EVE Evolved: Sovereignty 2.0 Needs Some Work

    
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When CCP Games announced last year that a complete nullsec revamp was coming to EVE Online, the playerbase breathed a collective sigh of relief powerful enough to create its own tropical weather system. There’s no question that nullsec and territorial warfare in EVE are broken beyond belief, and players have been campaigning for a complete revamp for years. It’s been over five years since the Dominion expansion tried and failed to revamp nullsec for the better, and most of the changes since then have been small iterations and quality of life fixes. The situation came to a head late last year when players and CCP acknowedged that nullsec had become stagnant and something really had to be done.

The first phase of the revamp came last October, when developers made changes to jump drives and jump portals to stop people from deploying fleets across huge distances within minutes. This week CCP announced phase two of the ambitious plan: a complete overhaul of the sovereignty gameplay designed to allow smaller alliances to capture and hold space, among other goals. It’s the change I’m sure a lot of corps in EVE have been waiting for to finally try their hands at claiming their own little corner of New Eden, but discussion on sovereignty is far from over. Developers have reached out for feedback on the proposal ahead of this month’s fanfest, and the forum thread has reached nearly 200 pages.

In this edition of EVE Evolved, I look at EVE‘s upcoming sovereignty revamp and explain why I think the system needs a few design changes to work.

sov20-1New capture mechanic: Entosis links

The biggest change with the new sovereignty system is that shooting at structures will be replaced with the use of a new “Entosis” module. The high-slot module has a five-minute cycle time and can be used to either capture a hostile structure or block capture of a friendly one. Players using an Entosis module will be unable to dock, jump, warp, or receive remote assistance while it’s active. Each structure will also operate completely independently in the new system, so an alliance can plant a Territorial Claim Units to officially get its name on the map, but it’s not required for anything else. A completely different alliance can own the infrastructure hub or station in a system, and they’re separate strategic targets that can be captured independently.

It may seem as if Entosis modules are just shifting the fight from grinding hitpoints to grinding Entosis links, but there’s one fundamental difference: Adding extra Entosis modules has no effect on the capture. As long as there’s no opposition to the capture, a single player in an interceptor could take over a structure. It also doesn’t matter if the attacker has 1,000 active entosis links on a structure, as a single active defending link will cancel them all out. Since the ship using the entosis link can’t receive remote assistance, it’s likely that anyone using one during a battle will just get called primary target and blapped out of the sky. The best way to capture something under the new system will be to remove all opposition from the field, either by preventing the other side from getting its Entosis links online by killing everyone before the five minute cycle ends, or by chasing all enemies off the field of battle.

sov20-2Vulnerability and reinforcement

In the current sovereignty system, attacked structures enter an invulnerable reinforced mode for 24 to 48 hours and display a public timer for all to see. The idea is to give both sides time to prepare for the final battle so that no alliance logs in one day to find all of its sandcastles have been kicked over by someone in a different time zone. In practice, this often discourages battles, as both sides will know what size of force their enemy can muster and there’s plenty of time to bring most of that to bear. A lot of timed sovereignty battles end in no-shows and leave the attacker to shoot at structures alone for hours.

The new system will add the “vulnerability window” mechanic, which asks alliances to pick a four-hour slot during which their structures become vulnerable and can be fought over. Alliances will typically set this to their prime time so that they have as many pilots online as possible to defend. Structures still have a 48-hour reinforcement timer after the initial attack, but now when the timer ends, it’ll spawn faction warfare-style control points all across the constellation. Capturing those sites will give you points in a kind of tug-of-war for control of the structure, and you have to collect enough points before the vulnerability window ends to win. It’s hoped that splitting the battle across an entire constellation will spread server load and lead to more interesting battles.

sov20-3Reinforcement timers need to be removed

On its own, the vulnerability window is a brilliant idea and an example of really elegant game design, though four hours may be a little too short a window. In principle, it should prompt more frequent turf wars, with fleets attacking enemy systems throughout the vulnerability period each day. Systems that aren’t actively defended during the four hour period each day would be very vulnerable to attack, forcing alliances to maintain only those systems that are actively filled with pilots during their prime time. In theory, a small alliance could also swoop in and steal an undefended system from under someone’s nose while the group is busy warring elsewhere. This should create a self-balancing system that makes alliances shrink to claim only those systems they actively use.

