Grousing about the EVE Online 2020 Ecosystem Outlook

Blimey, this redistribution of wealth is trickier than I thought!

Dennis Moore

I mentioned in a cynical aside yesterday that CCP had posted a Dev Blog about the state of the economy/ecosystem after spending most of the year nerfing resource harvesting and wealth generation as hard as they dared.

They say ecosystem, but the focus on the economy

You can certainly accuse me of getting my EVE Online news from all the wrong places… for heaven’s sake, I still check out the official forums and visit r/eve regularly… but my impression has been that any player enthusiasm for CCP’s changes so far has come from outsiders with no skin in the game and via the schadenfreude of players happy to see somebody else getting screwed over.  Granted, the latter accompanies any game change, but this seems a bit more pronounced as usual.

CCP has even put their philosophy into three somewhat nonsensical maxims.

  • Abundance breeds Complacency and Scarcity breeds War

The idea here is to make people fight over resources.  The goal of CCP is always to make ships explode.  Unfortunately there are a few problems with this philosophy, and I’m not just referring to the previous “farms and fields” idea to make people live in the space they conquer.

First, scarcity implies that some people won’t be able to do what they want to do without actively fighting for resources.  People struggle for resources in the real world because they have no choice.  You find a way or you die.  In a video game we have a choice.  Somebody will always put in the effort… people put in crazy amounts of work on things in the game… but others will look at the hill they need to climb in order to do what they set out to do and walk away.

In a year where CCP has said that more people have tried the game than in the last three years combined, but the online player count on the launcher isn’t really reflecting that, some care needs to be take with the scarcity regime.  Or maybe “stop the bleeding” was just a 2019 thing and has been forgotten already.  One guy riding around in an old school bus distributing spaceships should not be the basis of a new player retention policy.

Meanwhile, we live in the New Eden that has developed under the rules and mechanics CCP has imposed in the past.  We have what we have now and unless CCP is going to go for much more active approach to the redistribution of wealth, and those who have accumulated wealth will aim to keep it.  One of the long standing truisms of the game has been, “Don’t undock in something you cannot afford to lose.”  And everybody with a super or a titan right now is going to be aware of how expensive those ships will be to replace now.  Hell, with the price of tritanium, battleships are going to be pricey.

The ironic twist of CCP introducing scarcity to promote war might very well be people docking up their big toys because they’re too expensive to replace and playing with cheaper ships.  Scarcity may prevent war.

  • Predictable Inputs lead to Stagnant Outputs

This one makes my head hurt even though I sort of know what they’re getting at.  It is one of those things that sounds meaningful if you say it quickly and don’t think about it, but falls apart quickly if you stare too hard.  Was this what Hilmar was going on about in wanting resources to not be predictable?  Maybe.  I don’t know.  The statement doesn’t make any logical sense on its own, so it is difficult to take seriously as an economic philosophy.

So let me say this about predictability; it is a basic expectation of many players.

What is one of the first things somebody will ask in any forum post about a new activity in EVE Online?  What is the ISK per hour?  People will gravitate towards the highest RELIABLE payout. Things that are a gamble will tend to be avoided in favor of the predictable.

Being an elf doesn’t make you turn off the rational economic calculator part of your brain.

Edward Castronova

That goes for capsuleers as well.  NPC bounties were the king of ISK faucets not because the content was at all interesting, but because it was steady and reliable.  That was what people wanted, a known quantity.  A   Every NPC has a value amount attached to it.  And, as soon as CCP changed the reliability aspect by allowing somebody to blow through your system and steal all your bounties, NPC bounties tanked hard according to the November MER.

Nov 2020 – Top Sinks and Faucets Over Time

I wish they broke out NPC bounties by high/low/null sec in a form easily read.  I suppose I could estimate it from the MER regional data.  But I suspect that the floor gets you down to level 4 high sec missions being a significant part of that total.  In missions against pirates the bounties are often a much bigger part of the payout than the mission rewards.

