Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Nullsec must burn!

CCP Fozzie's latest dev blogs are epic attempts to address the problem of stagnation in nullsec, what Crowfall calls "the Uncle Bob issue."

"[By year 10] Bob is now an unassailable tyrant and anyone who even tries to challenge him is crushed instantly. Nobody's having fun, not even Uncle Bob. A strategy game inherently has to have the chance to restart."

Is Null Sec at the stage of "unassailable tyrants?"



I think so. It's true that people coming into null sec are not always crushed instantly but that's because the big boys allow them to come in then farm them for pvp. Space is now 2 dominant factions: the CFC and N3/PL. There's also the Russians - traditionally left to do their own thing - and independent entities permitted to exist for farming. Gevlon went as far as to describe BRAVE as renters who pay rent in ship losses rather than isk.

Renters dominate nullsec. Even if we don't consider alternate arrangements which are renter-like - paying rent in ship losses or paplinks -  a quick look at Dotlan shows the absolute dominance of renters in nullsec. The biggest sov holder is N3's renter alliance, next is xDeathx's renter alliance gifted to them by PL, then 2 real player alliances then 5th is PL's renter alliance and 6th is the Goons' renter alliance. Even analysed by population, renters make up 4 of the 7 biggest alliances in the game.

Renting is emergent gameplay a system where players manage a conflict driven high reward space by avoiding conflict, paying stronger people to do the conflict for them. This will become more or less impossible under the new Sov system. Sov structures will be continually tested by anyone who can reach them. The role of wormholes in accessing remote parts of null is not insignificant post-Phoebe either.

I'm in favour of seeing a sharp decline in renting. I think it tends to create boring space, where people mine or multibox in safety and seclusion rarely seeing a hostile. As an FC I consider most such space not really worth attacking because they'll just pos up and it's not like we can do anything to threaten the sov. Interceptor gangs targeting inattentive ratters are the only effective counter-measure and that's gnat bites in the overall scheme of things.

But what will happen to an Eve where most null sec residents have decided not to pvp, just to grind their next super in safe zones?

Well there will be some quite sharp economic effects.

We will see more ship destruction, a lot of destruction of sov structures, people spending time fighting instead of ratting and mining and people hiding in poses or stations when they could have been ratting or mining.

This means the economy will see less isk and less ore as well as a marginal reduction in ESS-related loyalty points. It probably won't effect nullsec exploration much as that's fairly safe. We may see less moon goo production and reaction as people feel less safe about erecting moon miner POSes. We may see less PI production as people are forced out of their space.

A big decline in the production of isk would lead to less money chasing the same goods, ie deflation. So all goods will be likely to become cheaper except perhaps nullsec ores and their derivatives like Megacyte.

Loyalty point items, exploration loot and wormhole-exclusive materials will likely become cheaper, the latter being particularly true in view of the upcoming rebalance of T3 strategic cruisers (likely to be a nerf).

Will Eve be a better game? I think so. Conflicts abounding more reward for the people who manage nullsec successfully.

Will the Uncle Bob problem be solved? That seems less clear. If a big boy comes to a small sov holder and says "give us 20 billion or we'll wreck you" they will be likely to be able to extort money. So it will still be like renting except without the flagging. There is an out though - if someone becomes sufficiently bitter they can drop sov then spend all their time making their oppressors lives hell from NPC space.

What may solve the Uncle Bob problem and what shouldn't be forgotten is that there is still the prospect of a whole new type of space coming when the massive player-made stargates project is finished. So someone feeling oppressed by CFC and N3/PL would be able to move to what is pretty much a whole other game zone and forget them. That will be the real test of the sov revamp - whether the sov fixes keep players wanting to stay under the yoke of the blue doughnut when a viable alternative opens up.

So here's my prediction: the sov changes will make for exciting times in the short term but will ultimately fail to shake up nullsec and as soon as a new zone opens up on the other side of the player made gates all the farmable people will emigrate leaving a bitter bitter core of veterans sitting in their supers blaming CCP.

Is anyone remembering Trammel?

