I Owe You Nothing

My industrial alt's corp received a random war declaration by another so-called "leet" high-sec "mercenary" corporation, so I packed up my manufacturing arrays and stored them in station. In a way, it was kind of nice, as it gave me a convenient excuse to take a break from my EVE Online maintenance routines for a week.

Today, I checked in to see if the war was being renewed. As expected, it isn't - and as expected, after checking the war report, I saw there were no kills on either side. Typical.

There were certainly targets available for our allegedly "leet mercenary" foes to bash. I'd left my POS tower hanging in space, albeit stripped of anything valuable, and there were a couple of POCOs nearby that could have been fun to pop. But apparently they couldn't be bothered.

After looking at their rather garishly colored killboard, they were obviously too busy lurking around trade hubs in Tornados, one-shotting ignorant haulers at long range - something our corp knows all too well to avoid in wartime. The result: another wardec passing with no blood shed on either side.

Thus ends another impressive show of PvP mastery from one more super-elite high-sec mercenary corporation, eh?

For those immune to sarcasm, allow me to be more explicit and point out the blatantly obvious, yet again: EVE Online's wardec mechanics are seriously broken.

And, I must admit, mercenary corps who exploit the currently bizarre war rules owe me nothing. They are under no obligation to demonstrate their supposed combat prowess. They can pay their wardec fees and hover outside of trade hub stations, waiting for easy kills, all they want. (Gosh, that sounds like fun, doesn't it?)

Surely, CCP and our current Council of Null-Sec Management (plus good Steve Ronuken) have talked about our long-suffering wardec mechanics at length, and are close to announcing some exciting ways to improve them. Surely, yes?

CSM Radio Silence

It's hard to know if our virtually all 0.0-based Council of Stellar Management cares, because they have been amazingly quiet since they took office three months ago. In fact, I'm a bit disappointed that there hasn't been any crazy drama from the CSM, so far.

I was looking forward to entertaining reports of leaks, in-fighting, backstabbing, public posturing and political intrigue that characterized the last few months of our previous CSM's term. It's a tribute to CCP Guard's supervision that he's kept such a tight lid clamped down on CSM internal discussions. If there are any shenanigans going on, nothing has seeped out to the EVE media yet.

All we've heard from Guard is that the CSM is "working hard", and that everything is super hunky-dory - although it's interesting to see who really is showing up for the meetings (only good Steve Ronuken and The Judge have a perfect attendance record, so far). 

The next CSM summit is scheduled for mid-September, and CCP has announced that all 14 representatives will be invited to attend. Clearly, the developers at CCP are looking for a wide diversity of opinions about the EVE Online player experience. Oh, wait - they're all null-sec guys (except good Steve Ronuken). Well, at least they can talk about critically important issues like the drag range of bubbles. I'm sure the entire EVE community is sitting on the edge of their chair waiting to see how that finally gets addressed.

To be fair, I admit I am extremely cynical about the CSM (can you tell?), and have personally written them off as almost completely unrepresentative of my preferred play styles in EVE Online. As a result, I have no expectations whatsoever from them. Like the high-sec mercenaries, they also owe me nothing.

I'm certain that the CSM is focused on improving the game that they and their peers play in 0.0 space. If they do anything that also just happens to help the game in high-sec, low-sec or w-space, that will be a serendipitous by-product, and I'll be delighted to benefit from it. But frankly, I have little hope this will happen.

Perhaps my cynicism is misplaced - I certainly would be thrilled to discover that it is. I'll read the minutes from the September summit, and we'll see how much the CSM even considers issues in the game that I care about - like wardec mechanics, for example. Then we can confirm whether we have a broadly-thinking CSM in office, or just a narrow focus group catering primarily to null-sec concerns.

Waiting for Upwell

I took a quick inventory of Tech II items I've manufactured over the last couple of months, and discovered I have nearly 10 billion ISK in value waiting to be sold in the market. Not bad for 15 minutes a day, grinding out boring routine tasks. Invention and manufacturing in a POS has become very repetitive and dull, and I'm eager to embark on a new project in EVE Online, and hopefully re-invigorate my level of engagement once again. 

