Blobbing is blamed for many of null-sec’s ills. For the purposes of this article, I’m going to incorporate some existing ideas to counter the blob, since the reason for blobbing lies not in mechanics, but human nature, which nothing will change.
The Prisoner’s Dilemma
Two co-conspirators are captured and held in separate rooms. The authorities go into the first man’s cell and explain that they already have enough evidence to convict. Both he and his friend will receive 3 years in prison. Each is being given the chance to give up his friend. If the first man betrays his friend and the friend remains silent, he will receive 1 year in prison and the friend will receive 10 years. If both betray each other, they’ll each receive 10 years in prison. The first man is told that his friend is being given the same choice. If you were the first man, what would you do?
Given that you can only control your decision, the intelligent move is to betray your friend. If he is dishonorable, he will betray you regardless of what you do. If he is honorable, he will keep silent, and you’ll receive only 1 year in prison. But, he’s making the same decision, and is just as likely to come to the same conclusion, so chances are you both will be getting 10 years in prison.
The prisoner’s dilemma is a classic example of a situation in which pursuit of personal gain can backfire on you. It reveals the selfishness of human nature. In Eve, this means the desire to win, above all things. Bringing a comparable fleet to fight an enemy means you face more risk, but will learn more from the fight and have a reason to be proud should you win. But if you can blob them – even at the expense of pride, achievement, and education – and eliminate the risk of losing a ship… that’s a compelling argument for many people.
Of course, doing so regularly means your pilots won’t learn anything, have no reason to believe themselves competent PvPers (or worse yet, think they are when, in reality, they aren’t) and accomplish nothing but the inevitable conclusion of a gank. Add to that the contempt of your enemies (no longer just opponents).
Yet while the desire to keep a green killboard is paramount for a lot of people, some alliances choose to fight their enemies on equal terms? Why do they do this? Because they recognize the importance of the Eve-equivalent of the prisoner’s loyalty: self-improvement. When you form up a similarly sized gang and avoid bringing jammers, you aren’t looking for an easy victory, you’re looking to fly effectively and overcome a worthy opponent.
But that’s the harder route. And humans rarely take the hard route.
So, are there any mechanics we can tweak to incentivize players to meet gangs with equal numbers instead of blobbing?
Bombing already afford the opportunity for small groups of pilots to obliterate large numbers of enemy ships. If you search YouTube for Rooks and Kings bombing entire battleship fleets, you can see how the top tier of bombers can wreak havoc.
Since the mechanic already exists and bombs are meant to offer overwhelming force, I propose a simple change: increase the overall damage potential, but also increase the effect to which signature radius affects that damage. By this pair of changes, a flight of bombs (7) could effectively destroy battleships, without overpowering the effect of a single bomb on a frigate.
Having your fleet of structure-grinding battleships decimated by a single squad of bombs is quite the deterrent to underestimating your smaller enemy.
The Rubicon expansion will include deployable depots, which are essentially ship maintenance arrays that can be placed anywhere in space. Extending this option, I propose deployable defenses.
Imagine that you’re in a 30-man home defense fleet when your forward scout reports 70 in local. You align out to pull range as they jump into your system. You take a few pot shots, but can’t really dent their fleet, so you warp out to a deep safe. The enemy drops probes and scans you down.
But you prepared that safe before the fight. When they arrive, they’re greeted by a dozen mobile smartbombs and an anchored bubble, which decimates their fleet as they frantically try to escape. Your fleet swoops in to mop up the survivors.
Not only would these “surprises” add a new dimension to game play and make probers check twice before warping a fleet, but with certain limitations (perhaps a limit of 12 such objects on grid at once), could add a new dimension to help close the numbers gap between alliances.
Yes, I’m violating my “no new development” rule… or am I? Until we see the specifics of the Rubicon depots, I’m going to put this suggestion in the “grey area” category. It’s possible a fusion between POS mechanics (shoot-on-site) and the depots can easily accommodate such anchorable objects.
Imagine a cloak dissipator, which nullifies cloaks within 100 km. Stealth bomber structure-grinding fleets would suddenly be exposed.
Imagine a distortion field, which would nullify any off-grid boosters for ships within the field. I can just imagine the shock on the face of a boosted pilot who lands on a target, only to discover his off-grid boosters no longer work.
There are lots of options that would give an advantage to the alliances that prepared the battlefield ahead of time, regardless of size. And rewarding intelligence over brute numbers is always a wise move.
Extra Credit: Hard Counters
Yes, this is a cheat, since I’m not talking about mechanic changes. When all else fails, there’s always the hard counter to an enemy fleet, the fleet composition built specifically to destroy the enemy’s fleet. Using this strategy typically – unless you’re very lucky – requires your pilots to have many pre-fit ships in their hangars, ready to address any situation.
It’s a very skill-intensive strategy to employ, since pilots typically need to have all four races, all four weapon systems, and a range of ship sizes available. But it also requires pilots to understand how to fly a variety of roles. Usually, this strategy is viable only for smaller groups of pilots, like tournament teams, mercenary corps/alliances, and NPC null alliances.
Ironically, as pilots gain the ability to fly any ship that may be called for, they have also likely gained the aptitude to fly each individual ship in a wider variety of situations, eliminating the need to fly hard counter fleets.
But, when flown correctly, a hard counter can crush an enemy fleet of a much larger size. This option tends to work better for defensive efforts – when an enemy fleet has to travel significant distance to reship once they discover you’re flying a hard counter – than for offensive ones (excepting situations when you’re bridging to your target system.
Ultimately, blobbing is a natural result of the human desire to avoid pain. Nothing is going to change this, but mechanics changes can affect the degree to which smaller groups can defend against larger blobs. The way to accomplish this is to turn the safety and overconfidence that a blob provides on its head, making that very overconfidence a weakness to exploit.
Increasing bomb damage on larger ships and introducing deployable defenses allows the smaller fleet to spring traps against larger fleets, giving the “little guy” more of a chance to survive. And when smaller groups are capable of holding off larger groups, we move closer to the “space fiefdoms” that will allow a wider variety of players to participate in null.
And that, my friends, is the single, necessary element to revitalize null-sec.