(Edit: thanks to user /u/mechacanadaII or reddit for pointing out an error)

Friday, 27 February 2015

Crowfall - believe the hype



It happens every time a certain type of MMO comes out. PvP-centric, skill-based, sandbox, it evokes memories of the glory days of UO, SWG and Shadowbane, of Asheron's Call and Anarchy Online. Even the early days of WoW, the great Southshore - Tarren Mill brawls that emerged were a far cry from the homogenised fare of today's theme park MMOs.

And fans always get let down. Vanguard was a glorious vision but McQuaid is hopelessly impractical, Darkfall was mean-spirited and full of exploits, Age of Conan became horribly bland after its first magnificent 20 levels and Warhammer stole too many of WoW's features to remain distinctive from it.

Not this time.

I could iterate numerous reasons why Crowfall is different but at core there's one point that stands out.

It's a really really good idea for a game.

Crowfall entertains through the conquest of destructible kingdoms. These mayfly realms are where all the good crafting materials are hidden and this full economy crafter-oriented realm V realm game will see players aggressively attempt to grab the juicy ore, metal and wood before each realm collapses into zombie apocalypse.

And that's such a good idea, such a good basic game mechanic. It's why chess stays fresh, you place the pieces anew each match. Imagine an Eve where the Goon spider, sitting fat and smug in Deklein, gets unceremoniously ejected to high sec each year and has to begin its games of diplomacy and conquest afresh.

Crowfall has a very distinguished crew, a wonderful crafting and class system but so too have other projects. It's the Risk style of board dominance that makes Crowfall so exciting and imo so likely to repopularise the sandbox nice.

Play Crowfall. Because it will the THE Game of Thrones.

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Is it safe to rat here?

"Is it safe to rat here?"

"Well there's a neut in Local but I don't think he's active."


Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Reporting explosion: Eve's news sites

3 years ago Eve news reporting was rather in the doldrums. EN24 covered most of the main nullsec fights but was somewhat sporadic and rather anti-CFC biased. Eve Tribune had after a long and stalwart effort petered out. The print magazine EON, run with very high quality standards almost since Eve's launch, finally folded. In fact the best Eve news site was not something that purported to be one but in fact the awesome blog of Ripard Teg: Jester's Trek, which was brilliantly written, insightful and averaged around 500 articles per year.

In August 2012 this changed sensationally with the launch of TheMittani.com. I remember looking at the site on the first day and the site then was very strange indeed. No articles yet, no news, no leaders but an impressive wall of legalese claiming copyright, jurisdiction, rights over privacy and numerous other sundry legal privileges. From day one it was aiming at a professionalism and size that was truly ambitious in scope for what is after all rather a small hobby. It seemed like someone was making a site to sell - which is rather understandable if one knows about the money made from some of the WoW sites.

From the start the site aimed to professionalise Eve news and raise the bar. The site has always looked fantastic and articles have often been very high quality. Allegations have been made of pro-CFC bias and from time to time that's certainly been true. The editors have always said they're keen to attract writers from outside the CFC but they've generally struggled to do so. There also seems to be a gap between what the editors are trying to achieve and what the comment moderators are trying to achieve. Editors eagerly seek out alternate perspectives while commenting that "Goons are lying" or some such gets people promptly banned.

If TMC added one very worthwhile news source in itself its wider influence may end up being even more significant. Most immediately they had a salutary effect on EN24. EN24 has actively been trying since the launch of TMC to keep up with its rival and has adopted many of the same innovations first seen on its rival. It now covers wider geek culture, has its own forums, and has twitter and facebook presence.

We've also seen Crossing Zebras morph from a podcast into a full Eve News site with strong opinion and historical pieces and excellent youtube series including the nullsec recap pioneered by Hendrick Talladar - picked up after he got sacked by TMC and ships fits with Elise Randolph. CZ has a word cloud on its front page and currently the most sought for word is "Hendrick" which should give some idea of how significant a hire this journalist is. TMC meanwhile continues to run its own version of the nullsec round-up but in my opinion neither one is quite as good as when Hendrick was doing them.

Recently we've seen a new site emerge: The Eve Neocom - your interface to the universe of Eve Online which shares the attributes of ambition, a team of writers and multimedia that the other news sites have and which elevates them above being mere multi-writer blogs.

(Edit: a clarification was given in the comment below by Proto:

I should clarify however, that we're not a "news" site as we try to deal exclusively with community updates, new player info, and general game guides.)

