Friday, 28 March 2014

Industry Experiment Update

Atrons have been flying off the shelves so far. I've been popping them up on contract as singles, three and five packs, priced at 1 million per fit Atron. I even got a 1 million ISK tip for one of my 5 packs, so it looks like customers are happy. A full Jump Freighter load per week is just about perfect and so I started my next production run. With my current skills it takes just over 7 days to make 128 Atrons resulting in a nice weekly routine. I've also been able to cut costs substantially by acquiring modules for the fit via buy orders in Jita. So to break even on my next batch, after accounting for all costs, I would only need to sell the contracts for ~600,000 ISK. I was dithering over whether I should drop the cost of my contracts to account for this, however I don't want to scare other contractors out of the market and cause supply problems. With this in mind, I also don't put them them all up at once. I'm purposefully spinning out supply, so that other contractors also get a chance to sell and so that they don't simply get bought out and re-listed. I'm not really sure how well this is working but it seems like a sensible plan. I'll keep my eye on it.

The project itself has been interesting. I've enjoyed working out the logistics required for manufacturing in EVE. When I played Rift, the crafting system was extremely basic. You didn't even need items to be in your inventory, they could be sitting in your bank. As long as you had the materials, which could conveniently be sourced from an auction house within the crafting area, you could simply "press button, receive bacon". Not very engaging. However in EVE, working out all the steps and figuring out how to connect the dots in the most efficient way is quite satisfying. It has been a good learning experience and I have a lot of sympathy for contract maker and industry folk now. The amount of clicking is frankly ridiculous. There really need to be some ways to fit multiple and rename multiple ships implemented and some sort of template system for manufacturing jobs.

It was also a lot of fun moving my Jump Freighter around for the first time. I feel like my trusty Viator might start gathering dust, though I guess it is still handy for quick shopping trips to nearby trade hubs. I made my first Jump Freighter round trip on Monday, in order to get my first batch of Atrons into Sendaya, and have since completed a bunch of alliance courier contracts over the past week. The first few jumps were quite nerve racking and I did have one minor bump off the Sendaya station. My heart leapt into my mouth as I watched my Anshar drift helplessly at 500m/s away. Fortunately I was still within docking range by the time the session timer ticked down and docked up safely. Some minor adjustments to cyno position were made and I haven't bumped since. Having the Jump Freighter has also given me quite a "free" feeling. It is like learning to drive and getting your first car. It grans a certain feeling of independence and freedom. The knowledge that I can shift all my bits and bobs through the EVE universe if we redeploy again is liberating. Now I just need to figure out how to rescue some of the ships I have randomly strewn about null sec space.

Looking onward, I want to expand more into manufacturing. As such, I've started up a pure Industry and manufacturing alt. Whether this will lead to a high sec POS for research and invention or not I don't know at this time. If I wan't to try out T2 production, I have a suspicion that it will require me to do my own invention to get the T2 BPCs. However, until I get to that point some expansion of my T1 manufacturing seems in order. Managing an alt with 10 slots working T1 items is a nice short term goal to set and should provide some more income on the side to start investing into other projects. I have a few ideas in mind, which I will undoubtedly write about soon. For example, I've been brainstorming ideas on jobs for new players to earn some ISK outside of the more standard options that we have available. I'm a bit out of touch with how new players can make ISK in low sec. Some conversation has been has on comms on what veteran players would be willing to pay new players to do for them. One example that was brought up was scouting wormhole chains for routes out to key high sec locations and then selling the bookmarks. I know that I'd be willing to buy some of these for a quick route to Jita. I have a few ideas of my own, though I think some experimentation is in order before I get into the details.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Sociopaths in Space

That statistics page on Blogger tells me that people are visiting my blog which is nice motivation to keep writing it, even if that number is still relatively small. It also shows links which have redirected traffic to the page. On a couple of occasions I've noticed traffic from other blogs that I read which is really satisfying. So I got a nice surprise today when I noticed some traffic being redirected from Kate 'On at Eve PLEX, a market focused blog. However, much to my dismay, the reasoning behind that traffic was a little embarrassing. You see, I have been called out as a sociopath: Sociopath Callout Erotica1.

Before you read on, no, I am not Erotica1. I ashamed to share a blog post with that name. My reference is much lower down the page and refers to my previous post. The post itself, as far as I'm aware, is not why I was called out. I was called out in reference to a comment which I made on a recent post at Jesters Trek and that my most recent post is ironic in light of that. Jester has recently been making a series of thought provoking posts regarding the changing culture of EVE online. Jester posits the dark side of EVE, in which players revel in the pain and misery of others, is getting worse and that this is detrimental to the game, particularly in the recruitment of new players. His main point, is that the intensity of the activities taking place is increasing. Now, I don't completely agree with him, though I'll get to that later. I suggest you read Jesters post before continuing, some of the comments may be of interest too: The bonus round

For those who don't wish to read right now I'll briefly summarize. Jester describes a recent scam carried out by Erotica1. Erotica1 is a well known ISK doubler, however they occasionally take a victim into "the bonus room" where they get the victim to provide an API key and hand over, quite literally, all of their EVE assets. Ships, ISK, cashed in LP... everything. They then say they will further multiply the value of all the items given to them, if the victim "remains faithful". What follows is where things get controversial. The victim is made to carry out a series of acts designed to break and humiliate them whilst being recorded on teamspeak. The recording is then published for all to hear. The link is available on Jesters post.

So what did I say that got me called out as a sociopath?

