In my last article, I laid out a vision of what 0.0 could be. In this article, I'm going to lay out a better way to think about the flaws with nullsec and the best approach to remedying them using the approach I laid out.
The largest issue with 0.0 is sometimes thought of in terms of destruction. Simply put, that there’s not enough to destroy. What there is there to destroy is too hard to destroy. Systems in 0.0 are far more deserted than Empire; even alliances that actually live in nullsec will only inhabit one or two outposts, while the rest of the region is home to a handful of people per system (if that). Removing local and making outposts destructible, two commonly advocated solutions to fixing 0.0, have nothing to do with this issue. The problem is not that the one ratter in five systems can safe up as soon as he sees a hostile ship; it’s that there is only one ratter in five systems. Similarly, the long-standing complaints that an alliance can simply keep fleeing to NPC space when you evict them cannot be solved through burning down their region once you leave; there are no real rewards for living in 0.0 except for pride, so any further barrier to entry like burnable outposts is simply another reason for that alliance not to bother putting anything important in those outposts or live there in the first place.
The way to fix 0.0 lies through rebuilding the things to destroy, not through tweaks to combat allowing you to bomb the rubble even more vigoriously. We’ll go through each of these in turn, starting with the lowest-level combat and moving up.
Ratting and Mining: Supplying the Peasants to Put to the Sword
Ganking is generally done just for the hell of it: fish swim, birds fly, EVE players spend their time trying to make other people as miserable as possible. People are going to gank or not gank based on how much effort they'll need to put into it, not if there's a profit to it. For some time, ganking in 0.0 has just not been worth the effort: it's hard as all hell and you usually can't find anyone to gank. As a result there are frequent calls to make ganking easier — generally by nerfing local. That approach is misguided. Predators don’t tend to die off because they’re not good enough at killing their prey. They tend to die off when all the prey has been killed or driven off, starving to death because they are too good. When you’ve fished out the cod in Cape Cod so effectively the nets are coming up dry every summer the solution isn’t to get better nets: it’s to stop devouring every single fish before they can recover their numbers. Likewise, when you introduce an apex predator into a new enviroment and it quickly butchers everything in sight except the mice, the key to keeping it hunting isn't giving it the ability to catch mice.
The problem with small-gang ganking (small gangs looking for random people to shoot rather than looking for honourable fair fights, i.e. every single player in EVE) and 0.0 ganking — the problem isn’t local. Local is one of the few things actually keeping anyone sitting around in 0.0 waiting to get ganked. It’s that the incentive to sit in a belt mining or ratting is so low that there’s so few people to gank. Take empire, for example: if I pilot my ganking crew into an ice belt and start ganking away, people can — if they’ve got half a brain — keep themselves perfectly safe. But there are so many people that I can easily gorge myself on the idiots. It’s clear this model works: in VFK, there’s always enough idiots packed into the system that someone will fall into your drag bubble between the jump bridge and the station no matter how many times it’s reported in intel channels and no matter how easily you can be seen in local.
0.0 gankers and small gangs are predators. They need prey, they need a lot of it, and they need it grazing contentedly in the fields, fat, happy, and ready to be devoured. The basic prey, the foundation of the 0.0 combat ecosystem, are the ratters and miners: grazing in the belts & anomalies, defenseless, relying on fleeing in time for safety. When a ganker comes into the system the proper outcome is a race: is the ratter attentive enough to safe up before the ganker finds him? A good ecosystem will let the prey get away as long as they act properly, but if they’re too greedy or lazy? Well, then they’re lunch.
Nerfing local wouldn’t have the effect of making it easier to gank ratters: there would be no ratters. You’d get a few weeks of PVP like hunting buffalo from a train with a machine gun, but then they’d be gone. Ratting in 0.0 doesn’t pay significantly better than other options: people mostly do it so they can live in their space. At certain points (ratting in carriers) it can pay off much better — and that’s a great thing. Ganking ratting carriers is hilarious, everyone loves it. Naturally, it’s in for a nerf, but it should not be.
