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.

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Power of Conflict

There have been quite a few postings made elsewhere about Lowsec lately, and I think it's time to toss my own thoughts into the ring about the subject. For some context here, I'm going to suggest a bit of light reading before I get into the grit.

First up we have a lovely posting by fellow Gal Mil pilot Niden over at Crossing Zebras "Eve is Dying?" The TLDR here is that lowsec kills are rising, nullsec not so much. He makes the case that if Eve is dying, lowsec didn't get the memo and is doing great.

Our friend The Nosy Gamer took Niden's data a bit further and made the case that kills in almost all areas of Eve are related to the Average Concurrent User (ACU) data. Then Gevlon took Nosy's data and used it to show that Nullsec players are running off to highsec to make money. Sweet shit, it's like anyone can take a line of data and dress it up to show whatever point they want to get across these days.

All I'll say about those who have come before in this discussion is that they all have a point, and they're all worth reading. Who knows, maybe you'll find some piece of data to expound upon and write about yourself.  For my own part, I'll share some of Niden's feelings that lowsec certainly feels busier as a whole, but something none of the data can demonstrate or predict is an intangible: Conflict drivers.

I'd been watching my own data line before any of these articles hit the interwebs. As most of you are no doubt aware, when I'm not bashing my face in CSM stuff I'm the executor of a 377 man FW alliance. We don't hold sov (our home system is debatable since we do actively defend and hold it) we don't run POSes, we have no POCOs, and we certainly don't rent space. We serve one function: shooting stuff, and our killboard has told an interesting tale these past few months.

Like anyone in a leadership position in Eve will tell you, there's nothing like some nice propaganda, and a great purpose to rally your lads (and ladies) to log in and put the screws to someone. This past March we saw our busiest month yet, topping 4200 kills and leaving over 1600 wrecks on the field of battle. March was an incredible month that saw some spectacular fighting between the Gallente and Caldari, where several pushes were made to take important systems... places both sides were more than willing to fight for. Conflict happened, content was generated, and we had people logging in to be a part of it. April saw a dip to 2600 kills, May things tipped back up over 3k, and then in June the wheels practically came off.

What happened in June? Nothing, and that was the problem. Kronos came, seemingly 90% of the farmers went away, and they might have taken most of the Caldari with them. Most nights we couldn't BUY a fight, and finished the month with numbers we hadn't seen so low since May of 2013 when our alliance was half the size it is now.

July had the start of another dismal month, but was salvaged when bunch of Amarr FW guys got together and decided it was time to headshot the Minmatar in their main staging system of Huola. As it turns out, there are some Russians living in Huola that helped us out a year or so ago, we owed them a favor, and a bunch of Gal Mil corps and alliances sent some of our best and brightest to aid the defense. The fighting in Huola, that one system, has accounted for over half of our kills this month, with less than half of our kills coming from the entirety of our own warzone. It is conceivable that had the Amarr not gotten it into their heads to attack Huola, my alliance would be sitting on less than 900 kills so far this month.

Does the spike in lowsec kills that's about to show up on Nosy's kill graph for July have anything to do with ACU? If there is a correlation between the two, is it a result of more people logging in to take part in a conflict that wouldn't have logged in if that conflict wasn't there?

You know what gets people to log into Eve? An epic expansion certainly helps bring people in to check out new stuff, but a few new ships or a fancy new game mechanic doesn't keep people around forever. Conflict does. Your buddies calling you up on the phone yelling at you to get your ass in the game because shit is going down and we need everyone we can get into a ship in fleet RIGHT FUCKING NOW! People who don't give half a shit about what's coming in Crius this week resubbed their accounts to help their friends defend their home system, and get some epic fights in Huola earlier this month. If the Caldari wake up tomorrow and decide to shoot for the moon and assault Nennamaila, the same thing will happen in our warzone.

B-R earlier this year probably generated more subs for Eve than Kronos did (that is completely unresearched and unscientific as I have no data to back it up, but I'd bet you 100m ISK I'm right). I can certainly tell you that it generated more applications to our newbie corp than anything that's happened since.

Conflict, ladies and gentlemen: any story is shit without it. Eve is a pretty big story filled with some epic conflicts... though not as many lately. We've had some great one-off battles this past year, but the real wars have been rather light. A lot of folks in null will point to the problem of Sov mechanics as a serious detractor to wanting to start up a serious war, and it's true that the onus is on CCP to provide the mechanics and tools needed to make the jobs of the content (and conflict) creators a bit easier.

What's also true is that part of this is in our hands, and I can tell you that the next great bout of content in lowsec isn't going to come from a mechanic instituted by CCP. It's going to come from a handful of players sitting in a private room on their teamspeak server discussing their next move to stick it to the other guys. They'll motivate their pilots, and spread the word to their allies. People who have been bored with Eve and have hardly logged in for the last month will get ready for war, because hey, it's something to do. Some of that intel will get leaked, and the guys about to have the hammer dropped on them will rally their pilots, and more people will be logging in. The fighting will start, and people who unsubbed from boredom a while ago will reactivate their accounts to take part in some of the epic fighting that will be taking place. Hell, even the QCATS might put down League of Legends for a few nights.

None of that might show up prominently on some ACU chart, but it will likely result in more than its fair share of destruction. With that in mind, maybe what Eve's sub numbers need more than some industry revamps and a few new and rebalanced ships, is a world war.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

CSM9: Quick and Dirty Update

Greetings space friends! It's been a little while since I've sat down to have a bit of a write. My last posting ruffled a few feathers (mostly with the rest of the CSM) so I resolved to hold off on another posting until I had something more constructive to say.

While I'm on the CSM front, things have been relatively quiet from a Lowsec PVP representative perspective for this update cycle. As you're likely aware, Crius is all about the new industry changes. I find them interesting, and there's been a ton of debate and work internally making sure that the devs get things right hopefully on the first pass, but the majority of that debate has been carried by members of the CSM with far more invested in industry than yours truly. I don't really build much, and most of what I sell is looted from wrecks, so Sugar Kyle is far more qualified between your 2 lowsec reps to talk about and represent that aspect of things.  Fuzzy Steve has been especially indispensable for this update.

For my part, Crius works like this: "Is it going to be more efficient to do industry in lowsec than high?" Everyone seems to be nodding their heads yes. The capital manufacturers are getting a special POS module to make up the gap in cap production between us and null. FW people will have the ability to get some deep discounts on production costs with system upgrades. There's a bunch of other stuff involved as well, but the bottom line is that lowsec isn't getting the shaft, and I'm content to not make a scene about it.

On the subject of the summer summit, a tentative week had been set that I had off from work, but the conference needed to be moved to its present week. Unfortunately, I can't move vacation so there are likely to be several sessions I won't be able to attend. As we get closer to the summit, I'll work with folk to see if we can get lowsec related stuff scheduled for earlier in the morning so i can alarm clock 5 and 6am local time sessions, or hopefully be able to score a day off on either the Wednesday or Thursday to catch sessions then.

The Winter summit should be less of an issue as I'll hopefully be able to plan vacation time AFTER we get a final date. I still won't be able to make a trip to Iceland, but the technology for attending virtual conferences at CCP HQ works exceptionally well, and I won't be missing much besides the after hours elbow rubbing, drinking, and friend making... stuff I wasn't really elected to do in the first place.

Should anyone have any questions regarding CSM or Crius stuff, feel free to post them below. I'll try to answer anything that won't break the NDA. :)