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. 

But...

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

About-People-2.jpg

Where are all the people? - Part I

The following is the first of a two-part proposal for improving EVE Online. It brings up an old topic that has been often discussed, but hopefully, offers a fresh perspective.

Thirty years ago, I enjoyed "play by mail" games (PBM). Like "hair bands" and disco, PBM games were popular in the 1980's, but rapidly faded away as video games became more sophisticated (and more fun). Some good PBM games, like Starweb, still run today. There was one PBM game that I particularly enjoyed called Empyrean Challenge (EC), which also still runs today, in a modified version.

In EC, you start with a single planet to manage - industry, research, population, resources, etc. You develop starships, then expand into nearby systems, building an empire. Eventually, you meet other players doing the same thing. Chaos and war ensues, until one victor (or alliance) triumphs.

While EC players can research and develop increasing levels of technology, the most important resource is people. Without a growing population, you cannot mine resources, manage industry, colonize new worlds, or develop armies and navies to defend and expand your empire. 

Way back when I played the original version of EC, I built some impressive spreadsheets to help manage my population base. I had to balance growth against employment, health and education levels. If I did it poorly, I ended up with population dying off or rising up in rebellion. It was a tricky problem, but fun to solve.

I haven't played EC in a long time, but I still remember it fondly. It was a beautifully constructed game - well balanced, and fun to play, albeit very slowly.

Today, I play EVE Online. As I fly my starships past temperate planets, I see the twinkling lights of cities on their surface. I think about the populations I once managed in EC, and I wonder: what are all the people in New Eden doing tonight?

Where is everybody?

EON #24

EON #24

According to official lore, our ships have crews - human beings who do stuff on board. What, exactly, they do, is somewhat unclear - but they are there, and at least some of them die whenever a ship explodes. 

Many EVE Online players resist the idea that there are other souls aboard our ships - they would prefer that they were piloted only by our capsuleer alter egos. Some say that crews are just irrelevant, and that in the far future setting of New Eden, it makes more sense that ships would be completely automated.

It's also clear that CCP would prefer to ignore ship crews as a possible game mechanic, too. Although the CSM, players, bloggers, and even the now discontinued EON magazine made serious proposals to incorporate crews into ship management and fittings, CCP has simply ignored these ideas.

However, I think that CCP is missing a great opportunity, not just to add an interesting ship feature, but to embrace a broader and more important theme in EVE Online - the introduction of population in New Eden as the most valuable resource in the game. 

At its core, EVE Online has always been about control of resources. OTEC (Organization of Technetium Exporting Corporations), for example, effectively controlled the supply of Technetium, earning billions of profits for the participating alliances. The recent CFC-TEST war was driven by the desire to capture new resource-producing moons. The recently announced Caldari ice interdiction is another example of market manipulation through resource reduction. Everywhere in New Eden, corps and players mine, conduct planetary interaction, salvage and reprocess to collect resources to sell and build things.

And yet, EVE Online completely ignores human resources, with the sole exception being capsuleer pilots. We are told that the populations of the empire factions are vast (other than the Jove, who very well may be dead), yet we never interact with them beyond dialogues with agents in stations. In my mind, this is a wasted opportunity, and the EVE Online universe would be far richer and more rewarding if we, as capsuleers, recognized the value of people, and could employ them to realize our aspirations and goals, as a pervasive mechanic throughout the game's design.

Assemble the crew!

So, how could crews work in EVE Online?

I propose that every ship (with the possible exception of shuttles) includes a new button on their fitting window: for crew management. 

ShipFittingWindowCrewMod.png

This button would bring up the crew management window.

ShipFittingWindowCrewMgt.png

Notice that I've suggested five slots for crew, each providing bonuses for different ship systems. I'm using the same system designations as those used for subsystems on Tech III strategic cruisers, because it makes sense to keep that symmetry.

I think players should be allowed to ignore crewing their ships entirely, if they wish. Unfilled slots would be considered automated. Automated crews would provide no bonuses. Ships with an all-automated crew would fly exactly as they do now.

To crew ships, players would drop "crew modules" into the appropriate crew management slot, just like they drop modules on the ship fitting window today. Each crew module would be categorized by racial faction and crew system. So, there would be Gallente, Caldari, Amarr and Minmatar crew modules for each crewed system: defensive, electronics, engineering, offensive and propulsion. (So, there's be a Minmatar Propulsion crew module, for example.) The crew modules would also be designated by Training level - from I to V - in the upper right corner (like Tech II modules are shown today).

