Note that this piece is wordier than James 315 on a coke-binge after someone asked him “So, James, using as many words as you like, please name your top twenty problems with highsec? Include examples” So if you want to skip the diagnosis and the reasoning and the words, just read the bit near the bottom under the heading “The Executive Summary”.
CCP has been focused heavily, for the past few months, on changes to sovereignty and travel. They have made radical changes, many of which are broadly accepted to be excellent. On the whole, the game is going in the right direction under CCP Seagull.
As far as I understand it, however, the pending sovereignty changes are not intended explicitly as a lever with which to change the politics of the game: Fozziesov is not aimed at coalitions in general, nor is it aimed at the Imperium or any other specific bloc. Its approach has had an impact on rental, but so far that has not been to end it, but merely to concentrate it heavily into the Drone Regions. Whether that remains viable – whether xDeathx has the staying power to defend those vulnerable regions or sufficient incoming money to continuously hire the likes of PL to do it for him – has yet to be seen.
In fact, the new sovereignty mechanics seem to strongly favour larger, denser populations for actual sovereignty defence and capture. Smaller groups should be far more capable of forcing fights under the new system, which is excellent. But, ultimately, who wins the strategic objectives will be dictated by broadly the same criteria as current fights. The tendency under the new sov system will be to return to the position of stagnation on the strategic level: in order to challenge or defend against Imperium attacks, others will simply have to band together.
Logistics in Eve: The Problems
Before I go any further, let me say that I believe Eve is a sandbox: as a result, if one side of a fight wants to bring twice as many people as the other, and the sides are equally skilled, then the one who got there first with the most should be pretty likely to win. Artificial constraints intended to contrive perverse results are no what the Eve sandbox is about.
The problem at present, however, is that Eve scales horribly efficiently with increasing numbers, and in a way that acts to discourage fights. And at the heart of that is logistics.
Imaginary Fleet Fight Version 1: Imagine that you and I have brought 200-man fleets to a fight. They are pretty evenly matched, and have good compositions including 25 logi. We fight it out, it gets bloody after a warp-in goes wrong and I hold the field with eighty losses.
Imaginary Fleet Fight Version 2: We bring the same fleets to the rematch except that I bring a 220-man fleet, with the extra 20 people in logis. Uncannily, everything goes exactly the same way as last time, including the bad warp-in: will you never learn? I hold the field and I only take two losses, each of whom forgot to broadcast.
Actual Fleet Fight Version 3: You see that I have a 220-man fleet, including 45 logi. You stand down because you know you will possibly not kill a single thing. Your diplos go and form an alliance with the two alliances nearby who you normally have good fights with at the weekends, and they agree because they fear that once I take your space I will come after them. Now you have a 255-man fleet and a hundred-and-fifty man spillover fleet which is ECM-heavy. I’m not undocking against that, because my logi might not hold and losing lots of ships in Eve is seen as unacceptable these days so I stand down. Yet again nobody gets a fight. My diplos go and blue up Pink Legion and Bi-umvirate and we bring two full fleets to your nearly two fleets, but once we start to fight you realise you cannot break my logi chains and so you evac everyone with minor losses.
And so on.
So what drives the spiralling size of coalitions – and make no mistake, a new huge coalition will have to arise again to challenge the Imperium or Eve is dead – is made up of three things:
1 – The ability of an FC to broadcast a target instantly to 200 people means you must have a huge logistics wing or die in seconds, regardless of player skill.
2 – People will therefore not fight without a huge logistics wing, and good FCs will warp their fleet out if they quickly lose one or two logistics ships, leading to less fights and to more one-sided fights when they do occur.
3 – Bloody fights therefore become less common, not more so: especially the 2008-style slugfests that would see constant fighting (at real-time speed, not in ti-di) for four or five hours or more (for instance Goonswarm vs Stain/Atlas, Esoteria 2008).
Radical, Terrifying Solutions
Imagine if ships died on both sides in fleet fights. Imagine if your perfect fleet composition was still going to take plenty of losses even if you won handily and you knew that going into the fight. Imagine if the side that brought a hundred guys night after night to fight my 250 guys killed forty of us each night before they died in a gamble that we would get tired of it before they did?
And imagine that more people mattered in those fights than just the FC and, at a push, the logi anchor. Imagine that instead of one person in a fleet actually making decisions and calling targets you had ten or twenty people playing as actively as that? Imagine that you cared about who was in your squad?
To achieve this will require radical solutions: logistics need to be less effective. But to stop eve turning into finger-of-instadeath massacres where skill matters little, the ability of FCs to broadcast targets to fleets for instant death needs to be mitigated, too. Ultimately, I would love to see the emphasis move from the fleet to the squad, democratising the Eve warfare experience and spreading the responsibility amongst more people: giving more people a meaningful role in fights.
The Executive Summary
Here are my three suggested changes, in increasing order of senior Goonswarm directors spitting their coffee over the screen:
1 – Remote logistics modules should be stacking penalised: the return on each additional rep module activated upon an individual should fall off rapidly in the same way that other projected effects (webs, painters etc) do. The exact rate of fall-off can be tailored.
2 – Broadcasts should go to members of the same squad as the broadcaster only: You flinched, eh? But think through the second-order effects. This will affect both DPS and repping and will shift the emphasis back to the individual skill of the player having the correct overview setup, having it sorted correctly, and being able to find the called target in the overview rapidly. It will return us to the days where a target would see himself gradually being yellow- then red-boxed by more and more ships. To avoid this being worked-around by text channels set up as fake broadcast lists, there would have to be no ability to target someone from right-clicking their name in a text channel.
3 – Squads should be increased in size, perhaps to fifteen or twenty, with a reduction in squads-per-wing at the same time. If the overall size of a fleet became slightly larger then this would have little downside thanks to the other changes, and NPSI people might like it.
4 – Ideally, inflicted damage would be stacking penalised, too, although far less heavily than logistics so that people still die on both sides of a fight (we want more deaths, not less!) Note that this does not artificially stop the 500-man pair of fleets from wrecking the 250-man fleet. What it does do is effectively break the fight up from one of two fleets versus one fleet into a fight of twenty-five twenty-man fleets versus twelve or thirteen twenty-man fleets. Numbers will tell, but lots of people will die on both sides, and attrition and guerrilla warfare become viable. Note that this can presumably be done within the game mechanics, since we already have a module that does something similar (but even more calculation-intensive) in measuring incoming damage by damage type and altering its resists appropriately.
The result of this would be to move the focus of Eve warfare to squads and wings (four or five people can co-ordinate easily, twenty or more not so much). This would enable more people, and offer a low-risk path to FCing for a far-broader pyramid or players who can start with ten to twenty people in a big fight.
Perhaps most importantly of all, it would also personalise Eve. You enjoyed a squad leader in that huge fight last week? Jump into their squad. Or maybe you recognise the names of a couple of logi pilots who were in your squad, and who kept you alive until you could align and warp out when red-boxed? Get into squad with them again. Maybe you have ten or twelve corpmates that you trust in the same fleet? Get in squad together: it will matter far more than it does now where being in the same fleet just means chatting in jabber or corp chat about how bad your FC is for getting you pipebombed again.