Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Problem with LowSec

Okay, a focused post for once. Let's see how it turns out:

EVE Online, for those who don't know, is a "sandbox" MMOG, meaning essentially that they created a virtual world, established a series of rules for the world, and then you go play in it using your own imagination to create your own fun. You don't "level up" or go do quests to gain better equipment. It's PvP enabled at all times -- anyone who sees you can shoot you. Any time, anywhere. There are consequences for doing so in some zones, but beyond that... watch your back and/or travel with friends, and the more friends the better.

Space is divided into 3 type -- high security (HiSec -- security rating 1.0 down to 0.5), low security (LowSec -- security rating 0.4 down to 0.1), and 0.0 or "NullSec."

HiSec is considered "safest" of the areas due to the fact that it's policed by NPC's. There are game mechanics making it safe to PvP there still, but for the most part it's pretty safe for anyone to fly around, even in unarmed hauling ships.

LowSec is considered (on paper) to be "sorta safe, but not really." There's no more NPC police, but there are still sentry guns at warpgates and space stations, so if combat takes place there, whoever shot first will be fired upon by those guns to aid the "shootee." Initiating combat also results in a reduction of a player's "security status."

NullSec is considered (again, on paper) to be "lawless" or completely unsafe. There's no NPC policing presence of any kind -- everything is left up to the players. Player alliances are able to claim sovereignty by placing their own "POS's" (player owned stations) and create their own nations in most of this area. Any policing/keeping out the riffraff is wholly done by player forces.

So... why is there a problem with LowSec, you ask?

It comes down to several factors. This is a PvP game, but the vast majority of players in any MMO (including EVE) don't like or want to PvP, especially since in EVE if you die then you lose your ship, its fittings, and possibly will get "podded" and lose any implants you have installed in your character's body as well. This can be a huge cost to the player, and as such death is very actively avoided. As a result, something like 80% of all players spend all of their time in HiSec, where their chances of suffering loss due to death is very low. As I mentioned above, PvP *is* possible there, but difficult, especially for "pirates" who have a low security rating due to PvP. NullSec is heavily and actively patrolled by its sovereign player alliances, making it so if you're in your in the space your alliance owns, you're generally about as safe as if you're in HiSec (notice that I said "generally"). Sure there are wars and people like to roam around at times looking for people to kill who don't have buddies to protect them, but space is vast, and wars tend to produce conflicts only in specific areas, so fights can be avoided.

This leaves LowSec space as the only viable place for player pirates to hang out. They can't go into NullSec due to the alliances vigilance in keeping out undesirables, and with negative security ratings they can't go to HiSec very easily, and since PvP is difficult to do in HiSec anyway, they're left with LowSec or nothing, pretty much.

So... HiSec is filled with people who don't want to PvP at all, NullSec is full of people who want to PvP on their own terms in wars with neighbors, and LowSec is a vast wasteland where "carebears" and NullSec alliance people don't care to go, and if you see someone there it's probably a pirate looking for some nonconsensual PvP.

To sum up: In HiSec, security is provided by NPC's, in NullSec security is provided by players, and in LowSec, there's no security at all.

So... from a "human behavior/social" standpoint, not many people want to be in LowSec.

Then there's game mechanics as well.

The NPC empires are set up completely backwards from how a real empire would be. The highest security areas have the "worst" resources. As the security level drops, the resources get better and better, and once you're in to NullSec the best asteroids and moons for resource gathering are found there. There's no police presence to protect the direct routes ("pipes") from the HiSec trade hubs down to NullSec space where ostensibly you would want the highest possible security for the valuable resources coming in to your home systems from the frontier.

I can see the gameplay reasons for it -- making it so the NPC areas suck and trying to incentivize the players to move to Low and NullSec.


In HiSec, people can choose to do missions versus NPC ships, and then loot the wrecks, then reprocess the loot down to the building materials. In doing this they have access to all the various minerals, even ones that "should" only come from Low/NullSec asteroids. So the vast majority of players therefore have absolutely no reason to ever leave HiSec. The developers have also put missions in LowSec, but they don't really pay out much more than missions in Hisec and since any player you see in-system with you is probably looking to scan you down and come kill you, if you're running missions in LowSec you spend a lot of time cloaked at a safe spot or docked up and waiting for people to leave, meaning longer mission completion times and therefore losing bonus rewards for fast completion, meaning HiSec is actually more profitable anyway.

So... there's really no reason for a "carebear" to go to LowSec, nor for a NullSec alliance member. They have missions they can do in their sovereign space a for more payout than LowSec and they've got their alliance looking out for them while they do it.

