Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Cold Harvest

I'm rather looking forward to the next Gallente Ice Interdiction.

It's so considerate of targets to restrict themselves to a convenient subset of available systems. Trying to whore killmails during Hulkageddon was very boring. Mostly sitting around waiting for the predators to show up and ending up disappointed when they went on a killing spree elsewhere. I might as well have been mining. It certainly would have been more exciting and lucrative.

During the last interdiction the Retriever was the ship of choice for ice miners when the blinky-red lads were lurking close by.  With ice prices going through the roof one could easily remain income positive mining in Retrievers with fleet boosts coming from an Orca sitting on grid inside a POS shield.  Selling for a bit over ten million at a pop, the Retriever paid for itself in a few cycles. After that it was all gravy.  Ice miners willing to stick their necks out rode the twitchy commodities market and made bank.  If a griefer popped Joe the miner's Retriever, he yawned, grabbed another from the corporate stack and went back to making money.

This year will be a bit different. With its massive ore hold, the Retriever has become the go-to high sec mining ship even when the black hats aren't out trying to shoot them.  And with the interdiction waiting in the wings, demand for the ship is so heavy that its market price has risen to over 27 million; a hair under the cost of its big brother, the Covetor.  Which means, of course, the Retriever's current buy cost exceeds its material cost by a fair margin, and corporations that manufacture their own Retrievers are at a competitive advantage over those forced to source them from the market.

Even if you're rolling your own Retrievers, the post-buff increase in the material inputs needed to build one has roughly doubled the financial loss represented by losing one to an ice griefer.  Which means twice as many mining cycles will be needed to make a Retriever pay for itself and remain income positive when the black hats come calling.  Still, when the ice market heats up, that's not a terribly high bar to get over. With careful planning the money will keep rolling in.  So, once again, expect to see the Retriever out in force come ice interdiction time.

However, I think this year's ice interdiction will be where the upgraded Procurer comes into its own. With better resists and four mid slots for protection, an alert miner should have a fair chance of surviving a gank attempt.  Meanwhile, its larger ore bay and a 200% faster IHU cycle (and in ice mining, cycle time is king) mean it will bring in the ice at a sprightly clip and pay for itself (~9 million isk, plus fittings) pretty quickly.  I'll have to look at the numbers, but I expect the ISK loss in ships required of a griefer in order to guarantee a Procurer insta-kill could come close to parity with the cost of the targeted Procurer.  No doubt someone's already worked through that math. I'll let you know.

For myself, I won't spend the interdiction doing much Ice mining.  I'll be out and about, though.  With luck I'll take down a few pods; a very different sort of cold harvest. 

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Object Lessons

As you'll recall from my last post, Ripard Teg and his colleagues at Rote Kapelle, discouraged with the decline in 'correct' PvP occurring in Syndicate (their patch of NPC nullsec), have undertaken what I like to call the 'PvP Purity' crusade.  Their goal is purge Syndicate (and, apparently, Outer Ring) of corporations and alliances that don't PvP in accordance with Rote's code of conduct. To summarize the essence of Rote's message:  

Rote's way is the traditional way and the best way to play PvP in NPC nullsec.  Failure to PvP Rote's way diminishes Rote's enjoyment of Eve in general and PvP in particular.  Therefore, it is essential that those in close proximity to Rote PvP the Rote way.  If they don't, Rote will harry and kill them until they either move away or submit to PvPing as Rote thinks proper. 

Now, to further Rote's ends of PvP purity, an object lesson was needed.  Rote had to find a nearby corporation or alliance that fit their notion of wrongful PvPers to serve as an example of what befalls those who step from the true path of PvP as defined by Rote.  In addition to being wrongful PvPers, said corporation or alliance also had to be 1) easy to intimidate, and 2) reasonably unpopular in the local NPC nullsec neighborhood.  You see, when establishing your right to declare fatwa on your neighbors, it's best to start with the weakest and least popular of your neighbors. After all, it never looks good for a self-appointed moral scourge to end up beaten with his/her own caning stick. And by selecting someone unpopular, the fatwa-declarer minimizes the chance of the neighbors standing behind the appointed scapegoat and questioning said fatwa-declarer's qualifications as self-appointed moral scourge. 

