Thursday, December 27, 2012

Farms and Fields: A Question of Labor

Nullsec does not have a Tritanium problem.  Nullsec has a labor problem.

Last week we discussed why the 'Farms and Fields' changes to nullsec being advanced by The Mittani® hive mind cannot reasonably achieve its stated goal:  Stocking nullsec with 'peasants' (i.e. industrialists and industrial infrastructure) for PvPers to to put to the sword.  This being obvious to anyone who understands nullsec and the players involved, it follows that the hive mind must have an unannounced secondary goal (or set of goals) motivating the aggressive propaganda campaign for the proposed changes. Clues to the actual goals of the policy can be found in game design changes being demanded by The Mittani®'s propaganda machine.

A key design change being pushed by The Mittani® to 'fix' nullsec is adding special 'super' ores to nullsec in order to solve what the Goonswarm sock puppet parade have dubbed "The Tritanium Problem".  In his November 27 article Addressing the Tritanium Problem, Goonswarm's Corestwo/Mynnna defines this 'problem' as "...the fundamental fact that sourcing large quantities of low end minerals and especially Tritanium is not feasible in nullsec". 

Now, whenever anyone calls a cornerstone justification for awarding themselves some privileged position, status, handout or free lunch a "fundamental fact", it is a near certainty that said justification is, in fact, not a fact at all; fundamental or otherwise.  Corestwo/Mynnna's so called 'Tritanium Problem is no exception to that rule.  It is, as international trade economists put it, a fat load of hooey.  Nullsec has plenty of low end ores for producing Tritanium.  When Corestwo/Mynnna says mining low end ores in nullsec isn't feasible, he means the ISK return per hour on mining low end ores in nullsec is so low by nullsec standards that no one in nullsec wants to mine them.  

In other words, nullsec alliances wishing to go into Tritanium-intensive manufacturing don't have sufficient labor willing to do the necessary low-end ore mining at a competitive wage.  Highsec,  on the other hand, is much more efficient at producing Tritanium owing to its larger and cheaper mining-sector labor force. 

"I don't know, Mord," some of you will be thinking about now. "While I'm inclined to accept that premise at face value, I'd be much more comfortable with the idea if you expanded on it in a vast wall of text".  Others of you, will be drumming your fingers impatiently about now and mumbling "TLDR already, Fiddle. Get to the effing point."  

I am happy to oblige you both.  For those of you with a passion for the wall of text, read on.  For those of you in something of a hurry, meet me below where its says "TLDR: Veldspar is not being mined in nullsec because markets work."

We'll begin at the beginning:  Mining is boring.

Most miners would agree. Oh, when the ore hold tops off there's a tiny stab of electricity, that most fundamental of video game rewards, but it's more akin to relief than accomplishment. The brain saying, oh thank god he's finished; maybe we can do something interesting now, like running a load of laundry or power washing the front walk. After an hour or so of solo belt mining one begins to wonder when the next Hulkageddon will inject a bit of excitement into the activity.

If there is pleasure to be found in mining, it is in mining with a crew. You watch each others' backs, joke and engage in the same sort of chatter that accompanies a long lull at a gate camp, an unproductive PvP roam, or the hurry-up-and-wait that accompanies most nullsec CTAs. But unlike those other activities, ISK pile up at an impressive rate when a good mining crew plies its trade. It doesn't provide the adrenaline jag of PvP, but the companionship and the ISK payout at the end make it worth while.

In my experience, fleet mining usually occurs in support of a corporation's manufacturing arm. The mining crew's pay-out for the ore they've harvested is usually made in Jita prices. A member of the corporation with perfect refining skills and good standing with the NPC corporation that owns the station refines the ores in order to maximize the mineral output. The minerals are then either sold or used as inputs to corporate manufacturing initiatives.

By highsec standards, a miner's payday is substantial for the level of skills required.  A solo miner in a Retriever with excellent Veldspar mining and refining skills can make five to ten million ISK an hour selling at current Tritanium prices (bearing in mind the time needed to transport the refined minerals to an optimal market for sale is not included). Working with a crew can bring efficiencies such as Orca and fleet boosts into play, increasing the per miner ore yield. However, depending on how the proceeds are paid out (for example, does the corporation keep a percentage of the minerals? Do haulers who don't mine get the same split as the miners? Is the local sale price of the minerals significantly higher than Jita prices?) the actual per hour payday for a fleet op may not exceed that of the solo miner by much. Always read the fine print.

Bear in mind too, that mineral yields from ore in highsec is often reduced due to refining using less than perfect skills and/or at stations where the NPC corporation retains part of the refinery yield due to the player's less that optimal standings. Performance, as they say, may vary.

Recall the Space Noob of Innocents Abroad; gleeful over having accumulated 700K ISK over several days. To new players, a million ISK is a small fortune. To them, five to ten million ISK per hour is an almost inconceivable income stream.  Mining is, by design, one of the best ways for a newish industrial player to build up a bankroll for purchasing more advanced ships, modules and skills.  As a result, there is a vast workforce of cheap labor plying the highsec asteroid belts; happily mining low-value rock, and supplying a steady stream of Tritanium and Pyrite to empire's manufacturing lines.

Mining in nullsec is an altogether different breed of cat.  In nullsec, the target of choice for miners are the ABC ores; Arkonor, Bistot and Crokite, which yield relatively large amounts of high-value minerals.  However, outpost refineries work at a 30% efficiency at best, as opposed to 50% in empire and at some NPC nullsec stations. Adding insult to injury, as refinery use-fees are an income stream for nullsec outpost owners, such fees tend to be quite steep and wildly uncompetitive with use-fees in empire and NPC nullsec.  To the enterprising nullsec bear, the answer is obvious:  The high value-ores are compressed using a Rorqual, jumped back to empire, and refined at a station near a market hub.  From there they either feed into the bear's empire production lines or are sold at market. The jump freighter then returns to nullsec loaded up with finished goods to sell.

In nullsec, ores of lower value than our ABC ores tend to be overlooked. The low-value ores are not cost effective to mine, compress and transport to empire for refining. Compressing and transporting mid-value ores may return a marginal profit, but not enough of one to make them of interest to the mining bear. The real ISK are in ABC ores. Even if outpost refineries operated at the same efficiency as those in empire stations, low end ores like Veldspar would rarely be mined in nullsec. Though Tritanium is selling at near record highs in empire, the same return per hour on mining Velspar and its humble brethren delivers too low an ISK return on hours of labor to to be attractive to nullsec miners.

Even refined Tritanium dropped by nullsec anomaly hauler rats is regarded as not worth the time and trouble of transporting back to station and is routinely left floating in space even after the wreck that held it is salvaged.

There are far fewer miners in nullsec than in empire. Those skilled miners that do abide in nullsec have income streams available to them that are more lucrative (and more entertaining) than mining Veldspar.  Thus, even though there is plenty of Veldspar lying around in nullsec, there is no financial incentive for the pilots with the appropriate skills to mine it.   Simply put, the cost of labor in nullsec is too high to generate and move around enough Tritanium to support a robust ship building industry.

TLDR: Veldspar is not being mined in nullsec because markets work. 

So, owing to its higher labor costs, nullsec is less efficient than empire at producing low-end ores. This is a commonplace scenario in international trade economics, and economics offers a number of remedies to it. However, economic solutions appear to be of little interest to Corestwo/Mynnna, Goonswarm's self-proclaimed 'guru of economics & all-around maven in Eve".  Faced with a problem rooted in market economics, he prefers to change New Eden's geology:  If low end ores are not valuable enough compete for the nullsec miner's attention, then new super-ores must be provided nullsec miners that will. As Corestwo/Mynnna describes the design goal of super ores:
"A miner in nullsec should want to mine any and all of the ores. While maintaining perfectly even isk/hour values is not possible (short of replacing all ores with a single mineral nougat that provides all minerals), even the 'worst' of ores should represent a considerable boost in income over those found in highsec."

In other words, Nullsec workers are so wealthy they can't be bothered to bend over to pick up a nickle, and Corestwo/Mynnna's answer is to populate nullsec with special nullsec nickles that spend like dollars. Encumbered with an inefficient labor force, The Mittani® hive mind wants special super-ores with yields of low-end minerals so vast that they off-set the inefficiencies of said labor force.  And apparently nullsec inefficiencies extend to the work involved in thinking.  It is far easier to cry 'unfair', weep Goon tears and demand New Eden's entire geology and economy be changed to nullsec's exclusive advantage than to HTFU (as Goons are quick to say) and think through a solution given the existing mechanics.  

It would seem the bar for becoming 'guru of economics' in Goonswarm is not high one.

Now, last week I pointed out that changes associated with 'peasants to the sword' were all one sided; allowing nullsec in general (and Goonswarm in particular) new competitive benefits while giving up none of their existing advantages.  Likewise, Corestwo/Mynnna calls for super-ores to be handed to nullsec without surrendering any of nullsec's current geological advantages.
Nullsec (and wormholes) will continue to be the only source for high-end minerals, specifically Zydrine and Megacyte, As a result, they must continue to overproduce these minerals for export to highsec.