In practice this makes it so that:
  • HiSec = High Security
  • NullSec = Medium Security
  • LowSec = No Security
And with the human behavior of generally not going where one isn't safe. . . LowSec has a population problem. Pirates who live there want more targets, but the "carebears" don't want to go be the targets.

Most changes suggested by LowSec dwellers to force more of the "carebears" into LowSec are vociferously resisted by said "carebears" because it would radically change their gameplay, but with no benefit to them. Most changes suggested by HiSec dwellers to make LowSec a bit more secure for them are vociferously resisted by the pirates because it would make their already difficult gameplay even tougher with no benefit to them.

Sounds like the proverbial Catch-22, doesn't it?

So... what can be done to increase security in LowSec to make it so that it actually is (in practice as well as in theory) LowSec, as opposed to the current chaotic "NoSec?"

Some common suggestions are things like moving all the Level 4 (most profitable) missions to Lowsec, removing refinable loot from mission NPC ships (thus forcing LowSec mining operations), and/or a massive boost to LowSec mission rewards in order to make them more profitable than HiSec L4's in spite of the need to run and hide whenever a strange ship comes in to the system.

Common counterarguments are that L4's already exist in LowSec and nobody does them and they'll just switch to running L3's in HiSec. They'd rather obtain less income than lose their mission running ship. Removing loot from the NPC ships wouldn't really affect the runners themselves, but rather the industrialists that build the ships in the 1st place. If their supply of materials drops, they can't build anything, and unless they were in a corporation equipped to do mining ops with escorts (and if they were in such a large corp, they'd probably be in NullSec anyway for the even more profitable ores) they won't be heading to LowSec in order to gain the minerals anyway. This would make prices go up while incomes went down -- very bad for the economy -- and could (would?) cause a lot of the industrialists upon whom the very economy of the game relies to quit the game. And for the final suggestion, a massive boost to mission rewards still wouldn't be enough to make people willing to risk their "pimped out" mission running ships.

Frankly, I think that if the "LowSec problem" is going to be "solved" it's going to need to be quite a bit more radical of a change. The biggest bostacle to overcome, IMO, is the human behavior thing. The "carebears" are NOT going anyplace they don't feel safe, so there needs to be something added that gives a very strong illusion of security, whilst not actually adding so much security that it forces the pirates out.

I think that adding semi-predictable patrols of faction navies within the LowSec systems would help -- predictable enough to give the illusion of security to "carebears" that wish to mine the lowsec belts, but not so predictable that pirates can always avoid them. Have these navies fly ships with stats identical to the faction ships players can obtain and fly, fit them according to PvP principles, and give them the new Sleeper AI. This would make them tough, but it would make fights (at times) winnable for pirates also, even if it's just "kill the tackling frigate and GTFO!" A 0.4 system would have more frequent (and perhaps larger?) patrols than a 0.3 system, and so on down to 0.1.

The patrols would only go to the current fixed celestial objects -- belts, moons, planets, and stations, so mission runners actually wouldn't be any safer, since they're not at any of those places..... but they would feel safer since the navy's about! Possibly add a "call for help" function that would bring the navy, but only if a) there happens to be a patrol in system, and b) they don't respond immediately, but will take 3-5 minutes to arrive. Add in that they are fightable and can't do the "concordokken" -- the "carebear's" ability to call for help will give the illusion of security, the time window before arrival allows the pirate to get their kill (possibly), and the pirate can also (possibly) escape or fight the navy if/when they do arrive.

Something else that I think would help to heighten the illusion of security overall would be to look at the systems that make up the "pipes" to NullSec and then make them all 0.4, and thus subject to "heavy patrol" while still not kicking the pirates out of the system with the highest traffic. Keeping them lowsec will also allow capital logistics for the NullSec alliances as well.

I also think that it's too easy to scan ships down. No L4 mission runner is going to bring a battleship in to do a Level 4 mission when he knows he can be scanned out in 90 seconds or less. Tweak the scanning mechanics to make it take a longer minimum period (like 10 minutes or perhaps even longer, with good skills reducing it and/or giving a chance to make it only 3-5 minutes, or somesuch). Yeah, it'll annoy the pirates at first, but it will make scoring that mission runner kill that much sweeter, and over time it will be accepted as "just how it is."

And I know I don't get (m)any readers, but any that there are -- I welcome criticisms and other ideas in the comments.

And since it's an EVE post, another Eve pic:

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