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.

20 thoughts on “In Which I am Against Instanced Content for Once

  1. SynCaine

    My posts don’t state this would be easy to add, or that the rules wouldn’t need to be fairly complex, but the point is that right now, mass-scale battles in EVE, which are the ‘big news’ items for the game, suck. And they will always suck until the population is so low that not enough players can show up to cripple the servers.

    No one actually enjoys the ‘gameplay’ of a massive battle. At best the people involved enjoy being part of something large, and even that has declining impact. Once you are in a 5k battle, a 2k battle isn’t a big deal in terms of size, while still sucks as much in terms of TiDi and the overall enjoyment of it.

    What people DO enjoy is when, in the super-rare event that it happens, two sides of decent size actually fight and ships are blown up. It doesn’t even need to involve supers or caps, if two large fleets meet and fight, people enjoy that. Increase that to a battle in the thousands, and with significant investment and loss, and I believe even more people who enjoy that even more. That’s the point; to make larger-scale combat in EVE actually fun to play.


  2. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @SynCaine – But your post does leave out the opportunity cost aspect of the proposal. This would be a large and complex task. You cannot do this without giving up on doing other things in the same time frame. Is it worth CCP giving up on making any other changes or adding any new features for a couple of years in order to make this happen, and then spend the next year or so fixing it when people find the holes and exploit them?

    I say it is not worth the time required. I’d rather have CCP focused on other things.


  3. SynCaine

    I don’t think it would take nearly as long as you suggest. They already have instancing tech in place (each node is an instance), they can already teleport ships (what happens in the AT), and the rest of the combat system is also in place. The major work would be around the ruleset and the smaller pieces, like how an IB is actually dropped/started, how involvement selection happens, and how the results link back to the game.

    Again, not saying its easy, but a lot of the work is already done, and it fixes the big selling point of the game that draws people in (and if fixed, would likely draw more non-null people into that part of the game).


  4. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @SynCaine – See my meme about opinions in the post. Just because you think it isn’t that hard by dubious analogy doesn’t make it so. How many should be easy things, like removing POSes or changing stations to citadels in null sec, have ended up taking way longer than one would have expected? I think it took more than nine months to get insurance in citadels. There is an example of “a lot of the work is already done” for you. Two years seems like a pretty conservative estimate to me.


  5. SynCaine

    That same logic applies to anything CCP might do. If IB are hard because of EVE complexity, then so is working on whatever else. What is different is a lot of CCP ‘something else’ has sucked, while IB would fix an existing issue to a very important part of the game.


  6. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @SynCaine – Except that what you are proposing via IBs doesn’t actually achieve a couple of the key goals you have put forth.

    First, IBs won’t bring more attention to the game because big battles will no longer be big, so they don’t get any press.

    Second, more people don’t get to enjoy IBs because less people will actually be able to participate. It will, as I said in the post, turn an egalitarian event into an elitist club. When you have an artificial limit, you don’t bring your random pals, you bring the people who will commit to flying expensive ships with officer fits and full slave sets and who have proven themselves in the past.

    Expensive fits could possibly lead to some large ISK value losses, which would get some press. But once you’ve gone full elite PvP, nobody is going to YOLO a fleet just for the hell of it. When one side starts to lose they’ll concede the objective and evac.

    That, by the way, is where your comparison to Warhammer Online city sieges falls over. Things change when you’re going to lose all the expensive stuff you brought to the battle if you die.

    In summary, as far as I can see, IBs all but eliminate any press coverage that the game gets for big battles while at the same time only improving the game for a small, select group of players. And for that we forego any other improvements to the game for an extended period of time.


  7. bhagpuss

    This is a very interesting discussion but is there any scintilla of a ghost of a hint that CCP has even consider actually doing anything like this? Didn’t this all just blow up because SynCaine had a good time in an instanced battle in LiF and went on an imagineering spree? I know SynCaine’s a big deal and all that but do CCP steal all his ideas?

    As for LDoN, if I could go back and play EQ exactly as it was at any period of its 19 years I’d take the six months from the launch of LDoN to the release of the following expansion. Absolute zenith of the game in my opinion.


  8. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Bhagpuss – Oh no, CCP would throw this idea out immediately because it breaks their philosophy of the game. I am dead certain on that. I just came here to have an argument… and revive the long neglected Friday Blog Wars. I actually wrote much of this just after his second post, but saved it for Friday out of respect for the tradition.

    I also obviously trolled a few other constituencies just to see if I could get them in the brawl as well.

    I’m not sure I “trolled” you, but I clearly threw bits in there for you about LDoN.


