This is a collection of short in-character fiction pieces about Awakened Industries, a group of capsuleers and their crews living in the enigmatic and dangerous regions of Wormhole Space in EVE Online. None of the protagonists are actual characters or corporations in-game. All similarities with persons fictional or real are possibly coincidental and only sometimes intentional. - Emergent Patroller

For an introduction to this blog refer to this link. You may also want to check out the guide for new readers

: The stories on this blog contain mature themes involving sexuality and violence and are not suitable for minors or sensitive people.

28 Oct 2013

Blog Banter 50 - Countering Malcanis' Law

I'm a bit late for this month's Blog Banter, but well, the month is not over yet.

This time the net is cast pretty wide with a whole range of questions:
With the Rubicon expansion being announced and the SOMER Blink scandals (or non-scandals depending on your point of view) that have erupted on the community at the same time, it truly feels like an age of EVE has passed and a new one is dawning.

But which direction is it going? This blog banter can be about several different topics: 
- where do you think EVE is going? Is it a good or bad vision ahead?
- if you were EVE's new Executive Producer, where would you take the game?
- What comes (or should come) after Rubicon in terms of the mechanics and ship balancing we've seen? (CSM8 not allowed to answer this one!)
- Is there anything in EVE's ten year past that should be resurrected? Or buried and forgotten?
- What is the future of the community? What should or should not change?
In general, I have a good feeling about the future vision for EVE Online. In contrast to the last ten years, there seems to be a long-term plan on how to move ahead. CCP is becoming more mature in this way.

In other ways the company still retains it's adolescent behaviour as exemplified by the SOMERBlink PR disaster (links not necessary except if you lived under a rock), the latest episode of the ongoing Mintchip soap-opera or the messy handling of the TOS change, but in terms of game development things look promising as far as I am concerned.

Whichever way CCP wants to take the game, however, one of the most pressing issues that they will have to address in the future is how to expand their playerbase without changing the special nature of EVE Online lest they lose what makes their game unique in a world where ever more MMOs are appearing on the scene.

Others have written on the subject already, but I feel like it deserves to be mentioned again for emphasis: There is an inflation of accounts while the real growth of the playerbase appears to be a lot less significant.

Of course I do not have the numbers, but everything I hear and read indicates that this is the case. While on the bottom line, CCP keeps making more money, it also means that they make this money off of fewer people than they could and that this trend is ongoing. Most of those people exist at the high-end of the spectrum - long term players with lots of ISK and experience.

While player retention at this stage is generally good, those players are also the ones most likely to leave the game for longer periods of time due to burnout or real-life matters. An old bittervet who has seen it all will leave and take a lot more convincing to return than someone who tried the game a few months ago and might be reeled back in by some shiny new feature. In the case of an old player leaving, we are looking at anything up from two accounts that might be lost indefinitely.

New players will probably keep coming to the game in numbers for as long as the marketing department does it's work, but there is a lot of turnover there. I dare to speculate that not so many take the step from short-term interest to long term "brand loyalty".

I have the feeling that there might be a real danger that the departure of long-term multi-account players will eventually exceed the potential of new players to keep the game afloat with their coming and going.

To address this, I would propose an actual expansion of the possibilities in game.

EVE is already great in the way how it offers many ways to play the game. If one gets bored or burned out of one way, one can go down a different path. This is the aspect which should be expanded further.

As a central rule for this expansion drive I would propose a modified version of Malcanis Law which states:
"Whenever a mechanics change is proposed on behalf of 'new players', that change is always to the overwhelming advantage of richer, older players."
 My proposed counter to this would be:
 "Whatever measure that is introduced to keep the game fresh and exciting for the bittervets must also attract and retain new players"
There are lots of possibilities to fulfil that statement: Make PVE something else than a repetitive quasi-afk activity that needs actual attention and interaction (How about finally fixing/reworking those COSMOS mission arcs or introducing more Incursion-style PVE?). Change sovereignty mechanics to be less of a mass-fleet grind into something deserving more intelligent maneuvering. (Lots of bloggers have offered opinions and advice on that subject over time.) Redesign the crafting system to make it more attractive and less buggy. Finally redesign the corporation management to make it look less like the badly designed interface for an unnecessarily complex machine. Open up new possibilities for in-game "professions" (Bounty-hunting and mercenary marketplace are still dead in the water, for example)

What has to be central for any of this to work - and not become a fulfilment of Malcanis' Law instead - are possibilities for newer players and older ones alike to have fun and engage with eachother without introducing another mechanic that can be beaten by throwing excessive numbers at it whether that be ISK or amounts of players.