This is key.  The nullsec members of the CSM have already insisted that they want to be independent from empire. However, based on the changes desired, they want this to be a one-way street. They do not want empire independent from nullsec. They want empire to remain dependent upon nullsec coalitions for high-end minerals, moon-goo and the more lucrative inputs to production.  They want to maintain a monopoly on their large bore ISK faucets, while denying empire (and highsec in particular) access to meaningful incomes.  They want jump freighters and a long trade reach without the attendant market competition.  They don't want there to be competitive advantage trade-offs between empire and nullsec; they want nullsec's advantages to be absolute and all-encompassing.

They wish to burn Jita without being burned themselves.

'Why?' You might ask, 'Is Goonswarm's propaganda machine, which previously sneered at industrial Eve beyond Supercapitals and moon goo's easy money, suddenly gone all a-flutter over the industrial game? Has The Mittani® caught a case of carebear fever?'

In part three, we'll address that question. 

Monday, December 17, 2012

Farms and Fields: Misdirection

Dennis: What I object to is you automatically treat me like an inferior.
King Arthur: Well I am king.
Dennis: Oh, king eh? Very nice. And how'd you get that, eh? By exploiting the workers. By hanging on to outdated imperialist dogma which perpetuates the economic and social differences in our society.
- Monty Python And The Holy Grail

The lot of the medieval peasant was not a pleasant one.

Mind, if you had nothing with which to compare it, I suppose it was bearable.  After all, if filth, lice, malnutrition, disease, a relentless march of days filled with soul-crushing labor, suffering and an early death are what you expect, it's hard to feel disappointed when that's what you're handed.  Given this as your baseline for fun, the odd maypole dance, harvest festival or extra bowl of gruel would have come off as pretty good times. 

As bad as a peasant's day to day was, however, things were infinitely worse when life got interesting.  And when I say interesting I don't mean it in the "Hey Drogo, come look at this really interesting boil I've got on my nose," sense of the word.  Interesting for Drogo and his family usually involved lot of running, screaming, hiding and/or dying. Dull was good.  Dull was safe.  Dull meant the chances of dying a violent death at the hands of some armored stranger were somewhat remote.

The majority of medieval conflict was not the epic clashes of mighty armies a la Hastings or Tours.  They were usually smaller, more local events involving modestly sized forces. For any number of reasons, a feudal lord might call in his feudal obligations, assemble a force of fifty or so men and march on his neighbor's holdings. Unless caught by surprise, the neighboring lord would simply pull back into the castle with as much of his important people and goods as he could manage and bar the door. Lacking the advanced siege techniques and equipment of a later age, there the invaders would sit. Standing outside the castle. In the rain. Rusting.

However, the guy inside the castle wouldn't be smiling either.  For although the he was locked snug and safe in his castle, the same could not be said of his livelihood; his farms, his fields, any agricultural infrastructure and, more often than not, a lot of his peasants.  A feudal lords' income was normally dependent on agricultural output. Burn his farms and fields and you diminished his purse for the coming year.  Kill enough of his peasants, however, and you diminished his purse for years.  For, while peasants represented a renewable resource, infants make notoriously poor field hands.  Rebuilding a feudal estate's workforce took time.

And, since peasants were largely incapable of fighting back against armored men on horseback, killing them had more the tang of sport than of combat or hard work.  Thus, with the lord of the manor penned up in his castle, the raiders would begin the cheerful pass-time of raping, pillaging, burning and engaging in a jolly bit of peasant hunting.

Sigh.  Good times.  Good times.

This is precisely this sort of good time the The Mittani® hive-mind are offering up to PvPers with the 'Farms and Fields' initiative it is championing.

'Farms and Fields' was initially put forth by Mittensduring CSM 6, and after his re-election to the CSM chair he stated that he would continue pushing the concept during CSM7.  Unfortunate events conspired to remove him from CSM7, and he subsequently allowed his individuality to be incorporated into the The Mittani® hive mind.  However, the hive mind continues the good fight, promoting 'Fields and Farms' via its primary propaganda organ.

The idea goes something like this:

Nullsec is boring to small/subcapital fleets because it is a target-poor environment.  In terms of Sov warfare, there's no meaningful role for small fleets as there's little they can do to harm a large sov-holding alliance. Like our medieval raiders, a subcapital fleet roaming sovereign nullsec often finds potential targets locked up behind the castle walls of outposts and POS shields.  If the Sov holders were invested in a robust industrial infrastructure located in nullsec, the component POS-based structures would act as targets for the raiding fleet, like unto the fields and farms of a medieval fief.  Throngs of carebears, attracted to nullsec from highsec by the robust industrial infrastructure and abundant high-value raw materials would play the role of helpless medieval peasants.  Hapless and incautious, the bears and their armadas of mining and ratting ships would be lambs for PvP raiders to slaughter at will.  Under 'Fields and Farms', every day would be Hulkageddon day in nullsec.

Further, as a result of all this nullsec carebearing, the shelves in nullsec markets will be fair bursting with goods manufactured in nullsec, making the lords of nullsec very wealthy indeed and Jita freighter runs superfluous.  By attacking the yummy industrial targets, conventional fleets will be able to deprive the Sov holders of the industrial infrastructure and carebears upon which they depend for a portion of their income and for the materials of war.  Thus, in addition to having more fun, subcap and small fleet specialists will be provided a meaningful role in sovereignty wars.

Of course, anyone with an ounce of sense and a bit of experience in nullsec can see obvious holes in this plan.  It simply will not work as described.  Nullsec isn't highsec, and the idea that bears will behave the same way in both places is belied by nullsec's own history.  Ironically, bears are much harder to kill in nullsec for a number of reasons I've described elsewhere, and as the very success of Goonswarm and Test Alliance attest.  As I wrote in Creatures of Light and Darkness, 'nullsec' means that the only security you have is the security you can enforce.  And the enforcers in nullsec don't play by Concord's rules.

Both bears and nullsec alliances are motivated by self-interest.  Medieval peasants were tied to the land.  Drogo didn't have much in the way of career options and he couldn't move to another fief if he wearied of being hunted and having his life's work (such as it was) burned to the ground.  Nullsec bears have no such limitations. When things get "interesting" in nullsec, industrialists move their expensive toys out of harms way.  If things remain "interesting" on an ongoing basis, and the sov holder cannot or will not enforce an adequate level of security against raiders, the bears will move elsewhere.  Likewise, the hosting sov-holder is not going to go through the exercise of incenting the development of an industrial base for the sole purpose of allowing enemies and sundry raiders out for a laugh to burn it to the ground. 

The promoters of 'Farms and Fields' are on the record as opposing changes to combat, structure defense and sov mechanics that would diminish their ability to protect this new industrial infrastructure once it is in place. They also are on record as opposing changes to jump freighters that might diminish their access to high sec markets and industry should their internal markets and industrial infrastructure be compromised.  Thus, the originators of the policy want the increased industrial capacity and markets, but without creating any attendant vulnerabilities; the very vulnerabilities they are using to sell the carebearification of nullsec to a PvP community resistant to such changes. 

If the 'Farms and Fields' initiative is unlikely to support its publicized primary goal, we are left, once again, with one of two possibilities:  Either The Mittani® is stupid, or The Mittani is lying®.  Now, I don't know about you, but I don't think The Mittani® is stupid.  That being the case, the announced goals are likely a deliberate misdirection intended to distract nullsec and lowsec PvPers from the actual goals of the policy.  Which begs the question: If  'supplying the peasants to put to the sword' isn't the primary goal for 'Farms and Fields', what is?

The answer has to do with ship yards, super-veldspar and resource cartels.  We'll go into that next time.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Entropic Vector

"Now comes the, uh, the really icky part."  - Dr Okun, Independence Day

Unlike many of my colleagues these days, I am very zen on the subject of nullsec.

Much is being made lately of the pacification of nullsec. There's a great deal of hand-wringing and apocalyptic chatter going on in the blogosphere.  And, yes, I know it's all a bit dull at the moment.

Two very large coalitions that have a shared history, player DNA and close ties presently dominate the sovereign nullsec map. They have vanquished the elite PvP coalitions and alliances by a combination of punches that include overwhelming force, canny leadership, deep pockets and effective diplomacy.  Their remaining potential enemies in nullsec have no stomach for being rolled over by either coalition and have turned their attention to tearing each other to rags.  As they do, I've no doubt all sides in these conflicts are maintaining a smiling diplomatic face to the technetium throne. After all, when you wake to a grizzly bear in your tent, it's best to maintain good relations.

Of course, if the bear has decided you're either food or threat, smiling won't do you any good. But it can't hurt.

