Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Sock Puppet

In his latest Eve Evolved column, Brendan Drain over at Massively leaps to the defense of CCP's recent buff to supercapitals

Now, I had pretty well knocked the dust of that decision from my sandals. I'd put the matter behind me and moved on. Normally, I would take the high road; be and let be and all that. After all, I've said my peace on the matter. Water under the bridge. Done is done, right? 

Unfortunately, Brendan linked to my recent Fiddler's Edge post on the matter by way of illustrating the opinions of those with whom he disagreed. Worse yet, he didn't have the good grace to mount a meaningful counter-argument. Now it's personal.

*cracks knuckles*

If you follow Brendan's column, you'll note he gets a lot of interviews with and information from the Eve Online design and development teams. They seem on good terms. He has, as they say, access.

For those of you not familiar with how western journalism works, this sort of access is almost never free. It’s usually paid for by way of an informal tit for tat arrangement. Such arrangements are rarely explicitly laid out and are often cultivated by the source over time. In exchange for interviews, scoops and insider tidbits, the journalist in question is expected to avoid embarrassing the source.

It’s assumed a journalist with the privilege of access will not ask tough questions or publish embarrassing facts about the source. On occasion the journalist is expected to act as a mouthpiece for the source when said source wants to express an opinion or leak information without doing so directly. When bad press about the source does surface, the journalist with access generally contributes to the subject by delivering the source’s side of the story or stands mute, delivering nothing at all.

In short, journalists who get too close to their source become apologists for the source; unpaid members of the source’s public relations staff rather than actual journalists.

They become, as I like to call them, media sock puppets.

I suspect Brendan Drain may have turned the corner into sock-puppetdom.  His language in the column suggests he and CCP have discussed and are of one mind on the subject matter. In expressing their intents with regard to jump bridges and force projection he speaks on CCP's behalf without needing to reference interviews, papers or devblogs. It would also explain why Brendan comes to this subject so late in the game, well after the change has been put in place. This suggests that CCP is still getting a lot of churn from the user base on the subject and Brendan is acting as a surrogate to help them calm the waters.

Besides, sock-puppetdom is the only excuse I can come up with for the tortured logic that comprises his latest column.

A central assertion in Brendan’s argument is that jump bridges needed to be nerfed because they were causing a decline in the amount of PvP occurring in Eve Online.
“One of the strange revelations to come out of the last big CSM summit was the fact that the amount of PvP going on in EVE is declining. A big culprit behind this could be jump bridges, which currently provide a completely safe way to move ships across huge distances.”
Now, Brendan duly supplies a link to the “strange revelations” that underpin his argument. However the provided link leads only to an interview he conducted during the CSM summit and published on January 23 on Massively. In that interview Brendan himself reveals the aforementioned revelations, incorporating them into his questions as givens. In other words, the only source Brendan cites as evidence in support of this assertion is Brendan.   

To the best of my knowledge CCP has not made available to the public the source data or analysis methods used to describe the decline of PvP that has them so worried. Likewise, Brendan provides no data analysis, even at the highest levels, to support the supposed falloff of PvP in Eve Online; the very lynchpin of his argument for hobbling jump bridges.

For the sake of argument, let's give that a pass and accept a falloff of PvP in Eve as a given. Even then CCP and their sock puppet require a second leap of faith from us. Neither CCP nor Brendan has provided any evidence of a causal relationship between Jump Bridges and PvP falloff. In fact there is not, to my knowledge, evidence showing even a reasonable correlation between the two.

Jump bridges have been a part of Eve Online since the Revelations II release in June of 2007. Thus, they’ve been a part of nullsec for almost four years. CCP Greyscale should be more aware of this than most as he authored a devblog entry on July 7 of that year providing clarifications on the use of the “new toy”. 

Now, nearly four years after jump bridges were introduced, we are expected to accept on blind faith that they are suddenly a major contributor to a relatively recent phenomenon. The reasoning on this point is so weak that Brendan is left with nothing to offer the reader but the limp assessment that jump bridges “could be a big culprit” behind the supposed decline in PvP.

