Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Mittani and Incarna

The Mittani has embraced Incarna.

As most of you know, the first step toward walking in stations (i.e. 'Captain's Quarters') is expected to be released in the near future. The longer term goal, of course, is an overall integration of Incarna (in-station avatar interaction) with Dust 514 with  traditional ships in space as per the vision video shown at the last Fanfest. I've held forth elsewhere in the last year or so as to why this has the potential to allow CCP leapfrog the competition and offer a comprehensive gaming experience seen nowhere else. If they pull it off it'll take the competition years to catch up. If not, I expect CCP will end up shutting its doors. It's a "bet your company" kind of move.

I'm sure a lot of dedicated spacers out there will assume that CCP has 'turned' the Mittani, that he's become a pod-person, been bribed or otherwise co-opted by the lads in Iceland. Likely not. Mittens is nothing if not a practical business man. Chances are, once they showed him the business plan and shared gaming industry direction, the pieces fell into place and he saw the brass ring CCP is grabbing after. They've also shown him that there's no turning back at this point. The die, as they say, is cast. If the Mittani finds the goal worth reaching and the leap of faith's already been made, there's no reason Mittens wouldn't get on board the Incarna train.

Now, unlike The Mittani, I don't think micro-transactions for avatar makeup and clothing is going to spare players the "golden ammunition" scenario he describes. Eve is well on its way to being a wallet-driven game. As the recent 154 supercapital ship DRF fleet showed, the bank account is the new battleground in Eve. ISK, as Krutoj the Destroyer is wont to say, wins wars.

No matter, though. Eve as we knew it is in the rear view mirror. The view of the road ahead is becoming clearer.

Legio Pandemica delenda est

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Operation Fiddler's Reach

I'm going to take Etherium Reach.

There's something about the place; a certain je ne sais quoi, that makes me want to conquer it. Maybe it's the name. Etherium Reach. Eeeetheeeeeerium Reeeeeeeach - sort of a siren song quality to it.  When I saw it the first time, some deep inner voice said "There. That's place. Go unleash your inner Genghis Khan and conquer Etherium Reach."

Who am I to argue with deep inner voices? 

I know. As real estate, it leaves a lot to be desired. Decidedly not among the high-rent nullsec neighborhoods. The NPC pirates are drones and it's proximity to lowsec makes it subject to incursions by roaming gangs of pirates and lowsec tourists. But what can you do? Sometimes a place just seems right. Sometimes it says, "Mord, you manly conquistador, you. Send forth your hordes of cartoon-space-ship warriors. Drive the DRF from my systems, and make me your own."

Mind, that may be the schizophrenia talking. Wouldn't be the first time.  But that's beside the point.

The point is, I want you to initiate phase one of Operation Fiddler's Reach. Phase one involves everybody and his brother going to 1VN-XC and griefing the VooDoo Technologies, Legion of Death and Solar Fleet systems there. The beauty of this is that it requires minimal coordination, however please try to not shoot at each other. Focus on making the lives of the locals a walking misery. Light 'em up, shut 'em down and make 'em cry, and tell 'em Mord sent you.

If it's all just too much for the locals, I'll be happy to hear their surrender terms. I am, after all, a merciful and beneficent conqueror. Once the region in conquered, I'll petition to have the name changed to Fiddler's Reach

Now, I know that many of you have full and interesting in-game lives fraught with responsibilities and don't have the time for this sort of cheap shenanigans. On the other hand, I also know that many of you are only here for cheap shenanigans. It is the latter group I call upon. Go forth. Have fun.

Fly, my pretties, fly.

Lost In Eve

After a mere 60 podcasts, Jane and Jade over at Lost In Eve are packing it in.

It's a disappointment as their podcasts were starting to fire on all cylinders with regular guests slots by knowledgeable panelists and the break-out of the panel discussions into separate Lost in Conversation episodes. Many of you will know them from their hosting of the CSM6 debates. However, as is often the case, real life caught up with the lads and something had to give.  I know the feeling well.

Hopefully, the fat lady hasn't sung their swan song quite yet and something can be salvaged from the ashes. In the meantime, go to their site and give 'em some farewell love.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

When the Other Shoe Drops

I know what you're thinking.

