Header art by Major Sniper.
“War is cruelty. There’s no use trying to reform it, the crueler it is the sooner it will be over.”
-Gen. Wm. Tecumseh Sherman
On December 11, CCP games released the December Update to EVE Online. In addition to new Triglavian ships and Operation Permafrost, this first update to the Onslaught release brought us “War Declaration Balance – Part One”. The accompanying dev blog laid out the changes to war decs, and cautioned that these changes were an interim solution. CCP committed to iteration and the development of a more robust system of warfare in high-security space. As we come up on the first complete month of the war dec interim period, let’s look back and see what lessons can be taken from it.
Why Change War Decs?
Before we get into the lessons learned in the last month, it’s important to remember why this change happened in the first place. In the Winter Summit minutes for CSM XIII, CCP revealed that activity numbers following the declaration of a war in high-sec dropped precipitously—although they did not release any hard numbers to the general player base. Worse, this decline in activity persisted, even after the war had run its course. This meant that when groups declared war, the defenders in high-sec simply stopped playing. Many never came back. The size of this correlation between high-sec wars and players leaving the game caused the CSM to opine that removing high-sec wars completely might be better for the long-term health of the game.
Of course, removing war from high-sec marks an extreme solution. That extreme might be justified by the data, but from the reactions it’s not one the players would welcome. Incidentally, clicking on the link to the 3800-posts-of-stupidity is not advised. Be nice to your brain, kids. Friends don’t let friends read incoherent nerd rage. Instead, a variety of different ideas were tossed out, some good, some bad, some so hilariously awful that even Brisc Rubal couldn’t bring himself to address them.
To put it simply, the war dec changes made it so that you can only have a war if you have a structure. CCP calls it ‘War Eligibility’, and right now that’s the only criterion for it. If you have a structure anywhere in space you can declare war, and others can declare war against you. If you don’t, you can’t. This applies to entering a war as a defensive ally, as well. You have to have a structure anchored somewhere in space. If you lose that structure, the wars end. You lose. According to the dev blog:
If either the attacker or defender of an existing war loses their war eligibility due to their final structure being destroyed or scooped, the war will end 24 hours later. If one side of a war loses their last structure during the 24-hour warm up period before a new war allows legal combat, the war will end 24 hours after the end of the warmup period (so combat will be legal for 24 hours total).
If a war is declared mutual, it will continue even if one or both sides lose their structures in space as long as it remains mutual.
So how’s that working out?
One Month In
After a month, there have been a few issues discovered. Among other things, the mechanics listed above … just ain’t so. In the fighting going on over Lore events in Thebeka, this became obvious with the war experience of Aegis Militia:
Aegis declared war on December 22. They filed these war declarations immediately after launching an Astrahus in Thebeka. The citadel hadn’t even cleared the initial 15-minute vulnerability timer. And 24 hours later, the war decs went live… before the Astrahus even entered its end-of-anchoring vulnerability timer. And it died—the only structure Aegis had anchored anywhere. As the image shows, however, the wars did not end 24 hours later. Instead, they lasted out their full week-long interval. Additionally, the CONCORD notification that the war would end in 24 hours came only three hours before the wars actually ended.
Clearly, not working as intended. But other problems come up in with the new system, too.
Who’s Actually In This War?
“Neutral” logistics are nothing new in high-sec warfare. This is where one side or the other uses alts or friends who aren’t in the corporations/alliances under war dec to fly logistics during fleet operations. When they put remote reps on one of the war dec’d DPS ships, they get a suspect timer. That allows people to shoot at them, but CONCORD doesn’t interfere. Ok, so the other guy can shoot back. Where’s the problem? The problem is that they are only at risk during fights, when they’ve already chosen to activate that repair module.
When one group declares war on another, members of both groups become valid targets for the other group, 24/7. While the aggressor group obviously believes they can win, that doesn’t mean they can win all engagements under all circumstances. The defenders are certainly free to—and indeed, should—try to set up situations where they can effectively fight back.
