Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The o\ Show Recap Part II: Clone Costs and Escape Pod... Escapes.

Welcome to part 2 of my blog coverage of last weekend's The o\ Show on Eve Radio. Yesterday I went over the first half of the show discussing Awoxing, wardecs and new Player Retention. Today we'll go over the second half covering clone costs, death penalties, and escape pod mechanics. If you would like to view the entire broadcast for yourself, it can be viewed on twitch HERE.

Now we come to the very thing that inspired The o\ Show, the removal of clone costs. Many people have looked at me askew over this. Why would I be in support of a "death tax"? People with a lot of skill points pay a LOT of money to replace a clone, and it deters older players in nullsec from flying cheap disposable ships that cost a fraction of their pods.

Live polling on the show revealed that, unsurprisingly, the vast majority of our audience was in favor of the removal of clone costs. Charlie, who is a member of Brave Newbies was especially vocal in his support of this change.

As my present main was created in January of 2005, I am keenly aware of these clone costs. Without my FW discount, a replacement clone for me costs around 45 million ISK, but as I fly in lowsec, this is not an issue, much as it isn't an issue for anyone in lowsec that flies around with over a billion ISK of implants in their heads. Even a single 3% implant costs more than the vast majority of pilot's clones that are flying around in space right now.

If the cost of a clone is not a big deal for people flying in lowsec, but is a huge deal for people in nullsec who are by and large hugely in favor of this change, what gives? The answer is likely to be found in the risks involved.

Using my lowsec alliance as an example, of our nearly 55,000 kills, 5,400 of those are escape pods, just a hair under 10%. We've also lost slightly over 18,000 ships, of which just over 2100 of those were escape pods, or around 12%. Just a cursory glance at numbers for large nullsec groups like Goonswarm Federation (29.6% of kills are pods, and 27.6% of losses) and Northern Coalition. (23.8% of kills, 30.9% of losses) reveals the start of the issue here. No one will be shocked to know that pilots are far more likely to lose a pod in nullsec than in Lowsec, but even these numbers are misleading.

Since a 50% ratio of pods killed vs ships would mean basically a 100% chance of pod death on ship destruction, a 30% ratio of pod losses should equate roughly to a 60% chance of losing a pod once your ship goes down. I will freely admit that the math might be a little more complicated than it seems at first glance though, and does not take into account that some losses these groups incur are in lowsec and highsec. With that in mind the actual % chance of pod death while in nullsec is likely much higher than these numbers can account for, I just don't have access to the data.

While the number for my lowsec alliance are a bit more accurate for our area of space (since we hardly ever have cause to leave it) another thing to consider is that people who fly more expensive pods in lowsec are far less likely to lose them than the 10% ratio would suggest. For myself, I lose approximately 1 pod for every 30 ships I lose. Flying with a billion ISK plugged into my head, you can imagine I've gotten quite adept at spamming the warp button once I realize a fight is lost. Sometimes my ship goes down too fast to react, lag happens, or Santo Trafficante (lowsec pirate specializing in escape pod destruction, nearly 60% of his 18,000 kills are pods) sees me warp off and is waiting for me when I land, but aside from that, I have a very good chance of getting my pod back home.

Interestingly, the same people attending the o\ Show that were hugely in support of getting rid of clone costs, also voted in a 2-1 ratio that Escape pods having such a low rate of survival in nullsec is a larger problem than clones costing money. Even Charlie, our most vocal supporter of the change was given pause when asked the same question.

Here's my problem with this change: Clone costs are being lauded as a dumb mechanic, a death tax that serves no purpose than to cost people money. People risk the ship, they lose that, and then they lose their pod as an added bonus. This change, it is said, will encourage more people to risk PVP in nullsec. The fact is that this change doesn't encourage risk, it removes it.

People that wouldn't risk a 30 million ISK pod before the change are not likely to risk taking out a HAC or T3 cruiser after the change any more than they were before it. They may "risk" flying in a t1 frigate or destroyer after the change.

For a 5 million SP pilot in Brave Newbies, losing a clone means a cost of 175 thousand isk, which to my veteran eyes seems awfully paltry. In fact, to exceed a clone cost of even 1 million ISK one must purchase a clone that holds over 25 million SP, and is still less than the cost of the fully T1 fit derptron we throw away by the dozen in lowsec.

For a guy like me with a main that's nearly 10 years old, nullsec would ABSOLUTELY be a pain in the ass. At 45 million ISK a pop, and better than 60% chance of losing it, pods start to add up. Putting that in perspective, and looking at the fact that clone costs are a non consideration in areas of space where escape is more likely, is the issue at hand the fact that clones cost money, or is it that losing your escape pod is nearly a guarantee in nullsec if you lose your ship?

People say that there are no interesting choices when it comes to clones. You must purchase one that will hold all of SP, and this is true. They don't really do much else except hold your implants. In lowsec we have a choice. When I lose my ship, I have to weigh out the cost of my clone versus the convenience of instant travel home via the pod express.

At 45 million ISK, I am very unlikely to prefer taking the pod express over making 10 or 15 jumps back to my home station. If given the choice of making the trip manually or taking it for free however, I'm much more likely to sit back, activate self destruct, and hope that someone comes along to pop me before the timer runs out to save even more time! As a lowsec PVPer, I really don't WANT my victim to sit still in their pod and type in local "Pod pls" just before the self destruct notification goes off. In nullsec there should be some incentive for self preservation as well.

Now don't get me wrong, I'm not suggesting that the present mechanic is not in need of improvement. It is in need of an overhaul. For one, loss of skill points AND money is definitely too harsh. While I've never lost SP because I forgot to upgrade my clone, I know i am in the minority there. Getting rid of the SP penalty is definitely a good idea. For another, something needs to be done to give "escape" pods a chance to actually escape in nullsec.

Bubble immunity is one idea on the table. I've heard the cries that this would make pods "impossible" to catch in nullsec. In lowsec we have no such tools to catch pods and yet we kill plenty. Some folks, like Santo Trafficante, have made careers out of catching and destroying large numbers of very expensive pods. This change alone would be far more likely to encourage people in nullsec to fly with much more expensive pods, than removing clone costs entirely will. Surely pod deaths will go down, but would ISK destroyed from pod deaths go down with it? For my fellow PVPers, would you rather nail 1 pod with a billion in implants plugged in it's head or 30 empties?

For those vehemently opposed to bubble immunity for pods, what about a decent base speed for them that would allow them to burn out of a bubble given a short time if no one in a small ship were there to pick them off? Changing base speed might also affect align time slightly, giving fast lockers more of a chance to catch pods.

These are just two options among many to help increase the chance of a pod escaping conflict in nullsec, and bringing a small choice back into space combat: Is the cost of death worth the convenience of instant travel back to base? Sometimes the negative consequences of an action ARE the incentive not to let it happen, and an instinct for self preservation isn't a bad thing.

Monday, November 10, 2014

The o\ Show Recap Part 1: Awoxing, Wardecs, and New Player Retention

This past Friday night/Saturday morning we had one hell of a show on Eve Radio. Elijah Ghost, Charlie Firpol, Zeratha and I donned some of our best formal attire for the evening and engaged in a dual live broadcast (audio only through ER for those playing games or listening on the go from their phones, and a live webcam feed through twitch for those few with less divided attentions).

For the evening we had 2 main talking points (which lead to several smaller discussions) and had occasional breaks to go over progress in a prize giveaway we were also doing at the time. For an Eve Radio first, we also featured a new live polling system to help give live feedback on the various topics being discussed.

This posting will be the first of 2 covering the main topics of the broadcast. I was originally going to make 1 post, but it got to be quite long, and the topics are different enough to each warrant their own post. Check back tomorrow for my thoughts on the elimination of clone costs and escape pod mechanics.

If you would like to view the original broadcast for yourself, you can view it on twitch HERE.

The AWOX Dilema

We started things off this week on familiar ground, though the discussion took a turn from the previous week and I was able to keep my cool through most of it. Unsurprisingly, through live polling the majority of our listeners were in favor of the removal of highsec awoxing from the game. This is something I understand, even if I don't agree with it. The reason I don't agree with the change is because I also the issue that CCP is attempting to solve with this change, with the further understanding that this change will NOT solve the issue on its own and further changes will be needed to reach the goal.

What is the goal, you ask? Quite simply, the reason for the removal of highsec Awoxing is to make players in high sec feel safer about joining a player corporation. It is designed to make a player corporation more attractive of a destination to new players, and make more veteran carebears feel safer about inviting new players into their group.

Corp infiltration and theft are still going to be an issue, even I would consider it to be a minor concern. I mean, if you don't trust people not to Awox you, you're certainly not going to give them access to anything in your corporation, but at least you'll let them into your chat channel, maybe teach them how to play the game and be afraid of anything risky.

