Saturday, July 11, 2015

Coping with the Effects of Aegis

The six-week release cycle has given players a lot of change to absorb in a very short period of time.  And while many of these changes are excellent, some of the recent changes, including the Aegis damage changes and FozzieSov, reveal an emerging trend within CCP’s rebalancing strategy.  And that trend raises some concerns.

First, we had jump fatigue, which had the admirable goal of trying to slow down supercap travel to regionalize Eve and give room for smaller groups to deploy capitals without the ever-present fear of hotdropping.  CCP couldn’t reduce apex forces, but they could reduce the mobility of them, a sort of “golden path” strategy.  And they achieved their goal, by and large.

But, the way this was done introduced tremendous hassles for players that CCP dismissed with, “Don’t worry, we’ll soon™ be fixing it so you don’t need to do Jita runs”.  It introduced annoyance and punished ship classes that were balanced along with those that were not (ie. suitcase carriers, industrial capitals, subcaps).  In particular, it crushed the ability of players to stock themselves with subcaps in null-sec, making individual resupplying non-viable in many cases.

Then we had FozzieSov, which introduced systems that would force – not encourage or incentivize – null-sec alliances to spend a vast majority of their time in their own space, turning sov ownership into a full-time job.  This change is being done in a way that provides no commensurate benefits to offset this hassle.  It was an orbital strike to make sov ownership more tenuous, not to make it yield great benefits to those willing to do the work.  The system they came up with to improve capture mechanics is a good one that encourages a wide range of smaller battles, but it’s only one-half of the solution.  The other, necessary half – giving people a reason to go through this hassle – is wholly missing.  Alliances make isk through moon ownership.  Players make isk from running sigs and anoms, mining, and PI.  None of these requires sov ownership.  This is a critical mis-targeting by CCP.

Even CCP’s announcement of adjustments to null-sec’s PvE system, while appreciated and certain to result in a higher sustainable population per system, doesn’t really address the value of sovereignty.  After all, a person doesn’t need to own a system to take advantage of the extra signatures and anomalies.  In fact, there’s no real advantage to a sov owner that an interloper cannot gain, beyond local staging.  And the sov owner has the obligation of paying for the upkeep.

Plus, each signature, in particular, will become less and less valuable.  After all, it’s not as if CCP is going to suddenly hand out 280 mil Gila blueprints and 1-bil isk Pithum A-Type Adaptive Invulnerability Fields like candy.  As supply increases, value of each unit decreases.  Note the cost of Pithum A-Types… they used to be 1.8 bil each.  CCP is clearly looking at the economic effects of these changes, so anticipate the value of signatures to decline significantly as the supply of them increases.

Some smaller adjustments reveal a troubling trend in CCP’s development strategy as well, such as the Drone Damage Amplifier nerf in Aegis.  Some ships are vastly overpowered, particularly the Ishtar and Gila.  Instead of reducing damage bonuses for these two ships, though, CCP chose to reduce the DDA bonus to 20%, making it weaker than the bonus missile and turret damage modules grant (Heat Sinks, Ballistic Control Systems, Magnetic Field Stabilizers, and Gyrostabilizers all give a 10.5% rate-of-fire bonus and 10% damage bonus, which results in a 22.9% dps bonus).  Certain ships, like the Tristan, had fairly balanced dps, and could be countered by certain comparably priced fits.  With this damage reduction, though, their use will be much more limited, to the point that I suspect we won’t see many of them in faction warfare space anymore.

CCP’s intentions and even the types of systems they’re looking at fixing are good, inspired even.  They’ve shown an innovative and “outside the box” approach that’s incredibly encouraging, but the application of that thinking is imprecise.  Sure, they may only slightly missed the mark, but that slight miss is enough to render whole ship classes useless (assault frigates), create overpowered classes (interceptors), and add obstacles without commensurate benefits (FozzieSov).

As a player who loves Eve, this is incredibly frustrating.  I see so much potential and so much value to what CCP is trying to accomplish and 90% of how they’re going about doing it, but that last 10% includes employing a hammer when a scalpel will do.

