This is the final installment of a three-part series exploring the future of EVE. In part one, I scrutinized the official rationale for the exhumer "rebalance" and determined the changes were solely intended to appease highsec miners distraught by suicide ganks. In part two, I offered a guided tour of the history of nerfs to highsec aggression and laid out my theory: CCP intends to boost subscriptions (that is, revenues) by making highsec safer, resembling the theme park MMOs that dominate the market.
Today, I would like to share my view of how a risk-free highsec would affect EVE, should CCP decide to take the game further down the path toward carebear paradise.
If you've read the previous two installments in this series, it probably won't surprise you to learn that I am very much opposed to the concept of a perfectly safe highsec. I could write you an essay on the virtues of EVE's unique "non-consensual PvP with consequences" model, or the value of rewarding ingenuity in a sandbox environment, or the adrenaline rush of a galaxy where no space is safe. But I'm not going to do that, at least not today.
Instead, I will describe what I believe are the likely consequences of an EVE where CCP consistently attempts to satisfy the demands of a teeming population of highsec carebears. Since the transformation is already underway, this won't be a purely speculative endeavor: I will point to the effects where they are readily observable, and I will follow them to their logical conclusions.
There are essentially three components to today's post, the first two of which address the two most common responses I get from people who agree highsec is being made safer by the day. First is the response that a risk-free highsec would benefit EVE by creating an industrial "safe zone" that supplies everyone with cheap ships and equipment. Second is the "so what?" response: The idea that a risk-free highsec would have little or no impact on the rest of EVE, and that people who live in nullsec, for example, shouldn't care.
The third component addresses how the desire to please carebears could lead to the death of EVE and end up shrinking, rather than enlarging, CCP's subscription revenues.
JUST KEEPING THE PRICES DOWN
There are quite a few EVE players who welcome the idea of a completely--or almost completely--safe highsec. Obviously, this group includes the carebears: Highsec industrialists who daily demand a safer highsec, or worse, those who came to EVE with the assumption highsec is supposed to be risk-free--the kind who suffer a meltdown when faced with the slightest inconvenience to their AFK mining.
But the carebears are not alone. In fact, there are battle-hardened nullsec dwellers who welcome the prospect of a risk-free highsec. Why? Because they believe it would benefit them by providing a steady supply of cheap ships and equipment. This view became more popular as the price of goods increased and lead to a greater fear of inflation. Prices went up for various reasons: Anti-miner activity in highsec, bot banning, the removal of "gun-mining" from the drone regions, etc.
For those who feared that inflation would cramp their style, the exhumer rebalance appeared to be a godsend. More safety in highsec--along with a greater ability to mine AFK--means more miners, which means more minerals being sold, which means lower prices.
In answering this argument, I will begin by admitting certain prejudices straightaway. Keeping prices down is not my highest priority. I'm not very concerned whether someone needs to AFK mine in safety with his Orca/Mackinaw gang for three hours instead of two hours in order to purchase a ship. Nor do I think it's axiomatic that a Raven must cost the same 100 million isk today as it did several years ago despite the current availability of so much more easy isk.
But even if you think it's absolutely necessary to keep prices at a certain level, I think we can all agree that something cannot be justified solely on the basis that it helps keep prices down. After all, that's exactly the same excuse given for botting: "We're just keeping the prices down." There are many different ways to keep prices down. The question isn't whether a risk-free highsec would lower prices; the question is whether it's the best way, and whether the benefits are worth the downsides. In my view, a safe highsec flunks both of these tests. The cure would be far worse than the disease.
Before I go into a detailed explanation of why a safe highsec would be harmful, I would like to say a few other things on this point.
First, let's not forget why PvP is different in EVE. In EVE, losses have consequences. It's possible to inflict lasting harm on another player or alliance. Low prices allow you to jump into another ship more quickly, but they also allow your opponent to do the same. Your losses mean less, but so do your kills. Cut the prices in half and you'll just have to kill twice as many enemies (or grind twice as many structures) to accomplish the same goal. You can fly tengus more often, but also you'll have to destroy more fleets to make that -A- fleet commander cry.
