Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The Value of a Kill

Balian: “What is Jerusalem worth?”
Saladin: “Nothing…. Everything!”
- Kingdom of Heaven
Sugar Kyle is a blogger I absolutely love. She writes not to present herself as an expert, but to share her experience. She touches on a lot of the psychological and philosophical aspects of Eve. She asks herself, “Why am I doing this?” along with, “What does this say about me?” And that’s completely awesome.

In one of her latest posts, she raised the topic of the value of killmails, and intentionally left it an open-ended interpretation of “value”. It was such a good discussion topic that I didn’t want to wait for it to be a blog banter (which it totally should be).

Value is a strange term, and while the dictionary definition Sugar quoted is definitely correct, as with all dictionary definitions it reflects the modern usage only. Traditionally, the “value” of an object related to the worth placed on it. That worth isn’t tied to a specific monetary system, and can include abstract concepts like “fun”, “engagement”, and “happiness”. And this is particularly important for Eve, where nothing as any monetary value at all.

So, a killmail has absolutely no value, yet means everything to those who seek them. It’s a perfect representation of the reign of subjectivity. Sugar’s right, that no one can ever say, “That kill isn’t worth it”, but you can say, “That kill isn’t worth it to me.” Kills matter to people for various reasons.

Some people care about numbers. They want a high number of kills, as many high-value kills, or as expensive of kills as they can collect. They kill pilots on the Jita undock (either through ganks or war decs). They prefer large fleet fights to maximize their kills per fleet. They sit on gates in low-sec and smartbomb pods in the hopes of getting an expensive pod killmail. Kills and deaths are simply numerators and denominators, and the loot for both fits into another table representing profit and loss.

Then you have the artists, the pilots who will take fights outnumbered, and love seeing the “associated kills” reports that show how they killed five ships without dying. These pilots turn their noses up at fleet battles because “they’re filled with F1-pushers” who don’t really know how to PvP. Blobbing is the enemy… unless you win. They tend to be more snobby about the quality of kills.

To each, killmails matter, but in very different ways. And both are valid ways of looking at the game. After all, value ties directly into the reasons you play Eve… what provides you satisfaction? A frigate kill can both matter and not matter at the same time, to both groups of people. The war-deccer could care about +1 in his quantity tab, or he could look at it as beneath him because of it’s low isk cost. The PvP artist could see it as a worthless kill beneath his notice when he’s flying a Vexor, or he could view it as a triumph when flying another T1 frigate. Perception creates reality, and the situation is critical to the value of a kill.

Personally, I’m neither so good that I can routinely take on larger gangs, nor so concerned about my kill ratio that I deem all PvP to be equal. For me, a killmail is a record of a particular fight in context. The “hows” and “whys” of the fight are far more important to me than the elements that make it on the killmail.

For instance, I generally don’t fly with boosting characters or expensive implants. Generally, when you see me alone in a system, I’m genuinely alone… particularly if I’m in a T1 frigate trolling FW space. Yet I’ll fly Imperial fleet doctrine ships in larger fleets and happily do my F1-mashing to participate in the larger Imperial community. And I absolutely love small gang corp roams that fall somewhere in between.

But, while I’ll take any kill I come across, that doesn’t mean I value all those kills the same. For me, value isn’t based on what I’m flying or how many I’m flying with, but rather how strong the enemy is when I fight them. My proudest moments are when I defeat multiple enemies by myself, when my small fleet takes out a larger one, or when I’m victorious in a 1v1 against a larger ship class. For me, the value of a kill is equal to the risk I face.

And, on the contrary, a kill without risk is a kill without value. Sure, I’ll join a blops gang from time to time, and I’ll Burn Jita with the CFC, but none of those kills are victorious battles; they’re executions. The preparation of those kills requires skill like in any execution, and the kills tend to be high value, but not highly valuable to me.

Contrast that, on the other hand, to my fight against a dozen Brave pilots, or when I killed a destroyer with my T1 frigate, or when I took on an Algos with my Merlin and lost. After all, even my losses have value to me (in the last case, I had the enemy ship down to 9% structure when I popped).

My ideal kill, the ones I value the most, are those where I’m equal to or underpowered compared to my opponent. So, for me to really find satisfaction in killing a T1 frigate, I need to be in a T1 frigate myself, and I can’t be using links. If I do add links, I need to fight above my weight. It’s not necessarily the quality of the kill, but the quality of the fight and whether I won based on skill. I want to be able to turn it around and overperform. Sometimes, that means I’m going to fight a Daredevil with a Tristan and lose. Them’s the breaks.

I personally think killing pods, miners, and haulers is pretty much scraping the barrel of kills. Not much skill, not many bragging rights. So when this guy caught my pod, congrats… you aren’t an awesome PvPer, you’re an opportunist.

Of course, that doesn’t mean I won’t do the same. They’re still kills, right, and you’ve gotta get that kill count up. I just won’t gloat about it.


  1. " my fight against a dozen Brave pilots, "

    7 Ships killed (26.39M ISK) 1 Ships lost (28.98M ISK)

    In Brave we consider this a win ;)

    Thus confirming your hypothesis.

  2. I think the problem with killmails is similar to open corp histories. They simply give out far more information about a player than anyone has any reasonable right to know except those involved. In addition, it makes a sort of permanent record for that player. Being hamstrung to the past often affects or limits the kinds of decisions people will make in the present or their plans for the future. If players want to pry into the affairs of others, make them at least go through npc agents, or stalk each other in covert ops ships.

    Detailed fitting information? It only serves to demean people who are learning the game. What greater purpose does this mockery serve? Does the desire for "tears" or some other vain chest-beating display really outweigh the discouragement for people to undock, to participate, to try or to learn?

    If information can be had through API, then that player can choose who and who will not be privy to information about themselves. You and I might not care much, but what is the point of being so cavalier in an age of declining participation in the game? Because people will just go back to the old fashioned method of copy/pasting kill reports, it would be reasonable to just truncate them to essential information, such as what ship type and what corporations were involved. Many things like what weapons type and damage done are just spurious, or an additional free information tool.

    1. True, but I'd wager that those who pursue kills tend to be addicted to them to the point that intel leak isn't such a big deal.

      From an IG-perspective, I'm sure ship crews talk to each other...

  3. Tal,

    Nice piece. I appreciate both your careful exploration of the motivations behind any particular value measurement and, at least the for the bulk of the post, your careful attempt to not discount those motivations which leaves me a little puzzled why you end on a dig at 'opportunist' miner, industrial and pod gankers. Do such loathsome murders befoul your artistry?

    1. I ask myself this question: is this kill mail a badge of honor? Does it represent something I'm proud of? I don't wear obvious outcomes or foregone conclusions as marks of distinction. My sword will still strike, but I won't preen over them. Sure, knights of old spent most of their time terrorizing unarmed peasants, but no one writes ballads about those "exploits".

      Plus, the beauty of a subjective attitude means I can personally reject an idea without universally rejecting the possibility that it appeals to someone else. That's totally fine. For me, though, those kills are bereft of value. But, you know, content!