Thursday, October 2, 2014

My Sov Null Solution

In my last post, I spoke about how the Null-Sec Statement was a demonstration of “dogs and cats dancing together” to make a point about the importance of CCP taking this opportunity for a soup-to-nuts change to sov mechanics instead of simply slapping a bandage on it and calling it a day.  I don’t believe CCP has the wiggle room to get it wrong out of the gate and slowly fix it (maybe).  The null-sec membership base is already plummeting.

To be quite honest, I really didn’t expect anyone to take out of the Null-Sec Statement (or my post!) that the “solutions” proposed were complete and sufficient.  I interpreted them as general concerns, not fixes.  Because, you know, they aren’t a complete fix.  Just enacting those three points wouldn’t fix null-sec.

Alice Karjovic called me out in corp TS and thought I was endorsing the statement in full, as a complete and sufficient solution.  Not so, but if a writer is misunderstood, it’s the fault of the writer.   So here’s my list of solutions to the null-sec problem, to be clear.  I talked about this in the context of drawing players from high-sec to null-sec last November.  This time, I’m talking about fixing the mechanics themselves.

Don’t worry.  Scroll down to “Summary” for the TL;DR.

What I Want in Null-sec

First and foremost, null-sec needs to provide alliances, corporations, and pilots proper justification for moving out there, being in space, and taking actions.  All three levels are constantly assessing “whether it’s worth it” to come to or stay in null-sec.  We can’t make changes that benefits one at the expense of the others.  Making onerous changes that discourage pilots from participating won’t solve the problem, and nor will creating mechanics that don’t require an alliance to have active pilots playing the game.  We need people to be doing things in space, taking actions which require time and which can be disrupted by other players.  Moon mining, PI, and ownership of sov (pay the bills, you’re good, even if you’re never in a system) doesn’t accomplish that.

Secondly, I want to see null-sec player density increase, but increase specifically by developing mechanics which discourage ownership of large swaths of space by one entity (or by “dummy” alliances subordinated to that one entity) and instead allow room for many alliances to operate.  Not only would this create more sources of content, but it’d also allow alliances to run the full lifespan, from fledgling null entities to end-game meta manipulators.  The trick here is making it so the existing players can’t possibly own all of the space out there.  Into the gaps, new players can appear.

Null-sec needs to balance the desires both for narrative (importance to our actions) with thrill (excitement to our actions).  These two factors are at play in what sorts of content we want to encourage with mechanic changes.  Engagement is the result of both, but the type of engagement and who is likely to be engaged are very different.  Both need to be accounted for.

These engagement opportunities – the times a player has an impact on other players or sov mechanics – need to be frequent, on the order of several per playing session.  It’s not sufficient for one timer to be generated every 36 hours, or one fleet during a playing session that affects sov.  These touch points should involve both PvP and PvE activities, with a focus on “activity”.  That means being out in space doing things and taking actions, not setting something up or sitting in station.  Players and alliances should both suffer negative effects for simply docking up when they meet with some resistance.  And passive income sources should require active gathering and management.

Sov ownership should be based upon the activity of an alliance, but this should incorporate both PvP and PvE elements.  Having sov maintenance be dependent entirely on showing up with PvP ships to engage an invader provides no incentive for alliances to recruit or even allow PvE activity.  This, in turn, reduces the number of targets in space at any given time.  This has to change, since it pretty much excludes non-PvP-minded players from having a role in null-sec.  The role they do have now is met with contempt.

Null-sec should offer a wide range of content.  Currently, null-sec requires only large fleet PvP content to maintain sov: you pile as many people as possible into a system to overwhelm the invader.  This has to change to include a role for all sizes of PvP fleets, from solo roamers to large fleet action.   Ideally, defending a system involves mechanics that cause you to benefit from bringing for frigates, cruisers, battlecruisers, battleships, and capitals.

How Do We Get There?

“Great, Tal.  Nice pie-in-the-sky ideas.  How do you propose we get there?”  I’m glad you asked, convenient mouthpiece fictional character.  First, let me say that I personally think we’re well beyond the point of giving CCP time to dabble here and there and roll out gradual fixes.  CCP hasn’t done anything for the past few years even though it’s been readily apparent that we were headed for a bifurcated universe similar to what existed on the Serenity server.  We’re well beyond, “We’ve built up customer goodwill that will buy us some time,” and are firmly in, “Help, help, the house is on fire!”