For example: Goonswarm Federation declares war on our earlier example of Aegis Milita. We’re not going to be complete asses in an example, so we’ll let the rest of the Imperium make hypothetical popcorn from the hypothetical sidelines. Still, that’s 34,000 characters against… 33. That’s not a winnable fight. The inevitable structure bash is going to go one way. But those 33 characters could form a fleet of perhaps 10-20, and go ganking solo Goon miners or ratters. The overall war might be a foregone conclusion, but asymmetric warfare could still let a much, much smaller group punch well above its weight.
Neutral logi, on the other hand, avoids all that risk. Put a dozen DPS alts into an alt-corp to declare war. The rest of your group flies logistics, or boosters. Now the only thing your enemy can ‘hit back’ against is those dozen or so DPS ships, who only login to themselves go hunting. Unless there’s a real fleet up, they’re in gank-fit catalysts for less than 2M ISK each. The majority of your strength is happily kicking back on the very same characters they bring to the fights … and perfectly safe. There’s nothing the defenders can do against you, unless they want to try ganking. But then they’re basically throwing away more of their ISK as CONCORD blows them up.
High-sec warfare combatants, perfectly safe against all reprisal from the people they’re attacking? That doesn’t sound like a healthy system, especially one where the devs wanted to “start refocusing the war system with an aim to generate the types of wars that provide real value to players” and work toward “the long-term goal of encouraging wars that have real risks and rewards and are engaging for all sides.”
But Wait, There’s More
The interim system fails that goal in other ways, too. And by ‘fails that goal’, I mean ‘actually makes it worse’. Consider this paragraph from the dev blog:
At the moment far too many wars are lacking actual combat for either side, and we hope to start refocusing the war system with an aim to generate the types of wars that provide real value to players.
Actual combat, and real value for players are laudable goals. Setting players up for extortion, though … that’s different. And that’s what’s going on. As part of my research for this piece, I spoke with Tora Bushido, of the Marmite Collective. Here’s what he had to say about the changes:
We love the new changes! CCP made it way easier to see who are the poor and rich people. So now we save ISK on the useless wars and make WAY more on the rest. Never had so much ISK in wallet. Not even when Gevlon was paying us. The number of kills have only gone up. Probably because we now have more ISK to war dec the big nullsec/WH/LS alliances.
One down side, markets gone terrible (as predicted) and ice miners are becoming a plague.
It turns out, the war dec corps are singling out small corporations listed ‘war eligible’. They have structures, so they must have money. The cheapest structure to put up, a Raitaru, costs over half a billion ISK before fittings. That might be peanuts to many folks in null-sec, but high-sec groups, especially groups just getting started, take a very different view of the value of their money. But now, knowing that any corp that shows up as ‘war eligible’ had enough money for a structure somewhere, groups like Marmite can “just guess they’re rich and demand better surrender fees etc.”
Instead of ‘actual combat’, CCP’s changes produced extortion: high-sec war dec corps run protection rackets. A limited pool of targets that narrows the focus of the war dec corps isn’t the only ‘no actual combat’ result possible, though. One example was given in the original feedback thread: Moon ore thieves.
A mining corporation in high-sec decides to up their profits in the long term. So they find themselves a moon in a 0.5 security system, and set up an Athanor. Between the structure, fuel, and fittings, it’s about a billion ISK. And again, that’s a pretty steep price tag for a small high-sec corp. Then the corp sets up for its first frack. The frack comes out, the corp members login to mine and a dozen Hulks with Orca boosts descend on the ore field less than 10 minutes later.
Now the folks who’ve put a billion ISK into getting this frack are in a race to get their own ore into their holds before someone else takes it. And what can they do about that? Why, that’s easy! They can declare wa-Oh. Oh, wait. The miners, just like the ice miners Tora mentioned, don’t have any structures in space. They can’t have war declared on them. In fact, short of ganking, they’re untouchable.
And ganking? If I said that someone’s going to steal your investment, and the only recourse you have is to light even more money on fire in order to maybe stop them from getting away with everything you’d think I was insane. But that’s what ganking the ore-thieves amounts to: going and getting CONCORD to blow you up for trying to chase off the thieves. They’re untouchable.