Players would recruit their crews by "paying a recruiting fee" (i.e., buying them) in  markets in stations, just as you'd acquire any other item. Stations located over more temperate/habitable planets might offer crew at lower fees, while markets in stations located over unpopulated planets would offer only a few crew to recruit. And perhaps the amounts of different crews by faction could vary by sovereignty of the system or station - you'd find more Caldari crew in Caldari space or on a Cardari station, for example. Only Level I trained crew modules would be seeded in the markets.

You would not be able to assign a crew module to a ship of a different faction. For example, you could not put an Amarr Propulsion crew module on a Hurricane. For pirate ships, you could put either type of crew faction on that ship. For example, on a Rattlesnake, you could assign either Caldari or Gallente crew modules.

Training crews to higher levels, and therefore to get higher bonuses, would work similar to how invention operates today. Stations would provide "training academy" slots, which would operate similarly to manufacturing, invention or copying. In fact, it would make sense if academies were restricted to the NPC school corps in the game, such as Pator Tech School or the School of Applied Knowledge - perhaps even restricting different crew factions to their particular schools. Players would have to train a skill, "Crew Training", to be able to use training academy slots.

To train a crew module from Level I to Level II, it would require committing a crew module to be trained, plus a set of relevant skillbooks. There would be a chance of failure (like the invention process), dependent on the level of Crew Training skill. The skillbooks would be consumed regardless of success or failure. The Crew Training skill would also determine the level to which that player could train crew, and the level of crew that they could assign on ships. For example, Crew Training V would be required to assign a level V trained crew module on a ship.

Players could earn recruiting fees by offering their trained crews in the market, on or contracts. 

Crew modules would provide modest incremental bonuses to different ship functions, dependent on their level. An Amarr Propulsion crew module, might provide +2% speed per crew level trained, up to a maximum bonus of +10%, on an Amarr ship.

Crew would be paid a set schedule of ISK per day, depending on their level. Each Level I crew might be paid 100 ISK per day, where Level V might be paid 1,000 ISK per day. If a crew goes unpaid, they might resign (you lose that unit), or they might lose their level of skill training.

This crew system would establish a whole new set of ISK sinks in EVE Online (crew recruiting fees, skillbooks, training fees, crew payroll), and also create a new industry: advanced crew training and brokering.

There could be special crew modules with extra bonuses discovered in complexes or exploration sites, or for earning recruiting fees from other players in the market.

If a crewed ship is destroyed, the crew would be lost - unless there was an escape pod system installed on that ship, perhaps as a rig or a low slot module, or an option for both. That would force players who use crews to think about how they might preserve their investment, but at the expense of some ship performance.

Heave to and prepare to be boarded!

Beyond training and assigning crew to ships, I envision using human resources in another way to give ship-to-ship combat a whole new dimension.

What if CCP introduced a new ship module? One that would allow players to use marines to penetrate and board enemy ships. This is also not a new idea, but as part of a broader theme of the value of people in EVE Online, it's worth another look.

starship-troopers-e1290464999503.jpg

Players could recruit marines from the market, just like crew. They could also be trained at higher levels of effectiveness, using the academy training mechanic described above. Each level would represent higher firepower.

To board a ship, the attacker would maneuver within 500 meters of the target, and then engage a boarding module - a high slot module that could be fitted only on certain types of ships. That would release the marines from the cargo bay. Each marine would have a chance to penetrate the target ship, and seize control of that vessel. if successful, the enemy capsuleer's pod would be ejected from that ship, and the target would go inert, ready to be boarded by a friendly pilot.

Perhaps such a boarding module could be restricted to a new type of ship - a specialized destroyer or cruiser with a designated marine boarding bay. That would keep this tactic limited to specialized boarding craft - and the defender would know that those ships are a different kind of threat.

How would ships defend against such a threat? By carrying their own trained marines in their cargo holds to fight off any penetrating enemies. Or perhaps they could fit a special anti-boarding module to kill off the marines before they could penetrate the hull?  The possibilities are interesting to contemplate.

In the next part, I explore some additional ideas for using human resources in EVE Online - for improving the sovereignty system and opening the possibilities of new colonization.