Operation Best Friends Forever

I’m always amused when organizations in EVE behave like organizations in the real world. Faced with what was essentially a press-release and pep-talk delivered by Sir Molle to his faithful troops, the Northern Coalition leaders prepared their response. Not content to let the South lay out its plans and attract attention, Vuk Lau, the leader of Morsus Mihi and nominal head of the Northern Coalition, organized an address to the pilots of the North.

Compared to Sir Molle’s wandering address a few days ago, Vuk kept his address short and sweet. In front of 1600 members, he announced a contest to produce the best propaganda posters on the theme “Best Friends Forever”. If Molle’s goal is to break us up, our goal is clear – stick together.

Then we got a duet of Never Gonna Give You Up starring Vuk Lau and Plague Black (another alliance leader) and that was it. You can hear a clip of it in this wonderful propaganda newscast produced by a Morsus Mihi member. The singing starts at 3:17.

The message was clear – no matter what happens the North sticks together. I was a little let down at first. I kinda wanted a big inspirational speech (this video is linked all the time in our forums), internet spaceship-style. In retrospect, though, this works even better. While Molle didn’t clearly articulate a reason for this campaign, Vuk made it pretty simple and clear. Even in the face of daunting numbers (the Southern Coalition outnumbers the North by nearly 2-1 in members), we’re in this to have fun, kick ass, and keep the North united.

Unsurprisingly, war in the North is going to entail a bit of a change of pace here. At the very least, you’re going to have to put up with a bit more cheerleading than normal. I’m hardly a dispassionate observer here. I’m happy with my home in the North, and will do whatever I can to defend it. I’ll try to provide even-handed coverage, but lets not forget where my allegiance lies. In any event, it should be a wild ride and I hope you’ll follow along!

Gathering Clouds

The intel reports we’ve been hearing for a month are true – war is coming to to the North.

After the fall of Goonswarm in Delve, and the nearly-complete campaign to kick CVA out of Providence (some notes on that here, in the first item), the major forces in the South—IT Alliance (-IT-), Against All Authorities (AAA), Atlas (ATLAS)—needed a new scapegoat. It has long been rumored that the southern alliances might band together as a sort of ad-hoc “Southern Coalition” to counter the long-extant “Northern Coalition” made up of Morsus Mihi (RAWR), RAZOR (-RZR-), Tau Ceti Federation (TCF), Mostly Harmless (-42-), Majesta Empire (ME), Wildly Inappropriate (WI.) and assorted smaller organizations. These major political players will be the major political players on the blog for the next few months – I’m sure there will be stories to tell about each of them as this campaign rolls out.

Northern Coalition leaders have pretty publicly exhorted us to spend March building up our coffers of money so we can afford weapons for the coming war, projecting that we would see a major offensive at the beginning of April. It’s now April first, and their predictions were right on target.

Fleets of Southern Coalition freighters and carriers have spent the last few days moving war materiel into position in the low-sec space adjacent to the Northern Coalition’s borders. IT Alliance’s leader, Sir Molle announced the outlines of the plan in his address to the Southern Coalition on Teamspeak. In front of 800 pilots, he laid out the goals for this operation:

The end goal of all this is not to take space. The end goal of this is not to take stations, not to take space, not to take moons. The end goal is simple. It is to break up the NC.

You can read the whole thing here, but it kind of drags. It has some details about the organization of their attack and logistical plans for deploying a forward base close to our territory. Preparations should be complete sometime today, and combat will likely commence in earnest over this coming weekend.

I’m not really clear on the casus belli here. He doesn’t even lay anything out any particular grievances, not even the obvious realpolitik attack-the-other-superpower justification. Can’t say this sort of unspecified grudge match would be that compelling a reason for me to fight. We’ll see if it sustains the SC’s pilots for what may well be a long fight.

Our motivations are much more basic – defend the North. That’s something I can get behind. Bring it.

Tyrannis On Tap

Every six months, CCP releases a free expansion to the game, introducing a major new mechanic. The last expansion, Dominion, refreshed the 0.0 sovereignty mechanics. Apocrypha, the expansion before that, added wormholes and Tech 3 cruisers. The next expansion, Tyrannis, is adding something called (dryly) “Planetary Interaction.”

Thus far, planets in EVE have had pretty much no role. In the fiction, they house billions of people and drive the interstellar economies and politics. In practice, though, players never interact with them. They’re beautiful (as of the latest expansion, which refreshed their graphics), but almost entirely useless. This expansion changes that. Players will be able to extract, refine, combine, and ship all kinds of new resources around the surface of planets. Players will design and manage networks of these new buildings based on planets’ surfaces. Eventually, this will all plug in with DUST 514, CCP’s upcoming team FPS game. Eventually, players of the console-based game will be able to serve as ground troops for corporations in EVE, attacking enemy ground installations.

