Monday, March 9, 2015

No Fancy Titles: FozzieSov Analysis

The wait is finally over.  The discussion has begun.  On Tuesday, Fozzie released CCP’s Sovereignty Revamp Phase II.  I’ve been very interested in this topic ever since Fanfest last year, and am very eager to see how the discussion plays out.  I reference “discussion” so early in this post because I firmly believe Fozzie when he says that this version of the plan is an opening position, and not the final iteration.  They want our feedback, and we should all intend on giving it.

I’m a null-sec player, but I passionately hate blob warfare and wanted to see a system that encourages smaller operations – just a lot of them.  That’s my bias… I want to see small-gang tactics in null-sec have a home.

Way back when, I proposed my own solution to null-sec stagnation.  I suggested that any changes to null-sec should have the following objectives:
  • Encouragement of many small alliances carving out an area of space.
  • The full range of content from solo roaming to large fleet PvP.
  • Regular and frequent involvement of player-to-player content (ie. high engagement).
  • Inclusion of PvE as an integral aspect of holding and maintaining sov.
  • Increased density in null-sec systems.
  • Capture and defense mechanics that require a range of ship types.
  • Proper justification for alliances, but especially players, to come into null-sec.

To get there, I recommended the following significant changes:
  • Escalating Sovereignty Costs
  • Introduce Culture Levels (Occupancy-Based Sov)
  • Create Incentives to Repel Roaming Gangs
  • Tug-of-War Sov Capture/Defense with Ship Restrictions
  • Require Physical Presence to Modify PI Installations
  • Reduce Predictability of Moon Mining
  • Introduce Alliance Tax Rates

I really feel CCP’s changes hit a lot of these goals, with the promise of incorporating several others over time.  Small gang will be much more important to sov warfare in the future.  And in an effort to encourage small-gang skill, small-gang roams will become a perfect training ground for the very kind of flying necessary to own space in the post-Dominion world.  That is an awesome consequence.

FozzieSov – The Basics

For a quick review, the proposed sov system would eliminate Sovereignty Blockade Units from the game.  A new high-slot module called an Entosis Link would be introduced that could be fit onto most ships (in the current proposal).  Attackers could activate the Entosis Link on either a TCU (to gain official sov, which grants POS fuel discounts and nothing else), an Infrastructure Hub (which allows you to upgrade your system), or a Station to make them vulnerable.  A defender can apply their own Entosis Link to halt the process.  Sov structures can only be reinforced in this way during a Defender’s self-designated 4-hr block of prime time.  So, structures are invulnerable for the 20 other hours of the day.

Once an attacker successfully pushes one of these three Sov structures into “reinforced”, it enters a roughly 48-hr reinforcement period (roughly because it will come out at a random point during the defender’s self-identified 4-hr “prime time” block).  In the case of a Station, though, the station is kicked into a “Freeport” mode, which allows anyone to dock and use station services… including allowing the attackers to stage out of that station.

After 48 hours, the reinforcement period ends and new anomalies spawn throughout the entire constellation that essentially operate as capture points (think FW plexes without the activation gates).  Defenders and attackers need to capture these nodes by again activating an Entosis Link on it for long enough to capture it.  A successful capture registers a point to the winner’s alliance.  Coalitions can support their allies by maintaining local control and killing attackers, but they cannot win these capture points for their allies.  If Razor Alliance captures a node while helping Goonswarm defend a system, the note registers for Razor and does nothing to assist Goonswarm.  As a result, alliances must be physically present and active in the defense of their own space.

Military, Industry, and Sovereignty indexes factor into how long an alliance must keep their Entosis Link active on a node to successfully capture it.  The higher those numbers, the longer attackers must remain in control and interacting with the node, and the faster defenders can capture their defensive nodes.  Using your space frequently makes it much harder for an alliance to invade you successfully.  More and more nodes will spawn until the process ends, making it easier to resolve the longer the battle goes on.

Successfully capturing enough nodes will end the process temporarily.  If the defender is successful, the attacker has to start the process over again.  If the attacker is successful, TCUs and iHubs are destroyed and the attacker may place their own.  Stations, on the other hand, revert to the attacker’s control completely.  In either case, the “Freeport” state stretches from when the station is first reinforced until the capture process concludes.

