What is CCP planning, and where do they intend to take EVE?
The official press releases and statements by CCP staff suggest that they support the classic image of the EVE galaxy as a harsh, unforgiving place in which all manner of treachery and violence are permitted--celebrated, even. But the actions taken by CCP in recent years point to something else entirely.
I believe that the mining ship rebalance, viewed in the context of the last several major changes to the game, give us a clear view of CCP's true intentions: A plan to transition EVE into a carebear-friendly "theme park" MMO in which PvP is largely avoidable. I also believe that CCP's plan will result in consequences they never intended, leading to the ruin of the game.
Given the sweeping nature of the issues I'm addressing, this examination will be split into a series. Today, in Part 1 of the series, I will scrutinize CCP's official rationale for the mining ship changes. In Part 2, I will examine the broader array of changes made to the game in recent years, and their implications. In Part 3, I will conclude with a discussion of how the current trend, if it continues, will result in disaster for EVE.
Before I begin, I would like to make a disclaimer: I am not an employee of CCP, nor do I claim to possess any inside information. What follows is merely informed speculation. Consider it food for thought.
With all that out of the way, let's dive right in, shall we?
THE MINING SHIP REBALANCE
By now you're probably familiar with the mining barge/exhumer "rebalance" that took place in the last major patch. In short, the mining ships were blessed with hitpoint increases and, in some cases, enhanced cargo space for mined materials--because apparently automated, AFK mining wasn't already easy enough.
You don't need to be a cynic to guess that the reason for the rebalance was to inflict yet another nerf to the practice of suicide ganking highsec miners. Exhumers (e.g. hulks and mackinaws) have been in EVE for at least six years, and had always operated just fine with the hitpoints originally given them. When suicide ganking--particularly organized ganking--increased in popularity, the poor darlings began to die in large numbers.
Highsec miners whined, begging CCP to nerf suicide ganking. CCP obliged. Then the gankers adapted to the nerfs, and more miners died. Miners whined, CCP nerfed, and gankers adapted again. The cycle repeated until suddenly CCP realized that the hitpoint design they created six years earlier was all wrong.
THE OFFICIAL EXPLANATION
It would be easy to dismiss CCP's explanation for the mining ship buffs and accept that they had simply obeyed the miners' demands for more hitpoints. Instead, I will scrutinize CCP's justifications to see if there's any merit to them--and in either case, see what we can learn.
According to the devblog on the subject written by CCP Ytterbium, there are basically two rationales for the rebalance. First, they wanted to give each mining ship a unique role, rather than having one high-yield mining ship that every miner flies. The second thing they wanted to do was give "some" of the ships "proper EHP not to be one-shot by anything that even remotely sneezes on them."
I'd like to challenge both of these explanations.
A UNIQUE ROLE
The idea of unique roles for ships is to have trade-offs: A mackinaw has this good attribute and that bad attribute; a hulk is good at this and bad at that. The intelligent highsec miner decides which ship best suits his particular needs and makes his selection. That's the story.
There are some problems with that story. For starters, CCP does not seem to have expected or desired miners to make trade-offs.
When miners first began complaining about how they needed more hitpoints to become ungankable in highsec, everyone else (rightly) pointed out that they already had the means to improve their EHP: Fit tank. In some cases, this involved putting shield mods in the mid-slots instead of leaving them empty. Or it involved sacrificing yield or cargo in favor of tank. In other words, the miners needed to make a trade-off.
A lot of miners refused to make the necessary trade-off. They wanted to have it all. So instead of advising miners to fit more hitpoints, CCP gave them more hitpoints. The whole point was that miners could not be counted on to make trade-offs.
During the debate over miner EHP, some adopted the "moderate" position of giving the ships more fitting capability, such as powergrid, rather than a straight-up EHP buff. Miners would still need to make a trade-off, but they would be better able to do so. I opposed the idea because there have already been enough nerfs to suicide ganking in the past, and I knew the demands would never end. But obviously it was a better option. However, it was exactly what CCP wanted to avoid. They knew the miners would never make trade-offs in favor of tank, so they didn't give them the choice.