You're thinking, now that ol' Mord's writing his novel he's living the literary sweet life. He's attending publishing galas, sitting at the high table with Jonathan Franzen and Jhumpa Laheirie and trading witticisms with Salman Rushdie. He sips sixteen year old Scapa while brooding over galley proofs and fielding calls from studios competing for rights to the film adaptation. Mord can't go to the grocery store without being accosted by attractive, dewy-eyed young women who long to be his muse. Annie Leibovitz insists he make time for a week-long trip to Senegal to shoot the photo for the book's dust cover; never mind that the book has nothing whatever to do with Senegal.

Yes. Yes, it's exactly like that.

Thank goodness I have Fiddler's Edge and its insightful readership to keep my feet on the ground and the world in perspective.  Let's get back to the serious business of cartoon spaceships.  

Back in Battle of the Bands I described impending changes to nullsec that would, in effect, kill the high end ratting anomalies in nullsec systems with a low truesec. The change was implemented in one of the recent Incursion patches and we've had a little time to look at the fallout.

As expected, there's been a falloff in income for capsuleers in shallow nullsec. That should mean less money sloshing around nullsec which in turn should result in reduced market activity. Spot checks on markets, coupled with feedback from various sources suggest that a market downturn is indeed occurring. Shallow nullsec appears headed for something of a recession.

Industrialists seem to be hit less hard than strict PvPers as the Indy players have the ability to switch income sources when the ratting income sources get thin. Some nullsec industrialists I know don't rat at all, preferring to supply the ships, mods and materials that feed the incessant nullsec wars. However, many of the the PvPers who buy and fit those high value ships and mods reside in shallow nullsec. The wiser of them will have built up their cash reserves in the weeks leading up to the anomalies nerf, but are now either burning through the cash at a rapid pace or being more strategic with the spending of it. In either event, there's less money in the market. With more industrialists in shallow nullsec turning to mining, manufacturing and PI to make up the loss in anomalies income, there should be an upswing in available supply of materials and non-name finished products. 

Less demand. More supply. We all know where that road leads.

Of course there will be exceptions. Supercapitals, for example, are still the "I WIN" button in nullsec sov wars and alliances will be cost inelastic where they are concerned. Even if demand for supercapitals falls off as shallow nullsec alliances and players buy fewer supercaps, expect any oversupply to be soaked up by the richer alliances holding high truesec properties. Until a significant nerf to supercaps comes out, builders of supercapitals and supercapital components should be among the few winners in shallow nullsec. 

However, the shallow bits of nullsec are still a source for untold riches, even if extracting them is not as effortless as running Havens. If the factories that supply the nullsec engines of war are less active, the enterprising carebear can make money transporting raw materials, PI products, t2 blueprints et al up to the highsec markets. Many industrialists do that already, particularly in areas close by empire where the logistics make the jump-out of these products easy, and the locally produced items are unable to compete with cheaper finished goods jump-shipped in from empire.

While rents tend to be slow to drop, the simple mathematics of making the rent can't be lost on nullsec landlords. Despite grumbling among the tenants, and Krutoj's complaints on EN24, the great landlords of nullsec don't seem to be hemorrhaging ISK. To the extent possible, they will try to keep rents as close to their former levels as possible in low truesec systems while raising prices in the systems with the highest truesec. However, as bounties make up the lion's share of corporate taxes used to pay the rent, corporations will either have to raise taxes, making ratting even less profitable, or request donations from their membership. Corporations living at the margins will likely go under. Others will fold up tents rather than eek out a hand to mouth existence in nullsec. So landlords should take some degree of financial hit, though likely not a crippling one. The smarter among them will be doing the math and calculating the optimal balance between rent and system occupancy rates.

Obviously all of this is subject to change in the near term . CCP has other changes to nullsec in the wings and much will depend on what they are. If jump freighters are nerfed, for example, items produced in local nullsec will be much more competitive with items shipped in from empire. If supercaps are given a meaningful nerf, demand for them will drop. If player owned refineries are made more efficient, jumping minerals out to empire from nullsec will be less attractive. There are a number of shoes the CCP developers are getting ready to drop.

Much depends on where they fall.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Curse of Victory

I was all set to publish a largish piece on Pandemic Legion (PL). However the Drone Russian Forces (DRF) have hired PL to assist the Drone Russian invasion of Northern Coalition (NC) space (apparently, one can never have too many rental systems). Since I'll be a tad preoccupied with shooting at them, anything I publish about PL at present will be taken in that context. So that tome of Eve scholarship will have to be put on the shelf for now.

Sorry to all the regular readers for that. 

