The future of skirmish PVP.
To my mind, the core of PVP in EVE Online – where its heart is – is in small gang PVP. Almost without exception when you ask players who participate in PVP combat they’ll say its at the small gang level where they enjoy it the most. The reasons why this might be the case are pretty obvious when you consider them:
We are, as social creatures, drawn to participate in small team activities. Look at the world of team sports and you’ll find few cases where a “team” exceeds more than 20 people. More often than not you’re looking at about a dozen or so active players; Soccer, American Football, Cricket, Basketball, Ice Hockey, Rugby – theyre all ‘small gang’ PVP. Within the work place you will also find teams will form at an optimum number, and the same is true for military units and formations – EVE is no different.
Go beyond that magic zone and problems of command, control, communication and leadership all arise. In game terms the more you increase the numbers participating the less the individual feels valued or even relevant to the task at hand. After a small gang operation banter will abound in corp chat as tales of victory, loss, close calls and near run things are batted back and forth. Even within large fleets you’ll tend to find only a small vocal minority ‘leading’ the activity or commentating on it. Our friendship groups are typically around the 8 – 12 mark, at least those we know well. How often do you go out down the pub with 350 of you mates? How about 5?
Good small gang ‘skirmish’ PVP is therefore fundamental in making EVE a success. Without it those social bonds and cohesion start to fray, players feeling increasingly irrelevant start to drift away (often ironically in small, albeit dissatisfied, groups). In my view ensuring that small gang PVP has a renaissance is without question one of the great challenges that face the developers today. In many respects CCP have placed hurdles of their own making in their paths – vast capital and super capital ships, Player Owned Stations, Outposts, TCUs et al all require – demand – larger fleets to over come them.
So how do we encourage small gang PVP once more? In broad terms we can approach the problem with a variety of solutions:
Nerf Fleets – stacking penalties, limited target locks, dead spaces that can only admit a given number of ships are all potential solutions. But these are ‘nerfs’ – forcing players down a particular route. Alternatively I’ve suggested before increasing the ‘visibility’ of very large fleets as a tool to dissuade their use in favour of more “covert” smaller fleets.
But that’s only half the story. Tonight my corp went on a typical ‘roam’ – half a dozen of us searching through Low Sec space for a potential battle. None was found and we returned about an hour later all slightly bored and discouraged. What really struck me though was what we were doing: i.e roaming. Roaming being the act of wandering, with no clear purpose or even direction in mind. Now don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with roaming the problem is more that there was no genuine alternative. There was nothing ‘out there’ to draw us (or others) into a potential battle. No target to strike or advantage to fight over.
Now I’m sure you’re already thinking of Factional Warfare here. However in many respect FW failed to achieve what I believe is so badly needed in the form of ‘limited objectives’. Instead of providing short sharp conquest of limited objectives the FW dead spaces were filled with NPCs immediately putting the attacker at a disadvantage. Equally they didn’t scale well – these objectives could be best conquered using the almighty blob and FW quickly came to resemble Null Sec war fare and a battle between large fleets. Critically these objectives are static – and like and static position encourage a fort and siege mentality.
So what is the solution? What constitutes a ‘limited objective’?
Firstly a limited objective (LO) needs to be transient and short lived – a fleeting opportunity. Leave any objective in place permanently or for any extended period of time and you allow the possibility of a larger force being assembled to capture or defend it.
Secondly it needs to provide a small and scalable reward. For example a gang reaches an LO, captures it and is rewarded quickly. The bigger the team the less the ‘payout’ for individual members. This has two important effects; it means the team members feel rewarded and a sense of achievement. The fewer who succeed in this task the greater the reward for them, and the greater the satisfaction. Players soloing level IV and V missions bears testament to this. Or to put it another way: how many 300 man fleets do you see running Level IV missions?
Thirdly (and finally) it needs to be an objective that has potential value to more than one group. Missions for example provide a % of their reward only to the player who initiates them through accepting the mission. Exploration sites often hold sufficient value only to a very small number of players, or those who are especially equipped to mine, hack or dig their way to the riches within them. Crucially PVP players want to compete in Player Vs Player (sounds rather obvious doesn’t it?) – they don’t want to drive off a Player only to then take part in a PVE activity. Value in this sense means more than just ‘ISK’ – but value in terms of time spent and enjoyment from it.
I will attempt to give a fairly crude example of how such content might be introduced –
“Gurista Ammo Convoy” – this is an ‘event’ that spawns randomly in a system. Its existence is posted in local channel, or perhaps as an objective marker on the universe map (regardless of method its existence is widely known). The convoy can be warped to directly and engaged (a simple matter of blowing up some NPC transports) however it is only available for say 15 minutes then departs back into the depths of space. Destroying the convoy results in a nice stash of loot – lets say pure ISK to keep things simple). Alternatively a gang can accept its distress call, in which case they only need to ensure its survival for those 15 minutes and are then similarly rewarded.
So far pretty basic – but you can quickly see how assembling a major fleet to achieve such a simple task will likely take too long and as the reward is divided amongst a fleets members of limited value to a major fleet. Our target is transient, but rewarding to 2 (or more) potentially competing groups. Such a simple object might be expanded upon – perhaps saving / destroying such targets has an incremental effect on the Sov of a system? In this fashion smaller gangs can make small but nevertheless valued contributions to a wider goal.
Such limited objectives could also be applied in Null Sec environments. Once an Alliances reaches a given level of Sov, ‘NPC Trade Convoys’ might appear. Provided theyre not destroyed their survival would increase further the sov of a system or provide other like reward. Opposing small gangs could now strike these opportunity targets across a wide region weakening (though not out right destroying) an Alliance influence.
Enough examples. Until EVE begins to incorporate and apply the concept of a Limited Objective the allure of Small Gang operations will remain a tarnished one and the predominance of large fleet warfare will remain the norm.