Daily Tip:Don't fly what you can't afford to lose.

Sins of a Solar Spymaster #46 – The Facebook Expansion

Posted Wed, Jun 16, 2010 by The Mittani

It's been a few weeks since the release of Tyrannis, and I find myself continually finding excuses to delay writing a review of it. First I put it off because the entire focus of Tyrannis - its headline feature, Planetary Interaction (PI) - wasn't actually available until a week after the patch went live. Then I put it off because I was hoping to see what impact PI would have on the markets, but CCP hasn't removed the NPC-seeded goods from the pre-Tyrannis economy, and it's not clear that they'll do so anytime soon. Finally I realized that I was delaying the review simply because I did not want to admit, in print, the truth: Tyrannis is basically Facebook for EVE, complete with it's own space-Farmville equivalent.

It's an ugly realization, because you then inevitably imagine some CCP devs goofing off at the office and messing about on Facebook and playing Farmville. Then one of them has an Eureka moment and blurts out, "Hey! Let's do this, but IN SPACE!" Six months later and an awful lot of hype we have Tyrannis, which brings us Eve Gate (ie: Spacebook) and Planetary Interaction (Planetville?). And a new Scorpion model.  I had written a column several months ago warning against this development direction, and sadly here we are. With gritted teeth, it's time to get it over with and examine the micro-level impact of this patch, and see if it has any interesting implications for nullsec dwellers.

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Spacebook: Eve Gate! It's Facebook. In space. It looks like Facebook, it has contacts like Facebook. The good thing is that I can finally check my evemail via the web. All the same, it's hard to get folks excited about a reskinned Facebook. Next!

Planetary Interaction: Obligatory Planetville joke aside, PI deserves a more serious review than Eve Gate.

First of all, I respect one of the intentions of PI greatly; it was designed to allow people to have something to fiddle with while in fleets or on ops. You can now move your little planet-harvesters around while chilling on a gate or listening to your FC freak out about something; EVE has always lacked for minigames to give pilots something to do during the 'boring bits', and PI is our first Bejeweled or Farmville timewaster that's actually inside the game client.

The problem is that PI could have been so much more. Perhaps it will develop into something greater in time, but as it stands right now it's frighteningly similar to the aforementioned farming browser game. You mine some stuff; you build a little network of extractors which go into factories which spits out, well, POS mods, mostly. If we were going to have a timewaster minigame, couldn't it have had more game and less timewaster? There are many other browser games that CCP could have cribbed design notes from (city-level Civilization clones seem particularly popular at the moment); these at least provide a challenge greater than 'scan mineral source, adjust extractor location'.

That said, PI has several implications for the entire game. It shows CCP's intent to have a completely player-created economy, removing many of the NPC-seeded items. This is, broadly, a good thing; it means there is more chaos and involvement and opportunity for things to Go Hellishly Wrong, which is what makes EVE interesting. Logistically PI provides nullsec alliances the ability to locally produce outposts, control towers and cumbersome mods such as Capital Assembly Arrays; this allows alliances with organized PI setups to completely skip freighter ops through chokepoints. Alliances won't even need to do the PI themselves; they can ship PI-produced modules to nullsec in a jump freighter from empire, then assemble the bulky components which would ordinarily be manually freightered on site. This makes nullsec logistics even easier and safer - and thus possibly more stagnant, depending on how you view the optimum risk/reward spectrum.

The implementation of the PI system has been - to put it charitably - rocky. When first patched, tower modules could be refined, which allowed players to reprocess certain mods to create mass numbers of PI modules; this essentially allowed many alliances to create outpost eggs out of thin air. Right now you can set up a PI network to produce items, but every item produced by PI can presently be purchased from NPCs at a fixed rate; until the seeded items are removed, the entire PI economy is a sham. This means that we can't judge what that economy will be like, and the seeds also allow speculators to stockpile an endless number of seeded mods at a vastly discounted rate.

Empire Mission Stealth Nerf: This is one of my favorite features of Tyrannis, and is probably better for the health of the game than anything else. The loot tables for empire missions have been nerfed broadly - by expanding the drop rates for named modules and removing mineral-heavy 'meta 0' drops. This means that the isk value of named mods have plummeted, and the risk-free iskmaking of the average empire dweller has taken a huge hit. As a nullsec dweller it's always rubbed me the wrong way that Raven pilots in the Forge can hoover up isk without putting anything on the line, while in nullsec we live in relative poverty; slowly the balance seems to be shifting.

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Insurance Adjustment: My eyes glaze over at the mention of insurance rates, but this is actually a significant change. For a long time, 'insurance fraud' has artificially inflated the costs of highend minerals; by increasing T2 insurance payouts and reducing T1 insurance, the bottom has fallen out of the highend mineral market. Similarly, certain ships which were previously only used at great cost are now worth using in mass fleets; expect a lot more HAC ops called, because they now cost about as much to lose as a battleship.

The Scorpion: There's a CCP dev whose name is sadly unknown to me. He sketched out the Scorpion, as well as designed for the Alliance Tournament prize ships. The new Scorpion is hands-down the best looking ship in EVE, and whoever this dev is, he needs to be immediately re-tasked to updating the older ship designs. There's an obvious talent there, a gift, and that talent needs to fix the Raven. And the Bellicose hulls. And the Dominix. You get the idea. I've never seen so many Scorpions on ops before, and it's the closest thing to an unmitigated crowd-pleaser that Tyrannis has to offer.

So, the verdict? Tyrannis could have been so much more. Perhaps it will be eventually, one of those 'organic growth' patches which we are presently underwhelmed with, but eventually some 'really cool stuff' comes out of it. The shift to having the economy being entirely player-based is good; the nerfing of risk-free empire missions is good, and the Scorpion owns. But it's hard to say that this is an expansion in the sense that Dominion was, where the game was radically altered and major new features were added that affected everyone; Tyrannis feels more like a bugfix with Spacebook and Planetville tacked on.  
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