  9. SynCaine

    The headline of almost every EVE battle is more about the $ value than the total number of players (because the total number is always some odd combination of total people in system as reported by players and sometimes CCP, and who showed up on whatever battle report tool is the flavor of the year). The last one wasn’t “Battle of the 6k players expected”, it was the $1m battle, right? B-R is famous for the number of titans killed, not the number of pilots who showed up in subcaps.

    So an IB with a hypothetical 1000 titans vs 1000 titans, or as you wrote, an elite-club only battle of 1000 officer-fit ships per side (lol) would be far bigger than B-R in total losses. IE, it would give EVE it’s biggest headline of all time.

    Also lets not pretend groups outside of Goons and PL could easily muster even 1k players per battle to such an extend that plebs would always be sitting on the sidelines all the time.

    Finally, under any system, including the one in-game right now, soon as one side sees they are going to lose, they stop fighting. Lenny moved Goons south without a single major battle, didn’t he? When TEST evicted the Russians, even with Goon help, did we get a single major battle? At least under IB rules, you likely get at least one, and then odds are good the losing side tries to at least be cute in others (dread bombs, suicide bombers, etc).


  10. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @SynCaine – Yes the dollar value is often the headline thanks to PLEX, but you seemed to have missed the part where alliances aren’t going to take the risk unless they can see a win. That is the main problem with planned fights. That is what goes wrong with fights like the million dollar battle or CO2’s Keepstar defense a year back. The former allowed so many people to get ready that the system choked while the latter showed what happens when an alliance sees they cannot win.

    The fact is that a lot of the good battles were accidental. Fights like Asakai, B-R5RB, and 3WE-KY were not planned, just happened due to the circumstances of the moment as forces available piled on. Z9PP-H would have been a good fight… another accidental encounter… but CCP screwed up the node remap and disconnected everybody so TEST just didn’t log back in. Again, people see they are going to lose, they pull out.

    You might get somebody like Brave to YOLO 1,000 cheap ships against somebody like PL, but most who end up against a group like PL/NCDot/MC are going to know they will be facing a fight against people with high skill points values, expensive fits, and full implants. 6VDT-H was an outlier, where TEST stood up for a big fight they knew they were going to lose, and it cost them dearly and made the victory of their enemies manifest. Nobody is likely to do that again. We didn’t line up to get slaughtered in the Casino War to deny our foes the cathartic victory they could celebrate.

    So most groups are likely to end up facing a superior force. The traditional work-around for that is to go n+1 and blob to even the odds. But if you keep the number of capsules even, victory goes to those who spend the most. That is just a few groups. I see this as making a fight less likely than the way things are currently rather than more likely. There won’t be any losses to make headlines there. IBs would be a lot of work for little or no pay off.


  11. SynCaine

    Actually an IB of say 1000 ships wouldn’t be an automatic overall win for whoever spends more, because this is EVE we are talking about, where lost ships matter.

    Say its Goons vs PL over a PL Keepstar. Goon spies learn that PL is dropping everything that they have to defend, which means hundreds of titans and the rest support. Instead of bringing a real force, Goons drop 1000 dreads. They lose the fight, but come away with the most successful dreadbomb in history. They then reinforce the Keepstar again, pay the IB cost (lets say its 10% of the cost of the structure you are trying to destroy), and go round two. Is PL bringing all their remaining titans to get bombed again? What if Goon spies again learn what PL is doing, and its mostly subcaps, so Goons drop the full titan hammer and now not only win the IB and ISK war, but also destroy a Keepstar?

    None of the above can ever truly happen in the current system, while if the above did happen in an IB, someone would likely wrote a whole book about it.


  12. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @SynCaine – With limited forces you tighten up who gets the info. Intel works best when you have to spread it across the alliance/coalition. And dread bombs are pretty fragile. You have to outnumber what you’re dropping on for it to work, so 1000 suicide dreads vs. 1000 titans might not end up as happy as you might think. Suicide dreads need to get the drop on the hostiles, like this.

    I am bummed I was at dinner when that fight happened. I could have been in the dread bomb. Still, five Darkness buses down before they counter-dropped with everything to hand.


  13. anypo8

    About eight years ago CCP had planned to allow a single battle to be spread across multiple servers. They thought they were pretty well set up for it. I know this because my colleague across the hall was consulting with them on it. They had their Stackless Python going, and a message queueing architecture.

    And then CCP time happened.

    If CCP is going to spend substantial effort on anything, it should be this. Even with the terrible costs of parallelism, if they can run a battle spread reasonably across 30 servers 6000 players should be no big deal. Tidi-free.

    That’s what I want. No more, no less. EVE that scales to modern EVE numbers. This single-server-per-solar-system thing is madness. Absolute madness.


