Traffic Control: One Thousand Megathrons

You can't take a swing at Apex Forces, supercapitals, or the power projection controversy without setting off a firestorm. The most common responses to my previous article were either lazy accusations of self-interest - that the CFC is somehow under a threat right now, and that thus I attack the carrier/supercarrier Apex Force meta to defend my space tribe, when in reality our primary defensive fleet is also a big fat blob of carriers - or to trot out the infamous "1000 Megathrons" soundbite: 

"waaah, I want n+1 supers to be replaced by n+1 megathrons" What's the counter to a mega fleet? More megas?

Let's drill down on this. Is the CFC's ability to spew out massive amounts of subcapitals itself an Apex Force? Why should we privilege subcapitals as somehow better than capitals and supercapitals from a gameplay perspective?

Spoiler: Not only is "1000 Megathrons" a myth, there are a host of very good reasons why everyone should favor the ability of subcapitals to impact capitals and supercapitals, and the fact that they can't currently is a huge problem for CCP. 


One of the unique draws of Eve Online used to be summed up in an old Goonswarm recruitment poster from 2005:

This was from a world when every Rifter actually counted. In a gaming space where every other MMO requires a player to grind through endless levels to reach the endgame, Eve Online's unique draw was once that a new player could jump into the game and have an impact on the galaxy three hours in. In marketing presentations at Fanfest, CCP held up our classic 'Every Ship Counts' poster as an example of the draw of New Eden. 

This was before the rise of the subcap-immune Apex Force, before a B-R5 where the winning side intentionally kept its subcapital fleets out of the headline battle because they contributed nothing to the event besides lag. 

CCP and the playerbase both must remember the necessary primacy of the subcapital ship, or watch helplessly as the game slides into stagnation. 


I've spent more time trying to convince newbies to play Eve than probably any single staffer in CCP's marketing group. Every year since 2005 Goonswarm has run newbie drives, convincing our internet tribe from SomethingAwful to dip their toes in the toxic waters of New Eden. The absolute best selling point - and the most unique selling point, distinguishing Eve Online from literally every other MMORPG on the market - was the fact that there was no grind and that a new player could immediately enjoy the endgame. 

Now, it is true that technically speaking a clever newbie who is tutored in the black arts can come to New Eden, find and scam a mark out of a supercapital's worth of isk, turn around and buy a new character with their winnings and jump into the endgame that way, the bloody-handed shortcut to Jump Drive Calibration 5. But true newbies spend the first few weeks being confused by the UI and bumping into things hilariously, calling rats on gates as hostiles, and generally being cute. Until the rise of the Apex Force, those cute newbies could also ruin the day of a hubris-addicted veteran player and make an impact. 

This is why subcapital ships with a low barrier of entry must always be in the mind of the designers, investors, and the playerbase as a whole. The moment you remove the ability of a confused new player in a Rifter to impact a setpiece battle, you have removed Eve Online's only real unique selling point in an extraordinarily crowded market - and that happened more than a year ago. 

Barriers to Entry: THE ENDGAME GRIND

What is better for Eve Online, a battle with 1000 subcapitals murdering one another, or a battle with 1000 capitals doing the same? Apologists or the ignorant will say that these fights are of equal value, but the cold business reality is that large subcapital engagements are superior because they are inclusive to newer players and drive retention. 

A new player in the pre-Apex Force meta could make an impact at a number of levels on any engagement. The counter to a Megathron is to shoot it, to bomb it, to apply various flavors of Ewar to it, to jam out its logistics support, etc. A single confused newbie in an Arbitrator can make a strong negative impact on three Megathrons in a fleet fight, to say nothing of a Celestis with dampeners. 

In the Apex Force meta, newbies are kept out of big fights to keep TiDi down so the players who have 1.5+ years of training into capitals and supercapitals can have their high-stakes slapfight. A new player in B-R5 can do... what, exactly? He cannot provide ewar support as supercapitals are immune to ewar. Tackling is right out. Out of control sentry drones and ewar-immune spider-tanking supercarriers ensure he cannot make an impact until he has reached the endgame and acquired a capital or supercapital ship of his own - but meanwhile he can have his ship destroyed by a sentry carrier briefly glancing at him. 

When examining a big blob of subcapital ships - or a balanced capital class, such as dreadnoughts, which have both powers and vulnerabilities - there are many things which can impact that force with a low barrier of entry. When examining an Apex Force, there is no counter to it besides another Apex Force with a ludicrously high barrier of entry.

