Saturday, 22 February 2014

The curious incident of the diplomats in nullsec

Gregory : "Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?"
Holmes: "To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time."
Gregory: "The dog did nothing in the night-time."
Holmes: "That was the curious incident."

Just as in the famous Sherlock Holmes story, diplomats in Eve are curious for what they don't do.

One of the fascinations of a sandbox game is that people have very personal playstyles and goals. To an outsider it may seem intuitive to expect all players of, say, the nullsec conquest minigame to play very similarly in fact we don't.

With the exception of the CFC, nullsec diplomats don't do diplomacy. Curious, eh?

Peace in our time.

Most people in nullsec are here for fights and by a somewhat darwinian process most people not looking for pvp action have been driven out. Not many would pick goldfish as their species if given the chance to participate in a sharkpool.

But the pure pvp style has its weakness - isk generation. Often pvp alliances are led by veteran players who made so much money in Eve's early days they don't have to worry about anything less that a titan loss. Sometimes you'll see Eve corporations when recruiting ask for "self sufficient" pilots - this is code for being able to lose expensive ships without being able to make money on your main.

The pure pvp style does destroy carebear-oriented small alliances but against the large numbers of the CFC coalition it can't compete. This is because the pvp style needs to not have many blues in order to feed itself a constant diet of kills. Added to this is often a certain abrasiveness of style that suits the personalities of the people who lead aggressive pvp alliances.

The fleetbear style however is a perfect adaptation to nullsec and its predators making maximum use of the current game mechanics. A fleetbear (term coined by Gevlon) is a ratter or miner who switches to a combat ship for big important ops then goes back to ratting and mining again once the emergency is over. They can win the big ops by forming massive numbers but blueball the little ops, the roams and blops drops by hiding in a friendly pos until the danger passes. In large numbers led by expert FCs fleet bears are pretty effective because all they have to do for the most part is shoot the primary. For this reason they are sometimes called "F1 monkeys." (Until recently with drone assist it was even easier for fleetbears, some of them alt tabbed to other games while their fc killed other fleets with assisted sentry drones).

Even more important, because fleetbears don't need to be fed kills you don't need to worry about blueing (setting positive diplomatic standings with) other nullsec entities. In fact the more blues you have the better as pvp is a secondary activity.

I argued recently that the battle of B-R changed the nullsec meta as it emphasised titans as a combat ship. For a nullsec entity to develop a titan force it needs its members to be generating isk. There are other methods of building up your titan armada (eg poaching).

And that brings us back round to the curious behaviour of nullsec diplomats.

In a fleetbear set-up the job of a diplomat is to woo, charm and cajole threats into becoming allies or non-threats. Where someone won't agree to become blue, a NIP will do. (A NIP is an agreement not to attack each others structures). After all it's not a big deal if ratters occasionally get ganked, it's just a cost of business for your less alert players who will simply reship and carry on ratting paying a little more attention to Local. What's more there's an overarching strategic aim to the role of the diplomats, they are trying to conquer the universe by making deals. Often these deals succeed simply because they're innovative. RvB has been criticised for supporting Goons in their high sec poco affairs. But know why they support Goons? Because no one else thought to ask them!

In a pvp organisation the job of a diplomat is mostly mechanical, for instance to request temp blue or other basic rather functional tasks that allow the pvp alliances to make brief marriages of convenience. It is never the goal to build up a strong blue list as that is seen as target denial to its own members. So the diplomats are not part of the alliance's strategy as the ultimate goal is always to reset everyone else and maximise violence.

The major remaining nullsec forces are as follows:
CFC - fleetbears
PL - elite pvp
BL - elite pvp
Triumvirate - elite pvp
SOLAR - fleetbears (russian), relatively minor
-A- pvp
various other russian alliances mostly pvp
N3 led by an elite pvp alliance (NC.), bulked out by fleetbears. Also currently losing rather hard.

Nothing illustrates the effect of diplomats more clearly than the last 12 months. After TEST, who were kind of antidiplomats (specialists in antagonising everyone), broke from the CFC to make a new coalition and declared an intention to attack the CFC the goon diplomats went into action. Shadoo, a leader of PL, declared he wasn't keen to manage such a huge campaign and offered a wargames alternative which the goon diplomats supported. A senior goon was despatched to the Test forums on a posting charm offensive. The diplomats helped to stave off the war with Test while CFC ratters earned isk in Deklein and elite pvpers blew each other up. The goons were catching up in terms of resources and titans.