Don’t believe me?  The concurrent user counts are way down and have been getting worse.  Some players are leaving null-sec alliances for greener pastures, but many, many more are simply logging off.  The longer this goes on, the most likely that those players won’t return at all – they’ll discover fresh air or a new game or actually meet a girl.  Moreover, those null-sec players we’re losing usually have more than one account, including several empire characters.  They’re gone too.  How many of you have stopped subbing all of your accounts?  CCP should be very concerned about this, but we should too.  Every player that leaves null-sec makes the problem of finding content that much worse.  With nothing to do, null alliances are deploying to low-sec and ruining the small-gang environment there with their blobs – all the habits they learned as a result of the null-sec mechanics.

Another note: Corebloodbrothers recently posted a post that, in part, calls BS on the null statement on account of hypocrisy – these alliances are undertaking actions that further strangle the game.  With a straight face, he’s arguing that because these players are following the optimal path to an unfavorable conclusion, they have no right to make a statement on suggested changes.  Any set of mechanics that relies on the players not doing everything they can within those rules is a bad set of mechanics.  It’s not the players’ job to limit their actions; CCP’s job is to set the bounds and let players operate within those known rules.  It’d be like blaming American football teams for taking a knee at the end of the game to run out the clock - the fault lies with the league rules that allow them to do that.  The answer to prevent that isn’t to expect the players to take unnecessary risk, but for the NFL to change the rule so taking a knee stops the clock.

So, players can and should do everything they can – including out of game agreements – to max their alliance’s strength.  CCP needs to take bold action right away, and can’t simply slap a bandage on it (like they did with the POS code).

So, here are my suggestions.

Change: Escalating Sovereignty Costs

I really tried to avoid incorporating escalating costs to keep and maintain sovereignty, but as I considered the issue, I really think this factor is absolutely critical to any effort to ensure a null-sec with a cornucopia of alliances.  That said, I don’t think these costs should be incredibly onerous.  For an alliance owning less than 5 systems, for instance, I’d give them a 50% reduction in sov costs.  From 6-10, the percentage reduction for all systems would reduce by 10%, so an alliance with 10 systems would be paying full price.  That would hold true from 10-20 systems, then begin to increase again after 20, to a maximum of 150% of current sov costs for owning more than, say, 30 systems.  After that, costs would remain constant.

Likewise, the number of pilots in the alliance would affect costs, ranging from a 25% reduction for very small alliances to a 25% increase for very large alliances, regardless of the systems held.  This way, a small alliance owning 5 systems would be paying 37.5% of the cost of an average-sized alliance with 15 systems, and a very large alliance with 30 or more systems would be paying 187.5% of the cost of an average/average alliance.

Immediate Effect: Sov costs for existing entities would increase.
Second-Order Effects: Alliances would reassess the value of each system they own and gauge their needs.  Alliances would take a hard look at their membership and identify necessary changes.
Third-Order Effects: Over time, some space would be abandoned by existing alliances.  Some systems would be recovered/transferred to dummy alliances subordinated to the original owner.  Other systems would be abandoned, allowing new alliances to move in.
Fourth-Order Effects: Reshuffle of the sov map to include more entities, regional “bluing” between current dominant entities and smaller entities on periphery.  Some dummy alliances would fail due to complexity of maintaining two distinct sets of structures, some would remain stable, some would evolve into independent alliances with diverging cultures and objectives.  Alliances that move in to abandoned space will either fail (to be replaced by more successful minor alliances) or grow into more complex forms with expansionist goals.

Change: Introduce Culture Levels (Occupancy-Based Sov)

To maintain sovereignty in space, I recommend the creation of a “culture index”, which accounts for all of the activity that takes place within it.  This index would represent the occupancy-based sov idea out there.  After all, null-sec alliances are cultures/empires of their own, right?  As in the real world, culture reflects not what a society says they want, but what they actually do.  The stronger and more defined a culture is, the harder it is for an invader to successful conquer and convert it.

The culture index would consist of all activity in a system – rats killed, asteroids mined, moon minerals collected, PI exported (not created), hostile and friendly PvP kills, time spent in space, unique characters spending more than 1 hour in the system, etc.  It would specifically include both PvP and PvE content, to reward both, as well as physical presence.  Notably, I recommend having a fairly significant “presence” requirement for a system to discourage alliances from daily gathering their membership together in interceptors and jumping into each of their systems to artificially game the system.  Active tasks would be rewarded, and passivity in station would earn no reward.  If you don’t utilize a system long enough, sovereignty should lapse to the point that you lose sovereignty.