In short it's a good time for people who enjoy reading about Eve. And if you do something interesting in game don't be surprised if some journalist convos you and asks for an interview.

Sunday, 15 February 2015

On writing for TheMittani.com

I recently had a go at writing for TheMittani.com. It was a good experience and I'd definitely recommend it. Unfortunately I became rather burned out on Eve so it wasn't good timing for me and I decided not to continue with it after struggling for most of January to motivate myself to write something.

The site pays isk for articles according to how many a writer contributes. At the lower end this is:
0 articles = kicked off the team
1 article = neither kicked nor paid
2 articles = 250k isk.

More articles gets you more isk and if you're particularly keen they offer you an editor post.

I wrote an article that sparked lots of comments and a follow-up from another writer so it was a good debut article.

It's hard to adjust to working with a team. On my blog I just bash out some random rant and it's done and dusted. Very occasionally I might do some proper journalism or an interview but normally it's just a typed opinion. Working with an editor requires a writer to be much more on top of things. So I submitted a suggestion for an article I wanted to write. checked back a few times before it was green-lit then wrote my article then found an editor for it who gave me some gret feedback concerning explaining myself more clearly, then I amended it and sent it back to the editor, then it got ok-ed then I published it. It's a lot of back and forth.

Now that's fine when you're keen and checking the site several times a day. It's a chore if you get behind. After I wrote my article before I knew it Christmas was here, then I started playing a different game then bang, month over and I hadn't reached the minimum necessary to get paid. January rocked up and I continued to not really play Eve and it got to like the 20th January. I thought "right, better get my skates on" and pitched an article, it took a couple of days for it to be green lit, then I wasn't motivated/didn't have spare time, then it was like Jan 27th or something and there was no way I'd get an article written, bounce it back and forth off an editor a few times, publish it, then do a second one before the end of the month. And it's really not worth being a paid writer if you're not meeting the minimum to get paid.

None of this is a criticism of TMC. Nor even of myself - I didn't expect to burn out, I just did.

So should bloggers consider writing for pro sites like TMC?

Definitely.

Working with an editor is a privilege. It makes you a better writer, allowing you to see where other people perceive poor communication in your writing. Getting published is an ego boost. Having the site behind you is a useful tool, I had it in mind to interview some people saying I was writing for TMC. I would feel a lot more confident about approaching a famous player or a CCP staff member with a major Eve site behind me than if I were just doing it for Stabbed Up.

Coping with all the bouncing back and forth of submissions, re-submissions and so on is fine when you're motivated. Strongly motivated. I guess being syndicated for sites like EN24 is the lazy way to do it but at TMC it definitely felt like work.

Writing for a wider audience improves you. Comments are very critical and very perceptive and someone always will take exception to any opinion you express on a high profile internet site. I chose not to get involved in the comment battle on my piece but it was a passionate and spirited argument. The comments also picked up a mistake I had made with one of my pictures which made me think about my journalistic technique. See, I had written a piece on isboxer without actually trying isboxer which I realised afterwards was poor and unprofessional from a journalistic point of view. If I wanted to be a good journalist I should have set aside my distaste for the program and tried it out. Other projects I had in mind included interviewing people or creating the news, definitely more labour-intensive than my usual blogging.

So in conclusion I would definitely recommend writing for a site and TMC is a very professional one which will make you a better writer so long as you're committed to learning and improving. There's been some criticism of TMC articles this week on reddit but for me it's not what other writers contribute that will determine how much effort I put into crafting an article but the process itself of receiving scrutiny and reflecting on practice.

Big thanks to everyone at TMC and sorry not to have made more of a contribution. I may come back at some point when I have more going on in Eve.


Sunday, 18 January 2015

Pecking order games

Last time I blogged, about a brutally competitive strategy involving farming newbies, Carson63000 made the very sensible point:

Not saying it's ethical or unethical, but I must say, after reading this series of blog posts, I would not even consider playing MtG:O. Pay-per-entry tournaments where even the explicitly designated "new player" games involve experienced players farming newbies? No thanks

Human social nature is a balance of cooperation and competition. Games tend towards competition. There are cooperative games but generally if you're playing a game in a risk free no consequences environment it's actually a really good place to compete with people because you don't lose your job/life/front teeth when things don't work out.

