Friday, March 22, 2013

Nullsec Is Worth Saving

Consider, if you will, the barbarian horde.

Though much maligned and, in fairness, with a tendency toward poor table manners and an excess of hair, the barbarian horde serves an important function in ebb and flow of human history. Think of them as a forge in which civilizations, both established and emerging, are periodically tested by hammer and fire. Thus tested, a civilization may emerge stronger; refined and purged of the flaws that must accrue to any human endeavor over time. Or it may crack or break altogether under the stress, and be cast back into history's smelter to be incorporated into something new.

Without the Mongol horde, China's Xia and Jin dynasties are not united. Without Vandals, Goths, Visigoths and Huns, the Western Roman empire does not fall, thereby setting the table for modern Europe. Without the Golden Horde, Moscow does not lay the kingdom of Tver low and come to dominate northern and eastern Rus. The courts of Charlemagne, Alfred the Great and William the Conqueror, all born of barbarian invasions (Franks, Saxons and Vikings, respectively) and refined in the fires of subsequent barbarian invasions, never rise at all.

Supercapitals have made EVE's nullsec barbarian-proof. 

As I wrote last week:
At present, only those with vast fleets of supercapitals can take and hold nullsec, and only those who hold nullsec have the means to produce or afford vast fleets of supercapitals. 
With an unassailable advantage in supercapitals, the lords of nullsec can rest easy on their starry beds, knowing they cannot be dispossessed of their holdings by barbarians coming out of high or lowsec. The proliferation and consolidation of supercapitals into the hands of a few, a phenomenon unanticipated by CCP when they introduced this class of ship, has locked up nullsec's sov mechanics and led to the current ossification of nullsec space and nullsec politics.

Nullsec, long the public face of EVE Online, is broken. Upon a time nullsec was about the clash of interstellar kingdoms, and the trial of wills. But it has become about risk avoidance, wallet bloat and planned PvP combat. It has been turned into NullsecDisney®; the very theme park version of EVE that the present lords of nullsec railed against in the not too distant past.

I guess the current nullsec landlords find that EVE as theme park isn't such a bad idea if you're the ones selling tickets and collecting rents. Many of the nullsec rank and file may think otherwise, but the message from management has been clear: If you don't like riding the teacups, you can go join the barbarians in the outer darkness.

Happily,nullsec can be saved. And the solutions is a fairly simple one that does not require major surgery.

1) Eliminate supercapitals - Remove them entirely. This class of ship, more than any other, is responsible for nullsec's current state. Without supercapital drops and bridges the area over which a nullsec alliance or coalition can project force will be significantly reduced as will the the speed with which they can react to threats. This will shrink the amount of space a nullsec entity can reasonably control.

2) Significantly reduce Sov infrastructure hit points so that a large subcapital fleet of barbarians with modest capital ship support can reduce it in a reasonable about of time. This will eliminate the need to have Titan-class firepower behind any play for a piece of nullsec.

Of course, those heavily invested in supercapitals will be displeased with this approach, and I expect the implementation of these changes will be met with much umbrage and many alligator tears. Individual pilots should, of course, receive some remuneration for their pains; perhaps a combination of conventional capital ships and ISK or AUR. However, those most affected by this change are the authors of nullsec's current dysfunction. Thus my sympathy for them goes only so far and I will not lose sleep over their discomfort. Some small pain of their part is inevitable if nullsec is to be saved. 

These simple changes will revitalize nullsec, breaking up the current coalition blocks, reducing the span of control an alliance can reasonably exercise, and injecting nullsec with a much needed dose of risk. Best of all, it will open nullsec to outsiders not already possessed of vast fleets of supercapitals or endowed with trillions upon trillions of ISK.

They will be the EVE's barbarian hordes; pressing the current nullsec powers that be, and claiming space for building new kingdoms where the old ones prove wanting. 

