TLDR: This one is apparently my longest post so far, and in fact, consists almost entirely of the point, rather than getting to it. Usual disclaimer applies.
In the previous post, I advanced a bizarre conclusion — at least, it feels amusingly bizarre to myself — that actively avoiding risk in Eve is actually an important factor in staying subscribed for a longer period. It’s bizarre precisely because it goes so far against most of Eve’s public discourse and stated design goals. Whether it’s actually a correct conclusion or not, (I doubt it myself, but then, I doubt everything.) one thing remains an obvious fact: The population distribution, and the associated risks of high, low and null sec.
I actually started wondering why something that obviously is directly connected to so many problems is perpetuated and how it could possibly be fixed all the way back in 2006.
The Rectification of Names1
Every system in Eve has a security status value, both a visible one, which is a single decimal between 1 and 0, and a hidden one, the so called ‘true sec’, which is it’s higher precision part and is allowed to be below zero.2 It gives the appearance that the difference between systems in risk is quantitative — it’s explicitly a number, after all, not the name of an NPC faction territory where some different kind of law might be in effect.
Yet the actual difference is very far from quantitative. Both a system’s suitability as a hunting ground and practical risk levels are composed of numerous components, most of which are only kind of linear and others are not linear at all.
- There are more or less linear dependencies between the availability of ores, NPC bounties, NPC strength, mission payouts and a system’s true security status.
- There is a linear dependency between standings from an NPC faction towards a capsuleer and the capability to anchor a POS in it’s space of a certain security status.
- Moon mining is only allowed in systems 0.3 and below for some reason. Likewise, lighting cynos is prohibited above 0.5. Why not above 0.4 or 0.6?
- Character security status and faction navy aggression have a clear linear relationship depending on security status of the system. But faction navy presence itself is not quite linear — navy only appears in systems of 0.5 and higher sec, though the levels of it’s presence and it’s aggressiveness are apparently linear from there on upwards. Higher system sec definitely means a linear decrease in the time a FW character can linger in an enemy faction’s space.3
- CONCORD reaction time is known to linearly depend on system sec. But like faction navy, CONCORD instantly vanishes below 0.5.
- With Crimewatch 2.0, the rules of what is considered a criminal and suspect act are explicitly different between systems above 0.5 and below 0.5 and there is nothing resembling linear changes between these sets.
In short, while there is some linearity between systems in high sec, and for them the number means something, however little, below 0.5 the usefulness of the number is far less, and below 0.0, the invisible true sec number is the value that matters instead. If this number was meant to serve as a reasonable index of the presence of impartial (read: completely dumb) NPC law, well, it doesn’t. It also makes specific gateways between these areas — not all the gateways, mind you, just those that are on default autopilot routes4 between important population centers5 — chokepoints for bored gate campers, in fact concentrating6 risk at them.
When time comes to explain all that to a new player, the shortest way to do that is by saying "Just don’t go below 0.5, ever", fracturing the world into three realms with radically different rules — null sec, low sec, high sec — creating completely incompatible play styles, and making the visible sec number a misnomer — arbitrarily selected, at that, because there’s no visible rhyme nor reason why a system’s security level is a given value.7 Instead of seeing some kind of logical progression and managing the risk you are ready to take in a fine-grained system, one is forced to either progress in a play style that the tutorials taught them and which is supported by a large body of knowledge and advice, or try to learn something completely different that bears no relation to prior experience while being far less documented, and that’s not counting the chokepoints between the areas the play styles are concentrated in, nor the abundant competition. It’s no wonder avoiding that other play style becomes an effective survival strategy. It’s like a kiddie pool right next to a shark incubator, with nothing but a thin net between them. You can’t increase depth gradually, you either jump into the deep end (Wherein you more often than not sink, apparently) or stay out.
I still have no clue quite why is Eve split like that, but apparently it wasn’t initially supposed to be — for one, CONCORD wasn’t initially so invincible, nor evading it successfully hasn’t always been considered an exploit. After a certain point, it just became a status quo that has since been perpetuated in a ‘why fix what isn’t broken’ fashion, only increasing the disparity. But it is, in fact, rather broken.