Of course, it isn’t just moon goo thieves this applies to. Get scammed by someone? You’ve got no recourse. Corp hangar theft? You can’t touch his new corp. Want to go do ‘anti-pirate’ work to hunt ganker corps? Hope you target a group that owns structures.
In fact, a lot of the formerly-viable ways and reasons to conduct a war in high-sec are effectively gone. With structure-based warfare, everything ultimately comes down to the numbers game. We know this out in null from direct experience. Force multipliers can tip the balance here or there, but when everyone’s got access to those multipliers, that’s just a matter of who puts their N pilots into the right assortment of capabilities.
In the end, N+1 almost always holds the day. In null that could be pure numbers of pilots. It could be numbers of potential DPS versus potential tank—the math that shows why one super carrier is better than 10 frigates. There are ways to use more powerful ships to offset superior numbers. In high-sec, that vertical progression ends with HACs and Pirate battleships. The available T2 battleships, Black Ops and Marauders, are ill-suited to stand-up fights over objectives, and the amount of skill training needed to use them is prohibitive, at best. As a result, N+1—especially in the age of the alpha clone—becomes the defining parameter in high-sec structure timers. And in modern high-sec, all wars are structure wars.
Where once aggressors in a war needed to hunt their targets, now they can simply focus on their most valuable assets: their immovable structures. Where defenders could wait until a single enemy was found and then swarm them with low-skill frigates or destroyers, now the aggressors need only risk a few ships, which only login for timers. The ability for a defender to simply ‘go mobile’ and force the attacker to chase them into different areas of high-sec is gone as well: the expensive target can’t move. If the defender attempts to unanchor it, simply reinforcing the structure stops the unanchoring timer. In effect, the aggressor can use reinforcement timers to force a defender to keep their structure in place forever, unable to escape the war dec as long as the aggressor keeps paying a nominal fee.
As a result, the ‘counterplay’ is simply not to have your structures in your ‘actual’ corporations. Instead, the structure—like the aggressors’ pvp ships—stays in a corporation purely for that purpose. Everything else remains in another corp, and structure ACLs are used to give the ‘real’ corporation free use of the facilities. In effect, the ‘counterplay’ to a war dec is… avoid fighting, just like it was before. The only difference is, now it costs the PvE players 500M every time they want to try to get a leg up on production or other fees by owning their own structures.
The concept of ‘war eligibility’ is an interesting one. It may even be a necessary one to prevent predatory groups from consistently abusing new players. But structure-based warfare and war eligibility combine to turn high-sec warfare into a game of ‘who brings more friends?’ And ultimately, the answer to that is: the dedicated war dec corps. They’ll bring more friends, because they’re large alliances who focus on that style of gameplay. The only real move for a small corp is to stay war ineligible.
Along the way, they remain untouchable if they can find ways to take advantage of other players. Gankers only go suspect after they strike. And then, they’re in their pods. That means you can’t shoot at them, because you can’t pod them. Sure, that was already true of newbie corps. Now, though, War eligibility itself creates a whole second array of characters who can act without fear of any repercussions from their victims, as long as they’re smart. And these corps have tools to communicate and coordinate with just one another—corp channels, corp bookmarks, etc.
So if structures should not form the basis for a system of war declarations, what should? Simply put, the same things that form the (theoretical, at least) basis for actual wars.
Wars happen for reasons. Sometimes, those reasons are pretty vague, and when you dig around, they turn out to have really been ‘because all of the royal families were bored and arrogant, and so an entire generation of Europe’s young men died.’ Sometimes, they’re less vague and more reactionary, like ‘you idiots inflicted crippling sanctions on us because we happened to lose the war everyone started, so we’re going to go ultra-nationalist and scare the whole damned planet.’ But most of the time, wars get fought because somebody wants something, and someone else has it. That means there’s something to fight over. Something to fight for.
That’s even true in EVE. The majority of fighting in the past has been over objectives. Taking space, taking moons, even taking a moon, in lowsec. And of course, the ever-present ‘gudfites’—fighting where the objective is, in fact, just explosions. We can translate that into a system of game mechanics.
