Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Blue Balls and Adverse Possession

If a barbarian horde comes over your borders and you won’t or can’t field a force to turn them back, you’ve no one to blame but yourself when they start drinking your tea, eating cake off the good china and leaving the toilet seats up.
“Hey, nice bit of real estate,” they’ll say “Good pig country. And there’s nobody using it. I think we’ll stay.”  Next thing you know, the locals are calling the lead barbarian “Your Highness”. 
     -  Fiddler's Edge, Barbarians at the Gates
The blue-ball doctrine is, in essence, the practice of denying fights to the enemy.  It is commonly employed by members of sov holding alliances when raiding parties roams their space and those home-defense forces willing and able to counter the interlopers are not sufficient to guarantee said interlopers are properly curb-stomped.

By denying a raiding party the kills and good fights they came for, the blue-ball doctrine seeks to discourage marauding bad guys without having to call in the cavalry.  When a band of desperadoes ride into nullsec town, guns blazing, the locals simply safe up and wait them out. And, absent an overwhelming home-defense fleet advantage, this makes perfect sense as there is no penalty for defensive indifference.

Everything of real value to the locals and the sov holding entity is protected by reinforce timers.  As you might imagine, returning to complete one's pillage and burn on a schedule known to local law enforcement is not in the raiding party idiom.  As such, high value resources are normally safe from roaming desperadoes, as are an alliance's sovereignty infrastructure. 

CCP has, of course, added deployable structures sans reinforce timers to provide targets for raiding parties without threatening the nullsec status quo.  However, at the end of the day such structures don't represent significant enough of a strategic or financial loss to get the locals or the sov holders onto the field of battle.  And, absent any motivation to defend one's space, blue-balling is the smart strategy for passive defense:  Deny the desperado fights. Deny the desperado kills. Deny the desperado fun.   A sufficiently bored desperado will soon be on his way to elsewhere, and slow to return.

Now, nullsec alliances often overextend their sovereign space, claiming more systems than they can actively use. There are a number of reasons for this, some financial, some logistic and some strategic. However, the end result is that much of sovereign nullsec is very sparsely populated.  As many players will attest, once you leave the main traffic pipelines and jump bridge systems, it is possible to travel through one sov-controlled system after another without encountering another player.

Yet, despite a near complete absence of resistance to their presence in such places, raiders can do little harm to a sovereign's interests.  And again, there's no penalty to sovereigns who fail to repulse invading subcapital fleets.

But what if there were?

There is a difference between holding sovereignty over a territory and controlling it.  Historically when barbarians show up to pillage the village the local sovereign may temporarily lose control of the village, but his/her long-term sovereignty is not in question.  The locals go back to generating revenue from the territory and all is as it was.  The status quo is maintained.

However, sometimes the barbarians don't leave.  Sometimes they hang around and prevent the local population from harvesting resources or generating revenue from the territory. Or they begin keeping said revenues and harvests for themselves.  Initially the barbarians are interlopers.  However,  unless sovereign takes umbrage at being so dispossessed and visits a big ol' can of kingly whup-ass on the barbarians in a timely manner, said barbarians become the de-facto rulers in the sovereign's place. This sort of thing isn't uncommon when sovereigns become too weak or distracted to take an interest in local affairs at the far ends of an over-extended empire.

An emergent form of game-play in EVE Online is for a gang of 'barbarians', especially those in need of cash, to hang out in a sov-nullsec system for a while, and rat some anomalies.  In addition to being a means of picking a fight with the locals (“Hey, I’m ratting your sanctum! I'm AFK taking a shower! Come stop me if you can!”), it is a much safer and more lucrative way to make ISK than ratting in lowsec.

With some slight tweaks to the sovereignty mechanics, this pattern of play could be leveraged to allow supercapital poor (or indifferent) alliances some stake in the nullsec game, and increase the amount of small an medium fleet action in nullsec.

For example: 

Rixx Javix and his merry band of piratical anarchists have begun to target a sov nullsec system. They camp the system on an ongoing basis. They rat its anomalies and pod any of the locals foolish enough to venture in their direction. They sell the mining rights, take over the POCOs and lie in wait using the miners as bait for sov-holder gangs. If a sov holder fleet too big to handle shows up, they fade away, but always return after the fleet is gone and take up where they left off.   They eschew any grinding of sovereignty infrastructure.