If one wants to resolve the age-old dispute between PVE-oriented and PVP-oriented play styles and allow the new players the option of progressing at a pace which their slowly climbing skillpoints and wealth can actually support, the sharp division between high sec and low sec — as well as null sec — needs to go. I don’t mean to say that only one playstyle is valid or that there should only be one. These two need to be unreachable extremes of a gradient of thousands of shades of grey, which they currently are not.
To make that happen, a unified set of rules needs to exist for high, low and null sec, if at all possible. One where the concept of "system security" either doesn’t exist at all, or has a clear and obvious meaning, where legality of actions is instantly obvious, and preferably, where a certain level of prevention of hostile activity is available rather than simply vengeance.8 In short, rules would need to be radically reorganized to make sense, just like Crimewatch was reorganised to make sense, to much rejoicing.9
That will naturally mean that high sec will have to become less secure, low sec will have to become more secure, and null will have to change as well. Which is why no plan for doing the right thing will ever receive substantial support. At the same time, a well considered set of changes would solve numerous serious problems in one fell swoop, not just the PVE/PVP cultural division.
There are several specific obstacles such a plan needs to address:
- Surprisingly, the very fact that CONCORD exists is an obstacle, because it can’t be made linear, and can’t really be gotten rid of without re-examining an untold number of other things. CONCORD is invincible and completely overwhelming. Which it kind of has to be, because otherwise it wouldn’t be able to do it’s job, and the times it wasn’t had numerous examples of enterprising players providing far too much of a disruption.
- The other obstacle is that security status distribution is both quite arbitrary and completely static. This means that population is also static, and actually pushes people towards the extremes of the spectrum.
Everything Moves: More Sandbox!
Let me outline a plan that specifically address these obstacles. It’s one of those things that will neither be widely accepted by the public, nor ever implemented, for fear of sweeping changes across the board. But if anyone cares about my opinion, sweeping changes are exactly what Eve needs, and these at least should require comparatively little coding. Feel free to tell me exactly why it doesn’t work or what would you change. I’m afraid explaining at length why each of the points on this list is there would make the post far too long,10 so I’ll do that only if someone specifically asks.
The solution I’m thinking of lies in the direction completely opposite to creating safer zones in Eve. If you’re aiming for sandbox, there are only two good ways to make one — design a static environment specifically subdivided for sandbox play with clear intent,11 or deregulate as much as possible and make it impractical for player activities to continue in the same place in perpetuity. This plan is for the latter.
- System security status is a number that ranges from -1.0 to 1.0, is displayed up to six decimal places, including the negatives, and exists as a 64-bit floating point number.
- New player spawning and tutorial systems have their security status fixed at 0.9, or another convenient positive value.
- Every other system (with the exception of wormhole systems, for which the concept of system security makes no sense) has it’s security status dependent entirely on player activity, regardless of whether the system is part of NPC space or player claimed territories. The volume of production in the system, the amount of ratting going on in the system, the amount of mining all directly affect system security status — every unit of ore mined, every ship hull manufactured, every NPC ship destroyed12 directly count towards increasing security status of the system that happened in, somewhere in the 8th decimal place or further down.
- That security status, in turn, affects the agent missions available and their rewards, the asteroids and ore types that will spawn there after the next downtime, the number of manufacturing and research slots in the stations, the rats and anomalies that will spawn during the day, as well as other values typically depending on security status. That includes availability of moon materials13 and PI materials. Anchored structures increase system security status daily by a set amount (9th decimal place or so) while they are anchored. That does not include containers or bubbles.
- Every system’s security status goes down every day by a certain amount. Left completely and absolutely alone, an 1.0 system will become a -1.0 system over the course of about six months. If player activity can beat the daily drain, the system’s security status slowly goes up — the numbers are tuned so that a system exclusively populated by a medium-sized corporation hangs in the balance, regardless of it’s actual location or current security status. As an unpopular system’s security status goes down, that makes it more suitable as a hunting ground.14 Over several months of heavy use by hundreds of people, any system could become 1.0, just like an unvisited system becomes deeper and deeper negative sec.
