Tuesday, March 15, 2011


Last month in Size Matters, I introduced some really interesting numbers with regard to the population density of various nullsec alliances and coalitions. I'm sure you remember them.

I mean, those were sexy numbers; all revealing and provocative and stuff.  They're the kind of numbers your mother warned you about. They sidle up next to you in a smoky bar where a drowsy sax plays a blues counterpoint to their smiles. They beguile you with small talk and glasses of unremarkable Merlot. Next thing you know they're into your brain and firing off synapses with wild abandon while doing the crazy monkey dance with other ideas in your head....

OK. I need to get out more often.

Anyway, though I'm sure they're still burned into your memories, here's a refresher, updated to reflect current data as of March 11:

Systems: Total number of systems over which the alliance holds sovereignty
Outposts: Total number of outposts within an alliances sovereign systems.
PPS: Average Population Per System - Alliance population divided by total system held.
PPO: Average Population Per Outpost - Alliance's population divided by total outposts held.

Alliance Coaltn Players Systems PPS Outposts PPO
Legion of Death DRF 1131 122 9.2 38 29.7
Solar Fleet DRF 1058 69 15.3 19 55.6
White Noise DRF 1438 87 16.5 25 57.5
Red Alliance DRF 1938 98 19.7 38 51
Razor Alliance NC 2097 52 40.3 25 83.8
Magesta NC 2808 50 56.1 18 156
Morsus Mihi NC 3723 64 58.1 21 176.8
R.A.G.E. NC 3773 52 72.5 15 251

The population disparity between key alliances of the two coalitions is pronounced, and the heavy correlation between population density and coalition suggests it's not a coincidence. By the pricking of my thumb, something causal this way comes.

This population to system count disparity is especially intriguing when you consider that the Northern Coalition (NC) and the Drone Russian Forces (DRF) are, for the moment, arguably the two most successful coalitions in New Eden.  This may reflect an in-game process of natural selection, with the two coalitions proceeding down distinct, but equally successful paths, the sources of which go back to the two coalitions' approaches to the game in terms of finance and game-play style. 

As a dedicated PvP organization, the DRF generates income via rents, ratting and moon mining; historically the primary means of making money in nullsec for PvP alliances. In this financial pattern, the highest value moons are usually reserved for the alliance's cash stream or allocated to favored corporations, leaving remainder for individual member or corporation use. Each of the DRF alliances maintains a rental alliance with extensive real-estate holdings that provide significant income flow to the parent alliance. While some PvP coalitions maintain a few Indi players who might engage in a bit of mining and manufacturing on the side, such activities are usually farmed out to the renter's alliance in order to limit the possibility of "carebear rot" within the PvP alliance proper. This leaves ratting anomalies as the primary source of income for pure PvP alliance/coalition pilots and their corporations.

The more systems a PvP alliance holds, the more income generation is possible for individual players within that alliance. Thus, a large number of systems held by a PvP alliance optimizes income for individual pilots, particularly if the pilots prefer to bypass less profitable anomalies and rat exclusively in Havens and Sanctums; the ratting opportunities with the highest value returned on time spent ratting.

The NC alliances, on the other hand, tend to have a sizable strand of carebear in their DNA and that gives them a wider range of options when it comes to income generation for individual pilots. While moon mining and ratting anomalies are a key source of income, belt mining mining, PI and industrial occupations are also engaged in my many corporations. Thus, an alliance's systems can be fully utilized by the resident player population allowing more players to gainfully occupy fewer systems. In effect this model allows for a more financially efficient use of space. 

If you've followed large scale PvP actions by the two coalitions, you'll know that this difference in population density is reflected in their respective defensive strategies and tactics.

When faced by a tough invader, the DRF tends toward the rope-a-dope strategy. This involves falling back into their extensive real estate holdings, giving ground slowly, and waiting for enemy forces to tire of the sov warfare grind. Once that happens they move back on offense to reclaim their territory from the wearied foe. In employing this strategy, the DRF often invoke the historic invasions and subsequent retreats of enemies of Russia, such as Napoleon's disastrous retreat from Moscow, or the blunting and turning back of the German invasion during World War II at Stalingrad.