The Positive

I’ve spoken many times about how I believe the best and most engaging experience in Eve is small-gang combat.  It’s a style of combat that has been under siege for my entire time in Eve.  Patch after patch has made it more difficult for small gangs to survive, let alone thrive in null-sec. 

And to the small-gang enthusiast in me, these changes represent a commitment by CCP to reverse that entropy in a way that gives credible options beyond the “get as many people as possible and bring down the sledgehammer” approach.  That’s a very good thing for a few reasons.

The first one, of course, is the very real technical limitation.  Players will continue to load battles with as many pilots as they can gather, regardless of how powerful CCP’s servers become, so anything they can do to split up the combatants is a good thing.  If effective, this sov system will distribute players more effectively, hopefully casting the soul-crushing lag message to history.

(For those of you who don’t know about “soul-crushing lag”, time dilation only slows response times down to as low as 10%... when the system is still under immense pressure, it cane sometimes take commands more than five minutes between being inputted and hitting the server.  This is “soul-crushing lag”, and results in the game dropping commands randomly… which you don’t realize until those 5 minutes have passed.  A terrible product experience for players, all around.)

Likewise, even veteran null-sec players who know how to manipulate tidi and lag for their own benefit generally don’t enjoy high tidi battles as much as fast-and-furious fights.  By splitting large fleets up, it’ll encourage more smaller fights, which are generally more engaging.  Mind you, by “small”, we may be talking 250 vs. 250 in each of five systems… more than large enough for even fans of only the largest of fleet fights to be satisfied, without the negatives of extreme tidi.

But, perhaps best of all, this sov system will allow local grid superiority to take a greater role in sov battles.  Currently, with all conquest/defense actions centered in a single system, reinforcements are inbound pretty much the moment two fleets engage.  But, under FozzieSov, those reinforcements may need to come from other systems, which will extend the engagement time between the initial two combatant fleets.  And that’s a very good thing, requiring FCs to fight on their own for longer.  More ships will die and more action will occur.

I’m also very excited to see indexes – or as I refered to it, “culture” – influence the difficulty in taking and defending systems.  From a lore perspective, it only makes sense that as an alliance uses its space, the residents would become attached to them.  A resident owner killing rats would increase the seuciryt of those who live in that system.  Increased activity would mean increased business, security, and economic prosperity.  And there would, of course, be a status boost to living in the territory of a famous or long-standing empire.  Dignitas, if you will.

And from a gameplay perspective, this makes a great deal of sense as well.  Owning space needs to confer some benefits, which should increase as the length of ownership increases… provided that the owners cultivate it.  Having a low difficulty to conquer absentee space – systems in which the owners don’t live or invest their time – reduces the barrier to entry for novice null-sec residents, which can allow new blood to enter.

One of my other desires for the sov rebalance was to see invaders have an increased ability to disrupt null empires.  And this is a resounding success.  By requiring only one ship to reinforce a system, you introduce vulnerabilities.  No matter how large, every entity is vulnerable to losing their space… and more so if they don’t live there.  A single ship can reinforce your space, and small groups are all that’s required to take it if you don’t actively defend it.  And that’s awesome.

But, even with this system, conquering an entrenched enemy who uses and lives in their space is incredibly difficult.  6x more difficult, at the extreme.  And that’s also a very good thing.  Despite over-ambitious writers making it happen all the freaking time, it should be hard to conquer Coruscant, Earth, or Salusa Secundus.  After all, you’re in the middle of a freaking empire, and have to traverse it entirely – hostile all the way – to make it happen.  QPO shouldn’t fall easily or quickly.  But taking an Outer Rim world, a fresh colony, or a Scattering world should be much, much easier.  And FozzieSov makes that happen.

The Entosis Link… with some reservations (I’ll discuss those in the next section), I think this is an interesting idea, and generally a positive.  By introducing sov capture as a module rather than a large m3 deployable capable of being delivered only by certain types of ships, you introduce a silent threat.  Literally any ship in your space could be a “reinforcing” craft sent to threaten your ownership.  It creates a very real threat for players to get into space and challenge invaders.

