Supercap Proliferation: Fixing a Solved Problem

Recently, rumors had been rumbling that CCP, or perhaps just the CSM, was looking at nerfing mineral compression (again!) with the intent of curbing supercapital proliferation. More recently, I was directed to a blog post by CSM Hans Jagerblitzen, revealing that this is not in fact a rumor:

Dovinian posted a call for CCP to revisit the issue of "Mineral Compression", as this is one of the major underlying contributors to supercapital proliferation.  Kelduum has been doing detailed research into the specific items that can be manufactured for lower volume than their mineral equivalents, to assist in reaching a faster solution.  CSM is unanimously in support of addressing this long-overdue problem.

For those not in the know, mineral compression is simply building modules with a volume greatly exceeded by the volume of the raw minerals required to build it. Now, to be frank, production in nullsec is basically shit. It's a lousy task, and outside of supercapital construction, not much of it happens. When it does happen in any sort of scale, it is (as Weaselior has recently alluded to) only possible by virtue of compression making minerals relatively easy to source.

Obviously, then, nerfs to compression would cause collateral damage to what little nullsec industry exists, and there are less obvious metagame problems as well. Setting those aside for now, the fact is that "supercap proliferation" is a problem already solved. CCP did a nice job of curbing it with nerfs to supercarriers in Crucible, nerfs to titans this past April, and the removal of drone alloys (which were a huge fountain of pre-compressed minerals) in Inferno. In lieu of some anecdotes as "proof", have some numbers.

First, how many supercapitals were built throughout all of 2011?

1,646 supercarriers built, 370 titans built. 269 supercarriers destroyed, 86 titans destroyed. That's a lot of supers.

For reference, that's an average of about 137 supercarriers and a little over 30 titans per month.

So, how many were around in January?

4,213 supers being flown total. 3,384 supercarriers, 829 titans.

Any reader quick with math probably realizes that nearly half of all supercarriers and over a third of all titans in existence at the time were built in the previous year. "Wow!" they think to themselves, "supercapital proliferation really IS a problem! I'm glad our CSM is tackling that!"

Not so fast; there's one more point of reference. How many supercapitals were active later that year, say, around May 29th?

Current supercap numbers, all accounts. Titans: 942. 369 Erebus, 322 Avatar, 135 Leviathan, 116 Ragnarok.
Supercarriers: 3,463. 2,049 Nyx, 826 Aeon, 414 Wyvern, 172 Hel, 2 Revenant. So, 4,405 characters with a supercap as their active ship atm.

To complete those numbers, 16 titans and 61 supercarriers were destroyed in the time period (those numbers are based on querying Combine it all and in a five month period, there were 129 titans and 140 supercarriers built, or in monthly terms, an average of around 26 titans and 28 supercarriers per month.

It's readily apparent that supercarrier production fell off a cliff following their nerf in Crucible. Titan production continued unabated, but it seems likely that it fell off the same cliff in the wake of the tracking nerfs. And why not? Supercapitals went from being a platform for the annihilation of superior numbers of subcapitals (among many other things), to being glorified structure grinders. While they certainly remain valuable in several roles beyond that, they were no longer sexy. The fountain of pre-compressed minerals provided by the drone regions is gone as well, attenuating the nerfs to supercapital demand. That shrunk or ended entirely the supercapital production efforts of several organizations, both within the drone regions and elsewhere. I know for a fact that at least one CFC supercapital yard was supplied via drone alloys smuggled in from the drone regions through an alt corp.

Now, back to the "collateral damage" and metagame point. Collateral damage I already addressed; what little nullsec based production does happen is reliant on production to be possible, so nerfing compression (or removing it entirely) just makes it that much more difficult. More interesting are the metagame implications. First is the simple fact in any scenario short of eliminating compression entirely, players will adapt. They'll find the next best module or combo of modules, and if it costs them a few hundred million isk and a couple more days building modules, who cares? They're already building a ship that costs billions and takes weeks to finish. Beyond that, though, any nerfs with the intent of making supers "harder to build" benefits those that already have them the most. Groups attempting to play catch up will find themselves at an even more significant disadvantage. In the worst case (complete removal of compression), they're all but eliminated from the race entirely, where-as existing titan owners have the option (unappealing as though it may be) of using their jump portals to facilitate freighter convoys. It very much represents a "rich get richer, poor stay poor" situation.

Fortunately, I may be overreacting. Hans' most recent CSM update blog makes no mention of the compression issue, and he characterized it as a "casual discussion, brought up only briefly, without serious followup." And, when asked, Dovinian stated the following:

There's been no real discussion about it other than the post I made [on the internal forum] and mostly just the CSM talking about possible fixes and number crunching on ratios and capabilities. But we'd much rather focus on other areas of the game at this time. I wanted to see if there was some way to make nullsec industry viable without compression needing to happen but there just doesn't seem to be a way at this time.

We can only hope that CCP concurs. Perhaps one day we'll have viable nullsec industry that doesn't rely on compression, but that day is not today, and the last thing nullsec needs is another quality of life nerf.

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