Where are all the people? - Part II

This is the second of a two-part proposal for improving EVE Online by incorporating population as a valuable resource into the game design. You can read the first part here.

In the first part of this series, I began by reminiscing about an old play-by-mail game, Empyrean Challenge (EC). A vast multiplayer game of galactic conquest, EC in many ways was a forerunner to the design of EVE Online, although in a more limited and much slower form. The most important resource in EC's game design is population - this resource drives player success in industry, technology, offense and defense. In EC, how you manage your people is what enables a space empire to grow and succeed.

This is not true in EVE Online. In fact, there is no value in human resources in New Eden. Everything operates as if 100% automated, all the time. I think this is a fault in EVE Online's design, and a huge opportunity for CCP to improve the game by making population the most essential resource. I would love to see the value of people incorporated as the primary theme in a future EVE Online expansion.

I've proposed one aspect of making people more valuable in EVE Online by adding ship crews and ship boarding mechanics. In this post, I will explore how adding population to the gameplay mix will fix EVE Online's broken sovereignty system, and open the door to the exciting possibilities of colonization - and thus, create a clear path for ensuring the future growth and success of EVE Online. 

News flash: Sov is broken!

In a recent EVE University interview, CCP Unifex said that revamping sovereignty in null sec space is, in his opinion, one of most important things that must be done, if EVE Online is to continue to grow and thrive. CCP Games knows that the current sov system is broken. It is based entirely on the establishment and defense of specialized structures in claimable null sec space - Territorial Claim Units, Sovereignty Blockade Units, Infrastructure Hubs, and Outposts, and various system upgrade structures. Holding sov over a system, and conducting various levels of mining and ratting allows better infrastructure construction.

The magical Territorial Claim Unit structure

The magical Territorial Claim Unit structure

These structures "magically" enable system ownership and higher levels of productivity, extending their invisible influence simply by being placed there. It is a totally abstract gameplay construct, made worse by the tedious mechanics required to conquer a system and take sovereignty from a competing alliance. No one enjoys the drawn-out and expensive "sov grinding" process, and nullsec alliance leaders avoid it, if they can. Further, the current mechanics mean that some strategic null security systems get developed, while many other systems remain mostly empty and untouched. Game mechanics that are no fun to play, and that players avoid, are clearly in need of major revisions.  

There have been many suggestions for improving the sovereignty system in EVE Online, but the most commonly discussed is the establishment of "Farms & Fields". Essentially, this idea is to expand the existing structure-based sov mechanics, but provide improved return for building more infrastructure around player-owned starbase (POS) towers - and to make those structures vulnerable to destruction by player attacks.

In theory, this would accomplish two things. First, more people would mine and build things in 0.0 space, because the improved risk/reward ratio would make it more lucrative to do so. Second, it would provide more targets that could be attacked and destroyed by smaller, sub-capital fleet operations. Raiding infrastructure, and the players who are using it, would become a useful activity, as "farms & fields" would make 0.0 a more target-rich environment.

However, I am dubious about the "farms & fields" idea. If put into practice, it would most likely do nothing other than to enrich the currently dominant nullsec alliance power blocs further, and not provide any appreciable increase in "good fights" in 0.0 space. "Farms & fields" is simply a more lucrative iteration on the current sovereignty system - one that is based on building and maintaining structures in space.

CSM8 Vice-Chairman Ripard Teg provides a brief but insightful look at the current state of null sec space in a recent post on his blog. He implies that the current sov system is overly simplistic, like the game of Risk, and that the Goonswarm Federation has basically won that game. The changes in the Odyssey expansion to enrich asteroids and manufacturing in null sec - meant as a step towards "farms & fields" - has done nothing but encourage  the largest nullsec alliance to seize and control more territory. In effect, the Goons have won that game, and kudos to them are deservedly in order. As soon as they consolidate their holdings, there appears to be little to hold back the inevitable Goon tide on the rest of 0.0, eventually. A "yellow doughnut" encompassing all of null security space is probably not what CCP would consider ideal. It's time to change the sovereignty game.

Null sec in October 2013 - Goons (in yellow) control the west. 

Null sec in October 2013 - Goons (in yellow) control the west. 

Sovereignty is people!

