Fifty Scales of Grey

Here’s a fundamental law about Eve: any penalty imposed on players will tend to hurt the most organised groups least.

In other words, if CCP don’t like something, and they try to make it harder to do it, then the people that get hurt will be the younger, smaller or more casual groups. The ones who work around it will be the larger, more established groups who can bring their organisations to bear on the issue.

As I said yesterday, I’m pretty positive about the suite of changes announced by Greyscale: I think that they would be better timed if announced in parallel with substantial enhancements to nullsec to allow greater density of living, but I am sure that that must be coming very soon.

The Good Stuff: All That Warning

From the point of view of the established blocs, one reassuring factor in these changes has been the amount of warning and information we have had in advance.

Normally, these sort of changes go through the CSM, who sign NDAs and can’t tell nullsec leadership what is in the pipeline. This time, CCP avoided using the CSM in the main and went direct to a nullsec figure who had posted about his ideas: celebrity Fleet Commander Manny of Pandemic Legion. Since Manny isn’t bound by an NDA, much of nullsec has been aware (or at least those whose FCs play DotA together have been!) about what is in the post. As I was on the record as applauding Manny’s changes, I for one was pretty relaxed about what would be announced, which is why I didn’t bother blogging any further once I started to find out what was coming.

The political machinations behind the scenes to prepare for these changes have therefore been going on for at least a couple of weeks: at least one very major player in the current balance of power has seen this as a chance to return to their roaming roots/cast off the shackles of sov etc etc, and some very interesting changes may result.

Don’t get me wrong: I do think that the CSM should have been more involved, and I understand why they are pretty peeved. But from the point of view of the nullsec bloc, having one of “our own” driving the change is certainly comforting.

This should explain why the CFC, N3 and the like are relatively sanguine about the outlook following the changes announced this week. Yes: living in nullsec, outside of a few locations with superb empire proximity, will be made massively harder thanks to the Jump freighter (and, to a lesser extent, Rorqual) changes but we’ll be able to work around that due to the resources our blocs offer. People in the Drone regions, and in the deep south, will be stuffed.

The Picture of Dorian Grayscale

As you’d expect with radical changes, the outlook is not great for everyone.  The same issues about proximity to Empire that made our renter empire harder to defend last month now make our hostiles’ deep, safe space utterly horrible even to live in tomorrow. Look at this map (one of a suite created by Innominate for our analysis):
Distance from NPC space

You can pretty much assume that everything in green is essentially space hell for anything volume-intensive like running POSes for someone without a sizeable logistics group with redundancy built in.  Unless, that is, you believe that MMO players are not lazy seekers of the path of least effort, and that they will create Internet Space Autarky instead of moving where the going is good:

There is a disputed quote, often attributed to Bradley, that says “Amateurs study strategy, professionals study logistics”. A great many people on the Eve Online forums – none of whom have ever run a nullsec war – are looking at the announced changes and rubbing their hands over the death of the CFC. I was told, yesterday, that the CFC would “struggle to hold onto ten systems”. Serves me right for commenting on en24. A far smaller group – those who can see the outcomes more clearly – are looking at these changes and thinking “this entrenches the blocs”.

I’m torn. I want Eve’s current landscape to burn. Those who read this blog will know how radically I want to shatter everything about the blocs. And I genuinely pity those who depend on Black Frog, for instance, since they themselves have described why that will be driven to the edge of extinction. But until the big changes happen – and I am certain that Greyscale and Seagull will have a plan for the positives that will make these nerfs make sense, then at least these changes will make life easier for us to keep what we have.

I believe in you Greyscale I really do

Let’s be honest, since it’s just you and I: don’t you just love these days? The CSM in an uproar; every forum with the most tangentional relationship to Eve stuffed to overflowing with google-translated petitions and rageposts and quitposts; all the Sturm und Drang that disappeared when CCP got their fingers burned over Walking in Stations and vowed never to change anything about the game ever again. It might all be as tense as a western journalist in rural Syria but at least it is interesting.

First, let me say that I don’t think that the changes that CCP have announced in their latest dev blog are bad in themselves. As perhaps the most visible proponent of a more fractured, regional Eve I was enthusiastically in agreement with Manny’s original suggestions to heavily nerf force projection. I certainly applaud the direction in which CCP are moving with this first draft of their changes: you can’t make wars smaller and more disparate if everyone can get to every fight in six minutes of time dilation in the target system. I want the people fighting in Fountain to be different to the ones fighting in Vale.

