Hisec PVP is something few people consider good, citing any selection from a cornucopia reasons. "There's no risk," they will say, or "look at these pubbies with their 38 neutral logi." Many of the alliances with the largest recruiting and propaganda machines immediately inculcate their players with the immutable concept that hisec is to be avoided and everyone there is a brainless miner and/or a gutless coward. It even extends to the point where the leadership of a nullsec alliance will almost invariably laugh in the face of any offer of truce or ransom from a hisec-based aggressor, not because they aren't doing grievous harm to the alliance's logistical infrastructure but because in their hubris they really think it cannot possibly matter. (They will often then go on to lose dozens of billions of ISK from their membership and logistic services.)
While this attitude may keep the membership of these alliances continuously active and productive in protecting their respective ancestral homelands, and even perhaps contain a seed of truth, the reality is far more complex. So, take a minute and try to void your mind of preconceived notions about hisec warfare and I'll tell you how it is.
The Clear Picture
Despite propaganda and widespread cultural assumptions, PVP in hisec is very fun. It's engaging, it's challenging in ways completely unfamiliar to your average null-bunny, and there are a myriad of options all around you. Nowhere else in the game can you quite get the same frisson of cat and mouse with only you and your opponent, almost as in a vacuum: a vacuum of uninvolved neutrals hiding their scouts, and myriad unrelated parties filling up d-scan and obfuscating the playing field. It's very challenging mechanically and extremely rewarding to get it right... and it's a crucial element of the game. Hisec, like everywhere else in EVE, should be a place where the rules are unique but your actions still matter; if those who don't want to fight are forever left to their own means this is never going to happen. Wars historically maintain this vicious balance, and we should work to ensure that they continue to do so.
Back in late 2009 and early 2010 I made my first serious forays into hisec warfare looking for a respite from the pervasive idiocy of my alliance mates. I quickly discovered that this was entirely viable: even with only one person, it was easy to scrape together enough ISK to keep myself deep with official enemies for weeks and months at a time. At 2-6 million ISK a war it was wondrously easy, and the fighting was excellent. It was perhaps the best introduction I could have had to the wider world of small gang and solo PVP, it's an environment I have enjoyed immensely ever since, and it's something I hope can be available to anyone.
There have always been plenty of good reasons to PVP in hisec. Lots of good fights are to be had. Some of those tired of having to choose between participating in over-large fleets and being frequently and uncontrollably outnumbered without warning may find that fighting in high-security space is a wonderful respite from these problems. As described earlier, the scope of the arena is limited: there is no easy way to bring in dozens of unrelated friends to gank someone on either side of any given fight. There are no hot drops, no carrier reps, no Titan bridges, and an ever-present audience of uninvolved persons to occasionally interfere a bit and keep things interesting.
The environment also trends towards larger ships and smaller gangs. Frigates are of limited usefulness in a fight of significant size; their popularity in lower securities stems essentially from their ability to escape bubbles and gate camps (and for similar reasons they aren't popular in w-space, either). Fights in hisec trend towards HAC's, battlecruisers, and up while the number of pilots in an effective gang is much smaller, usually significantly less than ten — and often only two or three, or even solo. Fights have a bigger relative impact and each pilot's actions have a huge influence on the fight's outcome. (Fights between only twenty or so pilots in hisec often lead to ISK damage tallies outstripping what you see in fights between 100+ in nullsec.)
That is not to say that hisec PVP is some kind of perfect arena that is just right for everyone. The main problem most people have with fighting in hisec is the mechanics: the mechanics of combat are more complex than anywhere else in the game and dealing with aggression graphs and keeping tally of who can shoot whom quickly spirals out of the realm of the easy. It's a difficult system to learn, even if you are only fighting in wars without getting involved in more fluid and transient activities like baiting.
The Toll of Inferno
Sadly wars got stomped on in Inferno and there are now huge mechanical problems (see: Dec Shield 2.0), virtually total safety for any independent corp with less than about 20 members (due to high minimum cost of war declaration), and basically too much expense for most people hoping to get into it (again, with a 50 million ISK per war minimum). All the notifications for wars are buggy, come at odd times, or do not come at all. The actual information in the notifications may be confusing, misleading, incomplete, or outright false. There are supposed to be waivers for wars that you did not specifically initiate (such as when corporations leave an alliance) that keep them from adding to costs; however, during certain times of day they still do, and even then in a strangely inconsistent manner. War bills appear in the corporation wallet at strange intervals, do not always indicate what war they actually apply to, and will sometimes never disappear at all. (I have a 150 million ISK war bill for a corporation that closed nigh 4 months ago, and I am not unique in this regard.)