At a certain tipping point, such forces in New Eden as manage claims to sovereignty will say to the owners of that system, "Look. I know you claim overlordship of this system, but I can’t help but notice that Stay Frosty is actually running things there.  They are collecting a substantial majority of the system's revenues and resources.  You're not using the system and you are either unwilling or unable to prevent Stay Frosty from so doing.  Thus, you have tacitly surrendered control of this system.  I’m pulling your sovereignty."

I call it the Adverse Possession (AKA Squatters Rights) mechanic.

In such cases, from a design standpoint, there are several ways one could go. My favorite option would be for the Stay Frosty squatters to be offered sovereignty of the system as they have demonstrated effective control over time. In such a scenario, Stay Frosty would have the option to: 

Accept Sovereignty: In this case Stay Frosty gains sovereignty over the system with all the attendant rights and responsibilities.  All existing sovereignty infrastructure, including stations, SCUs and iHubs become Stay Frosty's.  If Stay Frosty doesn't have sufficient funds available to pay the requisite sovereignty costs, accepting sovereignty is not a valid response to the offer. 

Refuse Sovereignty: Sovereignty in the system is dropped. All existing sovereignty structures become unanchored. If Stay Frosty does not respond to the sovereignty offer notification within a set period of time, it is treated as a refusal of the sovereignty offer.

Ransom Sovereignty:  Stay Frosty may offer to ransom the system back to the former sovereignty holder for an amount set by Stay Frosty (pirates, after all). The ransom offer can be made only to the sovereignty holder. If the sovereignty holder accepts within a set period of time, they automatically pay the ransom and retain sovereignty over the system.  If the sovereignty holder refuses or cannot afford to pay the ransom, or fails to respond within the allowed time period, Stay Frosty retains the option to accept or refuse sovereignty, but may not make further ransom offers.

Of course, the sov holder can always unlimber his supercapital fleet and retake sovereignty of a lost system. However, beyond the costs and inconvenience of so doing, we've seen the awkward strategic, tactical and political blow-back that can result when sov is lost due to inattention.  And an overextended sovereign engaged in wars elsewhere may find that playing a continuous game of wack-a-mole to reclaim peripheral or low value systems isn't worth the while.

As I said long ago, one of the things I like about the Dominion Sov mechanics is that they require an active defense of one's space.  However, with the proliferation of supercapitals, only possessors of large fleets of these ships can contest nullsec sovereignty.  With the consolidation of such fleets into fewer and fewer hands, the need to actively defend sovereign space is on the wane.

Adverse Possession mechanics would provide subcapital fleets and gangs a meaningful role in nullsec.  Its requirement that sov-holders not only claim systems with sovereignty infrastructure, but actively control them, would inject risk into blue-balling as a strategy against small fleets, and should lead to more subcap PvP dust ups in parts of nullsec that have gotten all too peaceful.  

I do not expect the Adverse Possession mechanic to be popular with nullsec's current hoi oligoi. It will likely discomfort them.  Their empires would be smaller. Small players, formerly beneath their notice, would enter the sovereignty game. They'd see more visits from lowsec as naughty folk like Rixx Javix and Kaeda Maxwell would have a new way to pick fights in local, and to shake coin from the pockets of the mighty.  The lords of nullsec would rest less easily on their starry beds. 

But this is EVE, and no one should sleep too soundly.  

Friday, February 7, 2014

Spreadsheets in Space

In real life I do an excellent impersonation of a responsible adult.

While I don't hide the fact that I play EVE Online, it's not something I wear on my sleeve.  As a (ahem) mature player I am of the 'analog' generations. This is to say, I am old enough recall when vacuum tubes were the primary technology underpinning consumer electronics. 

'Analogs' tend to find MMPORGs (and social media in general) somewhat suspect and off-putting; life sinks that gobble up time and money that could be better spent on worthwhile real-life pursuits and persons.  Real adults, in the minds of many Analogs, don't play in online worlds, particularity adults who wish to be trusted with responsibility. Online amusements involving spaceships, vampires or wizards are 'kid-stuff' and, even in that context, are suspect.

Mrs. Mord takes a fiendish delight in 'outing' me as an online gamer.

This usually occurs at social events during which some combination of economists, lawyers, corporate execs or academics are chatting over drinks, and discussion turns to the role of online worlds in the dissolution of our youth and the overall decline of civilization.  Now, Mrs. Mord's intent in such cases is not to embarrass me, but to challenge the established Analog orthodoxy regarding adults who play MMPORGs.  She, in effect, is presenting me as the exemplar of the responsible grown-up; as mature, accomplished and charming as anyone else in the room.  It's really quite a lavish complement.

That, and she enjoys seeing me squirm.

