Back when I wrote the conclusion to my series on why I believe the removal of risk in hisec would destroy EVE, I suggested that buffs to freighters would be an ominous sign about the direction CCP is taking the game. Almost on cue, we have seen a rise in "chatter" on EVE-O and elsewhere about the need to limit the ganking of freighters in hisec. This sort of chatter does not guarantee CCP will implement nerfs to freighter ganking. But every nerf to hisec aggression in the last few years has been preceded by the very same kind of whining. When complaints about a game mechanic reach a certain threshold, it's a fair bet the mechanic will be given a second look at CCP HQ. That makes it a worthy topic of discussion and analysis.
In today's post, I will examine the rationale for a nerf to freighter ganking, as well as the counter-arguments. In weighing the pros and cons, I will take care to be objective and give both sides a fair look. That does not mean, however, that both sides of the argument necessarily have equal merit. In this case, they certainly do not.
THE RISE OF FREIGHTER GANKING
I won't go into a full history of the ganking of hisec freighters, but here are the basics: Freighters have been suicide ganked in hisec for many years now, though the ganks tended to be infrequent. Performing the ganks used to be easier, prior to the buffs to CONCORD response time and the removal of insurance for gank ships. Freighter ganking was rare because it required a gank squad to suicide many ships simultaneously. Only the most ISK-laden, AFK-autopiloting freighter could attract such special treatment.
Earlier this year, Goonswarm & friends brought a ridiculous number of suicide ships to Jita one weekend and shot almost everything in sight. "Burn Jita" resulted in the deaths of many freighters, and carebear tears proliferated accordingly. However, Burn Jita was an aberration. To date, neither the Goons nor any other alliance have conducted a similar event.
Then came the "Ministry of Love". Goonswarm CEO The Mittani, always with a keen eye for emergent gameplay, created an organization dedicated to inflicting retribution on carebears who make bad forum posts on EVE-O. This group, better known by the abbreviation "Miniluv", developed a taste for hisec mayhem and eventually turned its attention toward killing freighters.
Miniluv proved successful. Suicide attacks against freighters used to be somewhat rare, but now freighters are dropping on a regular basis, often several times per day. Miniluv's notoriety has been enhanced thanks to the popular killboard website Eve-Kill.net, which highlights the five most expensive kills of the week on its front page. Normally the honored positions would be reserved for supercapitals, but now they are often occupied by Miniluv's freighter kills.
Enemies of the Goons may groan that yet again, the Goons are hogging the spotlight. I can only reply that there is no law against other groups developing emergent gameplay of their own.
ARGUMENTS IN FAVOR OF LIMITING FREIGHTER GANKS
At this point I would love to describe compelling, thoughtful arguments in favor of a nerf to the practice of freighter ganking. It would no doubt improve my image as an impartial moderator of this debate. Unfortunately, there simply aren't any good arguments for such a nerf. And I won't pretend there are, since creating a false sense of balance serves no one.
Just because there aren't any good reasons for a nerf to freighter ganking doesn't mean no one supports a nerf. After all, good reasons aren't the only kind of reasons. So let's take a look at the most popular reasons why some people believe freighter ganking should be nerfed.
I realize that it's generally unfair in a debate to criticize people or their motives, rather than the substance of their arguments. In this case, there is no substance to attack. So I'm quite comfortable providing this section as an explanation for those who are curious what's going on. As far as I can tell, there are basically three groups of players who support a nerf:
- The Carebears. Disgruntled bears who lose freighters unsurprisingly feel their freighters shouldn't be blown up in the future. Everyone else who believes hisec should be a risk-free theme park lend their shoulders to be cried upon.
- The Knee-Jerkers. Some people instinctively feel a nerf is in order whenever they see anything interesting. If it's happening, it needs a nerf. A bunch of expensive freighters are exploding? Time for a rebalance. As the name implies, this is merely a matter of stimulus-response; there's no thought involved.
- The Jealous. These are similar to the knee-jerkers, but they only care because the high value of the kills and the fact that they are not the ones being credited with them. Far from being carebears, these are often PVPers. When they see someone else getting big kills, they feel their own efforts look small by comparison, and they want a nerf. Anyone motivated by a dislike of Goons also falls into this category.
WHAT'S WRONG WITH MAKING FREIGHTER GANKS DIFFICULT?
