What is a Heavy Assault Cruiser?

The Heavy Assault Cruiser rebalance was announced last October at Eve Vegas, alongside a redesign of their Assault Frigate counterparts, as well as the introduction of the Assault Damage control. With the exception of the recent March release, and a series of tweaks to the role bonuses and slot layout of the Ishtar that dominated the Halloween War, HACs were last iterated on in 2013.

 

This pending HAC redesign was initially slated for January/February 2018, later pushed back to evaluate the impact of the ADC on the class, and then finally removed from the news page entirely. I’d expect to see an announcement at the Fanfest in a week. Given CCP Rise’s reply and the CSM Winter Summit minutes, it’s clear that the developers are not being allocated sufficient resources to implement game design changes. I understand that there’s apprehension about accidentally creating the next pre-nerf Ishtar, but the timeframe is unreasonable.

 

Before I delve into the various problems that HACs face, there’s a question that should be asked, “In a sentence, what is the role of this ship class?” If that question can’t be answered, then the roles are likely poorly defined. I can apply that same line of questioning to most every other class and end up with a meaningful answer, irrespective of how weak or powerful the hulls in that class are. Battlecruisers are generally inexpensive platforms with moderate maneuverability, high signature, an average health pool, some utility, and have solid damage and projection. Covert Ops are a split class with one half of the line specializing in bombing or ganking with torpedoes, while the other half focuses on exploration and probing.    

 

HACs are unique in that they’re the only class that doesn’t have a satisfactory answer to this question. Part of the reason this test can’t be applied to HACs is that the role bonus to MWD signature simply don’t make sense on half of HAC hulls. There are a number of HAC fleet doctrines that alliances are currently experimenting with that are now viable such as the armor and shield Ishtar, Muninn, and Eagle, or in the case of the Cerberus, simply perform better with the introduction of the ADC. All of these HACs have something in common in that they’re mobile medium range platforms that perform well in medium scale fleet doctrines. The Vagabond, Zealot, Deimos and Sacrilege are collectively not seeing use in fleet combat besides niche fast tackle roles. There are a couple different directions that the developers can go to introduce meaningful roles for the underutilised set of HACs.

 

Besides changes to the base stats of HACs, the direction that I’d like the class to take would be to split the HAC line in half, with each race having one HAC on each side of the split. With some exceptions, this split already exists informally in terms of what propulsion module is typically most useful on the hull. Providing separate role bonuses to each half would be the first step in allowing each hull to specialize, and give HACs a wider variety of roles as a whole.

 

The Muninn, Ishtar, Cerberus, and Sacrilege would retain their current MWD signature reduction bonus. The first three are already seeing use as mentioned earlier, and the Sacrilege will hopefully will be in a position where it has a use case, most likely in wormholes, despite having a number of other armor missile boats to compete with. For the most part, this half of the class is the easiest to change via stat modifications since their role bonus and engagement profile is already fairly well understood in the current meta.

 

Welcome back, AHAC

 

In addition to base stats changes, the Vagabond, Deimos, Zealot, and Eagle would receive role bonuses to afterburner speed and base signature reduction. Combined, these would allow for better transversal matching and a reduction in incoming applied damage. The Vagabond does make use of its current MWD signature reduction while closing range on a target, but an MWD bonus is no longer useful when the hull is being scrambled and webbed at autocannon range. The Eagle is the HAC in this half that needs the least by way of upgrades. In the case of the Deimos and Zealot, this would be a step towards reintroducing the close range armor HAC as a viable fleet doctrine.

 

Given a bump to the base stats of the Zealot and Deimos such that they have projection and health pool parity with the afterburning shield Loki, alongside the added utility of the ADC and role bonuses, both hulls would act as toned down versions of their pre-nerf Strategic Cruiser counterparts. Anchored or piloted correctly, they would be difficult to track with long range battleship weapons and would offer noticeable damage mitigation against medium artillery and railguns.

 

Stagnation in the meta has been a significant problem over the last couple years that has resulted in both FCs and line members becoming bored and disengaged. AHACs would be a relatively mobile offensive doctrine with a specialization and combat capability that is proportionate to their cost. Their implementation would increase the depth of fleet combat and be a healthy and welcome change. T3Cs needed to be toned down, but their role in New Eden did not need to be removed outright.

 

I was invited to the Strategic Cruiser focus group knowing that one of the design goals CCP had was to reduce the combination of raw hp and resistances that made the Proteus and Legion as powerful as they were. Unfortunately, the changes went too far in the opposite direction and both hulls are no longer viable as an armor fleet brawler. Additionally, the reduction to the strength of the evasive maneuvering Skirmish link made signature tanking significantly less viable.

 

Would this result in AHACs being as problematic as T3Cs?