Damned Nation proved a near perfect fit to Rote's fatwa needs.  Not only did Damned use dishonorable hit and run PvP tactics, they were known to engage in carebearish activities not involving the shooting other players at all, activities sure to marginalize them with the local community.  Best of all, Damned Nation was a vulnerable target.  In the midst of internal leadership strife and having just been badly mauled by another PvP alliance, Damned was already shedding corporations and well compromised from an organizational integrity standpoint. 

In short, Rote's holy war against Damned Nation was the moral equivalent of a Navy SEAL leaping into grandma's sick-room while she's on her death bed and gutting the old girl like a trout.  I mean, you can argue that the SEAL did for grandma, but it's not like he gains any cred by it.  Straddling grandma's corpse afterwards and humping it in a grotesque victory dance while slapping himself on the back for the win is not going to reflect well on the elite warrior's reputation.

However, Rippard Teg, on behalf of Rote Kapelle, has done just that.  In his Monday post on the subject, he declares the death of an all but terminal foe a mighty victory for Rote Kappele and PvPdom at large.  He describes the structure shooting Rote engaged in over the week-end as a paradigm-shifting success, as if Damned was capable of putting up a coherent defense.  He brags about Rote's operations leaving the enemy's morale crushed, neglecting to mention that Damned's morale was, by all accounts, well curb-stomped before Rote fired their first shot.

As I've written elsewhere, Rote's reputation as one of (if not the) best small fleet PvP alliances in Syndicate needs no burnishing. They are well respected by everyone who weighs in on the matter. And I certainly do not fault them for going after a wounded member of the NPC nullsec community.  NPC nullsec is not for the faint of heart; it is one of Eve's winnowing floors where the wheat is separated from the chaff.  Besides, kicking the neighbor when they're down is a time honored tradition in New Eden's rougher neighborhoods. And I realize this was a trial run for Rote, sort of a proof of concept exercise.

 However, you can't have it both ways.  Claiming a victory someone else has already achieved ahead of you is a bit of a come-down for an alliance of Rote's caliber, and certainly for a writer of Mr Teg's reputation.  In fact, the more I hear of these antics and goings on, the more I begin to believe that the poor quality of PvP in Syndicate is not the source of Rote's recent fit of temper.  Rather Rote's evident discomfort may come from within Rote itself; the heat of fever rather than the fire of passion.  We've all seen this sort of furious reformation, this re-dedication to purpose before.  More often than not it occurs in the context of an alliance stricken by internal apathy or conflict, and reflects efforts by that alliance's leadership to hold things together.

Time will tell.   

In the meantime, I'm watching Mr Teg's blog with a raised eyebrow.  Misrepresenting or overplaying events to further his or his alliance's agenda, has not been his usual way.  Perhaps the presence of, with its tendency to leverage its position as a purveyor of news and entertainment as a means to promote CFC's point of view has begin to influence Mr Teg.  After all, what's good for the goose is good for the gander, hmmm?   However, brokers of information who approach you with a wink and a nod, who announce up front that they follow an underpinning agenda, can get away with a certain degree of dishonesty.  They announce that dishonesty at the outset.

However, those who trade on their integrity do not have that latitude.  For them, integrity cannot be a some-time thing.  Integrity is binary; it is, or it is not.  In his zeal to turn Rote's enemies in to object lessons for Rote's benefit, Mr Teg risks becoming an object lesson of his own.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Scouring of the Shire


Ripard Teg has become uncharacteristically strident.  It's a bit shocking.  Usually he's so calm and methodical.  (And compulsively productive, curse him!)  But over at Jester's Trek he's gone 'old testament' on us.  It's all 'Doom is ye-comen unto thee!' and 'Smite the abominations' and 'Suffer not the Carebears to dwell in thine rumpus room'.

