The Art of the Gank


Header art by Cryo Huren

The other day I had the fortuitous timing to jump into Uedama just as a gank was going down. As far as gameplay styles go, high-sec ganking can be just as lucrative or more than other forms of PvP; often more so. Ganking is all about trading-up and making the cheapest, fastest, biggest deal you can at any cost.

The final moments a fleet of Catalysts and Coercers destroyed by CONCORD’s retributive response after deleting a Bowhead.

What is High-Sec Ganking?

High-Sec Ganking as a pursuit works like this: one side uses a critical mass of inexpensive, high-DPS ships to dump overwhelming damage on an expensive, high-value-bearing hauler, freighter, or transport ship. The reason for using inexpensive ships is because immediately following the death of the target—if not sooner—CONCORD, New Eden’s security force, shows up and retributively destroys the gankers.

Ganking is a game of trading-up in the ISK war, and hopefully RNG is favorable and enough loot drops that the gankers can exploit a profit by selling the spoils. No big gank goes down without a loot bus standing by.

Here you can see the ganker loot busses crashing in to grab the spoils.

High-sec ganking is typically carried out in 0.5 security systems such as Uedama because of the timed nature of the CONCORD response, which is dependent on system security. Reaction times in 1.0 and 0.9 space comparable to the response time for trying to storm the Pentagon, which is to say roughly six seconds (plus warp-in time). Response times in 0.5 space, however, is closer to 19 seconds plus travel; meaning that for ships fielding Light Neutron Blaster II‘s – which have a base 3.5 second cycle time – they can get off between four and five volleys before their ships are targeted and destroyed by the CONCORD response fleet.

The typical high-sec ganking fit: a Catalyst with Light Neutron Blaster II’s and 3x Magnetic Field Stabilizers. Total DPS with good skills: Roughly 650 DPS or 1255 volley every 3.5 sec.

Most high-sec ganker fits are Alpha clone suitable, meaning they can be easily flown by free-to-play players, and the cost for even Tech II fit ships rarely exceeds 14-16 million ISK. With a critical mass of 30+ ships gankers can dish out over 37,500 damage in a coordinated alpha strike, or over 188,000 damage over 5 volleys. That’s more than enough to delete most sub-capitals. In the case of the Bowhead pictured at top as fit had only 301,000 EHP, and 74 capsuleers took part in the gank for a total potential output of 464,350; more than enough to get the job done.

Why do Players like Ganking?

The thing with the gank I observed was that it wasn’t a particularly good trade. Many of them aren’t. At an average 14 million ISK per Catalyst or Coercer, with 74 capsuleers, that’s a cost of over 1 billion ISK per gank. In the case of the Bowhead it was a trade at 4:1 on the ISK equation, but only 1.15 billion dropped. Just enough to cover the cost of the gank itself.

There are, of course, daily examples where rolling the PVP dice pays off for the gankers in all regions of space, or when they catch someone dumb unfortunate enough to transport skill injectors in a shuttle (another one) or move expensive modules to 0.0 in a Victorieux Luxury Yacht.

The question then begs, if not for big hauls, how do gankers afford to keep doing what they’re doing? Like most people in EVE, it’s not their only source of income. Some groups of gankers receive support from large coalitions and corporations, from which their members often participate in the ganking. So if pure monetary rewards aren’t the biggest motivator, what is?

Perhaps it’s best to take a step back and look at the trend of ganking as a bigger phenomena.

In a game like Dark Souls, gankers follow the same behavior they follow in EVE: catching someone in an ambush and overwhelming them with numbers for the purposes of killing them and creating unrest or provoking an emotional response. The mechanics of how its accomplished vary by game, but any time there’s a cooperative or PVP element there will be a small subsection of the player base who will engage in ganking because they think it’s entertaining.

In EVE terms, “They do it for the salt.”