The problem is that vulnerability windows make no sense if you also have reinforcement timers. All it does is pointlessly limit the initial attack that reinforces a structure to within a four-hour window. There’s no incentive for players to actively defend against the initial attack if a reinforcement timer will give them two days of preparation time against the next attack. With 48 hours’ warning of the exact time of the final battle for a station or infrastructure hub, massive alliances can still issue a call to arms to hundreds of members who otherwise might not be logged in to defend. It also gives alliances time to relocate capital ships from across the map, which is one of the things the new sov system is trying to fix in the first place. A lot of people are raging about the vulnerability windows right now, but I think it’s the reinforcement timers that really need to go.

sov20-5The “main event” needs to be rethought

While I think some kind of constellation-wide sovereignty battle would be amazing, CCP’s Command Node battle idea feels really fake. If I’m in an alliance that wants to capture a station, why should we have to wait through four full days of reinforcement timers and chase down and capture these random control nodes that appear throughout the constellation and weren’t even put there by the station’s owner? The devs can dress this up with all the Jovian and Sleeper fluff they like, but as a mechanic, it seems very arbitrary, artificial, and gamesy.

Command Node battles ought to be used for something else like capturing Jovian listening posts, not for our core sovereignty battles. System ownership in EVE needs to be a constant tug-of-war fought on a daily basis by those living in or nearby a system, and you can’t enforce that as an arbitrary game mechanic. It needs to be organic, with fleets forming daily to capture objectives and respond to threats as and when they happen, and it absolutely cannot be scheduled days in advance. If I’m fighting for control of a space station, the battle should be happening at the space station, and it should happen in periodic skirmishes over several days to give the defender plenty of time to react and plan his next move.

sov20-6The sov system we actually need

Any new sov system needs to get rid of reinforcement timers in favour of spontaneous, organic fleet battles and ongoing system defense. The ideal solution is to have multiple capture levels for all structures so that they have to be captured multiple times during separate vulnerability periods. Give each structure an ownership rating out of five that can only be decreased by one point in each vulnerability period, and make it automatically increase by a point if the structure isn’t successfully attacked that day. It would take about the same amount of time to capture something, but it’d be an organic daily battle instead of two alliances sitting on their hands for 48 hours and then throwing everything they’ve got at each other (or worse, one side not showing up).

Most of the sovereignty proposal is actually pretty perfect, and the Entosis module is a clever idea, but the capture mechanics need a few fundamental changes. In the ideal sov system, we should form daily assault fleets to hit strategic targets in nearby systems and defense fleets to keep watch on our systems that have been recently attacked. Structures should be made vulnerable over time by repeated successful attacks, not captured or destroyed in a single all-out battle. We should have to plan for when we think the enemy will strike, how big their force is, and whether they’ll split up and go for different targets at the same time. And we should have to log in every day to be ready to defend our space if the enemy attacks, not just ignore the initial attack because a reinforcement timer will kick in and save our asses. The new system as it’s proposed won’t do any of this, and that’s a damn shame.

sov20-end

Most of the sovereignty revamp devblog had me shouting “YES! YES! YES!” at my screen like a rabid Daniel Bryan fan, but a few parts of it feel completely over-engineered. EVE is a sandbox game that lives and dies on its emergent gameplay. We don’t need an explicitly designed control point minigame for sovereignty, and thinking that we do is practically a conceit on the part of the game designers. This isn’t a PvE activity like missions or incursions where the devs can create the content, and it isn’t casual PvP like faction warfare where the capture mechanics don’t really matter.

All we actually need is a lightweight capture mechanic that fits naturally into people’s everyday PvP goals. You take your fleet into enemy space during its vulnerability window and try to capture stuff, and the owner either defends the structures successfully that day or loses one point of control over them. Lose enough control over the structures and they’ll turn neutral and will be accessible to everyone, and the next alliance to capture it gets ownership of it.

Why can’t we have a simple system like that? No 48-hour warning so you can schedule all the PvP that matters far in advance, no complicated mechanics, and no artificial control-point minigame. Just neighbouring alliances locked in a perpetual tug of war, forced to actively defend their space for a few hours each day in order to keep it. If I sound overly negative about the new sov system, it’s only because the proposal is so close to perfect and just needs just a few core changes to be successful. What do you think?

EVE Online expert Brendan ‘Nyphur’ Drain has been playing EVE for over a decade and writing the regular EVE Evolved column since 2008. The column covers everything from in-depth EVE guides and news breakdowns to game design discussions and opinion pieces. If there’s a topic you’d love to see covered, drop him a comment or send mail to brendan@massivelyop.com!
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Hildulfr
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Hildulfr

I enjoyed the recommendation on the vulnerability window be dependent on the use of the system.  I’m a little worried about the freeport system, because I think it will lead to docking games.  Some type of change is needed, and this is a good place to start a discussion.  With 3 months to get feedback, hopefully there will be many changes.

