Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Remembrance and Idealism

Lately, there's been a lot of talk about Dominion sov and Aegis sov. Caprisunkraftfoods, a former alliance-mate and veteran of Black Legion and TISHU, shared some concerns about where Eve is headed. His concerns are incredibly valid, and demonstrate an awareness about the fundamental nature of conflict within the game. I share his concerns, for instance, about industrial citadels, and agree that I don't want POSes to be completely overridden by citadels.

Another former alliance-mate and fellow writer, Seraph Basarab (leaving out the Roman numerals) countered with his own perspective. In his write-up, he widens the focus conveyed within Capri's write-up to show that the story isn't as narrowly focused as one might think. His arguments are all incredibly reasonable.

Though both of them are in TISHU, they have some different interpretations about gameplay, the trajectory of Eve, and the general quality of recent changes. Both of them are right, and that fact alone reveals the complexity of what CCP is trying to accomplish. The simple fact is that yes, CCP has blindly followed their roadmap while completely ignoring player warnings about the inevitable results. This can have terrible consequences if they do everything they intend to do. Yet, the changes they have made to date have a lot of positive results to the game, as Seraph points out. I don't blame Capri for his lack of faith; that position is well-supported by recent rebalances. But nor is Seraph wrong in seeing the positives.

This discussion, though, has spawned a lot of conversation, though, and through that conversation, I've seen a lot of poorly constructed arguments, filled with fallacies that need to be addressed. This piece isn't an attempt to refute either Capri or Seraph, but rather to unpack and deflate some misconceptions and deliberate tricks being used by those supporting the both of them.

Before I go into individual points, though, allow me to give a general comment. Dominion sov is dead. It's not coming back. Ever. That system resulted in Archon blobs, massive coalitions controlling half the map, a single battlefront, and vast tracts of largely vacant space. While the initial adjustment period in moving from POS warfare to Dominion Sov was positive, the endgame was clearly cancerous to the health of the game.

Granted, no one credible is advocating that we return to that system. Yet, it deserves repetition that the system had a flawed endgame that saw thousands of players not only pushed out of sovereign null-sec, but the game completely. Whole alliances failcascaded in such a way that it became clear they could never hold sov again. The CFC is often maligned for it, but they're just the most extreme version. Any small entity that owned sov was entirely at the mercy of a larger entity. Blobbing was THE only way to effectively own sov. It was awful, and it absolutely pushed a significant portion of otherwise interested players out of the game.

Remember that for later. We have thousands, tens of thousands, perhaps even hundreds of thousands (if PCU count projects to player counts can be believed) of former players who were taught by Dominion Sov that the dream of Eve - owning your own piece - was a lie.

But... just keep that in mind; those who are favorably comparing Dominion sov to Aegis sov are using "Dominion" as a shorthand for one or two specific elements of the system, not the system as a whole. It's lazy, yes, but it's an understandable shorthand. So, let's not condemn people too much for cutting that corner under the false equivalency that they want to revert entirely back to Dominion.

Fallacy #1: FozzieSov/Aegis Sov is epitomized by the entosis link, and it's terrible as a result.

I hate to burst everyone's bubble, but the entosis link is, in reality, a minor part of what made Aegis Sov revolutionary and game-changing. In reality, Aegis Sov is three aspects, in descending order of importance:

  1. ADMs, which both establish a means of making highly utilized systems more difficult to capture and creates a means for a small entity to disrupt the safety of a system by camping and harassment.
  2. Contesting systems at distributed nodes throughout a constellation, rather than a single object on one grid.
  3. The entosis link as the means by which systems are actually conquered. 

ADMs completely revolutionized the game for null empires. Previously, null empires would own their space, but would deploy near someone else's space to farm kills and kick beehives to generate content for their members. Very rarely were null PvP empires ever "deployed" to a friendly system. As a result, all of Eve tended to cluster in one region of space and hammer at each other endlessly. The same side constantly won, since the same players kept bringing the same toys each time.

