Last time, I offered up a dose of real talk about the state of EVE and the CSM. Much reality was had. In Part 2, I'll provide an additional helping of real talk, specifically relating to the concerns that new players might be driven from the game if we fix risk/reward. Fair warning: If you scroll down past the picture of my face and continue to read, you will be subjected to real talk.
When I laid out my platform for fixing EVE, one of the most common objections was that if risk/reward is no longer heavily tilted in favor of risk-free, AFK money gushing from highsec, all the new players will leave the game. As the argument goes, encouraging people to go to low/null by properly rewarding them for their risk-taking would result in new players getting mercilessly slaughtered again and again until they quit, and then CCP files bankruptcy.
You can probably tell from the way I phrased that argument that I don't put much stock in it. Yet I'm not unfairly characterizing it, when you boil it down: People are admitting that risk/reward is imbalanced, but they're saying we need to maintain that imbalance in order to keep all the carebears in the game and sending subscription fees to CCP. They admit that they would like to see risk/reward brought into line, but they fear for CCP's solvency. Any easy test for the truth of my characterization is the following hypothetical: If we could somehow guarantee that subscriptions remained constant, would you be in favor of having highsec PvE nerfed and low/null buffed? Almost every serious observer would say "yes".
Granted, the carebears who want their guaranteed supply of isk would still object. So too would certain misguided PvP'ers--the ones who think free isk is good because it keeps them supplied with ships. To those PvP'ers I would simply point out that PvP doesn't rely solely on a supply of ships, but of targets. It does you no good whatsoever to have a fat wallet and a hangar full of combat ships if there's nothing for you to shoot at. As the situation worsens, you'll have your roaming ops and go for hours with no targets, since they're all safely tucked away in highsec, where it's easy and safe to make money--safe from PvP'ers like you.
While I'm on this tangent I may as well point out that I have good reason for preferring active sources of income in which the money-makers are at least somewhat catchable. Without the ability of pirates and roamers to ambush money-makers in the asteroid belts, there will increasingly be only one way to force a battle: All-out structure-grinding sov war. So you'll have either total peace or total war. The alliance leaders--the people who decide whether sov war takes place--will therefore also be ones deciding whether you get any PvP opportunities. If current events in nullsec are any indication, that might not be such a great thing.
My preference for active income from asteroid belts is controversial, but pragmatic. The time it takes to locate targets in asteroid belts can be measured in seconds rather than minutes. A lazy, complacent, or semi-AFK target can be caught. If money-makers need to be probed, they'll have ample time to cloak up in a safe no matter what, essentially making that source of income as invulnerable to attack as moongoo. By focusing on creating income sources that are vulnerable, PvP opportunities abound in what would otherwise be the increasingly-barren middle ground between peace and sov war. And, I think, the potential for cold wars to go hot will be enhanced.
Critics say that highsec is filled with people who will never take the risk of going to low/null, even if risk/reward is fixed. That's demonstrably false. In fact, many of the highsec residents are already in low/null on other characters. They send their alts to highsec to make money. If risk/reward is fixed, they'll make their money in low/null and provide targets.
If you've been around for awhile, you've probably heard players complain about the lack of small-scale PvP. You've probably wondered how it is that with so many people complaining about the lack of small-scale PvP, all those roaming gangs don't run into each other. The answer is that roaming gangs need targets like fire needs fuel. Without the base of the PvP foodchain provided by PvE'ers in low/null, the roaming gangs disband and log off in frustration. And they never get called to action by warnings of intruders, because no one is being intruded upon. Targets facilitate combat. Otherwise, roaming gangs won't meet up unless they schedule it in advance like some kind of tournament.
My belief that a lot of low/null players' alts are in highsec to make money isn't just based on anecdotal evidence. The day after the barge buff in August 2012, the ice fields of highsec underwent a remarkable transformation. Overnight, they became flooded with Retrievers and Mackinaws. (As an aside, I would also note that the suicide ganking of miners nearly stopped. Before, there would be at least a few attempts per day in each of the ice fields I visited. After the barge buff, months would go by without a single gank sighting.)
Where did all of those new highsec miners come from? It wasn't from new players, since no one ever comes to EVE because they heard an advertisement about Mackinaw EHP or ore bay sizes. The new miners came from lowsec and nullsec, as well as some highsec missioners changing professions--to something even less active.