The major issue still in play however is present wardec mechanics. Live polling on the show this week showed that the same people in favor of removing highsec awoxing also agree that the threat of wardecs is a larger deterrent to people gathering in player corporations in highsec. While being in an NPC corp gives someone Concord protection from intra-corp awoxing, it also gives the much larger benefit of making them immune from highsec wardecs.

It's a known issue that a primarily industrial corporation based in highsec does not have the ways or means to defend itself against a larger, more PVP oriented group of players, and these guys are prime targets for groups like the highsec wardec alliance Marmite Collective. Marmite is not the ONLY group that does this, but they are one of the most prominent.

Some of you will remember the story I told on the blog last week (and retold with a bit more detail on The o\ Show this past weekend) where I created a new account and posed as a new player in Eve. Despite fears of awoxing, I managed to get accepted into a highsec industry corp. That corporation then formed an alliance with another corporation and within 24 hours was wardecced by Marmite Collective, who likely saw them on a list of newly formed alliances in Eve.

The alliance leader promptly sent a mail to everyone instructing them to dock up for the duration of the wardec, and everyone followed the advice. For the next 2 weeks, hardly anyone logged in, hardly anyone undocked in anything bigger than a shuttle, no one was talking, and I got bored and decided not to pay the next month's sub for that account. I wasn't the only one that didn't come back either.

Player Retention and Protecting the Newbies: One Possible Solution

It has been toted as fact that players that get engaged socially while playing Eve are far more likely to stick around than those that never leave an NPC corp and don't get involved socially. It is an apparent directive of CCP to make player run corporations a more attractive venue for players to congregate in than NPC corps. If CCP is going to be serious about this, then the removal of highsec awoxing can only be the next step on the yellow brick road to new player retention. Until wardecs and other forms of intra-corp risk outside awoxing can be eliminated, player corporations will continue to be sub-optimal destinations for new and/or defenseless players when considered next to an NPC corporation.

There was a solution to this, but I did not bring up on the show until I was able to be clear whether it was covered under NDA or not. Upon talking with other members of the CSM, the solution in one form or another has been blogged about already by others, so I should be clear to at least drop my version of the solution here for public consumption and consideration. For the record, I am not sure whether this solution, or others like it are being considered by CCP or not. You would need to ask them if something like this is on the table.

The idea is something called Corp Lite. This is a player corporation, but is mechanically different from corporations as we have them now. The idea is to leave corporations in the game as they are now, awoxing and all, and create this new type of corp. Corp Lite has some serious benefits over a regular corporation, but it also has some detractors. I think a bullet point list will illustrate this best:

Corp Lite Benefits:
  • Immune to wardecs
  • Can set standings like any other corporation. Makes forming fleets with other groups easier.
  • No intra-corp aggression without Concord response (in highsec)
  • Has corporate chat channel and any other social tools available to regular corps.
  • Individuals can create contracts that can be completed by any member of the corp lite.
  • Would have a 1 time option to convert to a regular corp. Cannot convert back to lite once conversion has been made.
Corp Lite Disadvantages:
  • Can not rent corporate offices. (Reduces chance of corp theft)
  • Can not own a POS
  • Can not own a POCO
  • Can not join Factional Warfare
  • Can not join an alliance
  • Can not hold Sov.
  • Since there is no corp wallet or tax, should cost something to maintain, TBD.
So there you have it. A step up from an NPC corp, player controlled, would work well for mining and basic industry. As CCP seems to be a big fan lately of doing whatever is easiest, whether something like this would get implemented or not I fear will depend on whether it's easier to nerf the other stuff or code for a new type of corporation. A lot of support from the player base might go a ways to convince CCP as well.

Of course we're left with the dilemma that many people in Eve get a lot of enjoyment out of causing grief to highsec carebears, and there is a strong griefer culture in Eve. This was brought up by a listener on the show, and I was forced to agree that some people who are new to the game are likely turned off by this and don't continue playing as a result of it.

Friday, November 7, 2014

FunkyBacon's o\ Show. 00:00 GMT on Eve Radio

The spate of changes announced in the last week have inspired me to change the name of our weekly broadcast on Eve Radio. Today CCP announced on their second o7 show the introduction of a new "feature" for the next point release named Rhea. The feature is that they're getting rid of all clone grades and the costs associated with them.

On the surface many people are seeing this as a great change. People in nullsec will finally want to fly on frigate roams because they're clones will not dwarf the cost of their ships! Risk averse PvPers will risk ships now where they would not risk empty pods before!

On our next show, tonight at Midnight GMT (That's Friday night for those in North America, and Saturday AM for those in Europe) we'll be launching our first o\ Show** where we'll get to talk about lazy game design that completely misses the mark of solving the actual "unintuitive," "bad," and "arbitrary," game play that is the culprit here. (Hint: It isn't a few million ISK to replace a clone)

You'll be able to tune in live at http://eve-radio.com when we get things fired up at midnight. Should you miss the festivities, we'll make the show available for easy listening later.

For those of you that would like a bit more than another FunkyBacon rant, we'll also be finding some ways to give out some cool prizes, like a couple plex, and a really sweet faction fit Legion I was gifted by one of the high sec Awoxers that is canceling his account due to the impending Awox nerf we talked about last week.

See you at midnight!

** While the o7 is common Eve ASCII slang for a salute, o\ for the unaware would be someone slapping themselves in the face, or otherwise face palming.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

The Death Knell of Awoxing

Before I go any further, I want to make plain that I am 100% behind the CEO of a corp having the ability to kick someone from their corp immediately, even if they are in space. If immediate is not possible, then "queuing" someone for a kick the moment they dock, or when downtime hits should be made available. I'm all for a good awoxing, but I don't think an awoxer terrorizing a corp for days on end just because they never dock, go offline, and can get back on within seconds of downtime ending is a good idea.

By now people have had a chance to read the recently released CSM minutes, and the cat is out of the bag that the AWOXer community is about to get tossed out the airlock. Judging from the fact that I seem to have been about the only person in that meeting (I think Ali may have had a few words to say against it as well, but I can't recall) that was against the corp aggression change, it's a safe bet that this will get pushed through, possibly as soon as the next release after Pheobe.

For some of you, the 150+ pages of the minutes may have been a TLDR snore fest, so I'll break this one down for you simply: CCP has proposed that aggression against corpmates will now trigger a Concord response in highsec. It is also likely, that with this tied into crime watch, those same aggressive actions taken against corpmates in FW will trigger the requisite factional standings losses and security status hits that come along with shooting a fellow member of militia that is not already a suspect or criminal.

The reasons given for this change vary a bit. If I had my Game Dev Buzzword Bingo card handy, I could check off the "unintuitive gameplay" box for sure. Despite the mechanic being in place for the entirety of Eve's existence, somehow people still have a hard time wrapping their heads around why people within a corporation can shoot at each other. The reality of it is probably some limitation within the old crime watch system made it easier to allow corp members to shoot at one another than the alternative. I doubt anyone is left at the company that was involved in this particular bit of programming that could explain the "why" of it. It has just always been.

It's a "confusing mechanic" for new players gets tossed around a lot as well. The protection of newbies in Eve is a very popular call lately. It's right up there with protecting baby seals and saving whales, which sounds really altruistic and good on the surface, but we also have to remember that this is Eve, and very few veteran players are REALLY interested in saving newbies. When a high ranking member of Goonswarm for example touts that line, I'm always given pause. I have lots of nice things to say about goons. I've been fans of them since their noob days bowling around nullsec in velator blobs. One nice thing I have never been able to say about high ranking members of Goonswarm (until now) is that they are benevolent protectors of anyone that flies outside of their circle of trust we call the CFC.

I don't mean to pick on Goons specifically here, but my point is that the people being protected the most by this change are not new players. New players typically don't fly ships worth Awoxing. I've never heard a soundcloud of a 3 month old player losing his shit after getting his thorax blown up by a corp mate. I HAVE heard some great ones of people losing multi billion ISK missioning bling boats.

Noob Mercs is a corporation that I have been involved with in one capacity or another since it's inception in 2008. It is a training corp for players new to Eve, and also for carebears looking to learn a thing or two about PVP. Noob Mercs has an open recruitment policy. There are no API checks, or background inquiries before pilots are allowed to join. This is, of course, "counter intuitive" to how most corporations handle recruitment. Quite literally anyone can get accepted, and join and leave as they like. I made some inquiries to see how much of an epidemic Awoxing has been for these guys, and in 6 years of operation there has been exactly one incident of Awoxing where one pilot lost a 40 million ISK Comet. Other situations have arisen where people needed to be forcefully ejected from the corporation due to various forms of ass hattery, but of Awoxing, it was just that one time.

