The new bounty system in Retribution has mostly been well received. At the same time, it’s been the subject of some controversy, as usual.

Few people call it game-changing, especially as it became more readily understood that having a bounty does not entail being legal to attack. Some even dismiss it as pleasant, but ultimately inconsequential addition. Once you get past the silly things like "WANTED" covering the face of pretty much everyone — can we get that label to actually convey useful information, by the way? — trading in kill rights actually produces a more obvious change than bounties, certainly more tears.

I want to say a few things about the possible long term effects, though, because I expect them to be subtle, but significant.

I actually feel somewhat awkward calling it the ‘new’ bounty system, because the ‘old’ bounty system essentially did not exist. The new bounty system was expected by some to enable bounty hunting as a profession, which previously required human intermediaries, and as such was quite problematic.1

It obviously doesn’t, even when coupled with the kill right transfer system, which is actually a rather separate beast. The payout being what it is, 20% of the sum of kill value, does not make it worthwhile to track people with the highest bounty, for the simple reason that beyond a certain bounty value, any practical kill will cause the maximum possible payout. The romantic notion of a bounty hunter making a career of hunting specific victims goes out the window, and the top bounty list is actually more or less useless.2 Since there is no way to find out if a target even has a kill right out on them or not, other than by meeting them in space,3 and even once you have a kill right, it’s only good for one kill anyway, hunting a specific high bounty character is not worth the effort. You’ll have more success sitting on Jita undock in a high DPS ship and waiting for someone with both a bounty above 20% of their hull value and an available kill right to float by. Since the higher bounty characters will probably avoid Jita for that reason and send their alt to do their shopping, you aren’t going to catch that much either way. Not very romantic, and certainly not a good method to earn ISK.

Some people dismissed the bounty system as a failure for this reason, others complained that everyone’s going to have a bounty now, because people have been posting bounties on each other for the most trivial things, including a thick blanket of minimal bounties on absolutely everyone they can click on. Bounties have become an expression of spite and dislike, not unlike spitting on somebody’s shadow. Yet others placed large bounties on corporations and whole alliances, which plasters the "WANTED" tag on huge numbers of characters in one fell swoop.

That, actually, is where the subtle long term effects eventually come from.

As it stands, PVP in Eve is inherently a negative ISK activity. Even if you are very good at picking your fights and always win, you spend ISK on ammo. Very few people actually always win, losing ships is a fact of life, and loot is a very chancy business — so chancy, that people talk half-seriously of a "loot fairy". Even if you get a good loot drop, often, you get no opportunity to collect it, and once you collect it, you still need to get back to base with it, which is not guaranteed either. Ransom is so uncommon these days that it’s hardly part of the equation.

But suppose you fly a solo frigate somewhere in lowsec, mostly attack ships in your own weight class and of comparable ISK kill values, and lose on average one duel out of two. You mostly fight the local pirate corp, which has a large bounty on it because they ganked some industrialist a few days back. In this equation, values are such that you always get the full bounty payout on every kill. Which comes out to about 20% of your losses, which, with insurance, might actually keep you only a little in the red. If you’re good, and only lose on average one duel out of three, you will actually come out with a net income. In effect, you get directly paid for PVP.

Notice that quite a few lowsec and nullsec entities — alliances, corporations, and no end to individuals — already have bounties on them. Your chance that any random opponent4 you meet in the Fight Club has a bounty that will produce a max payout is quite high. Every successful kill will offset your expenses. It might not look like much, but these things add up. This essentially makes bounties a mechanism of subtle redistribution of wealth towards people who are not engaged in ISK-generating activities. It definitely won’t get people who previously didn’t like PVP to PVP, they can find more interesting uses of their time, and it won’t get anyone to specifically hunt a character just because he has a high bounty. But it can make life easier for people who previously had problems sustaining their PVP habit with ISK they had to get somewhere else.

It remains an interesting question who would actually be paying you. New bounties have to constantly come from somewhere, and career PVPers typically don’t have particularly deep pockets, so they won’t be placing a lot.5 But someone will be, more likely than not. As of right now, bounties are only beginning to be seen as a tool of strategic attrition, but they’re obviously on their way there — the bounty on Villore Accords has been sitting right up there in top 10 for the entire week, and strategic attrition is the most logical reason to place that one. It’s apparently getting refreshed from time to time.

The real usefulness of placing a bounty is not in getting someone to die more often — they’ll die at more or less the same rate, bounty or not — but in making it easier for someone who’d kill the "WANTED" anyway and drain their wallet to continue to do so. That might not be decisive, but can certainly be important.

Once this view of bounties gains more ground, the obvious consequence from it that everyone will notice is that a bounty above a few billion placed on an individual is pointless, unless he habitually flies capitals or T3 — a bounty that is never going to be drained is wasted money, the worth of a bounty is in keeping the money moving towards your enemy’s opponents. Eventually high bounties on individuals will become a rarity, but groups will get slapped with astronomical amounts. We might not notice for quite a while, though, because groups bleed off their bounties much faster.

And that will change the big picture quite a bit, more likely than not, for the better.

  1. Because everything that requires people in Eve to trust each other without any option to enforce the contract other than with their own hands is in one way or another problematic.

  2. Top bounties in local would actually be more handy.

  3. Actually, wouldn’t it make sense to post the kill rights on a character in a tab in the show info page?

  4. A distinction here has to be made between "opponent" who is there for the Fight Club and shoots back, and "victim", who doesn’t have guns on his industrial vessel. A victim is unlikely to have a bounty on him, but is much more likely to put a bounty on you for getting shot.

  5. Somehow, I’ve always been the one with the most ready cash in my corp, and my wallet never exceeded a few billion.