I would like to specifically address one argument that can be made in favor of a nerf to freighter ganking. The argument in question applies to this nerf, but it can also apply to virtually any other nerf up for debate. I call it the More Challenge Fallacy. I have no doubt that you'll be seeing this fallacy used again and again in the future, in EVE and elsewhere. The More Challenge Fallacy will now be debunked here, at no extra charge!
The argument goes something like this: "What's so bad about making it difficult to kill expensive freighters?" Or, "Would it be such a big deal to add a little extra challenge?"
From a propaganda point of view, I almost admire the simple elegance of this fallacy. It contains no substance, but it is difficult to rebut - unless you're already familiar with the fallacy, in which case it becomes trivial.
The reason the fallacy works is that no one wants to argue against the idea of tasks in video games having some challenge. If you're against making it a bit more difficult to kill freighters, it sounds like you want freighter killing to be easy. And what kind of wimpy gamer would be in favor of that? It almost makes it sound like the person opposing the nerf is a carebear, instead of the other way around.
When it comes to ganking freighters, there's much more to say about the question of difficulty (see below). Here's the universally appropriate response to the More Challenge Fallacy:
Every nerf carries with it a corresponding buff. If you nerf freighter ganking, you buff freighters (or more particularly, AFK freighters on autopilot carrying too much loot). Because a nerf to one thing is always a buff to something else, the More Challenge Fallacy can always be turned on its head: "What's so bad about making it difficult to go on autopilot through a trade route patrolled by gank squads, in a 20 billion ISK piñata, while AFK - and survive a highly-organized attack?"
Challenge is a good thing. That's why I see no reason to make it less of a challenge to do something really, really stupid (see, e.g., the AFK 50 billion ISK freighter in Uedama) without risking consequences.
Of course, balancing the difficulty level of various tasks is a legitimate part of game design. But it must always be anchored in some context or have some basis of comparison to something else. The More Challenge Fallacy is free-floating. You can nerf something on Monday and ask why it's bad to make it more challenging on Tuesday. If someone's argument in favor of a nerf sounds like this:
"Aw, what's the matter, the poor baby doesn't want to lose his easy _______? A bloo bloo!"
...then it's a fair bet you're dealing with the fallacy, not a proper balance argument. Simply insert the nerf's corresponding buff into the blank and send it right back at him.
HOW EASY IS FREIGHTER GANKING?
To help avoid the More Challenge Fallacy and put things into their proper perspective, let's take a quick look at the basic ingredients used by freighter gankers over the years:
Gankers pick a target system along a popular trade route and pre-spawn a ton of CONCORD squads away from the gate. They're likely to pick a 0.5 security system, as this maximizes the time they can attack before being jammed. A freighter can avoid death by avoiding the target system, which will be obvious from public killboards.
Gankers need to have one or more pilots scanning the cargo of freighters traveling toward the system. Then they need to estimate the value of the cargo to ensure it's worth the loss of all suicide ships, the risk of failure, plus the risk of the Loot Fairy frowning upon them. Freighters can avoid being attacked by not carrying too expensive a load. If they're going to be AFK-autopiloting anyway, what's wrong with taking multiple trips?
The freighter must be trapped while the attackers get mobilized. This means one or more extra pilots with bumping ships to keep the freighter away from the gate and out of warp alignment. The gank squad must determine precisely how much damage output they're going to need in order to kill the target. Freighters have around 170-200 thousand effective hitpoints. For a suicide gank target, that's a lot. The gank squad needs to know exactly what each of its members is bringing and how much damage they're capable of dishing.
If the damage calculation is off — even by a little — they're going to lose hundreds of millions of ISK with nothing to show for it. Execution matters. A high-DPS setup uses weapons with very short ranges. If anyone is out of range, or even if someone forgets to overheat their guns, that could be the difference between success and failure.
Additional members of the squad are needed to loot the freighter wreck. This may involve quick choices about what the hauler can and can't carry. The gank squad looters must race against opportunists who could grab the loot for free. Someone else in the squad may be designated to loot all the tech II gear left behind by the fallen gankers.
Note all the different moving parts involved. What I've just described involves around 20 different pilots minimum, all performing their tasks perfectly. A failure at any stage scraps the entire operation.