I also enjoy the fact that system benefits (effective ownership), stations, and claiming sov (official ownership) all require different reinforcement periods and node conflict.  You can cherry-pick the type of “ownership” that either matters most to you or can damage your opponent.  That selectivity should open an entirely new type of metagame strategy.  Plus, the “freeport” mode during station reinforcement is a nice touch that, while I don’t understand the lore logic (Really?  The owners can’t force the doors open and eject invaders into space?), creates a resident evil – literally! – amid your farms.  Station grid control around the clock will be a thing beyond deadzoning campaigns.

The Negative

I think it’s safe to say I see a lot of positives in FozzieSov.  But there are negatives, too.  I’m going to begin with the smaller issues, and work my way (like any good writer!) to the largest and most pressing issue I have.

First, there’s the trollceptor, an interceptor fit with a T2 Entosis Link that is pretty much untouchable.  The basic principle is that a ship can orbit at around 200 km at ridiculously fast speeds (5km+), to the point that even probing down the ship is useless… by the time you warp to it, it’s already 100km away from you.  The term “trollceptor” comes from the fact that a single interceptor alt can troll an owning alliance into showing up for timers no one intends to contest and forcing them to spend all their time capturing multiple nodes to protect themselves, crowding out other, entertaining content.

CCP’s reaction to the possibility of the trollceptor is, “If we clearly see a situation emerging where any pure evasion tactics are going to become dominant, we will make changes to the Entosis Link to bring the gameplay back into balance.”  In other words, if CCP suspects something like the trollceptor will become commonplace, they’ll move to correct it.

Of course the trollceptor is going to become commonplace.  It’s an effective way to torture other Eve players.  Have you met the players?

Fortunately, there are relatively easy ways to prevent it.  You can apply cyno mechanics.  You can apply maximum speeds when the module is activated.  There are a lot of ways CCP can choose to prevent this sort of untouchable gameplay.  But pick one, they must, or the entire system will become a joke within a week.

I also put the prime time windows in a negative category.  In the first place, I don’t believe 4 hours is enough exposure time.  Realistically, it should be at least a 6 hour – possibly 8 hour – initial vulnerability window with a 6 hour “out of reinforcement” window.  The point is, I feel systems should be vulnerable during the end of the previous TZ and the beginning of the next TZ, to allow systems to shift their dominant time zone over time.  Four hours is simply too limiting to allow the fluidity that could see systems change.  Without expanding the window, systems that are USTZ will remain so for significant periods of time, particularly when owned by an alliance like Goonswarm.  I feel for my AUTZ bros.

But beyond that, I really enjoy the international flavor of Eve, and the prime time windows will definitely torpedo any pan-regionalism among alliances.  While alliances do still have some incentive for keeping off-TZ corps (keeping indexes up, observing any attempts to infiltrate space with log-off forces, etc.), what reason do corporations have to join those off-TZ alliances?  Not much, let me tell you.

And now, for the main event.  Here’s the big problem with this system: a problem so big that it crushes all the benefits by its weight.

Two Kinds of Eve Players

Rote Kapelle’s killboard includes the following image, which I find absolutely awesome on so many levels.  It’s the image I showed my wife when I started getting her interested in the game.

FozzieSov is a dream-come-true for one of these two player types.  Guess which one.

FozzieSov – under its current construction – is a system meant to shatter kingdoms and destroy castles.  Its result is to destroy.  And in that, it will be elegantly effective.

As Gevlon Goblin elegantly states (I know, right?), “The problem is the extreme difference of risk on the sides: if the "attack" succeeds, the defender loses his home. If the "attack" fails, the attacker loses a T1 cruiser.”

All of the risk rests with the defenders, and none with the attackers.  If CCP thinks an 80-million-isk module will cause people to think twice about reinforcing a sov owner just for kicks and “gudfites”, they’re sadly mistaken.  It’s not possible for CCP to price the Entosis Link high enough to discourage continual harassment, yet low enough to allow small alliances a chance at breaking into the sov game.  We play an Eve in which alliances drive-by doomsday, where alliances declare wars costing billions of isk just for fun.  How much do alliances spend on SBUs to conquer space they really don’t want, just to generate fights?