High culture levels should be difficult to achieve.  The requirements for various culture levels should be such that alliances with an average member count and average number of systems (100% of costs for both ownership and size, from above) would not be able to get all of their systems up to the highest level.  Choice must be a factor.

Alliances should gain advantages according to their culture level in regards to defending a system (more on that later).  Compared to a Culture Index 3 system, defensive measures should be 3x easier for Culture Index 5 system and 3x harder for a Culture Index 1 system.

Immediate Effect: Sovereignty would fluctuate within a week depending on the utilization of space.
Second-Order Effects: Systems that are not heavily utilized would become more vulnerable to attack by weaker and weaker entities as time goes on.  Alliances would seek to recruit players with PvE capability and appetite to maintain sov levels.
Third-Order Effects: Conquest efforts would benefit greatly from a period of “air superiority” to deny defenders some opportunities to maintain their culture indexes (note: defender and attacker losses in the system would still buoy the index, though, to encourage active defense of a system).  PvE members could actively contribute to the defense of a system by engaging in PvE in off hours to maintain and protect culture indexes.  Attackers would benefit from sieging systems for a period of time before attacking.  Absentee ownership would be discouraged by making those systems very easy to conquer.

Change: Create Incentives to Repel Roaming Gangs

While the culture index is a means of alliances to defend their sov actively with space-based tasks, the other side of that is to create the means for a roaming gang to disrupt that capability.  Right now, nothing prevents owners of a system from docking up at the first sign of an invader and waiting until they pass – as confirmed by intel channels reporting them in an increasingly distant system.  These roamers have done nothing to irritate the residents except for delaying them by a few minutes while they pass through and look for targets.  Owners of a system have no incentive for attacking these roamers, since it’ll only provide the PvPers with content, which makes them more likely to return next time.

We need to turn this reality on its head.  Players need to be encouraged to undock and repel invaders, and that involves creating the means for invaders to hurt system owners in some way.  Similar to the ESS, I recommend adding an element into the game at each planet – let’s call it a Communications Node – that (according to the lore) communicates claims for ratting bounties to CONCORD for payment to players.  It would also manage the communications between planetary and space-based entities.

These Communications Nodes would govern PI, mining, ratting in the vicinity surrounding the planet.  Each anom would be assigned to the closest planet.  If a roamer warps to the Communications Node, he can choose to interact with it and disrupt either communications to CONCORD or to the planet, which can disrupt these activities.  For ratting, it means rats killed at anoms and belts that correspond to that planet would pay no bounties.  For PI, no orders could be transmitted to the planet (no changing PI around, re-upping resource gathering, or removing product from the installation).  For mining, interacting with the node could tamper with the normal communication signal to create a polarizing beam that makes asteroids unmineable around that particular planet. 

This effect would last for two hours, and an attempt at interrupting each particular node can only be made once every four hours.  In this way, a small gang could disrupt the activity in a system for longer than their simple presence would, but defenders who muster can harden their system against interlopers.  The length of time it takes to accomplish this disruption would have to be enough that residents could form a gang to chase off the invader.  Members of the owning alliance wouldn’t be permitted to interact with the nodes themselves, preventing in-alliance characters from artificially hardening the nodes from attackers.

Will the invader interact with only one node – leaving the rest of the system free and unmolested for use – or will he diligently hit every planet and shut the whole system down?  Residents would have to decide whether to actively chase off the invader or let him disrupt their activity long-term.  Passively sitting in station would no longer be the optimal solution.

Immediate Effect: Roaming gangs would have a means of causing a sustained interruption of the activity in a system whose residents refuse to engage.
Second-Order Effects: Roaming gangs would meet more resistance as residents defend their ability to engage in PvE in a system.  In some cases, defenders will bring out-of-alliance alts into the system to attempt-and-abandon interacting with nodes to protect them from invaders.  Some systems will be selectively “deactivated” for periods of time.
Third-Order Effects: Combined with culture indexes, alliances would recruit players who engage in a mix of PvP and PvE content, and players would be actively encouraged to cross-train skills for both disciplines.  Standing fleets would become more common throughout Eve, allowing faster responses.  PvE activities would involve more complexity and be subject to interruption, causing overall (but not necessarily local) reductions in isk/hr and potentially affecting market prices for faction/deadspace drops.  Ice anom systems would become targets for roaming gangs.

Change: Tug-of-War Sov Capture/Defense with Ship Restrictions

The faction warfare system of seizing systems is generally seen as a positive contribution to the gameworld, since it encourages round-the-clock activity to push a system into vulnerability.  Maintaining “air superiority” through long-term presence in a system, along with multiple capture points (FW plexes) creates the possibility of many smaller fights to capture a system, instead of a small number of, “Bring as many people as possible and bury your opponent in bodies” approach.

