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.
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.