Let's break this down:

  • Years of Operation: 6
  • Members: 300+
  • Recruitment: Completely Open. No API or Background Checks
  • Times free form corp agression has been used for training purposes: Too many to count.
  • Awox Incidents: 1
So what gives? Part of the reason for the lack of Awoxing has to due with the PVP focus of the corp. These are not the kind of new players that get too upset about losing a ship, and tear potential is minimal. The other part of the reason is that Awoxers aren't looking to kill newbies in t1 frigs and cruisers. Anyone that takes the profession seriously is out looking for the big score, a blinged out mission ship, a freighter full of loot fairy gold. It takes time and effort to get a suitable mark, infiltrate his corp, and set up the Awox. Sometimes there are great successes, and sometimes there are failures.

CCP has stated that people being able to shoot at each other inside a corporation prevents people from joining corps. A big part of player retention is getting people involved with other players, and playing together, making connections so you pay your sub so you can keep playing with your new friends. It is true that making friends in a game like Eve certainly does keep people around longer. However, since true new players don't know they can be shot by a corp mate until someone tells them, it's unlikely the threat of Awoxing is keeping them from joining a player corporation. The threat of Awoxing MAY keep a veteran player from allowing people to join his corporation for fear of losing his 5 billion ISK missioning raven to a 3 week old awoxer in an atron, those guys are scary as fuck.

We can tell ourselves that these risk averse players will actively seek out newbies to take under their wings now that those newbies won't be able to kill their multi-billion ISK battleships with impunity in their frigates. I think the reality of the situation is that this won't change much. The threat of awoxing is about as real as an afk cloaker in nullsec. Yeah, there's a chance that guy might be hunting you, but by and large, it's your own paranoia at work, while the guy behind that character is actually off at his job, or watching TV, or playing on his main. Annoying? Sure. But 9 times out of 10, it's the threat of what MIGHT happen, not what actually will.

A Newbie's Tale

The fact is, if you're a newbie in Eve looking for social interaction, it's fairly easy to find. If you're a regular reader of the blog, you might recall I made a new account off the humble bundle a few months ago. It took me a bit of time, but I wanted to find a corp full of guys that did high sec industry and weren't completely lame. I spent some time going through the in-game recruitment ads, and settled on 3 or 4 corps. I put the recruiters on watchlist, sent out some mails, and sat back. Some of those guys never seemed to log in during the times they said they were active, but I finally managed to talk with one fellow.

Was he cautious about the potential for Awoxing? You bet he was! I did not get directly invited to the corp. Instead I was given a destination and a bit of help getting set up halfway across highsec. They hooked me up with a new venture and a couple of frigs to try missioning with, gave me some advice on how to fit my ships, and told me to stay out of lowsec because people out there are mean (I had a nice chuckle about that bit). I was invited into a couple mining fleets, got social with the fellas, and after a few days they told me, "You know what? You're pretty cool and we'd like you to join." I can't honestly say that being in the corp was all that different than being out of it, except that we joined a newly formed alliance and were promtply wardecced by The Marmite Collective. The alliance leader told everyone to dock up for a week to deny Marmite any kills. I got bored, and let my account lapse.

A Story About Trust

Elijah Ghost, Doc Nielsen, LarkinAlpha, Zeratha, Charlie Firpol, Pawiie, Bajran Bali, and a few others I've met over the years, have all flown with me at various times, often in the same corp. We met in some way, had a chat, flew together, flew together more, got in corps together, shot people together, and had some good times together. Every one of those guys has had the chance to absolutely fuck me over in Eve. I've taken the chance and turned my back, and the knife never landed. If we'd met playing a game like WoW, they'd never have even had the chance to screw me in even a remotely meaningful way.

I have played a LOT of other MMO's. I do not have 1/10th the connection with anyone in any guild or group I've played with in any other game than I have with my Eve bros. I consider these guys as much friends as anyone I know or actually come face to face with on a regular basis. Why is that? Why do I have that connection with these guys where I couldn't even tell you the first names of 3 people I've played other MMO's with?

I'll tell you why. Because Eve, much like real life, doesn't have a lot of artificial barriers in place to prevent people from using and abusing you. When you land in a tight spot in Eve, you learn real quick who your friends are. The guys that come bail you out of a jam, the guys that swoop in to save your ass or die trying. The guys that when you're in a slump and the corp is falling apart around you, they don't steal everything not nailed down and make a run for it, but help you pick up the pieces and get things going again. The guys that had multiple chances to fuck you over, but never took any of them. When you interact with people under these conditions, the bonds of friendship are a lot stronger than they are when those elements are not present.

And now, back to the Meat and Potatoes

If CCP's real intent is to get players more socially involved in the game, with the realization that many new players probably never make it out of highsec, it might be a good idea to start looking at tools and content that encourage group play in highsec for newbies. Safety in numbers is a huge part of success in most other parts of the game. Sure there are some amazing solo artists in low, and null space, but to see success on a grand scale, you need some friends. On the other hand, almost every PVE activity in highsec is designed for a solo player, and there is no tangible benefit to bringing friends with you.

You might complete missions faster with a group, but then you're splitting the rewards... there's no net gain for your time put in, plus when solo you have no need to hold off for a few minutes while your buddy refills his beer, or runs off to take a shit.

Mining is more efficient with a group to be sure, but while we're on the subject of "unintuitive gameplay bingo" I'm not even sure I can call mining in Eve "gameplay". CCP may want to look into that particular aspect of Eve after 11 years, especially since anyone I've ever heard talk about how mining might be changed at CCP now works for Riot.

There is no room for cooperative group play in market PVP. Being a space trucker arguably works better solo than with a group, since less people know what you're carrying and where you're going. High sec exploration doesn't pay well enough to invite your friends along to share. I will say that high sec scamming DOES work better if you have some help... but I think we're aware that CCP isn't looking to buff that particular form of gameplay, since they chip away at it on a fairly steady basis.

That leaves us with incursions. I think here is where we find the meat of our issue, and who this change is supposed to help. Incursions are the only high sec PVE opportunities that both require group play and are worth doing in a group. Running them in a player corporation is risky right now because who wants to risk a multi billion isk incursion ship to awoxing? Not many of us. Of course, newbies don't do incursions, because it takes time to get the skills and the isk together to get in that pirate battleship, or even to fly a t2 logi ship properly. If we remove the threat of Awoxing, people running incursion groups will be much more free with the invites right? Sure!

Of course there's that second gorilla in the room that's keeping those guys out of player corps as well, and that would be wardecs. Not much point in making that player corp to run incursions with your friends you don't trust to not awox you, only to have some other group of players who love scoring big kills (or just ruining your day) wardeccing you, forcing you to keep those pretty ships docked up and not making you incursion money for a week or more. It's still much easier to stay in an NPC corp.

After all these words and ponderings, I'm still left with the question of how removing Awoxing from the game is really going to help achieve the goals CCP has set out. I've looked at the publicly available PCU graphs, and Eve is in a slow and steady decline, and has been since Incarna. This change won't do anything to stem that tide.

There are many player identities in eve: "miner," "mission runner," "wormholer," "pirate," and "awoxer" to name a few. That last one is about to get struck from the list. A tool for content creation is being struck from a game that hasn't seen any significant content added to it since the Incursion expansion of 2010. 4 years is a long as time to put your game in maintenance mode and expect people to stick around. As more people get to the point where they've done everything they want to do, and have no place left they'd like to go, they will leave. For those players that have settled on Awoxing and infiltration as the thing that keeps them playing, they'll now have to either find something else to do, or find something else to play. I doubt the retention of new players from their departure will do much, if anything to stem the decline we've been seeing.

When it comes right down to it, what keeps Eve interesting isn't its PVE content, how many ships we can fly, or even the gorgeous art. It's player interaction, and that ever present danger just out of the corner of your eye we call risk, which comes from the less than optimal player interactions we might face. The level of risk in Eve is what keeps it apart from other MMO's that pander to the lowest common denominator and make things like loss and death hurt as little as possible. Many of us that have played Eve for a long time can't play those other games for any significant period of time without getting bored out of our pants. No real challenge, no risk of loss, no lasting interest.

Any element of Eve that creates risk also creates content. Eve is a niche game. It will not get to the numbers of players that are seen in larger MMO's, no matter how many baby steps it takes in their direction to minimize chances of loss and risk in the "safer" parts of space. The removal of Awoxing isn't the first step in this direction, it is just the next step in this direction, and with each step that's been taken, there comes another that seems like it is in the way of retaining players and is confusing to newbies that needs a nerf.

And this isn't a slippery slope argument, warning of this being the first step towards some unknown, out of this world, destination. We're already a good way down the mountain of continually making non-consensual PVP more difficult to engage in, while adding structured ways for players to engage in "fair fights" with duel mechanics and dojos. Wardecs have been nerfed to hell with more likely to come in the future, we've changed loot can mechanics from limited engagements to global suspect to discourage stealing from others, added a safety feature to prevent people from accidentally getting concordokkened, contracts have been restructured and color coded so people don't have to look at them nearly as hard to realize they're getting scammed (hint: all contracts in Jita are scams), mining ships have been given battleship level tanks to make afk mining easier and more risk free than it's ever been, and the list goes on!

The more structured and rigid Eve becomes, the less sand in the sandbox.