Then there is the problem of high costs. Hisec PVP from the perspective of most who make their living there seems to be dwindling and many of the corporations and alliances that once made big names for themselves there are gone or leaving. For years prior to the nerf, Privateers and groups like them were able to sustain wars against eight or ten of the fifty largest alliances in the game on a continually rolling basis. As of the Inferno change, precious few of those who formerly made hisec warfare their home ground have left for greener, less buggy pastures.
The Near Future
The Winter expansion seems to be aimed directly at the hisec PVP environment. Much needed changes like logistics aggression and the addition of a (hopefully viable) improved bounty hunting program are an undeniable plus. Much more controversial are the changes to Crimewatch: as necessary as they may be for the sake of simplicity and continued server performance, there are a lot of things that will be changing. Many PVP opportunities in hisec are going away, and not all of them have direct replacements. At the very least I do feel that the changes to logistics and universal aggression as it relates to warfare (if I understand them correctly) will have a greatly beneficial effect on the hisec warfare scene, nerfing logistics and especially nerfing neutral logistics: from Retribution on out, only in-corp logistics will be viable (without getting shot by everyone), preventing your 38 neutral logistics from walking single file to hide their numbers. In this way trying to set up a fight where you have large numbers of logistics will be a much greater challenge and brawling it out fair and square with a smaller number of them will be much more viable. This simplification of aggression mechanics should also include a larger swath of the populace able to come to grips with the mechanics of fighting in hisec: No more labyrinthine aggression chains and no more invincible neutrals.
Also on the positive side of things it seems CCP are interested in fixing the grievous problems plaguing the war system. The Inferno patch was a half-assed stopgap that essentially broke as many things as it fixed, often for the worse; fortunately recent news from the CSM seems to indicate that most of these bugs are being addressed. One can only hope. Unless these issues are fully addressed, there can be no healing and hisec warfare will expire, bled out into the sand.
The Problem with Wardec Fees
If all goes well, this only leaves the problems of price scaling. Currently it can cost a vastly different amount of ISK to declare war on various groups depending on the order and time of day in which the wars are declared... different even by billions of ISK. I view this as a mechanical problem (and fortunately, it seems CCP does also). Right now the entire price of the member-inflated bill is multiplied by the number of active wars, rather than simply added onto with a multiple-of-50 million ISK per war fee, something that took me aback when I first encountered it. The base cost levels are also very high: to get into what one might consider to be a serious and profitable war can cost hundreds and hundreds of millions of ISK before a single target is shootable. I cannot help but feel that the entire playing field is intensely unwelcoming to those it is best suited for.
Allow me to explain: Back in the day, hisec wars were an awesome way to get into PVP in a limited scope because you could fight a limited and specific group of people for a completely paltry sum of ISK. There were only restrictions on the number of wars you could have at once... which posed its own problems, but I digress. The primary drawback of this accessibility was that wars were often laughably petty; no one was safe because anyone could start wars with virtually no effort or expense. In response to this, CCP has simply made all wars non-trivially expensive even for rich folk. The paywall is incredibly higher than it has ever been: to run a profitable PVP organization now takes a huge amount of experience, organization, and effort; without these things, a warring corporation is liable to run out of funds from war fees alone. I myself am currently managing, but I imagine our alliance gains membership to a terrifyingly small elite simply by doing so.
A happy medium must therefore be achieved. Fees need to be at a level that is high enough to discourage frivolous wars, but low enough for the war scene to be accessible for aspiring PVPers and encourage the players to truly fight for their success in hisec. War fee scaling therefore needs to be looked into again (that is, again again, after the recently announced changes that only add to the costs), and possibly re-curved entirely; a lower limit of 50 million ISK to start ANY war is simply not low enough. For most characters with less than a year in the game that is a hefty chunk of change. The removal of the horrifyingly inconsistent war fee multiplier is an excellent change in the right direction. I don't necessarily think that the war fees should necessarily be any cheaper than they are today for declaring war against larger organizations, but if war fee minimums were lowered to 20 million ISK (at least for corporations) we could well see a much more active and involved hisec PVP environment where fledgling sky-pirates can comfortably get involved on a smaller and more personal scale without breaking the bank.
The Ideal Future
The continued health of the hisec PVP environment is something that everyone should care about, whether or not you are interested in participating or feel it directly affects you. The very core concept of "high security" space holding as many dangers as lowsec and wormholes is intrinsic to EVE's vision as a game. With strong and interesting PVP content in hisec there could always be a glimpse into EVE's broader and deeper gameplay for anyone in the game. We needn't have missioners who simply run missions for months, never seeing a fight or participating in one. I envision a hisec where the mechanics make for solid fighting, where not every player and corporation willing to stand up and fight (Like Men Once Did) has long left for lowsec and the outer null. I have a dream where hisec is not the realm of "irrelevant scrubs," but a zone where those without enemies can play in relative peace while those with must duke it out mano-a-mano. It is in the spirit of the game.