Rethinking Wardecs

After joining EVE University in 2009, I had grown weary of the war declaration mechanics in EVE Online. Whenever a group who really wanted to fight wardec'd E-UNI, we had a lot of fun. The periodic battles we had with Red vs. Blue, for example, were some of the best times I have ever had in EVE Online. But the vast majority of the wardecs we received were from small griefing corps, who never showed up. We often scratched our heads and wondered why they bothered. And so, at Fanfest 2012, I eagerly anticipated CCP SoniClover's presentation on the details of revisions to the war declaration system in EVE Online, slated for the Inferno update.

Alas, I was profoundly disappointed. Not only was his presentation one of the dullest I have ever witnessed, it also lacked any shred of creativity or imagination. Rather than re-engineer wardecs into something interesting and fun, CCP simply tweaked costs and reporting. It was, to put it bluntly, the same broken system, but amplified.

For those who feel the need to punish themselves, here is that incredibly underwhelming presentation, in all its inept glory:

We have been trudging along ever since, tolerating the limitations of the current wardec mechanics. For over three years, there has been no further attempt by CCP Games to improve them.

The Absurdity of Wardecs

I have oft lamented the silliness of wardecs in past posts, but I will briefly recap their principal problems here:

  • They are relevant only in high-sec space, and strangely, only to capsuleers. In null-sec and w-space, anyone can attack anyone at any time. This is also true in low-sec, with some minor limitations. The only people who care about wardecs are those who fly in high-sec. You'd think that something with major political consequences like declaring war would have more broad-reaching implications in New Eden, but they do not. There are no standings changes with NPC factions or corps as a result of a wardec. If Apple and Microsoft declared open warfare and started bombing each other's buildings and killing people, you might think that nation-states might take a dim view of the sudden increase in violence and murders happening within their borders. In New Eden, this never happens, as long as CONCORD receives their bribe. I've tried to justify this explanation in my mind, but one has to use weirdly contorted pretzel logic to rationalize such behavior. It gives me a headache, and points out a huge missed opportunity by CCP Games to link high-sec wars with a corp's NPC relationships in Empire space.
  • There's nothing to fight for. In 0.0, if you see something that another corp has, and you want it, you just try to take it. If that corp doesn't want you to have it, they put up a defense. It's all neat and clean - and a lot more fun for everyone - because something of value is at stake. There is no need for a formal wardec in 0.0, because it would be redundant - actions speak louder than words. But in high-sec, wardecs are declared in advance, and most of the time, there's nothing at risk, except a standardized sum of ISK. Some corps pride themselves on their "ISK efficiency", but really, there is no clear standard on who "wins" a high-sec war.
  • The only smart move is not to play. Wardecs actually discourage player engagement. There's little reason for either party to show up for the war and do any fighting. For the aggressor, unless there's a specific objective they want to take, like a POCO or a POS, most wardec'ing corps do not bother to hunt down the opposition. Instead, they just wait in trade hubs and hope to pick off easy targets, generally. For the wardec receiver, the response with the least risk is to fold up vulnerable assets like POSes, dock in station, and play on out-of-corp alt characters for a week, or until the wardec expires. This is completely goofy.

What to do with wardecs?

I have been considering different options for quite a long time now, but I have been hesitant to declare my opinions openly. Some players thrive on the current high-sec wardec mechanics, and they react strongly to any suggestion that the status quo needs to change. By publishing these alternative ideas here, I realize I am potentially putting myself at risk in the game, by drawing the attention of those who might find such changes threatening.

Nevertheless, I think it's long past time to completely re-think the purpose and structure of formal war declarations in EVE Online, and to replace them with something more dynamic and engaging - and most importantly, more fun - for players throughout the game, and not just in high-sec space. I am absolutely confident that not everyone will agree with my ideas and suggestions, and I acknowledge that my thinking may indeed be flawed. I publish these opinions in hopes that people will consider them fairly, and offer their own suggestions for improvement - and ultimately, that CCP will take the best ideas and incorporate them into the game.

Idea #1: eliminate formal in-game war declarations.

There - I said it, as shocking as such an idea may be. The more I think about wardecs, the more I am convinced that we may not need them at all. Let wars be completely player-owned and player-driven, just like everything else in EVE Online. If an alliance or corporation wants to declare war, let them simply do so - they need no in-game formal system. They can set standings to red and bash away as long as they want anywhere in New Eden, except in high-sec space.

Ah, but there's the rub, you say. What to do about war targets in high-sec?

I misspoke previously when I said that you can't attack anyone in high-sec space. Actually, you can, using a mechanic that has always been in EVE Online: suicide ganking. The only difference is that there is a price to pay for such an attack in high-sec: CONCORD will come down upon you like Thor's hammer, and you'll lose your ship and some of your security status.

I am NOT (please notice the boldface, italics and all caps for emphasis) in favor making high-sec space a carebear paradise. I believe there should always be an element of risk in space. Undocking should always mean that you are open to PvP engagement. I ardently support the right of any pilot to suicide gank a target in high-sec space. I even admire the role-playing ganking corps dedicated to that purpose. Gankers add flavor to high-sec that is absolutely needed, and I will defend to the death their right to ply their trade - even if that means that I suffer an occasional loss of my own assets.