If your goal is to fly around and shoot at stuff, join Red vs. Blue. They fly inexpensive ships and blow them up. In essence, they have the kind of consensual, consequence-free PvP that you can get in other games. If you think EVE would be improved by making everything cheaper, you don't understand what makes EVE combat special.
Having thousands of EVE players mine AFK in safety isn't the only way to keep prices down, of course. If it really came down to it, you could have the markets seeded by NPCs. Don't act so surprised at the suggestion. And don't be offended by my earlier comparison to botters who excuse their activity because it "keeps prices down". In fact, the mineral market is already being supplied to a large extent by bots, and since bots essentially are NPCs... In a real sense, the mineral market already is being seeded by NPCs. But more on that later.
If you want to improve mineral production, don't incentivize it by buffing highsec mining. Buff lowsec and nullsec mining instead. Give them rewards that reflect the added risk they take. And by encouraging players to take risks, you give the PvP'ers more targets. But again, more on that later.
Low prices don't justify the potentially game-breaking side effects of a risk-free highsec. But how would removing risk from highsec harm the game? Read on.
THE FEEDBACK LOOP
At the conclusion of part two of this series, I offered a thought experiment for your consideration. We know that in the past, CCP has always nerfed ships, modules, tactics, etc. that were too popular, and they have tended to buff things that were unpopular. This policy was based on the understanding that if something is too popular, it's probably overpowered and in need of a nerf; if there's something nobody uses, it's probably underpowered and needs a buff. That's reasonable enough.
The question I asked was, what if something became so popular that CCP couldn't nerf it, for fear of upsetting all the people who used it? And what if its popularity meant that CCP actually buffed it instead?
The most likely result is a feedback loop. If it gets buffed instead of nerfed, it will become even more overpowered and therefore even more popular. Now it's even more "un-nerfable" than before, because an even greater number of people would be angry if it got nerfed. Then they demand more buffs, and how can CCP say "no" to so many players?
What is the endpoint of the feedback loop I described? There really isn't one, not until the popular thing becomes so overpowered that everyone uses it.
What I've just described is, I believe, the situation with highsec. At some point, CCP looked through its statistics and determined that most EVE players live in highsec and do PvE all day. Since risk-free PvE is essentially what you have with any other MMO, CCP could easily draw the conclusion that most of EVE's players are similar to the players of any other MMO: They don't want the possibility of non-consensual PvP, and they certainly don't want to risk taking heavy losses. They want to steadily make "progress" by accumulating spacebucks.
In other words, CCP probably believes that the overwhelming majority of EVE subscribers are carebears.
Another way to evaluate the statistics would have been to say, "Highsec is very popular. It's probably overpowered, so let's nerf it. We need to get the risk/reward ratio back into balance and encourage people to go to lowsec and nullsec."
Why didn't CCP do that? Because once you've concluded that your game is filled with carebears, you've given up on them. Carebears don't fight. They steadily grind money, whether in EVE or any other MMO. You can't get them to take any serious risks, so nerfing highsec will only make them quit EVE rather than travel to lowsec or nullsec.
But what if CCP was wrong?
RISK VERSUS REWARD
EVE players disagree on many things, but one thing they'll probably agree on is that the risk/reward calculation is at the heart of EVE's game mechanics. Ideally, you incentivize high-risk activities with big rewards. Low-risk activities offer low-value rewards. If the balance is out of whack, everyone will flock to the low-risk, high-reward activities and abandon the high-risk, low-reward activities.
On a superficial level, EVE follows this principle. Take mining, for example. High value ores are found in lowsec and nullsec, where risk is higher. But the question isn't whether the ore is more valuable, the question is whether the risk/reward balance is properly set. If it's much more dangerous to mine in lowsec than highsec, the ore needs to be much more valuable. If it's only slightly more valuable, then the risk/reward calculation favors highsec. The same goes for any other isk-making PvE in the game.
I'm probably not being too controversial when I say that the rewards of lowsec and nullsec mining are not sufficiently more valuable than highsec mining to offset the risk. The same goes for other forms of PvE.
