19 May 2011

The Forked Tongue of CCP

Talking the Talk and walking the Walk are two very different things.  Whether the United States in the middle east or CCP in null-sec, what is said and what is done are radically different.

We have all heard how CCP Greyscale & Co. want to make null-sec open to small alliances.  In dev blog after dev blog, Fanfest presentation after Fanfest presentation, the brass at CCP has made it clear to anyone who will listen that they want null-sec to be full of small alliances, constantly engaged in small-gang warfare.  Doesn't this sound beautiful?  It does, except CCP, through its game design changes, is actively fighting against it.

How?  First, they made Supercarriers, an asset usually available only to large null-sec alliances, totally (in the words of my WoW-playing brother) O-Peed.  Then, they made sovereignty super-expensive to hold by requiring huge sums of money to pay for upkeep and iHub upgrades.  Next, they reduced the amount of income made by individual pilots (and corporations who collect taxes) with the anomaly nerf.  And now they have made it easier to make money in high-security space by greatly simplifying missions.  These are terrible crimes that strike at the heart of any small alliance, right?  They are, but at the same time, they have increased the money available to large alliances.  Nay, not even alliances, the dreaded 0.0 power blocks.  CCP nerfed power blocks by making technetium available only in the space of the Northern Coaltion, and then the developer placed numerous low true-sec systems in the botting empire of the Drone Russian Federation.  The hate for small alliances is clear.

What is the solution?  It is simple.  Well, not really, but it may be possible.  The first step towards small null-sec alliances is a change in players' attitude.  Whenever CCP mentions that it wants to encourage small alliances to enter null-sec, members of 0.0 power blocks cry out in anguish: "Bu...  Bu...  But it's human nature to want to band together and steamroll small groups of players.  You can't fight our instincts!"  A smaller, quality group of players is capable of defending its holding from an alliance with a larger amount of players.  Have you ever heard of Pandemic Legion?  Looked at the sov map of Delve recently?  To a certain extent, quality can trump quantity, and it will not require your alliance to play Eve as a full-time job, like the Legio Pandemica.

There are also some things CCP could do.  Most notably, they could add more space to null-sec.  This step (or "tweak" as they might be prone to call it) would have to be implemented carefully, though.  If the space is beyond the current border of the galaxy, CCP will have inadvertently made that space accessible only to alliances with either a jump bridge network (nerfed as it is) or a significant supercapital fleet for bridging.  I feel what may be required are some "special" gates that can handle the passage of capital ships.  These could also be implemented in parts of the current galaxy, say on the Tenal-Cobalt Edge route or the Paragon Soul-Period Basis gates.  Such a change would encourage fighting between the alliances at both ends of these long jumps.

CCP has promised some major changes to null-sec this winter, so we will have to see whether or not they stick with their vision of a 0.0 populated by small alliances or whether they fall prey to the allure of the power block.  Or maybe, as the recent agent changes suggest, they set course for a fluffy, loving, PvE Eve Online.  Only time will tell if CCP can walk the Walk.

Fly safe!


17 May 2011

Building Blocs

Inspired by the Blogfather himself, I am going to restart my own posting.  I will be switching the focus of my blog from stories about me towards game-level design changes and aspects.  My role-models are Mord Fiddle and Ripard Teg, the latter of whom has sadly left Eve for the time being.  But as most of us know, you always come back to Eve, so hopefully he will resume posting at some time in the future.