Keithoras
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Keithoras

Nyphur My mistake: I realize now that I hadn’t fully understood your article the first time I read it. With what you suggest, indeed, it should be quite fair (if the alliance can set the vulnerability window at the time wanted) and not to pressuring (if you have 5 days to react before loosing complete control of the system). I completely agree with your suggestions now :)

Nyphur
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Nyphur

Keithoras Nyphur Nobody’s asking alliances to have permanent awareness around the clock, the whole point of vulnerability windows is to establish a short period (4 hours with the current proposal) during which star systems are vulnerable to attack and they’re invulnerable for the other 20 hours a day. If an alliance is actively living in a star system and can’t get defense fleets up for four hours per day during its own selected peak prime time, then yeah it deserves to lose that star system.
And honestly, reinforcement timers are not neccessary. If CCP were to remove them but add multiple capture points as I described in the article, then you’d still have the ability to mobilise people in advance. You would see that Station X has been successfully attacked/disrupted three times over the past three days and you’re down to 2/5 control score on it. In response, you’d mobilise a defense fleet for the next day’s four hour vulnerability window and if you can protect the station from attack that day you’d regain a control point or two automatically.
Replacing reinforcement timers with repeated capture gives alliances the exact same ability to mount a defense as they have now and on the exact same time scale. The difference is that the attacks could happen any time in the vulnerability window while the current proposal forces people to show up at the minute the timer expires. And of course you’d have daily battles over structures instead of a pointless 48 hour wait and then one big weird constellation-wide faction warfare event that might pass without opposition.

Keithoras
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Keithoras

Nyphur Put simply, for me, the Reinforcement Timers are an “unnatural gameplay feature” (I agree with you on that) but a necessary evil.

Keithoras
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Keithoras

Nyphur Hi o7. 
I’ve enjoyed reading many of your previous articles on the former Massively website!
This article is a great one too. However, I think you’re pushing a bit too far when you say “Reinforcement timers need to be removed”. I can understand your point of view about having a “permanent awareness” to defend solar systems an Alliance owns. However, this way of thinking doesn’t take in account many problems: Saying basically “if you don’t have enough defenses at any time, you deserve to lose your star system” is a bit easy. So alliances who are mostly composed of people of a same country are doomed to be beaten? Because yes they will sleep at the same time and work at the same time. There will be inevitable moments where the number of players will be very low. In that case you think they deserve to lose their system because they’re not all day long on the game? In my opinion, an alliance should not be rewarded just because players are on the game 10h per day (because this is what you imply for small alliances, and the game would be much more fun with a lot of small alliances than with a few mega-blocks. On that, I convinced CCP is right). An ailiance should be rewarded for its ability to mobilize people (while allowing these people to have a normal social life: work, family, and be able to sleep well), for its coordination and its players’ battle skills. What you suggests rewards mainly overwhelming presence on the game, completely ignoring Real Life constraints. And that seems a bit dull to me. EvE remains a game, a serious game but a game nonetheless. But that’s just my opinion.

Nyphur
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Nyphur

Oskiee Nyphur Denice J Cook Creating multiple timers by hitting multiple systems won’t make a difference, because they’re all within the 4 hour vulnerability window so the defender just needs to have fleets up for that duration and deploy forces depending on where attacks hit. It’s not like the big alliance has to pick only one or two targets to defend, they can get enough pilots together to defend several systems simultaneously and can redeploy capital and subcap fleets rapidly as long as they know roughly where you’re going to hit.
With a 48 hour timer, they know exactly what systems are vulnerable and have time to move pilots and ships to the area in preparation. And that preparation time doesn’t help the little guy nearly as much, because it’s not like a tiny alliance can use the extra time to magic up a bigger fleet. Preparation time helps people who don’t live in a system long-term get in position to defend it, and that’s why the status quo can’t change as long as that timer exists.
Stations also don’t become freeports when reinforced in the proposed system, they only become freeports after they’re fully captured once (after you reinforce it, wait through the 48 hour timer, and then capture it in the final battle). There really is no reason for the defender to bother actively defending his space against initial attacks other than for a bit of fun, people will still be just responding to reinforcement timers exactly as before.
And honestly, if your alliance can’t maintain a four hour vigil during its prime time to stop people from capturing its structures, it really doesn’t deserve those star systems. An alliance that’s actively living in a star system should be able to put together defense fleets to prevent captures as and when they happen. That’s not tedium or a job, it’s just PvP and if you don’t find that fun then nullsec is the wrong place for you to be. The only real question is how much time we give people to respond to an attack, which is just a matter of tweaking numbers until it feels right (CCP says 40 minutes maximum in a highly used star system). There’s also a question of how to stop throwaway entosis alts harassing an alliance, which is why I suggested offensive Entosis modules should be capital-only.

