Friday, June 24, 2011

The Banality of Nullsec

"You're a dull boy. Dull as plainsong. La-la-la, forever on one note."
                     James Goldman - The Lion in Winter
If I haven't been writing too much about nullsec, it's simply that there isn't much of interest in nullsec about which to write. The big picture for the second quarter of the year has been the triumph of the supercapital, the fall of the Northern Coalition and the transformation of Real Money Trading's role from CCP's public enemy number one to that of a critical revenue stream in CCP's business strategy.

As we roll into the third quarter of 2011, the Drone Russian Forces (DRF) and their vassal alliances hold roughly seventy percent of nullsec.In the North, Goonswarm suddenly finds itself subcapital specialists in a game dominated by hostile supercapital fleets. The Goons feign nonchalance while scrambling to cobble together a credible supercapital force - a task made easier by all the corporations cast loose upon the flood by the Northern Coalition's disintegration.

In the South, other elements of the Deklein Coalition have tied their fortunes to Fountain and Querious. This has stretched thin the tether between members of DC, further weakening the Goon's position. Meanwhile, Against All Authorities (-A-) and their allies are preparing for invasion. Recall that -A- reclaimed their former stomping grounds in Teneferis, lost to them in last September's invasion of their space by White Noise, The Initiative and Pandemic Legion. As I wrote last month, White Noise simply pulled out of the region, intending to take it back once matters with the NC were resolved.

Delve and Querious are the beaches upon which many refugee's from NC's ill-starred fortunes have washed ashore. Some arrive in the form of slimmed down NC alliances, while others have migrated  to alliances already resident. Everyone seems to want a piece of that storied space. With the DRF & Co. occupying so much high of the high value nullsec real estate, they're among the few remaining regions worth a serious tussle that aren't locked down by larger powers.

PL makes noises about including the DRF among their targets once their current contract ends, but I don't take that seriously for a number of reasons I'll go into another time. If PL does attack the Russians, PL will either be gone or much diminished by the turn of the year. They might seek permission to hunt DRF vassals. However, most likely they'll join the mosh pit that Delve is becoming and play there until the DRF or its vassals need assistance and call them back to heel.

So. What can we look for in the next quarter? Same song, slightly different words. Indications are that CCP will not apply any significant nerf to the supercapitals in the foreseeable future. These very expensive, must-have toys are, simply put, too valuable as a potential source of income for CCP as they plan extending microtransactions beyond vanity items to key elements of Eve-play.

The game deteriorates. CCP, hyper-focused on turning the player community into a massively parallel ATM has lost sight of Eve as an entertainment. The imbalance introduced by the enhanced supercapitals only grows worse. The Incarna technology injection has bogged down game performance. And Helicity Bosun, the person who caught CCP in an outright lie viz the intent of microtransactions has been banned from the game.

It's going to be a long Summer.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Love's Labors Lost

Eve online has come up with a new scheme for monetizing third party applications and websites.

Up to now, Eve hasn't allowed third party applications to charge for the use of web applications or websites that leverage CCP APIs or other intellectual property - like those slick Eve-fonts and graphics CCP hands out. That restriction on monetizing has been the downfall of a number of apps and websites, including the much-loved but underfunded Capsuleer phone app. 

The world is about to change. In exchange for $99 and signing a commercial licensing agreement with CCP, you may now can charge subscription fees, receive donations, sell your app in an app-stores. This should go a long way toward making some of the more sophisticated third parts tools more financially viable.

"But Mord," you might say, "Aren't there successful apps and websites like  Dotlan and Eve Tribune that already solicit donations in order to keep the doors of their websites open? "

Why yes. You're absolutely right. That loophole will close. Sites like Dotlan that leverage Eve API and solicit donations to pay operational costs are regarded by CCP as commercial sites and will be required to sign up for the program and fork over the licensing fee. Eve Tribune seems a dicier case. They do solicit donations, but how much they use CCP intellectual property is open to interpretation. If they've signed an agreement to allow use of Eve graphics and fonts, chances are they'll be required dig into their wallet in exchange for the privilege of continuing to do what they've been doing for years.