I suggest a new way of thinking about sovereignty in EVE Online. One based not on artificial structures, but on a new resource - the growth, development and protection of populations loyal to an alliance in a system.

Consider a game mechanic where a number of different types of population are required to:

  • mine resources on moons or planets
  • operate industry on moons, planets or in POSes
  • defend moons, planets, outposts and POSes against enemy attacks and invasions
  • conduct research, invention and reverse engineering
  • attack and conquer moons, planets, POSes, and outposts
  • colonize new moons, planets, POSes and outposts - and the systems in which they reside

The idea is simple - the definition of system control is based on the number of population loyal to a corporation (and therefore, to an alliance or coalition, if that corp is a member) living on planets and structures. Sovereignty control goes to the corp with a super-majority (60+%) of the population in that system. Higher levels of system control - based on both the percentage and the number of population - provide additional benefits to the sov holder.

Population is not the number of capsuleers in a system - it is an in-game resource. Players would have to tend to their populations, like a shepherd manages their flock, to help them grow. Population development would become an important part of the game, especially in 0.0 space. 

In this model, there would be a strong incentive to settle habitable planets, or terraform marginal ones, to provide bases for growing population. Population would increase (or decrease) based on:

  • the amounts of basic resources (e.g., food, water, oxygen, shelter) in settlements on planet or in structures in space - more of this increases population growth, and inadequate supplies decrease population
  • the percentage of population who are not rebelling (i.e., unfed and unhappy people tend to get mad) - more of this increases population growth, and less of it decreases population
  • the level of population satisfaction (i.e., the amount of luxury goods available) - more of this decreases population growth rate, but also increases productivity

If population were a limiting factor for farms (making food, water, oxygen, etc.), factories (manufacturing lines), refineries and other game functions, then every corporate CEO and director would pay strict attention to the development and growth of their population bases. These corporate populations would then be available to the members to use in their in-game production activities. This would provide a whole new kind of gameplay for director-level players - they'd have to manage growth of their owned populations, and consider that as a limiting factor to the number of player members they could support in their corps.

Another route for population growth would be recruiting them from empire space, from the large NPC population bases there. But this needs to be very limited, lest those large groups who want to spend enormous amounts of ISK on marketing and recruiting in empire stations gather too large a population swarm.

The population-based model would have to be very carefully balanced. The worst outcome is that the large sov-holding blocs simply switch to population-farming as a discipline, become exceptionally good at it, and then use that to roll over all of null sec space, just as we are seeing now with the structure-based sov mechanics.

To prevent this, each world or structure should have a maximum population potential - the closer to the population maximum, the slower the growth, and the increase in rebellion levels. That would encourage expansion to new systems, moving population to new colonies for development. Small colonies should be self-sustaining, to a point, but they would need to be supplied with external resources to maximize growth, thus encouraging regular supply lines. It should be very difficult to grow huge population bases, thereby limiting the number and amount of systems that could be controlled. 


There are some obvious downsides to this proposal, which I admit would be a sweeping change in game mechanics.
  • It would be a very difficult thing for CCP to develop. Almost EVERYTHING would change or be affected in the game's design. It would require a long, long time to design and develop. Based on this, the use of population as a sov-driving factor is very unlikely to ever appear in EVE Online. It's much easier for CCP to simply fiddle with the current structure-based abstract models, and that is what is most likely to happen. This makes me sad, however. I'd prefer to see something new and exciting introduced into the sov model.
  • It would raise the complexity of the game significantly. This does not bother me, as "EVE is hard", and it is supposed to be. This is one of the appeals of the game to those of us who want a challenge, actually. But it could scare off casual players who do not want to worry about managing populations. This is why I would recommend that population-tending decisions and gameplay be restricted to corporate director-level players. Let the casual players simply use population as another resource - let the hard-core gamers manage population development and growth for their corps.
  • This is just a half-baked idea. Mea culpa - I confess that I've not modeled this idea out in precise detail. I am only drawing from my experience with other games who use population as a controlling resource. This was an experience that I found fascinating, and I'd love to see a similar concept inserted into EVE Online. But yes, it would need much more development than my simple expression in this blog post. But that's what professional game developers do, right?

So, CCP Games - I offer this humble proposal for enriching EVE Online and saving sovereign null security space: make it all about people. I welcome all comments and reactions - critical or laudatory. 

Fly safe! o7