However, it's usually done in a good cause.  Most recently she outed me in order to engage the two youngest people at a New Year lunch; the sixteen and twenty one year-old son and daughter of a multinational VP.   The mother of these youngsters was lamenting the fact that her children were wasting so much of their lives online when they could be developing 'real' friendships, meeting the right kind of people, planning their futures, and in general shaking the dust of their digital childhoods from their shoes.

There may have been something said about the importance of fresh air and exercise too. I'm not sure. She went on for a bit and I sort of checked out.

The sixteen year-old had drifted into the thousand yard stare as well.  He managed to look attentive and well behaved while he did, which speaks to the rigor of his upbringing.  However he was present in the room only to degree minimally required by the parental rule of law.  His elder sister, being the principle target of her mother's fears, was executing an impressive slow smoulder during the conversation.  Seems being disapproved of in the third person to a room full of boring old people was not a winning argument in favor of the 'real' world.

Suddenly Mrs. Mord found an opening.  "He plays EVE Online," she said, nodding toward me.

The room went suddenly quiet.  Everyone looked a bit confused - most because they had no idea what EVE Online was.  But suddenly the conversation had moved onto to familiar terrain for the kids and they engaged with a will, explaining to the room what EVE Online was, what the 'sandbox' was, and doing a rather good executive summary of how EVE compared and contrasted with other MMPORG offerings.  The sister sat down next to her mother and launched into a fairly sophisticated and well informed explanation of EVE's in game economy.

It lasted thirty minutes. Her mother looked daggers at me the whole time. 

In my responsible adult disguise I'm usually safely invisible to anyone under thirty. However, before they left, the sibs pulled me aside to talk a bit of MMPORGs in general and EVE Online in particular. They had both played it, the sister apparently on and off for a while. So I asked them why they didn't keep with it.

"Spreadsheets in space," said the sister.

"Those guys are assholes," said the brother.

Which brings me to my point. 

The sister is graduating with a natural science degree. Math and stats is in her wheelhouse. The brother is a JV lineman on his high school football team. I'd call him six foot six and two hundred twenty plus pounds of solid muscle, and he faces off against equally big guys for fun.  She's not afraid of running numbers and he's not afraid of conflict. Neither are put off by the game's complexity.

Yet, despite their obvious fascination with EVE Online, despite their being in the sweet spot of the gaming industry's target demographic, they don't want to play CCP's game.

It's nice that EVE Online is seeing a spike in player interest after all the publicity over recent events in nullsec.  However, if past precedent holds, not many will be engaged by the game and most will depart before too long.  CCP knows this occurs, but doesn't seem to know why it occurs. 

CCP knows a lot about the people who self select into the EVE Online community.  However the answer to why players leave will not be found among the the players who stay. CCP needs to go outside the EVE bubble if they're to find out why, beyond a relatively small and self-reinforcing subset of the gaming community, EVE is more interesting to read about than it is to play. 

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Mord, Lord of Delve

I've been thinking or ruling Delve.  Mord, Lord of Delve.  It has a deep, sonorous ring to it that's pleasing to to the ear.  It tolls majestically, as a name from  the Nibelung or the Poetic Edda.  OK, yes; Lord of the Rings too. Tolkien sourced his names heavily from old Germanic/Norse works.

Of course one should never make such decisions solely on aesthetic considerations.  Delve would not be my first choice of regions for a number of strategic and economic reasons.  Still.

"Mord, Lord of Vale of the Silent"
     Too wordy.

"Mord, Lord of Tribute
    It's all 'Lo, the tax man cometh!' 

"Mord, Lord of Period Basis"

"Mord, Lord of Outer Passage"
    Double Ew.

"Mord, Lord of Fade"
     As if.

"Mord, Lord of Querious"
    Well, I can be querulous at times. Still.

See? It keeps coming back to Mord, Lord of Delve. And Delve does have the advantage of being something of a turn-key rental operation. The tenants are already there and, with the right incentives I'm sure they could be encouraged to stay under new management.

Of course, the current landlords would have to be convinced of the wisdom of turning the rule of Delve over to me.  Hmmm. That could be a challenge.  I can think of four or five ways it might be managed and only two of them could be accomplished without a fanatical army/barbarian horde at my back.  And a quick glance over my shoulder confirms I'm a bit short in the fanatical army or barbarian horde department at the moment.

Well, perhaps that can be remedied.  This is EVE after all, and the play's the thing.  What with events in nullsec of late I'm sure there's more than a few fanatical armies/barbarian hordes jostled loose and wandering about, at loose ends and with an axe to grind.  In fact you may be just such a fanatical army/barbarian horde, in need of useful occupation and a bit of blood-letting.  Or you may be close friends with a fanatical army/barbarian horde in a mood to create some in-game events to call their own. 