"I don't agree with what Erotica does but I'd hardly call it torture. The victim isn't being held captive, they can leave at any time. I do agree that they take the scam past the point at which it should stop. However, at worst I would call it bullying. Calling it torture is a disservice to actual torture victims.

Also, they don't outwardly insult their victims from what I have seen so far. They simply play off the gullibility of the victim. Is pushing that gullibility to the breaking point unethical? Probably. Honestly though I think you are blowing this out of proportion."

- Bizar Raizen

This led to me being called out and some discourse over at Eve PLEX. Kate 'On feels that I am an enabler of people like Erotica1. I must admit, I am embarrassed to be associated with people like that and it certainly was not my intention. I think that Kate 'On did a pretty good job at deconstructing most of my argument, of which there were 3 main points, and certainly made me view the situation in a new light. The first point was my dislike of using the word torture to describe the activity. I felt that the victim could simply walk away and therefore it couldn't really be considered torture and that using the term is an exaggeration. However, Kate 'On made a compelling argument that in some cases of torture, the victim is free to walk away. In this particular example, Erotica plays off the psychological weakness of his victim, who truly believes that they can get their assets back, essentially trapping them there. My second point was that they are playing off the gullibility of their victim to carry out these acts. Again, they made the point that if the victims of these scams tend to be in a psychologically weak state then we can't judge them by the same standards of gullibility that we would apply to ourselves. I think that is a fair point, and I think I jumped the gun in this case attributing it to gullibility. Unfortunately, however, my final point is the point that I actually wanted to send home but didn't do so within the context of the post.

I think Jester is blowing things out of proportion and that it is a detrimental way of looking at things if we wan't to reduce this sort of behavior within EVE online. I personally think that drawing attention to the behaviour of Erotica1 is pointless and that energy should be focused elsewhere. What are CCP supposed to do about it? Banning the person won't solve much. In fact, it could be extremely controversial, since the harassment essentially took place out of game. Though it was a very blurry line. Changing the rules regarding scamming is also controversial, as it is a widely accepted activity within EVE online. So what to do? I personally don't think there is much CCP can do directly. However, what can the playerbase do? This leads me to look at why I think Jester is blowing it out of proportion. To me, the people who applaud the behaviour of players like Erotica1 are a minority, a despicable and depraved minority. Is it a growing minority? Maybe. However, one only has to look at the progress of other entities within the game such as Brave Newbies, E-UNI, RvB and a plethora of others to see that there are other large communities within the game who have a positive influence on the game which are also growing.

Erotica1 is a depraved bully who takes advantage of vulnerable EVE players. I am ashamed to share an existence with people like that and deeply embarassed that I have been associated with him. Drawing attention to him is not what we need to do. We should be drawing attention to the heroes within the community. Make positive behaviour the norm, make it celebrated. Make EVE a game where people say "is that the game where there is a 10 year old establishment dedicated to helping new players" in reference to E-UNI. I'm proud to be a Brave Newbie. I'm proud to be part of something positive. I'm not a sociopath... but I guess that's what a sociopath would say.

Monday, 24 March 2014

Experimenting with Industry: Helping the newbros!

One of my favourite things about EVE is the ability to come up with an idea or objective, formulate a plan and then execute it. This can range from something simple, such as building your first ship, to extremely grand and long term, like establishing a sovereignty holding alliance. My most recent experiment, currently under execution, is a simply Industry plan. I have gotten my feet wet through some simple T1 small rig manufacturing which has been going nicely on the side making reasonable profits. It has also given me some insight into the planning and logistics required to run a successful manufacturing operation. However, about a week ago I felt that it was time to step my game up a little bit.

So I started manufacturing Atrons! Not exactly rocket science. However, there is more reasoning behind this. In Sendaya, the price of frigate hulls is quite steep. This can make it tough for newbros in the alliance living on a shoestring budget to keep getting out in space and fighting. In Barleguet, fast tackle Atron fits were going for about 1 million ISK. A very basic fit but functional and useful enough that a new player can get in one quickly and start experiencing the game while feeling that they can contribute to a fleet. In Sendaya the price is more volatile and I have seen contracts for 2 million ISK and upwards (though they do often go for 1.2-1.5million/hull when buying packs). I think it is really important to get new players out in space to start enjoying the game so I set myself an objective of getting Atron's contracts up for 1 million per fit ship. I plan to supply ~100 of these per week.

So now with an objective, I had to identify why the price was high and how I could work on reducing it. In Sendaya there are no manufacturing lines. Therefore ships either have to be manufactured outside or simply bought in Jita (or another trade hub) and then shipped in. An alternative would be to build them in a nearby system that does have manufacturing lines, however this adds an extra step which new players can be put off by. Recently our fights have been skirmishes around the Sendaya undock so for fast reshipping it is a bit of a pain to keep jumping back and forth to another system to reship, nevermind the risk of losing a newly bought ship in transit. The main problem with Atron prices is the shipping cost. Realistically, Atrons have to be Jump Freighted in to Sendaya. This means ~15 million ISK in personal jump fuel or 25 million ISK in alliance courier fees. At only 128 Atrons per load (320,000 m3) making this cost efficient is a problem. Also, if shipping from Jita you have to consider the time investment in moving a freighter or an additional courier cost (though this cost is negligible if blended into other market operations). So when you consider that 128 Atrons, at time of writing, would only cost ~53 million ISK, you can see why hull prices in Sendaya are high. It is simply to cover the cost of logistics. I know there are guys out there who run frigate hulls in very low volumes, say 10 at a time, in aid of new players looking for cheaper ships. I greatly appreciate these guys and they have my respect for the hard work they do. However, for me that is just too impractical and time inefficient. It would cut into my PvP time far too much to be worth it.

