Life in Eve: Heavy Hangs the Head

This bit of reflection came out of a (sadly) half-finished conversation with Dave and Margie, where we were talking about my time with Faction Warfare in Eve, and their time playing Ingress.

The Minmatar/Amarr faction war zone has been a little crazy the last few months. Amarr units have been on an organized tear, capturing a sizable chunk of territory — more than I’d ever seen them take over, actually — enough to have a clear advantage in terms of system control. More, they’ve held onto it for quite some time.

Disconcerting, but also (weirdly) a bit of a relief. The last few months prior to that push, our group had been involved in occupying and defending a constellation of systems that, to be honest, we just didn’t have quite enough people to manage, especially in the face of the previously mentioned Amarr offensive. We held on fairly well, and even managed to push our side’s war zone control back up to tier 4 (out of five) for awhile, but it was exhausting, and eventually we just wore out and retreated to an area where we had more allies and fewer systems to worry about.

Now, with the pressure to hold ground gone, we’re left fighting roving battles across a landscape that, thanks to Amarr taking a bunch of systems, suddenly presents many more targets of opportunity. This, like the rest, is a new experience for me. I came into the war at a time of Minmatar dominance (selecting Minmatar over Gallente primarily because I wanted to shoot slavers more than I wanted to shoot corpo-fascists), and often had to wander over to the Gallente/Caldari war zone and fight with my allies, because with the Amarr holed up in fewer than five systems (out of ~70), there just wasn’t much to do. Things have changed: with half the war zone in Amarr hands, the question isn’t what to do, but what to do first.

The current situation has given us many opportunities for spirited autocannon debate.

And in some cases, “what to do” ends up being “recapture lost systems.” This opportunity arises because (as we’ve learned and the Amarr presumably are now discovering) holding big chunks of territory is kind of… wearying, and that seems to be by design.

See, a lot of the ‘draw’ of being on the winning side in a conflict is the idea that you’ll reap nice benefits. This is true in faction warfare… to a point. It turns out dominating the whole war zone isn’t really a good use of anyone’s time. As you approach high levels of war zone control, it becomes far more difficult to hold it and/or capitalize on advantage. The costs of system upgrades increase exponentially, until you get to a point where holding the highest tiers of control cost more than you’re making — you’re better off dropping down to a less resource-intensive, easier-to-maintain, albeit slightly less profitable level.

In short, achieving total dominance is a hollow victory: it’s costly to keep up, the rewards gleaned at the highest levels don’t justify the effort, and if you’re just logging in for some quick and easy fun, the fact you pretty much own everything means (thanks to little enemy territory and a demoralized foe) you have no options for entertainment… which is rather the point of a game.

Conversely, now that the Minmatar are behind the Amarr in terms of war zone control, we have lots to do, but still have a good resource base to work with. It doesn’t hurt that many of the main Amarr groups don’t seem to have much patience for the slog of territory ownership — the lure of a good fight usually prevails, and it feels to me as though they’re getting bored with the drudgery of being on top.

That’s okay: we’ll seesaw our way to the top, if they’re sick of it, then they can take it back, and on and on in perpetual, bloody, entertaining motion. I’ve seen far worse designs.

CCP has struggled to achieve this balance for a long time in Faction Warfare — as my friend Dave has observed, it’s not a problem unique to Eve — and they’ve made more than a few slips and trips on the way, but it seems to me as though they’ve finally hit very near a sweet-spot that reminds a bit of Conan:  Lots of fun and rewards in the midst of struggle, but heavy hangs the head that wears the crown, and how willing the king becomes to throw down scepter and rejoin the fray.

I can’t imagine CCP could wish for much more.


  1. Whee! Losing FW is way more fun than winning in FW. I remember when Sirekur was 10-12 jumps away from the front lines, hours of roaming would only yield 1-2 war targets that didn’t immediately warp out or cloak up, and the forums were an endless torrent of whinging. Now I live on the frontline, war targets come to me, and they’re everywhere. To be fair, I feel the circumstances are not actually reversed. Six months ago, the Amarr were at rock bottom, having made multiple attempted resurgences only to be brutally stomped into the pavement each time. Whereas the Minmatar right now feel less defeated and more… asleep.

    An interesting side note, the blog you linked related to Ingress has almost the exact same list of issues as come up in the 0.0 sov and blob warfare discussions.

    1. Asleep: yes, that’s exactly it.

      Regarding the 0.0 sov/blob discussion: it’s definitely the same problem. I personally think that Sov Null would benefit in big ways from borrowing a lot of the mechanics from the new FWar, especially the idea that it’s through occupancy and activity in a system that you ensure the best upgrades… and that the bigger you get, the more of an expensive, not-worth-it pain in the ass the whole thing becomes. That alone would do wonders to break up some of the bigger, lazier blocs in null and make room (sometimes a lot of room) for single-system little guys.