How should 0.0 rewards for “grazing” activities be pegged? Well, for starters they need to be higher. Many people could rat, but do not because it’s not worth the effort. Those people need to be lured into the belts, lured into tengus, and lured into shooting red crosses instead of safer activities that generate no chance of combat. Next, it needs to reward stupidity. What makes empire ganking so much fun is that in every case your prey could have done the smart thing but didn’t. He fit a pure mining fit on his mackinaw before the barge buff and toodled into a Gallente ice belt in the middle of the Gallente Ice Interdiction. Or he stuffed 20 billion ISK worth of stuff in a freighter and autopiloted through Niarja. He did something dumb that normally he gets rewarded for, and in exchange he got the possibility of being butchered like a hog. That’s what’s so great about ratting carriers: well, you got lazy and sat your 1.3B carrier in an anomaly and didn’t watch local, and now the small gang running through just got a kill that made the last thirty minutes of hunting worth it.
In addition there’s room for a new profession: the supplying of Tritanium and Pyerite to the 0.0 market. The Trit Problem — that there is no consummately abundant source of Trit in 0.0 — has been the most significant handicap to 0.0 industry for close to a decade. No serious attempt has ever been made to fix it (indeed, at one point devs thought it was reasonable to expect people to import raw Tritanium in freighter ops and nerfed compression to exacerbate it, a real contender for Most Mind-Boggling Design Decision Ever Made in EVE). This could be done merely by seeding SuperVeld in 0.0, or creating some sort of “blast mining” that would allow the rapid harvesting of Trit asteroids in belts. Or, POS could mine and compress it in some easy-to-steal way. It’s a problem that absolutely must be solved, and when there’s many fun ways to solve the problem it should be done in a way that creates new people to kill.
Industry: Building Farms and Villages to Sack and Burn
Mid-tier combat — mid-sized gang objectives with some strategic value — is the most neglected type of combat in 0.0. It’s the burning farms and villages of 0.0, except that those don’t really exist in current nullsec. Only two things really exist at this level: taking tech moons, and destroying CSAA's. Both of these are strategic assets of such value that they’re not really a separate category of combat: they’re merely the introductory part of a sovereignty war, the soft targets you can hit before dealing with the misery of station timers.
This tier is neglected because it’s about destroying industry, and industry is virtually dead in 0.0. Virtually everything in 0.0 is brought in with jump freighters, built in empire and bought in Jita. Some people realize this and argue for the nerfing of the jump freighter. Those people are idiots. The jump freighter is the only thing keeping 0.0 markets alive: in the current system 0.0 industry simply cannot function or compete. Every tier of manufacturing is broken in 0.0.
It’s well known that industry in 0.0 is broken: we’ve heard platitudes from CCP about fixing it. However, it does not appear that CCP, or indeed most EVE players in general, understand why fixing industry in 0.0 is vitally important. It’s not just necessary to fix industry to please those who like building ships or the like (a small minority of people in 0.0). The broken status of 0.0’s industry affects everyone.
However, that’s not the only problem: the model of industry is broken when it comes to 0.0. Station-based industry leaves nothing to attack. There are some forms of industry that exist in 0.0 that can be built up, attacked, and defended, but they’re rare and poorly implemented.
POCO's and POSes are the prototype of the village: you put one up, and you’ve got the chance to do something you couldn’t otherwise. In return, your enemies get to destroy it. It’s the right idea. It’s also so badly implemented I cannot recall a single episode of anyone shooting an industry POS or a POCO and coming back to destroy it since Goonswarm blew up a bunch of towers in empire just for the hell of it several years ago.