The fate of the vanquished varies. Some, like White Noise, have disappeared entirely; as never was. Some, like Raiden[DOT], have made common cause with their conquerors; accepting a vast slice of humble pie and severing the last emotional ties to BoB of old in exchange for a place at the table of sovereign nullsec's new order. Smaller alliances in enemy coalitions that show particular promise in defense of their systems are occasionally solicited by CFC or HBC to switch sides and hold their space under the region's new lords and masters. This policy at once secures vassals prone to fighting hard for their space and undermines the cohesiveness of the alliances remaining in the enemy coalition.  And, of course, still other enemies have retreated from sovereign nullsec altogether, to NPC nullsec or lowsec.

From a political standpoint, nullsec has achieved a rare state of stability under what I regard as a single monolithic power.  I say rare, because nullsec in Eve is, by its nature, resistant to stability.  There are a number of factors that make it so.  While the current lords of nullsec have shown remarkable insight into identifying and offsetting some of these factors, there remain a sizable number of them that are, by definition, beyond their control.  Thus, despite many advantages, not least of which is imposing size and an aggressively cultivated reputation for invincibility, both the CFC and the HBC are engaged in a delicate balancing act and are vulnerable to being upset by external (and internal) events.  Things, as they say, fall apart; the center will not hold.  And, in Eve, the center is a very unstable place.

As with gravity, entropy works.

Everybody loves a winner, as the swollen membership of both coalitions will attest. However, there is something in the rush to join these coalitions that is reminiscent of the irrational exuberance of investors who buy only when the markets are performing close to their peak, on the assumption that past performance will predict future results.  Their ride is usually a pleasant one at first; until suddenly it's not.  And, since late investors are least likely to have recouped their initial investment before things go sour, they are commonly the most likely to suffer when the the bubble pops.

Mind, it isn't that I necessarily want the two coalitions to fall apart. I regard Gooswarm and Test Alliance Please Ignore as an extension of the nullsec bear experiment begun with the alliances of the now defunct Northen Coalition (not to be confused with the DOT alliance of the same name).  Now, with members of the massive coalitions blue to each other and a non-aggression pact in place between the CFC and HBC, huge swaths of space have been pacified to the degree possible in player controlled nullsec. In pacified nullsec, industrial bears can ply their trades far from potential enemies and largely undisturbed.

With the number of viable external threats dwindling, Goonswarm in particular appears to be taking a long hard look at how to develop its nullsec markets and develop its non-supercapital industrial capacity.  For political reasons, this is largely pitched as an economic war against empire space; leveraging nullsec resource advantages in order to replace high and lowsec as Eve's dominant source of high value manufactured goods. However, despite their easy access to a vast wealth of rare ores, nullsec faces profound obstacles to developing a robust industrial sector. Some of them are already emerging in articles and posts in the Eve press and blogosphere. Others have yet to surface.  We'll talk about both next time.

Some of these obstacles are build into the game mechanics, which Goonswarm is already lobbying to have changed via its media arm and CSM connections.  Many of the obstacles to industrial nirvana, however, are internal and will involve tough changes to long-held nullsec attitudes, practices and economic givens.  And it must be remembered that CFC and HBC are composed of a diverse collection of alliances, many of which have conflicting cultures, play styles and interests.  Implementing even needed change across coalitions, the allegiance of  whose member alliances are based on the success of status quo, will be what organizational behaviorists call 'the really icky part' of managing for the lords of nullsec.

It's going to get interesting. Sooner, I think, rather than later. 

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Who Owns The Mittani?

"You hereby grant CCP an exclusive, perpetual, worldwide, irrevocable, assignable, royalty-free license, fully sub-licensable through multiple tiers, to exercise all intellectual property and other rights, in and to all or any part of your User Content, in any medium now known or hereafter developed."
 - Eve® Online End User License Agreement

You'll recall we discussed what the transition of The Mittani from an in-game character to a corporate trademark in terms of Mittens as an entity independent from The Mittani®, the trademark for the eponymous Eve website

Now, if you've been paying attention you'll note that doesn't restrict itself to Eve-specific content.  Articles about a other online games have gotten play on TheMittani, such as the recent articles on MechWarrior online. There are book reviews of various stripes, few of them directly to do with Eve. The editors obviously are not chaining themselves to the decks of CCP's ship. It's no secret that they intend to diversify their content, with hopes of becoming a player in the larger online gaming media community. Slow and steady growth beginning with the ready-made Eve audience as content providers are discovered or step up is a rood, low risk business plan. In time I expect to see Eve Online become a subset (albeit an important one) of TheMittani® brand content.

TheMittani®, as a profit-making venture using Eve copyrighted content, such as logos and artwork, will be paying the well defined fees for using CCP intellectual content on monetized fan sites.  But if one day TheMittani® becomes a going concern in the online gaming press, their content and influence extending far beyond Eve, and a piece of TheMittani® begins to have meaningful cash or influence value, CCP could decide to point out that it owns one of TheMittani®'s key assets: Its name.

Who owns your in-game name? CCP says it does (see above).

For example, let's say Rixx Javix makes bank selling Jixx Javix® masks and branded cod-pieces. And let's say he is then approached by Disney® who want to buy the rights to Rixx Javix® (in order to star the rascal as an interstellar pirate/anarchist in their next Star Wars movie).  At that point, with vast fortunes on the table, CCP could step in and point out that Rixx Javix was originally developed by the player for Eve Online using CCP assets.  Thus, CCP being the owner of all Eve online content (you read the license agreement when you signed up, didn't you?), Disney® must negotiate solely with CCP for rights to the Rixx Javix® character.  Then they turn to Rixx himself and demand their share of the profits from his masks and codpiece business. 

Or let's say Mat Westhorpe of Freebooted writes a novel featuring Seismic Stan that is so screamingly popular it becomes an international best-selling series. The release of each book is more anticipated and published with more fanfare than the last.  Neil Gaiman contracts to do the graphic novel. James Cameron demands a screenplay. Mat's wife grudgingly admits his time playing Eve might (possibly) have been less than an utter waste. And then, as with Rixx, CCP quietly says 'ahem' and holds out a hand for a majority slice of the Freebooted pie. Because, after all, Seismic Stan is CCP intellectual property.

See? A few random synapses fire and all of a sudden I'm raining on everybody's parade. It's a gift.

However the law being what it is, and international intellectual property law being even moreso, it will take a more lawyerly person than myself to answer whether and where CCP's claim to your character's name would stick in a court of law when real money is on the table. So, if you're getting ready to shred that 600 page magnum opus starring your Eve character into the shredder, hold off until you've had a qualified IP lawyer look things over.  

In the meantime, I've no doubt TheMittani®'s board of directors have thought all this through, and anticipated the potential difficulties of their brand name being owned by CCP.  They've probably already come up with a legal remedy acceptable to both parties. The ink on such an agreement is likely long dried ere now.  Nothing to see here, move along. These aren't the 'droids you're looking for.

Or so one might hope.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Monetized Coalition

A bit over a year ago, in a post titled 'House of Dreams' I wrote about game designer CCP Greyscale's design goals for Eve Online. At the time I wrote that the goals were ambitious and mostly laudable. However, I noted at the time that the gulf between generalized goals drawn out on a white board and the execution needed to achieve said goals is exceedingly wide and with fraught with unfriendly practicalities. 

Probably the most unfriendly practicality of all is how quickly the dunes in the Eve sandbox shift as the players therein push and jostle and remake the landscape.  CCP designers like Greyscale seem to be at a complete loss when attempting to anticipate how the player community will leverage the game's digital mechanics. Indeed, 'game design', which normally assumes some degree of control over game-play and its impact the players' experience is something of a misnomer in Eve.  CCP designers have shown exceedingly limited insight into how altering, introducing or eliminating game mechanics will impact game-play.  Indeed, where game design is normally a proactive occupation, the CCP designers have become largely a reactive force; introducing changes that have no hope of incenting the desired player behaviors, and then behaving as though the resulting in-game mishigas was their intent all along.  

At this point the designers seem to have given up altogether and turned away from improving the capsuleer experience in a manner that expands the player base. After all, monthly fees are the old revenue model. The new revenue model is micro-transactions. Why fuss over whether or not the kiddies in the sandbox are throwing cat feces at one another?  After all, what's really important is that they remain in the sandbox. 

Then it's a simple matter of raising the cost of cat feces. 

And, if you look around, you'll note that the cost of cat feces is, indeed, going up.  The trick, though, is to keep the players in the sand box despite the rising cost.  Those are the players CCP wants most; the ones who stay through thick and thin.  They want players whose social lives revolve around the game, who are in large 'winner' alliances and coalitions, or plucky underdog alliances.  For players who closely identify with their corporation, alliance or coalition, leaving is not an option.  Alliances and coalitions that failscade are bad business for CCP.  Players in such alliances are much more likely to leave New Eden than their more secure counterparts. 

