Bits & Pieces: October 2016

CCP Games' developer team has been busy over the last couple of weeks, issuing a series of meaty dev blogs and news. Each of these are worth multiple blog posts of analysis about their implications for EVE Online, and for its community of players. Specifically, the big reveals have been:

I intend to explore some of these announcements in more depth in future posts, but for now, I'd just like to share a few reactions and opinions.

Mining Changes - It's All Good

This dev blog focuses mostly on how mining boosts will change using the new area-of-effect mechanics, to be released with the recently named Ascension expansion set to debut on November 8th. It also covered changes to the Rorqual and Orca mining support ships, and introduced the new Porpoise-class industrial command ship.

I'm excited about moving fleet boosting to an on-grid, entirely visible experience, in general. I wrote previously about how I can't wait to try the new mechanics in combat, which is way off my usual playstyle preference for EVE Online. Applying the same kind of local boosting mechanics to mining fleets makes perfect sense, though I recognize that it will change the experience significantly - nevertheless, I think it will be all for the better, on the whole.

This does mean that I'll keep my Orca on grid with my fellow miners, in asteroid belts for the most part. And that means it will be vulnerable to roaming ganking gangs. But with the effective 50 percent bonus to drone hitpoints and 100 percent bonus to drone damage, flying the Orca with a fleet of Skiffs packed with combat drones means that miners now have a fighting chance to fend off gankers, especially when supported with the Orca's 400 percent bonus to Remote Shield Booster optimal range and the bonus to Shield Command Burst strength.

The new, improved Orca industrial command ship, now with extra oomph!

The new, improved Orca industrial command ship, now with extra oomph!

I haven't finished running the numbers yet on tank and damage potential for an Orca-supported mining fleet, but my back-of-the-napkin calculations look almost too good to be true. Unless my math is seriously off, I'm seeing applied drone damage of an Orca with four Skiffs at more than battleship-level ranges. The only downside is the long target lock times due to the Orca's low scan resolution. In high-sec, it looks likely that CONCORD will wipe out any gankers before the mining fleet could apply significant damage themselves - especially since the Orca's logistics bonus and effective buffs to the mining fleet's EHP will make miners a much harder target, for sure.

I admit I'm enjoying the whining from the ganking community in the feedback comments thread about the Orca now being too overpowered - but I must also admit, they might be right. Personally, I can't wait to give my refreshed Orca a whirl in November, and see how it actually operates in practice.

I've not yet flown a Rorqual, but the changes look very interesting, and I suspect there will be a lot of experimentation in null-sec come November. Given the creativity of EVE players, I suspect we'll see this ship being used for many purposes other than just mining support.

The new Porpoise-class entry-level industrial command ship, based on the Noctis design

The new Porpoise-class entry-level industrial command ship, based on the Noctis design

As for the new entry-level industrial command ship, the Porpoise, I will certainly get one for my collection, and am eager to try it out in wormhole space, especially since its low mass can fit through frigate-only holes - shattered wormhole ice mining, anyone? And since it will have cruiser-level DPS from drones, the Porpoise should be quite fearsome there. And it is relatively cheap, so even if it is lost, it won't break the bank. I like it.

Finally, the changes and new additions to mining drones fascinate me. The addition of ice harvester drones, new Excavator drones and enhanced mining drones, along with buffed stats for regular mining drones provide a lot of new options to miners. I'm going to have to experiment to see what combinations of drones and bonuses work the best, but I like what I see very much. I'm especially intrigued by the "new set of NPCs that will be announced in the near future" mentioned in the dev blog, which will drop the revised Harvester drones - what could this be, I wonder?

The weird, squid-like Excavator mining drones captivate me - too bad they can only be used with the Rorqual in null-sec space.

The weird, squid-like Excavator mining drones captivate me - too bad they can only be used with the Rorqual in null-sec space.

All in all, this dev blog reveals a very thorough refresh of mining capabilities - I'm finding myself looking forward to organizing some mining fleets in November to check out the new features. Still, it leaves me wanting more - huge asteroid belts that fill the now much larger grids, comet mining, ring mining, new team mining options. Improving the ships and giving us more diversity in the tools we use is good, but I think the mining profession in EVE Online needs a real revolution. But for now, I'll take what CCP has given, with pleasure.

Engineering Complexes - the End of an Era

This dev blog, which I've been eagerly awaiting for months, finally reveals details about the new industrial platforms to be available in the Ascension update. And unfortunately, it confirms my worst fears.

