Bits & Pieces: May 2016

I'm on vacation in Florida, which is sort of strange, as I was at Fanfest in Iceland only a couple weeks ago. You may be wondering, why is Nev taking two vacations in a row? Well, if you've ever been to Fanfest, you know why. Even though I paced myself - mostly because my charming bride accompanied me to Iceland this year - Fanfest is pretty much a non-stop party for four days. At the ripe old age of 57, I just don't bounce back from that kind of sustained festivity as I once did. So, I'm here in Clearwater Beach, enjoying a view of the Gulf, surrounded by family, with nothing to do but eat, sleep, and watch the waves roll in. I have discovered that this kind of lackadaisical lifestyle agrees with me.

To help you appreciate my dire situation, here's my view this morning...

I'm definitely living like the 1 percent this week. I could get used to this.

I'm definitely living like the 1 percent this week. I could get used to this.

While sitting here counting the seagulls and sipping a rum-based concoction, I find my mind inevitably meanders to thoughts about EVE Online. Perhaps it is the recency of Fanfest that has me dwelling on ideas about New Eden. Or maybe I'm just bored - it's hard to tell. In any event, I thought I'd jot a few random thoughts here as I'm sitting on my balcony overlooking the aquamarine-hued waters.

At this moment,  I'm thinking, "This is the best way to do a blog post, ever." (/me sips rum drink contentedly)

Happy birthday, EVE!

CCP designated May 6th as "Capsuleer Day" to commemorate the 13th birthday of EVE Online. I haven't picked up my Upwell Consortium pod skin yet, but from the banter on #tweetfleet, people seem to like it. I already have a "golden pod" that I got from the EVE Online Collector's Edition package I bought a couple years ago, so I'll probably use the new skin on one of my industrial alts.

Commemorative gifts are nice, to be sure, but more importantly, we should recognize the achievement that CCP Games has attained: 13 years and still going strong is very unusual in the volatile field of Massive Multiplayer Online (MMO) games, which tend to have an average life span of about three to four years.

To what does EVE Online owe its longevity? Certainly, the decision to make EVE Online a single-shard virtual world has a lot to do with its long life. As a direct result, player actions matter much more in EVE Online than in other multi-server MMOs, and they have lasting impact. There is a real and universally shared history in New Eden, and players make the biggest marks on it. No other MMO can make this claim. This factor, more than anything else, is what gives EVE Online its lasting appeal.

There is one other factor that must also be acknowledged: the ongoing dedication of CCP Games to the continuous improvement of the game. Certainly, they have stumbled along the way, but they have recovered each time, and inexorably and consistently increased the game's options and entertainment value, year after year.

When I first joined the game in 2009, EVE Online was a much less robust world. Today, we have so many more options - more ships, more modules, more player-controlled mechanics, more structures, and even more types of space to explore. And with rare exception, those new options have also proven to be better for the game - generally, they have brought more fun and made the game more rewarding to master.

From the very beginning, EVE was built to last. And over the last 13 years, the caretakers of EVE have continued to nurture and develop the game. For these reasons, we are able to celebrate its 13th anniversary. We should all be grateful for the opportunity.

I look forward to the next 13 years in EVE Online!

A Spike of Interest

Another obvious reason for the relative longevity of EVE Online is the undying passion of the player community about the game. It's blatantly apparent to me that people really care about this game. The recent spike of interest in my last post, Occupy New Eden, demonstrates this passion very well.

I've been extremely gratified and humbled by the amount of reaction and thoughtful commentary to my admittedly very critical post. (If you haven't read it yet, you can find it here.) Not only did this post garner the most number of comments I've ever received on this blog, but it also was cross-posted by more blogs, and generated more analysis posts by other bloggers, than anything I've ever published here. Clearly, the subject struck a chord, or a nerve, depending on your point of view.

The comments and perspectives on my post ranged from full agreement to complete rejection. I expected as much, but not to the degree on either end of the opinion spectrum that I received. I got some particularly hostile and highly argumentative comments, which I did not publish, and some extremely well-articulated opposing points of view, which I did.

