After Downtime on Friday, Jul 12, nullsec went dark. The Nullsec Blackout is a period of ‘undetermined’ duration, during which Local chat will function in ‘delayed mode’. This means that until a character enters text into Local, they will not appear in the channel list at all. It’s causing something of a buzz on Reddit, and Brendan Drain, the guy at Massively who’s so clued in that he couldn’t tell when CCP was feeding him a story about a fight from two years ago, is predicting ‘absolute anarchy’. But why have CCP done this? What are they trying to achieve, will it work… and why?
Shaking the Snow Globe
CCP’s intent with the Blackout is easy to make out: they want to shake things up out in nullsec. The Blackout will give them a decent amount of data to look at. Some of this will be data we’ll see: changes (or lack thereof) in ratting and mining numbers, how many ships are getting killed, what kind of ships are getting killed, and so on. Others will be more opaque: who’s logging in? Who isn’t? Who’s moving through nullsec systems, even if they’re not showing up on kills? How are different groups of players responding to the change, across and within alliance size brackets?
The reasons they’d want to do that are just as easy to see. Nullsec feels like it’s settling into a gestalt. Numbers of roaming hunters are down overall (even if they’re still coming to Delve in numbers). The difference between the amount produced and the amount destroyed is stark. Total value destroyed in June (the latest MER) comes in around 1.25T, while production numbers stand around 3.6T ISK. The difference in pure ISK faucets and sinks shows at 29T more ISK coming into the economy than went out.
At the same time, major wars of late have, by many measures, been lesser things, not equalling the glorious brawls of old. Nobody fights anymore, we hear. Why doesn’t anyone do anything like an ‘Alamo’, or Thermopylae, courageously fighting to the last man, making every inch of space cost dearly in the victor’s blood and treasure? It all gives rise to a word we’ve heard a lot over the years: stagnation.
So Will It Work?
Will putting Local into Delayed mode help with these problems? Will it shake things up? Ultimately… no. It won’t. It won’t change anything in the big picture, because it doesn’t address the root causes of the problem. So what will it do?
Prediction is fraught with trouble. You’ll always get things wrong, and those mistakes will convince people to throw out the whole thing, no matter how much of it’s right. So, with that in mind, we’ll keep this to the broad strokes.
Small Scale: Squirrels and Cats
Many years ago, there were a number of feral cats near where I live. The breeding female was smart enough to avoid getting caught, and she was very successful at being a breeding female. And if there’s one thing cats are good at, it’s killing small animals. The local squirrel population dropped like a rock. But then a funny thing happened: it stopped.
Squirrels definitely continued to live in the area. They even got pretty ballsy after a while, stealing food people put out for the cats. But they got caught less—and fewer ended up as roadkill, too. Active predation forced the squirrels to get smarter. They got harder to kill.
The same thing will happen in null. First, the initial wave of hunters will see a lot of success, in different ways. AFK ratting ships, especially VNIs, will die. Excavators will be bombed in swarms. The PvE pilots who get hit will complain a lot, and the hunters will lap up the tears greedily. For a time.
But then the defenders will adjust. Some will adjust faster, some slower, but the ones who can’t adjust will decide nullsec is too dangerous for them, and go back to highsec. The ones who remain will be harder targets. They’ll watch D-scan. And they’ll have scouts watching gates. They’ll use ships that make a little less money, but focus on survivability and disposability. Myrmidons, for example. Or they’ll switch to supercapitals, under a protective supercap umbrella. They’ll get harder to kill.
Large Scale: Donuts and Blocs
On the larger scale, the people most at risk are the small operators. These are the groups who are out on their own, trying to make a new home in null, or trying to grow. It’s especially true of small groups near highsec. For an example, we need look no farther than Tribute. The Imperium trashed all of the infrastructure in Tribute. While some TCUs were left, all of the meaningful structures, including IHUBs, were destroyed. NCdot, by Vince Draken’s own words, is heading to Malpais. And smaller groups have moved in.
