It is widely known that somewhere on the scale of 70% characters in Eve never actually leave high sec space. Once we discount the minority of new players who don’t feel they are up to it, the perfectly or almost perfectly static careers like station trading, and high sec afk miners (whom a reasonable person shouldn’t blame for being AFK, since mining isn’t an activity worthy of a conscious person) we still end up with a population of people which is simply too large for the area they actually occupy.

So why are they not going somewhere else? The door is open.

Setting aside nullsec, which is a very different ball of wax with it’s own problems, lowsec is clearly underpopulated. The regular screams "nerf high sec!" as well as changes to high sec that actually do occur and complicate the life of it’s population,1 somehow don’t force people out of high sec, however. Sometimes, you can hear "boost low sec!" instead, saying that low sec offers inadequate rewards.

Well, I’m going to tell you it’s not really about rewards. It’s not about being a PVP target as such, either — everybody knows you can get shot at anywhere, and those who don’t have missed something. My best theory is that it’s about shooting first.

Right now, lowsec is explicitly the "fight club" with certain properties:

  1. You don’t talk about the Fight Club.
  2. What happens in the Fight Club stays in the Fight Club.
  3. There are no neutrals in the Fight Club.

It’s a given that coming to low sec, you have to be prepared to be shot at. With the freighters being the only explicitly pacifist ship class in New Eden’s repertoire, that can’t possibly surprise anyone, self-defense is to be expected. The problem is that self-defense is effectively penalised.

Eve combat definitely offers significant advantages to someone who activates offensive modules first, as that player gets to decide at which range combat starts. If you’re in a heavy ship, and you’ve allowed your opponent in a frigate to get under your guns before starting shooting, you are far more likely to lose. If you’re in a kiting ship, and you didn’t start combat from beyond your preferred kiting range, you’re at a disadvantage. If you’re in a brawling ship, and you allowed your enemy to get a kiting orbit around you, you’re at a disadvantage. Take the Anti-Thrasher Griffin, which almost guarantees victory if you start combat first, but guarantees a loss if you don’t, that’s just an extreme case. Even if the situation is otherwise equal, shooting first is to always be preferred.

But in low sec, shooting first on ‘neutrals’, which aren’t really neutrals, because they are all out to get you, results in a loss of security status. Eventually, that loss produces enough negative security status that you start having logistical problems, and require alts to solve them, which is a pain in itself. Cleaning off your security status is even more pain. What happens in the Fight Club stays in the Fight Club… or rather, who enters the Fight Club eventually has to stay in.

As a result, you either have to give everyone you meet in low sec the benefit of a doubt, and suffer reduced chances of winning in otherwise equal situations for it, or you have to shoot first and lose sec status. Giving the benefit is immediately costly, which is precisely why there are no neutral parties in low sec, everyone is your enemy. Losing sec status is costly in the long term. It hampers PVP activity, but doesn’t really stop it, you don’t need that many ships to keep fighting. The impediment of non-PVP activity, both PVE and industrial, is far more significant, because these rely on high sec trade hubs and access to them, and involve transporting considerably more cargo, so you don’t just need alts, but higher SP alts.

Paradoxically, that produces a situation where you can’t coexist with anyone except people explicitly out to hunt you — and even those, only if they have been at it for long enough to have outlaw status already, so they can be shot at first with no repercussions. If you did not come to low sec with the explicit intent to hunt other people, and wish instead to exploit it’s resources, even if you are ready for self-defense,2 and do shoot people when opportunity presents itself, you will eventually find your activities hindered sufficiently that they will no longer be worth the effort. As a result, any non-PVP activity in low sec is inherently self-limiting over time,3 and boosting low sec rewards will not change this significantly, just creating another silly resource faucet instead.

Faction Warfare is an unusual break from this conundrum, because it turns roughly a quarter of lowsec population in it’s area of effect into blues, and another quarter into legal targets. Suddenly you have a reasonable assurance that 25% people you meet can be given the benefit of a doubt, and 25% are perfectly OK to shoot first, and you just need to watch that box next to their name, which is a significant improvement. But Faction Warfare is explicitly a PVP activity, a Fight Club within the Fight Club itself, so to speak — it’s properties help you maintain a positive security status while being engaged in Fight Club activities, but it is also equivalent to an Empire wardec, creating extra vulnerabilities for non-PVP activity in high sec.4 Nevertheless, getting more blues and more people perfectly OK to shoot, and making this activity self-sustaining by rewarding it with ISK,5 resulted in a significant increase in low sec population — not because low sec resources are easier to harvest when you’re in FW, but because Faction Warfare turned PVP into a resource-generating activity.

The introduction of the suspect flag has improved the situation somewhat, because more people than previously have become legal to shoot for more people, but it did not actually fix the problem, as shooting first still remains preferable — it is now easier to have ‘citizen police’ that keeps a low sec system safe for industrialists (and presumably, taxes them for it) by shooting anyone with a suspect flag who passes by, but someone still has to take a loss first for the suspect flag to appear. Such anti-pirate activity has been possible before, it simply became easier to do it for long without eventually acquiring outlaw status, but you’ll still get it. Getting shot first is still extremely bad for the non-shooting business. Even removing security status penalties altogether will not actually fix things, as non-PVP activity requires ‘benefit of a doubt’ to be successful.

If any industrial and PVE activity is to occur in low sec on a large scale, something needs to be done about the necessity to shoot first. I wish I had an idea what, though, as this is such a fundamental property of PVP in Eve that it can’t just be wished away.

  1. Removal of T1 modules from loot, for one, was, necessary as it was, a nerf to certain high sec careers. The whole mess with rat AI, which could have been handled better, the questionable war dec changes, etc, etc, etc, they all had a significant effect on high sec life.

  2. And don’t get me started on the silly discrepancy between PVE and PVP optimal fits, which makes self-defense so much harder, that’s another problem entirely.

  3. I hope I don’t need to reiterate that this is one of the reasons that proper piracy in low sec, that is, robbery on the high seas in space, has been largely dead for many years. The other major reason would be that to a player who doesn’t feed their character with loot and ransoms, a killmail is a higher benefit, so there’s no reason to pay ransoms anymore, as they don’t get honored often.

  4. Having spent a sizeable chunk of time both raiding enemy high sec and defending from enemy raids into high sec, I can most assuredly say that raids into enemy high sec are a thing.

  5. For a time, with far too much ISK, even, but you know that.