Monday, December 28, 2015

High Sec War Decs The Chicago Way

I normally do not engage in attempting to redesign major game systems in games. After all, who wants to read the rantings of a player about a feature he or she does not like? I usually try to write posts that interest me, and frankly, I prefer reading bad fan fiction to articles with ideas that will never reach a game server.

So why change now? In November, the subject of the month in EVE Online was war decs. With people ranging from The Marmite Collective's Tora Bushido to MassivelyOP's Brendan Drain speculating on the future design of the war declaration system. I think most players think the current system is, to put it nicely, a bit dysfunctional. With CCP planning to introduce citadels into the game before Fanfest in April 2016, now is an appropriate time to consider changes to the war declaration system in high security space.

Before suggesting change, one should have a rationale for making said change. My reason is simple. When the optimum solution for a plurality, if not an outright majority, of players when faced with a war dec is to either disband their player organization, leave their current corporation, or just not log into the game for seven days, then the game system is broken. The mark of a poorly designed game feature in an MMORPG is one that discourages or otherwise hampers social bonding. Industry-wide, the biggest indicator that a player will stay engaged, or in EVE's case subscribed, for a long period is having friends to play with. Those social bonds make leaving a game more difficult.

Some players, especially those who regularly engage in high sec war decs or suicide ganking, will argue that the biggest indicator that someone will remain a player is if a player loses a ship in the first 30 days. Yes, CCP stated that was the case a couple of years ago. Nevertheless, I would like to know the percentage of players who lost ships, were part of a corporation, and stayed versus those who did lose ships and were not part of a corporation and stayed. My belief is that members of strong player organizations are better equipped to handle ship loss than those in either weak player organizations or those who never leave their beginning NPC corp. Moreover, the current war declaration system is an obstacle to the formation of strong player organizations. A system that discourages people from playing together tends to do that.

What is my alternative? First, a replacement system needs to fit into the existing game world. The lore that justifies the current war dec mechanics centers on corruption. Players can pay CONCORD to look the other way while their corporations wage war. A question I have always had is why the empires, and their navies, would just sit back and watch the carnage. The current system implies that empire officials are also getting a cut of the action. Why not make the flow of corruption explicit?

I also have a different vision of what a war dec in high sec actually represents. Strip away all the sci-fi trappings and the current war dec system is illegal behavior. Criminal activity on an interstellar scale, but criminal activity all the same. What is wrong with allowing players to embrace their inner Al Capone? The game should openly allow players form up gangs and fight over turf where they can sell drugs, profit off protection rackets, and corrupt government officials.

In the spirit of CONCORD and the empires losing control, the effective security status of some systems should fluctuate. I would not change the actual security status of systems, as that number reflects so much information at a glance. Players instead would change the nature of the space around them. In such a system, the local inhabitants would possess an advantage in avoiding the conflict while those just passing through could find themselves on the wrong end of a laser battery.

So, how would the system work? First, I need to introduce the system governor. The system governor is the capsuleers' one stop shopping point to access the entire rotten, corrupt bureaucracy in various parts of New Eden. He performs all of the dirty tasks behind the scenes so players do not have to do the administrative work required to bribe or threaten all the NPCs involved in making a war dec work. The system governor is also a greedy bastard who is perfectly happy to make a profit off all the chaos a war dec brings. Hey, if he is going to do all the grunt work, he deserves any ISK he can skim off the system.

Second, one does not declare war on a corporation or alliance. One declares war on a system. Wars between corporations and alliances will occur, because limiting a war dec to a single system is not only a bit silly, but ripe for abuse.

Before continuing, I need to make a comment about the numbers used in the rest of the post. I do not have access to the information that CCP has, so some of the numbers are probably wildly horrible. Think of them as placeholders for now.

Under my proposed system, declaring war on a system is relatively easy. All that is required is the party declaring the war dec to own at least one citadel of any size in the system and to pay a bribe to the system governor. The bribe increases as the security level increases. The ethics of system governors in a 0.5 system are a lot more fluid than those governing 0.8 systems. System governors in 0.9 and 1.0 systems are pretty honest and will not accept bribes, although they will allow players to conduct war activity in their systems begun with a war dec outside their systems. While relatively honest, the system governors in 0.9 and 1.0 systems are not incorruptible.

The corp CEO’s or alliance executor’s modified faction standing with the NPC faction that owns the system also influences the size of the bribe required. The war deccing corp/alliance not only has to pay off CONCORD but the local faction navy as well. The modified faction standing is the average modified faction standing for the past 30 days. If the corp CEO/alliance executor has not been in the organization for at least 30 days, the algorithm uses a value of -10 for each day under 30 days the corp CEO/alliance executor was not in the organization when determining the average modified faction standings.

