One thing that makes Eve different from most it’s competitors is the fact that everyone plays in the same universe, on the same server. The interesting consequence from that is that everyone plays on their own time, but they no longer match each other on that time like they might in another game.
Dispensing with the long treatise on the sociology of time, there’s a translation problem that becomes readily apparent to any observer in Eve after a short while:
When a military base gets attacked in the night, there are people on watch (so they adjust their activity patterns to be active when others aren’t) who will, in case of such an attack, wake the rest of the base. This was even more true of a medieval castle, or a city, which would close their gates for the night but be ready for just such an eventuality at more or less all times. In Eve, this simply cannot be true, because players have lives outside the game, which include other time-based commitments, like work, and with Eve’s audience being older on average than that of other games, activity patterns are very strictly tied to time zones, national holidays, weekends, and other cycles of people actually having free time to spend on it. Since there are large populations of players living in distinct time zones, it is not impossible to think a certain region of space is empty, when you have simply missed the inhabitants because most of them went to sleep an hour ago. If you go and lay siege to their castles, even if some mechanism exists to notify them, it probably won’t wake them to go play with you. Even if it will, they might not be able to.
It wasn’t that much of an issue while you could not possibly attack anyone’s property while they weren’t online — but I should mention that the very fact that it is seen as an issue actually implies Eve was, in fact, meant to be fair at least in some respects. Despite the famous quote from CCP Soundwave, "Why would I want to balance a fight? That’s never really been the goal in EVE…", that was commonly taken to mean "Eve was not meant to be fair", there are lots and lots of reasons why one might want to balance a fight, and also, lots of axes of rotation, so to speak, that one could balance a fight around. This is one of them.
When POSes were introduced, this balancing problem was solved with the reinforcement timer, and it’s job is to ensure that particular kind of fairness — a fair chance for the defender to assemble a fleet and give the opponents a proper battle, instead of a swinging pendulum where players don’t ever see each other and instead anchor new towers every week. The time zone problem remained a focus of CCP’s even when the POS-based sovereignty was shelved, and is one of the fairness axes they try to keep balanced — shooting people who can’t shoot back is seen as perfectly ok. Destroying their stuff while they aren’t on and can’t put up a resistance is almost never permitted. But there’s one related thing that is adhered to even more stringently:
The Stuff itself. You know, the kind you ask to have when people leave.
I’ve mentioned this thread on twitter the other day, a very interesting RPG.Net discussion of why fiction, and particularly games, so often lean towards depicting feudal structures when the subject matter is space. They bring up lots of interesting arguments both for and against such an approach, how such a feudal system might arise from certain given properties of the space model, why it might be good for gameplay, etc, etc. While the entire discussion is quite insightful, it generally glazes over one obvious component of the system: the looting. Because it’s obvious how important loot is.
Interestingly, Eve is markedly low on looting. A container anchored in space will only give up anything after you shoot it dead. If you’re attacking a POS, even once the tower is down you can’t get at the contents of it’s modules without blowing them apart. And most importantly, when you conquer an outpost, everything inside that outpost remains the property of the characters who owned it previously, even though the new owner of the outpost, in practice, would be the only entity to guarantee that property from seizure. Eve might not have been intended to be fair, but your stuff is your stuff, and they can only pry it from your clone’s cold dead fingers and pull it out of your structure’s twisted wrecks, but no earlier. In either case, they’re subject to the whims of the loot fairy.
I’m not actually sure why it’s like that. There certainly are other obstacles to space feudalism in Eve, but this one, I suspect, is pretty high on the list, and for some strange reason, largely unnoticed.
Dust could probably bring significant changes into that, but when the first thing people hope for is getting the mercs in to drop POS shields, I can’t help but think that the backwards order of ‘burn, then pillage’ has become a habit, a radically new option in gameplay is seen mostly as a way to do the same thing faster and more efficiently.
Instead, what could possibly make Dust mercs invaluable in Eve1 is enabling them to loot and take over enemy structures without destroying them,2 which is not currently possible through any other method.