Ah, the lowsec love offensive at Fiddler's Edge continues.
Of the changes planned for the impending Crucible release of Eve Online, the one that intrigues me most is the advent of destructible player owned custom offices in lowsec and nullsec space. (OK, that and the Amarr t3 battlecruiser which, while weak on capacitor, looks very cool.)
Now, back in the days of CSM 5, then CSM chair Mynxee was collecting player input on desired lowsec improvements as part of her Making Lowsec Matter campaign. A lot of interesting suggestions were made, and if I had to net them out into a single overarching want, it would be: Put valuable stuff in lowsec that will lure in more Carebear targets, but not stuff so valuable as to attract those Isk-grubbing, structure shooting null-sec alliances. Obviously, that doesn't encompass all the suggestions put forward, but cultivating a target-rich environment struck me as the closest thing to a common thread running through the Making Low Sec Matter forum.
Oddly enough, PI in lowsec became exactly that sort of phenomenon.
As Kirith Kodachi pointed out in his walk-down of the Crucible modifications, a number of enterprising high-sec industrialists have been engaging in ninja lowsec PI production. Planets in lowsec provide a higher yield of PI materials than their highsec counterparts. Further, the dangers associated with lowsec mean there is much less competition for more abundant PI resources. Once the ninja industrialist has discovered a PI rich planet in lowsec, it's simply a matter of sneaking in and dropping a command center onto said planet.
After that the entire extraction and manufacturing operation can be managed remotely, without the industrialist having to kick off his or her bunny slippers. However, finished PI goods sitting on the planet are of no use or value to our ninja industrialist; those goods must be repatriated every now and then. And that means that, sooner or later, our ninja industrialists (or their proxies) must leave those bunny slippers by the door and slip back to into lowsec, sidle up to the lowsec planet's customs office and retrieve their stealthily gotten goods.
Of course, lowsec players of a piratical bent are hardly asleep at the switch. They've become aware of these goings on and some of them have begun playing cat and mouse with the indy ninjas; staking out customs offices on planets with evidence of PI activity when the industrialists are in-system, or likely to come calling. While this is usually a cat and mouse game and not an outright turkey shoot, it has provided additional targets and lively hunting opportunities for the rogues and scalawags of lowsec.
With the upcoming Crucible expansion, customs offices will become structures that can be destroyed and replaced (or not) with player-owned custom offices. With player-owned offices, access to the customs office can be restricted. Futher, the isk-sinks represented by the payment of customs taxes to NPC offices turn into isk-transfer mechanisms. The owners of player-owned customs offices will both set and collect the associated taxes and can set taxes to varying levels based on the standing of the office's users with the owners.
Now, how this change will be absorbed into nullsec play is pretty straightforward. Galactic landlords are always looking for ways to separate Isk from their industrial tenants and this provides them one more. Some may try to exercise total control of customs offices via the renter alliance's holding corp, but given the number of planets involved, that involves a good bit of work of the sort most PvP landlords find distasteful. A more likely approach will be to charge a monthly PI tax per customs office a tenant corporation controls, or a PI tax per system in which a tenant is allowed to control customs offices.
However, in lowsec things get really interesting. As Kirith points out, a good bit of head-scratching is going on with regard to how this mechanic will play in lowsec, and what the fallout of the play that emerges will have on lowsec and on the the overall Eve economy.
While player entities with industrial interests exist in lowsec, small gang PvP is the predominant style of play. Entities that favor this play style tend to self-select away from business or industrial occupations. I would think the idea of building and protecting structures, even structures with an income or logistics potential, has too much the tang of sovereignty warfare for the footloose gangs of PvP players.
Lowsec corporations and alliances with an industrial component or those seeking to generate their own POS fuels might be inclined to maintain customs offices. However, in lowsec a structure that has your name all over it and no reinforce timer practically screams the owner's presence and is an obvious target for hostile entities or even casually malicious passers-by. It seems likely that only a big dog in lowsec who can quickly run off interlopers across all time zones, or someone living in an exceedingly low-traffic backwater, is going to invest in such structures.
I suspect at first the main attraction of the new Customs Offices will lie in their destructibility and look to see lowsec gangs merrily blasting away at them for the novelty of seeing them explode. Mind, there are an awful lot of these offices and I expect that, once the novelty has worn off, a population that prides themselves on not spending ammo on structures will stop doing so indiscriminately.
With the planned de-nerfing of anomalies widening the ratting isk-faucets in lowsec, I don't expect the potential income player owned structures represent to be a sufficient incentive for lowsec corporations or alliances to take the trouble to build, defend and manage player owned customs offices. Those lowsec corporations that engage in PI for logistics purposes (POS consumables, for example) will likely attempt to use NPC owned offices rather than building an obvious target for their enemies.
Ninja industrialists will, of course, be restricted to NPC offices unless they can cut a deal with a lowsec entity willing to provide them with access to a player owned structure and free passage to use it. While orbital launch from the PI command center can be used to bypass the customs office at present, it remains to be seen whether this will be possible when a player owned office is present, or in the absence of a customs office altogether. Even if orbital launch is permitted, the volume of materials that can be lifted to orbit from a command center is very limited. This will mean a slower and much more tedious harvesting process, which will make that activity both more costly and more dangerous for lowsec and ninja industrialists alike.
Much depends on how quickly lowsec disposes of its NPC customs offices. As those decline in number, so too will the availability of PI materials in highsec and lowsec markets. This, of course, will drive up the cost of items and activities for which those materials are a critical input.
Such market turmoil will be no never-mind for lowsec's purist PvP corporations. Any resulting price hikes for ships and fittings should be offset by the income provided by the buffed anomalies. Meanwhile, a spike in the price of PI materials means greater rewards for those industrialists willing to risk lowsec in order to harvest riches where NPC customs offices remain. Thus, a reduction in the number of lowsec planets open to PI could actually result in an uptick in the number of Carebears venturing into lowsec.
Which is what the pirates and griefers of lowsec wanted in the first place.