Some readers disputed my "85 percent" figure, saying that many non-null characters are alts of null-sec players. This is true, but according to CCP's analysis, the number of alt characters and multiple accounts is lower than generally believed. Regardless, no matter how you look at the numbers, the majority of players do not operate principally in 0.0 - this is a fact that a few null-sec dwellers simply will not acknowledge, apparently, despite any CCP-produced statistics to the contrary. There is little I can do to convince people who refuse to be convinced, and so I simply leave that small minority to their own opinions, and wish them well.

I enjoyed reading all the comments and reactionary posts by other bloggers. Many of these helped improve my understanding of the situation, and what might be done about it. But my essential point of view remains unchanged - CCP's development is currently focused mostly on features of primary benefit to null-sec space, and that isn't going to change significantly for the remainder of the year. I think this focus is clearly out of proportion to the distribution of players in EVE Online, and that needs to change.

I'm a patient man. I can wait until 2017 to see if the tides of CCP development efforts shift back towards a more balanced distribution across different types of space. I will bide my time and watch - and continue to share my observations and opinions here.

Meanwhile, thanks again to everyone for the level of interest you demonstrated. I am very flattered by all the attention, and will strive to be worthy of it.

Back to the beach

My family is beckoning me to sign off and join them on the beach, so I'll wrap this up for now. All the best to all of you poor capsuleers who don't have the opportunity to live in paradise, like I do. I'll see you in space again soon - I'll be the relaxed, mellow one. Please don't attack me too quickly, as my reaction times will be dulled by all this sunshine and surf.

Fly safe! o7

The Huddled Masses

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

"The New Colossus" by Emma Lazarus

At the site of the Statue of Liberty, this inspiring sonnet commemorates that iconic symbol's unveiling to the public.

As we approach the release of the Citadel expansion on April 27th, I wonder: will the first player-built trading hub be constructed with similarly idealized aspirations in mind? Will it symbolize a new era of hope and economic prosperity for pilots in New Eden?

Or will it be an unassailable monument to absolute power and intimidation - the exclusive domain of a relatively small group of privileged masters?

Behold, the Palatine

CCP Fozzie recently revealed details of a new Citadel structure, the Palatine Keepstar - the most massive Citadel designed, with an additional low slot, two more mid-slots, and double the hitpoints of an XL Citadel. Based on current market prices, the Palatine will cost about 200 trillion ISK to construct. And most interesting of all, this behemoth will be absolutely unique - as only one will be allowed to anchor in New Eden.

Clearly, CCP Games is daring the largest player alliances in the game to be bold. The massive rush to construct the sole Palatine structure will become EVE Online's most critical strategic challenge. Like racing to build an atomic bomb, or to land a man on the moon, the first to build a Palatine will lay claim to being the most dominant force in New Eden. As a result, I expect we'll see rival alliances and coalitions pour their energies into "Project Palatines".

It will literally be a monumental undertaking. CCP Fozzie estimates that it could take "over a year" to accomplish the task. But EVE Online players have proven to be extraordinarily resourceful, so no one really knows for sure how long it will be before the first Palatine is ready.

And where will this massive structure be anchored? Almost certainly, in New Eden's most important trade hub, Jita.

The Inevitable New Jita

With the coming higher taxes for use of NPC stations, most commerce and industry will migrate quickly to player-run citadels. And the biggest prize will be the replacement for Jita 4-4, the most significant trade hub in all of New Eden by far. The player alliance that succeeds in establishing the "New Jita" trade hub will reap enormous riches, thus making them an extremely powerful political force.

There are great shifts in power occurring in New Eden today. The war against the Imperium now in progress may see the end of that once dominant coalition. Almost certainly, their power will be greatly diminished, at least for quite a while.

Nature abhors a vacuum. If the Imperium topples and falls, the resulting power gap will be filled by someone, and quickly. Some believe this will be Pandemic Legion, but I am less sure. Their relative power will likely rise as a result of the current war, but it could be only temporary. The alliance or coalition that builds a Palatine and establishes an extraordinarily defensible New Jita, whomever that may be, could quickly rise to the top of the power structure - quite literally - in New Eden. I do not think PL has an absolute lock on doing this.