I think one of the clearest ways in which this has been shown is the case of the virtual world game. Virtual worlds (MMOs and MUDs) were seen by their pioneers as spaces where both cooperation and competition could thrive in tandem. Ultima Online, Everquest, Star Wars:Galaxies all had mechanics that strongly forced competition. In most of them crafting was so extremely laborious that you couldn't make everything you needed - you were forced to get some items from other people. Auction houses were limited or absent so to get a weapon from a weaponsmith you had to visit that specific player, encouraging social interaction. Both PvE and PvP challenges often forced players to gang up, soloing was somewhat limited. And the difficulty of encounters forced people to discuss tactics to beat them.

Players have consistently fought against and lobbied for change on mechanics that prevent them from advancing alone.

The modern MMO is a streamlined affair where group encounters don't really reward any conversation or working relationship, where solo advancement paths are very viable and where even on group situations people are encouraged to focus on themselves (eg "I topped the damage meter").

Magic is an extreme of competive gaming, the game is built around redistributing assets from unsuccessful players to successful ones.

That's a big part of the fun for me right now, there's a clear and verifiable experience of where you stand. If you're very good you finish with lots of prizes, if you're average you gradually bleed resources away (after all the house always wins) and if you're bad you should probably stop playing and play something else.

So right now I'm still in the learning stages but I'm interested in completing my apprenticeship and seeing where I land. If I'm good at this game then it's a never ending stream of more and more prizes, with entry fees being comfortably paid out of my winnings. If I'm not very good then it would be good to know that.

Of course the thing about pecking order games is that those at the top become very invested while those at the bottom tend to leave so it's always a pool of players that are refining themselves by success. But dog eat dog is kinda fun, nothing like seeing people rage when they lose :)

Monday, 5 January 2015

MTGO: proceeds of a new account farm.

I'm in the groove now of my Magic farming strategy. I've just used the last of my New Player Points on my third account and the practice has made me a much better player - in fact I've now gone 3-0 a couple of times. Not bad for someone who's only been playing just over a week!

The tactic is to open an account then play 4 New to Magic Sealed Deck tournaments. Coming in with 2 or 3 wins in one of these tournaments wins 2 tickets and you get 5 free ones with each account. In other words a new account gives 5-13 tickets for $10 plus tax. Tickets otherwise cost about $1 each although there's some fluctuation on the secondary market.

On my first account I had a one win and two  two win results for 11 tickets. My next account I didn't get any 3-0s but I did manage to get 4 two win results for 13 total tix. My third account I got 2 2-1 results and 2 3-0s for 13 total tix. In addition I got 60 Khans Of Tarkir cards as Sealed Deck prizes (2 rare, 22 uncommon and 36 commons) although asking a buybot for an offer only gave me an offer of 0.17 tix. I clearly didn't get any sought after rares.

I had decided I would spend £40 getting back into Magic. That's $60 which is 5 new accounts so I'll do 2 more. I've also since decided since I'm having fun that I'll spend an additional £40 each time a new expansion comes out, including the one at the end of the month, so that's about £160 per year. That's a reasonable budget that over time should see me becoming competitive without again becoming the huge spender I was in my youth.

It did occur to me to wonder whether farming noobs is ethical. In the end I decided yes, its fine.

First I'm fairly clueless myself. I'm not used to it and am making a lot of mistakes. While I used to play Magic that was years ago and I've only been playing this game, MTGO, for just over a week.

Next I think it's fine to farm noobs anyway. Magic is farm or be farmed, that's just how it is. Every Magic player farms other Magic players. You can't give people cards for winning and not expect people to gravitate towards however they get the most wins.

Next it seems to be designed deliberately. There's no need to give away tix with new accounts, they could give account bound entry vouchers like Blizzard did in Hearthstone with the free arena entry as part of the Goblins and Gnomes prelaunch. If Wotc, who are pretty smart cookies and very experienced at this business, have set things up so newish players optimally farm very new players it's likely as a way of retaining people at the crucial point of having run out of free stuff and having to think about playing with the big boys and girls.

Then again a simpler explanation is simply that Eve has ruined me for online ethics.

The next phase is to experiment with Pauper format until I can reliably get about 50% win rate then use my tix to enter events.