EVE Evolved: The controversy over EVE Online’s capital ship nerfs

    
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EVE Online players have been up in arms this week over sweeping nerfs that are about to hit to high-end farming gameplay styles in the player-owned nullsec territories. It started when CCP Games announced that the Excavator drones used by Rorqual capital industrial ships would be getting a sizeable mining yield reduction and that a respawn delay would be added to ore sites in nullsec. As players were still reeling from that unexpected news, developers then announced a surprise general nerf to fighter damage with the goal of making carriers and supercarriers less effective in PvE and PvP. This significant balance change was just announced on Friday 9th June and goes live on Tuesday 13th, prompting outcry from the community over the lack of feedback-gathering on such a significant change to capital ship balance.

These nerfs both seem to be reactions to the latest few Monthly Economic Reports, which showed that the total money supply in the game economy is over a quadrillion ISK and rising rapidly. The detailed breakdowns of economic activity in the reports tell a more complex story, with ISK supply from bounty prizes roughly doubling over the past year and mining in the Delve region shooting off the scale in the past few months. It seems that a large number of nullsec players are spending more time farming and building up resources, and it’s the scale and efficiency of the top-tier farming setups that has CCP worried.

In this edition of EVE Evolved, I discuss the upcoming Rorqual and fighter nerfs, look at the economics of farming, and explain why this trend could be a more serious indicator than CCP realises.

Analysing the Rorqual nerf

The mining nerfs announced last week are a direct hit on the highest tier of mining gameplay, starting with direct reductions to the mining yield and movement speed of the expensive Excavator drones that can only be used by the Rorqual capital industrial ship. That’s a two billion ISK ship with extremely rare drones that still cost almost a billion ISK a piece, but of course price has never been an effective balancing tool in EVE.

The biggest part of the mining nerf is that the Ore Prospecting Array nullsec system upgrade will now have a cooldown between depleting one site and the new one spawning, so players will no longer be able to mine continuously in one star system with an unlimited number of ships. It’s clear that this is a response to the rapid rise of Rorqual fleets and the trillions of ISK worth of ore being mined of Goonswarm’s home in Delve each month recently, but the actual impact won’t be all that terrible. People with large mining fleets will just have to scale back the number of miners per system or cycle between multiple star systems, so the ultimate effect is to reduce the maximum carrying capacity of a given area of nullsec space for mining operations.

While some are calling this nerf a knee-jerk reaction, I’ve always had a problem with infinitely-scaling resource streams in EVE and a cooldown on the respawn is a pretty reasonable change. I’d be interested to see some follow-up on the problem down the line, though, such as proposals for replacing infinite resource streams with timed events in the same style as the new moon mining gameplay.

The economics of supercarrier farming

While people were obviously angry at the mining nerfs, they weren’t ‘71 page forum thread in two days‘ angry or ‘plaster the whole EVE subreddit with vitriol‘ angry. That honour was reserved for CCP Larrikin’s surprise announcement of a nerf to carrier and supercarrier damage, which was deemed necessary primarily due to the recent rise in NPC bounty payouts. CCP Quant later clarified on Reddit that these changes are intended to hit a relatively small group of players who were able to generate upward of 500 million ISK per hour on each character by endlessly farming nullsec anomalies in supercarriers.

The latest economic reports do show a massive increase in ISK pouring into the game from NPC bounties, roughly doubling over the past year to reach almost 70 trillion ISK last month, and over 90% of it is coming from nullsec. Supercarriers were never intended to be PvE powerhouses and the number of them in the game has shot up rapidly over the past few years. Though there are practical limits to the number of pilots who can efficiently farm nullsec anomalies in one star system, this type of farming obviously scales up too easily and produces far too much ISK for supercapital pilots. Given that alliances are now capable of mining trillions of ISK worth of ore per month, building up a huge supercapital fleet isn’t a serious barrier to them and this ISK faucet was only going to get bigger.

I’m not sure that general fighter nerfs are the way to tackle PvE supercarriers as they also hit regular carriers that can only reach about 50 million ISK per hour, but the economic problems did need to be addressed before they spiralled out of control. This is partly because of the additional complicating factor of the role that skill injectors play on both sides of the farming equation. Not only do they give a straight-forward new pit for the super-rich to pour their wealth into, but they also allow new farming characters to be created in a matter of hours or minutes. Once players find a highly profitable and scalable farming setup, they can now replicate it dozens of times and the new characters will quickly pay for themselves like a good investment.

Is EVE in a cold war state?

Over the past 13 years I’ve been playing EVE, I’ve seen the game go through countless major changes that have produced these distinct gameplay eras lasting anywhere from a few months to years. The early years saw a game-wide race to get into battleships, the era of mining in cruisers before mining barges were added, the slow march of nullsec infrastructure deployment that accompanied tech 2 production, and the following era of dreadnought proliferation as players trained the skills to fly capital ships.

EVE has naturally been through a number of these periods that could be characterised as cold wars, periods in which alliances retreat to their territories to build fortresses and farm resources for the next coming war. I think we’re in one of those periods right now, but it may not be by choice. The fact that that people are choosing to farm more instead of fighting should perhaps be a warning sign to developers that something is wrong with nullsec warfare. We’ve heard increasing numbers of complaints over the past few months from players who just don’t enjoy citadel warfare, and some pretty damning condemnation of the sovereignty and structure warfare mechanics.

I touched on this topic in a recent article asking if EVE had become too safe, and the situation is progressing as Upwell structures continue to proliferate throughout the game. The universe is now littered with medium Astrahus citadels and Raitaru engineering complexes that are still standing only because they aren’t worth the effort of destroying them. The reinforcement and vulnerability mechanics that may make sense for the largest scale of Upwell structures that are worth defending have proven to be more irritating than engaging on the smallest scales.

Backlash from the community is to be expected following any nerf announcement, but there are some genuine concerns and rational arguments out there in the sea of flailing limbs and people who are totally going to cancel their 15 accounts. Dirk MacGirk discussed the ore anomaly nerf with a very level head a few days ago and pointed out just how natural and useful resource depletion is as a game mechanic. Kaidokpi on the EVE forums actually ran the numbers on the mining changes and worked out that it’s a pretty nominal change for even the largest alliances.

Player xiaodown on reddit also made a pretty convincing argument that people are farming a lot more recently because there are actually fewer meaningful targets for everyday PvP, a possibility that should perhaps worry CCP. At the same time, the effect of skill injectors on the scalability of high-end gameplay is becoming readily apparent as people rapidly train into capital ships that there may not enough compelling gameplay for. The negative side-effects of unbalanced farming opportunities or new flavour-of-the-month ships used to take months to settle in as players had to train for the new meta, but that’s no longer the case and developers will have to keep that in mind in all future game design and balance discussions.

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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