And now… now people are moving on to other things with reliable payouts.  Abyssal pockets.  Planetary Interaction.  Burner Missions.  I even dialed up an alt to do some level 4 security missions now and again just to get some LP store items that sell well.  There are plenty of other predictable “solved” and PvE activities out there that people will move to in order to pay the bills.  Predictable is not a dirty word.  But it is something players will gravitate towards.

  • Autarky is Anathema to Free Trade

“Autarky” is a Byzantine sounding word that means “self-sufficiency.” And no, it is not “anathema” to free trade, at least not by any definition of free trade I can find.  I suspect that is because CCP doesn’t really mean “free trade.”  Jita 4-4 is the pinnacle of free trade in the MMORPG genre.  We’re already there.

Instead, this is their vision of a future of economic interdependence, the rejection of the past “farms and fields” policy, the idea that if they scatter resources into specific areas people will fight over them.  They don’t want free trade, they want more resources being schlepped to Jita.  Sure.  Whatever.  I’m not sure “all your tritanium belong to high sec” is breaking new ground, but there is a whole school of economic thought when it comes to raw materials versus finished goods when it comes to trade.

We shall see.

After giving themselves a pat on the back and pointing out how responsive they have been because… *checks notes*…. they rolled back that one drone nerf that broke drones in PVP, CCP laid out some future plans as to where their economic ideas might take them.  They are:

  • Improve customization of player-owned space through iHub upgrades, allowing meaningful choices and trade-offs.

From CCP “meaningful choices and trade offs” means nerfs.  Null sec income remains in their crosshairs.

  • Introduce Reserve Bank keys for the ESS as players start planning heists and/or fortifying their bank defenses as billions of ISK become accessible across all of Nullsec.

The reserve bank thing still needs to be explained in detail.  If there isn’t a way for the locals to access it then there seems little need to defend it.  Right now the main bank is your money if it pays out, but the reserve bank might as well belong to somebody else unless there is some benefit from it.

  • Add more dynamic systems – the DBS has allowed for geographical resource balancing and the plan is to extend and expand on that with dynamic systems for resource distribution and industry. The DBS allows for quick iterations, and there have already been two updates since its release (raising the baseline bounty multipliers in Null and Lowsec).

CCP is going to nerf mining yields in systems where people mine too much next.  Scarcity will get worse before it gets better… and that assumes that it will get better.

  • Continue to balance risk and reward for income with attention as an additional pillar within the risk/reward framework. EVE has low-attention style gameplay and that is perfectly acceptable. However, care must be taken to ensure that the rewards of that gameplay balance attention and risk, and so, the intention is to revisit high-risk income platforms like Carriers and Marauders, and revisit lower-attention options in more precise ways.

Making carriers and marauders more viable could be interesting.  I just worry about the usual unintended consequences rule that always seems to bite CCP in the ass.  The collective mind of the community is like water when it comes to finding the most efficient path through something in New Eden.

  • Address one of the most debated subjects in EVE, AFK cloaky camping, with improved systems to get rid of the frustration of AFK cloaking and its total lack of counterplay without removing the ability for hunters to catch lazy prey, or for spies to be able to scout and monitor systems with strategic value.

I don’t know why this was included in what is primarily an economic outlook dev blog.  Yes, they say “ecosystem,” but it is really ISK and the economy they’re on about.  Cloaky camping has been a thing for so long that its presence or absence has little effect on the big picture.  The sinks and faucets chart above has gone up and down, but cloaking has not been part of the equation.  It is just something people perennially bitch about when it is being done to them and dismiss when they’re doing it to somebody else.  This feels more like a sop to people whose income stream has been choked off.  “But at least we got rid of cloaky campers!” CCP can declare.

  • Further define the differences between the five categories of space and foster geographical variety. The semi-lawless frontier of Lowsec has the potential to become much more than it is now as the Empires’ patience with intrusive Capsuleers in Highsec is wearing thin while wormhole resources will see increased demand.