Seems Rote Kapelle, Jester's alliance, is the big fish in Syndicate.  Of course Syndicate, being NPC nullsec  and having a number of lowsec entry points, is sort of a tidal area between empire and SOV nullsec.  It's a good place to learn the ins and outs of nullsec PvP and much more prone to small gang fights than SOV nullsec.  As such there are a lot of transient corporations and alliances just in the neighborhood for a while as they transition to or from nullsec.  There are also a lot of entities residing there more or less permanently for the sharp combat and larger (than empire) ISK faucets.  And, as this is shallow nullsec, a lot of Syndicate's citizens are in learning mode and not what one would call 'elite' PvPers.

Rote, however, are elite. Despite their small size relative to other Syndicate alliances, they are both experienced PvPers and well organized.  And, by all accounts, they can beat any other floozy in the Syndicate bar.  Now, one would think that membership in this august band of killing machines would have Mr Teg feeling pretty good. You'd think he'd be all smiles and rainbows, and handing out free puppies to the neighbors' children.

Alas.  There is a fly in the Syndicate ointment; a floater in the nullsec kiddie pool, so to speak. 

It seems some of the other alliances aren't playing the way Rote thinks they should.  They aren't fighting by Rote's rules.  They do things like ambush Rote pilots with t3 cruisers gangs supported by ECM and logi ships.  Then they run away when Rote shows up in numbers.  They won't come out and fight honorably, but cower in station when Rote comes to call, which makes station camping for Rote very dull indeed.  And they moon mine.  Did I mention that they moon mine?  The nerve, I tell you.

This has displeased both Rote and Ripard.  Displeased them full sore. The Syndicate neighborhood, they argue, is going to hell in a hand-basket, and there's only one way to fix it:  Cleanse Syndicate of such pests.  

So, ethnic cleansing by Rote against these Carebear alliances (for, who but a Carebear would fight Rote Kapelle in a manner displeasing to Rote Kapelle) has commenced.  The offending alliances are to be harried and killed; their miserable hovels and pestilential vegetable patches burned and their ponies relentlessly defiled, until the offending alliances see the error of their ways and fight Rote as Rote wishes to be fought, or depart Syndicate altogether.

Of course, some rational minds have held forth on Mr Teg's blog.

Some have pointed out that combat is ... well combat.  And combat, by its nature, assumes you're going to use strategy to fight with an advantage over the foe.  And fighting on the enemy's terms is, as Sun Tzu was given to say, 'crazy-ass stupid' (it sounded much more elegant when Sun said it).  I mean, it's great to have a code of honor when you fight.  Bravo on you.  But to say that everybody in a nullsec region has to fight according to your code or else you'll kick them out of the region is a bit like threatening to push a piece of string uphill because it insists on being limp and therefore hard to push uphill.

Others have pointed out that Rote Kapelle may have become too good at PvP to draw decent fights in Syndicate any more.  Perhaps Rote has outgrown their small pond and needs to seek deeper waters with bigger fish who will offer better fights.  Or perhaps they could annoy one of the SOV nullsec alliances that occupy the high-value Syndicate moons in hopes the landlords send a security detail to punish Rote for their cheek.

And still others have said it takes an awful lot of brass to dictate to an entire region of capsuleers how they should play Eve.
All for naught, I'm afraid.  Mr Teg has Rote Kapelle's bit in his teeth and has told all and sundry that he will not entertain any further comments or discussion along this line of thought.  That loud 'snick' you hear is the sound of a good mind snapping shut.  Rote Kapelle snaps the leash, and Ripard Teg comes to heel.  

Happily, while Mr Teg has shut the doors at Jester's Trek to the above lines of discussion, the floor is open at Fiddler's Edge.  Feel free.