Anyway, I'm here today to talk about the giant 0.0 power blocks, which CCP hates with a burning passion.  My corporation, M. Corp, used to reside in the Catch region, specifically the JZV-06 constellation.  There, we were renters of Against All Authorities, under the guise of M. Pire alliance, which combined the different arms of M. Corp into one entity.  The alliance was made up of 5 main corporations:
  • M. Corp Ascension- The directors' sov-holdin', supercap-buildin' corp.
  • M. Corp Engineering- Our miners and industrialists.
  • M. Corp Academy- The training corp, which quickly fell by the wayside.
  • M. Corp Germany- A subdivision for our German-speaking friends.
  • M. Corp- The PvP arm of the alliance.
Our time in "the pocket," as it is affectionately called, was profitable for individual members but disastrous for the corporation.  Over the course of months, we slowly but surely began to bleed PvP'ers.  Even a field trip to Delve with the purpose of helping -A- capture old IT space failed to stop the drop in membership.  The alliance might have survived on the backs of industrialists, however, if it weren't for  CCP's anomaly nerf.  Our constellation had suddenly become more valuable.  The word on the street is that an ex-BoB corp forced us out of the space while AAA leadership was on vacation.  Unable to effectively defend ourselves, we were forced to drop sov in all but one system, whose sovereignty we had to drop the moment after some supercaps finished building.  This left the alliance with a problem: where do we go now?

Well first, we go to the actual point of this post: the limited options that small alliances have in null-sec.  Scanning the sovereignty influence map, our directors found themselves with a dearth of options.  We could not stay with Against All authorities, so the South was dead to us.  Joining the Drone Russian Forces was not appealing, because we would then be red to the Northern Coalition and we would live in a botter empire.  (Keep in mind that this decision was made before the NC appeared as close to failscading as it is now.)  In the West, our only option was to make a land-grab in Delve, which would be impossible due to our lack of PvP'ers.  Looking north, we saw only the Northern Coalition and the Deklein Coalition.  Becoming bros with Goonswarm or TEST was not appealing to anyone, and thus the decision to combine the alliance into M. Corp and to join the Northern Coalition was made.

At the time, this appeared a good choice.  Vale of the Silent was still safe, PL had not yet joined the war, and we would be able to rejoin Mostly Harmless, whom we had left some time ago, on account of hostility from a rogue director.  The relationship with the rest of Mostly Harmless command was still warm.  As the supercapitals neared completion, however, the war in the north took a turn for the worst.  Pandemic Legion, Raiden., and White Noise opened a can of whup-ass onto the Northern Coalition, who soon entered full-on panic/retreat mode.  Add to that the jump-bridge nerf, and our proposed move to Branch quickly became a logistical nightmare: moving in the middle of a war zone with friendly forces afraid to engage the enemy.  We were in a pretty pickle.  We could not back out of the deal for fear of losing face, but we had plenty of time to second-guess ourselves and think about what should have been done.

This catastrophe was perpetrated by the lack of options for a small alliance (300-ish toons, probably 100 pilots).  We had only four places to go (three if you count NC and DC as one entity).  Each was unappealing in at least one respect, but to have any success in 0.0, an alliance needs to join one of these power blocks to ensure its survival.  Something should be done, but for the life of me, I don't know what.  Read the following example and see how necessary power blocks have become in Eve:
Imagine the following hypothetical scenario.  The Northern Coalition has been conquered by the Russians, so the DRF vacates its eastern holdings to take the tech-rich north.  Multiple small alliances soon fill the void, and CCP declares victory for the little guy.  But now, imagine that Against All Authorities wants to take the former space of the DRF.  The little alliances cannot possibly fight the Drake blob alone, so they band together to repel -A-.  After the fight, they reset each other and return to goodfights.  But now the DRF invades, hoping to regain its botting empire.  The small alliances band together, repel the invaders, and again reset each other.  After a few months of this, the alliances will find that it is in their best interests to merely stick together, profiting peacefully in the space they hold and protecting their holdings.  What we have now created is the Eastern Coalition.  CCP's victory was short lived, and the power block lives on.
Is this inevitable?  Of course not.  But for a group of small alliances to be left alone by power blocks would require that they either hold low-value space or that they are too far away to make an invasion convenient.  This is something that needs to be looked at by CCP.  Even the supporters of power blocks should realize that a galaxy with only four main 0.0 factions is not good for the game or for the players.

Fly safe!