In the last several months Faction Warfare (FW) has gone from a semi-aborted nothing of a feature, to a major focus, and possible savior of Low-sec for CCP. FW is one of the only features to receive two reiterations in as many expansions (ignoring incursion “rebalancing” by being nerfed into the ground). It is clear that CCP has had some serious love for this, and it has received both good and bad press recently. So let’s look at past and future of this (now pretty popular) career path.
The Distant Past
Originally, Faction Warfare was conceived to be a path for players to side with various factions and fight over turf and spoils on behalf of their national benefactors. Although the idea of pirate factions being represented has been entertained from time to time, so far only the four player factions take part. One of the biggest hopes for Faction Warfare was that it would incentivise Low-sec, and provide a place for small scale gang warfare, and low skill point requirements for newer people to cut their chops and fight a good fight.
Like many things that came from that era of development by CCP, it was great in concept, but failed to gain any sort of traction in execution. The feature was plagued by stupid plexing mechanics, bugs, and had a bad reputation for standings hits. For quite some time FW stood as an example of features being half-implemented, never iterated upon, and left only to a small, core contingent of players to enjoy.
The Recent Past
Then something called Inferno happened. While many people look to Inferno as a very lackluster expansion, for those interested in Faction Warfare it was a complete overhaul of how things are done. The reward system for plexing was redone to make FW profitable (some would argue far too profitable), the frigate rebalance created new fleet compositions perfect for Faction Warfare, and the rise in interest caused by the increased profitability caused terms such as 'spiking', 'dump day', and 'afk plexing' to become commonplace.
Suddenly Faction Warfare Low- sec was on fire. Thousands of players and alts piled in to fight, and make a quick buck, and to check out these new features. Things were, however, clearly still not right. Defensive plexing (running complexes in your own area to prevent the enemy from taking the system) was unrewarded. It was more profitable and tactically viable to offensively plex, rather than defensively plex in nearly every situation. Pilots utilized obviously broken mechanics to make billions in a short time, but the real problem was that all of this did not play to the core mechanic of what Faction Warfare was always supposed to be.
Faction Warfare was always supposed to be about rival armies forever locked in a war for the space between the rival empires. Owning space facilitated a tangible representation of the war front. What it became was a mockery. The people 'losing' were happy, having the enemy hold space meant that you had more area to plex in, and easier to accumulate ridiculous amounts of LP without being harassed. Combine those mechanics with 'over-plexing' (the ability to offensively plex in a system that you have already pushed to the point conquering it), and you have a system where people were happy to let the enemy 'win' for a period of time, before taking the warzone for themselves, spiking their control up as high as possible, and cashing out all the LP they had earned.
Everyone saw that this was a problem, members from every militia cried out against these new mechanics. While Faction Warfare had been revitalized, it had come at the cost of its soul.
CCP Fozzie and his team decided enough was enough. They had already been working on a second major round of reiteration. The current situation, however, had been deemed too untenable to continue until Retribution. With very little warning, sweeping changes were applied that once again disrupted how FW functioned. The goal was to curb spiking, reward long term control (as opposed to spiking), and create a larger sense of overall ownership over the warzone. Not all of the changes were ready, however, and only the ones that had been changed, were implemented. This lead to a three to four day dash for system ownership, followed by gridlock. Players were expected to do offensive plexes with the new rules, but with the old rats, which ended up being punishing. Furthermore, defensive plexing became profitable and so the control fight ground to a standstill. From November 19nd to the release of Retribution, a net total of only one system per warzone changed hands.
With the coming of Retribution, we now see the entirety of the second Faction Warfare overhaul. While it is far from perfect, it is substantially better than before. The 'button' or point you must be near for credit is moved to near the warp in point, encouraging fighting rather than fleeing. The area around the button that counts has likewise been increased to allow for combat to occur anywhere from 0 to 40km off of the warp-in point. The rats have been scaled back tremendously to become a non-issue for those who are not afk, but a major nuisance for those who are. Hopefully, a nice balance will be struck and the gears of war will grind once again.
There is still a lot that could be done though. Timer rollback is a good example of something that Hans (CSM representative and the unofficial voice of Faction Warfare) has continued to call for punishing those who do wish to run from fights. Furthermore, many people argue that the entire plexing system is a PVE exercise in a PVP feature, but no one has come forward with a cohesive design to fix it in a way that will work. Either way, Faction Warfare has received much love, and will hopefully continue to see it in the future.