  14. Gevlon

    The idea is good. The “2000 titans” battles would be much more newsworthy than “4000 crap”. Programming is simple. It can only happen with structures: the owner of the (reinforced) structure requests instance. The structure is moved to the instance, removed from the world, along with other structures in 1000km. You can request entry by being in the system where the structure was.

    The “entry rules” would be simple: if a ship enters when the cap is reached, the lowest ISK value ship is removed. The FCs can request “fleet together”. This case no one is removed until the average feet value isn’t lower than the lowest ship, then the whole fleet is removed.


  15. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @anypo8 – Yes, if I had my druthers, I would rather CCP spend time on that.

    @SynCaine – Gevlon has declared for your idea, do you wish to reconsider your opinion?


  16. SynCaine

    Yea dumb idea, I take it all back. Never side with stupid.

    Also on a serious note, are you actually suggesting that if 1000 dreads faced 1000 titans, both sides warping in like they do in the AT, that the 1000 dreads wouldn’t walk away from the fight on the plus side of the ISK battle?


  17. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @SynCaine – Dread bombs, as currently used, require a large enough force of sacrificial dreads to drop and hit the super before it can get support. The “drop 1000 dreads” plan seems counterable by dropping 800 titans and 200 faxes. Or 500 titans and 500 faxes. Or 200 titans and 800 faxes. In hindsight 1,000 titans without faxes is dumb, something only an amateur like myself would consider. No alliance would drop only that.

    Anyway, a titan getting reps defeats a dread bomb. The dreads might get a few titans, but the titans would melt dreads quickly enough that reps would hold after not too long. How many 120 billion ISK titans do you have to kill to win the ISK war while losing 1,000 1.5 billion ISK dreads? At least a dozen? That might be a tall order. And if the numbers do work out in favor of dreads, then nobody will drop the titans and will just drop 1,000 dreads of their own, or 800 dreads and 200 faxes, or whatever. And then we’re back to who has the best skills, fits, and implants wins.

    Also, how many groups out there are going to potentially be able to sacrifice 1,000 dreads? Even in the New Eden of easy ISK and good dread insurance, building and equipping that fleet would take up the resources of most alliances for a long time. And while pilots would have fat insurance payouts, they would still need to acquire new ships and fittings.

    Also, I think the warp in thing might need some thought. The AT is fun for what it is, but that format neuters tactical flexibility. And there still has to be a GTFO method for ships.

    Anyway, as I said, interesting thought exercise.


  18. SynCaine

    Pretty sure 1000 dreads would alpha titans off the field for quiet a long time before titans+faxes mattered, and for every fax brought, that’s that much time the dreads have to work before alpha stops. As I seem to remember, even under 100 dreads pops a titan after only a few cycles, so a dozen or so titans seems… easy?

    The middle part is why IB would be fun; what would the meta be? If not 1000 titans, then what to actually win? Remember, the battle in this example is for the fate of a Keepstar, so the defenders certainly don’t want to chance a 3t structure (that is the price of a Keepstar, right?)


  19. Knug

    Instanced battles are lore-breaking. Frankly, 3rd partying to the battle itself, or access to the battle, or market lanes to gank reshippers, or, or, or.

    EVE is interconnected. Pulling a part of it away to make a certain activity ‘fun’ breaks the game. Part of the fun is getting to your destination – if my role in all of it is to ensure that certain reinforcements don’t get to the the fight, or to completely block a certain gate for all, or to selectively pipe bomb squads on their way, then I am part of the overall fight. If I market PVP and remove critical modules or hulls from Amarr just as management calls for certain doctrines to be reshipped into, then I’ve affected your fight.

    Big null-sec battles are part of EVE. Part of EVE. Not the endgame, just part of EVE.

    EVE is dark, merciless, unforgiving, cruel, but most of all interconnected. Null folks wanting to party without interference makes as much sense as bears (high, low, and null) wanting to be able to mission/rat without PVP.

    If you truly want EVE to maintain that cold, loss-has-meaning, no reward without risk, mentality. Join us in pounding on the Devs until they remove asset safety from the entire game.


  20. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Knug – That is my essential argument about why this IB thing would never be adopted by CCP, it breaks the game and is entirely incompatible with its sandbox nature. After stipulating that there is no pin, the rest of my part has been a discussion as to how many angels can dance on its head.

    You should make your signature something like, “Ceterum autem censeo securitas delendam esse.”

    CCP might relent on asset safety some day, but not until they convert null sec stations into citadels. I believe they have pinned some hope on people coming back to the game knowing that their long imprisoned assets have been freed and can be retrieved for a price.


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