The new medium, large and extra large Engineering Complexes - shown with an Avatar-class titan for scale - these things are big.

There is much to love about the new structures. They provide very substantial bonuses for research, invention and manufacturing operations. They can be tailored and specialized with an abundance of engineering rigs and service modules. They are significantly less expensive than Citadels. They use the same tethering and asset protection mechanics as Citadels - with a special provision that BPOs will always be protected.

But as a solo Tech II manufacturer in high-sec, it looks like an Engineering Complex will not be as flexible as my current medium POS tower and arrays. Clearly, these new structures are intended for use by a team of players in a corporation or alliance, and not by individuals. They will not be able to be unanchored and stored quickly enough to protect them against wardecs, like you can currently do with a POS. They will have longer vulnerability windows than Citadels, one-third fewer hitpoints, and much weaker defensive weaponry levels. Unless you have a sufficient number of players willing to defend the structure, an Engineering Complex is going to be a big, fat loot piñata for wardec'ing marauders.

And I suppose that is the point - these structures are obviously designed first and foremost to provide points of conflict and combat content. To that end, I think they will serve their purpose very well. But I don't think I will try to operate one as a solo venture - that simply looks unwise. In addition, as a result of the much higher effectiveness bonuses for operating engineering complexes in null-sec space, competing as a high-sec based manufacturer is going to be more difficult. I'm still crunching numbers and running analyses of different scenarios, but the message seems clear: CCP strongly prefers that players manufacture things in 0.0, and not in high-sec.

Roger that, CCP - message received and understood. Looks like my days of Tech II manufacturing in Empire space are nearly over. Time to find another way to make a living in New Eden.

Alpha Limits - Wisdom Prevails

This dev blog describes more details about how the new free-to-play Alpha clones will be limited. I've already written about my pleasure in how the CSM and CCP Games are handling this. Treating Alphas the same as current Trial Accounts, by making multiboxing with them a violation of the EULA, is a good thing. I'd still prefer to see safeties locked on for Alphas in high-sec space, but I'm happy enough with the planned restrictions.

Now, only the question remains: how successful will Alpha clones be in attracting new players to EVE Online? And even more importantly, how many will remain to play, and ultimately upgrade to Omega clone status?

The answers to these questions depend a great deal on the improved new player experience (NPE), slated for release in November. If that NPE is compelling, and is able to entrance novices with an emotional hook, then I think the Alpha clone program could be quite successful. I'm very keen to see what CCP Ghost and his team have wrought at EVE Vegas, at the end of October. And I'm planning to generate a new character myself and give it a try. Then we shall see how good it truly is.

The End of Gambling Sites

Speaking of the EULA, this dev blog highlights all the prospective changes that will become effective with the release of Ascension. Many of these are changes needed because of the introduction of Alpha clones, but the most significant by far is the inclusion of this one line:

You may not use, transfer or assign any game assets for games of chance operated by third parties.

One short sentence of 18 little words and *POOF* - goodbye to all EVE-related gambling sites.

The best summary of what this all means, and why it is happening, was published by my friend and fellow EVE blogger, Noizy, on his site, which you can read here. (Go ahead if you haven't read it already - it's an excellent post.)

While this action was obviously stimulated by illegal Real-Money Trading (RMT) activities, the community has reacted with shock at CCP's broad policy. I personally have enjoyed wagering ISK on eve-bet.com for EVE tournaments, and I'll miss the option to do so. It's a shame that well-run and above-board sites like eve-bet are being closed down as a result of others' illegitimate actions, especially when so many in the community have benefited from their support and generosity. But as streamer Manic Velocity eloquently parodies in this video, those who enjoy making EVE-related content will continue to do so. Even without the support of gambling sites, I think we can all rest assured that the game shall endure.

Still, as I was cleaning my tinfoil hat yesterday, I wondered: does this mean that CCP Games may introduce their own in-game casino, as an alternative? I find it interesting that the minutes of the recent CSM summit meeting redacted out the entire session on monetization. Do they contain plans for generating income from legitimized in-game ISK gambling, wholly within the EVE Online client, and to CCP's exclusive benefit?

Inquiring minds would like to know.