And so, I eagerly wait for the new industry array structures to be released by the Upwell Consortium in the fall. The wait feels interminable, and there is still quite a lot of mystery about exactly what kind of specifications and mechanics they will entail. If they simply operate like a POS, with new paint and snazzy graphics, I'll be disappointed. The general assumptions are that they will use the same asset safety mechanisms that citadels use, but will be weaker with less defensive capabilities and a longer vulnerability period, but none of this has been validated for certain yet.

If the new industry structure just turns out to be an easy-to-pop loot pinata, designed for "leet mercenaries" to plunder, it will be the final death knell of high-sec manufacturing. I doubt that is CCP's intention. I've been hearing dire predictions of the end of high-sec industry ever since the Crius update, but have found ways to make a decent profit regardless. But perhaps I'm wrong, and these new structures are indeed designed to finally drive all profitable manufacturing into null-sec, once and for all.

If that turns out to be true, then I will shrug my shoulders resignedly, and recognize that my high-sec manufacturing days are over. After all, CCP is not obligated to give me any guarantee of profitability for my preferred method of earning ISK - they owe me nothing.

We'll just have to see what the new industry structure specs look like when they are finally released. And so, I wait.

With thanks to  @TheNeocom

With thanks to @TheNeocom

Walking the Walk

I read with interest the recent article by my friend and editor at Crossing Zebras, Niden, about "walking the walk" in EVE Online. Niden criticized EVE media pundits who do not actively play the game, but who eagerly spout increasingly uninformed opinions in every forum they can find. In his editorial, Niden describes these self-appointed commentators:

On podcasts, reddit, Twitter, forums, and streams they appear. Their bread and butter is fame; their currency, visibility. They are the politicians and cheesy salesmen of EVE. Making noise and having an opinion is what matters, not the substance of what they're saying, or actually having a perspective anchored in reality, or some kind of real need within the player community.

I think Niden makes good points, but as I was reading his harsh indictment, I wondered: "Am I one of these people?"

After all, my activity in EVE Online has subsided ever since Fanfest in April, as I've since documented several times in this blog. I've become disenchanted with the game, and have not actively pursued new avenues of play. Instead, I've simply reduced my level of involvement to a trickle, and settled in to wait for the "next big thing" to revive my interest.

And yet, despite my currently low level of activity, I have been eager to post some aggressively critical opinions in this blog, without reservation. This sounds like I may indeed qualify for Niden's definition of "unrealistic motherf***ers" - those who have no real business issuing public opinions about EVE Online.

Perhaps he's right. Perhaps I should wait until I'm more engaged in the game to post any opinions about EVE Online or our community. Perhaps I am out of line, until I am logging dozens of hours in the game each week, once again.

But I remember why I started this blog in the first place. Before I ever posted my first post here, I wrote a mission statement of sorts, which you can find in the "About this blog" link:

What is this blog all about?
Good question - glad you asked. This blog is a learning tool for me. That's it.  
With the depth and complexity of EVE Online, I have found that one of the best ways to learn the nuances of the game is to write and dialogue about it. Therefore, I decided to start this blog, to give myself the opportunity to discover insights that might be useful.
Since the sole intent of this blog is to help myself become more enlightened about EVE Online, the primary audience shall forever be me - and only me. If you are entertained by reading this blog, that is well and good, and you are welcome to it.

My level of activity in EVE Online is indeed lower than it has been in the past, but I still love and care about the game, and about the community of players it brings together. And I hazard to suggest with only a bit of humility that my opinions are more informed than most people playing the game today. Most importantly, I'm still learning things about EVE - and this blog is still helping me learn.

And so, whether or not anyone likes it, I'm not going away anytime soon.

To be blunt, dear reader, I owe you nothing - except honesty and sincerity. It's up to you to decide if my words are useful. Keep reading or discard them as you see fit.

Fly safe! o7

Bits & Pieces: December 2015

A few miscellaneous items have been piling up in my EVE Online-related inbox - here's a quick comment on each.