 

It’s a fair question, but no. One of the attributes that made T3Cs as powerful as they were was the electronic subsystem. Lokis were ridiculously hard to kill, could effortlessly shrug off EM damage from everything that wasn’t a tracking dreadnaught, and their webs had a massive zone of influence that slowed or outright stopped anything within 55 km. Proteus with faction disruptors would lock down a massive portion of a hostile fleet along with their FC, and forced the opposition to commit to the brawl, or pull upwards of 65 km of range before being able to warp out. Legions had energy neutralization subsystems, but these primarily saw use in wormholes where they functioned as miniature Bhaalgorns that were harder to apply damage to and had lower mass.

 

These armor HACs would have none of the ewar options that made T3Cs what they were. With the changes to Strategic Cruisers, the current armor Loki is no longer the concrete brick that it used to be, is expensive, and would be significantly slower than any AHAC. The faction point Proteus is now comically slow, forcing HICs or Interdictors to be used as tackle options. We’re also in 2018, not the Halloween War era of 2013-2014, or the Shadoo era of screaming at fellow PL FC Carbonfury back in 2011. The checks and counters to T3Cs are fairly well known and understood by FCs in the modern era.

 

Regardless of whatever change CCP makes, Eve is complex and there are a number of factors independent of HACs as class that work against the line, and is why iterative design is a necessity. Even if the Vagabond has more midslots than lowslots, medium autocannons are an awful platform. The Ferox lost some damage in March, but needs a reduction in optimal range. Active tanked FAX are overtuned to the point where they can easily repair 100k EHP/s, and as such cannot reasonably be killed by HAC fleet, or any subcapital fleet for that matter. Having said that, we’ll have to wait and see what gets released at Fanfest.

 

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March’s Balance Pass: 1HZ Monitor and Iteration

For the first time in recent memory, Eve is receiving a substantial balance patch. The lack of attention given to balancing is an issue that community has been vocal about for quite some time. In July of 2017, CCP Seagull admitted that there was an inadequate investment into game balance, and that there would be a dedicated team to handle balance going forward. That never actually happened.

The CSM heavily emphasized the importance of iterative balancing during the Winter Summit, and I’d encourage players to read the document. One section is particularly worth quoting, “CSM asks about where the priorities lie with balancing. Fozzie says this has fallen into a nebulous area within the company and they are quite confused about it internally as a side effect of the CSM bringing this up frequently.” Reading between the lines throughout this document paints a picture where the developers are aware of the balance problems that Eve faces, but they’re simply not being given time to address them.

A combination of the sentiment of the general playerbase and a face to face meeting with a CSM collectively communicating that balance is something that CCP can no longer afford to put off likely bought some developer time to make balance tweeks. With the exception of the Monitor, almost all of the March changes to ship balance, sovereignty nodes and even jump fatigue are fixes that essentially boil down to editing values in a database.

Monitor

 

The health pool of the Monitor is split evenly between shields and armor with 176k EHP in each at level 5, and the remainder in hull. Armor fleets have ships that already perform better in the same role with the Legion and Damnation. Once you include slave implants and hardwirings, both Amarr ships have an even more pronounced edge over the Monitor.

However, the Monitor truly shines with shield doctrines, where it soaks a hefty 272K EHP in shields alone and easily outperforms the Vulture. Tankier shield options involve either spending a couple billion isk on deadspace invulns, or flying a relatively immobile, brick-tanked battleship like the Rattlesnake. Even then, the Monitor still has a solid armor buffer to help it catch shield repairs.

On top of this, the Monitor can’t be jammed, can’t be meaningfully damped, and has excellent resistances to energy neutralization. As a result of having a better-than frigate signature radius and a resistance to being target painted, the Monitor easily mitigates long range battleship fire outside of hostile web range.

This is a fairly roundabout way of “solving” headshotting. The only choice you have to make when fitting a Monitor is how much you want to spend on your propulsion modules, and as a game design principle, I’m not in favor of introducing mechanics that don’t involve meaningful choices within a sandbox. There’s a good argument to be made that current shield FC boats aren’t sufficient, but I would have much rather seen the Nighthawk or Claymore lose their offensive bonuses and receive a significant improvement to their overall tank. Kotaku probably wouldn’t have written an article about rebalancing command ships though.

 

Ferox

 
Changes:

-100 power grid

-15 CPU

Combat and navy battlecruisers have been ubiquitous in every scale of combat after their massive buff in late 2015. Solo and small gang players use mobile, active taking versions of these to both brawl and kite in a relatively inexpensive and engageable hull. At the bloc level, the two major beneficiaries of that patch were the Hurricane and Ferox. The Hurricane was quickly and widely adopted as a dirt cheap doctrine that could trade isk efficiently given that you had a sufficiently large fleet to alpha battleships and strategic cruisers. Until fairly recently, there were two very good reasons that the Ferox didn’t see widespread use.

