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Published February 24, 2013

Many players these days have voiced support for a bottom-up sovereignty system. Needless to say, though, such a system bolted into the game today would... well, I won't be so bold as to claim that it would fail miserably, but I do believe it would be rather lackluster. If you want bottom-up sovereignty, you need bottom-up income to be worthwhile and appealing, in all its forms, not just ratting and mining, but exploration, industry, and trade as well. Addressing all of that should be the first goal; only then can a bottom-up sovereignty system be addressed.

Before I move on, please note that in almost all cases numbers I provide are for example only. If it's a more firm example, I'll explicitly state that.

Personal Income

The purpose of revamping personal income is to emphasize personal income and an alliance's ability to derive income from it, as well as lessen the emphasis on top-down point sources such as moons. To do that, three goals need to be kept in mind. First, the income must be compelling enough to offset the risk involved in doing it in null-sec, as opposed to wandering off to low-sec for Faction Warfare missions, or to high-sec to farm L4s, or what have you. Second, the sources of income must allow for a significantly higher pilot density than they do now—several or even dozens of pilots active in a system, as opposed to two or three. And finally, the alliance needs to be able to derive a benefit from that activity being carried out in their space.

For our purposes here, I am considering personal income to be PvE activities and resource gathering. Industry and trade also count, but I'll look at them in the next section. What we're looking at here includes mining, ratting, exploration and PI.

Ratting is by and far the most common and accessible method for a null-sec pilot to make ISK. These days, it is largely (though by no means exclusively) done in anomalies. In theory, that's good, as a fully upgraded system can spawn twenty or so relatively high-quality anomalies. Unfortunately, anomaly value is not terribly well balanced. CCP attempted to balance them on an ISK:EHP ratio, which... failed miserably. Pilots overwhelmingly favor one type of anomaly (Forsaken Hubs, these days) based not on the ISK:EHP, but the ISK/hour they can earn, and will simply go to another system if they can't get them. As there are only a few Forsaken Hubs in even a fully upgraded system, this leads to a low population density and the feeling of "emptiness" as you roam supposedly inhabited null-sec. Now, perhaps this is simply a symptom of having so much space that going to another system is fine, but the poor balancing plays a factor as well. If you can get 40 million ISK ticks in a battlecruiser in a Hub (not to mention have fun doing it; it's a far more involved ratting style) and only 25 million ISK ticks doing a Sanctum in a Tengu, why would anyone in their right mind do the Sanctum? As difficult as CCP has said it would be to take a more nuanced approach to balancing anomalies, it's necessary.

There are a couple other anomaly-related ideas as well. First, newbie content. That could be as simple as making lower-end sites, those found in low-sec or high-sec, spawn in addition to their regular counterparts, or they could take the form brand new sites. The approach is not overly relevant—the point is to expand a young pilot's choices of income in null-sec from "mine, scavenge, or appear cute and clueless so his fellow pilots shower him with ISK." The other idea is group content. Right now, that's incursions, which are... imperfect. They reward well, but require a very large group and are only randomly available, which is limiting for players willing to do them. Small group anomalies in the 4-10 player range that you can just pick up and go and that pay slightly better than doing solo anomalies (or perhaps offer part of their payment in the form of items you can't get anywhere else?) would be great. This is a social game, right? Ratting solo is currently the only option and many players would continue to do so, but there's no reason cooperative PvE shouldn't exist as well.

Next up in red-cross PvE is exploration. DED and DED-like sites are in a reasonable spot. They're high effort, moderately difficult, and reward those running them well... or not at all, but it averages out. Magnetometric sites, however, are awful. Datacores are cheap and plentiful, decryptors are a one-time thing, and only a few datafiles are really worthwhile in invention, which adds up to them being fairly worthless. Revamping their loot would make them more worth running; bonus points if the new loot is something those running them might feel is something they can sell to local industrialists instead of shipping to Jita. The downside to exploration from an alliance income perspective is there is no real way to get income out of it; the modest taxes on the bounties themselves and the fees from the sale of the loot on local markets (if it's sold there, anyway) pale in comparison to the value of the loot itself. That, however, is no reason to neglect it!

Mining is the other major form of PvE, and it needs a lot of work in null-sec. There are three critical points here, all of which I've written about in the past. The first is that mining in null needs to be more worthwhile than it is now. CCP tried and failed to buff it by nerfing the drone regions, but that was a misguided attempt to restore value to the high-end minerals; instead, it eliminated the majority of the low-end supply, spiking their prices through the roof. The second point is that local low-end mineral supply needs to be available in null to facilitate production there. And finally, an alliance needs to be able to set a tax rate on mining and reasonably expect to be able to collect it. Ratters can't avoid taxes; miners shouldn't be able to avoid theirs.

PI is another form of resource gathering. The best thing CCP could possibly do to improve it would be to fix the godawful interface. More usage of more kinds of PI products would also we welcome; compare the usage of POS fuel products to anything else. Additionally, finer control over taxation would be great too, allowing for POCO owners to set the base values used to calculate taxes, as well as individually set import and export taxes at each tier. Nevertheless, PI is probably in the best place out of all forms of resource gathering. It's personal income but contributes to alliance income in a straightforward manner and it can be attacked in a couple of ways. What more could you ask for?