Now, capsuleers won't pay real money for golden ammunition.  But dust bunnies will.  And if dust bunny muscle becomes as essential to nullsec sov, as it soon will be to FW, then holding nullsec is going to take an application of real money micro-transactions.  Lots and lots of real money micro-transactions.  And who better to fund the needed micro-transactions than massive nullsec coalitions.  Let's face it: The leadership of a ten-thousand player coalition could easily maintain a sizable bunny army if sov (or messing with someone they don't like) were the reward.  I mean, just holding a Test Alliance Please Ignore bake sale would likely fund a couple of well supplied dusty armored divisions for months.

So, if big coalitions represent both player retention and a large pools of potential micro-transaction, why in space would CCP want to make them to go away? And the answer is, I believe, that they don't.  Rather than wasting money continuing the fight and spending CCP assets on fruitless design changes meant to eliminate the elephants in the Eve living room, CCP appears to have decided to milk the elephants.  I mean, have you checked the price of elephant milk on the commodities markets?

As Ripard Teg commented recently,  "Greyscale's dreams aren't distant. They're dead, dead, dead".  Small nullsec territories? Small fleet PvP?  Fields and Farms?  Nice ideas, I suppose.  Hard work, though.  And there are easier ways for CCP to turn a Kroner.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Cold Harvest

I'm rather looking forward to the next Gallente Ice Interdiction.

It's so considerate of targets to restrict themselves to a convenient subset of available systems. Trying to whore killmails during Hulkageddon was very boring. Mostly sitting around waiting for the predators to show up and ending up disappointed when they went on a killing spree elsewhere. I might as well have been mining. It certainly would have been more exciting and lucrative.

During the last interdiction the Retriever was the ship of choice for ice miners when the blinky-red lads were lurking close by.  With ice prices going through the roof one could easily remain income positive mining in Retrievers with fleet boosts coming from an Orca sitting on grid inside a POS shield.  Selling for a bit over ten million at a pop, the Retriever paid for itself in a few cycles. After that it was all gravy.  Ice miners willing to stick their necks out rode the twitchy commodities market and made bank.  If a griefer popped Joe the miner's Retriever, he yawned, grabbed another from the corporate stack and went back to making money.

This year will be a bit different. With its massive ore hold, the Retriever has become the go-to high sec mining ship even when the black hats aren't out trying to shoot them.  And with the interdiction waiting in the wings, demand for the ship is so heavy that its market price has risen to over 27 million; a hair under the cost of its big brother, the Covetor.  Which means, of course, the Retriever's current buy cost exceeds its material cost by a fair margin, and corporations that manufacture their own Retrievers are at a competitive advantage over those forced to source them from the market.

Even if you're rolling your own Retrievers, the post-buff increase in the material inputs needed to build one has roughly doubled the financial loss represented by losing one to an ice griefer.  Which means twice as many mining cycles will be needed to make a Retriever pay for itself and remain income positive when the black hats come calling.  Still, when the ice market heats up, that's not a terribly high bar to get over. With careful planning the money will keep rolling in.  So, once again, expect to see the Retriever out in force come ice interdiction time.

However, I think this year's ice interdiction will be where the upgraded Procurer comes into its own. With better resists and four mid slots for protection, an alert miner should have a fair chance of surviving a gank attempt.  Meanwhile, its larger ore bay and a 200% faster IHU cycle (and in ice mining, cycle time is king) mean it will bring in the ice at a sprightly clip and pay for itself (~9 million isk, plus fittings) pretty quickly.  I'll have to look at the numbers, but I expect the ISK loss in ships required of a griefer in order to guarantee a Procurer insta-kill could come close to parity with the cost of the targeted Procurer.  No doubt someone's already worked through that math. I'll let you know.

For myself, I won't spend the interdiction doing much Ice mining.  I'll be out and about, though.  With luck I'll take down a few pods; a very different sort of cold harvest. 

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Object Lessons

As you'll recall from my last post, Ripard Teg and his colleagues at Rote Kapelle, discouraged with the decline in 'correct' PvP occurring in Syndicate (their patch of NPC nullsec), have undertaken what I like to call the 'PvP Purity' crusade.  Their goal is purge Syndicate (and, apparently, Outer Ring) of corporations and alliances that don't PvP in accordance with Rote's code of conduct. To summarize the essence of Rote's message:  

Rote's way is the traditional way and the best way to play PvP in NPC nullsec.  Failure to PvP Rote's way diminishes Rote's enjoyment of Eve in general and PvP in particular.  Therefore, it is essential that those in close proximity to Rote PvP the Rote way.  If they don't, Rote will harry and kill them until they either move away or submit to PvPing as Rote thinks proper. 

Now, to further Rote's ends of PvP purity, an object lesson was needed.  Rote had to find a nearby corporation or alliance that fit their notion of wrongful PvPers to serve as an example of what befalls those who step from the true path of PvP as defined by Rote.  In addition to being wrongful PvPers, said corporation or alliance also had to be 1) easy to intimidate, and 2) reasonably unpopular in the local NPC nullsec neighborhood.  You see, when establishing your right to declare fatwa on your neighbors, it's best to start with the weakest and least popular of your neighbors. After all, it never looks good for a self-appointed moral scourge to end up beaten with his/her own caning stick. And by selecting someone unpopular, the fatwa-declarer minimizes the chance of the neighbors standing behind the appointed scapegoat and questioning said fatwa-declarer's qualifications as self-appointed moral scourge. 

Damned Nation proved a near perfect fit to Rote's fatwa needs.  Not only did Damned use dishonorable hit and run PvP tactics, they were known to engage in carebearish activities not involving the shooting other players at all, activities sure to marginalize them with the local community.  Best of all, Damned Nation was a vulnerable target.  In the midst of internal leadership strife and having just been badly mauled by another PvP alliance, Damned was already shedding corporations and well compromised from an organizational integrity standpoint. 

In short, Rote's holy war against Damned Nation was the moral equivalent of a Navy SEAL leaping into grandma's sick-room while she's on her death bed and gutting the old girl like a trout.  I mean, you can argue that the SEAL did for grandma, but it's not like he gains any cred by it.  Straddling grandma's corpse afterwards and humping it in a grotesque victory dance while slapping himself on the back for the win is not going to reflect well on the elite warrior's reputation.

However, Rippard Teg, on behalf of Rote Kapelle, has done just that.  In his Monday post on the subject, he declares the death of an all but terminal foe a mighty victory for Rote Kappele and PvPdom at large.  He describes the structure shooting Rote engaged in over the week-end as a paradigm-shifting success, as if Damned was capable of putting up a coherent defense.  He brags about Rote's operations leaving the enemy's morale crushed, neglecting to mention that Damned's morale was, by all accounts, well curb-stomped before Rote fired their first shot.

As I've written elsewhere, Rote's reputation as one of (if not the) best small fleet PvP alliances in Syndicate needs no burnishing. They are well respected by everyone who weighs in on the matter. And I certainly do not fault them for going after a wounded member of the NPC nullsec community.  NPC nullsec is not for the faint of heart; it is one of Eve's winnowing floors where the wheat is separated from the chaff.  Besides, kicking the neighbor when they're down is a time honored tradition in New Eden's rougher neighborhoods. And I realize this was a trial run for Rote, sort of a proof of concept exercise.

 However, you can't have it both ways.  Claiming a victory someone else has already achieved ahead of you is a bit of a come-down for an alliance of Rote's caliber, and certainly for a writer of Mr Teg's reputation.  In fact, the more I hear of these antics and goings on, the more I begin to believe that the poor quality of PvP in Syndicate is not the source of Rote's recent fit of temper.  Rather Rote's evident discomfort may come from within Rote itself; the heat of fever rather than the fire of passion.  We've all seen this sort of furious reformation, this re-dedication to purpose before.  More often than not it occurs in the context of an alliance stricken by internal apathy or conflict, and reflects efforts by that alliance's leadership to hold things together.

Time will tell.   

In the meantime, I'm watching Mr Teg's blog with a raised eyebrow.  Misrepresenting or overplaying events to further his or his alliance's agenda, has not been his usual way.  Perhaps the presence of, with its tendency to leverage its position as a purveyor of news and entertainment as a means to promote CFC's point of view has begin to influence Mr Teg.  After all, what's good for the goose is good for the gander, hmmm?   However, brokers of information who approach you with a wink and a nod, who announce up front that they follow an underpinning agenda, can get away with a certain degree of dishonesty.  They announce that dishonesty at the outset.

However, those who trade on their integrity do not have that latitude.  For them, integrity cannot be a some-time thing.  Integrity is binary; it is, or it is not.  In his zeal to turn Rote's enemies in to object lessons for Rote's benefit, Mr Teg risks becoming an object lesson of his own.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Scouring of the Shire


Ripard Teg has become uncharacteristically strident.  It's a bit shocking.  Usually he's so calm and methodical.  (And compulsively productive, curse him!)  But over at Jester's Trek he's gone 'old testament' on us.  It's all 'Doom is ye-comen unto thee!' and 'Smite the abominations' and 'Suffer not the Carebears to dwell in thine rumpus room'.