Those reasons were the Tengu and Proteus. While the Ferox overshadows the Hurricane in every aspect besides speed and alpha, railguns are locked to kinetic and thermal damage, a problem that artillery doesn’t have. Prior to their redesign in July 2017, Strategic Cruisers had significantly higher EHP and had base resists that were equivalent to their HAC counterparts. Both Caldari and Gallente T2 resistances are primarily focused around blocking kinetic and thermal damage. Post-Strategic Cruiser redesign, and a Focus Group that wasn’t particularly useful, the Proteus is no longer viable in fleet combat, whereas the Tengu is significantly weaker than it’s pre-patch self. After that change, it was the Ferox’s turn to begin its reign as king of the battlecruisers.

As it stands currently, there’s nothing the Ferox isn’t excellent at, and it’s not getting hit hard enough. The base targeting range is the best of all Combat Battlecruisers, both T1 and Faction, and is only beaten by two Command Ships. Combine this with a 10% optimal per level bonus alongside the optimal and falloff bonus that all Combat BCs received in 2015 and you’re left with an absolute monster that can project far better than any of its peers. The base CPU and PG is excessively generous, and allows the Ferox to arm and defend itself nearly perfectly without making any sacrifices in fitting.

These changes try to fix that, but the CPU change is almost irrelevant and only affects some solo active tanking fits. The power grid reduction is sidestepped by dropping a damage module for a power diagnostic system, and downgrading either the microwarpdrive or one of the extenders. In the end, the post-patch Ferox only sacrifices about 1/9’th its railgun damage and nothing else. I’d like to have seen a reduction in the optimal range to either 7.5% or 5% per level. The Ferox will remain dominant after March.

Machariel

 
Gallente Battleship bonus per level: 7.5% to large projectile falloff (was 10%)

+30 signature radius

+1 mid slot

-1 low slot

The Machariel is without question the most powerful subcapital that can fight on a hostile citadel grid. There’s nothing this hull isn’t excellent at. The overall damage output is fantastic and of a selectable type. The role bonuses to rate of fire and damage make it an outstanding alpha platform in a meta controlled by long range battleships. The hull has the agility and warp speed of a cruiser, allowing it to travel systems and reposition much faster than its peers. The tank is excellent even when fitted with passive membranes as opposed to active hardeners. Prior to its widespread adoption in nullsec, the Machariel was a staple of lowsec doctrine given how effectively the hull scales with deadspace tank and a slave set.

This rebalance is absolutely on point, and gives the Machariel a slot layout that’s a logical step up from the Cynabal. The nullsec version remains a solid choice, but puts the Machariel in a position where it’s not always the best choice. The lowsec fit naturally loses more overall armor, but remains a very powerful ship.

With the addition of a midslot, the Machariel has more possibilities for active tanking and roaming fits. Admittedly, this fit isn’t cheap, but a less expensive build using a defensive web, or an MJD is going to be fun to fly, especially with the additional cargo hold battleships are getting in this patch.

 

All T1 and Faction/Pirate Battleships

 

Changes:

+25% to cargo capacity

+20% to maximum lock range

The blog even credits Mr Hyde directly with these changes. A former CSM and long time proponent of solo brawling in Battleships, Hyde made the argument that most battleships lacked the cargo space to carry enough cap boosts to run a viable active tank. Additionally, he pointed out that it felt unintuitive for battleships to not have sufficient base targeting range to lock a ship and then pounce on their prey with an MJD, something that battleships will be capable of with this upcoming patch.

Hyde was absolutely right about the cargo capacity, but I’ve got mixed feelings about the targeting range buff. In the years since Hyde has left the game, the fleet meta has been increasingly defined by long range battleships, and has seen the rise of Ravens getting blinked around on grid by command destroyers. I’m very wary of changes that centralize the meta around a specific subset of a ship class in ways that are problematic and unhealthy long term, though I can see why this change happened.

 

All Attack Battlecruisers

 

Changes:

May now fit Medium Micro Jump Drives

This ship class is at best niche, and those niches aren’t particularly affected by whether or not you can fit an MJD. The Talos doesn’t have role outside of being a gank ship. The Naga hasn’t been viable as fleet concept since Darkside was at its prime half a decade ago. The Oracle doesn’t have the fitting to use one in roaming fleet. There’s an exception to this rule with gank artillery Tornadoes, but on the whole, this change is a quality of life fix and standardizes battlecruisers as a whole. If this class is changed and becomes viable in the future, command destroyers still cycle faster than medium MJDs, and don’t require you to sacrifice a mid slot.