Why isn't it controversial to say this? Because EVE players, by the tens of thousands, have independently reached the same conclusion. And they went to live in highsec where they could make plenty of isk without the risk. That, I believe, is the reason why highsec is so populous. Not because EVE players are all carebears who won't take risks, but because the risks of leaving highsec are not properly incentivized with higher rewards.
At this point I would like to address the popular carebear refrain that goes, "Nullsec is safer than highsec, because you're surrounded by a sea of blues."
This is a myth. Even with a sea of blues, you're still going to have enemies around who are constantly looking for targets. To the extent that your space is safe, it's because players make it safe by creating gate camps and intel channels. By patrolling their own space, alliance members put their ships at risk, even if it's not the same alliance member who's mining at that given moment. Moreover, carebears cannot see the risk of losing one's space. As -A-'s coalition partners in the southwest recently proved, it's still possible to lose huge swaths of nullsec to an opponent, and at a rapid pace.
There's an even more obvious counterargument to the carebear myth of a safe nullsec, and it comes in the form of the nullsec crowd's own popular line. Whenever someone points to the statistics showing a large percentage of players in highsec, what does a nullsec player say? "But a lot of those are alts." No one denies it, a lot of lowsec and nullsec players have alts in highsec.
I ask you, if nullsec is safer and offers better rewards, why do players with access to nullsec space put their alts in highsec?
THE MOST IMPORTANT JOB
Most highsec miners feel that they make an important contribution to EVE. "Without us," they say, "You would have no ships!"
It's not true. If properly buffed, mining could be done in lowsec and nullsec, or minerals could be seeded onto the market by NPCs. In fact, considering how much botting is being done already, the mineral market is being seeded by NPCs.
However, let's put that aside for the moment. Highsec miners do provide minerals so that things can be built. But that's only one of the jobs they perform in EVE. The most important thing miners provide is not minerals--it's targets. Miners act as soft targets for PvP'ers. They are the base of the PvP foodchain.
You've probably heard it described before: Industrialists get targeted by solo pirates and protected by small defense gangs, who then come under attack by larger pirate gangs, which, in turn, are chased by larger defense fleets, and so on. Take away the soft targets at the base of the foodchain, and there's nothing for the solo pirates to kill, so solo PvP dries up, small-gang PvP dries up, and all the way up the foodchain. You're left with consensual PvP, and the structure shot/defense ops of the big nullsec alliances.
All of it depends on the industrialists putting themselves at risk. Why should they do that, though? If risk/reward is properly balanced, they'll do it for the greater rewards. If, however, risk/reward is stacked in favor of highsec, there's no need for a miner to put himself at risk. Simply mine all the money you want in highsec. Goodbye, lowsec mining. Goodbye, lowsec PvP. Goodbye, lowsec.
When I first started interacting with highsec miners, I was surprised how often I would get an angry convo from their corpmates in lowsec. These corpmates had negative security status and thought themselves quite menacing. Why did people who fancied themselves macho lowsec residents even care about defending the honor of highsec miners? Because "lowsec" corps do all their industry in highsec. That "macho" lowsec pirate with a -9.9 security status could very well spend most of his time as a highsec ice miner.
Critics of EVE often say lowsec is dead, and that solo PvP (or small-gang PvP) is dead. The critics are right. Lowsec, for all intents and purposes, is dead. Solo PvP and small-gang PvP are, for the most part, dead. And who killed them? The targets, by moving into highsec. Why did they do it? Because risk/reward directs them to do it. Why? Because CCP wants to cater to highsec residents. Why? Money.
If you want to know why "bring lowsec back to life" has been on the agenda year after year, it's because it can't be brought to life without fixing the risk/reward imbalance. And that can't be done without upsetting highsec carebears. So it never gets done.
WHY SHOULD NULLSEC CARE?
Buffing highsec killed lowsec. Should nullsec residents care? Could the same thing that happened to lowsec also happen to nullsec? There are differences between the two; you can claim sovereignty in nullsec, and there will always be people who play for no other reason than to put their color on the sov map. But basically, the answer is yes. Nullsec can be killed in much the same way lowsec was killed.