Mind, I am very interested in seeing how this plays out.  As most of you know, it's very hard to keep someone out of NPC space.  Rote plans to attack their enemies' industrial infrastructure, but that provides only limited leverage against someone determined to hang around.  And while elite, Rote's smaller membership may limit their ability to project force spatially and across all time zones.  Of course, if Rote can gather like-minded neighbors into a coalition, they could make things very uncomfortable for their tormentors.  And it may well be that the offending alliance(s) might just move on after a spanking or two rather than endure the unwanted attention from Rote.

We'll see.  Someone pass the popcorn. 

Monday, October 15, 2012


In the last month I've begun no less than five new posts, only to get distracted by RL and see the each nascent post go OBE, or overcome by events.  So, first of all, my apologies for being MIA. It's not you. It's me.

I've been reconnecting with my inner capsuleer. I've been making a point of logging into the game for an hour or so each day. I do humble things for the most part; run a mission or two, or do a bit of solo mining to try out the new(ish) barge/exhumer configurations. I've been looking at changes to the means of production, studying inflation in the markets and doing a little market mischief when I find the price for items far exceed the cost to produce them.  Thinking about rejoining FW for a bit to see what the changes of the last year and a half in that area have wrought.  I've ticked up my management skills to the point where I can create an alliance if the occasion calls for it.

I've kept my eye on nullsec and am pleased to see some things are moving along as planned there. Some surprises as well, such as the loyalty buy-out at Red Overlord.  Still, surprises have become the exception rather than the rule in that corner of New Eden. Nullsec wars are lumbering heavyweights leaning one against the other and throwing super-capital fueled hay-makers. There is a fix for this, albeit one that won't be popular with those who benefit from the status quo.

Recall what I wrote over a year ago in 'The Wealth of Nullsec':
Suppose however, just suppose, that every nullsec region was as resource poor as Providence. No Sanctum anomalies. No Technetium moons. Wealth to be had, of course, but diffused wealth that doesn't create disincentives to every activity but ratting, CTAs and building supercapitals

"But Mord," you say, "If you turn off the big isk faucets, how will my alliance fund a replacement if I lose my supercapital?"

There are days when I feel a bit like Cassandra. Or a climatologist.

The fulcrum of New Eden's current difficulties is the supercapital. Period. Full stop. The game is not out of balance because of the Dominion sov rules. It's not out of balance because highsec stations are too efficient at refining and manufacturing. It's not out of balance because of Technetium, Jump Freighters, or monster nullsec coalitions.  Those are secondary issues - echoes of and reverb from supercapital proliferation.

Supercapital proliferation is not only a problem in Eve, it is the problem in Eve.

And it is a self-reinforcing problem. As the inventory of supercapitals in game gets larger, the subset of organizations who can build or afford to buy them in sufficient quantities to take and hold nullsec space becomes smaller.  It is no longer enough to have a stable of five or ten supercapitals at one's disposal in order to take and hold nullsec sovereignty.  Oh, no. One must have them in available in the hundreds if one is to play with the big dogs of nullsec; the only way to defend against a supercapital fleet remains to have and be willing to deploy an even bigger supercapital fleet. Thus, small nullsec entities must throw in with their larger brethren, forming ever larger alliances and coalitions in order to compete for their share of space.

In order to pull the plug on supercapital proliferation, CCP needs to tackle nullsec's ISK faucets head on rather than tinkering around their edges. As Poetic Stanziel pointed out, if ISK faucets aren't pouring an inordinate amount of money down upon nullsec alliances, those alliances are called upon to make tough choices. Gobbling up every system within reach is no longer the hands-down strategy.  Supercapital losses will not be quite so easily replaced. Alliances will have to tighten their belts or find other ways of generating income; say developing nullsec markets and industrial infrastructure.

CCP Greyscale's justification for large-bore ISK faucets in nullsec has been that, because they generate so much money, they would encourage conflict and act as a brake on large scale alliances and coalitions.  As many bloggers wrote at the time, he completely disregarded the fact that, given the cost of supercapitals needed to take and hold these faucets, those who possessed them would be immune to losing them from external pressures alone. In retrospect, what was needed to achieve the goal of small nullsec holdings was an across-the-board reduction of resources.  Scarcity of resources is a much more potent driver of conflict than nullsec's current economy which actually creates an incentive for large coalitions.