How much ISK is required to bribe a system governor? That is a play balance question I'd leave to the developers, but considering the war deccing corp/alliance must also put at least a 700 million ISK citadel at risk (and possibly 1 billion including fittings), I would put the size of the bribe in the 20-50 million ISK range.

I have described how to declare war on a system. How does one declare war on a specific corporation or alliance? If a corp or alliance has an active war declaration running in a system, then any other corporation or alliance can declare war on that corp/alliance by declaring its own war in the system. If two corporations or alliances are already at war in a system, declaring a war on a system also is a declaration of war against both player entities. Therefore, in addition to the system warfare mechanics, the existing war dec mechanics apply throughout the rest of New Eden.

A war dec can end in one of two ways. First, a war dec can end when a party no longer owns a citadel in the system. The second is that at the end of seven days the war deccing party can inform the system governor that the war dec is ending. I have two caveats to these rules. The first is that a corp/alliance cannot end a war dec on a system if the corp/alliance has a citadel in a reinforced state in the system. If a corp/alliance wants to end the war dec and has a citadel in a reinforced state, the corp/alliance can inform the system governor and the war dec will end at the first downtime when no citadels the corporation or alliance owns are in a reinforced state.

What are the effects of a war declaration on a system? First, all pilots are set to suspect status unless the system governor receives a suitable bribe, but more on that later. Second, members of a war deccing corp/alliance may attack any player owned structure not protected by the system governor in the system. Members of non-war deccing corp/alliances may not attack player-owned structures. Those unwilling to risk a structure do not get the benefits of attacking the structures of those who do. Finally, the system governor imposes special taxes in the system in order to raise the funds required to "fight" the capsuleer gangs and "restore order."

At this point, some readers are probably shaking their heads in disbelief. Am I really proposing the introduction of free-for-all PvP into high security space? Not really. A truly FFA system would allow everyone to shoot everyone else with little to no penalty imposed by the game for doing so.  Null security space is an example of such a zone in EVE. Under this system, players would have the option of opting out of a system war dec.

How would the opt-out system work? To receive CONCORD and faction navy protection in the system, a corporation or alliance would need to pay a suitable bribe to the system governor. The proposed bribe schedule for player corporations and alliances is:
  • Immunity for ships (except mining-class ships) - 100,000 ISK.
  • Immunity for mining ships - 100,000 ISK. Requires the purchase of general war declaration ship immunity.
  • Immunity for custom offices - 2 million ISK for each one in system.
  • Immunity for medium citadels - 2 million ISK for each one in system.
  • Immunity for large citadels - 5 million ISK for each one in system.
  • Immunity for extra-large citadels - 10 million ISK for each one in system.

To opt out of the war dec in the system, a corp/alliance at a minimum must pay for ship and infrastructure immunity. For example, a 100-member corp that owns five customs offices and a medium citadel in a system would need to pay the system governor a 22 million ISK bribe for 30 days protection in the system.

This fee covers everything except for specialized mining ships (exhumers, mining barges, expedition frigates and mining frigates). The system governor is a bit greedy, and wants to skim some of the profits from mining operations in his system. Since miners can refine and sell their ore outside the system, he demands a bribe to actually mine in the system itself. Therefore, a corp or alliance has to pay for a mining permit for each of its members in order to receive CONCORD protection for mining ships. In the example above, the 100-member corp would need to pay an additional 10 million ISK for a 30-day mining permit, bringing the total bribe the system governor receives up to 32 million ISK.

A player in an NPC corp would pay a different rate. The bribe schedule is:
  • Immunity for ships (except mining-class ships) - 1 million ISK.
  • Immunity for mining ships (aka the mining permit) - 1 million ISK. Requires the purchase of general war declaration immunity

System governors do not consider a player with an NPC as particularly dangerous so the system governor feels confident about squeezing that capsuleer for more ISK.

The bribe to the system governor does have some limitations. The bribe only restores the high quality CONCORD protection that capsuleers have grown to love over the years. The bribe does not improve upon it. In other words, becoming a victim of a suicide gank is still a possibility in high sec, even if a player, corp, or alliance purchases a mining permit.

In addition, bribing a system governor for protection does not override the effects of a war declaration started in another system. For example, The Marmite Collective and the Fedo Liberation Front both dropped medium citadels in the system of Lanngisi in Metropolis, resulting in a war dec between the two alliances. The Fedo Liberation Front could then bribe the system governor of Hek to ignore a system war dec in that system, but The Marmite Collective could still attack Fedo Liberation Front ship's without any interference from CONCORD.

