Sunday, June 21, 2015

EVE Online: As a Factional Warrior

So, I planned for a long time to release an article explaining how I stumbled upon EVE Online and how the game made me enjoy MMOs again after a long hiatus and a long search for one that would not bore me to death or make me unable to care less about it after a couple weeks.
I planned to talk about how EVE Online is one of the few and rare games out there where you actually care:

- Care about other people, because they can kill you, you don't want that so you better watch out.
- Care about what happens to you, because resources are finite and you actually can totally run out of in-game money, making you unable to field ships and weapons.
- Care about what you do in it, because the game is hard and there is a lot to learn, and at the same time if you do what you are supposed to do at the right time, you can be rewarded handsomly, either in loot or in kills you can be proud of.

But instead of talking about all that, I will respond to that article talking about what is actually made me discover and enjoy what the game really was

Factional Warfare (FW).

This article will be in reaction to that article. I recommend you read as it is quite good and a lot of the ideas I reference here are discussed in that article.

So I started the game not too long ago. As I write this article I'm nearing my third month playing EVE. As you can expect I started the game with the usual carebearing in high sec, which is Exploring (not that much as I couldn't get the point of the activity and finding a site in high sec was... not easy) and mostly Mining (a lot, to the point where I regret all the time I freaking wasted there)... but that's a discussion for next time.

What made me discover what the game was really about was taking the plunge and entering Factional Warfare.
It was a pretty bold decision, and to be honest a pretty uninformed one. I had no idea that I would actually become fair game to a lot of people, way more than I imagined. To be honest though, I actually wanted to be blown up by someone, anyone, just to see an hint of the fighting in the game.
So yeah the promise of actual PvP and finally fighting my way into the game was too alluring to ignore, so I joined Factional Warfare.

And so far it has been a blast.

Lots of ships lost of course, lots of red in my killboard, hundreds of "what the fuck did I just do right now??" moments, lots of learning, but mostly lots of fun and a sense that I actually discovered what EVE is about, fighting some fools, flying with mates, and trying to do both in the least stupid way possible.
I have to quickly add that I can clearly see now that such an enjoyment of the game would not have been possible without joining my FW Corporation. If any "newbro" is reading this, when people tell you that you need to join a corp as soon as you can to truly enjoy your time, they are not kidding, it really opens up the game.

Anyway, to sum it, I like Factional Warfare. I have some great time in it and it fulfilled its role as a great way to discover and enjoy the game.


And yes, unfortunately there always a 'but'.

As a player that recently got into the game I feel like there are multiple areas of the activity that could use some serious tweaks.

I will list them in the simplest way possible:
- Novice plexes
- Farmers
- LP donations

If you have checked the article I linked above, and if not you really should, those concerns are also mirrored in it. However I will take an approach on what those problems are, and how to solve them, that will lean more toward the less experienced people playing the game.

For the few months I have been playing EVE I still had the time to learn about the author of that article, Gorski Car, and it seems like the guy knows what he is talking about.
His articles on small gang frigates helped me better choose my ships and I actually learned to fit my first Confessor directly from his theorycrafting article.

Pretty much the guy knows the game and has probably been playing it for a while. So I won't even pretend like I have a better grasp on the problem or that my solutions are better. Actually I'm going to work upon some of the solutions he proposed, and comment on some others, but that again with the perspective of someone who is still new to the game.

So, First in order.

Novices Plexes are Lying to You!

In that they are actually not really geared toward novice players at all. And that because of what I consider to be more akin to a mistake or someone forgetting to make a change.

Faction/Pirate frigates are allowed in them.

As Gorski says in his articles, Worms and Garmurs are quite the problems in those plexes, and I have actually experienced why myself. Not just by being blown up by them, but by actually using a Worm myself.
At the time I had close to average Drone skills, I didn't even have Drones V yet, and of course I was searching for a ship that would still enable me to use drones without gimping myself.

And then I discovered that the Worm allowed you to field only 2 drones, and that those drones had comparable DPS to someone fielding 8 of them??!
Nice, that seemed like the perfect ship for me, how much could it cost... 60 millions??!