You see, there was no cost to being away from home. Jump clones allowed null empires to immediately jump back home and as effectively defend their space as if they'd been there the whole time. The only serious threat they faced was a massive build-up of forces - usually capitals or supercaps - that could chew through timers quickly. And if that happened, they could cluster-trot back home with their big toys to contest with equal force.

ADMs changed all that overnight. Now, if an empire decided to deploy elsewhere, their ADMs would suffer, making it easier for an enemy to conquer their systems. "Now, they needed to live in their space if they want to keep it, because they needed to cultivate those ADMs.

The addition of jump fatigue also meant they couldn't charge back and forth across the map, either. They had to make a choice and stick with it for a time. They had to move capitals gradually. They couldn't defend everywhere at once with their full might anymore.

And the null empires hated it. It forced them to make choices, where for years they hadn't had to do that. But, that wasn't accomplished by the entosis link. Rather, by ADMs.

Distributed node capture points further affected null gameplay by requiring multiple capture activities to seize a system, and not all of those nodes were even in the target system. Fleets needed to divide up, either by dividing a force into even columns or (more often) sending small skirmish squads to contest nodes and keeping the bulk of forces in reserve to respond to appropriate threats.

The entosis link was just a module you used. While it did create harassment gameplay (I'm looking at you ECM...) and ridiculous fits that were impractical in any other aspect of the game, it wasn't the cause of the changes to null-sec dynamics we've seen.

To claim that Aegis Sov is the entosis link is to misrepresent the effects and nature of Aegis sov. If ADMs are the fields growing the crops, the nodes are multiple instances of weeds, and the entosis link is a can of weed killer. Dominion sov was a food replicator, completely obviating the challenges.

Fallacy #2: I know X players who left the game because of FozzieSov/Aegis Sov, so it's bad for the game.

First, let me pose a scenario to you. Let's say you have a restaurant and sell both hamburgers and anchovy pizza to 100 regular customers. The anchovy pizza stinks to high heaven, and it drives away your hamburger customers. Eventually, you only have 30 customers. You realize something you're doing is driving customers away, so you decide to change it up and stop selling the stinky anchovy pizza. Your customers revolt, and suddenly, you only have 15 customers. Was it a mistake to stop selling anchovy pizza?

This is the dilemma CCP faces right now. Over the years, Dominion Sov taught Eve customers that only the biggest alliances can really own sov, and all the efforts of smaller alliances count for nothing and are reduced to dust at the whim of a couple specific players. "Apex blob or nothing at all" is the message Dominion sov sent. Many customers who were content to be regional powers and enjoy sov without the extreme metagaming or having to bend the knee to the top dog felt there wasn't a point anymore and decided to leave entirely.

So, those who remain are predisposed to preferring the Dominion system, primarily because they were winning - at least in there preferred style of play - for so many years. Of course they're going to be upset when the old patterns don't work!

You have the cries of, "Entosis links are shit" and "the attackers risk nothing to take a system" because it isn't as easy to hold space anymore. It requires work, and in comparison to the way you were playing the game, it's distracting them from going on the offensive, which is their preferred style of play.

These players tend to be the ones unironically espousing the merits of black ops dropping. They were the ones who would deploy or who were batphoned to third-party on fights in the past. Their style of play has undoubtedly been curtailed, and they're upset about it. But their style of play was conditioned into them as a result of horribly unbalanced mechanics. They'll agree that the mechanics needed to be changed, but stop short of acknowledging that their style would need to change as well. "I'm willing to adapt," they say, even though their actions and complaints suggest otherwise.

But what about the hamburger eaters, the players who have already left because of the very playstyle the anchovy pizza eaters are mourning? It's easy to look at the vocal population of people upset that their adaptations to the crummy game mechanics are now obsolete, and forget the masses of silent players who were once a part of the community and left because the sales pitch proved to be untrue. CCP is clearly trying to entice those players back through free Steam weekends and offers for free trials to former accounts (not publicized as well, but definitely being sent out to former clients' email addresses).