Day by day, change by change, low/null PvE'ers move to highsec to make money the easy way. Remember, isk/hour calculations are turned on their head once you don't actually need to work during the hour. If you only need to make a routine mouse-click per hour, then you're really making X million isk per every few seconds, rather than per hour. An AFK PvE'er can "spend" a lot more time doing their PvE, since their ability to multitask is almost absolute.
Let's suppose that instead of buffing highsec PvE, CCP buffed low/null PvE. Putting aside the highsec-dwellers who are actually low/null players, critics say the highsec-dwellers would quit rather than expose themselves to the danger of low/null. I don't think that's true, but I also think it's perfectly fine if all the players who will only participate in risk-free AFK money do quit. I have no qualms whatsoever about forcing them to leave EVE.
Don't be too shocked, because there's precedent for this. CCP have on their own initiative permabanned many thousands of players. They ban them for botting. CCP is willing to throw away thousands upon thousands of subscribers, under the right circumstances. Their motive for banning the bots is that the bots don't add anything to the game, and they harm the game. I feel the same way about people who will only play a game if they can do so risk-free and AFK. A miner who contributes a routine mouse-click per hour contributes no more than a bot does. And, in my view, they do more harm than bots, because they influence CCP in a destructive manner.
There are hundreds of thousands of EVE subscribers, including perhaps tens of thousands of carebears, but there are tens or hundreds of millions of potential subscribers. We don't need the carebears. Imagine you were recruiting people to work as a crew on a ship. Some potential recruits say, "We'll work, but only if you also let us drill holes into the ship and let water in." Would you hire them? No, you would rather have fewer crewmen than hire people who want to sink the ship.
The botters say, "Let me bot, or ban me." CCP bans them. The carebears say, "Let me [virtually bot], and change the game to my benefit and everyone else's detriment, or I quit." CCP should let them quit.
As long as we're having real talk, let's be real. We shouldn't be afraid of people quitting the game. Under the right circumstances, as with the botters, we should encourage some people to quit. There is no coexistence with the carebears; we can't just let them do whatever they want on "sandbox" grounds. Consider the following:
Let's say you're a can-flipper. Can you coexist with carebears? No, because they virtually eliminated can-flipping. Suppose you like wardecs. Can you coexist with carebears? No, because right now they're pushing CCP to ban non-consensual wardecs. How do you coexist with people who are eliminating your gameplay?
I don't believe the carebears should all quit, though. I think many of them can be reformed. We should also work on the preventive side of things. One of the most destructive things people do to new players is tell them that they belong in highsec. New players, in my view, do not come to EVE with any affinity for Concord protection--it's learned. I think they would be more than happy to take additional risk and not be AFK, if they were rewarded for it. But people tell newbies to spend a bunch of time in highsec. After awhile, they come to rely on Concord. Then, when they realize there isn't much more reward for going to low/null, they stay in highsec.
The truth of lowsec and nullsec is very different from the way it's portrayed to the new generations of players in EVE. Earlier, I shared my own experience as a new player in EVE. After doing the tutorial and a few courier missions, I immediately went to lowsec because I was misinformed that the reward was much higher there. I did some ninja-mining and then spent a few months ninja-ratting in lowsec. Carebears will tell you that living in lowsec means dying a lot, and paying for a lot of replacement ships. But do you know how many ships I lost in all that time? One. I lost one cruiser not too long after I began playing. I learned to pay more attention to local and take it more seriously. I never lost another ship, despite spending months ratting--usually on my own--in lowsec, and delivering rats' module drops to Rens.
You might object that things have changed since then. They have--to the benefit of PvE'ers and new players. Back then, we didn't have warp to zero to get from gate to gate. Nor did we have standings symbols in local. You might object that I was particularly skilled in some way. Definitely not. I was a clueless newbie like the rest. While ratting, I had no concept of basic things like optimal damage types to use against rats. I didn't know how to use the D-scanner. But I did know that if someone I didn't recognize appeared in local, I was in danger. That was enough.
