I'd like to conclude my so far rather gloomy series of posts about null sec with something more positive. First off, I'd like to say I'm very impressed with CCP, with their awareness of the game issues and their conscientious and thorough approach to iteration. I once played a MMO (Star Wars Galaxies) where the Live team wanted the game to be a different game and played other games in their off-time. It's why it died. I'm now playing Eve where the devs play it when they're not being paid to and where they get their ideas from the community not from (better) rival games.
So Eve is in good hands and is very healthy. Maybe we won't see something much like my idea but we will see something and it will be pretty good.
So how can we fix null sec? First, let's look at what's good about it and what's bad about it.
- it's fun. It's very exciting to paint the map in your alliance's colours, to undertake massive and difficult conquest of space.
- it's social. It's a communal exercise where it's very hard to solo, you have to group to be effective. (There are exceptions and Eve has plenty of outlets for solo players).
- in some ways the rise of the coalitions is a vindication of Eve's awesome sovereign gameplay.
- it drives the rest of Eve. The destruction of ships and structures in massive null sec pvp provides markets for the builders and traders, keeps rewards high for those who earn loyalty points in Faction War or mission running and is where the high level ships produced from wormholes go to die.
- the main issue is that possibly the end is within sight. As I talked about last time we could see an all-blue (non-aggression) null sec simply because expanding your circle of allies is the natural and most effective method of playing the game. So people want to win and because we want to win we risk causing the game to stagnate as an unintended consequence.
- another problem is that the rest of the game is economically dependent on the null sec fighting. Eve has a rare MMO mechanic of destroyable ships which makes it unique and is the reason it appeals to its niche. No other mainstream MMO has so rich an economy or such a fun crafting game and the reason is that the demand is perpetually renewed because ships get blown up. Few other MMOs allow you to risk so much in one throw or ruin another person's day so thoroughly.
- null sec industry is non-functional. People just bring stuff in from Jita. Even null sec mining is barely better than high sec mining.
- it's too small. It may once have seemed epic and vast but the game grew in player numbers continuously from 2003 to 2010 and space has been further shrunk by the efficiency of jump drive using pilots. It's not just the introduction of the capital ships, its their development as players have skilled their characters up and developed alt-based strategies that allow them to move their ships across great chains of jumps.
(I deliberately don't include two oft cited null sec issues as bad. Lag isn't bad now that we have time dilation. And structure grinding is about where it should be so people don't lose their hard-won space too quickly or too trivially).
In brief: More space.
In detail: Deep space sensors across Empire space begin to pick up strange and giant artifacts out beyond the furthest reaches of a number of solar systems. Exploration teams discover vast alien pillars, previously undetectable but now beaming a faint signal. Is this some kind of unknowable invitation? Engineers examining the objects conclude they are some kind of non-operational alien stargates built on a scale never before seen in New Eden. Where they go is beyond anyone's ability to guess. But it does seem as if they could, with sufficient resource investment, be made operational...
This would be an expansion (in both senses of the word) in stages. The first stage is rendering the Cosmic Starways operational. My idea for this is borrowed from World of Warcraft where for the Ahn'Qiraj raid instances each world had to first make a vast communal effort. You'd hand in resources and receive rewards, worthwhile enough that people would feel motivated to do it for the reward even if they didn't give two hoots about opening up what lay beyond. So there would be a Cosmic Starway in each Empire constellation and any player can fly up to one, interact with a Sisters of Eve agent there, and hand in resources and get LP in return. Sisters of Eve LP or LP for some special store, doesn't really matter. This of course would be a useful asset sink.
Opening a gateway should take the entire server weeks or months. There's no harm in making this a really big effort, it makes it feel more epic and sinks more assets.
Each gateway leads to an area of Orion-space, a new null sec zone. Functioning more or less as current null sec except with one crucial difference: the distances (in Light Years) are much bigger. Where a six cyno chain in the current game might let you jump 50 systems in Orion-space you'd travel more like 10. Jump drives are mainly useful for letting you appear in a different place in a system than the obvious entrance rather than letting you move super-fast across regions. In particular the Cosmic Starway that leads in from Empire is hundreds of AU long, meaning that no jumps from anywhere else in Eve are possible. Orion-space does not connect to wormhole space.
Curtailed travel times have the following effects:
- discourages blobbing. A large empire needs to not concentrate all its force in one place because it will be unable to quickly move to help other frontiers if it does so.
- encourages local industry. It's better to make stuff locally than to bring it from Jita.
- encourages political diversity. It's much harder for a coalition or two to dominate everywhere.
- encourages exploration and small scale ventures. You can find a corner of the universe where it might take months before anyone even notices you, much less attacks you.
- encourages ganking as so much more trade is moving in convoys rather than virtually ungankable jump freighters.
- encourages racial homogeneity as it will be hard to get isotopes that aren't native to the region.
Economic notes: Orion-space should not be an exporter to the rest of Eve. There's always a temptation to sell a new feature to the player base by filling it with shinies, this area really doesn't need that. Its inaccessibility is its Unique Selling Point. By the same token anything Orion space can't make locally will be rarely seen. T3 Cruisers would have to be brought in from Empire in Freighter convoys through stargates because those materials aren't available. Amarr type regions (the equivalents of Delve) would be full of Amarr capitals because it would be so hard to run ships that require "foreign" fuel.
Political notes: Orion-space will attract people to nullsec who feels marginalised by the current Eve political situation. Most people don't want to have to become a Goon in order to not get your home kicked in. A new patchwork quilt of rival alliances should emerge, much like early days of Eve. Initially whoever can take and hold the entrance system from the first Cosmic Starway built will have an amazing influence - they'll be gatekeepers to the entire zone. However no one will be able to stop the community from handing in resources for LP across Empire and so the other Starways will gradually get opened allowing more access points. Orion-space would make a great alternatives for alliances that lose in conventional null. Instead of moving to Empire they could come here - an exciting option instead of a dull one.
Afterword: however CCP solve the issue of null sec stagnation I'm sure it will be good and surprising. Eve is in good hands.