One thing that I like about suicide ganking is that it requires engagement by both the aggressor and the target. It either happens, or it doesn't, and there is no escaping it when it does occur - unlike the current wardec mechanics, where one party or the other can simply avoid contact. Secondly, suicide ganks are rarely announced in advance - they are virtually always surprise attacks, by design.

It has always bothered me that wardecs give a 24-hour notice to the target. This provides time for the wardec receiver to dismantle POSes and "turtle up", as the saying goes. Imagine how Pearl Harbor would have gone for the Japanese if they had formally declared war a full day in advance - I suspect history would have been much different. Without formal wardecs, high-sec wars will be surprise attacks, by default.

Also, if there are no wardec fees to be paid to CONCORD, then the "cost" of a war in high-sec would only be the value of ships lost in ganks, and any fees paid for tags to raise security status again. It may actually be cheaper to harass war targets by ganking them, than to declare a formal war under the current mechanics.

"Well, that's all fine and good, Neville," you might be saying. "But what about attacking structures in high-sec, like POCOs, POSes, and eventually the new citadels? You can't suicide gank those."

Ah, good point - and here we need to rethink about how security status works.

Idea #2: make security status dependent, at least partially, on player actions.

What if you could turn a high-sec system into a low-sec system for a few hours? Then you could attack structures and other players with abandon, without worrying about CONCORD.

Currently, security status is absolute - it cannot be changed. But what if the security status of a system was dependent upon the number of CONCORD facilities and operating relay beacons that were in that system? What if you could reduce or eliminate CONCORD's ability to respond - temporarily - by jamming or disabling those facilities and beacons?

At Fanfest last March, CCP Ytterbium briefly touched on a possible addition to citadel structures - administration hubs - that could affect the security status level of a system:

These facilities for CONCORD response could be based in NPC stations as well, and since stations are indestructible, this could set a hard level below which security status could not be lowered for a given system. But if that hard floor was below 5.0, then the only way to maintain a high-sec security status, and thereby enable rapid CONCORD response, would be if players themselves installed and maintained a security-raising CONCORD relay module in their administration hubs. 

Now, imagine a new module that could be installed in ships which jams or disables CONCORD response relay modules in player-owned citadel structures, during that structure's scheduled vulnerability window - it could even be the Entosis Link which does this. Now the system's security status drops to low-sec status, and the structure itself would be open to attack, just like in any low-sec system.

Some high-sec systems, like Jita, may have so many CONCORD relay modules installed in NPC stations that the security status could never be lowered, thus protecting them from such shenanigans by enterprising capsuleers. But I envision that most of high-sec could be set up to operate in this fashion.

"But Nev," you may be protesting, "what if players just set up a whole lot of administration hubs in the same system, raising the security status so high that it becomes almost impossible to jam all those relay modules?"

Indeed, that could be one outcome, but the cost of industry (and other structure functions) could be set not only by the level of activity in a system, but by the number of citadels based in that system. Those structures might be safe, but they would also be very costly to operate, and unprofitable to run.

This mechanic would also provide something tangible for high-sec corporations to actively defend. It would give players something to fight for, and provide a tangible reason to engage in PvP.

By the way, a variable security status should happen in low-sec and null-sec systems, too. With enough administration hubs with relay modules installed, players could raise the system status to high-sec, and gain CONCORD protection there - as long as they can maintain that level. W-space, however, should be immune from such influences, I think - they should be forever outside any potential protection of CONCORD.

I think this means that the "base" security status should probably be lowered, across the board, in all types of space - and that Empire space needs to be dramatically restructured, but more on this later...

Idea #3: link aggressive actions in Empire space to NPC faction standings.

I think there should be realistic implications for raising havoc in the backyards of the major empire factions. If you engage in belligerent action in Gallente space, there should be an impact on your standings with the Gallente Federation, and not just on your security status. If you are actively trying to reduce security status in an Empire system, essentially you are opposing that faction's authority, and there should be a consequence for doing so.

This should be a factor in the decision to take aggressive action in Empire space. As it is today, with no implications beyond paying ISK, the current wardec mechanics have devolved mostly into selecting wardec candidates at random, just to have some convenient targets to shoot. With potential implications in faction standings at stake, the decision to declare war becomes more meaningful, and one that requires some thoughtful consideration.

Time for Radical Change

These ideas would radically change the nature of war in EVE Online, especially in high-sec space. Clearly, there are a lot more details to be determined to make this vision a practical reality, but I think that the approach I've described would make wars more meaningful, and would encourage active engagement by both aggressors and receivers. It would require more thoughtful decisions by both parties about who to attack and why, how to defend and where, and how victory would be defined. How one side "wins" a war would be determined by their particular strategic objectives, not by some arbitrary metric which may or may not be relevant.

I urge CCP Games and the CSM to be bold when it comes to rethinking war in EVE Online. We need a much more active conversation about wardecs in our community. I recently put on my heavy-duty tinfoil hat and speculated in an article on Crossing Zebras how CCP could dramatically restructure Empire space, in order to help make wars in Empire, including Factional Warfare, more interesting and impactful for more players. Others have seen the imminent introduction of citadels as an opportunity for significant changes to wardecs, as well.

I'm delighted to see these kinds of ideas being suggested and debated. It's long past time to break the inertia of old thinking on wardecs, and replace it altogether with something that makes real sense.

Fly safe! o7