The Problem with the Plight of the Little Guy

The whole "woe is the little guy, for he cannot compete in null-sec" meme has become "A Thing" lately. Lots of people discussing it, lots of people throwing around ideas for how to make it happen, and lots of people apparently not thinking (or caring) very much about the implications of their ideas; or, in the rare case, fully aware of them and fine with it. A while ago, Rhavas asked me what I thought about it.

A significant number of those ideas seem to be formed around the notion of being able to coexist alongside big alliances, harassing and annoying each other and those big alliances at will, being shielded from "excessive retaliation from those alliances", those alliances simply no longer existing under new game mechanics, not having to deal with sovereignty but getting all the benefits of it, or any or all of the above, and more. In short, it's not "how do we fix null-sec so it's fun for all, including me" but "how do we fix null-sec so that it's fun for me, everyone else be damned."

It's quite true that a small group has no real way into sovereign null-sec on their own in the current state of the game. The large alliances and power blocs they build snap up lots of space, more often for strategic reasons or actual use for their pilots than for simple greed. We, GoonSwarm, have owned six regions in the past; especially with the modern system, that would be far too much now, so we're content with the two-and-change we hold these days, thank you very much. The space isn't as unused as most players think—just look at the twenty-four hour chart for Deklein, for example. Goons are like a militia of peasant-warriors and we love to rat. Still, emptiness is an easy assumption to make, especially if you've been there. Despite thousands of rat kills a day almost region-wide, each system really only supports a handful of ratters at a time, so they appear lightly used at best. Regardless, even unused systems are jealously guarded. If you, as a little guy, want in, it's most often as a renter, a pet, or at best, a minor member of a coalition. In any of those cases, with few notable exceptions (Walltreipers and their defense in Delve comes to mind), if the little guy is left alone, they're dead without much of a fight. Understandably, none of those options appeal to many people.

I have no problem with the idea of changing mechanics to open up space such that the need or obligation for the existing big guys to take as much space as they do now is reversed, and even placing soft constraints on how much space they can take. I even have some ideas on what a system that does that could look like—more on that another time. Still, make more space available, and some of these smaller entities might have a shot at it. If they're able to establish themselves, it'd be nice—having more variety out in null-sec means more fights of all sizes, and a broader political landscape would be interesting for everyone.

What I do have a problem with is the idea that the notional Egypts and Israels, and even smaller Yemens and Polands, have the right to coexist alongside the Russias and Chinas and United States of EVE without fear of being flattened. The play styles of the big alliances are just as valid as those of the little guys. Almost any limitation I can think of that mitigates the "overwhelming force" a larger alliance can bring to bear on a smaller alliance also hinders that same force when brought to bear on another large alliance, where it's considered "normal force." Whether you like it or not, the big alliances are included in the "all styles of play" that CCP Seagull wants to support, and she's decidedly unlikely to sacrifice the big guy just to let the fractal landscape of no-sov small-gang PvP dreamland come to fruition.

What that means is that if you, as a small guy, want to play the game, you're probably going to play the metagame as well. That doesn't have to mean an endless string of blues, or even any blues at all—one non-invasion pact and mutual defense agreement with an otherwise neutral big neighbor could keep the rest off your back. Or if that's not to your taste, make the same agreement with a handful of smaller like-minded entities; you'll raid and shoot each other for fun, but if the big guy next door comes over the border, you team up to repel the attack. Show some creativity in your diplomacy and resulting agreements, because like it or not, it's a fact of life in sovereign null-sec. If you want to be a little rogue actor, owning a few systems, defying diplomatic overtures from those around you, harassing and stealing from each and every one of them, that's fine—just accept that you're going to have to man up and take your lumps if someone decides they've had enough. But if you want to do all of that, while living in a place where you can do it without material repercussions from your target's victims, then perhaps what you should be calling for is a revamp of NPC null-sec or low-sec instead.

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