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Farms and Fields: Metagame

It is also important that when a prince has conquered a foreign state that he become the protector of the surrounding weaker powers, and do all he can to weaken the stronger ones....The new prince has no trouble winning the weaker factions over, because they will willingly become part of his new state.  He has only to see to it that they do not gain too much power and authority.  With his forces and their favor, he can easily bring down those who are powerful so that he will remain the only arbiter in the land.
          Machiavelli - The Prince

I've been a way for a while, and my apologies for that. Just one of those times when life and work pick the same time to go into overdrive mode and there's not world enough nor time for the blowing up of cartoon space ships.  Even my training queue had gone idle which means leisure time has been on starvation rations in the house of Mord.

As I turn my attention back to New Eden I see that things are pretty much where I left them. And if that revelation doesn't crease your brow with worry, it ought to. Normally this is the time of year when events of seismic proportion take place. Mighty fleets should be assembling, the engines of war unlimbered and the dogs of war unleashed. Epic deeds should be our daily fare and New Eden should resound to the cacophony of war and the crash of empires being torn from their high places and dashed 'pon the cruel, unyielding rocks below.    

Alas, no. I return to the silence of a tomb and little more by way of overt activity.  

However, as with the famed curious incident of the dog in the night-time, the absence of activity where activity is the norm is often a harbinger of troubles on approach but, as yet, unknown. So take this uncharacteristic quiet as a sign that something predatory may be moving through the tall grass, just outside our field of vision. With that in mind, let's have a look at the current landscape and see where the veldt is rustling.

Nothing of moment passes in nullsec beyond the incessant flow of easy ISK into the bank accounts of the haves. Faction Warfare is all same-old same-old, except for the occasional entry of Blue Doughnut (BD) alliances into that arena. CSM election bloviation seems to be the only subject in motion, wafting its turgid, greasy way from one blog to the next and then on to podcast-land.

Now, if you follow the CSM candidates, you'll note a particular sameness to the platforms held by the Blue Doughnut slate and their proxies in lowsec. In essence it's a combination of the Farms and Fields (F&F) platforms so heavily lobbied for during the December CSM summit, and the newer Reward/Risk (R/R) initiative. I've already pulled the legs off Farms & Fields elsewhere and won't repeat that delightful pastime here. The TLDR is that F&F as proposed can't meet its promised goals as long as highsec is a viable option for ISK earning.

Which explains the BD's sudden passion for R/R.

R/R calls for the ISK faucets in highsec to be dialed back to a trickle.  Reward, the reasoning goes, should be closely correlated with risk. Now, I personally hold that the Reward to Risk protocol is already in place: The riches of nullsec are vast. There's nothing like rolling out of bed and hitting an NPC anomaly without an hundred other capsuleers having emptied it out ahead of you, and running said anomaly with yourself and/or your mates the only traffic in local. The rare hostiles who show up are easily identified and, as long as you go about your day to day with an eye on the local/intel channels, the odds of losing a ratting or industrial ship are exceedingly long.  Then there are the rare minerals and moon goos such as Technetium that can't be gotten anywhere but nullsec.

Ignore the cries of poverty emanating from nullsec; even the rank and file there have access to easy ISK, though a healthy percentage of it is sucked upwards into alliance and coalition coffers by way of leadership-imposed rents and fees.   

Now, if I had to rank space by order of riskiness, I'd say NPC nullsec is the most dangerous, followed by lowsec, followed by shallow sovereign nullsec, followed by deep sovereign nullsec. As I've said elsewhere, null security doesn't mean no security. Rather, it means you only have the security the sov-holding organization can enforce. And right now, what with their holding the lion's share of supercapitals, the risk for BD players in deep BD space is negligible.  Personally, I think it would be 'fair' if NPC nullsec and some parts of lowsec produced higher rewards than deep nullsec. 

But, of course, neither of these initiatives have anything to do with 'fairness', do they? No, quite the opposite.

There are some null and lowsec players who support F&F and R/R simply because they can't sleep at night knowing that someone in highsec is having fun.  However, the primary goal among R/R's BD promoters is to make highsec a nonviable option for the serious industrial player.  In a single stroke they would remove highsec as an option to working for the new nullsec order, and increase the value of sovereign nullsec held by those pushing the F&F and R/R policies.