Seems Rote Kapelle, Jester's alliance, is the big fish in Syndicate.  Of course Syndicate, being NPC nullsec  and having a number of lowsec entry points, is sort of a tidal area between empire and SOV nullsec.  It's a good place to learn the ins and outs of nullsec PvP and much more prone to small gang fights than SOV nullsec.  As such there are a lot of transient corporations and alliances just in the neighborhood for a while as they transition to or from nullsec.  There are also a lot of entities residing there more or less permanently for the sharp combat and larger (than empire) ISK faucets.  And, as this is shallow nullsec, a lot of Syndicate's citizens are in learning mode and not what one would call 'elite' PvPers.

Rote, however, are elite. Despite their small size relative to other Syndicate alliances, they are both experienced PvPers and well organized.  And, by all accounts, they can beat any other floozy in the Syndicate bar.  Now, one would think that membership in this august band of killing machines would have Mr Teg feeling pretty good. You'd think he'd be all smiles and rainbows, and handing out free puppies to the neighbors' children.

Alas.  There is a fly in the Syndicate ointment; a floater in the nullsec kiddie pool, so to speak. 

It seems some of the other alliances aren't playing the way Rote thinks they should.  They aren't fighting by Rote's rules.  They do things like ambush Rote pilots with t3 cruisers gangs supported by ECM and logi ships.  Then they run away when Rote shows up in numbers.  They won't come out and fight honorably, but cower in station when Rote comes to call, which makes station camping for Rote very dull indeed.  And they moon mine.  Did I mention that they moon mine?  The nerve, I tell you.

This has displeased both Rote and Ripard.  Displeased them full sore. The Syndicate neighborhood, they argue, is going to hell in a hand-basket, and there's only one way to fix it:  Cleanse Syndicate of such pests.  

So, ethnic cleansing by Rote against these Carebear alliances (for, who but a Carebear would fight Rote Kapelle in a manner displeasing to Rote Kapelle) has commenced.  The offending alliances are to be harried and killed; their miserable hovels and pestilential vegetable patches burned and their ponies relentlessly defiled, until the offending alliances see the error of their ways and fight Rote as Rote wishes to be fought, or depart Syndicate altogether.

Of course, some rational minds have held forth on Mr Teg's blog.

Some have pointed out that combat is ... well combat.  And combat, by its nature, assumes you're going to use strategy to fight with an advantage over the foe.  And fighting on the enemy's terms is, as Sun Tzu was given to say, 'crazy-ass stupid' (it sounded much more elegant when Sun said it).  I mean, it's great to have a code of honor when you fight.  Bravo on you.  But to say that everybody in a nullsec region has to fight according to your code or else you'll kick them out of the region is a bit like threatening to push a piece of string uphill because it insists on being limp and therefore hard to push uphill.

Others have pointed out that Rote Kapelle may have become too good at PvP to draw decent fights in Syndicate any more.  Perhaps Rote has outgrown their small pond and needs to seek deeper waters with bigger fish who will offer better fights.  Or perhaps they could annoy one of the SOV nullsec alliances that occupy the high-value Syndicate moons in hopes the landlords send a security detail to punish Rote for their cheek.

And still others have said it takes an awful lot of brass to dictate to an entire region of capsuleers how they should play Eve.
All for naught, I'm afraid.  Mr Teg has Rote Kapelle's bit in his teeth and has told all and sundry that he will not entertain any further comments or discussion along this line of thought.  That loud 'snick' you hear is the sound of a good mind snapping shut.  Rote Kapelle snaps the leash, and Ripard Teg comes to heel.  

Happily, while Mr Teg has shut the doors at Jester's Trek to the above lines of discussion, the floor is open at Fiddler's Edge.  Feel free.

Mind, I am very interested in seeing how this plays out.  As most of you know, it's very hard to keep someone out of NPC space.  Rote plans to attack their enemies' industrial infrastructure, but that provides only limited leverage against someone determined to hang around.  And while elite, Rote's smaller membership may limit their ability to project force spatially and across all time zones.  Of course, if Rote can gather like-minded neighbors into a coalition, they could make things very uncomfortable for their tormentors.  And it may well be that the offending alliance(s) might just move on after a spanking or two rather than endure the unwanted attention from Rote.

We'll see.  Someone pass the popcorn. 

Monday, October 15, 2012


In the last month I've begun no less than five new posts, only to get distracted by RL and see the each nascent post go OBE, or overcome by events.  So, first of all, my apologies for being MIA. It's not you. It's me.

I've been reconnecting with my inner capsuleer. I've been making a point of logging into the game for an hour or so each day. I do humble things for the most part; run a mission or two, or do a bit of solo mining to try out the new(ish) barge/exhumer configurations. I've been looking at changes to the means of production, studying inflation in the markets and doing a little market mischief when I find the price for items far exceed the cost to produce them.  Thinking about rejoining FW for a bit to see what the changes of the last year and a half in that area have wrought.  I've ticked up my management skills to the point where I can create an alliance if the occasion calls for it.

I've kept my eye on nullsec and am pleased to see some things are moving along as planned there. Some surprises as well, such as the loyalty buy-out at Red Overlord.  Still, surprises have become the exception rather than the rule in that corner of New Eden. Nullsec wars are lumbering heavyweights leaning one against the other and throwing super-capital fueled hay-makers. There is a fix for this, albeit one that won't be popular with those who benefit from the status quo.

Recall what I wrote over a year ago in 'The Wealth of Nullsec':
Suppose however, just suppose, that every nullsec region was as resource poor as Providence. No Sanctum anomalies. No Technetium moons. Wealth to be had, of course, but diffused wealth that doesn't create disincentives to every activity but ratting, CTAs and building supercapitals

"But Mord," you say, "If you turn off the big isk faucets, how will my alliance fund a replacement if I lose my supercapital?"

There are days when I feel a bit like Cassandra. Or a climatologist.

The fulcrum of New Eden's current difficulties is the supercapital. Period. Full stop. The game is not out of balance because of the Dominion sov rules. It's not out of balance because highsec stations are too efficient at refining and manufacturing. It's not out of balance because of Technetium, Jump Freighters, or monster nullsec coalitions.  Those are secondary issues - echoes of and reverb from supercapital proliferation.

Supercapital proliferation is not only a problem in Eve, it is the problem in Eve.

And it is a self-reinforcing problem. As the inventory of supercapitals in game gets larger, the subset of organizations who can build or afford to buy them in sufficient quantities to take and hold nullsec space becomes smaller.  It is no longer enough to have a stable of five or ten supercapitals at one's disposal in order to take and hold nullsec sovereignty.  Oh, no. One must have them in available in the hundreds if one is to play with the big dogs of nullsec; the only way to defend against a supercapital fleet remains to have and be willing to deploy an even bigger supercapital fleet. Thus, small nullsec entities must throw in with their larger brethren, forming ever larger alliances and coalitions in order to compete for their share of space.

In order to pull the plug on supercapital proliferation, CCP needs to tackle nullsec's ISK faucets head on rather than tinkering around their edges. As Poetic Stanziel pointed out, if ISK faucets aren't pouring an inordinate amount of money down upon nullsec alliances, those alliances are called upon to make tough choices. Gobbling up every system within reach is no longer the hands-down strategy.  Supercapital losses will not be quite so easily replaced. Alliances will have to tighten their belts or find other ways of generating income; say developing nullsec markets and industrial infrastructure.

CCP Greyscale's justification for large-bore ISK faucets in nullsec has been that, because they generate so much money, they would encourage conflict and act as a brake on large scale alliances and coalitions.  As many bloggers wrote at the time, he completely disregarded the fact that, given the cost of supercapitals needed to take and hold these faucets, those who possessed them would be immune to losing them from external pressures alone. In retrospect, what was needed to achieve the goal of small nullsec holdings was an across-the-board reduction of resources.  Scarcity of resources is a much more potent driver of conflict than nullsec's current economy which actually creates an incentive for large coalitions.

Of course, as income pools shrink, those already in possession of large supercapital fleets and reserves would be positioned to be big winners in nullsec.  However this can be made self-correcting over time. First of all, reduced income would mean less easy money for buying supercapitals which should begin to reduce demand for the ships, particularly among alliances that already have an overabundance of them.That in turn should put marginal producers out of the supercapital building business.

Further, if the easy income potential of nullsec systems decreases sufficiently, risking the supercapitals needed to take and hold them them will be a less attractive option. This would reduce the ships' utility as a credible threat.  Faced with reduced revenues, alliances holding large reserves of ships that deliver reduced utility but have a considerable cash value will have an incentive to liquidate some of that stockpile off in order to finance ongoing operations and infrastructure.