I briefly mentioned the feature before, but players do not have to declare war in order to engage in PvP in a system under a war declaration. Like Han Solo in Star Wars, players do not have to wait for the war deccer to shoot first. These alliances, corporations, and individuals fall under the category of "Honorable Third Parties." Honorable third parties may shoot at any suspect or criminally flagged pilot in the system without CONCORD intervention. However, shooting at the structures of any corp/alliance the capsuleer is not at war with will result in CONCORD intervention.

If honorable third parties exist, does that mean dishonorable third parties also exist? Absolutely! Honor, however, has a different meaning in the proposed system. By paying the system governor a bribe to opt out of PvP, capsuleers are promising to not engage in activity that would result in the player becoming criminally flagged or otherwise violate the rules of the war declaration system. Dishonor the agreement and the system governor becomes angry. Did I mention that the system governor works hand-in-glove with the local CONCORD and faction navy commanders?

Let me reiterate that the proposed system still allows the practice of suicide ganking. Pilots in corps or alliances that are either engaged in war deccing the system or acting as an honorable third party face no greater sanctions from CONCORD than they do under the current game mechanics. Those who act dishonorably by opting out of PvP and then engage in suicide ganking incur the following penalties: 
  • An immediate, temporary debuff of -10 to a capsuleer's security standing. The debuff lasts for 24 hours.
  • If the debuff lowers the capsuleer's security standings below -10, the faction navies will attempt to pod the player throughout high security space.
  • If 25% of the members of a corporation or alliance have the debuff, then all opt out bribes become null and void. The system governors become distrustful of the corp/alliance and no system governor will accept an opt-out bribe for 48 hours.
  • If the player is in an NPC corporation, then upon receiving the debuff, all of the player's opt out bribes become null and void and system governors will not accept any opt out bribes from the capsuleer for 48 hours.

Now, at this point I expect some people are upset with the proposal. Why give carebears a get out of a PvP card? Why make suicide ganking harder? Yes, I know that suicide ganking is harder under this proposal. Not so much because the NPCs are more effective than because other players can more easily interfere with gankers.

The answers to those questions like with the type of environmental change I want to see in high sec. Bringing turf wars in the style of Al Capone in Prohibition-era Chicago involves attempting to bring some of the nuances as well. For example, Capone lived in the town of Cicero, a suburb of Chicago. Burglars and thieves soon learned not to conduct their trade in Capone's hometown. Let us just say that Capone's justice was a bit harsher than the government's. I wish to give the successful gang the ability to control more of the activity in a system than the current mechanics allow.

The second reason involves the New Eden economy. I would like the system to serve as an ISK sink. I believe that a successful war dec should result in rewards that CCP does not magically generate out of thin air. That means the rewards must come from other players. Under this proposal, the more PvE activity that occurs in a system, the bigger the payout for the successful war deccer.

So far, I only described the payment of bribes to the system governor. To paraphrase the philosophy of a recent Chicago mayor, system governors, at least the greedy ones, never let a good crisis go to waste. Therefore, in addition to collecting bribes from capsuleers, they also institute "emergency" taxes and fees in order to provide the extra funds needed to "protect" their systems from the Empyreans. That so much of that money winds up lining the pockets of system governors and their associates is just a normal part of business in New Eden.

As a reminder, I do not have access to the economic data that CCP holds, so the numbers I am about to quote are just placeholder amounts. As a first proposal, the presence of a war dec on a system would impose an additional NPC tax on the following activities:
  • 1% tax on all bounties collected in the system.
  • 1% tax on all mission rewards collected from agents in the system.
  • .5% tax on all market transactions within the system.
  • .5% tax on all manufacturing/invention activity fees (reprocessing, copying, etc) conducted in the system. This fee would include activity on player-owned citadels.

Players could reduce the amount of the above additional "emergency" taxes they pay through training a new skill. In addition, the amount of taxes paid would depend on the standings a player has with the local NPC faction. Capsuleers with friends in high places would get a discount on the taxes paid. Why? A corrupt system governor cannot afford to let the central authorities look too closely into how he governs the system. Giving breaks to well-connected capsuleers keeps not only keeps the complaints down to a minimum, but the oversight of the governor as well. I will leave determining the amount of the tax breaks well trained and well-connected players receive up to the professional developers.