How do I go about bringing the price down then? Well, the first thing is "local" manufacturing. In this case, I am going to produce them in Mendori, which is a good high staging system for Jump Freighting. My first run of 128 Atron's cost ~310,000 ISK/hull to produce in minerals which will finish tomorrow at time of writing (minerals were sourced from Amarr sell orders). Second, I'm going to do my own jump freighting. I can now fly a Jump Freighter on an alt which this means I only have to worry about the cost of my own fuel (with current skills it is ~15 million per round trip and will drop to ~10 million by next week). Lastly, I'll bring the extra modules needed for the contracts from Jita. At time of writing the cost of these modules is ~280,000 ISK per hull. This set up has several advantages. By manufacturing, I am able to undercut the Jita sell price by ~100,000 ISK per hull. This starts to add up quickly when considering the volume that I intend to move every week. By doing my own freighting I also cut down on courier costs. This also has a secondary advantage of not having to stick to the 320,000m3 rule on contracts. Since I fly an Anshar, I can haul ~350,000m3. Though not calculated completely here, this will allow me to squeeze in more Atrons per load along with the modules for the fit. However, for now I will stick to 128 Atrons per load as this takes ~7 days to manufacture and use the extra space to haul items that would usually be brought via a blockade runner.

Math time:

Hulls: 128 * 310,000 = 39,680,000 ISK
Modules: 128 * 280,000 = 35,850,000 ISK
Fuel: 15,000,000 ISK
Total Cost: 90,530,000

This price will fluctuate a bit depending on mineral and module prices. However. as you can see an individual with a Jump Freighter could, theoretically, make quite a nice profit while providing hulls at a very acceptable margin for new players. At 1 million per contract I would make almost 40 million ISK in profit from a 90 million ISK investment (that's over 40% return on investment). As this is once per week, it also doesn't require much extra effort. Most of the action points can be blended in with other typical market activities. My actual action plan would be the following steps:

  1. Aquire goods in Jita (market alt) - This could be via buy or sell orders
  2. Ship items to Mendori via courier - This would be part of a full 1 billion collateral cargo
  3. Set up Atron manufacturing job (hauling/industry alt)
  4. Ship Atrons to Sendaya (hauling/industry alt)
  5. Fit the ships and set up contracts (main character)
Steps 1-4 would have been part of my routine anyway. The only extra step required for me in this operation will be the fitting part. My plan is to do this during down time between activities on my main character. I'll consider it busy work when not much else is going on. So while extra work it shouldn't conflict with my usual activities as it will fill gaps in my time spent ship spinning when I can't think of anything else to do.

I think the result of this is quite satisfying. I found a pain point within the alliance which I felt required some attention, came up with a solution and executed it (assuming my JF doesn't go bye bye in the next few days, though I've spent a great deal of time figuring out cyno positioning!). It also isn't even 100% efficient in terms of ISK. With some extra planning one could cut costs even further using buy orders on the minerals and modules. There is also room for impovement via use of a better researched Atron BPO. The next thing I need to look at then is what other ships I can start fitting into the rotation. Atron's are fine, though a step up for the new guys is to get them flying other force multiplying ships such as EWAR frigates. Either way, I can definitely see more manufacturing on my horizon!

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

We accidentally a sovereignty

Last night the various alliances within HERO claimed sovereignty. I don't know all the details as of yet but it was a rather interesting night. It was amazing to see the organisation and manpower that the coalition was able to deploy given the opportunity. The sense of urgency and excitement was awesome. Here is my story. EVE is real, I was there yada yada.

I logged on for a strat op at 18:45 EVE time and quickly fit up an Exequror as we were running an armor fleet. The op started off a bit messy. People haven't quite got the hang of undocking from our new poop out station and we had a Tornado gang harassing us. They were waiting for our Megathrons, probing them down as they insta undocked and then tackling them before they were able to align and warp to the staging POS. Even our glorious leader, Lychton, got caught out by this and lost his mega. "Didn't want that mega anyway" he proclaimed over mumble before going to fit up a new one.

Eventually we undocked our fleet together to scare off the Tornadoes and made our way to the Titan to be bridged out. This was smooth without much waiting around, fortunate since the Tornado gang landed on us just as we bridged out. However, on land we found ourselves inside a bubble with a group of smartbombing battleships. I was pretty close so chose to burn directly away and out of smartbomb range as fast as possible, before aligning out with the rest of the fleet, and managed to avoid any hull damage. A couple of other exequrors weren't so lucky. After warping we were met by another smart bombing gang in a bubble, though fortunately this time few of us were in range and we made our way out of the second bubble relatively safely whilst destroying the aggressors. Next destination, structure bashing time!

My memory gets a little hazy here. Shortly after arriving at the structure we were engaged by multiple fleets, bubbled up and our Megathrons smashed by a bombing run, reducing most of them to 10-20% armor and some into hull. My history window then flooded with armor rep requests, making identification of the initial primaries impossible and we started to loose ships fast before logi could stabilise. I had been keeping range and was outside of bubbles staying aligned out. TiDi was at 10-20%. A request went out to get our own bombing run on the enemy fleet. The demoralizing reply of "we got uncloaked and are all dead" came back. Things were looking dire. The FC called an align that was between myself and the wall of bubbles so I maintained an align out to an alternative safe while keeping the fleet in range. Just as they got out of that set of bubbles another one went up on the fleet. Fortunately, the enemy bombers were kind enough to provide a get out of jail free card on their second run, destroying the bubble shortly after deployment, allowing our fleet to warp out. After watching the fleet get out safely I then warped to my align and then regrouped with them about 100km off our POS. The enemy fleet were on the opposite side on top of one of our fast tackle. In an attempt to get in the POS we warped to him at 100km. This put most of the fleet inside the POS, however I ended up about 5km outside the shield. Balls. I instantly overheated my AB and made best speed directly towards the shield. I was being locked and knew it was going to be close. Unfortunately it was the wrong kind of close and I got popped <500m off the POS shield. Ouch.

