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.