Why is PL mucking about in low truesec space when they have Delve and Querious for the taking? Well, ironically, victory in the larger sense is a bit scary for the PL leadership. They are afraid that without a diet of constant mayhem, the Pandemic kids would go soft and lose their edge. And there's some truth to that. Eve history is full of bad-ass PvP alliances who took a rich territory, settled down to make the ISKies and then got fat and sloppy.

Having quashed Bobby Atlas' recent attempt at a comeback in Querious and turned aside a half-hearted invasion attempt by Against All Authorities and friends, victory was looking just a little too easy for Pandemic. With their membership's pockets full of ISK after a month or two of ratting in Titans, the PL leadership was looking for a way to have it all - a carefree life of making mayhem and a bunch of Delve technetium moons cheerfully generating vast sums of income at the same time.

Just in time, the Legion's only steady customer, the DRF comes up with a contract. Like as not PL leadership solicited the contract. Six hundred billion sounds like a lot of ISK, but it's small potatoes to an alliance with the riches of Delve and Querious at its disposal, or to the DRF with its vast empire of rental properties pouring ISK into the alliance accounts. It's pretty much a nominal fee for either alliance, but PL's leadership was anxious to get their rank and file out of PvE Havens and into some serious fights.

So, PL needed the action and the DRF is PL's only client of significance. DRF probably could have gotten PL in the fight in exchange for Krutoj's button collection. I hear it's quite nice.

The NC has shown they can beat either PL or the DRF. Even the DRF reinforced by Raiden[DOT], Evoke and NorthernCoalition[dot], and backed up by every bribe and threat Krutoj can bring to bear have had a tough go of it. That, my friends, is one very tough bunch of carebears. PL's entrance onto this fracas will make for some interesting play.

And they say there's no PvP in nullsec.

As I've mentioned elsewhere, the NC has a lot of carebear in its organizational DNA. Pandemic Legion's lineage is, on the other hand, largely griefer. Fighting the DRF is just another day in nullsec for the NC. The DRF needs another block of flats to rent out. Nothing personal. On the other hand, the NC takes a certain glee in tangling with the Pandemic boys.

See, if PL wins a fight, well that's what everyone expects. They are, after all, the masters of the metagame, the l33t uber-PvPers, at least in their own minds. But when a bunch of carebears hand them their collective ass in a fight, you know that's got to cut deep. That's the risk PL runs every time PL takes the field against the NC.

Nobody will remember if Pandemic Legion wins. Everyone will remember if they lose.

Legio Pandemica delenda est

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Space Monkeys LIE

For those of you waiting for part two of Renter's Guide to Nullsec, or anyone considering taking their corporation into Null Security space, I strongly recommend the March 24 issue of Lost In Eve. The lads at Space Monkey Alliance wrest the LIE microphone away from Jade and Jane and hold forth in round table format on the nuts and bolts of moving your corporation into The Deep. Very informative and worthwhile listening even if you've already made the leap.

Interesting goings on in Delve and Querious. Will success spoil Pandemic Legion? 

More on that, soon.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Creatures of Light and Darkness

A few weeks ago a corporation named Therapy left the alliance Wildly Inappropriate (WI) for R.A.G.E, another Northern Coalition (NC) alliance. In the process Therapy insisted that the technetium moons under its control exit Wildly Inappropriate with the corporation, removing a valuable asset from WI's control. Therapy cited inadequate compensation for stations it had built in Wildly Inappropriate space as a justification for holding onto the moons.

Needless to say, the loss of such high-value moon goo and the ISK that go with it did not sit well with the lads at Wildly Inappropriate. Therapy was given a week to hand over the moons. Failure to do so would result in military action by Wildly to re-appropriate the technetium moons. The week went by without resolution and with rhetoric heating between all parties involved. Unpleasant words were exchanged and all parties involved commenced with the saber rattling.

There was a lot of excitement out on the Forums and EveNews24 at these goings on. Spectators grabbed popcorn and beer, and took their seats to watch two NC alliances enter a dust-up over a scarce and valuable resource. With any luck, the thinking went, the drama would escalate into an all out Northern Coalition civil war; and likely put an end to the BFF crew. At the very least the internal rift would weaken the NC's defense of Geminate and allow the Drone Russian Forces (DRF) an opportunity to roll over the region. 

Then, as quickly as it began, the crisis was over. RAGE and WI officials working behind the scenes defused the situation, and the contested moons were passed over to WI. Spectators looking forward to seeing a large coalition tear itself to rags over a couple of moons were left disappointed as Wildly Inappropriate issued a conciliatory press release:
Positions were rethought and of course the moon has been transferred in a peaceful manner. WI would like to thank RAGE alliance for taking the time to make sound negotiations and as far as WIdot are concerned this issue is closed. We wish RAGE and Therapy. as allies, the best of luck going forward.