The NC alliances, on the other hand, typically leverage their denser population in defending its territory. As described in Galactic Settlers, while the NC alliances retain a solid core of PvP players, their fleets contain a relatively high percentage of "citizen" soldiers - players who are PvP capable in times of war but engage in "carebear" activities when the coalition is not on a war footing. While the conventional wisdom holds that the NC alliances are inferior to their nullsec enemies when it comes to individual and fleet PvP skills and experience, invaders of NC space tend to find themselves heavily outnumbered and under constant counter-pressure across all time zones. Thus NC opponents often complain of  "blobbing" and deride the coalition as a "carebear" organization. However, over time the quality of NC pilots and fleet commanders has improved. While the coalition still leverages their numeric advantage, they have shown themselves to be capable of sophisticated and nuanced tactics with both conventional and capital fleets.

"But Mord," you're probably saying now, "While numbers are way sexy and the self-organizing patterns of MMORPG populations in virtual economies are endlessly fascinating, what does this have to do with the price of beer in Delve?"

Well, I'd like to believe that, like butterflies, self-organizing patterns of MMORPG populations in virtual economies need no excuse. Still, I'm glad you asked.

Recall that back around the turn of the year we talked about changes CCP is mulling over in order to create barriers to alliances cooperating and forming large-scale coalitions. Among the changes being considered is the elimination of Jump Bridges, which allow the rapid movement of an alliances' conventional (i.e. non-jump capable) fleets across their sovereign space; sort of like the roads of the old Roman republic. There's talk of changes to make the logistics of moving large volumes of goods more difficult and and introducing scarce, high-value resources in order to create incentives for conflict (because there's apparently a real scarcity of that in nullsec these days). The underpinning thought here is that creating barriers to cooperation, making the movement of goods and services more costly and creating new reasons to go to war with your neighbor is going to make nullsec a small alliance/small PvP friendly place.

But what if it doesn't?

The trouble is, this thinking assumes that a given set of changes will be universally bad for all coalitions. However, coalitions are unique entities, driven more by internal culture and player preferences than by CCP's software. They are human institutions, each with it's own character. And each will respond to changes introduced to the game in its own way, adapting to the degree its cultural DNA allows. Some large coalitions may indeed break down if such changes are introduced. Others, however, may thrive.

If there is safety in numbers in the new order, the more spatially compact and densely populated alliances of the NC may become the successful collaborative model in a post Jump-Bridge nullsec. No doubt the CCP designers wake in a cold sweat each night with nightmares of NC-like coalitions overrunning nullsec and turning it into one big group hug.

On the other had a DRF model, sporting a smaller, supercapital-intensive population spread out over a large geography may be more successful in a nullsec with less mobile conventional fleets. In that case we could see the rise of a nullsec populated by a large tenant class overseen by a small, PvP-elite landlord class.

There is an undeniable advantage to collaboration. It is a very human tendency, deeply etched into our genetic instruction set, and responsible to a large extent for our success as a species. Meanwhile, Eve is a collaboration-intensive game, and CCP cannot undo that without rewriting the game from the ground up. Coalitions themselves are evidence that players of the game will not be constrained by the organizational constructs in Eve's software, but will create new out-of-game constructs in order to achieve in-game goals.

Despite CCP's best efforts, coalitions are going to persist within Eve. Sweeping changes meant to break down large-scale coalitions may have the opposite effect; merely weakening less successful coalition models and making them prey for their more robust competitors resulting in a nullsec that is even less friendly to the small alliance than it is today.

By undertaking the extermination of the large coalition, CCP's designers may merely be leaning into the very punch they wish to avoid.


  1. Insidious numbers they may be, but accurate analysis do they lead.

  2. Density of population is a good thing. I don't honestly mind if the NC persists post-jump changes. However, it will make it significantly weaker in multi-front territorial battles.

    The DRF strategy, as you stated, gives a time buffer to allow for organizing coalition forces. If the NC attacks the DRF, it doesn't matter if there are no jump bridges, because the coalition has a week or more to respond to a threat in a unified way.

    The NC, on the other hand, has a tendency of dropping every active pilot in every member alliance into the same system. For a coalition with 60,000 characters, being able to bring 1,000 into a battle very occasionally is hardly impressive. The DRF regularly equals NC fleet sizes with a coalition a quarter of the size.

    I can't help but think that a two-front war without jump bridges would lead to at least a few of the smaller alliances (Demon Hunters, R.A.G.E., Severance, Fidelas Constans, etc.) being displaced or removed altogether. The NC would either be required to split its defense into two distinct groups, or try to maintain their current strategy and transport an entire CTA fleet from Cloud Ring to Geminate.

    Capitals are vulnerable to relatively small fleets of subcaps if unsupported, so even dropping large capital fleets to deter attackers is fraught with risk. Thus, limiting the mobility of subcapitals is absolutely key to giving smaller entities a chance to conduct guerilla wars against coalitions.

