Monday, March 26, 2012

The new wardec system: thoughts and exploits

Back in 2008..
PVP? What is that?
When I entered Eve Online in 2008, i didn't know what the acronym 'PVP' meant. I had never heard of it, and certainly wasn't looking for combat; I was just looking for a space simulator to explore. And what a beautiful simulator it was - and today it's even better, what with all the new nebulas and such. Obviously, over time, I got to know the meaning of 'pvp'.. up close and personal :) Still, pvp was rare for us, back in 2008, 2009. In those early years, we used to hang around in highsec, doing missions or exploration, or mining, while chatting a bit in our player corp or alliance. We'd often solo stuff, but join together for those 'hard' lvl4 missions. Lowsec was to be avoided; nullsec an epic unknown. Every now and then we'd be wardecced, which meant 'dock & turtle' until the deccers got tired of hanging idly outside our home stations;  the war would be retracted, and we'd resume our casual Eve life. Relax, kick back and admire space! Over time we discovered ways to avoid wardecs: we'd hop between alliances, play with alts for a while, wardec ourselves with alt corps and such. After all, we weren't out here to fight, but to unwind and relax a bit.

This play style doesn't really fit with CCP's testosterone-laden 'HTFU' attitude, most recently seen again  oozing out of Iceland's HARPA congress center. As announced at the Fanfest there, loopholes in the current wardec system will be removed, and wars become an unavoidable part of your highsec life. Even if you are the relaxed, casual carebear kind of player that we used to be. We lived in small corps, numbering in the dozens, with alliances of a few hundred pilots: prime wardec material under the new system! If you are in such an alliance or corp, you might very well find yourself in a very nasty position once this new system comes online. You can hire mercs, but that probably won't do much to counter the fact that, as an industrial player, a wardec is effectively paralysing day to day operations: you can’t expect (or probably, afford) mercs to babysit your every move. No more casual space games  for you..

Of course you can remain in NPC corps; they don't get wardecced. But the fact is, they are large, anonymous and impersonal entities, and bad ad helping new players adapt to New Eden. I don't think that stimulating players to remain in NPC corps is a good, long term strategy for (new) player rentention! CCP explicitly raised taxes on NPC corps in 2009, to stimulate players to join a 'real' corp instead, citing the ‘isolated and impersonal’ nature of NPC corps. So, in CCP’s opinion (and I concur), NPC corps shouldn’t be regarded as a long term ‘solution’ for highsec casual pilots.

For highsec carebears, the only alternatives I can think of, is to play with corp/alliance sizes, either big or small. Join together in a large enough alliance, and wardec cost becomes an issue to wardeccers, perhaps enough to ward off frivolous wardecs. Yet the counter effect could be, that a larger carebear alliance becomes a juicy enough target to negate the shielding effect: deccing a 2000+ carebear corp, while expensive, is sure to get you a lot of kills. Or Goons might do it, as a 'victory lap', just for the heck of it.

So the opposite might actually work better: form a 5-10 man corp and stay out of alliances. Fly under the radar, as it were. Yet these small corps are very vulnerable, long term: as soon as one or two people become inactive, the corp runs a serious risk of dying. This strategy, as the previous one, isn’t a viable in the long run, and might also be bad for player retention.

What irks me somewhat, is that CCP is forcing a play style on their customers here. Certain ways of life in New Eden will, most likely, become untenable after the new wardec system is implemented, and CCP doesn't seem to care very much about that. You either adapt to their preferred play style, or you unsub. In this regard, HTFU goes both ways I think. "We didn't want those subs anyway" :)

Wardeccers and mercs, unite!
What worries me, is the potential for exploitation. I haven’t been to Iceland, and there isn’t a lot of information available on what was specifically discussed at the roundtable. But, it is to be expected that mercenary contracts on wars will be much more expensive than the initial wardec. I can see a situation where a wardeccing griefer corp and the hired mercenaries to fight them, might be alts of one another, or at least working together covertly. Good cop, bad cop: first you declare war on a random highsec corp, and then your alt mercenary accepts a war contract issued by the very same highsec corp! For the show, arrange for some cheap gank ships to be blown up to show that the mercs are worth their money.. and easy ISK is pouring in. In effect highsec corps will probably be paying these players one way or another, either by 'surrendering' which will cost them ISK, or by hiring them as mercs. ISK ATM incoming!

Put differently, the investment is 20 mill + 500k per player, the return is as of yet unknown but potentially much higher.

It remains to be seen what the day to day effect of this new wardec system will be; too much is uncertain. Of course CCP has never cared for the kind of casual carebearing pilots often found in highsec alliances, and it shows: as it stands now, these players are left with the (probably expensive) bill for this wardec change. To be honest, I'm not sure what I would have done if I were in CCP's shoes. After all, the basic fact that New Eden should never be 100% safe for anyone is still valid, and should remain so. But from my perspective, it seems CCP is willing to sacrifice a part of their customer base (a part to which I used to belong) to satisfy another part. Or their own thirst for a hearty serving of HTFU, of course.

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