      A few months ago, Jester wrote about Tug of War Sovereignty, which starts to look a lot like Faction war if you squint. I bet he’s going to talk about it some more this week.

  2. Glad I could be so inspirational …

    Yeah, I think in any Grand PvP Game, finding a way to balance between Eternal War and Eternal Domination is a huge trick. That in Eve there are mechanisms that make dominance for too long untenable is a good thing. It makes me wonder what sort of alternatives might be used in the (*much* simpler) Ingress setting.

  3. Diminishing returns/increased costs as you near dominance is where a lot of it happens.

    CCP tried to fix up Faction Warfare a couple times in last year, and their failures are as informative as their successes.

    First fix:
    There were five levels of warzone control. Tier 1 was terrible: you’re getting curb stomped. Tier 2 was less terrible, but still bad. Three was totally unremarkable. Four was a big benefit, and five was a HUGE benefit. Further, movement between the tiers was quite fluid: it was pretty easy to take systems you didn’t currently control, and it was INCREDIBLY easy to take a system you did control and upgrade to the maximum, or (relative to today) attack a system you didn’t control and push it down to the point where you could flip control to you.

    Further, war zone control mattered in two situations: First, it adjusted to a small degree the amount of payout you got when you captured an objective or did various activities (all of which were far too easily farmed in unarmed, nigh-uncatchable ships). Second, and far more important, it MASSIVELY adjusted any benefits and ‘stuff’ you purchased from the ‘faction store’. At tier 3 prices were normal, which at tier five you could buy rare battleships for pocket change, and a tier 1, you were actually paying more for stuff than you would on the open market: tier 1 wasn’t even a reward, it was an additional punishment for losing.

    Worst of all, it was only the tier of control you had *at that moment* that mattered when you ‘cashed out’ your points in the store, so people quickly figured out how to ‘spike’ the warzone control to five for an hour or so (in between these spikes, it would sit at tier 3 on one side, tier 1 or 2 on the other), cash in all their points, and make billions. It nearly crashed EvE’s market system, which has withstood a LOT of manipulation for ten years.

    Current System:
    There are five levels of warzone control. Tier 1 isn’t great. Two (which is where the underdog normal sits) is ‘normal’. Three (where the ‘winner’ usually sits) grants moderate benefits to the points you earn (75%), and the costs of doing upgrades in the systems goes up about 20%). Four (which the winner can maintain with some significant effort) has larger big benefits, and the costs of maintaining/upgrading systems goes up 40%. Five has, in theory, huge benefits/costs, but (and this is important) no one has managed to get to tier five since this change. See, movement between the tiers is much stickier: in the same way that it takes more points (the same points you use to buy stuff from the store) to upgrade systems, it takes about five times as much effort to take over even an undefended system as it used to, and the rewards for defending a system (by ‘capturing’ your own side’s complexes) went from virtually nothing to about 75% of the rewards the attackers were getting: there’s now good payout to be made from defending, and the harder a system is being attacked, the bigger the payout gets.

    Also, because of the non-combat nature of running your own complexes (no NPCs to shoot), defensive activities tend to attract the leech-like risk-adverse farmers who are only there to make some money. Win-win.

    Finally, and speaking of pay-outs, war zone control now only matters in one situation: it adjusts to a significan degree the amount of payout you get when you capture an objective or do various activities (only one of which – defending a complex – can be done in an unarmed ship (assuming no enemy players show up)). Tier 1 payout is below average, but bearable. Tier 2 is normal. Tier 3 is a 75% payout increase (but more like 55%, given the increased costs of upkeep), tier 4 is a 225% increase (adjusted to about 185%, due to cost of maintenance spikes, and further by the fact that the you have to deal with the really expensive upgrades more often). Tier 5 bonuses I don’t know about: as I said, no one’s gotten there since this system was implemented. It’s possible it’s actually too expensive to maintain for any length of time.

    The ‘store’ is now static: prices are the same all the time (at the old tier 3 level) so ‘spiking’ is a thing of the past.

    As a result, you have a warzone where everyone can make enough to keep buying the ships they need to keep playing and having fun, the winners enjoy a bit more income and can be a bit more extravagant in their purchases, while the losers enjoy a target-rich environment full of people flying shinier ships to blow up.

    I don’t know if it’s win/win, but if it isn’t, at worst it’s “win/havingfunlosing.”

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