Morning Maniac Grants 

I announced a new program to fund worthy projects for EVE Online players, called the Morning Maniac Grant Program, over a week ago, and the response has been gratifyingly positive. So far, I've awarded five grants, or more than 1.1 billion ISK, to these constructive projects:

  • 250M ISK for a +3 attribute implant subsidy program for an alliance's newbros
  • 150M ISK for frigates and fittings for a null-sec corp's new pilot PvP training program
  • 250M ISK for ships and fittings for another alliance's PvP in low-sec training program for newbies

I also donated 250M ISK each to two already well-established programs for helping new players, Sindel Pellion's Angel Project and Mike Azariah's Operation Magic School Bus initiative, because they can both put the funds to very good use.

I was also very humbled and gratified to receive an amazing 6.5 billion ISK donation from Asayamani Dei, w-space expert, CSM member and long-time friend of novice players. My most sincere thanks for this extremely generous contribution go out to him. I promise it will fund worthy projects and programs that will make a positive impact on our community!

If you have a project in EVE Online in mind, and could benefit from some in-game funds, consider applying for a Morning Maniac Grant. You can find full details here.

The Fountain War book Kickstarter fiasco

The Mittani announced that the Kickstarter campaign to fund the publishing of a book about the Fountain War in EVE Online has been cancelled. 

I was very critical of this project. While I supported the book's potential for attracting new players to EVE Online, the Kickstarter campaign was badly mismanaged. You can read my criticisms in this article on Crossing Zebras, along with others' observations, most of which were similar to mine.

But  I must say I've been impressed with how The Mittani has accepted and adapted to this failure. I was convinced that the Mittani Media team would not learn anything from their mistakes, but I've been proven wrong. They intend to re-launch the project in March, with a more reasonable goal and better planning for a renewed Kickstarter campaign, and I am sure they they will be successful on the second try. I look forward to contributing my own donation to the project.

In addition, the drama around this episode has indirectly generated some fun content in game, with the announcement of a Viceroy tribute system, which the Imperium alliance intends to impose. It has been fun to see how players have reacted, and it is clear that there will be considerable resistance. I'm sure many ships will explode and much mirth will be had. This is a good thing.

Here's an example of how some players are reacting to the Viceroy tribute demands of the Imperium - this shirt is available from  Rixx Javix's store .

Here's an example of how some players are reacting to the Viceroy tribute demands of the Imperium - this shirt is available from Rixx Javix's store.

Farewell, off-grid boosts. Hello, giant grids.

Though CCP Games devs have stated their desired intention to reduce the range of boosting ships from system-wide to local-grid for years, it now seems likely that this will finally happen in the near term. CCP Fozzie has been especially vocal about this. The impact to combat in the game, when it actually happens, will be enormous - and I think all for the better. 

This is one of the reasons why the new Command Destroyers, to be available in the update coming next week, will include limited support for boosting modules. This will provide cheaper ships that can provide small boosting advantages on grid, if fleet commanders don't want to risk more robust Command Ship battlecruisers or boosting-fit Tech III cruisers. 

I can't wait to get a new Magus Command Destroyer - because Gallente rule.

I can't wait to get a new Magus Command Destroyer - because Gallente rule.

More interestingly, these new destroyers will include a new area-of-effect module, the Micro Jump Field Generator, that will, when activated, move (nearly) everything within a 6km radius of the ship 100km in the direction that the ship is facing. This will be the ultimate anti-blob weapon, and should break up concentrated fleets to hilarious effect. Speculation about how pilots will use this new capability abounds, and I can't wait to fly one myself.

As for me, I'm thinking how on-grid boosting limits will affect how I use my Orca for mining support. I usually just park mine next to a station, under the nominal protection of nearby station guns, and then enjoy mining boosts throughout that system, but that won't work anymore with the elimination of off-grid boosts. I suspect that gankers will love this change, as it will make nice, juicy Orcas much more vulnerable as targets. This is going to make high-sec mining a little more interesting. This is a good thing.

Also coming soon are much, much, much larger grids.  Currently a "local grid" is a cube that is 250km in all directions from a central point. This relatively small space has enabled smart pilots to manipulate grids for tactical advantage. With the imminent introduction of citadel structures, which are enormous, and the change to on-grid boosts, making local grids much larger has become a practical necessity. The new grids will expand to a whopping 7,800km from a center point in all directions - a grid size that is over 30,000 times larger. (Thanks for correcting my math, Sjaandi HyShan.)