Coming in the Taisy gate, Northern Ronin. (NR) has set up shop in M-O, with all of 29 members. Rote Kapelle’s re-established themselves a system over. With 290 pilots, they’re the biggest of the new residents. Their neighbours, Sector Seven. (S7), the Nafjala Cooperative (FLOAT), and Archos Core total at a combined 82 pilots between them.
Of these groups, Rote will have the best defenses: they have the most people, and only one system. But they’ll all need to make money, and they’ll all need to watch for traffic throughout Tribute. S7, especially, is going to have trouble with hunters. 27 pilots, over 12 systems, in 2 constellations… easy pickings.
At the other end of the scale… the Imperium, Legacy, and PanFam will be in relatively good shape. Sure, everyone and their grandmother will come hunting in Delve, but the region already has standing defenses. When pilots get more used to keeping scout alts on gates, reporting promptly, and taking common-sense steps to be less vulnerable, the number of kills will drop, and the relative safety of the area will stabilize again. The other large blocs will do the same, out of sheer self-preservation.
So once again, we’ll see the way everything works out as more than the sum of its parts. Individuals will be pushed toward getting smarter about their money-making, and big groups do better than small groups in terms of providing security and opportunity. People who don’t adapt will leave—some will leave null, while others leave EVE. And though there’s already a chorus forming of ‘good riddance’, it’s no secret that fewer people in the game means fewer people in space. It’s the entire reason CCP introduced Alpha clones.
Taken together, it all makes joining the large blocs even more attractive for people who want to amass money, even if their eventual goal is founding their own alliance. In the long run, the blocs weather the storm much better than the little guys, and they’ll be better positioned to teach newer players how to survive in the no-local meta.
Will this happen before CCP decides they have all the data they need? Will they decide to turn Local back to ‘Immediate’ mode? Who knows? But it will happen. And when it does, the hunters, who are talking about flocking back in droves, will start to complain about null being ‘too safe’ again. We’ll hear more crying about ‘blue donuts’ and ‘risk-averse’ people from PvPers who themselves take every precaution to not get blown up pointlessly.
And in the end? We’ll be right back where we are now.
So Why Won’t It Work?
To be blunt, it won’t work because CCP doesn’t have the first clue why things are how they are. That’s not exactly a unique failing, though. Every time this comes up, be it from CCP devs, small gang FCs, or even just other pilots hanging out on comms, the matter is phrased in a very specific way: “Why don’t people fight?” or “CCP need to give people more reasons to fight.”
CCP doesn’t need to give us more reasons to fight. We have reasons to fight. We have long-standing reservoirs of hatred and spite enough to fuel wars a-plenty. It’s been amassed over 16 years, and the only thing that’s even slowed down the snowballing hate has been CCP’s Drifter Invasion. I mean, not for nothing, but when the Pie Chart of Shame came out, Mittens literally spent 2 hours telling PanFam reps to eat his ass. And if someone mocking you and telling you to eat his ass for 2 hours isn’t enough reason to fight… well, no kinkshaming here, but day-um.
The problem is, CCP doesn’t understand nullsec. And neither do most small gang PvPers in EVE. To CCP’s devs—many of whom come from lowsec and Faction Warfare—the fight is the thing. And by ‘the fight’, I mean just that: a fight. One fight. Sure, FW loyalists might fight for one side or another, LS groups have friends or enemies, but there’s a fundamental fluidity and impermanence to things. FW systems get flipped—so what? you can flip them back later. LS stations are owned by NPCs, and it doesn’t matter who’s got what in-system, you can dock right up after the fight, until next time. The important thing is getting a fight. It’s a fairly instant-gratification thing. Even when there are structure timers involved, as often as not, the timers are made in order to get a fight.
Null’s a completely different beast. The groups that last in nullsec are the ones that want to last. They want to endure. They want to build and maintain a presence, hold space. They’re thinking long-term.
Yes, we send out fun fleets to look for fights. Yes, those work in pretty much exactly the same way fleets in LS/FW work. But those fleets aren’t the ones with the big toys. They’re not the ones with the assets that count. And those are the assets that have to be taken into account in order to understand why null seems to solidify, from time to time. Those assets… and some basic truths about EVE’s economy.