High sec, low sec, null sec, wormhole space, and… what is the fifth space category?  Faction warfare space?  NPC null sec?  Triglavian space?  Anyway, this looks like another attempt to make low sec a thing.  I will believe it when I see it.

  • Establish a sustainable role for Rorquals and Orcas and do a general balance pass on mining ships to ensure that they each have a unique role and they are balanced in terms of wealth generation and survivability.

Sounds nice.  Probably means nerfs… especially for the Orca, which is now the AFK resource harvester of choice in high sec.

  • Add new personal deployables, both to allow more control of your immediate surroundings, and to unlock brand new meta opportunities.

I like the sound of this, but only because I enjoy shooting deployables.  There are not enough MTUs around now, so more targets are good.  How this applies to the game at large is left unexplained.

Anyway, CCP say that things will get better, even acknowledging that things are not great for a lot of us right now when it comes to ISK; income is down, prices are up, resources are scarce.

It is clearly understood and acknowledged that many players are faced with reduced income and some radical changes to what they have become accustomed to in New Eden. To make it abundantly clear, scarcity is not the new reality, this is a temporary phase and it will end.

The problem I have, the thing that is making me cranky about all of this, is the obvious (to me) conflict between CCP’s vision of how they want New Eden to work and my experience with players in online games since 1986.  As I said above, the mass of the player base is like water and will flow down the most efficient path.

In EVE Online especially, many see earning ISK as a necessity only to enable them to do the things they want.  CCP reaps the benefit of that in PLEX sales for those don’t want to spend the time earning ISK and can afford to bypass that aspect of the game.  But for the rest of us, we grind to play, and CCP seems set on making that more difficult.

And there is a bit of what I think of as the Jimmy Neutron effect in play here as well.  Those familiar with the show back in the day will recall how many an episode ended with Jimmy solving the crisis and expecting to be lauded for it, only to have it pointed out that he caused the crisis in the first place.  Likewise, we’re in a state where CCP seems to be looking for praise for fixing things they implemented.

Anyway, maybe CCP has a realistic plan that will solve the dichotomy of the situation where ISK earning is a barrier to play.  Maybe 17 years of running this game has finally given them insight into what will work and what will not.  But there is a long history of ideas that just made the player base shift slightly and carry on as before.  We shall see in 2021.

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7 thoughts on “Grousing about the EVE Online 2020 Ecosystem Outlook

  1. anypo8

    Fire Hilmar. Hire an economist again. This is the two-step solution to most of EVE’s problems.

    Hilmar is an idiot who is going to run EVE straight into the ground with the bullshit philosophy from that SF book he read a couple of years ago. As you say, put together the three main points Hilmar drew from that book and you get maybe half a point of coherent thought. The message that whole Dev Blog sends to the players is “You think you’ve seen crazy in the last couple of years? Fasten on your monocles, because it’s going to be an even wilder ride.” If I want an insane idiot running my space in 2020, I’ll just live in America thank you very much.

    The economy is unsustainable in its current form. Most of the casuals will quit. It’s fine to nerf bounties, but you need to provide a predictable low-effort alternative for players who want to PLEX their way in New Eden. The monetization of skillpoints and SKINs means that you can’t just let them go because they won’t pay the $20 / toon / month.

    The things I miss most about New Eden are all gone. Roaming with my little corp in Provi: Provi barely exists now thanks to CCP mismanagement. Running explo in some distant null system: very difficult to stay safe now with the ECM and nullification nerfs, and it sounds like it’s going to get worse. Watching my skillpoints slowly build to that next skill I wanted: pfft, might as well just get out the wallet.

    CCP / Black Pearl seems to be driving steadily in the direction of destroying everything that made EVE unique. Sad times.

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  2. bhagpuss

    This is all so redolent of what happens in almost every mmorpg that lasts a long time and has a dedicated audience. The developers, understandably, have ideas about how players *should* play but the majority of players have entirely different intentions. The problem is compounded by that majority of players being largely silent while the vocal minority tend to egg the developers on with complaints about tedium and demands for things to be shaken up.