This is also going to dramatically affect combat mechanics. The field of battle just got much larger. It's clear that CCP wants battles to be more spread out over a larger area, to give them a more expansive feel. With the coming changes to capital ships - in particular, carriers, which will employ long-ranging squadrons of fighters over considerable distances - this means that situational awareness is going to become even more challenging for fleet commanders. I can't wait to see it.

BattleClinic closes

I was saddened to hear of the closing of BattleClinic, a site known primarily for sharing ship fittings. Many of the fits there were frankly horrible, but it was fun to examine them and see what made them bad. I learned a lot about how to fit ships more effectively from this site, as a result. And occasionally there were some useful and innovative configurations to be found there.  

I'm not sure what this means for EVEMon, the invaluable skill planning and remapping utility which has always been hosted there, though I'm sure it will relocate somewhere.

Wardecs Revisited

As a result of my earlier post about revamping the war declaration mechanics, I was asked to contribute to a document about a variety of ideas on improving wardecs. It's been an interesting exercise and discussion. Not everyone likes my ideas, but that is perfectly OK. Perhaps even my bad ideas might stimulate a good one. Anything would be better than the mechanics we have now.

The document is interesting reading, and worth a review. Kudos to Jason Quixos for organizing this effort. Hopefully, it will stimulate some action by CCP Games, and we'll eventually see a wardec system that is more fun for everyone.

Until next time

That's about it for now - I'm looking forward to seeing how dirty my ships look when the December 8th update comes out. I suspect they will be filthy - I have some really old ships in my hangar.

Fly safe! o7



Rethinking Wardecs

After joining EVE University in 2009, I had grown weary of the war declaration mechanics in EVE Online. Whenever a group who really wanted to fight wardec'd E-UNI, we had a lot of fun. The periodic battles we had with Red vs. Blue, for example, were some of the best times I have ever had in EVE Online. But the vast majority of the wardecs we received were from small griefing corps, who never showed up. We often scratched our heads and wondered why they bothered. And so, at Fanfest 2012, I eagerly anticipated CCP SoniClover's presentation on the details of revisions to the war declaration system in EVE Online, slated for the Inferno update.

Alas, I was profoundly disappointed. Not only was his presentation one of the dullest I have ever witnessed, it also lacked any shred of creativity or imagination. Rather than re-engineer wardecs into something interesting and fun, CCP simply tweaked costs and reporting. It was, to put it bluntly, the same broken system, but amplified.

For those who feel the need to punish themselves, here is that incredibly underwhelming presentation, in all its inept glory:

We have been trudging along ever since, tolerating the limitations of the current wardec mechanics. For over three years, there has been no further attempt by CCP Games to improve them.

The Absurdity of Wardecs

I have oft lamented the silliness of wardecs in past posts, but I will briefly recap their principal problems here:

  • They are relevant only in high-sec space, and strangely, only to capsuleers. In null-sec and w-space, anyone can attack anyone at any time. This is also true in low-sec, with some minor limitations. The only people who care about wardecs are those who fly in high-sec. You'd think that something with major political consequences like declaring war would have more broad-reaching implications in New Eden, but they do not. There are no standings changes with NPC factions or corps as a result of a wardec. If Apple and Microsoft declared open warfare and started bombing each other's buildings and killing people, you might think that nation-states might take a dim view of the sudden increase in violence and murders happening within their borders. In New Eden, this never happens, as long as CONCORD receives their bribe. I've tried to justify this explanation in my mind, but one has to use weirdly contorted pretzel logic to rationalize such behavior. It gives me a headache, and points out a huge missed opportunity by CCP Games to link high-sec wars with a corp's NPC relationships in Empire space.
  • There's nothing to fight for. In 0.0, if you see something that another corp has, and you want it, you just try to take it. If that corp doesn't want you to have it, they put up a defense. It's all neat and clean - and a lot more fun for everyone - because something of value is at stake. There is no need for a formal wardec in 0.0, because it would be redundant - actions speak louder than words. But in high-sec, wardecs are declared in advance, and most of the time, there's nothing at risk, except a standardized sum of ISK. Some corps pride themselves on their "ISK efficiency", but really, there is no clear standard on who "wins" a high-sec war.
  • The only smart move is not to play. Wardecs actually discourage player engagement. There's little reason for either party to show up for the war and do any fighting. For the aggressor, unless there's a specific objective they want to take, like a POCO or a POS, most wardec'ing corps do not bother to hunt down the opposition. Instead, they just wait in trade hubs and hope to pick off easy targets, generally. For the wardec receiver, the response with the least risk is to fold up vulnerable assets like POSes, dock in station, and play on out-of-corp alt characters for a week, or until the wardec expires. This is completely goofy.