Finally, when CCP designed theroles" of the ships, they stacked the deck in favor of heavily-tanked mackinaws. True, the hulk continued to have a slight edge in yield. But they cleverly nerfed the hulk's cargo while giving the mackinaw a gigantic ore bay. Some people say that miners will maximize yield no matter what. But the one thing highsec miners care about almost as much as yield is the ability to mine AFK. The hulk's slight edge in yield was completely overshadowed by the mackinaw's massive AFK mining advantage; the mackinaw can mine ice continuously with just a mouse-click per hour. On top of that, the mackinaw also got the bigger EHP buff.
I believe the roles were deliberately designed to favor the tanky mackinaw over the hulk to such a degree as to make the hulk obsolete. From CCP's perspective, this would allow them to force miners into a more gank-resistant ship while providing the fig leaf of a "trade-off" in favor of tank--a trade-off they knew every miner would make because AFK mining required it.
I also think it's quite possible CCP was deliberately boosting the ability of these ships to mine AFK in order to discourage casual botting. That may seem counterintuitive. But by making it so easy to mine AFK without a bot macro, it changed the risk/reward ratio of botting. Why risk getting your accounts permabanned if you only need to make one click per hour anyway? It reminds me of when the music industry fought piracy by allowing people to download music legally at 99 cents per song. But I digress.
Of course, the best evidence against the supposed "role" justification is the result. Miners didn't choose ships based on different trade-offs; they sold their hulks and bought mackinaws. It was no surprise; the market anticipated this reaction. As for the miners who were unprepared, they screamed bloody murder about what happened to their hulks.
CCP claimed they wanted every ship to have a role, then they removed all incentive to fly the least-tanked ship.
NOT TO BE ONE-SHOT BY ANYTHING THAT SNEEZES ON THEM
Years ago, when I first participated in a Hulkageddon, I didn't know much about Concord response times or how best to kill a mining ship in highsec. So I experimented. I found that I was able to kill a hulk with a cruiser. But then I tried to kill another hulk with a cruiser and failed, so I upgraded to a battlecruiser. For convenience, I wanted to figure out one setup that could guarantee a kill. When one of my battlecruisers failed to kill a hulk, I moved up to a battleship--and I soon learned that even a battleship could fail a gank. It was quite remarkable: Hulks could be killed by cruisers, but could also survive battleships. It was entirely dependent on the miner's tank.
The idea that mining ships could be destroyed too easily or too cheaply before the EHP buff is a spectacular myth. There are so many things wrong with the idea that I can scarcely explain them all without resorting to a numbered list.
1. Mining ships were already resilient. As I mentioned, I had firsthand knowledge of how they could survive attacks from battleships. Having spent much time in highsec ice fields prior to the EHP buff, I can tell you that unsuccessful suicide ganks were very common. Miners survived all the time. Of course, you don't see that because it's only the miners who do get killed who show up on killmails, file petitions, and blubber on the forums about the need for more gank nerfs.
2. CCP buffed destroyers and then obsessed on how they were too powerful. The most common complaint was that a destroyer worth 1.5 million isk shouldn't be able to kill an exhumer worth hundreds of millions of isk. Let's set aside the fact that, as stated, destroyers frequently failed to kill exhumers. It was CCP who buffed destroyers in the first place, giving them their extra DPS. Then, trading on memories of the useless old T1 destroyer, they said "obviously these ships shouldn't be able to do so much damage." If that were true, they should have nerfed the destroyers back down to size, but instead, they buffed miner EHP--which nerfed all ganking ships, including expensive ones.