I'm of the opinion that the only way to truly make highsec safe for "new players" (read: risk averse veterans with shiny toys they don't want to lose) would be to remove all non-consensual PVP from highsec entirely. Get rid of wardecs, and force green safety on all ships once they jump into their first highsec system.

Of course, CCP would never skull fuck the sandbox that badly, but this is becoming a question of how close to that line they're willing to go. Some players, maybe even a lot of players, might think that a safer highsec is a great idea, and at first it would seem so. But after a while, when you get bored of saving the damsel for the thousandth time with no need to make plans against someone trying to ninja salvage your loot, or realize you don't need to have a strip miner running in the background while you watch your favorite porn flicks (or episodes of My Little Pony if you're from Failheap) you're going to be looking for something that's more engaging to do. If you're one of those risk averse people, that something will likely not be out in lowsec, nullsec or WH space, but something outside Eve entirely.

In the end, this is how Eve dies. Not this year, next year, or even 5 years from now. Not in a flaming ball of player rage quits and broken monuments, but slowly, as candles snuffed out one by one, with no fucks left to fan the flames of passion for a game that has seen nothing but minor fixes and tweaks since 2011. In a couple of months it's likely a good portion of Awoxers will be docking up their pods for the last time, their part of the sandbox closed off permanently. Unfortunately, if the trends continue, they won't be alone since that steady PCU decline has been... well, steady.

I have faith that someday CCP will realize the steady decline we are seeing has more to do with a lack of actual new content (and no, a few new ships and mission types don't qualify) than new players getting awoxed, or risk averse veterans crying on the forums. Someday they might figure out that making high sec safer will not necessarily lead to more meaningful player socialization. Hopefully we'll get to see what's on the other side of that star gate we were shown at fanfest before the downward trend forces another round of layoffs. If not, I don't think there's a fiction department left to write the apology.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

As the Ban Hammer Swings

Yesterday started off fairly well for me with a trip to the local indoor playground filled with gigantic bouncy houses. My mission was to run my two young kids completely ragged in a day of intense activity, and as an added bonus, these bouncy houses are actually built strong enough for several adults to be banging around in them as well. I hate to say it, but it's more fun than Eve.

During a quick break in the action I had the ill sense to check my phone for a moment, and found several pings across multiple mediums regarding a ban wave. At first it looked like CCP had got around to banning the various agents involved with the Bonus Room incident a few months ago. Obviously, I didn't have time to look into much at that moment, so I shot off some quick messages to James315 and others promising further review upon my return, then I went back to playing with my kids.

Definitely more fun than Eve.

Upon my return home, the kids barely made it in the door before passing out on the floor Sims style. With OP success on that front, I managed to get them in their beds, kissed the wife goodbye, and then retired to the dungeon where the Eve happens. Here's what I've got so far:

Firstly, the CSM is not part of the GM team and are not consulted on bans. People are banned every day, it's not our business, nor part of our function to second guess any specific ban. There has been one recent instance of a GM allegedly referring someone to go talk to the CSM when they were unable to make a reimbursement for a bug that happened, but aside from that, we really don't have much to do with these guys.

After pouring through communications from over a dozen people, reading accounts of people claiming to be involved on various sites, and checking a couple of blogs, I've managed to piece together what seems to be a reasonable approximation of what went down yesterday.
  1. A number of people were banned for what appears to be RL harassment. Actual numbers are not known and are unlikely to be released.
  2. Some of those banned were involved in Erotica 1's bonus room.
  3. Some of those banned had nothing to do with Erotica 1's bonus room, and had never been heard of by known participants within that subset of the community.
  4. Some of those involved neck deep in Erotica 1's bonus room were not banned.
Based on the accounts I've read thus far, it would appear unlikely that all the people banned for harassment yesterday were involved in any singular incident together. With that reasonable assumption, this ban wave has more of a sting feel to it, and likely one that was cooking for a bit before the trigger was pulled. The only words from CCP on the matter thus far have come from CCP Falcon, first around the time that the bans actually hit:

Hello everyone,

We would like to remind the EVE community of our stance regarding the usage of EVE Online and assets, characters and items from within the game environment as leverage for the purpose of real life harassment.

As outlined in our previous announcement, this type of behavior lies in clear breach of our End User License Agreement, and as such we have a zero tolerance approach when dealing with these cases.

Our stance regarding this type of behavior has not changed since the last announcement, and any individuals who are found to be engaging in such behavior will be met with disciplinary action against their game accounts in accordance with our Terms of Service.

- F (source)
Before I go any further here, I need to make one thing very plain. I'm looking on the claims of innocence/ignorance of the people hit in this ban wave as dubious at best. A statement such as "I'm not sure what I did wrong" can easily be translated to mean "I've probably done 5 or 6 things that would fall under this in the last 6 months, and I'm not sure which one this is for." Each and every one of these people has done something at this point to get banned, though the manner in which they were caught may be in question. That CCP will not give any examples in this case of what constitutes bannable harassment behavior is also unfortunate, however.

A reply from CCP Falcon came in response to requests for a clear line to be drawn:

It isn't our job to dictate to people how to maintain a base standard of human decency toward one another, and we're not going to do so.

The bottom line is that it's down to members of the community to know where the line crosses from common decency to harassment. We will not draw a line in the sand so that people can skirt on the edge of it and bend the rules as much as possible.

This isn't a debate about what constitutes "harassment". If you're not familiar with the word, find the definition in a dictionary and that will satisfy your question.

What we will do, is continue to use best judgement on a case by case basis to ensure that real life harassment is kept out of the game, and ensure that those who choose to involve themselves in such activities are no longer permitted to be part of our community.

Cut and dried, that's all we have to say on the matter.

In this response, CCP and I are going to be in stark disagreement. When I look up harassment in the Oxford dictionary I get "Aggressive pressure or intimidation". Dictionary.com gives me a bit more to work with on this: "the act or an instance of harassing, or disturbing, pestering, or troubling repeatedly; persecution:" Following the link for "harassing"then brings us to the definition of harass, which is:
  1. to disturb persistently; torment, as with troubles or cares; bother continually; pester; persecute.
  2. to trouble by repeated attacks, incursions, etc., as in war or hostilities; harry; raid. 
In short, my question is not satisfied. The problem here is that we're talking about the Eve community. Harassment as defined in multiple dictionaries is an extremely common daily occurrence in Eve, and classing the majority of it as harassment in terms of the EULA or TOS would be laughable. Local smack talk, is, by definition, harassment. Blowing up someone's ship repeatedly is harassment. Bumping AFK miners out of belts could be considered harassment. Sending angry rage letters to people who blow up your ship is certainly harassing behavior, even if the result is that it makes them happy for your tears.
If every instance of dictionary defined harassment that happened in Eve were to be petitioned, the GMs would likely have time for nothing else. Since we can all reasonably agree that the dictionary is not what defines EULA/TOS breaking harassment in Eve, a more informed definition from CCP is needed to clear up confusion in a game that advertises for potential new players to "Be the Villain," and where scamming/deception are not only common place, but encouraged. To save a couple thousand words, allow me to use my wicked paint skills to illustrate the issue as I see it in simple terms: 

The Line

Here is a simplistic illustration of the status quo as it seems to hold right now. We have a few very clear examples of unacceptable behavior that one can reasonably assume will result in a lengthy vacation from Eve. We have a line that shant be crossed, but the placement of it is somewhat in debate, and it tends to make a move to the left from time to time, meaning that something that may not be enforced today, could be enforced if it happens next week, or next month, or next year. Something one GM may let slide could be met with a very harsh response by another member of the staff. 
The annals of Eve history are littered with cases where one member of the GM staff has not seen a problem where another might. I won't bore you with a comprehensive list, but I can give at least one example of a debate going on right now where CCP seems to be a bit inconsistent on what is/is not considered to be an exploit in the game (you get banned for those too BTW).
In this sense, CCP can't tell us where the line is, because in reality, CCP doesn't seem know exactly where it is themselves.
CCP Falcon also has a point in that a super firm line cannot be drawn, otherwise (this is Eve afterall) people will absolutely step right up to that line and poke it and prod it and see how close they can come to it without crossing it. CCP Falcon is absolutely right, this would be a very bad idea.
But I think Falcon is missing the point here. What people are looking for is not a hard and fast line with a concrete definition. What would be awfully nice is a second green line with acknowledgement that if you stay reasonably within it's bounds, you're pretty safe from a banning. Obviously taking things to an extreme out of hand status would put one in the danger zone, or straight into the red.

As an example, this wave of bannings has once again brought up the question of certain aspects of the bonus room that have been a part of Eve for years. The age old tradition of pointing someone's pod and inviting them onto your voice comms to sing for the chance of not getting podded is something that has repeatedly come up. The operators of the bonus room had people sing as part of their scheme to get their stuff back, and the bonus room is not ok. Are we also saying that a practice with some similarities, though largely viewed by the community as ok, is to the right or left of the green line?

