, but it’s unlikely enough to go to war over. It’s another mechanic that people will maximize through the meta game.

    Now the jewel of this article, to me, is the idea about Wonders. I really like the idea and the three rules that are mentioned, but it needs a fourth. Wonders shouldn’t be able to be built near each other. I don’t mean within 1000km or one to a system, I mean 1 to a region kind of thing, if not larger. Realistically only the biggest groups will be able to hold them, but that means they’d all end up in one or two systems. Force these Wonders to be built far enough apart that they can’t be under the same umbrella, or even adjacent umbrellas. This way, if a group wants to own 2 or more wonders, they have to spread out, split a single monolith umbrella into smaller pieces. For that to happen, these can’t just be vanity trophies, it’s too easy to then just split them up by meta gaming. Make them really worth fighting over. Maybe they provide a region buff of some kind, be a region-wide ESS, debuff adjacent regions, etc. It needs to give people a reason to look at other groups, even/especially friends, and think, “That is something I need, no matter the cost.”

    September 12, 2019 at 4:50 PM
    • I don’t know, if someone thinks they can get a few trillion isk from a successful invasion of a region, agreements might start to go out the window. Imagine everyone getting together to burn down Delve.

      As far as Wonders go, there are a lot of possibilities that there could be. I don’t know if 1 to a region is the answer, or 1 to a constellation, or some other metric. But yes, I am not sure I would like the idea of a single system with several Wonders.

      September 12, 2019 at 9:14 PM
  • Wonders should not be so powerful that they snowball. If CCP decides to implement them, it will be a knife edge of balance.

    September 12, 2019 at 9:17 PM
  • Bill Bones

    Your analogy of wars in Civilization falls apart in one little tiny detail: in Civilization, the losing side stops playing the game because there’s no coming back from losing everything. And that’s something you could implement in EVE only once: as long as it took for the Goons to conquer all the map. And then what? Wipe the server clean and start another game…? Wars in EVE are a terrible business proposal because it’s the only way to difficult total dominance by one faction. And yet it happened in the chinese server and the result wasn’t exactly thrilling.

    September 13, 2019 at 7:53 PM
  • Vals Loeder

    Perhaps you should just play civ instead of eve.

    September 2, 2020 at 8:18 AM