 

Eagle

 

Changes:

+12 maximum velocity

+25 drone bandwidth

+25 drone bay

As it stands currently, the Eagle is one of the HACs that’s most able to make use of the Assault Damage Control. Prior to the introduction of the ADC, the Eagle was eclipsed by the Tengu both before and after the Strategic Cruiser rebalance. This buff to the Eagle isn’t a game changer, but it puts the Eagle at almost the exact same velocity as the Tengu, and drones are always convenient. Expect to see Freedom Fleet fly again in the near future with the adoption of the ADC, and become even better still after the HAC rebalance.

 

Orthrus

 

Changes:

-100 power grid

-15 maximum velocity

+15 signature radius

While in Iceland for Alliance Tournament 15, I joked that if there was going to be a Mordus Legion themed AT in the future, CCP could simply give out Orthrus with the stats they had on release, but with a covert ops cloak and force recon resistance profiles. The only ship that was more broken on initial release was the Svipul. At any scale larger than small gang nano roaming the Orthrus was never viable, as it would get instantly forced off grid or destroyed outright.

In roaming gangs however, it was meta defining. The ship has ample fitting, raw base stats, and role bonuses that make it the perfect kiting platform. These stats allow force multipliers like skirmish links, snake implants, drugs, and faction modules to scale extremely well on the Orthrus. The warp disruptor role bonus allows the hull to kite at very safe ranges with rapid lights that apply nearly perfectly. The scrambler allows the Orthrus to easily defensively screen and outrun tackle that would try to pin it down.

I’d like to be able to say that these changes finally fixed the Orthrus, but that’s unfortunately not the case. The signature radius change isn’t significant, as the ship’s signature was already massive to begin with. The power grid change forces some changes in fitting rigs, but is fairly easy to work around. The meaningful change here is the velocity, which does noticeably cut back the speed, but it still handles excellently. On the whole, it’s a good start to fixing the faux AT cruiser.

 

Cyclone

 

Changes:

Minmatar Battlecruiser bonus per level: 7.5% to Heavy Missile Launcher and Heavy Assault Missile Launcher rate of fire (was 5%)

The Cyclone doesn’t scale well past solo for the simple reason that it’s got an active tanking bonus and lacks any other solid traits besides the ability to go fast. Additional damage makes for a nice quality of life change, and I’d recommend taking one out for a spin. Suitonia’s guide covers this ship nicely and is still relevant. I’ll probably make use of both utility highs for command links.

 

Drake Navy Issue

 
Changes:

-1 launcher slot

Caldari Battlecruiser bonus per level: 10% to Heavy Missile and Heavy Assault Missile damage (was 4% to shield resistances)

The Drake Navy was the only combat battlecruiser that didn’t have some sort of a damage bonus, and was also the only hull that didn’t have a utility high. If you wanted to fit a link, you had to drop one of your launchers. This meant that the Drake Navy was complete garbage, and it still bothers me that someone actually won the AT using them. After this patch, the Drake Navy goes from 8 to 10.5 effective launchers, which results in a massive 31% damage increase. The hull isn’t viable at any scale larger than small gang roaming, and the only small gang roamer who is going to willingly fly a HML boat is Derth. I suppose you can brawl with it, but no, you can’t bring your Drake Navy.

 

Muninn

 

Changes:

Minmatar Cruiser bonus per level: 7.5% Medium Projectile Turret damage (was 5%)
+150 armor HP
+20 maximum velocity
-750,000 mass
-10 signature radius
-1 high slot
+1 mid slot

The Muninn is a ship that hasn’t been seen in the wild for quite some time. The ship was last iterated on in 2013 when HACs as a class were rebalanced. Ever since Black Legion fell apart, no one has attempted to use them until the introduction of the ADC, simply because HACs as class aren’t in a good spot, and even if they were, the slot layout prevents it from being used. I’ve never understood why the Muninn has less midslots than its T1 counterpart, the Rupture. Even after the ADC was reintroduced, the ship has the tank of a wet paper bag. This simply doesn’t work past small to mid scale skirmishing as any sizable fleet is just going to alpha a Muninn.

After this update gives the hull an extra midslot, the Muninn is capable of fitting a passable tank for a skirmish ship and gains more leniency on running the ADC. Combined with its improved speed and agility, it works as a small scale kiting platform. Having said that, the Muninn starts to run into some problems that are independent of balancing the actual hull.

