Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Unanticipated Macro Level Outcomes

While my last post centered on CCP Greyscale's version of a nullsec utopia (petty kingdoms at constant war, populations clustered around strategic strong points, scarce resources, transport and trade as high cost, high risk activities and high barriers to cooperative action) much of the reaction to the posting focused in on logistics in the form of jump bridges and jump freighters.

And that's not surprising given Grayscale's expressed opinion that "all this [logistics] stuff" has made players lives too easy. I've held forth elsewhere on the outright elimination of jump bridges without a profound corresponding nerf to supercapital ships. However, Greyscale should also bear in mind that CCP aggressively pushed the Jump Freighter at an Eve community whose initial reception to the ship was tepid at best. A little bit of background is called for on that subject.

The Jump Freighter was first introduced to New Eden in the November 2007 Trinity expansion. According to CCP Nozh,  Jump Freighters were developed by CCP to be "the ultimate low security and 0.0 transport ships".  However, a slight snag was discovered soon after their initial release.

Nobody wanted one.

The original Jump Freighters were a bit faster and more agile than conventional t1 freighters and had 20% more hit points in each of the hull, armor and shield categories. However, while able to use both jump drives and star gates, the original Jump Freighter had only 30% of its t1 cousin's cargo capacity. Not so bad, you say. Certainly better than trying to schlep that much freight across low/null sec via many industrial or a transport runs.

Trouble is, those crazy kids in the Eve sandbox had already come up with workarounds for the low/null sec schlepping problem. By the of the Trinity release, players were already using cargo fitted dreadnoughts and Rorquals for moving large volumes of freight. Such ships were nearly as good at jump haulage as the new Jump Freighter, were cost competitive, and could be re-tasked for their original purpose when not doing freight work - a very important consideration given capital ship costs. Despite the Jump Freighter's ability to use star gates and enter high sec, which the other capitals could not, the cost/benefit trade offs weren't enough to make Joe Capsuleer shell out the big pile of ISK required to buy one.

Frustrated by market forces, CCP  could have simply cut bait on the Jump Freighter; leaving it as it was, or retiring the ship altogether. Instead, the CCP designers (who tend toward escalating commitment - see Incarna) doubled down. They buffed the Jump Freighter with abandon to increase demand by giving it a competitive advantage over its jump-capable competition. They upped the Jump Freighter's cargo capacity by 25%, made it more agile, survivable and fuel efficient than its first iteration. They boosted Jump Freighter production by giving their blueprints a maximum of ten production runs. I don't think they worried overly about the impact of these improvements on the game. After all, this was just a freighter, not a combat ship.

The buff worked like a charm. A bit more than three years later, the Jump Freighter is standard equipment for low and null security operations. It has profoundly changed the economies of low and nullsec - as CCP should have known it would.

Now they're unhappy with it. 

CCP has a tendency to introduce changes without thinking through their long term ramifications. The evolution of the Jump Freighter is a case in point. For all his talk of "desirable macro level outcomes" and "the higher systemic view", CCP Greyscale doesn't seem to be putting much thought or serious research into how his proposed changes would impact Eve's economy, politics and game play. He sees only the input factors and outcomes he wants to see, forgetting that Eve is a sandbox where even modest changes, like a Jump Freighter, will be seized on by players and change the game in ways the designer never intended. 

At the bottom of CCP Nozh's post there's a very interesting statement:
Of course [Jump Freighters] are still a very role specific and expensive ship [that] should be considered a tool for corporations and alliances rather than individual players.
In other words, CCP assumed at the time that Jump Freighters were such a big ticket item that they would be out of the reach of the individual player. Of course we all know there are any number of individual players with Jump Freighters in their garage today. Make a ship attractive enough and those pesky players will find a way to afford it.

Likewise combat-oriented capital ships were supposed to be big ticket items exceedingly hard for individual players to afford - supercapitals even more so. However, by making capitals a must-have ship for null and lowsec and turning supercapitals into an "I Win" button unless countered by a larger force of supercapitals, CCP has turned the market for these ships white-hot. Much of nullsec's production capacity is focused on them as corporations, alliances and coalitions work feverishly to increase the number of supercapital pilots and ships at their disposal.

The proliferation of supercapitals is so out of control that they are commonly used for ratting by PvE players. Titans, once rare enough that the number of them in game were actively tracked, have become commonplace. Where the loss of a capital ship used to be a profound hardship, they are now considered a disposable item and their loss only causes comment when it occurs in large numbers.

It is interesting that when CCP Greyscale speaks of "desirable macro level outcomes" and "the higher systemic view" he does so almost exclusively in terms of Jump Freighters and Jump Bridges. While these have had an impact on the game at the systemic level and adjustments may be warranted, their impact has been neither as sudden nor as profound as that of supercapitals, which have single-handedly reshaped the economy and political landscape of nullsec. Still, Greyscale is profoundly tentative when it comes to more than minor tweaks on those ships. This blind spot in his higher higher systemic view of Eve is troublesome. It is a leading indicator of other such blots on CCP's field of vision; each a guaranteed driver of unanticipated macro level outcomes.