Then a stroke of luck for the CFC. Due to Test's apathy, leadership of their coalition fell to someone so terrible that Test decided they couldn't tolerate him. Lacking the political savvy to simply talk to the HBC alliance leaders behind his back then present Sort Dragon with a fait accompli, Test chose to perform a dramatic reset which turned half of their coalition into bitter enemies. Despite this they still allowed Sort Dragon to control several systems in Fountain, icing their self-destructiveness with a layer of stupidity.

There then followed a month of elite pvp alliances NC. and PL picking on Test in Delve. There were provocations, sure, but this was frankly rather short-sighted, as they destroyed a chunk of Test's ship and isk reserves, spending some of their own reserves - particularly of stamina in the process. The CFC's small squadron of pvpers enthusiastically joined with NC. and PL to shoot Test.

With Test weakened and isolated the Goons decided to declare war, a move that almost backfired. Sort Dragon predictably handed over the Fountain space he controlled to the CFC, aborting a couple of PL titans in build. And the Goons made some initial progress against ferocious Test resistance.
Then it all started to go wrong as PL and N3 entered the war on Test's side while Black Legion made explosive gains in the North, destroying an expensive Tempest Fleet Issue fleet, and capturing the Q-C station with a small armada of carriers trapped inside. Meanwhile the allied forces in Fountain pushed back the CFC gains from 14 systems to a mere 4, threatening the CFC staging system in B-D in Cloud Ring.

The diplomats rescued the CFC - they simply bought off Black Legion. Meanwhile PL and NC. got sick of dealing with Test - their elitism led them to feel deeply frustrated with frequent mistakes and failures. In the end PL quietly stopped turning up as the Alliance Tournament got closer and NC., after needing to go home to deal with a massive sov drop didn't want to come back. Only Nulli stuck by Test and it wasn't enough.

So the war can be seen as a test of the personalities of the two sides. The fleetbears solved a problem using diplomacy. The pvpers grew fed up with each other because they're conditioned to abrasiveness and intolerance.

And that led on to the halloween war where N3/PL reaped the consequences of letting Test collapse. They got to fight the CFC again, this time with BL and all of the Russian alliances committed to the CFC side - another triumph for CFC diplomacy and political savvy. They've lost, the final stages of that conflict are being wrapped up this week at the 0-W hellcamp.

How different it all could have been had Shadoo permitted Montolio's attack on the CFC in January 2013 or if Black Legion had stayed committed to attacking the CFC during the Fountain War.

With the collapse of N3 there's no one to challenge the CFC as nullsec's dominant fleetbears. In addition the elite pvp groups are loathe to band together because other elite pvpers are rude to them, because they'd rather fight pvpers than blueballing fleetbears and because the CFC has simply now snowballed so damn big that no one has a chance to fight them when they're fully committed.
This can't be changed from the outside. We won't see fresh young groups spring up and take on the CFC effectively because they simply can't match either the titan force or the host of allies, not to mention the diplomatic contacts and spy network. There's no one in nullsec playing the same political game as the CFC - of making as many friends as possible while still maintaining pvp effectiveness (quite a difficult balancing act). And that means everyone who isn't the CFC will tend to prefer to fight people who are weaker than themselves rather than negotiate a competing coalition.

Nullsec is now stagnant until the CFC breaks itself up from within or until CCP redesigns the sov system in such a way that it is no longer beneficial to have tens of thousands of friendly pilots all ratting away, fleeting up now and then if a structure gets reinforced.

The diplomats, of whom only the CFC has officials who really deserve the name, have won Eve.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Nullsec Eve: the shape of things to come

Exciting times in null as we see the closing stages of the first great universal empire.

First kudos to Goons for effectively conquering sovereign Eve. With the announcement last night that the CFC will spend the next week hellcamping N3 we now see a nullsec where every significant sov holder has either been allied by the Goons, has a contractual arrangement with the Goons or is being hellcamped by the Goons or has disintegrated completely.

So what comes next?