Killing nullsec is not so different from killing lowsec. It all comes down to the risk/reward calculation. If you buff highsec rewards enough, you can drive the PvE'ers from nullsec into highsec the same way they were driven from lowsec into highsec.
PvE'ers will risk venturing into nullsec--or putting down roots and defending it--only as long as the rewards are sufficiently better than those of highsec to justify all the extra risk (and work). Nullsec started from a better position than lowsec. While both areas carry risk, nullsec goodies are much better than lowsec goodies, in terms of the advantage over highsec. Buff highsec enough, and the gap between highsec rewards and nullsec rewards disappears. Nullsec will always be far riskier than highsec, so that gap needs to be big to keep nullsec viable. That gap is closing all the time.
Consider the common nullsec-dweller's observation, which I mentioned earlier: Highsec has a big population, but a lot of those highsec residents are actually alts from lowsec and nullsec. Why do nullsec players put alts in highsec to make money? Because highsec is that profitable. The dirty little secret is, for many players, in many situations, highsec is already more profitable than nullsec.
And just as we saw in lowsec, every time a PvE'er moves from nullsec to highsec, a soft target is lost. Take away enough of those targets, and the predators of nullsec disappear, and the PvP foodchain rolls right up. This process is well underway. People have been complaining about it for quite some time. But if highsec is buffed further, things can get worse. A lot worse.
THE BIGGEST MISTAKE
What was CCP's biggest mistake with EVE? Some people say it was Incarna, when CCP sought to attract carebear theme parkers from other MMOs by abandoning development on EVE's core gameplay and putting all its resources into "walking in stations". Others say it was Monoclegate and the flirtation with "pay-to-win" that led to the Jita riots.
Yes, those were both big mistakes, big enough to cause CCP's CEO to apologize and reverse course. They were big enough that EVE could have collapsed if CCP hadn't changed direction. And it shouldn't escape notice that both of those mistakes were caused by the same thing motivating the highsec buffs: The desire to boost profits by appealing to the lowest common denominator.
However, I don't classify either of those as the biggest mistake, precisely because they were corrected. CCP changed course. While CCP may have sought to attract theme parkers with walking in stations, they were able to essentially remove it from the game, because nobody wanted it--and it wasn't finished, so theme parkers who did want it weren't EVE players yet. People didn't fill the forums with tears about how CCP "nerfed walking". The "gold ammo" scandal was also corrected by abandoning the idea.
That's why I think the single biggest mistake CCP ever made was the exhumer rebalance. It can't be corrected, because you can't nerf highsec without angering highsec carebears. If we've learned anything over the last few years, it's that CCP will do just about anything to avoid angering highsec carebears. So they can't reverse their decision to hand out the exhumer buffs.
Why was the exhumer rebalance such a bad thing? Again, risk/reward. It decreased the risk of highsec mining, and it also increased the rewards. Both of these changes moved the dial ever closer to the point where PvE'ers simply abandon nullsec the way they abandoned lowsec.
The risk of highsec mining declined due to the EHP buff. People theorized about how killing mackinaws would "only" require using multiple tech II fitted destroyers, and so on. At some point, you have to stop looking at theory and just look at the reality. I've spent a great deal of time in highsec ice fields, both before and after the exhumer rebalance. I can tell you it's a night-and-day difference. Before the rebalance, there were at least a few gank attempts in the popular ice fields every day. You would almost always see Concord show up eventually. After the rebalance, the ganks dried up almost entirely. Not only did the mackinaws stop blowing up, people stopped even making the attempts.
It's true, you can still find mackinaw killmails. You may even find some that involved suicide ganking, as opposed to wardecs. Awhile ago I saw someone running five accounts of destroyers so he could score a mackinaw kill. But for every dead mackinaw, you now have thousands of miners who never even see a gank attempt anymore. In fact, I see more suicide gank attempts against my miner-bumping ship than against miners.
So the risk of mining in highsec has been substantially reduced. Perhaps even more important, the rewards have been substantially increased, because for some reason CCP felt the need to buff AFK mining.
THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE
The exhumer rebalance included a massive buff to certain mining ships' ability to carry ore and ice. It is now possible for a mackinaw to sit in one position and mine ice for an entire hour before its ore bay is filled. All of this takes place without any input from the player; it's entirely automated. As the hour comes to a close, the player can drag the ice from the mackinaw's ore bay into a secure container or hauler. With that one mouse-click, the next hour begins. Depending on his skillpoints, that pilot has just made several million isk, and he will continue to do so every time he makes that hourly mouse-click.
In highsec, there is virtually no risk involved in this task. Nor is there any skill, creativity, or thinking of any kind. In fact, it's a lot like earning skillpoints: Imagine if every skill in EVE had one hour of training time and there was no skill queue. Show up after an hour and switch skills - it's pretty much the same thing.
As you might imagine, miners perform this task AFK. The miner's presence at his computer is neither necessary nor even helpful in any way. Today's highsec ice fields are filled with the mining dead, zombies that grunt once an hour but otherwise may as well be inanimate.
If you visit one of these ice fields, you'll notice the swarms of Mackinaws. But you'll also notice huge swarms of Retrievers. The Rackinaw is superior for the task in every way; the Retrievers are flown by people who are new at mining and currently training up toward the mack. This is natural. Highsec mining was buffed into becoming even more overpowered, so now even more people are shifting over.
That's right, the highsec mining population has increased yet again. CCP is probably thrilled, though they'll be less thrilled when they realize how many of those new "players" are bots. With the growth of the miner population, it becomes even more difficult for CCP to nerf highsec mining. They're long overdue for a nerf, given how overpowered their ships are for their purpose. But apparently, there's just too many players mining for mining to be nerfed.
They're too big to fail.
CARGO IS YIELD
Okay, so AFK mining has been buffed. It's now a bit more convenient for the miners, but so what? What many people don't realize is the extent to which being able to mine AFK increases one's ability to make isk, period.
We all recognize why some people use bots; they can mine 23/7. Botters can mine while they work, while they sleep, while they eat, whatever. Being able to mine for an hour without any human input - and without any risk - is the same thing on a smaller scale. With the new, improved Mackinaw, you can go eat dinner while your not-a-bot automatically makes isk for you. If you return in an hour, it's just as good as a bot.
Or suppose you leave the house for two hours. The first hour your Mackinaw happily mined, so it was half as good as a bot. Going to be gone at work for eight hours? Set it to mine and at least you'll get an extra hour of free isk every day you work. Set it to mine before you go to sleep and you'll get an additional hour's worth every day. If you happen to wake up in the middle of the night, you can groggily make your mouse-click, return to sleep, and earn extra millions of isk for your effort.
In the second season of the TV series "Lost", we were introduced to the Desmond character. He lived in an underground bunker and, for reasons which don't need to be fully described here, was required to enter a series of numbers into his computer every 108 minutes. Mackinaw pilots have it better. They need to make their own click every 60 minutes, but that's only to maximize yield; they're not required to do it right on time. Still, I imagine there are many miners out there who arrange things in a Desmond-like fashion so that they can be back in time to make their hourly mouse-click as often as possible.
It's not just easier, it's also a lot more profitable, because it greatly increases the amount of time you can spend "playing" EVE. As an example, consider this scenario: Suppose a PvE activity in nullsec offers three times as much isk/hour as highsec mining. If you can spend close to triple the time highsec mining because it only requires an hourly mouse-click, then highsec makes far more economic sense; you'll make nearly as much isk per day, with zero effort and risk. With that calculation having been made, another nullsec PvE'er disappears from nullsec, and your "roaming op" in nullsec loses another target.
Who needs risk when the game throws free money at you?
THE RISE OF THE MACHINES
In time, those botters flying swarms of retrievers will graduate into swarms of mackinaws. From what I can see, CCP has not taken any action to crack down on these bots. Then again, reducing the number of subscribers was never the point of the exhumer rebalance.
These days, quite a few human miners are feeling the temptation to drop the pretense and join up with the bots. In time, I believe, CCP will permaban the bots, or at least make an attempt to root them out. Everyone agrees botters are a plague that deserve to be permabanned for their grievous sin of automated mining.