That New Eden exists as a singular, cohesive universe existing on one shard and has more-or-less static routes between centers of trade means that ganking is tremendously simplified for the attackers:

  • Find a bottleneck system with a lot of traffic
  • Build a lot of inexpensive, high-DPS ships
  • Get a lot of characters in the system
  • Develop a fisher’s patience for waiting on a big catch

This is also, certainly, a contributing factor. The gank itself takes numbers, timing, and a degree of luck, but the formula is a simple one. Ganking is easy. It’s the lowest of the low-hanging fruit in PVP, short of newbro griefing.

What are the Effects of Ganking?

Without access to CCP’s internal data analysis tools and metrics it’s difficult to quantify the absolute effect of ganking on gameplay, or to answer such questions as, “how many people leave the game because of ganking, if any?”

Contrary to what might be expected there are heaps of anecdotal accounts of players rage-quitting EVE because of a high-sec gank, but, paradoxically many of these accounts are personal recollections from current players. Something about the loss of significant value (or, even more bizarre, near misses) purportedly draws players back. This has been remarked upon by CCP devs on stage at events such as EVE North and EVE Sydney within the last 18 months.

In EVE’s founder’s view and publicly stated opinion, it’s all part of The EVE Effect: in sum, New Eden’s gameplay fosters resilient personalities. So, it must be a good thing, right? But, what of the players who didn’t return?

Well, it poses an interesting question and one which I think the developers have been careful not to directly address. Most games consider ganking to be a form of player griefing, and griefing is a growing problem for a number of different games, from Minecraft to Counterstrike. Some gamers, though, like Kevin Pereira, reporting for WIRED, consider griefing to be a good thing.

When does griefing go too far and start hurting the livelihood and growth prospects of a game?

Ganking and the CSM

The current Council of Stellar Management (CSM 15)

The Council of Stellar Management—and Innominate in particular—pleaded with CCP to finally address a point of player count loss by putting stricter controls on High-Security War Declarations (or ‘wardecs’) after nearly eight years without change. Wardecs had reached a point whereby it was very broadly agreed that the system was unbalanced and many nascent or developing player corporations were being harried by high-sec attackers and players were leaving the game or choosing to spend their time elsewhere.

Again, without concrete metrics it’s hard to say for sure what the full measure of the impact to new player retention was. However, that CCP acted at all suggests the data wasn’t good.

I asked Brisc Rubal, CSM, what the history was like on getting the changes before CCP.

Brisc: It took about three years to get them to start looking at it. Innominate began pushing for this on his first CSM in 2016 (CSM 11). He pushed it on 11, 12 and then on 13 they finally took a look at the metrics and realized it was fucking over new players and that’s what got them to devote the resources to fixing it.

Jurius: I know you probably can’t comment on the numbers, nor do I expect you to, but have you seen the numbers on the impact on new player retention of high sec ganking? To the effect of: is there one?

Brisc: I don’t think we’ve ever asked. I think the conventional wisdom is that new players generally aren’t ganking targets because they don’t have anything worth killing for. And I think the old CCP Rise presentation that shows that players who get killed in PvP, even ganks, tend to stay longer than those who don’t is still operative.

The only way I think you’d see anything done about high sec ganking would be if there was some kind of evidence that it was causing new players to quit. That is one thing that consistently makes CCP sit up and notice.

Jurius: What about the departure of existing players? Not specific to ganking, per se, but do we have metrics on the reasons why they leave or testimonials from exit interviews?

Brisc: I don’t know. They may, but I haven’t seen that stuff.

I reached out to Thore Brakeman, the victim of the gank I witnessed, and asked what his story was and his reaction to the gank. He replied with typical capsuleer stoicism.

Who Are the Gankers?

If you look at the zKillboard results for ‘Ganked’, there is a small list of regulars who frequent the board on the attackers side, listed here in descending order:

  • CODE.
  • Goonswarm Federation
  • Test Alliance Please Ignore
  • Intergalactic Conservation Movement
  • Malicious Mineral Hounds
  • MorLand Corporation
  • Darwinism.
  • Fraternity
  • Folly Roger
  • Hell Dawn
  • Shinra

These memberships aren’t mutually exclusive of one another, either. It is not at all uncommon to find Malicious Mineral Hounds, Shinra, or even Pandemic Horde on primarily CODE ganks, for example. While Code certainly takes the cake for sheer volume and number of ganks going down in New Eden on the daily, the prize for highest single-value ganks undoubtedly goes to the Goonswarm Federation and KUSION SPECIAL TEAM (KST)—a member corporation of GSF—in particular.

