If you've been reading the dev blogs over at the main Eve Online site, you'll have stumbled across the recent Agents Made Easy announcement.
Some of it is pretty straightforward - consolidation of agent divisions and the related Connection skills. Gone are the 21 different divisions, each with its own balance of varying mission types (e.g., encounter, courier, etc.). In their place we'll find four divisions, each offering a single mission type 100% of the time.
Some dedicated missioners are finding the new order a bit dull sounding and less nuanced than the old and are complaining. And with some cause, I think. Running missions for entertainment sake got old for me some time back, but I can see how the byzantine nature of the divisions provided something of a puzzle to keep things interesting. What agent to choose and which missions to run will be more straightforward, but that will make grinding missions more of a grind. This change pretty much eliminates "Missioning" as an in-game specialty.
Agent quality undergoes a bit of dumbing down as well. OK, actually quality is done away with in effect. All agents for a given level will be equally easy to access - as though they were -20 on the quality scale. However they will all reward completed missions at the same level - as though they were +20 on the quality scale. So all agents within an given level are as easy to access as a -20 agent of that level, and reward successful missions as a +20 agent. Player status with a corporation needed to gain access to a agents for a given level is all that matters. After that, it's all gravy until you hit the next level.
Now, if any level 4 agent will pay out the same amount for the same mission, this means that players don't have to cluster around a few systems in order to optimize level 4 mission rewards. In theory, this means ninja salvagers and high sec pirates and griefers will have slimmer pickings as the level 4 mission runners spread out across high sec. It should also mean that the market for modules and salvagables looted from NPC wrecks should become more diffused as well, rather than remaining concentrated in a few mission oriented market hubs.
Many existing missioners will stay put rather than go to the time and trouble of moving themselves or their corporation to a new base of operations. However, as they slowly spread out, those mission runners that remain in the current mission hubs will be increasingly targeted - there being fewer targets for the associated pirates, ninjas and griefers. That in turn will apply pressure on the remaining mission runners to seek riches in more hospitable locations. Finally, both mission runners and those who prey on them should be diffused throughout high and low sec. Of course this will mean more danger for those missioners who deliberately avoided the highest quality agents in order to avoid the attendant high-sec pirates, ninjas and griefers.
The net of this is that CCP is making it easier and safer to make money grinding missions in high sec. Meanwhile, remember, they're making it harder to make money by ratting in nullsec. I suspect that these two simple but fundamental changes to the game occurring in close succession is no accident.
CCP appears to be taking action to reverse past policy and move population out of nullsec and back to highsec. Fewer players in nullsec, after all, means smaller alliances and smaller fleets, right? Fewer massive fleets means fewer massive fleet fights. Fewer massive fleet fights could yield benefits in term of fewer lagged systems, which are an ongoing system performance problem for CCP. It might also force more of the small fleet/small gang PvP that CCP Grayscale regards as the most desirable form of play.
However, while some corporations might move wholesale back to highsec for the easy cash, I think that most of the players presently in nullsec will remain in nullsec.
First of all, it's fairly quick and easy to train up an alt sufficiently to run level 4 missions in highsec. Thus a player can easily keep a highsec alt to use as a money-maker while his primary PvP alt(s) remains in nullsec. As money making in high-sec doesn't have to stop for nullsec wars, this may actually serve to offset the impact of changes to high-end ratting anomalies in nullsec.
Finally, a lot of players just plain like the dynamic nature of play in nullsec. We like the Eve sandbox in its truest form, the wide-open nature of the game.
There are indications that CCP is trying to reduce the parameters of that sandbox; to make the game more manageable, like a Disney experience or World of Warcraft. Maybe dangling easy money and dumbed-down mission profiles at players from high sec is the beginnings of that. Might even work from a business model standpoint. An easier Eve would retain a higher percentage of first-timers who'd be quick to pay for the avatar clothes, golden ammo and painted space ships that are to be a big part of future CCP revenue.
But a disnified Eve won't be the game for me. Having ridden the wild horses of nullsec, a turn on the merry-go-round won't do.
Here's to the wild ones.