And it should not be forgotten that sovereign nullsec is not open to all. It is a by-invitation-only proposition. Supercapitals allow a relative minority of New Eden's population to control nullsec and thereby control access to both the largest ISK faucets in the game and the sole means of supercapital production. At present, only those with vast fleets of supercapitals can take and hold nullsec, and only those who hold nullsec have the means to produce or afford vast fleets of supercapitals.

Those who hold sway in sovereign nullsec are now and will remain the arbiters of who can immigrate to nullsec and under what conditions.  Further, if nullsec, with its securable space and monopoly on high-value production inputs, is allowed to become the default location for building high-value sub-capital ships as well as capital ships, the owners of sov nullsec will gain a non-trivial degree of control over the price of those ships and who can own them in large numbers.  And, of course, less money from financial activity and nerfed ISK faucets in highsec will increase the value of sovereign nullsec's existing neigh-torrential ISK faucet output. Under such circumstances, whoever owns nullsec could dictate political and economic events in the larger game of EVE to an extensive degree.   All and all an impressive bit of metagame, if it can be executed successfully. 
Which brings us to the second place the grass is rustling: Who is going to wield this one ring of nullsec power? 

As most are aware, nullsec is presently dominated by two coalitions: The Clusterfuck Coalition (CFC), led by Goonswarm Federation, and the Honey-Badger Coalition (HBC), led by Test Alliance Please Ignore (albeit with Pandemic Legion's influence writ large). Since gaining control of most of sovereign nullsec, the two coalitions have maintained a policy of 'controlled' PVP, in which each side's members are free to raid the others territory, but attacking sov structures is forbidden.  Despite a coordinated 'we hate shooting structures' media campaign to justify their no-Invasion pact (NIP), there are elements among member alliances who chafe at the enforced peace. Such voices are quickly shut down by those in control of CFC and HBC. However, there remains an undercurrent of uneasiness to the peace. And for good reason.

CFC's leadership cannot tolerate the presence of a second nullsec entity strong enough to pose a credible threat to the CFC.  When playing this sort of metagame, the only friends to have are those who can't do you significant harm, but are dependent upon your good will for their safety and their income.  And HBC, while at least a nominal friend, remains the only potential external threat to CFC hegemony in nullsec; a condition the CFC leadership will only tolerate for as long as it takes to set the HBC up for the coming fall.  

If fighting has not broken out yet, it is because HBC hasn't been sufficiently compromised to provide the CFC with a low-risk win.  When push comes to shove (and it will) Pandemic Legion will abandon Test. There is a high probability that other alliances within the HBC are compromised or being worked with that end in mind.   Further, assuming it isn't underway already, expect the CFC to reach out to Test's enemies in the South.  They are still smarting from the recent loss of their territories at the hands of Test, supported by Pandemic Legion.  It will not be hard for the CFC to convince the recently dispossessed in the South to attack HBC on that front when CFC and HBC come to blows in the North. Meanwhile, CFC territories in the North, particularly Deklein, are unlikely to offer a similar opportunity for the opening of a second front.

Test's leadership is very aware of all this, but appear to lack the means to counter the looming threat. CFC's leadership are the more accomplished metagamers, with a marked preference for ensuring their enemies are defeated, before the first shot is fired. Pandemic Legion's action to block Montolio's planned invasion of CFC territory while having Montolio smeared by CFC controlled media outlets and temporarily benched from HBC's leadership team was the first overt sign of how compromised the HBC's situation had become. Now, with their military dependent upon an untrustworthy Pandemic Legion, and their ranks shot through with likely CFC partisans, a war with the CFC has become a high risk proposition.

Meanwhile, HBC's leadership have no viable means to remove Pandemic Legion or other probable fifth columnists from their ranks. They do not have a dedicated media arm to counter the CFC's war for hearts and minds in the coming fight. They can only wait and depend on the CFC's promises of fellowship while, with each tick of the clock, their position grows weaker.

HBC has become like unto a rabbit frozen in the gaze of a snake; as its coils slowly move to envelope them, they dare not move and have little recourse but to hope for the snake's goodwill.