Of course that kind of money was inaccessible to someone new who did not plan to buy PLEX (yet...). Still I wondered what could warrant such an expensive price. And then I discovered that alongside having superior drones capabilities, the ship also boasted a superb tank and competent missile DPS. The price tag was definitely justified.
I don't have much experience with kiters, I'm a Drones guy to be honest. But the occasional 5-6k m/s Garmurs I have seen terrorizing whole fleets by themselves have pretty much showed the power of the ship.

Now, Novice plexes are of course not supposed to be that place that only allow newbies and let them frill around in their still innocent and naive definition of "fun", with 1v1s everywhere and opponents who have not be playing the game for like what? 10 years?
Even if their roles is not to be about novice players, they still should at least provide an environment where new players can actually learn the game.

You can't learn much when you get blapped in seconds by 300+dps when you are in a Merlin. Actually no, you can learn something. When some ships come nearby, GTFO.

And this is exactly where the problem with Factional Warfare in its current form starts as we will see with the next problem.

There are way more incentives to flee than to actually stand your ground and fight.

Novice plexes teaching those who start in them the, somewhat valuable, lesson of "when something comes at the gate be ready to warp off cos there are some ships out there against which you can't do anything even if you try or even if you bring friends", this will make this thinking of fleeing instead of fighting ingrained in their minds very early in their career in FW.

Of course, sometimes you do have to flee. If you suddenly see 20 War Targets entering systems in local and see 20 Tristans on dscan, you better be ready to get out of your Novice, they will come for you.
So learning when to flee is not that bad, what is bad is learning to flee even when you could have a chance at winning. That right there is the difference between cowardice and being smart.
Fleeing against 20 guys is smart, fleeing against 1 guy is cowardice.

At least Pirate Frigates should be removed from Novice plexes.
I would say remove Navy frigates too, and go back to that allured frigate paradise Novices seemed to be according to Gorski, but at the same time Navy Frigates represent an affordable progression for people focusing on Novice plexes. Even the newest of new FW soldiers can make the LP to buy one of those ships and they have a decent enough level of power that even the most oppressive of them can still be dealt with with some T1 frigates.
With only that kind of ships allowed in Novices people will have a better time learning from fights. They will learn to not let a Slicer out of Scram range, they will learn to not let the Merlin get close, etc...

And at such a small level as Novice plexes, repeatedly teaching, pushing people to flee when a single person in another frigate comes to their gate is only going to raise a generation of cowards. And this can be seen by the indecent amount of Warp Core Stabilizers around and Farmers.

And that of course lead us to the subject of:

Farmers or how I learned to love the Warp Core Stabilizer

I have to admit, one moth ago I was definitely tempted to just fit a couple of them and farm LP all day.
At that time I was low on ISKs and I just started to see the massive amount of power T2 provided in some modules.

To put it simply I needed ISKs to no longer suck (or at least try to).

So I obviously fitted the occasional Merlin with some Warp Core Stabilizers (WCS) and went on d-plexing for hours.

And it was easily the worst time I've ever had in Factional Warfare.

I quickly came to terms that I was not the kind of guy who could just sit there and watch d-scan all day, afraid of everybody. I needed the occasional fight to feel like I was actually playing. So I docked up the Merlins (plus I hated that ship, again I'm a Drones guy) and decided o-plexing was more of my thing.
Of course the amount of fights I got while o-plexing were definitely a dent in my profits, with of course the infuriating cases where mistakes were made ("Damage Control off... ahhh that's why my structure is melting so fast when I am that close to killing him............."), but at least I felt like I was playing! It was fun and rewarding when I actually managed to cap one plex, because I knew I actually defied some risks and came out of it alive.

To be honest I have no idea how the people farming can find any enjoyment out of what they are doing, and I highly suspect that most of them are not really engaged in FW but are mostly plexing for their mains, where they actually get their enjoyment. But yet they farm, and warp off whenever the slightest possibility of a fight comes near them.