If that's the case, we should talk. 

Saturday, February 1, 2014

The Gaming Media

I'm in mid-think about events surrounding and related to battle at B-R5RB.  Most of what can be said about the immediate outcomes and aftermath has already been said.  The battle has been a high probability event and waiting in the wings for some time. In and of itself, the battle produced little more than shrugs in the offices at Fiddler's Edge.  The questions of where, when and of magnitude were much more interesting.  I've been reading and listening to numerous holdings forth on "what it all means" and most have, I believe, missed the mark by a wide margin.

I'll publish a piece once the current sound and fury dies down.

In the meantime, over at Mad Haberdashers, Corelein has taken Massively, an online gaming 'zine, to task for shallow coverage of the industry in general and the quality of its writing which, Corelin points out, are often no more than a restatement of a company press release. In particular, Corelin calls Brenden Drain (who writes the EVE Evolved column at Massively) to account.  Corelin suggests that Brendan, a paid blogger, should write at least as well as any number of unpaid bloggers such as Ripard Teg, Rixx Javix, Noizy Gamer or (ahem) Mord Fiddle.

A bit further down Corelin writes: 
"I’m just gonna link Fiddler’s Edge because… well… I have no interest in being fair.  Mord has Brendan beaten like a rented mule."
My blushes.

In the comment section, Matt Westhorpe of Freebooted fame joins the fray and comes to Brenden's defense.  He and Corelin have a very thoughtful exchange - one well worth reading.  Matt being the writer Matt is, the meat of his argument is laid out early on:
"I’ve always taken pride in ensuring that I try to I write something well-researched, fresh and engaging. However, you soon realise the folly of spending an entire working day (or longer) information gathering for and writing a 1200-word article when you work out the hourly rate. However, I have no intention of capitulating on my principles (which is why it is unlikely I will survive as a games journalist).

With this in mind, it is not at all surprising to see unpaid blogs written by people who write for the love of the topic and the joy of writing producing material of exceptional quality, whilst in contrast, paid writers find themselves increasingly pushed toward ‘churnalism’ by their paymasters.

Personally, I think Brendan does a good job of maintaining a balance between writing accessibly for an EVE-curious audience and delving into enough detail to sate those who are more informed.

On the other hand, Mord has the luxury of being able to focus his appeal on his choice of audience, providing some fantastic but very esoteric and often impenetrably niche material."

First of all, thanks to Corelin for his kind words.  Without taking anything away from Brendan it's always gratifying to have one's work held up as an example of a good read - in spite of my apparent tendency toward the esoteric and impenetrable. 

As Matt points out, anyone wishing to write a 'popular' blog will follow a well circulated set of rules and guidelines, almost every one of which I violate with abandon.  I do challenge my readers at times. However, I find that those of you who are regulars at The Edge are not only up to the challenge, but enjoy it as well.  You are not off-put by the esoteric, and have the patience to follow what might at first glance seem impenetrable, trusting it will lead you somewhere worthwhile.  I find you a worthwhile audience to cultivate, and you have repaid my poor efforts many times over with your encouragement and reader loyalty. 

While the act of receiving payment for work can change the nature of the work, this is not an absolute. Many writers like Matt stand on their principles, even if it means a reduction in output or an investment of labor that makes no economic sense in terms of shillings per hour.  However, writing content tailored to the payer's wants doesn't seem to be the issue in this case.

Brendan's difficulty does not seem to be one of editorial directives so much as that he does not have the time to write in-depth owing to the demands on his time by his Predestination project.  Assuming that's the case, both Brendan and Massively's editorial board are not serving each other (or their readers) well.  Brenden ends up providing Massively with low value-add content and Massively, occupied in pushing new content to drive revenue, ends up publishing low value-add content.

So long as no one holds zines like Massively accountable for the quality of the content they publish, zines like Massively will not hold the writers of that content (such as Brendan) to meaningful quality standards. And good authors like Matt, who are willing to put in the time and effort to write well, will always be undervalued by zines like Massively as long as the status quo holds and writers can get paid for submitting the journalistic equivalent of toenail clippings.

It is ironic that as Corelin attempts to hold Brenden and Massively accountable for their content, Matt is arguing against such accountability.  Of course Matt is arguing on behalf of a fellow writer, which is laudable. However, in so doing he is, by his own admission, arguing for a system in which talent like his own has little place.