EVE Evolved: EVE Online’s asset safety bait and switch was a colossal mistake

    
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Imagine if you logged back into your favourite MMO after a few months away to find that your character’s gear was gone or valuable items were missing from the bank. You contact support and tell them that your account has been hacked, only to be politely informed that the game was changed to allow people to steal from your bank. That’s going to be the reality for some players returning to EVE Online from now on due to the Forsaken Fortress update on May 26th.

The update disabled the Asset Safety feature on Upwell structures that have been left without fuel for over 7 days, allowing all the items inside to drop as loot. The change sparked equal parts envy and outrage in the EVE Online community after a player looted several trillion ISK worth of ultra-rare tech 2 blueprints from an abandoned factory structure, and that may be just the tip of the iceberg. Literally thousands of abandoned stations have been blown up across the game since the changes went live.

In this edition of EVE Evolved, I discuss why I believe the Forsaken Fortress update was a colossal mistake by CCP Games and what it could have done differently.

A brief history of Upwell structures

Warring over structures has been a huge part of EVE Online since almost the beginning, starting with a handful of conquerable stations in 2003, player-built moon starbases in 2004, and then full player-built space stations with the introduction of outposts in 2005. There was a limit of one outpost per nullsec star system and they started out very rare, but the fact that they could only be captured and not destroyed meant that they just kept accumulating over the years.

It wasn’t until 2016’s Citadel expansion that we started to get our hands on fully destructible stations with the “Upwell” line of player-built structures. The general purpose Citadel, industrial Engineering Complex, and moon-mining Refinery structures were designed to replace the functions of the old starbases and outposts but in a much more strategic form. They could be built anywhere in open space without limits and could be blown up rather than captured because explosions are awesome.

Citadels and asset safety

Concerned that players wouldn’t actually use Citadels, CCP introduced them alongside a controversial feature that’s at the heart of this month’s dispute: Asset Safety. Whenever an Upwell structure is destroyed in high-security, low-security, or null-security space, everyone’s assets stored in the structure are magically whisked away and delivered to a nearby safe space station. In a blog named “I feel safe in Citadel City,” CCP Ytterbium explained why the feature was needed:

“We want our structures to be used, but one of the deterrents against that goal is the fact they compete against existing NPC stations and player outposts (before we nuke them that is). As such, we have to accept the fact no one will want to store items or minions (if you are an alliance leader) in one of the new structures if they can be destroyed and lost on a whim. And that is how asset safety was born.”

Asset Safety had the desired effect of reassuring players that their assets were safe in Upwell structures, and citadels proliferated as a result. Thousands of them went up all over New Eden in the intervening years, with many being opened to the public and used by hundreds of players daily. Asset Safety was even enough to coax industrialists to move their most expensive blueprints out of NPC stations, and a low-tax trade hub was even set up in the Perimeter system next to Jita.

Smash and grab

While I’ve always argued that Upwell structures were actually made far too safe, asset safety has been a core mechanic since 2016. That all changed with May 26th’s Forsaken Fortress update, which added the new “Abandoned” state for structures that have been without fuel for over 7 days. Abandoned structures have no reinforcement mechanic and no asset safety system, so they can be destroyed in a single hour-long battle and will drop their contents as loot.

It didn’t take long after the patch before stories began emerging of incredible loot being found in structures. One player looted ultra-rare tech 2 original blueprints worth an estimated 4-5 trillion ISK (or $60,000 by PLEX conversion), and another found a rare alliance tournament ship worth hundreds of billions to the right collector. What followed was a huge smash-and-grab sweep across EVE, with pirates smashing down over 7,500 Citadels, Engineering Complexes, and Refineries so far.

It also turns out that many of those striking it rich with structure kills weren’t just getting lucky but had actually abused the EVE test server to find out where the juicy targets were. The test server is periodically mirrored from the main EVE server, and it had been long enough since the last mirror that most structures had run out of fuel there. Players were able to kill the structures on the test server to find out which ones had the best loot before the patch hit the live server.

The bait and switch

I spent a day following one group of pilots smashing citadels all across high-security space, and the loot that I saw drop first-hand was obscene. It was like a wormhole heist every 45 minutes, just hangar upon hangar crammed full of people’s ships and items. The problem is that players put those items into Upwell structures on the understanding that their assets were protected by asset safety, and until recently nobody had any reason to think that asset safety would ever change.

The most fundamental core element of EVE Online is risk, but it’s always up to the players to decide the level of risk they expose themselves to: I choose to risk losing a billion ISK ship when I undock it; I choose to increase my risk of being ganked by jumping into low-security space; I choose to risk losing hundreds of millions of ISK by speculating on the PLEX market. If I suffer a loss in EVE Online, it’s always because I did something wrong or failed to do something to avoid it.

When people chose to put their items in a citadel, the maximum amount of risk they were deciding to accept was the asset safety fee to unlock their items if the structure was blown up (as low as 0.5% if there’s an NPC station in the system). CCP has now come along months or years later and retroactively increased the risk level associated with those choices players had already made. There is no other way to describe it than a bait and switch.

Did people have enough warning?

The Forsaken Fortress development blog landed on April 24th, so anyone paying attention to the blog had up to one month’s notice of the impending changes. You also get an in-game 48-hour warning before a station you have assets in drops into the Abandoned state, but this assumes you’re logging in often enough to see it. That’s very little help to the people currently on hiatus who will have missed any notice of the change, some of whom have now lost everything and don’t even know it yet.

It’s tempting to think of these ex-players as having quit the game and their assets as wasted, but almost every long-term EVE player has taken breaks of several months at a time. We all get bored of the game at some point in our EVE careers and just wait for an interesting expansion or a big war kicking off to draw us back in. Many even stay subscribed and train skills while they can’t play, so they’re not lapsed players, but they also aren’t getting in-game notifications or necessarily staying up to date with changes.

CCP clearly knew this change was going to negatively impact lapsed players as CCP Convict confirmed on Reddit that the company sent 150,000 emails to lapsed players about it. Though many didn’t get the email at all (I didn’t get it on any lapsed accounts), those who did reported that it came just a handful of days before the patch and told players “It’s time for you to return and save any assets you don’t want to lose!” CCP implemented this change in a way that would screw over lapsed players and then used it as a login incentive, and the studio did it right in the middle of a global pandemic.

EVE Online‘s developers spent years letting everyone rely on citadels as safe locations to store assets, only to suddenly yoink the rug out from under people’s feet. Whether the scale of the ensuing asset cull was intentional or not, the damage is now done, and the EVE playerbase has perhaps learned a harsh lesson about taking CCP at its word.

Not grandfathering existing assets into asset safety was a colossal mistake, and I think it’s one that will come back to haunt CCP. The next several years will be punctuated with returning players finding that their stuff is gone, only to be told that it was stolen because of a patch they knew nothing about. How many of them do you think are going to stick around?

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 himĀ a comment or send mail to brendan@massivelyop.com!
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