But it also means a freighter ganking organization needs a fair amount of manpower in reserve. Suppose, for example, only 19 of the 20 needed pilots are online and ready to respond when the cargo scanning pilot announces a juicy target. The gank cannot take place. It's rare to have 100% of an organization's members all playing at the same time — especially when "playing" means waiting around for a freighter to show up. At least several dozen members on the roster, and possibly upwards of a hundred, may be needed just to be able to consistently meet the manpower need on demand. This factor alone goes a long way toward explaining why freighters were not ganked on a regular basis prior to Miniluv.
THE DOG THAT DOESN'T BARK
Outsiders who call for nerfs make a judgment on how difficult a task is. Presumably anyone who supports a nerf to freighter ganking believes it's too easy to destroy high-value freighters in hisec. The trouble is they make that judgment without looking at everything that goes into a successful freighter gank. Instead, they look at killmails of dead freighters.
The killboards make freighter ganking look easy — it's just a list of successful kills, one after the other. Considering all the things that need to go right, I'm sure even a group like Miniluv has had its fair share of botched ganks. Failures, and the effort needed to overcome obstacles, are invisible on a ganker's killboard.
There is, however, a way to infer the challenge of freighter ganking: the absence of killmails from other groups of dedicated freighter gankers. It's the dog that doesn't bark. No one else is doing what Miniluv is doing. I'm sure there are plenty of EVE players who would enjoy taking part in the fun and profit of blowing up freighters with 20 billion ISK cargo. Yet no other organization has been created in all of EVE to replicate the Miniluv campaign. The only logical explanation is that it's too difficult.
I would offer this proposal to those who support a freighter ganking nerf: If it's so easy to do, go on a freighter killing spree of your own. If you can't pull it off, why not? If you can't do it, you can't nerf it.
Not only is Miniluv the only group repeatedly suiciding freighters in hisec at the moment, they're the only group in EVE's history to do it. Yes, freighters have been ganked before, but never on this scale. Miniluv's success can't be explained by new game mechanics, since changes to game mechanics have made freighter ganking more difficult/expensive in recent years. Nor has Miniluv uncovered some "trick" that makes it easier to do. It's purely a matter of organization and execution.
THE "GET OUT OF GANK FREE" CARDS
I've already alluded to a couple ways that freighter pilots can virtually zero-out the risk of being ganked in hisec. The Miniluv target systems are public knowledge, since the killmails are public. Freighters can avoid these systems with no effort on their part. Even if it means an extra jump or two on an alternate route, the freighter pilot is unaffected, since he's AFK autopiloting anyway. Lowering the value of cargo with multiple trips is no different from adding additional AFK jumps.
There's another easy way to avoid having a huge haul of loot get ganked on the way to the trade hub: fly an Orca. They're frequently used as cheap freighters; those Orcas you see warping from gate to gate most likely aren't on their way to or from a mining op. Orcas come with a corporate hangar and a ship hangar. These hangars do not drop loot when the Orca is destroyed, so gankers have no incentive to attack. Not only that, but the hangars are scan-proof. The Orca is essentially CCP's way of giving hisec players a gank-proof freighter. Now let's hope the Orca's advantages aren't used as an excuse to "rebalance" industrial ships by doubling freighter EHP.
Some people would say carebears shouldn't have to look at killboards, take steps to minimize risk, or do anything else that requires them to engage the EVE community. That's the philosophy of a single-player game. It makes no sense in an MMORPG. Everyone knows it takes far more effort to amass 20 billion ISK worth of cargo than it does to take a few simple steps to avoid losing said cargo. The refusal to adapt to the existence of other players may be caused by some kind of weird entitlement issue on the part of hisec carebears. If carebears want to "fix" or "rebalance" something, they can start with their attitudes.
THE FUTURE OF FREIGHTER GANKING
The carebears, knee-jerkers, and jealous players in EVE want to see the Miniluv freighter campaign brought to an end. They can't imagine watching tens of billions of ISK going pop in one freighter after another — not indefinitely. In their way of thinking, the story must have some kind of conclusion. As for me, I would be perfectly happy to see freighters suicide ganked from now until EVE shuts down.
My reasoning is simple. There's no reason why people who overstuff freighters and go AFK should expect to survive an organized attack. If a player goes idle in the middle of a battlefield in an FPS game, the soldier he's controlling will get sniped. That was true when the first FPS was created, it's true today, and it will continue to be true for as long as FPS games exist. There's no need to change it; no one would argue for a nerf to sniping stationary targets. If the Goons go on destroying expensive freighters indefinitely, it's because they've earned it. I say they should be allowed to keep on earning it for as long as the freighter pilots let them.