Doing the Math
Try to describe all of EVE’s economy in simple terms, and you’re going to screw it up. You’re going to leave something out. Unless you stick with very basic principles, like ‘is there more stuff than there was before, or is there less?’
Those are the two states the economy can exist in: either more stuff is being made than is being destroyed (accretion), or more stuff is being destroyed than is being made (depletion). It’s theoretically possible for the two numbers to perfectly match, but that would take so much effort (or luck) that if it were to happen for even one month, Aryth would claim it’s all part of his plan and spend an entire decade smugging about having achieved the impossible equilibrium point.
So the economy can either be in accretion, or depletion. If it’s in depletion, you see prices on everything shoot up, and people having problems replacing their ships. After all, in that situation, everything’s getting blown up, faster than it’s getting made. You will run out. Maybe not immediately, maybe not even soon, but if the economy stays like that, it will happen.
EVE’s economy is in accretion. It always has been. People amass more than gets blown up. And the thing about accretion is… it snowballs. You start mining in a corvette, and eventually build a Venture. Now you mine more, faster. Or you rat in your Rifter until you can buy the skill books and hull to fly a Stabber, but when you do, you make more money. If you have more than the other guy, you can get more than he can. So if you want to get more, the best way is: get more. It’s just a matter of time and effort.
The Value of a Hard Day’s Work
People value their time. They value their labor. And they value the things that take an appreciable amount of both to get. On a personal level, individual pilots value the things that were hard to get. On an organizational level, leadership values (or should value) the collective time and effort of the line members.
If leadership doesn’t value the line’s time, problems arise. If it even appears to view line members as an exploitable resource, people are going to walk. After all, nothing keeps them there against their will. If you run an alliance, and you want to dominate the financial markets of EVE, but your pilots all want to go blow stuff up, you better be able to find ways for them to blow stuff up, or they’ll go elsewhere. And then you won’t have anyone to help you punish people who won’t play ball in the markets.
And that’s the next thing that has a value: Leadership also values the collective potency and potential that the things their line members work for, taken together, represent. Mittens doesn’t just want line members to have titans because he wants them to have shiny stuff. Mittens wants line members to own titans because having a lot of titans means something. Among other things, it means you can use a lot of titans. And it means people have to factor that in when they’re trying to figure out how to deal with you. That goes for both players, and developers.
A Walk on the Dev Side
Before people get up in arms about that statement, that’s not a threat. It’s a basic condition of developing a game with as wide open an economic and social dynamic as EVE has. When I say that developers have to factor in what a group of players have, I don’t mean something stupid like ‘you’ll lose their money when they unsub’ or anything like that. I mean that on a very basic level, you have to understand what they’ll do before they do it, and plan for it.
Titans (And EVE Fleets In General)
Let’s use titans as the first, most obvious example for nullsec. CCP famously said that they originally only expected that maybe 4 titans would exist in the game at any time. Four. From their trailers, we know how they envisioned these things getting used: as the centerpieces for fleets that resemble modern navies; a big capital asset in the middle, smaller ships around it to provide additional response capacity; and even smaller screening vessels all around those.
That’s not how things in EVE work, though. In the real world, big ships are expensive. They’re not just expensive to build, they’re expensive to operate. They’re expensive to staff, to supply, and to maintain. If the build cost was the only cost involved, the US Navy wouldn’t have anything smaller than a battleship. Hell, it’d have battleships. So would everyone else. Each of the 10 Carrier Strike Groups would have a Nimitz-class supercarrier, probably still one of the Forrestal (or Midway)-class carriers, and a pair of Essex-class boats still serving and refitted for lighter aircraft operation.
In other words, they’d look a lot like EVE fleets. In EVE, you bring the most powerful ship you can that fits the mission profile, and you bring as many of them as you’ve got. The limiting factor isn’t cost, it’s butts in seats. Got 50 guys, but you can only afford 10 battleships? Keep making money. You’ll be able to get more battleships a lot more easily than you’ll get more guys.