Oh, and sites that take payment or donations in ISK are commercial as well. This would likely include special activity sites like Hulkageddon. Blogs like Rixx Javix's Evoganda, which hosts event's like Death Race that include an ISK based sign up fee (which is used for prizes) may have to sign up as a commercial app, or cease such operation. Even owners of non commercial apps and sites will be required to join up, albeit without charge (for now).

Now, given the number of third party apps out there, $99 is not a great deal of money for a corporation like CCP. So why do this? I suspect the goal of the program is two-fold.

First of all, CCP would like to make third party apps more viable. The ability to monetize a site or app should mean that the better, more innovative of them will become more viable and hang around longer - thereby improving the Eve and Dust514 experience at no cost to CCP.  Further, if the third-party developer community thrives and starts making big bucks, this program will leave CCP well positioned to demand its cut of the income. 

Meanwhile, the registration process for commercial apps establishes a precedence of CCP maintaining a degree of control over these third party apps and allows CCP to define its intellectual property boundaries. All very important for future lawsuits. It also allows CCP some leverage with regard to content control. If a licensed web site is doing or saying things that CCP doesn't approve of, CCP can simply threaten loss of that license to pull said web site back into line. So, to a large extent, this initiative appears to be as much about control of the Eve and Dust brands and non CCP content about those brands as it is about money.

It will be interesting to see how aggressively and how far CCP pushes the new regime. For many third party purveyors of Eve and Dust514 content, particularly the donation sites, this will be a forced change to their business model.  Some of them will prosper under the new regime. Others will fold up tents rather than pay for what has been, to date, a labor of love.

But then, CCP doesn't get paid for labors of love.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Tipping Point

If you've been looking at the current Eve influence maps these days, you'll have noted that the Drone Russian Forces (DRF) and their vassal alliances Raiden[DOT], Evoke, Northern Coalition[DOT] and Pandemic Legion control a long arc of nullsec space that runs from the Vale/Tribute border in northern nullsec to the Omist/Teneferis border in the South.

Presently DRF and company are battering at the doors of Tribute which, I believe, has been the primary target of the DRF's campaign from the beginning. Tribute is a rich area from a resource perspective. Larded on top of their existing ISK generating capacity, Tribute would make the DRF a financial power with an ISK earning capacity that would dwarf that of any other Eve coalition. In his most recent Ten Ton Hammer column, The Mittani points out the leverage all that DRF wealth buys.

While the DRF are no slouches when it comes to PvP, the core NC alliances' PvP skills had matured in 2010, particularly in the area of capital fleets, and had shown themselves a match for the Russians in the field. The quality of NC fleet commanders tended to be spotty but, properly lead, the NC forces had shown themselves to be capable fighters in both the capital and subcapital aspects of the game. Early efforts by the DRF to establish themselves in Geminate were turned back by the NC with relative ease.

Stymied on the military front, the DRF unlimbered the financial side of their arsenal. Well placed bribes provided the DRF with an initial foothold in Geminate that the Drone Russians could not win by force of arms. When that was in danger of collapsing under pressure from the NC, the DRF purchased the services of Pandemic Legion to attack Vale and reduce pressure on the DRF forces in Geminate.

The sheer number of Supercapitals the DRF was able to purchase ensured not only numeric superiority in the invaders' Supercapital fleets, but also ensured a ready supply of replacements for supercapitals lost in combat. Thus, the DRF could not only deploy superior numbers across multiple points of attack, they could do so more aggressively, knowing their losses could be easily replaced.