The theory is pretty simple: Just set up a list of objectives that the attacker selects from when declaring war. X number of ships destroyed, or X value of ships destroyed. X number of structures destroyed. Then, a similar list for the defender. And the defender’s objectives can include things like ‘percent of normal bounty/mining/etc income maintained’. After all, we’ve got the activity tracker now, right? All of those activities were already being tracked by the ADM system in null, corp taxes, mining ledgers, etc, they can certainly be tracked by the war dec system. Calculate them every downtime. If CCP eventually achieves the goal of no DT, calculate at 00:00 EVE.
Objectives and objective denial remove the inherent N+1 that structures cause. If CCP wants to preserve ‘war ineligibility’, make wars something players actively opt out of, with corporate fees paid to CONCORD every month. Fees lapse, you can be war dec’d, just like you could before. That would even allow the option of ‘I got war declared on me, CONCORD, here’s some money to nullify it.’ After all, the declaration of war itself is just bribing CONCORD not to get involved, right? Pretty it up if you like, but CONCORD shoots people who shoot people. Unless you’ve paid them. Sounds like graft to me!
And Speaking of Those Bribes…
If the goal in all this is wars that lead to fights, then large groups of hundreds of players picking on corps with 2-3 players isn’t a great way to go about it. In fact, it sucks. But right now, that’s the easy way to go to war. The cost of declaring war is based on how large your target is. Declaring war on Praetoria Imperialis Excubitoris, with 90-something members, would cost me 47 million. Declaring war on CVA, with 1500, would cost 475 million ISK. So not only are larger groups more able to defend themselves, they’re harder to even declare war on in the first place. And frankly, that’s just bad design.
Encouraging fights means encouraging small groups to fight. That’s where it starts. If small groups don’t fight, then when small groups feel forced to fight, they go play another game. One that doesn’t force them to do something they don’t want to do. Fighting needs to be a carrot, not a stick.
Instead of the current structure, CCP should reverse the scaling costs. And then, make it proportional. Introduce a base cost, like 20 million ISK. Then scale it, proportional to the relative sizes of the groups involved. A 1-man corp declaring war on a 10-man corp pays 2 million ISK. That 10-man corp if they decide to become belligerent against a single-man corp pays 200 million. A 200-pilot group like P I R A T declaring war on some poor schmuck and his solo structure pays 4 billion ISK, weekly, and so on. This means that Goonswarm, with 35,000 characters, declaring war on a 1-man corporation, would pay 35,000*20 million, or 700,000,000,000 ISK. Any recruitment on either side results in the cost being recalculated and refunded or debited, immediately.
And then, give the people who got forced to PvP a potential windfall. Just to make sure the little guys getting attacked have incentive to come back after the war, if the defenders win, give them the money spent on the war dec. Or at least 50-75% of it. Give them a reason to try to win, rather than just do something else and ignore the whole thing.
While They’re At It
While they’re at it, CCP also needs to fix those neutral logi. If you’re going to get in on a war, join as an ally. Declare war yourself. Fish or cut bait, however you do it. If you involve yourself in a war, you need to be at war. You need to be vulnerable to reprisal from the other side. Remote assistance to individuals in a declared war means a criminal flag. And a criminal flag means CONCORD.
Leave in place where this doesn’t happen: Sansha incursions. After all CONCORD isn’t keeping the Sansha from abducting people off a system’s planets. That’s what those incursions are: Sansha fleets showing up abduct civilians and stick chips in their heads to control their minds. So if the system is under incursion, turn off CONCORD. No stopping gankers. No popping criminally-flagged people.
Ultimately, what matters here is that CCP makes sure to continue iterating on war declarations. But how they iterate is just as important. Wars requiring structures, wars costing less when you’re already punching downward at a weaker group, and wars where people intervene in the battles without actually being a party to the war are problems. And those problems need to be addressed. CCP has an opportunity to do more than ‘twist some knobs’ here. More, they have an obligation to do more than that. They need to give serious consideration to the long-term effects and consequences of their iterations. And they need to do that before implementation. Because war dec mechanics are a balancing act, and unintended consequences will always happen. That much is all too apparent, even one month in.