CCP has fired a shot across the bow of the null-sec alliances. The first major change has already happened: sanctum cosmic anomalies of the most lucrative variety are no longer found in less desirable solar systems. The next change is just around the corner, and promises to reduce the functionality of jump bridges.
Without a doubt, EVE Online's political end-game is changing. The question is now whether these changes are for the best, and what further changes lie in store for the denizens of conquerable space. Though it is an unpopular position, I am going to attempt to defend these changes where I think it appropriate.
Alliances must have a steady income stream or they will not be able to pay the bills on controlling their space.
- Moon Minerals: Good moons are rare, and constantly the source of contention between alliances. Most alliances spend the bulk of their time chasing these, though there are some disparities in moon distribution that make the northern alliances a great deal richer in valuable technetium than alliances inhabiting other areas. This causes some alliances to aggressively pursue alternate revenue streams.
- Taxes: Corporate taxes are often the biggest source of income for corporations and alliances. Most of these taxes come from players earning bounties at cosmic anomaly sites.
- Rent: Agreements to lease solar systems or portions thereof to smaller entities. Get enough of these and your alliance can make more than a region full of technetium moons. Just don't expect keeping track of it all to be too easy.
- Supercapital Production: Though more often the bailiwick of corporations or even single players, some alliances supplement their funds by producing and selling supercapital ships.
Not every alliance in null-sec has access to worthwhile moons. Those that do own such moons are unlikely to acquire many more and hold them for very long due to the way null-sec politics tends to break down along natural borders, with territory swelling and receding to roughly the same size as previous inhabitants of that area.
An so it is that taxes are the most important factor in most alliances for the purposes of cash flow and paying for the upkeep of space. Pilots run cosmic anomalies to earn ISK. That ISK is taxed and spent on upgrading the space to have more cosmic anomalies. It is a lovely economic ecosystem.
Fortunately or not, depending on your point of view, this changed. Someone at CCP realized that under the game mechanics at the time all solar systems were pretty much identical. This removed a lot of the pressure for alliances to invade space: if the space did not have technetium moons, there would be little to distinguish it from anywhere else. CCP fixed this by linking the quality of cosmic anomalies to system security status, with a lower status resulting in better sites.
The Sound And The Fury
Nobody wanted to scrape and save ISK, drop a station in null-sec, and then find out that CCP was suddenly making that system worth only a fraction of what it was. Indeed, I think it very likely that players can make better ISK per hour running missions in high-security space than trudging along in a system with wretched security status.
This is a good example of something I have noticed about MMOs: it is a game designer's job to force players to have fun because, if players are left to their own devices, they will naturally pursue strategies that are effective rather than those that are fun. Someone has probably written the idea more succinctly, but you get the idea.
Particular players were deleteriously affected by this change, but the game as a whole is much improved when there is ample cause for conflict between null-sec groups. It is also improved in an economic sense when there is less ISK pouring into the market, though this effect is largely invisible to the player. Population pressure players a big part of giving alliances reasons to fight each other. Making the ideal solar systems more scarce is going to help incentivize that, even if it is not enough to break the iron grip that the big alliance blocs have on politics. For that, rather more changes will be needed.
Oh, My Sweet Jump Bridges
The next big change is slated for later this month. It will result in a maximum of one jump bridge per system (instead of two), an inability of capital ships with jump drives to use bridges, and a larger fuel hangar for the bridge. The long-term effects of these changes cannot be overstated.
First of all, this will mean a vast increase in the number of gates used by alliance members. Under the current state of affairs it is entirely possible to travel through several regions without actually using a gate. Since the new game mechanics limit the number of bridges in a system to 1, pilots will need to travel through a gate to get to the next link in the jump bridge network.