Certain corporations can have very odd, and sometimes uncomfortable conversations with potential new recruits on outside voice comms. This may also include singing, or otherwise (mostly benign) hazing. Green?

Someone told me a story once of how they wanted to join a prominent null sec alliance, and in order to be allowed in this person was required to meet with a representative while at fanfest. Part of the process included this person being asked to eat the testicles of some locally domesticated animal (apparently considered a delicacy in Iceland). Depending on one's views of sheep, this might be viewed even as sexual harassment in certain cultures. No actual assets were on the line here, but is this considered to be somewhere in the green zone? Furthermore, how the hell could CCP even verify it took place???

CCP and the META

That brings me to the next point of contention here. It is entirely unclear how far into the meta CCP is willing to dive to collect and accept evidence of out of game harassment. Without the specific incidents in question, none of us will have any idea what the answer to this question is. CCP is not likely to tell us anything, so the only people who can reasonably provide specifics are the ones who were banned, and they all seem to be feigning complete ignorance. I predict we'll be getting no help on this from either party.

In the past, CCP has generally stayed out of the meta. In the case of Erotica 1, he posted links to his handiwork on the official Eve Forums. There was an actual CCP log showing his involvement in the matter, penned by his own hand so to speak. With that in mind, we can also assume that any form of communication within Eve is also part of CCP's logs. Eve-Mails and chat channels in game for example, regardless of how private you think they are, I guarantee can be read and monitored by CCP if they have a mind to. If these people shared links to their work in game, or talked about it in game with their fellows in this manner, it is possible CCP never had to go digging in the meta, and were just handed evidence of ill behavior by the people involved themselves.

At this time, CCP has been extremely silent on methods used, and exact ways and means of how these people were caught would be an unreasonable request to make. However, I think what people want to be sure of here is that actual CCP generated logs were used to determine guilt or innocence, and yes, someone saying in game or on official forums "Hey guys look what I did! *link*" absolutely counts. CCP does not need to disclose how people were caught, merely that the logs showed something.

An Inconsistent Conclusion

In short, the issue I'm having at the present time has little to do with bad people who did bad things getting banned from a game. It is doubtful that the contributions these people made to the community that drew CCP's attentions to them will be missed by the vast majority of the players, especially where RL harassment is concerned. What I do have an issue with is a very ambiguous line in the sand that seems to continually move based on who happens to be on shift at the time something goes down, or who in the community is pissed enough to start a threadnaught over it.

Either intentionally bumping a titan that is inside a POS shield out of a POS shield is an exploit, or it's not. The methods of doing it shouldn't matter, and lines of communication should be in place to ensure a consistent message on this back to the community rather than enforcement be at the whims of whatever GM happens to get their hands on it.

The same can be said for harassment. Either something is harassment, or it's not, or it COULD be if taken out of hand. We have (sort of) some clear examples of things that are not ok to do. We do not have clear examples of things that are generally considered ok to do, and this leaves huge question marks in the air. Are singing ransoms ok? We know they used to be, but going forward we don't know. If I invite someone in game to join me on team speak and they come back later and say I harassed them, how far is CCP willing to go to get to the bottom of it if in game logs show nothing but my link to the voice comms server? We don't know.

What we don't have is a reasonably clear definition of what actually constitutes harassment in terms of Eve. Things that are entirely unacceptable in a game like World of Warcraft for example, happen inside Eve with impunity, and are an accepted part of the norm. There is nothing "decent" about a bad guy, and if being a bad guy is to be an acceptable profession within Eve, rules and boundaries need to be made clear to give people a gauge on what is acceptable, and what is clearly over the line. These lines are important not only for those people living the life of a villain, but also for those tasked with enforcing the rule of law, such as it exists within our game.

While CCP Falcon is right to not want to draw that fine line in the sand for people to dance around, when something is determined to be over that line, consistency in enforcement and clarity of communication is equally important.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Eve Radio Drama Llama

Bacon's Note: This is a long one. If you were not previously aware of the happenings the other night on Eve Radio, don't care about such things, and generally hate drama, it's best to pass this one by. If, on the other hand, you were there, or heard about it, and really want to know what happened before, during, and after the "incident", sit back and enjoy the story.

It's never been my desire in life to be a hero or a martyr. My time at Eve Radio these past 8 years has been a labor of love, something I've put thousands of hours into free of charge because I enjoy entertaining people, and sharing knowledge about my favorite internet space ship game, Eve Online. What I have tried to avoid as much as possible is the drama that comes with being a well known person in an organization with the scope and history of Eve Radio. This past Friday night/Saturday morning, my drama avoidance protocols fail cascaded, and the whole village nearly got burned down in the process.

The History

To fully understand what happened, I'm first going to have to explain how the stage was set. Eve Radio is not really unlike any other corporation or alliance in Eve. There are politics, happy people, disgruntled people, people that scheme, and people that dream.

You've got the station owner, Diaego (aka Ross) without whom the station would have ceased to exist years ago. He's the guy that pays the bills. Eve Radio subsists on donations, premium memberships, and recently through being an official GTC reseller for CCP. When those funds fall short, Ross covers the difference out of his personal funds. I don't have an exact number for you (such a thing is not really my business) but I can confidently assure you that he's into this project in the tens of thousands of GBP of his own personal money, if not more. The man himself is an enigma. Not many people still at the station outside MrBlades really know too much about him, and if this was a movie, he'd fit the role of shadowy benefactor/mastermind quite well.

Just below Diaego, we find MrBlades. If the station exists because of the funding shortfalls covered by Diaego, it equally exists because of the time and effort put into holding it all together by MrBlades.

After Blades, things are a bit muddier. There are several middle management types, night ops bosses, people who volunteer to run specific stuff, etc.. Then you have some senior DJs, along with the rest.

I've been asked before why I'm not a manager at ER. Fact of the matter is three fold. 1: I do this because it's fun, and I don't find management positions fun. 2: I have no interest in the politics of it. 3: I don't have the free time for it.

Over the years, I've progressively distanced myself from the inner political workings of ER. As my primary function and interest in ER is the weekly show my team puts together with me, I spend extremely little time in insider staff channels or forums these days except to catch up on whatever programs or promotions are running at present. I pop into IRC 20-40 minutes prior to broadcast, say little beyond the minimum, try to keep my head down, and get on with the show. When the show is over, I tend to leave as quietly as I came. If one were to ask me about the political issues and nature within ER's staff and management, I honestly couldn't tell them anything because I simply don't know, and until now it really hasn't been my problem.

My political avoidance practices have at times been interpreted as an "I'm better than all of you" attitude among certain staffers at ER. That's not the case of course, but my response to this is generally that I don't give enough fucks to try and convince these people otherwise, and to just move on with whatever I'm working on. This has lead to issues with 2 members of ER's middle management in particular in recent months.

For nearly the entire 8 years of our show, the majority of our behind the scenes and preshow work has been handled within our team. Over the last 6 months, one of the two middle managers at ER had decided this was no longer good enough, and that certain things needed to be done by other members of ER staff. This along with several other little things was quickly snowballing and becoming an annoyance, culminating in one night where I told this person outright that if things were going to continue to ramp up and become more difficult, I had very little interest in continuing with ER. This manager backed down some, we spoke at length, and as a sign of good faith, some concessions were made on our part including giving this manager access to our showtime skype channel as an easier way to ping us in the middle of live broadcasts if necessary.

In the case of the first manager, I can at least say that her interests were in line with what she thought were best for the station more than "new manager attempting to show who's boss," so I worked with her until we were able to come to an arrangement that was agreeable to all parties.

In the case of the 2nd middle manager, we can say that his particular style of management tends to be a bit heavy handed with a good dose of "do what I say or else". I'm not the sort of person who demands respect from people, but I certainly have no care for disrespect, and found this particular individual to be entirely disrespectful. I won't go into details on specific incidents, but at one point I did send a letter up to senior management informing them of the situation and suggesting that this guy should really calm his shit. After some time, Manager 2 had some RL stuff come up and took a break from the station, but then returned a short time ago.

The Incident

Now we come to the meat of the issue.

Fast forward to this past Friday night or Saturday morning, depending on what part of the world you live in. At midnight GMT we got on with our regular broadcast. The team and I, having been together on the show for a number of years, are also all members of the same alliance, Monkeys with Guns.. This was the eve before us getting face planted by Agony Empire, and we were doing a fund raiser to secure some ISK so we could get some of the ships we needed. The listeners were coming up huge, and we were taking requests to do some silly stuff on the twitch stream from the biggest donors.

One of these requests was for Elijah Ghost and myself to draw Caldari logos on ourselves: his cheek, and my rather shiny head. While I was in the process of marking up myself, my arm nudged something on my desk, which in turn jiggled the USB cable on my mixer and caused a cut in audio. Due to the way our broadcasting software works, a loss of connection to the mixer results in the software spazzing out and needing to be reset. All told, our audio stream was dead air for about a minute. We were able to get things back up and running, informed those watching and listening what happened, and got on with the show.