In other words, CCP is making a wild-assed guess and Brendan Drain doesn’t have the journalistic chops to call them on it.  

Much of Brendan’s article occupies itself with a discussion on force projection, and argues several times that jump bridges are a component of CCP's force projection problem. However, he dismisses his own point when he states that the nerf of jump bridges has nothing to do with addressing the force projection problem.
"The sentiment that has been ringing throughout EVE's blogging community is that changing jump bridges without changing other force-projection abilities is a massive mistake. However, these jump bridge changes aren't designed to tackle the issue of force projection. They're specifically dealing with a travel safety factor that should never have been built into the system in the first place. Force projection is case for another time and place, and when viewed in isolation, the jump bridge changes look a lot more reasonable."

Having spent the bulk of his column associating jump bridges with force projection, Brendan is now stating that nerfing jump bridges has nothing to do with force projection because the intent of the change had to do with making travel less safe. This utterly ignores the fact that, by Brendan's own definition, altering jump bridges will impact force projection. With supercapital force projection left unhindered in any practical way, nerfing jump bridges has tilted the balance of power even further toward those alliances with the most supercapitals. CCP's intended outcomes are rather beside the point. 

Brendan seems to think that, as long as CCP's intentions are good, outcomes don't matter. In fact the opposite is true.

Brendan seems to assume that the primary reason for using jump bridges is the "safety factor" - to move in safety within an alliance's space. If he or the CCP gang believe that they haven't done their homework. Safety comes from a good intel network that detects and quickly reports enemy gangs so they can be either avoided or expunged. 

While jump bridges can be used for safety's sake, they are more commonly used to reduce onerous travel time within alliance space. This allows players to spend time playing the game rather than dragging ass through 20 jumps in order to pick up new fittings for their Zealot. This change, in and of itself, will have minimal impact the safety of a player while in alliance territory. If Brendan or CCP took the time to survey nullsec players regarding how they use jump bridges rather than simply assuming their suppositions to be correct, they'd know this. 

I've held forth elsewhere regarding the notion that nullsec, by definition, should be less safe than lowsec. Nullsec doesn't mean security can't be had. Rather, it means that the only security you have is the security you yourselves can enforce. That is pure sandbox. 

Finally, Brendan holds that the jump bridge changes are reasonable if viewed in isolation. If jump bridges functioned in isolation, that would be a sensible approach. However, they do not. They are a component in a larger system and changes to them have to be viewed in a systemic context. You can't simply ignore part of that system because it doesn't fit with your desired game play paradigm. 

That's not design. That's called going to your happy place.

I understand the lure of sock-puppetdom. Nobody wants to shred their own meal ticket. If Brendan speaks unpleasant truths in his column to the folks at CCP they may respond by reducing his access. He may no longer be given routine interviews with their employees or be as well received at summits and fan fests (assuming they invite him at all). Reporters and columnists, as much as anyone else, like to be liked by those with access to useful information.

Having access is nice. However one should never forget that it comes at a price that can only be paid with one's integrity.


  1. "This allows players to spend time playing the game rather than dragging ass through 20 jumps in order to pick up new fittings for their Zealot." This argument is actually part of the logic behind the jump bridge changes and why many people support them. As you say, null sec is supposed to be a sand box and part of that is that it should develop its own ecosystem. As things stand at the moment the null sec empires use their jump bridge networks to connect to the major market hubs. One thing that CCP (and I) want to see is true null sec hubs developing with industrialists, miners, and PvPers all flourishing together. Of course, the big problem with this as it stands is the moon mineral imbalance making most regions unable to self sustain themselves.

    Anyway, just thought I'd chime in with that.

    Hopefully force projection is next on the chopping block but we'll have to wait and see. I'm pretty sure Seleene will have been pushing hard for a capital ship iteration at the CSM summit.