Human-controlled miners, on the other hand, are treated like royalty. After all, they only engage in automated mining for an hour at a time. For their heroic act of dragging ice into storage one per hour, they are considered to be active, fruitful members of the EVE community. CCP will spare no expense in making them happy, even if it distorts or destroys other aspects of the game.
The difference in treatment of bots and highsec miners reminds me of an old joke about extreme religious sectarianism. The joke goes that an old man walks across a bridge and sees a young man preparing to jump off the side of the bridge. The old man attempts to reason with him, encouraging him not to commit suicide because he has so much to live for. The conversation turns to religion, and the old man is surprised to discover that the young man, like him, is religious: a Christian, a Protestant, a Baptist. They're even from the same sect, the "Reformed Baptist Church of God". Finally, the old man asks if the young man is "Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1879, or Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1915?" The young man answers "1915". The old man yells, "Die, heretic scum!" and pushes him off the bridge.
The botter is scum and will be removed from the game. But the highsec miner who is almost exactly identical in every way is the ideal EVE player, too important to nerf, and too important not to buff, if he demands it. Assuming CCP doesn't legalize botting, the bots will eventually be wiped out. The miners, having saved their souls with an hourly mouse click, will inherit the EVE galaxy - whatever is left of it.
People criticize the carebears for wanting to play a single-player game. The criticism is on the mark, but it doesn't go far enough. If carebears want to be able to make money while AFK, they're not interested in a single-player game, what they really want is a zero-player game. The rise of botting and AFK mining have made this a reality for many. You can go to highsec systems with lots of characters, but no players. The lights are on, but nobody's home.
WHO SPEAKS FOR HIGHSEC?
The continual buffing of highsec PvE means the highsec population will continue to grow. With its population growth, it will also grow in influence, as CCP becomes increasingly concerned with pleasing this majority share of its subscribers.
So how does CCP know what highsec residents want? Who speaks for them?
As I've written, I believe highsec is filled with both carebears and non-carebears whose alts live in highsec because of the risk/reward imbalance. In my opinion, CCP thinks the highsec population is virtually all carebears.
My opinion is based on the coddling treatment CCP gives to the carebears. They don't, for example, say, "Most players are in highsec. Let's buff wardecs for the genuine highsec residents, and buff nullsec PvE to bring those alts back where they belong." Instead, they say, "Look at all those carebears. Let's protect them and reward them so they don't unsubscribe."
In part two of this series, I wrote about the means by which the whiniest, most carebearish miners are the most visible to CCP, while the "good" miners who fit tanks and avoid dying are invisible. The whiners inundate CCP with countless petitions every day.
I didn't realize just how many petitions carebears file until I started interacting with them. They petition me pretty much every day, because their view of the EULA is, when stripped of all disguise, "if you get in my way, you're breaking the rules."
That's not just because I occasionally see fit to bump miners; they said all the same things when I used to suicide gank and wardec them, too. A large percentage of highsec miners genuinely believe "extortion", i.e. taking a ransom, is against the EULA. Let that sink in for a moment. They think space piracy is forbidden in EVE Online.
Now consider the non-carebears in highsec, including all of the "good" miners, all of the lowsec and nullsec alts, and even all the wardeccers and can-flippers. Who speaks for those highsec residents? Most of them wouldn't even think to speak, because they consider themselves merely alts for the mains who live in low/null. As for the rest, part of the reason why they're not considered carebears is they don't spend much time explaining their feelings to CCP. You can't very well file a petition saying, "My alt in highsec makes more isk than my alt in nullsec. Nerf highsec."
In reality, the opinions of highsec dwellers are diverse. They run the entire spectrum, from people who would have me elected to the CSM, all the way down to to the people who would have me "eliminated" in-game, or perhaps resort to out-of-game alternatives. But from CCP's perspective, every character in highsec is represented by the whiny carebears who fill their inboxes each day. Even if you're an alliance member in nullsec who hates the carebears, your PvE alts in highsec are, without your intending it, being counted as Carebear #101532 who desperately wants more buffs to exhumers.