This is such a huge issue, because it begs the question, “Why would anyone want to own sov”?  In particular, owning the TCU in a system is utterly worthless.  A 25% decrease in POS fuel costs is not worth having to run through harassing reinforcement timers and node scrambles.  Not to mention, owning those TCUs puts a giant bull’s-eye on your back.  It’s ridiculous.  iHubs and stations make more sense, but the value in them will diminish significantly when they can be so easily taken and reinforced.

Quite simply, null-sec had a problem providing enough value to lure players out of wormhole space (if they’re social) or high-sec mission-running (if they prefer the solo game) already.  This is only going to compound it by reducing the security and increasing the time commitment to own sov space.  The equation is thrown even further out of whack.

FozzieSov is entirely lacking in offering commensurate additional benefits to outweigh the efforts and hassle of maintaining sov.  There is nothing to draw people in to claim sov, only to disrupt sov.

PL and Goonswarm members are united in this assessment, too.

As a definitive change to null-sec, this system will absolutely fail.  If it’s intended as an interim system to smash all the existing alliances, then it’ll work marvelously, but it’s also ingenuous.  Nor will it affect the ability of those very same alliances who own space now to reclaim their space when the updated system – which offers proper rewards for living in null-sec – to reconquer space in the future.  You have to understand the scope of the war chests these alliances have.  Goonswarm lost 250 bil to an awoxer, and that was merely a drop in a bucket.  I suspect N3 and PL are no different.

CCP needs to address this glaring hole in this plan, or FozzieSov will go down as a greater failure than Incarna.

The Bright Light

There’s so much going for this sov plan, though, and the solutions are so clear that I truly see FozzieSov as a positive step for the game.  There is one glaring hole in the strategy that absolutely needs to be addressed, but it’s a plan we can all work with.

All we need to do is balance the two sides – the castle builders and the shovel-wielders – in a fairer way to ensure a cycle of creation equal to the drive to destruction.

The groundwork is there.  The changes that are proposed are all excellent ones.  If it fails in an area, it’s due to the areas not yet addressed.  And that’s the sign of a well-thought strategy that keenly addresses the concerns.  The objectives CCP laid out are all excellent ones, and cut to the heart of the issues facing null-sec.

And that gives me a lot of hope for June.  We aren’t there yet, but we’re a lot of the way.


  1. I still see a few things missing. Such as the ability to transfer structures to another alliance (say, selling a station or letting the renter access the ihub to install an upgrade)

    If they expect us to be replacing these structures all the time, they really need to do something about their m3 sizes too. No one's going to want to do freighter ops every few days to replace 'yet another ihub' or the upgrades... I sort of foresee sov islands in the future, where only a few central systems actually have these things and all the systems around are either fallow or stomped the moment someone comes along...

    1. Without modification to these mechanics, I see the same future.

  2. Interesting food for thought. As someone very strictly on the side of the shovel-wielders I haven't given a lot of thought to the "okay, we took their sov, what now?"-situation.
    The proposed changes will shake up the status quo, and that is a very good thing in my opinion. But then what? What would be a good way to "lure" people into null?
    ISK brings people, of course, but like you said, WH space is more profitable, mission running in highsec can be done alone and with less risk (until the catalysts land).
    I don't think the solution lies in providing more ISK though. While I would personally love boosting the number of anoms or allowing missions in sov null I think the goal of holding sov should be something unique, something otherwise not accessible.
    I think these changes offer a chance to actually reward people for PvP much in the way faction warfare should (please CCP lower LP for plexing & multiply LP for killing). Who wants to go 5 jumps to kill a T1 cruiser worth maybe 30 mil? Noone but the most desperate, bored, bloodthirsty pirate. Who wants to go 5 jumps, kill a T1 cruiser worth 30 mil and actually get rewarded for it? Well, I do (to be fair though, I'd go and kill him either way).
    Actually making money (since that is what every reward essentially boils down to) defending sov might incentivize people to go to null, it might balance the risk/reward scale of holding sov a little bit, and it might provide content.
    Just my 2 cents

    1. I like where your mind is going - finding alternative rewards beyond just monetary ones. The concern I have is that those kinds of rewards are about deepening engagement among current null residents. You also need that big draw that injects new blood into null-sec, and right now, that's utterly lacking. "You want me to take significant risks for marginally better or slightly worse rewards? Yeah, no thank you. I'll stick with my lvl 4 missions..." The dream of greater isk needs to be there; without that, alliances won't come.