Finally, CCP needs to make it possible for subcapital fleet to kill a supercap. There are a number of options that come to mind, including the Death Strike Missile proposed by Kirith Kodachi; a New Eden version of the 'Long Lance' torpedo fitted for specialized subcaps which, given sufficient numbers, could take down a Titan or Supercarrier.  Supercapitals should be vulnerable if deployed without proper subcapital support, much in the way modern aircraft carriers are vulnerable if deployed without their supporting task force; and not merely to capital class ships and above. The absence of supercapital vulnerability to subcapital fleets is a key driver of supercapital proliferation, and it needs to be addressed.

Of course, this will not sit well with the current masters of nullsec who have grown accustomed to easy money and spending with abandon.  Likewise, supercapital pilots, long coddled by CCP's design team, will be (oh, shall we say) displeased at this assault on their august status as nullsec alliance gotta-haves. As both are heavily represented in the CSM and enjoy much influence with the CCP design teams, I don't expect these proposals to go very far.  However given the direction of the game, both CCP and the members of the CSM must choose a course for nullsec:  

Change, or OBE.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Company You Keep

Coleen Lachowitcz should have played Eve.

Many of you will be aware that the political foes of the Maine state senate candidate are calling her judgement and character into question because it's been discovered she's an MMPORG enthusiast. To be precise, she's a level 68 Rogue Orc in World of Warcraft.  Setting her choice of game aside, the fact that this is regarded as a political vulnerability speaks volumes to the "type" the general population has in mind when they think about MMPORG players.

While it is true that online gaming has its share of asthmatic teen-agers and semi-employed middle aged slackers, so does NASCAR. And I've never heard of anyone disqualified for public office based on their neigh-fanatical devotion to watching semi-educated hillbillies drive loud cars around oval track all afternoon.  Looked at objectively, flying cartoon spaceships is no more foolish than "fantasy" football leagues, a passion shared openly in many professional offices. And don't get me started on golf: If you're playing a "sport" in which out of shape alcoholics wearing baggy polyester pants the color of a Rogue Orc's face are legitimate contenders, you've no business sneering at people who play online games.  

Stones and glass houses, people. Stones and glass houses.

The fact is that there are any number of skilled professionals, captains of industry, and high-ranking government officials who log in at night to knit up the unraveled sleeve of cares with a bit of digital mayhem.  An entire generation, steeped in science fiction, fantasy and war games, has grown up playing an engaging and sophisticated array of MMPORGs.  The expectation that these digital pursuits be put aside or kept hidden in order to be taken seriously in a world where "mature" adults collect baseball cards or dress up to re-enact Civil War battles is unreasonable.

Having said that, the various MMPORGs are not all equal in the pubic eye.  Nor should they be; there are games and then there are games. World of Warcraft, for example is never going to be cool enough to be accused of being a front for the CIA.  Games, like most aspects of human culture, fall in and out of fashion. Some have more cache than others.  I once knew a man who said he could learn all he needed to know about someone by playing a round of golf with them.  Likewise, what games we play and how we play them speaks volumes about our characters and the company we keep; the vaunted Eve sandbox more so than most.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Loose Ends

"Where do you go -- what do you do  -- the night after you saved the universe."
    -- Howard the Duck 

Having neutralized Mittens (you're welcome) and sown deeply the seeds of Goonswarm Federation's destruction (regrettable, but necessary) I have put that corner of New Eden firmly in my rear-view mirror.  However I confess that, having finally reclaimed that time, I find myself a bit at loose ends.  Not that my life is any less busy that it was before, but nothing has really fallen in place to fill the time I set aside to write about Eve.  

Faction warfare appears to be more active than before, but that's largely due to ISK farmers swelling the ranks of winning factions in order to milk plexes for loyalty points; not so much playing a game as gaming a system.  There's no passion in the fights. It's just big FW factions kicking around little FW factions when the little guys show up, and soulless ISK grinding when they don't. All a bit of a snooze. 

Nullsec is similarly dull.

In the North, the Deklein coalition is grinding away at Northern Coalition[DOT] alliance and their DOT Brothers coalition (DOT Bros). The DOT Bros often wins engagements in terms of the ratio of Deklein ships destroyed to their own losses.  However Deklein has engaged the DOT Bros in a type of warfare in which winning on points doesn't matter.  Leveraging their numeric superiority in both sub and supercapital fleets, Deklein can absorb the ship losses inflicted by NCDOT and company, and happily does so; exchanging them for NCDOT real estate in Tribute. Somewhere along the line the NCDOT leadership got the idea that they could sit out the Branch war between the CFC and their one-time allies (Raiden[DOT] and elements of the splintered Drone Russian Federation), and then make a separate peace with the victors.  Seems not.

In the South, the other half of the CFC coalition, Test Alliance and their allies, including Pandemic Legion, are applying pressure to their borders with Against All Authorities (-A-), Stain Wagon, Red Overlord and the rest of the Stainwagon Coalition.  The purpose here seems not to be conquest (yet) so much as keeping the Stainwagon Coalition occupied until Deklein resolves matters in the North with NCDOT (and, possibly, Solar Fleet). Once operations in the North are complete, and assuming other events don't interfere, I look to see the members of the old CFC reassemble and bring their full strength to bear on Stainwagon.

Now, in the words of Bobby Burns:
But Mousie, thou art no thy lane, 
In proving foresight may be vain:
 The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men. Gang aft agley
An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain...
I've written elsewhere that irrational choice has a way of dragging events off their obvious and expected courses.  And there are often chains of events not immediately evident that can upset the conqueror's apple cart.  However, there is an awful lot of momentum driving the current direction of matters in nullsec, and even an unexpected upheaval will likely only delay matters.

As of this writing, CCP Greyscale's dreams of small alliances holding their own patch of sovereign space in nullsec are distant at best.  In fact almost every change impacting nullsec since that workshop was held has pushed such possibilities further out toward the horizon.

More on that next time. 

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Fly In Amber

"Properly managed, no brand need decay and die - immortality is within the reach of all."
        - Peter Field, Hamish Pringle

The Mittani is dead. 

Which is not to say that he's dead, dead.  I mean, Alexander Gianturco, some-time lawyer and full-time bacon aficionado is, to the best of my knowledge, still among the quick.  He is likely in Wisconsin, happily  deep-frying cheese curds as I write this.  But, while his in-game alter-ego persists in the digital sense, Mittens is no more.  Not in the human sense.  Oh, you might see tweets from The Mittani® or hear dire pronouncements by The Mittani®.  The Mittani® might write an article or be interviewed here and there.

But that's not Mittens.

Mittens has been absorbed; assimilated into the larger The Mittani® brand.  He's given up self-determination in favor of immortality.  Even on those occasions when Alexander himself speaks or writes for The Mittani®, the voice you hear and the prose you see are the gestalt opinions, directives and insights of the collective behind the The Mittani® brand.  The Mittens persona is only alive insofar as it is undead.

I know.  Kind of creepy and science fictiony, isn't it; Mittens shambling about, sort of alive, but in reality driven by some all-controlling hive mind?   It's all sort of Walking Dead meets Return of the Archons.

Being the insightful readers you are, you will of course want to know how I know this. There were two critical tip-offs.

First of all, if you track Mittens' Twitter posts, they've been nearly non-stop of late, going on all hours of the day and night.  They don't often sound like Mittens at all.  There's no tang of originality, snark or even remote malice in them; they are merely blocks of ad copy barked Turet-like into the ether, flogging the The Mittani® website, or some site administrator responding to tweets requesting new features.  Obviously there are a number of hands behind the scenes tweeting in Mittens' name. 

Secondly, go have a look at the The Mittani® logo on the The Mittani® website.

Do you not see what I don't see?  Exactly.  No chin pussy.

Now, given how dearly Mittens holds onto that chin full of pubescent scruff, I'm sure he pointed out to the logo's originators that his chin pussy was not properly represented in the The Mittani® logo.  After some hemming and hawing I'm sure they explained to Mittens that, from a brand perspective, the chin-pussy is...undesirable. It breaks the logo's minimalist tone and clutters its clean lines and (well, lets be honest) is more creepy than it is imposing.  Now, the Mittani I know would have handed said marketeers over to his minions to be jettisoned into space, cycled through the biomass recycler, forced to listen to Mittens' cover of Boyfriend, or some other equally horrific fate.

But no. The logo remains, sans chin pussy.  And Mittens goes gently into that good night, quietly allowing his alter-ego to be so dispossessed in the name of the greater corporate good.  Assimilation confirmed.   

I'm sure Mittens still retains delusions of independent will.  He may well believe he's in control and merely listening to the opinions of others as he decides what course to take.  However, Mittens now represents a brand, and his words and actions and those of the The Mittani® brand are inseparable, each reflecting on the other.  The longer that relationship lasts, the stronger the The Mittani® half of that equation becomes.  His latitude will become increasingly circumscribed as the brand settles into its niche and The Mittani® becomes intolerant of off-script actions and statements by Mittens that might damage or misrepresent the brand.