Within a couple of minutes my attention was drawn to an ER staff IRC channel where Manager 2 had delivered an ultimatum: Respond to Manager 1's inquiry within 2 minutes or be pulled off air (this was part of some sort of established protocol at ER I was unaware of, though was delivered in what can be diplomatically termed a heavy handed way). During live portions of our broadcasts, I spend very little time looking at IRC channels due to all the things we have going on. We were live at that point, and I was frantically skimming up in that channel looking for Manager 1's inquiry, but couldn't find it.  There was a bit of "WTF is this shit?" while we attempted to figure out what the issue was, and finally came to the conclusion that Manager 2 wanted to know what had happened. Had he been tuned into the stream, he'd have known this of course, because we had just explained it, so for his benefit, I typed it out for him in plain words, and again attempted to move on with the show. A few seconds later he responded that he was pulling us off air for "talking shit" and at that moment, my tolerance for bullshit had been expended, and I lost my cool.

What followed was a pissing contest in the extreme. My response to getting pulled was that I didn't need this shit, peace out. I closed IRC. A few seconds after this, Manager 1 and another DJ were in game and purging my team from the in game channel. They hadn't got to me yet as I hadn't typed anything in there for a few minutes and wasn't on the side bar myself. Figuring I was done with Eve Radio anyway, I completely went off the deep end and zapped Manager 1 off the ops list for the in game channel, the other DJ as well, Manager 1's obvious alt, and after a moment of rebellious contemplation, I zapped everyone else off the ops list except Ross, MrBlades, and QGazQ (an engineer who keeps the servers and website running). I then restored access to the rest of my team.

Listeners at this point were in an uproar since the entire incident had been broadcast live and they were pretty keen on what was going down. Calls of "Free Bacon" were scrolling, and Manager 1, probably not realizing yet that she'd lost ops access, was firmly calling for people to change the topic. Feeling inspired, I changed the channel topic to something about Manager 1 and Manager 2 being supreme dicks, and another line which escapes me for what it said. By then, the stream on the ER website had been switched to jukebox, but we were still live due to the twitch stream which we could not be kicked from.

From that point forward, I told those watching that if this was was going to be our last show, we'd make a show of it and hang on until we were originally scheduled to be over, at which time I would restore access to the in game channel, and we would release the twitch stream. We informed people our plan was to go to an independent podcast and possibly expand upon the twitch streaming we were already doing in our spare time.

I had some choice words for Manager 1 and Manager 2. We reminisced on 8 great years at Eve Radio, had some nice things to say about Diaego, MrBlades, Gaz, and several others. Towards the end, I encouraged people to continue to support Eve Radio. There's a lot of good talent at the station that deserves the outlet, and one manager with Napoleon Syndrome shouldn't be the deciding factor. At a listener's request, myself, Elijah Ghost, Doc Nielsen, and Charlie Firpol recited the poem "O Captain, My Captain" saluted our audience, and shut down the stream.

Once we were off, I went back into the in-game channel, and added people back onto the list that I could remember, but then removed myself from the ops list before I hit the OK button and cocked the whole thing up. That was totally my bad, and not what I intended to do. For those of you confused when you logged in Saturday morning to still see the "dicks" MOTD in the channel, that would be why.

The Aftermath

Once the show was over, I was considerably calmer than when things had initially gone down. I said goodnight to the rest of the team and penned my official resignation letter to MrBlades. In it, I apologized for setting fire to the village on my way out. He and Ross certainly didn't deserve the fallout that would be the result of it, and though it was extremely satisfying to give Manager 2 a lesson in who the bigger dick was, there were no good guys in this, we all did wrong. My apologies for letting the situation spiral like it did, there were certainly classier ways I could have made an exit, see you around.

After that, I dropped the news of my departure from Eve Radio onto social media. The story was already spreading, and I figured better for people to see it from me than hear about it 2nd or 3rd hand. It was nearly 2am local when that was all done, and I went to bed.

The following morning, a reply was in my box from MrBlades. In a nutshell my resignation was not accepted, shit needed talking about. After getting face planted in the AT, I was able to get him on skype and we hashed things out over the course of about 3 hours.

I can't get into too many details as to what was discussed, but I will share the following:
  • The FunkyBacon Show will not be leaving Eve Radio. At my request, my team and I will be taking a 2 week break from our regular broadcast.
  • While it's not my place to discuss any specifics in this case, I've been assured that Manager 2 and I will not be in each others hair moving forward.
  • There are some exciting changes coming to ER in the not too distant future. Keep an eye out for them.
For my part, I do owe an apology to several people on the staff and within ER's community that got dragged into something they had no part in creating. As satisfying as it was to piss in Manager 2's face and moonwalk out, there was some collateral damage in the process that was undeserved, and for those adversely affected you have my apologies. I certainly could have handled the whole thing better, I didn't, and that was a failing on my part.

For the rest of you, we'll see you back on air September 19th/20th!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Gallente Victor: Thoughts on the 2nd Warzone Sweep in 2 Years.

Congratulations are in order for the Gallente Militia. This is the second time I've seen the warzone get swept like this. Last time worked much the same, except without the Caldari throwing in the towel. As I recall, Gal Mil only held the whole zone for a day last time as Ev0ke landed up in the northwest and began their march to Eha where they were eventually stopped.

That said, this is looking like the beginning of a long painful drought for the Caldari Militia. Some people have brought up to me, and I would agree, that the current system is a bit too punishing for the side getting the screws put to it. It's something I'll bring up with CCP, though I'm not 100% on a solution yet. What is clear is that there is no incentive to join a side losing as bad as the Caldari are right now. That is bad for player retention on their end, and also for bringing in fresh blood. Only a true Caldari loyalist (Read: RPer), gluttons for punishment, and those too stubborn to back down would see much value in joining or staying with Cal Mil at this point. That is unhealthy not only for the Caldari's ability to remain competitive, but also for the Gallente that rely on decent Caldari numbers for content.

I don't think the pendulum should swing on the nuts of AFK plex farmers, but at the same time, there has to be some value to a player willing to fight for a side on a down swing.

A good part of this Gallente Victory is the also Caldari's inability to work together between corps and alliances. I was there in the meeting when the plan was laid out on which system would get hit in what order, the Gallente FCs and CEOs having full knowledge that none of the groups would move in to help one another hold their space, and would patiently wait their turn for the whole of the Gallente militia to come to them.

In a sense, I'm a bit sad at this victory. I saw flashes of brilliance from the Caldari side during the Okkamon campaign, with large Caldari fleets and several groups working together. There was one night in particular where you guys really brought it, and there were a lot of frustrated words on Gal Mil comms. Had you guys been able to keep it up, the Gallente might never have taken that system, but you didn't, and they did.

I also think there's a marked difference of attitude between the two sides. I remember a few months ago spending 12 hours attacking Enaluri and finally getting it to 28% that first day after losing hundreds of ships. I wanted to put a fist through my monitor that night when the node crashed from something that was happening several systems away, and we logged back in to find the system back down to 0%. We petitioned it of course, but the response was that the tools didn't exist to fix the percentage bar back to where it had been.

We had to start over from scratch, and what happened was that the following day, Gallente numbers swelled as people who had not participated in the offensive at that point, and hadn't really cared, rallied around the FCs and people who'd wasted their time and ISK the previous day, because "fuck that shit".

That's the real difference I see between the militias. When the Gallente get a bad turn, they seem to rally together tighter than before, and try harder. If someones home system comes under attack it's basically a guarantee that almost every major corp and alliance will be there to help in the defense. Help is asked for, and it's given without a second thought because each of us knows that those guys will be there for us when it's our turn to get shit on.

The Caldari could learn something from that, but it won't be easy. The Gallente core groups have the advantage that comes with flying together for years at this point, while the Caldari have gone through a lot of turnover in that time. If you were to look at the Gallente corps and alliances that bashed the final iHub in January of 2013, a lot of the same flags were flying in August of 2014. On the Caldari side, I don't think more than Templis and the Russians around OMS still remain from the 2013 Campaign.

In closing, while I will happily look at ways to incentivize a losing side to keep fighting (and take suggestions) to bring these ideas to CCP's attention, I also think the Caldari have some work to do in their own house. Any changes that could be made that would affect all sides equally at this point still won't save you guys from yourselves, and your inability/unwillingness to work together.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

SOMERtime BBQ, Now with More Sauce

Shortly after my update last night was done, SOMERblink's PLEX buyback promotion hit the skids. Somer posted a bit of a bitter message on his website, and I smiled for the first time all day. His words were not the words of someone interested  in making things right, rather he drew his sword, then lashed back at CCP and the VP of sales it would appear he manipulated into giving the go-ahead for his latest RMT cashout scheme.

Based on Somer's reaction, my advice to the community last night on twitter was to cash out of Blink before Somer tried to pull an Eve Bank and hit the exit running.

