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.  


  1. How about letting sov holders add a new upgrade to their iHub that causes mining ships to spawn in the asteroid belts of the system and deliver their takings to the iHub. If people came by and shot these mining rats they could steal the minerals but if the sov holders defended them they'd get to keep them.

    For that matter it might improve moon mining (in terms of small scale PVP) if the moon goo had to spend a bit of time being vulnerable in transit (perhaps in a rat freighter) from the moon to the POS. That way you could fully interdict a mining POS if you were prepared to hang around near it in a frigate or cruiser all day.

  2. Null sec feels wierd, it feels that the CFC have essentially won now. I know there's some hold-outs and some of their allies (BL, Rus, PL) are probably mere allies of convenience but the CFC's system of blueballs with diplomacy trumps the people who might threaten them. Someone like BL and PL need a constant stream of kills so if they get blueballed by the CFC they just pick on someone less careful. (My old alliance, Test, was something of a highwater mark for flinging ships at elite pvpers with careless abandon).

    Eve is a sandbox and I don't know how much can be done if the kids in the sand insist other kids play cooperatively and gang up on rogues.

    Possibly there's hope in CCP Seagull's new zones, presumably she'll have the basic common sense to make them impossible to dominate by supers (or else 3-5 years of Eve development is just a free gift to Goons).

  3. More comments for you:

  4. Sensible, and based on how real life works (sort of).

    Add it to the list of "maybes" I suppose. As long as we keep feeding CCP reasonable ideas, the odds of them choosing something we can get behind keep going up.

    Speaking of such a list, have you had a chance to read El Digin's proposal Mord? I would like to hear your thoughts on it, or at least a "3 years after implementation" hypothetical. It seems to have a fair amount of support, while being a fairly comprehensive rework of null.

  5. I really like ideas like this. I'm a huge proponent of game play that allows smaller entities the power to actually effect the day to day life of null sec residents. This is an interesting take on the idea, and one I'd generally be in favor of if it was announced.

  6. For reasons beyond me, several comments did not display when published and have disappeared from the website altogether. I've consolidated those comments here, and apologize to their authors for the mix-up.

    Kaeda Maxwell at 6:38 this morning:

    "I like your Adverse Possession idea. Staying long enough to ransom a system wouldn't be my personal cup-of-tea, but I'm fairly sure there are entities in lowsec who would not be adverse to this."

    Lord Zarak at 6:46 this morning:

    "I do expect that the new areas will have some kind of different sov system (or no sov like WHs) as CCP thrives on fights. If nullsec is pacified there will be no B-Rs, 6VDTs, etc to put EVE in the mainstream news.

    A supercap ban is not enough however as at this point the CFC can field more bodies in subcaps than the rest of New Eden combined."

    Rixx Javix at 6:30 this morning:

    "I really wish you'd keep your grubby little hands out of my journal Mord!! Luckily for you, you seem to have missed the passages written in invisible ink. While I can neither confirm nor deny any information, suffice to say I don't typically amass a growing, active, extremely powerful pirate group without certain long-term goals in mind.

    'Nuff said. "

  7. I love the concept, it might create a playstyle stepping stone for high- and low-sec organisations to dip their toe. It's very Viking too: turn up, smash stuff, clear off... or maybe stick around and see what else might happen. That basically describes what the Vikings did to Britain, Normandy (and likely many other places) during the Dark Ages.

    Do you have any specific ideas on the definition and mechanics of this 'tipping point' you mention? I've grasped what would happen after that, but how would that crossroads come about?

  8. The system upgrade mechanic collects a number of system metrics - mainly ratting and mining numbers as I recall.

    Hypothetically the same mechanic could be used to assign credit for system utilization to the alliance doing the utilizing. One possible tipping point could be when a system upgrade is achieved by an alliance other than the sov holder.

  9. What you propose would have been fun and entertaining had it been implemented in 2011 or 2012. In 2014, it's a quaint idea that won't gain any traction. Goons would send ten guys each into every N3 system and renter system, hang out for a month, and conquer it that way all at the same time.

    The target groups for this mechanic simply don't exist any more. I say this as a member of one of them.

    1. First of all, at this point the Goons don't need to do any such thing. They merely drop in with an overwhelming supercap fleet. They now control the largest concentration of supercaps in the game and, to a large extent, the means of supercapital production. Expect to see them ratchet down that second bolt more in the next year.

      Adverse Possession would take away the virtual invulnerability to sov attack enjoyed by CFC regions. I'm sure the Goons will leverage the mechanic, but it will be a door that swings both ways instead of just one, which is the case today.

      Secondly, flipping a system using Adverse Posession should only be easy if the locals don't actively defend over time. As I said, the goal is more PvP. Adverse Posession means you can't spread you population thinly over a large territory and expect to hold that space. Attacked systems must be garrisoned and protected until the bad guys go away.

    2. Yep, my point being is that they have the numbers, will, and dedication to both hold their own and hold someone else's at the same time. Goon home space, in particular, is pretty freakin' compact and never goes unguarded (Theta Squad, et. al.).

    3. Goonswarm is good enough to thrive under most mechanics and their population density and active defense of their space is exactly what's wanted under AP.

      However, the rest of the blue doughnut is a different story. And anything Goonswarm takes using AP, has to be defended in the same manner as Deklein. The further that model is extended, the more porous it gets.

    4. What mord said basically, I roam in the north regularly and while goons (and often razor too) respond to your presence, FA/EXE/FCON/LAWN are a different story.

      Not to mention that the most valuable space PvE wise is often held by renters who very rarely lift a finger. I bet those renters would actually get pretty annoyed if the SOV they paid for gets eroded away. The overlords might actually even have to show up and come help the pubbies.
      Think of TEST's current Delve campaign in that light, Adverse Possession would be a godsend to them.

  10. AP seems like it has the potential to be an awesome mechanic now in these post B-R days.
    I can't wait to get my hands on the potentially overextended goon home defense squads that are suddenly forced to protect their renter empire or lose it.
    On the other hand, if they rely on their renters to defend their sov against barbarians as per the current renters contract ( ), I'm pretty sure I'll enjoy killing them as well:)

    If nothing else, there should be more explosions closer to home for the larger alliances. This should make lots of people happy.