Why are they terrible? Three main reasons: they’re cheap, they have extremely high EHP and a reinforcement timer, and there’s no profit in it. Shooting a POCO requires you to chew through 10 million EHP, wait a while, then chew through 4.5 million more. That’s incredibly boring. It also cost the defender something paltry like 200 million ISK, and that’s for eight man-hours of work. If you’ve lost eight hours of your life and I lost 200 million ISK, I’m pretty sure I came out ahead. What do you get out of all of this work? Well, you can drop a POCO of your own but in enemy space there’s not a chance you can hold it. All you’ll manage to do is grief your enemies into going through the awfulness you’ve just gone through... except it’s their space and they can get away with using supercarriers instead. Not a good trade.
For POS, you’ve got more EHP, and less point. There are several types of POS: the ratting POS (just the bubble), the reactor POS (reacting t2 materials for export), the research POS, and the industry POS. The industry POS doesn’t actually exist: they’re terrible and nobody uses them for anything except Titans because they’re just like an Amarr outpost except worse in every way. For research POS there is nothing of value in the tower itself: any BPO's are sitting safely in a station. You could steal the labs themselves but the defender can simply unanchor and scoop them. Same with a reactor POS: a reactor POS that’s sieged can be emptied and stripped by the defender. Ultimately, you wind up bashing a POS with more EHP than a POCO but costs less: you cost the defender 175-200m and waste a great deal more of your time.
Why are industrial pos worthless? Well, you can’t refine at one (POS refineries are worthless), so it’s all the fun of building in an Amarr outpost except all your stuff can be blown up. (Unlike reactors, you cannot empty a ship assembly array on a reinforced POS.) In exchange your freighter runs of Tritanium are slightly shorter (refinery -> POS instead of refinery -> jump bridge POS -> station) and you build slower. Since nobody use Amarr factories now, you can see why nobody uses these either. Industrial POS exist in 0.0 only to build supercapitals, and only then because you can’t build them any other way.
Nobody shoots these things. It's a huge amount of effort, it's boring, and you get nothing out of it and don't cost anyone anything significant. People shoot Technetium moons because you get vast sums of money, and CSAA's because you inflict tens of billions of ISK of suffering. People don’t shoot the stupid things that have similar EHP but only cost the defender a pittance.
Piracy and conflict thrive on commerce: the best piracy in Empire is sacking the trade lanes between Jita and Amarr, in Nairja. There are no real streams of commerce in 0.0: there are tiny tributaries as people rat/mine/explore and generate token amounts of minerals, but the commerce stops there. Those items are merely shipped straight to empire, and finished products shipped in. The only stream of commerce that matters in 0.0 is its lifeline to empire. People have, at times, advocated for nerfing this lifeline: nerfing jump freighters to make them easier to kill. The issue is this isn’t a stream of commerce: this is the jugular of 0.0. If the connection to Jita can be severed, the region dies. Nerfing jump freighters may briefly promote conflict as people attempt to interdict shipments and score some expensive, fun kills. Shortly after that, major alliances will abandon any pretense of basing out of their space: the markets for warships will be in the nearest hisec entry point. Goonswarm would no longer have the most vibrant market of 0.0 in VFK; they would have it in EC- (right next to empire). Everyone else would make similar arrangements: it is impossible to source ships in quantity in 0.0, so if your supplies can be interdicted you have no choice but to leave 0.0. As a result, nerfing the jump freighter and attempting to weaken the connection to Jita will not revitalize 0.0 conflict: it will end it.
One solution might be to be to nerf the jump freighter at the same time an industry revamp is put in place. This works in theory, but not in practice. In practice, nerfs are easy but new features are hard, and CCP is perpetually unable to allocate enough coders to get everything they want done done. The result is well known in 0.0: “we’re going to nerf this now, but buff something later to make up for it!”; the nerf then comes, and the buff never arrives. Given that a supply of ships is absolutely vital for 0.0 combat, CCP cannot afford to gamble that they can code the replacement in time. The replacement must go in first, be seen to work, and only then can any nerf to importation be considered.