Right now, there are two aspects of EVE which more or less fulfil that criterion: Faction Warfare and Wormhole Space. In the former, there is clearly content which can be played by people in frigates and rather low skills. Numbers work to some extent, but by no means are they as effective or as necessary as in nullsec sovereignty. Wormhole Space has a bit of a higher entry threshold, but it also has a very effective built-in numbers cap through mass limits and the inability to use cynosural fields. Also in Wormhole Space there is a clear "level progression" that helps players to find the place that suits them best while taking away none of the sandbox aspect.

What EVE needs is more avenues to play the game in ways similar to that.

While I am not pleading for CCP to ignore and neglect the big players of nullsec, I would like to point out, that those player empires are pretty self-sufficient in creating content for themselves. They even have their own methods to attract and retain new players.

The assignment rather is, to engage and retain the ones who are not motivated in such a way. That applies whether they are new players without direction or old players who cringe at the thought of yet another operation to take down sov structures or run the same PVE site for the 1000th time.

I will not take the time here to write down every proposal I would be able to come up with for such mechanics, this post is long enough already. I have written down a few in the past, though. Whatever the measures or mechanics introduced, if they try their best to fulfil my rule above while not fulfilling Malcanis' Law, then the path into the future should be a promising one I would dare to say.

As a last thought, about what I would like to see revived from the past, I would say things like the Arek' Jalaan project. That was probably the most inspiring thing I have ever seen emerge from this game. The potential and it's realisation was just wonderful, and it was a sad thing when it was just left to die a quiet death. This mixture of in-game lore, metagame, player interaction and guiding influence from developers was a wonderful synergy that showcased how amazing the things are that can come out of this game.

7 Oct 2013

OOC Entry 101 - Fictional Expansion

I am only going to write a short post to give a shout-out to two fellow EVE Fiction enthusiasts.

The first is Zendane of the Eve Reader Podcast. He got some exposure through an EVE Community Spotlight  which I managed to miss completely. Seeing as it was in June, I am not surprised. Back then I was still more concerned with my physical and mental recovery than much else.

No, I encountered this man's work because of the High Drag Podcast and I was immediately star-struck with the man's voice and presentation of EVE Chronicles in audiobook form. Very beautiful. I recommend it.

The Second is Drackarn of Sand Cider and Spaceships. He has recently finished his undertaking of writing a longer EVE fiction story which you can download for free here. I have only noticed today that he published that story and downloaded it immediately.

Drackarn has a style that is not always my thing, but he captures the atmosphere of the classic pulp fiction style and moulds it against the background of New Eden very entertainingly. I have often laughed with enjoyment while reading his stories. Never more so than with his fabulous entry for an EVE fiction Contest.
I have not started reading his story yet, but I sure will do so soon. I am curious how he does his thing when having more words to develop a plot. If he is true to his style, then I expect sinister bad guys, film-noir antiheroes, unexpected twists, sultry maidens, sex and drugs and death (sometimes all at the same time) and all the other tropes that Drackarn likes to invoke in his delightfully unashamed way. 

Keep up the good work and all the best to both of you.

2 Oct 2013

OOC Entry 100 - Bloc Level Economic Warfare in Highsec

The story so far

Recently we saw a great analysis of the Caldari Ice Interdiction. Before that there had been a Gallente Ice Interdiction. Both had somewhat different goals but one common aspect: The goals of both operations were based on a doctrine of economic warfare that targets goods produced in highsec with the intention to gain an advantage over opposing forces. This is achieved by both market manipulation for financial gain and market manipulation for the purpose of creating scarcity in resources that are necessary for the logistics of warfare.