First, you either have to use a Loki or Claymore with implants and drugs to keep up with your fleet. Neither of these are particularly well tanked, and this just goes back to problem with shield FC and link ships that I discussed earlier with the Monitor. Second, because of the changes to mining T2 materials, the hull alone costs 300m, which is fairly steep for what the platform offers. At the current market rate, you have to ask, “why am I not flying a Loki or anything else right now.” Unless the upcoming HAC rebalance changes this hull significantly, it’s not going to see widespread adoption given the niche, and that it requires effective use of the ADC to work as a fleet concept.

All of this aside, there is an added Easter egg in this patch. The “+150 armor HP” buff that is listed in the patch notes doesn’t match what is currently live on Singularity. With all level 5 skills, the Muninn currently has 2500 raw armor, and after the patch it has 3776 armor. I’m assuming that the dev blog is supposed to say 150% and that it’s just a typo, but even then it doesn’t quite match. Given that local sounded like this whenever Black Legion was in local, I don’t believe that “3776” is a coincidence. Someone at CCP is shitposting.

It’s a good sign that CCP is iterating on balance, as the game will start becoming significantly healthier if they commit developer time every month or so to balancing the game. It’s a good start, but there’s a long way to go. I’m cautiously optimistic, and for the first time in recent memory, I can say that I’m looking forward to playing the upcoming patch. Judging by the overwhelmingly positive reception that the March release is getting both on Reddit and the official forums, I’m not alone.

Competition is Good, Greed is Not: How CCP Games Won Eve Online

Competition in the MMO Marketplace

 

One of the operations of any functional capitalist economy is competition within the marketplace for goods and services. The underlying premise being that if company A is providing a good or service inefficiently, or is of lower quality, when company B enters the market and provides an equivalent good or service more efficiently, or of higher quality, company B will beat out company A. Many of the current problems with Eve Online are reducible to the fact that CCP has no real competition. Simply put, the reason that it feels like CCP isn’t even trying anymore is because they aren’t, and because they’ve realized that they don’t have to.

 

While there are a plethora of other MMOs on the marketplace, none of them are really competing for the niche appeal that Eve Online has. There are good economic reasons that almost no one is currently even trying to compete directly against Eve Online. The only recent exception to this rule is Albion Online. Developing an MMO is incredibly expensive and is a very risky business proposition. Countless “WoW killers” have been developed over the years and have completely fallen flat, and those are games that were marketed to a much wider audience. It’s difficult to sell the concept of a niche MMO to investors or a publisher because it almost always doesn’t make good business sense.

 

After all, why would anyone take the risk on developing a niche MMO when they can just develop literally any other game for the same amount of capital, market it to a much broader audience for consumption and as a result have a much more likely chance at seeing a return on that investment? Games that were roughly comparable and developed around the same time as Eve Online, such as Ultima Online and Asheron’s Call, were created in the pre-World of Warcraft era when the entire MMO genre was in its infancy and no one had any real expectations for the profitability of these games. This means that the only real groups that are currently willing to take the risks of making a more niche MMO title are primarily indie developers on a smaller budget, or studios that have a successful pre-existing IP.

 

A Challenger Appears

 

It was for this reason that when Albion Online was released in 2017, I was excited not just because I would have a new game that was appealing for me to play, but that it was a potential source of competition and that it might force CCP to actually try fixing Eve Online. While Albion Online ultimately failed for reasons I’ll get into later, if you’re looking for a precedent of competition working in the MMO marketplace, look no further than Wargaming’s World of Tanks in early 2014 to early 2016.

 

World of Tanks had a number of similarities to draw parallels with Eve Online. One of the most notable similarities was that it was essentially the only vehicular combat MMO that had achieved any long-term popularity or financial success. Three years later after its release at the end of 2013, the title was still incredibly profitable, but it had a number of glaring flaws with its game design, map design, and game mechanics. Certain nationalities were much more competitive than other nationalities, entire classes of vehicles had a disproportionate win rates, and certain sides of maps and spawns massively favored a certain side.

 

A couple of notable contenders began to design games in an attempt to enter what had now been proven a successful marketplace. Gaijin, the developer of War Thunder, was in the process of expanding their arcade air combat title to include tank combat. Obsidian Entertainment, best known for developing Fallout: New Vegas, had been hired to use the much more modern Cryengine in order to develop a game that was mechanically similar to World of Tanks featuring vehicles from the modern era.

 

Faced with the possibility of losing a significant portion of its market share,  Wargaming started to actually improve their game in order to retain customers. Several new game modes were introduced to give players a wider variety of content. New lines of tanks were added to the game that allowed for a broader spectrum of viable play styles. Existing classes were buffed or nerfed such that every class and line was much more relatively equipped to deal with their peers, while still being unique and allowing for a variety of different game play. Improvements were made to the shell accuracy system and the impact of rng was reduced. Maps that had disproportionate win rates were outright removed from rotation, or were greatly reworked, and a number of new maps were added. Premium vehicles sold for cash released during this time frame were among the most balanced ones that have ever been produced.