This morning the CSM had another alarm clock meeting with CCP. The picture of what happened is getting quite clear at this point. What you don't need an NDA to know was actually posted up by Somer himself where he linked his proposal to CCP, and CCP's VP of sales e-mail response to him. Where Somer hung himself on this was where he said:
Blink provides no extra ISK or bonus Blink credit for buying through the link. - Somer
Now I can't speak for CCP on this, but the way I see it, offering to buy PLEX back from only people who buy from you at a price substantially above market looks to me like extra ISK in thanks for dropping a little RL $$ in your pocket. Making it retroactive for almost a year saw PLEX prices in Jita yesterday rise from 785 to over 800 million as a result of what I assume were people snapping up PLEX on the market to cash out on what Somer said he owed them.

Somer's entire proposal reeked of a sleezy sales job, deliberately deceptive as to what his intentions were, and tailor made for an audience with limited knowledge of the actual game Eve and its economy. It's also telling that he seems to have avoided the Community team on this, where his proposal likely would have found its way to the trash bin faster than a Doritos bag in the hands of a fat kid.

Based off the e-mail chain posted by Somer, it also appears that Markee Dragon has had his hands in this, and Somer was trying to cover Markee's ass almost as much as his own in seeking approval for this RMT run. Markee himself is no stranger to RMT, and has a deep seeded history in it going all the way back to Ultima Online. He may have cleaned up his act since those days, but I refuse to believe he doesn't recognize an RMT scheme when he sees it, especially one as blatant as this one.

So where does this leave us at this point? I'm absolutely of the opinion that Somer is in breech of the EULA and TOS. His "approval" from CCP means jack shit. His proposal for this promotion was deliberately misleading as to what his actual intentions were. He knew what he was doing from the start, and put a house of cards in place to attempt to cover his ass from the inevitable community backlash that would result from this, a house of cards that has gone up like flash paper thanks to his own revealing of both his proposal, and the VP of Sale's response.

While Somerset Mahm is a player in eve, Markee Dragon is an official CCP business partner, and PLEX resellers are governed by a different set of rules than players. He could also play the plausible deniability card, stating that he took what I did from Somer's proposal and didn't realize Somer was actually going to give the ISK bonus as an above-market exclusive buyback.

If this was my call to make (and fortunately for Somer it's not) I'd see SOMERblink burned down epic BBQ style for this. This guy has gotten so many breaks at this point it almost makes me sick. This latest incident is a nose thumbing not only at the community, but also a nice little teabagging for CCP in the process. This is the sort of person you make an example of for others to understand that this is not how to conduct business.

Sadly, as of this evening, it looks like Somerset Mahm has chosen seppuku over the possibility of a public execution:
Hey friends,

Thanks for all the years of Blink that we've spent together. It's been a long four years-- some of it longer than others!
Unfortunately, as of today, Blink is going to go on extended-- perhaps indefinite-- hiatus. CCP has gone back on everything they said several months ago, and the resulting environment is so hostile that it's not one we want to try to operate in, if CCP throws us under the bus.
If you have prizes waiting, they will be fulfilled. You can claim prizes as normal. Bonk tickets have been refunded to your account balance. We will begin refunding all account balances of people that have played in the last 6 months, starting with balances over 10 million ISK. As always, we're not in the business of stealing your money. 
It's been an absolute pleasure to meet many of you, through Blink, Eve, and our lotteries channel. Thank you for the experience.
Smart play on his part returning the ISK to people, assuming he follows through on it. That will at least ensure some goodwill from his customers if he ever figures out how to run an Eve business without resorting to RMT. I'd like to think this will be the end of it, but Somer strikes me as the dramatic sort. While a quiet fade into the night would be preferable for all those involved at this point, one can only hope he provides us a little more rope to hang him with.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

SOMER Updates

This one's going to be a very short posting today, but an update none the less. The CSM's day started pretty damn early today for those of us in North America having to alarm clock into a meeting first thing this morning. I suspect CCP's community team was up long before we were, and some of them are still working long into the night as I'm typing these words.

Due to NDA constraints, I can't tell you anything that's been discussed with us today, but I am happy at this point with the effort that is going into getting this situation resolved. Those people at CCP we have been in contact with today are taking this seriously.

CCP Falcon has given a preliminary statement to the community and I urge all of you to read it, as it's the most official detail available in the open right now. Keep your eye on that space for further updates as this situation progresses.

Given the size of this situation, patience from the community will be a virtue. I understand that people are mad, but this is going to take more than a day or 2 to resolve. By all means, weigh in and make your voice heard, but do try to be civil about it.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Breaking: SOMERgate 2014

EDIT: I got some confusing info from a user on twitter. While I made sure to include wording such as "if so and so is correct" to avoid presenting the info as solid fact, the claim of that user has been called out as misinformed on several fronts. I've put a strike through on the affected part of this post.

At this point I don't have a ton of details. What is known thus far came initially from THIS reddit thread, and there has been a lot of back and forth over Twitter as to exactly what is going on.

On the surface, it looks like SOMERblink is at it again with another crazy masked RMT scheme. Their last one ended in a sort of implosion of public angst, and was shut down by CCP in no uncertain terms. This latest one was apparently "vetted and approved" by CCP.

Screen cap provided as one needs a Sb account to see prices.
The scheme this time around works like this: You go to Somer's site and click their link to buy a PLEX from Markee Dragon. Once the purchase is confirmed, you are granted a "PLEX Credit" which is Somer's promise to buy that PLEX from you. Right now, Jita prices are around 785 million, but Somer will buy them from you with your PLEX credit for 830 Million. A best estimate suggests that Somer's cut of a PLEX sale at Markee Dragon is in excess of 8% of the sale (SOMERblink bailed on Shattered Crystal and switched to Markee Dragon when the bidding war between the 2 resellers hit 8% according to SC)

Assuming 8% of the sale and a PLEX sale price of just 780 million, $35*0.08=$2.80/2=$1.40. 830m-780m=50m actually spent per $1.40. 1 Billion ISK/50 Million=20*1.40 = $28 per Billion ISK.

The lower the sale margin, the better for Somer in this case, so if they are able to sell off their PLEX for the equivalent of 785m ISK they make $31.10 per billion at an 8% commission. Even at $28 per billion, Somer is far outstripping any "honest" ISK selling service (read: the dudes who don't try to hide that they're doing RMT) who are making $11-$13 per billion, and getting both their and their buyers accounts banned left right and center. If you or I buy a pair of PLEX for $35 and sell them on the market for 785 million ISK a pop we are spending about $22.29 for 1b ISK, but this is before the SCC takes their cut.

Bear in mind that if Somer puts that same PLEX up in one of their blinks at a 20% markup, they will also pull in 936m ISK, so really, they're paying nothing except perhaps a little more than if they purchased off the market.

But it gets even better!

Last year's SOMERblink graphic updated!
According to Radamere on Twitter, that 830 Million ISK is put directly into your Blink account, meaning, you are selling a PLEX for Blink credit (something entirely misleading on SOMERblink's site if this is true, as they word it to seem like they are paying out straight ISK). Somer's payout is around 80% on the average, so 830 million in blink credit will generate payouts back to players worth around 644 million ISK. Instead of paying 830 million for an item worth 780, they are paying out the equivalent of 644 million for that same product. Using that logic YOU are paying Somer 136m ISK plus $1.40 from Markee Dragon to take that PLEX off your hands! In other words, I can't give you a $$ per Billion figure since Somer isn't actually spending any ISK on this, you're paying them....twice. (Read: You're getting scammed son)

When one considers the old RMT scheme was paying out 200m in blink credit per GTC sold, and the new one taking IN 136m ISK + $1.40 per PLEX sold, Somer has REALLY put the screws to their customers on this if Radamere is correct.

Whether blink credit or straight ISK payouts, the scheme would be positively brilliant if not for the fact that anyone with half a brain should be able to see that this is still obviously RMT, and should be quite against the spirit of the game, the EULA, and TOS and all that jazz.

Of course, according to SOMERblink's website, "This program has been vetted and approved by CCP." Assuming for a moment that Somer isn't dumb enough to make a false claim about that, I have yet to see anything from CCP endorsing this. If I were a betting man (haha get it?) I would put my ISK on Somer dropping a petition outlining what they wanted to do and getting a response from a GM saying they didn't see anything wrong with it. Since there is no point of reference on Somer's site, and petitions are considered confidential information (you can get banned for a copy/pate of a GM response to a petition even if you don't post it on a CCP service) this seems the most likely scenario.

From a lot of the angry words I'm seeing on the net, there are some hot headed people ready to string up CCP over this scheme for "endorsing" it, but I would urge everyone to stay calm. Why?

