Sunday, October 24, 2010

Nerfing the Drake

Toward the end of World War II in the Pacific, an American pilot attempting to land his battle-wounded Dauntless dive-bomber on an aircraft carrier crash landed on the flight deck. The flight crews decided that the damage to the Dauntless was irreparable; that the pilot's airplane should be pushed into the ocean and replaced with one of the more modern Helldivers, which were then rolling off American production lines.

The pilot took out his .45 pistol, stood by the wrecked Dauntless and threatened to shoot the first man who tried to push his ride into the drink.

The history of war is full of weapons like the Douglas Dauntless; guns, planes, ships and vehicles that so exceed their design specifications that they perform with distinction long after their normal expected service life has run out. They are effective, reliable, useful beyond their original purpose, and their owners often develop a passionate attachment to them.

In the worlds of New Eden, the Drake is such a weapon.

For years, in a universe of ever more expensive tech 2, tech 3 and faction ships, the humble Drake has been scorned by the nullsec PvP community, derided as a mere mission-runner, or bait ship. Nullsec FCs frequently told pilots showing in fleet with a Drake to "lose that t1 piece of shit" - an instruction often followed by the Drake being declared primary by the FC and destroyed by the fleet on the spot. Nevertheless, for reasons I've described in a previous post, the Drake has remained one of the most popular ships in New Eden.

I've written elsewhere as to how the Super Cap/armored Zealot HAC combination came to dominate the battlefields of nullsec.The classic sniper-fit BS fleets, unable to counter the speed and low signature radius of the Zealots, were regularly raped by the hard-hitting HACs.  The fleets of the old nullsec alliances were rolled back on their heels. Atlas fell and Against All Authorities was falling. FCs desperately looked for a means of countering the new fleet configurations and tactics.
And the ever-useful Drake has stepped into the gap.

Suddenly, the Drake is the new darling of nullsec, and the owners of all those shiny t2 ships are crying foul to CCP. If a fleet of t1 ships costing under fifty million each to buy and fit can go toe to toe with a fleet of t2 ships that cost 150 million each to buy and fit, the reasoning goes, the game is out of balance and t1 ship obviously needs to be "nerfed".

In a devblog thread titled "Drakes- Do They Need A Nerf?", CCP Chronotis revealed that, while CCP rarely intervenes in emergent strategies, they are considering nerfing the Drake to make it less effective in fleet fights. 
Drakes on their own are reasonably balanced. When you get 50+ of them all buffer tanking and alpha striking people at up to ~85km as the current FOTM strategy is out there, this underpins their usefulness (max buffer for sig/speed tank and max range with same damage) so this is a scenario specific issue to large fleet warfare. There are counter strategies to this, but drakes+scimitars is an easier to coordinate tactic. The drakes tank or specifically its passive tank does concern us where both can be equally affected in a similar way. Food for thought anyway, we rarely intervene with emergent strategies and tactics as a counter usually matures after some time but will keep an eye on this thread to see what the rest of you think.
Going on, CCP Chronotis tipped what was really drawing the developers attention to the Drake
It is a hot topic internally as the number of drakes present in fleet fights is rising dramatically in the last six months and with this behaviour change we are witnessing a large impact on performance as the missile usage causes high additional load.
He later stepped back from that statement, responding to one poster that CCP would never nerf the Drake solely for system performance reasons. However, the words cannot be taken back, and I suspect the 'balance" issue is merely an search for an issue aside from performance to justify the nerf. 
All cards are on the table, we are merely analyzing for now with a high degree of concern its rapid rise in popularity and being open about it.
Now, when the Zealot was ripping the guts out of Sniper BS fleets, nobody at CCP was talking about nerfing that ship - maybe ticking up its sig radius or some such to make it more vulnerable. CCP didn't even twitch at the rapid rise in the popularity of the Zealot. And yet, when the Zealot is countered by a lesser ship, CCP suddenly becomes gravely concerned about "balance". 

It's interesting to note that the Zealot oriented alliances who would most benefit from the Drake being nerfed are those associated with the RUS coalition, who are, in turn, most commonly associated with Real Money Trading. These are folks for whom playing Eve is serious business - as in real income business. It appears that when real money talks, CCP listens.

Reading the blog thread surrounding CCP Chronotis' comments, what the majority of players think about nerfing the Drake is evident:

Don't. You. Dare.

The arguments they present against the nerf are very solid. With the missile nerf a year or so ago, the Drake along with the rest of the Caldari fleet has already been heavily nerfed. There is no way to nerf the Drake in a large fleet context without nerfing it in a solo or small gang context where it has long been considered balanced by CCP. This issue with performance is not Drake related, but lag related. If CCP would fix the lag and its missile tracking algorithms, the impact of missiles on performance, and the fact that missiles are more effective under lag conditions would not be an issue.

Drake fleets are not a silver bullet for all situations, and events in nullsec show that countering Drake fleets is not, as CCP Chronotis suggests, a terribly complex activity. Drake fleets, having large signatures, are vulnerable to Sniper BS fleets that can pour DPS into the Drakes that the battlecruisers, with their missiles' middling DPS and delayed strike, cannot match. They have also shown themselves very vulnerable to attacks by Stealth Bomber gangs.

Even Zealot fleets, the ships the Drakes were fielded in nullsec to counter, can match the Drake in a fight. Where the Zealot loses to the Drake is in the logistics of replacement. That is an old song in warfare. The World War II Panther tank was more than a match for the American Sherman. However, the Sherman was easier to maintain and operate, cheaper to build, and rapidly replaced if destroyed. On a price/performance basis, the Sherman was a better tank than the Panther, however they matched up one on one. I'm sure the German commanders found the situation unbalanced. War is like that sometimes.

Even in New Eden.


  1. Don't nerf the Drake, buff hybrids instead!

  2. I do not think that the drake as it is threatens RMT. The threat to real money income streams for the RUS would be disruption of botting, manned ratting, and industrial infrastructure (moon goo). What mechanism makes the current drake a threat to any of these?

    A slightly overpowered ship makes it easier to take territory, but is not an enabler to do so. I doubt RMT interests would take the risk of being detected to influence a small issue.

  3. You know this is typical Eve Vet Mentality. We have on one side the Carrier/HAC (Zealot) combination that takes considerable skill time and isk to field versus say 30 to 40 "medium" skilled pilots in drakes. Why should these "noobs" be able to compete with me?
    Why not?