 

Average to high skill players were given the opportunity to compete in weekly tournaments that paid out a significant amount of in game currency. Clans received the stronghold mode that allowed for another mode of progression and earned in game currency. Month-long events were released that awarded high skill players with exclusive vehicles. The esports scene saw its prize pools increase massively and feeder leagues were given greater rewards to incentivize greater participation and team development.

 

The global map (the equivalent of Eve Online’s sov map) was given additional regions for players to fight over to earn valuable scarce resources. The payout of daily, weekly, and monthly missions were increased to incentivize players to invest their time and effort into completing objectives. The game certainly had its share of problems, many of which have never been adequately addressed, but on the whole, the meta and endgame in particular during this timeframe was the healthiest it’s ever been in the history of the game. Managing the day to day the operations and competing as the second-in-command of the most powerful clan in North America was some of the most fun I’ve had in gaming. Wargaming’s investment was ultimately successful in keeping average player count stable despite competing games vying for player interest.

 

The Winner and Still Champion

 

Having said that, there are very good reasons why I wouldn’t recommend World of Tanks to anyone in its current state. Ultimately, War Thunder’s mechanics were tedious and their tanks sim failed to make a significant dent in Wargaming market share. My.com, the financiers of Armored Warfare, released in the game in what was essentially an alpha state. Armored Warfare was a buggy game and was ultimately viewed by consumers as a less functional clone of World of Tanks, and as a result died before it even arrived.

 

Wargaming was now in a state where they had no real serious competiton and started getting lazy. Almost all the premiums vehicles released in this timeframe were either better than their peers or were outright blatantly overpowered. Tank lines that were added were usually better than existing lines. Map design suffered as well. New maps were increasingly reliant on three corridor lanes similar to the design of maps found in MOBAs like League of Legends or Dota 2. Funding for the tournament scene was slashed, and game modes were introduced where the only way to successfully complete objectives was to rig matches.

 

I brought up Albion Online earlier because it’s incredibly relevant to this discussion as it relates to Eve Online and ties it up nicely. Sandbox Interactive’s Albion Online was an attempt to combine the economy and sandbox world pvp sandbox of Eve Online, the movement and pve mechanics of Diablo, and the setting and dungeons of Runescape. If that sounds incredibly ambitious, it’s because it was.

 

There were a number of things that Albion Online did right that were compelling and novel. Hellgates combined pve with pvp that made for tense and enjoyable gameplay. The geography by which the central trade hub Carleon functioned as a Jita/Thera mix and was accessible only by traveling through the Albion equivalent of lowsec or nullsec created a situation where trade runs through hostile space were rewarding, compelling, and necessary. Roaming or ganking in the equivalent of nullsec/wormhole space was fun and rewarding. Ultimately the game failed because it was unable to deliver the compelling features and mechanics of any one of those three games in a way that had any long term depth. The fact that ex-CCP Grayscale was hired to be one of the primary developers probably didn’t help things either.

 

Cheating in Albion Online was incredibly easy. Cheat Engine of all things was somehow not detected for the entirety of the beta releases and for the first few months of full release. Players would speedhack to complete trade runs with zero risk, and would use zoom hacks to evade or hunt targets. Open world pvp was unplayably laggy at any scale that would be remotely comparable to Eve. The sovereignty system was ultimately determined by a 5v5 control point game mode played exclusively by the primary guild team that had been fed levels and gear by the entirety of their guild. The leveling and progression system heavily favored those in large guilds. The crafting and resource gathering systems were easy to abuse.

 

Certain rare area of effect weapons that were balanced for the 5v5 game mode were massively imbalanced in open world combat and could outright wipe groups. Stacking effects of some weapons could stunlock players with zero chance of escape. A nearly indestructible piece of furniture designed for instanced player owned property was placeable in open world nullsec zones. This piece of furniture blocked the exit of players allowing for area of effect spells to be mass stacked on one location and instantly kill large groups traveling through the equivalent of stargates. While these mechanics were hilarious to abuse and grief with in the short term, it was evident that the game had no real long term future.

 

Much like Wargaming with World of Tanks, CCP is back to being in a position where they have no real competition for their niche. That’s a damn shame, because while Albion was fun I had zero desire to play Eve Online, and was very was likely going to quit if Albion was successful long term. CCP’s management retains a skeleton crew of actual developers and designers. This is why we see zero iteration on any of Eve’s features that are broken on release and get bandaid half measures or broken promises years later. If it seems like CCP Games isn’t trying, it’s because they’re not.

