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2009 In EVE Online, A Retrospective

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EVE Online has had a heck of a year. Two huge free expansions, a new system for taking and controlling territory, the announcement of DUST 514 to be interlinked first-person shooter in the same shared game world, and ever higher subscription counts. A good year, right?

Unlike a lot of new MMOs, that briefly flare up before users move on to the next game, EVE Online has been growing steadily. This is not especially easy for a spaceship game that doesn't have a huge branding franchise to fall back onto.

This column takes a look at what happened during the past year, what CCP has done to make EVE Online so successful, and then I make some predictions about what to expect during 2010.

Changes To The Game

Apocrypha

Some amazing changes came in March, with the Apocrypha expansion, especially for newer players. The most important change for new players was the addition of attribute re-allocation, which means that an informed player can more quickly specialize in advanced game roles like flying sniping battleships or capitals. The skill requirements for tech three strategic cruisers are also fairly low, meaning that if a newer player is financially successful (or sells PLEX cards) he can use the most advanced ships in the game with relative ease. Scanning was also changed to be easier to use, and the wormholes that were added with this patch make the perfect proving ground for a small corporation that doesn't want to compete with null-sec alliances with bottomless budgets.

Older players reaped the benefits of newly improved ship fitting screens, and the faster influx of players into the end-game of EVE. They also thrilled to fight the Sleeper Drones, dangerous NPCs living in wormhole space that made use of a newly polished artificial intelligence system to act more like human PVPers. Of course, many older players cruise wormhole space looking for players taking advantage of the above, and ganking them.

Dominion

On the first of December, everything changed. The entire sovereignty system, the means by which alliances conquer and control space, was re-structured to be based around TCU structures instead of starbase grinds. Additionally, changes to the ingredients used to make tech two components were modified in such a way as to make the high-end moon materials less valuable. Alliances have been fighting over these moons for years, and the profits from them were so rich that they could easily pay for any capital ship losses suffered during the course of defending those moons. Cynosural jammer structures and titan doomsdays gave an overwhelming advantage to alliances defending their home territory, as well, until they were removed in this patch. All of these changes have combined to throw the end-game of EVE into chaos.

Alliances are still trying to find their feet amidst shrinking space and budgets, and newly valuable Technetium moons. It is this re-valuation of null-sec space, rather than any mechanical change, that will result in changes to alliance politics.

The low time variance on stations coming out of "reinforced mode" gives non-European alliances a certain convenience advantage over others. It is possible that, over time, we will see more US-based alliances taking and controlling space in the almost entirely European and Russian dominated end-game. That would be a welcome development in my opinion, because despite nearly 40% of EVE Online's player base living in the United States, those players are vastly under-represented in null-sec. They are particularly lacking at the leadership level. Some of that may be cultural biases inherent in the game, but more likely it is that European players entered the game sooner and have more inclination to form corporations and alliances around national identity. We'll see.

For older and newer players, the "fleet finder" is a godsend. No more futzing about in intel channels or alliance mails for fleet information. With just a couple clicks, any open fleets are listed, and ready to be joined. This means that there is more on-demand PVP, something that EVE often lacks.

For the end-game players that aren't leading alliances based on high-end moons, the changes are largely good. Lower-level moons are increasing in value, meaning that player labor used to react moon minerals is more valuable, even if the dysprosium mining POS aren't as profitable. Tech two prices are largely trending downwards, as well. Pirate battleships, largely used by elite players, were also rebalanced, largely in their favor.

Finally, though CCP has not financially incentivized running cosmic anomalies (and some CCP staff statements indicate a contradictory understanding about why this is necessary) there have been indications that they will do so in the future, rendering null-sec space more profitable for the individual to defend live in.

The Politics Of 2009

Exeunt Band of Brothers

The most important event from the perspective of any null-sec alliance was the destruction of the storied Band of Brothers alliance. Haargoth Agamar's February betrayal paved the way for Goonswarm to abandon the southeastern regions and live in Delve. The power vacuum in the south-east was quickly filled by the nascent RED.Overlord and Atlas alliances. In many ways, this made null-sec more stable and easier to enter into. The "BoB" modus operandi was, in short, to attack weaker alliances that might be a threat in the long term, or to assist the winning party in a war against other alliances. Their removal meant that there was one less old money alliance throwing weight around in null-sec to keep people in empire. For most of the year, Band of Brothers was off the map.

In late November, IT Alliance mobilized to attack Fountain. As the successor alliance to Band of Brothers, and with much of the same leadership, it successfully recruited numerous corporations that were previously part of the BoB coalition. They even poached the occasional corporation from allies, which caused some friction. As of this writing, IT has secured two stations in Fountain, and has the second-highest member count in of any alliance.

With that kind of firepower, it seems inevitable that they will eventually find some kind of space to settle in, though it is possible that IT leadership might be unwilling to settle for anything less than the top of the mountain, a position that they seem unlikely to achieve at this juncture. If BoB leadership is unwilling to settle for what is within their means, they may be destined to fall apart.

Other Political Developments

The past year also saw Legion of xXDeathXx consolidate control of the majority of the drone regions, though some space is still rented out or controlled by allies. Old-time alliance KIA was knocked off the map, finally closing its doors Period Basis, under a complete leadership melt-down.

Rising star Atlas Alliance filled much of the much of the southern regions, and pushed an ailing Red Alliance and Minor Threat out of Insmother and Scalding Pass, respectively. Atlas is presently feeling things out in moon-rich Geminate, perhaps with the intention of gauging the northern response. If the local Wildly Inappropriate alliance and their Razor buddies can't dissuade them, it is even possible that Atlas may decide to abandon their old space and move back into Geminate, where their alliance began. This would again leave a large power vacuum in the south that, coupled with the changes to sovereignty mechanics, might give a number of smaller alliances an opportunity to find their feet in null-sec.

What To Expect In 2010

Technetium is the new dysprosium, making the north (particularly Venal) a very rich place. This is not necessarily to the locals' advantage, entrenched or not -- more concentrated wealth means the potential for more internecine warfare. Venal's status as NPC space also means that other alliances could more easily take up residence there, as well. Red.Overlord seems poised to make a power play for the Venal moons, and the northern alliances may not have the wherewithal to stop them.

Because the high-end moon fix has made warfare and, indeed, just controlling space more expensive to alliances, it remains to be seen whether war-weary older alliances will be able to adapt as fresher faces with more lucrative profit models make a go of controlling space. NPC regions, especially those with moons, may be more attractive to PVP-based organizations.

There is also evidence that some of the dinosaurs of null-sec won't be able to adapt to CCP's null-sec meteor: As of this writing, there is every indication that the francophile Tau Ceti Federation alliance is on its way out, or at least on its way down, with the loss of several important corps and indications that more are to follow. Can old alliances led by burned out war veterans hold onto their space without POS to hide behind, and shrinking corporate wallets? Pandemic Legion (and their renter-allies, the Sons of Tangra) seem to be similarly burned out, with weak showings from their membership and bitter infighting amongst their leadership.

Auld Lang Syne

This coming year will see Dust 514 released, making video game history. It will bring us new T3 ships, and probably new capitals. It will see new players join and find their niche, and old players trying entirely new aspects of the Eve Online. It will see the rise of new alliances and the fall of the old. Borders are shifting and coalitions are re-aligning along new lines in accordance with the new end-game battle-space. And who knows what other surprises CCP has in store for us? Any way you look at it, 2010 is going to be an interesting year.

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