Last but definitely not least on the income scale are moons. Do we keep them as top-down point income sources, or nuke them and replace them with a bottom-up source, a la CCP's pie in the sky "ring mining" concept? We've already seen what moon goo prices can be like if supply exceeds demand, which is an extremely likely outcome in a bottom-up system, though far from guaranteed. On the other hand, it's entirely possible to create a system that works as-is, but more properly distributes the value of moons, and makes them worth holding, but not so valuable as to run an empire on its own. I'm not entirely decided which route I favor; both have their upsides and downsides, but it's a topic for another article. Of course, we've heard nothing about "ring mining" in months, so perhaps CCP has something entirely different in mind.

Industry & Economy

Industry and economy also provide personal income in the form of construction and sale of goods to other players in your space. Implement all the tools necessary for a vibrant economy based in null-sec, and the fees on manufacturing and trade in key stations alone would become one of the most lucrative forms of alliance income possible. A minor change to bring that about is to allow station owners to set and collect market fees and taxes; right now, they only get the broker fee, and they cannot set it. More significant changes are needed for industry itself, however.

The end goal of an industry revamp in null-sec is that it should be more worthwhile to build battleships and other high-volume items locally than it should be to import them. Right now, that's not the case. The reason why is a matter of volume movement. If I want sixty battleships in VFK, I buy them in Jita, load them up in a jump freighter, and jump to VFK. It takes about nine round trips total, plus five trips by freighter from Jita to my jump-out point.

What if I want to build those? Well, first I buy all the minerals... not to build sixty Maelstroms, but to build 6,250 425 mm Railgun Is. The mineral content for that many Maelstroms is about 8.5 million m3, so moving them raw via jump freighter is not economical. Compression is required. So, I make nine freighter trips between Jita and my build station, and spend a few days building them. Then I make a freighter trip to my jump-out point, and from there a single jump freighter trip up to Goon space to a refining station. Once there, I refine the railguns, achieving 100% yield, as I've invested in the extra training and implants required to do so in the subpar facilities found in null-sec. Unfortunately, this isn't Empire and you don't get 50 build slots and perfect refines in the same station, so I either have to make nine freighter trips again between my refinery and build station or make do with the two build slots the station has. In either case, I'm likely to have to make four more freighter trips to move the finished battleships from build station to sale hub.

So, let's recap. I can either make four high-sec freighter trips and nine jump freighter trips to import those Maelstroms, or I can make make nine high-sec freighter trips, one jump freighter trip, and then depending on my choices, make anywhere from four to 13 freighter trips and spend four to eight days building, all told. And now you know why almost no major industry takes place in null-sec. The extra time and effort required to build the same number of ships is well worth simply spending 100 million ISK worth of jump fuel to get them now.

The way to change that is to not just "nerf jump freighters" without fixing null-sec industry itself, no more than simply nerfing high-sec would be a fix for low or null-sec in and of itself. If you want people to do local industry, it needs to be worth doing in and of itself, end of discussion.

Weaselior wrote a great look at a way to revamp null-sec industry by way of the POS revamp, and I agree with every last bit of it as an ideal path. They encourage investment in space that, on the flip side, provides targets for raiders and attackers... provided, of course, that their EHP is correctly balanced. The idea of modularity is great, as it opens up possibilities like the manufacturing modules themselves being relatively easy to destroy and loot, even if the rest of the tower isn't. Of course, the industry improvements could just as easily take place inside stations, wherein disrupting the industry means attacking and disabling something(s) on the station to halt construction. The same caveats about tweaking the EHP apply. Regardless of the details, though, the objective is to improve a system that—as we'll see in the next section—contributes to the sovereignty system directly. Therefore, attackers must be able to disrupt it in some way.

A Few Ancillary Points

There are a couple of concepts that are related to income and the bottom-up concept. The first is alliance level income tools. Throughout this article, I've used the term "alliance income", but to be perfectly realistic it's corp income. Almost everything is done at the corp level: running POSes, running POCOs, running stations, claiming systems (an alliance takes sovereignty, but a corp in the alliance claims it and is billed for it), the whole nine yards. Some alliances (such as GoonSwarm) make do by having almost all of the income and bills handled by one corp on behalf of the alliance; others split both income and expenses by corp. I'd like to see tools mirroring corp-level tools at the alliance level. Give alliances that run everything at the alliance level the tools to properly do so, while continuing to allow alliances that prefer to run things on a corp by corp basis that opportunity.

And second, if the usage of space is to play such a critical role in sovereignty, the concept of renters or pets would run into some issues. Unless you piled them all into your own alliance, the renters would undermine your control of your own space... and for that matter, allies allowed to use your space would have the same problem! I personally dislike the idea of having renters, but if an organization wants to play Space Warlord and do nothing but PvP while charging their renters to use their space, more power to them. To that end, we need a treaty system. Among the features would be the ability to have one organization sign over its usage contribution to a spaceholder.

Conclusions

The key takeaway here is just as I stated before: alliance members should have a variety of options for moneymaking in their own space. Whether that's ratting, mining, or industry, it should feel worth doing compared to making money elsewhere. In addition, that space should support a significantly higher active population than can be reasonably attained now. Both qualities are necessary for the topic we'll look at in the next article: a bottom-up sovereignty system.

Mynnna
Seven year veteran & economics guru of EVE Online as well as CSM 8 representative. On the side I play PS2, WOT and Hearthstone.