Improving Distribution Agent Missions

While waiting for the next dev blog about the upcoming changes to industry, I traded some Tweets with some fellow EVE Online enthusiasts about the exciting topic of distribution agent missions.

I'm not sure how the topic came up. Who deliberately talks about NPC courier missions? Well, apparently, I do.

Let me be clear: I loathe NPC agent dispensed courier missions - or more accurately, those missions provided by Distribution agents. When CCP Games developers first considered adding these missions to the game, I'm sure the conversation went something like this:

Dev 1: So, do we want to give haulers some way to make ISK on missions?

Dev 2: Sure, that seems like a great idea! More haulers means more targets flying around!

Dev 3: Hauling is awfully boring, generally. We need to keep within that design parameter.

Dev 2: What the heck does that even mean?

Dev 3: It's technical. Don't bother me with details.

Dev 1: Right, so let's really push the envelope on the boring aspect here. We need make sure that distribution missions are nearly coma-inducing.

Dev 3: In fact, is there any way we can make them suck all joy out of life, and send people into deep depression and despair?

Dev 1: Hmmm, yeah, I think we can do that. We just have to minimize engagement and maximize repetition. I'll add these to the specifications.

Dev 3: Excellent - with these specs, I think I can... [presses a couple of keys on keyboard] Yep! There, all done! Check that feature off the list.

Dev 1: I'm glad we didn't over-think this.

Dev 2: Hold on - shouldn't we get some more feedback on this design? If we release this, then no one in their right mind will ever want to do these missions.

Devs 1 and 3: Shut up, noob. It's time for lunch.

And thus, distribution missions were born.

How bad is it?

Wreathe.jpg

Missions from distribution agents are practically the same:

  • Here's some stuff.
  • Take it over there.
  • Drop it off.
  • Thanks, here's a little ISK for your trouble. I think I kind of like you a little more now.

There are different volumes of cargo you have to transport, depending on the level of the mission, but that's about it as far as variety goes.

The only real reason people do courier missions on purpose is to grind standings up with a particular corp or faction, with minimal risk. The only redeeming quality of these incredibly, stupidly dull missions is that they can be completed quickly.

It's sort of like ripping a band-aid off - over and over and over...

Whee - what fun. Thanks, CCP Games.

What can be done about it?

So, anyway, we were Tweeting back and forth on this topic: How could CCP Games make distribution agent missions tolerable? Or even mildly interesting?

In about fifteen minutes, we came up with a few interesting ideas:

  • Offer some decisions for the mission runner. Do you want to run a low-risk high sec run for nominal reward, or go through these more challenging low-sec systems for a more substantial payoff in ISK and standings?
  • Introduce different kinds of space. Why not a courier mission through a wormhole? Or one where an empire faction Titan bridges the mission-runner to a far-off system, and back again? This might be a great way to introduce typically risk-averse players to different kinds of space that they otherwise might not attempt to explore.
  • Require advanced industrial ships for higher-level distribution missions. Provide a "level 5" set of distribution missions, requiring interceptors, blockade runners, deep space transports, or even freighters, with commensurate risk and rewards.
  • Use in-space destinations. Missions that require the player to rendezvous with an contact in space, then travel to a deadspace location, then back to the station would at least provide some variety in the style of distribution missions.
  • Vary the sizes of cargo. Again, more choices are good - offer the mission-runner several different cargoes: small, medium and large, with different reward levels for each.
  • Introduce more NPC danger. Attempted ganks by NPC pirates on gates, stations or at a deadspace pick-up location would certainly spice up courier jobs. (And also give other players something to shoot at, too.)
  • Introduce special escalations under certain conditions. NPC distribution agent: "Oh, I see you can pilot a blockade runner. I have some special covert courier jobs for you, if you are interested...." Have the mission-runner carry semi-legal contents that need a circuitous route to avoid checkpoints.
  • Chain different distribution mission types together. Some distribution missions are provided by "circle agents" who provide a string of connected objectives that circle back to the original agent. Combine these with a couple of epic arc-like decision points, which might send the pilot off to a riskier mini-circle of low-sec or null-sec or even w-space locations, and now you really have something engaging. Couple this idea with NPC baddies trying to gank the mission runner in a few locations, and now it starts getting really interesting.

The Honey Pot Mission

I have a dream. One day, I check in with a Distribution agent in a station - on purpose, mind you - and ask for a mission.

"Oh, Neville Smit, you are just the pilot I need for this special courier mission. First, you need to travel to this location in space and rendezvous with a covert agent. Find him quickly because we've had reports of pirate frigates patrolling in that area. He'll give you a MacGuffin - I need you to take it to this other deadspace location here, and drop it into the hangar there.  And then steal the 7,500 cubic meters of small arms stored there, and transport them to my colleague in this system, a couple jumps away. Sounds simple, yes?

Now here's the catch. That hangar is being guarded by three pirate frigates - we're not sure what kind. And the acceleration gate is set to only allow industrial ships, blockade runners or deep space transports to pass.

Oh, a couple other things. There is a webifier tower there. And we've had reports that one of the pirate frigates has a warp scrambler. You might want to fit a couple warp core stabilizers. And here, you might find this cloaking device handy.

Two other pilots have tried to do this mission for me - they both failed. I'll pay you extra if you can pull this off.  Good luck.

Oh, I almost forgot - you might not want to linger too long after you drop that MacGuffin off - I hear the blast radius on that thing is pretty big. And intense."

So, now I have several choices.

  • Do I take my blockade runner, try to sneak in under a cloak, make the switch, and hightail out of there?
  • Or do I take a Nereus, and hope that three scout combat drones can take out the guards and the webbing tower?
  • Or do I use a heavily tanked DST and just try to bulldoze through?

See? Courier missions don't need to be boring. It only takes a little imagination.

Whaddaya say, CCP Games?

Fly safe! o7

Thanks to my fellow Twitterers: @spanky_ikkala, @EVE_WOLFPACKED, @Evelgrivion@Seamus_Donohue, @erlendur - and even @RixxJavix who suggested: "Maybe just play action movie soundtracks during [distribution missions]?"