We're all anchovy pizza eaters now; we've survived and endured through Dominion sov and the terrible situation that emerged as a result of it. Let's not forget that there are thousands of hamburger eaters out there, too, and that the new mechanics are meant with a long view of recovering some of them as well. Eve isn't just the current players.

Fallacy #3: PCU is down, so FozzieSov/Aegis Sov has failed.

The payoff of Aegis Sov will take time. Despite all the chaos of the CFC breaking up and component alliances dispersing to new areas, null empires have made moves, and new alliances have stepped into null-sec on their own. While some would decry these new players merely as renters, I know for a fact that having your name on the map means a lot more than simply borrowing space with someone else's name on the map. Sovereignty creates a sense of ownership that taps into our desires for home, and future, and our pride. If you take a renter and give them the sov, they'll care for that space more, even if the payment they send you doesn't change.

That pride is the kernel of ambition. Already in the dronelands, we've seen renters try to throw off the shackles of their masters. That, to me, is the sign of incredible health. It's the sign of self-respect borne from ownership, and it's a direct result of Aegis Sov. The relationships didn't change much, but the effects are striking in their differences. How much more will change in a year?

Added to that, old players are still in the process of learning not only what the changes are post-Aegis, but what the actual experience of living through them is. A lapsed player isn't going to know whether the locking down of alliances to the space they owned and the jump changes will enable or retard their own gameplay until they try it, and that is going to take time.

"But, the PCU is down!" I hear people say. It is, undeniably. But is that a direct result of Aegis Sov, and is it the final word? Does it even mean anything regarding subscriptions? Any one of a number of factors could be responsible for reducing PCU:

  1. Creation of farming accounts that never log in, yet are paying subscriptions solely to farm the sp for monthly profits.
  2. Lapsing of cyno accounts as a result of jump fatigue changes
  3. The break-up of the CFC (the creation of many fractured frontiers where previously was one sea of safety made ratting less profitable and more prone to interruption, which likely affected cost/value for some dedicated ratting accounts) 
  4. Recent, robust crackdowns on RMT operations by CCP
  5. Elimination of input broadcasting, reducing ISBoxer to a shell of its former usefulness
  6. Changes to system requirements with update of Direct X (ie. upgrade hardware or lapse)
  7. Adjustment to allow virtually unlimited skill queuing, reducing the need to log in frequently.
Those are just off the top of my head. Any one of those could have a negative effect on PCU. All of them likely did. Many of those represent not a reduction of actual characters in space doing things, but rather that the prior estimate of characters in-space had been vastly overstated. And we haven't even touched on non-issues like seasonal variation or rage-quits by frustrated players. For instance, I'd argue that the number of players pushed out of the game because of null empires throwing their weight around everywhere, all the time exceeds the number of players leaving because of Aegis Sov changes....

Moving Into the Future

All of this said, there are certainly flaws with the current sov system and citadel mechanics. Capri isn't wrong when he warns that large fleet fights like the one engulfing 1 trillion isk among CO2, Test, PL, and NC. are threatened with extinction if industrial citadel mechanics are implemented as planned. It's a thought that has worried me, too. After all, if mechanics don't allow you to benefit from it, why have a supercap fleet? And if you don't need a supercap fleet, why do you need to defend your supercap superiority? It's a troubling line of thought.

How do you balance the desire for smaller groups to have a chance to own and defend their own space with player demand for large set-piece battles as they currently exist? I don't know. I'm not a designer. Perhaps it's enough to give players the option between a high-yield POS or a low-yield but safer industrial citadel? Earn 6 bil a month while risking your POS or earn 500 mil a month in relative safety, perhaps? I'm not sure, but it's pretty clear that the final solution has to include space both for the stability of smaller groups and the impetus for large supercap battles.