The answer — as CCP, to their credit, seem to have realized — is a POS revamp. These POS must do two main things: they must allow you to match or exceed empire industry, and they must allow you to spend enough money to build them up in a way that makes it worth it for someone to destroy it. A later article will flesh out why manufacturing is broken in 0.0 and how a POS revamp should fix it.
SovWar: Prettier Women and Shinier Plunder For The Victors
There’s many problems with current sovereignty wars and most are not rooted the sort of industry problem the previous two types of conflict suffer from. However the low-level income problem does contribute to the current malaise regarding sovwar, as does the flawed moon mining structure.
There used to be two reasons to seize a region and move there: it had more Rarity 64 moons (R64's), or it had better mining and ratting. Goonswarm, being stuck in Scalding Pass with Angel rats (the worst rats in the game), was ecstatic to conquer new regions with non-Angel and non-drone rats. Today, ratting might as well not exist and no alliance will care enough about its ratting to conquer a better ratting region. This is exacerbated somewhat through the failed fix to the anomaly nerf (which caused mid-tier anomalies to become the best to farm, negating the need for high true-sec). Mining, of course, no longer even pretends to rely on local asteroids. It’s all about the gravity sites. These are primarily low-level problems best addressed through focusing on “the little guy” and fixing the significant problems in low-level income that have crushed standard ganking and small-gang combat. Once that is fixed, its effects on sov wars will be fixed as well.
Moon mining is also badly flawed. Technetium was a problem for two reasons: one well-known, the other usually missed. Technetium alliances were absurdly rich, necessitating a nerf of the overall value of Technetium. However, the nerf — R32 alchemy — failed to address the second issue: moon distribution.
When the bottleneck was Promethium and Dysprosium, money moons were distributed in a virtually perfect way. Almost every region, even the poorest, had at least one or two enabling a fledgling alliance to begin building in a worthless region like Scalding Pass, home of maybe three P/D moons and outside the sphere of interest of the major alliances. Once that fledgling alliance had gained strength it could try to move up the ranks of regions, conquering slightly more valuable regions and growing in wealth as it grew in strength. Each region had value (some worth ten times as much as others) and as a result there was always a more desirable region beckoning to be conquered.
Today, there are Tech regions, and there is everything else. True, Tech regions are no longer game-breakingly rich, but there’s no real scale of region value. Pure Blind may be worse than Deklein, Tribute worse than Branch, but not in a way that would cause any alliance to want to move. Conquer, maybe — you can always use more Technetium — but not move. And when it comes to non-Tech regions, well... they’re all equally worthless. An alliance can only really hope to move from the ranks of the wretchedly poor to the ranks of the Technetium Lords. There is no stepping stone, no middle ground. There currently is value in Cobalt regions, but once the market settles those will cease being especially valuable.
The solution is to rebalance moons so that the bottleneck is a R64 once again. R64s are not evenly distributed, but they are not regional like R32's and R8's (a region generally only has one type of R8 and R32, while it can have all kinds of R16 or R64 moons). But as CCP apparently intends to move away from moon mining as a point source of income (a serious mistake that eliminates the one remaining financial incentive for a sovwar) they may see fixing this error as not worth the effort. This is a mistake: the old system of R64 distribution created great incentives to fight and created a smooth transition in region value. A new system is likely to suffer from the usual malise: the key elements of the system slip off into SoonTM, either never coming or consuming an inordinate amount of development time.
What 0.0 has been struggling with for years now is having a good reason to fight. Every aspect of combat is hurting because there's just not enough to fight over. A number of industrialists have identified these problems before but they've largely been ignored because of the idea that the money-making side of EVE just isn't that relevant to the rest of the players in 0.0. That's not the case: a more vibrant industrial sector in EVE gives the PVPers far more to attack, plunder and destroy. In future articles, I'll lay out some ideas for fleshing out 0.0 in greater detail, and elaborate on how these make the game better for everyone.