Be bold Pilot.
The latest round table from Fanfest (blogged about here at EVE News 24) makes for interesting, if slightly depressing, reading. The general theme (splitting up the blob) remains focused on adding small scale objectives and a generic argument over whether it is possible to engineer EVE in such a fashion that the social grouping of players can, in fact, be fractured.
The depressing thing is that the ideas being put forward appear to be only slight modifications of the current ideal – that of ‘capture the flag’ mechanics. We appear to be trapped in a mold whereby Sovereignty is defined as either being held, or not held. “On” or “Off”. This is problematic for a number of reasons. By having Sov as a ‘binary’ mechanic it is natural to conclude that its state (“on” or “off”) can be determined through a single definitive action. That is to say that through a single contest (or a protracted contest) a tipping point is reached that flicks the Sov switch to a new state. Because Sov is determined in this fashion a ‘decisive’ action is best achieved through massing force at one point in time and space. The defender likewise can prevent that ‘switch’ by doing the same. In short there is no granulation; no shades of grey.
I think we (the players) and CCP have approached Sov in this fashion because most RTS games operate like this – you destroy the ‘capital’ of your opponent and win a given chunk of territory. It’s a theme common to board games as well (RISK, Axis & Allies etc) perhaps best described as “tile ownership”. Tile ownership is great in some respects as it gives a clear and unambiguous idea of who is winning the game, and equally who has won the game overall. Board and RTS games need this of course as they are relatively short lived in game time terms and tend to be 1 v 1 contests.
EVE, however, has no such constraints. I think we should instead be looking to a Sov system that is described more in terms of graduated influence. Instead of saying ‘Widget Alliance ‘owns’ PX-6RY we would instead say that ‘Widget Alliance’ has 78% influence over PX-6RY. One might expect that within the over all sphere of influence an Alliances ‘core’ systems might well be extremely high – perhaps 99% or 100%. Essentially completely uncontested. Fringe systems however would be “fuzzy” in the sense that there would be no definite owner but could be said to be shared amongst Alliances. The degree to which this state of “fuzziness” was through mutual agreement, stalemates or outright warfare would of course depend on the individual circumstances.
Why would implementing something along these lines effect ‘blob’ warfare though? Firstly by having a vaguer more granulated approach to describing Sov we might say that even small combat forces could, within reason, have small scale impacts upon the Sov ‘tally’. A 5 man gang could knock the Sov % of an alliance down by 1%, a 300 man gang would do just the same – its not the numbers but the frequency of their pressure and influence on a system that would be key. Sov would be more of a fluid idea of ‘influence’ that spills over like water into adjoining systems.
How would we effect the % score though? I would suggest this would come through a range of ‘influencers’ – player ship kills in a system for example, trade volumes, mineral reprocessing, and so forth. The more an Alliance is active in a given system the greater its % of influence. Wouldn’t this encourage blobs to form? Perhaps not. If we consider that Alliance A has 100% influence in a system. Alliance B moves it’s fleet in and the value of influence splits 50%/50%, Alliance A moves out and Alliance B now has 100% influence – provided it stays there. If Alliance B pursues Alliance A into the next system of course a % of influence would drop in the system behind it. In simple terms influence degrades over time.
Think of it more like an entropic idea. If you live in a house you maintain it, add new furniture, cut the lawn, a new lick of paint here and there. Your ‘influence’ is readily apparent. Leave that house and, over a protracted period of time, it will start to decay. Furnishings will rot. Pipes burst. Paint peels and fades. You might hold the deeds to that property but over increasingly protracted periods of time that claim of ownership’s legitimacy fades as well.
He who tills the land; owns the land.
Would this be a carte blanche for botters and macros? Not entirely. Such automated creatures are far more vulnerable to small scale incursions into their territory. They are, on the whole, incapable of adequately defending themselves and easily interrupted and disrupted by small forces or even individuals. Relying on automatons to increase a % Sov would be foolish in the extreme as whilst they could account for some ‘activity’ even a minor force would disrupt this activity and cripple it. Space would still need to be patrolled through force of arms and over the long term – as opposed to a smash and grab mentality which is so conducive to massing a large fleet and then moving on.
Whilst we still consider Sov in terms of black and white, held or lost, on or off we will remain shackled to a rather basic board game of win, or lose. EVE I believe offers the chance to mix the pallet and provide more ambiguous shades of grey if only we are bold enough to accept it.