Eventually Mittens will be subsumed altogether by The Mittani®; immortal but lacking any independent animus.  The original voice behind the man astride the technetium throne will cease to matter.  The Mittani® will join the ranks of Mario®, Micky Mouse® and Colonel Sanders®; a corporate mascot culturally pasteurized and purged of any qualities that might offend or off-put consumers of The Mittani® brand goods and services.  The Mittani® will make appearances at conferences, theme parks, and shopping malls; shilling for the corporate overlords while being kicked in the shins by tots wielding plastic light sabres and wearing Rixx Javix® masks.

Personal branding is all the rage in the corporate world.  Its siren song promises fame and immortality, and would lead one to believe that such things can come at no cost.  However, the very thing that provides a brand its immortality by definition destroys the individuality of the person behind it.  Icons, after all, do not define themselves, but are defined by others for their own purposes.

Trapped like a fly deep within the The Mittani® brand amber, Mittens will very likely survive the destruction of Goonswarm.  He could even persist after the game of Eve Online itself ends; sold, traded and winding up in a dusty corner of some large multinational conglomerate's brand stable.  He will be ageless.  He will be immortal. 

And, if you listen closely, you might hear the screams issuing from deep within. 

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Innocents Abroad

"Infuriating, boring, exciting, fascinating, geeky, beautiful and terrifying all mixed in.  I may be in trouble"
- Day One - Diaries of a Space Noob 
Diaries of a Space Noob is a two month long, day by day, diary of a former World of Warcraft player's early days in Eve Online from the beginning.  It's an interesting idea for a blog.  Ambitious too.  For those of us who are not Ripard Teg, the prospect of putting in substantive time in Eve every day and then faithfully updating an online diary describing the experience would be daunting.

Happily Space Noobs are a wide-eyed, innocent folk who don't know enough to be daunted.  The Space Noob, having begun his project, soldiers through bravely to the end; the last day of the two months of diary entries having been written yesterday.  What I find most interesting about the Diaries is that it is written from the perspective of a new player to a non-Eve audience and speaks to the Eve new player experience with fresh eyes.  It is a portrait of the Eve community written from the point of view of an outsider.

The quality of The Space Noob's writing remains very solid and entertaining throughout, even as the days turn into weeks and weeks into months. Of course this is Eve.  My darker self warns me it's entirely possible that Space Noob was written by a CCP marketing flack to lure bored dwarves and night elves from WoW.  However that's beside the point.  My darker self enjoyed the read as much as I did (when was the last time I regarded 700,000 ISK as a small fortune?), so it really doesn't matter.  It's a worthwhile read for jaded metagamers, bitter vets and players who've lost the initial sense of wonder that accompanied their first undock.  

Friday, August 10, 2012

Carebears Triumphant

"In my experience nullsec changes some CareBears. They become a different breed than their high-sec cousins. Tougher. More efficient. More wily. More ruthless. Far richer. The best of them will become the great merchant princes of New Eden. And PVPers will work for them. "
- The Rise of the Carebears (Part Deux)  August 12, 2010

Once upon a time in Fountain, the combined forces of the Deklein Coalition and the old Northern Coalition (not the alliance of the same name) laid low the remains of SirMolle's by then moribund Delve-based empire.  Both coalitions were viewed by the elite PvP alliances of the day as compilations of carebear alliances whose sole military asset was the ability to bring overwhelming numbers to a fight in order to offset their lack of actual fleet PvP skills.  Thus, BOB/IT Alliance's devastating defeat at 6VDT-H in Querious and the alliance's subsequent collapse was perceived by many in nullsec as a bunch of Carebears from up North kicking over a storied nullsec power practically synonymous with the game of Eve itself.

Panic ensued.  The forums erupted with dire predictions:  Soon NC and Deklein would control all of nullsec.  All nullsec alliances would be forced to set each other blue.  Sov wars would become a thing of the past.  Titans would be fitted for mining.  Delve would be turned into a theme park. Group hugs would become mandatory.

Oh, the humanity.

Galvanized by the carebear threat, supercapital-intensive alliances born out of the IT Alliance collapse allied themselves with the Drone Russian Federation (DRF), adding their considerable firepower to DRF and Pandemic Legion operations against Northern Coalition space.  Forced to respond to significant attacks on many fronts, the Northern Coalition either could not or would not respond with its usual application of overwhelming force.  Further, the invaders employed their supercapitals more effectively and, having supercapital inventory reserves with which to replace losses, more aggressively.  In short order, the NC supercapital fleets ceased to deploy at all.

Without a supercapital umbrella, the NC and Deklein conventional fleets (at that time Deklein had little or no supercapital capacity of their own and relied on the NC for supercapital support), however large, were ineffective against the invaders' combined conventional/supercapital fleets.  The NC defense collapsed. and its space was quickly overrun.  The Northern Coalition was no more, and the Deklein Coalition, left in the midst of enemies and sans supercapital support, appeared humbled.  The carebear threat to nullsec was ended and the IT Alliance veterans had their revenge for the debacle at 6VDT-H.

Or so it seemed.   

As the Northern Coalition collapsed, many of the orphaned corporations and individual capsuleers found refuge with long-time friends and allies in the Deklein Coalition. In today's CFC (Deklein coalition's name was shifting to this around the time of the IT Alliance/NC collapse) most alliances count former NC pilots and corporations among their members. As of this writing, Razor Alliance, the sole survivor of the four primary NC alliances, is a member of the CFC.  Despite pronouncements to the contrary by DRF leadership following their victory over the Northern Coalition's nullsec bears, said bears had not been booted from nullsec. They merely changed the name-plate on the door. And the CFC, though in peril, remained.

As the new lords of the North settled into their recently conquered space it became evident that only three nullsec powers remained that represented plausible threats to the new order. The Southern Coalition (SoCo), who had taken advantage of the DRF's occupation in the North to regain Teneferis (lost the year prior to White Noise and Red Alliance), Deklein Coalition (by then re-dubbed CFC) and the once and future wild-card Pandemic Legion.  Of these, the only genuine shooting war that erupted was between elements of the DRF and SoCo.  While the opening rounds of the conflict had the tang of the 2010 White Noise/PL/Initiative invasion of -A- space, the war lost energy as Summer waned and the Incarna war between CCP and its player base heated up.

CFC, meanwhile, played for time while it assembled a supercapital fleet by making a separate peace with the lords of the North; going so far as to publicly entertain the notion of a larger DRF/CFC hegemony that would control roughly eighty percent of player owned nullsec and the resources therein.  PL maintained a low profile during this time, staying well off the DRF's radar and occupying themselves with occasional fights in Delve and hot dropping pirate gangs in lowsec.

The Autumn of 2011 may go down as the dullest in Eve's history from a SOV warfare perspective.  CCP had capitulated to player demands and were preparing significant "ships in space" upgrades to the Eve along with time dialation (TiDi) to reduce lag during large fleet battles and the much anticipated Winter Supercapital Nerf.  While waiting to assess the impact of these changes, nullsec seemed locked like a fly in amber into the status quo.  Wars were limited and little in the way of territory changed hands by force of arms.  Most fleet combat occurred in Delve and Querious, which had become something of a no-mans land; a place the nullsec powers could go to find fleet fights without threatening each others' established sovereignty.

I've written elsewhere as to what happened next:  As the year turned, internal squabbles within the DRF as a whole and within the individual alliances allowed the CFC and Pandemic Legion to overwhelm White Noise, Red Alliance and Raiden Alliance in Branch while Solar Fleet committed fratricide against their fellow DRF alliance Legion of Death, effectively ending the DRF as a coherent power block.  After consolidating those gains, the CFC struck again, this time driving SoCo forces from Delve and the remains of Red Alliance from Querious and putting the two regions under the control of CFC stalwart Test Alliance Please Ignore.

What is most interesting about the CFC campaigns in Branch and Delve is how quickly and effectively they were executed.  It can be argued that, on a pilot to pilot basis, the alliances recently displaced by CFC were the better PvPers and that CFC merely "brought the blob" and overwhelmed their opponents with sheer numbers.  However, it is widely acknowledged that the CFC pilots are well led in the field and that that the CFC headquarters staff are disciplined and organized; leveraging the coalition's financial, logistical and numeric advantages in order to bring overwhelming force to bear against its enemies.

The paradigm, it seems, has shifted again.  Fighting well is no longer enough.  Elite PvP alliances must now look to their internal organizations if they wish to play the great game in nullsec.  Regardless of their PvP skills, effective managers and administrators are as valuable in nullsec as the best FCs and are likely more rare.  Superior organizations with solid financials, minimal internal friction and clear lines of command and control are essential.  Funding and administering wars has become every bit as essential as fighting them.