One unsatisfied poster on EveNews24 denounced the outcome in a single word: "Boring".

In that single word, the poster put his finger on a growing schism in the game of Eve. Despite the flexibility of the game, despite the vaunted sandbox which allows people to take whatever path they choose within the game, CCP is afraid that play-patterns not of their own design will occupy their shoot-em-up spaceship game. The flavor of the month in CCP-think seems to be that building is boring. Destruction makes for much better advertising.

The common thread that runs through the Deklein, Northern and Drone Russian coalitions, at present the three largest coalitions in nullsec, is internal stability. All three have developed a means of resolving internal conflict in a nonviolent manner and keeping inter-alliance frictions to a minimum. All three have developed distinct internal cultures that attract like-minded players and corporations. If you look to the large alliances that fell this last year and read the analysis about their collective fall, the common diagnosis is rigidity, internal instability full if dueling egos, conflicting agendas, petty grudges, e-peen waving and lots and lots of drama. In short organizational dysfunction.

Organizational dysfunction is exciting stuff. However it's...dysfunctional. By definition unstable, dysfunctional organizations tend to die off. Functional organizations tend to survive and thrive.  Boredom tends to make one's organization dysfunctional; idle hands being the devil's playthings and all. So if the nullsec population has increased while PvP in nullsec is falling off (so CCP claims), then the players in those big coalitions have to be doing something else with their in-game time. And lo, so they are.

Listen: Something amazing is happening in nullsec. Civilizations are being built.

Now, this turn of events has made a lot of players with a piratical bent unhappy. It's sort of like the plight of the outlaws, gunslingers and train robbers of the old American West. You're living a life of banditry, mayhem and abandon. It's a good life. A few settlers and sod-busters show up, and that's good too, cause terrorizing them and taking their stuff is pretty good times, and way less scary than getting shot at by your fellow outlaws, gunslingers and train-robbers.

However, as with any frontier, sooner or later the settlers arrive in numbers. They put up their buildings, their banks and their institutions. Next thing you know the whorehouse has been replaced by a schoolhouse and they get all snooty about bandits robbing their banks and shooting random citizens. Violence is channeled toward external threats - like outlaws, gunslingers and train-robbers. 

Cowboys like Rixx Javix want to ride into a nullsec town, shoot it up, bully the bartender, burn down the livery stable and rape the schoolmarm. Time was, naughty boys could get away with that. However, times have changed. If Rixx and his boyos ride into coalition country looking for a bit of mayhem, they often find the townspeople armed with repeating rifles and shooting at the bandits from the rooftops. Then the cavalry and the Texas Rangers arrive and the brutal curb stomping of Rixx and his merry band ensues apace.

If you're an aspiring gunslinger like Rixx Javix, this is just plain wrong. After all, how can they call it null security space if the only people who are insecure are the outlaws? Isn't nullsec space supposed to be less safe than lowsec space?

In a word, no. Nullsec means that the only security you have is the security you can enforce. That is pure sandbox.

PvP is a central component of Eve and always will be. It figures heavily in CCP's advertising campaigns and, to the mind of many players and some CCP game designers, is the only reason for playing the game. However, a while back, the lads at CCP were considering how to extend the topped-out market for Eve. One idea they dabbled with was attracting players to nullsec who would go to war when war is necessary. but preferred building to tearing down. The idea was touted in CCP's marketing video for Tyrannis, the Eve release that introduced Planetary Interaction.

That idea seems to have been detoured into CCP's dustbin. The building of empires, it turns out, requires stability, which makes for lousy marketing. Creatures of darkness have always sold better than creatures of light. Ask John Milton. However, some players seem to have had other ideas. They've come to nullsec in a rush and embraced the vision of a science fiction universe that allows more subtle complexities than any other game on the web. Rather than embrace and cultivate that audience, CCP seems minded to turn nullsec into World-of-Tanks in space.

If builders and destroyers cannot both ply their trades in the same space, simply altering the game to favor one style of play over the other is a poor business strategy for CCP as it, by definition, rejects part of their customer base. It is a false choice, and unwise at a time when they're trying to expand their player-base. Rather they have the ability to accommodate both styles of nullsec play. The beauty of digital space is that you can always make more. As Kirith Kodachi suggested, the time has come to expand nullsec. 

There should be room in nullsec for both creatures of light and creatures of darkness.