 

We could playing a game with highsec wardecs that are functional and reward game play other than sitting on the Jita undock, and new players are given a functional UI and not the mess that is the default overview.  We could be in a Faction Warfare and Lowsec that provides alliance level income and conflict generators. We might be able to have brawls in wormhole space that aren’t entirely based around FAX scooping up cap sticks from a DST. Sovereignty could be tweeked such that the optimal fleets for defending or capturing are based around holding a grid, and aren’t ecm or interceptors.

 

CCP doesn’t have to do any of this and they realize it. As long as the current means of monetization continues to reach targeted profits and subscriptions don’t fall off massively, nothing will change. CCP has won Eve Online.

Build Your Dreams, Wreck Theirs: Assets and Asset Safety in Nullsec

“How people stored their stuff”

 

Historical context is needed to fully understand the scope of the perceived balance of mechanics and game design, or more often than not in CCP’s case, imbalance. This context is something that’s often left out or not properly explained in-depth. How these game mechanics compare and contrast to prior iterations, as well as how they were balanced for different areas of space and for different scales of conflicts is also an important factor to take into consideration.

 

Up until the introduction of citadels, you had two options if you wanted to stage somewhere. If you lived in a wormhole, wanted to stage in hostile territory, or needed somewhere to park your supercapital, you used a player owned starbase or “pos.” Upon the destruction of the pos, the maintenance arrays that held your assets were destructible and would be lootable by the attacker. For everything else, you operated out of an outpost. The function of empire and npc nullsec stations essentially has not changed since Eve’s release.

 

The ability to deploy outposts, aka stations, in sovereign nullsec was added mid-2005. Prior to this, the only sovereign nullsec stations you could dock in were a handful of “conquerable stations” that had been seeded by CCP at the launch of Eve. Sovereign nullsec outposts were created by anchoring an outpost platform, also known as a “station egg.” Each race had their own station egg and corresponding racial bonuses to match in order to suit whatever the alliance anchoring the outpost needed. In an era where supercapitals either had yet to be introduced or were a rarity, the decision to invest in an outpost was a significant investment made at the alliance level. Outposts were limited to one per system, if you wanted to dock in the system you had to flip the station. In 2007, the ability to upgrade outposts for additional bonuses such as material efficiency, production time efficiency, and corporation office slots was added thus placing further importance on player outposts and their control.

 

“How people lost their stuff”

 

Until Dominion was release in late-2009, sovereignty was determined by the number of poses your alliance had anchored in system. If your alliance controlled the majority of the poses in system, you owned it. Once the attacking alliance seized control of the system, the station could be shot and flipped without any timers. This allowed for stations to flip rapidly after pos control was gained. This also meant that much of the “gameplay” was based around shooting poses that were undefended, and required constant upkeep and fueling of poses. Poses didn’t run off fuel blocks, and required a number of different fuels to maintain. To say that this was tedious for both attackers and defenders would be putting it mildly.

 

When players felt that their alliance was likely to lose control of their outpost, they would evacuate their assets to the nearest lowsec, npc nullsec, or to another outpost that was further from the conflict zone. Players that personally didn’t have the means to relocate or have the alliance infrastructure to have someone else evacuate their assets, had a few options to recoup the loss of access to their assets.

 

Players could firesale their assets on public contracts, ostensibly to be purchased by the attacking alliance at significantly discounted rates. Tech one hulls would often be insured and self destructed. A jump clone could be installed in the outpost to move a trapped ship at a later date. Often players ended up simply not having the time or means to relocate their assets. In that instance, players could insert an alt into the alliance that had captured the outpost or one of their blues with docking rights. Failing all that, if a player returned to the game after six months of inactivity, GM policy was typically to move one ship and whatever assets could be fit into the cargo bay, to empire space.

 

In an ironic twist, the entire premise behind the Dominion “Storming the Gates” devblog introducing the previous iteration of sovereignty via IHUBs, TCUs, SBUs, and station flipping timers reads as a cautionary tale attempting to avoid mechanics that are tedious and unengaging. That nearly decade old dev blog is just as applicable and relevant to the current system of Aegis sovereignty and citadel reinforcement as it was to the pos sovereignty system of the early days of Eve.

 

Solar Fleet lost their primary staging point in Outer Passage, R3P0-Z to the combined forces of N3PL on April 21, 2013. In the case of major staging systems, alliances would often “hellcamp” an outpost by deploying anchorable bubbles and having a fleet deployed at the station undock in shifts around the clock until the vulnerability timer arrived. The station undock had been hellcamped for days prior to the final timer, preventing members of Solar Fleet from extracting their strategic assets. The final tick of damage was done to the station by a character in the Deadzoned alliance, an alliance only containing a handful of PL’s trusted leadership’s alts.