CCP can see the total number of characters in high/low/null, and they can see the complaints from highsec carebears. When it comes time to vote for CSM, they assume nullsec players win elections due to organized bloc voting, not due to EVE players as a whole sharing the elected representatives' opinions. Without some kind of scientific polling system, there's no way to gauge the opinions of the characters in highsec. And I suspect it's not a top priority. Until then, if you have a character in highsec, the petitioners speak for you.
GIVING THE CAREBEARS WHAT THEY WANT
Several months ago, I wrote some posts on the official EVE forums in which I accused the carebears of wanting to be like bots, automating their mining as much as possible to maximize AFK time. I also accused them of wanting to be effectively invulnerable in highsec, so that they could make tons of space money without any risk. Presumably, CCP agreed that those are the things carebears want, because that's what CCP gave them.
The exhumer rebalance, though a horrendous problem in and of itself, is a symptom of the greater problem, which is CCP's desire to please the theme park crowd. Incarna and "pay-to-win" almost brought EVE to its knees. But all CCP was trying to do was make carebears happy. Yet they were punished for it. Could future efforts to please carebears also result in catastrophe for CCP?
Some people say they don't blame CCP for trying to broaden EVE's subscriber base by catering to carebears. CCP is a company, and companies are supposed to make money. They should be trying to making a profit, and they have every right to do it. It's capitalism at work. Greed is good, they say.
Yes, by all means, greed is good. But greed is not necessarily wise, and it's not infallible. Consider this: The computer companies that failed all did so while trying to make money by trying to get more customers. Computer companies don't go out of business because they aren't greedy enough. They go out of business because they make poor decisions that reap unintended consequences.
Based on the changes made to EVE over the past few years, I believe CCP has determined it can make more money by giving theme park MMO players what they want. The process was slowed, and temporarily reversed, when the disasters of Incarna and Monoclegate made them realize they could lose EVE's current playerbase if they made changes too dramatically.
I also believe giving the carebears what they want is ultimately self-defeating. What do they want? A steady flow of points, which in EVE come in the form of isk. CCP is trying to give them that: When you can make money risk-free and thought-free with a mouse click per hour, the game is almost as close to an ATM as it gets. The game throws money at the carebears. Does it make the carebears happy?
After the exhumer rebalance first took place, the carebears blew kisses at CCP and resubscribed. Of course, there were also whiny carebears who thought their Hulks should have been buffed as much as the Mackinaws were. And before long, new whines began to appear on the forums. After enough time, the whines will increase in volume, and they will be just as unhappy and demanding as before.
Pay attention to the carebears over the next several months. They whined for near-invulnerability and AFK ability, and they got those things. What happens if they whine for more isk? Maybe the carebears see the ice prices falling, and they think highsec PvE should have even greater rewards. Can CCP deny them what they ask?
The carebears want space money. What happens if you pour space money on them? In the end, they will not be happy because their "accomplishment", when handed to them, becomes meaningless. If making a successful theme park MMO were as simple as making carebears happy, anyone could do it: just have the GMs throw out trillions of isk to each player. They'll all be ecstatic, and they'll pay subscriptions forever, right? No. They'll be happy at first, and then they'll all quit.
If CCP transforms highsec into theme park, will EVE be a success? I don't think so. EVE has been a successful game so far. It's one of a very few MMOs that has continued to thrive over a long period of time. CCP would be rightly annoyed if they didn't get due credit for that. However, EVE has succeeded precisely because it is different from the theme park MMOs. Remove the differences and you remove the success.
Can EVE compete as a theme park MMO? It may be unfair to call EVE "spreadsheets in space", as some do. But it's true that some of the main interfaces of the game really are just spreadsheets. Many players live in their overviews and the market, which are literally spreadsheets. And in all the years of EVE, no one ever thought to give player ships different symbols on the overview; everything's a bunch of square brackets. And most of the square brackets are about the same size. Can this game compete as a regular theme park MMO with the likes of World of Warcraft or others? With all due respect to the talented people at CCP, I wouldn't bet EVE's future on it.