I see great potential in six-week release cycle, but not for the reasons CCP obviously does (for new players, a year ago CCP changed their release cycle to include smaller releases every six weeks, versus the previous massive expansions every six months).  So far, they’ve lived up to their promise to employ baby steps to allow them to confirm that a change is working before inching forward again.  But the real benefit of this faster release cycle is in being able to quickly reverse course.  We haven’t seen that yet.

We’ve seen a few iterations of changes to the Ishtar, but these have largely fitted into the first category: small changes added one at a time that all serve to achieve the same objective.  CCP clearly wants to reduce the effectiveness of the Ishtar for PvP, and they’re taking careful steps in that direction to avoid reducing it to uselessness.

Ah, but what of production teams, I hear you say?  That change is really nothing more than removing a new element: “addition of X, removal of X, stasis returned”.  I can’t think of an instance where they introduced a new element or mechanic, then removed it in favor of another new mechanic that better solves the original problem.  Within CCP’s planning sessions, do their application development proposals include a “Plan B” for major changes?  When they’re tinkering with things as critical to the game as sov and jump mechanics, a backup solution is absolutely critical.

For, I have deep concerns about FozzieSov’s success.  I predict lots of folks will decide, “No thanks, I can base out of low-sec and enjoy my small gang roams, stomping on all those stupid sov null bums who have to spend all their time ratting and chasing nodes.”  Alliances and corporations may be invested in sov null, but will players?  They want compelling content; the economics of supercap production and moon goo mining aren’t in their minds, particularly now that jump bridges – the real, tangible benefit they gained from sovereignty – are fractionally useful.

The six-week release cycle provides the means for CCP to quickly step in and adjust mechanics.  To be effective, though, the available options must be more dynamic than “revert” or “stand pat”.  That Plan B, Plan C, or even Plan D may become critical, and an early implementation of some of the planned carrots that correspond with the stick of FozzieSov could do much to stabilize interest in null-sec post-July 14.

Indeed, it’s very possible that I’m wrong in my fears, FozzieSov will succeed, and CCP will see an influx of new and returning players.  If that happens, they’re need to shift gears to provide returning players with support resources (ex. summaries of key changes emailed to players based on when they last subscribed) and accelerate improvements to the new player experience.  That’d be a good problem to have and one they can solve effectively, but it’d be a problem requiring address, nonetheless.

But they must be equally prepared for the possibility that five weeks from now null player counts plunge.  Alliances may remain motivated to defend their space, but the tedium and soul-siphoning of spending all their time running “Faction Warfare for no LP” may cause their players to leave for more engaging content.  Null-sec encapsulates the “big idea” that represents Eve’s unique offering amid the online gaming marketplace.  As null-sec goes, so goes the game.  Eve isn’t dying, but it is receiving medical care and at risk for a hospital-acquired infection.

The new sovereignty system may be out of balance and cause widespread disinterest after a few weeks’ experience with it, depending on how severely current sov holders are trolled by meaningless entosising (ie. attackers entosising systems purely with the intent of forcing defenders to waste their time capturing nodes, without having any intention of contesting them).

July 14 represents the first big test of whether CCP is willing to use the flexibility they gained as a result of the 6-week release cycle.  I believe it can be a success with an agile and ready response plan to deal with all the possible contingencies.  That depends upon them having firm, targeted back-up plans ready to implement quickly based on need.

That’s an “if”, though.  When they announced the changes, I had faith they could manage it, but I admit my faith has been diminished somewhat.  Recently, they’ve chosen to shake the tree instead of picking the apple they want.  And that doesn’t bode well for the orchard.


  1. While i agree with you, some of your facts are wrong.

    1) You need someone to pay the bills for the Ihub upgrade.... Not sure they would like you coming to do their sigs...

    2) Anoms pay in CONCORD bounty, not loots, so no, the value of them willnot change....

    3) Tristans were not balanced. Fozzie showed stats the day he announced DDA change. Every single class is leaded by Drone ships, not only Ishtars and Gila. Especially frig were leaded by Worms and Tristan in kill and damage....

    So i may agree with some points, but the data you use to build your ideas upon it are false....

