If a barbarian horde comes over your borders and you won’t or can’t field a force to turn them back, you’ve no one to blame but yourself when they start drinking your tea, eating cake off the good china and leaving the toilet seats up.
“Hey, nice bit of real estate,” they’ll say “Good pig country. And there’s nobody using it. I think we’ll stay.” Next thing you know, the locals are calling the lead barbarian “Your Highness”.
- Fiddler's Edge, Barbarians at the GatesThe blue-ball doctrine is, in essence, the practice of denying fights to the enemy. It is commonly employed by members of sov holding alliances when raiding parties roams their space and those home-defense forces willing and able to counter the interlopers are not sufficient to guarantee said interlopers are properly curb-stomped.
By denying a raiding party the kills and good fights they came for, the blue-ball doctrine seeks to discourage marauding bad guys without having to call in the cavalry. When a band of desperadoes ride into nullsec town, guns blazing, the locals simply safe up and wait them out. And, absent an overwhelming home-defense fleet advantage, this makes perfect sense as there is no penalty for defensive indifference.
Everything of real value to the locals and the sov holding entity is protected by reinforce timers. As you might imagine, returning to complete one's pillage and burn on a schedule known to local law enforcement is not in the raiding party idiom. As such, high value resources are normally safe from roaming desperadoes, as are an alliance's sovereignty infrastructure.
CCP has, of course, added deployable structures sans reinforce timers to provide targets for raiding parties without threatening the nullsec status quo. However, at the end of the day such structures don't represent significant enough of a strategic or financial loss to get the locals or the sov holders onto the field of battle. And, absent any motivation to defend one's space, blue-balling is the smart strategy for passive defense: Deny the desperado fights. Deny the desperado kills. Deny the desperado fun. A sufficiently bored desperado will soon be on his way to elsewhere, and slow to return.
Now, nullsec alliances often overextend their sovereign space, claiming more systems than they can actively use. There are a number of reasons for this, some financial, some logistic and some strategic. However, the end result is that much of sovereign nullsec is very sparsely populated. As many players will attest, once you leave the main traffic pipelines and jump bridge systems, it is possible to travel through one sov-controlled system after another without encountering another player.
Yet, despite a near complete absence of resistance to their presence in such places, raiders can do little harm to a sovereign's interests. And again, there's no penalty to sovereigns who fail to repulse invading subcapital fleets.
But what if there were?
There is a difference between holding sovereignty over a territory and controlling it. Historically when barbarians show up to pillage the village the local sovereign may temporarily lose control of the village, but his/her long-term sovereignty is not in question. The locals go back to generating revenue from the territory and all is as it was. The status quo is maintained.
However, sometimes the barbarians don't leave. Sometimes they hang around and prevent the local population from harvesting resources or generating revenue from the territory. Or they begin keeping said revenues and harvests for themselves. Initially the barbarians are interlopers. However, unless sovereign takes umbrage at being so dispossessed and visits a big ol' can of kingly whup-ass on the barbarians in a timely manner, said barbarians become the de-facto rulers in the sovereign's place. This sort of thing isn't uncommon when sovereigns become too weak or distracted to take an interest in local affairs at the far ends of an over-extended empire.
An emergent form of game-play in EVE Online is for a gang of 'barbarians', especially those in need of cash, to hang out in a sov-nullsec system for a while, and rat some anomalies. In addition to being a means of picking a fight with the locals (“Hey, I’m ratting your sanctum! I'm AFK taking a shower! Come stop me if you can!”), it is a much safer and more lucrative way to make ISK than ratting in lowsec.
With some slight tweaks to the sovereignty mechanics, this pattern of play could be leveraged to allow supercapital poor (or indifferent) alliances some stake in the nullsec game, and increase the amount of small an medium fleet action in nullsec.
Rixx Javix and his merry band of piratical anarchists have begun to target a sov nullsec system. They camp the system on an ongoing basis. They rat its anomalies and pod any of the locals foolish enough to venture in their direction. They sell the mining rights, take over the POCOs and lie in wait using the miners as bait for sov-holder gangs. If a sov holder fleet too big to handle shows up, they fade away, but always return after the fleet is gone and take up where they left off. They eschew any grinding of sovereignty infrastructure.
At a certain tipping point, such forces in New Eden as manage claims to sovereignty will say to the owners of that system, "Look. I know you claim overlordship of this system, but I can’t help but notice that Stay Frosty is actually running things there. They are collecting a substantial majority of the system's revenues and resources. You're not using the system and you are either unwilling or unable to prevent Stay Frosty from so doing. Thus, you have tacitly surrendered control of this system. I’m pulling your sovereignty."
I call it the Adverse Possession (AKA Squatters Rights) mechanic.
I call it the Adverse Possession (AKA Squatters Rights) mechanic.
In such cases, from a design standpoint, there are several ways one could go. My favorite option would be for the Stay Frosty squatters to be offered sovereignty of the system as they have demonstrated effective control over time. In such a scenario, Stay Frosty would have the option to:
Accept Sovereignty: In this case Stay Frosty gains sovereignty over the system with all the attendant rights and responsibilities. All existing sovereignty infrastructure, including stations, SCUs and iHubs become Stay Frosty's. If Stay Frosty doesn't have sufficient funds available to pay the requisite sovereignty costs, accepting sovereignty is not a valid response to the offer.
Refuse Sovereignty: Sovereignty in the system is dropped. All existing sovereignty structures become unanchored. If Stay Frosty does not respond to the sovereignty offer notification within a set period of time, it is treated as a refusal of the sovereignty offer.
Ransom Sovereignty: Stay Frosty may offer to ransom the system back to the former sovereignty holder for an amount set by Stay Frosty (pirates, after all). The ransom offer can be made only to the sovereignty holder. If the sovereignty holder accepts within a set period of time, they automatically pay the ransom and retain sovereignty over the system. If the sovereignty holder refuses or cannot afford to pay the ransom, or fails to respond within the allowed time period, Stay Frosty retains the option to accept or refuse sovereignty, but may not make further ransom offers.
As I said long ago, one of the things I like about the Dominion Sov mechanics is that they require an active defense of one's space. However, with the proliferation of supercapitals, only possessors of large fleets of these ships can contest nullsec sovereignty. With the consolidation of such fleets into fewer and fewer hands, the need to actively defend sovereign space is on the wane.
Adverse Possession mechanics would provide subcapital fleets and gangs a meaningful role in nullsec. Its requirement that sov-holders not only claim systems with sovereignty infrastructure, but actively control them, would inject risk into blue-balling as a strategy against small fleets, and should lead to more subcap PvP dust ups in parts of nullsec that have gotten all too peaceful.
I do not expect the Adverse Possession mechanic to be popular with nullsec's current hoi oligoi. It will likely discomfort them. Their empires would be smaller. Small players, formerly beneath their notice, would enter the sovereignty game. They'd see more visits from lowsec as naughty folk like Rixx Javix and Kaeda Maxwell would have a new way to pick fights in local, and to shake coin from the pockets of the mighty. The lords of nullsec would rest less easily on their starry beds.
But this is EVE, and no one should sleep too soundly.