As stated, the Caldari Ice Interdiction leaned much more towards the side of financial gain. It did have the potential, though, to influence the price of T2 goods which in turn would make ship replacements more expensive. In the light of the Fountain War where the continued financial pressure on Test Alliance SRP was a major factor, this operation could have resulted in an even more accelerated depletion of the TEST SRP funds.

The Gallente Ice Interdiction - on the other hand - leaned more toward the logistics disruption side of things. Apart from all financial gains, an increase in price for Gallente ice products would also drive up the cost of jump fuel for Gallente (super)capital ships. Since the Nyx, the Thanatos and the Moros are very commonly used in offensive capital-ship fleets, this had the potential to put the opponents of the CFC at a disadvantage when it came to capship supremacy.

The Future?

Rubicon will introduce Player Owned Customs Offices (POCOs) in high security space. This could present a new point of leverage for economic warfare strategies, market manipulation and a new stream of passive income.

Passive Income

Planetary Interaction (PI) has become a very widely used method for passive income generation. For those living in high security space, a high blanket tax rate has been a reality for some time now.  A POCO operator can easily go below that and still make a profit over time, and both parties will be better off.

Alliances who can place (and protect) POCOs in highsec at a large scale will have the possibility to open another passive income stream for themselves.

Of course, goods can still be freely exported from a planet while bypassing the POCO, but they can not be imported. Since especially the more lucrative PI products require materials from at least two different planets and then often yet another planet purely for manufacturing, there is still enough potential for tax revenue.

Market Manipulation and Economic Warfare

The possibility to tax "highsec carebears" and then build ships from that money which are used for ganking the same players will put a gleefully evil grin on many faces for sure. But that is nothing when compared with the possibilities for strategic market manipulation through POCOs.

The wide range of goods that are produced by means of PI is a useful tool in the hands those who want to reap speculation profit and create scarcity both.

PI materials are components for POS fuel, T2 production, starbase structures, sovereignty structures, nanite repair paste and station components. When you consider the uses for those end-products, it is obvious that a "PI Interdiction" can have severe wide ranging consequences when planned properly and executed at the right time.

Interbus NPC owned COs can be shot at freely. Under a declaration of war POCOs can be destroyed without CONCORD intervention. Even a medium-sized fleet can then destroy one quite quickly. A sufficiently large alliance can sweep through whole constellations in a matter of a few days and completely disrupt the flow of PI products from there.

Tying it all together

Even more powerful is the combination of both approaches.

If an Alliance manages to control a significant number of POCOs, they can directly affect the supply and price of goods through the POCO tax rate while at the same time destroying those of others.

Many producers will elect to halt their production or increase the price accordingly. The holders of a large number of POCOs will see both increased profit and create higher expenses for their opponents this way.

If one controls the POCOs in a system or even a constellation, it is an easy thing to place traders nearby who will stockpile materials one plans to make more expensive and/or scarce. Those traders can even make sure that they can buy at a lower price ahead of time by keeping taxes low.

There is certainly a lot of potential for market PVP there.

In conclusion

Many nullsec alliances have the numbers and the level of organisation to play this game against eachother on a battlefield which has been mostly neglected by them so far.

The Ice Interdictions by the CFC were special events in the past which were planned to have an indirect impact on nullsec conflicts. Now the possibilities of economic warfare created by highsec POCOs could make such operations a more common thing.

In fact, a nullsec alliance or powerbloc engaging in a large-scale conflict against another one over sovereignty would be well advised to make use of those possibilities, otherwise they will find that staging POSes, T2 modules and ammunition, nanite paste etc. become prohibitively expensive while their enemy has a logistical and financial advantage that will be hard to overcome.

Interesting times ahead.

OOC Entry 99 - A woman's touch?