Until recently, successful nullsec alliances could simply be bands of brothers out in the dark beyond, living the warrior code.  Now they must be an enterprise; We Be Warriors, inc.

The carebears have won.  The merchant princes are in control.  And the PvPers work for them.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Wine in the Ruins

I was in Saint Emilion at the end of July, soaking up beautiful weather, the historical ambiance of the town, the region's excellent red wines and way more bread, cheese and terrine than is good for me.

Saint Emilion, for those of you unfamiliar with it, is a small hill town in Bordeaux topped by the ruins of a walled medieval fortress. The walls and buildings are made of limestone, which gives the place a golden light under blue skies in the late afternoons and early evenings. The only down side to the place is the number of tourists who make day-trips out from the nearby city of Bordeaux during high Summer, giving the place a theme park quality until the crowds die down in the early evening. Then you can wander alone through the citadel's less-traveled paths, lean against the sun-warmed stone of a gateway built long before Chaucer penned his first words, and watch the stars come out.

Watching a sliver of Moon rise above the ruined walls, I got to thinking about lost cities; ancient urban communities abandoned, overgrown, covered, and lost for a time to outside world.  I've been to three "lost" cities over the years and hope to visit a fourth next Summer.  I find them compelling places.  Relatively untouched over many centuries, they are a tangible echo of the people that that built, lived in, and eventually abandoned them.  In some ways the small, personal artifacts left behind in these places connect most profoundly across the gulf of years. A child's game etched on a floor, or a line of graffiti carved into a wall can speak as loudly as empty temples and broken walls.

Eve, being digital, leaves no traces behind.  We are long on epic events but short on chroniclers of the times.  As in the real world, the landscape of New Eden changes.  Powers rise and fall, pirate empires ply the void for a time and often wink out in a moment, as if they never were.  But unlike the real world, the artifacts left behind in New Eden, being a very perishable collection of zeros and ones, are quickly lost.  The memories and verbal lore of the players provide the main repository of Eve history.  But even that is volatile.  Old players leave the game and take their piece of the overall history with them.  New players arrive with limited view of what has gone before and the verbal history of New Eden shifts to encompass this slightly truncated perspective.  Over time the collective memory of New Eden remakes itself, shifting and degrading what was in favor of what is.  And there are no artifacts and only limited histories left behind to lead players to inquire who and what came before.

There are NPC artifacts in New Eden; abandoned stations and such. Player artifacts, once abandoned, do not persist.  But maybe it's time they did.  There is some discussion of making it possible to destroy player owned outposts.  Maybe their ruins should be allowed to persist until they are replaced.  Maybe a new system upgrade that allows a sov holding entity to leave behind a structure or monument that will not degrade over time, containing stories or a chronicle of who the builders were and what they accomplished; their message to future generations of players readable by those with the archaeology skill.

Just a thought; born of a glass of wine taken in the ruins.

Friday, July 13, 2012

The DC Meetup

For those of you who don't get over to the forums often, I've posted a CTA for a DC Metro Area Meetup in the Eve-O Out of Game Events and Gatherings forum. The meetup will take place on August 7 at a little watering hole a mere stone's throw from DC's Tenlytown/American University Metro.

The operational details:

The Date: Tuesday, August 7 2012
Start Time: 18:00 EST
The Place: Public Tenley
The Address: 4611 41st St NW, Washington, DC 20016

A handful of brave capsuleers have already stepped to the line for the operation.  Alekseyev Karrde is being lobbied heavily to bring chocolate cupcakes. I can't commit on his behalf, but I hear he's a mean hand with the frosting spatula.

Head on over to the forum to RSVP or do so in game so I'll know how much space to reserve. 

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Comparative Advantages

I've said elsewhere that Goonswarm Federation alliance's DNA has a healthy dallop of nullsec bear in it.  Nullsec bears, as you'll recall, are former highsec carebears who have migrated to nullsec at some point and adapted to that rough an tumble lifestyle with its sovereignty wars, calls to arms, bug-outs and quickly shifting turns of fortune.  Some set aside their carebear ways altogether once they get a taste for fleet combat, but many switch hit.  They play the industrial side of the nullsec game when the skies are clear, and fleet up to do their bit when war clouds loom. 

Though it sounds counter-intuitive, nullsec space can be a fairly safe place for an industrialist to ply his trade when the barbarians are not rushing the gate.  Depending on where in player controlled nullsec one is, one can travel many jumps without encountering another ship.  Quite a contrast from the crowded gates in highsec.  In fact, given the relative peace and quiet of nullsec, along with the plethora of raw materials needed for production so readily at hand, one would think the markets in nullsec would be fairly bursting at the seams with high value goods produced by part time bears.

Alas.  Not so much.

Nullsec markets tend to be much less functional than their highsec counterparts.  There are a number of factors driving this phenomenon; drags, and on occasions outright obstacles, to nullsec manufacturing productivity.  Some of them have to to with a healthy logistics infrastructure, including jump ships and jump bridges that allow goods to move with relative ease from highsec market hubs to the deepest corners of nullsec space.  Others include the relatively high cost and low efficiency of nullsec refining and production services which are often structured by nullsec alliances such that if makes better economic sense to compress rare minerals and jump them to highsec for refining and subsequent production than to attempt the same in nullsec. 

With the exception of items of particular interest to nullsec alliances or items that can only be produced in nullsec (such as capital and supercapital ships) there is little incentive for a nullsec bear to turn his hand to production.  Meanwhile, the obstacles and high overhead associated with nullsec production means that items produced there are not competitive with the same items shipped in from highsec.  The combination of barriers to production and ease of transport mean that nullsec producers' best prices can nearly always be undercut by traders with jumpships.  And, as I pointed out above, the population of nullsec is smaller on a system by system basis than it is in highsec which means less demand for most goods in nullsec than in the highsec market hubs.

Further, the small nullsec customer base means that highest end minerals and moon goo that are not used for nullsec specific products such as supercapitals, and are often controlled at the alliance level, are sold in highsec where the demand and the prices are highest.  As a result, those bears that do produce in nullsec are unlikely to get high value product inputs originating in nullsec at a significantly lower cost than their highsec counterparts. 

While nullsec tends to be safer on a day to day basis than lowsec, it is not a terribly secure place to locate inventory.   The ebb and flow of nullsec sov warfare means that inventory maintained in player owned outposts are subject to loss if the owner's alliance loses control of the outpost.  I've written elsewhere that careful advance planning is required in order to minimize the impact of sovereign space loss on player assets.  This is a non-trivial exercise when dealing with the usual player's collection of ships and fittings.  Moving and securing a high-volume market inventory that may span multiple nullsec outposts in a given regional market during time of war and invasion would require extensive planning and infrastructure.  While investing in such an exit strategy is costly from both a time and ISK standpoint, failure to do so exposes anyone heavily invested in nullsec markets to excessive loss.

Finally, even after the anomalies nerf, ratting is by far the easiest and preferred means of making ISK in nullsec.  Not only does it provide quick and easy ISK to the ratter, the automated taxing of this activity fills corporate and alliance coffers, pays nullsec rents and alliance membership fees, and drives system upgrades. Industrial activity, on the other hand, only fills alliance and corporation coffers through fees on industrial services such as mining and assembly.  As a result, most alliances maintain such fees at a high level, often discouraging or outright banning the use of POS as a means of obtaining those services, in an attempt to eliminate competition to outpost services and maximize outpost service revenues.  Of course the result in such cases is that nullsec productivity is further reduced and, more often than not, stations earn only a fraction of what they might if service charges were properly optimized. 

CCP has been grappling with this problem for some time.  It is, in large part, the reason behind the partial nerf of jump-bridge networks and CCP Greyscale's love affair with nerfing jump freighters.  It is also a bit of an obsession with Mittens and drives much of his "farms and fields" thinking and is, in some part, behind his attacks on high sec mining and trade hubs.  Indeed, Mittens (or a few of his more thoughtful underlings) may be the first nullsec alliance leader to put significant thought to the nullsec industrial production and the balance of trade with highsec.

Unfortunately, the solutions Mittens' economic team have come up to date seem sharply focused on diminishing the highsec side of the equation rather than the development of a robust industrial infrastructure in nullsec.  Rather than lowering the barriers to and creating incentives for production in nullsec, they seem myopically focused on degrading the productivity in highsec in order to bring it into parity with nullsec's structurally and functionally less efficient productivity.

Like many nullsec alliances, Goonswarm is much better disposed toward tearing down than to building up.   This is the road of least resistance Mittens currently seeks to travel in order to get to his goal of a market dominant nullsec.  However, if Mittens' economic ministers are truly interested in developing the farms and fields paradigm, building up nullsec's industrial capacity must become the primary focus of their efforts.  That will take some clever thinking on their part and require an incentives program geared toward creation rather than merely destruction.