Changing My Mind (a little)

When free-to-play (F2P) Alpha clones were announced by CCP last week, I wrote a post exploring their potential abuse by high-sec ganking pilots. In that post, I urged CCP to lock safeties on for Alpha clones in high-sec space, as it seemed the only reasonable way to ensure that veterans would not use them for free incremental advantage.

I commented further on the Alpha ganking issue in a follow-up post, which asked people to remember that EVE is not only a PvP game, and that effects of new features (e.g., Alpha clones) need to be evaluated carefully in light of the game as a whole.

Reader reactions to my last post have been.... well, let's just say they've been an interesting mix. Some enthusiastically agreed, many had opinions that wavered between support and concern, and a couple taught me new things about the creative use of profane language. This is what happens when you dare to publish an opinion about EVE Online - you generate a broad spectrum of expressed perspectives.

This diversity of reactions is exactly why I started writing this blog - it helps me see the bigger picture, and learn new things about our beloved game, EVE Online. So, even though I have had to withstand a little verbal abuse from critics emboldened by their shields of anonymity, the feedback has been very educational and enlightening, on the whole. So, a sincere thanks to all of you who sent me comments, tweets and emails with your ideas and opinions.

I've learned a lot over the last week. And as a result, my original position on the Alpha safety locking issue has softened, with some qualifications. In short, I've become more open to an alternative approach to handling the Alpha ganking issue, and I'd like to explain why.

The Alpha Ganking Debate

My fellow blogger and EVE media personality, Ashterothi, posted a link to my post on Reddit, and it generated a huge spike of interest. (Thanks, Ash - much appreciated!)

CSM member Mr. Hyde posted an interesting comment there, in support of locking Alpha clones' safeties on in high-sec space:

The underlying goal of Alphas is to give NEW PLAYERS a free opportunity to experience enough of EVE at their own pace to convince them to go Omega and subscribe. Sensible limits as to what they can access are part of this experience:
(1) as a safeguard against abuse by existing players, but
(2) also to clearly show that going Omega will unlock the full potential of the game, without ruining the core game experience of EVE that will hook them into subbing.
So when taking feedback and evaluating what limits should be placed on Alphas, we need to see if the proposed limitation furthers these goals.
Is limiting Alphas from participating in high-Sec ganking going to achieve (1)?
Clearly yes. Existing players know enough about this playstyle and the associated mechanics to potentially exploit it. Given Alpha clone skill restrictions, do I think this will really give high-sec gankers substantially more power than they already have with existing alts? No. But for the sake of quashing any unforseen potential for abuse and distracting from the real focus of Alphas, I am fine with safety limiting Alphas in Hisec.
Is limiting Alphas from participating in high-sec ganking going to achieve (2)?
Yes. We are not going to fail to hook an ACTUAL NEW PLAYER by limiting their ability to suicide gank haulers in high-sec. Whether you like it or not, this is something that is perfectly acceptable to put behind the paywall and subscribe if you want to participate in. It is implausible to think that by limiting this type of PVP to Omegas only, that we are somehow doing a massive disservice to newbros and ruining the core EVE experience that will encourage them to sub. They can train into a t1 cruiser and go kill a titan in a huge fleet battle in null, they can fully participate in our player economy and make billions if they are smart, they can FC a fleet and be leaders if they want to; no one is stopping those things.
So TLDR I don't buy veiled attempts to allow existing players to abuse Alphas under the guise of "this won't let them experience EVE and they won't sub because of it".
(If only EVE Online players were more passionate debaters...)

(If only EVE Online players were more passionate debaters...)

This was, I must admit, a little surprising. I honestly did not expect any of our current CSM to support ganking restrictions on Alpha clones.

On the other side of the issue, supporting the unrestricted Alpha ganking camp, Jin'taan, another CSM member, published an article on Crossing Zebras. Here's a pertinent excerpt:

... [Regarding]the possibility of ‘safety locking’ Alpha players to either yellow or green, to prevent expected abuse from highsec gankers. This is something I don’t necessarily disagree with, but I feel that it has significant downsides that need to be addressed, and is somewhat based on assumptions that aren’t truthful.
... Think about what the game loses by turning off ganking on Alphas. Not just from a real level, but from a perception level, from the mythology of EVE level.
EVE has long been seen as a game in which you can do whatever you want, and that there will be consequences for your actions. Not just by the players, it’s the general view of people who don’t play the game on it. There’s the whole ‘nowhere is safe’ and ‘only fly what you can afford to lose’ mantras, which are seared into newer players by veterans. What does it say to these new players if we restrict them from trialing aspects of gameplay, no matter how niche a part of the sandbox it might be?

As I suspected, it appears that CCP is leaning towards allowing unrestricted Alpha clone ganking, if CCP Rise's comment in the aforementioned Reddit thread is any indication:

I just wanted to chime in here and say that from our side, the idea that 'EVE is a PVP game', and some of the associated logic you mention, really has nothing to do with our position on this, or on anything as far as I know.
Instead, our driving principle for the Alpha design is to try and give the best EVE experience we possible can to Alphas, and only draw lines in cases where 'an unworkable or unsustainable imbalance in the game's cycle of gathering, building and destroying' (as you very nicely put it) becomes inevitable.
The only reason we haven't already committed to a limitation related to suicide ganking is that we aren't necessarily convinced that it does create such a pronounced imbalance AND we know we have a good tool to respond if it turns out that imbalance does emerge.
But! As the follow-up blog said, we are still in the thick of discussion and final touches so lets see what comes from the summit.