That’s what happened with titans, too. Once people had the manpower, it was only a matter of time before those butts were sitting in titans. Or at least, however many of them wanted to be. Not everyone does, after all. And it happened with more than titans.
Does anyone really think CCP expected to see one group in nullsec with over 45 Keepstars? Do you think they expected it would happen within 3 years? What about the structure spam in every region of the game? If the developers expected this, they needed plans for how to deal with it. So it’s reasonably safe to say they didn’t expect it. At least, not like it’s turned out.
But that’s a failure to understand the way EVE’s economy works. In an accretion model, if people are building X, then eventually, you get a lot of X. It’s inevitable. So, as a developer, before you introduce X, you need a clear idea of what X’s purpose is, how X interacts with everything else, and how you balance X when it’s numerous enough to be considered ‘saturated’.
It’s understandable to not see that sort of planning as necessary when the game first comes out. And it’s ok to be surprised, as Hilmar was, when players find ways to make more money, more efficiently, than you’d anticipated. It’s even good to be proud of them when they get that first battleship built months ahead of your schedule.
It’s not so great when the game’s been running for over a decade, and players have consistently outperformed developer expectations, and the devs still don’t anticipate ‘they’re going to build a boatload of these things’. Developers need to be able to understand how their players, overall, will respond to new toys getting introduced.
Here’s a hint: just like players in EVERY game, when you introduce new toys, people will want the new toys. They’ll want them for themselves. They’ll want their new toys. Got 30,000 people logged in regularly? Expect 30,000 of the new toys. Plan for the worst-case scenario.
Some Assembly Required
Ok, so how does all that relate to the Nullsec Blackout and Stagnation in EVE? Well, you have to put the pieces together.
- People value the things that they have to put effort into getting.
- The best way to make more money and get more things faster is to have the money and things to use.
- Nullsec orgs tend to focus on the long-term picture, not instant gratification.
- Nullsec leadership has to value their members’ efforts and interests, or they end up with no members
Taken together, these things start to paint a cohesive picture. The long-term picture is one where groups need to plan ahead, and not waste their strategic assets stupidly.
If you lose a heroic Alamo-style last stand…you’re done. The guys at the Alamo didn’t have much of a choice. After the battle, they were all dead. No matter what inspirational example they set, they weren’t fighting any more risk. Thermopylae, same thing: the value of both heroic last stand actions was in inspiring other people—who still had all their stuff—to fight, and buying time for them to do so.
In EVE, that’s not the case. You keep going. The odds are pretty good you’re not inspiring anyone outside your group. For every person who sees it as ‘brave’ and ‘inspiring’, there’s a half-dozen who just shake their heads and call you an idiot. Because now you have to try to get back into a position where you can contest someone else’s control of space. And you have to get there without the tools that would have made it much, much easier.
EVE’s nullsec powers can’t only look at this war. They have to look down the road, to the next war. Because the next war is always coming.
Reasons to Fight
And that brings us back to those eternal errors in discussions about EVE stagnation: “Why don’t people fight?” and “CCP need to give people more reasons to fight”. Once again, we’ve got reasons to fight. What we don’t have is reasons to risk.
That line, I’m sure, just got a thousand nerds screaming ‘RISK AVERSE!!!’ at their screens in glorious unison. So, before I address the substance of it, allow me to take a moment to needlessly berate them all for being idiots who don’t know the difference between ‘adverse’ and ‘averse’. Dear idiots: you’re bad and you should feel bad. Now, on to the meat of the matter.
Yes, it is ‘risk averse’, to an extent. So what? All of the PvPers out there screaming about it are risk averse, too. Do you knowingly fly into boson traps? Do you happily jump into a gate-camp all alone, though you know you won’t even kill one of the little bastards, because they have 5 logi? If not, you’re risk averse. Or at least, you’re as risk averse as the null blocs. You don’t want to do something that’ll cost you time and effort in exchange for nothing. Big shock.