In short: level up to 90 and do your Heroics before you can join our ~Elite Raiding Guild~ if you want to make a difference in Eve Online 2014, nub


Another key question: What is superior for Eve, ten humans playing and paying for one account each, or one human paying for ten accounts himself? In terms of the bottom line, the ten newbies or one veteran player generate the same revenue for CCP, yet the reality is that more unique humans playing Eve is vastly superior for the game.

Humans are the sand in the sandbox; the more unique humans involved in a setpiece battle, the more viral the experience. At this point, word of mouth from players convincing their friends to join Eve is likely the most effective way of acquiring and retaining new customers that CCP has available. 

So when we examine a series of balance decisions which allows only players who have ascended a very high barrier of entry to participate in a battle, a battle in which only other endgame veterans can make an impact, who walks away from the battle with an experience worth communicating to potential new players? In B-R5 there was a tremendous amount of ill-will from the subcapital pilots who were kept out of that fight. The massive boost in player numbers after B-R5 has melted away to almost nothing - why? Because in the world of Apex Forces, every ship no longer counts, and other MMOs offer much more fun along the way as you grind your miserable path to the 'endgame'. 


I try to not roll my eyes whenever someone speaks about 6VDT with a straight face. The fight was a fake, the space-battle equivalent of a Potemkin village, not even an accident like B-R5 or Asakai - it was a planned public suicide by TEST. The fight was scheduled after the Fountain War had already been lost; the CFC had swept much of the region already and reached 6VDT in mop-up mode. It wasn't even a real staging system, as TEST had evacuated to lowsec at the start of the war months previously. Even so, the leadership of TEST announced that they would have an epic last stand in that system, giving everyone more than 48 hours to prepare. With the CFC at its peak and hungering for killmails and a weekend Date Certain, both EU and US players could join with no risk of blueballs - it ended up being more like an afterparty or a victory lap than a 'real' battle, which is why no real forces of note were risked by the TEST/N3 side in terms of capitals.  

Despite this, 6VDT is trotted out as an example of the supposedly unstoppable 1000 Megathron CFC war machine. There have been innumerable bloc wars involving the CFC; we have never fielded 1000 Megathrons except for in 6VDT. We probably couldn't field 1000 Megathrons even if someone tried to invade us, because it requires a weekend timer, an egregiously annoying enemy, and all timezones to show up; not to mention 9+ fleet commanders and a staggeringly complex level of coordination. 

Do you know how hard it is to whip 2200 humans into fleets, organize and coordinate them, point them at an objective and get them moving and working together within half an hour? I do. It's a hell of a lot easier to run a carrier blob, which is what the CFC actually defends our space with, just like our colleagues in N3/PL.

Megathrons vs Wrecking Balls: Will The REAL APEX PLEASE STAND UP

The real Apex Forces of the blocs are their supercapital and carrier fleets, but critics have also suggested that "1000 Megathrons" are the equivalent of the Wrecking Ball,  an actual Apex Force. 

In the Halloween War, carrier blobs with supercarrier support were fielded by N3/PL every single day across multiple timezones for the entire course of the war. In some cases mere carrier fleets were enough; while they didn't always have the supercarriers on the field, they were available to come in should any resistance pop up. Here's an Apex Force used every day relying on perhaps one hundred and fifty human beings, much less in practice given the prevalence of multiboxing in a capital: as capitals do not maneuver much, it is quite easy to multibox them compared to fleet subcapitals. 

On one occasion after the Fountain War, the CFC assembled 1000 Megathrons for a fight which was decided before the first shot was fired. The strategic impact of this assemblage was nil, as Fountain was already won. No one has since assembled 1000 Megathrons, and in practice the massed subcaps approach failed utterly in the Halloween War to make any impact on an actual Apex Force, to the final iteration of 'just keep the subcaps out so the endgame players can fight' in BR-5. 

Meanwhile, subcapital fleets get hosed on a daily basis across Eve. They can be bombed, they get split up, they get smartbombed to death, they get ewarred into uselessness, and generally create both killmails and lossmails constantly. This one time in Immensea - in B-R5 - a real Apex Force produced lossmails instead of killmails. One time in Fountain TEST started losing a pile of carriers, but the servers went down so there were only 30-odd lossmails produced. I suppose a few slowcats have been killed here and there, but the idea of comparing a teleporting carrier/supercarrier group which requires no subcapital support to "a bunch of subcaps flying under one flag" is a laughable argument, especially since the latter has proven unable to impact the former in practice. 

I expect a bunch of screeching outrage from the entitled elite raiding guild crew, offended at the idea of filthy casuals and newbies once more being able to impact their expensive endgame toys, but that's absolutely key if CCP wishes to recapture what was once Eve Online's unique selling point.