BRINGING HUMANITY BACK
In the wake of the Burn Jita player event, which was as fine an example of emergent gameplay as we've ever seen, there were a lot of whining carebears. They were indignant about losing their ships while in highsec. One of these carebears made a thread on the EVE forums complaining about the fact that her freighter got blown up. She demanded the game mechanics be changed so that Burn Jita could never happen again. She received a reply from a Goon named Andski, who asked her a question that stuck in my mind. Andski wrote:
"So CCP should step in, stop everyone from having fun, including us, the guys that wardecced us, the guys whoring on GCC killmails, and everyone else who is taking part in this in some way or another - just so that you can do your little freighter run?"
It's a brilliant question, one which a carebear cannot answer without condemning himself. The answer is yes, the freighter pilot wanted to eliminate all kinds of fun for players so that she could do a routine freighter run with zero risk. That's the fate of any game which seeks to fulfill the expressed wishes of the carebears. You eliminate fun, and you replace it with something routine - robotic, even. Something a player would rather AFK than experience.
Allow me to suggest an alternative.
Fixing the problem is simple, because the problem is simple. Once again, it's the risk/reward calculation. If highsec has virtually no risk, it should have virtually no reward. All forms of PvE in highsec should be nerfed into oblivion, not unlike the "starter systems" in which can-flipping is banned. People could still mine, rat, and run missions in highsec, but they wouldn't be able to make any real money there, even if they were botting it 23/7.
Going into lowsec and nullsec carries big risks, so there should be big rewards. Buff lowsec and nullsec PvE into, well, whatever the opposite of oblivion is. Nullsec would have greater rewards, given the greater danger, but in terms of rewards, the gulf shouldn't be too great, since the difference in risk is not that big; there are no bubbles in lowsec, but you can get blown up almost as easily. (As a side note, I would also remove the security status penalty for hostile actions in lowsec; it's just a relic of the nerfs to highsec ganking.)
Carebears who cannot handle non-zero risk wouldn't like the changes, but those people are probably on their way to the next WoW expansion anyway. As for everyone else, they fill highsec at the moment because of the risk/reward imbalance and would head to low/null if it gets fixed. EVE would be filled with people playing "EVE" again, and would attract players who like "EVE" instead of players who only like isk.
People might say this is impractical because lowsec and nullsec are inaccessible. They're wrong. In all the years I have played EVE, I have seen that while a relative handful of gates to low/null are perma-camped, the rest are left open most of the time. It has always been, and still is, quite easy to get in and out of low/null, even without the use of gatecamp-busting fleets or even scouts, especially during off-peak hours. People who say all entryways to low/null are perma-camped are either looking for an excuse not to go there, or are fixated on a taking the most direct routes, instead of looking for alternatives with less traffic.
How big should the buffs to low and null be?
At the moment, PvE is a routine grind. Highsec miners log in, enable their 1-hour or 23-hour automation, and patiently await their isk. If the system is corrected to put risk/reward into balance, everyone who wants to make money would be induced to go to lowsec and nullsec for the rewards. They would either infiltrate and ninja out resources, or they would organize a defensible operation and invade the space for resources. In either case, the conclusion of an operation in low/null would give the players a sense of accomplishment, as if they had grabbed a treasure chest, because the rewards would be significant.
Meanwhile, because low/null would become filled with these soft targets trying to carrying away the PvE loot, low/null would also be full of people trying to steal from or attack them, from solo pirates going after the ninja miners, all the way up to large pirate fleets trying to crash the mining ops, who protect themselves with defense fleets.
PvE operations would either end in riches or disaster. PvE might almost be considered fun under such conditions. Like a video game, even.
EVE is host to a lot of player-driven, sandboxy drama. In the end, however, the fate of EVE rests with CCP, not the players. EVE's future belongs to either the human players, or to the automatons who bot and AFK.
CCP can fix risk/reward in EVE and bring the best parts of the game--the human parts--back to life. Or they can pursue the present course, nerfing aggression in highsec with "crimewatch", buffs to freighters, buffs to faction police, buffs to highsec PvE. That path would make EVE less resemble a video game and more resemble an IV bag hooked up to a comatose patient, delivering a steady drip of isk until the patient awakens and leaves EVE for a more attractive theme park.
CCP, the decision is yours.