 

Deadzoned did not issue docking rights to any other alliance, thus effectively freezing out the outpost. Up until this point, no alliance had ever tried locking out another alliance to this extent. Legion of xXDeathXx finally retook the station and freed all of Solar’s assets in December 2014, a month after Pheobe and while the N3 was in the process of disbanding. In early 2015, Solar and xXDeathXx set each other blue, and Solar finally had access to their assets nearly two years later.

 

In the near future outposts will replaced by faction fortizars. Anyone who understands the underlying mechanics of citadels and is being intellectually honest realizes that the current mechanics are abysmal both in terms of gameplay and risk versus reward. The tagline of the Citadel expansion was “Build their dreams, wreck theirs.” Not only was this never delivered, the mechanics are overwhelmingly defensively favored to the point of being diametrically opposed to the ethos of Eve that attracted their core player base to begin with. The implementation of how Citadels should have replaced poses and stations in a way that’s engaging and has meaningful counterplay is an article on its own.    

“How people stopped losing their stuff”

 

At some point in the process of designing citadel mechanics, CCP made the decision to introduce asset safety as a “feature.” Asset safety can be activated at any point. After five days in asset safety, items can be transferred to any other citadel or station in the same system at zero cost. After twenty days in asset safety, 15% of the asset value is charged, and the assets are moved to the nearest lowsec station. The closest mechanic to asset safety prior to its implementation was to be inactive for half a year and then petition a GM to have a single hull without a jump drive moved, and was a major tonal shift on the part of CCP.

 

If I’m generous to CCP and play Devil’s advocate in their favor, they may have implemented these mechanics as a result of deadzoning and decided that too many people in Solar quit as a result of having lost access to their assets. Even then, actions should have consequences. Successful attackers have earned their spoils of war, and a failed defense should incur meaningful losses.

 

The five day in system safety mechanic is patently absurd, as it allows assets to be bounced around by spamming citadels while at no point risking any assets being in a citadel at the time of its destruction. Additionally, it allows for the effortless movement of capital production materials. The five day in system asset safety has no place in New Eden and should have never been implemented, remove this “feature” tomorrow and the game will be better for it.

Edit: The original proposal was unnecessarily punitive, especially to returning players. I’ve since removed it, as it’s something I’ve reconsidered and have found a better alternative for.

The twenty day asset safety mechanic removes meaning from attacking structures. Asset safety should look to the current mechanics of assets locked in hostile stations, be replaced with a similar function. If your assets are destroyed in a citadel, you retain ownership, but they are transferred to a hostile citadel in system of equivalent size class (assets inside a dead foritzar would be moved to a hostile fortizar/tatara/azbel) If no other hostile citadels are in that system of that size class, they are moved to the next equivalent Upwell structure to be anchored in that system. This allows for assets to be firesold and recoverable, while also providing a meaningful risk/reward system.

I do not blame players for taking advantage of poor game design to their benefit, I do blame whichever executive made the short-sighted decision to pander to a playerbase that will never be invested in Eve’s niche long-term by attempting to turn sov null into a themepark. If you want evidence of that tact failing, look no further than the rise and the fall of the PCU shortly after a major media or in-game event. As is, attacking citadels that are spammed infinitely feels meaningless, and leads to player dissatisfaction and burnout much in the same way that grinding poses under pre-Dominion was meaningless. No one wants to logon just to have their time wasted. Designing a system that gives FC’s objectives makes players want to resubscribe, login and fight, will do far more to generate revenue than shortsighted marketing of features that are detrimental to the health of the game, or ultimately have no meaningful impact.

 

2005:

https://www.eveonline.com/article/sneak-peaks-part-iv-outposts/

https://community.eveonline.com/news/dev-blogs/more-details-on-outposts/

https://www.eveonline.com/article/manufacturing-dreadnoughts-freighters-outposts/

 

2007:

https://community.eveonline.com/news/dev-blogs/building-up-your-realm-one-sovereignty-at-a-time/

https://www.eveonline.com/article/revelations-ii-patch-notes-features-fixes-and-improvements-1

https://community.eveonline.com/news/dev-blogs/of-outposts-improvements-upgrades-and-dragons/

 

2009:

https://community.eveonline.com/news/dev-blogs/sovereignty-breaking-the-chains/

https://community.eveonline.com/news/dev-blogs/dominion-storming-the-gates/

 

2013:

http://evemaps.dotlan.net/system/R3P0-Z

 

Current Eve Support pages:

https://support.eveonline.com/hc/en-us/articles/203207992-Inaccessible-Assets-and-Returning-players

https://support.eveonline.com/hc/en-us/articles/208289365-Asset-Safety

Thanks to Elise Randolph, Lucia Denniard, and W4r Destined for their assistance.