    2. “I think the goal of holding sov should be something unique, something otherwise not accessible” - Quoted for Truth

      Looking at two extreme examples:

      1) Wormholes
      No wormholes, no tech 3 ships. So uniquely valuable are tech 3 ships players took up permanent residence inside wormholes despite CCPs initial design philosophy as mere transitory locations.

      2) Hi-Sec
      Concord (law) enables the civilized life. If you don’t go looking for trouble, trouble rarely comes looking for you. So popular is civilized life, many pilots take up permanent residence despite CCPs *supposed* initial design philosophy as the place one began before moving on to bigger and better things.

      Perhaps getting to publically stamp your name on a null-sec location is unique enough. Perhaps not. Personally, I’m inclined to think CCP should treat the situation as ‘perhaps not’ regardless as having holding sov be more uniquely valuable than merely stamping you name won’t hurt even if it isn’t, in fact, necessary while ignoring the additional requirement if it is, in fact, necessary well nigh destroys the endeavor.

    3. I suspect that the vast, vast majority of characters based in high-sec are alts of null, low, and WH players. I have four characters in high-sec and two in null, personally. Two are simply training, two are market traders, and the 2 null ones are the characters I actually play.

      I'd love to see a statistic of logged in time by area, not just quantities of characters. What if you exclude station traders, characters simply training skills but never being logged in, or high-sec isk-generator characters (ie. you run missions to generate isk as a necessity to facilitate other playstyles). None of those suggest the desirability of high-sec, but rather the deficiencies of the alternatives.

    4. Tal,

      I suspect your 'vast, vast majority' suspicions are wrong though in terms of this discussion it matters not. Hi-Sec remains a thriving place because of it's unique qualities (or lack of deficiencies compared to alternatives if you prefer to use that language).

      More importantly, I had no intention of derailing the conversation to a discussion about the merits of Hi-Sec. Rather, I was using it as part of an example to get at the importance behind making sure Null-Sec has sufficient unique merit.

      Still, on a deeper level your response opens up an interesting question. Who are one's genuine mains? Are they where one actually spends the most time? Are they where one finds the most compelling purpose? Is it just a decision one simply declares?

      If one wants to pursue such questions one must be careful not to center one's on particular choices at the expense of others choices . . . Because you and yours happen to center the minority of your characters as the real you does not mean others do they same. You're 'real you' could well be another's 'dabbler'. From the outside, how can CCP (or anybody) tell which is the case?

    5. That sounds like a wonderful topic for another post. I'll share my opinion and open it up to everyone to share theirs in the comments!

  3. I need a mission running guide...
    I placed an alt in a nullsec corp so I could have access to ratting anomalies and earn 100m isk per hour. (which I only reach by dualboxing anyway....)
    Mission running earned me between 10-30 million isk per hour I think.

    What your reasoning shows is that people will go where the isk is, not where the fun is. Those people can just HTFU and go run missions/incursions with their alt while their pvp alt goes around. Or they can grow some brains and earn their isk by market trading/PI/industry or whatever...
    Why the insistence that null sec ratting has to be the most rewarding activity in the game otherwise no players will want to live in null?

    1. You raise a good point. I'd argue it's not really ratting I'm talking about, but rather the incentives for being there as a whole. Alliances, corps, and individuals all need compelling reasons to take on the risk of potentially having all your assets destroyed in null-sec (particularly once destructable stations are a thing). To face that risk, null-sec has to present an option that's more profitable even after taking out the cost of all those stations, sov structures, and SRP to defend. Right now, most null alliances barely break even, and would probably do better simply not being in null. There are exceptions: the mega-coalitons. But they're viable specifically because so much of null-sec is relatively worthless (1 worthwhile moon... their main source of income... in a constellation, for instance).