In other words, you’re not a complete fool. Good job!
Reasons to Risk
The problem here is that being risk averse is the intelligent move. As stated above, null groups always have to be thinking about not just this fight, but the next one, the next ten, the next war. It’s coming. Whether you win or lose this one, it’s coming. It’s coming whether you still have your space, your stuff, or even your pilots. If you’re in sov null, War Is Coming. And if you’re not getting ready for it, GET OUT. You have no business being there. Go to NPC null. Go to lowsec. Just get out of the way now, before the avalanche starts.
So how can CCP provide reasons for the large groups to risk their big toys? There’s a few different options: Make them easier to get, make them less necessary, or my favorite: blow them the hell up.
Easier To Get
This is the fastest and easiest of them for CCP. It’s also the worst and stupidest way to address the problem. But it will address the problem, so we should look at it. If you make it easy to get the really big things, people will use them. They’ll lose them to one another in droves. People like explosions. It’s kind of a no-brainer.
It will also horribly penalize newer players. They will need to put in close to 3 years of skill training just to be able to reasonably contribute in null. Smaller groups will get shafted, too, because they’ll be facing more supercapitals.
How screwed the litttle guy gets is already an issue: to own supers, you need a keepstar. If you can’t defend a keepstar, you can’t own supers. If you don’t own a lot of supers, you can’t defend a keepstar.
You wind up with a decidedly mean-spirited bootstrap problem. Yes, small groups could use a smaller structure and simply safe-log, but that adds another layer of disadvantage: the big groups not only have more people, with more supercapitals, but those characters can dock up and fly something else. The small group has its highest-SP characters locked away from every fight.
Making supers cheaper and more disposable might allow the small group to use and lose theirs, but that probably won’t make them more likely to. They won’t want to lose what little force they have—especially considering that right now, the only way to build supercapitals is to own the space you need supercapitals to hold.
This is less pants-on-head than accelerating supercapital proliferation would be, but there are problems here, too. The only way to really make these things less necessary is to make them less of an ‘I WIN’ button. But if you make them less useful, then everyone who’s already gotten them will be upset.
At least… that’s the thinking. Most of the people who have these things now have them because they need them. Sure, the big DD volley is fun, and it’s great to watch someone else’s big thing explode, but supercapitals are slow, ponderous lumps that take forever to align. Worse, there’s always some idiot who fell asleep, or isn’t paying attention. In a battleship fleet, someone’s not aligning, you leave their ass behind and tell them to file for SRP. With supercaps, people are more likely to feel like they need to wait for the idiot. Entire fleets can get held up because one guy in a Wyvern fell asleep after 8hrs of heavy tidi, and the FC is trying to get a corpmate who can track down a way to contact the pilot.
And then there’s tidi. Supers make more of it. They’re big things with lots of bits. The game has to look at collisions across the whole range of the ship’s hit box. The client has to render all the little bits. More fighter squadrons means more crap for the engine to track and update on everyone’s overview. Sure, the 64-bit client has helped with this, but not on the server-side issues.
Honestly, once you get past the ‘I am the biggest thing in space’ nonsense, supercapitals are more boring than cruisers.
Just Blow Them Up!
Seriously, just blow ‘em up. Introducing supercapitals to the game without a clear and consistent vision for how these things would relate to the rest of the ship tree when they hit saturation numbers was just stupid. It was a mistake, and it should be undone. CCP should give people a massive event that only ships with jump drives can take part in, get them all blown the hell up, and then have CONCORD revoke all the licensing for BPCs. At that point, refund the SP, and let the biggest thing players fly be carriers and dreads. At least until CCP figures out how to actually balance supercapitals against the rest of the game.
Another way out would be to radically change supercapitals, so they’re not even the same things they are now. That can have the effect both making them less necessary, and removing them. The new roles could be less essential for taking and holding space in null. And it would remove supercapitals as we know them. CCP could even give everyone the option for that one big brawl before the changes go in. Send them out with the biggest bang in gaming history. Thousands of supercapitals could die in a day. But what would that ‘new role’ look like?