Of course, as income pools shrink, those already in possession of large supercapital fleets and reserves would be positioned to be big winners in nullsec.  However this can be made self-correcting over time. First of all, reduced income would mean less easy money for buying supercapitals which should begin to reduce demand for the ships, particularly among alliances that already have an overabundance of them.That in turn should put marginal producers out of the supercapital building business.

Further, if the easy income potential of nullsec systems decreases sufficiently, risking the supercapitals needed to take and hold them them will be a less attractive option. This would reduce the ships' utility as a credible threat.  Faced with reduced revenues, alliances holding large reserves of ships that deliver reduced utility but have a considerable cash value will have an incentive to liquidate some of that stockpile off in order to finance ongoing operations and infrastructure.

Finally, CCP needs to make it possible for subcapital fleet to kill a supercap. There are a number of options that come to mind, including the Death Strike Missile proposed by Kirith Kodachi; a New Eden version of the 'Long Lance' torpedo fitted for specialized subcaps which, given sufficient numbers, could take down a Titan or Supercarrier.  Supercapitals should be vulnerable if deployed without proper subcapital support, much in the way modern aircraft carriers are vulnerable if deployed without their supporting task force; and not merely to capital class ships and above. The absence of supercapital vulnerability to subcapital fleets is a key driver of supercapital proliferation, and it needs to be addressed.

Of course, this will not sit well with the current masters of nullsec who have grown accustomed to easy money and spending with abandon.  Likewise, supercapital pilots, long coddled by CCP's design team, will be (oh, shall we say) displeased at this assault on their august status as nullsec alliance gotta-haves. As both are heavily represented in the CSM and enjoy much influence with the CCP design teams, I don't expect these proposals to go very far.  However given the direction of the game, both CCP and the members of the CSM must choose a course for nullsec:  

Change, or OBE.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Company You Keep

Coleen Lachowitcz should have played Eve.

Many of you will be aware that the political foes of the Maine state senate candidate are calling her judgement and character into question because it's been discovered she's an MMPORG enthusiast. To be precise, she's a level 68 Rogue Orc in World of Warcraft.  Setting her choice of game aside, the fact that this is regarded as a political vulnerability speaks volumes to the "type" the general population has in mind when they think about MMPORG players.

While it is true that online gaming has its share of asthmatic teen-agers and semi-employed middle aged slackers, so does NASCAR. And I've never heard of anyone disqualified for public office based on their neigh-fanatical devotion to watching semi-educated hillbillies drive loud cars around oval track all afternoon.  Looked at objectively, flying cartoon spaceships is no more foolish than "fantasy" football leagues, a passion shared openly in many professional offices. And don't get me started on golf: If you're playing a "sport" in which out of shape alcoholics wearing baggy polyester pants the color of a Rogue Orc's face are legitimate contenders, you've no business sneering at people who play online games.  

Stones and glass houses, people. Stones and glass houses.

The fact is that there are any number of skilled professionals, captains of industry, and high-ranking government officials who log in at night to knit up the unraveled sleeve of cares with a bit of digital mayhem.  An entire generation, steeped in science fiction, fantasy and war games, has grown up playing an engaging and sophisticated array of MMPORGs.  The expectation that these digital pursuits be put aside or kept hidden in order to be taken seriously in a world where "mature" adults collect baseball cards or dress up to re-enact Civil War battles is unreasonable.

Having said that, the various MMPORGs are not all equal in the pubic eye.  Nor should they be; there are games and then there are games. World of Warcraft, for example is never going to be cool enough to be accused of being a front for the CIA.  Games, like most aspects of human culture, fall in and out of fashion. Some have more cache than others.  I once knew a man who said he could learn all he needed to know about someone by playing a round of golf with them.  Likewise, what games we play and how we play them speaks volumes about our characters and the company we keep; the vaunted Eve sandbox more so than most.