Before some people reading what is to come in a way that results in defensive knee-jerk reactions, let me make a few things clear:
I am a woman and I am supporting women's emancipation and their right to be considered equal in any possible way. I am, however, not claiming that women are naturally better at anything. I do not count myself as a feminist because I feel that this ideology is often stereotyping men in a way that I consider unfair. I will use language in the following post that might sound like I am favouring a female perspective - whatever that may be - but that is all supposed to be understood within the context of gender identity how it is usually defined these days. None of it is intended to mean that women or men are better or worse at anything.

Ok, with that out of the way, I am going to look at Rubicon and what it tells us about CCPs new direction.

With CCP Seagull as senior producer, it looks like things have changed significantly from what we all know about the development history of EVE Online.

Here we have a person who is not intending to drop major "Jesus Features" with every expansion. Nor do we have someone who relegates herself to a program of just fixing things and polishing the game.

CCP Seagull is the first senior producer to ever present a long-term vision for where EVE-Online expansions should take the game eventually.

Rubicon is the first expansion that has been developed fully while she was at the helm. Odyssey came out when she already had the job, but much of the planning and conceptualization for it definitely happened before her term began. 

The name is very well chosen to reflect what is supposed to happen: The first step is taken on a journey that will fundamentally change the game world of New Eden. Other than all her predecessors, CCP Seagull plans to set a course for that change which will progress gradually but with a definitive end-goal in mind. At the end of this process - which could (and probably will) take years - you should find yourself in a very different New Eden.

Since this approach is so different from anything that came before, it makes me wonder whether that has anything to do with her gender.

Men - not because of their born-in qualities, but because of their upbringing - tend to favour short-term goals. They are very often encouraged to be "doers" and to compete for the fast achievement of easily quantifiable goals. Women often have a tendency to think more long-term.

That whole thing might have a basis in the way how procreation works.

On the most basic level, the goal of procreation for the man is getting the female pregnant. For the woman it means having the support and nourishment that is necessary to get through pregnancy and then to feed the child while it is still dependent on mother's milk. That requires a bit of a longer perspective.

Of course modern societies have made this very simplified relation much more complex, but in terms of development we are not so far away from a time when this was still how things worked. I would propose that we haven't quite overcome those behavioural patterns.

Even today, tasks like child-care and child-rearing are mostly seen as the responsibility of the woman. That is the case even in the most equal societies with the most blurred gender roles. Very often women themselves will voluntarily take that role. Sometimes they might even say men can't really do that properly, and that's why they have to do it.

I'm not saying men cannot be committed to their children, but it is not as deeply ingrained with them, or expected to the same degree, as it is with women.

Looking at things from that viewpoint, it almost seems like CCP Seagull is like the mother who has dedicated herself to raising her child over the coming years, and in the case at hand the child is EVE Online.

Working together with her, she has a number of men who are also committed to see this child flourish. As the Senior Producer she is in the best position to give those men clear short-term goals which they can achieve. Things like "Balance that Ship Class" or "Come up with Deployable Structures".

Following my proposed model of explanation here, this would play to the strengths of all those guys while freeing them from the burden of having to think of a overarching plan.

When I was with the military, my commanding officer had that theory: He said, that he thinks women are better strategic commanders and men are better tactical commanders. His basis for saying this was exactly the thing about perspectives I wrote about earlier in this post.

I disagreed with him because I rejected the gender stereotyping that came with it. However, the approach of CCP Seagull and her team seems to fit the theory when compared to previous years of CCP development.

Makes me wonder whether the man had a point.

It may of course be very far-fetched to see evidence for a general theory in something incidental like CCP changing their course of expansion development, but at least it does not contradict the premise.

In the end, whether this change in development philosophy is something that has anything to do with the fact that CCP Seagull is a woman is not necessarily that important. I am just sharing thoughts here, moonlighting as an armchair gender studies expert ;)

I do have to say that I like it very much, and it sounds exciting. As for now I am confident that if I ever join the ranks of active EVE players again, I will be playing a very different game.

For that I want to give CCP Seagull a hug from one geek-girl to another.