I think this is a problem for Factional Warfare, as FW is supposed to be, as many people say, a conflict-driver. Plexes are supposed to be places where you can go to find people to shoot at, that's the whole point of them asking people to stay close to them.

-> "You stay here and assume the risk of getting in a fight and I will reward you sooner or later".
 That's the implicit contract signed between a FW player and his plex.

The ease at which WCS allow a player to avoid any fights, and thus risks, is bad in that it deprives people from something crucial, Content.
During the last 2 months I advocated multiple times how Factional Warfare was a great way for new players with not a lot of time on their hands to get their daily dose of EVE, to play the game. After all, it worked for me. I could log in, check with my corpmates what was happening and where, plex for around an hour, and get the obligatory 'friend' coming for a fight. Profitable game time.
The problem is that I realize now that I have actually been quite lucky in that I always managed to play at the right time, outside that you have a desert of farmers who will either warp out when you actually try to engage them, or never even bother to engage you when you are in the same system.

It's pretty easy to get ganked when you plex at prime hours, but when you hunt for contents outside this time range you can spend an entire hour jumping around essentially just wasting your time.

The principle of this games is risks/rewards. Even as a miner I learned that, as I decided for the first time to get in a 0.4 system to finally get some Kernite, and of course got ganked hard. I still wonder how come when I now go to that system to find that guy I see nobody and yet as soon I decided to go there in my Venture he got there literally in minutes, that game man...

When someone enters a plex, a part of him should accept that he's making himself eligible for a fight for someone. He will have to provide Content to them, and if he survives he will get rewarded, that simple really.
WCS farmers totally circumvent that.
Worse they actually play a crucial role into FW politics as they have a substantial effect on the contested ratios of some systems.

Them having such an impact and yet providing nothing to others, and yet being rewarded handsomely by the system for it. That's a terrible recipe.

I think what is lacking right now in the whole system is commitment. There should be some amount of commitment asked when you enter a plex. I like the Gorski's idea of when you leave a plex the timer resets, essentially making you lose. The time lost being potentially bigger than the ISK lost if you lose your ship would entice some people to actually fight!

Also among the two ideas, the Deployable and the Entosis link discussed in Gorski's article, the Deployable one seems by far superior, and that for a pretty subtle reason.

It introduces some commitment outside of the ship you bring to the plex.

Pretty much the Deployable is an investment in that it gives you the possibility to earn LP but at the cost of a minimal amount of ISKs. It costing something would make sure that people realize that if they leave the plex to save their ship, they still lose out ISK-wise in that they let a part of their money open to be destroyed by the opponent (would be interesting if only War Targets could destroy the Deployable).
Of course, the way FW works right now, with just plexes, works quite fine. Adding a Deployable to it could make things a bit too complicated. So I think the two systems could just live alongside each others.

The Deployable could be optional but allows for an increased/multiplied amount of LP being awarded upon the completion of the plex.
Plus the Deployable offers three very valuables opportunities system-wise:

- Content Signal: The Deployable could emit a signal, change the plex, or any other things to signal to people in or out system that there is a group of people inside that plex ready to fight and who have invested money to be there.

- Force Limitation: The Deployable could change the plex in allowing only a certain number of people to enter at a time, a bit like Wormholes only that here it would just make sure that only up to 3 or 10 people can enter each 2 minutes for example (and to prevent people from abusing it you could just have anyone being inside the plex being barred from entering it again and thus unable to affect the cooldown).

- Time Gating: The number of times a Deployable can be obtained could be limited and that to make sure people don't just farm the mechanic like they do with regular plexes.

Normal plexes could still allow for normal farming except that if you just WCS around you will waste a lot of time, and Deployable-powered plexes would serve as focusing points where people can flock to for a greater chance of an actual battle.

And imagine if Large Deployable-powered plexes were rare and rewarding enough to the point of encouraging people to bring Capital ships in them? Imagine the potential for Destruction and Content in Low-Sec!!