We’re still three months out from Tyrannis’ launch, but CCP has been releasing a stream of details about it. They started off with a Dev Blog post – the primary channel for EVE’s designers and developers to interact with the EVE community. At that point, we got a very high level view of the goals of the project, plus an awesome MS Paint diagram of what the UI looks like.

Relatively soon after that, CCP’s current development version of this feature was released to Singularity – the EVE test server. This means anyone can log into this alternate reality version of EVE and play with upcoming features. This includes the first drafts of planetary interaction. A pilot in EVE University (my alma mater!) put together a wonderful video demonstrating the UI (embedded below).

This kicked off a process as old as MMOs – deconstructing new game mechanics. For some people, this is the game. Being the first person to figure out how to build effective planetary mining and manufacturing systems is really satisfying for some kinds of players. For these people, EVE is giving them the experience of doing what amounts to original research. Early adopters will figure out the optimal ways to do this process and then write guides and make videos explaining it to the rest of us. After a few months, I’m sure these groups of early adopters will have worked it all out, collaborating across forums and in-game chat channels and the whole system will be as well understood as wormholes are now. We’re seeing the beginnings of that now, on blog posts like this excellent one. (If you want to read more posts like that, this post by CrazyKinux has links to all the major posts on the subject.)

But those heady first days of confusion and frustration are an experience that you won’t find in other genres in quite the same way. Plus, if you figure this stuff out quickly you can be making a mint while the rest of the galaxy catches up. I’m sorely tempted to make an industrial character to give this a shot…

Money Does Grow on Trees, Pt 2

Map of military development indices in Tribute.

Map of military development indices in Tribute.

I mentioned in passing in the last article about ratting that some systems are better for it than others. All 0.0 systems in EVE are characterized by “development indices” on three axes: military, industrial, and strategic. The first two indices directly effect how well you can farm in the system. The higher the military index, the more cosmic anomalies will spawn in the system. The higher the industrial index, the more high value mining sites will spawn.

You can’t just pay to upgrade the development indices in your systems, though. You have to actively raise the development level in the system by farming. Each NPC pirate you kill in a system raises its military development level slightly. If you have enough people killing enough pirates, you can level up the quality of that system for that kind of farming. You have to work to keep it up, though — over time, the development level will fade.

There are two big implications of this system. The first is that a 0.0 system can now support many more simultaneous farmers than it used to. If you only have an average of 2-3 people online over the course of the day, they won’t be able to maintain a well developed military system. The development level will decay faster than they can kill rats to increase it. This encourages people to clump up. Better to max out the development level in one system than spread out across a bunch of systems with poor development levels.

There’s a subtle tradeoff here, though. Every system your alliance owns costs quite a bit of ISK: 180M ISK/month just to own it, plus a bunch of other costs to upgrade it. So you don’t want to have a bunch of systems you’re not actively making money from. And since everyone is clumping up in fewer systems now, all those extra systems you own are burning a big hole in your wallet.

The solution? The farming metaphor shows up again: serfdom! With all these expensive (and fertile) fields, it makes a lot of sense for the owners of the space to install serfs. Serfs pay a monthly fee back to the alliance that owns the territory (a fee substantially higher than the upkeep costs for that system) and moves in its own farmers. This makes sense for the serfs because they get a system that they can efficiently farm. It makes sense for the alliance because they don’t have enough pilots of their own to farm the systems effectively. As with feudal serfs, these space-serfs tend to have some similar obligations to their lord. If the area comes under attack, they’re generally expected to take up arms and help with the defense. They tend not to be as large or well organized as the major alliances that own space, but every ship counts. These serf-corporations are usually referred to as “renters” or “pets” (although pets often has a slightly different connotation).

The other big implication is for long-term warfare. Because un-farmed systems lose their development levels, a concerted campaign of disruption and harassment can scare away all the farmers. If this is sustained, the development level of the effected systems will fall, harming the incomes of all the pilots based there. This can be a super effective tactic for smaller groups trying to weaken larger groups without resorting to all-out combat. Star Fraction, a long-lived major alliance announced just such an operation:

Therefore, Operation Black Lustrum, in which the Star Fraction will wage war against the economic and industrial base of our targets. … In particular, the development indices pertaining to military and industrial activity serve as keen and acute indicators of the economic health of a territory and the alliance that administers it.

There’s a longer overview article about how this campaign is progressing that describes a bit more about how this works. So far, it looks like this kind of guerilla warfare is pretty damn effective at decreasing development levels and choking off income streams. The North is thankfully clear of these kinds of tactics so far, but it may just be a matter of time before our farming gets shut down in favor of serious combat.