The emergent gameplay that comes from entosis links are pretty awful, and haven't succeeded in making the compelling small-gang gameplay they were intended to create. If anything, they simply institutionalized grief gameplay, one of the worst possible results. It's clear that they need to be overhauled. So, I put it to you, dear reader... how do you prevent the n+1 blobbing that Dominion represented, encourage alliances to attack and defend at multiple points at once, and still make it compelling to fleet members, without being prone to abuse?

We aren't at a healthy end-stage yet in regards to null-sec. But we need better solutions than, "Go back to blob warfare" or "do nothing". We need solutions that offer innovative, yet simple adjustments that still maintain player choice and emergent sandbox gameplay.

How do you do that? Dominion sov and its sole reliance on HP grinding isn't it. That system leads to the CFC vs. NC.PL, with everyone losing (including the members of those groups). We need a combined arms approach, one that allows space for the little guy (without that, sov is beyond the reach of most players and sov actually becomes a driver of attrition), while also allowing room for the big boys to slug it out. Capri and Seraph both make valid points, and they're both right, after a fashion.

CCP can't ignore the concerns of players, but they also can't be guided purely based on those opinions. We're attenuated to the current system, and we've driven out all the dissenting voices. We aren't representative of the whole anymore, and we need to recognize that. But, it doesn't mean our opinions are worthless. We don't yet have a model to follow that will work to fix sov. What has been laid out isn't going to cut it.

But nor was the system fine as it was. Dominion sov was a terminal patient. Let's not forget that as we consider what to do in the future.


  1. A thoughtful post, thank you.

    I would make two points:

    1) I recently shared a link with Wilhelm Arcturus that I took from the Crowfall forums, where Gordon Walton, the developer responsible for Trammel, provided a retrospective on the decision. It is here: http://community.crowfall.com/index.php?/topic/102-gordon-walton-are-you-the-one-who-brought-us-trammel/#entry1610

    The takeaway for the purpose of your argument is that lost players do not return as a rule. Gordon likened the players leaving UO to a divorce. Your restaurant has no choice but to find a new clientele of hamburger fans to sell to.

    2) I am not clear on what you mean by "prone to abuse?" EVE is a gigantic Prisoner's Dilemma, insofar as the choice that would be best if everyone made it is also the choice that is costliest for only one person to make. That is intrinsic to the PVP sandbox nature of the game. You are effectively asking whether there is a set of rules that are enforceable by a computer and also impossible to reduce to an optimal grind. I am not sure that any such set of rules exists, certainly not under the constraints that CCP has set. The nearest equivalent would be a number-say, three-of analogous mechanics to the entosis link, all capable of working together, but different enough that they were pushed into mutually exclusive optimal tactics. That way at least there could be some sort of tactical richness to an entosis challenge. But there is no guarantee that the total system would itself be collapsed into one optimal and easily countered tactic.

  2. I never understood this mindset that any small ship can field entosis. It just makes no sense to me when you don't risk all that much. I would rather see ADMs decreased and entosis requiring a battleship hull or at the very least a command ship. I would like people put on the line ships that they can't be losing left and right, but force to form some fleets to protect entosis, while at the same time not being too expensive. I never have been in Null warfare so my opinion is purely based on "feels".

  3. Read both posts... all three actually, yours too... My only issue with both Capri and Seraph and yours too) is... It is all well and fine to bitch, it is all well and fine to detail the issues with Sov... but as momma said, Feel free to bitch all you want, but you damn well better have a few idea's on how to fix it also.

    Like Zosius, I have no love nor any real understanding of sov or nullsec... Sov in Anoikis is a POS and your desire and ability to defend it, and nothing else.

    But... if I WERE a nullsec guy, and I did want to cry about how much Sov now sucks... I'd damn sure also want to offer some idea's on how to fix it. Long diatribes, against how CCP develops and run the game are just...

    well, boring. =\