So, the door to locking Alpha safeties is still open, but just barely, and I suspect it will be likely be closed at the CSM summit meeting next week. I'm resigned to the likelihood that Alphas will be ganking in high-sec in November. But I may be alright with that, if certain limits are maintained.

A Reasonable Alternative

In his CZ article, Jin'taan hints at a possible alternative restriction for Alpha clones that would work well for limiting potential abuse (emphases mine):

...Assuming that accounts can be locked to one Alpha character per session, this gives us the worst case scenario of a ‘free’ alpha alt to any Omega ganker. Personally, I would prefer to limit Alphas as the only client able to launch, but that’s due to the usefulness of having free alts in other areas (specifically FW Griffin & T1 logi alts, though I’m aware there are other use cases which are degenerate). If this is implemented, your worst case scenario goes as follows: a veteran player will be able to have a sub-optimal gank alt to try out the playstyle, whilst still being vastly inferior to a subbed player. This is almost exactly the same situation as currently exists with trial accounts...

There are several important points to highlight here. First, Jin'taan recommends limiting players to one Alpha per session - no multiboxing of multiple F2P Alpha characters allowed. This is a good idea, as it will prevent individual players from assembling hordes of multiboxed Alpha clone ships to wreak havoc. But then he makes, but immediately dismisses, a very important suggestion: limiting Alphas as the only client able to launch.

In other words, if you launch an Alpha clone character on your client, you would not be able to simultaneously launch an Omega clone at the same time, or vice-versa. Jin'taan points out that this would limit the usefulness of F2P Alpha as supplemental alts by veteran players, and so he discards this idea. But I think this is a mistake.

The intended purposes of F2P Alphas, as Mr. Hyde emphasizes, are to entice new players to try the game, and to encourage inactive veterans to return, both with a no-cost but limited play option. I do not believe that CCP intends to provide Alphas as a means to supplement currently subscribed veteran players with free utility characters, which could be used for intelligence gathering, logistics or EWAR support, enhancing ganking firepower, or other purposes. The likelihood that these utility F2P characters, existing only to support an existing subscription character, would ever be converted into subscribing Omega clones is nil.

This is why CCP currently disallows free trial account characters to multibox with subscriber account characters, as Jin'taan points out. According to CCP's policy statement:

...A trial account may only be logged in as the sole account on the computer. Being logged into a trial account will prevent any log ins to other accounts on the same computer at the same time, independent of their account status. It is also not possible to log into a trial account when logged into another account on the same computer. 

Without this limitation, veteran players would make free trial characters all the time, to support to their highly developed main characters, but with no potential financial return to CCP.

So, why should CCP treat F2P Alpha accounts any differently than the current trial accounts?

A Fair Compromise

The main concern that I described in my post was that gankers would use F2P Alphas as a no-cost firepower enhancement in support of their Omega clones.

I am not terribly worried about all-Alpha teams of pilots banding together to gank people in high-sec. As CSM representative Noobman very competently explained in his Reddit post, relatively large numbers of Alphas in T1 Catalysts would be required to gank successfully. Frankly, if that many individual Alpha pilots can organize into a large enough swarm, I say all the more power to them. But I don't think many new players will do this, and veteran gankers would prefer to use their more powerful highly-skilled Omega characters, if forced to choose between them and less effective Alpha characters, even if the latter is free. But I can easily see veterans gankers gleefully adding no-cost Alphas to their fleets, to multibox in support of their subscribed Omega characters, for the free 30-50 percent bonus in firepower.

If they could do so today, I am sure that many EVE Online veterans would be creating trial accounts to establish free support characters to supplement their mains. But since CCP has banned simultaneous log-in of trials and mains, the risk of doing so is extreme.

Will CCP and the CSM come to a reasonable compromise on Alpha clones, during the CSM summit in Reykjavik next week?

Will CCP and the CSM come to a reasonable compromise on Alpha clones, during the CSM summit in Reykjavik next week?

By banning simultaneous log-in of free Alpha and subscribing Omega characters by the same player, CCP would simply be extending the same policy that they have in place today for free trial and subscription accounts. Such a policy would make the concerns that I expressed in my post irrelevant.

To be candid, I would still prefer to see safeties locked on in high-sec for Alpha accounts, but if CCP wants F2P Alpha accounts to be able to sample the wonderful world of ganking, then safety-locking is not a workable option. In that case, treating Alpha clone accounts with the same log-in limitations as on the current trial account policy seems to me a reasonable compromise:

  • An Alpha clone account may only be logged in as the sole account on the computer.
  • Being logged into an Alpha account will prevent any log-ins to other accounts on the same computer at the same time.
  • It is also not possible to log into a Alpha account when logged into another account on the same computer. 

Even with these limits in place, miners and haulers will have to be more diligent about watching for hordes of Alphas buzzing around, but that should be fairly rare. (If it turns out to be more common than expected, then CCP always has the option to lock safeties on in high-sec, of course.) The current state for veteran gankers would be unchanged from the status quo, which is good. And F2P Alpha accounts would remain true to the purposes for which CCP intended - as an effective introduction to EVE Online for new players, and as a no-cost incentive for veteran players to return - and not as a free incremental advantage for veteran subscribers.

It will be interesting to see what kinds of decisions that CCP and the CSM make next week in Reykjavik.

Fly safe! o7