A Fourth Way?
One idea that’s been batted around in a few areas goes as follows: Make them into mobile bases. Return supercarriers to the ‘mothership’ idea: jump-capable vessels that move slow, warp slow, and have little to no offensive capabilities. But they do have the ability to dock subcapitals. Dozens of battleships. Hundreds of smaller hulls. A single supercarrier could provide a beachhead. A supercarrier fleet could be a legitimate invasion force. But only because of the other players docked up inside. The supercarrier itself would represent almost no threat.
At the same time, titans become something similar: jump-capable emplacements. As they undock, they have jump drives, solid defense, but no offensive capacity as a ship. The pilot pushes a siege-like button, and the titan’s a station until it comes out of siege. In station mode, it has lots of defense, and a good amount of offense. No warp drive. No sublight drive. And they can’t enter station mode within 100km of another titan in station mode. But they can dock everything up to normal capitals, and carry cloning services. They become another component of an invasion force, or a supplemental defensive screen: put a few titans around a station under siege, and force your enemy to go through those first.
But we all know they’re not going to do any of those things. So they’re not going to fix the stagnation in null.
Stagnation and Supercap Proliferation
Because those issues, supercapital proliferation and nullsec stagnation, are the same issue. Everything else you might use to take space in null, you don’t need to already have space in null to make. Let’s once again look at that bootstrap problem:
To take and hold space in null, you need supercapitals. To make supercapitals, you need to already have space in null.
So anyone who doesn’t already have supers or space probably won’t get either. That’s why so many people who want the big toys join the blocs: it lets them get the toys. It’s why people who might otherwise go ahead and start trying to make their own way in null go to the blocs to build up some, first: build up and/or buy assets, and then go claim space for yourself. It’s just easier to get those first few rungs up the ladder that way.
But you need space to make supers. And you need supers to hold space. So nobody who has supers can really afford to lose their supers, because if they do, they lose their space, and don’t have much chance to regain either. Just five years ago, that wasn’t the case. But it is now. Break that link, fix that problem… and you fix a lot of why things settle into gestalt, again and again.
And until they do, stunts like removing local may lead to some temporary instability… but in the end, they’ll just make the big blocs the only game in town for people who want to try building something of their own in nullsec. And that won’t fix a damned thing.
If At First…
This isn’t just dumping on CCP, though. This is about expectations. CCP needs to keep trying new things. But players need to recognize that those new things have their limitations. Players need to let CCP try new things, again and again. That’s how CCP will get the data they need to understand the shape of things, what the problems are, and how they intersect in an extremely complex system.
Players expecting the Blackout to ‘fix’ things, and talking up how this change will achieve this or that, and make everything better, aren’t helping. All that does is create expectations that this cannot meet. And when those expectations—built entirely by the playerbase, because CCP isn’t saying this is anything more than a test to gather data—aren’t met, people will want to get mad at CCP for it. They may start saying that CCP’s just screwing things up worse, or flailing around in the dark.
The truth is, most of the things CCP is going to try will fail. Horribly, sometimes! Because they’re going to be as much about gathering information as about addressing a problem. And a lot of the eventual solutions, players won’t recognize as solutions, at first. But getting to the point of success depends on them being allowed to fail. Players have to be willing to let them.
CCP needs to be prepared for it, too, and prepared to push forward anyway. Historically, they haven’t. They’ve repeatedly put things in with abysmal reward vs player effort, and nobody uses it. Then they decide ‘this system was bad’ not ‘highsec newbies aren’t spending 100,000,000 ISK plus LP on cosmetic items’. That’s what happened with Resource Wars. It’s what happened with FOBs. They have an idea, it doesn’t work, and they just give up.
… Try, Dammit.
Fixing the problems in EVE will take CCP bringing a lot of different pieces together. And addressing the structural reasons why nullsec will always want to solidify won’t happen with them giving up. What’s going to determine the long-term future of EVE isn’t the success or failure of one testing period. It’s CCP having the resolve, and willingness to see things through… for once.
I hope they finally do.