    1. Thanks for reading and replying. Let me respond one by one:

      1) Yes, you do need to pay bills, but a safari pilot doesn't need ihub upgrades for sigs or anoms to spawn. A lot of folks roam through Venal and do all the sigs that spawn there.

      2) Correct, anom value will scale linearly as the quantity increases. But anoms are a very inefficient way to rat. Running cosmic sigs is far, far more profitable on a time/isk basis, and CCP is watching the economics of the sig loot market carefully. In other words, they arent' going to change the total amount of loot that drops. If they're increasing the sig frequency, that means each sig will drop less frequently than it currently does.

      3) Tristans were balanced. 1v1, I had no problems killing a Tristan's drones before I died any time I fought them. For a Tristan to beat me, I had to be not paying attention to drones for a while and wasted "dps time" by waiting to start firing. The Worm... I'll have to think about that one, as I feel a Worm's price makes up for any unbalance it may have.

  2. I'll just make the observation here that if there isn't an economic incentive to hold sov under the new system, there wasn't one under the old system, either.

    All the economic reasons to hold sov still exist. In fact, they haven't been changed. Only the method of holding. So either it wasn't worth it under the old system, or it is under the new. Can't have both.

    What the new system does do is make those pilots in sov null actually do more work to keep their sov. I can see some people deciding this new system is for the birds and leaving. I can also see some others deciding to take a chance now.

    It's still too early to say if the new system is better than the old; Dominion sov replaced the hideous 51% POS ownership/grind and it wasn't until the latter stanges that I heard the massive "sov is broken" protests.

    My biggest concern is that destroying structures under the new system may be too easy and that holding sov may have become much harder than it should be.

    1. Fair point. But as you say, the struggle increases, as does the percentage of a null player's time that has to be spent on local policing. That's not really the sort of thing a samurai or duelist looks forward to, though those players' skillsets are what will be required for actual sov contesting.

    2. If a solo pvper is in sov null, I'd submit they're the wrong player in the wrong place. Sov null is a strategic wargame, not a MOBA.

      Burnout, though, is a real concern. I've been in a situation where we were at war so often it was very, very difficult to make isk to replace losses. If defending sov null becomes a job, that's a huge worry. My experience is that once a game becomes like a second RL job, that's when players pull the pin and leave.

  3. drone boats were OP inside their various classes. the DDA nerf was minor and justified to bring them back in line. I'll still be able to wtfpwn people who aren't linked to the gills in most drone boats though.

    Tristan, Algos, Vexor, VNI, Ishtar, Gila, Rattlesnake, Domi, etc.

    - Than

    1. Maybe. My experience with them seems limited to a few. For a lot of my fits, I rely on drone DPS, and this change hurts them a bit. My Rapier, in particular. I still say that rebalancing the bonus given to drone ships would have been better.

  4. I applaud the overall drone changes. The problem with drones has been that they are damage without fitting. That is an insane advantage. Literally insane. People can talk about destructible all day long but the truth of the matter is that the ships you fight against don't have a single flight of drones. They can sit and kill you the entire time while you're taking out each drone individually. The advantage of a Tristan over any other ship is that you can fit it in any way you want. Neut for brawling, blasters/autocannons for brawling. Rails for kiting. Oversized tanks/speed on Ishtar/Gila. The Dominix is arguably the most powerful battleship in the game. The Rattlesnake can fit a 2k passive EHP tank.

    There needed to be a price paid for that and if that price is lower overall DPS I feel that this simply brings drone ships into balance. Tristans are going to be just as popular as they ever were because the entire platform is based on not taking any damage in the first place. Either the neuts shut down blaster/laser boats, they outrun almost anything boats, they brawl down any other frigate. The Ishtar might *finally* get retired after losing a midslot and taking a damage nerf. Which means that other viable cruisers might actually get seen. The Gila will stop doing battleship DPS on top of battlecruiser tank with cruiser speed.

    The Rattlesnake and Domi are going to stay unchanged. They're still more bang for your buck in their respective categories than any other battleship.

    The single drone ship I actually worry about is the Myrmidon.

  5. That was almost prophetic. Too bad the simpletons could not see it coming.