I had a couple of implants in, about 20 mill worth, so I felt that I would wait it out for a route home in my pod. Amid the confusion the enemy fleet was bashing the POS. A question then came up on comms "Uuhhh, is there stront in this POS?". At first nobody was sure. Though eventually someone piped up to confirm that yes, there was stront in the POS, moments before it went into reinforce. Phew! Time to play the waiting game. Realising that we were no longer a threat, the enemy fleet left. A little while later I got a private conversation invite and end up acquiring myself an Augoror from a fellow logi who had to leave for work. A little while after that Darkness of Despair, owners of the system we were in, disbanded. WHAT!? More confusion. Comms got crazy. Lots of people didn't understand what is going on. FCs explained that the systems are no loner owned and are free to be claimed. They started scrambling to organise reinforcement fleets, cynos and the logistics required to take sovereignty. We were no longer going home. We had a second wind and were taking sov. An opportunity had presented itself. It was time to get back into the action and begin a cleanup operation. I'm not 100% sure on the details, I just know that we had to go grind down some of our own structures and grind down the station in the system so that it would become ours. Unfortunately at this point I had to go to bed so I went back to the POS and logged off safely. However I was assured that content would be going until down time. It was going to be a long operation and pings were going out constantly.

In the morning, I woke up grabbed some coffee, logged in and checked that the Aug was still alive (I'd promised to give it back if I made it home). We had sovereignty and a station so I decided to dock up in our new system. Now I just need to figure out how to get the Aug back to its rightful owner.

Monday, 10 March 2014

A HEROic Deployment

Moving day

Moving is a pain. The logistics of moving a bunch of stuff in EVE can be awkward but has been an interesting learning experience. I'd stockpiled too many ships in Barleguet which I somehow hadn't managed to tactically disassemble yet (blow up). Not for lack of trying either! One of my Scythes has lasted at least 6 fairly large scale fleet fights without popping. That included a major fight with an RvB Ganked roam. For ships I use on a regular basis, such as the Scythe, I had been keeping 3 in stock at any one time. That way if I lost 1 or 2 in quick succession there was always at least 1 standing by so I didn't have to scramble to refit another ship. It also meant that I could plan ahead a bit and bring in my own modules during a hauling run. However, this has made shifting assets a bit of a nuisance. I had ~15 fit and rigged ships stockpiled in Barleguet which I didn't really want to disassemble as it would destroy the rigs. During the move I overheard a nice piece of advice. They described the "1 carrier rule". Basically, in EVE if you aren't packing light then you are doing it wrong. Only keep 1 suitcase (aka Carrier) worth of fitted ships in 1 system at a time. This makes sense and will be something I try and keep to whilst deployments and moves are always on the horizon.

Although I had mismanaged my ship stockpile, I had dealt with my market operation quite well, letting it slowly empty out without bringing in any more goods after the deployment was announced. I think I did a lot better than those who choose to firesale at the last minute. By the moving date I only had ~1 billion worth of sell orders left which I was able to fit into a blockade runner and move to the new system. In the end I just shifted a few of cruisers with the convoy fleets then moved an interceptor and then a bomber solo. I think in future I won't stockpile so many ships. Overall I've done alright with the move and been able to cut losses. Having to leave ships behind is a little irritating, though I think that's just a minor case of ocd. There is also a chance we will be back there at some point. I only left a couple of cruisers behind and the rest were frigates. So I can always jump back and get them blown up in some solo PvP. I'm not yet ready to give up the fight on having a clean and organised assets menu though. Better planning in future will help with that. In 2 weeks I will also have my own Jump Freighter, so moving lots of assets in future will be much less painful.


I'm now working on building up my market again in the new home system. A lot of items were heavily overpriced so I've been steadily ferrying in doctrine modules and listing at Jita + 20% to start driving down prices and make them more reasonable for the alliance. Whether 20% is reasonable or not I don't know. I've not had many complaints but it seems much fairer than the 50%+ that I've seen on a lot of the other key modules that we use. Moving hulls is also an area I'm looking into. I've put off moving them via alliance courier contracts currently as our haulers are dealing with a heavy backlog of other contracts. There have been complaints about hull prices relative to what they were previously in Barleguet. However, my understanding is that Barleguet relied a lot on local production for smaller ships, which isn't possible in Sendayah as there are no manufacturing lines. This means that breaking even on common frigates, such as the Atron, requires a hefty markup after considering courier costs. Even if everything were to be hauled personally from Jita the cheapest I could conceivably get an Atron down to was ~700k just to break even after factoring in the cost of jump fuel. This makes provision of <1million ISK fast tackle frigates for newbies a bit difficult. However, In 2-3 weeks when I'm running my own Jump Freighter I'll look into this a bit more. I'm planning a nice side project involving a foray into manufacturing. My goal is to get Atrons, and other low profit per m3 hulls, down to ~15-20% markup on Jita sell prices while still maintaining a slim profit margin.


