Daily Archives: March 23, 2018

In Which I am Against Instanced Content for Once

Out of the blue SynCaine suddenly decided that he had the solution to the big null sec battle problem in EVE Online.  Having seen instanced PvP battles in Life is Feudal, he felt the need to propose null sec fights like the “million dollar battle” of some weeks back be instanced as well.

My experience from that battle

He was engaged with the idea sufficiently to post a second time about it to say how wonderful it would be because it would lead to more good press about the game, since big battles and bad people are about all that gets EVE Online in the news.

And I couldn’t disagree more with the idea of instance battles in New Eden.

I am, of course, a proponent of instancing in many cases.  I think instanced dungeons and raids are part of the formula that made World of Warcraft the success it has been and remains.

The whole open world dungeon thing came from the MUD days, when communities were small and social pressure could keep people from screwing around with zone runs.  Mostly.  I still remember in TorilMUD at its peak the devs having to essentially set up rules as to who had “dibs” on a given zone.  That was during a time when the player base could maybe support four or five correctly staffed zone groups (16 players each) and so there was some competition for the prime zones.  In the end though there was no need to instance.

That changed with EverQuest and the MMORPGs that followed in its wake.  I hear people talking about ideas like “server communities” being a thing and social pressure working in Norrath back in the day, but I was there and I don’t believe it.  Dunbar’s Number gives lie to the idea that you could “know” your server “community” of several thousand people.

EverQuest had the open dungeon thing for a while, but eventually went to instancing of some dungeon content in 2003 with the Lost Dungeons of Norrath expansion.  That, of course, killed EverQuest, sending it into immediate decline.

Oh, wait, no… EverQuest actually hit its peak after that and only went into decline when World of Warcraft showed up having essentially copied EverQuest while removing much of the suck.

Subscriptions – 150K to 1 million

So instancing PvE content like dungeons is fine in my book and solves a lot of problems, problems that kept coming up in the EverQuest retro servers until they went back and instanced some of the old raids as well.  Instancing wins in PvE.

Instancing in PvP though… that is a different beast altogether.

I mean, I guess it is okay for battleground and similar “match” based competitions where what you are doing is essentially outside of the game.  I wouldn’t suggest that something like the Alliance Tournament ought to take place live in New Eden with the rest of us.  The temptation to third party on it would be irresistible.

But the Alliance Tournament isn’t a big deal in the grand scheme of things.  PC Gamer isn’t putting up headlines about the winners or commenting on ship compositions.  It is, like many things in EVE Online, something that a niche group is into and the majority of the game barely notices.

And you could say that about big null sec battles as well.  As Neville Smit pointed out at a point in the past, 85% of the game doesn’t play in null sec, or didn’t when those numbers were pulled.  The difference is that big null sec battles are one of the places where EVE Online stands out from other games, something that does get PC Gamer and the like to write about.

My gut reaction to the idea that CCP should instance big battles is that the whole idea breaks the core philosophy of the game, that everything that happens in the game happens IN the game.  There is supposed to be no magic in New Eden.  No transport fairy moves you ships or modules or ore around, you have to schlep it yourself or pay somebody to move it.  When you lose a ship you have to go get a new one, you don’t just respawn with one. (Okay, rookies ships get handed to you, but within the context of the game it has a reason.)  And when you are out doing something, mining, hauling, running a mission, or shooting somebody’s ship, somebody else can show up and start shooting at you.

When you undock in New Eden, you are taking a risk.  That is part of the deal.

So the idea that you can undock and have a battle over an objective in null sec and are able to keep it private by locking out interlopers just breaks the game in my book.

I’ll grant that is just an opinion.

The Dude has me covered

I would even suggest that CCP would agree with that opinion.  But that doesn’t make it a concrete absolute in the universe.  So I won’t just stomp my feet and say “It’s wrong!”  There are other arguments against the idea.