3. Isk does not equal tank. The complaints about how cheap destroyers shouldn't kill expensive exhumers are wrong at their core. Purchase price has never been a guarantee of tank. You would think CCP Soundwave--one of the main proponents of the EHP buff--would know this. He used to be in GoonSwarm, an organization basically founded on the practice of asymmetric warfare using cheap ships to destroy expensive enemy ships. In this epic thread criticizing the mining ship rebalance, CCP Soundwave explained that when it came to suicide ganking, "...expenses should be higher for the attacker than the defender." By that logic, even a T2-fitted battleship shouldn't kill an untanked AFK mackinaw, because the attacker loses less than 250 million isk. I believe battleship firepower constitutes more than a "sneeze."
4. Isk tanking doesn't scale. Even if you believe in the concept of isk tanking, once you put multiple ships into the equation, the idea flies off the rails. The Goons proved that back in the day, when they famously used swarms of rifters to kill pricey vagabonds. Imagine the damage output of a swarm of cruisers. How can you have 250 million isk worth of cruisers unable to kill a mackinaw costing 251 million isk? Remedial must be rolling over in his virtual grave.
5. Ganking cost didn't decrease. Let's suppose, despite all logic, you still believe in the concept of isk tanking. Even then the EHP buff wasn't justified, because the cost of ganking didn't actually decrease with the destroyer buff. When destroyers were buffed, insurance (for gankers only) was nerfed by removing payouts for Concorded ships. This effectively tripled the hull cost of ganking ships. Gankers adapted by using cheaper-hulled ships with more expensive weapons. For example, one might use a (now uninsurable) destroyer with T2 mods instead of a platinum-insured battlecruiser with T1 gear. Depending on the market and whether you were able to recover a lot of your own dropped mods, it was basically a wash.
Again, note the irony here: It was CCP who caused the shift to cheaper hulls, by buffing destroyers and nerfing insurance. Then they used that shift to justify the new nerf. If CCP hadn't caused the shift in the first place, it would have been more difficult to make their "sneeze" argument, since one can hardly accuse a battlecruiser of being too wimpy to deserve a mackinaw kill.
THE REAL REASON FOR THE REBALANCE
At this point I hope we can say that the official reasons for the mining ship rebalance have been thoroughly debunked. So what was the real reason behind it? To please the highsec miners by reducing the number of suicide ganks.
Later in this series, I'll examine whether suicide ganking really was too easy, too cheap, or too common. But I think we can agree that in CCP's opinion, ganking was out of control. In the thread I linked above, CCP Soundwave made one other interesting comment:
"If I wanted to remove aggression, I'd just shut it off, instead of going through all these hoops to keep it alive."
I was reminded of an exchange from the 2008 comedy "Get Smart", in which an agent from Control is trying to infiltrate Kaos, a rival intelligence agency:
Kaos Agent: How do I know you're not Control?
Control Agent: If I were Control, you'd already be dead.
Kaos Agent: If you were Control, you'd already be dead.
Control Agent: Neither of us is dead, so I am obviously not from Control.
My first reaction to Soundwave's comment was disbelief. Does anyone believe that CCP would go about removing highsec aggression by flipping a switch, even if they wanted to? The reaction of the EVE community would make Monoclegate look like a picnic.
But his remark about "going through all these hoops" to keep aggression alive was something that I found very illuminating. What's he referring to? I think the "hoops" are all the things CCP has done to limit highsec PvP without going as far as flipping the aggression switch off.
CCP is caught between a rock and a hard place. They want to please the highsec population. They look at other MMOs, and they see those MMOs get lots of players and lots of money by making things safe. CCP doesn't want EVE's miners to get blown up and quit the game. They want the carebears' subscription fees, and the carebears' friends' subscription fees. "Greed is good," according to the infamous CCP memo.
On the other hand, they don't want another Monoclegate. It was traumatic, and it almost ruined them. From this experience, they know flipping the switch to turn off aggression would have terrible consequences. It would be an unacceptable risk.
Yet the profit motive that led CCP to Monoclegate remains. They want to eliminate aggression in highsec, but they must do it step by step. Hoop by hoop.
Still not convinced? See you in part 2.