  2. Wensley - Again, this walks into the 'viewed in isolation' trap.

    I've written elsewhere (CCP Greyscale's Vision, February 11) regarding the connection between the ability to move goods and services and healthy market economies. Simply put, you don't encourage markets by isolating them and few people invest in industrial infrastructure in a free-fire combat zone.

    If CCP wants to encourage local markets, there are ways to do that. However, they need to do it with a better understanding of how markets work and put that goal in proper balance with their desire to encourage more PvP in nullsec.

    Further, at the moment a large part of nullec industrial capacity is focused on building supercapitals. As long as those are an essential "I Win" button that can only be produced in sov nullsec, industrial corporations will focus on them to the exclusion of other goods.

    Note too that the recent anomalies nerf, done to encourage more PvP has depressed existing nullsec markets - exactly the opposite of the outcome you say CCP wants to occur

  3. Mord, I was about to start a blog myself about the derth of blogging from certain bloggers. The length and depth of this entry have earned you amnesty this time...

    In programming, there are needs and wants. Both of these take a backseat to things that are simply broken. Some may say undesirable ship balance, PvP mechanics, or other issues are broken, but I'm talking about truly broken. Right now, CCP knows that large nullsec fights are broken...the hardware cannot handle the load from bloblag. Whatever reasoning trickles out for the changes, the simple fact is CCP is trying to cut down on the number of ships that show up for blob sov fights. The majority of ships are subcaps fielded by the defender...subcaps that mostly arrive via jump bridge...subcaps mostly funded by individuals via anomalies. Supercaps arrive in the dozens; subcaps arrive in the hundreds. Subcap movements by necessity receive the nerfs.

    Bloblag cannot be worked into game lore or explained away. Non-functioning weapons, huge delays, and disconnects are not part of the sandbox. This is an ongoing broken part of the program that is just not acceptable to any developer. CCP knows that supercaps need to be better balanced, but with time dilation or other fixes via game mechanics a long way off, the priority is to fix this issue at all costs.

  4. Mordis - I'd be pleased to count myself as a reader of your blog. Let me know when you're set up and I'll be sure to provide linkage.

  5. I've held forth elsewhere regarding the notion that nullsec, by definition, should be less safe than lowsec. Nullsec means that the only security you have is the security you yourselves can enforce. That is pure sandbox.

    This does not make sense, at least not entirely. Suppose you have two alliance each holding space.

    Alliance 1 has an intel channel, people use it, and when hostiles pop up, a response fleet forms up quickly either destroying or chasing away the hostiles. Alliance 1 has space that is, after awhile and a reputation is built up, is safer than low sec.

    Alliance 2 has an intel channel, people are indifferent on using it to report hostiles or learn about hostiles in their AoO. Response fleets are slow to form and haphazard in their pursuit of hostiles. Alliance 2, after awhile and reputation is built up, is seen as a good place to farm kills and is less safe than nullsec.

    TL;DR: Just because an alliance provides its own security does not mean that that region/constellation/etc. has to be less safe than low sec.

  6. @Steve - You have it exactly. Each of your two alliances has only has as much security as they are capable of enforcing. Nullsec is not, by definition, less secure than lowsec. That's in the hands of the players.

  7. @Steve - Added a sentence to that section for clarity's sake.

  8. You're right though that Drain's article is badly argued.

    It's now common to see alliances respond to small invading gangs by "hot-dropping" an entire fleet of supercapitals on top of them. By holding supercapitals on standby and using jump bridges to maneuver fleets into position, a defending alliance has all the advantages of stealth and mobility that a smaller invading force should rightfully have. This has the effect of discouraging small-scale PvP, as a highly mobile invading force can find itself inexplicably outnumbered with absolutely no chance of seeing it coming.

    This is purely a discussion of jump bridges being used for force projection, and how this change to jump bridges will help mitigate this "problem". To then turn around and say, "this change isn't about force projection" is just nonsensical.