What to do with wardecs?

I have been considering different options for quite a long time now, but I have been hesitant to declare my opinions openly. Some players thrive on the current high-sec wardec mechanics, and they react strongly to any suggestion that the status quo needs to change. By publishing these alternative ideas here, I realize I am potentially putting myself at risk in the game, by drawing the attention of those who might find such changes threatening.

Nevertheless, I think it's long past time to completely re-think the purpose and structure of formal war declarations in EVE Online, and to replace them with something more dynamic and engaging - and most importantly, more fun - for players throughout the game, and not just in high-sec space. I am absolutely confident that not everyone will agree with my ideas and suggestions, and I acknowledge that my thinking may indeed be flawed. I publish these opinions in hopes that people will consider them fairly, and offer their own suggestions for improvement - and ultimately, that CCP will take the best ideas and incorporate them into the game.

Idea #1: eliminate formal in-game war declarations.

There - I said it, as shocking as such an idea may be. The more I think about wardecs, the more I am convinced that we may not need them at all. Let wars be completely player-owned and player-driven, just like everything else in EVE Online. If an alliance or corporation wants to declare war, let them simply do so - they need no in-game formal system. They can set standings to red and bash away as long as they want anywhere in New Eden, except in high-sec space.

Ah, but there's the rub, you say. What to do about war targets in high-sec?

I misspoke previously when I said that you can't attack anyone in high-sec space. Actually, you can, using a mechanic that has always been in EVE Online: suicide ganking. The only difference is that there is a price to pay for such an attack in high-sec: CONCORD will come down upon you like Thor's hammer, and you'll lose your ship and some of your security status.

I am NOT (please notice the boldface, italics and all caps for emphasis) in favor making high-sec space a carebear paradise. I believe there should always be an element of risk in space. Undocking should always mean that you are open to PvP engagement. I ardently support the right of any pilot to suicide gank a target in high-sec space. I even admire the role-playing ganking corps dedicated to that purpose. Gankers add flavor to high-sec that is absolutely needed, and I will defend to the death their right to ply their trade - even if that means that I suffer an occasional loss of my own assets.

One thing that I like about suicide ganking is that it requires engagement by both the aggressor and the target. It either happens, or it doesn't, and there is no escaping it when it does occur - unlike the current wardec mechanics, where one party or the other can simply avoid contact. Secondly, suicide ganks are rarely announced in advance - they are virtually always surprise attacks, by design.

It has always bothered me that wardecs give a 24-hour notice to the target. This provides time for the wardec receiver to dismantle POSes and "turtle up", as the saying goes. Imagine how Pearl Harbor would have gone for the Japanese if they had formally declared war a full day in advance - I suspect history would have been much different. Without formal wardecs, high-sec wars will be surprise attacks, by default.

Also, if there are no wardec fees to be paid to CONCORD, then the "cost" of a war in high-sec would only be the value of ships lost in ganks, and any fees paid for tags to raise security status again. It may actually be cheaper to harass war targets by ganking them, than to declare a formal war under the current mechanics.

"Well, that's all fine and good, Neville," you might be saying. "But what about attacking structures in high-sec, like POCOs, POSes, and eventually the new citadels? You can't suicide gank those."

Ah, good point - and here we need to rethink about how security status works.

Idea #2: make security status dependent, at least partially, on player actions.