At some point soon the CFC will draw a line under the campaign against N3. By the end of the week most of N3 will be dormant while they wait for the CFC to leave them alone. It seems unlikely to me that Goons will go after PL, it's too useful to have a major enemy that they can control and make deals with.

They can stamp down some of the small pests staging from NPC nullsec like Black Legion (with whom I fly) and Gang Bang Team but that's very limited pvp content. Stage close, melt the towers, play cat and mouse with fleets, the CFC trying to show us a small enough fleet to encourage us to engage then drop the hammer, while we will hope to run in, snatch the cheese then run off quick before the trap gets sprung.

We won't see another titan battle for some time. (Titans ganks are a distinct possibility).

But we're inevitably drawing closer and closer to the time when the Goons are forced to break up the CFC.

With the beating of N3 almost over and if I'm right that they won't go after PL the only other major space holders are the Russian alliances. That would be a poor campaign for the CFC - the Russians are too outnumbered alone but strong enough that a PL-N3-Russian alliance could be difficult. (After all N3 won't really die nor even lose appreciable strength, it'll just wait out the storm with its assets safely logged out). Plus the Goons love a forum confrontation which they won't get against the Russians who mostly never use the English-speaking forums.

So at some point during 2014 the CFC will fragment.

Soon someone in the CFC will be isolated and pilloried.

Here's how I think it will happen:

- first there needs to be an excuse. Someone will do something somewhere that the Goons find unacceptable in a CFC member and will "make an example" of the offender(s)

- the Goons will probably look to reset enough of the CFC to make for an interesting fight but not so much that they lose.

- the Goons probably already know who is going to get expelled from the CFC.

- a narrative that makes Goons the honest victims of their targets treachery will be manufactured and widely taken as true.

- there's an outside chance that the Goons will reset everyone in the CFC and take on all comers in a heroic Alamo style pitched defence. Especially if Mittens steps down as leader.

The breakup of the CFC will offer opportunities for all the smaller sov-capable alliances like BL, N3 (probably rebranded), Evoke, Triumvirate and so on.

We are also likely to see a change during the summer to power projection, especially if Eve has a boring Spring.

Sunday, 9 February 2014

The future of nullsec fleets after B-R

While a lot has been said about the political effects of the great titan fight I think it's worth looking into the changes in ship v ship meta.

More than 70 titans died at B-R

Before B-R to most Eve players being a subcap pilot was a perfectly valid playstyle choice. After B-R many players will have shifted their thinking towards eventually becoming a titan pilot.

Before B-R for a lot of players titans were considered boring ships where you got landed with the chore of bridging other people around, the risk of accidentally and disastrously misclicking, but no compensating fun unless you were in PL doing drive-bys.

Now they're firmly, and probably rightfully, established as the king of ships, the top dogs.

It's not just titans - CFC held off reinforcements and crucially dictors with very effective subcap fleets that covered the local staging systems and gates into B-R. I was down there in Kurator's inty fleet but we were ineffective because of a much larger inty fleet ran by Alphastarpilot that controlled the way into B-R.

Now the shift in meta also requires a shift in playstyle to a much more economic one. It was pretty easy to get into a Domi or Battleship Of The Month and once you owned one, if it died your alliance paid for a new one. So after the initial outlay you got to pvp for free and didn't have to worry too much about isk.

Developing a titan capability is a huge grind for an individual player and is best done by what Gevlon's started calling a "fleetbear."

A fleetbear is a pilot who comes along to the very important ops but ignores all less significant pvp ops. Essentially they're renters who pay their rent in participation instead of isk. Typically CFC alliances will have some kind of minimum pvp participation measured by pap links (participation links) which allow players to fleet up and click the link to accrue measurable participation statistics that allow them to rat or mine in peace for the rest of the time.

Paplink FC? Paplink?

While this both amuses and bemuses the rest of Eve to see a sizable part of the player base joining fleets they don't care about to do pvp they're not intereted in just to "clock on" it does allow all of these players to potentially rat their way to titans and supers.

So Eve is shifting to become more of an economic game because of the shift in meta resulting from B-R. And this meta feeds back into the political meta where the key aim for alliances will be economic prosperity, and alliances that don't keep up financially can't compete.

The accountants have won Eve!