I'm not saying everyone should move out to low/null today. I am saying that low/null should be buffed, and highsec nerfed, so that people have reason to make the move. The difference between PvE in high versus low/null is not that you'll lose a bunch of ships in low/null, because you probably won't. The only difference is that PvE in low/null requires you to be alert, as opposed to AFK.
You might think this contradicts the PvP foodchain theory. However, being a target does not mean you'll be killed. Most of the time, the prey escapes the predator--which is why prey don't go extinct. But the prey are killed just often enough. If the PvE'ers of highsec moved to low/null, they wouldn't be sheep led to a slaughter. They would simply present themselves as a population of targets from which some percentage would be killed due to complacency or bad luck. The predator population would be replenished thereby, and gangs could form to roam and attack the predators, rather than spending their days complaining about the lack of small-scale PvP and AFK mining on their highsec alts.
Now that's a game that people might actually like to play enough not to quit. What the carebears and their advocates don't realize is, it's not just carebears who have the ability to unsubscribe. People have already been quitting EVE. Not because it's not safe enough, but because it's too boring, and because PvP has vanished. Those are the people we should be worried about keeping. If people say that fixing risk/reward would cause people to quit the game, my response is that people will quit the game if it remains broken, or (as is likely) it becomes more broken.
The choice is between EVE as a "cold, harsh universe" or a theme park. CCP proudly says it's in favor of a cold, harsh universe, all while debating the removal of wardecs and nerfing everything that makes EVE remotely cold or harsh. But I tell you that in reality, it's not a choice between a cold, harsh universe or a theme park, because the theme park option is not an option. Be warned, because the following paragraphs may be offensive to sensitive readers.
CCP is good at some things. They're great at some things. They're terrible at others. One of the things CCP would be terrible at: Building a mainstream, theme park-style MMORPG. For evidence of that, look no further than EVE itself. It's sometimes called "spreadsheets in space", and not unfairly. The main interface, the overview, is quite literally a spreadsheet. Compare that to the bright, colorful landscapes and characters in the popular theme park MMOs. Without meaningful gameplay (in other words, non-consensual PvP), all you're left with is the environment. CCP could not hope to compete.
Don't get me wrong. I like some of the EVE spaceships, they're pretty. But people don't spend their time in EVE looking at a bunch of Nyxes flying around up close and personal. Players zoom out so as to reduce the lag on their overview spreadsheet. At most, they see only their own ship, and CCP proved they didn't even grasp that concept when they (temporarily) removed the ship-spinning feature.
When CCP did try to add a theme park element, "Walking in Stations", it was a complete disaster. I believe CCP just doesn't have what it takes to build that kind of game. For the ultimate proof, let's consider the main element of EVE's graphical user interface. Behold the product of ten years of work, creativity, and artistry, the tirelessly-refined product that represents the pinnacle of CCP's ability to bring the fantastic world of spaceships to life:
I told you this was going to be real talk. The way I see it, if we're going to be real, let's be real. Look at that picture. What is that? It's a battleship, obviously. Or, actually, that could be a marauder or black ops. Come to think of it, it could be a carrier or supercarrier or titan. And you know, I just realized that if you squint, it looks a little bit like a destroyer or interdictor or cruiser or heavy assault ship or strategic cruiser or logistics or heavy interdictor or frigate or shuttle or rookie ship or interceptor or assault ship or electronic attack frigate or stealth bomber or covert ops or battlecruiser or recon ship or command ship.
Seriously, a white-on-black square? Seriously? Is this a joke? Are you kidding me? After ten years, this is what you come up with for your ships--for nearly all of your ships? Again, are you kidding me? Right now, at this very moment, am I being joked with and kidded, is what I want to know. Look at me. Look me in the eye. I'm serious. Here, let me make it easier for you:
I want you to look me in the eye and tell me how you're going to turn that square of yours into a billion dollar theme park. Tell me how looking at that white-on-black square for hours on end is going to be so inviting a prospect that people leave World of Warcraft and all the other MMOs on the market to come sign up for EVE. Don't wait until I'm elected to the CSM and go to Iceland. Look at the portrait of me, look at my face, and tell me without laughing how millions of people are going to shell out a subscription fee every month once you remove non-consensual PvP from highsec, because your theme park is filled with gorgeous squares. Do it.
* James 315 drops microphone, walks off the stage.