So far, the proposed rules only describe how the game would take ISK from players. How can players funnel some of that potentially huge pool of ISK into their wallets? A corp of alliance receives 50% of all bribes and emergency taxes in a system in which it is the only entity with an active war dec in the system. The rationale is simple. As long as capsuleers are fighting each other in the system, then the system governor can play the player organizations against each other and keep all the corruption to himself. Once one organization comes out on top, however, the system governor decides that discretion is the better part of valor and gives the winning corp/alliance a piece of the action. Is that enough of an incentive to fight a high sec war?

How would the disbursement of the rewards take place? In order to avoid flooding wallet logs, a corp or alliance would receive a deposit from the system governor once a day. The corp/alliance would receive a prorated amount of the bribes paid to the system governor. So, to continue an example used previously, The Marmite Collective defeats Fedo Liberation Front and is the only alliance with an active war dec in Lanngisi. Let us say that players have 600 million ISK in active bribes on file with the system governor. Marmite would then collect 10 million ISK (Total bribe ISK divided by 30 days, times 50%) for its share of the bribes that day.

Not a lot by itself, but Lanngisi is also a relatively busy missioning system not only due to the presence of a level 4 Sisters of EVE security agent but its location in the Minmatar COSMOS system of Ani. How much more would Marmite receive in emergency NPC taxes? For the sake of simplicity, let us assume that 5 billion ISK in missioning and ratting activity occurs in the system on a given day. That amount would result in The Marmite Collective receiving an additional 50 million ISK, or 60 million ISK for the day.

Is 60 million ISK a day in payouts worth the war dec? If a corp/alliance can hold onto the system, that means the corporation or alliance is risking, if using a medium citadel to declare the war dec on the system, between 700 million and 1 billion ISK in order to make 1.8 billion ISK in a month. Is that enough for someone to issue a war declaration? On the other hand, is the amount required higher and would high sec war deccers instead confine their activity to systems like the nearby trade hub of Hek?

Finally, if the empires are really losing control, they should lose control over more than just the security in systems. Since Al Capone influenced the ideas in this post, this proposal also addresses one final point in the lore: booster prohibition. I have a high degree of confidence that residents of high security space, especially the min/maxers, would love to get their hands on some high performance boosters. However, booster prohibition makes transporting the goods from major trade hubs problematic. In my opinion, the solution is to encourage local production.

In the proposed system, members of corporations and alliances engaged in an active war dec in the system can openly manufacture, transport, and sell illegal boosters. In addition, a member of an alliance or corp can transport illegal boosters between two adjacent systems without fear of interference from NPCs as long as the corp/alliance has an active war dec in both systems. Everyone may transport illegal boosters within the system as long as at least one war declaration on the system is active.

Let us go back to the example of Lanngisi. The Marmite Collective is no longer receiving its share of the corruption payments due to the Fedo Liberation Front putting up another medium citadel and declaring war on the system again. Does that mean that Marmite is not making any ISK from the war? If The Marmite Collective is not morally opposed to the sale and use of boosters, the ISK can flow into the alliance wallet. Sisters of EVE loyalty points are valuable so many mission runners are looking for that extra edge to increase profits. Since Marmite has a citadel in the system anyway, a couple of members look to make a little extra money by making boosters. They purchase the materials in Hek two jumps away and produce the boosters in Lanngisi.

Once produced, the pilots transport the boosters to the Sisters of EVE station, where the mission runners then purchase and use the boosters. Not only do mission runners buy the boosters, but also so do the honorable third parties that show up in the system to PvP. Potentially, Marmite could make more from illegal booster sales than all the other corruption involving the system governor combined. Of course, the Fedo Liberation Front is also making and selling boosters, giving Marmite an additional incentive to defeat the FLF.

I realize that the system as proposed in this blog post is just a high-level document with many holes that enterprising players could exploit. Conceptually, though, I think the system accomplishes goals that will make EVE Online a better game. They are:
  • A system that enhances the lore storyline of the empires (and CONCORD) losing control.
  • More incentives for players to engage in high sec warfare.
  • Obvious incentives that lead players to understand (and accept) why others would declare war.
  • A way for players to opt out of high sec wars while still making it possible for them to wander into a bad neighborhood.
  • A way for players in small corporations to protect citadels they own in high sec without having to constantly tear them down.
  • Introduce mechanics that give defenders a better chance of thwarting suicide gankers that could lead to more PvP in high sec.
  • A system that acts as an ISK sink.

I also realize that few will wade through this 4,000 word, 7-page wall of text. Certainly, no one from CCP once they realize the post does not contain any botter or RMT tears. So why spend the time to write it? Sometimes when criticizing a system, the question comes back asking, "Well, then what would you do?" Perhaps everyone will hate my ideas, but I am now on record on what I wish to see in the game.

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