  4. Quick nitpick: Stations have two capture beacon timers. The station owners need to lose the first one for freeport mode to be engaged.

    Personally, my opinion on the vulnerability window is that it must be as small as 4 hours so that people who are living in their space but happen to only have one time zone can't be evicted just because everyone is at work (or in bed or whatever, but at work is the one that I run into) when someone comes through to reinforce stuff. I might be willing to compromise with two 3-hour windows instead of a single 4-hour window, though. That would allow people to have either one expanded prime time or two focused prime times in different zones. (For example, you could have a euro window and a US window.)

  5. There's not an incentive in the world that could make me leave Anoikis. I'm not in w-space primarily for the isk, but for the ability to own my own bit of space (along with folks I fly with) without all the hassle of sov mechanics. W-space already has a form of occupancy sov in it and it works quite well.

    I have no problem with the tz mechanic; we already have it in place for pocos, why not other structures that don't use stront?

    Also keep in mind these are incredibly early-day mechanics, so I highly doubt that they'll enter the game untouched. And, yes, I am once more (though I shouldn't be) surprised that CCP seems to have failed to anticipate the most obvious exploits. After 11 years, you'd think they know a little bit about EVE players by now :)

    Here's something else to ponder in all this. Do we even need sovereignty? Other than stamping your name on the map, what other reason is there? Most of the reasons I can think of are due to game mechanics created just for the purpose of making sov desirable. Not all sov nullsec is created equal, yet there are groups out there that live in the less-than-optimal space (i.e. CVA), pying the same as if they lived in the best space.

    What, exactly, does having sov mechanics get us? Do we even need them?

  6. Complaints about economic incentives seem off to me. Owning sov space is spectacularly popular. It seems to me people who own sov and who have no intention of leaving are clamouring for "incentives."

    Incentives for what? To motivate them to do what they want to do anyway? That's not incentivising people it's just handing them a larger slice of the pie.

    1. Here's perhaps the best example I can give for why "owning sov is so popular" isn't a valid argument. In Philly, there's an area called Chester, and another called West Chester. Chester is run down, economically depressed, and filled with low-quality housing and is generally dirty. West Chester is trendy, filled with wealthy residents, many businesses, and an incredibly positive economic outlook. Everyone would much prefer to live in West Chester than Chester.

      And yet, 100% of the land in each town is owned by someone.

    2. Unfortunately, RL and EVE don't always correlate. Using your example, Providence should always be bereft of people. Same for the other "crappy" areas of null. Yet they aren't.

    3. On the contrary... the rich get the best land, and the rich like their space. Poorer areas tend to be more crowded.

    4. That just doesn't wash in game. The Goons arguable have most of the best space (or at least a large chunk of the best space), and they're not exactly small. The most heavily populated rental space is the best of what's available. The poorer areas of null almost always have far fewer people in them than the richer bits.

    5. But though the Goons own the best space, I'd be curious to see the average player density in non-staging systems of Goon space vs. Providence (players in staging systems are generally up for the PvP, and not any "space cultivation" activities). I'm willing to bet the density per system of logged in characters is lower in Goon, PL, and N3 space than the lowly areas where residents toil away.

  7. Enlightening analysis of Fozziesov, thank you - hard to disagree with any of your observations. I hope that the next set of planned changes - to structures, corporations and alliances - will provide stronger incentive for fighting for 0.0 space. Up to now, it seems that the focus of changes have been on the *how* people fight in null sec - with little emphasis on the *why*.

  8. “I think the goal of holding sov should be something unique, something otherwise not accessible” - Quoted for Truth

    Looking at two extreme examples:

    1) Wormholes
    No wormholes, no tech 3 ships. So uniquely valuable are tech 3 ships players took up permanent residence inside wormholes despite CCPs initial design philosophy as mere transitory locations."

    Titans & Motherships. Outposts. These are all unique to sov. No sov, no super capitals.