- A system reaching a true 1.0 means that belts, NPCs and anomalies stop spawning, NPC station factories and laboratories lose all slots, and agents, if any, stop offering missions. I.e. the system loses all harvestable resources except storyline-related missions and objects.
- System security status directly affects, beyond the usual things, like faction navy presence or rat spawning or the activity of gate guns,15 the hit points of it’s player-owned sovereignty structures, if they are vulnerable for whatever reason. Higher security status means the system is harder to take over than a lower security hunting ground. Sovereignty development indices are abolished, because development is directly reflected in security status. The act of capturing a system’s sovereignty kicks system security up a 0.05 or thereabout, noticeably affecting the difficulty of it’s recapture as well as it’s worthiness.
- CONCORD protection is weakly tied to system security status. CONCORD fleets continue reacting in the same way to criminal flags and continue being invincible — for clarity and to distinguish them from CONCORD that is killable and occurs in pirate missions and as anomalies, let’s call them DED fleets. Instead of spawning in place, DED fleets move across the universe in both predefined patterns and by roaming in semi-random patterns. Predefined patterns and permanently stationed fleets cover important trade routes and spawning/tutorial systems.16 Other systems only get visits from DED, with current system security directly affecting the chance of a DED fleet visit. Every system that is claimed by an entity that has a treaty with CONCORD is guaranteed a DED fleet visit at least sometimes, even though it might be once in a blue moon. Player sovereign entities get an option to buy into the CONCORD agreement — i.e. have DED patrol their space just like they do for NPC empires — by paying extra sovereignity fees, thus becoming more civilized.17
- A DED fleet’s location, arrival and departure, the next destination in their route are public information visible to all. Their imminent arrival is announced just like their departure both at their source and their destination.
- While a DED fleet is in system, their reaction time to events in this system is always the same, i.e. almost instant.18 Criminal activity in a system has a certain chance to draw a passing DED fleet directly towards it, if it’s close enough, with a certain travel time involved on the order of minutes. If a character has a criminal flag at the moment the DED fleet jumps into the system, they become a target immediately and die, unless the character is docked or out of the system before DED jumps in.
- Crimewatch flag rules distinctions between lowsec, highsec and nullsec are gone. Everything is somewhat between current high sec and current low sec rules, instead. With DED fleets either being there or not depending on time and the current position of the nearest roaming fleet, there is no longer a qualitative difference between highsec and lowsec — but in certain sec levels, DED fleets will "almost never" come, while in others "almost always". The only exception is "unclaimed space" — space that normally is part of someone’s sov but is currently missing it, and wormholes, in which claiming sov is not possible. These work by the current nullsec rules instead.
- Faction navy presence is directly dependent on current system sovereignity and system security status, continuing the linear progression of whom they shoot and when. Faction navy becomes considerably more aggressive when trying to intercept characters on gates and pickets everything at exact rates depending on system security as well as spawns on safe spots and otherwise chases, webs and scrams. Shooting back at faction navy has a certain low chance of attracting DED attention if such is available. Faction warfare contested systems are a certain exception — they only have pickets on gates, which occasionally respawn,19 but otherwise have no faction navy presence except inside plexes.
- Character security status value is gone. Screw the tags too. (With the above changes as well as the changes in bounty systems, it’s just a rudiment and no longer serves a useful purpose.) Instead, faction standings take over, and criminal actions in space owned by an NPC faction produce a standing penalty from that particular faction, with derived penalties from other allied factions.20 The areas that are currently NPC pirate faction nullsec get CONCORD rat and anomaly spawns instead of the current rat spawns, thus becoming simply a different flavour of NPC sov holder. There is no automated standings tracking for player alliances, that duty is relegated to whatever CREST-based tools they can cook up themselves — they don’t get an automated infinite faction navy anyway.
- Moon mining is allowed everywhere, but moon minerals migrate according to current system security as described above — raising a system’s security may cause the moon to drain and spawn a new resource. Starbase charters are gone, instead, a corporation fee is collected towards the current NPC sovereignity holder. There is no longer a requirement of standings to anchor a starbase, instead, standings affect said corporation fees.