Blending this type of tug-of-war plex system with null sec’s timers would create a dynamic system that rewards both consistent, day-long PvP and system control and massed fleet battles.  Under this system, sov anomalies would always exist, and could be warped to at any time to start the process of capturing a system.  Each size of site would allow different sizes of ships – from all ships (including capitals) down to frigates only.  Invaders would need to control a site for a certain amount of time, much like faction warfare, to capture it.  If they successfully capture the site, it pushes the counter for that particular size of site into a reinforcement timer, which would spawn a randomly positioned TCU (but it would never spawn at a POS, a gate, or a station).  At the end of that timer, the fleets would have to contest that timer.

Here’s where things get interesting.  To capture a system, you’d have to successfully capture a range of these hull-sized TCUs.  Each system would have separate counties for frigate-only plexes, cruiser-and-below plexes, BC-and-below plexes, BS-and-below plexes, and capital-and-below plexes.  You’d have to capture at least three of them.  Alliances could choose which ones they want to defend, and which they want to attack.  The TCU itself could be attacked by anyone, but to get that TCU to emerge, you’d have to bring the appropriate ships to push at least three counters into a reinforced timer.

And, as an added sweetener to pot, the length of time an aggressor would need to control a plex to capture it would scale directly with the Culture Index (explained above).  Want to capture a level-5 system the defenders are using regularly?   Be prepared to sit on a single plex for 50 minutes, have to capture several of them to trigger a TCU timer, and have to do that whole process three times with different sizes of ships.  Want to take on a level-1 system?  The plexes you’ll need to capture take only 10 minutes each.

This system would make sieging a system – maintaining that “air superiority” that denies the owner the ability to do the activities that maintain their culture index – the easier it’ll be for you when you hit the plexes.  Long-term exertion of power in a system can both defend the owner and be necessary for an invader, and all this involves time in space taking actions in that particular system.

As a final element, defenders couldn’t “deplex” a system, but each day, the counters for each hull-sized plex type would naturally decay.  If the system isn’t taken in a fortnight, the system is considered successfully defended and the counters reset to 0.

Immediate Effects: Conquest efforts would consist of continuous engagements that ebb and flow, offering a wide range of small-gang activity.  Limiting the hull sizes of individual plexes would require a range of fleet capabilities and doctrines.
Second-Order Effects: Alliance doctrines would change to be hull-specific, and alliances would begin to specialize based on their own perceived strengths.  Individual invasions would see varying doctrines used, depending on the strengths of the defender, as well.  Conquest would be less dependent on individual battles, requiring round-the-clock defense.  Alliances will omni-TZ coverage would be at an advantage.  Blobs would have a limited use, allowing CCP their marketing gold for important systems.  Sieges would become more common as attackers balance time vs. culture index to reach the optimal approach to conquest.
Third-Order Effects: New doctrine metas would evolve around agility and local, temporary force superiority instead of alpha strike with overwhelming force.

Change: Require Physical Presence to Modify PI Installations

Right now, you can modify and assign new orders to Planetary Interaction installations remotely; you don’t need to visit the planet itself until you want to scoop the products.  Essentially, 95% of the PI process involves little to no interaction with the gameworld – rather, you interact with an interface.  By changing he mechanics so you need to be in orbit of the planet – or, say, within 10,000 km of the planet and uncloaked – this adds an element of danger, albeit a small one, and requires you to actually be in space to engage in PI.  Ships in space have a chance, even if small, of being attacked by roamers.

Immediate Effects: More pilots would be flying through space, providing additional targets.  The nature of PI is similar to running data or relic sites – an interface that can easily distract pilots.  The risk for an alert pilot is small, but still exists.  PI would become an “active” task that would positively contribute to the culture index, including during efforts to buoy the culture index during sieges and conquest attempts.
Second-Order Effects: Roaming gangs will have additional targets and may adjust strategies to tackle these targets.  Alliances may actively recruit PI pilots to positively contribute to the culture index.  Skilled PI pilots could operate even when under siege.

Change: Reduce Predictability of Moon Mining

Moon mining provides a largely passive income stream for corporations (much of which is currently turned over to alliances), entirely bypassing the member level.  Once established, little effort is needed except to fuel the POS and extract the moon goo.  I recommend creating an active module on mining ships which, when activated in orbit a moon, allows the pilot to mine it.  The round-time would be one hour and would provide more than the current 100 units of material.  This material could then be taken to be reacted at a nearby POS as usual.  However, the process of collecting this first material would be manual.