Although I find the logistics stuff somewhat enjoyable, I know most people enjoy the pew pew. Well, there's been plenty of that. I had a bit of an EVE bender this recent weekend so all the content blurred into 1 culminating in a huge subcap fight in Sendaya on Sunday. The main objective of the deployment, as far as I am aware, is to mess with sovereignty. Actually taking sovereignty doesn't seem to be a priority but I guess only time will tell. Over the weekend I got into a couple of siege bombing fleets targeting sov structures. Looking at my killboard I seem to have lost a bomber, though I can't remember it so it can't have been a notable loss. However, flying the bomber has been a lot of fun. I've learned a lot about the importance of tacticals and essentially strafing a target by aligning out back and forth to celestials to escape when things get hairy. I think mastering this is something I need to work on and will be important when I start actually bombing stuff. Also, being able to cloak up and essentially spectate a battle, such as our support fleet landing, is also quite fun and interesting. I like the idea of being a cloaky scout and scanning down targets so it might be time that I whipped out a buzzard from time to time.

Other than structure bashing stuff over the weekend I also got out in my Scythe a few times. We broke up a few gate camps here and there and generally tried to clean up Sendaya a bit. I also got myself into a bit of a predicament. Some sort of a sov timer was coming out and we were disorganized. So pings went out and we formed up as fast as possible and made best speed to the location. Being disorganised myself, I forgot that I only had a a couple of hours before I would have to leave. Logging out in nullsec mid fight isn't exactly conductive to survivability. However, I decided to go anyway and mark up the expected loss to the benefit of the operation. 20 or so minuted after beginning the structure bash a Harpy fleet landed about 150km off and we started bouncing. It was clear we couldn't outrun them forever and eventually their fleet caught us in a bubble. This was about as late as I could possibly stay. I managed to get out of the bubble and had to close game and run. At the time I'd written off my Scythe and 20M pod (silly implants).

2 hours later I return and the operation is over. However, I'm also not dead. Success! Though I must admit, at this point I was kinda hoping I was dead as it was 18 jumps back to Sendaya. Since I'd already written off the ship and pop I decided just to YOLO (cringe) it back to home. I start jumping and notice a friendly in local. They strike up a private conversation with me and offer to scout ahead in their interceptor. Most of the way home is clear until 2 jumps from home where we find a gatecamp. Drat, what to do now? I'd reached a system with stations, so the option available was to log off. However, I had come so far already, I was determined to get home. So I log on mumble and check the fleet finder. Turns out there is a fleet forming up in the doctrine I'm flying. Perfect timing. So I join the fleet and find out where they are heading. Turns out they are on their way to clear the gate camp before looking for content. After breaking the camp I decide to stick it out in the fleet.

This where shit starts to get real. I can't remember all the players involved as I was pretty tired at this point, though there were roughly 3 groups and almost 1000 ships involved. I'll probably get this horribly wrong but lets try. The engagement started with an organised fight with a large caracal gang. I think this is the gang that also brought Archons, which were disposed of rather quickly, but I'm not 100% sure*. All I know is that we killed Archons in record speed at some point in the beginning of this series of engagements. The stream of missiles from the Caracals was pretty incredible, though it seemed like waiting for missiles to land before each target switch allowed us to chew through them rather quickly with our Thoraxes. This was only the beginning though. Shortly after that a Tengu fleet and a Tornado fleet landed and we had a bit of a Mexican stand off. Eventually our fleet sided with the Tornados and we began trying to engage the Tengu fleet. However, we were having trouble getting them into our desired range. They were also using a frigate as a warp out point in order to maintain range on us. I believe the FC referred to this as a tow line, a pretty cool tactic which I hadn't seen before. During this engagement we ended up with another local spike. A 100 strong Navy Apocalypse gang who also brought Archons as support. I have no idea who ended up shooting who to be honest. In the end we had killed the majority of the Apoc's and added a few more Archons to the tally, killed a ton of Tengus and held the field overall. I don't think I've seen a wreck field that big before. I also don't think I've seen a wreck field looted and salvaged that fast before!

So far I'm fairly positive about this deployment. The content seems readily available and so far the structure grinding hasn't been dull as it has brought fights. I've also learned a lot and am much more comfortable operating in null sec. I'm also wondering how long I can hold on to this Scythe. Did I mention that it's the same Scythe from the start of this post? I've certainly got my moneys worth out of it. It's a good thing CCP are adding new paint jobs to ships because this Scythe definitely needs a new one. I feel like it has graduated beyond it's rust and duct tape roots.

*Update after reading about the fight elsewhere. The Archons were part of an AHAC and BS gang which we were fighting prior to the Caracals. The Caracals didn't stick around for long after the Tengu and Tornado fleets got involved. Next time I'll try and pay attention to write a proper AAR rather than going off my hazy memory.

Friday, 7 March 2014

eveSports part 2: Is it actually a good idea?

In the previous post I highlighted what I felt were the key areas that needed work in order to make EVE into a suitable game for eSports. However, that post focused mainly on the mechanics and features that would need to be implemented such as custom arenas and an overall improved spectator experience*. What I want to talk about now is the consequences that turning the game into an eSport could have.

One of the most obvious problems is that it would require development time. I imagine that a lot of the features I described in the previous post would take a lot of work to implement. EVE has had its ups and downs over the course of its development and not all expansions have been equally well received. The player base in EVE puts great pressure on CCP and every small change, no matter how insignificant it may seem, is heavily scrutinized.  Incarna is one of the most memorable examples of player uproar, which literally had players rioting in game at how much they disliked the direction CCP was taking the game. Going the competitive eSports route would be a very significant change with the potential to alienate a large portion of the player base who have no interest in competitive gaming. This would especially be the case if it meant that their areas of gameplay were neglected in favor of developing the game into an eSport.