Design driven by wishful thinking does not end well in the Eve sandbox.  

By now one would think that CCP's designers would be aware that there's been an acceleration of unintended consequences resulting from changes introduced over the last few years. It has not, by all appearances, made them more cautious. If anything, its made them impatient and prone toward "macro-level" changes without stopping to consider how the human factor in the Eve sandbox will play hob with their intentions and planned outcomes.


  1. There are so many factors that have a subtle effect null-sec mechanics; that CCPs seemingly reckless changes are never going to have the outcome they expect.

    It seems odd that CCP appear happy to drastically change the way that null-sec works, be appear unwilling to balance other aspects of the game.

  2. Another great column.

    What I really couldn't fathom about the discussion in December was their glee at creating The-Vision-esque misery for logistics was matched by their reluctance to do anything about supercaps. I suspect most of us in nulsec would erupt in cheers if the things just plain went away.

    To me the biggest issue with CCP's desires for nulsec is they seem to want it to look like lowsec, a place that most people agree is "broken" because nobody wants to live there.

  3. "To me the biggest issue with CCP's desires for nulsec is they seem to want it to look like lowsec, a place that most people agree is "broken" because nobody wants to live there."

    Point well taken, Nutimi. Consider that breaking nullsec may make lowsec a more attractive option by comparison.

    If you're not pretty enough to win the beauty contest the quickest and easiest fix is to ugly up the competition. ;)

  4. The CSM minutes are pretty clear on a supercarrier nerf:

    "It was proposed that supercarriers become, in effect, tier-III carriers, as opposed to tier-LX (60!) as they are now; they should be better than regular carriers, but not 20x better. In addition to a HP reduction, this might include removing things that make them jack-of-all-trades ships (such as restricting them to fighter-bombers only). While it was clear that the exact changes will require much thought and planning (in particular, to ensure there is a role for dreadnaughts), the CSM was broadly supportive of the concept."

    Also, it is clear that they're considering various kinds of jump drive nerf, with a spool-up time getting the most mentions, but there are a variety of possibilities.

    Especially now that CCP can add cargo-specific holds to ships now (thus eliminating the hauling dreadnaught, etc), there is no reason they can't re-nerf freighters somewhat. Not so far as to make them useless, but enough to make the more remote parts of the universe act more remote.

    The underlying question to me is whether or not it is desirable for the edges of the cluster to permanently feel like the edge of the frontier, or like Finland or Mongolia historically. It would be cool to me if there were places to retreat to where you wouldn't be chased simply because they were too far out of the way to even worry about.

    The main drawback to this would be that the Drone Regions is the best example of this right now, and the response to undesirable space seems to be a proliferation of bots.

  5. Just to clarify, I don't mean the edge of 0.0 should be undesirable because it is resource-poor, but because it is remote. So you could scrape out a living there, but through self-sufficiency and local/regional trade.

  6. Tom - I addressed much of this in my January 17 post on the CSM minutes.

    My point here is that supercaps have been loosed on the game without anticipating the long term consequences which should have been evident.

    Vague discussion of supercapital nerfs needs to be taken in the context of the following clause in the CSM minutes:

    "However, at the same time, simply nerfing supercarriers will not solve the problem. Supercapitals present a unique problem – once a pod-pilot is installed in one, because the ship cannot be docked in a station, it is difficult to change ships. Thus a supercapital pilot is much more committed to his or her role than the pilot of other ships, and nerfing the ships so that they do not have significant utility imposes a great cost on those pilots."

    First time I read this I got all choked up about those poor supercapital pilots. Honestly, I think there were tears.

    Despite any talk of moving nerfing tier 60 carriers back to tier 3 carriers, the above text makes plain that the political will to do so doesn't exist.

  7. Heh - The name just hit me Unn. Somebody's been dipping into their Icelandic sagas.

  8. Mord, this post is the second time I've read your - I would say, more than _implicitly_ - advocating the nerfing of supercarriers. You say that it's "troubling" that CCP won't even consider "minor tweaks".

    But unless I'm letting my ADHD get the best of me, something's missing, and I went back and re-read the prior relevant post (including all the comments) to be sure. Simply put, what changes do you envision as crucial and appropriate to restoring what you seem to indicate is an issue of imbalance in this matter?

    I have yet to see the reasons why spelled out by anyone, and choosing a side on the issue without knowing them proves very difficult.

  9. Xel,

    In this case I use Jump Freighters and supercapitals to illustrate potential blind spots in the designer view of the game - a tendency to hyperfocus on one change with an incomplete sense of its impact on the gestalt. Designer myopia, let's call it.