    Further, I think he is overstating the case above. Sure it can help assemble a fleet to react to a fast moving gang that is roaming a given alliances territory. However, jump bridges are very limited in that the connect points A and E. If the gang moves from A into B then C and then leaves through another gate and heads off into H, then the jump bridge isn't all that handy. In other words, it isn't like a titan's jump portal generator.

    When I was in IT and we'd roam up into TEST/Goon space during the fight in Fountain we were always moving very, very fast. For the most part. Sometimes we'd stop for a bit and camp a station to see what would happen, but supers were never dropped on us. Further, when a gang did finally show up, it was a chance for pew. That is we slowed down to draw the enemy out.

    Of course, the big problem with this as it stands is the moon mineral imbalance making most regions unable to self sustain themselves.

    Congratulations wensley you've found the root of the problem. Jump bridges are quite expensive. In IT our jump bridge network was not that extensive. I could get from Fountain to Delve in back in maybe 40 minutes. Not bad, but nothing like the pile of spaghetti the NC has. What is the difference? Tech moons maybe. How much does 1 tech moon generate, I would guess at least 7 billion isk a month. That is quite a bit of isk. Add on top of it the isk that can be made via reactions, and other aspects of 0.0 and an alliance with at least 25 tech moons should be pulling in a quarter trillion isk a month. That can support a very extensive jump bridge network.

    As for a viable market, I know in IT alliance we had at least one corp running an alliance shop where you could buy fitted ships. Each constellation where a corp lived had fairly decent supplies on the market. It wasn't like Jita or even a lesser hub like Hek, but stuff was being built out there.

    And removing jump bridges might retard the development of markets in 0.0. After all, if I want to buy some modules it would suck having them blown up while manually flying via gates. So maybe I have a guy jump stuff in from empire I've bought and dropped off at the empire jump off point.

    More PvP and more nullsec production may very well be goals that are at odds with each other--i.e. you can't have more of both, at least not without some serious and unusual changes to the game.

  9. When I was in IT and we'd roam up into TEST/Goon space during the fight in Fountain .... but supers were never dropped on us.

    That's probably because TEST does not have supers. If we did, you would have seen them.

    I've been seeing a lot of complaints about blob warfare, the death of small gangs, and how stale lowsec are. I do not believe these were caused by game mechanics, nor do I believe game mechanics can "fix" them.

    I understand that the average EVE player is actually quite experienced, and has learned quite well how not to die. I believe that the "endangered" but fun EVE playstyles were simply not environmentally sustainable - without a fresh supply of n00bs, the small gang and lowsec hunters would eventually cause their prey to evolve into the 0.0 intel-sharing supercap wielding players we see today. I don't see how simple nerfs or buffs are going to change that.

  10. I think Arggam is getting to the root of the issue. There are not enough new players in Eve. In fact, I would be willing to bet that there aren't that many players at all, discounting bots and alts.

    In the Q4 QEN, our economist noted that the average skill points per character had increased 5-10%, depending on race. All races have averages over 10 million SP's, meaning that the average character is over 6 months old. We need new people to feed the fires of both industry and war. Look at any real life economy. Without a growth in the labor force, and economy cannot grow. Same with war: without new recruits, one cannot replace his or her losses.

  11. Brendan, if the change made no difference, why make it?

    If the change is part of a force projection nerf, then why do it first, leaving capital ship projection, arguably a larger threat, unchanged?

    Fact is, jump bridges are the only way to get enough people in system to kill a supercap in the fifteen minutes before it logs out, save cynoing in your own capital fleet.

    Without a comprehensive bridge network (and the shift to one bridge per system has doubled the already-extortionate sovereignty rent so you can expect existing networks to start going dark), the only thing that will kill a supercap is another fleet of supercaps. How :awesome:...

  12. I had this massive 4500 word 7-comment long tirade all ready but only one part of it in the middle actually posted so I deleted it. I'll email you the important points tomorrow. Suffice it to say I'm incredibly disappointed that what could have been a healthy debate about internet spaceships has been reduced to slander. Horrible, provably incorrect slander.