The first is, of course, how would CCP even implement such a thing?  Saying that they should just instance those fights is like a line item from the product manager.  They drop that turd on your desk and leave you to figure out how to deal with it.

I won’t play the Blizzard “impossible” card, as they are wont to do, but this isn’t an easy change.  You have to setup an instanced battle via some automatic procedure that needs to happen for a specific set of circumstances (e.g. Keepstar final timer), which can successfully limit participation in the eventual battle to exactly the right number of exactly the right people, and doesn’t have an obvious exploit.

While it is an interesting topic to game out the options for… and there are many, from what objectives should trigger such battles, to whether or not the battles should be the same size for all objectives or scale based on the objective (or maybe scale based on the defender’s size?), to choosing between absolute number of ships (bring 1,000 titans!) or some sort of point system, who gets to fight and how they get flagged and who won’t get flagged, how does the structure itself figure in the calculations, whether reinforcements are allowed ever or never, how big is the battlefield, if there are other structures on grid in the system are they on grid in the battle, and probably many more that haven’t come to mind.  And each of these has to be explored to see how it will change group behaviors and whether or not there is an “I win” option for somebody.

Somebody will come along and say, “Just do x, y, and z” and think they’re done because there isn’t an obvious exploit in their vague statement.  But they are kidding themselves.  They are not done, not by a long shot.  You aren’t done until you work out the details, all the details, and then have gamed them out with enough scenarios to have some confidence in them.  And then, as we have seen many times before, the players will have at it and spot things you never considered.

And whatever it is then has to go on top of the current software, follow the specific set of rules for the battle, and not disrupt the every day game.  This all adds up to an incredibly deep and complex project… and all the more so since I haven’t even considered what technical limitations may be faced… and it will need a lot of development resources dedicated to it that could be working on other items.

Is the issue important enough to warrant that?  Given the whole “85%” thing I mentioned before, I am going to guess there would many voices declaring against the idea.  I’m not sure that even the null sec voices would be in favor of it if it meant sacrificing development on other things.

Furthermore, should CCP actually decided to commit to this, does the desired end result come to pass?  Will this actually end up with EVE Online having more battles that will get press coverage?

Here is another problem.  The reason for doing this is to limit the number of players able to participate in a battle.  But part of the reason that EVE gets coverage is because of the huge number of players involved in such battles.  If we trade ugly 4000-6000 player battles with time dilation and lag and disconnections for nice smooth reliable 2000 player battles, is the new situation newsworthy?

I am not sure they are.  Maybe you get one story about CCP testing their new battle architecture, but after that raw participation numbers are out the window.  There needs to be a lot of dead titans to make the news again.

And how does that change the null sec meta?  Currently in 0.0 space we are in a very egalitarian situation where line members get to show up en masse to fights.  If the seating is limited, who gets to show up and play?  Will leadership let in a Jackdaw fleet?  Or will it be a supers vs. supers battle where titans will eat all the capital and super carriers will take care of the sub caps,  so unless you fly one of those two you need not even apply?  Or will it just be titans with refits to handle sub caps and that is all?  Then there will be a push for 1,000 of the right titan fit optimally because in an even fight you have to find your edge somewhere.  And if you can’t compete in that game then you just lose the fight automatically to the few organizations that can.

I honestly think we’re better off with the current situation, as ugly as it is, where people pile on until the server breaks rather than having nice set battles in their own little space.  And I speak as somebody who knows full well what such ugly battles can be like.  I had my guns jammed at Z9PP-H before CCP fumbled the node, I was there all day for the big battle at 6VDT-H, I saw us kill the server at battles like HED-GP or KW-I6T, and I was even there at B-R5RB where access to the battle was being strictly controlled by the coalition lest we bring down the server yet again.

Battles like this are rare and as often as not are spontaneous affairs that may or may not fall within the instancing parameters.  CCP has better things on which to spend their limited resources. The results likely won’t be more headlines for the game.  And, frankly, if we play the N+1 game we get what we deserve, and I’m good with that.