As of this writing the DRF and their vassal alliances have consolidated their holds on both Geminate and Vale of the Silent, and have established a foothold in Tribute. Morsus Mihi and Razor Alliance, along with the remnants smaller NC alliances are attempting to push them back out. However, sov combat is a game won and lost by supercapital fleets, and the DRF are presently holding that "I Win" button. Barring internal division within the DRF and vassals, or an unexpected threat to the DRF renter space, the writing is on the wall.

Much has been made of Against All Authorities' (-A-) assault on the southern border of White Noise in Teneferis. However Against All Authorities (-A-) doesn't appear to have followed up their conquest of that region by applying pressure to White Noise holdings in Detorid. Instead, White Noise appears to be pulling back in that region without any encouragement, probably by way of adjusting their nullsec footprint to accommodate their newly conquered territories.

Strategic Operations Brigade (SOB), a new DRF vassal alliance made up largely of former RAGE corporations, has been given sovereignty in the Detorid constellations closest to the sole Teneferis entry system.  Thus, enemies recently defeated by the DRF are turned into loyal vassals, beholden to White Noise. In return for a slice of nullsec, SOB will act as a buffer for White Noise on their frontier with -A-. The financial cost of holding the Detorid systems is moved off White Noise balance sheets.

Using vassals like SOB in this manner serves the DRF from a public relations perspective as well. As the sov map stands today, the DRF and their vassal alliances are a clear and present danger to the remaining free alliances of nullsec. Even the Mittani and his Goons, PvP rich, but supercapital poor, are concerned that they are next on the block if Razor Alliance and Morsus Mihi fall. By farming out space to vassals, the DRF disguises the effective size of its sphere of influence and creates the illusion of a politically diverse nullsec. 

Now, you'll note that I've listed Pandemic Legion above as a DRF vassal alliance.

I've written elsewhere with regard to PL's limitations as a gun-for-hire business venture. In essence PL's predisposition to griefing makes them an unreliable entity with which to do business. Eschewing the burdens of holding sovereignty of their own, and with the DRF as it's sole major customer, PL has limited options for revenue generation, particularly for the rank and file pilots. Ironically, the DRF's current success means even fewer customers for PL. Every new system the DRF takes, each new alliance it takes under its wing, is one less target against which PL can make take out a contract as contracting against the DRF and vassals has the disadvantage of alienating a profitable client. At the moment, over half of nullsec is under the DRF umbrella and therefore unavailable to PL for making mayhem; its self-proclaimed raison d'etre.

Sooner or later, the interests of PL and the DRF are going to come into conflict. I'm sure both PL and the DRF are mindful of this and giving thought to life after the NC campaign. PL presently has value to the DRF as a useful weapon against its enemies. However, with the number of viable enemies dwindling, the DRF may well be wondering if PL has outlived its use if it can't be domesticated.

PL will be mindful of the same. Law and order is not PL's friend. The surest way to kill off PL is to deny it safe haven - to harry it throughout nullsec, no matter where it runs. With the DRF and friends in charge of the better part of nullsec, and the number of alternative options shrinking, PL may be thinking that the time has come to start trimming back the DRF kudzu grass - to make prey of the DRF herd. PL would be wise to consider the possibility that its employer is thinking the same thoughts and might be wondering if it's in the DRF's interests to swap its role as PL's employer for that of its undertaker. 

After all, once the NC is laid low it would be a simple matter for the DRF to muster the PL supercapital fleet deep in DRF space and trap/destroy them there. Once PL's supercapital teeth are drawn, the DRF has the money and the ships to deny PL safe harbor anywhere in nullsec.

So, PL is coming up on a choice: To wear the DRF's collar, or bite the hand that feeds it and run for the wilderness. This assumes, of course, that the DRF is going to give PL the option. If PL chooses the freedom of the open plains, it's going to need allies. Which means it will have to convince the remaining free nullsec alliances that they have enough common cause to put old grudges by, and then join (and possibly lead) them against the DRF bloc.

Yeah. You heard me. Pandemic Legion may be free nullsec's best hope. I love my irony with a twist.