Casting Dark Shadows on High-Sec

Some pundits, like Gevlon Goblin, despair over these pending events. In fact, he is planning to leave the game, once Citadels are introduced. He believes the new structures will destroy the EVE Online sandbox and make the game "pay to win". He foretells only dark days ahead.

I am much less pessimistic than Gevlon, but I am cynical about the changes that Citadels will mean for our game. Certainly, the opportunity to be a successful high-sec industrialist as a solo player will be greatly diminished, if not eliminated altogether. Citadels, even small ones, will require groups of players to operate and defend adequately. Unless the rules for wardecs change (and I hope they do, someday soon), the option to be a moderately profitable manufacturer as a sole proprietor will evaporate for all but the most dedicated and risk-tolerant.

Over several years, I made a small fortune running small and medium POS towers and using them for invention and Tech II module manufacturing in high security space. But from what I have learned about Citadels so far, it will be impractical to do this as a casual independent, once POSes are replaced with the new structures.

Perhaps this is a good thing, as it will provide incentives for players to establish Citadels with a team of players. More social interaction is not a bad thing to encourage in EVE Online. But I will miss the days when I could slap up a POS and crank out some modules and make ISK, without a lot of complications and coordination.

For high-sec dwellers, Citadels will dramatically change how and where they play the game. I fully expect to see most, if not all, NPC stations eventually replaced by player-constructed and operated Citadel structures, though I am not sure how quickly CCP intends to make this happen.

My main worry is that the vast majority of players who reside in high-sec - more than 70% of them, according to CCP Quant - may become economically enslaved by rich and powerful null-sec powers who take over the major trade hubs - not only Jita, but Amarr, Dodixie, Rens and Hek as well. With a small number of null-sec alliances controlling prices in New Eden, it may become impossible to make a decent living or amass modest wealth in high sec space any more.

Nearly three-quarters of active characters operate in high-sec space - by far the majority. (From statistics provided by CCP Quant in 2015.)

If this happens, then the vast majority of players in EVE Online may truly become the huddled masses, yearning to breathe free. A few will emigrate to more dangerous space, I am sure. But most will not.

And if they decide not to bend their collective knee to the few robber barons in power, they will most likely not rise up in loud revolt - instead, they will simply leave the game, quietly. And that could kill EVE Online, for everyone, forever.

Promises to Keep - or Forget?

I hope that my worries are unfounded, and that CCP's devs have considered this potential course of events. I trust they are making plans to ensure that there will be good gameplay options for everyone in New Eden, in every type of space, and for every kind of preferred playstyle. That is what CCP Seagull has promised, many times.

I hope she keeps her promises, especially to the quiet masses, and not just to the powerful few. The future of EVE Online depends on it.

Fly safe! o7

BB #69: Because of Space-Magic

Welcome to the continuing monthly EVE Blog Banters and our 69th edition! For more details about what the blog banters are, please visit the Blog Banter page.

CCP sometimes get stuck between a veldspar 'roid and a hard place when they try to blend realism with sensible game mechanics in our sci-fi simulator. Sometimes they create a scientific answer such as 4th dimensional drag to explain our 'submarines in space'. Other times, not so much. When a null-sec Citadel is destroyed, players 'stuffz' is to be magicked to another station. Why should a citadel be different to a titan? Should CCP ensure that 'space magic' always has a plausible explanation or do we need just to say "Well, its only a game!" and engage the willing suspension of disbelief? How should it work when a citadel goes boom, how do we balance risk with reward, and how should any "space-magic" be explained?

magic-wand.png

I have to give CCP Games fairly high marks for not relying solely on incomprehensible techno-babble to explain game mechanics in EVE Online, and for maintaining continuity within the explanations they have established. It's a science-fiction game, and so, everything that happens is based at least somewhat on fictionalized physics. It would be easy to dismiss these physics as beyond our understanding, but this happens infrequently, surprisingly.

Inconsistencies do happen, however. For example, the ability to clone jump into Thera bothers me. Do fluid routers work between known space and w-space, allowing clone information to be transmitted? I always thought you needed a stargate to establish an interstellar network connection between systems, but Thera disproves that. It's in these kinds of situations within the game world that we have to shrug our shoulders, attribute the mechanics to some kind of "space magic", and leave the underlying explanations to the die-hard lore experts to speculate upon.

