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
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.
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.
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.
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.