New Character Sheet - Change is Hard

CCP announced a new character sheet, needed to support the introduction of Alpha clones, but also to incorporate more graphic information about a character's skills and capabilities. In theory, this is supposed to make it easier to understand what you can do with your character, and how you can develop them, but it's a significant change. It's going to take a while to get used to.

The new, improved character sheet

It certainly does look pretty - I'll grant CCP that. And by consolidating the training queue into the character sheet, it eliminates a potential point of confusion for new players, as there is now just one window to view what is happening with their character.

But I'm an old bittervet, and old habits die hard. I'll probably stumble around the new character sheet after Ascension comes out, and take much longer than I should to eventually figure it out. I might even come to like it, in a few months. Change is hard.

New kids in EVE Online don't know how good they have it. Why, back in my day, we had to log in every night to update our skill queue, and we liked it. (/me shakes cane angrily)

Fly safe! o7

 

Clearly, I Am a Genius

I've been anxiously awaiting a dev blog containing clarifying details on the imminent Alpha clone "free to play" option, to be available in November, and it came out today. The impact of Alphas on EVE Online was clearly a principal focus of the conversations at the recent Council of Stellar Management (CSM) summit meeting.

I've written previously in this blog about the potential negative effects of Alphas on the game, especially for increasing the likelihood of ganking in high security space. Originally, my suggested solution was to lock safety switches on for Alphas when flying in high-sec, but after thinking about it further, and reading some useful ideas from commenters, I softened my position, and came to the conclusion that if multiboxing with Alphas was prohibited, then any potential adverse impact would be acceptably minimized.

I urged the CSM to plead with CCP Games to limit Alpha players to the same restrictions as those currently imposed on free Trial Accounts, which would prohibit simultaneous log-in of Alphas with other accounts, including Omega paid subscription characters.

Lo and behold, today's dev blog reveals that this is exactly what CCP intends to do.

Clearly, I am a genius, everyone on the CSM reads my blog, and they all agree with my irrefutable and flawless logic.

You're all quite welcome, folks. (/me bows)

Impressed with CSM 11, so far

I must confess that after the results of the CSM 11 election were announced at Fanfest last April, I was highly dubious that they would be able to represent any interests except for those who play in null-sec space. Every CSM 11 representative lives primarily in 0.0, except for good Steve Ronuken. I expressed my cynicism quite pointedly in this blog, and frankly, gave up hope that anything useful for high-sec, low-sec or wormhole space would arise from CSM 11's efforts.

When CCP announced the F2P Alpha clone concept, I despaired that the CSM would turn a deaf ear to the woes of peace-mongering industrial-loving space hippies like myself, and I envisioned hordes of Alphas freely ganking every high-sec target in sight. I figured the CSM would push for unlimited multiboxing and multimixing of Alphas and Omegas, since the value of potentially infinite and free utility characters in null-sec would be immense.

But CSM 11 has surprised me by being entirely reasonable and balanced, as shown in their discussions in the summit minutes, and now, in this dev blog. In a way, I'm a little disappointed - the bittervet in me was looking forward to an entire year of whining and gnashing of teeth. Alas, it appears that CSM 11 actually does care about the majority of us who play outside of 0.0 space, and I must now graciously acknowledge their sound thinking, and extend kudos to them all.

A well-conceived plan

The degree of reasonableness and thoroughness to which CCP and the CSM have considered the potential implications of Alpha clones is apparent from refinements described in the dev blog. The Alpha skill set has been tweaked to prevent Alphas from using Entosis Links, farming planetary interaction bases for free, abusing Tech II ECM jammers, or fueling starbases. They will now be able to mine gas, use a single jump clone, and employ drones effectively. These are all good changes, and indicate how well CCP and the CSM are thinking this through.

CCP acknowledges in the dev blog that there are still some uncertainties associated with Alpha clones, but that they will monitor their use and make adjustments, if needed. If ganking proves to be an issue, despite the multiboxing limitation, CCP will lock Alpha safeties on in high-sec. If Alphas are abused for skill points farming, they may intercede there as well. It appears that CCP and the CSM have considered a variety of contingencies.

On to EVE Vegas, baby!

After reading this dev blog, virtually all my fear about Alpha clones has abated, and I now feel very confident that their impact in November and beyond will be almost entirely positive for the game. To be honest, I really did not think I would feel this way a couple months ago.

I'm now looking forward to my trip to EVE Vegas at the end of October with great optimism and enthusiasm - something I've not felt about EVE Online since April.

Fly safe! o7

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