“Ring mining” is an alternative that would also provide a manual, attention-intensive process.  Additionally, I recommend that minerals be generated randomly and change every couple days (sometimes spawning no mineral) to create less predictability.  In conjunction with the last element, alliances could tax moon mining separately (as a percentage of the total yield).  Should they tax the moon mining amount too much, no players will spend the time doing it, resulting in players profiting as the alliance does.

Immediate Effects: Moon mining becomes active, providing targets and incorporating alliances members in the moon mining income stream.  The final element of passive income would be removed.
Second-Order Effects: Alliances recruit dedicated moon miners and experiment with varying levels of taxation to encourage the activity, yet glean as much value as possible from moon mining.  Income streams become more volatile and subject to disruption by hostile elements.
Third-Order Effects: SRP programs adjust to provide additional reimbursement to ships lost in an effort to save moon miners.  Alliance leadership becomes increasingly involved in regulating and planning PvE activities for alliance profit.

Change: Introduce Alliance Tax Rates

With the elimination of passive moon mining, alliances will need a way to profit from their members’ efforts.  By introducing different alliance tax rates for ratting, mining, PI, and moon mining, and changing the mechanics to allow alliances to earn the transaction fees for market orders placed and fulfilled within alliance-owned stations, alliances could generate wealth from player actions, instead of simply ownership.  Throughout history, leaders have profited by providing safe areas for their citizens to operate… for Eve to approximate this value model, alliances need the ability to tax.

Immediate Effects: Alliances will suffer a short-term drop in income before they adjust to the new paradigm.  They will stockpile moon minerals in anticipation of market disruptions, cashing in as prices spike.  Supply will be disrupted for a short time.  Alliance recruitment will heavily emphasize mining.
Second-Order Effects: Alliances will struggle with a balance between moon miners, miners, ratters, PvP pilots, and administrators while keeping their numbers under control (due to escalating costs, above).  Moon mining value would exceed that of other mining, so some alliances will create secondary subordinate alliances who hold no space and exist specifically to moon mine; they’ll be willing to sacrifice the culture index value of moon mining to ensure moon miners wouldn’t affect sov costs.
Third-Order Effects: Disruptions from roamers and invaders would encourage defense of moon mining, in particular, due to the greater-than-average value.  Alliances may possibly sign treaties exempting moon miners from being legitimate targets (similar to NIPs or B0TLRD), but the particular vulnerability of this important alliance revenue stream would likely be too tempting for hostile alliances to ignore.


I know, this isn’t taking sov mechanics back into the shop and doing a little work on them.  This set of suggestions blows up the mechanics, melts them down, tosses a refrigerator in, recasts the metal, and builds something new out of it.  So, here’s the promised TL;DR.

This is what I want to see in null-sec:
  1. Encouragement of many small alliances carving out an area of space.
  2. The full range of content from solo roaming to large fleet PvP.
  3. Regular and frequent involvement of player-to-player content (ie. high engagement).
  4. Inclusion of PvE as an integral aspect of holding and maintaining sov.
  5. Increased density in null-sec systems.
  6. Capture and defense mechanics that require a range of ship types.
  7. Proper justification for alliances, but especially players, to come into null-sec.
This is how I think we get there:
  1. Introduce escalating sovereignty costs based on alliance size and number of systems held to discourage sprawl.
  2. Have PvE and system utilization factor into a culture level, and make systems vulnerable to capture once it falls below a certain threshold.
  3. Introduce a means of roaming gangs to reduce/disrupt a system’s PvE capability for a short time, thereby creating an incentive for residents to repel these gangs.
  4. Create capture points for sov defense/conquest that utilize tug-of-war mechanics, inspired by faction warfare.
  5. Introduce alliance tax rates to enable bottom-up alliance income, encourage PvE recruitment, and encourage active income generation over passive income generation.
  6. Require a physical presence in orbit of a planet to modify to PI installations to create a potential target.
  7. Reduce the predictability of moon mining to encourage activity.
If that doesn’t make sov null-sec interesting, I’d be shocked!

1 comment:

  1. I think you've got a lot of awesome ideas here. The FW style system capturing seems awesome and is a good way to allow smaller entities to capture systems without caps.

    I hope something like that gets added and causes a resurgence of solo null sec pvp. That 'd be damn cool to see. :)