So, unlike some in senior nullsec leadership positions, I am not shrieking about the eldritch horrors and non-euclidean surfaces of this draft version of CCP’s changes. But I do think that, unaltered and implemented in isolation, they will have deeply chilling effects on both nullsec and on CCP’s profitability.

The CFC Will Profit Most (or suffer least)

In case anyone accuses me of opposing these changes due to self-interest, let me state that we’ve had several Goonswarm groups – Logistics, Corps Diplomatique, FCs – working on modelling the likely impact of these changes. The conclusion we have come to is that the biggest gainers in the game are the CFC. We might choose to seize a couple of additional locations, but we’re pretty confident that we can, if we choose, hold our existing empire. If hostiles haven’t yet spotted the reasons we become essentially unassailable then they may try to make a multi-pronged attack, but this will fail after a handful of easily-retrieved systems are taken.

These changes entrench the CFC at the expense of virtually everyone else. I do not view this as a good thing.

Wait did you not read the bit about carrots and sticks?

I know that both CCP and the CSM read my articles on making a more Balkanised, chaotic Eve.  When laying out my vision for an Eve of shattered empires I repeatedly stressed that the stick does not work. I hope that CCP are making these changes because they are implementing the sort of ideas I spoke about: changes to make far denser occupation of nullsec space possible, and which remove the need to travel far for profit or for fights. Indeed, for that sort of Eve to work, the ability to travel across half the galaxy at the drop of a hat must be removed.

But leaving Eve in its current form, with fights distant, logistics onerous and space incapable of supporting a dense population and bringing in these punitive measures in an optimistic attempt to force certain blocs to shatter is financial suicide. People will unsubscribe and the flow of new players will (for reasons I detail below) slow to a trickle.  I like Eve and I do not want these things to happen.

Even if CCP presses ahead with these changes – and with refinement I think that they should push on with almost all of them – then they should do so only when they remove the absolute need for player groups to spread out over large areas.  No need for me to go over my suggestions for that, yet again.

Why do you Hate New Players and Their Money, CCP?

The deathcloning change – making it possible only to set your medical clone to your current location – is the scorpion in the shoe of this change. I can see the reasoning behind this change. Let’s imagine that the scenario which has been attempted so often is repeated once more: Someone attacks the CFC in Fountain, someone else in Delve, someone in Pure Blind and a fourth attacker in Vale. Each of those four attackers is essentially isolated: you could very rarely ask your pilots to gate it from Fountain to Vale, but it would be a pain. But if people can deathclone around then the defenders in particular can have numerous office stations in each region to which their entire bloc can jump in minutes, while attackers will be scrabbling for enough offices for a dozen corps in NPC null.

So yes, the ability to deathclone around every day – or many times every day – should be stamped on.

But what about new members? Brave Newbies, Dreddit, Goonswarm, J4LP and others bring thousands of new people into the game each year. Thousands of subscriptions. We say this to new members:

  • Log into the game and DO THE BLOODY TUTORIAL
  • Apply to [corporation name]
  • Get accepted
  • Press accept to get into the corp
  • Set your clone to nullsec
  • Kill Yourself (in game!)
  • Get into fleets and have fun

It’s a bit prolonged and CCP should look at it some day but it works and we get newbies into the game.  Now in the new system, it will go like this:

  • Log into the game and DO THE BLOODY TUTORIAL
  • Apply to [corporation name]
  • Get accepted
  • Fly to a border system
  • Set your clone there
  • Press accept to get into the corp
  • Undock
  • You’re a newbie so get killed by campers since they know the nullsec entry system hundreds of BNI/Goonswarm/Whoever newbies are told to go through
  • Find yourself camped in the station again so log off
  • Log in the next day, undock and if you are lucky find that there are no campers on the gate
  • Warp to the nullsec gate, jump through
  • Get killed by a camp
  • Wake up in the station again, camped in a wardecced alliance in empire
  • If you want to play the game then drop corp but remember you cannot rejoin for a week due to wardecs
  • Go play Archeage Online

You might say lawl stupid newbies but new players are the health of the game. And this is no theoretical matter: I was preparing to kick off our annual newbie drive this week, but I simply cannot do so when we can see clearly that we will lose most of the new players before the month is out.

And if you think that that’s a minor detail then it’s no idle boast to say that between Dreddit, Goonwaffe, BNI and others we bring in many thousands of new players every year, who I strongly suspect have far better retention statistics than random individuals who mission in empire for a few weeks, alone and friendless, and who pass from the game unmourned and unknown.

I would strongly advise CCP to make deathcloning possible on a timer of, say, eight days with a skill that reduces this by a day per skill level. But don’t put your thumb in the end of your newbie hose, because you’re not going to survive long on your declining veteran base.