The second problem it would have is the effect on other areas of the game. Though this could manifest in many ways depending on the system implemented. The obvious one to me is the effect on ship balance. For the game to be truly competitive, balance would have to be tweaked to keep certain fleet compositions from becoming overpowered. The problem is that arena style play, such as in the Alliance Tournament (AT), uses different ship fittings and fleet compositions to those found in the regular sandbox. If balance changes were made with tournament style play in mind it could be detrimental to the game as a whole. I think the current ship balance is actually fairly good and it seems like a range of compositions get fielded in the current tournament formats. However, it is definitely something to take into consideration moving forwards. It is also tricky to predict what other areas of the sandbox would be affected. For example, what if the implementation resulted in players not having to pay for ships? How would the economy be affected? I think it is fair to assume that any ships or ISK given to players in the arena would not be allowed back into the sandbox. However, could this cause more players to engage in PvP in these private arenas at no ISK cost, rather than out in the sandbox, resulting in less content for regular PvP players?

Another issue is how it would fit into the lore of the game. I think EVE is an innately immerse game. I'd go so far as to say that all EVE players are role players, whether they mean to be or not. Politics and wars between alliances essentially add to the history and lore of the game. I think this immersion into the EVE universe is part of what makes it such an amazing game.Would an arena system be immersion breaking?Probably. For a true eSports experience I don't think it is practical to try and "force" the immersion by linking the arena system to some sort of sensible lore mechanic. I have heard many examples of how to implement an arena for regular AT style combat into the game. Just to pick one example, players have mentioned the use of dead space pockets and gates that only let the designated teams through. While a good idea, and a feature I think would add to the game in general, it isn't a great solution. You are taking the current brick wall barrier to entry and replacing it with a hurdle. The best eSports titles get you into the action seamlessly without having to faff around. My personal idea would be to have an extra service button in stations leading to a "VR simulation" of some sort. This would connect throughout every station. This "simulation" would then lead to a typical game browser as seen in other games. I'm sure you can see where I'm going with this. The point is to make the process of setting up a match as quick and painless as possible. Of course, this has the problem of players not getting out in space again. If too many players were jumping into the "VR mode" to get quick fights, it could cause real content droughts in other areas of the game. Not ideal.

Also problematic is the effect it could have on AT and New Eden Open formats. Part of what makes these tournaments so interesting is that they actually happen within the EVE universe with real assets being put on the line. It has a tangible effect on the sandbox and becomes part of the lore and history of the game. It requires a real effort to field an effective team and epitomizes EVE as a whole. It comes back to immersion. For example, Pandemic Legion recently took a major financial hit in the battle of B-R. They had to factor in the financial cost of the upcoming AT when considering their retreat and recovery as an alliance. If the AT were to occur outside of the sandbox then it could have impacted that decision process. The other element to this is the meta gaming that occurs in the AT. Teams have to to go great lengths to keep their compositions and fitting secret from other teams. It is a legit tactic and common for teams to spy on each other and try and hard counter each other. It wouldn't surprise me if teams also lay out bait for known spies and turn the tables in the tournaments. This adds to the atmosphere and narrative of the tournaments, adding extra depth, which wouldn't be as common if private arenas existed.

The final issue is the sort of player base it might attract to the game. Any League of Legend's player can attest to the toxic environment that highly competitive gaming can result in. The anonymity of the internet is a powerful thing. The current EVE community is by no means perfect. However, I'd like to think it has a certain amount of maturity to it. Easing the barrier of entry would undoubtedly lead to a flood of YOLOSW4G360NOSCOPE type gamers into the community. Is that really good for the health of the game as a whole?

Overall, I'm not sure how EVE could truly be developed into a fully featured eSport title without causing harm to the sandbox as a whole. I'm pro eSports in general, I just don't feel that trying to drive EVE as an eSport and attempting to emulate other successful titles would be beneficial for the game. I think that more could be done to empower players to be able to host their own tournament in the Alliance Tournament format. However, I think it has to occur within the sandbox and fit within the lore of the game. Unfortunately I think developing the game into an eSport is directly contradictory to the immersive nature of the game.

* On a recent podcast my attention was drawn to the Null-Sec website. They have a 3D match viewer which allows you to watch replays of the matches from NEOII. It is a great interface and exactly the sort of thing I was thinking about in the previous post.

Thursday, 6 March 2014

eveSports part 1: Is it feasible?

Warning. Long post incoming... and it's only part 1!

There are a number of games out there which have proven highly successful in the eSports scene. League of Legends, Starcraft II and CS:GO come to mind. They all have regular tournaments with sponsors and large prize pools. League of Legends is practically tailor made for eSports and the developers place a lot of focus on this. Starcraft and Counter Strike had much humbler beginnings. In the early days their development as eSports was largely driven by the competitive community. However, now Starcraft II and CS:GO have a lot more developer support helping them cement their place as popular eSport titles. EVE is in an interesting place and with the New Eden Open underway I thought it was good timing to discuss EVE as a potential eSport.

The Criteria

Firstly, what makes a game a good eSport? Here are what I feel are 4 key attributes that a game needs to have in order to succeed as an eSport:
  1. Low Barrier of Entry
  2. Competitive Community
  3. Spectator Friendly
  4. Developer Support
This is by means an exhaustive list! However, in my time playing games competitively I've watched many games come and go as eSports. The successful ones usually nailed all 4 of these points. So how does EVE do in each category?