    To put it another way - I travel 50+ jumps through hostile space on a daily basis - why should the defenders not have to?

  3. By my reading, increasing overall population, and thus density, throughout 0.0 is CCP's consistent desire (although they've managed to screw it up periodically).

    Also, I simply see no reason to think that a jump bridge nerf wouldn't be accompanied by some level of jump drive nerf. It will be a strategic mobility nerf.

  4. Tom, viz mobility, that's my expectation as well.

    My point is that the prescription may accelerate the disease is was intended to cure.

  5. NC fields 1000 ships out of 60000 people because that is all that is required to successfully defend its space. I expect that mobility nerfs and a two front war would mean 2 sets of 1000 ships would respond if that is what was required to defend its space. Just look to NC's past defensive efforts...

    CCP can make 0.0 industry and mining extremely difficult. I carebear for my fun. I accept the risk as part of the fun. If industry becomes like work, I will go play elsewhere. Before anyone says good riddance, consider whether pvp is still as fun without juicy targets and whether the sandbox is a good sandbox without a full range of activities and playstyles.

  6. There isn't a full range of activities now. The problem I find is that almost everyone that blogs about nullsec is in the NC, so you hear these arguments about the NC fostering PvP day after day until you start believing them.

    It really doesn't. I've roamed through NC space daily for months and there are very few good fights to be had there. Usually we either: run into another NC-hunting roaming gang and brawl them; find nothing but a few unwary Sanctum runners; or get chased off by a 100-man defense gang.

    If a mobility nerf means that fronts have to be split and more people have to be brought to fight, that's a good thing - it means that with enough fronts even the NC can be overwhelmed. Currently, it's impossible to do so, because you'd take down even the Jita node. In addition, Dominion mechanics make it possible to stagger your defense and make sure that you win one timer in each system by bridging your 1000-man fleet around.

    I want to fight Mostly Harmless or United Front Alliance or Gypsy Band, but these entities are nowhere near independent or capable enough to defend their own space from even a 60-man BS fleet. I want them to collapse, not to be permanently propped up by a coalition of half the nullsec population.

  7. I see your problem.

    You want a world with wars raging everywhere, fights available for the picking, no peace for anyone. You want fights on your terms. You are a seasoned heavily-armed fighter roaming through NC's garden and complaining that the gardener won't come out and fight you.

    Not everyone likes that world. Entire alliances like United Front, AAA Citizens, and White Angels weren't created to fight. It has nothing to do with propping. They are sufficient for their purpose--a concentration of industrial pursuits. They don't pretend to be warriors and then hide when the fighting starts. They carebear and leave the fighting to the fighters.

    I would suggest you use a starmap or dotlan to locate the hotspots and go to the fights. There is plenty of room for your 60-BS fleet or smaller fights. You claim you want good fights. Go fight some warriors on the front lines. Get out of the garden and quit trying to pick fights with those who don't want them.

  8. Seb -

    "Usually we either: run into another NC-hunting roaming gang and brawl them; find nothing but a few unwary Sanctum runners; or get chased off by a 100-man defense gang."

    Why would you expect different when leading a roaming gang into a well run alliance's space.

    If the locals can't kill you, they should be starving you of kills. If hunting kills in NC nullsec space is boring and/or frustrating, that means the NC locals are doing their job right. Bored and frustrated enemies is the goal of the defensive team.

    Neither your targets nor CCP are in the business of making your life in nullsec easy. Learn to be a patient, clever hunter, rather than expecting your enemies to be self-destructive on your behalf.

    Also, you might have better success in NPC nullsec, where the enemy has no sov advantages.

  9. I do live in NPC nullsec, and it's by far the most interesting place to be. However, most NPC nullsec is used as a base for raiding sov space (because that's where the people are).

    And yes, I want a universe at constant war. I can't understand why anyone would expect nullsec to ever be at peace.

    Take a look at this: http://evemaps.dotlan.net/alliance?o=memberCount

    Of the 10 largest alliances, 8 are in the NC. At this point, the NC is literally half of nullsec - measured both by population and by space. How people manage to delude themselves that the NC is defeatable by any in-game means (and thus not stagnating the game), I don't know.

    At this point, any mechanics that make running the NC more difficult have to be regarded as good for the overall health of nullsec. Heck, the NC and -A- were temp blue recently - if that were to be made permanent, there would only be the DRF left as hostile.

  10. If you're looking for good fights please come to NPC nullsec, I recommend Syndicate! I know some people that will be happy to give you some good fights.