This is an almost exclusive status held by the GSF, and it has been that way for a long time. Possibly years. Goons are, indeed, on nearly every gank involving freighters, and high-value and/or hardened targets. KST is always representing on these kills. The value of these respective kills, when tallied for just the last month, run into the high hundreds of billions of ISK. For Goonswarm Federation, ganking is very much worth it.

The reason for this is numbers. More than almost any corporation or coalition in game, with the notable exceptions of PanFam or Test, GSF is able to field ships in numbers. The median number of pilots in ganks involving GSF is in excess of seventy-five, with a low of sixty and highs in the nineties. None of the surveyed CODE high-value ganks was carried out without the assistance of KST and GSF. Not one.

“It’s an old meme, sir, but it checks out…” – a propaganda image created by members of Bat Country when they were members of GSF.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise, either, as the Goonswarm Federation has openly supported ganking since at least 2010, and has actively sponsored events such as Burn Jita and Burn Amarr; events which have entered the fabric of EVE lore and player expectations. When it comes to their ganking exploits, however, current GSF pilots appear as stoic as many of their victims – an attitude which appears to stand in relief contrast to the bravado and roleplay of CODE, who routinely try to sell players mining permits.

(You don’t need mining permits, kids… just situational awareness.)

Is CCP Trying to Kill The Delve Model?

The game is in an interesting place, right now. CCP is doing their best to shake the proverbial bee hive (no pun intended) and they’re getting a lot of help from the players in doing so. A lot of it seems intentionally targeted at squeezing the capsuleers to see what pops out, and it was my personal suspicion that for the better part of the last two years they’ve been intentionally breaking things to see what doesn’t go back together again. An old business and teaching addage: You don’t learn from your victories.

Whatever their intentions, it seems to be working. The players are starting to sweat. Here’s a high-level review of some of the significant changes we’ve seen in the last year:

  • An expansive set of changes to mineral concentrations and distributions around New Eden, with reductions in 0.0 of between 200% – 9,000% of their previous levels.
  • Edencom dropping cyno jammers in key jump freighter route midpoints across New Eden and in-and-out of 0.0 (Podion, for example, is also an asset safety destination system).
  • The Triglavians having the capacity to (successfully) take over key bottleneck systems between high-sec markets (Niarja) as well as other routinely freight-traversed routes, disrupting trade.
  • The introduction of a Dynamic Bounty System whereby it becomes exceedingly easy for capsuleers to ‘overfish the pond’ by intensively harvesting within the same space and not allowing the space to return to equilibrium. This system also comes with an introduced reliance on Encounter Surveillance Systems (ESS) to extract the maximum value from ratting.
Carrier ratters and those hoping for big bounty payouts and escalations or
NPC dreadnought spawns could be in for a big surprise.

These changes come in-line with CCP’s publicly stated aims of diminishing or destroying the current state of autarky—the characteristic of self-sufficiency—throughout New Eden. While the devs insist that this will introduce a new aspect of excitement into life in null, how it plays out in practice remains to be seen. It can’t be avoided, however, that these changes seem tailor-made to target the bastion Delve. As per the current Dev Blog:

“Spreading income generation across New Eden and moving away from massive ratting hubs supported by very concentrated infrastructure will create movement and more conflict. Empires will be stretched thinner and guaranteed protection will come at a more tangible cost…

“This will ultimately determine how much space is necessary to support income generation based on individual player organization sizes and requirements.”

The EVE Development Team

There are two predictable responses the Imperium can muster for these changes:

  1. Take more space to expand their capacity to rotate ratting areas in order to game/mitigate the impact of these new changes.
  2. Willfully break up the dominion and attempt to take and hold key, strategic constellations and areas of space which will enable or support access to redistributed minerals and prime ratting territory.