- Usage of stealth bombs, bubbles, doomsday devices, and possibly even supercapitals themselves is completely decoupled from security status, and becomes a deliberate choice on the part of sov holder, NPC or otherwise. I.e. Empire NPC factions disallow the use of all or part of that list within their sov, while other NPC factions may have differing lists, or an inability to bargain with CONCORD to enforce these restrictions within their space at all.21 A player alliance can buy into CONCORD agreement to do the same, however, that will mean that bubbles, doomsdays and bombs are unusable by them, as well, and extra sov fees.
- Systems where NPC empires do not allow lighting cynos get explicit cynosural field jammers, and their number goes down from current list of high sec systems. Anchoring capital construction arrays is likewise forbidden by a list of systems, rather than system security status. Exceptions from the linearity of security status, like whether the system has a cynojammer or not, whether capital construction arrays can be anchored or not, whether the sovereignity holder has deal(s) with CONCORD or not, as well as the number of jumps to the nearest DED roaming fleet and the chance it will arrive if a criminal act happens right now, or the time until it arrives if it’s already slated to do so, become part of the system information panel.
What’s all that supposed to do?
If I counted all the factors right, which I admit involved no quantitative data,22 this should have the following desirable effects:
- Rules of engagement will now be uniform across all space, with clear exceptions and a clear index of how much of an effect they might have on your activities here and now. Which is good for indoctrinating new players into Eve — uniform rules throughout, no more plunging straight off the deep end.. Neither will the PVE be totally safe everywhere, nor will PVP be possible with impunity everywhere, everyone will have to look over their shoulder whatever they’re planning to do, and the gap between the two playstyles will by necessity decrease. It will always be clear what kind of a chance do you stand of getting away with your criminal activity, or safely engaging in your industrial activity, and it will always explicitly be a chance, one that can be computed and managed.
- Suicide ganking, in particular, will no longer be relevant — it will be just as possible as it is now, but there will be no point. People wishing to attack traffic will have a much better chance of doing that by picking a moment when there’s no DED fleet around. At the same time, temporary absence of DED in the vicinity will also mean the defenders are free to shoot first, so they’ll be able to take up the slack by their own roaming patrols. Industrial activities will spread much further out of what is now high sec, just like PVP will be much easier to find anywhere.
- Population will become far more migratory. Overused high sec systems will peter out in months, while population will spread out from full high sec (which is now no longer quite so high) to less high sec, to what was up until now low sec, (but isn’t quite so low now) distributing themselves far more evenly across the map and creating new transportation and gameplay patterns, settling at exactly the shade of grey they can handle.
- The universe will change itself to match the patterns of usage, rather than force the players to conform to it — players will literally create their own spatial topography by acting on and against each other. Lowest security nullsec will become the most valuable space, and at the same time, easiest to contest. It would be impossible to ‘upgrade’ your own space, but it would be quite practical to set aside part of your space as a ‘preserve’, letting it recharge after a season’s farming. At the same time this would make that part of space desirable for neighbours to come and take, including smaller and weaker neighbours. Since Empire space needs to retain at least some semblance of permanency just for the story to make sense,23 it will instead become an equilibrium just as much perpetually bubbling, but with a smaller amplitude.
- The abolition of security status will make life easier for both aggressive players and people wishing to defend against them, as methods to raise faction standing that already exist are far less tedious than ratting for sec status. A more aggressive faction navy will mean you are eventually barred from navigating this faction’s space if you commit criminal acts within it. A pirate activity pattern where you live in Caldari space and raid Gallente space will make perfect sense, and national borders, as well as saying "I’m wanted in all four Empires!" will actually mean something.
- Less certainty in traversing space and changes in desirability patterns of systems will drastically alter trade routes and encourage the switch from the current single trade hub market model to multiple smaller markets, making economy less volatile in general and at the same time, creating much more individual opportunities
There’s a lot of other effects I expect would be beneficial, and in general, space would become far more interesting for everyone.
Unfortunately, it’s a safe bet none of that will ever happen.