Barrier to Entry

I think that EVE has a high barrier to entry and this, in my opinion, is extremely limiting in its development as an eSport. There isn't really any way for a brand new player to pick up EVE and get into a competitive match. This is due to a number of reasons. Firstly, there isn't really any way to quickly and easily set up the match environment found in the alliance tournament or new eden open. Secondly, the amount of ISK required to be competitive isn't realistically achievable by a young player. Finally, new players won't have the skill points to fly the range of ships required in tournament play, let alone have the support skills to be competitive in them against a veteran player. I think this is one of the most difficult things to change without negatively affecting the game as a whole but I'll get back to that in part 2.

Competitive Community

EVE is an extremely competitive game by its very nature. Also, the number of corporations and alliances in the game automatically lend itself to the formation of a large number of teams for competitive play. The community is also excellent at organising itself. The syndicate competitive league is a great example of this. If the tools were available to the playerbase as a whole to set up matches in the alliance tournament format, or other custom formats, then I imagine many more organisations like the syndicate competitive league would pop up. Podcasts, blogs and other communities already set up contests of various kinds. Extending this to tournament play would be natural if it was easier to actually set up the tournament conditions.

Spectator Experience

I don't think that EVE is a particularly fun game to watch for the untrained eye. To an uneducated viewer, there really isn't a clear way to tell what is going on. Even to an educated player it often just boils down to watching the battlefeed overlay at the bottom of the twitch feed without having to pay too much attention to the actual spaceships. Remind you of anything? It starts with O and ends with verview. Spreadsheets in space! How exciting! Anyway, my point is that more needs to be done to make the actual fight itself the focus rather than the battlefeed.

The second part to this is accessibility of the spectator system. My current understanding is that with EVE the battlefeed overlay is not readily available to players without CCP help. Also, the only way to spectate matches is through Twitch TV streams rather than via the game itself in some way. I think this particular limitation is also tied into the inability of players to set up their own "arenas" or servers to hold matches in. However, I think both would need to be addressed simultaneously.

The last element is the pacing during and between matches. I think this is partly due to how matches are set up, with CCP having to manually teleport people into a system on Tranquility which is inaccessible to the rest of the game. Up to 20 minutes of setup for a best of 1 which in some cases is a complete whitewash can be a bit anticlimatic. Credit where its due, I think CCP ran last weekends NEO matches very well and the discussion between matches was always relevant and interesting. CCP Rise, Fozzie and Dolan really know their stuff and I think Bro also did a good job directing considering it was his first time in the casting char. It also came across as very professional to me and the player made adverts in the intervals was a nice touch. However, due to the slow pacing, I did feel that it lacked a lot of energy and wouldn't really lend itself too well to a main stage atmosphere at a major tournament such as Dreamhack for example.

Developer Support

I think EVE passes this with flying colours. It is evident that CCP is keen to test the waters with eSports. Cash prizes for the NEO, large support of the Alliance Tournament and the support they have shown to player organisations such as the Syndicate Competitive League make this quite clear. I feel reassured that they wan't to make it work. There are a number of steps I think they need to do to achieve this though.

Priorities and changes

  1. Low Barrier of Entry
  2. Competitive Community
  3. Spectator Experience
  4. Developer Support
I feel that the game does have the competitive community base to supports eSports in EVE and I also think they have strong developer support. 2 out of 4 isn't too bad. However, I think the barrier to entry and spectator experience are serious problems if EVE wants to grow as an eSport. So what would I do about it?

Barrier to entry

I talked about EVE's barrier to entry. Competitive play is extremely difficult to get into as a new player for the reasons mentioned earlier. One idea is to have a way to set up private arenas, like the alliance tournament, which also normalises the players skillpoints. Then give them access to free ships, or a pool of money to buy them, to address the ISK issue. There would then have to be ways to regulate the arena settings to force compliance with particular rulesets, like the points systems used for fleet composition in NEO and the Alliance Tournament. This could be taken further, like limiting the skill pool, skill points or even ISK pool to allow interesting tournament styles to evolve. The general idea though is that arenas need to be easy to set up and they need to be accessible to new players. However, I do appreciate that there are huge ramifications with implementing something like this into the game and I'll discuss them in part 2!

The ability to have multiple matches running in parallel is also important. This would result automatically if private arena matches were possible and it would make tournament logistics themselves much more feasible and potentially more interesting. There are only 32 teams in NEOII, yet the tournament has to run over 2 weekends. Best of 3 matches seem like a no brainer to me, especially when 1 round only lasts 10 minutes, but this would have caused the first 16 matches of NEO to take 18 hours or upwards instead of 6! 

Spectator Experience

Basically, more needs to be done to make the actual fight watchable. The battlefeed overlay is okay for extra information but it shouldn't be the main focus for a spectator. Putting certain information on the bracket system could be a problem in regular gameplay but not in a tournament setting where UI clutter is less of an issue. Especially since a spectator won't need things like chat boxes, module controls or an overview to take up screen real estate. It needs things like indicators on the actual ships in space demonstrating webs, damps and other effects. Ships could be given icons based on their point values. Ship health values could be indicated on the brackets themselves via a simple colour system e.g. blue = shield, orange = hull and red = structure. Vary the colour distribution on the icon to show how a ship is tanked (shield versus armor). While EVE isn't an RTS, I think spectating it from such a view isn't such a bad idea via a specific spectator bracket system. Ultimately, getting a good overview of the fight that isn't literally watching a spreadsheet with health bars is what I'm looking for.

Secondly, we need the spectator interface to be accessible from within the game. There needs to be a way to watch an arena game remotely, similar to watching a CS:GO match, via the ingame interface without being directly connected to that particular arena. Linking it into a recording system, like the demo system which has existed in counter strike for over 10 years, would be excellent and a good way to allow content creators to do casting of matches after the fact or create highlight reels.