1: This scheme is complex, and we don't know how this was explained in the petition (assuming there was one. I have no insider info on this and can't confirm or deny this was even done through petitions). In simple terms, they could have just asked if it was ok to purchase PLEX from players in exchange for Blink credit. It's obviously ok to purchase PLEX from someone for ISK. All of that seems pretty legit except for the part where that PLEX purchase and what looks like a bonus requires a RL cash payment to SOMERblink in order to obtain. Without all the facts presented in a clear fashion, even I would probably give the nod to this. Without the RL purchase requirement, people are just dumb to sell something worth 780m to Somer for the equivalent of 644m. I'd call that a scam, not really RMT, since if Somer wasn't required to get paid RL $$ to sell the PLEX to you in the first place, it's just in-game items being exchanged, and there's nothing wrong with that.

2: Even if the scheme was explained to a CCP employee in the fullest detail, this would not mark the first time in Eve history that some clever player got a GM to tentatively sign off on something, only to have the decision completely reversed upon further review.

Look, there's no way CCP lets this scheme stand, it'll get shut down just like the last one. Ideally, I'd like to see SOMERblink and Markee Dragon get their pee pees slapped for this, because both of them should know better and shouldn't have tried to pull this stunt in the first place. Unfortunately, if someone at CCP did sign off on this (and I doubt that they would if given all the facts) I think the best we can look forward to is a swift and decisive closure to this little loop hole, and another cease and desist order from CCP to its PLEX resellers.

For the CSM's part, while I can't speak for the other members, I don't think anyone is happy about this, and I wouldn't be shocked if you hear or read words from the others as this develops.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

FW Sov vs Null Sov: Setting Phasers to Fun

I've noticed a bit of a theme when it comes to the sov grind. Your average FW line pilot tends to get excited about taking important defended systems. The average null pilot does not seem to get very excited about a Sov push. During a slow night on comms, our pilots will begin to fondly tell stories of past campaigns; taking Innia, defending Nennamaila, vacationing in Huola. A lot of the Null guys I talk to, with a few exceptions, generally don't have much to talk about.

During a FW sov grind the pilots are motivated to participate with lines like, "Holy shit guys! My kill cup runneth over, you should get down here before you miss out on this!" During my null days it was more like, "Ok guys, let's get our shit together, it's time to go RF some towers." (I left null just prior to Dominion, though I hear the excitement of RFing structures hasn't improved all that dramatically).

So what gives? Why do we in lowsec FW Sov enjoy the activity so much while our cousins in null sec get to it with a grumbling resignation of "Let's get this over with"? Is there anything we could learn from FW and apply to null? I'll take a look at some key differences, and see if there's not something to glean from them.

1: Your Supers Can't Help You Here

This is one of the most obvious differences. In a lowsec Sov push, caps are the next thing to useless. You *could* drop them somewhere in system and conventionally warp them into a large complex, but that will get you only 1 out of every 4 complexes. If you can get the system to vulnerable 5 dreads can knock out the iHub in a single cycle, but all it takes is a couple guys in frigates to defensively cap a plex or two for it to go invulnerable again. Your fleet can't even lock the iHub at this point, and your system capture is on hold until you can gain plex superiority again... with your subcaps.

I've been on both the giving and receiving end of the iHub going invul before the system can be taken. It's frustrating as hell for an attacker, but the defenders are usually skittering around having a laugh because they just gave their fleet a bit of extra time to mount a proper defense. In these situations, if the system already got this high to begin with, it's likely to fall at some point anyway, but not today. If an attacker is using caps, they will usually evac them before someone with more caps shows up, but even then, a 40 or 50 man mixed subcap fleet is more than enough to take the iHub in 10-15 minutes.

While a huge limitation to the power of supers in FW is one of the biggest draws we have, for feasibility in null, I'm not sure there's much to carry over here. While many people are quick to bemoan the proliferation and power of Supercaps, I don't see a forced push away from them as going over too well, especially with the people that rely on them so much. If there was some part of the null sov grind that required subcaps it might make people who don't enjoy flying caps and supers feel a little more useful, but artificially limiting fights in null seems a little against the grain, so that brings us to...

2: 1000 Paper Cuts, The Benefit of Many Smaller Timers

To take a system in FW, at least one that's actively defended, the attacking force needs an around the clock presence. Plex timers run anywhere from 10-20 minutes. A capture will either add 20 Victory Points to the contested pool, or take 20 out of it. In a non-dust modified system, it takes 3,000 VP to make the iHub vulnerable, and that iHub has no RF timer; you put it to structure, you win.

Good indicator that someone's house is on fire in FW.
A FW FC has decisions to make when assaulting a system. There can be 4 (and sometimes more) plexes open at any given time. If you ball your fleet up in one of them, the enemy can stick a single dude in each of the other 3, and you won't be accomplishing anything. This requires splitting forces to maintain plex superiority, or a very nimble fleet to constantly push the enemy out of plexes while trying to keep timers going in your favor. A HAC/T2 Logi gang can effectively hold 2 out of the 4 plex types, but you also need a good number of frigates and destroyers to support your fleet and hold the other 2 types. If your enemy ships down and becomes too much for your small ship support to handle, as an FC you have to decide if you need to ship down your whole fleet as well to deal with it.

While the FW way of doing things seems to play back into that whole bit about forcing people to fly smaller ships, there IS something that might translate here. As it stands in null, you drop fleet, RF structure, take note of the timer, and then leave with plans to come back in a day or 2 to push it to the 2nd timer, and then hopefully a couple days after that to finally destroy it. If you're lucky you'll get a fight, and it won't result in an atrocious amount of TiDi. If you're unlucky, you'll be reading a book or shooting the shit on comms while trying to remember to hit F1 every couple of minutes between reloads.

In FW, leaving a system for 18 hours means giving the defender every opportunity to plex it back down a long way towards stable. What if sov null consisted of a larger number of timers that were shorter, spread out location wise, and encourage guerrilla warfare against larger entities with big slow fleets. Maybe 20-30 minute timers akin to FW plex buttons that require pilots in proximity to capture instead of raw DPS and wrecking balls. Guerrilla warfare would be feasible at this point, allowing smaller fleets to outmaneuver larger less nimble ones, or forcing those larger fleets to break apart to hold multiple objectives at once. I could go on all day about the tactics that would be required to hold and take multiple short timers over a 3 or 4 day period instead of 2 or 3 planned fights at a RF timer expiration, but I think most of you could figure this out for yourselves.

What I can say definitively, is that highly contested running battles that last for days on end are some of the most exciting times for a FW pilot. Even the solo and small gang guys that despise fleets have a good time flying around catching stragglers that can't keep up with their FC.

Of course I haven't addressed the issue of iHubs and outposts, but a system like this would allow for there not to be 2 long RF timers between grinding those structures 3 times.

3: YOUR Space is MY Income Source

Holding a system in FW means having access to the station in that system and denying its access to your enemies, but if you want to make the big FW LP money, you need to go to enemy territory to do it. Our PvE mission agents will send us 9-12 jumps mostly into enemy territory (not as much when we hold the majority of the zone) and if we opt for the plex for LP route, defensively plexing in your own systems, while easy, pays a fraction of running them in enemy held systems. We can mine or rat in our own systems of course, but unless we get lucky with a Mordu's spawn, the money in FW is in LP or exploding someones ship sporting an overpriced fit.

In this sense, losing the system next door to a fortress system is both good and bad. While it does offer the enemy a staging area to assault a fortress system more easily, it also provides a fertile farming ground if that enemy isn't on top of their game defending that staging area. when these assaults happen, often major fighting will occur in both systems in a tug of war to see who can oust who first. The fighting in 2013 between the Gallente in Nennamaila and the Caldari next door in Enaluri was legendary, with fleets attacking and defending both systems for nearly a week non stop until the Caldari were finally pushed out, and forced to evacuate the area.

While this is a huge win for FW and people looking for fights (someone running a plex in your system is likely looking to do some shooting) I'm not sure there's a translation here for null sec. If each alliance was an island unto itself, it could maybe work, but with coalitions being what they are, I can't see a way for CCP to code the game to tell the difference between your coalition buddy's space and that of "the other bloc". On top of this, with the size of nullsec, it would probably be too difficult for a bloc to say, strike a non essential system at the heart of the other bloc, and keep the logistics up in that system for an assault on the enemy's capital.

4: Conclusions

Looking at what are probably the 3 most major differences between FW and Null sov grinding, it might be a little easier to see why FW pilots tend to enjoy the grind more than their null cousins. Unfortunately, what null really needs is a complete overhaul, and I'm not sure there's much that can be taken from FW's successes to translate. I do see some merit in the 1000 Paper Cuts approach over the current meta (amassing as much supercapital damage as possible, RF, Timer, RF, Timer, Capture, with almost no focus on smaller operations or need for subcap support) but such change would have to accompany other mechanics, and would be a major undertaking on CCPs part.

I think many people will disagree on specifics at this point, but one thing I think I see almost everyone out in null saying these days is that the current system isn't all that good or fun, and something needs to change. The rest is all just details.