    And that ultimately, I've changed my mind on this issue. After wrestling with it all day, I've come to the conclusion that since supercapitals and jump portalled fleets cannot be intercepted in transit but fleets using bridges now can, that the balance IS shifted more toward groups with supercapitals. I don't think it's the dramatic shift people are making it out to be, because moving a fleet will still be relatively easy with a good scout and intel setup, but it's impossible to deny that it won't make supercaps a little more useful.

    Obviously the ideal scenario would be if CCP didn't change anything until they do their big nullsec review, if only to avoid the issue entirely. We can hope this is what they'll do, but I'd fully expect them to go ahead with the jump bridge changes.

  13. Yeah, that was me. My comments weren't showing up properly so I deleted them. Besides, it's probaly best if I just mail Mord all those corrections to his post rather than spamming up his comments.

  14. Nyphur/Brendan, as you state, the JB change is not necessarily a horrible thing itself, but the fact that it was done without other changes that could have kept it from buffing supercaps at all. Whether the buff is little or large, it makes the strongest weapon even stronger without providing some counter. I continue to say the only reason EVE ONLINE isn't called SUPERCAPS ONLINE is because not everyone can afford them. The only counter to a supercap is more supercaps. Large subcap fleets ran a distant second, but were just now nerfed. Those two reasons have ruined in nullsec the relatively balanced rock/paper/scissors/Spock game that CCP had created.

    Again, I believe CCP knows this and is more accepting of out of balance play mechanics that can be explained within the lore of the game as powerful alliances and coalitions, etc., than allowing bloblag to continue as a topic of discussion centered on hardware and software limitations. Even metagaming can be worked into the context of the game. Bloblag totally destroys the immersion in the game that every game designer covets.

  15. Unfortunately Brendan's response was too large for the comments software to handle gracefully, so it resisted his attempts to post here.

    He's sent me his intended content and it's hardly a tirade so much as a spirited defense of his journalistic bona fides.

    We've done the first of what I hope will be several email exchanges. I've offered him clarification with regard to the reasoning behind my comments. Brendan's offered some interesting insights on the state of sock-puppetry in the game journalism industry and how Massively navigates the related conflicts of interest.

    I have hopes this will lead us both to some interesting future posts.

  16. Stirring the pot again I see. Well done.

    Thinking about this more makes my puzzler hurt, so I'll leave the heavy lifting to you m8. But I appreciate pot-stirring.


  17. That's probably because TEST does not have supers. If we did, you would have seen them.

    On a snipe hac gang? You'd really hot drop a fast moving gang that would be out of system before your session timer was done...or if we had supers on standby risk getting hot dropped over a snipe hac gang? Be my guest.

    And it was Test and Goon space. Also WI, FCON, and such.

    Same with war: without new recruits, one cannot replace his or her losses.

    The only real losses are from attrition related to people not playing anymore. In Eve a pilot never really dies permanently.

  18. Actually I've gotten first hand accounts of PL baiting small gank fleets into attacking solo ships in lowsec anomalies and them dropping supercaps on them.

    I'm in the process of verifying the events, but it's consistent with PL's sense of fun.

  19. You'd really hot drop a fast moving gang that would be out of system before your session timer was done...or if we had supers on standby risk getting hot dropped over a snipe hac gang?

    We would have tried, and probably lost our supers. We're really bad at this game, you know. Remember Too Ducky's titian loss? T1 rigs. And he was considered our most knowledgeable TESTie. He's in Raiden now, so you can probably go talk to him about it:)

  20. Work has sucked, so I'm fashionably late. But these comments are chocked full of what needs to be said, not to mention the post itself. So, I'm content.

    Also glad you and Brendan could clear the air a little. I usually quite enjoy his work, despite him being apparently totally clueless when it comes to the workings of null's dynamics.

    I thought it showed a tremendous amount of his respect for your blog in that he linked you even to politely disagree. Your response was rather vociferous.