    I've allowed the comment thread to wander off topic and into supercarrier nerfland. Back on the path, folks.

  10. Well, forgive me for being blunt, but I don't find this to be off topic just because you label it that way. You are saying the designers have a potential blind spot and a tendency toward "designer myopia". The illustrations you use serve to justify the thesis, so getting them right is pretty important in the absence of other, equally significant justification.

    I'm just saying, it's hard to agree with you (or anyone else making the case for supercarrier nerf) without understanding what about them needs to be reversed/changed. And I'm open to the idea, if I ever saw it spelled out.

    Somewhere along the way, I saw you had made a comment to the effect that CCP is running around making changes without letting things play out to any significant measure. To the extent that you are saying that, I would agree with you. But if that _is_ what you are implying here, it would seem to take away from the idea of nerfing supercarriers or anything else, at least without a pretty solid line of reasoning.

    I let it lie with that.

  11. Xel - Sent you an ingame email on the topic

  12. apropos:

    "Of course, at a higher level the absence of a predator for the supercarrier is something that we are aware of and looking into good ways to approach that. If you happen to be going to fanfest, Game Design and Gridlock will be talking at length with you all on the many facets of large scale warfare in eve."

  13. Perhaps the problem was CCP paying too much attention to the forums when re-balancing motherships the last time. At least they seem to think so:

    "A response was given, with a warning that it would be very controversial. Before the Super Carrier changes went live there was a rather large commotion regarding proposed changes to the initial design that had been advertised – there is little need to revisit that in detail. What is becoming clear however is that the changes might have been popular at the time, but are now a source of rather widespread discussion about whether or not the Super Carriers are overpowered. Certainly the changes (nerfs) proposed before the Super Carrier upgrade went live might not have been the optimal ones, and certainly the subject could have been revisited before the current trend of usage has become so strong – there is a shared responsibility when things are put into perspective. Maybe CCP should have stood firm against the players and forced the changes through? Perhaps players should have taken a step back and evaluated the whole thing on a larger timescale? The CSM did grant this point but did remind CCP that a history lesson would hardly solve anything."

  14. With Super Carriers (or Moms), as with Jump Freighters, the difficulty was that nobody wanted one - player weighing the benefits of owning a Mom against its steep supercapital price found it a poor return on a rather steep investment. It had no role in the game.

    As with the Jump Freighter, the designers went overboard in adding value to the Mom in order to increase demand. They didn't think things through. Now they find themselves in a jam.

    The "You made me do it" excuse designers are leveling at the player base is just that - an excuse.

  15. I think that the devs at CCP should talk more to their economist. This kind of thing is right up his alley. How will changes in some part of the game effect the economy...really would encompass much of what you discuss. A nerf to the SC and its impact on the economy would certainly be something he'd first try to model then when the nerf went live he'd look to see how well his models/theories worked and if they didn't why.

    Plus I bet he has had exposure to other things like game theory where one of the original uses was in strategic analysis. So even in terms of how combat might evolve he could be helpful in crafting a process to look at how things might change/evolve.

    Right now your TL;DR of half-assed reasoning followed by half-assed back end tweaking can of create more problems than it addresses is a good one. Same with your previous post where Grayscale's position of "you are sandboxing wrong" is also very good.

  16. When it comes to logistics, I kind of think there IS an inherent problem when half of the universe is in one coalition (and the other half is botting away).

    I've been involved in a fair few conversations on the topic elsewhere, and the fundamental problem as I see it is that nullsec production is impossible. There is no possible way that an alliance with one station could ever produce all the modules it needs locally. This is partially due to ore availability, but largely also down to moongoo. Moon minerals cannot be locally sourced, which means that you need to be hauling oodles of the stuff from Jita to build T2 modules. If you're already in Jita, why not just buy the modules instead?

    Jump bridges are in my opinion part of a completely different discussion. I wouldn't say that jump bridges help in logistics as much as they're made out to, but are rather a component in force projection. I'm aware you've written on the subject before, but I think it pays to reiterate. Moving hundreds of ships across vast reaches of space (say Fountain to Geminate) in a dozen jumps or less is key to why the NC exists.

    A nerf to jump bridges, or their complete removal, would largely also solve supercap proliferation - yes, you could still drop a supercap fleet, but without a support fleet you're not going to catch much (and will be very vulnerable even if you do). And I doubt your Deklein-dweller will care to travel the 40-odd jumps to Geminate by gate, especially not through scary old Venal.

  17. I have come to this comment threat from ~the future~ to deliver the following message:

    Yeah, pretty much. The supercarrier changes were good when they were rare ships, like they were before dominion, but since then thousands of people with the isk and alts to fly them have come out of nowhere and today capital fleets are 50% supers. I was all for the SC buff when it happened, but it's time to admit they 0.0 sucks now because of them.