Also, a private arena system would indirectly affect the spectator experience by making casting matches much easier. The ability to reset matches and get set up quickly would lead to better game pacing and less "forced" chit chat to stall between the matches. This would make also it easier for tournament casters to jump to the next game much quicker rather than 10-20 minute intervals between each 10 minute round. Also, it would allow longer match formats, such as best of 3 or best of 5 at earlier points in tournaments which I think would be more exciting. 1 round matches that are over in a whitewash are pretty underwhelming to me and often, in other games, a team who gets whitewashed in game 1 can often mount a comeback. I think it would lead to better tournament stories and enhance the experience.

Closing summary

I think EVE has a lot going for it as a potential eSport. The actual tactics and strategy involved are very complex and rewarding when learned. However, the barrier for entry makes it difficult for new players to get involved. Also, although many EVE players will find the matches really exciting, I feel it relies too much on knowledge of the game. Other games, such as Starcraft II, have good spectator turnouts even when the spectators don't play or fully understand the game. I think it is because they simply appeal better to the eye, have better pacing in a tournament format and then good casters to explain the mechanics and tactics going on in the matches. I feel improvements can be made, or things implemented, which would push EVE in this direction. However, that being said, implementing things like private arenas into the game are dangerous for other reasons. Some subtle and some more obvious but I will talk about that in part 2! So tune in tomorrow for the dangers of making EVE into a fully fledged eSport.

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Does EVE have an endgame?

I hear endgame being brought up occasionally when EVE is discussed. A lot of gamers these days ask "What is the endgame like?" when thinking about getting into a new game. EVE is no exception to this. However, I find it a very difficult question to answer, though not because I don't have one. The endgame usually refers to the range of content a player will have available when they reach "maximum level" in a particular game. This doesn't truly apply to EVE since there isn't a max level. Also, you don't really have access to the entire game when you make a brand new character. For example, a brand new character can't do Incursions on day 1 therefore the whole sandbox isn't available. The whole "endgame" isn't available if you wan't to think about it like that. If you say that a game "doesn't have an endgame" the connotation is that it doesn't have much content. So, if an ex theme park MMO player who wants to try out is told that EVE doesn't have an endgame, it can put them off. How do I then answer the question? Most EVE players would say that "no, EVE doesn't have an endgame since its a sandbox". However, I would disagree with that. I'd say that EVE does have an endgame, just not in the traditional sense. I'd tell them that the endgame is up to them and that they are empowered by the sandbox. How they use the tools is up to them.

Endgame in most other MMOs is usually reaching maximum level then dipping into all the various types of content available until one gets bored of them. EVE is a game where you set your own goals. You essentially choose your own endgame, rather than have the game automatically direct you towards it. I mentioned Incursions. A brand new player might quite like the PvE content. So they might set the long term goal of training into a ship suitable for running Incursions. Getting to incursions and running them regularly might be that persons "endgame". It might be the only content they want to do. In the shorter term they would focus then on running mission content, essentially progressing through the various ship types and training support skills for their endgame goal. However, Incursions are maybe a poor example since the mission running progression "model" is similar to the tiered progression model commonly followed in theme park MMOs.

What about Industry. I think this is a nice example since there isn't really an obvious progression path. Within Industry a single player sets their own goals and follows them. One player might be to work all the way up to Capital or even Supercapital manufacturing. However another player may simply stick to T1 manufacturing and work towards that particular niche on a larger scale. Another might be more flexible and do a little bit of everything across a range of manufacturing "tiers". The endgame for these players is simply maintaining that continuous process or setting new goals. You cant really "complete" or "win" at manufacturing, like you might do at the last tier of content in a theme park MMO, since it is a continuous process. However, I would still consider it an endgame activity regardless of what level of manufacturing you stop at.

A third area, and probably the most hotly debated, is PvP. PvP can be split into many categories but the simplest divisions are usually to divide into areas of space. High sec, Low sec, Null sec and Wormholes. Null can be subdivided further into Sovereignty Null and NPC Null. You can then further work your way down from massive supercapital battles all the way down to solo PvP. It is interesting because there are players who reside in these areas of space, participate in a specific type of PvP, and refer to their style of play as "THE" endgame. As an example, there are minorities of Null Sov players who proclaim their style of play to be the true endgame of EVE and that everyone should be working towards that style of play. While I think it is fair to choose that style of play as one's endgame experience I feel that it is a false conclusion. I also think it could be detrimental or offputting to tell a new player that any one particular playstyle is the endgame in EVE and everything else is simply leads to it or supports it.

As I said, many players will state that EVE has no endgame have come to that conclusion due to the vast amount of things to do in the game. Their conclusion might be that there are so many paths to take that one simply cannot ever reach an endgame. Others might say that there is an endgame but hold onto the idea that their particular style of play is "THE" endgame. Really I think EVE's endgame is up to the individual. The sandbox nature of the game puts the player in a great position. The linear progression paths and content driven nature of theme park MMOs often puts the player at the mercy of the developer. However, in EVE the endgame is largely put in the players hands. It is very empowering and one of the most refreshing things about EVE in my opinion. I think it is fundamental to EVE as a game that this power of choice remains. I'n my opinion EVE is about setting goals towards a personal endgame. It is satisfying to reach those goals and to reach that endgame. However, one must never forget the journey that got them there. I think that sentiment has been lost to a degree in other theme park MMOs and I hope it isn't lost as EVE development continues.