Oskiee
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Oskiee

Nyphur Denice J Cook  “but only if it’s difficult to hold onto systems you don’t actively use on a daily basis. That’s where the current proposal completely breaks down, because 48 hour reinforcement timers make it possible to hold and defend a system that you don’t use in the slightest.”

The reinforce timers are important, especially for the little guys. The system is going to make it much harder to hold on to a lot of space unused space in the long run. Think about it, if you wanted to start taking say… Goon space. How do you do that? You create more timers than they can handle. They dont know which ones youll show up for, or maybe they wont care about the system, youll be able to take it. In the long run youll be able to eat away from their territory. 

For the little guys, the 48 hours gives them time to prepare. If a timer wasnt present, youd have to have a constant vigil (at least in the 4 hour window) which would get tedious and then the game becomes an even bigger job. No thank you. 

“As it stands, the proposal doesn’t give any reason for people to actively defend their space against capture during the vulnerability window. ” 

And dont forget, Stations in reinforce become freeports, thats a pretty big deal for an attacking force (not to mention content generation)

Nyphur
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Nyphur

Another tiny change that could make a big difference would be limiting offensive Entosis use to capital ships. Make separate offensive and defensive versions of the module so that you can defend with any ship but can only attempt to capture something by risking a capital ship. It doesn’t even have to be a supercapital, carriers are cheap enough that everyone and his dog has access to one and it makes a good minimum barrier to entry for sov warfare. Sov capture doesn’t need to be accessible to individuals or small roaming ships, just small organisations.

It’s also a pretty good incentive to be online and ready to defend your space, because if someone does attack they’ll have at least a carrier in play and it can’t be remote repaired while capturing. Make it so that the offensive Entosis module can’t be deactivated during its cycle and you’ve got a recipe for frequent emergent battles with the potential to escalate due the presence of at least one locked down capital.

Nyphur
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Nyphur

Denice J Cook In theory, it should work fine as even a single Entosis module can block capture by a huge fleet. The side with the biggest fleet can still obviously send in a bigger force and capture your stuff with very little resistance, but that cuts both ways as the attacker will still need to prevent the structures from being recaptured on a daily basis. It won’t be worth the effort to run daily fleets to patrol dozens of unused systems, and it won’t be feasible to deploy fleets over large distances to prevent a capture in progress. Ultimately small groups would capture and hold systems mainly because it’s inconvenient for a larger entity to try to hold onto them.
It really is a remarkably good self-balancing system, but only if it’s difficult to hold onto systems you don’t actively use on a daily basis. That’s where the current proposal completely breaks down, because 48 hour reinforcement timers make it possible to hold and defend a system that you don’t use in the slightest. CCP’s idea is to make capture time based on system usage indices, but whether it takes 10 minutes or 40 minutes of Entosis linking to capture something is quite irrelevant. Since it takes only a single Entosis module to defend, victory in every structure battle will go to the side that can hold the field. As long as there are reinforcement timers, that will continue to be group with the largest military force.
As it stands, the proposal doesn’t give any reason for people to actively defend their space against capture during the vulnerability window. They just have to respond to reinforcement timers as they do currently, so the status quo is unlikely to change unless the proposal is revised to remove reinforcement timers.

Nyphur
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Nyphur

Manic Velocity Most of the discussion on the forum has been criticism of vulnerability windows and warnings about interceptors with entosis modules, which is obscuring the more important issues. Reading about the “Main Event” mechanic makes me think the designers fundamentally do not understand how emergent gameplay works. It’s would be an absolute conceit on their part to think that gameplay can only exist if they explicitly design and codify it, and they risk turning the wild west of nullsec into a wild west style theme park.
My main concern is that the devs may now have tunnel-vision on this design. The devblog on this was huge because they put a ton of work into designing this system down to the small details and balancing numbers before even revealing the broad strokes to players. I worry that CCP won’t be willing to scrap that work now or make major changes, which would mean we’re actually looking at the final design.
I love the idea of these constellation-wide battles, but why not
introduce those as a completely separate thing? Give each constellation a
Jovian Listening Post and the owner of the post has control over the
constellation’s chat system. They get to set delayed mode in local chat
on or off, and their alliance gets exclusive access to a Constellation
channel so they can see all pilots in the constellation (including
enemies). Use the normal battle system for control over stations,
infrastructure hubs and territorial claim units, and use the
constellation-wide control point battles only for capture of the Jovian
Listening Posts. That would let the designers keep their new gameplay without turning nullsec into Team Fortress 2.