All in all, a lot of things can be done to prevent WCS farming from being so profitable. Either by making harder and less profitable to not contest and control a system, or by making it easier and more profitable for people to open themselves to a challenge! And any of those changes would benefit the generation of Content for players who actually provide something to the FW Space instead of just leech from it.

Donating my LPs?? What are you? A Communist??

It is really strange that in a game that is so focused on Capitalistic ideas and mechanics, somehow FW is the part of the game where they actually ask you to donate your income in the most selfless and unrewarding of manners...

I can dig the 'helping your faction', 'for the Greater Good'  gig, but as you can expect in such a game it's merely a matter of people panicking when they get close to losing their Tier and the same old people with so much LP shoulder the spending and get everyone back to a better percent ratio.

Personally as an habit I give out at least 1000 LP everyday to my home system. But the thing is, I merely do it out of emotional attachment, this is my home dangit, MINE! I do not do L4 Missions yet, so I certainly never have the amounts needed to get my hub to a higher level all by myself, let alone get the entire faction back to a tier. But I figure the occasional donation can always help.

The crucial thing is that I do not do it for the system bonuses. The bonuses are terrible, and I seldom notice them if ever. As everyone and their uncles I do my shopping at Jita and very rarely post market orders in FW zones. I figure the occasional FW Mogul enjoy them bonuses, but how many of them are there in Factional Warfare and how influential are they that they warrant an entire mechanic being dedicated to themselves?

If anything Factional Warfare bonuses should entice FW Soldiers to fight harder for their LPs, and to donate a lot to their home systems because they can profit from it in a very direct way. Cos if there is anything I have learned from FW politics, it's that Corporations and Players care about their home systems a lot, so if a system makes it that upgrading their home systems will benefits those Corporations and homes more, people will happily donate and thus help the war effort in an organic and non-forced, non-panicky way.

Those bonuses should benefit FW Soldiers first and foremost and their Corporations. If you are Neutral you get to shoot at a lot of people, but you pretty much opt yourself out of those bonuses.

I really like the SRP idea Gorski evoked in his article with an Increased Insurance Payout. It would allow even the poorest of FW soldiers to always manage to have a ship someone else can blow, it provides more Content which is a good thing for an idea concerning EVE.  Plus if you tie that Increased Insurance Payout to Corporations living in that system, you make sure Corporations will always make sure their system to be at level 5.
While I'm talking about Corporations, it would be a good idea to have Corporations be able to donate LPs in behalf of their members. That of course, can only be done if Corporations can actually earn LPs. I don't know how hard it would be to have Corporations be able to hold LPs, but if it is possible the LP Tax Gorski talked about would certain be a good way to make it possible for a Corporation to earn LPs.

Another way a Corporation could earn LPs is by having IHubs provide a passive amount of LPs to Corporations living in the system and alongside. The more systems you manage to hold and upgrade around your home system, the more LPs your Corporation gets. The system could take into account the systems 3 or 5 jumps away, as it would provide more granularity into the amount of LPs received and it would give a way for your opponents to affect your Corporation even in a remote system.

Another advantage of focusing on Corporation LP is that it gives a possibility to add some kind of Desperation Mode. The formula could be tweaked so that if you are surrounded by highly upgraded enemy space in your lone system, the LP your Corporation receives is multiplied to give you a fighting chance in what is likely to be your last moment in the constellation.
Of course the best way to avoid people abusing that system would be to simply BASH THEIR IHUB TO OBLIVION.
That simple.

Plus it would give a natural incentive to keep the Tier higher, instead of people sometimes even wishing for lower tiers so that they can get better payouts out of their LPs.


All in all there are a lot of things CCP could do to make Factional Warfare even more than it is. And when you take into account that it is already quite good of a system, good enough to lure into the game someone who has bunnyhopped from MMOs to MMOs for at least 3 years, I say it has the potential to become something that will be as much of a game-seller as the Big Battles of Null-sec can be for EVE.

But that is, only if the system is engineered so that to provide an avenue to people short on time, battle-driven, and looking for an environment where small gangs can foster, to be able to call it home and prosper in it.


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