    Twenty years of playing and observing these games tells me that what most players probably prefer is indeed predictability. Also safety. Even in a game predicated on risk like EVE. Plenty of people talk a good game about risk and variety and thrills and excitement but time after time what draws huge crowds in every game is always the simplest, most easily accessible, most predictably profitable activity, be the profit in xp or materials or cash.

    Risk vs reward” sounds fine but what players hear is “good reward for a risk I find acceptable” and most mmorpg players are fundementally risk-averse. It’s a genre that strongly relies on repetitive, unexciting, time-consuming activity interrupted occasionally by sudden, unexpected adrenaline rushes. In EQ it was hours of camping a safe spot until a bad pull or a wandering zone-sweeper led to a burst of panic. In EVE, from what I read, it seems to be very similar. Mine away for hours until your attention drifts and someone drops on you and explodes your ship.

    The thing is, if players want an exoperience that’s primarily unpredictable they don’t tend to play mmorpgs in the first place. That would be like preferring racket sports but choosing to play soccer. Good luck to CCP in pushing the rock up the mountain. Like you, i suspect it will slip out of their hands and roll back down to rest in the safest, most stable crevice at the bottom. The devs can only hope they don’t get crushed as it passes them by.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @anypo8 – That ECM nerf where you can always target the ship that is jamming you was one of their more egregious errors. Another item I like from the post is that they bypassed the CSM in all of this lest they get some economically advantageous insight, which means that this whole things is what I call “conference room logic.” You sit a group of people in a conference room for long enough and the oxygen level starts to drop to the point that many a damn fool idea begins to make sense.

    @Bhagpuss – This is one of those posts where I should have noted down all the things I thought about writing, though that would have made the whole thing twice as long as there is so much to say on the topic. CCP is fighting against player behavior, the natural tendency for long term players to simply accumulate wealth, and an economy that has thousands of smart people working it. And I left out the EVE Online favorite, Malcanis’ Law, a corollary of which is that any nerf aimed at the the rich and well establish inevitably just cements their position and makes life tougher for new players.

    EVE Online is remarkable in that the company gives us so much data about the game and the economy. But it also means a lot of pundits like me can sit on the sidelines and point out the flaws in their logic.

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  4. TF

    These changes just reaffirm my decision to let my three subs lapse and uninstall the client. I used to live in wormholes, doing nothing but PvP. I funded this by running a raitaru in hisec where I made T2 items for sale in Jita. I could log in my indy toons for 10 minutes a day or less and keep myself in ships to explode all day long in the wormhole. I paid all three subs. Then CCP added in the quantum core requirement – all of a sudden my tiny Raitaru that wasn’t worth attacking suddenly became a loot pinata. No longer worth. Throw in some WH corp drama and suddenly there was nothing keeping me logging in.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Mailvaltar

    I’m glad that, all things considered, I’m pretty well situated in the game. Otherwise I’d most likely have quit at some point last year or, if not, would do so now.

    The change I’m still the most grumpy about personally is them taking away cheap cynos. Malcanis’ Law at its finest, that one.
    Overall though…we have less self-sufficiency, less income and/or higher risk, higher prices, longer travel times…yeah, way to snuff out any kind of fun.

    And, again, none of that actually hits most of us veterans that hard, at least not in the short term. But how are new players supposed to gain a foothold now, in a game where doing that has always been notoriously difficult to begin with?
    If it’s true that 2 1/2 million people tried the game in 2020 it doesn’t surprise me in the slightest that pretty much none of them stuck around – it only surprises me that there were so many in the first place.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Anon – But ESS main bank payouts on the MER do not make up the difference. Bounties still dropped by a huge amount in November. And that speaks to the predictability aspect I was on about. You no longer just get all your bounties, the game holds on to half and somebody can steal it. That makes null sec ratting half as valuable in the eyes of somebody who wants something reliable.

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