This is another example of players seeking to do what is effective over what is fun: sure, it stinks jumping through gate after gate to get anywhere, but the overall effect has been to make it prohibitively difficult to find people to fight in null-sec. Players need never see anything other than a POS or a station, should they so choose, making them safe from most hostile fleets. Safe from fleets that are not specially equipped to fight in front of a POS. Throw in an intelligence channel with hostile movements constantly reported, and you have the makings of nigh-invulnerability. After this change, there will be tons more places to catch targets. Yes, more ships will blow up, but the good news is that some of those ships will be your enemies, and it might even be you doing the blowing up.
Jump bridges are the arteries of null-sec, conveying ships and goods to wherever they are needed.
The second big change to alliances is that the number of bridges needed just doubled, requiring a lot more upkeep. Each system with bridges costs an extra 10mil ISK per day in upkeep. It may not seem like a lot, but on top of the 6mil a day needed to maintain normal sovereignty, likely in a system that would otherwise be ignored, is enough to put a long term dent in alliance bank accounts. For your reference, it shakes out to almost a billion ISK per month for each extra link.
This is important because it will make maintaining a huge latticed network of bridges a lot less feasible, especially for alliances that do not have access to extra revenue sources. Alliances that are relatively poor (for example, TEST) are already reeling from the changes to cosmic anomalies described above. This might be the fiscal nail in quite a few coffins.
The third change here is that it is nominally harder for alliances in deep null-sec to maintain a bridge all the way to empire. Currently, this is done with a lot of the alliances out there maintaining a lifeline through their neighbors' space. Doubling the number of systems needed for that will not be looked on kindly by accountants in the hosting alliance.
At least in theory, this might mean less stretches of bridges leading to five regions away. It also makes regions like Omist and Branch less appealing as a base of operations. If nothing else, it makes traveling those routes more expensive and perilous.
Cyno Me Not
The fourth issue is actually kind of a biggie. The current alliance tactic for nearly everybody that holds space is to use cyno jammers in important station systems in order to prevent any capital traffic into that system. Doing so prevents the system from being ambushed by enemy capital fleets, and also prevents supercarrier "hot drops" on hapless inhabitants. Although it also prevents friendly capital traffic, this could be bypassed by allowing friendly capital ships to use the jump bridges.
That will not be the case after the changes to bridges. This is annoying to capital pilots, but will also have ramifications for defending space. While previously one could sneak capital fleets into a system for defensive purposes without the attackers being able to bring in theirs, now things will be on a much more even footing. Turning off the cyno jammer to sneak a fleet in runs the risk of an enemy taking advantage of the opportunity.
The fact of the matter is that under the current game mechanics it is much easier to defend space than take it. The time commitment is less, one only need show up and win once for every three times the attacker does, and so on. The defenders do not need risk-free capital fleets to boot.
What It Won't Do
Will the bridge changes affect alliance force projection? Absolutely not. It will do many positive things for null-sec gameplay, but that is not one of them. Fleets will still travel along bridges forty jumps away, it will just take longer. That, or involve titans even more heavily than they already are.
As usual, it will be the little guy that suffers most from these changes.
Who will suffer, then? The alliance grunts, of course. The free flow of goods between high-sec and null-sec will be reduced, and the local economies will become vastly less efficient due to ganks and fear of ganking. Not everybody is capable of using second characters to scout for them, and even this is not fool proof. The added element of risk will be discouraging to some, but will allow other pilots to make huge fortunes, especially if they have access to a jump freighter.
Nobody expects this to be the last big change to null-sec. The ominous questions raised by CCP Soundwave seem to imply a rebalancing of the number of players that can be supported by null-sec systems, as well as a hard look at the relationship between high-sec and null-sec. Soundwave also questions whether there are enough incentives for player conflict outside of sovereignty warfare, an answer that I think is quite apparently in the negative. I think that these changes will largely be for the good.
Well, that's what I think. I understand that some people will be really inconvenienced by this, and I confess that I am one of them, though I hope the refreshing infusion of potential targets will make up for it. I expect some people will find my sentiment disagreeable. If this is the case, let us at least agree that something needs to change about null-sec in order to keep it from stagnating. Otherwise, let's talk about it.