What if you could turn a high-sec system into a low-sec system for a few hours? Then you could attack structures and other players with abandon, without worrying about CONCORD.

Currently, security status is absolute - it cannot be changed. But what if the security status of a system was dependent upon the number of CONCORD facilities and operating relay beacons that were in that system? What if you could reduce or eliminate CONCORD's ability to respond - temporarily - by jamming or disabling those facilities and beacons?

At Fanfest last March, CCP Ytterbium briefly touched on a possible addition to citadel structures - administration hubs - that could affect the security status level of a system:

These facilities for CONCORD response could be based in NPC stations as well, and since stations are indestructible, this could set a hard level below which security status could not be lowered for a given system. But if that hard floor was below 5.0, then the only way to maintain a high-sec security status, and thereby enable rapid CONCORD response, would be if players themselves installed and maintained a security-raising CONCORD relay module in their administration hubs. 

Now, imagine a new module that could be installed in ships which jams or disables CONCORD response relay modules in player-owned citadel structures, during that structure's scheduled vulnerability window - it could even be the Entosis Link which does this. Now the system's security status drops to low-sec status, and the structure itself would be open to attack, just like in any low-sec system.

Some high-sec systems, like Jita, may have so many CONCORD relay modules installed in NPC stations that the security status could never be lowered, thus protecting them from such shenanigans by enterprising capsuleers. But I envision that most of high-sec could be set up to operate in this fashion.

"But Nev," you may be protesting, "what if players just set up a whole lot of administration hubs in the same system, raising the security status so high that it becomes almost impossible to jam all those relay modules?"

Indeed, that could be one outcome, but the cost of industry (and other structure functions) could be set not only by the level of activity in a system, but by the number of citadels based in that system. Those structures might be safe, but they would also be very costly to operate, and unprofitable to run.

This mechanic would also provide something tangible for high-sec corporations to actively defend. It would give players something to fight for, and provide a tangible reason to engage in PvP.

By the way, a variable security status should happen in low-sec and null-sec systems, too. With enough administration hubs with relay modules installed, players could raise the system status to high-sec, and gain CONCORD protection there - as long as they can maintain that level. W-space, however, should be immune from such influences, I think - they should be forever outside any potential protection of CONCORD.

I think this means that the "base" security status should probably be lowered, across the board, in all types of space - and that Empire space needs to be dramatically restructured, but more on this later...

Idea #3: link aggressive actions in Empire space to NPC faction standings.

I think there should be realistic implications for raising havoc in the backyards of the major empire factions. If you engage in belligerent action in Gallente space, there should be an impact on your standings with the Gallente Federation, and not just on your security status. If you are actively trying to reduce security status in an Empire system, essentially you are opposing that faction's authority, and there should be a consequence for doing so.

This should be a factor in the decision to take aggressive action in Empire space. As it is today, with no implications beyond paying ISK, the current wardec mechanics have devolved mostly into selecting wardec candidates at random, just to have some convenient targets to shoot. With potential implications in faction standings at stake, the decision to declare war becomes more meaningful, and one that requires some thoughtful consideration.

Time for Radical Change

These ideas would radically change the nature of war in EVE Online, especially in high-sec space. Clearly, there are a lot more details to be determined to make this vision a practical reality, but I think that the approach I've described would make wars more meaningful, and would encourage active engagement by both aggressors and receivers. It would require more thoughtful decisions by both parties about who to attack and why, how to defend and where, and how victory would be defined. How one side "wins" a war would be determined by their particular strategic objectives, not by some arbitrary metric which may or may not be relevant.

I urge CCP Games and the CSM to be bold when it comes to rethinking war in EVE Online. We need a much more active conversation about wardecs in our community. I recently put on my heavy-duty tinfoil hat and speculated in an article on Crossing Zebras how CCP could dramatically restructure Empire space, in order to help make wars in Empire, including Factional Warfare, more interesting and impactful for more players. Others have seen the imminent introduction of citadels as an opportunity for significant changes to wardecs, as well.

I'm delighted to see these kinds of ideas being suggested and debated. It's long past time to break the inertia of old thinking on wardecs, and replace it altogether with something that makes real sense.

Fly safe! o7