At one point, true sec values for systems were apparently considered something of a gameplay secret, for a reason I can’t really fathom, because they’re available in public game data which CCP does let people play with.↩
By the way, if anyone meets CCP Soundwave, tell him that the idea of handing off the functions of faction navy to FW players is one of the least sensible that he has ever voiced. It’s not going to work, because even with the presence of faction navy, protecting new FW players from being picked off by enemy faction players is quite impractical — I’m speaking from experience here, on both sides of this particular game. There just aren’t enough willing FW players with the requisite sec status for the job, let alone the fact that it requires omnipresence players cannot possibly accomplish.↩
As a side note, autopilot routing seems not to have changed since the warp to 0 was introduced. Before warp to 0, the only distance that mattered at all was jumps, because you had to slowboat 15km to every gate, which made warp distances between gates inside the system completely insignificant. Now, system size can in fact make a difference in total travel time, particularly for something heavy like a freighter, and a route with more jumps through smaller systems can actually be shorter. As far as I know, no route calculator currently considers relative gate positions and warp distances. Any takers?↩
In particular, one goes to Old Man Star, or from Old Man Star, but never through Old Man Star on a way to somewhere else. Marking it as a system to avoid on your autopilot route planner dramatically reduces the risk of running into a fastlock camp in Gallente low sec, at the cost of increasing your route by 3-4 jumps at most. I wish you could actually forbid routing through specific gates rather than systems.↩
Focal points do that in general, they concentrate people around them, and since people are the source of risk, they naturally concentrate risk. But that wouldn’t be much of an issue if the progression of risk was more linear.↩
Gallente’s presidential administration has only two stations — in Ladistier and in Parts. One’s a 0.3, the other’s 0.4. Think about this for a minute.↩
While I wrote about the shooting first problem already, there’s one aspect I didn’t touch on much. Eve has quite enough vengeance in it, but next to no prevention. You can do a lot to get retribution for harm done to your activity, but pretty much nothing you do actually reduces your risk of having it interrupted, or insures it, which is a required component of risk management — your only option is to just engage in the activity less. This is less of a problem for pure PVP activity, where you write off the ship the moment you undock, but with any kind of industrial activity this is not an option.↩
It makes more sense now, but it’s still far from properly sensible.↩
It’s already far too long.↩
Something I’m pretty sure by now Eve had far too little of.↩
But not every unit of ISK bought or sold, I’m afraid, because otherwise the system would be far too easy to cheat.↩
Which do eventually run out over the course of many months, to spawn in a completely different place again, according to the security status at the time.↩
I foresee an objection saying that this would mean that eventually all systems would settle at some value dependent on total population. They wouldn’t, due to gate topography — some systems would inevitably remain out of the way for the simple reason of being less accessible than others.↩
To make it more reasonable, every gate should have gate guns, the aggressiveness levels of which linearly depends on current system sec.↩
Trade routes only need to be explicitly covered to ease the transition, eventually those particular fleets would be gone. Spawning systems, of course, will keep a permanent presence forever.↩
CONCORD would obviously not interfere in wars between alliances if they were officially declared, but buying into CONCORD agreement would mean anyone who is after your space needs to also declare war against you. It’s also a double-edged sword, because if you shoot invaders first, you get criminally flagged and can die to a DED fleet that you yourself paid for. :)↩
Lorewise, you can treat it as them secretly having limited range predictive psionic capability. :)↩
Their strength might depend on system upgrade levels.↩
To be more specific, committing criminal acts in Caldari space would cause a standing penalty with Caldari, a derived standing penalty with Amarr, no standings changes with Gallente or Minmatar, a standing penalty for CONCORD as a sov holder, and small derived standing bonuses with NPC pirate factions.↩
Let’s assume that CONCORD does this through whichever admin access to every ship ever they get.↩
Well, :CCP:. If I had data, I could try for an agent-based model to give much better estimates on the exact constants involved in the proposed rule changes, that would be fun.↩
Although, there’s no reason it can’t have fluctuating borders. Imagine HBC going to war against the Amarr empire for their lowsec territories…↩