So, I'm in an alliance op a few weeks ago, and our fleet bridges to a lowsec system in order to box in an enemy fleet that's a single jump into nullsec space. As our 300+ ship fleet tears its way down the lowsec pipeline toward the nullsec gateway, we encounter a number of lowsec gate camps. Fleet's ordering no aggro on the camps, so we blow by them, leaving the pirates untouched and none the worse for wear.
Mind, I can't speak for the state of their trousers.
As we roared past, I couldn't help but think about my own days in lowsec. Those were the dark days of exile for SirMolle and BOB Alliance, after they'd been driven from nullsec by their enemies following the BOB disband of early 2009.
Now, as I've said elsewhere, when a band of barbarians shows up on your doorstep, it's often because they've been displaced by another band of barbarians who showed up on their doorstep. The Goths, after all, didn't cross the Rhine-Danube line in 376 simply because it was too nice a day to stay indoors.
As in real life, so in Eve. When BoB was pushed out of their space, deep lowsec (those areas in close proximity to nullsec) suddenly had to contend with a wave of well organized and well equipped ex-BOB PvP veterans. Needless to say, they pretty much made camp wherever they pleased.
In order to make money for a recovery and eventual return to lowsec, SirMolle's lads went about dropping cap fleets on tower-occupied high value moons, liberating them from their former lowsec owners, and setting up IT Alliance towers and mining operations in their place. The lowsec corporations and alliances fought back as best they could, but were boxing well below IT Alliance's weight class. The lowsec denizens were brushed aside and the moons were taken for the greater glory of IT Alliance.
I suspect those moons were abandoned by IT Alliance once they returned to nullsec. After all, while high value for lowsec, those moons could not compete with the moons of Delve, Querious and Fountain for sheer money making capacity. Further, the logistics involved with collecting lowsec moon-mining outputs from deep nullsec likely didn't make it worth IT Alliance's while to hold onto them.
That's a bit of a long story, but it illustrates a key point for what follows: Nullec alliances give lowsec denizens a serious case of the wiggins.
There has been an ongoing drumbeat of concern by residents of New Eden, many of them lowsec residents, that lowsec is 'broken'; that lowsec is sort of the forgotten middle child of Eve space, who looks a little too much like the milkman for comfort, and doesn't get the degree of nurturing that its younger and older siblings get. CSM Mynxee campaigned on making lowsec matter, and has focused a great deal of time and effort on soliciting ideas from the Eve community and bringing them before CCP development.
Meanwhile, throughout 2010, the population of lowsec has continued to drop, even as the post-Dominion population of nullsec has increased.
Shadai of Sleepless in Space, brought the future of lowsec back into sharp focus when she published The Downward Spiral of Lowsec on January 6. While I don't agree with Shadai on every point, it's a frank and thoughtful assessment of the state of lowsec.
A grateful lowsec proceeded to excoriate her for her pains.
A lot of the folks in lowsec, it seems, like lowsec as it is. In fact, as some of them write, the fewer people out there competing for loot and PvP kills, the better. A key point they raise is that there is no reason why an entrepreneurial carebear can't make a tidy sum - in between poddings, of course, which they regard as an occupational hazard. In fact, a number of carebears can and do make a living in lowsec.
But why would a Carebear want to make ISK in lowsec when he can make lots more ISK in greater safely and with less effort in nullsec? By definition, a businessman who takes on more risk and effort to make less money is a poor businessman.
The Post-Dominion nullsec sov rules have made industrial corporations and players a much desired asset in nullsec. Nullsec alliances are actively recruiting them to come out to nullsec and work in the relative security of alliance space.
Now, PvP corporations who want to go to nullsec have to build a kill record to qualify for membership - and that usually means time in lowsec. Indy corporations in empire, on the other hand, have begun routinely leapfrogging over lowsec and rent nullsec space or join a nullsec alliance.
Why would they not? It's safer. The rewards are greater. Sure, there are risks, but they're much more manageable than in lowsec.
Nullsec alliances are courting carebears (many of whom develop a decided taste for PvP once they're in Nullsec at which point they become Nullsec Bears) because the Sov rule changes meant that holding nullsec space suddenly required money. Lots and lots of money.
Nullsec alliances have a huge incentive to bring in and provide reasonably safe space for carebears. Lowsec players, as a rule, merely want to kill carebears (and each other). Right now there's no incentive for a lowsec alliance to create a reasonably safe space to invite Industrial players and corporations to do business. Until there is, lowsec will remain a backwater.
Looking over the Making Lowsec Matter forum, most of the suggestions attempt to strike a balance between making piracy easier and more profitable (Lure in more fat carebears! Make them easier to catch! Special pirate goodies!) without making lowsec attractive to those scary guys in nullsec.
And there's the rub. The Dominion Sov rules have made nullsec riches much more accessible to the average carebear. However, anything attractive enough to lure carebears up from nullsec is not going to escape the notice of the nullsec alliances those carebears belong to or rent from. And something valuable enough to bring in the carebears will be of interest to those money-hungry lads with all the scary Supercapitals.
There are people like Mynxee, who see the dead end lowsec is rushing toward and are moving to change its course. However, for many of its residents, life in lowsec is fine as it is, even as the population dwindles. That's not uncommon in failing economies. In fact, a common obstacle to economic recovery are the established businesses with an interest in the status quo.