The former will be interesting, and possibly exceedingly difficult given that they are fighting to hold onto the home they have, much less ‘blowing out the back wall to expand the kitchen’, proverbially speaking. Further, if Test and cohort are successful in evicting Goons from Delve, in the period of adjustment and resettling there will be a large number of players having to find new sources of income to supplement their lost wages, as it were.

So it could very well become that high-sec ganking becomes an ever-more important source of income for the GSF and others as they begin to overfish their imperial pond(s). As bounty multipliers will actually climb in systems with high player conflict, and GSF is no stranger to ganking, this could indicate that there’s room for The Imperium to consider a significant infrastructure presence in empire space, in order to reap double-rewards from ganking as a mechanic for controlling the meta.

How Can CCP Make Ganking Better?

Were I CCP, the easy change to make isn’t to change ganking—not directly at any rate—but to make the fights and the ganks last longer. Which is, to say, rather than trying to balance ships used for ganking, you just EHP buff the shit out of haulers, transport vessels, and freighters.

Because otherwise there is the very real risk that the big fish in empire space will stop swimming or just dwindle/quit under the increased pressure.

If it takes 100 characters in Catalysts to delete an Obelisk, make the Obelisk sturdy enough that it takes the double the number of Taloses, or even Rokhs. The longer the fights last, the more will fall to CONCORD.

As CCP has done with everything else so far in this quest to create unrest, I am sure they will find a way to make the juice less worth the squeeze. If the cost to gank a significant vessel rises, that conditions the logistics organizations like Red Frog and Black Frog so that the markets don’t entirely buckle, while presenting a tougher nut to crack for those who want high-sec PVP.

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  • Guilford Australis

    I was ganked back in my hisec days by Kalorned, one of the best bumpers in EVE’s storied history of ganking. I didn’t take it personally. We traded some mails and laughed about it. I wouldn’t call it the haul of a lifetime, but it did hurt at the time. Killmail linked below.

    October 31, 2020 at 7:46 PM
  • Xavier-arius

    This was a fascinating article, detailed, highly readable and greatly appreciated. Thanks for sharing!

    November 1, 2020 at 1:16 AM
  • chimpy

    Good article. But what “problem” are you trying to fix with “How to make ganking better”? For me you don’t identify any problem apart from some speculation that is at odds with what you acknowledge CCP has presented. One perennial falacious argument to making ganking harder is a cost analysis; That a ship costing several billion shouldn’t be gankable by a fleet costing less. But this argument must wilfully ignore an additional dimension of that sum. 50-70 pilots working together should have no problem defeating a single pilot working alone.
    CCP does seem to be trying to force teamplay over solo play as is their stated aim. The additional loot fairy drop rate over Haloween leans towards rewarding gankers for a period. Every ganker I know is working double time during Haloween, they are even attracting new gankers in to feast off the bonanza.
    Ganking is also going to proliferate for a second reason. I am primarily an industrialist who builds and sells. The market for mining modules is insane. A tier 1 strip mining module goes for almost as much as a tier 2 right now. The stuff is flying off the shelves. I can’t make it fast enough. Typing this comment is costing me space money. Looking at who is buying, over 80% are 4 day old alts. They aren’t new players, these are alts of players trying to adapt to the mineral changes. Often my customers are obviously multiple alts of the same player. High sec mining is ramping up to insane levels with fresh alts. Once the bonus loot period ends and gankers get bored of freighter pinatas you are going to see a huge increase in gankers solo ganking alt miners all over highsec. A tech 1 mining ship can be solo ganked by any ganker who has learned the trade. A tech 2 it only takes 2-3 gankers more. Stop by a ice belt in high sec since the mineral changes and take a look. The phrase shooting Orcas in a barrel comes to mind. Ganking is going to increase by a lot. It is my belief that CCP approves.

    November 3, 2020 at 11:57 AM
  • globby

    this article is actually terrible, learn the actual mechanics of how it works before posting ever again

    November 6, 2020 at 3:15 AM
    • Jurius Doctor globby

      Above comment provided with zero context and no backing information to accompany the refutation.

      November 15, 2020 at 2:25 AM