I suspect that most players smooth over these kinds of incongruities within their own "mind canons", if they worry about them at all. For example, I rationalize that my alt characters all exchange money with each other by telling myself they were all once part of the same foster family, and have therefore developed a secret support network. I understand that this kind of rationalization is totally unnecessary, but it saves me from obsessing over why these kinds of things happen in New Eden, so I can get on with simply enjoying the game.

I have found that researching why things work the ways they do in New Eden to be an enjoyable pastime, on occasion. While I'm not a lore expert by any means, I find that dipping into the Evelopedia and the chronicles to gain insight about how different mechanics are explained to be yet another way to appreciate the depth of EVE Online.

But practically speaking, we do not need to know the details of how things work in order to enjoy doing them. I honestly have only a rough idea how my internal combustion engine on my car actually operates, but that doesn't mean I can't enjoy driving somewhere. To me, much of what happens under the hood is "car magic", and that's OK with me, as long as it works as expected. I suspect that few EVE Online players think about the details of in-game mechanics as they fly their ships. For most players, as long as the ship moves as expected, and the weapons fire when commanded, everything is hunky-dory. Sometimes, overthinking things just gets in the way of having fun.

On the Matter of Citadels

Still, there seems to be more debate than expected about the proposed mechanic for transporting player-owned stuff instantly away from destroyed Citadels. The principal argument is that it sounds dumb to magically transport goods, albeit with some losses, with no rational in-game explanation.

As for me, I simply explain the proposed mechanics with more "head canon" - a built-in safety mechanism in Citadels, where cargo hangers are jettisoned as large escape pods, which warp away instantly and automatically to the nearest starbase, whenever destruction is imminent. The losses of items are a result of some pods not surviving in the explosion. In fact, it might be interesting for CCP to actually create an animation of cargo pods emerging and warping off as part of a Citadel explosion.

But as someone wise once told me, "If you want to get to the real truth, always follow the money." And I suspect that most of the supposed concerns about inconsistencies in the proposed Citadel mechanics are just a smokescreen for the real motivation: people just want all the loot because it will make blowing up a Citadel more profitable.

Perhaps I'm being excessively cynical, but when a plausible explanation for the proposed behavior of Citadel mechanics is so easily created, the argument that they are based on "space magic" dissipates quickly as a dissembling facade. It is far more honest, and more productive, to argue about the merits of a higher amount of player items dropping as loot, as some more straightforward dissenters are doing.

Nevertheless, I understand why CCP has suggested the item dispersal mechanic. Without it, then it becomes very risky for anyone to store anything in a Citadel, and this could discourage their adoption and use. CCP clearly wants Citadels to be installed widely throughout all of New Eden.

Rather than resist the proposed transport mechanic, dissenting players would be on firmer footing if they pointed out the potential missed opportunity for CCP to develop this more fully, as a better system for balancing risk and reward. Specifically, what if jettisoned cargo escape pods were paid for by players who use a Citadel, as an exponentially increasing expense? A small investment would provide a low degree of asset protection, but a large payment would provide more comprehensive safety. This payment could be a monthly recurring charge, which would not be available if a Citadel fell under attack. You could even limit the number of cargo escape pods available in a Citadel, with their use allocated to the highest bidders. Those players who want to protect almost all of their assets could do so, but only with a commensurate expenditure of ISK. Those players who are willing to assume more risk, in order to maximize their profits from Citadel-based operations, would do so with the specter of a potentially devastating loss hanging over them.

Don't Sweat the Small Stuff

One of the beautiful things about EVE Online is that it operates with a fairly high degree of internal consistency. And where inconsistencies do appear, most players either gloss over them, or CCP eventually fills the gap with a plausible explanation or a refined game mechanic. Regardless, most players rightly ignore the minor incongruities, and simply enjoy playing the game.

As for me, whenever I find something that feels like "space magic", I see it as an opportunity to learn more, to be a little creative, or to suggest possible improvements to CCP developers. EVE Online is an evolving story. If we see something that doesn't fit within the narrative, we have the opportunity to help the authors make adjustments, or to contribute our own suggestions for improvement. To me, "space magic" offers chances for more engagement in the ongoing development of EVE Online.

Fly safe! o7